WORDS

18 For 2018: The Albums

Albums, LPs, longers, long’uns, bodies of work, massive moments in an artist’s careers, awesome things…. Whatever you want to call the album format, it’s most certainly not dead. Not if this year’s resplendent spread of longers is anything to go by. If anything, it could be argued that streaming has given the art of an album a revitalised shot in the arm as people don’t even have to commit to check the whole piece, rather than paying to download the big bangers for their DJ sets (but don’t say that the older dudes eh?)

Here are 18 of our writers’ favourites. Some of them we’ve been waiting years for (yeah we’re talking to you Blocks & Escher and KOAN Sound) As always, this is not a ‘best of’ list, just some hearty recommendations from people as passionate about the music as you are. And yes, we are aware Mefjus’s album is missing on this list… We ran out of space and assumed you’ve all got that by now so anyway. There are many more we’ve missed (Barely Alive, Alibi, L-Sides, Kromestar & Danny Scrilla, the list goes on) but these 18 alone represent how vibey and vibrant this year has been for albums. What were your favourites?

 

Blocks & Escher Something Blue (Metalheadz)

There are albums in your life that you can return to week on week, month on month and just know that they will always squeeze the air out of you and turn your skin into a goosebump tsunami. For me personally, Something Blue has become one of those albums. Not a week has gone by this year since the promo dropped in January when I haven’t driven to it, worked to it, run to it or played it to my family at tea and I can’t see this tradition changing any time soon.

To put it simply, Something Blue captures the essence of drum & bass. The contrasts, the blues, the sheer rawness, the space, the energy, the futurism… Everything. If aliens were to land and ask what drum & bass is, this is one of the albums I’d play them (alongside the likes of Timeless, Rings Around Saturn, Diary Of A Scoundrel and Cybotron)

Four years in the making, Blocks & Escher created an ageless piece art that at once taps into all the foundations, making all the right references, yet sounds completely fresh and exciting. The last time an album did this so succinctly was Dom & Roland’s Last Refuge Of A Scoundrel. I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again; why this wasn’t even nominated in the Drum&BassArena Awards this year is a travesty. (Dave Jenkins)

 

Break – Another Way (Symmetry)

Break, you brilliant bastard, you. November saw the release of his fifth studio album, which not only cemented his G-status (like we really needed any further convincing…) but also sound-tracked pretty much every drum & bass festival on the planet this summer. You’re welcome, world.

Kicking off with the jazz-infused Last Goodbye featuring the velvet-voiced Celestine, we’re launched right into Break’s unique musicality with that signature twist; a sound he keeps perfecting, and a sound that is constantly evolving. Another Way truly has something for everyone; from feel-good jazzy toe-tappers, to stripped back dubby numbers, to heavyweight hard-hitters like Keepin’ It Raw and Dog’s Dinner with Total Science – guaranteed to have you punching the air or whoever’s in your vicinity – it’s simply Break doing what he does best, and that’s staying true to himself and grafting a unique sound all his own.

The balance he strikes throughout the LP is indicative of his musical genius, also recruiting the likes of DLR, GQ, Fats and Kyo along the way. Considering this is his fifth studio album, this certainly ain’t Break’s first rodeo, and that really shines through here as he effortlessly weaves each track together in proper style. The man is prolific as fuck, and yet continues to keep the quality consistent, astounding with every production. What a G. But we already knew that. Big ups to the drum-master Break. (Maja Cicic)

 

Calibre – Shelflife 5 (Signature)

The magic Irishman was back with full force in 2018, releasing not one but two LPs. Sheflife 5 was the first this year but the fifth in his well respected series that he set up simply as a means to put out collections of unreleased persy dubs he’d enjoyed playing. But, Calibre being Calibre, even a collection of tracks holds together with more consistency than soul than many conceptual albums. This fifth edition in particular rolled like a real artist album;  twelve tracks of sumptuous tones, ethereal vocals and melodies that capture the imagination. Highlights include City Life (featuring regular collaborator DRS), darker cut Jaboc and the hauntingly melancholic Self, the melody in which will tug at your heart strings like few tracks can. Calibre has done it again not once but twice this year. Are we surprised? No, no we’re not. (Ben Hunter)

 

Camo & Krooked – Mosaik Remixed (Mosaik Music)

One of the best electronic music albums in years always deserved one of the best remix albums possible. The remixers were blessed; Camo & Krooked’s original tracks serve as potent ingredients, and everyone involved clearly poured their hearts and souls into their own representations. From Signal’s still massive remix of Black Or White Mosaic to Hybrid Minds’ touching take on the already emotionally charged Ember, it felt like every artist pulled out their finest. The range of talented acts on board is notable, too; this wasn’t all about heavy hitters but the best person for the track; Shield’s version of The Sloth being a fine example. Up there with Pendulum’s remix album as one of the biggest collections of great minds and a showcase of how subversive remixes can be in the right hands; this album saw even more pieces of Camo & Krooked’s picture come into view. (Michael Janiec)

 

Culprate – Others (Inspected)

Technically this isn’t an album but the eight track size and sonic audacity of it make it an album in our eyes. Plus Culprate fans have long been anticipating this release, it felt like an album when it finally landed.

Standing out largely for its sound design, Others is weird, experimental, chaotic, elegant, charming, captivating, thought-provoking, and creative – everything a good album should be and then some. A colourful look into the Bristol-based producer’s mind, the album covers the full spectrum of bass music, all with the cleanest, most out-there sound design in the game.

Tracks like Inside offers cinematic beauty encased within funky, irregular beats and bellowing basslines, while ‘Jelly & Ice Cream’ offers the seemingly dubious fusion of neuro-tech-sci-fi madness with a deeply infectious groove – reminding us of the crazy, erratic sounds Culprate is able to pull off without flaw. We’re also treated to the so-filthy-it-should-be-illegal drum & bass magnum opus Subsonics, the chill and alluring Beast, the luxuriously lavish No Words, and the elegant album ender At the Gates… All of which go to show Culprate can masterfully create and capture any and all feelings with his productions. (Rhiannon McCarter)

 

Danny Byrd – Atomic Funk (Hospital Records)

Hands down one of the most fun albums of the year, Danny Byrd’s Atomic Funk is a celebration of jungle music that appeals to old and new fans alike. Kicking things off with the bubbly Salute, it’s proven impossible to sit still with Atomic Funk playing. Filled to the brim with feel-good, warming energy from start to finish, the album is the ultimate pick-me-up and guaranteed to get even the grumpiest of gits dancing. Featuring collaborations with Maduk, Ownglow, MC GQ, and more, the album highlights Danny Byrd’s extraordinary career and is a timeless homage to the genre’s roots.

Seriously, if you need a hearty dose of funk and sunshine, look no further than this album. With tracks like Holy Star bringing old-school boogie vibes, Hold Up The Crown with the autotune goodness, Starting It Over with the jungle drum madness, and Money Calling Me with the acoustic serenade and sing-a-long vocals, the album is as diverse as it is wholesome. And let’s not forget the masterclass in funk, the jivey, jazzy, soulful number that is Devil’s Drop – this one is sure to be a future classic. If you like your drum & bass on the groovy side, Atomic Funk is for you. (Rhiannon McCarter)

 

Digital – Total Control (Function)

The minute the vocal sweeps in on the opening track Motherland, you know Digital isn’t playing silly buggers on his fifth studio album. A ‘spit and sawdust’ album, as he described it at the time, it’s Digital doing what he does best; taking care of his own business and laying down gargantuan tracks that are tailored strictly for knocking you off your feet in the dance. No random ambient tracks or off-piste experiments; just pure production power from a man who regularly tests his tunes out on his on his Void Acoustics system.

As a result, Total Control is a strength test for soundsystems across the universe and the sheer weight and dynamics on display will make or break a rig. Those heavy pressure sub wriggles on the Silver Lining, the crunchy breaks, soaring basses and second drop on So Fine and that firing subversion of the classic Loleatta Holloway vocal on To Meeeee (with Total Science and Spirit) are just some of the consistent slew of stand-out moments on this absurdly heavy set…. An absurdly heavy set that marked a whole range of manoeuvres this year from Digital and his Function imprint including launching new label Funback with Nomine, bringing back Kiljoy, releasing Calibre records and heavy touring across Europe and New Zealand/Australia. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface. Huge respect to Steve Digital, if this album isn’t in your collection this year you’ve done yourself a disservice. (Dave Jenkins)

 

Djrum – Portrait With Firewood (R&S Records)

Heart-wrenchingly emotive, powerful and awe-inspiring with a heavy sense of melancholy, Djrum’s sophomore album is his most personal work to date, and a journey into the deepest recesses of a truly brilliant mind. One of the most stunning albums I’ve heard in recent times; when Portrait With Firewood landed it was on constant rotation, and still is. Much like a brilliant book that you simply can’t put down, this album is to be listened to over and over, as you’re guaranteed to discover another layer with each listen.

Nine tracks deep, the LP is a body of work to be consumed as one, with each track trickling into the next, weaving a deep series of sonic textures, and blurring genre boundaries like an absolute boss. From the atmospheric soundscapes of Waters Rising, to the emotionally-charged Creature trilogy, to the powerfully cosmic sounds of Blue Violet, this is truly a masterclass in expressive art.

Djrum’s brilliance lies in his arrangements and sound design, rarely predictable and always operating on his own terms, meaning a track like Sex – which trickles over the 8 minute-mark – can begin as a techno-infused stepper and evolve into a piano and string-laden masterpiece.

A true master of contrasts, and ever the skilled story-teller, Djrum has once again cemented his spot at the forefront of forward-thinking bass music. Reminding us of the far-reaching scope of his artistic range, inciting so much emotion with shrewd arrangements and simply stunning soundscapes in signature fashion. Bravo to a true innovator. I dare you to listen to this album and not be moved. (Maja Cicic)

 

Fearful – Interference (Diffrent)

Sliding into your favourite albums list just as 2018 wheezes its last few puffs, Fearful’s debut long’un Interference landed late November and it’s one of those ‘what the ruddy hell just happened?’ pieces of work. Explosive, explorative and explicitly weaved, the young London artist twists the tendrils of techno, D&B and breaks to spin an immense dot joining yarn where texture presides over tempo and the atmosphere is icier than the reception to a sex gag in a best man speech.

Eerie, frosty and totally foreboding; ghosts lurk deep in the detail, waiting to take us by surprise…  One minute we’re enveloped in the toxic fog of the rolling breakbeat creeper The Traveler, the next we’re being sawn into by the neuro drums and molten bass of Through The Mist, the next we’re being seduced into doing a halftime ballet dance in a graveyard by Recall (with fellow Diffrent don Lakeway) These are just three glacial pillars Fearful weaves us between with the super smooth transitions and arrangement details that most albums sadly forget along the way.

Essential investigations. If you want to know more, here’s our interview with him earlier this month. (Dave Jenkins)

 

Jauz – The Wise & The Wicked (Bite This!)

A daring body of work; Jauz excelled himself with his debut album earlier this year. Impressively running the entire bass gamut yet held together tightly with a concept and narrative, mainstream EDM seldom sees albums of this scale and complexity.

Over 23 tracks, four chapters and collaborations with the likes of DJ Snake, Krewella, Snails and many more, Jauz bites down on conventions and tears them to shreds as he builds his album around a political narrative that’s alarmingly close to the bone. Yet, as with all well executed concept albums, the narrative never takes anything away from the music. And whether you’re cherry picking favourites for your next mix or you’re letting the whole story soak you up from start to finish, no one can deny the forthright action at play. Babylon’s Modestep-style skanky swagger (with Tisoki) to the lively bassline thrills and spills of Back Again (with Holy Goof) and Get Widdit (with XX92 and Bru-C) via tops-off house chugs with Example on In The Zone are just a few key examples. Whatever your preferred bass poison is, we guarantee there’s something on Jauz’s ambitious debut album that will tickle your senses. (Dave Jenkins)

 

Joe Ford – Colours in Sound (Shogun Audio)

Another master of sound design in his own right, Joe Ford’s debut album certainly stands out as another strong contender for best album of the year. A vibrant collection of thirteen originals, the title is truly fitting to Joe Ford’s exploration into the “colours” of sound. Where Is The Sun serves as an effervescent introduction to the distinct sound forged by the producer with future-bass inspired chords and a compelling groove that sets the scene for the rest of the album – rich, vivid, and intricate.

The album features collaborations with some of the scene’s best and brightest, like the undeniably groovy Care For Me with Document One, the indulgent Said with Charlotte Haining, the polished and ominous Out Of Place with Memtrix, and the tender Made Of Glass with Koven, as well as an impressive number of originals that showcase Joe Ford’s one-of-a-kind talents. Colours in Sound is a cohesive collection of lively, sophisticated, radiant, and technically brilliant tracks that makes it another strong contender for album of the year. (Rhiannon McCarter)

 

KOAN Sound – Polychrome (Soshin)


Christmas came early this year as KOAN Sound dropped their long, long LONG awaited debut album on December 6. To say it was worth the wait is a bit like saying Brexit is a bit rubbish; it utterly excelled any expectations. A technicolour sci-fi jazz funk odyssey for the 21st century, everything about the album screams attention to detail, warmth, innovation, musicianship and craft. Up there with Culprate’s Deliverance, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories and Camo & Krooked’s Mosaik in terms of the levels of production and zero-fucks-given for the wider musical landscape, Polychrome lives in its own instrumental world where little references and motifs lurk amongst the tracks, inviting you to listen to the album as a full body of work and not just cherry pick your favourites. But if one was to pick a favourite, it would of course be Chilli Daddy. Imagine Bob James, Azymuth and Amon Tobin all getting jiggy on a jam and you’re somewhere in the vicinity; truly one of a kind, it represents just how far out this enigmatic Bristol duo are yet how close their feet their feet are to the dancefloor. Album of the year? One of the albums of the decade more like. (Dave Jenkins)

 

Logistics – Hologram (Hospital Records)

It’s hard to imagine the herculean effort needed to pump out seven albums. The love, the passion, the sweat and the tears are endless in an endeavour that substantial. But Matt Gresham – Logistics – has ploughed on for over a decade regardless and the result? One of 2018’s best albums – Hologram. This release showcases Logistics’ classic Hospital sound but with a fresh evolution of modern diversity and style, each tune effortlessly jumping from sub-genre to sub-genre. Minimalist tech on Inemuri, halftime jungle craft on Chant and double-bass, vocal-led magic on Hayling. It’s this way in which Logistics simultaneously manages to resurrect the past whilst looking forwards to the future that makes Hologram so damn good and without a doubt one of the best albums of 2018. (Ben Hunter)

 

Skeptical – Enjoy This Trip (Exit Records)

One of the most highly-anticipated albums of the year, Skeptical’s debut LP on Exit Records is an absolute treat for true bass connoisseurs, once again blurring genre boundaries and creating a blueprint all his own, in true Skeppy fashion. What I love about albums like this is the thought and care that’s put into how they’re arranged. The title track Enjoy This Trip guides you gently into what’s about to follow, setting the tone for the rest of the album perfectly. The pre-flight entertainment, if you will, that also happens to be brilliantly produced and the start of a trip you won’t soon forget. The way Skeptical utilises space throughout this album is pure genius. Tracks like Pitch Black and Cold Fold are brilliant examples of this. Seemingly minimal in their make-up, but actually complex as fuck when you try to comprehend how he can utilise so (seemingly) few elements to create a rhythm that makes you nod so hard your neck hurts.

Tracks like Void, Grub, Duck Soup, Plastic City and the highly-anticipated Elevator are forays into the weird and wonderfully constructed basslines that Skeptical crafts so damn well. Quintessential trademarks of a man well-versed in the dark art of bass. If you know him personally, it’s quite surprising to think such diabolical sounds could come from genuinely one of the loveliest individuals you’d ever have the pleasure of meeting.

These are the sounds of an artist consistently evolving and pushing himself, as well as the boundaries of drum & bass and electronic music as a whole.

Ending the album with the stunning sounds of Violet, named after his grandmother whose record collection he sampled for the track, is a beautiful touch to round off a superbly-executed debut LP. Personal, experimental and straight-up badass. This is Skeptical at his most inspired. The album does exactly what it says on the tin. Most enjoyable m8. (Maja Cicic)

 

The Prodigy – No Tourists (Take Me To The Hospital)

Three words: return to form. The Prodigy’s seventh studio album No Tourists is a total roundhouse kick of a release. An argy-bargy banger convention where fists, teeth, limbs and detuned synths fly around in a whirling dervish of ravey danger, it’s the type of album that makes you feel 14 again; you want to ring your family members and tell them to fuck off, do a wee on a copper’s leg or anything else you felt compelled to do during those essential angry chapters in your teens when The Prodigy first assaulted your imagination.

At their sonic best in over 10 years with all the motifs and signatures intact (without feeling cliched) it’s a feisty, unruly, energetic one inch punch of a piece that contains some of their best tracks since Invaders, maybe even Fat Of The Land. And it’s been backed up with their best live show in years, too. No tourists, no faking, no bullshit. No sign of a copper either so I’ll just use the toilet like usual. (Dave Jenkins)

 

Tokyo Prose – Wild Grace (The North Quarter)

Four years on from Tokyo Prose’s stunning Presence, one of the finest albums of 2014, came the highly-anticipated Wild Grace – and the wait was definitely worth it. Its main selling point is that it boasts two of the very best liquid tunes of 2018 in Innate Motion – which featured in Calibre’s 2017 Radio 1 Essential Mix – and Trick Of The Light, both of which will surely stand the test of time. But there’s far more to it than just those those two blinders. In The Breeze, Brilliant Corners and Impressions are other standout drum & bass inclusions, while the non d&b tracks also flourish. Tokyo Prose has worked with Synkro in the past and there are elements of his sound on the likes of Runaway and Alight, which are both beautiful pieces of work. Overall it is a sensational album from start to finish with no weak link, and one which cements Sam Reed as one of the most talented producers in the liquid scene. Hopefully it’s not another four year wait until album #3… (Robin Murray)

 

Shadow People – Shadow People (Deep Dark & Dangerous)

Shadow beats for shadow folk… Truth and Youngsta’s ice cold conceptual project hit all the right spots when it landed earlier this year. Stripped back and smoky, all 808s and graveyard atmospheres, the whole album smoulders with a pensive, unsettling aesthetic that’s heightened by a dystopic narrative that’s based around a post-apocalyptic world in the near future.

With such a strong mood and signature set throughout, the tension is tangible every step of the way. We’re kept on our toes by lilting piano strikes, tort bass slurs, chest punch kicks, creepy hunchback hooks and the vocals of some of Truth’s closest allies such as Taso and the unmistakable tones of Lelijveld. An LP made to be played from start to finish; Shadow People is one of the most consistent and detail-driven 140-based albums this year. We caught them for a conceptual interview at the time and a killer podcast mix if you need to play catch up. (Dave Jenkins)

 

V/A – Splinters (Amar)

As recognised in the Drum&BassArena Awards this year with his well-deserved Critics’ Choice trophy, Amit pulled out some serious stops on this one of a kind collection; Splinters. So many influential names, such short space to list them… V.I.V.E.K, Om Unit, dBridge, Moresounds, J:Kenzo, Krust, Danny Scrilla, Gremlinz (as AU), Jesta and more united to paint a picture of boundaryless sound system music as he hurtle towards to the 2020s. Less of a dot joining exercise, more of a case of removing all dots together and serving it up in one big low frequency banquet. From Amit’s tank-like opener Cold Blood right through to the final decays and tremors of Osiris boss Monic’s Storm Doris finale, this is a serious piece of low end futurism from some of the brightest minds in our culture. Also, if you’re not pulling the most screwed up face and popping 9 gun fingers at once to V.I.V.E.K’s plate-shifting Killa then you need to cut down on your botox mate. Get some exercise. (Dave Jenkins)