2016: Favorite 50 Songs Our picks spread across five themed mixes

Anonymous, 2016, Completely Automated, digital oil on canvas, 1017 × 785 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


PART 2: “VOID” mixed by Alex Brown


Toxe

“Bite”

[Staycore]

Toxe’s “Bite” was an undeniable club banger — abrasive, hard-hitting — but hidden within its chaos, there was delicate beauty. I must have listened to it dozens of times since its release on Stockholm-based label STAYCORE’s Erelitha, a wonderful compilation that saw artists making light-themed tracks. Writing of the comp back in July, I quoted Simone Weil: “Love is not consolation; it is light.” I apply this once more to Toxe’s “Bite.” It wasn’t filled with consolation, yet it was lovely, powerfully luminescent. With pounding drums and screeching melodies, it had all the beauty of a lightning storm and then some. It existed in a hymnal fluorescence, floating in a glowing void.


MORO

“ARREPIENTANSE”

[NON]

The first time I heard those drums was on the NON VS N.A.A.F.I mix from late 2015. A haunted and haunting sound, impossibly visceral, it punctures histories and perforates eardrums. As wolves howl and the timber of slave ships creak, MORO wrenches open the past that Argentina would prefer to forget. Those drums are a rhythmic exhortation to repent, to figure the enslaved bodies that were brought to Argentina, whose lives and music were so much grist in the mill of European colonialism. “ARREPIENTANSE” is a stark reminder of barbarism.


AWE

“Rotor”

[Self-Released]

Club music was always about sculpting temporality, sustaining tiny moments of release across a hyperextended block of time, but AWE’s “Rotor” dashes the other direction with giddy aplomb, a barely-two-minute slice of big-tent EDM tension played in maximalist miniature that feels like aeons. So focused it might be clinical if it weren’t for the mainstream club-pop sounds and structures it uses as its building blocks, it’s basically a series of evasive, ultra-focused staccato-builds to a non-existent drop, shot through with drippy, SOPHIE-esque synths and 4 Minutes-era Madonna downtuned horns, turning the associated serotonin-drip of these sounds and processes into empathetic fuel for the cultural-temporal K-hole of its hyper-brief yet never-ending “break.” Moving through at least four discrete sections, at once neurotically propulsive and neurotically digressive, “Rotor” turns neurosis into joy, builds incessantly, ends up nowhere, and shrugs off-stage with a laugh, quietly rewiring the approach of dance music to time and perception in the process.


D/P/I

“Ecstatics”

[Shelter Press]

1. noun. The sensation one gets while hearing a dramatic climax in music.
2. noun. The climax of musical excitement.
3. verb. To have an eargasm.
1. I nearly had an eargasm while listening to D/P/I’s performance of “Ecstatics.”
2. My favorite part of that piece is the eargasm.
3. When we listened to that music, did you eargasm?


Tim Hecker

“Castrati Stack”

[4AD]

After very little absence, Tim Hecker returned this year with Love Streams, an extended meditation on the chorale compositions of Josquin des Prez and Guillaume Defay that shook soundsystems everywhere with a heavy collapse of form. Enlisting the help of the Icelandic Choir Ensemble, as well as the same Reykjavik studio that birthed both Virgins and Ravedeath, 1972, Hecker assembled a shaky, liturgical stance before an alter of electric tech sublime; “Castrati Stack” melded autotune and organum together in a sensual composite at the furthest limits of digital resistance, pulling new shapes from the recesses of our Western histories into a shockingly reverent amalgamation, a postcoital glimmer in eternal conflict with the time.


Andy Stott

“Too Many Voices”

[Modern Love]

There’s something I finally noticed about “Too Many Voices” after spinning it like a hundred times this year: There’s a part near its close that sounds eerily like a cut from Laurel Halo’s Quarantine. It’s not that uncanny of a comparison on its own, but as I reflect on this track as a transcendent culmination of such an elegiac album, I notice even more similarities between Andy Stott’s use of borrowed voice and Laurel Halo’s use of bare vocals. Both artists put timbre front and center, focusing our attention on voice as an instrument with its own properties, and both use this instrument as a way into our psyches. “Too Many Voices” is voice as stethoscope, keeping our vitals and reflexes in check as our hearts flutter and jaws drop at hearing untreated noises erupt from structures that we know intimately. That it comes out so beautifully is really exceptional. It’s butterflies summoned by vibrating mucous membrane, truly alchemical shit.


Radiohead

“Daydreaming”

[XL]

On an album that is a masterclass in Radiohead being Radiohead, “Daydreaming” is the one essential fact you need to take away from the lesson — from the opening studio tape warp warbles to the subtly dizzying crescendos of strings that gently lift the song to its emotional peak, all carried along by Thom Yorke’s mournful vocals and piano. It’s the little pieces of Radiohead sprinkled on top of a big Radiohead cake. And what’s a Radiohead tune without a killer video? Yep: This. Is. Radiohead.


David Bowie

“Blackstar”

[Columbia]

The title track off of David Bowie’s last album ever before he fucking died is a transcendent musical work that aims for no less lofty a goal in its nine minutes than the prediction of a new renaissance. Utilizing a well-tempered mood cycle of broken post-jazz figures and gorgeous saxophone runs, Bowie deconstructs the rock staging and lyrical prowess he’s so known for and re-positions himself as the winking precursor to a total paradigm shift, an end to an overwrought masculine modernity, the restructuring of voices into a proper human history, a true yin and yang. Witness the execution, the collapse, the inversion, the angel’s death drop. The singularity approaches, infinite, dense, staring back. The future is female. Bowie was 69. I am a black star.


Oranssi Pazuzu

“Saturaatio”

[Svart]

You could try to set your mind crawling among the things of this world, to discern among terrestrial shadows the instruments necessary for an encounter with such new visions of disorder as they stalk our nights and days here below. But then listen, attend to your body: it is performing an incantation wholly other; it aligns itself, quite involuntarily, with “Saturaatio,” with a pendulous, caliginous cosmicism that takes you to the cold outer reaches beyond even the dim light of the firmament. Here, in this glyphic emptiness, is the true cradle of a frightful, unlimited aevum — and how exhilarating a voyage!


Xiu Xiu

“Audrey’s Dance”

[Polyvinyl]

It was hard to anticipate how Angelo Badalamenti’s jazzy muzak camp from Twin Peaks and Xiu Xiu’s abstruse, self-serious noise would consolidate in practice, especially because the results of Xiu Xiu accessing a framework of established sound will always be an unpredictable prospect. But “Audrey’s Dance,” a low-key highlight from their cover album of the TV show’s soundtrack, maintained both the understated silliness and abstract cool of the original and the band’s devotion to disruptive industrial textures that gives the album its throughline. Vibraphone, upright bass, oscillating noise, serrated metallic percussion — it’s like the grit of charred memories.

Click to the next page to hear the “CLIFF” mix by Marty Slattery.

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


Most Read