We asked to different musicians, producers, bloggers, journalists, label owners to make a short list of their best albums of this year. This is the list curated by Alex Ruder (KEXP, Hush Hush Records).
Dabrye was making quality albums when my love of hip-hop started to bleed into an obsession with electronic music in the early 2000s, so it was a wonderful full circle moment this year when he released the final album in his Three trilogy, nearly 17 years after One/Three was unveiled. Three/Three continues to show Dabrye’s a world-class talent and a top-shelf producer, boldly fusing electronic and hip-hop references into neck-breaking beats that stand out on their own or set an awesome backdrop for the wide range of MCs he’s got in his Rolodex.
Manchester, UK duo Children Of Zeus were one of my favorite discoveries of 2017, so I was hyped when they unveiled their official debut Travel Light, and extra hyped that it delivered on the promise of their steady stream of singles and EPs leading up to its release. Purveyors of “fly lo-fi dusty street soul,” emcee Konny Kon and vocalist Tyler Daley tap into a classic 90s-steeped sound that I absolutely love, fusing warm R&B vibes with boom-bap hip-hop flavors, while also slyly sneaking in some UK-centric electronic rhythms, all sounds that I adore.
There’s a lot of lo-fi instrumental hip-hop producers releasing music at a prolific rate these days, but no one surprised me as much as Nohidea this year with Departures, his debut album for Alpha Pup Records. His lush, textured, spacious beats are consistently on-point throughout this record, but it’s his ability to infuse his beats with a gorgeous neo-classical bent that made his album one of my favorites of the year.
Slow Machete – Ola Mala (Postlude Paradox)
The first time I listened to this album was while driving through beautiful Orcas Island with my wife and it was just a perfect setting to absorb this beautiful, hypnotic, and sonically rich album from Slow Machete aka Pittsburgh-based musician Joseph Shaffer. Based heavily around samples he recorded with vocal choirs and musicians from all over the world, but with a particular emphasis on Haitian and Dominican artists, Ola Mala is a prime example of ethnomusicology done right as it smoothly travels between electronic, folk, and global pop flavors in transportive fashion.
I’m a bit biased about this Croatian band, as they’re fronted by my buddy Marko Vuković, a multi-faceted artist who has released solo music under the moniker Kimekai
on Hush Hush Records in the past. He’s now evolved into the lead singer for Svemirko, a beloved and quickly ascending band crafting shimmery and synth-y guitar-pop that’s packed with gorgeous crystalline guitar tones, sunshine-kissed melodies, dreamy analogue synths, and Marko’s exuberant vocals. Their brilliant second album came out earlier this year and it deserves to be heard and enjoyed by folks not just in Croatia (where they’re already quite popular), but all over the world.