Best Albums & Tracks Of 2016
Jesus Christ... what a year. It's important in life to avoid sliding towards a state nihilistic defeatism, but whilst sluding through 2016's ghastly horror show of unabiding misery (Trump, Brexit, Prince, Bowie, Alan Vega) what option do we have left? Of course this outlook isn't actually a viable option - political engagement is needed now more then ever - but you'd certainly be forgiven for taking a (very) brief retreat from current affairs... it is the holidays after all.
Now, I'd be lying to you if I were to say that these albums - and tracks - would adequately function as a soundtrack for escapist goals (bar two or three notable exceptions). Instead many reflect/combat the dystopian present, whilst others bravely excavate a sense of utopianism amidst the dire state of affairs we currently find ourselves engulfed in.
It's easy to say 'fuck you 2016', but in the long term we need to effectively face up to and challenge these issues - after all, its not looking like 2017 is shaping up to be any easier. In the mean time we'll have to avoid succumbing to the tyranny of apathy; whilst also finding other things to be optimistic about. But you know what? Despite this shitstorm of year, so much fantastic music has been released, music that's truly worth celebrating. Anyhow, I hope you find something out of this list that intrigues you.
Bar the top three (for albums) and Jessy Lanza (for tracks), this list is in no particular order:
Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch
Blood Bitch is a powerful album, with a thoughtful and compassionate sense of longing permeating its entirety; a desperate desire for something beyond this fearful conservative landscape. Crucially Jenny Hval’s record is never consumed by despair, baring with it a vital and endearing humour, easily excavated amongst its feelings of intense dissatisfaction. Musically, the album lurks around the lucid and impressionistic; interjected with rabid-dog panting, concréte explorations, and undulating synthesisers slowly ebbing above and below the surface. The themes of menstruation and vampires are explored in a non logical fashion – thankfully avoiding any dry academic style dissection. Above all, the album is Hval’s least self conscious effort, wisely letting a carnal instinct take firm president. For my money, Blood Bitch is the years most captivating and profound musical statement.
Babyfather - BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow/419
Many were shocked by results of both Brexit and the American election, but Dean Blunt was painfully aware of the insidious mindset bubbling clearly under the surface. Rage and discontent emanates from Blunt’s Babyfather work, a project smug journalists and onlookers wrongly regarded as an endeavour interested in pure novelty. Both BBF and the equally exceptional 419 mixtape finds Blunt at his most beat focused, evading the indie leanings of his most recent work. With Babyfather, Blunt unquestionably forged a path as one of Britain’s most conceptually radical artists - the Kate Bush sampling SYWALKER sounding flat out iconic.
Klein - Only/Lagata
Real oddball sounds here; the spectral and uncanny as present as the gritty or urbane. Aside from maybe Mica Levi, very few things come to mind whilst listening to Klein, one of the most singular UK artists to emerge over the past decade. Both Only and Lagata present bizarrely surreal concoctions, but concoctions that somehow still feel attached to a concrete landscape. These digitally garbled settings are populated by bodily moans and groans, mangled manipulations playing little heed to structure or reason. Klein is an artist who thrilling embodies the contradiction of feeling both timely and detached from everything else happening right now.
Rashad Becker - Traditional Music Of Notional Species. II
Words like otherworldly don't really do Rashad Becker justice. In fact it's near impossible to find sufficient adjectives, Becker's work - on the stellar Pan label - is not alien through a subversion or deconstruction of tropes, but through a genuine plunge into unknown sound. Its equally difficult to imagine the process in which these bent out of shape noises were made, more plausibly the sound of chemical leakage from a sci-fi power plant. Though it doesn't exactly become more welcoming with repeated listening, you certainly become far more accustomed to this corrosive environment, more able to marvel at its perverse grandeur. A truly outstanding, confounding listen.
Carla Del Forna - You Know What It's Like
Emerging from the Blackest Ever Black label - previously releasing the likes of Raime and Regis - Carla Del Forna's You Know What It's Like inhabits a murky region, songs which could feasibly dissipate upon the encountering of sunlight. They are, however, made all the more fascinating for it. Throughout 2016 I've gravitated towards music experimenting in the realms of the chromatic and vibrant, but You Know What It's Like proves that the dingy and opaque still holds intrigue and potential. Aside from creating one of the year's very best albums, Carla Del Forna has re-ignited my fascination with shadow.
Equiknoxx - Bird Sound Power
A vital reconfiguration of dancehall, with an absurdly batshit logic dominating the proceedings. As an album, Bird Sound Power most importantly proves that to have an appreciation for a certain styles roots or lineage, it does not mean that you are forever confined to re-enacting that styles past. Along with Micachu's Taz and May Vids, the DDS label - run by the brilliant Demdike Stare (still need to listen to their latest release) - has further helped to sustain electronic music's rightful vanguard status, the sounds produced by Equiknoxx genuinely stretching the form they belong to; not abandoning dancehall, but violently and voraciously reshaping it.
Marie Davidson - Adieux Au Dancefloor
"For the most part the album sticks to the minimal, though you will stumble across sudden interjections of cavernous texture. It typically feels like a de-cluttering of sound, something which is actually quite refreshing given the state of density in electronic music. Besides, the tracks may be minimal, but their impact is unquestionably maximal; take the sweltering Inferno, by the songs end its achieved deliriously fevered heights; the writhing modulation left audibly unstable. The album concludes with the title track – Adieux Au Dancefloor – a sumptuous exercise in synth pop euphoria, situating Davidson at her most traditionally song based." Review
Peder Mannerfelt - Controlling Body
A high octane ringing sets the tone for Controlling Body, an album largely characterised by its foreboding malice. A divergence from his usual methods, Mannerfelt’s pallet has taken a turn towards the kaleidoscopic, with a chromatic vibrancy seeping across these nine tracks. Repetition - bordering on sadism - can be located on a piece like Limits To Growth, the neoliberal mantra (‘create growth’) being sardonically situated amongst hellishly potent synth stabs. Though at times a harrowing experience, Controlling Body can be seen as nothing but a transfixing accomplishment.
Obtuse, confrontational, erratic. Throughout Entrañas we find Arca at his most violent yet concise. The Venezuelan producer typically suffers from a chronically aimless sensibility, with his confounding sounds not really put to good use. On Entrañas - his 25 minute mixtape - the dilemma is masterfully rectified. This formless suite - featuring the likes of Mica Levi - is a tangled (yet propulsive and focused) enigma. Similarly to its H.R. Giger style cover, the appeal comes from both a confounding futurism and garish horror.
Pattern Man - Pattern Man
"Mosquatino Story concludes the album with some of its most vivid lines. The narrative concluding with fragmentary propositions like “It’s either mastery or madness, and either one will free me.” These striking lines show Holland at his most interpretable, at other moments on the album seemingly random words will be employed, either for the effect of it’s sound or for their cumulative power. Like Mark E Smith, Holland understands the power of words within the context of music, playing a different function and having an entirely different impact when printed upon paper. Pattern Man should be played alongside eMMplekz’s Rook To TN34; 2016 seemingly the year for atypical, spoken word/electronic explorations." Review
You can find the release on bandcamp.
Frank Ocean - Blonde
Many applauded the boldness of Blonde. This was partially due to Frank Ocean's stature within the music industry - forgetting that a sense of risk is something the underground does not have a stranglehold on. In fact, a great deal of supposedly 'experimental' albums fearfully cocoon themselves in the comfort blankets of their own styles. To be fair its bold - almost impressionistic - nature should be celebrated, but perhaps the albums most endearing quality, is that amidst a brash cultural climate, Blonde resonates with a patience and humility; making the minuscule feel seismic.
Huerco S. - For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)
The beats have disintegrated on the latest from Huerco S. making way for the hushed and the textural. Simple melodies looped indefinitely, left to shift and toil before being abruptly ushered away - at least from our ears. Tracks feel gently fluid but constantly recede back into place, like their mobile within this setting but ultimately contained. Whilst creating For Those of you Who Have Never Huerco S. said that he hoped to achieve something 'timeless', he's undoubtedly done so.
Micachu - Taz and May Vids/Remain Calm (with Oliver Coates)
Classical music leaks into the sound of Mica Levi via osmosis. You'll often find her faulty electronics at least partially resembling a kind of woozy detuned string arrangement. Her residing knowledge as a trained musician remaining inescapably attached to the genetic makeup of her music. Oliver Coates has slightly more explicit ties to the classical field - most noticeably through his involvement with The London Contemporary Orchestra (an orchestra Mica has collaborated with). Throughout Remain Calm, Coates' cello commonly functions as a binding force, with down trodden electronics skirting rapidly between textures, equally emphasising the murky and the sky gazing. On the outstanding Taz and May Vids, Micachu (Mica Levi) exercises a similar wooziness, but here using it to reshape the garage/2-step template.
Solange - A Seat At The Table
Looking across the majority of year end lists you'll find nothing but a climate of consensus, a great deal of top 10s just a reshuffling of the same handful of albums. With A Seat At The Table I'll happily and wholeheartedly join the consensus, the album more than deserving of its heaps of mountainous praise. Solange has singularly forged both a powerful exploration of black identity and a quietly psychedelic (and frankly fucking beautiful) modern soul record. An album of proud defiance, released in a increasingly hostile environment, Solange refuses to accept a marginalisation of black culture, singing: "Don't feel bad if you can't sing along, just be glad you got the whole wide world. This us, this shit is from us, Some shit you can't touch."
M.E.S.H - Damaged Merc
Though belonging to entirely disparate styles, Damaged Merc - released on Pan - can be oddly reminiscent of Jlin (footwork's harsh brutalist innovator). Notably the precision; its sharp, scraping textures; a militarised propulsion; on this release, M.E.S.H. shares a number of Jlin's attributes, one of the most notable being a startlingly odd contradiction - despite the production feeling relatively cluttered, an air of disconnected sparseness still hangs over this caustic yet enticing climate.
Yves Tumor - Serpent Music
"If most music is intent on reasserting the listener's own way of life, then for Yves it further represents an unfixed identity. This isn't just restricted to lyrical content - which for the most part is unintelligible - but to the actual structures and connotations of the music itself: the information surrounding the release, ranging from the influences to collaborators, will offer little help in attempts to decode or understand via context. The connections further blur the picture, rather than providing anything close to a concrete answer." Review
Jessy Lanza - Oh No
Footwork has reigned supreme now for several years as the undergrounds most consistently radical scene based sound. On Oh No's highlight - It Mean's I Love You - Jessy Lanza thrillingly situated these frenetic sounds within a pop setting, done so with respectful love - rather than shoehorned appropriation. Throughout the rest of the album, a myriad of styles are subtly merged to create a quintessentially 21st century pop record; the pioneering synth pop of Yellow Magic Orchestra, the innovative R&B of the late 90s, and various contemporary club sounds; all these forms are used gleefully and playfully, rather than an effort of slavish recreation.
Gaika - Security
Earlier this year I had the immense pleasure of seeing Gaika live at the ICA. Now I've been very lucky this year, able to catch sets from; Cabaret Voltaire, Factory Floor. Babyfather, Jenny Hval, LCD Soundsystem; but Gaika surpassed them all. His vital and politically urgent mixtape - Security - amalgamated and mutated dancehall, the spacier end of dubstep, as well as the woozy electronics of Arca and Lotic. With his body of work to date, Gaika has cemented his position at the forefront of modern electronic music.
Special Mention: A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here... Thank You For Your Service
The Tribe are back... bringing their fucking A game with 'em. Just got round to listening - need to give it some more time, but can easily see it becoming one of my 2016 favourites.
Jessy Lanza - It Means I Love You
Babyfather - SKYWALKER
Danny Brown - Ain't It Funny
Jenny Hval - Conceptual Romance
Solange - Crane's In The Sky
Factory Floor - Dial Me In
Powell - Do You Rotate?
The Bug - Iceman
Tim Hecker - Music of the Air/Casrati Stack
Steven Warick - Milennial Vague
Best Discovery of The Year: Patrick Cowley - Lift Off
Words by Eden Tizard