Top 100 Releases of 2016: 100-51

Let’s do those introduction pieces people love so much. Look, 2016 was a wild ride folks, and everyone seems to have a different opinion on the quality of music this year has brought us. For me, I think this year has possibly brought out the most quality in content I’ve ever had the pleasure of sifting through. My list is an amalgamation of different genres and levels of exposure, so everything is fair game from the least recognizable to the most famous of names. Whether that makes my list confusing to decipher, it only really matters to me what the order or reasoning is, so take that with a grain of salt. Because of demand, however, I felt generous enough to write not just 50 of my favorite releases this year, but a whopping 100! Thank you everyone, artist and fan alike, who have created music out of the most eclectic and controversial year. I can only hope next year is just as great.

As a sidenote, here’s my honorable mentions. They are not in any order, so they are not 113 through 101 for anyone wondering. They simply don’t make the list, but I really wanted to give these releases a shoutout because they come from great artists and bands that impressed me nonetheless.

(Shameless Plug: Since I’m an artist myself, here’s my album from this year if you want to check it out. It’s called Dissatisfied. As a rule, I don’t include myself in my lists. Thanks for listening and supporting me~)

HONORABLE MENTIONS

>The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It (Dirty Hit/Interscope)

>JPEGMAFIA – Black Ben Carson (Self-Released)

>青葉市子 – マホロボシヤ (Speedstar)

>Ray LaMontagne – Ouroboros (RCA)

>Rangers – Texas Rock Bottom (Self-Released)

>Kill Alters – no self helps (Self-Released)

>James Ferraro – Human Story 3 (Self-Released)

>Hong Kong Express – Hong Kong Express (TKX)

>Dizcrybe – Body & Soul (Self-Released)

>Charli XCX – Vroom Vroom EP (Vroom Vroom)

>Poppy – 3:36 (Music to Sleep To) (Self-Released)

>Youandewan – There is No Right Time (Aus Music)

>ONTHE88 – TECHnically HUMAN (Synthemesc)

NOW, LET’S GET THIS SHOW ON THE ROAD!

100-51

 

 

collage100: C. Reider – Sophist I & II (Self-Released)

An experimentation of drum machine integration and noise, Sophist I & II is a two-part release from Colorado’s noise composer, C. Reider. Mentioned to be lacking polish, I think such bare editing accentuates the raw nature of tracks like “Matter is Evil.” The opener of “Tanajir for Nysso” is remarkably beautiful in its IDM and electronic escapades, and it’s one of my favorite tracks as well. While the release is not out digitally yet, you can buy the physical copy to get a lot of digital download codes to share with friends, and I think that makes a release like this a bit more special.

 

099: Prism Lite – Elements (Mt. Fuji)elements

It’s been a long time coming, but finally a Prism Lite album has blessed us in 2016. Elements is the debut of lo-fi beat and funk artist Prism Lite, and this album is very short but it’s one of the better beat tapes of this year. Tracks like “no presidents (x Riverwave 川の波)” offer a tropical vibe a la Monster Rally. “lighters” or “warlords” give a real sense for the richness and detail for diverse loops and deep percussion rhythms. Take a listen to “fly” and hear the strings crescendo into this sparkling intro, the steady beat at the front of the mix and the time limit of the track being so short it leaves a welcoming desire for more. Prism Lite is my pick for an excellent beat tape this year.

 

grand-theft-honda-civic098: Prone – Grand Theft Honda Civic (Self-Released)

I first heard of Prone on their label release on BLCR Laboratories, and I liked it enough to check out their Bandcamp. What I found was a beautiful IDM and glitch release that will criminally go under the radar. A favorite from this album is “Peeled Batteries,” more because it has conventional rhythm with some nice drone and glitch to accentuate the idiosyncratic melodies. Other tracks for lovers of Autechre and Mouse on Mars is the dance synth-jingles of “Isuzu Amigo” and “GTHC2.”

 

097: starsculptor – ultraviolet (Pizza Beast/Aloe City)ultraviolet

The second release from starsculptor this year, ultraviolet still retains the gentle and brisk overtones of their debut with a bigger focus on VGM, electronic, and Japanese pop elements. An immediate example would be “we may dream (feat. pega),” a soft and emotive pop melody that swiftly transitions to the Megaman X-inspired “epsilon” suites, one of the highlights of the album. If anything should catch your attention, take a listen to the last two tracks off ultraviolet and be swept for an amazing finisher.

 

i-dreamed-of-a-palace-in-the-sky096: Equip – I Dreamed of a Palace in the Sky (Dream Catalogue)

I have to admit this was a dense listen from Equip, compact with many VGM references (more specifically from the RPG realm of games like Final Fantasy) and original pieces for its own fictional tale of the listener partaking on a quest for glory. While I could compare this to the work of R23X, I Dreamed of a Palace in the Sky is a distinctly different beast equipped with alluring and winding tunnels of synth crescendos and ever-shifting progressions of new age styles. Listen to the chilling bell tolls of “Hidden Grotto ~FROZEN IN TIME~” or the nostalgic ambiance and electronic shimmers in “Identity” to get a good feel of what makes this Equip album a captivating performance of lo-fi and new age arrangements.

 

095: Young Thug – Jeffery (Atlantic)jeffery

It’s not all the time I’d admit to liking this sort of trap music with incredibly sleazy and hollow brag rap, but I also can’t ignore that Young Thug does this style of hip hop creatively at the very least. Jeffery really surprised me compared to his other mixtapes this year. The reggae-inspired and melodic bass of “Wyclef Jean” and the seal-sounding oddity of “RiRi” are incredibly entertaining and refreshing. His Future impersonation on the aggressive “Future Swag” and the icy undertones of “Guwop” with Quavo, Offset and Young Scooter can take me to whole other dimensions of appealing abandon. My favorite track has to go to “Pick Up the Phone” (which I would rather consider a Young Thug track and not a Travis Scott track) with the best hook and performance from both artists. While Jeffery isn’t necessarily new in the lyrical department (you’re in the wrong mindset if you’re trying to decode anything meaningful from this), Thugger’s charisma and off-kilter personality comes back in full swing to give us ten amazing tracks full of jams, and that’s all anyone can ask for from Young Thug.

 

garden-of-mind094: Parallax ‘48 – Garden of Mind (Doom Trip)

As if the bright and mystifying framework of a thousand kaleidoscopes were condensed to a twinkling delight of audio, Parallax ‘48’s Garden of Mind surprises with its coalescing new age synth and hypnagogic fragments. Being distinctly reminiscent to me of the same Japanese styling of new age listening like 吉村弘’s Green and いろのみ’s (specifically on “Window”), Parallax ’48 goes deeper in presenting its own atmospheric worlds like on the damp mist of “Cloud” and the disco ball spectacle of “Phonetics,” the latter one of my most reared listens on here. Definitely, one should take the time to sit with this one and to let the fiery incense of this album take you away.

 

093: Euglossine – Canopy Stories (Orange Milk)canopy-stories

Let me set it this way. Imagine easy listening funk and soul music for aliens on foreign music technology and translating that to the human ear. Canopy Stories is somewhat the result of that, because the sounds presented have to be out of this galaxy to be comprehensible. But really, this is an engaging listen with its main focus on the electric guitar to guide the progression of the diverse synthkey melodies and fragments. “Paradise Kiss” is a toasty example of this communion because the call and response between the keyboard and guitar is on a romantic level. The big one for me though goes to the spacey five-minute epic of “Star Optics.” Overall, Euglossine has really outdone himself with this album.

 

digital-paradise092: Tsunxmi (f.k.a. 懐かし2002津波) – Digital Paradise (Bedlam Digital)

Tsunxmi is the new moniker of Draven Stedman, a drone and vaporwave-inspired project I would rate as one of the most skillful. Taking a fascination towards 90’s pop culture and aesthetic and placing it in the context of a drone release is quite a feat, and one that reaps a lot of rewards with Digital Paradise. I’d dare call this two hourly listen a real beauty, taking the emotional abandon one would hear from William Basinski into the misty depths with the cinematic tension of “Depression” and “Ocean” looming. The raw breakdown and disintegration of “Digital Paradise/The World Beyond” is one of my favorite moments that deserves the highlight if you have any doubt of the encrusted melancholy and beauty presented.

 

091: toiret status – omaru (Orange Milk)%e2%97%8eomaru%e2%97%8e

I don’t know what it is about this album, but whatever toiret status is doing on here surely has me both entertained and engaged. Whether it’s the comedic interludes of “#35” and “#0.01” or the unexpected MIDI-fied blast beating of “#28” and “#33,” all of it adds to the odd charm and frenetic fun of omaru. “#31” with DJWWWW is this wonderful circus of musical manipulation that is in its own compositional realm, and it is a favorite of mine to point out. Words can’t describe the nature of this electronic experimental release properly for me. All I know is that it’s so strange that I can’t help give it an extra listen at every chance I can get.

 

return090: reef frequent – Return (BLCR Laboratories)

This has to be one of the most surprising releases coming from electronic music. I’ve always considered reef frequent to be fairly versed in ambiance, acoustics, and instrumental hip hop, but never did I imagine the intensity and working magic of Return. Capturing the monumental catharsis and drama of a metal album, reef frequent’s choice of such sampling pays off in dividends with the Liturgy-esque palpitations of “Torn” and the blast beat aurora of a track like “Carried.” Electronic elements still slip in healthy doses like on the building interludes of “Steeped,” one of the more fascinating cuts off Return. While this release may conflict with fans of his electronically varied work, it’s possibly one of his best so far.

 

089: Shura – Nothing’s Real (Polydor)nothings-real

I get the feeling Shura’s debut will be slept on hard, because it’s one of the more poignant 80’s revival synthpop, even on par with Carly Rae Jepsen. Although it’s not as bombastic and immediately catchy as her content, Shura has that same level of intricate melodies and nuanced lyricism to boot. With the intimacy and vulnerability of Janet Jackson channeled on Nothing’s Real, Shura’s vocal delivery, intimate instrumentation, liquid guitar melodies all serve to highlight the subtlety of the themes. Check out “Tongued Tied,” because it sounds like it’s a straight-up Toto song sometimes. Synthpop is often marked with anxiety obscured with flashy hooks and personality, but this album wants to make a cohesive and simple message about vulnerability in relationships that fail, and in the long-run provides us a humanity not often seen.

 

pixelbrain088: MOD-COMM 81 – PIXELBRAIN (Antifur)

Possibly one of my most preferred MOD-COMM 81 projects, PIXELBRAIN is marked with a fully ravaging anxiety set to unravel in this humid production that I really like. There are deep and languid grooves like “Love is Math” and noisy eviscerations in the synth fragments and percussive textures of “The Doubt Disco” that progress to effective pieces of house and techno across the record. I think one of my favorite cuts off PIXELBRAIN has to be the confident synthpop and chiptune elements of “Avatar” that really shows the brightness in the audibly dark undertones of this album.

 

087: KAGAMI Smile – M O U T H T R I P (BLCR Laboratories)m-o-u-t-h-t-r-i-p

My introduction to KAGAMI Smile couldn’t have come at a better time. Something about the eccentric busyness, and this sense of an avalanche of sound crashing on me like the crackling chaos and chimes on “P U P I L D I L A T I O N,” urges deeper listens of the subconscious. M O U T H T R I P in the purest sense is a sugary slushy of pop, IDM, noise, and lo-fi graphical experimentation. The buried pop eccentricities of “V H S P U S” and the vibrating dysphoria of “S K Y CL NR” offer the brighter moments of conventionalism, but a track like “DRP2” can also venture to this disfigured, bubbling state of drone and cacophony that is soothing yet slimy on the ears. Whatever your taste may be, KAGAMI Smile offers a complex tray of genre mashing beyond control that is truly the mouth trip.

 

on-impulse-i086: T Montage – On Impulse I (Audmonsters)

A deep rumble and shifting quality of the bass in the furious noise produced on T Montage’s label release is sometimes enough to get me feeling a transition to other realms. On Impulse I is a deceptively simple, yet booming, electronic and noisy IDM album that honestly doesn’t overstay the steady drone but aims for pulsation and microscopic shifts within instrumental chops and loops. The snippet of dialogue of self-acceptance shifting to the increasing dissonance, and giving way to the blurry crow samplings near the eleven-minute mark, all gives it a frantic mood on “Crawl Out.” This adds to the conflict the dialogue mentions that deepens on “Index (Triad)” and “SL Diagram,” both equally detailed cuts. T Montage has a psychologically interesting and strangely entrancing album on her hands, and I hope more people get to listen through it.

 

085: Motion Graphics – Motion Graphics (Domino)motion-graphics

This release thankfully slipped into my radar, because it’s the kind of glossy, clean electronic production that I admire from releases that would appear from Orange Milk. This even has vocals to boot! Motion Graphics’ debut is a sweet and shiny experimental release with a big focus on percussion. The beats and synth manipulation on a track like “Houzzfunction” are so incredibly catchy and soft on the ears. The big highlight this album gets credit for is “Anyware” for its audio narrative of modern technology through trap beats and phone notifications, and it’s easy to see why this stuck as this album’s exposure. There are deeper cuts to appreciate on this release though, which is why I think this one of the better records of this year.

 

classroom-sexxtape084: death’s dynamic shroud.wmv – CLASSROOM SEXXTAPE (Orange Milk)

Tech Honors of the original dual project from death’s dynamic shroud.wmv returns after the successfully captivating experience of 世界大戦OLYMPICS. This time exploring the lives of the internet millennial, CLASSROOM SEXXTAPE could be described as a mocking parody of our internet image, memes, iPhone generation problems, and mainstream media…but that’s being cynical. While it does seek out to understand those problems like in the introductory track “DO YOU LIKE ME?” and enchanting Miley Cyrus sample interpolations of “✰RARE EMOJI COLLECTION✰,” I think this album seeks to be a positive narrative and journey to reassure the melancholy with a juxtaposed emphasis on happy, extroverted abandon and decay. Our generation is the most fascinating even with the emoji pillows, internet slang, and questionable sexual expressions, and this is the album to soundtrack that beautiful disaster.

 

083: Sam Kidel – Disruptive Muzak (The Death of Rave)disruptive-muzak

This is one of those unexplainable albums that don’t make sense with words until one hears it. It’s that unique. Composed from an experimentation on the research of muzak, Sam Kidel sought to create the antithesis of “familiar, predictable, non-disruptive” muzak and play it to government offices. The responses and the music were recorded into this release, with an added instrumental “DIY” version for the audience to create. What Disruptive Muzak sounds like, however, is something surprisingly emotional, at least for me. One-sided calls of lonely hellos and goodbyes, confused callers, and a mysterious warping of new age tones fading in and out to a bouncing percussion are all what device the twenty-minute spectacle. Something about it though…the tones and expressions from the callers or the music interrupting one’s train of thought, it’s so incredibly immersive. Listen to it for yourself, because I have no other words.

 

the-colour-in-anything082: James Blake – The Colour in Anything (Polydor)

At the first listen, I was blown away from the unexpected shift and mood James Blake tackles on this new project and I admittedly still am. At multiple listens, this album both depresses and astounds me with the themes of disconnection and abandon and the experimentalism with vocal chops and eerie sampling. Take a listen to “Love Me in Whatever Way” which seems to take queues from Father John Misty’s “Bored in the USA” with the mocking laugh track under the serious lyricism. Powerful piano ballads like “Waves Know Shores” and the title track coupled with Blake’s troubled, solitary soul to see the beauty in life again are standouts to one of his most emotive and devastating listens on record.

 

081: Schoolboy Q – Blank Face LP (Top Dawg/Interscope)blank-face-lp

I always admired Schoolboy Q for his big personality and knack of descriptive language. He’s able to create lasting impact, and with the Blank Face LP, I think he’s closer to creating the classic West Coast hip hop release. With good guest performances and potent balance between gangbanging and introspective tracks, Schoolboy Q pulls off such a powerful cadence most other rappers would fail to do. Anderson .Paak on the g-funk elements of the title track, “Blank Face” and the amazing verse from SZA on “Neva CHange” are some wonderful examples of that. “St8 Ballin’” and “JoHn Muir” are also expressive examples of his hard-hitting tracks. The one track I want to emphasize is “Black THougHts,” a callout to the Bloods and Crips to break down the rivalry, subverting the “#AllLivesMatter” expression towards these groups in the face of police brutality. Schoolboy Q’s furthering narrative about a black man being just a “blank face” to the system makes this a highly recommended listen.

 

selections080: SYLLABUS – Selections (Pizza Beast)

The closing chapter of SYLLABUS couldn’t have gone in any other way than with Selections, the glittering rave and italo-disco bonanza that should highlight the best of their sampling repertoire. Clocking in with a whopping hour and a half (there’s a hidden disc to this release), it’s hard to ignore how fun and spectacular the music sounds at a distorted level akin to older lo-fi artists like HHOME VVIDEOS and Contact Lens. Take a listen to the bopper of “lead the way” or the immediate synth melody on “up & down” and tell me they’re not the grooviest samples you’ve ever heard. While it may go down as an underrated gem for the lo-fi and vaporwave communities, Selections will most definitely stay on my lists of greats and put SYLLABUS on the map of the best in lo-fi and vaporwave.

 

079: Austin Godburn – Death FM ’83 (BLCR Laboratories)death-fm-83

Inspired by the 1983 novel of Piers Anthony’s On a Pale Horse, Austin Godburn takes his own twist of the dark fantasy novel with a heavy synthcore soundtrack polished like reflective chrome in the moonlight. Tracks like the speeding night race of “Mortis” and gabber escalations of “Dance of the Dead” brew the bubblier and intense moments of Death FM ’83, but brooding and unsettling moments like “Purgatory” and “Eclipse” remind the listener of the gloomier sides outside the nightlight. This is a listen that is all the better knowing the original narrative of the book, but Austin Godburn lets us know this album is just as enjoyable on its own.

 

season_0-hazard-garden078: LILLITH双生 – (SEASON_0) Hazard Garden (Dream Catalogue)

There is a harsh industrial side of サイバー ’98, and its name is (SEASON_0) Hazard Garden. The irregular heartbeats of this album, the frenetic vocal chops and breathy melodies coupled with the sound of a thousand scarabs trying to escape the sarcophagus…it’s everything familiar and unfamiliar with an industrial IDM album. Take the slow ascending drizzle of fragmented percussion on “E04: death2saiba (Long Live the New Flesh),” for example, or “E09: Gunnm (Heroic Purgatory),” which switches from a dramatic escapade to a deep kaleidoscope of electronic drum and distorted sampling. One of my favorite tracks from LILLITH双生 is “E07: Without Honor or Humanity,” one of the outwardly melodic cuts from this album. If you’re really into this kind of experimental electronic, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be on your radar.

 

077: Arca – Entrañas (Self-Released)entranas

This may be a single twenty-five-minute track, but the hellholes Arca ventures are equivalent to the surprise that was the &&&&& mixtape, except wilder than even Mutant was. This has the tortured murmurs of “Torero,” the mosh-pit frenzy of “Vicar,” and even the unrelenting and noisy force of “Think of” with performances from Mica Levi and Massacooraman. A lot of this mixtape can feel like familiar territory at times, but unmistakably there is a deeper melancholy and overarching vulnerability explored. The most glorious moment of Entrañas, however, is the closer of “Sin Rumbo,” where the tragic desperation and sorrow of the Spanish-sung verse concludes the fourteen-piece epic to a tragic, bittersweet ending.

 

rain-dance076: §E▲ ▓F D▓G§ – Rain Dance (Bedlam)

This is the fifth release from §E▲ ▓F D▓G§ this year, and if I was told he would have switched to an IDM/electronic and vocal act, well I’d still be very surprised because I should have seen this coming. Rain Dance is an odd specimen to behold. It’s not as beat-centric and short as OG GLAZED VOL. 1, but it’s not as loud and thunderous and brooding as In Search of God. Tracks like “Pixel Dream” and “Risky Living” still hold the cavernous atmospheres of previous releases, but tracks like the vocal yelps of “I, the Instigator” and the cacophonous synth sizzles of “Drive Up” with apisdavri show the true colors of Rain Dance. This is a dark synthpop release when you get down to it, and nothing crystallizes it better than the lullaby melodies of “This One’s for Me,” the climactic push of this album. It’s a strange album still, but it marks a transition for the evolution of §E▲ ▓F D▓G§.

 

075: Boocanan – SWEDISHFISH xx MOONWALK (Bedlam Digital)collage

There was always something special about a Boocanan album, and even after her leave from the music world, she left us with a special double album that is unexpectedly captivating from start to end. SWEDISHFISH will transport you to a halcyon, serene netherworld. Tracks like the cinematic and chilling darkwave of “OHWOW!” with Pursuing Paradise or the hypnagogic and IDM wisp of “FIREWORKS” with Scenebuild are as breathtaking as the first sunrise. MOONWALK is a bleaker affair, albeit just as calm. The stretched weariness of “EIGHTKINGS,” the preluding VHS noise from “HUSH,” and the warping of a Kanye West sample on “STAGELEFT” offer lengthier moments of tranquility and introspection. Together, this double album is a wondrous feat of sound manipulation and sampling that offer  different textures of mood unlike most ambient releases.

 

coloring-book074: Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book (Self-Released)

I still have a complicated relationship with Chance the Rapper. While I liked Acid Rap enough yet think Surf is the worst thing he’s done, I was skeptical over a new album that had a lot of hands in the pot with some out of place guest appearances. What I get from Coloring Book though is a purposely clumsy and colorful listen that has its flaws, but it’s always Chance’s charismatic and loving personality that brings me back. He has weighty wordplay to his otherwise lightweight delivery, and his topics about faith from the scars of Chicago like “Same Drugs” or the danger in “All Night” with Knox Fortune make the topics stand out. Other subjects like his newfound fatherhood and the downfall of mixtapes on “Mixtape” are other signs of his messages of faith through the album that I appreciate. Synthesizing gospel into hip hop in the modern era is something I can admire, and Coloring Book with all its messes manages to stay genuine on those gospel roots.

 

073: BadBadNotGood – IV (Innovative Leisure)iv

I’ve always loved anything put out from BBNG, even with the switch to calmer and original compositions on III. However, this particular release took a while to appreciate, because I initially didn’t like the rehashing of 80’s easy listening jazz or muzak. However, an extra listen proved me just how impressive the performance is and the personalities are behind IV. Whether it’s the soothing gloss of drums and Sam Herring’s vocals on “Time Moves Slow,” or the soulful performance of Charlotte Day Wilson on “In Your Eyes,” or the seven-minute jazzy session of the title track, BBNG know how to craft confident and lush tracks for different genres on the fly. In the end, IV is possibly their most confident release as of yet, and I can’t wait to hear more.

 

12 Jacket - 3mm Spine-discoverer-final072: Rez x OSCOB – Virtual High End™ (Bedlam)

The final installment to a two-year long trilogy, the electronic and lo-fi duo of Rez and OSCOB close it off with a twenty-three track finale full of style and an overflow of loose jams and VHS warping. Heightening the glamorous production of its hypnagogic and vaporwave roots with tracks like the sonic warping of “Crime Suite” or the snappy night walk of “Through the Streets,” this is progressive material that will be severely overlooked in terms of concept and execution. The expanding, electronic and jazzy realm of Virtual High End™ is nothing to be ignored, however. The rumbling and frantic menace of “Golgotha” and the jungle sounds of a quiet forest birthing into life with a hefty synthkey and saxophone performance on “UNDERGROWTH” only seek to overestimate expectations and satisfy experimental cravings. Rez and OSCOB have truly created quite the finisher to a lovely trilogy.

 

071: G.L.O.S.S. – TRANS DAY OF REVENGE (Self-Released)trans-day-of-revenge

I’m astonished that this is an even shorter affair than their debut. Clocking in at seven minutes, TRANS DAY OF REVENGE charges through five destructive numbers on a call to action for justice and resistance to authority that feels fresher than punk will ever be this decade. Abrasive and unapologetic anthems like “Give Violence a Chance” and “Out from the Desk” may live on the philosophy of violence against violence, but as the first song states: “When peace is just another word / for death / it’s our turn to give violence a / chance!” When it’s a fight against fascists, abusers, homophobia, and transphobia, G.L.O.S.S. aren’t afraid to call it out like on the title track, a la The Dicks’ Kill from the Heart. Whether they return to give us a new anthem to sing, we can always lean on this release to get us through 2017.

 

mega070: Blank Banshee – MEGA (Self-Released)

It’s been a long time coming, but MEGA is finally here, and that long and frustrating and confusing album campaign fortunately doesn’t impact this album’s quality. Now, is it better than Blank Banshee 0 and Blank Banshee 1? Well, it’ll get close to that classic status soon, but this is a satisfying evolution of sound nonetheless. With introduction of vocals from Cormorant on tracks like the dizzying instrumentation on “My Machine” and the zen trap of “Hungry Ghost,” and Jaya’s contribution to “Web Ring,” MEGA still shows how relevant Blank Banshee’s seapunk/trap sound is for 2016. My favorite track “Gunshots” is an absolute jam in my books, and I don’t even care if this album is super compressed because that hard-hitting sound simply accentuates it for me. Blank Banshee is experimenting, and I hope he continues his flight in the later years.

 

069: Los Wálters – Isla Disco (Self-Released)isla-disco

From the depths of Puerto Rico, we have a duo, Los Wálters, a latin synthpop and chillwave duo. With their third album, Isla Disco dances its groove in the light of Puerto Rico’s bomba styling with a synthpop and chillwave twist. While it has some compositional inspirations from 80’s bands like Devo and New Order, the throwback is enjoyable for the production on the bass and sticky hooks. This may lyrically be typical for this sound, like the thumping beat of “Cabaña” with Elisita Punto is a song full of candy and cinnamon metaphors to a lover, but I’m a sucker for a good song about beaches, romantic connection, and pleasurable abandon. You can’t tell me a track like the synth discotheque of “Chíbiribiri” doesn’t get you excited, or the steady pulsation of “Mayagüez” doesn’t have you imagining yourself basking the beach sun. It could just be me, but I love what’s going on in the Isla Disco, and I want to go there.

 

damaged-interface068: Rashida Prime – Damaged Interface (Bludhoney)

Either the year was dry for the ambient scene or I didn’t explore enough of it. Regardless, I found something special within Rashida Prime’s release this year. Whether it’s the simplistic yet weathered humidity of a track like “{new gathering},” or the spiraling infinity of synth loops and orchestrated drones on the eleven-minute gander of “{unworthy},” Damaged Interface is a futuristic and ponderous listen that works for the same reason 2814’s 新しい日の誕生 was to be a successful piece of art in the ambient scene. It was the wanting and romanticism within the harsh isolationism and disconnection, out of a cause of increased industrialism and decreased popularity for new age sounds. Rashida Prime captures similar moments in a much simpler, digestible light, but it doesn’t sacrifice the tiny intricacies that lie beneath such an audial narrative. This album is one of the better ambient releases from what I’ve seen, and I’ll make sure to solidify that with my list.

 

067: Anderson .Paak – Malibu (Steel Wood/Empire)malibu

While he’s had music under different names, Anderson .Paak’s debut on Dr. Dre’s Compton is really what took his name into the mainstream spotlight (and really why the album was so great). I’d consider Malibu to be the consistent and charming release with better production compared to last year’s Surf, because in all respects, this album lives the cool that the latter album tried so hard to imitate. While .Paak is more soulful and elastic from Compton, his nasal and rough-edged vocal style reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar creates a good-natured delivery that is infectious and sounds effortless on this record. With great guest performances from Schoolboy Q on the disco groove of “Am I Wrong,” The Game on the hook-up jam of “Room in Here,” and a good understanding on older funk and soul on the guitar and basslines, Malibu’s hour long listen may not jump out but it’s so lightweight and earnest with the instrumentation and lyrics to not catch one’s attention. This is the sort of mature, breezy, and fun album that hits such joyful spots for me every time, and it’s why I still come back to this release.

 

yin_yang066: Kai Beckman – yin_yang (Bedlam)

A detailed and tightly-knit release of ten tracks, Kai Beckman’s newest release is an offering of “betta dance,” a combination of organic IDM and ambient experimentation, raw data manipulation, and a touch of new age structuralism. Give a listen to “discovery” for a fleshed-out body of conventional beats burning their muscles to slithering, microtonal drone and fascinating musical changes. The subtle, jingling water dance of “betta splendens” is also another great track to point out. What my favorite is, however, is the three-part epic of “olm / seabunny / wisp,” (taken from an EP) with the rising cinematics blooming to a two-part, emotional underwater romance. Kai Beckman’s poetic yin_yang may be a love letter, but damn is it a gorgeous one.

 

065: YG – Still Brazy (CTE/Def Jam)still-brazy

I had little expectations for YG after My Krazy Life, being tied to DJ Mustard for most of his career and having little personality against other rappers. Even so, he dared ditch the old production and quietly improve his identity. Still Brazy is the result, an album calling out the music of Spice 1, Ice Cube, DJ Quik, and Too $hort to blow my expectations out the water. The background piano and hollow vocals on “Don’t Come to LA” and the rumbling bass on “Twist My Fingaz” coupled with YG’s improved flows and vibrant personality, it all speaks volumes. While he may pull from the standard bag of the Compton gangsta life, like on “Bool, Balm & Bollective,” one has to owe the production and his confident identity for keeping this exciting. Of course, I can’t ignore him speaking out against police brutality and Donald Trump on the last three tracks, arguably the one artist who’s done it without sounding corny. I could praise this album all day, but all I have to say that this was a fun listen, through and through.

 

untitled-unmastered064: Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered. (Top Dawg/Interscope)

Even on a collection of leftovers from live shows and performance art pieces, Kendrick Lamar still impresses us with tracks developed better than most rap albums. While this a looser and rougher release, it’s still thought-provoking in its fragments and has more memorable lines than said rap releases. While it’s nowhere near the quality of his official work, the production is fascinating in highlighting the best parts in leaving them unfinished. Tracks like the harsh, bleak beats of “untitled 02 l 06.23.2014.” or the jazzy pianos of “untitled 05 l 09.21.2014.” give a nice contrast between modern production and lo-fi experimentation. Let’s not forget the snippets of themes on his relationship with God, wealth, and the hubris of hip hop and the black community, topics that maintain the high levels of Kendrick’s storytelling. I don’t need to add more, for I think everyone knows this album is great by now.

 

063: g h o s t i n g – 2D FUN AT GRID WORLD! (Adhesive Sounds)2d-fun-at-grid-world

Some may disagree but every time I listen to 2D FUN AT GRID WORLD!, I get the most giddiest and relaxing feelings from it. This is a stupidly enjoyable release by g h o s t i n g, from the wonderfully goofy and peppy pop of “Ernest Goes to Grid World” to the lo-fi, rock-a-thon of “Live from Slime City U.S.A.” G h o s t i n g has perfected the art of James Ferraro’s 2010 release of Night Dolls with Hairspray and has transported its sounds, sending the listener back to the glory days of hypnagogic pop and lo-fi collage art with tracks like the pop culture sludge of “Chungo’s Quest for Batteries.” This album is a healthy reminder that such a cult genre is not dead, but is sleeping and waiting for its golden return. If you’re fond of the kitsch yet addictive side of lo-fi, there’s no reason this shouldn’t be in your music library.

 

noir062: Luxury Elite – noir (Self-Released)

Luxury Elite has managed to sustain a relevancy and allure in vaporwave and to the public eye for longer than anyone anticipated. This being her thirteenth solo release to date, noir is but a small change to the effective formula of her sample curation, yet something is still fresh after all these years. The murder novel themes add a cohesive quality to tracks like the bleak synth-daggers of “evil” or the snappy drumming on a venomous number like “lounge.” The samples are clearer than ever, letting the instrumentation breathe in the fuller quality. There’s not much to say about this new album. It’s Luxury Elite, and almost anything she puts out is gold to me.

 

061: Sims – More Than Ever (Doomtree)more-than-ever

Sims is the unexplainable and odd rapper of the Doomtree collective, and he’s been more risks with content and lyrical writing on More Than Ever. This album is something comparable to Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition with the catchy hooks and a disparate subtlety that plays more than reckless abandon. He’s spitting intensely with some of the best rap production, from the sharp percussion to the monstrous, Death Grips-refined grooves. The pounding hook from “Brutal Dance,” and the amazing footwork from the political track of “What They Don’t Know,” and even a Clipping.-esque sound to the massive wave of “Spinning Away” speak with a blazing and melancholic fury. Stabs on institutionalization and SJW-isms that try to box his views slowly reveal itself with deeper connotations on the failure to disconnect himself from order into chaos. With real world issues like loss of friends, the blur of where is and where he was, and trying to translate his feelings to an audience, this is such a powerful listen that I hope is not ignored. Really take the time to go through this release, it’s something special.

 

its-great-to-see-you-again060: The Editor – It’s Great to See You Again (Bedlam)

What I see in this release is music that is greater than it realizes, reuniting chillwave and hypnagogic music with rap and experimental screamo in a way I haven’t seen since the fallout of Sewage Tapes. Intimate synthwork and vibrant, cool beats like on the jazzy introduction of “Partly Cloudy” or neon, ambient swells from a lone “Cyberpunk Blues” evoke the charm and warmth of what made underground electronic from the ’09 and ’10 so memorable. But, don’t forget tracks like “Basement Dweller” with VOIDDWELLER, a distorted wall of synths with a grimy, buzzing bassline that reminds me a lot from the early Aural Sects catalogue. It’s Great to See You Again may pass some radars, but The Editor did something that is nothing short of marvelous with this album.

 

059: Argiflex – Throatless (Bedlam)throatless

Argiflex is a relentless creative in the realm of acid, breakbeat, and experimental electronics in general, and Throatless is a performative example of that craft. There is a strong menace accentuated in the production, sort of like rabid fangs tugging at the grey matter of the brain. Take the aggressive, blinding club cut of “MARSALT” or even the electric rush of “SLUDGEHAMMER” for a taste of that dark and noisy atmosphere, ripe for the dancefloor. The remixes are amazingly complimentary and extends the genre-crossing presented, like R23X’s boggling clusterfuck on the “THROATLESS” remix. The live track, “SLUG LIME [LIVE] @ THE WALL [OXFORD MS] 06-05-16,” is a nice behind-the-scenes look at Argiflex’s musical process to end the album off. While the main course of Throatless is considerably short, the expansive content within it is something fans of underground electronics will love.

 

bethlehem058: Bethlehem – Bethlehem (Prophecy)

I humbly admit that I’m not well-versed in metal, possibly my second least explored genre, but that doesn’t stop me from discovering some great acts and expanding my taste palette in such a deep genre. Bethlehem’s celebratory release of their self-titled is one of those discoveries, and it’s been a pleasurable listen. Knowing them as a German group with at least two decades of releases and numerous line-up changes, including for this release, this is heralded as their biggest return to their black metal roots, and I’d believe that. Onielar’s maniacal screams and vocal depth for this album is terrific, expressing the off-kilter presence of cleaner tracks like “Gängel Gängel Gang” and the catchier, belting belch of “Fickselbomber Panzerplauze.” Listen to the screaming guitar intro of “Kalt’ Ritt in leicht faltiger Leere” to get a taste of the stripped-back, tortured and weathered undertones of the instrumentation. Bethlehem as a whole listen was extremely harrowing and progressive, solidifying this band’s relevancy and living up to the experimental standards they have created.

 

057: The Weeknd – Starboy (XO/Republic)starboy

While I prefer the dark hedonism and abandon of Echoes of Silence and Beauty Behind the Madness (and both are honestly his best), Starboy took a lot longer to click. It’s not because of the evolution in a lighter, peppier sound—it’s way riskier and memorable than in Kiss Land and in glimpses from his mixtape trilogy—but more is on the fault of lyricism. While it may be the same selfish and drugged Weeknd that felt tiring here, I grew to admire the maturity and self-reflection given to us. Not to mention some of my favorite tracks come from Starboy, like the roaring guitar of “False Alarm,” the heavy rumble of “Ordinary Life,” and the whispers of “Secrets.” To top it all off, he channels a lot of Michael Jackson in his vibrancy and delivery. I can honestly say this is a great evolution for The Weeknd, for a lot the flaws are compensated with his delivery and great choice of instrumentation, so I’m glad he’s getting the glory for it.

 

flesh-world-vol-i056: Niku No Sekai – Flesh World Vol. 1 (Doom Trip)

Niku No Sekai’s collaboration between M. Bailey of SCRTS/Invisible Paths fame; J. Rodriguez of Chinatown’s Pomar; and Z. Emerson, the mixer of the group project is one of the most enchanting listens. While my favorite track of has to be “AM” for its guttural and heavy drone and guitar licks, a definite high mark has to be “WW4,” a dank and atmospheric ambient track set to introduce the entire themes of the record. With chilling percussion, heavy acoustic looping, buzzing chimes, and a myriad of instrumental changes happening within each piece, there’s a satisfying presence permeating through this record. Flesh World Vol. 1 is a haunting and intricate experience, and it has to be one of the best in the ambient and experimental camps. This will stay in rotation for a long time.

 

055: Marissa Nadler – Strangers (Sacred Bones)strangers-mn

Compared to the individualistic pieces and folk stories from July, Marissa Nadler’s venture unto Strangers is a starker contrast from folk, yet still retains the same elements that make up a Marissa Nadler project. Bringing in the same producer from Earth recognition, Randall Dunn, for this album with a fuller instrumental band backing up her minimal acoustic aesthetic was a smart decision on her part, because every stroke of piano, strings, and percussion amplifies her delivery in smokier and lavish territories. Take the grueling, doom guitar on the back half of “Skyscraper,” or the soft drumming and fluttering guitar-driven chorus of “Janie in Love” as a peek to her evolution as a great folk artist. Her quiet delivery is never drowned out in the atmosphere, and in fact her calls and enunciation are engaging. Her songwriting is incredible, telling of love and relationships in interesting ways, like on “Shadow Show Diane” where she’s window-watching events occurring from the windows of other apartments. Strangers does what the allure of her previous work did and increases the instrumental backing to a flooring performance. I honestly can’t wait what she does next after this.

 

a-sailors-guide-to-earth054: Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth (Atlantic)

There’s no denying Sturgill Simpson’s appeal has expanded beyond country, especially on his last album, but there’s no denying that those roots are an integral part of why his experimentation works at all. Knowing that his new album would step into soul and gospel territory without Dave Cobb for production, and being all new for the indie country star, I was a bit dubious listening through it. I’ll happily say it’s damn close to quality with Metamodern Sounds of Country Music, and while it’s not an easy to digest release, it’s definitely his most straightforward records to date. A concept album dedicated to share lessons with his son through nautical metaphors, the simplicity from it works because of Simpson’s subtlety and control of his voice, even if he can be difficult to decode from his drawl. In terms of his new stylistic shift, it’s got a meatier horn and bass section (think of “Keep it All Between the Lines” and “Oh Sarah”), with stronger soul and string inclusion, but it’s still defiantly a country sound that not many will give it enough credit for. The cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” is the most nuanced here, for its original message is re-contextualized for his son, and trust me, it’s potent. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is a short and outstanding listen in his catalog, and it’s definitely a great country album to boot.

 

053: King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity (Flightless)nonagon-infinity

Goddamn, this album is a fun listen. My first introduction to the energetic and catchy grooves of Nonagon Infinity to the equally silly, spirited name of King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard couldn’t have gone any better. They weren’t kidding about the infinite looping either, as each track slides like liquid right into the next song, which is a technical feat for a forty-minute rock release. You will never notice that the album ever finished with the chugging thrash of “Road Train” that quickly picks up pace to the jamming guitar and harmonica-embellishments of “Robot Stop.” Each cut has their own slice of identity that sets them apart from a simple jam session, like the infectious chorus and blaze of “Gamma Knife.” The psychedelic stops of “Invisible Free” oozing to a passionately quite bedroom rock interlude is a favorite from this album in particular. Listening to Nonagon Infinity is a listen that shows all its card, and if you’re into a really entertaining and truly rocking garage and psychedelic rock release, you’re going to love this album.

 

the-discos-of-imhotep052: Hieroglyphic Being – The Disco’s of Imhotep (Technicolour/Ninjatune)

Chicago’s electronic figurehead, Jamal Moss, experiments with groovy IDM dedicated to the Egyptian pyramid architect and the early physician, Imhotep. An already wild premise to an equally vibrant release, Hieroglyphic Being’s concepts on “synth expressionism” and cubism translate to a solid nine-track release rooted in underground club, gabber, and “binaural beats” as he calls them. Tracks like the airy and melodic pounding of “Sepulchral Offerings” and “Spiritual Alliances,” or the beautiful synth-like trickles of “Crocodile Skin,” all have hard yet soothing drum rhythms and a spacey production perfect for dancing. These aimed concepts of healing through “frequency medicine” as Jamal Moss describes, they also translate incredibly well considering the history and context of club and underground electronic music being a place of escapism and healing. Overall, there’s no reason why The Disco’s of Imhotep shouldn’t be a powerful contender in the electronic scene, for I think he nails history and spiritual context into a uniform and healthy array of sound waves.

 

051: Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä (Svart)varahtelija

Press play, and instantly I fall in love with this project. This is the fourth project from Finnish black metal group Oranssi Pazuzu, and Värähtelijä is a seventy-minute colossal of long and piercing riffs. The guitar, vocals, and array of piano on this album has a groovy, psychedelic and hypnotic mayhem that is reminiscent of modern Swans album. There’s the twelve-minute thunderous epic of “Saturaatio,” starting off with a monstrous groove that transitions to a dissonant outro of organ. The main course of the album, “Vasemman Käden Hierarkia,” has the most addictive and sinister riff here. How it intensifies and progresses with reverb and psychedelic flair, slowing down to a hellish, eerie guitar lead that pumps right back up to a slower version of the original riff…It’s a fucking jam! The rest of Värähtelijä is incredibly breezy as well, and I love the twist and turns Oranssi Pazuzu do on this project. Get the chance to hear this one, it’s really their best record yet in the metal genre.

Click HERE for the top releases of 2016: 50-01!

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