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2018: The Year in Electronica

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Fans of electronica had a lot to be happy about this year. Aphex Twin released new music (always good news), Lone released more great Ambivert Tools, Khan issued a double pack of old tapes (Traditions 08), and Autechre saw the official release of its epic NTS Sessions, available in 12-LP and 8-CD sets.

There were also many newcomers who kept things interesting. Some relished in retro, but others pushed the boundaries. Electronica continued to spark new directions in indie rock as well. The following is just a sampling — 13 featured recordings — of what 2018 had to offer house and techno heads.

Maestros

Aphex Twin – Collapse EP (Warp)

Aphex Twin never disappoints, and his Collapse EP is as zany and inventive as one would hope. The title track is a tour de force of bleeps and scatter beats, and we hear an impish child run through the compositional maze that is “MT1 t29r2.”

Gas – Rausch (Kompakt)

Wolfgang Voigt has been at the forefront of many electronica movements, most notably early rave and minimal house. But he’s also invented a few genres over the years, too, including the music he makes under the name Gas. It’s a bold sort of ambient music that, as heard on Rausch, has become increasingly symphonic.

Richard Devine ‎– SortLave (Timesig)

Modular synth music doesn’t get much better than Richard Devine’s latest masterpiece of complexity. The opening number, “Microscopium Recurse,” would make Karlheinz Stockhausen blush with pride. But the American maestro sews enough deep grooves into the swirling mix to satisfy that Detroit itch, as on “Opaque Ke.”

Jon Hassell – Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume One) (Ndeya)

Composer and trumpeter Jon Hassell has long mixed analog and digital music to hauntingly great effect. But the octogenarian sounds especially fresh and modern on his latest full length. Tracks like “Pastorale Vassant” showcase the album’s enchanting allure.

Contenders

Robert Lippok – Applied Autonomy (Raster)

German trio To Rococo Rot was never one for bold statements. But founding member Robert Lippok ups the minimalism to eleven on his latest solo album. Working with big building blocks of sound, he punctuates the proceedings with crashing din and disembodied voices such as on “Varieties of Impact.”

John Roberts – Spill (Brunette Editions)

After two years of relative silence, John Roberts returned with a peculiar but compelling single. Roberts’ music has never been very dancefloor foreword. But “Spill” is the cut-up technique set to wax. Exhaust blasts, marimbas, a cello, and other sounds clash in dramatic fashion, creating a composition that’s more William S. Burroughs than Jeff Mills.

Schlammpeitziger – Damenbartblick auf Pregnant Hill (Bureau B)

Eleven albums in, Jo Zimmerman a.k.a. Schlammpeitziger is still the standard bearer of lo-fi electronic wizardry. His signature playfully warped synths and unhurried rhythms, as heard on “Damenbartblick,” evoke Krautrock yesteryear while managing to sound shiny-new and up to date.

Newcomers

Ciggy De La Noche – Strictly Come Dancing (Distant Hawaii)

Ciggy De La Noche’s debut four-tracker has all the right ingredients for house music: late-night vibes, deep bass, and infectious 4/4 rhythms. It’s also oozing with personality. “Moroccan Mint Infusion” twists its way into your heart and down to your toes.

Geo Rip – U-Udios 2 (U-Udios)

D.C. electronica trio Geo Rip has a leftfield sound that’s hard to pin down. There’s something oddly retro about their music although you’ve never heard the likes of it before. The track “Cha Chalant” delights as both a head-scratcher and toe-tapper.

Secret Wilderness – Low End Surrealism (Ice Station Records)

Screen Vinyl Image guitarist Jake Reid, whose knob-twiddling due is long overdue, hits the sweet spot with his new project Secret Wilderness. The hasty beats and bleeping hooks of “Hamtramck” could crack the Top 40 if good taste was still a thing.

Wavescape – Castle 037174 (Murge)

UK producer Paul Weston released one of my favorite albums of the year. It doesn’t break new ground but it’s absolutely gorgeous. Detroit worshippers will find a lot to like, but so will lovers of downtempo electronica. Most of it floats on a cloud, but there’s a Russ Gabriel remix at the end and the hit single “Voyager” in the middle.

Rock Fusion

Guerilla Toss – Twisted Crystal (DFA)

Guerilla Toss always dabbled in electronica. Analog synths added that extra bit of weirdness way back when they were a screechy noise rock unit. Eight years later it’s still the glue that keeps them quirky. Only now the group’s sound is much rounder and reigned in. “Meteorological” would be the radio-club crossover hit of 2018 if all was right with the world.

Wume – Towards The Shadow (Northern Spy)

When Baltimore’s Wume launches into one of their polyrhythmic jams there’s this awesome moment where they achieve liftoff, like they do halfway through “Ravel”. The spoken word pieces on the synth-and-drum duo’s second album grounds them more than I would like, but this group is one to watch.

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