I don’t know about you, but to me it feels as if there were roughly 100,0000 albums released in 2018. A good album is something that sticks with you for months, a great one might be there for the rest of your life, but I don’t think I ever remember a time when you had to dig through so many candidates to find them. I think part of this deluge is down to a particular generation of producers reaching a point of either stability or establishment in the Great Musical Scheme Of Things, and finding themselves in a position to stretch themselves in various ways. The album is a pretty good way of doing that, as well as allowing for new paths to be pegged out, and perceptions to be challenged. It wasn’t just the younger team, though. There were plenty of veterans at it too, all of which meant a sizeable portion of the postman’s time was spent hufting massive packages containing 8 sides of 180g vinyl in heavy gate fold sleeves up and down stairs like it was the Second Summer of prog rock.
Even so, all of this is probably healthy, and on the whole there were some pretty good LPs released this year. And while I certainly found that the increasing cost of a bog-standard vinyl album isn’t really sitting well against my decreasing time or willingness to sit through the many, many, many, sides of vinyl that now seems to be standard, There were still a good few which made it through into my consciousness. As ever with these lists, they’re no one’s opinions but mine. I’m not sure they’re even really opinions. What they really are are some thoughts about a few records I liked in particular over the last year. Cheers.
CEM3340 – Perfect Stranger (Lunar Orbiter Program)
CEM3340’s debut album is a continuation of sorts from the two EPs of distorted, guttural, electro he had already released on Lunar Orbiter Program. At least in part. Although all the crunching, driving beats and serrated basslines are still very much in place, and the breaks as potent as ever, there’s a wider focus evident across the album. Tracks like Platform Discovery with its Kraftwerk flow and italo touches, or the lopsided carnival ride of Mr Blattman, display an ear for different tones not always obvious in the first two records. Even on the more fully wrought electro bombs, Shadow of the Blondie or Story Of An Egyptian Man, more depth feels given to the tunes, allowing grooves to settle and grow. Best track on the album, I Can’t Get Wrong locks a heavy, grimy, beat down from the start and brings a dirtier sound than anything else you’ve heard this year. A belter of a tune, and a pretty good album.
Blawan – Wet Will Always Dry (Ternesc)
There was always this thing about Blawan – the way he used to rub some proper techno types up the wrong way – that I always liked about him even when I wasn’t entirely sold on everything he’d done, and it pleases me a little that the fact he’s now released one of the best straight-up techno albums of the last few years probably narks at them a little bit. Wet Will always Dry is a class album even if it might not be a true classic. There’s something of the Token Records sound to it, sort of harking back to an era of true machine techno that didn’t need to bother with silly attempts at darkness or deepness because it recognized both of those were a natural by-product of a job done properly. It’s a functional record in the sense that it’s created to shift you, and there are plenty of touches to it which accent that. Vented injects the claustrophobic funk of prime period Mills into something wild and prowling; Nims works itself into a true old-school peak-timer before exploding above our heads in a shower of wires and electrical tape. All through the album the sound design exists to service the rhythms and the grooves. And at its best, as on the heavy, tranced out, stalker, Careless, all of those moody elements other aim to emulate come to the surface with an ease that looks sublime.
Demdike Stare – Passion (Modern Love)
I like Demdike Stare; They’re like an earthier Autechre who exist somewhere more connected with the rest of us instead of in a world entirely built of tonal pulses and impossible geometry. Part of this greater connection has been a long time eagerness to experiment with more mortal forms of dance music, albeit in ways we probably wouldn’t recognize. In some ways they’re quite an old school outfit, and Passion has that same feel of imaginations being left unattended that was such a hallmark of earlier ambient producers. This isn’t about a beam of sound a light-year long and a millimetre wide that seems such a cause for a lot of the new school. This is about width, and texture, and strangely crooked stories being whispered under flickering street lights, or belted out over the sound of too-loud bass in a bar. It’s a record in such constant tidal flux, with scurrying ideas and unfolding directions, it’s impossible to work out its centre of gravity. Hard breaks flicker momentarily into existence here, a thrumm of Reece bass erupts over there. You won’t keep your footing on such uneven ground, but you’d probably not be that bothered as long as you could keep watching the strange shapes the landscape made. A wonderful, deliriously alive record which tears apart everything it touches just to see what happens.
Bruce – Sonder Somatic (Hessle)
British electronic music has been in a great state (more or less) for the last while; It feels like it’s in a more inventive place than it’s been for a little while, and the generation of artists who had already been making some great music for the last five years are beginning to break out in different directions. Bruce’s début album is the both the brashest and most sophisticated thing he’s done so far. In some ways, it shares a large part of the mischievous streak from the Demdike album above, but here it’s utilized in a different way. Tracks like What and Serotonin Levels Low delight in the melodies of rhythm, leading everything else astray, and they point to a use of the sounds in strangely off-kilter ways, building up from unexpected angles or twisting some rogue aspect of mood or atmosphere into a new light. That means we get an album which runs from St Pim’s fractured orbit to Elo’s gorgeous belt of endlessly collapsing Martian house to Meek’s shambling electronic war-dance without any one part sounding out-of-place. You need a sense of sharp musical purpose in there to keep it all together. Bruce brings that, and so much else, to one of British techno’s defining statements of the year.
Helena Hauff – Qualm (Ninja Tune)
I’ve tended to prefer Hauff’s DJing over her productions. There’s no doubt she’s been somewhere near the top of her game on the decks over the last couple of years, and her love of electro has been pushed out there to a different audience through appearances at festivals and on radio.But when it comes to her own music something about it just kind of felt off, like it was a collection of influences which lacked the spark of autonomy that would make it indelibly hers. While I’d be lying if I said that I thought Qualm finally sealed the deal, it provides plenty of evidence that Hauff is moving forward and up. I think part of the reason I liked Qualm so much is that much of it is reminiscent of that Neil Lanstrumm/Djax style sound from the nineties – rabies infected beats, and wild slides in temperature and tone. It wears its heart on its sleeve regardless of whether it’s a strutting, acid-stripped piece of madness like Barrow Boot Boys or the rainy, quietly happy, sheen of Entropy Created Me and You, and that warms the record so much you’ll forgive the way over familiarity with some of the sounds occasionally raises its head.
And that’s almost it. Shout out to some other great albums though: Posthuman’s Mutant City Acid (Balkan vinyl) reworked the little silver box’s spirit into something wide-open and truly cybernetic; Forest Drive West took techno through the looking-glass with Apparitions (Livity) and delivered it into a shimmering, kaleidoscopic zone of shadow and machines; DJ Bone delivered two hits of genuine Motor City goodness with A Piece of Beyond, and Beyond (both Subject Detroit); and Neville Watson’s The Midnight Orchard (Don’t Be Afraid) was a symphony of frequency and mood.
Nice one all. More next year, please. But maybe on a few less sides of vinyl. Sweet.