ACL 2018 ~ Top Ten Electronic

Half of this year’s picks are from female artists, who represent a growing strength in the industry.  In 2018, we also saw a huge increase in the amount of ethnic-based, personal releases, with deep drums and deeper stories.  This year’s picks include all manner of tempo and texture, from airstrike sample to processed voice. There’s a lot more to electronic music than club beats; while some of the selections below are well-suited to the dance floor, these artists prefer to make whatever music fits their fancy, without worrying about making people move.  In many cases, they are far happier to prompt thought, spark reflection and inspire action.

And now, A Closer Listen presents the best electronic music of 2018!

Hatis Noit ~ Illogical Dance (Erased Tapes)
The only reissue on any of our year-end lists ~ in fact, the only one we reviewed this entire year ~ is a sparkling EP that received little global attention when it was issued by Tokyo’s PURRE GOOHN in 2015. Erased Tapes rectified this oversight with a huge push, recruiting the artist as a collaborator on their anniversary box set as well.  Hatis Noit is perfect for fans of Holly Herndon, Katie Gately and female innovators operating in the field of voice and loop.  The purity of her voice is its own selling point; electronic treatments, culminating in the Matmos remix, put it over the top.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Nazar ~ Enclave (Hyperdub)
YALL MFS BEEN SLEEPING. The international awareness of African music often seems to be trapped in a time capsule, conveniently buried before the civil wars and neocolonial land grabs of the last few decades. The explosion of Global Bass music has helped draw attention away from the past and place more emphasis on what contemporary musicians are up to today, as genres like Kuduro, Kwaito, and Logobi effortless cross otherwise militarized borders. Nazar’s self-described “rough kuduro” filters Angolan rhythms through the idiom of club music, punctuated by deep, rhythmic bass lines and frigid synth stabs. Spoken word lines in English set the scene (“No fly zone in the area. Airstrike. Impact.”) while the EP ends with Nazar’s father reading lines in Portuguese from his wartime journal, reflecting on avian migration. Raised in Belgium, the Angolan producer returned to his homeland after the end of the long Civil War in 2002, and the sounds of war linger across Enclave: gunshots, explosions, staccato samples crashing. The result is a bellicose, post-digital aesthetic that is at once unsettling, anxious, and affirmative.  The now Manchester-based producer has reworked tracks by Burial, Buraka Som Sistema, and JPEGMAFIA, but his startling debut EP on Hyperdub should earn him much wider acclaim. Seriously, Nazar doesn’t even have an entry on discogs yet, but this autumn Kode9 & Burial put him on their latest mix, while his set at Unsound in Krakow made it clear that this is a producer to watch. Now we just have to wait for his full-length. (Joseph Sannicandro)

Original Review

Puce Mary ~  (PAN)
Our site’s sad neglect of Puce Mary has finally been rectified. While I included The Spiral in my best of 2016 column, and she appeared in a mix or two over the years, The Drought is the first of her albums to receive a proper review.  After a number of strong recordings for Denmark’s Posh Isolation, Puce Mary makes the jump to the venerable PAN.  And while her latest is not a radical departure from the past, The Drought  may be her finest work to date.  The Drought is richly textured and spacious, dense but not over-saturated. The influence of noise and industrial music is still here, but both those labels feel inadequate as descriptors.  Rather than a crescendo of full force noise, The Drought is full of a disquieting, patient intensity whose modest urgency is right at home in the mire of 2018. (Joseph Sannicandro)

Original Review

Rauelsson ~ Mirall (Sonic Pieces)
Rauelsson’s Mirall was another step forward for the Spanish-born musician, and with it he continued his evolution. Change is inevitable, but Rauelsson’s music moved with a great confidence, driving willingly into new areas of electronic sound. Deep, slinky beats and nocturnal electronics helped to propel the music forward; the atmosphere was one wrapped in the full dark of night. Twinkling under a canopy of stars, the glinting, slightly-off textures gave the music a leftfield appearance, like something from Stranger Things, while on the flip side, classical strings brought a sensitive, vulnerable, and emotional side to the fore. The inclusion of saxophone was another smooth touch on an accomplished, relevant, and dynamic album. Nothing felt wasted; everything was lean. With organ, piano, synth, clarinet, and strings all featuring in one capacity or another, Mirall was incredibly active without ever feeling cramped or out-of-place, making this one of the best electronic albums of the year.  (James Catchpole)

Original Review

Rival Consoles ~ Persona (Erased Tapes)
Electronic producer Ryan Lee works in mysterious ways, crafting micro-house from the slightest clicks, ticks, pops, and crackles. Teasing consonance and off-tempo side beats, his music phrasing is just nearly perfect, all the more endearing for its variance. Although inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film Persona, Lee’s stage doesn’t include props or custom changes; it may include smoke machines spuming opaque clouds above a crowd, and a lightshow strobing introspective patterns. The bulk of Persona evokes various stages of the afterparty, those delicious hours when one’s chest still pounds for the thrill yet one’s limbs hang heavily. Lee splits the difference between bedroom and club, pushing for a private euphoria.  (Todd B. Gruel)

Original Review

Sabiwa ~ 輪迴 (Reincarnation) (Bezirk/Chinabot)
It’s easy to stereotype a culture based upon media clichés. A collective label with a purpose, Chinabot creates a platform for portraying a more nuanced, adventurous side to Asian music. Sabiwa’s self-titled album combines trash beats with thrashing sound samples, like creaking gates and slurped water, with warped vocal samples, like the robotic narration on “I introduce myself” or the pitch shifted chanting on “Xin de Shijian.” The melee of found sounds and electronic mayhem leaves us feeling, as one track title describes, “Dizzy and confused.” Far from reinforcing the perception of Taiwan as a culture of polite nature lovers, Sabiwa pounds on the door of our perception. And when we answer, she comes wielding a mean clarinet. Brace yourself.  (Todd B. Gruel)

Original Review

Somni ~ Bloom (Friends of Friends)
Again and again I’ve asked myself, “how can this record not be a physical release?”  It deserves to be on vinyl and CD, but for now it’s only digital.  In my review earlier this year, I called Bloom “the perfect summer album,” but it sounds great in the colder weather as well.  The album distills a sound that can be found on such classics as Botany’s Lava Diviner and Night Shift’s Trespasser’s Guide, while bringing something new to the table as well.  Sequenced as a single mix, it’s best enjoyed as a whole, although each individual track is similarly stunning.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Sonae ~ I Started Wearing Black (Monika Enterprise)
2018, with its weekly tornado-like assaults and acting as an agent of swift and often stark change, was enough for some to start wearing black. Black is powerful. To some, it’s the ultimate colour of rebellion, and to others it’s a total absence of colour. Sonae’s album was one of the best of the year. Black is a sign of mourning, black is protest, black is nihilism, black is depression. Sonae’s album was a bold move, and it turned out to be a bruising commentary on the year itself, documenting wider issues in pitch-black times. On the track “We Are Here” Sonae wrote that “(it) is for minorities, for the oppressed, who didn’t belong enough.” I Started Wearing Black was a powerhouse of a record, brave in standing up for itself and others, advocating equal rights (or equal rites) while also being a call to arms. The year also brought #MeToo into the spotlight. It’s time to end this kind of abuse. Female empowerment won’t be stopped, and this record, with its larger themes embedded deep within its cold-as-ice beats, proudly wore its colours.  (James Catchpole)

Original Review

Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois ~ S/T (Planet Mu)
Mad hatter beat maestro Venetian Snares’ first collaboration with ambient guru Daniel Lanois is quite the doozy. Frenzied drum programming froths our morning latte to rigid peaks. Producer extraordinaire Daniel Lanois adds the drops of vanilla, in the form of silky pedal steel lines, swirled until it streaks. How pleasantly jarring to hear the plucky rhythms contrasted with silky strings. We feel the dual impulse to hum some tranquil tune while breakdancing profusely. As humor has it, the album was recorded live in a studio which once served as a Buddhist temple; the recordings retain an impression of the Enlightened One, arms hugging belly, lips curled upwards, smiling devilishly at a joke just beyond ear-reach.  (Todd B. Gruel)

Original Review

Zoë Mc Pherson ~ String Figures (SVS)
How many other recordings can you name that contain Indonesian cicadas, Arctic Assalalaa, Turkish horses, French bees, throat singing and folk tales?  None, we’d wager.  Mc Pherson’s album is a tale of tribal percussion and transcendent prayer, cultures and communications, languages lost and found. While listening, we’re not quite sure what country we’re in, and that’s the point.  We imagine that we never built borders, never taxed travel, never passed laws to exclude our neighbors, instead inviting them over for one big sonic buffet.  String Figures reminds us that we’re all connected in one big, beautiful way: a majestic quilt of color and culture.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review


  1. Pingback: Zoë Mc Pherson: in een grenzeloze wereld het exotisme voorbij – Front

  2. Pingback: Zoë Mc Pherson: in een grenzeloze wereld het exotisme voorbij – Ruben van Dijk

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