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:

 

S2D2 Vol 83

1. Dusky – Songs of Phase
Some pulsing techno from Dusky. These guys can seemingly do no wrong, and they are still so young. The amount of exploration they do across all genres of electronic is consistently astounding. Few people are on their level, production-wise, in 2016.

2. NineFive – The Curve
Classic breakbeats over a tech-house bassline, this shit is primed for the dancefloor.

3. Second Storey & Appleblim – Levying Rooks
A super fun, wacky collab from UK producers Second Storey and Appleblim, off R&S Records (always a good time). That’s some refreshing techno.

4. Boddika & Joy Orbison – Severed Seven
When these two collaborate you know it’s gonna be good. They go full industrial on this one, with acid-style synths, an unforgiving beat, and a massive, hollow sound that’ll fit in perfect in some grungy warehouse party.

5. Reinier Zonneveld – Things We Might Have Said (feat. Cari Golden)
HUGE.

6. Sailor & I + Eekkoo – Letters (Lower Case) (Noir Remix)
Noir is making some of the best deep tech house. Beautiful + heavy, great rework of the original.

7. Charlotte Cardin – Faufile (CRi Remix)
CRi is my breakout artist of the year, just gorgeous shit from them all summer long.

8. Recondite – Capable
It’s pretty astounding how he can achieve so much with so little. Massive song (turn up the bass), yet minimal to the extreme.

9. Theo Kottis – Running Nowhere
Another artist who has gained a lot of respect from me this year, Theo Kottis delivers again with this deeeeeeeep groove.

10. RÜFÜS – Innerbloom (Lane 8 Remix)
I had a panic attack when I saw this today. My favorite producer remixing my favorite track? YES PLEASE 😍

S2D2 Vol. 52

This week a crapload of festival lineups were announced, along with a bunch of tours. It’s that wonderful time of year, I guess. If you’re looking to see some of your favorite artists, I’d recommend doing a bit of googling, because it’s likely they are playing at a festival near you. I didn’t have the stamina/skrilla/dedication to hit any festivals last year (also I wasn’t a huge fan of most lineups), but this year is looking fucking awesome. Every festival I’ve seen has a great lineup. Related: anyone wanna buy me a ticket to Detroit for Movement fest?

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S2D2 Vol. 44

I came back home to so many good songs… like this Bob Moses song “Tearing Me Up” (and their new album). They are so damn good. Also this Matt Karmil song “Moment,” a new Bodhi track, and Scuba’s Angel Dust Remix of George Fitz’s Call It Love.

Delicious.