25 Best Techno Albums of 2019

Hi. Welcome to the Optimistic Underground list of the best techno albums of 2019. I’m just one person so this is the list of music I personally heard – and I know I missed a LOT. But I also heard an incredible amount of brilliant music. Far too much to fit on the 50 best albums of 2019, in fact. Because the two genres I listen to most, ambient and techno, composed a great deal of the albums I had saved over the year, I decided it would be a good idea to give them each their own list. So here we are.

Although some of these albums appear on the main list and some do not, consider them all equally and highly recommended for any techno fans. Also, while many of the albums on the big list could have been considered techno in the loosest sense, I went for a more focused attack here. These albums are (almost) all solidly, irrefutably techno music. It’s a vast genre that often bleeds into house music, ambient, and far more out-there sounds, but it centers on an instantly recognizable core that hasn’t changed much in the decades since it was born.

[Ambient fans: don’t miss the 20 best ambient albums of 2019.]

When there simply wasn’t enough room to include everything I loved in the year, I made a new list. A specific list. Here we go, in alphabetical order:

• • •

Aleksi Perälä – Sunshine 3

The third and final release of Finnish producer Perälä’s Sunshine series was my intro to the artist, sending me reeling back through extensive discograhy. It’s still the one I come back to most.

“Beautiful and bright modern electronix based on the Colundi musical tuning system. (quote Dj Rephlex; ”the frequencies were chosen via experimentation and philosophy, each relating to a specific human bio-resonance, or psychology, traditional mysticism or belief, physics, astronomy, maths, chemistry.”) Smooth and fluttering melodies layered over crispy rolling beats transmitting lovely vibrant sunny upbeat vibes. Braindance with high serotonin and dopamine levels.” – Clone Records

• • •

Andy Stott – It Should Be Us

In a shift from his prior three LPs, vocalist Alison Skidmore’s voice is nowhere to be found; in a way this is a return to the more gritty, street level mood he conjured on those two EPs almost a decade ago. Her presence had a way of elevating the sound, bringing it heavenward, taking it to church. So maybe at first I was underwhelmed. But then I remembered that his unique pleasures are heavily dependent on bass and volume – so I listened in my car. Ahhhh, there it is.

[see also 50 best albums of 2019]

• • •

Anthony Naples – Fog FM

Fog FM is the most focused, nuanced, and rich exploration of his signature take on deep house and techno sounds. It’s a little bit beamed-in-from-the-moon, a little bit static-y cyberpunk. It’s some of the most undeniable dance music of the year.

[see also 50 best albums of 2019]

• • •

Barker – Utility

With Utility, Sam Barker trades more overtly dance oriented tracks for atmosphere, dream logic, and structural nuance. This is the Big Techno Debut as a novel, a sound story to fall into and get all wrapped up inside. It all builds to a final track that’s as much weirdo future jazz as it is anything you’d expect from early morning hours in a darkened club in Detroit or Berlin. So deeply compelling I had to drop it in the recent Hypersleep mixtape.”

[see also 50 best albums of 2019]

• • •

Boreal Massive – We All Have An Impact

“Following the success of the Pessimist & Karim Maas LP, the no-fuss Pessimist Productions imprint reveals its third release. Boreal Massif is the collaborative effort of Pessimist and Loop Faction, and here they present their debut full-length LP, We All Have An Impact.

Focusing on the destruction of the natural world and our ecosystems, We All Have An Impact… shows there can be more to electronic music than a shallow and empty narrative. Built from field recordings and a deep reservoir of trip-hop / drum & bass influences (think B12’s Electro-Soma, vintage Mo Wax records…), Boreal Massif’s raw, unpolished anarcho-electronics offer a blueprint for the next generation of new age music.” – No Fuss

[see also 50 best albums of 2019]

• • •

DJ Python – Derretirse

DJ Python returned with this lengthy, subtly evolved EP two years after his groundbreaking “deep reggaeton” debut Dulce Compañia, an album that capped off the 32 best dub techno albums ever made list. To say that I was anticipating this is a hyperbolic understatement; the second after it dropped, I feel like I’d already spun it a half dozen times. The music here leans back, soaking in the humid atmosphere created on his debut, growing further away from recognizable dance structures and signposts. It has as much in common with the best Boards of Canada daydreams as it does with the cavernous genre in which I played its predecessor, arriving at a sort of platonic ideal for getting lost in a warm, thoughtful, lightly propulsive head space.

[see also 50 best albums of 2019]

• • •

D.K. – Riding For a Fall

“With a BPM crossing the 120 line on 2 out of 3 tracks, there’s little doubt that this second 12” is also meant to be played in a club environment. The 9:37 min long Voices sprawls over the whole A-side. Like many productions stamped “D.K.”, the structure is linear only in appearance: it winds up and down between fantasized exotic landscapes, digital plug-ins mimicking “far east” instruments that are barely recognizable. It gets even snakier with the Samurai Showdown-inspired Shoubuari (Battle): pixel swords brushing past our ears, martial drumming and menacing synths (D.K., were you the kind of kid who owned a Neo Geo?) – it’s pretty obvious that we’re in the world of SNK’s legendary fighting game…” – Antinote

• • •

Earthen Sea – Grass and Trees

I loved his subtle, vaporous debut two years ago. This one’s even better.

““Jacob Long’s reductionist rhythmic ambient vessel, Earthen Sea, ebbs towards a more purely elemental state on his second excursion for Kranky, Grass and Trees. He describes the creative process as one of “simplifying things as much as possible,” designing uncluttered spaces traced in nothing but breath, field recordings, and “sounds that could be played by hand but weren’t.” The results feel decentralized but dynamic, low-lit evocations of ambiguous nocturnal environments – dub techno disassembled into stray pulses and spare parts. It’s a music both interior and infinite, languorous yet transformative, made in the outer boroughs of a metropolis but attuned to its own liminal wilderness.” – Boomkat

• • •

Efdemin – New Atlantis

“Long drawn to utopian musical traditions, Sollmann took inspiration for New Atlantis from Francis Bacon’s unfinished 17th century novel of the same name, which describes a fictional island devoted to social progress through the synthesis of art, science, technology and fashion. In the story, Bacon imagines futuristic ‘sound houses’, which contain musical instruments capable of recreating the entirety of the sounds of the universe; a 400-year-old prophesy of today’s digital sonic reality.

Through Sollmann’s lens, Bacon’s vision ebbs and flows over 50 minutes in varying speeds and colors, emerging as a tapestry of different utopian musical traditions – through billowing synth lines, early Detroit techno, resonant wooden percussion, trance, droning organs, dulcimer, electric guitars, hurdy-gurdy, just intonation, poetry, hymns and murmuring voices.” – Ostgut Ton

• • •

Function – Existenz

Existenz is the best techno album I’ve heard in years. I mean it. As menacing and mystical as anything from Demdike Stare, as bomb-dropping dynamic as anything Andy Stott has blasted, and most of all, as hypnotic, blackened, and cosmic as the legendary Sandwell District album, Feed-Forward. Since he was a big part of that project, it’s not surprising that Function dips into similar deep waters as that 2011 opus; the revelations here come from the way he folds in a constellation of techno-adjacent genres into one seamless, sustained post-cyberpunk mood across nearly two full hours. He shifts angles from track to track, folding in hyperspace synths, neon glowing electro, anti-gravity house, arpeggiated dystopias, linking subspace portals between the very heart of these disparate moods, existing in several at once, traveling without wavering from a central dub techno laser beam.

FWIW this is my number one album of the year. [see also 50 best albums of 2019]

• • •

John Beltran – Hallo Androiden

Beltran dips back into that pristine ambient techno waters he helped pioneer in the mid 1990s with Days of Blue. This might be my favorite album from the legendary, prolific producer, who hails from the capital of my home state, Lansing, Michigan.

“The excellent nine tracker takes you on a trip though his typically serene and beautiful world right form the off. ‘Alle Kinder’ floats on gentle drums with beautiful synth melodies making for a heavenly atmosphere. The journey commutes through the calming pads and glistening arpeggios of ‘A Different Dream’, uplifting joys of the ‘Himmelszelt’ with its mellifluous harmonies and achingly perfect ambiance of ‘The Coming Home’. ‘One of Those Mornings’ washes over you like the sun through a breaking cloud and the brain cleansing, pulse soothing goodness continues though ‘It’s Because of Her’ and the elegant Detroit techno bliss of ‘Perfect In Every Way’. The final two tracks close things down with a sense of classy contentedness, subtle celebration and inner joy that Beltran conveys better than anyone.” – Delsin

• • •

Karenn – Grapefruit Regret

“low pass on the synth atoms kick hit hat bish bags bosh” – Bandcamp description really says it all, huh?

Okay, so this is techno truly designed for dark, well-past-midnight club experiences, but I’ve gotta say it still works a treat at home, blasting loud on my speakers while my son spazzes out everywhere. Karenn is a project from production stars Blawan and Pariah, and this is their debut full length as a duo. Deeply funky with a murky post-(UK)dubstep atmosphere, it’s flat-out fun and polished techno.

• • •

Lanark Artefax – Corra Linn

This one might just be a single, but it does more in three tracks than many of the full length albums I heard in 2019. Lanark Artefax has been a favorite here for a while (see ZONE mixtape from January] and still has yet to drop an LP. Here’s hoping for next year.

“Recorded sometime in the last year and a half, the three tracks across ‘Corra Linn’ materialise like a cascading data flow; combining lazer sharp digital synths and hyperspatial sound design with scaled up, spine-tingling choral melodies, time-refracted field recordings and ethereal childlike vocal arrangements.

The EP’s title track, ‘Corra Linn’, takes its name from a waterfall in the Lanark area of Scotland, the water of which flows into one of the oldest hydro-electric power stations in the UK. The artwork accompanying the EP is a photomicrographic image of Lanarkite; a rare and precious mineral form. Almost all significant occurrences of Lanarkite were discovered deep within the Leadhills in South Lanarkshire, but it is said that an unknown, but large, quantity of it was once unearthed at the base of Corra Linn waterfall.” – Numbers.

• • •

Leif – Loom Dream

“Made up of six tracks but presented as two ~17-minute pieces, the record meanders through warm chordscapes, glistening synths and loose live percussion, weaved together with field recordings and ambience.

Loom Dream invites us to peacefully reconnect with the living world by placing us amongst lush sonic verdure.” – Whities

• • •

Neon Chambers – One

“Neon Chambers is the new project of UK producer Sigha, and French artist Kangding Ray. Sigha, aka. techno producer James Shaw comes from a steadfast background in abstract and grounded techno, with previous works on Token, Blueprint, Avian and his own Our Circular Sound imprint. Kangding Ray, aka. David Letellier, has made a career for himself with genre-breaking and experimental sonic adventures that have taken him across such era-defying labels such as Raster-Noton, and Stroboscopic Artefacts. In 2019, he also started his own imprint ara for more bespoke, avant-garde releases. The duo came together to create Neon Chambers to further extend their analogous ambitions, and create bigger, and more daring live and audiovisual performances.” – Dekmantel

• • •

Rod Modell – Captagon

“Through a simple gesture of pushing the tempo, Modell’s sound instantly becomes more urgent, as though woken from its sluggish reverie and now properly up for some aerobic mysticism. Along with the Chain Reaction nods, there’s clear reference to classic Detroit and related gear, from Mike Grant’s Black Noise to full flight Mills trax and Convextion at his paciest. However, Modell’s grasp of layered, subaquatic dynamics really places ‘Captagon’ in a league of its own, with a rinsed out and rinseable dynamic and traction brilliantly transposed from his fathoms deep catalogue of cv313, Echospace, and DeepChord productions with inexorable velocity.” – Boomkat

[bandcamp: shortcode must include 'track', 'album', or 'video' param]

• • •

Rrose – Hymn To Moisture

After nearly a decade of increasingly intricate and radical techno compositions, Rrose has finally dropped a proper full length debut album, and it is monumental stuff. Hymn To Moisture is a challenging, densely rewarding, darkly sophisticated listen, the kind of music that sounds great at first, only to unfold and grow with each successive spin, revealing its unstable core, odd microtonal tunings, and willingness to dissolve the line between noise and pure tone. Like the hypnotic cover art, the hour of music here conjures the sometimes strangely dazzling material of which this planet is composed. It’s bedrock, it’s oceanic, it’s sharp and supple and hot to the touch, cool to the ears. This is techno for watching volcanoes erupt from the inside, rocketing up through the plume of molten earth and floating with ashes on the wind across continents on a gust. It’s as alien as life itself when you get down to the molecular level, and just as mathematically inevitable feeling. The release page mentions a reverence for genre pioneers like Jeff Mills, Pan Sonic, and Plastikman alongside composers of darker, odder fare such as Laurie Spiegel (#31 on this list), Eliane Radigue, and Phill Niblock, and I can’t argue with those reference points. But I will say that fans of Demdike Stare, Sandwell District, and the Northern Electronics roster (Acronym, Abdulla Rashim, D.Å.R.F.D.H.S., etc) should feel compelled to listen.

[see also 50 best albums of 2019]

• • •

rRoxymore – Face to Phase

Face to Phase is sumptuous, deeply dubby, warmly exploratory techno here that belies the fact that it is French-born, Berlin-based rRoxymore’s debut album. There’s something deliciously off-kilter about the whole set, tilted and tinted a bit differently than much of the music on this list, which feels perfect. I came to her music via association with some of my favorite space-bent composers, like Karen Gwyer and Shanti Celeste. It’s not *just* stunning, uniquely rendered techno; it’s both way out there and utterly inviting, a sublime invitation to the weirder corners of the club world.

[see also 50 best albums of 2019]

• • •

Shed – Oderbruch

Just a couple weeks ago, Shed dropped his finest album since his 2008 debut, one of the best dub techno albums ever made. He’s been a consistently brilliant producer in the years since, but for the most part he refined his sound into something more widescreen, more elegant than the dark blueprint he laid out with Shedding the Past. Here, with Oderbruch – named after the region in East Germany where he grew up – he comes with a whole new expansive outlook and some attractive new colors to play with. It’s not so much that he’s left behind the urban structures and gone pastoral, but that he’s elevated to a space far enough above to capture both settings, industrial and bucolic, in the same instant. His deeply personal twist on techno, crackling with drum breaks, ambient textures, and an orchestral sense of scale, has never felt so warm and inviting.

[see also 50 best albums of 2019]

• • •

Skee Mask – ISS004

So yeah, Skee Mask dropped one of the best techno albums of the decade last year with Compro, which was number three on the best albums of 2018 list. At this point, I’ve listened more than even the two albums I ranked higher. He’s pushed forward with a couple EP releases, the second of which continues the Ilian Skee series in superb fashion (003 was my intro to the artist). Since you should really just give it a whirl, I’m just going to paste the ultra brief copy on the release page:

“Unstoppable Fruity Brain Benders” – Ilian Tape

• • •

Sleep D – Rebel Force

Across ten songs, Sleep D take us from the deep desert chug of “Red Rocks”, through the center of the best rave in town with “Danza Mart”, and “Central”, past a head-trip of styles in the deep core, and ease us back down to some kind of new earth in the final songs, including “Morning Sequence”, a beaut’ of a track featuring Kuniyuki. When it’s all said and done its big smiles and fuzzy heads all around— we’ve said it once and we’ll say it again – rated “E” for Everyone. – Incienso

• • •

Smallpeople – Afterglow

Okay, this one is much more of a deep house experience, but I’ve got to include it because it is absolutely one of the best dance records of the year, and I’m sure any techno heads (like me!) will fall in love with it. Plus, its creators, Julius Steinhoff and Dionne, who run the storied Smallville record label, fold in enough influence and texture from Detroit that their Chicago-by-way-of-Hamburg sound becomes utterly undefinable by the end of the album. Huge stuff here, unassuming and read to sneak up right into your head.

• • •

Stenny – Upsurge

Ilian Tape is on an absolute roll. This is their finest release since last year’s #3 album Compro, from Skee Mask. Which makes perfect sense, because it’s their first full length follow-up to that ground shaking masterclass in making techno weirder. I’m kind of astonished at how consistent the label has been so far, but it probably helps that they only release the best of the best.

Upsurge is framed as a “journey through the ups and downs”, with hazy strolls through ambient, IDM and dub techno sitting side by side with skittish, off-kilter and occasionally dark forays into more club-focused electro, post-jungle and broken techno territory. There are plenty of subtle variations to be found within both broad categories, with Stenny managing to provide a unified front thanks to the pleasingly atmospheric and mood-matching nature of the collected cuts.” – Juno

• • •

Special Request – Bedroom Tapes

“Bedroom Tapes is comprised solely of lost material from a recently discovered box of cassettes that emerged in the process of a house move. These tracks capture some of Paul Woolford’s most wide-eyed and naïve creative impulses at a tender age.

Seemingly lost forever, some were part of sessions that led to him being signed to now-defunct UK techno imprint Blue Basique. This is the first chapter in this archive and an intimate portrait of the artist at a key stage of his creative development.

The tracks have been carefully mastered with a loving hand by Matt Colton who has been meticulous to retain their idiosyncrasies.” – Houndstooth

• • •

Topdown Dialectic – Vol.2

“Sophomore set of illusory software installations by undisclosed North American technologist Topdown Dialectic, sourced from the same vault as 2018’s celebrated self-titled LP. Like its predecessor, Vol. 2 is composed of eight identical-length tracks, each a system capture composite of fractured rhythm, granular texture, and elusive energy, blurring surface and depth into a fresh electronic dialect of hypermodern mirage.

It’s a music both evasive and emotive, ephemeral but eternal, like fiber optic whispers from deep in some decaying mainframe, or the hauntological nostalgia of artificial intelligence yet to be invented. Vol. 2 ventures beyond techno abstraction or standard synthetic ambience into a depopulated soundworld of morphing corridors and flickering fluorescence, equal parts escape and unbecoming.” – Peak Oil

• • •

Thank you. Suggestions for anything I missed are welcome in the comments!

4 thoughts on “25 Best Techno Albums of 2019

  1. Pingback: 50 Best Albums of 2019 | Optimistic Underground

  2. Pingback: 20 Best Ambient Albums of 2019 | Optimistic Underground

    • Octo Octa is on the main 50 best albums of 2019 list, number 4! It was just too completely house music to try and make it fit here, tbh. And as for Segue I genuinely let that one slip by – thanks for the reminder!

      Like

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