Top 10 Electronic Albums of 2016

What a beautiful year for music. Something strikes me when thinking about the music I loved this year, some idea or theme that ties them all together. It’s an idea of standing on the edge of future, with all of our influences behind us. These influences are woven into who we have become, but it’s becoming time to shake off the weight of our history and stand, with fresh perspectives, to face the future.

Every release on this list has this culmination of influences, paying heavy tribute to where we came from and those who came before. And every release refashions itself, wholly fresh and new, so distinctly contemporary, that I can’t imagine this music being created in any other year. I think that it’s a reflection of how electronic, as a genre and movement, is maturing into adulthood. We are learning who we are and what we have to say. We are learning from our past, but we are looking towards something new.

Here are our top ten albums of the year:

1. AnohniHopelessness (Secretly Canadian)

The award for most powerful album of the year goes to Anohni (lead singer of Antony and the Johnsons). Dark music, piercing and sharp, with a sadness that penetrates to the core, I feel like this album perfectly reflects my inner state throughout this awful year. Her voice soars over bassy, dystopic instrumentals, weird and beautiful, a voice soaked in grief, in anger, a voice struggling to make sense of this terrible and joyous world. Co-produced with Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke, this album is a force. A year ago, when “4 Degrees” was released, Anohni said, “It’s a whole new world. Let’s be brave and tell the truth as much as we can.” That message resonates even more now than it did then — especially when paired with an album that is so beautiful and vulnerable and dark that it’ll stay with you long after your first listen. — Jessie

2. BwanaCapsule’s Pride (Bikes) (Lucky Me)

Bwana had an absolutely massive year, with releases coming nonstop from all sorts of different projects. Ever since “Baby Let Me Finish” I’ve been expecting him to pop out into the mainstream, and my god, this kid’s talent is off the charts. The progression in skill is clear as day. This year he explored many, many different styles of music, and I wrote about many of his songs, and always noted I can hear how much fun he is having, producing music, experimenting, digging into sounds and moods, and always surfacing a piece of music that speaks to something honest, something real, something bigger than us. I think he made a deal with the devil, because he’s tapped into the collective unconscious.

Capsule’s Pride (Bikes), which is available for free download, is the perfect example. A concept album based on the cult-favorite futuristic anime Akira, heavily sampled with dialogue from the show and the original soundtrack, Bwana takes something familiar and makes it into a beautiful collection of cutting edge electronic. Alternatively dancey and downtempo, organic and techy, futuristic and retro, old and new: it’s a gorgeous, cohesive album held together with contradictions, making it unlike anything else I’ve heard this year. — Jessie

3. Kaytranada99% (XL Recordings)

Let’s be real, 2016 was garbage, an absolute dumpster fire of a year. From a tumultuous election and the loss of musical geniuses — David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen — to the resurgence of the ultra-conservative alt right, there was little to get excited about and far too many reasons to feel discouraged and hopeless. Enter Kaytranada, a producer from Montreal, who perfectly encapsulates the Black Lives Matter movement, and what it means to be black in America. It would be all too easy to classify Kay as a house or hip-hop producer, but as we came to learn this year, things are less black and white than they appear. 99.9% is an album filled with contrasts, and it’s these sudden shifts both in the tone and genre of each track that make those contrasts all the more intoxicating. A sultry instrumental like “Weight Off” gives way to a rap ballad, only to be overtaken by a bass heavy-hitter. At times this might seem a little chaotic, disjointed even, but as Kaytranada puts it, his unique brand of undefined “black tropical house” holds it all together. — Mallory

4. ModeratIII (Monkeytown Music)

The long-awaited third album from Moderat (Modeselektor + Apparat) was everything I was hoping for. Moderat makes the best mood music around, and this album is a reminder of that — and possibly their strongest album yet. Sketchy beats, layered, soaring vocals, and melodies that’ll haunt your ears for days. The synthwork is sublime, to the point where if I close my eyes, I can feel the dopamine rushing through my brain. Additional testing is suggested to confirm that this album cures depression, at least momentarily. Favorite song: all of them. Also, the bonus track, “Fondle.”

5. LoneLevitate (R&S Records)

As a child of the 90’s, it was refreshing to hear so many of the year’s producers referencing the glory days of 90’s House, R&B and Techno. Lone — one of the most underrated (and under-appreciated) of the bunch — dug deep into rave nostalgia for Levitate: a swirling 30-minute masterpiece filled with powerful synth stabs, rollicking drum loops and enough haziness to make you question whether the trip was worth it. (Spoiler Alert: It so is!) — Mallory

6. William Ryan FritchIll Tides (Lost Tribe Sound)

I stumbled upon this album in a music nerd community I’m in, and boy, has it stuck with me. There were many, many wonderful ambient releases in 2016, but this one stands out. Serene and patient, but with a hard edge that allows the melodies to linger in your consciousness and filter the color of your day, leaving you a tad more thoughtful, a tad melancholy, but mostly, there’s a feeling of hope, of salvation in beauty and art. Music expresses that which we cannot put into words, and this album has a powerful message. — Jessie

7. Nicolas JaarSirens (Other People)

Another year, another exquisite release from Nicolas Jaar. Each track stands on its own, distinct from the rest, as Jaar pushes further and further into experimentation. Jaar has deconstructed eons of music and life, and reassembled it here together, for you to listen, and absorb, and hear. There’s honesty in these notes, in this chaos, in these melodies and patterns, and if you listen carefully, you will become weightless. — Jessie

 

8. Cut CopyJanuary Tape (Cutters Records)

This year was a good one for fans of electronic music. From the triumphant return of Justice to new music from Bonobo and Burial (!!), 2016 was the year when many of our favorite DJs and producers finally came back! That said, you can imagine how I felt when I heard Cut Copy was working on a 44-minute cassette tape of instrumental ambient music — their first new album in three years. January Tape may be a departure from the group’s electro-pop roots, but over the course of five tracks (titled Parts 1 through 5) it’s hard not to be entranced by this new, more subdued version of Cut Copy. And now more than ever, we could all use a little more of life’s meditative pleasures. — Mallory

9. DuskyOuter (Polydor Records)

Something about Dusky just hits me the right way. In particular, their spectacular “Ingrid Is A Hybrid,” my favorite track of the year. What stands out when listening to their music is their sense of balance. This album is drenched in nostalgia but doesn’t drown in it, it’s both familiar and new, it’s emotional without being cheesy, and it’s diverse enough to justify its length while flowing through the compositions. It calls back to different eras of electronic music, through synths and rhythms and guest vocalists (Wiley and Gary Numan, anyone?), like a tour of the building blocks of British electronic music, but still very distinctly Dusky, as if they are the sum of everything that came before, because it’s now their turn to hold the torch. — Jessie

10. RüfüsBloom (Foreign Family Collective)

Rüfüs hit the mainstream with a wallop this year, riding high on the release of their debut album. First, I’ll say that “Innerbloom” is a goddamn masterpiece. The rest of the album is dance pop at its finest: sexy, shiny, energetic, and catchy as hell. Basically the album is like getting a warm bear hug from an old friend, right when you need it most. Hold me tight, Rüfüs, because we’re gonna need these warm vibes in the dark nights ahead. — Jessie

 

S2D2 Top 100 Tracks of 2016

It’s always a bit weird compiling a “best of” list, because there is so much music out there that there’s no way to listen to all of it, let alone judge it objectively.

2016 was a special year for music. When the world trembles and quakes, we turn to music to say the things we cannot say, and feel the things we so desperately need to feel. Music is an escape, but for me at least, it’s more than that. Music is the ultimate form of expression. This year, I’ve felt so inundated with words, and media, and social media, and felt like I’ve been drowning in all of the terrible things that have happened to humans all over the world. Music has been, as always, my salvation from that. There is magic in a song that hits you just right, in the moment that you need it most. Music makes us transcendental. In those moments we are lost in the music, we cease to be, the world melts away, and we dance, and we come away refreshed and strong.

In a year that was mostly shit, most of my highlights had to do with that magic: Eric Prydz dropping “The Matrix” at the Armory in San Francisco; DJ Shadow playing the old and new seamlessly, casual scratch wizardry on display; losing my shit to new tunes, always, whether I’m at my desk or in my car or at the club; Scuba getting dark in the rave cave at Monarch, praying to Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book after dosing in Golden Gate Park; taking a time machine to my teenage emo years and seeing Brand New at the Greek; and even still, I spent most of the year listening to A Moon Shaped Pool over and over.


Trends: techno, deep tech, disco/tech, lo-fi house, acid house, wave, future funk

It seems like everyone hopped on the techno bandwagon this year, whether it was straight up banging tech, deep tech house, or this kind of disco/tech hybrid that’s been taking off in the underground. Disco is bigger than ever, and that’s saying something. House was pulled in one direction to become very, very techy, getting deep af along the way, and in another direction towards to the lo-fi house realm, a la Mall Grab, Seb Wildblood, and the Church records crew. Future bass is alive and well, and wave has split off out of that, essentially trap without the beats — luscious and atmospheric. Future funk, the jazzy, funky, and banging sound out of the West Coast and Colorado, is also huge out here, thanks to Griz’s domination.

I had a lot of fun making the top 100 this year. There was so much great music! The whole point of S2D2 is to highlight music that you might not otherwise hear about, so while there’s some overlap with other lists like Thump’s or Mixmag’s, there’s also a bunch of stuff that just doesn’t get talked about in the “underground electronic media” or whatever. So hopefully you will find lots of new tunes and artists from all over the map, literally and musically 🙂

I made a Spotify playlist, but there are a few songs that aren’t on Spotify, so I’ll be releasing a SoundCloud playlist as well. Enjoy!

Edit: Real quick, I want to call out the tracks that aren’t available on Spotify, because they are VERY IMPORTANT, and are all in my top 10 for the year:

 

2 Years of Songs To Dance To!

Songs To Dance To is two years old! It started as a humble email list, a way to share songs I love with my friends. Two years later, it is still a humble email list where I share songs I love with my friends and a few hundred strangers.

We’ve been blogging on the site for about 6 months, posting every day about great songs, mixes, albums, and artists that catch our eye. Around that time I welcomed Mallory, cool New Yorker and fellow music nerd, into the fold as a contributor to the blog. She does this for free because she’s awesome: she loves music and wants to share it. (By the way, if you want to be a contributor, send me an email!) It’s been great to have her on board and we are scheming on big things for the future.

I want to say a very sincere thank you to everyone who reads my inane ramblings about music, listens to the S2D2 playlist, reads the blog, and especially to the people who reach out with love and feedback. It means a lot that people are still paying attention after all this time. If you like S2d2, I’d like to ask that you please share it with a couple of people (or the entire internet, whatevs).

To celebrate two years of S2D2, I made a grand playlist encompassing all of my favorite songs that I’ve sent to you. I hope you enjoy it. Time to dance.

martin-dance

25 Best Electronic Songs of 2015

What a fantastic year for music. I listened to as much of it as I could. Of course, it’s never enough. But I’ve made you a playlist of the 25 best songs of the year. And I wrote about the top 10 of them.

#1: “Fight” by Nicolas Jaar

I could write an essay about this song. I have an entire page of notes just from one listening session. I may just write one. Nicolas Jaar is one of the best producers of our time, and if anyone is deserving of an essay, it’s him. But while there’s so much to say, this song is also the example of speaking for itself. So maybe I’ll just let it do its thing.
I will say this: give this your full attention for the entire 8 minutes and 30 seconds. I know it’s hard. But once you do, you’ll want to listen to it again. And again, and again…

#2: “Tearing Me Up” by Bob Moses

Bob Moses (two guys from Brooklyn) hit the scene hard last spring with the release of “Talk,” a lovely Radiohead-esque song. I fell in love. Later my love was rewarded with the release of Days Gone By, their first LP. It is a wonderful LP, with many wonderful songs. While they have a cohesiveness that somehow ties everything together, they aren’t afraid to be different across the album. Tearing Me Up is one of those, a bit different from the rest, ever-poppy, fun, with a classic sound spanning genres and decades. You’re going to be hearing a lot more about these guys in the coming years. They’re going to be huge.

#3: “Digital Arpeggios” by Percussions (aka Four Tet)

There’s really not much to say about Four Tet that I or thousands of others haven’t said before. Since I first heard him around 10 years ago, his style has morphed and adapted and dipped in and out of genres, creating a pretty fucking thorough catalog of fantastic electronic music. He’s killed it, in the studio, on remixes, and behind the decks, basically forever.
So the fact that 2015 was *by far* his best year yet should say something. He released a slew of productions and DJ mixes that had me flopping around on the floor. This one is my favorite, although his remix of CHVRCHES’ “Leave A Trace” gets an honorable mention.

#4: “Just” by Bicep

The first time I heard this track, I knew it was going on this list before I’d even finished listening to it. It’s strikingly different than anything Bicep released in the past one or two years, with a catchy synth melody layered over a deceptively simple breakbeat. It’s a testament to their production skills that they can make such a simple song sound so new. This one will worm its way into your brain and you’ll be dancing to it all day long.

#5: “Something About You (ODESZA Remix)” by Hayden James

What a year for ODESZA, eh? I gotta say, I spent about a bajillion hours listening to them this year, and saw them live twice, both at a club and an auditorium, and they are the real thing. They undoubtedly will continue to explode in 2016 and beyond. But while their studio stuff is great, and original, to me what really stands out are their remixes.
The original track by Hayden James was one of my favorite songs in 2014. It is brilliant. This remix is a whole other beast. ODESZA takes something great and makes it something completely different. The lyrics take on a whole other meaning in this take, a sadder, heavier feel. The result is an emotional, full, heavy synth’d sound that overwhelms your ears and your heart in the most wonderful way.

#6: “Dollar Sines” by KRNE

KRNE (pronounced ‘krane’) is my #1 pick for artists who are going to blow the fuck up in 2016. How this guy is still flying under the radar, I do not know. Although he will need to start touring to really gain widespread attention. He had so many great tracks this year, and I could’ve included any of them, but this one, released last winter, is by far my favorite. Just hands down some of the best beats/bass/trap/whatever shit I’ve heard in a long, long time. It’s a heavy, glitchy, percussive song, but it speaks to his skill as a producer that he’s able to keep it balanced, by swinging some lighter sections in and out. It’s impossible not to dance to this song.

#7: “They Don’t Know (Justin Jay Remix)” by Disciples

Disciples blew up in 2015, all thanks to this song, and the whole slew of remixes it provoked, and then a bunch of other top notch releases. Likewise, Justin Jay came out hard with a ton of fantastic remixes, and yes, some great original productions too. Both are some of my favorite artists of the year, and on my predictions list for crazy worldwide hype train in 2016. It just so happens that Justin Jay made my favorite remix of one of the best songs of the year. Dark, heavy, and industrial, with a pop sensibility that draws you in, it’s a superb remix of a superb track.

#8: “I Had This Thing (Joris Voorn Remix)” by Royksopp

This song is the result of two of the biggest names in electronic music, ever. Joris Voorn takes this already wonderful track and makes it into something so precious and beautiful, I’m pretty sure I cried once or twice during my approximately thousands of listens this year. This song is so lovely that I will *literally* listen to it on repeat for hours. I’ve actually done this. More than once. It’s not one of those songs I’ve shouted about from the rooftops — it’s so much more intimate than that. It’s been a salve for every problem I had this year, and that’s no easy task.

#9: “Szikra” by Kornél Kovács

“Let’s get fucked up.” Those are the only lyrics in the song, to me, a confirmation that he knows very well what kind of song he made: the song you play after the club at 3 or 4 or 7 in the morning, when you’re washed out, but still going, in that weird peaceful state post-party. Kovács was a huge hit this year in underground circles and mark my words, will break out in 2016. He released many, many tracks, which have been duly appreciated, but I’ve never seen any love for this song, which is by far my favorite. So, here’s some love.

#10: “Moment” by Matt Karmil

I had a hard time choosing between this and 20syl’s “Back and Forth” for #10 on this list, but I *think* this is the stronger track. This is one of those songs that, as soon as it debuted, people took notice. Like, people freaked out. Karmil was a fairly unknown producer before that, with a few remixes that had garnered attention, but he still only has 5k SoundCloud followers. This song manages to sound so… different, while at the same time sticking to a familiar space, it comes off so refreshing. It’s a hard one for me to describe, you’ll just have to listen to it. This is another guy you’ll be hearing more about in 2016. That is, if he keeps producing new tracks. Please do, Matt!

Here’s to much more music in 2016.