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. Anohni – Hopelessness (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. Bwana – Capsule’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. Kaytranada – 99% (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. Moderat – III (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. Lone – Levitate (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 Fritch – Ill 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 Jaar – Sirens (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 Copy – January 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. Dusky – Outer (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. Rüfüs – Bloom (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