The Blaze, DJ Koze, Laurel Halo and Jon Hopkins All Took Gentler Electronic Paths This Year Best of 2018

The Blaze, DJ Koze, Laurel Halo and Jon Hopkins All Took Gentler Electronic Paths This Year Best of 2018
Photo: Gepa Hinrichsen
It happened slowly but steadily over the last few years: tempos slowed, beats softened; in the underground, ambient music saw a sharp rise, while in the mainstream, "EDM" was supplanted by "tropical house," both on the radio and as a lazy catch-all term for synth-based dance music. We can't say why precisely — a search for peace and calm? — but in 2018, electronic music has gone soft. Here are five artists, big and small, that leaned into it.
 
DJ Koze
DJ Koze has been making softly textured minimal techno for years, and while his peers seem to be catching up somewhat, his complex, sprawling 2018 masterwork, knock knock, still feels miles ahead.
 
The Blaze
The French duo's rise to popularity was buoyed by their signature cinematic music videos, but their warm, expansive take on house is characteristic of the zeitgeist. The same people who were listening to Avicii and Martin Garrix years ago were looking for languor, and they found it in the Blaze's accessible, sentimental sound.
 

Laurel Halo
The American producer embraced jazzier, mellower textures on this year's Raw Silk Uncut Wood in place of her jagged, more challenging past work, but it remains every bit as lovely and compelling.
 
Jon Hopkins
The UK producer, known particularly for his attention to textural detail, made large swathes of new LP, Singularity, a soft, ambient dream. After the album's hard-edged first half, "Feel First Life" embraces the warmth of the human voice, while "Recovery" is a piano-only comedown that ends on the same ambient note with which the record begins.
 

Leon Vynehall
On his masterful new Nothing Is Still, Vynehall pivoted from funkier, worldly dance floor fare to softer timbres and shorter, slower and more mesmeric loops that feel better suited to hypnotherapy than the club.