Published Dec 12, 2018
5. Oneohtrix Point Never
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.
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.
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.
2. DJ Koze
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.
1. A.A.L. (Against All Logic)
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.