The Top 50 Albums of 2018 - Features - Mixmag

The Top 50 Albums of 2018

The best albums 2018 brought us

  • Mixmag Staff & Contributors (Additional words by Chris Nicholls & Sam Halligan)
  • 17 December 2018

Electronic music albums often mark a point where artists really push themselves. With more scope to work with than the traditional double-sided 12” (unless you’re Ricardo Villalobos dropping 37-minute two-trackers),new approaches can be explored, new themes touched upon, and new sounds experimented with. All the while, tying these strands together into a fully-formed and cogent statement of your artistry.

2018 has been a fine year for the format. We’ve seen fresh faces drop groundbreaking debuts and returning heroes deliver their best ever works. Artists have surprised us with unexpected directions, and others have acutely met expectations by channelling their formula into LPs of unrelenting quality. Collaborators have worked together and synthesised their styles to achieve next-level sounds, and international scenes have gained new attention thanks to breakout records from emerging stars.

Check out our picks for the top 50 albums of 2018 below.

'7 Shadows and Iron Lungs' Byran Chapman (Monotony)

After four well received releases on his imprint Monotony, Bryan Chapman blends drones and delicacy in his gorgeous debut album. Sublime and sophisticated techno.

'2012-2017' Against All Logic (Other People)

Nicolas Jaar revives his A.A.L alias in this sample heavy collection of club cuts. Intelligent and emotive synth work from one of electronic music’s finest.

'Wide Awake' Parquet Courts (Rough Trade)

Parquet Courts have been pumping out albums since 2001. You can dance, laugh or cry while listening to their marvellous return on Rough Trade Records. Feel good, oddball rock music from the New York boys.

'Still Trippin'' DJ Taye (Hyperdub)

Chicago talent DJ Taye returns to Hyperdub with ‘Still Trippin’', a forward-thinking blend of hip hop, rap and footwork. Arpeggiated synth lines weave in unison with big bass hits and sharp-as-you-like bars. Taye’s always been an impressive footwork talent but now his legacy is even more set in stone.

'Themes' Roman Flügel (Esp Institute)

The Frankfurt legend steps away from the club in this experimental ambient trip. Kick drums rarely surface across the 13 tracks, exploring a majestic palette of breathtaking soundscapes.

'Something Blue' Blocks & Escher (Metalheadz)

As well as running the prolific Narratives Music imprint, Blocks & Escher have been busy cooking up their debut album. Difficult to define, ‘Something Blue’ explores a variety of genres, touching on jazz and classical, underpinned by a mean drum and bass attitude.

'Neon' The Digital Blonde (JOOF Recordings)

Making his debut release in 1988, The Digital Blonde has been active for over two decades. Pushing a unique blend of emotive, old school motives with modern production methods, The Digital Blonde makes trance like no other and ‘Neon’ is some of his best work yet.

'Murky Manor' Taiki Nulight (Night Bass)

Narrating a personal journey through sound, Taiki Nulight describes his debut album as ‘"the soundscape of my life to date", with tight cuts of garage, house and bassline.

'Mother' Jensen Interceptor (Lone Romantic)

Mikey Melas delves deep into electro territory in his latest release, remaining elegant yet powerful throughout the ten-track LP.

'Monsters Exist' Orbital (ACP Recordings Ltd)

The Orbital brothers return with this stunning nine tracker, exploring a modernised, euphoric direction of their techno rooted sound.

'Ostati' HVL (Organic Analogue)

From haunting ambient to throbbing techno, Gigi Jikia goes deep in his debut LP. The Bassani resident shifts through tension and release with ease throughout the album, each track soaked with a profound sense of feeling. The label described the album as ‘a document of the sound of Tbillisi’.

'High Life' Detroit Swindle (Heist Recordings)

The Amsterdam duo explore their love for jazz, rhodes piano and house music in their second LP. Consistent, smooth house jams lead the album, featuring various collaborations with Tom Misch, Lorenz Rhode and Seven Davis Jr.

'Essential' Soulwax (Deewee)

After being approached for an Essential Mix by the BBC, the Belgian pair said they decided to “lock ourselves into our studio for two weeks and make an hour of new music based around the word ‘essential’” and the results are marvellous. Playful melodies glisten amongst a sea of soft percussions and tripped out vocals in the 12 track LP.

'Dancehall' The Blaze (Columbia)

Guillaume and Jonathan Alric, the cousins behind the diverse French duo The Blaze explore big bass among melancholic, atmospheric moods, reminiscent of a show stopping moments fit for the festival mainstage.

'Another Way' Break (Symmetry)

Symmetry label head Break collates some of his finest work to date, collaborating with a variety of respected drum 'n' bass figures in his fifth artist album, including Total Science and Kyo.

'All Melody' Nils Frahm (Erased Tapes)

After building a studio in Berlin’s striking Funkhaus building, Frahm returns with incredible impact. From the most delicate, nail biting piano solos to room filling classical arrangements, Nils Frahm is a musician in a league of his own.

'A Part of Me Volume 2' Mr G (Phoenix G)

Mr G explores downtempo, jazz-infused home listening in this gorgeous 16-track LP. The rawness and warmth familiar with G’s club music remains present, translating into an elegant and easy home environment.

'One Hundred Billion Sparks' Max Cooper (MESH)

Translating a month’s isolation in a remote Welsh cottage, Cooper conceptualises the feeling of exclusion in a gorgeous exploration of ambient and bedroom techno, his third full-length studio album since 2014.

'Here From Where We Are' Pariah (Houndstooth)

Stepping away from his eclectic dancefloor selections, Pariah narrates a spectacular journey through beatless dreamscapes in his first solo release for six years.

'Cerebral Hemisphere' Mr Fingers (Alleviated Records)

Fall through the clouds with Larry Heard’s weightless house music. The legend delivers his first album as Mr Fingers in 24 years.

'Shelley's on Zenn-LA' Oliver Coates (RVNG Intl)

Off the back of a heavy contribution to Radiohead’s acclaimed album ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, Coates combines classical with leftfield electronics in his new album, crafting a blissful novel of sound with influences from just about every corner of the globe.

'Kids See Ghosts' Kids See Ghosts (G.O.O.D Music / Defjam)

Kanye and Cudi’s poignant reunion put to bed any beef between the pair, with the short but straight to the point ‘Kids See Ghosts’ project exhibiting just the right amount of weird, post- ’Yeezus’ Kanye; with Cudi’s soft delivery and goosebump-inducing humming tying the collaboration together.

'Dream House' Âme (Innervisions)

The debut full-length LP from Innervisions co-founders, Âme, covers all ends of their production spectrum; from deep, anthemic cuts such as ‘Helliconia’, to krautrock groovers in the form of ‘Blind Eye’. Striking vocal performances from the likes of Matthew Herbert, Planningtorock, and Jens Kuross all add to the majesty.

'Solace' Rüfüs Du Sol (Sony Music)

The third studio album from September's cover stars, Rüfüs Du Sol, sees the Australian trio delve into the darker corners of the alternative dance scene, yet they remain incessantly catchy. With dreamy, atmospheric soundscapes and brooding deep tech basslines at its forefront, ‘Solace’ sees an artistic turning point for the group.

'Dance Music' Spencer Parker (Work Them)

Featuring a variety of raw, gritty techno and classic house movers, Spencer Parker’s aptly titled ‘Dance Music’ is an epic 22-tracker and a testament to his work rate in both the club and studio. At times pumping, at others melancholic, Parker’s ability to create a dancefloor monster remains unrivalled.

'Safe in The Hands of Love' Yves Tumor (Warp)

Sean Bowie bares his soul on his refreshing third studio LP. From texturally rich sound design to post-punk inspired affairs, ‘Safe In The Hands Of Love’ evokes emotion in a heady blend of delicacy and intensity.

'Nuova Napoli' Nu Guinea (NG Records)

Serious grooves from Lucio Aquilina and Massimo Di Lena. Working alongside fellow Neapolitans, the pair assembled this perfect homage to their home city through a combination of disco, jazz and funk rhythms.

'Cocoa Sugar' Young Fathers (Ninja Tune)

‘Coco Sugar’ is the most accessible of the Scottish trio’s releases to date. British, forward-thinking rap and often uplifting vocal performances make for an exhilarating journey through organised chaos.

'Age Of' Oneohtrix Point Never (Warp)

The first OPN album to feature predominantly his own vocal work is as accessible as it is unpredictable. It throws listeners into glistening chimes one minute, 8-bit synths the next, breaking out into bold vocals before crashing into a sea lasers.

'The Marquis of Hawkes' Marquis Hawkes (Houndstooth)

A master of beautiful house rhythms, Marquis Hawkes' second album on Houndstooth saw him step slightly further afield, with notions of old skool rave, UKG and acid all present in ‘The Marquis Of Hawkes’. Minimalistic, gliding grooves designed to make a statement in the club.

'All that must be' George Fitzgerald (Double Six/Domino)

A deep, wistful and melancholic collection of less club-focused works by FitzGerald. Emotive vocal performances complement arpeggiated synth work on this indie pop/house amalgamation.

'Nothing Is Still' Leon Vynehall (Ninja Tune)

Vynehall moved beyond the club sphere with the release of this conceptual piece which follows the narrative of his grandparents emigrating to New York City. Drenched in ambience and classical instrumentation, ‘Nothing Is Still’ is a gripping story, with each chapter stronger than the last.

'Power' Lotic (Tri Angle Records)

Eerie, fractured music from Berlin-based innovator Lotic. This introspective debut is unconfined by boundaries, with electrifying experimentalism and jolting soundscapes throughout.

'Honey' Robyn (Konichiwa/Interscope)

Robyn explored her edgier alt-pop tendencies on her first studio album in eight years, with a softer, more organic approach to songwriting. Hailing inspiration from from contemporary club music, ‘Honey’ explores the minimalistic intricacies of dancefloor-infused melancholy.

'Travel Light' Children of Zeus (First Word)

It’s been a year to remember for the Manchester duo, with their rough around the edges, combination of Motown-esque, soulful r'n'bb and captivating hip hop resonating with many. Their debut album ‘Travel Light’ is a smooth ride through the trials and tribulations of their lives. Perfect for those hazy Sunday mornings.

'Kingdoms in Colour' Maribou State (Counter Records)

Maribou State’s spellbinding sophomore album stays true to the duo’s downtempo roots while exploring new, mesmerising ideas centred around global inspiration picked up while travelling. A new level of warmth and belonging is achieved as the pair really come into their own.

'Crop Circle' Nines (XL)

Smooth-talking Nines returned with his second, no-nonsense album on XL. The impeccably produced ‘Crop Circle’ sees the UK rap don in his element, shining a light on his rise through the North London grind.

'Another Life' Amnesia Scanner (Pan)

Sci-fi-indulged bedlam from the Berlin-based duo. A euphoric sense of dread is channelled throughout by distorted, robotic voices and intense sound design.

'Sonder Somatic' Bruce (Hessle Audio)

Larry McCarthy’s disfigured, UK techno stompers have made somewhat of a statement over the past few years, and his debut LP on Hessle Audio celebrates that legacy. Exploring his style, Bruce bounces between textural club heaters and intelligent, stripped back floaters; with frantic sound design at the forefront of the operation.

'Voids' Martyn (Ostgut Ton)

Martyn’s regenerative return to music is a body of lavish UKG, dubstep and techno hybrids filled with gritty, dextrous percussion. Aligned with a man who has survived life-changing trauma and the loss of a dear friend in the late Marcus Intalex, ‘Voids’ explores several detailed, emotive narratives throughout, but it is anything but bleak.

'Working Class Woman' Marie Davidson (Ninja Tune)

Davidson's sparse and tough fourth album was at times claustrophobic, at times absolutely hilarious, but always shot through with her inimitable personality.

'Family Portrait' Ross From Friends (Brainfeeder)

Felix Clary Weatherall was introduced to dance music by his rave-loving parents and on 'Family Portrait', he meshed together formative influences into a gliding and glittering tour de force.

'Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides' Sophie (Transgressive)

Much has been made of SOPHIE's take on synthetic pop and brash bass, but on this debut she proved she had the startling songs to back it up, too.

'Song For Alpha' Daniel Avery (Phantasy Sound)

Full of icy atmospherics and dissociative shoegaze fuzz, the clearest reference points here are early 90s Aphex Twin and the mysterious Detroit electro of Drexciya woven into Avery's own eerie narratives.

'Cocoon Crush' Objekt (Pan)

TJ Hertz forgoes club-ready conventions and embraces the animated, avant-garde capabilities of sound design on his second PAN album. 'Cocoon Crush' breathes, sighs and sways with life.

'Singularity' Jon Hopkins (Domino Records)

Constructed to replicate the energy bursts and blissful interludes of the psychedelic experience, 'Singularity' mixes raunchy techno, dreamlike ambience and meditative moments into Hopkins' magnum opus (so far)

'Qualm' Helena Hauff (Ninja Tune)

Tough, tense and sometimes punishing, there are moments of light, too, on Helena's debut, including - at one point - a joyous handbrake turn into Italo disco. A wildly impressive work from a true individual.

'Knock Knock' DJ Koze (Pampa)

An album that reaches for the stars - and gleefully grabs them. Over 16 tracks, it veers from meditative hip hop to early-morning, country-ish house that's transcendental and beautiful without losing the crazy Koze edge.

'Compro' Skee Mask (Illian Tape)

Blending bright, chopped synths, industrial manoeuvers of LFO-style EBM and almost transcendental sounds to create something atmosphereic, yet tough and agile, 'Compro' is unnervingly excellent.

'Devotion' Tirzah (Domino Recording Company)

Good things come to those who wait, and for those following Tirzah's career since she dropped her debut single five years ago, her debut album 'Devotion' certainly delivered on the expectations built in the intervening half-decade. Made in collaboration with experimental pop producer and film composer Mica Levi, aka Micachu, the album actually had an even longer gestation period, the duo working on music together ever since they paired up in the music room at school during lunch break. And the settled nature of the collaboration showed, with their individual contributions to the record fitting together as effortlessly as a couple who finish each other's sentences. There was nothing startlingly new here: tales of heartbreak and crumbling relationships, low-key insular songwriting, stripped-back vocal delivery and quietly innovative production and arrangements. But simplicity was the key to 'Devotion' and Tirzah's art-school take on r'n'b was equally as stark and arresting as the music made by some of her key influences, including 'D'Angelo and Al Green. Tirzah told us the summer that she has no interest in getting out of her comfort zone and working with anyone other than Mica, and frankly, when your comfort zone allows you to produce something as bold and beautiful as this, why should she? In 2018, very little had the Mixmag office in agreement like 'Devotion'.

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