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

 

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.

S2D2 Vol. 48

Today is special because my best friend just had a baby. He is cute. You know how some newborns look like super gross aliens? He is not one of those. Yay. V, I hope this entertains you while you’re biding your time in the hospital.

Oh, also, I changed the website! Lemme know what you think.

OK, on to the music.

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S2D2 Vol. 45

This week I’ve got some dope music for you. Starting off with this incredible collab between ZHU (of “Faded” fame) and the one and only Bone Thugs N Harmony. I mean, come on guys, you aren’t being fair to the other songs out there.

There is a fire Mary J. Blige remix. Is there anything better than a fire Mary J. Blige remix? No, there is not. It starts out pretty good and fun, but when it all comes together around 2:25 is SO GOOD. If someone dropped this at the club I would lose my fucking mind. I feel drunk just thinking about it.

There’s a song “Freedom” by a duo called MANT, who I’d never heard of before. It premiered on Pete Tong radio but they only have 500 followers on SC! I predict they will blow up. This song makes me feel good. If you look near the end of the song, you will see my comment on there, “This song makes me happy!”

So apparently the beloved YouTube channel Eton Messy is now a record label and this song “Fading Away” by LIMITS is one of their first releases. Well, good fucking choice. At first when I heard this I was like “eh.” But I left it on and it took me on a ride. It’s both familiar and unique at the same time. It’s that weird synth in there that brings it all together to make a fantastic track.

The most important track is smack in the middle: Nicolas Jaar’s unbelievable new song “Fight.” This guy is a genius, as we all know. This song gets better each time I listen to it. Last night I heard it in my car for the first time and it blew my mind. The layers, the different pieces working together, when it surrounds you like it does in a car, it’s fucking unreal. I recommend listening to this on a good system or with good headphones. I LOVE HIM SO MUCH.

I’d never heard of this guy Andre Crom, but this remix and the original popped up this week and I am so in love. I had to listen to each about 20 times to decide which version to throw in here, and I went with the remix. But check out the original mix too. This is one of those songs that you want to call trance-y because it’ll put you in a trance but you can’t because trance is a genre and have robbed everyone else from using that term. This problem surfaces for me more often than you’d think.

I didn’t remember NiCe7 at first but SoundCloud tells me I’ve liked their stuff for a long time. This song is a great example of the massive tech house sounds that have been coming out lately. Also, there have been a lot of songs lately that have a hint of Daft Punk’s Da Funk. It’s weird. Or I’m weird. Probably both.

There’s a new Soy Sauce track out, “Gravity Waves.” I’ve included their stuff before, and I’m a huge, huge fan. They call this “chill trap” but it’s more synth based than percussion based. It’s one of those not-a-banger bangers.

And for our weekly dose of pop, Autograf’s “Running” is in there. They are so fun, and so hit or miss. Some of their stuff is a little too pop without enough substance, but this track hits it right on the money.

To round it off, I’ve got a Soul Clap remix of Marcus Wyatt. Soul Clap is just so great. This song has a message and I approve of the message.