Exclaim!'s Top 10 Dance and Electronic Albums

Best of 2018

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Dec 12, 2018

This year, established electronic masters like Jon Hopkins, DJ Koze and Leon Vynehall outdid themselves by refining and finessing their musical styles; that's reflected in our Top 10 Dance and Electronic Albums of 2018 list, presented below. 

It comes nearing the end of the rollout of our annual genre-specific album lists for the Best of 2018; so far, we've published our Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, our Top 10 Folk and Country Albums, the Top 10 Metal and Hardcore Albums of the Year, the Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums and the Top 10 Soul and R&B Albums 2018.
Top 10 Dance and Electronic Albums of 2018:
10. Skee Mask
(Ilian Tape)

On Compro, his second album as Skee Mask, Bryan Müller expands his sonic palette beyond breakbeat to also draw influence from ambient music and IDM. The Munich-based producer's fusion of both styles reaches a peak midway through the listen with the one-two punch of "Via Sub Mids" and "Soundboy Ext." The former finds its drumline racing amidst pads that evoke the bluish-grey hue of Compro's cover art, while the latter's jungle drums are only made more urgent by a swirling vocal patch. Both will undoubtedly floor listeners equipped with a good pair of headphones.
Having been a drummer for nine years, Müller's continued attention to rhythm still deserves just as much acclaim as his ambient experiments. The steady drum loops of "50 Euro to Break Boost" and "Dial 274" grip your attention as deftly layered pads and instruments shift amongst themselves, while those roles are reversed on closer "Calimance (Delay Mix)."
Calum Slingerland
9. Leon Vynehall
Nothing Is Still
(Ninja Tune)

Amongst the cutting-edge electronics that 2018 granted us, Leon Vynehall's Nothing Is Still is somewhat of an outsider. A departure from his usual dance-floor machinations, this considered ode to his grandparents is both introspective and engaging. You won't find many warbling synthesizer shrieks — this is an electronic-organic marriage of sound that's as inviting as it is effective. Electronic music for a strictly listening environment is nothing new, but Nothing Is Still manages to sound effortless without ever sounding dull.
This alone would be impressive enough, but to be equally admired is the conceptual machinations behind the album. Accompanying the record is a novella that serves as somewhat of a roman à clef to his grandparents' story. Composed in tandem with the novella, Nothing Is Still represents a singular artistic achievement for Leon Vynehall. Quite simply: it's a special album, and a sound that we can only hope the artist will revisit in future.
Peter Boulos
8. Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois
Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois
(Timesig/Planet Mu)

Venetian Snares and Daniel Lanois' self-titled album has had more than half a year to settle with listeners, but seeing their names together still looks like a clerical error. There's nothing erroneous about the final product, though.
On the face of it, this collaboration seems like more of a duel than anything: the listless steel pedal guitar of Lanois versus Aaron Funk's percussion salvo. A cursory listen might tell you that Lanois has indeed been swallowed by the inescapable pull of Funk's sonic orbit, but a deeper dive reveals more symbiosis than first meets the ear. Not only does Lanois steer this clunking vessel as much as it steers him, he also highlights the rich ambient swaths that have always been part of Funk's repertoire. Bewildering duo they may be, but on Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois, they've succeeded in pulling themselves and the rest of us out of our comfort zones and into God knows where — and we'll happily stay a while longer, thanks.
Daryl Keating
7. Rival Consoles
(Erased Tapes)

Despite taking its name from Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece of cinematic modernism, Rival Consoles' Persona is no mere act of imitation. Opening with a series of decaying snare hits, Ryan Lee West's latest full-length is a masterclass in building and releasing tension. Throughout the following 50 minutes, West lets his faded analog synthesizer compositions gradually ascend to enthralling peaks before dropping out into sweeping vistas of ambience.
But Persona doesn't merely repeat the same tricks. Both "Hidden" and the title track lean on syncopated beats to support their extended runtimes, while "Phantom Grip" ramps up its frantic arpeggios into a kind of muted chase music. Even the sequencing ebbs and flows, with "Memory Arc," "Be Kind," "Fragment" and the appropriately titled "Rest" offering respites from the album's more frenzied moments. Its namesake may dwell on the loss of identity, but Persona is thrilling enough to carve out a distinct niche for Rival Consoles.
Matthew Blenkarn
6. Sandro Perri
In Another Life

"Let me into this impossible dream," sings Sandro Perri on this year's In Another Life, "and know how not to know just what that means."
Today's racing media environment makes it easy to forget the feeling of starting something genuinely new — not new like pressing "play" on a new Netflix show, but embarking on a voyage that takes your mind and your heart to another place, and on his first LP in seven years, Perri does something amazing: he forces the listener to slow down and meditate on just that.
Its opening track, which shares the album's title, is a 24-minute rumination on a theme over a single repeated synth line, with understated instrumental flourishes. The LP's second side features three versions of the same song: "Everybody's Paris," interpreted by three singers, each grappling with the question of what to do once you've made that voyage to another life. Will you make the most of it, or make the same mistakes again? Destroyer's Dan Bejar gets the final ominous word: "Everybody's Paris / Along the River Seine / Swore I would never do this to you again."
Greg Bouchard

5. Oneohtrix Point Never
Age Of

Challenging but richly rewarding, the latest LP from Brooklyn, NY's Oneohtrix Point Never (aka Daniel Lopatin) is electronic music of the highest order. Starting from a solid foundation of '90s IDM influences (his landing at Warp Records is no accident), Lopatin has developed a style all his own since debuting in the mid-2000s, and Age Of finds him in top form.
Although still gloriously fresh and unpredictable, this is perhaps the most consciously pop-oriented album Lopatin has produced (there are a few proper 'songs'), but he bestows upon the traditional form his usual blend of sophistication. His ability to tether a track to familiar melodies and structures while simultaneously exploring the more expressionistic frontiers of digital sound is a big part of what has made Lopatin's work so exciting, and Age Of is another brilliant achievement in this regard.
Luke Pearson
4. Jon Hopkins

It's maybe the most redundant music critic musing of 2018, but: the beauty of Jon Hopkins' Singularity lies in… its beauty.
Across nine tracks, Hopkins repeats a trick: find the perfect mood, whether it be delivered via melody, rhythm, beat or layers of each, and repeat until the listener falls into idyllic meditation. That's not to say that Hopkins keeps things tempered on his fifth full-length, though; tracks like "Emerald Rush" and "Neon Pattern Drum" come off as straight-up bangers (relatively speaking of course).
The British musician demonstrates how masterfully he can keep focus throughout the album's 62-minute runtime, as the busy "Luminous Beings" blends into the magnificently simple piano piece "Recovery" — and somehow it all makes perfect sense. Jon Hopkins has created a long-playing masterpiece with Singularity, giving the listener nine living, breathing organisms that work beautifully on their own but function even more beautifully as a singular being.
Daniel Sylvester
3. Marie Davidson
Working Class Woman
(Make It Rain)

It's a sign of true greatness when an artist can effortlessly deconstruct the musical culture they've integrated into. On Working Class Woman, Marie Davidson pulls back the curtain on the sexy, sweaty backdrops of club life to reveal just how tiresome the whole thing can be.
Davidson injects a healthy dose of deadpan humour right from the get-go on "Your Biggest Fan," which lovingly holds too-ardorous fans' feet to the flames; if you've ever been in that situation as a touring musician, you know exactly the kinds of conversations that entails. Elsewhere, the metronome of an alarm clock and burbling synths meticulously keep time on "Lara," a surreal sonic dreamscape for the David Lynch fan, and "Workaholic Paranoid Bitch" bursts out of the speakers like a manic fever dream with twists and turns aplenty. There are just as many immersive moments with Davidson's witty, satirical songwriting as there are pulse-pounding beats that take you from acid-house to EBM worship in two seconds flat.
Working Class Woman is an abstract, varied and cohesive inner monologue to the comedown from late nights and vivid highs. For those still striving to function while maintaining a modicum of their passion, this is the album to keep you hanging in there.
Josh Weinberg
2. DJ Koze
knock knock
(Pampa Records)

There's a moment, just 60 seconds into the first track of his masterful knock knock, that exemplifies what makes DJ Koze's music so special. After introducing nervy, ominous strings, sub bass and a thudding kick drum, all dotted with beeping digital claves, it happens: a siren wails, a thick, warm cloud of digitized human voices swells and a soft flute trill washes magnificently over the listener. Your arm hairs will stand on end.
It's a jarring mix of timbres and samples, but that's what the artist born Stefan Kozalla has become known for: a sonic eclecticism that eschews hard-edged weirdness in favour of a sort of oddball softness as endearing as it is ingenious. He demonstrates it throughout knock knock, weaving over half-a-dozen guests into 80 minutes that contain gently funky odes to the worthiness of love ("Colors of Autumn," featuring Speech from Arrested Development), trebly guitar pop warmed by AM crackle ("Music on My Teeth," featuring José González), warbling classic house (six-minute album centrepiece "Pick Up" and "Planet Hase") and minimalist, cooing ambience ("Drone Me Up, Flashy").
It's a lot of sonic territory to traverse, but a companion as charming and amiable as Koze ensures that even a trip as long as knock knock never, ever drags.
Stephen Carlick
1. A.A.L. (Against All Logic)
(Other People)

At first blush, 2012-2017 is a curious candidate for Electronic Album of the Year. Surprise released in the spring under the alias Against All Logic by Nicolas Jaar, it's ostensibly a collection of dance-floor friendly dalliances Jaar indulged in between his more heady cyber-punk and ambient-electro projects.
Yet even at his most impulsive, Jaar can't seem to shake his conceptual streak. Pieced together from a slew of classic house, disco and R&B samples, the record feels immediately familiar. His construction is the game-changer, as he buries samples and grooves under layers of ambient noise and space; in places, the music sounds like it's coming from a different room, like a wall has been placed between the listener and the music. It gives the whole thing a hallucinatory bent and a level of unpredictability that belies its origins. One moment it's revelatory, evoking the feeling that comes when you get totally lost in the music; the next, it's downright frightening, evoking the feeling of being plain lost (see: the harrowing scream sampled from Kanye West's "I Am a God" employed on the otherwise chilled out "Such a Bad Way").
The through-line is Jaar's sense of playfulness. This is a fun record, one that can blow minds and shake butts. That it came from Jaar, a brilliant artist whose aesthetic has always skewed more heady-avant-garde than body-moving, only amplifies its allure as we discover new multitudes in one of our favourite artists.
Ian Gormely

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