2018 Top 10: Techno

Top 10 (Ambient) Techno Albums

  1. Varg - Nordic Series Part 5: Crush (Posh Isolation)

  2. Steve Hauschildt - Dissolvi (Ghostly)

  3. Skee Mask - Compro (Ilian Tape)

  4. Daniel Avery - Song for Alpha (Phantasy)

  5. Forest Drive West - Apparitions (Livity Sound)

  6. Space Afrika - Somewhere Decent to Live (Sferic)

  7. I-LP-ON - AANET (Mego)

  8. Fluxion - Ripple Effect (Vibrant Music)

  9. Korridor - End of Cycle (Northern Electronics)

  10. Alva Noto - Unieqav (NOTON)

The albums on this feature way more ambience and songwriting ability than 4/4 techno, but people don't really arrange 4/4 in album form anyways. So techno is a limiting term, but it's the common denominator of these albums. The best songwriting and sequencing rises to the top of the list for me, though all of these albums represent stellar sound design and execution, which does draw from the techno lineage. 

Varg in particular has invented his own style of music (Instagram techno?) with the Nordic Flora series. Nordic Series Part 5: Crush is the proper sequel to last year's Part 3: Gore-Tex City, and it moves farther away from the austere techno that defined his early work. In fact, there are very few tracks that have the same sort of deep techno drum machines that made parts of Gore-Tex city so satisfying, but instead there's a range of colorful experimentation in songwriting and collaboration, from ambient pop to jazzy sound collage. It's a messy 72 minute work and that sits right in line with the theme of modern romance that runs through it, and it's every bit as fun as Gore-Tex to get lost in.

Steve Hauschildt also moved away from his progressive electronic drone wheelhouse with Dissolvi, which has a retro Amber-era Autechre ambient techno feel. It also has two tracks with beautiful breathy vocals that work really well in this style and suggest that it's something to be explored further. The beats themselves are very satisfying, and it's warm and pleasant listen despite the cold machinery that creates most of the sounds. Skee Mask also hits a high watermark with Compro, which is a consistently brilliant range of beats with tons of satisfying breakbeats but plenty of compositional elegance in between. Bryan Müller is probably the best techno producer in the world right now and this collection spans all of the things that he does best.

I had a chance to see Daniel Avery open a Nine Inch Nails show last year and it proved to me that A) you should sit down for techno, and B) techno needs smoke machines and a hi fi light show. It was the perfect opening set and a lot of it was because he drew exclusively from Song for Alpha, which floats and bangs in equal measure. Apparitions from Forest Drive West has some similarities with that record, favoring simplicity and hitting hard when it needs to. Space Afrika is the total curveball record on this list, released on a pretend label and an artist who I hadn't heard about before. It's also a weird little record, often having more space than sound and being all the better for it.

Ilpo Väisänen of Pan Sonic infamy has a slightly different moniker in I-LP-ON and his tribute album to Mika Vainio is a beautiful memorial of their work together. Fluxion came almost out of nowhere for me with Ripple Effect album, which is very cinematic in its ambient dubbiness. End of Cycle from Korridor is the sole Northern Electronics release that I enjoyed this year, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. It's more Kerridge than Varg in terms of the dark industrial spectrum. Rounding out my list is the great Carsten Nicolai's newest Alva Noto release, which is the technoiest glitch or the glitchiest techno that he's ever made.