In the age of glorified single releases, dance music artists have had to learn how to balance time with relevance. On the one hand, time allows artists to bring forth a fully mastered, cohesive artist concept album. On the other, the need to stay relevant pushes producers towards a releasing frenzy. There’s no doubt that our fast-paced digital age has changed the nature of the recorded album. The release format of the full-length studio album becomes even more complex when you consider how heavily modern music streaming has affected the music industry. Nowadays, artists will go about teasing their albums for months with a slew of one-off singles that ultimately contribute to the larger sonic storyline of their album.
However, the long form release format still reigns supreme today as countless artists have proven over the past year. We’ve seen artists like ZHU release his album in the form of two EPs, while The Chainsmokers experimented with releasing every song off their latest LP on a single-by-single basis. When one considers how much time, energy, and vulnerability goes into the studio recording process, what emerges is far more a work of art than anything else. In the small corner of dance music, the year 2018 has given fans a bevy of full-length musical masterpieces that will go down in time as formidable pieces of art. So choosing the top ten is one editorial feat that music critics struggle with every passing year. How does one even go about naming the year’s most influential albums into a simplified short list?
Conscious Electronic weighed a combination of factors in bringing forth the year’s best LPs, including streaming rates, radio presence, and top charts, along with cultural impact and editorial picks. Without further ado, we proudly present our Top Ten Albums of 2018.
10) Getter, Visceral
2018 marked a milestone year in the career of David Getter. The formerly heavy dubstep-leaning took one giant leap forward into uncharted sonic terrain on his Visceral LP, his debut 12-track conceptual artist album on mau5trap. Getter had admittedly become weary of the dubstep genre, so he began pouring himself into a new, more diversified artistic project under the direction of deadmau5.
As for any artist, changing one’s sound stamp can be a challenge, to say the least. Not only because it’s like changing the entire course of one’s artistic resume, but ultimately because it’s like changing one’s own deeply engrained identity. Change is necessary for survival, and this isn’t just true for artists. Without the growing pains that accompany change, life would be too comfortable, stagnant, and boring. Getter knows this better than anyone and it shines in his three-year-long labor of love. The result is a culmination of carefully designed, extremely personal, and meticulously crafted labor. It’s a labor that is nothing short of — well — visceral.
9) Lane 8, Little By Little
In an age of “sophomore slumps,” Daniel Goldstein proves himself a master of organic house on his second full-length studio effort. Released in early February, Lane 8’s Little By Little certainly hasn’t lost its resiliency over time, which is why it earns a definitive spot on our Top Ten Albums of 2018 list.
The album is a soothing ten track journey into smooth architectures, cinematic atmospheres, and winding landscapes. With standout tracks in “Daya,” “Atlas,” and “Stir Me Up,” Goldstein crafts calm and effortless pitstops along his immersive journey. It’s a lot like taking a long, meditative hike up a sunny mountainside. He even enlists synth-pop band Poliça to provide rich and introspective layers to another one of the album’s stand out singles, “No Captain.”
All in all, it’s an album that is rather hard to put into words since Goldstein is a master of pace, rhythm, and timing, and, not to mention, wrapping his listeners up into a blissful catatonic state.
8) Zhu, Ringos Desert
Enigmatic producer Steven Zhu continues to mystify and stun with the release of his solid sophomore LP, Ringos Desert. Early in his career, he cultivated his anonymity and didn’t reveal his identity for several years, which only added to the hype surrounding each release. The same energy that sparked listeners’ curiosity for so long has been translated into the development of a loyal and devoted fan base. Earlier this year, a mysterious phone number appeared in a tweet he sent out; when the number was dialed, callers were then texted with instructions on how to attend his now-legendary BLACKLIZT event in the middle of the Joshua Tree desert.
The atmosphere of being out in a remote desert party, surrounded by loyal and loving people, seems to be exactly what Zhu has cultivated for both his image and his music. Ringos Desert does not disappoint, featuring dreamlike deep house soundscapes, reverberating plucked guitar riffs, and the signature drifting ethereal vocal lines that characterize his sound. Enlisting help from Karnaval Blues, Tokimonsta, and Tame Impala among others, the 14-track project plays well as a cohesive piece with no skippable songs. As Zhu’s legacy and influence continue to grow, it feels like there will be much more satisfying mystery and music to come.
7) Shades, In Praise of Darkness
Shades, the duo consisting of Alix Perez and Eprom, released their dark, heavy debut album In Praise of Darkness this year. Alix Perez is an established drum and bass icon, and Eprom has been making waves in the experimental bass scene for several years. The two have released some sporadic singles and EPs together, but this project is their most ambitious and unified yet.
Beginning with an ambient, growling track that sounds like the soundtrack to Godzilla rising from the deep, the tone is set early and consistently. Marching straight into hypnotic, percussive pieces like “Faultline” and “Geryon,” the duo clearly has no problem savoring each dripping, swelling, perfectly engineered bass sound. The album proceeds to weave its way through a series of unbelievably deep and dark tones, at times feeling formless, as if the music is emerging from the vast void. Atother times, it feels head-noddingly driven and mesmerizingly rhythmic, as on the anthemic “Algor Mortis.” With cosigns from the likes of G Jones and Porter Robinson, Shades is inspiring a generation of producers and is sure to be paving the way for bass music going forward.
6) RL Grime, NOVA
Four years ago, Henry Steinway became the forefront figure of trap music’s preeminence in dance music when he laid his Clockwork moniker to rest and went full force with RL Grime. His debut album under his trap-influenced moniker pushed the boundaries of the genre with his thumping 808s, eerily silent dips between drops, tectonic low-ends, and lo-fi appeal.
With his highly-anticipated sophomore release, NOVA, RL Grime was able to push the genre even further. It was a time when many began saying trap music was losing its vitality, beginning to sound bland and overplayed, littering festival’s with its commercially redundant beats. Along came NOVA to paint the traditional trap aesthetic with a more pop/hip-hop appeal, thereby marketing trap to a wider mainstream. With collaborations with hip-hop and R&B heavyweights like Cheif Keef, Ty Dolla $ign, Miguel, Jeremih, and Tory Lanez, to the more melodic focused tracks “I Wanna Know” with Daya, RL Grime’s sophomore effort merged musical worlds, creating a more radio-friendly, digestibly pop-centric sound for the masses.
5) Steve Angello, Human
Following the massive Swedish House Mafia hype surrounding their impending reunion tour, Steve Angello had quite the year on his own. The Swedish progressive house producer released his 21-track Human LP, which proffered more dark, retrofitted tunes that delved deep into his own relationship with spirituality and religion. The album samples heavily on religious sounds — from church organs to the sermonic spoken word lyric from time to time. It’s an intensely graceful and therapeutic listening experience, reminding listeners that music is the pathway to righteousness. Human is an avante garde look into Angello’s recent catalogue. At the same time, it’s an incredibly thoughtful, moving, and memorable closure of the solo phase of his career.
4) The Glitch Mob, See Without Eyes
Almost four years had passed since The Glitch Mob dropped off their seminal sophomore album. Yet, just as fans were beginning to get restless for another LP release, The Glitch Mob returned in a big way: a 14-track spring time release in See Without Eyes. The release came with a monumental album-accompanying world tour and an updated Blade 2.0 stage set up that would visit every major festival stage of summer. Yet, for Boreta, Ooah, and EDiT, they’re far more interested in the creation process than any of the commercial fall-out success. That shines in their third studio effort. It’s an intelligent, carefully layered convergence of sounds that calls upon the yin-and-yang energy of life. The album creates the kind of raw, visceral aura The Glitch Mob strives to ignite in their music from their Burning Man roots: one that is transcends the listener beyond matter and sound.
3) San Holo, album1
Perhaps because of his almost instantaneous success with the breakthrough hit “Light,” the debut album was a long and cumbersome creative journey for San Holo. The Dutch talent, born Sander van Dijck, spent an entire year holed up in his Netherlands studio working tirelessly to ensure a debut album that would live up to his past success. The result is an outpouring of pure passion, ambition, and pulsating creativity in his debut offering, album1, which was released on his own imprint, bitbird, in mid-September.
Not only does the LP leave firm footprints on the dance music world, it represents a stampeding sonic soirée showcasing San Holo’s love for all kinds of music. album1 is a 12-track masterpiece bringing together everything from EDM and post-rock to classical and ambient. With standout singles in “worthy,” “lift me off the ground,” and “surface,” San Holo lays out a masterful interplay of complex rhythms, home grown guitar melodies, lo-fi tinged textures, soaring strings, and multi-layered sampling techniques. It’s not only sonically ground breaking, but emotional, authentic, and deeply personal.
2) G Jones, The Ineffable Truth
With the release of his debut album, The Ineffable Truth, California-born producer G Jones delivers a hard-hitting but sentimental journey through the world of bass music. Using computerized voices, tones, and timbres throughout the project, he expertly weaves an imaginative world from rapid-fire drum patterns, electronic glitches, powerful bass tones, and occasionally even soft, lush keyboard melodies. His dazzling live tour that accompanies this project continues to rock the country from coast to coast, with no signs of slowing down.
This is an album that feels like it must be listened to in its entirety to be fully appreciated. It’s easy to imagine arguing that any one of the tunes on the 11-track LP is the best one. Moving effortlessly from sentimental and heartfelt to explosive and skull-shattering, the project makes its way through a deep river of emotion with thoroughly evocative musical journeys. From start to finish, it’s full of surprises, but begins to feel familiar by the end. In fact, G Jones himself has said that the album is designed to be played on repeat, as the end of the last song transitions nicely into the first. It’s certainly something many listeners have done to this triumphant debut.
1) RÜFÜS DU SOL, Solace
It had been exactly three years since RÜFÜS DU SOL’s Bloom LP would put them on the map. So crafting up a follow-up to such a highly acclaimed debut album was no easy feat. But the Aussie three-piece act put their heads to the ground and got to work: They made the cross-continental move to Los Angeles, where they hunkered down in Venice to churn out their third studio Solace LP. Not to mention, they built an album-accompanying world tour and launched their very own independent imprint in Ross Avenue along the way. It’s hard to say whose had a better year in electronic music more than RÜFÜS DU SOL, which is why Solace takes our number one spot for Best Album of 2018.
The nine track offering is a carefully constructed compilation that not only speaks to RÜFÜS DU SOL’s arresting artistry, but further solidifies their place as one of the world’s most captivating live electronic acts. It’s a break up album, to be sure. It’s about letting go and moving on. It’s about becoming content in past memories. But more than that, the album makes the case that RÜFÜS DU SOL is larger than electronic dance music as they insert their footing into the crossroads of world and alternative rock.
Honorable Mention: Above & Beyond, Common Ground
Upon the release of their fourth studio album in Common Ground, along with an accompanying tour by the same name, Above & Beyond’s early January offering gave fans everything they’d come to love about the UK trio. Colorful, expansive emotions and heart wenching melodies, set against an entrancing backdrop. Common Ground is a classic coming-of-age tale, reminding listeners what it’s like to be alone, to fall in love again, and break up with the realization that self-love was the thing you were searching for all along. With a 2019 Grammy nod now under their belts for the Richard Bedford-assisted single, “Northern Soul,” Common Ground earns a dully honorable mention against our Top 10 albums of the year.