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


Elysia Crampton

Dissolution of The Sovereign: A Time Slide… (Or: A Non-Abled Offender’s Exercise in Jurisprudence)


It’s 2016. “Amidst the cataclysmic, irreducible horizon of coloniality,” a music throbs from dungeons within the Castle of Terror, surrounded by lines of fire. Agitated, drawn, accumulated — mucosal monsters assemble in full acceleration. Glowing. Exothermic. Mutagenic. Spitting dust. Silenced. An image of unnatural teratologies dissolved in blood. A vanishing point. Zombies without organs. Tendons peel from rock. Trash. On the floor. Hacked body. No body. Demon City. Becoming monster. Inhuman ecstasy. Spill carnival. Prophetess the Hutt. Drifting into the psyclonic storm drain. A multi-appendaged medical droid. A stickybeak drum player. Emperor protein in the criticality swarm. Then, agreement. A-human tenderness. Oh gracious parasite. Oh cracked wheel of life. Oh wind of death. Oh flayed fish. Oh corn chip. Oh compressor. Dumb weight. Calcified. Deaf stone. The music makes the wind sing, the hurricane a chord, as Andean castles with a thousand towers arrive from thin air, flags flying. Dissolved and deviated, Elysia writes the future <3.


Danny Brown

Atrocity Exhibition


Danny Brown has always peddled in frothing-at-the-mouth, pharmopsychological debauchery, but where XXX foregrounded the spectacle of his imminent death, what he offered here was something a little beyond that: a life in bodies rendered thinged. Like both of the record’s eponymous predecessors, Ballard and Curtis, Atrocity Exhibition seemed to function as anti-pornography via pornography. It was a document of passion’s divestment in human relations, reducing the inscrutable euphoria of presence into senseless libidinal circulation — the kinetic hollow of an abandoned carnival left running. The psychic and physical are numbed to feeling, but remain bound to desire; there is neither plaisir nor joiussance. Brown’s approach was a nakedness that implicated us in scopophilic perversion. But it was precisely our conjoined psychic deformity that provided the record’s resuscitative turn. Amid these tumbling fragments of twisted, manic production, he attempted to magnify and explode his condition and return some warmth to his frostbit psyche. Ballard said of humanity’s predilection for violence and obscenity, “We may have to go through this phase to reach something on the other side,” and that was the real work of Atrocity Exhibition: to push even further beyond and discover at the terminus, no matter how monstrous the ordeal or destination, anything other than this.


Charli XCX

Vroom Vroom [EP]

[Vroom Vroom]

A shimmering Ferrari with XCX branded on the hood, Vroom Vroom was the ultimate playpen for the rich, famous, taut-bodied, all-access crowd, its perfectly-tuned mechanic parts inextricable from its feminized chrome surface — “cute, sexy, and my ride’s sporty” as a manifesto. It was SOPHIE’s purring motor of maximalist industrial-cum-Europop productions entangling Charli’s haughty, filthy-poised kiss-offs and come-ons, a ceaseless flux of vocal affect and production, as “cute, sexy, and sporty” a ride as Charli promised. It was perfectly precision-engineered pop replete with some of the most gloriously gleaming whooshes and squeals, crests and choruses. It was a space where that unfettered access to sensation and power granted to society’s elite was torn open through sonic fragmentation, a messy, inchoate mass of bodies rushing in. A hyper-cliché, hyper-capitalized image of “girl power,” it wasn’t irony, just a set of sensual experiences unleashed from their cultural roots via torrid sonics, the material specificities of sports cars, and bass drops and body drops and synth blocks jubilantly torqued into raw affect. Giddy, sweaty, overpowering, bratty — we became part of its mechanic flow and found access to a torrent of potentialities within semiotic hell. “We’re in paradise,” Hannah Diamond added in her ultra-sweet guest spot, and she was right: a paradise built in hell. Pure sensation, marketable femininity weaponized but locked in, a staging ground for a million genderfucked makeouts, the glory of bodies squishing together amongst the raw joy ripped from amidst a crush of over-significations.


James Ferraro

Human Story 3


Ferraro divined prophetic messages that materialized in the chemtrail foam of his cappuccino. He lied prostrate before a column of neatly stacked Consumer Report magazines, their statistical evaluations of breakfast cereals annotated with fluorescent-pink Post-Its and Sharpie scrawl. His eyes watered at the resonant yawn of a slap bass. Swaddled in the omnipresence of Big Data, our hero reveled in contradiction: embracing the vibrant monochromacy of technological jargon, he sought to accelerate the growth of Apple Store aesthetics to unsustainable levels, thus triggering the violent heat death of macchiato minimalism. From the rubble of this post-internet collapse arose a society governed by self-aware sincerity, a mindset that usurped the tyrannical reign of scientific rhetoric as Dominant Discourse, replacing it with a triumvirate of intentionally blind optimism, spirituality, and post-human transcendence. Human Story 3 was a MIDI hymnal mailed via drone to each citizen of this global civilization. Ferraro’s globalist-realist arrangements were unabashedly ambitious, towering structures built upon cozy clarinet melodies and unbridled ideology. No more Helvetica. No more Scandinavian, minimalist corporate logos.



Jenny Hval

Blood Bitch

[Sacred Bones]

Last summer, the “trend forecasters” at K-Hole noted that, in the utter collapse of their optimism for the aesthetic “sameness” then known as “normcore,” something new was bubbling beneath the surface. A form of technocratic autonomy that would soon sublimate the totalizing narratives of our times, Chaos Magic was an impulse built on the “temporary and subjective” coping mechanisms essential to the aesthetic survival of the last few years. Steeped in the sort of self-affirming mantras that make everyone their own guru, Chaos Magic was the Fairy Godmother, The Secret to guide self-motivation away from its faith in generational sameness and toward some blissed-out, subjective divinity. Now, maybe this jagged fragmentation, this bull-headed faith in conspicuous obsolesce, is the same feeling guiding certain “post-truth” narratives in the global media. Maybe it’s the reason there are about three smoky crystal shop windows lining my block in Brooklyn, all with aura photography readers and the sort of pop-up Tarot card tabletops that reek of pot and mate. But beneath it all, something about the gesture reminds me of Jenny Hval’s Blood Bitch. The album’s caustic slice through gendered difference divulged a willful romance, an “erotic self-oscillation” that not only departed from the phallogocentric gaze of narrative, but did so with its own stunning euphoria. From the bloody, witchy hysteria of its own history, Blood Bitch was “tired of subjectivity,” yet thrust forward in generative loss and narrative absence. A soft and shapeless “conceptual romance,” Blood Bitch built a world all its own, every bit as striking and as magical as its forbearers.


Frank Ocean


[Boys Don’t Cry/Def Jam]

There was a stillness, an intimacy lying at the heart of Blonde and Endless. These songs drifted, across sounds (“Commes Des Garcons’” slanted hip-hop; “Ivy’s” dreamy indie rock; “Solo’s” organ-drenched confessional) and across places (Akron, New Orleans, Texas), snapping to attention (“Pink + White”) and diffusing (“Pretty Sweet”). Frank Ocean found himself at the center of this drift, looking for his place in the world, reaching out to his elders (his “mother” on “Be Yourself,” Andre 3000 on “Solo (Reprise)”), working across mediums (ambience, the visual, found sound), forever orbiting, searching, questioning. A streak of melancholy pervaded these works, emerging in the grain of Frank’s voice, in the skeletal beats that fizz across the album’s surfaces, in the seemingly vast distances separating the figures in Endless. But this melancholy, this absence, was productive; it created moments of bloom, of beauty, of pathos. It was in these minor moments that the album soared, dazzling with the rawness of its affect: that Trayvon line on “Nikes,” the stress on “anything” at the end of “Siegfried” (“I’d do anything for you/ In the dark”), the delicacy of lyric and delivery in “White Ferrari’s” last verse. Perhaps more than any other contemporary songwriter, Frank Ocean understood the sadness at the heart of experience and the necessity to communicate it, to realize how it brings us together. On these albums, Frank Ocean stretched his hands, binding himself to us in all of his/our precarity and strength. As one of 2016’s lost poets once said: “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”





Acra’s enormous sounds in Entrañas haven’t been this tightly bound since &&&&&. Simply put: it was a portrayal of your daily timeline, the mundane effects that you love or find redundant, an aspiritual reminder of self, getting lost in thought or en route. Acra examined the x-rays of life gutted in sounds familiar, distant, and slimed, leaving Entrañas stubbornly persistent and exquisitely haunted. It clawed at your face while falling in love with the acceptance of destiny in terms of being one in seven billion. It was Arca leaning against a twisted statue only Jesse Kanda could construct, musing complexity in the ears of fate. Entrañas was your asshole nailed to the rocks above, while you fall off a cliffside inverting your digestive system — rectum, intestines, gallbladder, stomach, liver, esophagus — only to snap back internally by the throat *a final gasp* swinging you steady above salt water, burning your eyes gazing into the end, thinking “It was different this time around.”


Kanye West

The Life Of Pablo

[GOOD/Def Jam]

At long last, Ye has returned home. For all the talk this year about “the old Kanye” versus “the new Kanye,” among all the misinterpreted political speeches and refunded concerts, everyone seemed to forget that The Life Of Pablo was the most humble Yeezy has sounded in years, frayed ends and all. Like in his album covers, whose stark reds have gradually given way to the same beautifully brown and amber tones of his debut, TLOP saw Kanye confronting the gospel and holy spirit of his beginnings from the other side of the glass. Where My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus were all fire and damnation, The Life Of Pablo was a willfully imperfect offering of acceptance and forgiveness. Not that it kept Kanye from delivering the juice — there was still plenty for the masses to get riled about, from the reignited Taylor beef to the willfully petty shots at Ray J and Amber Rose. But in these flaws lie the true revelation of Pablo; that there is no final state of rest in this world, no ultimate end to redemption. Our absolution is ongoing, faithful as the waves, and no matter how far we’ve wandered from grace in the search for fulfillment, it’s never too late to add on an extra track or two.



Live in Paris


Paris 2016: scenes from the apocalypse, everything’s gone to hell, Rihanna in concert, thousands of troops on the street. A year-long state of emergency. A static war machine turned upon itself — shouts to London and New York. Paris 2016: just another crater, a fenced-off crash site, ticket-only, merch stands everywhere, dark rooms on silent, no flash. Monopoly animations projected onto a screen, gnomic screeds recited in clipped English, Xeroxed slogans from gutter-damp Occupy zines: roll the die, take a chance, you’re a liar, aim higher. You’re super rich or you’re nothing (let’s face it, you’re nothing). Scattered expenditure and rudimentary dreams of future comfort, all broken song structures and big hall reverb. Live In Paris was a timely “performance,” forever fixed in the shadow of Brexit and Trump, an immigrant howling BULLSHIT at the nostrums of the neoliberal consensus. And yet it doesn’t belong to our time inasmuch as our time belongs to it: framing it, distorting it, tilting its allusive disorder toward something like cohesion.



BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow


“You hear the sirens, yeah? The sirens is a real ting. Man hear the sirens every fucking night. Man’s tryna do my ting, and I hear the fucking sirens.”
– DJ Escrow, “Stealth”

There are many ways to think about the works of Dean Blunt, and most of them are probably wrong. Yet it’s not right to say that Babyfather’s BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow resists interpretation; such a turn defensively — nah, aggressively — presupposes an antagonistic relationship to audience. But there is undeniably a waxing and waning proximity of relations between the referential and gestural eyelets that materialize in the Blunt matrix; and, by proxy, there is a constant recalibration with regard to audience. Remember how we (non-Russians) were never even supposed to hear Stone Island? Blunt’s sonics are strategies as much as they art. Non-allegorical strategies for real living.

And so while BBF’s environs were harsh, hostile, toxic, Blunt enunciated, calm: “Don’t panic.” Quintessentially himself, he explained nothing. The very much not-unreal DJ Escrow, by contrast, explained everything, in iterative arcs imploring realness, kernels of positive embodiment in an inwardly weaponized soundscape. His album-spanning libretto was all motivation, empowerment, unity, and therapy. In un-relief amidst BBF’s lack of foreground or background, it was the way things really were. It is the way things really are.

“Don’t panic.” We woke up on the 4th day of 2016 to another one: the sound of dissociative gas flooding a metal chamber. The harsh undeniability of what gets known during the comedown. Granular jet engine noise, the sirens, dead fashion designers, betrayal, 20 bands: things you can’t ignore. “Get these white girls out of my home.” We were shook. It was a jarring real thing, a pressurized slab of being.

Babyfather didn’t offer a condolence or eulogy, commentary or satire; it didn’t evoke or hold a mirror to the world. BBF was reality emerging at the inchoate contours of this world, at the limits of a body: “What you gonna do when life gets long?” Another one: a compressed constellation of prismatic contexts, rigged with security systems and alarms, embedded surveillance channels, and obfuscated references saluting one another and chatting shit, in teeming awareness of an infiltration threat. Still, true strength emerged with the refusal of dichotomy or dialectic. Babyfather sprayed bars of knowledge, less as a separate awareness, more as part of a substance.

As our fearless leader Mr P posed in his exhaustive review of BBF, maybe we were the aggressors when we suggested, on forums and in reviews, that Blunt was trolling us with his bodyguards, his conspicuous absence, his supposed “enigmatic” quality. We’d stumbled into his codified, platinum-gilded matrix of thought and lashed out, anxious and overwrought, that we were trapped in the grid, that the landscape was untenable, the sirens too shrill. Again: “Don’t panic.” BBF was not an exercise simulating the outer limits of hypernormalization. It was 2016 en plein air, unadorned. This is really how it is.

Favorite 50 Music Releases of 2016

50. N-Prolenta - A Love Story…
49. Sean McCann - Music for Public Ensemble
48. Ka - Honor Killed the Samurai
47. Amnesia Scanner - AS [EP]
46. Angel Olsen - MY WOMAN
45. Oren Ambarchi - Hubris
44. Huerco S. - For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)
43. Mitski - Puberty 2
42. DJ Coquelin & MC Cloarec - JE M’EN TAPE
40. Klein - ONLY
39. Julianna Barwick - Will
38. Ytamo - MI WO
37. The Savage Young Taterbug - Shadow of Marlboro Man
36. Future - EVOL
35. The Caretaker - Everywhere at the end of time
34. death’s dynamic shroud.wmv - CLASSROOM SEXXTAPE
33. Autechre - elseq 1–5
32. Beyoncé - LEMONADE
31. Andy Stott - Too Many Voices
30. Crying - Beyond the Fleeting Gales
29. David Bowie - ★
28. Macula Dog - Why Do You Look Like Your Dog?
27. Tim Hecker - Love Streams
26. Noname - Telefone
25. Puce Mary - The Spiral
24. serpentwithfeet - blisters
23. Solange - A Seat at the Table
22. DJWWWW - Arigato
21. Princess Nokia - 1992
20. Jeremih - Late Nights: The Album
19. Elysia Crampton - Elysia Crampton Presents: Demon City
18. Kero Kero Bonito - Bonito Generation
17. Dedekind Cut - $uccessor
16. Foodman - Ez Minzoku
15. Jessy Lanza - Oh No
14. Rihanna - ANTI
13. Young Thug - JEFFERY
12. Lil Yachty - Lil Boat
11. Yves Tumor - Serpent Music
10. Elysia Crampton - Dissolution of The Sovereign: A Time Slide…
09. Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition
08. Charli XCX - Vroom Vroom [EP]
07. James Ferraro - Human Story 3
06. Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch
05. Frank Ocean - Blonde/Endless
04. Arca - Entrañas
03. Kanye West - The Life Of Pablo
02. Lolina - Live in Paris
01. Babyfather - BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow

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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