Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Yves Tumor (Photo: Jordan Hemingway), Laurel Halo (Photo: Sylvie Weber), and DJ Koze (Photo: Gepa Hinrichsen)

The best electronic albums of 2018

Yves Tumor (Photo: Jordan Hemingway), Laurel Halo (Photo: Sylvie Weber), and DJ Koze (Photo: Gepa Hinrichsen)

Psst—even if you don’t listen to electronic music, every record you’ve ever heard is electronic music. The truth of this sophism is deepening as electronic instruments and idioms overtake every genre. Euro-pop arpeggios twist through country radio. Modular drones whir through folk. Synth rock, once a subgenre, now simply means “popular rock.” It’s getting weird to isolate a swath of music as “electronic,” an anachronism for the future. What does it share across mainstream pop and the borderless internet variety replacing it, hip-hop and ambient, dance-floor bangers and headphones brooders? It can be minimalist or mostest, hermetic or porous. It can be made of other music or made only of itself, of electricity shaped into waves. It can be staggeringly soulful or mystically severe. It can be for the body, the head, the heart, or all three (hi, Jon Hopkins). It can shift our sense of space-time or just slap. Whatever it is, the genre that purists once called homogeneous now offers unparalleled variety, as our list attests. Electronic music infinitely extends the acoustic without uprooting it. It’s the sound of our world discovering, not remembering, itself.

Lucrecia Dalt, Anticlines

On her sixth album, Anticlines, Colombian musician and engineer Lucrecia Dalt thrives in eerie tension. With warm drones and cryptic narration as driving forces, each song feels like a silvery bubble of oil rising, unidentifiable samples warping in its reflection. You get the sense that, eventually, they’ll burst. Dalt’s control of this palpable suspense shows her talent for building miniature landscapes and then mining them for their potential worth. [Nina Corcoran]

DJ Koze, Knock Knock

DJ Koze’s distinct and infectious playfulness is built right into the title of his third LP: Knock Knock. Who’s there? By far one of the warmest, most wondrously weird albums of the year. Drawing from hip-hop, house, R&B, and more, the album’s 16 amorphous tracks occupy a twilight euphoria between melancholy and joy, nostalgia and experimentation. It’s simultaneously surreal and generously real, reveling in the inherent bittersweetness of the human experience. [Kelsey J. Waite]

The Field, Infinite Moment

Axel Willner has a secret. The impossibly long, lissome lines he draws down a seam between minimal and ambient techno aren’t lines at all. They’re clusters of microscopic musical information, bobbing like beads on a string of time. They suggest slivers of pop songs getting stuck in eternity at the instant of blissful death. On Infinite Moment, Willner infuses the burly complexity of his recent albums with the light-and-breath essence of his classic debut, fulfilling its title’s promise with typical delayed gratification. [Brian Howe]

Listen to songs from The A.V. Club’s best albums of 2018—from punk, country, metal, electronic and more—on our Spotify playlist.

Laurel Halo, Raw Silk Uncut Wood

Leave it to Laurel Halo to ditch her previous style for a new one that’s equally form-fitting. Named after an Ursula K. Le Guin quote, Raw Silk Uncut Wood is as tactile as it sounds: a meditative mini-album merging avant-garde jazz and ambient experimentalism. Halo deconstructs piano notes one at a time, like a lush chord on “Mercury” and maniacal skittering on “The Sick Mind,” while percussionist Eli Keszler and cellist Oliver Coates add volume. It’s the skeletal score of a horror film with a cyclical end. [Nina Corcoran]

Helena Hauff, Qualm

On the follow-up to her celebrated 2015 debut, German DJ-producer Helena Hauff remains wholly unconcerned with outside trends or forces, focused solely on taking her minimalist analog jams to the brink. From front to back, rippling sci-fi synthscapes (“Qualm”) to techno obliterations (“The Smell Of Suds And Steel”), Qualm showcases Hauff’s heavy, resourceful arrangements, and her ability to draw an absurd amount of body heat from cold, decaying machines. [Kelsey J. Waite]

Tim Hecker, Konoyo

The sheer volume and power of Tim Hecker’s music has long forced synesthesia upon his listeners: If you weren’t hearing colors on 2013’s Virgins, you may actually have been listening to Two Virgins. Konoyo, though, is overwhelming in its blankness. Composed in conjunction with a Japanese gagaku ensemble—and at the behest of the late Jóhann Jóhannsson—it’s a stark, only occasionally jarring portrayal of the circular exhausting of mourning and the sad wonder of grief, a place where traditional instrumentation and Hecker’s production process meet in long, pained howls. [Marty Sartini Garner]

Jon Hopkins, Singularity

Singularity is not a concept album, at least not in the traditional sense, but make no mistake, this is a cohesive record intent on conveying the strange beauty of our inner lives. Hopkins’ version of ambient-but-still-throbbing techno is brimming with organic and synthetic sounds alike, from waves of synths to choral harmonies to simple evocations of nature, all of it set to pulsating beats capable of transporting the listener from a solitary meditation to the dance floor and back again. [Alex McLevy]

Jlin, Autobiography

It would be so nice for writers if Jlin were just a brutalist footwork auteur forged in the steel mills of Indiana, but breaking boxes is her whole thing. Her first two albums, all shattered angles and cantilevered planes, were concussive answers to the question “What is music without melody?” And this year, composing for British choreographer Wayne McGregor, Jlin opened passages of haunting ambiance in her collapsing obsidian labyrinths. Autobiography is a sublime extension of footwork’s rococo palpitations into modern-dance space, from a producer who might do anything except the expected. [Brian Howe]

Skee Mask, Compro

Bryan Müller’s second album as Skee Mask splits the difference between jungle and ambient without swerving chaotically in intensity—or floating off into the ether. These are breakbeats heavy with atmosphere, like chase scenes through a vast, imagined city. The hyperactive hi-hats splash like warm synthesizers on “Kozmic Flush”; the pneumatic beat of “Session Add” seems to breathe to life, over the course of minutes. For an exercise in nostalgia, Compro feels decidedly (even creepily) alive. [Clayton Purdom]

Yves Tumor, Safe In The Hands Of Love

How on earth does Safe In The Hands Of Love hold together? The clue’s in the title. Yves Tumor’s third LP contains blown-out hip-hop, screaming noise, walls of ambient pop, and ecstatic drum loops, a multitudinous sound suffused with hurt and terror and sensuousness. Where previous efforts felt like the work of yet another SoundCloud-era polymath, Safe is immediate, even essential, an urgent argument in favor of finding the humanity amid the noise. [Clayton Purdom]

Honorable mentions

Daniel Avery, Song For Alpha
Daniel Avery’s meticulously produced second album throws the doors of the club open at daybreak, inviting in hazy ambient textures and meditative synth washes to cast the British DJ’s driving techno beats in a compelling new light. [Kelsey J. Waite]

Jean-Michel Blais, Dans Ma Main
Blais’ minimalist compositions receive an infusion of electronic experimentation into his gorgeous post-classical piano—sometimes creating abrupt sonic counterpoints to his exacting melodies, sometimes fused to them, but always in service of a spare and profound whole. [Alex McLevy]

Steve Hauschildt, Dissolvi
Now the better part of a decade past the dissolution of his iconic band Emeralds, Steve Hauschildt is exploring territory far from those droning landscapes, discovering a shimmering, minimalistic pulse on the characteristically excellent Dissolvi. [Clayton Purdom]

Rival Consoles, Persona
Perhaps befitting an album named after one of the most absorbing, confounding films ever made, Persona’s a volatile record, with beats that shatter on impact and ambient interludes that pulse with menace. [Clayton Purdom]

Ross From Friends, Family Portrait
The ambient-house maestro evolves beyond his roots to create a pleasingly old-school debut album, one that plays, as we previously noted, “almost like a greatest-hits compilation of retro space-techno pleasures.” [Alex McLevy]