2016 was a rough year in more ways than one. From celebrity deaths, widespread violence, racism, ignorance, misogyny, and the encroaching apocalypse in the form of a hideous comic book villain being elected President, 2016 was a banner year for a race of idiots. Still, there were albums released. More albums than I had the time or the mental ability to fully absorb, but the reality of living in a social media-saturated age where something like Pokemon Go could capture the rapt attention of millions only to disappear just as quickly means that music held a special place in terms of coping. This list of 25 favorites runs the gambit; deceased legends orchestrating swan songs, hip-hop artists wrestling with mental instability, shrieking metal bands clearing out the din of apathy through blown-out speakers, the sounds of noise musicians articulating their angst through experimentation. Above all else, every single record represented here helped me get through the anger, frustration, and disbelief of being alive and coherent in 2016. Here's to the music. May it never die.
Ultimate Care II
Leave it to Baltimore-based experimental duo Matmos to concoct a 38-minute "cycle" of movements pitch-shifted, modulated, and ebbing with the tide of sloshing water from a washing machine. A delightful curio.
A collection of melodic songs with a haze of reverb and breathy female vocals. The kind of lo-fi indie rock which conjures New Zealand Flying Nun flashbacks.
Belgian post-hardcore with tremolo guitar chords, bone-crunching riffs, foreboding electronic flourishes, and most importantly, singer Caro Tanghe's brilliant vocal range. Brutal and beautiful in equal measure.
Singer-songwriter Kadhja Bonet sounds like Roberta Flack floating in outer space; carried along by dreamy strings, twirling flutes, and blaxploitation-influenced beats. A beguiling mix of jazz, soul, and 70s-tinged lounge.
Channeling some of the austere coldness of Danish rockers Ice Age with 80's post-punk grooves ala Psychedelic Furs, Canadian group Preoccupations deliver synthesizer drones, propulsive rhythms, and monotone vocals in a very danceable fashion.
Under the Influence
Singer-songwriter Dre Babinski's debut takes it's cues from John Cassavete's 1974 film A Woman Under the Influence with a gorgeous collection of compositions giving off a retro James Bond theme vibe.
Ringgo Ancheta makes 80s/90s bong rip funk reminiscent of chillwave pioneer Neon Indian; with ear-worm melodies, wonky grooves, and hazy psychedelic textures pouring on like, well, body wash.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith uses a wired-and-knobbed instrument called the Buchla Music Easel in order to mesh organic sounds with synthesized textures, and her extraordinary new album takes experimental music into the realm of avant garde pop.
Camae Ayewa wraps her pitch-black stream of consciousness raps around industrial noise, jazzy samples, and bizarre electronics in this absolute stunner of left-wing Afrofuturist hip-hop.
For This We Brought the Battle of Ages
In an act of sonic revolt, Utah's Subrosa unleash doomsday with Gothic chamber crescendos, doom metal monster riffs, and chilling wails from beyond the grave. Monolithic and crushing; with dueling electric violins to boot.
Honor Killed the Samuari
Brooklyn rapper Ka makes hip-hop for the introvert; packing dense rhymes about inner city violence over lo-fi production. A cohesive vision of someone retreating inward in order to feel the pain of many.
Origin of What
Tyvek are masters of angular punk rock, and their usual high-speed shouty jams are interspersed with moments of slowed down textured songwriting on their latest, and most mature, album yet.
With minimal piano, bass, clipped beats and drums, Deja Carr (aka Mal Devisa) uses her raw voice in unexpected and sublime ways. If Nina Simone and Merill Garbus jammed in a basement, it might sound something like this.
Yet another abrasive plunge into the abyss of glitch-ridden hip-hop from everyone's favorite purveyors of atonality, with hooks and grime to spare. Welcome to Death Grips 2.0
Late 70s/early 80s jagged post-punk revisionism is a dime a dozen these days, but Atlanta trio Omni have this thing down cold. Think The Clean by way of Wire, with snappy sing-along choruses and arpeggiated guitar lines. A scrappy, relentlessly enjoyable record.