Here we are again talking about the best electronic music albums of the year. With respect to the first episode which was published on last April, the list has expanded and it now features ten albums. The first two positions of the chart remains unchanged, but there are interesting new entries in the other positions on the list.
Arrived at this point of the year, the following collection of records represents a good summary of the state of electronic music in 2018 and we must say that the one which emerges is an extremely positive picture: there are young artists entering the scene with innovative and experimental works but also already established artists that demonstrate to have still the willingness and the curiosity to experiment new expressive languages.
Let’s see which are the ten best electronic albums of 2018 so far. An in the time which remains until the end of the year we’ll discover if there are new albums which will contend the place to those who are today in the chart. In this respect, if you arrived here through a search engine, please check in the electronic section of the blog if there is any update of the list. Enjoy!
#1) SKYGGE, “Hello World”
Hello World, the experimental work by SKYGGE, was fully reviewed in a dedicated post when the album entered the Best New Music section of the blog. The album is the result of a research project in which scientists were looking for algorithms to capture and reproduce the concept of musical “style”. After a number of initial prototypes, a first group of electronic music artists joined the research team and at some point they took control of the process, and the scientific project became a music project. These artists were invited and coordinated by Benoit Carré (aka SKYGGE) and their work became the beautiful Hello World.
The album is based on the idea to feed computer machines with sounds and melodies selected by every artist as input. Deep learning algorithms are then applied in order to allow the artificial intelligence module to elaborate and refine musical elements that are stylistically similar to the initial ones, but “new”.
From a musical point of view, the album is strongly influenced by European electronic music and in the end it results in an excellent collection of modern and forward thinking electronic tracks. And it’s not by chance that after many months, the album is still a the top of the electronic chart.
#2) Jenny Wilson, “Exorcism”
(Electro Pop, Art Pop)
Exorcism, which is the fifth and newest LP released by Swedish Pop artist Jenny Wilson, tells in music the terrible story of a sexual assault that the songwriter experienced a few years ago while clubbing. This element by itself could guarantee for the album a deeper element of analysis and interpretation with respect to the typical electro-pop album, but the reality is that the feelings of tension, disturbance and anguish that are spread all-over the tracks of the record are evident and may be perceived even by the casual listener who doesn’t know the full story which is behind the album.
The artist, however, managed to tell her painful story without ever making the music monotonous, didascalic and depressing. On the contrary, Exorcism features a collection of extremely interesting, varied and intriguing songs that disseminate their load of insecurity and alienation in an absolutely subtle way and, because of that, the result is extremely sharp and effective.
#3) Floex and Tom Hodge, “Portrait of John Doe”
(Experimental, Modern Classical)
Tomáš Dvořák is a composer and graphic artist from Czech Republic who works under the moniker of Floex. Despite his relatively young age, Dvořák’s discography is already rich of a good number of interesting albums where he blends together heterogeneous genres like classical music, electronic and jazz, showing great technique and a notable musical sensibility, Three years ago Dvořák started a collaboration with English composer and musician Tom Hodge and their efforts resulted in the release of Portrait of John Doe, recorded with support of the renowned Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Portrait of John Doe is an incredible album. It has unique and extravagant arrangements, it’s conceptual and “forward thinking”, but, most important, it’s absolutely nice and joyful to listen. To some extent, I feel it’s destined to leave a strong mark in the experimental and avant-gard electronic music scene. The album is filled with many hints and references from modern classical music. There are clear hints and references to both the orchestral and electronic works by Philip Glass, and we have rarified and haunting atmospheres like those we find in some of the works of Bela Bartok and Dmitrij Šostakovič.
Portrait of John Doe is an ambitious record that was done very well, plenty of surprises and absolutely innovative. This music is really different from everything you’ve heard in the recent times and it really deserves the time (and the effort) that are necessary to enjoy its crystalline beauty without too many distractions and interruptions.
#4) Go Dugong, “Curaro”
(World and Cosmic Electronic)
Electronic music, together with Jazz, is pheraps one of the genres of music that is intrinsically more open to the idea of fusing together different influences and styles. And practically every year I happen to listen to a record that succeeds, more than any other, to amaze me for the originality with which different musical elements are combined together in such a natural and fluid way that the final result is something new and exciting, and much more than the mere superimposition of the original building blocks.
Last year I felt this with Shikantanza, the beautiful album by French electronic collective Chinese Man. In 2018, the moment of wonder and revelation occurred when I launched in my music player the first songs of Curaro, i.e. the new album by Go Dugong, which is the solo-project of the Italian electronic producer Giulio Fonseca. I didn’t know what to expect at first and I was absolutely surprised to hear such a masterful blending of chillout, trip hop, sensual dub, world music, dance beats, tribal sounds and ethnological field recordings.
Curaro is really one of those records that is made to let your mind travel into distant worlds and remote enivornments, but conceived and performed by having in mind a clear and winning characteristic: the absolute enjoyability of the single tracks.
#5) Carpenter Brut, “Leatherwave”
The world of music is plenty of cases of metalheads that at some point diverted their attention to electronic music. As a matter of fact, metal and electronic share many elements in common and although it is not just as easy as to replace guitars with synthesizers, the transition from one genre to the other has been experienced many times, typically from metal to electronic and in a few cases in the opposite direction. Last year, just to give an example, we celebrated the beautiful last album by Ulver: they started as a black metal band and arrived to produce one of the best synth-pop albums ever released.
Franck Hueso, better known by his stage name Carpenter Brut, is another artist that at some point in time moved away from heavy metal in order to pursue a career in electronic muisc. After a number of EPs and one live record he eventually released his debut full-lenght album, Leather Teeth, which offers to the listener a curious but intriguing old-fashioned kind of synthwave.
The LP is very particular: initially it may leave you a little perplexed because the use of the typical sounds and instruments from the 80s is so blatant and pervasive than the album seems a little anachronistic. After the initial impact, however, we’re captured by the melodies and the nice rhythms of the songs, which are sometimes frenetic and other times more relaxed. The fastest songs are the ones I liked the most, but in general the whole album is definitely interesting and enjoyable, as well as curious and fun.
#6) Justice, “Woman Worldwide”
(Alternative Dance, Nu Dance, Electronic Rock)
Justice have taken the good habit of publishing a live record after each studio album and this year, after the conclusion of the Woman World Wide tour, which promoted the release of their 2016’s studio album Woman, the band as published a new live album, called Woman Worldwide (or WWW).
This live album is fantastic in the sense that it mixes in a exciting and always surprising way all the hits that the band has released so far in their career, and the mixes are so good that most of the songs seem even better than their original versions. Predictably the songs of their early works prevail definitely on the others. Justice early works shine with a special light of beauty and as a matter of fact, by mixing together old and new songs, the latter gain in beauty and look much more enjoyable that their corresponding studio versions.
All of Justice’s live LPs, including the most recent one, provide us with an opportunity to enjoy a beautiful and exciting ride into electronic music. They also make me think about what this band could have become without the desire of producing that sort of electronic vintage rock style which has eventually anesthetized their music in recent years.
#7) Pola Rise, “Anywhere But Here”
Anywhere But Here is the debut album from a new electro pop artist from Poland, Paulina Miłosz, who operates under the stage name of Pola Rise. She published a number of singles from 2014 and eventually got a record deal with Warner Music Poland, which supported the publication of her full lenght work.
Her style of electronic music oscillates between pieces of clear experimental nature with notes of avant-garde, and more delicate and catchy songs, which in my opnion are also the ones that better highlight the qualities of this young artist. Anywhere But Here is particularly interesting because of the way in which it is able to give that “indie” feeling to a set of songs that, in their essence, result quite linear and without any particular dynamic development.
The album offers the listener a nice collection of musical sketches, interesting and enjoyable to hear, gifted by a “light” touch make them the perfect companion for many moments of our days.
#8) Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Async-Remodels”
My relationship with remix albums is generally positive, especially when there is a collection of pieces that manages to be appreciated even without the prior knowledge of the original material. Async Remodels belongs for sure to this category of albums: it collects the work of a group of talented electronic artists who took the challenge to confront themselves with the complex and profound songs of Ryuchi Sakamoto‘s latest solo LP, Async, released in 2017.
The idea to manipulate and alter the music of a legend of music like Sakamoto offers many possibilities, but it also exposes to big risks. To make this even more complicated, it’s important to remember that most of the tracks of Sakamoto’s last work were the result of a profound analysis that the Japanese artist made about the meaning of music: these songs were in fact the product of a conceptual exercise aimed at measuring the boundaries between the organic and the synthetic elements of music.
Listening to the remixes included Async Remodels we must recognize that many of the artists who were called to contribute not only accepted the challenge but they managed, in most of the cases, to give their personal contribution to Sakamoto’s analysis and, sometimes, they enriched the songs with new and original elements. In this respect there are some tracks of the album, such as those by Alva Noto, Electric Youth and Jóhann Jóhannsson (R.I.P.), which are evidently a step higher than the others. In the end, however, it’s the average level of the record that’s very good, making the LP one of the most interesting things happened this year in electronic music.
#9) Moby, “Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt”
In more than 25 years of career, American musician and producer Moby has explored different regions of the electronic world, from ambient to dance, with also a few episodes where he engaged with punk and rock (and his most recent rock releases may be also downloaded for free). But beyond the willingness to face different musical challenges, in all of these explorations Moby has always tried to give his own special contribution to the different genres he was playing with.
Moby’s latest album, Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt, is clearly inspired by the sounds and dynamics of trip-hop, and the result is definitely good. As a matter of fact, Moby has enriched the relative ease of listening of trip-hop with a special dedication to songwriting and a great attention to the details.
The album in its entirety results in equal parts enjoyable and interesting to listen to, there are no evident missteps and the music, in the end, is both familiar and original. On the negative side the LP missing a really memorable song, one of those tracks with an unforgettable line and chorus. It is no coincidence, thus, that the most catchy refrain is that of the song Like A Motherless Child, which is based on a popular tunes from the past.
#10) tUnE-YaRds, “I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life”
(Experimental, Electro Pop)
Merrill Garbus, the US singer and songwriter who operates under the moniker of tUnE-YaRdS, never showed so far any lack of creativity and inventiveness. Indeed, from the beginning of her career she has maintained a minimalist approach to the choice of instruments and music styles almost as if she had the fear of covering, with an excess of effects and instruments, the essence of the motives and the ideas she was transforming into music. And even if this approach maybe precluded the largest audiences, i.e. those that are typically less corageous and less prepared to go beyond those well-established and conventional musical styles, she has still managed however to leave her mark within the indie scene of the last decade.
tUnE-YaRdS’ last album, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life, sees longtime collaborator Nate Brenner become an official member of the project, with the duo confirming more or less the same approach of Garbus’ previous releases. Electronic hypnotic beats remain in fact the baseline over which we enjoy Garbus’ eclectic and thrilling vocal lines. The musical performance is not always up to the experimental ambitions of the duo, but where the desire to explore manages to find an adequate sonic vehicle, their songs can offer a very pleasant escape from the monotony of our routines.