A lot to like in 2018. So many artists, new and old, producing engaging, provocative and unique music. And while Techno toiled with lacklustre invention, other genres like Acid, Electro, Pop and Ambient, continued to burn brightly. Every album, EP, podcast and compilation that passed through The Letter filter has been carefully considered, an inordinate amount of time invested, in the ultimate goal of unearthing the finest treasures buried in the mine of Electronic music. From an excess of 150 releases, subsequent dredging and sifting with a digital fine-tooth comb has revealed many many hidden jewels glistening in the dirty excavations. Here's the best music releases of 2018.
Before announcing my favourite favourites, here's a short (alphabetical) list of the ones that were deeply loved but didn't make the final cut, i.e. you still need to check 'em out if you haven't already:
- Altin Gün - On
- Answer Code Request - Gens
- Barker - Debiasing
- Blawan - Wet Will Always Dry
- Cedric - Press Pause (Part One) - Headphone Commute podcast
- DJ Healer - Planet Lonely (mix)
- Martyn - Voids
- Maceo Plex - Fabric 98
- Matt Karmil - Will
- Metro Jaxx Vol. 1 - Various (Balkan Recordings)
- Múm - Menschen am Sonntag
- Skee Mask - Compro
- SNTS - XLR8R Podcast 537
- SSTROM - Otider
- Stillhead - Copenhagen
- The Black Dog - Black Daisy Wheel
- The Black Dog - Post -Truth
- Trentemoller - Harbour Boat Trips Vol 02 Copenhagen
And now (in order of release date) the music that had the most profound effect on me this year:
AtomTM & Lisokot - Walzerzyklus
A concept album. A postmodern drama. An unforgettable listen. I'm still excited about this mini-masterpiece. I wrote a review of Walzerzyklus.
Injazero Records (various artists)
What a knock-your-socks-off statement this is! First compilation from UK label brimming with the finest classical and electronic music; pianos and synths make the finest bedfellows!
Anthony Linell - A Sense of Order
From the Swedish producer once known as Abdulla Rashim, an Ambient album that delivers genuine emotion, with yearning melodies that truly transport the mind and soul. Extraordinary stuff.
Space Dimension Controller - Gaining Time
Jack Hamill, aka Space Dimension Controller, triumphs with three tracks that take you on the proverbial musical (space) journey. Everything Is Better Now opens with a Sci-Fi vocal snippet that acknowledges his previous work before languidly morphing into a the most delicious, cosmic-disco-monster-thing, stretching out for well over 13 minutes. Then things get even better (and longer, but still not long enough) with the extraordinary 15 minute central track NRG Intersect - an Ambient worm that conjures otherworldly visions, a reverb-soaked synth woven into the fabric of the listeners space and time - arguably my track of the year! Third track (Still) Returning thankfully doesn't attempt to out-do the former but instead delivers a perfectly measured Ambient outro. Simply superb.
Mark Pritchard - The Four Worlds
Oh! the power of a couple of really strong tracks! Come Let Us and S.O.S. stood out as top quality from the off but after many listens, the beguiling beauty of the whole soon began to manifest! This is one I keep returning to.
Dax J - Offending Public Morality
In-your-face Techno, Acid, EBM and Jungle. Humourous too! I reviewed Offending Public Morality when it came out.
Dedekind Cut - Tahoe
Ethereal Ambient excursions, a haunting, enveloping mood ripe for contemplation and escape. A slow grower but one that you will return to.
Nur Jaber - If Only - A State Of Peace
Techno and Ambient collide in this mesmerising LP from the Lebanese producer. Read the review.
DJ-Kicks: Forest Swords
A wonderfully diverse selection gives us a fascinating insight into the warped mind of Matthew Barnes, aka British producer Forest Swords. Unique, challenging at times but very listenable... unlike any other mix I heard this year.
JK Flesh - Wasplike EP
What a great year it's been for Justin Broadrick's JK Flesh alias. Two really excellent EPs and a full album to match... choosing a favourite is tough! In the end it was a toss-up between Wasplike (EP), Pi04 (EP) or New Horizon and to be honest I could have opted for any of them. I opted for Wasplike is this would be the perfect intro if you're new to the Fleshmeister.
Dez Williams - Against Your Will
Perfectly balancing melody and thumping rhythms, the UK producer displays his immense talent for crafting emotive and pleasing Electronic music.
DJ Richard - Dies Ire Xerox
Morbid rhythms and beguiling melody inspired by medieval music reveal a disturbing yet fascinating insight into the artist's warped outlook. Mixing downbeat Electronica and EBM with Ambient, the pace and vibe fluctuates, casting a haunted shadow that lingers. Will take a few listens before you're irretrievably hooked.
Diamont Dancer - Shapes
When guitars and electronic music meet, a glorious Ambient excursion occurs. My review of Shapes.
Varg - Nordic Flora Series, Part 5: Crush
The fifth release in his Nordic Flora series was perhaps his best yet. Check out my review of Nordic Flora Series, Part 5: Crush.
Ancient Methods - The Jericho Records
Great vocal tracks and rugged riffs informed by Industrial Techno, what a fine mix of styles! And there's absolutely no filler across the fourteen tracks either. A real depth of quality in production and no shortage of pleasing musical moments throughout. A triumph of the highest order.
DJ-Kicks: Mount Kimbie
Another DJ Kicks compilation makes the list. Like Forest Swords, and with any compilation, the success or failure of the set comes down to the individual track selection, not just the mixing. In this case, we have both measurements perfectly aligned.
Hannu Karjalainen - Drift
Subtle and deep Ambient music at its finest. The Finnish composer continues to impress. I reviewed Drift here.