Our most trusted scribe and head taste maker Ben Hogwood runs down the essential albums of 2018
DANIEL AVERY – SONG FOR ALPHA – PHANTASY SOUND
Few albums have the far reaching scope of Daniel Avery’s second, an eagerly awaited release five years in the making. Avery wanted to catch the state of late nights and early mornings on the road, and he does that with nights at the club still firmly in the memory. That means a contrast between the energy of his rhythm tracks and the wooziness of the ambient chords hovering above. Avery’s attention to detail and willingness to roam freely lends ‘Song For Alpha’ its otherworldly air, and lifts it far above your average album release. It is full confirmation of Avery’s standing and talent, a statement not bettered in its field this year.
AUTECHRE – NTS SESSIONS 1-4 (WARP)
The natural reaction when listening to an Autechre album is to scratch your head. There are several justifications for this – wondering just how they produce so much music in so little time, and then wondering how all of it is so staggeringly original. As if the release of the monolithic elseq 1-5 wasn’t enough two years ago, they trump that with a daunting eight hours of material, divided into four NTS Sessions. Once again there is a remarkable variety of music, ranging from confrontational to oddly soothing. From glitchy affairs to the massive ‘all end’, an hour-long piece that achieves an incredible, almost euphoric ambience, NTS Sessions is right up there with Autechre’s very best work.
LEON VYNEHALL – NOTHING IS STILL (NINJA TUNE)
In a very strong year for solo instrumental producers, Leon Vynehall’s ‘Nothing Is Still’ stands out as one of the best. It is an imagined soundtrack of his grandparents’ move to New York, and the life they took up in the 1960s. It is the arrangements that stand this music above the ordinary, as Vynehall has a very natural command of strings, and an imagination with flute, sax and piano that goes really well with the electronics he has also mastered. Couple that with some gorgeous harmonies and you have an album mixing deep emotion with instrumental craft to heart-melting effect.
MAX COOPER – ONE HUNDRED BILLION SPARKS – MESH
In the press release for ‘One Hundred Billion Sparks’, there is talk of how Max Cooper ‘searches for artistry amongst the mechanisms, emotions and constructs which yield our identity and experience’. Deep thinking indeed, but when you listen to the wonderful music he has produced it makes good sense. This is an album of progression, starting off in weightless form with the sort of textures you can dive into, but then gathering its momentum and reach to encompass some wonderful, full-bodied bass sounds and drum tracks. A rather special record.
HOLLIE COOK – VESSEL OF LOVE – MERGE RECORDS
For her third solo album, Hollie Cook really looks to have found her musical peak. The first two albums were enjoyable enough, but this is top-level down tempo music that Cook raises through virtue of her excellent vocals. Produced by Youth, with drums sampled from Prince Fatty and Horseman’s ‘In Saturday Night Style’, and the likes of Jah Wobble and Alex Paterson also in tow, it is a quality cast behind the scenes. Yet Cook’s vocals are still the deciding factor, making ‘Vessel Of Love’ an uplifting record that sets the mind and body just right.
CHRIS CARTER – CHRIS CARTER’S CHEMISTRY LESSONS VOLUME ONE (MUTE)
It is almost incomprehensible to think of where electronic music was 17 years ago – but that’s the length of time between solo albums for ex-Throbbing Gristle member Chris Carter, who in his defence has been making superb music as part of Carter Tutti Void. Chemistry Lessons Volume One absorbs old English folk music and 1960s radiophonic sounds, combined into 25 beautifully painted postcards of melody, texture and rhythmic activity. The ‘Volume One’ moniker comes with the hope that Carter has more experiments up his sleeve, because he is on top form here.
AUNTIE FLO – CAPE TOWN JAM – BROWNSWOOD
For his third album, Auntie Flo – aka Brian d’Souza – has relocated to Brownswood, but in effect he’s been given permission to travel the world. ‘Cape Town Jam’ is a melting pot of styles and influences that reflect people d’Souza has met on his travels, enlisting the services of Andrew Ashong, Dan Mugula and Mame N’Diack. All fit the organic theme running through the album, the core style of house music complemented by more imaginative percussion – and in the process illustrating just how flexible house can be when used with some imagination.
SZUN WAVES – NEW HYMN TO FREEDOM – THE LEAF LABEL
This super trio of multi instrumentalists comprises Jack Wyllie (Portico Quartet & Circle Traps), Laurence Pike (PVT) and Luke Abbott, and its music somehow reflects the musical freedom these three artists enjoy. With terrific drumming from Pike and Wyllie and slow moving fuzz from Abbott, it is compelling stuff, as the trio show off a few deep jazz influences without becoming hostage to any of them. Musical exploration that sounds instinctive and signs off with a flourish.
JAZZUELLE – REBIRTH – GET PHYSICAL
It only seems like five minutes since we were reviewing the debut album ‘Circles’ from Thando Tshoma, the South African producer known better as Jazzuelle. ‘Rebirth’ is essentially a deep house record but it brings in some really well chosen guests to add a bit of spice, the tracks boosted by really cool keyboard sounds and smoky, middle distance atmospherics to take us to a warm and soulful place. A superb album of comforting and stimulating deepness.
DAMIAN LAZARUS & THE ANCIENT MOONS – HEART OF SKY – CROSSTOWN REBELS
Since the first Ancient Moons album, Damian Lazarus has travelled a lot – but here he actually tones down the world influences a bit, in favour of a second album sound that is more lean, bass driven and soulful. ‘You’re All I Need To Get High’ is a great retro sound, reminiscent of the Haçienda era, but there are soulful edges to the album too, making it one well worth seeking out.
VARIOUS ARTISTS – BALANCE 029 MIXED BY JAMES ZABIELA – BALANCE MUSIC
Clearly James Zabiela had the seven year itch, as this was his first commercial compilation to be released since 2011. It is well worth the wait, too, with an incredibly amount of care and thought going into the carefully knitted structure. His knack for securing a blend of two, maybe three tracks for extra impact is uncanny, as is the completely unhurried and natural progression of the first mix, a dreamy affair. The second contrasts that nicely, focussing on the feet rather than the head to build up a really impressive head of steam. One of the best Balance compilations to date
VARIOUS ARTISTS – BRAINFEEDER X – BRAINFEEDER
So much creativity and so many different styles. Brainfeeder’s first decade as a label is to be celebrated, especially as it has achieved the stated aim of head honcho Flying Lotus – to make great music regardless of the genre. Brainfeeder X sums it up perfectly, including music by all the leading figures of the label, while also signposting the way forward for more electronic creativity in the years ahead. Original and highly stimulating!
VARIOUS ARTISTS – JD TWITCH PRESENTS KREATUREN DER NACHTKRAUT: DEUTSCHE POST-PUNK SUBKULTUR 1980-1984 – STRUT
Compiled by Optimo’s JD Twitch, Kreaturen Der Nacht is a superb selection of music that might be more than 30 years old, but still has a vitality and originality making it ideal for today. There is a strong sense of discovery here that often makes you want to dance immediately. With some brilliant punchy grooves and spacey instrumentals like Stefan Blöser’s ‘Voyager One’, this is one of those compilations that presents you with a load of great new music you didn’t know existed.
VARIOUS ARTISTS – SMALLTOWN SUPERSOUND 25: THE MOVEMENT OF THE FREE SPIRIT MIXED BY PRINS THOMAS – SMALLTOWN SUPERSOUND
25 years for a label is a hell of an achievement – still more so when that label has allowed as much room for manoeuvre as Norway’s Smalltown Supersound has over the years. The shear breadth of styles here means Prins Thomas has no trouble in compiling three very different mixes, a great platform from which to showcase the label’s exploratory side, its talent for great house music from the likes of Lindstrøm, Bjørn Torske and Lars Horntveth, and a special way of blending tracks from newer hits Kelly Lee Owens, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and the immortal Neneh Cherry. Pure Scandinavian bliss from start to finish.
VARIOUS ARTISTS – FABRIC 100: CRAIG RICHARDS, TERRY FRANCIS & KEITH REILLY – FABRIC
To be honest the main reason for this compilation making the cut is Craig Richards. He delivers an outstanding mix that sums up why he has been the shining light through Fabric’s tenure – and how appropriate that he should be the one picked here, as he mixed Fabric 1 all the way back in 2001. As one of the best compilation series of the 2000s to date bows out, Terry Francis and Keith Reilly are excellent accomplices in the cause, Francis taking in all three rooms and Reilly – who opened the club in 1999 – going down a more soulful road. A fitting end to a terrific series.
VARIOUS ARTISTS – SHAPES: MOUNTAINS – TRU THOUGHTS
Tru Thoughts’ ‘Shapes’ series always make for a great listen, and ‘Mountains’ is one of the best. This is thanks to the label’s way of presenting their best artists with a host of rarities and remixes thrown in, so we get highlights like Rhi in remix guise from Ivy Lab and DJ Chug, Manu Delago via Poppy Ackroyd and Hidden Orchestra dazzled by Max Cooper. An irresistible package full of musical treats.
VARIOUS ARTISTS – HARBOUR BOAT TRIPS VOL.02 COPENHAGEN BY TRENTEMØLLER – HFN MUSIC
The first Harbour Boat Trip made a very strong impression, and almost a decade on it’s great to see Trentemøller has decided to resurrect the series. He continues the thread of darkly shaded shoegaze, electronica and pop with a mix that if anything feels like a night time complement to its predecessor. It proves every bit the equal of the first harbour trip, knitting together like a dark but comforting jumper.
VARIOUS ARTISTS – 15 YEARS OF THE BUNKER – THE BUNKER NEW YORK
Over the space of three hours you can see just how far New York’s The Bunker has come since 2003 – and it is an extremely versatile selection. From slow, smoky warm-up tracks to the much more acidic tones of Jasen Loveland, Tin Man and Wata Igarashi, this is a set of tracks and a snapshot of techno history every self-respecting fan should be looking into.
VARIOUS ARTISTS- DEFECTED PRESENTS DJ HAUS IN THE HOUSE – DEFECTED
DJ Haus (Rupert Hogan) made a brilliant addition to the long running ‘In The House’ series, and although the tracks he offers are predominantly new, there is a real vintage feel to some of this music, bringing back the first principles of house music – excitement, energy and some incredibly catchy and singable hooks. To be honest there isn’t a dud among the 40 offerings here, making the compilation is a no-brainer really – a hugely enjoyable, energetic and inspiring double pack that demands to be snapped up!
VARIOUS ARTISTS – WE OUT HERE – BROWNSWOOD
Not many compilations inspire a documentary, but Brownswood’s inspiring ‘state of the nation’ We Out Here has done just that. Looking at the vibrant deep jazz scene in the UK at the present time, it finds music that can easily transfer to listeners from other areas – hence its inclusion here. Jazz doesn’t need to be scary, and when played with this much class and feeling it proves inspirational.