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Since the advent of recorded music, albums have reigned as the supreme vessel through which artists put forth their most hallowed creations and define their oeuvres. In the modern era of streaming, wherein declining royalty rates demand that musicians tour incessantly and the necessity of instant gratification demands a correlative, unending supply of singles and remixes, the process of producing a full-length record is perhaps more daunting than it’s ever been.
However, the LP is far from a dying art form, as legions of artists have duly proven in the past year. In the realm of dance music alone, 2018 saw an abundance of stellar, individualized efforts, providing our editorial team with quite a difficult feat in selecting a Top 10. Below, we’ve compiled ten innovative, stylistically diverse, and evocative albums that shook the scene and stirred us so resoundingly that they manage to stand out among a formidable pool of contenders.
10. San Holo, album1
Since its founding in 2014, San Holo’s bitbird label has made monumental strides, helping propel his releases — along with those of artists like DROELOE and Taska Black — to notoriety. Perhaps the label’s biggest buzz this year was that of San Holo’s inaugural LP, appropriately titled album1, which made its debut in mid-September. After pouring months of passion into the record, San Holo wasted no time incorporating live instruments in album1, kicking off the compilation with a wistful guitar melody in “everything matters (when it comes to you).” This theme continues throughout the album’s 12 tracks, with each song exuding pure emotion and spirit. In its entirety, album1 is sonically pleasing and a fresh breath of air in an often monotonous EDM scene.
Words by Robyn Dexter
9. Pleasurekraft, Friends, Lovers, and Other Constellations
It’s hard to believe that, prior to this year, Pleasurekraft had yet to release a full-length record. The transnational duo have been regarded as lodestars in the genres which they’ve graced for practically a decade, thanks to their acutely analytic approach to producing. The past few years have marked an evolution of sorts for the Kraftek label-heads, as they’ve shifted toward establishing their cinematically-infused brand of cosmic techno. And, their inaugural LP, Friends, Lovers, & Other Constellations, which kicked off the duo’s year in January, showcases their progress from its opening act (the genre-defying “Interiors”) until its closing bow (the similarly mellifluous “Last Transmission”).
Words by Will McCarthy
8. Justice, Woman Worldwide
After a two-year gap following the release of Woman, French electro luminaries Justice returned in 2018 with Woman Worldwide, a “live” album — perhaps, more accurately an homage or counterpart — to the live production which accompanied their much-lauded third studio LP, rebuilt in the studio through what Xavier de Rosnay described to Dancing Astronaut as a “proper Justice record.”
De Rosnay and Gaspard Augé didn’t spend their lapse between albums by writing “new” music. Rather, they spent this time fine-tuning every minute of the their live performance, ultimately recreating the Justice concert experience in their studio. The final product speaks for itself: Woman Worldwide has yielded the duo’s third Grammy nomination, and showcases what wound up being one of the most in-demand touring electronic music performances of recent years.
Words by David Klemow
7. RÜFÜS DU SOL, Solace
Weaving a follow-up to an acclaimed album is a formidable task for any artist to face. It has to be different enough from its predecessor to keep fans’ attention, but it also has to retain the signature sound that initially drew people in initially. After gaining major recognition from 2016’s Bloom, Rüfüs Du Sol were faced with that exact challenge.
On Solace, the Australian trio stepped up every part of their production process. Tyrone Lindqvist’s vocals are more emotional and over-stated than ever before, while the instrumentals are crisper and full of new textures. Though the vocal-house formula of Bloom and their debut album, Atlas, is still intact, what Rüfüs Du Sol have presented with their third record is a growth of their sound to the precipice of perfection.
Words by Anthony Manganiello
6. REZZ, Certain Kind of Magic
Rezz’s Certain Kind of Magic solidified the mau5trap mainstay into the electronic music history books with her gritty synth-work, head-banging rhythms and uneasy melodies that juxtaposed uncertainty and confidence throughout the LP. Looking forward to 2019 with a grip of festival headlines, the Canadian artist took the rock tinged genre into a new realm with a cohesive haunting narrative centered around a carnival in hell. Rezz even took to an emo rock, acoustic track, “Toxin,” with the Berklee College of Music artist Fytch to showcase her versatility and early influences.
Isabelle Rezazadeh also used her album to shed a light on up and coming producers. Through promoting talents from the likes of 1788-L, 13, Deathpact, Kotek, and the aforementioned Fytch, the mau5trap favorite reaffirmed her dedication to highlighting industry newcomers in the face of her now-innumerable accolades.
Words by Chris Stack
5. RL Grime, Nova
For the duration of trap music’s prominence as an EDM sub-genre, Henry Steinway has been a key figure, thanks to his unparalleled ability to weave simplistic, but devilishly effective pieces as RL Grime. Yet, some of the most evocative tracks of his career have resided in a more melodic realm. Such is the case with NOVA. In his sophomore album, Steinway looked beyond the dark melodies, aggressive, layered bass lines, and fast paced ascents characteristic of trap, to tinge traditional trap aesthetic with pop and hip-hop tints. His embedding of pop and hip-hop stylistics within the trap oriented inclusions of NOVA helped to further the appeal of thoughtful, trap-infused productions, marketing trap to listeners who might very well have written the sub-genre off as one simply “not for them.” For those who like pop, there was the digestible, vocal-centric single, “I Wanna Know” with Daya, which stood alongside hip-hop features such as the Ty Dolla $ign assisted “Take It Away” and the Chief Keef joint, “OMG.” Boasting a laundry list of highly demanded collaborators and the production deftness to warrant them, RL Grime’s sophomore showing effectively merged musical worlds, while expanding conceptions of what trap music might sound like, and to whom it might appeal.
Words by Rachel Narozniak
4. Jon Hopkins, Singularity
Throughout dance music culture, accolades such as “seasoned” or “veteran” are often thrown around all too liberally. After all, when the pace of an industry moves a mile a minute, a producer with two years’ professional experience can arguably be considered a “long-time luminary.”
That said, when an artist truly is a master of the craft, the results speak for themselves. Jon Hopkins stood out in 2018 as a truly veteran artist, with the release of his fifth studio album (and first in five years), Singularity. From energetic, mesmerizingly erratic pieces such as “Neon Pattern Drum” and “Everything Connected,” to more subdued, mystifying pieces “C O S M” and “Recovery,” everything on Singularity is indeed connected via the English artist’s unparalleled aptitude for creating mellifluous, lo-fi opuses.
Words by Will McCarthy
3. Dillon Francis, WUT WUT
Dillon Francis’ WUT WUT feels like the culmination of his entire career thus far. A call-back to his first big hit, “Que Que” alongside Diplo in 2011, WUT WUT is a full circle return to Francis’ moombahton roots which perfectly describes where Francis has been, and, ultimately, shows off where he’s going. The record also feels like a rite of passage of sorts for Francis, who moved from merely being a superstar DJ to a taste-making A&R that has helped boost lesser known Latin artists into the spotlight in 2018 — a year in which Latin music experienced a head-on collision with mainstream pop.
WUT WUT has earned Francis a well-deserved Latin Grammy nomination, and while Francis’ moombahton revival project didn’t bring home the hardware this year, it not only kept artistically true to Dave Nada’s beloved blend of genres, it helped progress his flagship style and introduce it to a much wider audience in 2018.
Words by David Klemow
2. Medasin, Irene
Medasin’s Irene takes all the right risks. The glistening offspring of the producer’s climb out of a deep, former addiction, the eponymous album was inspired by Medasin’s outpatient counselor, the real-life Irene. Sounding at times like underwater elevator music from a far away realm (“Ramen” or “Slinky Man”), and others radiating smooth, saccharine R&B (“Tired”), the project seamlessly reconciles its differences floating through its duration with effortless cohesion. Irene oozes Medasin’s invariable experimentalism, with minimal vocal interruption—though the two vocal features do add an accessible flavor to the otherworldly recipe—letting his playful, quixotic production do the talking.
While Medasin’s blissed-out, slow-motion rendition of Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still” won his fellow artist’s respect (garnering him official remix opportunities from the likes of Martin Garrix, Khalid, and more) Irene spoke to listeners, ravaging Reddit threads and streaming services alike months after its release.
Words by Bella Bagshaw
1. ZHU, Ringo’s Desert
ZHU has certainly come a long way since “Faded.” The producer’s sophomore album, Ringo’s Desert arrived as a sensuous, cross-genre scorcher that showed off ZHU’s signature, haunting vocals, while all the time seeking to evoke the landscape of the desert. The album’s environmental influence taken into account, and considered alongside the album’s overarching lyrical narrative of love that leaves one bereft, left to wander in search of the kind of solitude that satiates, much like the drink of water dreamt of by the eponymous desert nomad, Ringo’s Desert easily constituted one of the year’s finest, most meticulously woven concept albums. With its breadth of musical emotionality and mainstream appeal via collaborations with heavyweights such as Tame Impala, it stands out from the crowd in an inimitable fashion.
Words by Rachel Narozniak
Honorable Mention: Steve Angello, Human
Steve Angello’s Human is a symphony of self-exploration. While the Swedish icon has proven himself a master craftsman of the album in the past, his newest album saw him pivot from the avant-garde take on dance pop crossover on his preceding record, Wild Youth, over to a personal journey fueled by electronica and rock inspirations. The 21-track Human is a tale of creating art out of therapy, as Angello explored his own relationship with spirituality and religion. The product is beautiful, moving and memorable — certainly something to be proud of as the remainder of 2018 shifted from a focus on Steve Angello to the triumphant return of his beginnings with Swedish House Mafia and their reunion in the next year.
Words by Steph Evans