The following list contains my top 50 songs from 2018, sorted alphabetically. While compiling this list, I sought to select the year’s best songs with respect their quality and their lasting power. While I approached this list as a DJ with a focus on electronic music, there are also selections outside the realm of dance music. I hope you enjoy these songs as much as I do!
A.A.L. (Against All Logic)
“This Old House Is All I Have”
First off is “This Old House Is All I Have,” the opening track from Nicolas Jaar’s A.A.L. (Against All Logic) compilation. The album features a collection of previously unreleased club cuts from between 2012 and 2017. It relies heavily on his sample sources, namely Mike James Kirkland’s “Doin’ It Right” and “Love Insurance,” and David Axelrod’s “The Warnings (Part II).” Jaar stitches together these rich samples, using their soulful vocals, funky guitar licks, and playful drums to create a disco groove with a dash of his signature shadowy aesthetic. It is equal parts nostalgic and modern, analog and electronic.
What more can by said about Aphex Twin that hasn’t been said already? The latest single by Richard D. James is a masterpiece, even by his standards. “T69 Collapse” is a cacophony of seizure-inducing synthesizers, rubbery basslines, and glitchy drum machines. It is sure to please old fans and recruit new ones, possibly through subliminal means (see music video).
Autarkic’s aptly named “Strange Alliances” is a funky and hypnotic stonker with plenty of personality. Through the combination of his subdued vocals paired with a pulsating bass, reverberating trumpet stabs, and rolling acid lines, the Tel Aviv native created one of the most original club anthems of 2018.
“Look How Hard I’ve Tried”
Barker’s “Look How Hard I’ve Tried” is closer to trance than techno. In fact it contains no bass drum, no kicks, and no snares. There is no percussion of any kind, yet it was released by Ostgut Ton, the in-house label of Berhjain, Berlin’s infamous techno mecca. In an experimental fashion reminiscent of Steve Reich, Barker builds a meandering melody out of layering reverberating chord progressions. It’s metallic and rigid, even a bit cold, but beautiful in its mathematical precision.
Benedikt Frey’s acid-electro-EBM anthem “New Now” was one of my favorite club-centric discoveries in 2018. It received plenty of attention in the Philadelphia electronic music scene, in part due to Dave P and his Making Time crew. There is something undeniably catchy about “New Now,” with its acid-soaked melody and pulsating energy. Though it rolls along at a modest 110bpm, this track is highly versatile and can cover a wide range of tempos.
“Opal (Four Tet Remix)”
Bicep’s “Opal” was already a hit before Four Tet got his hands on it. The Belfast duo’s highly acclaimed self-titled debut album made big waves in 2017 via the venerable Ninja Tune label. Then in 2018, Four Tet’s remix was the cherry on top, stretching to nearly twice the length of the original. In characteristic fashion, Hebden’s version progresses patiently and steadily, beginning with an ambient intro and ending with a percussion-heavy outro.
Valencia DJ/producer Daniel Kyo released music for a decade before he took up the Core moniker for his Galaxy EP on Barcelona’s Hivern Discs label. There isn’t a weak song on the five track EP, but “Air” is easily the standout with its transfixing repetition, gradual modulating synthesizers, and irregular 3/4 time signature.
“Polarised” is the lead single by Australian brotherly duo Cosmo’s Midnight from their debut album, What Comes Next. It’s light, funky, and irresistibly catchy. This is one for fans of Toro Y Moi and Washed Out, particularly for those fond of their early chillwave productions.
The Cyclist delivers a hazy deep house cut with “Alabaster Thones” for the Los Angeles-based label, 100% Silk. This label has quickly become one of my favorites with its quality and consistency, and “Alabaster Thrones” is the best among their strong showing in 2018. It’s dubby chords, savory bassline, and playful percussion make for a fun summery jam.
Daniel Avery’s Song For Alpha was one of my favorite albums of the year, and so it was an arduous task to pick just one song from it. Since his last album, Drone Logic, was released in 2013, Avery has begun exploring a more ambient soundspace. His DJ sets have begun to incorporate long ambient intros and both his DJ selections and his productions have begun including slower songs. Therefore, I settled on “Stereo L” for the purposes of this list because it is fairly representative of his current trajectory. It still features his signature acid-electro aesthetic but is fairly downtempo, clocking in at 97BPM.
For anyone that is desperate for something to fill the void left by Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington’s disbanded Darkside project, look no further. If I was a betting man I’d wager Darkside’s Psychic was a strong influence. David August’s 2018 album D’Angelo and its eponymous single perfectly capture Harrington’s space-rock guitar drones. August’s voice even sounds remarkably similar to Jaar’s. “D’Angelo” is the obvious album standout due to its rolling bassline throughout and the quaint Ray Manzarek-like piano solo towards the end.
I’ve been following Dean Grenier’s career since he was going by DJG and making bass music in the Bay Area a decade ago. Grenier has since graduated to techno and moved to Berlin, as is evident in this fashionably minimal track. “Individuate” is top shelf hedonistic techno, with hallucinogenic acid lines arpeggiating atop a grinding beat. This is the kind of song that can make or break you at 4AM in a warehouse party.
Desert Sound Colony
In many ways 2018 was defined by a resurgence of breaks, and Desert Sound Colony’s “Fast Life” is a perfect example of this trend. The British producer channels the halcyon days of the warehouse-raving, pacifier-sucking, PLUR-bracelet-wearing ‘90s in this delightfully retro club cut.
DJ Boring & Stanley Schmidt
In a similar vein to the previous selection, DJ Boring & Stanley Schmidt’s “Stay Young” is a warm melodic breakbeat tune. After a gorgeous ambient intro and some muted breaks, the delicate atmosphere is cut by an acid breakdown and bass drop. The juxtaposition between the light ethereal tones and the heavy low end make for a memorable and versatile track.
DJ Healer (aka Traumprintz, aka Prime Minister of Doom, aka Prince of Denmark, aka DJ Metatron) had a prolific year with two official LPs, and over 4 hours of mixes featuring album offcuts. The totality of his 2018 discography is incredible, both in size and caliber. If there was lone stand out, however, it was his track, “Planet Lonely.”* It channels the heavenly ambient tones of Brian Eno, the melancholic moods and repetitious vocal samples of Burial, and the nostalgic drum breaks samples of the ‘90s.
*Not to be confused with the 3 hour mix of unreleased material by the same name.
In what may be my Song Of The Year™, DJ Koze constructs a somber yet spirited disco edit. He bridges the gap between these seemingly contradictory moods through clever samples, combining the energetic instrumentation of Melba Moore’s 1978 disco single “Pick Me Up I’ll Dance” with Gladys Knight’s gloomy vocals from her 1972 soulful tearjerker, “Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye).”* The result is an irresistible introspective dancefloor masterpiece that reaches Daft Punk-levels of disco-edit perfection.
*Some might recognize this song from samples in Midland’s 2016 disco anthem, “Final Credits”, or Pangaea’s 2009 UK Garage classic, “Memories.”
His debut Seven Lies LP was a tough act to follow, but in the case of Djrum’s second album, Portrait With Firewood, lightning struck twice. The album’s heaviest hitter, “Sex,” lands in the very middle of the tracklisting, allowing for some proper foreplay before and a post-coital cool-down afterwards. It begins with a turbulent melody that recalls the old school jungle rave days of past. Convoluted rhythms and chasmous bass stabs make up the bulk of the track. Halfway through these carnal percussive thrusts, Djrum allows for some space to catch your breath with an intimate piano and cello melody. After a quick refractory period, the broken beats return for a second round and continue through to completion.
Released on Flying Lotus’ LA-based Brainfeeder label, Dorian Concept’s The Nature Of Imitation draws from an eclectic well of influences ranging from the jazz fusion of the ‘60s and ‘70s, the progressive rock of the ‘80s, and the leftfield electronica of the ‘90s. The Viennese producer embraces a maximalist approach throughout, especially in his song “J Buyer” which consists of a cacophony of layered synths and a shifting array of bouncy experimental beats.
Montreal’s Essaie Pas is comprised of a husband-and-wife synth duo, Marie Davidson and Pierre Guerineau. In their New Path LP for DFA Records, they explore the dystopian fictional world of Philip K Dick’s novel A Scanner Darkly through spoken word and electronic music. “Futur Parlé” begins in immediate suspense with ominous strings and a thumping bass drum. This tension builds over a couple minutes before a synth progression comes in with Marie Davidson’s Québécois French spoken word narrative.
I had the pleasure of seeing them perform last April at a West Philly warehouse party. The dilapidated industrial setting perfectly fit their sound and the source material.
Indian Wells’ 4-track Phase Transition EP was released through the Los Angeles label Friend Of Friends. The final untitled track is a superbly-crafted 7-minute journey through rolling basslines, arpeggiating light synth melodies, and syncopated vocal and percussive stabs. It is very reminiscent of Four Tet’s unorthodox production style.
Originally released as part of Adult Swim’s Singles Program, Jacques Greene’s “Nordschleife” finally saw a proper release on his Fever Focus EP via LuckyMe. It consists of a light melody, heavily-manipulated female vocal samples, and playful breaks percussion. It’s a true return to form for the talented Montreal producer.
The Jefferson Park Boys
The Jefferson Park Boys consists of Aaron Carmack, Mike Parvizi, and Kenny Segal. “Gramercy Place,” the first track off of their self-released Casual Horns, Dog EP, is a jazzy instrumental hip-hop gem. It’s strengths lie in the strong sample selections and horn harmonies.
In the follow up to his last masterpiece Immunity, Jon Hopkins’ Singularity reaches similar epic heights. The album’s second track, “Emerald Rush,” is a prime example of the evocative talent that secured him a Mercury Prize nomination in 2013. It begins with an ambient prelude featuring ascending synth arpeggios and a disjointed acoustic piano melody that evokes Nils Frahm. This euphoric ambiance quickly descends into a slow-grinding syncopated beat by the two minute mark, not unlike his fan-favorite hit, “Open Eye Signal.” As the song progresses to its peak, Hopkin’s delicately introduces some wistful female vocals to the song’s haunting composition. Between the blissful gentle moments and the high-intensity low-tempo textured techno beats, “Emerald Rush” exemplifies Jon Hopkins’ genius firing on all cylinders.
Romanian duo Khidja hit it out of the park with their single “Plot.” It features the sort of hypnotic and eclectic sound you’d expect from Tel Aviv’s Malka Tuti label, with pulsating acid lines, a crispy trudging beat, and a wild bass clarinet solo. This is a prime club cut with loads of character.
“Evan Finds The Third Room”
Khruangbin is a breath of fresh air in a highly-saturated psychedelic climate. The Houston trio’s latest album, Con Todo El Mundo, draws upon exotic influences from the Caribbean, India, and the Middle East (specifically pre-revolution Iran). “Evan Finds The Third Room” is a delicate groove that exemplifies their jovial appeal. Mark Speer’s crisp guitar noodling commands the attention here, but Donald Johnson’s tight drumming and Laura Lee’s playful lyrics and funky bassline fill out the tune.
“Newwave Project 2 (Call Super Mix)”
British producer Call Super delivered a delightfully mellow remix of Kuniyuki Takahashi’s “Newwave Project 2” in the fall via the Japanese label Mule Musiq. It’s deep and dubbed out, with jazzy percussive stabs creating most of the energy; the perfect vibes to end a late night.
“Envelopes (Chapter VI)”
Leon Vynehall’s “Envelopes (Chapter VI)” is intimate, emotional, and high satisfying. Between the atmospheric start, the stripped-down hip-hop beat, and the flowing textured strings, Vynehall creates a near-perfect transcendental experience.
“Pulsar” is drawn from the fourth installment of Lone’s Ambivert Tools via R&S Records. As the release title suggests, the strength resides in the beautiful ambient atmospheres contained in each track. In “Pulsar,” the UK producer channels inspiration from UK techno, IDM, and breakbeat classics to create the perfect nostalgic closer to play as the sun rises.
M.E.M.O.’s “Tai Tai” is one of the most memorable tunes of 2018, between it’s psychedelic synths, undulating melody and bassline, and tripped-out vocals. The Spanish producer’s use of dynamics makes for the perfect peaktime stonker.
“Trance Fusion (Hunee Tempo Edit)”
One of the most versatile releases of 2018 was Hunee’s Hunchin’ All Night compilation, which featured eclectic dancefloor selections from the ‘70s through today. The choice cut from the bunch, however, is the Korean Berliner’s edit of Mappa Mundi’s “Trance Fusion.” It is a glittery slow-grinding tune with fluttery synths, thumping drums, and what can only be described as a respirating dial-up tone.
Max Cooper is an all-time favorite of mine, and his 2018 album One Hundred Billion Sparks did not disappoint. The UK producer’s main strength lies in constructing the dense ambient soundscapes. Sometimes Cooper will juxtapose these soft ethereal tones with hard-hitting bass and glitched-out percussion. In “Phi” however he never strays too far from the lighter end of the spectrum. It’s a warm introspective piece that would couple well with the likes of Jon Hopkins or Luke Abbott.
“The Magnificent Moon”
Mildlife is a four-piece outfit from Melbourne that plays a psychedelic fusion of jazz, funk, and disco. “The Magnificent Moon,” the 9-minute single from their debut album, Phase, is warm, groovy, and utterly charming. It gives off some serious Alan Parsons Project vibes with its spacey synth arpeggios.
“A Que Hora Cierra”
Gameboyz member, Modernphase, made a big splash in October with his trippy free download for XLR8R. “A Que Hora Cierra” is an orgiastic acid house banger of the highest quality. The tune wobbles and weaves its way through swooping basslines and acid-drenched melodies for nearly six minutes of pure decadent jubilation.
To create his Sunder EP for Ninja Tune, Nathan Fake hooked up a broken drum machine, an old tape deck, and some spare analog synthesizers, then just hit record. Despite its modest and dated ingredients, the end result is of the utmost quality. “Cloudswept” is my favorite of the bunch. It’s retro formula yields an authentic IDM touch that is much needed in today’s black-paint-by-numbers techno scene.
Neil Cowley Trio
“Echo Nebula (Vessels Remix)”
In April, the Neil Cowley Trio released Spacebound Tapes, a remix EP follow-up to their 2016 contemporary jazz LP, Spacebound Apes. The London Trio recruited a killer cast for the remixes: Rival Consoles, Throwing Snow, Christian Löffler, and Vessels; the last of which gave birth to this beautiful tune. The stuttering synth notes and ambient breakdowns are reminiscent of Jon Hopkins or Moderat. It is the perfect interlude song to provide the dancefloor with some room to breathe before getting back to business.
After first hearing Nils Frahm’s live RA Sessions performance of “All Melody” in 2014, I eagerly awaited its official release. Nearly four years later I finally got my wish. Through his inventive and improvisation style, and his use both acoustic and electronic equipment, Frahm creates mesmerizing piano melodies that have been known to bring live audiences to tears. “All Melody” is no different. Frahm explores a range of emotions and energy throughout the 9.5-minute meandering motif.
I wouldn’t typically include a tech tool in a Best Of list, but Overmono’s “iii’s Front” earned it. The breakbeat weapon from UK brothers Tessela and Truss found its way into many DJ arsenals this year, including Avalon Emerson’s wonderful BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix. Released by the impressively consistent Whities label, “iii’s Front” commanded far more than its fair share of dancefloors with its insatiable drum fills.
“It Makes You Forget (Itgehane)”
2018 was the year Peggy Gou took the world by storm. Her anthem, “It Makes You Forget (Itgehane),” dominated the festival circuit with it’s chunky acid notes, rubbery bassline, and intimate Korean vocals. The Ninja Tune… tune… channels Larry Heard’s sultry synth chord progressions. The vibraphone and hand percussion elements transport you straight to summer. Even now as I write this in the middle of winter from my freezing apartment, it invokes the sort of carefree feeling one would find relaxing in a hammock on a secluded beach, slurping some sort of sugary alcoholic concoction from a coconut with a mini-umbrella.
“Time Of The G’s”
Spaniard Pional delivered two deep house cuts for the twelfth release by Fort Romeau’s Cin Cin label. The billowing bassline and melancholic vocals combine for a seductive hook, and it’s reserved percussion invites you in deeper. “Time Of The G’s” dynamic changes are subtle and it commands an attentive ear to appreciate it fully.
Rex The Dog
“Hold It / Control It”
If you were to play Rex The Dog’s “Hold It / Control It” for fresh ears, it would be difficult to determine it’s era of origin. Between the acid-soaked melody, the modular synth electro beat, and the Chicago house-style vocal samples, all signs point to a previous decade. Though it sounds retro, “Hold It / Control It” very much belongs in the present. You don’t need to teach this old dog any new tricks.
London-based Rival Consoles creates cerebral experimental electronic music in the same vein as contemporaries like Jon Hopkins and Max Cooper. In similar fashion, he explores rich ambient soundscapes with reverberating synths and syncopated percussion. The aptly named “Unfolding” patiently reveals itself over the course of six minutes, gradually gaining momentum as the song progresses into an amalgam of polyrhythms.
Ross From Friends
Initially gaining recognition in the lo-fi house scene, Ross From Friends turned some heads when he signed to Flying Lotus’ experimental Brainfeeder label. Ahead of his debut album, Family Portrait, the London producer released the eclectic Aphelion EP, which featured this peculiar gem, “John Cage.” It begins with a recording of a guided meditation with soothing new age tones and samples of waves and seagulls. What follows is an oddly satisfying concoction of warm Rhodes piano chords, a funky ‘80s hip-hop beat, and nonsensical pitch-shifted vocals. It is truly one of the weirdest tunes this year had to offer.
Sharif Laffrey aka Sharif Zawideh has his roots in the early ‘90s Detroit rave scene. As is evident by his infectious jam, “And Dance,” Laffrey hasn’t lost a beat. The 14-minute old school house groove is accompanied by a meandering hypnotic vocal sample that occasionally interrupts the beat entirely. Eventually around the 9-minute mark, Laffrey introduces the first of a medley of filthy acid lines. This unpredictable anthem stumbles between disjointed moments like the mind of someone with some serious ecstasy mileage attempting to recall the halcyon days of the Motor City underground.
Simian Mobile Disco
“Caught In A Wave”
James Ford and Jas Shaw of Simian Mobile Disco invited East London’s Deep Throat Choir to collaborate on multiple songs on their latest LP, Murmurations. The ambitious album’s lead single, “Caught In A Wave” swells with energy from the vocalists’ layered harmonies. Underneath this heavenly ambiance, Ford and Shaw drive the song forward with a characteristic deep pulsating beat.
Skee Mask’s stellar Compro LP for Ilian Tape found its way onto most serious blogs’ end of the year lists. It’s drawn many comparisons to ambient stalwarts such as Aphex Twin, Boards Of Canada, and Burial. The second track, “Session Add,” exemplifies elements from all three of these influential names. It begins in true Burial fashion with a slow-rolling ambient groove that is punctuated with subterranean bass, crackles, and bleeps. Shortly after the halfway point, Skee Mask introduces a Boards Of Canada-style muffled breakbeat followed by the sort of soft melody you’d find in Aphex Twin’s early ambient works.
Space Dimension Controller
“Everything Is Better Now”
Space Dimension Controller touched down last spring with a 35 minute 3-track EP for the Amsterdam label, Dekmantel. It’s opening track, “Everything Is Better Now,” is an 14-minute cosmic house journey through a delightful galaxy of funk. I found myself listening to this one often over the past year. The wholesome synth melodies and walking tempo BPM act as the perfect musical fuel to fulfill those undesirable errands life throws your way. I dare you to listen to this and hold a frown.
“Dins El Llit (Superpitcher Remix)”
Comprised of Barcelona’s John Talabot and Stockholm’s Axel Boman, Talaboman was already a collaborative dream before the German Kompakt-affiliate, Superpitcher, joined the effort. He adds disorienting effects to the beckoning vocals and twinkling synths to create a psychedelic effect. Superpitcher’s dreamy remix of “Dins El Llit” more than doubles its length resulting in a hypnotic slow-burner that is far superior to the original.
For his first film score, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke soundtracked Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the ‘70s cult horror flick, Suspiria. It’s main theme, “Suspirium,” features his signature falsetto voice lilting atop a floating piano melody. It is exactly the sort of melancholic masterpiece we’ve come to expect from Yorke, and its tragic tone perfectly encapsulates the film’s dark themes.
“Wu Me Seh”
This grinding techno weapon was created by the enigmatic producer, Vyvyan, for Man Power’s Me Me Me imprint. “Wu Me Seh” is an energetic acid banger with punchy snares, crisp hi-hats, and delicious vocal repetitions. This track has never failed me in getting the dancefloor to turn up the heat a notch or two.
Yussef Dayes & Alfa Mist Ft. Mansur Brown
“Love Is The Message”
I first discovered jazz percussionist Yussef Dayes in 2016 through his and Henry Wu’s jazz-funk collaborative project, Yussef Kamaal. Their album, Black Focus, is a serious revival of classic jazz and funk traditions that commands respect. Dayes’ latest collaboration with jazz musician and producer, Alfa Mist, was recorded in a live session at the historic Abbey Road studio. Dayes’ jazz drumming is exuberant and affectionate, and provides the bulk of the energy in “Love Is The Message.” On the keys, Alfa Mist delivers a majestic synth theme and some beautiful improvisational chord exchanges. The song also features Mansur Brown on guitar whose solo just past the halfway point is transcendent. The combined effort is simply spiritual.