2016: Favorite 50 Music Releases

Anonymous, 2016, And Humans Apart, digital oil on canvas, 990 × 780 px

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series




[Self-Released/Howling Owl]

Klein’s debut album ONLY was composed of 12 separate songs, but it flowed like a hushed litany of disembodied, psychedelic interludes. Moving hypnotically through taut, clattering R&B trashjams, janky rap-inspired beats, and brittle processions of ambient rumblings & speed-fucked tape-mangling, the London-born, Nigerian-English artist sought to give a little shape to the ethereal while teasing apart the material, all with a calm, fragile touch. A mark of hatred, a mark of worship: this here was divinity blemished with spit and grit, the sacred obfuscated, Drake in a wheelchair. Nearly every time the music would start blossoming into song, rot and decay quickly set in, delay and echo and pitch-shift effects devouring everything. Out of tune. Out of world. Out of time. ONLY felt too unwieldy, too bizarre, too detached to actually contribute to a devotional anything, but this was actually a baptism, a rebirth for someone we’re only just getting to know. Fucking gorgeous, this was.


Julianna Barwick


[Dead Oceans]

The running theme of 2016 has been loss: whether it be of freedom, life, or will. Yet Julianna Barwick’s Will is being found, one return listen to another, in a world I dare see reflecting the cold and gray of the season now stretched throughout a year. The heartfelt echoes and blood pulses of Will showed me that there were many among us still hoping to live, striving to make it through the winter of our discontent. When it was released in May, Will made it feel like spring would last forever. Now all that’s left is Barwick’s warm, airy vocals and vibrant synth diligently working to thaw the chill. We have become entombed in a slumber of sloth, anger, and despair. We all lost something in 2016, and as we trudge through an uphill climb, barefoot and raw from the blasting snow, we have the rallying cry. A reminder that progress is always impeded. It took Barwick three albums to get to her creative apex, and I see her looking upon us now, ready to reach down her willful hand and pick us up before we fall into the deepest trenches at her feet.




[Someone Good]

Ytamo doesn’t need much to make it swing. A little blip does the trick. What flew by? MI WO. A cute twitch. There it goes! Neat. Turns out, it’s more practiced than you thought, because then you see it again. MI WO darts and diverts. Lands with the grace of a bird or a ballerina. Look at it spin and bounce above! MI WO. What finesse, what articulation. MI WO swings and connects. Things take root and grow deep. The composition is unfolding, the puzzle gets complex. Everything’s filling in. MI WO is alive with little details. Good linework, a steady hand, and just enough shading. Pianos and bongos and little trumpets and trinkets and little loves and ideas in the voice all can coexist if they wait their turn. Everything was a mess back then, but then the pieces fell into place. They work the momentum up. Tensions are flooding out in little ocean waves. There’s immense strength here. You sense careful and concealed muscles equally distributing the weight. Remember at the start when you didn’t know what this would be? Now you’re like, “It’s cute, but it’s kicking my ass.”


The Savage Young Taterbug

Shadow of Marlboro Man


Somehow, these songs were hardly here. They were hunched when I found them, and they disintegrated as they met my ears. I hummed “Taxi Fantasma” as I walked the hot walk home. “Scotts Gravy” looped inside me as the horizon marbled before my very eyes. One last block till it was cool and nothing was muffled. I rounded that final corner, and my heart was gone; he was standing there, sun behind him with a shadow 13 feet long. It was the Marlboro Man. The Savage Young Taterbug tried to warn me, but his tape-cracked meanderings hissed off me like steam in sunlight. The songs felt like they came from somewhere perpetual and timeless, but they were funneled and fragmented by the act of being carried into the present, country songs sloshed in a bucket. What was there left for me to do but stare down the Marlboro Man and accept my fate? I took one more step and he was upon me.





Forming a central conceit so brazenly predicated on the rejection of fellowship, EVOL spoke to the hardness of our hearts. It presented a paracosm of anomie, a nightmare world painted by only the rawest of feeling, by abuse and coercion, by an obscene sensuality — codeine-laced fluids asplash, bodily or otherwise. Appealing to popular pretense, it was yet uniquely imbued with a heretofore foreign dissonance, one that expanded the vocal limits of Future’s baritone, transforming it beyond the realm of mere autotune. In this way, EVOL was both pretending and alienating. It proffered no sound and all fury; it could be Grand Theft Auto: Atlanta or, rather, Soulja Boy’s Twitch feed. All in the name of the father, but not the son; in relentless pursuit of dead presidents. “Ain’t no favors, they gon’ outline you in chalk/ You the biggest, biggest hater of them all,” Hendrix clutched, straight out the gate. EVOL is “love” backwards — and that’s just what it sounded like.


The Caretaker

Everywhere at the end of time

[History Always Favours The Winners]

Memory is a funny thing. That something so unreliable can so concretely preserve our values, transforming fleeting feelings into facts and erasing entire generations of transgressions is one of humanity’s greatest mysteries. It’s a bittersweet paradox that memory is partially responsible for mercy. It’s how we get over, as trespassers, as those who trespass. We remember what once empowered us, selectively forget what brought us down. It’s how we get through when we’re getting through. But what happens when memory is lost? Not simply forgotten, but really lost? What goes with it? What stays? Loss itself is painful, because it conjures happy memories now unconjurable through physical exchange. But loss of memory is also a release from physicality, from that cycle of pain that memory can sometimes entrap us in. Memory loss is a shedding of lies that have kept us alive. All that follows is true: We don’t have many days. Life is just a burning memory, smoldering as it spins and skips. When everything beautiful and everything transient finally stops, I hope it stops in joy, every quiet internal rebellion forgotten forever. And everywhere at the end of time, when The Caretaker finally retires, I hope, for all those who have ever lived and died on this imagined planet, that peace outlasts his memory.


death’s dynamic shroud.wmv


[Orange Milk]

Without a doubt the year’s most inspiring infomercial, CLASSROOM SEXXTAPE slurped its way into our hearts and refused to leave until we were good n’ satisfied. We’ve come a long way from offhandedly tagging “-wave” onto the end of words to presume collective musical action (JK, no we haven’t), but this isn’t one for your “Best of Post-Vapor-Whatever” playlist. This one’s for lighting up to being lusty and lonely, for getting taught that special grind that’ll really make that special someone go aahajhfsdhf4h4hf4@89f##ssjppphhhh. In all seriousness, CLASSROOM SEXXTAPE is like Wendy Carlos’ Clockwork Orange for the isolation chamber age, funneling in the loops & bumps we need to reclaim heaven for all the abandoned wanderers of the sin-streaked datasphere. It’s fresher than ever, it’s dripping with sweat, it wants your body and can’t be contained. We’ve reached the final level, people; grip that gas pump and fuel it up till it pops.



elseq 1–5


Autechre just keep going farther into the field. Apparently not content with doing whatever weird and beautiful yet cold, violent, and alienating thing they’d perfected on their last few releases, the legendary electronic duo of Rob Brown and Sean Booth have laid in front of us the bizarro tech buffet that is elseq, a four-hour-plus molecular assault on sense and essence that was as enticing as it was exhausting. While not all the stylistic forms on this record were brand new, never before have Autechre been so clear and so piercing in their approach, so enlightening just to listen to as deconstructionists and as careful, focused painters of sound. Tracks on elseq sometimes functioned on the barest mechanisms, the most utterly-reduced, lowest common denominators of expression — full synths reduced to pure transients, single sines as percussion, full scores bitcrushed to an abstract, wiry flow of bits — yet each piece kept its distinctive personality intact. Headhumping kicks and technical taps guided absurd constructions of metal and glitch into realms where a coherent melody seemed like a phenomenal accident yet was too clear and controlled to be so, as it suddenly grew and twisted with mischievous need. Gradually, the gap between sense and nonsense was utterly breached and inverted, but it retained a interconnected, kinetic, musical flow. It’s never been so clear before. The infodrop hits. The aftereffect is extraordinary and difficult to parse. I’m here to study, I guess.





My love and I sat together, all our loaded baggage and folded limbs, in the cabin of the car on the concrete veins that would take us from Alabama to Louisiana, from the place near the mountains down to a city-kissed sea. We held hands and we argued, radio stations and routes. A truck-kicked pebble hit the windshield glass; the little sliver splinter would fracture further at the touch, we knew. We coasted crossroads near Waffle House and Exxon, where the fumes of grease and gas fueled our argument over routes that was about anything but which road we took, a splinter that would fracture further as we touched, we knew. We dropped hands and averted eyes and knew that the lips that we’d arrive with would look switched, sound changed. We hauled our selves up to a roadside stand that said LEMONADE, where a woman had cups in the sun and dust. We sipped and asked about roads, and just before the windshield broke, she shushed, sipped. “I’ll trade your broken wings for mine,” she said, and we repeated, a sound like the crunch of psalm, a gospel scream through fires, a way forward. “I’ve seen your scars and kissed your crime,” she said, and she was right, we knew.


Andy Stott

Too Many Voices

[Modern Love]

It’s Friday, December 9. This Too Many Voices blurb is due, and I’m already on my third round of back-and-forth edits regarding its content, which at one point hinged on unfunny jokes and self-deprecating remarks. I should be writing about Andy Stott, who is coming off his fourth or fifth consecutive release in a row that is absolute fire. But I’m having a hard time caring about anything, much less listening to music or writing about it. Perhaps I could’ve copy/pasted a list of terrible things that happened in 2016, people who died, election bullshit, unbelievable quotes or whatever. We want to pretend that life exists in this vacuum, where work continues regardless of the world outside of our offices. That those of us writing about this stuff can spin some golden words about how blah blah in our darkest hour blah blah we’ll shine out the clearer next go-round. But the shitty things in the world shape the lives of people who make this music. The world has seemingly decided to crush some of those people under its heel. At least for now. I don’t know how to write something helpful. I just want you to know how I feel: I am anxious and borderline suicidal. I am sad and resigned and withdrawn. I don’t know when it will end or if it even will. For now, I’m just going to listen to “Butterflies” again while I wait for 2017 to arrive.

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series

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