Albums contain a whole world built by the artist but, often, one single track can do the hold the same amount of weight for a listener.
FACT's favorites of 2018 came from places we've traveled time and again — the comforting confines of the club — and where we were eager to revisit — Moses Sumney's avant-folk; Kelly Moran's pasture for prepared piano. At every turn, we were enthralled by sounds from across the globe and our own backyards. What we know from compiling all our lists this year is that, algorithms be damned, the democracy of the internet and having so much music at our fingertips doesn't make finding music harder, it just makes opening your eyes and ears easier and more accessible. We're here to share and what we received this year was a bounty.
‘God is a Woman’
Buried by tweets and a viral breakup hit, 'God is a Woman' hasn't found a following as a positive endorsement for Ariana Grande as house diva, even though it should. And since FACT contributor Alex Macpherson beseeched the internet for a remix that "spins the choir outro out into a 10-minute Larry Levan disco house epic", all I can think about is how we lure Ari back and beyond EDM. Remember that 'Ha'-splattered, heart-sweller 'Adore' with Cashmere Cat? thank u, next. CL
One of this summer’s biggest festival anthems was also a reinvention for Dublin producer Krystal Klear, who swapped ‘80s nostalgia and classic disco for a Nordic sound taken straight from the Todd Terje playbook. It would be easy to write off ‘Neutron Dance’ as an ‘Inspector Norse’ clone, but the fact is that a track with melodies this infectious doesn't write itself. If your hands aren’t in the air by the four-minute mark, you're probably dead inside. SW
‘The Story of Adidon’
The best Drake diss of the year came in the form of a description of Rihanna in Chioma Nnadi’s exquisite profile of the singer in the May issue of Vogue — “Rihanna winces slightly at the mention of [Drake’s] name before her eyes glaze over with cool indifference” — but Pusha’s papa-shaming gets an honorable mention for giving No ID’s ‘The Story of OJ’ beat more life and for its unflinching cruelty. CL
‘Back From the Future’
The slippery high-point of footwork veteran RP Boo's latest full-length I'll Tell You What, 'Back From The Future' melts a shifting rap-influenced beat into a slop of neon 4/4 without so much as a second thought. It's proof that after three decades at the vanguard of electronic music, RP Boo is still vital, still taking risks and still breaking new ground, while his peers are still trying to catch up. JT
‘It Feels Like I've Been Here Before’
With releases on Beneath's Mistry imprint, Zenker Brothers' Ilian Tape and, most notoriously, Batu's Timedance label, Laksa has quickly established himself as an important cog in the post-post-dubstep machine. 'It Feels Like I've Been Here Before' is his most robust banger to date, piping wet hot sub bass through rolling percussion and psychedelic vocal snippets. JT
People goofed on Twitter about Ciara's mommy vibes for deploying "yummy all in your tummy" on the hook of 'Level Up' like she didn't flip children's hand game 'Down, Down, Baby, Down by the Rollercoaster' for 'Work'.
Cici has always been one of the finest commanders in pop and R&B of getting you to the dancefloor and this Jersey club reimagining of DJ Telly Telz’s ‘Fuck It Up’ is just another badge on her lapel. CL
When south-east London’s Octavian rose to prominence with ‘Party Here’, the off-kilter smash that caught the attention of the likes of Virgil Abloh and Drake it wasn’t clear where he would go next. The young artist has proven to be as unpredictable as he is talented, taking a left-turn from expectations on ‘Hands’, a heady blend of dubstep, dancehall and R&B. It forgoes the tight structure of ‘Party Here’, weaving pitch-shifted vocals into the track’s thick texture, unwinding unpredictably, then veering wildly from soaring, multi-layered hooks to propulsive, weighty basslines. HBJ
Elon Musk can keep his ship to Mars. If there isn’t a direct flight to the futurist-house music planet where Coil Records cuts are composed, then what’s the fucking point? CL
‘Rank & File’
Black & Deep Red, 2014 EP centerpiece ‘Rank & File’ has long been a staple of Moses Sumney’s live shows and the protest chant-mirroring vocals lose none of their fire on wax. Lyrics like “I don’t know what I’ve been told / This police state is much too cold” were inspired by a march after the officer who killed Michael Brown wasn’t charged, but as Sumney told FACT earlier this year, the words are infuriatingly, devastatingly timeless: “Police brutality was a problem in 2014, it’s a problem now, it was a problem 10 years ago and it was a problem 20 years ago.” CL
Key! & Kenny Beats
‘Love On Ice’
Kenny Beats used to produce EDM as one half of LOUDPVCK and his engineering experience shows; ‘Love On Ice’ isn't your average rap beat, it sounds more like an easy listening rework of an Italians Do It Better 12". Key!, long one of Atlanta's most underrated legends, cuts through the bubbling bassline and wobbly flutes like butter, spreading his personality thick and reminding why he remains completely in his own lane. JT
For me the best album this year was Smells like teen spirit by Nirvana
Like a Christmas horror movie, Kelly Moran’s prepared piano on sprawling Ultraviolet cut ‘Helix’ is both creepy and festive. The way the track’s broken musicbox sound segues into a snowstorm of notes — both tough and delicate — mirrors its subtle marriage of innovative electronic and classical tropes. ACW
Rapper Quay Dash came back for blood this summer, following up 2017’s Transphobic EP (featuring the addictive ‘Decline Him’ single) with a track that raises an elegantly manicured middle finger at everyday irritations (cops, shit-talkers, running out of weed) over a menacing, bass-driven beat by Sega Bodega.
Even as she faces the opposition, Quay celebrates what she has: money, a man, a home, the means to defend herself. The snarling attitude she brings on this track might be her most formidable weapon. LC
‘Na Onda Da Babylon’
BADSISTA emerged this year as one of dance music’s most exciting new producers, mixing the baile funk of her Brazilian homeland with future-facing club sounds and a defiant attitude. The eclectic São Paulo selector dropped this bass-heavy bruiser at the height of summer — and it's bursting with the kind of dark energy you’d expect from a former emo musician. More importantly, as Brazil’s queer communities face increased threats to their existence, the power of music as a form of expression takes on even greater meaning. ACW
‘Lights Down Low (Zora Jones Remix)’
It's fair to say Zora Jones and her influential Fractal Fantasy imprint had a phenomenal 2018. Her productions buzzed through clubs across the globe this year but nothing stood out more vividly than her remix of DJ Jayhood and Sliink's ‘Lights Down Low’. Augmenting the club-ready rhythm with her obsessively engineered bleeps, Jones reaches euphoria without sacrificing the track's beating pulse. JT
(Three Twenty Three)
Chicago R&B virtuoso Revyn Lenae's aptly-named 'Sticky' fuses psych guitar and breathy disco falsetto to make one of the most sumptuously sweet soul tracks of the year. It also adds another totem onto the monument of Steve Lacy's prodigious production career. Lacy and Lenae's chemistry has the spirit of Janet with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis in their prime. You can't wash this one off. CL
‘Get In Circle’
'Get In Circle', from Lebanese-Australian producer DJ Plead, has a unique energy: once it's bitten you, it's tough to forget. The breathy Middle Eastern flutes and twisting, alchemical rhythm have an almost mystical effect on the dancefloor, drumming dancers into sweaty transcendence. This is club music in 2018 and there's not an amen break or a hoover sound anywhere. JT
‘Flight at O'Hare’
‘Flight at O'Hare' is the standout on Jasmine Infiniti’s Sis EP; “a work of a very personal and emotional thematic material,” explains the New York-based artist. Throughout, breaks and hammering drums add urgency to an instrumental track that already speaks volumes: “It’s dealing with my experience as a black trans woman in this new era… It’s for my sisters. It’s a commentary on fear, sexuality, the importance of community and camaraderie, and the anger and shade of it all.” ACW
(Peder Mannerfelt Produktion)
Boston native Isabella unleashed an assault of industrial-tinged techno on 'Penchant Disenchant' from Whistle, her debut on Peder Mannerfelt's Produktion imprint. "Assault," really, is the only appropriate word here, as so many of the song's rugged details frankly sound like someone getting their ass kicked — which exactly how you should treat yourself, so to speak, when this comes on in the club. CL
If you can get that, from the stamps of screwed vocals to the brevity of the samples from Biggie’s ‘Gimme the Loot’ and Uncle Luke’s ‘Doo Doo Brown’, ‘Sicko Mode’ is the Houston rap version of deconstructed club, then you get why we like it so. CL
DJ Narciso & Nuno Beats
‘Hino RS’ is the standout track from DJ Narciso & Nuno Beats’s excellent debut, Bagdad Style, capturing both the exuberance and the tension that characterizes their sound. Reverb-heavy chords and deep kuduro rhythms are suddenly interrupted by a creeping synthline that momentarily brings the track to a halt, striking an elegant balance between euphoria and anxiety. They might be the newest members of the Príncipe family but this puts the crew up there with the label’s best. HBJ
Clara! y Maoupa
The architect of essential mixtape series Reggaetonaras!, Spain’s DJ Clara! steps into the spotlight to give us a taste of her own potent medicine. Joining forces with Brussels-based EBM-er Maoupa Mazzocchetti, on ‘Ruge’ (“Roar”), smoldering dembow is spiked with an industrial edge that chimes perfectly with Clara!’s deadpan, deadly vocals for an off-beat slice of bass-bolstered cool. ACW
Siete Catorce & Amazondotcom
(Nostro Hood System)
With previous releases on N.A.A.F.I. and The Astral Plane, respectively, Siete Catorce and Amazondotcom had enough early accolades for us to know that their collaborative EP Teardropz was going to provide some of the most delightfully strange sound explorations of the year. On ‘Opposite Moon’, there are no trends to follow, just a spritz of inspiration on a composition otherwise erected to enchant the most curious club fan at each changing chug. CL
Oneohtrix Point Never
Daniel Lopatin has experimented with his own vocals throughout his career, though never in a way that’s put them front and center quite so prominently as on ‘Black Snow’, a post-apocalyptic vignette about television static that captures the mass ennui of the Anthropocene period. Lopatin has always been a master of creating twisted, icky moods out of synthesis, distortion and noise; on what is also one of the year's strangest pop songs, he proves that his lyrics can be just as evocative. SW
Say Heum Han was the architect of some the year’s most resonant sounds, contributing production to serpentwithfeet’s Soil. That elegant yet experimental approach to composition is perfectly encapsulated under his moniker mmph on the track ‘Woodlawn’. Looping guitars and pizzicato strings wash over chuggy riffs as the track swells, only to accelerate into a syncopated synth wig-out, combining a composer’s attention to detail with a palpable exploratory joy. Fitting, then, that the title refers to his old student house in Boston — as he told FACT earlier in the year, ‘Woodlawn’ is the sound of “having a good old time with [his] friends”. HBJ
‘Wine For Me’
Popcaan’s ‘Wine For Me’, produced by Mixpak boss Dre Skull, is tender, but unambiguous; lithe, but seductive. Its signature, delicate tone reaffirms Popcaan not only as one of the Caribbean’s most successful crossover deejays but also a prescient force for pop music. Now, please, please, get thee to the studio with Riri. CL
It would have been easy to pick Rian Treanor's cheeky edit of Whigfield's 1995 smash ‘Saturday Night’ as it became an underground club fixture this year — just check Beatrice Dillon's FACT mix. ‘Position B1’ doesn't simply look back to the past, it takes the spirit of rave and IDM and channels it into a new direction, adding slinky R&B finger clicks and the kind of sweaty body energy that was mostly absent back in the Artificial Intelligence era. JT
‘Hyper-Intelligent Genetically Enriched Cyborg’
With ‘Hyper-Intelligent Genetically Enriched Cyborg’, Helena Hauff composed the perfect marching song for every robot cyborg and pseudo-human alike. Her gurgling bassline gives the track an incessant forward moving groove as no-nonsense synth patterns pulsate through. It follows in the footsteps of the precision-driven, machine-forward sound Hauff has established for herself in previous releases and mixes. Siren-like tones, which stretch and bend to dizzying results, intermittently disrupt the mechanic grind, throwing the listener off course for a moment before the rigid beat shoves them back on the techno warpath. MRS
‘Airstrike’ [Feat. Shannen SP]
Nazar’s ‘Airstrike’ is a gripping club track that punches you in the gut with both its devastating sub-bass and political message. “Thirty-two wives and their children / Only one room to stay hidden / Airstrike,” he says, describing the events of the 27-year Angolan civil war that led to him growing up a member of the Angolan diaspora in Belgium; the sound of guns cocking is reframed as a chilling reminder of the horrors of conflict. Few club artists had quite as much to say with a sound as fully realized this year as Nazar's confrontational “rough kuduro”. SW
A slow, sensual cut from Channel Tres’ debut self-titled EP, ‘Jet Black’ reminds of house music's malleable sexuality without slipping into self-parody. Taking reference from Detroit deity Moodymann, Tres straddles dance music and pop masterfully, injecting the Midwestern funk with a frothy Compton swagger that's tough to ignore. JT
‘It Makes You Forget (Itgehane)’
A bold DJ, avid collector and vivid producer unafraid of trying new things (like singing on her own tracks), Peggy Gou is a total powerhouse. ‘It Makes You Forget’ (Itgehane) was a sugary summer smash about letting your hair down. Dripping with chintzy synths, rollicking vibraphone, ice-cool vocals and hip-snaking percussion, the track unpops house music’s bubbliest potential in a hot blaze of arms-in-the-air abandon. What more can you ask for from a house tune, really? ACW
One more time, with feeling!
Tired: Repeating the "[artist] is the punk response to rap" because their music invokes mosh pits but never investigating how said rapper rebukes the status quo.
Wired: Lampooning SoundCloud rapper fantasias about wealth and drug dealing, et al. with focused, unhinged rage-bars.
Bonus points for co-producers Take a Daytrip politely sonning Zedd on the classical composition techniques they used to create the song’s icy anxiousness. CL
While Mor Elian’s twitchy club tracks lean toward the kind of sounds and drum patterns you might associate with electro, there’s nothing retrogressive about them. Her forward-facing approach has given us some of the year’s freshest techno cuts, and ‘Dossgroove’ is her best: a head-spinning track that juggles drums like they're hot potatoes and riffs on jungle and IDM without getting dragged into a fetishistic feedback loop. SW
Lil Uzi Vert
Lil Uzi Vert's anime-sampling 'New Patek' is an unusual rap anthem. Sporting a brittle, eerie harp-led backdrop from Dolan Beats, it almost feels too slight for the club — until you hear it work its magic. Uzi skips over the beat as if it's barely there, dipping in and out of smart surrealism ("I am a octopus, I cannot breathe without water / So I put diamonds on my tentacles") non-stop for almost six minutes. Uzi's Rain In England moment has to come soon. JT
‘Flee’ is case-in-point for German producer Mechatok’s natural gift for familiar yet distinctly original pop melodies. The song’s first synth plops set its anticipatory tone, as giddy notes pile in gradually before string-imitating synth arpeggios bubble through and push the song forward with an optimistic air. Instead of cruxing with a bellowing boom or floor-crumbling drop, the synthline climax leads you to a last note which smoothly putters out. Before you have time to long for an apex the buoyant melody repeats and sweeps you up with it. MRS
When Omar McCutcheon, aka Batu, made the move to XL, he lost none of his patient underground charm. There aren't any obvious bangers on Rebuilt, but that's not McCutcheon's style. 'Flash React' takes the jerky melodics of Amber-era Autechre and fits it into a more familiar template, cozying up to the Bristol canon and inviting in all the sub you could hope for. JT
Junglepussy teased her first album in three years with this sinuous flirt atop production, handled by New York’s Kashaka, that wouldn’t be out of place in a Spongebob episode, and features girl-group harmonies shimmering dreamily in the background.
The song’s lyrical fantasy follows her from the bedroom of a Arizona-sipping suitor to his family’s barbecue, where hilarity ensues. She pops a Plan B when she eyes her potential conception’s genetic line (“Your father’s not cute”) and sets her sights on her conquest’s cousin instead. “I can see his maduro inside my noodle,” she purrs, imagining sweet fried plantains as something even stickier. LC
Dwayne Parris doesn't release much — he put out just two records in 2018 — but when he does, he makes sure it's worth the wait. 'Puro Rosáceae' is the perfect follow-up to last year's syrupy 'Your Kiss Is Sour': a slow burner that slathers jazzy Jan Jelinek-esque pads in glittering percussion and bubbling bass. It's romantic, but deadly. JT
“You think you know me?”: this WWE sample is the repurposed signature Baltimore’s hyperactive noise-rap hero JPEGMAFIA. Whether he is building a trap beat around the sounds of Bic biros feverishly clicking or eschewing hip-hop braggadocio for maniacally delivered barbs, it seems that every detail of ‘Thug Tears’ is geared towards subverting expectation. It also conclusively demonstrates that Peggy is the only artist fearless enough to reference Mass Effect, Counter Strike and Mortal Kombat in the same song and still come across as the toughest person in the room. HBJ
‘Hold Me (T4T Embrace Mix)’
Eris Drew wasn’t just one of 2018’s most exciting breakout DJs, she gave us one of the year’s most life-affirming house tracks too. A devastatingly simple cut built around an old Bob James break, ‘Hold Me (T4T Embrace Mix)’ adds a looping bell melody, diva vocals and funky organ riff to create an anthemic track that’s far more than the sum of its parts. It looks to the past, yes, but it also imagines fresh possibilities for whatever rave is in 2018. SW
Cologne-based producer Swan Meat has been forging a unique sound for a couple of years now, combining a love of science fiction, video games and anime with a proclivity for hard and fast electronic music on releases for forward-thinking labels such as Kamixlo’s Bala Club. Yet it is on ‘Alucard’, the Castlevania-referencing, nerd-club heater taken from her latest EP, Tame, that the producer has struck upon a truly irresistible formula. Taking cues from chiptune, psytrance and hard techno, Swan Meat has crafted an apocalyptic boss-rush theme that makes just as much sense on the dancefloor as it does the soundtrack for slaying a cyberdemon. HBJ
Funeral Future, the Danish production duo made up of Alexander Salomonsen (Repro) and Adam Askov (Generic Face, Second Heart), are cornerstones of Copenhagen’s plus-140BPM, fast techno scene. It makes perfect sense, then, that Najaaraq Vestbirk, aka Courtesy, should enlist the duo to close out the magnificent Kulør 001 compilation, the debut release from her fledgling label. The monolithic, trance-infected ‘Heute Nicht’ is far and away the most emotional techno track of the year. It’s a jaw-dropping final word from one of 2018’s most thrilling compilations. HBJ
Swiss/Congolese producer Soraya Lutangu asserts her immense power on Mentor, her first release for Planet Mu. She exists in an exciting new realm within electronic music, using her unique cultural reference points to re-mold rave outside of colonial oppression, twisting the tools of oppression and using them instead as weapons of freedom. Title track 'Mentor' is the best example of this, with an off-kilter 4/4 upsetting the dance as back-jerking wobbles permeate the brittle, commanding percussive tics. It's utopian anti-Western sci-fi club music and points to a brave new world ahead. JT
ZULI's had a banner year. The Cairo-based producer released his debut album Terminal to rapturous praise, rewiring the electrified rap experiments of Autechre and Push Button Objects and landing on a sound that's challenging, modern and vibrant. 'Trigger Finger' appeared earlier in the year but has been a fixture ever since, layering granulated breaks over bass so distorted you're immediately transported into Ahmed El Ghazoly's terrifying subterranean world. JT
Released in 2017, Valee’s ‘Shell’ was the kind of song that gets Fake Shore Drive blogger and industry tastemaker Andrew Barber to sign on as your manager and Kanye West to sign you to his label. In 2018, ‘Womp Womp’ is the song that deftly fulfills those considerable expectations.
Producer Cássio provides a clacking and bounding beat, a departure from Valee’s self-produced efforts and frequent collaborations with ChaseTheMoney. Celebrated artist Hebru Brantley directed the single’s surreal video, where the lean and weary-looking rapper careens through a non-linear heist storyline with brief cameos from Jeremih and Barber. LC
‘In the Place I Sit’
The music of Loidis, the second of two new monikers adopted by Brian Leeds this year, has a lot in common with the music he makes as Huerco S: it’s claggy, humid and coated in a crackling film of white noise, yet stunningly beautiful too. ‘In the Place I Sit’, a 10-minute piece of ambient house, is paced like a Villalobos epic, unfolds with all the drama of a Gas classic and reaches that melodic sweet spot Shinichi Atobe hits so well. It may well be the best single track Leeds has ever recorded. SW
For me the best album this year was Smells like teen spirit by Nirvana
An elastic, futuristic slice of club pressure guided by a seemingly unceasing snare roll, Ploy's 'Ramos' is one of the year's most memorable tracks. It builds for a good three and a half minutes, coaxing the club into a false sense of security before effortlessly padding out the low end and climaxing with synth squeals straight out of the Radiophonic Workshop toolbox. Decidedly British - even down to the chopped vocal blasts — 'Ramos' is a high water mark for Bristol and Timedance; post-dubstep has evolved, finally. JT
‘Aqua y Puerta’
If DEBIT’s Animus was the crown jewel in a seemingly unstoppable year for N.A.A.F.I, Lechuga Zafiro’s ‘Aqua Y Puerta’ was its secret weapon. Well, maybe not so secret: the unhinged track showed up everywhere from Batu’s Atonal set to Mobilegirl’s soundtrack for Chromat’s NYFW show to Burial and Kode9’s FABRICLIVE mix. With its demented opening salvo of aquatic textures and rattling noise, percussion that sounds like alien artillery and the minimalist reggaetón click that binds the track together — this is club music at its most singular. HBJ
‘Act Like It Then’
With ‘Act Like It Then’, a track dedicated to “all the women on the dancefloor”, rising experimental techno producer object blue has unleashed a thrilling call-to-arms upon a scene that sorely needs it. Cavernous kick drums compete with metallic sound design and a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sample, amplifying Cardi B’s invective — “Tell that lil bitch play her role” — into a rallying battle-cry of technofeminist empowerment. As collectives like Discwoman, SIREN and Room 4 Resistance work tirelessly to build inclusive spaces and platforms for under-represented artists in dance music, ‘Act Like It Then’ is just the anthem we need. HBJ
Kampala-based producer Slikback appeared on Nyege Nyege Tapes sublabel Hakuna Kulala earlier this year with little fanfare. But after performing multiple times at Nyege Nyege Festival in September, the young producer's name traveled fast, carried by his unique ability to mold a plethora of diverse sounds into exciting new forms. That ability is never more evident than on 'Venom', a breakneck dance cut that layers broken rhythms and off-kilter samples over fractured dancefloor-ready electronics. If you're looking for innovation in dance music as corporate involvement continues to drag clubbing into the mire, taking pragmatic DJs and producers along for the ride, then East Africa is your destination. JT
‘Ring The Alarm’
(Halcyon Veil/Don Giovanni)
Solidarity is vital in these times, so it was no surprise that 700 Bliss made our top choice of 2018. Not only was their Spa 700 EP released in partnership by two defiant labels, Rabit's challenging Halcyon Veil and East Coast punk outpost Don Giovanni, it is the permanent manifestation of a creative friendship between DJ Haram and Moor Mother.
The duo have been performing together for a few years and delivered to those of us who haven't had the opportunity to behold their live show a chance to absorb its fist-clenching power. Hypnotic track 'Ring The Alarm' is rough and ready syrupized postmodern club with an anti-racist, anti-artwashing message on top. If there was anything that defined the dancefloor for us this year, it was this kind of resilience. CL
Written by April Clare Welsh, Claire Lobenfeld, Henry Bruce-Jones, John Twells, Lorena Cupcake, Maya-Roisin Slater, Scott Wilson. Graphics by Olivea Kelly.
Hear tracks from the best albums of 2018
Keep up with all of FACT’s Best of 2018 coverage here.