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


AAAAAAAAAAAAAND WE’RE BACK. Another 12 months slipped away, and what a 12 months they were. Did you guys catch that election? What about that Dr. Phil interview with Shelley Duvall? Boy, we are truly in it now aren’t we!? Well, whatever your stance is on the happenings of 2016, surely we can all agree that it’s been SOME kind of year, not just another snoozer like 2015 or 2014. Nope, we got shook this year, for better or for worse (IMHO: worse), and like every other internet blogazine purging up content, it’s time to make sense of what the shit just happened. So buckle up, apply some listening powder to your ears, and get ready for TMT’s 2016 Year-End Listicle Bonanza.

Of course, if you’ve spent any amount of time reading this site (and if you haven’t, I promise we usually sound smarter than this), you know that eclecticism is the soul of what we do. Meaning, we can’t agree on ANYTHING. So, instead of foisting you with some faux-consensus-bastard-child numbered list of songs, we’ve whipped up five themed mixes collecting some of our favorite head spaces of the year: We’ve got fist-bumpers for your next rally at the GYM. We procured keys to help you unlock the VOID. We caught bruises walking through the ALLEY. We took snapshots from our family vacation to the CLIFF. And we found the real moments shredding our vocal cords out the COUPE. Just like that — no false hierarchies, just good clean fun.

If it’s a bit much to take in, don’t worry: we’ve got a very numbered list of albums coming just around the corner, several essays here and there, our favorite labels, cool music videos, and MORE. 2016 is over, baby. It’s all downhill from here!


PART 1: “GYM” mixed by C Monster


Jessy Lanza

“VV Violence”

[Hyperdub]

“VV Violence” is an angry song. But like anger, it can’t help but fall to idle bemusement. It cuts and cuts until it’s numb from cutting. It gestures away from the meeting of faces, where meaning hovers in the periphery escaping apprehension, toward a dancefloor (maybe somewhere in Detroit) where bodies can mix without error in interpretation. Its motor might be violence, but it moves along with an attitude approaching indifference, with flashes even of ecstasy. My favorite pop song of a year marked by its very own serendipity and fury, it reminds us that dancing in a loud room and fighting to be heard don’t have to be divided labors.


Sicko Mobb

“Expensive Taste (feat. Jeremih)”

[Self-Released]

Entering the Hyperbolic Time Chamber like the Super Saiyans before them, what can we predict about Lil Trav and Lil Ceno’s theoretical training methods given a potential world-threatening scenario? An inability to fly apparently gives way to rampant thot avoidance, and if the songs on their previous mixtapes didn’t make things clear enough, “Expensive Taste” confirmed that the duo’s Chicago-based lavish lifestyle is about as strenuous as approved exercise. Dumbbells get supplemented with constant status maintenance, and lord knows the layers of high-class brands can lead to perspiration. They aren’t just preparing for winter, you know.


Why Be, Elysia Crampton, Chino Amobi

“Dummy Track”

[Break World]

Okayyyyy, I admit it. But so what if I’m a sucker for pulsating beat-synced samples of gnarly demon chuckles? Kids like me barely get a track like this every once in a millennium. Plus, it only sweetens the deal when said track emulates masculine performance in such a way as to linger on the question of its participation, leaving any present party to consider: Who’s laughing at whom? As our own Chris Kissel writes, Crampton’s work is “a private apocalypse, a world collapsing,” simultaneously drafting utopias “transnationally, across gender, ethnicity, and even species, in the aftermath of violence.” Nice!


Danny L Harle feat. Carly Rae Jepsen

“Super Natural”

[Sony]

The early stages of attraction can be hard to explain: the emotions are formless, the behaviors messy and undefined, nobody’s quite sure what “this” even is. “Super Natural” understands this precisely, the confusion as well as the joy of realizing that, against the odds, somebody else might feel the same way you do. It is the musical equivalent of posting a link you know your crush has an interest in and staring at your phone until their comment arrives — and the small rush of connection when it finally does. No, you hang up!


DJ Diamond

“Lab 2 This”

[Duck N’ Cover]

I was in Chicago when DJ Rashad died, about 12 blocks away from his apartment, relieving an independent used record store of all of its Jim O’Rourke CDs. I didn’t hear about his death until I arrived back in Madison that night and didn’t really process it until weeks later. But looking back, I remember that entire day now with a certain somberness. I never knew him personally, and I grew into his music gradually, but he and others in Chicago reshaped my ears in such a way that everything since has sounded shallow. “Lab 2 This,” though, by some sort of magic, sounds FULL of that energy. It’s been a hard period of recovery for Chicago (and dance music in general), but DJ Diamond has chosen footwork over death as a way through, and this track, coming at such an incredible record’s close, is both a well-needed celebration of craft as well as a treatise for furthering a legacy that ended far too early. Long live footwork! Viva la ghost!


LSDXOXO

“ANGEL DUST”

[GHE20G0TH1K]

Despite its sexist reputation, the current reguetón boom was kick-started by a woman ordering you to eat her up. LSDXOXO brings that full-circle with a track taking La Materialista’s ode to cunnilingus “Chuleame” (“I am already wet, milk-me out,” “Like a leech, suck me dry,” “Take it all out and drink it with some cocoa” are choice snippets) to reinvent it in the spirit of GHE20G0TH1K’s fascinating queer punkness. In the underground-collective-cum-label’s first release, LSDXOXO hijacks Ex Machina’s idea of building a smart robot that, in case you were wondering, can have intercourse, and designs a vengeful droid starving both sex and retaliation, a semi-organic entity part T-800 and part Sil, a fucking machine with a BDSM A.I. and no safewords. Fuck with that at your own risk.


Call Super

“Nervous Sex Traffic”

[Dekmantel]

Dissipate, dissipate, dissipate. JR Seaton did bits in 2016, a year in which all and any solidity was bypassed, and no track stuck quite as much as the quivering, cavernous “Nervous Sex Traffic.” Above the surface, the live-jam vibe gave it a loose and playful veneer, all clip’d waveforms and passive drift, but as the passing months renewed metropolitan tensions and normalized racism in Europe and beyond, it seemed more and more like a premonition. Call Super was right to be nervous, and while “Traffic” didn’t offset the unease, it nonetheless captured the essence of the continuing threat against the very existence of certain people and spaces — a barely-there apparition, straight-up ghosting in the club.


Hannah Diamond

“Fade Away”

[PC Music]

Hannah Diamond released “Fade Away” the same day that my girlfriend’s pet ferret Hamtaro died. So this song, which uses a euphemism for a slow death as a metaphor for the gradual unraveling of a relationship, was for me inextricably linked to an actual death. While my own connection to the song didn’t align perfectly with Diamond’s lyrical intent, that didn’t invalidate it. “Fade Away” worked best to me not as a plea to a bored lover, but as a supplication to the void against the inevitability of the passing of time and the slow churn of our mortality. Rest in peace, Hammy.


Project Pablo

“Closer”

[SOBO]

Over the last few years, we’ve watched the Vancouver scene explode in global recognition, with labels like Mood Hut, Pacific Rhythm, and 1080p making waves across vinyl bins and Boiler Rooms around the world. Crystalizing a certain blend of woozy ambient new age with the rolling flutter of classic Roland drum machines, Project Pablo’s I Want to Believe laid some probably important groundwork for all this. But increasingly, the producer’s been looking outward. With the launch of his ASL Singles Club and his latest SOBO imprint, Holland’s brought a tighter resolution to his slow-moving, broken-beat sound. On “Closer,” the producer layers breezy, almost-Balearic flutes and cowbells to create what feels like the most danceable moment from the nebulous “scene” yet — the crossover radio single the crew maybe never even needed as they increasingly affirm their place across the global landscape of dance.


Black Dice

“Big Deal”

[L.I.E.S.]

The RISD-grad brutalist humorist collagists, known for their bludgeoning avant scrapes and boinks, spilled beer all over their homemade PC and came up with a freaking artbro anthem. A sexy revving-your-motorcycle intro with space alien sound effects; an electronic Lego-block rock groove, a layer of twang and yogurty Pere Ubu/Louie Louie vocals, followed by a proper ass-kicking guitar riff — the hell? A detuned victory lap fanfare glazed with weirdo counterpoint saw them off into a green and magenta sunset.

Click to the next page to hear the “VOID” mix by Alex Brown.

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.

PART 3: “CLIFF” mixed by Marty Slattery


Blithe Field

“Milkshakes In The Rain”

[Orchid Tapes]

There’s something about high school that follows you. All the intensity and wonder, experiencing maturity for the first time — we’ve built a whole culture around imitating this feeling. Twee, indie pop, stick n’ poke, chasing after youth in the hope that it might bring true freedom. But I remember sitting on the school bus every day and being sad for no reason. I remember feeling ashamed, thinking that I was too boring to hang out with the misfits, but too weird to ever be cool. When I heard “Milkshakes In The Rain” earlier this year, its slow dissolve bedroom aura reminded me of all of these things as they actually were, hopelessly romantic yet astonishingly real. Suspended endlessly in the past, these feelings still manifest in every inch of my being, relived in my heart as a blossoming history of melancholy, and I am thankful to be who I am.


Bon Iver

“8 (circle)”

[Jagjaguwar]

The relative infamy surrounding the writing and recording of Bon Iver’s debut 2007 album seems to have shifted the group’s lyrics in a more impenetrable direction. It’s easy to imagine why “Someday my pain will mark you” might have appealed to a 19-year-old back then, but why did “All the news at the door/ Such a revelry” resonant so much at 21? Although any “meaning” escaped me, the interplay between Vernon’s voice, the saxophones, and drum during the delivery of the line “To walk aside your favor/ I’m an astuary king” provided a spark of comfort in a year that otherwise felt so dark.


James Blake

“My Willing Heart”

[Polydor]

With its jawdropping snap and unfurl, this Colour in Anything standout is over all too quickly. As it shifts from exhaled trepidation to tense bemusement, we can imagine a much more substantial stormcloud feeding lightning to this fleeting system. Wisdom comes suddenly, and fascination is chased till that awareness is muted to a soft glow. It’s a song of waking up and a song of fading back to that dream before it slips away. It’s a beautiful danger, but distant enough to make it seem like warmth on the horizon, well worth drifting toward.


Frank Ocean

“U-N-I-T-Y”

[Def Jam]

In a certain way, between “Mine” and your ambience, “U-N-I-T-Y” is the thing that relates me and separates us: “How do I crop your new bitch out my Vine?” Frank slips reference, spits self, so I keep it underground, draw contact. Where am I and where is Frank when “I’m all on my lonely, burst in tears on his shoulder” and then, a you: “Are you slowin down? Are you holdin down?” You and I are me, pronoun refugee. “U-N-I-T-Y” is conjugated disjunctions, you and me and him and us, the body dissecting re-piecing, hardwood grammar, Apple Jack sweetness, the person’s verse.


Jenny Hval

“Conceptual Romance”

[Sacred Bones]

There’s nothing conceptual about why Blood Bitch highlight “Conceptual Romance” kicked ass. Sure, Hval sang about the “original wound, the origin of the world” as a kind of ritual self-healing, but what healed us most was Hval’s mastery of form: the vocal compression, that warped choral synth patch, the key shift at 0:28, the subtle synth dynamics in the chorus. Then there was that incredible final minute, where Hval told us she wanted to show us something. As the song retreated into itself, what she revealed was as primordial and absolutely vital as Blood Bitch’s central theme.


Fear of Men

“Island”

[Kanine]

When it’s all godsplained to us, will we change? Will we redeem the confidences that our resolute bracken-wading has eroded? Especially when prolonged existence has convinced us our alienation can help us comprehend what is happening without having been swept up in it? “Island” was an unlikely anthem to the difficult task of transitioning the crushing awe inspired by the well-heeled among us into conviction to be forever unmoored ourselves. It was a sad song, but one that was staccato-rhythmically ratcheted to make you correct your posture, see past your shoes, and go forth already.


Frankie Cosmos

“Embody”

[Bayonet]

I’ve been holding a weekly after-hours gathering here at TMT HQ to cultivate togetherness. Each week, we enjoy pastries and ginger tea cross-legged in Meeting Room C and open up to one another. We were all starting to feel much closer until somebody posted a flyer for a meeting group called Whiny Twix Crepes with the same place and time as my group (guys, I get it, not funny). Since then, only the intern shows up (who I think has a crush on me, but I’m like “ew, no!”) and I’ve started to bother less with “togetherness.” Oh well!


Japanese Breakfast

“Everybody Wants To Love You”

[Yellow K]

Put on this Psychopomp highlight, let it shimmer and encompass you, allow its eminently catchy, soaring chorus to become your mantra. Repeat infinitely. In a world where everybody wants some, but even Jay Z never gets enough of it, love can be an elusive thing. “Everybody Wants To Love You” is not necessarily a “love song,” but it is a song about trying to find it. Or, at the very least, it’s a song about getting into bed with the kind of person who is going to make you breakfast in the morning. Everybody wants to love food.


Thee Oh Sees

“The Axis”

[Castle Face]

It begins in my cheeks. The capillaries fill, glowing red. A heat rushes over my face, warming at first but then burning. Beads of sweat on my forehead are vaporized before they finish forming. Vision blurs, then leaves entirely. I reach for my brow but find a viscous, pulpy mass sliding away from bone. It starts as a dripping, but flows more freely as more of what I was turns to liquid. All of my hate, my insecurities, my fears and anxieties pour out of me and into a puddle at my feet.


William Tyler

“Gone Clear”

[Merge]

Cruising along a winding backroad with no apparent agenda or deadline, enjoying the breeze and the scenery. “It’s all good baby,” you’re thinking to yourself. For a while. But it turns out that all this was merely a blanket of false security, and suddenly there’s a motorik sense of doom driving into your skull that builds and builds and doesn’t let up. But then it lets up and maybe things will be OK again, maybe? William Tyler says all this with his guitar on “Gone Clear,” and maybe he wasn’t kidding when he said he’d written a record to capture “the cultural uncertainty of this vanishing America.”

Click to the next page to hear the “ALLEY” mix by S. David.

PART 4: “ALLEY” mixed by S. David


Lolina

“Chance”

[Self-Released]

Immigrant nomad, or: overload of intake is a strict diet every human body should consume by way(s) of direction(s) and discipline(s). Grams was always terrified of life because of how lucky she was, so “Chance” became this mambo that existed well into her 90s. She wasn’t a single mother, but could you imagine being a single mother in 2017? CUT TO: Every woman alive living in a world of equality. A world without males may be Earth’s only hope, but for now, “Free parking. Ughh — Whitehall? ‘Chance.’” Play the devastating game of parenting, alone. Even if you have to grasp — never let go, forever.


Arca

“Sin Rumbo”

[Self-Released]

There’s a temptation to describe the music of Arca by alien names — “otherwordly,” “transcendent,” “out there.” But the gift of Arca is that he lives on the same planet that we do yet can bring into existence sounds that nobody could quite dial into without his guidance. At its best, Arca’s work can maybe only be compared to the images it makes you dream up, and “Sin Rumbo” is Arca at his best: robust, emotional, frightening, and weirdly familiar, like walking into a room that you once saw in a dream.


Macula Dog

“Smokestack”

[Wharf Cat]

Macula Dog are to pop music what Tim & Eric are to television. Beyond the obvious comparisons (two guys, kinda weird, either love ‘em or hate ‘em, etc.), what the two teams excel at are flaunting the mechanics of their artform, breaking it down to their most rudimentary expressions, and then having a whole lot of fun in ways both hilarious and artistic. “Smokestack” embodies Macula Dog’s agenda well, quite simply because it breaks down all the rules of pop to their most mundane expression, leaving you wondering how we ended up with an entirely different rhythm by the coda.


Klein

“Arrange”

[Self-Released]

“Arrange” was one of only a few tracks on Klein’s excellent debut that could pass as a “song.” While much of Only reveled in disconneted interludes and ambiguous mood pieces, “Arrange” most clearly exposed Klein’s spiritual upbringing, leveraging a sort of noisy, psychedelic, alleyway gospel. But the track, a mesmerizing composite of chugging flattened-fifths, hiccuping snares, and Klein’s transportive vocals, inspired movement and possession, with streams of fluids and pheromones splashing and secreting alongside music that was at once incantatory and fleshy, both blessed and blissed out.


James Ferraro

“Market Collapse”

[Self-Released]

In the hellfire 2016, it was especially terrifying to see such a touching vision of what it “means to be human” in Ferraro’s Human Story 3. 2016 realized the dystopian vistas of NYC, Hell and Skid Row; the year consumed their blight so that they became the existential-site-metropolis for everyone except the plastics. Funny, then, that the album’s stand-out piece, “Market Collapse,” provides such a seamless soundtrack for the way our artifices fall apart in remarkable machination. An optimistic vision of collapse, the piano cascades with pure, Sakamoto-esque emotionalism — the tired text-to-speech announces our dilapidated, plastic psychosis as-is: “lo, the fallen towers…” it says, “in praise of individualism,” it soothes.


serpentwithfeet

“Four Ethers”

[Tri Angle]

A voice so pure, so enlightening it grabs the heart and lifts. Combine vocal elevation with movements built and deserved only with open-roofed halls boasting perfect acoustics. Kept warm, nestled in the middle of serpentwithfeet’s unblemished blisters, the work of Josiah Wise (with help from The Haxan Cloak) is haunted, like seeing a friend swim through the River of Styx, reaching down as far as the body allows, asking them to open their eyes and come home.


Jeremih

“Royalty” (feat. Big Sean and Future)

[Def Jam]

You’ve heard Dre Moon’s production work before, because no one went through 2014 without hearing the tiresome earworm of a track that was “Drunk In Love.” But that Grammy-winning co-songwriting credit didn’t result in anything like Moon’s production on Jeremih’s “Royalty,” which was a different beast altogether. Actually, it wasn’t a beast at all. With the club jam-packed and the song’s three protagonists in a haze of hedonism, Moon slunk out into the cold, crisp late-night, crafting in the process one of this year’s most deliciously ominous, hopelessly fragile R&B cuts. Its minimalism was deadly and its simplicity disarming: three chords, hi-hat barely there, the beat landing in only the most crucial moments. 4 AM vibes. Back streets. Weed. Patrón. Chemistry. Key moment: 1:14, the unnverving pause before Jeremih floats one of his most delicate verses yet.


clipping.

“Wriggle”

[Sub Pop]

In Censorship Now, Ian Svenonius explains how the twist “promulgated a new world of utter individualism.” As “the first completely alienated dance form,” the twist released dancers from the bondage of the “pair, line, couple, or group” and punctuated rock & roll’s transformation into “a culturally enforced paradigm, which cut across race and class lines.” Fast-forward to now, and the command floating atop the seizing feedback, non-discriminating warbles, and steady smacks of clipping.’s “Wriggle” makes paradigm enforcement more direct. Listener following circumstance of the bound subject on Wriggle’s cover, clipping. send shocks and force a wriggle.


Lotic

“Formation (Election Anxiety/America Is Over Edit)”

[Self-Released]

America is over. Perhaps, for artists of color and queer artists born in a white country, it was always over. As James Baldwin said, “You go to white movies and, like everybody else, you fall in love with James Dean, and you root for the Good Guys who are killing off the Native Americans.” Even electronic music provides great psychological collisions when, in Baldwin’s words, “you realize all of these things are metaphors for oppression, leading into a kind of psychological warfare in which you may perish.” Rather, Lotic is the prime mistress of a generation of producers who take aim at the source. Emphasizing the roar of the all-black drum corps storming at the center of Beyoncé’s 2016 Super Bowl performance, Lotic hardens the drum-line, stripping all melody out of “Formation” to reveal an urgent, screaming veil of protection against the horrid American theater. He rages at the center of the storm — a “hymn to madness, ending in madness… the hand becomes a fist.”

M.E.S.H.

“Follow & Mute”

[PAN]

I found Damaged Merc impossible to avoid this summer, all four of its songs worming their way around their own difficulty and into laptop DJ sets, causing consternation on the dancefloor and nervousness in the alley on the walk home. “Follow & Mute” is the paradoxical choice cut of a record with no filler, beginning with a teetering gabber buildup and culminating in an impactful conversation between a vocal sample and a chorus of grimy drum hits. It is a destabilizing assemblage in which samples play off one another like ricocheting objects, and emotional senses emerge only to be swiftly complicated. Above all, it speaks a language both its own and of our anxious world.

Click to the next page to hear the “COUPE” mix by Reggie MT.

PART 5: “COUPE” mixed by Reggie MT


Kero Kero Bonito

“Trampoline”

[Double Denim]

What bliss to sardonically raze the edifice of bubbly corporate pop forever selling canned happiness and meritocratic ideology to no one in particular. The biggest explosion of insurgent pop dogma that Kero Kero Bonito could muster this year was “Trampoline,” a song as delusionally aspirational and impractically idealistic as one might imagine sunny pop music could ever be. KKB adopt the necessarily airy, high-flying pop architecture used to hawk optimism and harmless personal ambition to the masses, but they avoid placation; like many great pop groups, they amplify the absurdity instead. And, of course, bounce, bounce, bounce…


Princess Nokia

“Tomboy”

[Sef-Released]

Part anti-norm-bred body image, part take-your-man-without-trying, part “fuck your conformist ideals of what women should be” — total banger. Princess Nokia’s “Tomboy” (produced by SAINT.), off one of the best self-releases of the year (1992), universally bumps — in the car, in the house, at work, with any warm body in earshot with anthemic appeal. WHO DAT.


Rae Sremmurd

“Black Beatles” ft. Gucci Mane

[Interscope]

Public Enemy did it, Kanye did it; Rae Sremmurd are certainly not the first rappers to call themselves the “black Beatles,” but their #1 hit might just be the only song this side of “Hey Ya!” that sustains the weight of a boundlessly brash claim like that. Thanks to another mind-boggling production from Mike WiLL Made-It, the jam sits at the very forefront of pop’s techno-musical progress, while still sounding as hummable as something you’ve heard a million times. Above all, it has proved to appeal to people who swear by only seeking out music that does one or the other. What on earth can be more “Beatles” than that?


Babyfather

“Motivation”

[Hypberdub]

Descent is one of the most interesting words when considering “the future.” The recognition of here-and-now exists only in the preceded and what remains. Commuting to work and blaring “Motivation” by Dean Blunt becomes cocksure. “This song moves traffic,” you yell at passengers while stuck in a strawberry jam of automobiles. Then you twitch away hours-on-end, half-woke on a subway of falling bodies; you’d rather walk than wait for the rollercoaster-line of time to bus. Shrieking fades. The elderly observe. Hood residence are all leaders and have a voice worth vocalizing. Use “Motivation” as transgressive output youth naiveté. You’re never gonna get it, “Boy, boy.”


Rihanna

“Work”

[Roc Nation]

What was more universal in 2016 than “Work”? When the song first appeared, it felt unfinished, open-ended, looping, iterative. Then it grew on us all, fast. It came to embody us. In public spaces, on our phones, in our cars, we were working. But amidst Rihanna and Drake’s unresolved, bantering dialectic, work was indistinguishable from play. Yearning indistinct from intimacy. Did Rihanna ever get done at work and come over? Did her words ever get to Drake? Work held us in a shared separateness, suspended in that synth loop, that sweet unrequitedness. That immanent choral imperative offering a kind of salvation. It is what it is: “work, work, work, work, work.”


Charli XCX

“Vroom Vroom”

[Vroom Vroom]

Eyes always seeing sunglass, luxe plush body behind neon-headlight eyes in suicide machines sprung from caged paradise, Charli roulettes the wheel and coos, “tramps like us, baby,;” engines combust back: “Vroom Vroom.” Because pop sputters and roars, the place for feet to race and tires to dance — there’s a radio in the car, there’s a car in the radio. Because “All my life I’ve been waiting for a good time” and “Vroom Vroom” lasers highway swerve into stop-and-go street sonata, liberation promised in a “let’s ride” manifesto, transfiguring our “where to” wonder into Charli’s only answer, to radios and to life: why not?


DeJ Loaf

“Goals”

[Yellow World]

DeJ Loaf is a superstar. What else can you say? Releasing a string of great tracks this year that somehow still flew under the radar, “Goals” was maybe the ultimate refinement of the DeJ persona: stoic and ice cold while still, in her blunt self-reflections, keeping the strength to stay vulnerable. Bosses have feelings too, even when leaning on a piano in shades and an all-white suit, and here, Loaf runs both modes with smooth, effortless braggadocio. To wit: “Get to knowing yourself, that’s some shit that put fear in you.”


Young Thug

“RiRi”

[300/Atlantic]

A recent Nobel laureate once dedicated a lecherous stanza to a young soul singer he had the hots for. While I can’t imagine Thugger ever being invited to such ilk of Swedish club, in “RiRi” he does something far more impressive than unleashing his carnal impulses by both impersonating and replying to Rihanna’s patois-laden smash. In the guise of his singing-prone alter-ego Jeffery, Young Thug flexes his trademark swag to incorporate Caribbean tonalities, overt pop impressions, and even some R&B. It’s a fusion that reaches its apex in “RiRi,” less a track inspired by the travails of seduction than a heartfelt tribute to Rihanna. Indeed, Jeffery doesn’t try to get in RiRi’s pants, but mimics her vocal inflections and openly proclaims his admiration, once again making good on Thugger’s habit of subverting expectations. Getting to chill with the Barbados star is, you know, just a little extra.


Solange

“Cranes in the Sky”

[Saint/Columbia]

Wrapped in folds of insulation, neck outstretched, Solange sings the micro-adjustments of recovery, the navigation of depression and dominant culture as a process of elimination. The song is (earthly beautiful, the walking piano and her angel voice) light and air despite the heavy lifting of its words. After so many failed escapes, she’s coming to peace with the unsightly structures that stand against her horizon; they are of a future site, and they are capable of tremendous strength. By the song’s end, when she wishes it all “away, away, away,” it’s not for nothing; she’s celebrating that these moving machines might spread their wings.


Kanye West

“Ultralight Beam”

[GOOD/Def Jam]

Like a Sunday morning when you wake up and it’s raining. You are born into this shit, and it is already overflowing. You can’t stand up all the way. You make hundreds of steps before you learn you can’t take any of them back. The things you learn unmake you. There is no God. Everybody is already here. Evil is real, and love is lost. The future is monstrous. There is certain death. A dark and endless ocean awaits you. Without faith, you’d sink like a stone. You feel a blue compulsion. You act out to be alive. You swing, and you get hit back. You get a little relief, a little distraction. Your eyes widen. You’re smart. You sense a missed opportunity. You could market this, get a better result. You can improve the effect, you think, push a little farther and cut a little deeper. You practice, and you escape yourself. You use your voice. You make something new. You touch people’s hearts and inspire them. You can unmake them too. You don’t know what this feeling is. A small light grows in the middle of you. A light that only you can see. You laugh a little. The light does not go away.

Click to the next page to view the entire list.

PART 1: “GYM” mixed by C Monster

[00:00] Jessy Lanza - “VV Violence”
[03:54] Sicko Mobb - “Expensive Taste” (feat. Jeremih)
[06:35] Why Be, Elysia Crampton, Chino Amobi - “Dummy Track”
[09:52] Danny L Harle - “Super Natural” ft. Carly Rae Jepsen
[13:24] DJ Diamond - “Lab To This”
[16:35] LSDXOXO - “ANGEL DUST”
[21:10] Call Super - “Nervous Sex Traffic”
[29:08] Hannah Diamond - “Fade Away”
[33:17] Project Pablo - “Closer”
[40:06] Black Dice - “Big Deal”


PART 2: “VOID” mixed by Alex Brown

[00:00] Toxe - “Bite”
[03:17] MORO - “ARREPIENTANSE”
[06:19] AWE - “Rotor”
[08:08] D/P/I - “Ecstatics”
[13:32] Tim Hecker - “Castrati Stack”
[17:29] Andy Stott - “Too Many Voices”
[23:25] Radiohead - “Daydreaming”
[29:21] David Bowie - “Blackstar”
[38:55] Oranssi Pazuzu - “Saturaatio”
[50:17] Xiu Xiu - “Audrey’s Dance”


PART 3: “CLIFF” mixed by Marty Slattery

[00:00] Blithe Field - “Milkshakes In The Rain”
[03:20] Bon Iver - “8 (circle)”
[08:23] James Blake - “My Willing Heart”
[12:20] Frank Ocean - “U-N-I-T-Y”
[15:10] Jenny Hval - “Conceptual Romance”
[19:36] Fear of Men - “Island”
[22:52] Frankie Cosmos - “Embody”
[24:35] Japanese Breakfast - “Everybody Wants To Love You”
[26:41] Thee Oh Sees - “Axis”
[32:52] William Tyler - “Gone Clear”


PART 4: “ALLEY” mixed by S. David

[00:00] Lolina - “Chance”
[03:54] Arca - “Sin Rumbo”
[07:11] Macula Dog - “Smokestack”
[09:55] Klein - “Arrange”
[13:23] James Ferraro - “Market Collapse”
[16:41] serpentwithfeet - “Four Ethers”
[20:44] Jeremih - “Royalty” (ft. Big Sean and Future)
[24:30] clipping. - “Wriggle”
[28:24] Lotic - “Formation (Election Anxiety/America Is Over Edit)”
[31:28] M.E.S.H. - “Follow & Mute”


PART 5: “COUPE” mixed by Reggie MT

[00:00] Kero Kero Bonito - “Trampoline”
[03:50] Princess Nokia - “Tomboy”
[06:38] Rae Sremmurd - “Black Beatles” ft. Gucci Mane
[10:28] Babyfather - “Motivation”
[12:29] Rihanna - “Work” ft. Drake
[15:38] Charli XCX - “Vroom Vroom”
[18:38] DeJ Loaf - “Goals”
[21:48] Young Thug - “RiRi”
[25:16] Solange - “Cranes In The Sky”
[29:05] Kanye West - “Ultralight Beam”

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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