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Best Of 2016: Music

Arguably the biggest, most intense, most recurring year-end list is the music round up.

This list is the list that inspired all these other lists and is something that I think about quite often as I seem to be constantly ingesting music. This felt particularly pressing in 2016 given it was the first good year for music in a long, long, long time. We were absolutely glutted with good music across so many genres. Music in 2016 was political and inventive, referential and fun: it felt like the first time in a very long time where music stopped and really required a close listen. The last time I’ve felt like this was in 2005, in the boom of minimal and synth pop and electro rock. It was a definitive year that set the pace for music for the next decade. 2016 seemed to repeat that.

Thus, the best music of the year. And there was a fuck ton of it.

Best Rerelease: Crash Course in Science’s “Jump Over Barrels”
This 1981 find via Dark Entries sees some post-punk synth fun in a jaunty alt-pop song about jumping through hoops (“barrels”) for a lover. It was clearly ahead of its time, so much so that it fit into 2016 without question.

Queerest Collab: Cakes Da Killa Featuring Peaches’ “Up Out My Face”
The best gay rapper with queer music royalty? This song was ripe for a rainbow rave.

Most Materialistic: Frank Ocean
This was Ocean’s year, yes. With two albums, a zine, and video experiences, it was all Frank all the time. You could say he became a brand in 2016. Funny enough, that was the predominate theme of his music: from “Nikes” to “White Ferrari” to “Facebook Story” to “Comme Des Garçons,” the songs were all about products and our interaction with them. Moreover, with album titles like Blonde—a reference to a bottled dye job—it’s clear that his mind was on the material.

Most 2006: Albert van Abbe‘s Champagne Palestine
This felt like a lost minimal album from over a decade ago, one that was quietly overlooked at it mused over the Middle Eastern region.

Most Lived Up To The Name: Sad City’s Shapes In Formation
I listened to this when I was sad and frustrated and, surprise, this album seemed to reflect those feelings.

Best Concept Album: Bat For Lashes’ The Bride
Natasha Khan’s Bat came back with a semi-epic wandering story about a bride whose groom dies in a car accident and how she handles the events. It was a strange release without the context but ultimately rewarding (and unsurprising) given her Sexwitch work in 2015.

RIP: Juno Plus
The bummer of the year! Juno is a fantastic dance music record store that upheld the equally fantastic Juno Plus—an editorial site dedicated to dance music—for seven years. In September, the website shutdown for good, taking with it a corner of the Internet where strong curation of the ever growing electronic world felt culled to a pin’s head. They also hosted very stellar podcasts. We will miss you, Juno!

Actually Dead: YACHT
Who thought making a sex tape was a good idea and then crying wolf that it was “leaked”? Bad idea. Very, very bad idea.

Sweetest: Yumi Zouma‘s Yoncalla
This Europop release was the sort of dream album that comes along once a decade. It didn’t feel overdone or trite and had the sort of presence you’d associate with a humming cloud. I’m doubtful they can recreate the magic they found here but, hey, fingers crossed.

Most Valuable Player: Jeremy Greenspan
Greenspan got a bit overlooked in 2016 despite doing everything. From making mixes to releasing a Junior Boys album, producing Jessy Lanza to releasing singles and EPs, he did it all with so little credit. You will always have my heart, Jeremy, you Canadian bear daddy, you.

Proof Of Things To Come: Cassy’s Donna & The Black Madonna
2016 was certainly a year for female empowerment—especially in the electronic field. Cassy’s album was years in the making and is a new canon record for female producers. Similarly, Black Madonna had a breakout year after overcoming being overlooked for so long. She won Noisey’s Artist Of The Year and Mixmag’s DJ Of The Year. She was beyond well deserving and it was a signal of things to come: more diverse electronic acts—particularly women.

Best Major Label Pop Release: Rihanna’s Anti
“Work” alone earned this title. Sorry, Bey.

Best Rap Album: Danny Brown‘s Atrocity Exhibition
Equal parts political and fun, Brown’s manic style over ace production made for an album all about the tragicomedy that is life.

Maybe Just Chill: Roisin Murphy
Take Her Up To Monto was fine, girl. Did we need it? No. Could we have waited? Yes. Keep toiling over creating that Overpowered sequel.

You Should Have Stayed In 2000: The Avalanches

You Should Have Stayed In 2006: LCD Soundsystem

You Should Stay In 2016: Azealia Banks

Collective Of The Year: Discwoman
An all inclusive lady DJ collective with super talented people is what the world needs right now. Watch these ladies: they’re going to turn it out.

Color Of The Year: Blond(e)
From Frank Ocean’s album to Tiga’s “Blondes Have More Fun” to The Black Madonna’s remix of the song, this was the year the dye job was realized in music.

Heart & Soul Award: Octo Octa
Her coming out as transgender in 2016 was not only inspiring but cast her entire catalogue in a new light. Word on her Facebook is that a new LP is coming this year.

Most Likely To Make You Arch Your Back: Cakes Da Killa’s Hedonism

Best Old Song Discovered In 2016: Carly Simon’s “Why”
Thanks to Jayda G.’s Juno Plus mix, I was turned onto this song. It’s good. Really good (despite the weird ass video).

Best Cover: El Perro Del Mar’s “IWD4U”

For The ‘Rents: House Of Dad
A bizarre, funny meditation on one’s father.

We’ll See Where This Goes: Maggie Rogers’ “Alaska”
This song is great and there’s a lot of potential here. But! There’s a lot of potential for this to go really, really poorly given #Pharrell.

One To Watch, I: Willow
This new producer released a stellar Workshop record that seemed to turn a lot of heads. We’ll need more from you, Willow.

One To Watch, II: Mister Wallace
Wallace’s debut EP was one of the most fun, brashest, gayest moments in rap in 2016. Here’s hoping he keeps his weirdo streak going strong.

Most Politically Prescient: Babyfather’s “BBF” Hosted by DJ Escrow
When I listened to this back in April, it felt overdone and slightly boring. Then Brexit happened. Now, listening to an album about being “proud to be British” by a British person of color scratches the walls as it yells, “I told you so.

A Good Debut: Maxwell Sterling’s Hollywood Medieval

Best Beats In Space Mix: Jeremy Greenspan

Best Ambient Album: Joanna Barwick’s Will
This was the album I listened to most in 2016 and it was a triumphant zoning in and out of space and land. There is a magic and a sweetness in this record that no other ambient album had—and there were a fuck ton of good ambient albums in 2016. Barwick’s entry was the most epic though, a sprawl through all sorts of magical chambers of her mind.

To Be Consumed On Vinyl:
These things I wanted to listen to but couldn’t because I didn’t by the vinyl.
Young Male’s How To Disappear In America
Prince Of Denmark’s 8
• DJ Metatron’s 2 The Sky

These Were Good Mixes:
• Laurel Halo for Truancy
• Jayda G. for Juno Plus
• Machinewoman for Juno Plus
• Volvox for Beats In Space
• Joakim for Beats In Space
• Aurora Halal for Beats In Space
• Huerco S. for Beats In Space
• Nina Kravitz for Fabric

These Were The Year’s Best Songs:
• Willow’s “Untitled A1”
• Jenny Hval’s “Conceptual Romance”
Hieroglyphic Being’s “Home 95”
• Cassy’s “Without You”
• Andy Stott’s “New Romantic”
• Yumi Zouma’s “Keep It Close To Me”
• Abra’s “Vegas”
• patten’s “Sonne”
• Jessy Lanza’s “Never Enough”
• Rihanna’s “Work”
• Austra’s “Utopia”
Azealia Banks’ “The Big Big Beat”
ANOHNI’s “Drone Bomb Me”
• El Perro Del Mar’s “IWD4U”
• Sampha’s “Timmy’s Prayer”
• Mister Wallace’s “Whoremoans”
• Danny L Harle & Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Super Natural”
Danny Brown’s “Tell Me What I Don’t Know”
• The Radio Dept.’s “We Got Game”
• Junior Boys’ “Big Black Coat”
• Junior Boys’ “Yes”
• Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s “Existence In The Unfurling”
• KING’s “The Right One”
• KING’s “The Greatest”
• Kornel Kovac’s “BB”
• Blood Orange’s “Augustine”
• Seth Bogart’s “Forgotten Fantazy”
• Night Jewel’s “Boo Hoo”
• Traumprinz’s “2 Bad (Metatron’s What If Madness Is Our Only Relief Mix)” & “2 The Sky (Metatron’s What If There’s No End And No Beginning Mix)”
• Babyfather & Arca’s “Meditation”
• Elysia Crampton’s “The Demon City”
• Machinewoman’s “I Can Mend A Broken Heart (Kassem Moose Remix)”
• Frank Ocean’s “Nikes”
Karen Gwyer’s “Prophase Metaphase Anaphase Telophase”

These Were The Year’s Best Albums:
Junior Boys’ Big Black Coat
Kanye West’s Life Of Pablo
Jessy Lanza’s Oh No
• James K’s PET
• Demdike Stare’s Wonderland
• Jayda G’s Sixth Spirit Of The Bay
• Shura’s Nothing’s Real
• Cassy’s Donna
• Steven Julien’s Fallen
• Complete Walkthru’s Complete Walkthru
Cakes Da Killa’s Hedonism
Jam City’s Trouble
• Andy Stott’s Too Many Voices
• Steve Hauschildt’s Strands
• patten’s Ψ
• Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s EARS
• Biosphere’s Departed Glories
• Tim Hecker’s Love Streams
• Danny Brown‘s Atrocity Exhibition
• Huerco S.’s For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)
• Studio OST’s Scenes (2012 – 2015)
• Weyes Blood’s Front Seat To The End Of The World

Performer Of The Year: Kanye West
What else is there to say about this enfant terrible? He had one of the best albums of the year, every single release had extreme pomp and circumstance attached to it, and he eventually exploded at the feet of Donald Trump. Kanye is crazy but, as we all know, he’s also a genius. Case in point: songs like “Real Friends” and how Pablo explored themes of young adulthood and success despite working class roots. How very America now.

Best Mix: Avalon Emerson’s Groove Podcast
One of the year’s biggest breakout stars released this mix in April that is a funny, off-beat trip through spacey house.

EP Of The Year, Runner Up: Lorenzo Senni’s Persona
If you programmed a computer to make an abstract trance album in 2016, it would have made this. It was fully equipped with robotic vocals that suggested that, no, there is no need for the human touch save for behind the computer.

EP Of The Year: Abra’s Princess
Like Annie’s Endless Vacation last year, Abra’s release was something captured in the then for the now. It straddled nostalgia with contemporary sounds so effortlessly and launched Abra into a cult success, so much so that she’s going to be in movies. Prepare for more Abra.

Song Of The Year: Beyoncé’s “Formation”
Beyoncé set the pace for this year musically, with a song that urged us all to both assemble and seek information (via the extremely clever lyric “get in formation”). While Lemonade only tickled me so much, “Formation” maintained it’s tune for the entire year, underlining every struggle and every victory for forward thinking Americans—especially Americans of color. This was a defining moment in mainstream pop music.

Album(s) Of The Year: Anohni’s Hopelessness, Jenny Hval’s Blood Bitch, & Solange’s A Seat At The Table
Could there really be only one album of the year in 2016? No, not at all. That’s why it is a three way tie for me, each of which represented a different aspect of the political landscape. First is ANOHNI’s Hopelessness, which kickstarted the year by suggesting the end is near for the planet. The release added a sophistication and beat to the often staid world of environmental protest music and pushed both identity and international politics to a place for listeners to question the status quo and even question the nature of humanity in light of technology and space. Hval’s Blood Bitch was a very funny feminist scream that simultaneously was the Halloween listen of the year. Parodying vampiric blood lust by way of menstruation, the album positions Hval as a confused yet confident, needy yet independent woman who just wants understanding for all. Songs like “Conceptual Romance” suggest the feeling of being unstable and uncertain in a relationship that, on the surface, is perfect while “Period Piece” dwelled on that which makes a woman. It was unabashedly feminist and the spiritual successor to 2015’s best album Half Free by U.S. Girls. Finally, Solange’s A Seat At The Table carried the experience of African Americans to the top of the mind by exploring the most common experiences—hair touching, internalized sadness, black girl magic—with very complicated issues, from police brutality to institutional racism to Black Lives Matter. Everything was done with grace, making it the sort of album that dwells between the now and the then, solidifying A Seat At The Table‘s message as an ongoing struggle yet to have been fixed. Solange’s carrying the charge on this assured that she is a singular artist who—like ANOHNI and Hval—was approaching her music from a holistic, personal, political angle because that is who she is and that is what the world requires of her now. She couldn’t have done anything less. Thus, these three albums represent 2016. It was the worst of times, it was the best of times—and these albums reflected that thusly.

Most Excited For In 2017: New Austra, New Superpitcher, New Bing & Ruth, New Octo Octa
All four of these could be the bombs I hope they’ll be and, at the least, they’ll be good. I’m looking forward to new music this year but, of course, I don’t have high hopes that this year will eclipse 2016. Here’s to more music, people!

If, for whatever reason, you still want more of my music musings in 2016, you can check out my Last.fm year in review.

Photo via.

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