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25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

Slant asked 300 music journalists, DJs, and record-label folk to tell us what they thought were the most important electronic albums of the 20th century.

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25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

Five years ago, electronica was poised to save us from the grungy din of a dying alternative and an increasingly formulaic hip-hop. Detroit and Chicago had become adjectives, Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers were storming the charts, mainstream magazines began running monthly “What You Need to Know About Jungle” articles, and DJs like Paul Oakenfold and Sasha & Digweed were quickly becoming household names. By the time the bass kicked in, though, it seemed that the Great Electronic Hope had fizzled. Teen-pop and nü-metal came and went, New York’s superclubs were gradually dismantled, and rather than take the world by storm, electronica filtered slowly (but surely) into the mainstream by way of artists like Madonna, Radiohead, and Moby. In celebration of the coup that failed to overthrow the music industry (but continues to flourish on dance floors, headphones, and television commercials around the globe), Slant Magazine asked 300 music journalists, DJs, and record label-folk to tell us what they thought were the most important electronic albums of the 20th Century. Any subgenre was fair game (disco, house, drum n’ bass, trance, ambient, trip-hop, techno, etc.). Close to 200 different albums were mentioned and, since no list could possibly be entirely inclusive, we’ve whittled the raw data down to 25 key releases from the last 25 years.

Thank You: A.D. Amorosi (Style), Brad Anderson (Digital Artifact), Jayson Baron (Studio Distribution), Derek Beere (futurebpm.com), Lisbeth Cassaday (Virgin Records), Paul Dailey (411 Nightguide), D-Jam (a.k.a. Alex Moschopoulos), DJ Ray Velazquez (Nocturnal Transmission, KLZR), DJ Seven (Lo-Rise Recordings, SF), Hobey Echlin (Mixer/King), Robert Evanoff, Chris Galvin (f4 music), Alexis Georgopoulos, Adam Goldberg (Metrosource), David Gross (Warp Records), Justin Hardison (hybridmagazine.com), Laura Kayser (Warner Bros. Records), King Britt, Mark Knight (Studio Distribution), Kuri Kondrak (Resonance), Neil Lawi (Columbia Records), Shawn Muldoon, Linda Ng (Elektra Records), Alexa Offenhauer, Pias America, Kevin Reynolds (Transmat Records), Dwayne Royster (Arista Records), Rick Salzer, Dave Segal (Alternative Press), Rob Simas (BPM Culture), Doug Smiley (Studio Distribution), Jim Tremayne (DJ Times), Aidin Vaziri, Brion Vytlacil, and Peter Wohelski (Green Galactic).

25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

25. The KLF, The White Room (1991)

Following the global success of “Doctorin’ the Tardis” from 1988’s Dr. Who, Bill Drummond and Jimi Cauty formed the KLF (“Kopyright Liberation Front”). After a foray into chill out, the duo found crossover success with 1991’s The White Room, an album that helped bring rave culture to the fore. Call it what you will (acid house, stadium house, rave), the album was pure dance-pop at its finest. Hits like “What Time Is Love” and “3 A.M. Eternal” kept the pair riding high on the charts while the single “Justified and Ancient” turned Tammy Wynette, “The First Lady of Country,” into a post-disco club diva. Filled with the utopian mythology of “The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu” and the duo’s ice cream van iconography, the album mixed breaks, samples and drum machines with dramatic vocals and other organic elements. The eccentric duo (they’ve staged pagan rituals, carved crop circles in the European countryside and burned money publicly) split in 1992, deleting their entire back-catalog. Other titles mentioned: Chill Out.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

24. Moby, Everything Is Wrong (1995)

Señor Moby’s albums have always been a bit schizophrenic and his 1995 masterpiece, Everything Is Wrong, is no exception. Once again, electronica’s pop ambassador calls on a multitude of sounds and a bevy of guest vocalists but this time it’s strung cohesively with techno-operatic ambition. From the quiet urgency of the album’s opening track, “Hymn,” to the aggressive tech-rock of “All That I Need Is to Be Loved” and “What Love” (it’s no coincidence that many ’80s metalheads turned to techno in the ’90s), it’s clear nothing was right in Moby’s world. It’s not until rave anthems like “Feeling So Real” and the piano-driven “Everytime You Touch Me” that he pumps up the celebratory BPMs. The album’s various textures are impeccably pieced together—elemental chord progressions are offset by Moby’s pristine production and flawless pacing. While Ambient pieces like “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters” have become Moby’s trademark, “First Cool Hive” is the only track on Everything Is Wrong that directly hints at the cool, collected soul of his 1999 breakthrough, Play.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

23. Black Dog Productions, Bytes (1992)

Black Dog Productions’s Bytes, the third installment in Warp Records’s Artificial Intelligence series, was a watershed in what has become known in the U.K. as IDM or “intelligent techno.” The album is a headphone-friendly collection of tracks by Andy Turner, Ed Handley, and Ken Downie (a trio of producers who have taken on various incarnations over the years, including Plaid, Balil and Xeper), most noteworthy for its elaborate beat structures and rhythms. The odd time signatures of tracks like “Yamemm” and “Focus Mel” are offset by splashes of rich harmonic tones and striking, alpine melodies. Influenced by early Detroit techno artists like Derrick May, Black Dog, in turn, went on to stimulate later waves of electronic music in Detroit as well as European ambient and hardcore techno.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

22. Boards of Canada, Music Has the Right to Children (1998)

Nestled somewhere in between the warm hues of 1970s flocked wallpaper and the sleek electronic sheen of the future lies Boards of Canada’s Music Has the Right to Children. The warm patter of “Open the Light” and the stuttering hip-hop beats and lulling synth chords of tracks like “Telephastic Workshop” are juxtaposed with short vignettes like “The Color of the Fire,” a minimalist composition not unlike Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. A child’s voice is sampled, disfigured and looped to form a creepy, somewhat detached, one-sided conversation. The avant garde Children is invariably connected with nature, from the languid introduction “Wildlife Analysis” to the distorted seagull caws of the album’s final track, “Happy Cycling.” Happy cycling indeed—depending on your drug of choice.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

21. Tricky, Maxinquaye (1995)

Tricky’s lascivious solo debut, Maxinquaye, stands alongside Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, and Portishead’s Dummy as one of the most influential trip-hop albums of the ’90s. Maxinquaye takes the glistening electronic soul of Blue Lines and smothers it in far-grittier textures, exploring the destructive nature of love (“Now I could just kill a man,” he says on “Suffocated Love”) and sin (the devious “Abbaon Fat Tracks”). Tricky’s vocals play back and forth with those of singer Martine, whose hypnotic, slippery phrasing opens the album on the sexy “Overcome.” Samples abound, of course, from Smashing Pumpkins (on the appropriately-titled “Pumpkin,” a moody track featuring Alison Goldfrapp) and Issac Hayes (“Hell Is Around the Corner”) to snippets from films like Bladerunner and Rapture. If there was ever any doubt about the sonic lineage between hip-hop and trip-hop, “Aftermath” and “Brand New You’re Retro” blur the lines to the point of undeniable extraction. These are beats Timbaland and Dre have only dreamt of.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

20. Depeche Mode, Music for the Masses (1987)

In the 1980s, the influence of Kraftwerk and New Wave took the shape of radio-friendly post-punk synth-pop like Depeche Mode. In 1987, the band released Music for the Masses, an album that revealed a darker side of the movement. The album is steeped in high drama, each track spilling into the next like a pop-rock opera. From the sampled radio broadcast of “To Have and to Hold” to the chamber choirs of “Sacred” and “Pimpf,” voices play an integral role in the album’s theatrical aura. With its themes of repentance and redemption, the album wasn’t exactly “for the masses,” but it was a commercial and critical landmark for the band, spawning hits like “Strangelove,” a track that is home to classic Martin Gore lyrics (“Pain, will you return it/I won’t say it again”) and David Gahan’s timeless vocal. Other titles mentioned: Black Celebration, Speak & Spell.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

19. Leftfield, Leftism (1995)

One of the first techno crossover acts, Leftfield’s music has been a pop-culture staple since the English duo’s 1995 debut, the apocalyptic Leftism. (Most recently, the trance anthem “Song of Life” was used in the film Tomb Raider.) From the tribal dub of its opening track, “Release the Pressure,” to the ambient “Melt,” Leftism eschews mainstream categorization and manages to reside in the leftfield of almost all the electronic genres it propagates. Leftfield’s happy home, though, is the progressive house of tracks like the epic “Afro-Left,” “Black Flute” and the tribal “Space Shanty.” The now-disbanded Leftfield’s biggest crossover success came with the punk-techno track “Open Up,” featuring ex-Sex Pistol John Lydon.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

18. Daft Punk, Homework (1997)

Well-versed in Chicago house and Detroit techno and taking a nod from disco maven Giorgio Moroder, Parisian duo Daft Punk (DJs Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter) helped blaze a trail for French techno with their 1997 debut, Homework. Led by hits like the unrelenting “Da Funk” and the dizzying “Around the World,” the album is a savory mix of borderline-cheesy filtered loops and super-simple drum machine beats and basslines. The duo’s influences are revealed sonically (“Oh Yeah” references Kraftwerk) and literally (everyone from Brian Wilson to Dr. Dre are name-dropped on the aptly-titled retro feast “Teachers”). While a few tracks are more daft than deft (“Rollin’ & Scratchin’” is a rather soulless thumper), the crunchy guitar licks of the aquatic “Fresh,” and the sampled vocals and horny horns of “High Fidelity” prove that more recent groundbreakers like the Avalanches could never exist without Da Funk.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

17. Utd. State 90, Utd. State 90 (1990)

By the time the residual sweet swirl of disco and the harder edge of Chicago house had dribbled its way into England via New York and Europe’s booming rave scene, acid house was born. At a record shop somewhere in Manchester, a group of future acid house pioneers (Martin Price, Graham Massey, and Gerald Simpson) formed 808 State. The group’s first domestic release, Utd. State 90, was a drastically revised version of their 1989 album 90. The hit “Pacific” (here in three incarnations) is the album’s standout track, its slinky, synthesized sax and tropical chirps laid on a bed of percussive electronic beats. The album shifts moods quickly yet seamlessly, from the poppy, lyric-driven “Magical Dream” to the industrial edge of “Kinky National” and the epic grind of “Cübik.” Utd. State 90 even enters Ambient territory with “Sunrise,” a track in which 808’s impact on artists like Moby is beyond palpable.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

16. The Art of Noise, Who’s Afraid Of? (1984)

As subtly influential as Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express, the Art of Noise’s Who’s Afraid Of? is a brash blend of experimental rock and new wave that was way ahead of its time. With its staccato beats, erratic vocal samples and found sounds, the album is at times irksome but always groundbreaking. The proto-political “A Time for Fear (Who’s Afraid)” kicks things off with portions of broadcasts from the U.S. invasion of Grenada, building to crunchy programmed beats and a minimalist sub-bass that most certainly informed the likes of future pioneers like Björk and Tricky. The album’s biggest hits, “Close (To the Edit)” and “Moments In Love,” are about as dissimilar as can be; “Close” is a signpost of the era, replete with vintage ’80s samples, car engines and the oft-sampled vocal “hey!” while “Moments In Time” is utterly (and ironically) timeless. The ten minute-plus epic is to electronica what Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” is to Baroque. The album ends with a trio of off-kilter experiments including the organ-imbued “Momento.”


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

15. Global Communication, 76:14 (1994)

Of all popular genres, electronica has always been one of the more globally conscious, crossing oceans and transcending cultural boundaries in a wordless communication of rhythm and melody. Influenced by Detroit techno, early Tangerine Dream and Eno’s Ambient, Global Communication’s 76:14 became one of several universally celebrated Ambient house records. Though it was released in Europe at the height of the ambient techno movement in 1994 and later garnered critical acclaim in the U.S. when it was distributed in 1997, the album’s 10 tracks (titled by number to avoid “pre-defining images”) were recorded as early as 1991. Each track is its own spacey symphony, etched with ticking clocks, soft piano lines, and tidal white noise not unlike that on the Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld. Now considered a neo-classic, 76:14 samples nine different languages throughout, making it a truly global communication.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

14. Derrick May, Innovator (1997)

Schooled by techno pioneer Juan Atkins in the early ’80s, Derrick May became one of the most influential of Detroit’s wiz kids (the “inventors” of techno as it were). Though he was not as prolific as Atkins or fellow-DJ Kevin Saunderson, May’s label, Transmat (inspired by the Atkins track “Time, Space, Transmat”), continued on through the ’90s, releasing singles by Carl Craig and Stacy Pullen. Innovator, a double-disc set released by Transmat in 1997, celebrates May’s innovations like the early rave staple “Strings of Life” (two versions are included here) and “It Is What It Is.” With his frenetic beats, string samples, and gradual buildups (check the nearly beatless “Strings of the Strings of Life”), it’s clear why he’s been called the Miles Davis of techno. May’s creations paved the way for later Detroit artists like Plastikman as well as rave culture as we know it.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

13. Underworld, dubnobasswithmyheadman (1993)

Though Underworld reached its commercial peak with “Born Slippy,” a track featured on the Trainspotting soundtrack, dubnobasswithmyheadman, the group’s first album as a trio (members Karl Hyde and Rick Smith recruited DJ Darren Emerson in 1993), stands as their greatest overall contribution to electronic music. The album blends acid house, techno, and dub into a refined, epic headrush. Opening track, “Dark & Long,” is indeed dark and long, mixing a throbbing House beat with sticky reverb, while the mixtape anthems “Cowgirl,” “Mmm Skyscraper I Love You” and “Surfboy” loop stuttering computer bleeps over fields of staccato percussion. “Tongue” features a lulling guitar riff as robust as anything on Jeff Buckley’s Grace, which was released later that same year. Hyde’s vocals are processed to the point of undecipherability on tracks like “Spoonman,” but his lyrics are so stream-of-conscious that it doesn’t really seem to matter an hour into the album. dubnobasswithmyheadman, a dirty epic to the very last moment, cools down with the funky “River of Bass” and the piano-laced “M.E.” Other titles mentioned: Second Toughest in the Infants.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

12. New Order, Substance (1987)

Born out of the post-punk ashes of Joy Division, the artfully titled New Order began their reign as one of new wave’s leading synth-poppers. In 1987, the group released Substance, a collection of their greatest singles reconfigured for the dance floor with a second disc of rare B-sides and instrumental extended mixes. Though undeniably a product of its time, the album stands as proof positive of the band’s influence on the then-burgeoning rave and house cultures. Kraftwerk-style synthesizers and disco drum machines were married with singer Bernard Sumner’s hesitant yet charming vocals, classic rock riffs and timeless pop melodies that helped bring ’80s club subculture into the public’s bedroom and car stereos (whether the public was aware of it at the time or not). While New Order’s biggest hits are all here (“Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Blue Monday,” which would be transformed into drastically different versions years later by Frente and Orgy, respectively), Substance also offered up two new tracks, the bustling hit “True Faith” and the introspective “1963.” Other titles mentioned: Power, Corruption & Lies.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

11. Orbital, Orbital 2 (1993)

It’s no surprise that Orbital became one of the first electronic acts to bridge the gap between techno and rock audiences. With their second full-length release, the aptly-titled Orbital 2, brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll incorporated the improvisational feel of their famous European live shows with live guitars, bass keyboards and sampled horns and voices. And even if tracks like “Monday” and “Impact (The Earth Is Burning)” weren’t actually “live,” the duo still gave one grand attempt at creating the illusion that it was, in a sense, organic. Techno goddess Kristy Hawkshaw lends her angelic voice to the ethereal vintage-drug anthem “Halcyon + On + On” while tracks like “Remind” and “Lush 3-1” are home to spiraling sirens which seem to soar skyward with catchy pop hooks. “Planet of the Shapes” features a shower of cascading synths and worldly textures that produce a “techno symphony” that was much warmer—even “wiser”—than the hard, four-on-the-floor techno that dominated in the mid ’90s. Though the album is structured like your average mix CD, the multi-textured Orbital 2 offers much more. Other titles mentioned: Orbital, In Sides, and Snivilization.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

10. Björk, Homogenic (1997)

From her politically-charged days as a Sugarcube to the Stockhausen-esque “Headphones” (from 1995’s Post, an album that, on any other day and in any other mood, could have made this list), Björk has always been on music’s cutting-edge. But with 1997’s Homogenic, the singer took the groundbreaking sonics of the electronic maestros before her and gave it living, breathing humanity. Like a floating cell, the listener travels through the body of the album accompanied by the beat of the heart, the rush of blood and Björk’s sudden mood shifts: on the flawlessly melodramatic “Bachorlette,” she likens her body to a fountain of blood from which her lover drinks; “Joga” is adrenaline, summoned by the singer’s lovelorn “state of emergency”; and on the quiet “Unravel,” a pipe organ laments the death of a love that is continually spun into a ball of yarn and then stolen. Björk’s crisis culminates with “Pluto” (an aggressive techno number in which the singer’s primal screams mark literal and figurative death) and, of course, the sublime rebirth of “All Is Full of Love.” Simple intervals build to a breathtaking, ice-capped orchestration amidst industrial beats that flutter like the wings of locusts. And through all of Homogenic, Björk navigates with harmonies and words (“I thought I could organize freedom/How Scandanavian of me!”) that only she could conceive. Other titles mentioned: Debut and Post.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

9. The Chemical Brothers, Exit Planet Dust (1995)

The Chemical Brothers’s first two albums, Exit Planet Dust and Dig Your Own Hole, were two of the first electronic albums to break the mainstream mold. Exit’s banshee Big Beat “Song to the Siren” and thumping house number “Three Little Birdies Down Beats” displayed a developing sound (breakbeats, samples, and an onslaught of screeching guitars) that remains the duo’s signature to this day. From the fucked-up beats of “Fuck Up Beats” to the more atmospheric, measured rhythms of “Chico’s Groove” and the angelic dream pop of “One Too Many Mornings”, the eclectic Exit set a standard only the Brothers could match, surpass and conquer.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

8. The Chemical Brothers, Dig Your Own Hole (1997)

Hole did just that, fashioning techno with a rock fervor that landed it in Billboard’s Top 20 and earned Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons a Grammy nod for Best Rock Album. The album’s runaway hits, “Setting Sun” and “Block Rockin’ Beats,” featured more of the Brothers’s trademark sirens, grinding electric guitars and sampled blips found who-knows-where. Hole could have been the soundtrack to, if not the inspiration for, the rave-culture flick Go as well as your average suburban teenage car-chase. “It Doesn’t Matter” and “Don’t Stop the Rock” are Daft Punk’s bad-ass brothers, dipping its audience into an acid-bass-propelled K-hole just in time for the comedown (here it’s “Where Do I Begin,” a dreamy ode to the morning after as sung by folktronica chanteuse Beth Orton).


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

7. DJ Shadow, Endtroducing… (1996)

Trip-hop, Europe’s alternative of choice in the second half of the ’90s, can, perhaps, be defined as the merging of hip-hop and electronica until neither genre is recognizable. DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing…, however, so constantly changes pace that such a definition is rendered insufficient. Tracks like “Changeling” prove that sampling can be art, not just commerce (a murky line America’s mainstream hip-hop acts continue to walk). And DJ Shadow is indeed an accomplished changeling, shifting from jazz aficionado to film composer to magnum turntablist in a matter of moments. “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt” is constructed with a collage of stuttering beats, organ riffs, and bits of sampled narration while “What Does Your Soul Look Like” and “Midnight in a Perfect World” blend smooth, loungy jazz into seemingly fluid original pieces. Similarly, the cinematic “Stem/Long Stem” builds several classically arranged movements around a sample of Nirvana’s “Love Suite,” creating an ominous and multi-textured masterpiece of hip-hop postmodernism. According to Shadow, the album “reflects a lifetime of vinyl culture.” Tracks like “Mutual Slump,” which features a sample of Björk’s “Possibly Maybe” and a young girl’s naïve confession (“Came to America, saw Xanadu, that’s all I wanted to, rollerskate”), insist it reflects a whole lot more.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

6. Brian Eno, Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978)

With his 1978 album Ambient 1: Music for Airports, English musician/producer/conceptualist Brian Eno coined the terms “discreet music” and “ambient” as “music designed to induce calm and space to think.” The album, comprised of four dissimilar yet completely cohesive movements, was created with simple keyboard melodies, serial tape loops, and embedded voices. The effect is sheer weightlessness, the disc’s soft ebb and flow of synthesized patterns imbued with live brass and strings. More than just spatial white noise, Music for Airports is the sonic equivalent of visual art. Eno’s sculpture of sound has inspired numerous imitations, briefly fulfilling its postmodern destiny as an audio installation at NYC’s LaGuardia Airport. Other titles mentioned: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

5. Portishead, Dummy (1994)

Back in high school a friend of mine made me a tape, the contents of which seemingly scooped up the residual pubescent angst left in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s death and sculpted it into something horrifying and tangible. The spine read: “PORTISHEAD DUMMY.” This was what was bubbling up in Europe while Americans were drowning themselves in Seattle scrunge. “Nobody loves me, it’s true,” singer Beth Gibbons declared mournfully, then adding, “Not like you do.” Though her voice would evolve into something far more sinister on Portishead’s equally brilliant eponymous follow-up, here Gibbons is at once despondent (“It Could Be Sweet”), coquettish (“Glory Box”), and dismally uplifting (“It’s a Fire”). Geoff Barrow’s film noir collages embody snatches of sampled cinema, hammond tremelos, rolling basslines, and rich analogue tape loops. Adrian Utley’s guitar quietly plucks its way betwixt hiccuping turntables and quivering organs on tracks like the menacing “Wandering Star.” Dummy, an album which undoubtedly conjures the thought of a person, place or sour time for its every listener, sounds just as groundbreaking today as it did eight years ago. Other titles mentioned: Portishead.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

4. The Orb, Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld (1991)

Inspired by Brian Eno’s ’70s ambient inventions and the post-disco club culture of the ’80s, the Orb became the premier ambient house act of the early ’90s. Mixing loping house beats and shades of reggae-dub with atmospheric sampladelia (film dialogue, wildlife, radio broadcasts, strings, and choirs), their first full-length album, Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, was seemingly designed to take its listeners progressively farther and farther away from their respective spots on the planet. The album’s 10 tracks were intended to stand as a collective whole and not individually, though they certainly can and do. The set begins with the famous “Little Fluffy Clouds,” inspired by composer Steve Reich and containing a sample of Rickie Lee Jones recalling childhood images and ideals from an episode of “Reading Rainbow.” “Backside of the Moon,” which conjures early Pink Floyd, is a slice of lunar heaven “programmed 25 miles above the Earth.” Ultraworld closes with the definitive ambient house track, a live mix of the epic, 18-minute-plus “A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraword.” The piece, composed and produced with KLF member Jimi Cauty, is an elegant tapestry of babbling brooks, crashing waves, crickets, chants, roosters, church bells and various other modes of white noise, all set as a backdrop for a sample of Minnie Riperton’s 1975 gem “Loving You.” Other titles mentioned: U.F.Orb and Orblivion.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

3. Aphex Twin, Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992)

Long before he became associated with the nihilistic drum n’ bass of “Come to Daddy,” Richard D. James (a.k.a. Aphex Twin) was a pioneer of what would become known as “intelligent” dance music. His critically-lauded Selected Ambient Works 85-92 is, along with the Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and Global Communication’s 76:14, considered one of the preeminent signposts of early-’90s ambient techno. The album begins with the ethereal female coos and soft breakbeats of “Xtal,” and flawlessly segues into the muted thump and crisp pitter-patter of “Tha,” a track imbued with the echo of distant conversation. Diffusive synth chords gush through each song, from the congested aural space of the aptly titled “Hedphelym” to the bass-heavy “Ageispolis.” Most striking is James’s pop sensibility, apparent in the concise momentum of “Pulsewidth” and the utterly infectious “Ptolemy.” Influenced by post-classical composers like Philip Glass and Kraftwerk, James created a collection of minimalist House more refined than anything that has come before or after. Other titles mentioned: Come to Daddy and I Care Because You Do.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

2. Massive Attack, Blue Lines (1991)

While C+C Music Factory was doing their thing in New York, Bristol’s Massive Attack was inventing a sound that, though labeled “trip-hop” years later, was pure, unadulterated soul, a culmination of American black music filtered through European dance culture. Blue Lines is an impeccable amalgam of house, R&B, and hip-hop, transplanting blues into slick, electronic pop packages like the classic “Unfinished Sympathy” (singer Shara Nelson laments: “Like a soul without a mind/In a body without a heart/I’m missing every part”). Reggae legend Horace Andy lends his skills to the uplifting anthem “Hymn of the Big Wheel” and the dub-infused “Five Man Army” yet Massive Attack can certainly hold their own. The sublime “Daydreaming” is an ode to the beat, 3D-Del Naja’s cool rhymes interwoven with those of a then-unknown Tricky Kid. The album’s title track nimbly alternates between samples of “Slippin’ in the Back Door” and James Brown’s “Give It Up or Turn It Loose,” creating a rich, recycled tapestry on which the group lays its tight rhythms and live bass guitar. While resistant to categorization, Massive Attack are the undisputed godfathers of trip-hop and Blue Lines remains the genre’s most influential masterpiece. Other titles mentioned: Protection.


25/20: The 25 Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century

1. Kraftwerk, Trans-Europe Express (1977)

Thanks to continental drift, Americans must cross an ocean to experience the luxury of trans-European travel. In 1977, Germany’s robot-pop manufacturers, Kraftwerk (translation: “power station”), celebrated these cross-country jaunts with their landmark release, Trans-Europe Express Ripe with unlikely hooks and hypnotic, minimalist arrangements, tracks like the bright, crisp “Europe Endless” and the existential “The Hall of Mirrors,” were (and are) the sound of the future, employing sounds similar to the video games and sci-fi films of the era and informing an entire generation of music-makers. T.E.E.’s influence in unprecedented, reaching as wide as rock (Radiohead’s Kid A), hip-hop (Afrika Bambaataa’s classic “Planet Rock,” Jay Dee’s recent “Big Booty Express”), and pop (Madonna’s Drowned World Tour, which incorporated samples of “Metal on Metal”). Kraftwerk’s meditative T.E.E. is a sonic poem to Europe, a continent that has proven, time and again, to be the birthplace of musical innovation and, well, the Eurorail. Other titles mentioned by this artist: Man Machine, Computer World, and Autobahn.


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Awards

2019 Oscar Nomination Predictions

How has Oscar royally screwed things up this year? Let us count the ways.

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Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

How has Oscar royally screwed things up this year? Let us count the ways. The hastily introduced and unceremoniously tabled (for now) “best popular film” Oscar. The impending commercial-break ghettoization of such categories as best cinematography and best film editing, but most certainly not best song and best animated feature. The abortive attempts to unveil Kevin Hart as the host not once, but twice, stymied by the online backlash over years-old anti-gay Twitter jokes and leading AMPAS to opt for George Glass as this year’s master of ceremonies. The strong-arming of its own membership to deter rank-and-file superstars from attending competing precursor award shows. If these end up being the last Oscars ever, and it’s starting to feel as though it should be, what a way to go out, right? Like the floating island of plastic in the Pacific, the cultural and political detritus of Oscar season has spread far beyond any previous rational estimates and will almost certainly outlive our functional presence on this planet. And really, when you think about it, what’s worse: The extinction of mankind or Bohemian Rhapsody winning the best picture Oscar? In that spirit, we press on.

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Vice

There will be plenty of time, too much time, to go deep on the many ways Green Book reveals the flawed soul of your average, aged white liberal in America circa 2019. For now, let’s just admit that it’s as sure a nominee as The Favourite, Roma, and A Star Is Born. (There’s snackable irony in the fact that a movie called The Front Runner became very much not an Oscar front runner in a year that doesn’t appear to have a solid front runner.) And even though few seem to be predicting it for an actual win here, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman has an almost spotless precursor track record, showing up almost across the board among the guilds. Predicting this category would’ve been easy enough when Oscar limited it to five films, but it’s strangely almost as easy this year to see where the line will cut off between five and 10. Adam McKay’s Vice may be without shame, but you don’t have to strain hard to see how people could mistake it for the film of the moment. Bohemian Rhapsody is certainly lacking in merit, but, much like our comrade in chief, Oscar has never been more desperate for people to like and respect him, and a hit is a hit. Except when it’s a Marvel movie, which is why Black Panther stands precariously on the category’s line of cutoff, despite the rabid enthusiasm from certain corners that will likely be enough to push it through.

Will Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, A Star Is Born, and Vice

Closest Runners-Up: If Beale Street Could Talk and A Quiet Place

Should Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Burning, First Reformed, Let the Sunshine In, and Zama

Best Director

Yorgos Lanthimos

Everyone can agree that Bohemian Rhapsody will be one of the best picture contenders that doesn’t get a corresponding best director nomination, but virtually all the other nominees we’re predicting have a shot. Including Peter-flashing Farrelly, whose predictably unsubtle work on Green Book (or, Don and Dumber) netted him a widely derided DGA nomination. The outrage over Farrelly’s presence there took some of the heat off Vice’s Adam McKay, but if any DGA contender is going to swap out in favor of Yorgos Lanthimos (for BAFTA favorite The Favourite), it seems likely to be McKay. As Mark Harris has pointed out, Green Book is cruising through this awards season in a lane of its own, a persistently well-liked, well-meaning, unchallenging throwback whose defiant fans are clearly in a fighting mood.

Will Be Nominated: Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Alfonso Cuarón (Roma), Peter Farrelly (Green Book), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), and Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)

Closest Runners-Up: Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk), and Adam McKay (Vice)

Should Be Nominated: Lee Chang-dong (Burning), Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In), Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman), Lucrecia Martel (Zama), and Paul Schrader (First Reformed)

Best Actress

Yalitza Aparicio

Had Fox Searchlight reversed their category-fraud strategizing and flipped The Favourite’s Olivia Coleman into supporting and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone into lead, the five best actress slots would arguably have been locked down weeks, if not months, ago, unless Fox’s bet-hedging intuits some form of industry resistance to double female-led propositions. As it stands, there are four locks that hardly need mention and a slew of candidates on basically equal footing. Hereditary’s Toni Collette has become shrieking awards show junkies’ cause célèbre this year, though she actually has the critic awards haul to back them up, having won more of the regional prizes than anyone else. The same demographic backing Collette gave up hope long ago on Viola Davis being able to survive the Widows collapse, and yet there by the grace of BAFTA does she live on to fight another round. Elsie Fisher’s palpable awkwardness in Eighth Grade and winning awkwardness navigating the Hollywood circuit have earned her an almost protective backing. But we’re going out on a limb and calling it for the rapturously received Roma’s Yalitza Aparicio. Voters could, like us, find it not a particularly great performance and still parlay their good will for her into a nomination that’s there for the taking.

Will Be Nominated: Yalitza Aparicio (Roma), Glenn Close (The Wife), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born), and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Closest Runners-Up: Toni Collette (Hereditary), Viola Davis (Widows), and Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade)

Should Be Nominated: Juliette Binoche (Let the Sunshine In), Toni Collette (Hereditary), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Regina Hall (Support the Girls), and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Actor

John David Washington

Take Toni Collette’s trophies thus far in the competition and double them. And then add a few more. That’s the magnitude of endorsements backing First Reformed’s Ethan Hawke. And his trajectory has the clear markings of an almost overqualified performance that, like Naomi Watts’s in Mulholland Drive, cinephiles decades from now will wonder how Oscar snubbed. If Pastor Ernst Toller and Sasha Stone are right and God is indeed watching us all and cares what the Academy Awards do, Hawke’s nomination will come at the expense of John David Washington, whose strength in the precursors thus far (SAG and Globe-nominated) is maybe the most notable bellwether of BlacKkKlansman’s overall strength. Because, as with the best actress category, the other four slots are basically preordained. Unlike with best actress, the bench of also-rans appears to be one solitary soul. A fitting place for Paul Schrader’s man against the world.

Will Be Nominated: Christian Bale (Vice), Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), Viggo Mortensen (Green Book), and John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)

Closest Runners-Up: Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)

Should Be Nominated: Yoo Ah-in (Burning), Ben Foster (Leave No Trace), Ethan Hawke (First Reformed), Meinhard Neumann (Western), and John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)

Supporting Actress

Emily Blunt

Every Oscar prognosticator worth their bragging rights has spent the last couple weeks conspicuously rubbing their hands together about Regina King’s chances. The all-or-nothing volley that’s seen her sweep the critics’ awards and win the Golden Globe, and at the same time not even get nominations from within the industry—she was left off the ballot by both SAG and the BAFTAs—are narrative disruptions among a class that lives for narratives and dies of incorrect predictions. But despite the kvetching, King is as safe as anyone for a nomination in this category. It doesn’t hurt that, outside the pair of lead actresses from The Favourite, almost everyone else in the running this year feels like a 7th- or 8th-place also-ran. Except maybe Widows’s Elizabeth Debicki, whose fervent fans probably number just enough to land her…in 7th or 8th place. Vice’s Amy Adams is set to reach the Glenn Close club with her sixth Oscar nomination, and if she’d only managed to sustain the same loopy energy she brings to Lynne Cheney’s campaign-trail promise to keep her bra on, she’d deserve it. Which leaves a slot for supportive housewives Claire Foy, Nicole Kidman, and Emily Blunt. Even before the collapse of Mary Poppins Returns, we preferred Blunt’s chances in A Quiet Place.

Will Be Nominated: Amy Adams (Vice), Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Emma Stone (The Favourite), and Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Closest Runners-Up: Claire Foy (First Man), Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased), and Margot Robbie (Mary, Queen of Scots)

Should Be Nominated: Sakura Ando (Shoplifters), Zoe Kazan (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Rachel McAdams (Disobedience), and Haley Lu Richardson (Support the Girls)

Supporting Actor

Timothée Chalamet

The same people who’re curiously doubting Regina King’s nomination chances seem awfully assured that Sam Elliott’s moist-eyed, clearly canonical backing-the-truck-up scene in A Star Is Born assures him not only a nomination but probably the win. Elliott missed nominations with both the Golden Globes and BAFTA, and it was hard not to notice just how enthusiasm for A Star Is Born seemed to be cooling during the same period Oscar ballots were in circulation. Right around the same time, it started becoming apparent that BlacKkKlansman is a stronger draw than anyone thought, which means Adam Driver (who everyone was already predicting for a nod) won’t have to suffer the representationally awkward fate of being the film’s only nominee. Otherwise, the category appears to favor previously awarded actors (Mahershala Ali and Sam Rockwell) or should have been previously awarded actors (Chalamet). Leaving Michael B. Jordan to remain a should have been previously nominated actor.

Will Be Nominated: Mahershala Ali (Green Book), Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Closest Runners-Up: Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) and Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)

Should Be Nominated: Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Hugh Grant (Paddington 2); Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and Steven Yeun (Burning)

Adapted Screenplay

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Get beyond the best picture hopefuls BlacKkKlansman and If Beale Street Could Talk, which seem deservedly locked, and A Star Is Born, which is even more deservedly iffy, and you’ll see the screenwriters’ branch deciding just how seriously to take themselves this year, and whether they’re feeling like spiritually reliving the moments that found them nominating Bridesmaids and Logan. If so, then expect Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther to factor in here. If they most definitely don’t feel frisky, then maybe the foursquare First Man has a shot at reversing its overall downward trajectory. If they’re seeking that “just right” middle ground, then Can You Ever Forgive Me? and The Death of Stalin are in.

Will Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, The Death of Stalin, If Beale Street Could Talk, and A Star Is Born

Closest Runners-Up: Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, and First Man

Should Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, First Man, Leave No Trace, The Grief of Others, and We the Animals

Original Screenplay

First Reformed

It’s not unusual for some of the year’s most acclaimed movies whose strength isn’t necessarily in their scripts to get nominated only in the screenwriting categories. First Reformed, which even some of its fiercest defenders admit can sometimes feel a bit like Paul Schrader’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” greatest-hits package, stands to be another of them. But it’ll be a close call, given the number of other equally vanguard options they’ll be weighing it against, like Sorry to Bother You, which arguably feels more urgently in the moment in form, Eighth Grade, which is more empathetically post-#MeToo, and even Cold War, which had a surprisingly strong showing with BAFTA. Given the quartet of assured best picture contenders in the mix, First Reformed is going to have to hold off all of them.

Will Be Nominated: The Favourite, First Reformed, Green Book, Roma, and Vice

Closest Runners-Up: Cold War, Eighth Grade, and Sorry to Bother You

Should Be Nominated: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Bodied, First Reformed, Sorry to Bother You, and Western

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The 20 Best Music Videos of 2018

The year’s best music videos reflect the way we live now: the technology we use, the power we wield, and the places we carve out for ourselves.

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The 20 Best Music Videos of 2018
Photo: YouTube

The year’s best music videos reflect the way we live now: the technology we use (“Vince Staples’s “Fun!”), the power we wield (the Carters’ “Apeshit”), and the places we carve out for ourselves (“Anderson .Paak’s “Til It’s Over”). They also acknowledge the state of the world, from systemic racism (Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”) to institutional corruption (Jack White’s “Corporation”). Notably, a clear majority of the videos on our list were created by or for artists of color, whose stories serve as an act of resistance against a racist regime. The year in music video wasn’t all gloom and doom, though, as both identity and resistance manifested in profoundly joyous ways in Chaka Khan’s “Like Sugar” and Kali Uchis’s “After the Storm.” And Bruno Mars and Migos embraced playful, nostalgic visions of the past—though it’s hard not to question whether even those ostensibly frivolous throwbacks are rooted in self-care and a need to romanticize a seemingly simpler time. Sal Cinquemani

20. Prince, “Mary Don’t You Weep”

There are no guns or mass shootings in the clip for Prince’s posthumously released “Mary Don’t You Weep,” but their absence isn’t conspicuous. Gun violence is, more than anything else, about the aftermath—the loss, the grief, the haunted lives left in the wake of a fleeting shot. Amid politicians’ perpetual handwringing over when the “right” time is to talk about solutions to this epidemic, Salomon Ligthelm’s exquisitely lensed video testifies to the notion that, at least for tens of thousands of Americans this year, it’s already too late. Cinquemani


19. Rosalía, “Malamente”

Barcelona-based collective Canada marries the traditional with the modern—as in an eye-popping freeze-frame of a bullfighter facing off with a motorcycle—in this spirited music video for Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalía’s flamenco-inspired hit “Malamente.” Alexa Camp


18. Ariana Grande, “God Is a Woman”

The music video for Ariana Grande’s sultry, subtly reggae-infused slow jam “God Is a Woman” finds the pop princess bathing in a milky swirl of vaginal water colors, fingering the eye of a hurricane, and deflecting misogynist epithets, a visual embodiment of her declaration that “I can be all the things you told me not to be/When you try to come for me, I keep on flourishing/And he sees the universe when I’m in company/It’s all in me.” Directed by Dave Meyers, the video mixes animation, digital eye candy, and references to classical artwork, as well as a few WTF moments, like a set piece in which a group of moles emerge from their holes and scream bloody murder. Pointed metaphors abound, from scenes of Grande walking a tightrope to literally breaking a glass ceiling. At one point, pop’s original feminist queen, Madonna, makes a cameo reciting the Old Testament by way of Pulp Fiction—with her own characteristic twist, of course, swapping “brothers” for “sisters.” Cinquemani


17. Bruno Mars featuring Cardi B, “Finesse (Remix)”

Bruno Mars directed the video for “Finesse” himself, and its note-perfect homage to the opening sequence of In Living Color shows him to be as adept a visual pastiche artist as he is a musical one. As with the song, however, it’s guest Cardi B who steals the show, dominating every second she’s on camera as the flyest of Fly Girls in tube socks, cutoffs, and larger-than-life hoop earrings. Zachary Hoskins


16. LCD Soundsystem, “Oh Baby”

Featuring masterful performances by Sissy Spacek and David Strathairn, LCD Soundsystem’s “Oh Baby” is a stirring saga of lovers venturing into the unknown. Directed by Rian Johnson, the video follows an aging couple who build a set of strange, inter-dimensional doorways. Enter one, and you can exit out of the other, but it’s never clear what reality exists between them. Simple, cinematic, and heart-wrenching, the clip is the perfect accompaniment for James Murphy’s ponderous, uplifting electro-pop. Paired together, Spacek and Strathairn convey love’s capacity to obliterate all barriers: loneliness, old age, even death. Pryor Stroud


15. Migos featuring Drake, “Walk It Talk It”

Migos’s “Walk It Talk It” takes place on a fictional television program called Culture Ride—a clear homage to the iconic show Soul Train. This isn’t the first music video to conceptually riff on the vintage variety show format; both OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” and the Strokes’s “Last Nite” are set in Ed Sullivan Show-style sound stages. But the video is still a triumph of flashy, vintage style. Offset, Quavo, and Takeoff surround themselves with dancing spectators and major stars, notably Jamie Foxx and Drake, all of whom are transfixed by the music they’re hearing. And just as they are today, Migos is the center of attention. Stroud


14. Azealia Banks, “Anna Wintour”

Yes, those really are Azealia Banks’s nipples. At least according to the New York singer-rapper-lightning-rod’s perennially deleted Twitter account. But the music video for Banks’s single “Anna Wintour” is striking not just because of the artist’s ample bosom. Directed by Matt Sukkar, the clip was filmed in an empty warehouse using understated faux-natural lighting, an apt visual milieu for Banks’s declaration of independence: “As the valley fills with darkness, shadows chase and run around…I’ll be better off alone, I’ll walk at my own pace.” Shots of a scantily clad Banks strutting on a metal catwalk, posing in a full-length mirror, and striking a pose in front of a backlit gate pay homage to Janet Jackson’s “The Pleasure Principle,” an iconic video by another female artist who was once determined to assert control. Camp


13. Flasher, “Material”

The internet has rendered media consumption so isolating that it takes a work of profound ingenuity to remind us that art is inherently a shared experience—even if that experience is one of infuriating data buffering, inescapable clickbait, and micro-targeted advertising. Directed by Nick Roney, Flasher’s meta visual for “Material” proves that YouTube has become so engrained in the fabric of modern life that the simple action of clicking out of a pop-up advertisement is now part of our brains’ cache of muscle memory. Though the video isn’t actually interactive, you just might find yourself unconsciously reaching to take control of what’s happening on your screen. Cinquemani


12. Jennifer Lopez featuring Cardi B and DJ Khaled, “Dinero”

The music video for Jennifer Lopez’s “Dinero” is as over the top as the song itself, which finds J. Lo alternately singing over a tropical rhythm and rapping atop a trap beat—sometimes both—while fellow Bronx upstart Cardi B boasts of their borough-based bona fides. Directed by Joseph Kahn, the black-and-white clip brazenly takes the piss out of Lopez’s dubious Jenny from the Block persona—and she’s clearly in on the joke, bowling with a diamond-covered ball, barbecuing in lingerie and pearls while sipping a crystal-encrusted Slurpee, toasting marshmallows over a burning pile of cash, and walking a preening pet ostrich on a leash. The video also features a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by a Casino-era Robert De Niro. Camp


11. Tierra Whack, “Whack World”

One of the most ambitious music video projects of the year, “Whack World” is a full-length accompaniment to Tierra Whack’s debut album of the same title. Like the album, it’s 15 minutes long, with the Philadelphia-based rapper and visual artist performing a wildly different vignette in each minute. Both album and video make for an impressive sampler of Whack’s versatility as a performer—which, in visual form, translates to her inhabiting a range of quirky and inventive characters, from a facially disfigured receptionist to a rapping corpse in a sequined coffin, a sentient house, and others that defy description. With a highlight reel like this, it’s hard to image there being anything Whack can’t do. Hoskins


10. Janelle Monáe, “Make Me Feel”

Every segment of the “emotion picture” released by Janelle Monáe to accompany her third album Dirty Computer is visually striking and thematically rich in its own way. But it’s the segment for lead single “Make Me Feel” that arguably stands best on its own. Directed by Monáe’s longtime collaborator Alan Ferguson, the video features the singer and 2018 It-girl Tessa Thompson at what may be the year’s coolest party captured on screen. Widely viewed as a coming-out moment for Monáe—her pansexuality is dramatized in her interactions with both Thompson and co-star Jayson Aaron—the clip is rife with references to two recently canonized icons of sexual fluidity, Prince and David Bowie. Monáe’s choreography with Thompson and Aaron echoes Prince’s with dancer Monique Mannen in the video for “Kiss,” while the dynamic of a bold, flamboyant alter ego performing for the singer’s more reserved self is borrowed from Bowie’s “Blue Jean.” As with her music, however, Monáe is capable of wearing these influences on her sleeve (and her silver bikini top) while still making them wholly her own. Hoskins


9. Chaka Khan, “Like Sugar”

The music video for R&B legend Chaka Khan’s first single in five years giddily foregrounds a multiplicity of black bodies via vibrant, kinetic montage. The joyous clip represents a celebration of identity and persistence in the face of adversity, a thread that shoots through many of the year’s best videos. Camp


8. Anderson .Paak, “Til It’s Over”

The music video has always sat at an awkward intersection of art and commerce, having originated as short film clips serving quite literally as “promos” for new singles. It’s thus only a little strange that Spike Jonze’s video for Anderson .Paak’s “Til It’s Over” isn’t a conventional one at all, but rather an extended commercial for Apple’s HomePod smart device. In the short vignette, FKA Twigs comes home from a long work day and asks Siri to play something she’d like. After a few seconds of .Paak’s voice coming out of her HomePod speakers, she discovers that her dancing can make the physical properties of her apartment stretch and shift. Both the simple, human joy of Twigs’s movements and the technical wizardry of the expanding room are so arresting that you’ll almost forget you’re being sold something. Hoskins


7. Travis Scott featuring Drake, “Sicko Mode”

The album cover for Travis Scott’s Astroworld painted a vivid picture of the eponymous theme park as a psychedelic, vaguely sinister landscape, dominated by a giant inflatable model of Scott’s head and decidedly not to be confused with the real-life (and long-defunct) Six Flags AstroWorld. But it’s the video for single “Sicko Mode,” directed by Dave Meyers, that really brings the place to life, turning the bleak landscape of Houston’s inner city into a post-apocalyptic playground of talking train graffiti and video vixens on bicycles while Scott rides past a prowling police cruiser on horseback. Much like the multi-part song, the clip isn’t cohesive, as the scenes during Drake’s guest verse almost seem to be cut in from an entirely different video. But the abundance of bizarre imagery, both menacing and absurd, ensures that it’s never boring. Hoskins


6. A$AP Rocky featuring Moby, “A$AP Forever”

The camera is the star of Dexter Navy’s video for “A$AP Forever”: whirling in dizzy circles above A$AP Rocky’s head and pulling in and out of a seemingly endless series of television monitors, street signs, smartphone screens, and other images within images. In the final sequence, the camera moves one last time into Rocky’s eyeball, revealing a reflected image of the rapper rotating in an anti-gravity chamber. Also, Moby is there. What it all means is anyone’s guess, but the trippy effect is a perfect complement to the strain of 21st-century psychedelia in Rocky’s music. Hoskins


5. Vince Staples, “Fun!”

Directed by Calmatic, the video for Vince Staples’s “Fun!” is both an astute condemnation of racial tourism and a (perhaps unintentional) auto-critique of hip-hop’s exportation of the black experience to middle America. Like Flasher’s “Material,” it’s also a bleak commentary on the ways technology—in this case, satellite mapping—has simultaneously united and divided the human race. Cinquemani


4. Jack White, “Corporation”

Jack White’s “Corporation” is just as oblique, ambitious, and political as the artist himself. Over the course of seven minutes, a series of surreal, seemingly disjointed events occur: a cowboy puts on lipstick, a rave starts in a diner, a little boy steals a car. By the end, you learn that all of the characters are simply different manifestations of White himself, revealing the alt-blues pioneer as someone we already knew him to be: a complex, multifaceted artist whose neuroses are intimately tied to his genius. Stroud


3. Kali Uchis featuring Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins, “After the Storm”

Like the contemporary surrealist photos of its director, Nadia Lee Cohen, the video for “After the Storm” pairs a rich Technicolor palette with a playfully elastic approach to everyday banality: bringing P-Funk icon Bootsy Collins to (animated) life as a cereal box mascot and making rapper Tyler, the Creator grow from a garden like a literal “Flower Boy.” That these whimsical images appear alongside shots of singer Kali Uchis, dolled up in mid-century attire and staring blankly into the distance, suggest that they’re meant to dramatize the daydreams of a bored 1950s suburbanite. This makes the video’s final image, of Uchis and a fully sprouted Tyler acting out an idyllic nuclear family scene while their own disembodied Chia-pet heads look on from the window, as vaguely disquieting as it is humorous. Hoskins


2. The Carters, “Apeshit”

The Carters’s Everything Is Love may not have achieved the same cultural ubiquity as Beyoncé‘s Lemonade, or Jay-Z’s 4:44, but it spawned one of the year’s most poignant videos. In “Apeshit,” the power couple performs in a vacant Louvre, commandeering the world’s most famous museum without breaking a sweat. It’s a radical testament to their influence as artists, business people, and political players, as well as a bold statement about the overlooked primacy of blackness in the Western canon. Stroud


1. Childish Gambino, “This Is America”

Surprise-released to coincide with Donald Glover’s double duty as host and musical guest on Saturday Night Live in May, the provocative video for “This Is America” was already inspiring breathless think pieces by the following morning. Directed by Hiro Murai, Glover’s principal collaborator on FX’s Atlanta, “This Is America” shares with many of that show’s best episodes a knack for getting under viewers’ skins, presenting highly charged images with just enough ambiguity to encourage social media reactions of the “WTF did I just watch” variety. But if the last seven months of critical dissection and memetic recycling have inevitably dulled some of its shock value—and, by extension, its power as a political statement—the video remains an astounding artistic achievement. In a series of long shots cleverly disguised as one uninterrupted take, Glover pulls dances and faces from the intertwined traditions of pop culture and minstrelsy, seamlessly juxtaposed with eruptions of sudden, graphic gun violence. In both extremes, it’s impossible to take your eyes off of him—which is, of course, the point. Like the never-ending train wreck that is American history itself, “This is America” offers entertainment and grotesquerie in equal measure. Hoskins


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The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

These performances share a commitment to achieving emotional vitality by any means necessary.

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The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

This year offered a feast of cinematic acting that pivoted on surprise, in terms of unconventional casting that allowed performers to add new shades to their established personas, as well as in blistering work by newcomers. These performances share a commitment to achieving emotional vitality by any means necessary, shattering the banality of expectation to elaborate on universal feelings that are too easily submerged by us on our day-to-day toils. Which is to say that the finest film acting of 2018 was less indebted to the representational “realism” that often wins awards than to fashioning a bold kind of behavioral expressionism. Like many of their filmmaker collaborators, these actors are master stylists. Chuck Bowen
 

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Sakura Ando, Shoplifters

As Nobuyo, the default “mother” of an informal family of hustlers on the margins of present-day Tokyo, Sakura Ando enriches Hirokazu Kore-eda’s gentle social drama with her bracing articulation of her character’s self-discovery. Nobuya’s melodramatic arc—a woman with dark secrets whose hard-won redemption is inevitably undone by higher forces—culminates in an agonizing one-shot unraveling, but what makes her fate so devastating is the sense of surprise and liberation that Ando brings to Nobuya’s acceptance of new responsibilities, passions, and her own self-worth. Christopher Gray


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Juliette Binoche, Let the Sunshine In

For all of her versatility, Juliette Binoche has never particularly been noted for her comic skills, but she displays a subtle wit as the middle-aged and single Isabelle in Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In, often dismissing petulant, needy men with scarcely more than a mocking glance or a passive-aggressive comment. Binoche truly shines, though, in scenes that play up Isabelle’s feelings of panic and loneliness over having to date again, such as when Isabelle reminisces about her ex-husband and, in the process, a whole panoply of emotions, including resentment and wistfulness, flit anxiously across the actress’s face. Most moving of all is the outright panic that Isabelle betrays when a wonderful date urges her to take things slowly, triggering an existential attack over her perceived lack of time to find another partner so late in life. Jake Cole


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Emily Browning, Golden Exits

Golden Exits sustains a lingering aura of futility that’s counterweighted by the film’s beauty and by the exhilaration of seeing Alex Ross Perry realize his vast ambitions, as he’s made a modern film about relationships and social constrictions that clears the bar set by the work of John Cassavetes and Woody Allen. Perry also ultimately empathizes with Naomi, who’s paradoxically diminished by her status as the narrative’s center of attention. Regarded by her American acquaintances as a barometer of their own personal failures, Naomi is never truly noticed. She’s the gorgeous woman as specter, played by Emily Browning with an ambiguity that carries a heartbreaking suggestion: that Naomi’s unknowable because no one wishes to know her. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Nicolas Cage, Mandy

Mandy‘s smorgasbord of indulgences is held together by Nicolas Cage, who gives one of the best performances of his career. Director Panos Cosmatos understands Cage as well as any director ever has, fashioning a series of moments that allow the actor to rhythmically blow off his top, exorcising Red’s rage and longing as well as, presumably, his own. In the film’s best scene, Red storms into the bathroom of his cabin and lets out a primal roar, while chugging a bottle of liquor that was stashed under the sink. Cage gives this scene a disquieting sense of relief, investing huge emotional notes with a lingering undercurrent that cuts to the heart of the film itself. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Toni Collette, Hereditary

Flashes of insanity and malaise factor into Toni Collette’s performance in Hereditary, yet Annie cannot be defined by such traits often linked to the trope of a hysterical woman. Instead, Collette’s glares of frustration suggest a world of complicated emotions that extend well beyond pain. Terror and intense focus become indecipherable in Collette’s eyes as Annie, a diorama artist, is torn from her profession by conspiring forces, making the film’s outcome feel even more like a cross between a cruel joke and a rebuke of society’s stacking the deck through maternal guilt and shame against Annie’s aspiring career. Clayton Dillard


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

As Queen Anne and her rival sycophants, Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, respectively, establish a delicious series of manipulative, barbarous, and poignant emotional cross-currents throughout The Favourite. Stone and Weisz verbally parry and thrust at lightning speed, one-upping one another in an escalating series of duels that inspire the actresses to give among the finest performances of their careers, while Colman expertly operates at a slower, daringly draggy and exposed speed, painting a portrait of a woman imprisoned by entitlement. Collectively, this superb acting also achieves the near miraculous feat of rendering a Yorgos Lanthimos film authentically human. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Matt Dillon, The House That Jack Built

It’s no secret that Jack (Matt Dillon), the viciously misogynistic serial killer at the heart of Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built, is at least partially a stand-in for the director himself, and the genius of Dillon’s interpretation of the character is that he never seems to be sucking up to the man who created it. He plays Jack as ruthless, self-pitying, and disturbingly empty—Hannibal Lecter without the wit or charm. No mere pawn of the Danish provocateur’s autocritical schema, Dillon both deepens and challenges von Trier’s intended self-portraiture with the uncanny blankness of his performance, creating in the process an absolutely chilling embodiment of evil. Keith Watson


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Adam Driver, BlackKklansman

Though BlackKklansman was marketed as the story of an African-American police officer impersonating a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s, it also concerns a Jewish cop’s efforts to do the same by offering a white face to accompany a vocal charade. As said cop, Flip Zimmerman, Adam Driver deliriously plumbs head-first into a disturbing irony, acknowledging the catharses that can be had by indulging in disgusting epithets secretly at one’s own expense. Or, simply: Flip insults himself, and those close to him, and Driver elucidates the character’s disgust as well as the weird spiritual purging that can occur by indulging one’s basest instincts. One of America’s best and most sensitive actors offers perhaps his finest portrait yet of a soul twisted in contradictory knots. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade

It’s a testament to the authenticity of Elsie Fisher’s performance in Eighth Grade that you’d never have guessed she’d been in front of a camera before, much less that she’s been acting consistently for years. As Kayla, the awkward, unpopular tween protagonist of Bo Burnham’s film, Fisher infuses every stammered “umm” and stumbling “like” with a palpable sense of self-loathing and social anxiety. For anyone who ever felt like Kayla in middle school, Fisher’s painfully real performance is liable to induce PTSD. Watson


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace

Finally shedding his tick-laden parlor games, Ben Foster comes to life as an actor, connecting with Will and giving him a fearful thickness of being that’s only occasionally leavened by Tom, whom Thomasin McKenzie invests with the trembling, negotiating intelligence of an unformed prodigy. Will and Tom and Foster and McKenzie’s energies are beautifully in and out of sync, simultaneously. Foster confidently cedes the film to McKenzie, which parallels Will’s gradual relinquishing of authority to Tom. Both characters know that it’s unfair to expect Tom to inherit Will’s alienation, as she has the right to give this potentially doomed society a chance, to fight for it as well as herself. In Leave No Trace‘s heartbreaking climax, a relationship dies so that an individual, and maybe even a society, may be reborn. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Hugh Grant, Paddington 2

Hugh Grant may well be more cartoonish than the animated bear protagonist of Paddington 2. As the film’s villain, a has-been thespian with the world’s most convoluted scheme to finance a one-man show, Grant can scarcely utter a syllable without throwing his head back and exclaiming it to the rafters, and the actor’s body language—a series of shocked gasps, wild-eyed stares, and manic grins—is similarly absurd. As Phoenix dons a series of ever-more elaborate disguises throughout the film, Grant’s acting somehow gets even broader, resulting in a work of giddy panto and one of the finest comic performances in recent memory. Cole


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Regina Hall, Support the Girls

It’s not often that we see decency and level-headedness radiated on screen as convincingly as it is by Regina Hall in Support the Girls, much less a film centered around such a performance. As Lisa, a put-upon restaurant manager enduring a particularly hectic day on the job, Hall suppresses the comic histrionics that she’s become known for in mainstream comedy movies in order to inhabit the delicate naturalism that writer-director Andrew Bujalski consistently cultivates in his casts. Slipping into this mode with grace, the actress conveys the sheer exhaustion and frustration of nine-to-five existence with just the subtlest of disruptions to an exterior of buttoned-up professionalism. Carson Lund


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

As the great blackness of night swoops in, we reach for assurances of “the everlasting arms,” as sung about in First Reformed‘s concluding hymnal. Ethan Hawke’s staggering performance is one of Ecclesiastian sympathy, with watchful longing and hungry silences in between reminders of Toller’s own impotence to change the world. The man’s face suggests a tragic predicament that the only ark to save us from an impending flood is in our illusions. Niles Schwartz


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Bill Heck and Zoe Kazan, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Nearly every actor in the Coen brothers’ newest anti-western is remarkable, but Zoe Kazan and Bill Heck are particularly heartbreaking, partly because the audience has been so expertly rendered vulnerable to the vignette in which they appear. By the time that we get to “The Gal Who Got Rattled” in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, we’ve seen so much brutality and cynicism that we’re hardened for more of the same only to encounter tenderness. As potential lovers who never get to be, Kazan and Heck dramatize the unmooring vulnerability of feeling attraction just when you suspect that you’ve aged out of it, informing the Coens’ florid, beautiful dialogue with trembling pathos. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Brian Tyree Henry, If Beale Street Could Talk

For this critic, the lovers at the center of Barry Jenkins’s newest parable of racism are too gorgeous, primped, fawning, symbolic, metaphorical, and seemingly straight out of a coffee-table book. As a man recently out of prison after serving a stretch he didn’t deserve, Brian Tyree Henry does for If Beale Street Could Talk what he did for Widows and continues to do for Atlanta: informing potentially self-conscious conceits with a jolting burst of common-sense machismo. If Beale Street Could Talk‘s most haunting scene is a monologue that’s hypnotically uttered by Tyree, allowing this film, for a few minutes, to actually capture the brutal poetry of the James Baldwin novel that inspired it. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Helena Howard, Madeline’s Madeline

The center of a film about commitment and disassociation, Helena Howard’s Madeline evidently relishes the opportunity to change identities in the blink of an eye. Director Josephine Decker contrasts the aspiring actress’s easy mastery of improv exercises with Madeline’s harried life outside of rehearsal, where she’s regularly manipulated by her mother and an overeager director as she struggles to control her mental illness. Decker’s film is willfully alienating in its commitment to Madeline’s tortured interiority, but Howard steers it with an undeniable power and confidence, making Madeline’s rootless chaos feel entirely legible. Gray


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Bhreagh MacNeil, Werewolf

Werewolf belongs to the extraordinary Bhreagh MacNeil. The film derives quite a bit of its power from allowing Vanessa to unceremoniously wrest the spotlight away from Blaise (Andrew Gillis), a lost and bitter man whose quest for recovery is probably hopeless. MacNeil doesn’t project Vanessa’s determination in a manner that’s familiar to rehabilitation fables, but rather physically embodies it, and McKenzie doesn’t mar her with any screenwriterly speeches. We see Vanessa’s strength in the steel of her eyes, in her willingness to ask family for help, and in her ability to get a thankless job at an old-fashioned burger and soft-serve ice cream joint, in which she grinds imitation Oreo cookies into pieces with a machine that resembles a sausage grinder. The fierceness with which Vanessa grinds these cookies—or attempts to master an ice cream machine that resembles a liquid methadone dispenser—is haunting. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Rachel McAdams, Disobedience

Esti (Rachel McAdams), at first glance, is another type: an obsequious adherent to orthodoxy. When she passionately kisses Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), you understood the gesture as compensatory, to convey that I’m just not that into her anymore. But then McAdams caps the moment by quickly playing with Nivola’s beard, and the actress subtly communicates the sense of the genuine love that exits between this husband and wife—an impression that’s confirmed when Esti later repeats the gesture with Ronit (Rachel Weisz). Only theirs is a different kind of love, and we finally get a sense of what that is when, during a tryst in a hotel room, Ronit casually sends a stream of her spit into Esti’s mouth. This moment feels organically, almost miraculously stumbled upon—arrived at by two great actors wanting to convey the singular nature of their characters’ communion. Ed Gonzalez


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The pairing of Melissa McCarthy, a Hollywood A-lister, with Richard E. Grant, a sublime arthouse presence, is one of the most invigorating surprises of this year’s cinema. McCarthy avoids the pitfall of comic actors appearing in unusually dramatic material. Rather than restricting her emotional catalogue to a few grim gestures of purposefulness, McCarthy expands her repertoire, elaborating on the sadness that’s inherent in even her blockbuster roles—a sadness that also fuels her comic virtuosity. And Grant is complicit with McCarthy’s tonal dexterity in every way. Together they offer an irresistible portrait of a bittersweet paradox of companionable alienation. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Ben Mendelsohn, The Land of Steady Habits

The Land of Steady Habits benefits enormously from the casting of Ben Mendelsohn as an unexceptionally tormented upper-middle-class guy. Here, the actor submerges the aggression that’s often closer to the surface of his sleazy villain roles, giving Anders a mysterious internal tension that’s compelling and often funny. When writer-director Nicole Holofcener follows Anders around as he drifts in and out of the lives of Helene (Edie Falco) and his grown son, Preston (Thomas Mann), and their various friends, the film has a free-associational piquancy. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Jason Mitchell, Tyrel

Sebastián Silva tasks Jason Mitchell with carrying the weight of Tyrel on the actor’s face; he’s asked to project toughness in reaction shots to aggressions both micro and macro from Tyler’s white bros, then later vulnerability as he steals away for moments of quietude to escape the ambiguous pain of social discomfort. While the scenario and performance is comparable to that of Daniel Kaluuya’s in Get Out, Mitchell’s Tyler isn’t given a catharsis of violent retribution. Mitchell’s expressions and gestures convey the betrayal of a daily life that never lets Tyler feel at ease, let alone at home. Dillard


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Michelle Pfeiffer, Where Is Kyra?

Michelle Pfeiffer’s ferociously vulnerable and intelligent performance elucidates the pain, resentment, and fear that springs from escalating disappointment. Pfeiffer informs Kyra with a fragile mixture of empathy and rage, which is particularly on display when Kyra cares for her mother, Ruth, who’s played by Suzanne Shepard with a wily and commanding dignity. Kyra is understood by Pfeiffer to be taking qualified pleasure in her own effacement, as it implies an escape from a world that has rejected her. Early in the film, we see Kyra preparing a bath for Ruth, and a mirror fashions a prism in which mother and daughter are cordoned off from one another yet simultaneously visible, evoking the punishing intimacy, and the comfort, of caring for a dependent. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Meinhard Neumann, Western

Casting is everything, the saying goes, but that’s especially true when filmmakers elect to use nonprofessionals, in which case ineffable factors such as “presence” and “authenticity” become paramount. Meinhard Neumann, the grizzled, mustachioed brooder at the center of Western who director Valeska Grisebach came across on a whim at a horse market, has these qualities in spades, in addition to a seemingly preternatural capacity for playing to Grisebach’s roving handheld camera and finding his light. His taciturn, repressed Meinhard doesn’t have a wide expressive range, but when the character does undergo a few emotional breakthroughs in the latter half of the film, Neumann seems to be genuinely accessing reserves of pain and regret deep within himself. Lund


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Jesse Plemons, Game Night

John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein assembled one of the strongest comedic ensembles in recent memory for Game Night, but a single performer still managed to steal the show: Jesse Plemons as the weirdo Gary, a sad-sack cop with a broken heart whose self-pitying glumness could ruin anyone’s vibe. Pitched perfectly at the intersection of creepiness and pathos, Plemons earns big laughs without really seeming to try. The hilarity arises instead from his expertly discomfiting embodiment of one of those off-putting personality types we’ve all unfortunately encountered: the guy you feel bad for but desperately want to get away from as fast as humanly possible. Watson


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Steven Yeun, Burning

Lee Chang-dong’s Burning is driven by a central mystery of purpose. To what genre does this film belong? Is it a horror film, a romantic triangle, a class critique, or a beguiling fusion of all of the above? Much of this mystery is embodied by Steven Yeun’s performance as a rich smoothie who’s far more appealing than the floundering hero, which strikes up a crisis in the audience’s empathy that resonates with our romantic preferences in real life. Turns out there’s a reason that confident people get all the lovers, because they are, well, confident. Yet Yeun laces his sexiness with the subtlest tint of passive aggression, so subtle that one wonders if it’s even there, investing Burning with a fleeting malignancy that’s worthy of Claude Chabrol. Bowen


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