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 Vol 85

Got a great mix for you today, enjoy!

1. Chance the Rapper – All Night (Kaytranada Remix)
I love Chance! And I love Kaytranada. He takes a party pleaser and puts a beat on it for the dancefloor. The original is already great so he doesn’t do too much, which I appreciate.

2. RL Grime, What So Not, Skrillex – Waiting
Some BIG names in bass got together and came up with this (edit: wow, totally forgot to finish this before I sent it off. Anyway, this song is really great. They’re having fun and you can totally tell, because the three of them are wacky enough to pull this crazy shit off with a unique slant. Love it.)

3. Boys Noize – Midnight (Boys Noize & Mr Oizo Handbraekes Remix)
There’s so many remixes of this song — and the original is great — but this one is so satisfying, like on a primal level or something.

4. Destructo – Techno (Dr. Fresch Remix)
I’m so into this.

5. m.O.N.R.O.E. – That Sounds
A laid back tech house mix in the old school West Coast style. Super fun bassline, this one is just begging for your footwork. Aka probably great for learning how to shuffle in your bedroom. Not that I’ve done that… That’s what afterparties are for!

6. Baba Stiltz – Keep It Lit
Oooh fun shit right here from Baba Stiltz, from Sweden. A classic house groove, with great production quality on a lo-fi sound. This will pop up in some mixes, in fact I think I have heard a mix with this… hard to tell because I know I’ve danced to that bassline many times.

7. DJ Raff – Completed
A really interesting piece of music from Chilean artist DJ Raff. The first third is a kind of playful experimentation with the equipment, then bursts into a really fun, stutter-y thumper of a second third. The last third takes it up another notch, doing some great break work. Love it.

8. Frank Ocean – Ivy (Air Zaire Remix)
I’ve been listening to a lot of Frank Ocean lately, old and new, so this is perfect timing. This remix really amplifies all of the melodic and sonic hooks that are in the original, and lets ol Frankie’s voice shine. Beautifully done.

9. Jolar Drim – Tema
Lovely. Out of the Netherlands, this kid only has 70 followers (71 now). I’m impressed, this is some beautiful, high-level production and a beautiful song to boot.

10. Pirupa – Sunday Morning (Skream Remix)
Deep & dark remix from Skream. Lit it simmer and it will delight you.

Mix For Your Weekend: Jengi Beats – Koninkrijk van Muziek mix

Age ain’t nothin’ but a number, and this 20 year-old producer from The Netherlands has the skills to back it all up. This mix is the perfect fire-starter to kick your mood up a notch, and you’ll be enamored with the way Jengi Beats seamlessly transitions from Destiny’s Child re-works to 90’s hits (released before he was even born!!) and more. Oh, and he even manages to throw in a few tracks from my personal fav Kaytranada — who has clearly influenced Jengi’s sound. My only complaint: I wish this mix was an hour longer! Give it a listen below.

 

Why Kaytranada’s ‘99.9%’ is the album of the summer

 

As the dog days of summer roll to an end, I’m left to reflect on the many tracks and albums I’ve consumed over the past three months. I’ve grooved along to Lone, threw my hands in the air listening to Disclosure and strutted around to the first Justice release in nearly three years; but one album has never strayed too far from my Spotify queue — Kaytranada’s first full-length release, 99.9%. I first came across Kay when his single “Leave Me Alone” popped up on my weekly Spotify Discover playlist (yes, I know!). I immediately fell in love with his use of downright abrasive bass and warbly organ-tinged synthesizers, merged with trap and house beats. Something about it made me feel so badass that I surprised myself by making it an integral part of my morning commute. From then on, I eagerly consumed each new Kaytranada track, remix or set; my ears hungry for more.

And nearly one year later, I’ve finally been rewarded for my devotion with 15 brand new tracks. 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” might give 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 “black tropical house” holds it all together. No where is this more apparent than on my favorite, “Together.” It’s here that AlunaGeorge’s masterful vocals swirl effortlessly around that warbly synth and signature bass, showcasing that cohesive sound.

99.9% is by no means a traditional choice for album of the summer, but its unique quirks are sure to leave an impression that lasts far beyond Labor Day and those last, hazy days of summer.