Conscious Electronic’s Top Albums of 2019
In the digital music age, where streaming counts and algorithms matter, the steady release of one-off singles seems to dictate an artist’s relevance in the scene. Who’s staying in the headlines? Who had the most chart-topping hits? Who broke into the billion streams club?
Still, as countless artists have proven over the years, the long-form studio album continues to reign supreme. When music fans recognize how much time, energy, and vulnerability goes into the studio recording process, it fuels artists to create. With the full-length project, artists put themselves on the line far more than they could with any slew of single releases. Producers use the album’s cohesiveness to say, “This is me. Here are my struggles, my hardships, my ups and downs.” For artists, what the album boils down to is trust. It’s a free-fall into the hands of one’s audience. For fans and critics, its about gratitude, recognition, and praise.
In the dance music sector, 2019 has bestowed countless full-length masterpieces that will be remembered for years to come. That’s why narrowing down the Top Ten in any genre is no easy task for music critics. In fact, it seems like an all-together impossible feat. How does one even go about placing the year’s most influential albums into one simplified short list? Conscious Electronic weighed a combination of factors in assessing this year’s best LPs, including streaming rates, chart presence, fan reception, cultural impact, and editorial picks. Without further ado, we proudly present our Top Ten Albums of 2019.
Also, check out our curated playlist on SoundCloud.
10) Gesaffelstein – Hyperion
Known to his followers as the Dark Lord of Techno, French producer Gesaffelstein had become rather elusive after his debut LP release in 2015. The enigmatic newcomer, born Michel Lévy, rode the album’s success for two full years, and then dropped off in 2017. That’s because he was striking a major record deal with Columbia and focusing on his sophomore full-length effort, Hyperion. When the LP landed in springtime of this year, Gesaffelstein was thrust back into the spotlight. He landed another Coachella appearance and embarked on an album accompanying world tour. Not to mention, he released a short player in Novo Sonic System along the way.
When Hyperion hit the charts and airwaves, it was huge. Also a recipient of widespread critical acclaim, the LP became an ode to Gesaffelstein’s past as well as a marker for where he was headed. Without a doubt, Hyperion marked the trajectory of his signature sinister style evolving towards a more pop-centric audience. This assessment was mainly evidenced by his collaborations with The Weeknd and Pharrell. More than anything else, though, the album was Gesaffelstein’s successful attempt to bring the avante garde to life in the commercial music world. Without a doubt, it brings the underground world of techno into the mainstream imaginary.
9) Tsuruda – FUBAR
If Thomas Tsuruda stopped making music tomorrow, he would already have left an undeniable mark on bass music. With a history of performing and producing alongside the veritable royalty of the scene, artists like Bassnectar, G Jones, Mr. Carmack, EPROM and more have given him cosigns time and time again. Turning trap, dubstep, and hip hop repeatedly upside-down and making them his own, his experimental style provides a bold new look into many sub-genres. A legion of both veteran and rookie producers have cited him as an inspiration… and with good reason. October 2019 saw the release of his nine-track studio album, FUBAR, with an accompanying social media explosion as fans and collaborators expressed their amazement at the daring nature and quality of the music.
Packed with the gritty synthesis and stuttering sideways drum beats that characterize his sound, FUBAR is an exploration of what the glossy underbelly of the west coast urban bass scene is all about. Los Angeles beat scene influences are obvious: elements of Mr. Carmack, Flying Lotus, Great Dane and more can be quickly discerned on a good number of tracks.
Still, Tsuruda retains a jaw-droppingly original style that is often imitated but never duplicated. At times deep and minimalist, at other times launching itself into the sound design stratosphere, FUBAR weaves its way through a tapestry of head-nodding gutter beats, granular 80s-inspired synths, and gravelly half-time drum patterns. It pauses in its intensity only long enough for the listener to raise their eyebrows and wonder, “…what on earth was that?” FUBAR is a breathtaking project that sees Tsuruda at his most cohesive and artistically realized, transforming his thoughts into a bold vision of the future of bass music.
8) Illenium – Ascend
Since striking a huge record deal with Astralwerks in mid-2018, Illenium’s list of accolades have been piling up. With two Top 10 Billboard charted hits, 20 million monthly Spotify listeners, and his Jon Bellion-assisted record reaching RIAA gold status most recently, there has been no stopping the self-proclaimed “sad boy” ever since. Not to mention, Illenium released his third studio album in Ascend this past August, which marked the artist’s first No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Top Dance/Electronic Albums Chart.
Through it all, Nick Miller embarked on his album-accompanying arena tour, which boasted a full live band and countless sold-out shows at some of the country’s most-celebrated venues. The most notable among these were Madison Square Garden, STAPLES Center, and Red Rocks. More than just a series of live shows, or even a collection of tracks, Ascend was an entire artistic concept in itself. It was also the culmination of three years of hard work. The 17-track studio album was meant to be the bookend of a trilogy starting with Illenium’s debut Ashes LP. The artistic era continued to take shape with 2017’s Awake sequel, which had its own prolonged tour that was, for all intents and purposes, the launch to Miller’s meteoric rise.
As a continuation of those sonic narratives—with thematics that touched on heartbreak, love, loss, coping, and the many other struggles Miller had dealt with over the years— Ascend struck a deep emotional chord with mass audiences. It also marked the coining of the “sad boy music” revolution that Miller was attempting to put himself at the forefront of, alongside Porter Robinson and others. After all, Illenium had already conquered the melodic bass movement, becoming more of a namesake than the inspired original artists he built his musical stamp upon (e.g. Adventure Club, Sound Remedy, and even Seven Lions in some ways). Why not go after Porter’s sound camp?
Arguably more pop-forward than his previous two full-length efforts, Ascend represents Miller at his most honest and vulnerable. In many ways, it also represents Illenium’s rise to dance music stardom. For these reasons, Illenium’s third studio full-length cracks our Top Ten Albums at No. 8.
Read our full album review here.
7) Tycho – Weather
When Scott Hansen put himself on the map in 2011 with his sophomore full-length, Dive, he may have forever tethered the Tycho name to the chillwave movement. Never say never, though, as they always say. Determined to stray away from this generic connotation, 2014’s Awake signaled Hansen’s turn into electro-organic, acoustic guitar-based arrangements. In the process, he re-fashioned the Tycho namesake into more of a live band experience. Then came Epoch in 2016. The LP brought forth more mechanized sounds, giving Tycho’s music a strong rhythmic pulse the likes of which fans hadn’t heard from Hansen before.
This year, Tycho released the 8-track album that puts this record trilogy to rest: Weather. With the newest studio effort, Hansen took what appeared to both distant on-lookers and passionate listeners alike as a revolutionary career leap. He went all-in on a vocally-led artistic pursuit by prominently featuring the soothing lyrical talents of Saint Sinner, born Hannah Cottrell, a rising futurist R&B singer out of San Francisco.
A composer herself and lead vocalist on the project, Saint Sinner is situated front-and-center on five of Weather’s eight tracks. Cottrell was instrumental in evolving Tycho’s sound, all the while keeping in line with his original roots, instrumental style, and visionary production methods. The move took critics and fair-weather fans with a bit of astonishment. Though, given the album’s teasers in “Pink & Blue” and “Japan,” ardent fans sensed Tycho wanted to move toward a more vocally-driven aesthetic.
Meanwhile, Hansen and returning co-producer/bassist Zac Brown managed to craft their most varied compositional arrangements to date—all in the service of propelling Saint Sinner’s words into the spotlight. The result makes for not just the most coherent, cogent, and cerebral listen of any project in Tycho’s storied catalog. Careful not to call it cerebral, though, for Hansen will be the first to say he does not make “cerebal” music. More so, Weather is a refreshing rinse of dreamy, lo-fi tinged landscapes, wish-washy synth arrangements, nostalgic tones, and sun-kissed instrumentals. All of these elements work fluidly together to propel an aura of wisdom and sagacity. The result is an album that will withstand the test of time, thus making Tycho’s Weather clock in at our seventh spot.
6) LSDREAM – Renegades of Light
As Brillz’s unique psy-bass alias, LSDREAM may very well now be the new Wakaan favorite. The LA-based producer, born Sami Diament, decided to put “TWØNK” on the back-burner in favor of a more experimental left-field bass stylistic pursuit. It was in these psychedelic waveforms that he would craft his debut 10-track VOYAGER LP, also released on Liquid Stranger’s esteemed label. In hindsight, it’s a rabbit-hole that he’s probably extremely grateful to have gone down.
In April, LSDREAM returned to the Wakaan family for his 11-track sophomore album, RENEGADES OF LIGHT. The entire project taps into an energetic frequency that we at Conscious Electronic naturally gravitate towards—ascendent, emulsive, knowledge thirsty. Intentional and grounding, this is a piece of work that will go down in the Wakaan vault as one of the best albums to arise from the label. That’s not a sentiment that can be easily stated, either. What LSDREAM has managed to unlock is a sonic frequency that feels effortless and natural. It’s almost as if he was supposed to be making left-field bass music all along. Without a doubt, RENEGADES OF LIGHT is Diament’s best work to date.
5) Ganja White Night – The One
Ganja White Night (GWN) are largely credited as the pioneers of bringing the riddim sound to mainstream attention. Already tastemakers and moguls in their own right, Benjamin “Bamby” Bayeul and Charlie “Erwan” Dodson have little to prove. Their imprint, SubCarbon Records, already boasts some of the biggest names in bass. In some form or another, their most visible label constituents (see: SubDocta, Dirt Monkey, and Subtronics) all base their catalogs heavily in the Belgian bass duo’s trademark sound.
After releasing and touring The Origins last year, Ganja White Night found themselves hunkering back down in the studio on their eighth full-length album, The One. The 13-track project put GWN’s tried-and-true wobble bass sound on full display, with wonky cadences and crunchy, distorted bass lines also coming out in full force. The album also finds the duo in good company, teaming up with dubstep pioneer Caspa, Kannibalen Records’ Apashe, and longtime collaborator Boogie T.
The album waltzed right onto Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Album Sales at No. 11, matching the peak spot of their other charted project, The Origins, which hit No. 11 in February of 2018. With a massive album accompanying tour wrapping this month, it’s no wonder Ganja White Night’s The One sails right into our Top Ten Albums of 2019.
Read our full album review here.
4) Flume – Hi this Is Flume
There’s just no arguing that Flume has had the best year ever. Not surprising, considering the Aussie superstar producer and Grammy winner warned he would be back this year in a big way. If only fans had known exactly how big his return would would be. He released his Quits EP with Reo Cragun, a “Flume Sounds” sample pack, and plenty of one-off singles ad collaborations, along with landing a few guest spots on Apple Music’s Future Sounds and BBC Radio 1 with his house mini-mix, “Hi This is 4×4.” Even in the midst of this release frenzy, Flume still found time to let loose at Burning Man, becoming this year’s most viral man on the internet.
Before any of that, Flume bestowed upon fans a brand new Hi This is Flume mixtape, released in late March on Future Classic. As his first new music since 2017, the 42-minute mixtape features a dozen solo originals alongside a handful of special collaborations. The mixtape showcased plenty of new Flume material, including “How To Build A Relationship” with Baltimore rapper JPEGMAFIA, “Hyperreal” with SOPHIE, “High Beams” with HWLS and slowthai, “Voices” alongside frequent collaborator Kučka, a heavy collaborative remix with EPROM, and the solo originals in “Jewels” and “Spring.”
While the mixtape doesn’t technically qualify an album, it was good enough for the Grammy committee, who included in their nominations for Top Electronic Albums of the Year… and if it’s good enough for a Grammy nod, then it’s certainly good enough to qualify for our Best of 2019 shortlist.
3) LSD – Labrinth, Sia, and Diplo present… LSD
In summer of 2018, the music world was taken by storm when Diplo, Sia, and Labrinth announced the formation of their new psychedelic side-project. Now, after garnering mass crossover appeal, the triage is formidably known as LSD. Both an acronym and a double-entendre, the group’s name would gain global attention in a matter of months. Their sound gleaned heavily electronic with tinges of pop and R&B. Diplo took up the reigns on the beats, along with Sia’s signature horsepower vocals leading the charge, and Labrinth’s R&B talents offering up the role of the stagecoach hand as he compliments Sia’s verses.
The supergroup would spread out their releases over 2018, including “Genius,” “Audio,” “Thunderclouds,” the Maddie Zeigler-assisted radio hit of summer, and “Mountains.” Months would pass before fans heard anything more from the trio, making the world question whether LSD was a casual side-project, a passing phase, or a serious undertaking. Then, in March of this year, the three would surprise release a brand new single, “No New Friends,” paired with their debut album announcement.
The fruits of their labor finally came to fruition in the 10-track full-length studio effort, Labrinth, Sia, Diplo Present… LSD. Marking an entirely new direction in each of the artists’ respective sonic catalogs, the self-titled project was highly cohesive and experimental, wildly fun, and powerfully palatable. When all was said and done, the album represented a one-way ticket to a frilly, la-la-land pulling on nearly every genre known to humankind. Even today, their hits can be heard across the radio waves.
2) Mersiv – Digital Eden
In Mersiv’s Digital Eden, Anderson Benoit Gallegos takes his listeners on a journey through an immersive soundscape, stitched together through hip-hop sampling, heavy low-ends, and amorphous bass. Digital Eden is the perfect way to describe this album, because within it, Mersiv explores some of the most expansive and delightfully ethereal sounds known to the current digital music landscape. One of the best parts about experimental bass is that anything can anyone in any given direction without a moment’s notice. Untethered and completely formless, Mersiv showcases his sonic identity in this statement-making 10-track masterpiece with authenticity and ease.
The purpose of the album, according to the Madison House artist, is to inspire his listeners to manifest positive affirmations. “The intention of each song is to heal and bring you into the present moment through sound,” continues Mersiv, speaking on the day of the album’s wide release.
Armed with a constantly evolving sound and an uncanny ability to push boundaries, Mersiv’s Digital Eden is the kind of album that will inspire the underground bass world down the line. Sure, the album didn’t break any sales records numbers or reach the top of the charts. But that’s exactly the kind of independent spirit and under-the-radar appeal that makes the project’s ethos so authentic. This is one album that was voted into our Top Ten solely based on the tastes of the editorial staff at Conscious Electronic.
1) Madeon – Good Faith
Every few years, a poignant album comes along that changes the way we listen to electronic dance music. In 2014, it was Porter’s Worlds. In 2018, it was RÜFÜS DU SOL’s Solace. That accolade belongs to Madeon this year. In just a few short years’ time, Madeon has gone from masterful mash-up newcomer to electro-pop sensation. Since releasing his debut album with 2015’s Adventure, the now-iconic French DJ/producer, born Hugo Leclercq, has become a fixture in the electronic dance scene.
As Madeon, he’s garnered production credits working alongside the likes of Lady Gaga, Ellie Goulding, and many more pop icons. He’s helped birth a wildly successful artistic concept alongside Porter Robinson and toured “Shelter” around the world. He’s even built two immaculate live shows around his only two solo long-form projects, the latter of which is out now on Columbia Records.
2019 represented a monumental stepping-stone year in the 25-year-old’s creative career. Madeon effectively released his seminal sophomore studio album, Good Faith. He’d been teasing the LP since January with “All My Friends,” then steadily releasing the next two tracks off the album over the course of the year, with “Dream Dream Dream” and “Be Fine,” respectively. The prolonged wait was due to some creative and personal roadblocks along the way, Madeon revealed. So to say the wide release was well worth the wait might be the biggest understatement of the year.
Weighing in at 10 tracks, Madeon’s seminal sophomore solo creative endeavor is a charismatic exploration of dance-pop ballads. Good Faith draws its inspiration from a slew of genres, from indie-electronic to gospel to smooth rock and pop. Glistening synths, bellowing church organs, electric guitar and piano melodies, robust drum work, and Madeon’s synthesized vocals all make their way into a number of the album’s tracks. Each song reveals a new piece of the album’s larger story.
Released only a few weeks ago, Good Faith opened at the top spot on Billboard‘s Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart (dated November 30). According to Nielsen Music, the album earned 9,000 equivalent album units, including 6,000 copies sold in its first week. It also signaled Madeon’s second Billboard No. 1, after Adventure topped the charts back in April 2015.
Read our in-depth review here.
Honorable Mention: Feed Me – High Street Creeps
Let us never forget about about one of the globe’s top electro-style tastemakers…
Nearly five years after his last album drop-off as Feed Me, London-based producer Jon Gooch kicked off the year with his sophomore LP, High Street Creeps. The early-2019 mau5trap release was received with widespread critical praise right out of the gate. When one listens closely to album, it’s not hard to see why.
First of all, High Street Creeps demonstrates a full mastery of Gooch’s seductive, electro-influenced style. He even blends his signature sound with other forms of house. In so doing, Gooch challenges the big room Dutch version of electro that dominates the globe, taking the sub-genre into new directions all his own. Second, Gooch displays incredible diversity, often venturing into other genres and fusing them with electronic. Take “Till The Wheels Come Off” and “Pumpkin Eyes” as a cases in point. On the tracks, Gooch sets out into indie rock territory for the very first time, which not only signals a brand new direction for Feed Me but also shows off his strength for enveloping other genres into his own wheelhouse.
Third, there’s a certain complexity and attention to detail that consistently sets Feed Me out amongst the pack. It’s a process of letting go, of allowing the music to take hold, and submitting one’s self over to Feed Me’s tight grips. It takes tenacity and true grit to what Feed Me does so effortlessly. High Street Creeps offers further evidence that Gooch has gained a deep footing in the vast world of electronic dance music and understands all of genre’s complex inter-workings. This is one LP that fans are going to be enjoying for years down the road. How could they? This is Feed Me we’re talking about, after all.
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