As the year winds to a close, we ask local music insiders who are deep in the trenches and hear new music on a regular basis — promoters, DJs, musicians and music retailers — to share their favorite releases of 2016.
Wanz Dover (Blixaboy, the Dotz, Contributing writer)
Non-Electronic Albums of 2016
1. David Bowie - Blackstar
2. The Olympians - The Olympians
3. Savages - Adore Life
4. Lee Fields & the Expressions - Special Night
5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree
6. Swans - The Glowing Man
7. Caverns of Anti-Matter - S/T
8. Anderson Paak - Malibu
9. PJ Harvey - The Hope Six
10. Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love
2016 will most likely be remembered for the high number of deaths among major cultural icons. Despite the seemingly weekly loss of music heroes there was a lot of great music released on all fronts. David Bowie pulled off the hat trick of turning his passing into one of the biggest artistic statements in recent memory and one of the best albums in his catalog.
Electronic Albums of 2016
1. Mala - Mirrors
2. Datach’i - System
3. Convextion - 2852
4. Floorplan - Victorious
5. Venetian Snares - Traditional Synthesizer Music
6. Sterac - Scorp
7. Autechre - Elseq 1-5
8. Juan Atkins & Moritz von Oswald present Borderland
9. Factory Floor - 25 25
10. Roly Porter - Third Law
Electronic music on the whole tends to be less of an albums game and more of a singles market due to the overwhelming demand on the dance floor. This year saw the return of some legends showing up in fine form, with stand out players Autechre, Convextion, Juan Atkins, Moritz von Oswald, Sterac; headier electronic brain dance coming back in vogue (Venetian Snares, Detach'i, Aphex Twin); and legacy genres of dance music (house, techno, drum and bass) finally starting to make a return to prominence as the more commercial, pop-centered dance music began its final descent to passing music fad.
Chris Penn (Good Records)
1. David Bowie - Blackstar
2. A Tribe Called Quest - We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service
3. Wilco - Schmilco
4. Lvl Up - Return To Love
5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree
6. Goat - Requiem
7. Whitney - Light Upon The Lake
8. Andeson.Paak - Malibu
9. Ryley Walker - Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
10. Morgan Delt - Phase Zero
Honorable Mentions: The Mystery Lights, Frighteners, The Olympians, Blixaboy
With the loss of some phenomenal musical icons, 2016's musical output obviously and rightfully so got overshadowed, but there were still some bands and artists kicking some serious treads in 2016. I am counting on 2017 and the next three years' musical landscape thereafter to help us out and cope.
Sean Kirkpatrick (Nervous Curtains)
1. David Bowie – Blackstar
Upon watching the mysterious videos that led up to the album’s release, I suspected this Bowie album might rank alongside his catalog’s greatest works. I bought the record on the weekend of its release, and I went home to fully immerse myself in its dark atmosphere. Then, I went to bed. Upon awaking to the news that David Bowie was dead, it felt as if I was under some spell which the album had cast upon me. Slowly, I would come to understand that Bowie had written his own brilliant exit from this plane. Blackstar accompanied me through a dark year in which death and fear ran rampant and tragedy seemed to be the rule rather than the exception. At a time when nothing seemed OK or normal, this dense web of cryptic symbolism and sound often felt like thing that made sense.
2. Black Mountain – IV
IV is a career-high for a band that has been playing top-tier heavy psych rock for a decade. In the midst of a renaissance of great analog synthesizer music, Jeremy Schmidt’s performance on this album is the year’s unquestionable high point.
3. The Body – No One Deserves Happiness
Bearing one of the greater album titles in music history, the noise/doom duo takes pop music tropes and subverts them in a disgusting/beautiful manner. It’s a feel-good album of devastating hopelessness.
4. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
If Bowie hinted that he was pushing his art rock into areas informed by an appreciation for hip-hop, then Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition is the counterpoint to that. Of course it’s not surprising that an artist whose track once sampled This Heat and Hawkwind would reference Joy Division and Talking Heads. Brown is a fascinating artist whose painful Detroit childhood of poverty and violence gave way to the hedonistic lifestyle of a successful rap career. It’s a party album for people with anxiety disorders. It’s the sound of someone living too fast and documenting the process along the way. Sometimes it’s darkly funny; sometimes it’s grotesque. He’s putting it all out there. I’m looking forward to more crucial, genre-defying work from this artist as long as he doesn’t die first.
5. Solange – A Seat at the Table
While her sister’s album was bold, badass and omnipresent, this is the one that floored me and kept me coming back for more. This record is artful, subtle and sophisticated. It feels so personal, so black. The production, musicianship and melodic structures are on another level. As much as I love my post-punk and doom metal, it’s abundantly clear to me that hip-hop and R&B artists are making the music that defines our times and are pushing us into the future.
6. Neurosis – Fires Within Fires
A finely-distilled 40 minutes from these veterans who’ve spawned an entire sub-genre of acolytes. The B-side explores some dark folk territories with world-weary vocal harmonies before erupting into a final apocalyptic explosion that only this band can summon with such perfection.
7. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 your Service
I hardly expected such a vital and relevant work to come from these '90s legends. This album seemed to come out of nowhere just at the time we needed one thing to feel good about in a world full of terrible things.
8. Explosions in the Sky – The Wilderness
The Austin instrumental band went deep into the studio and reinvented itself. Keyboards, electronics and distorted, syncopated drums swirl with a sense of foreboding that makes the entrance of the band’s signature, layered guitar heroics undeniably rewarding.
9. Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker
I listened to this record every morning in the days preceding and following the election. No other words encapsulated the creeping dread of humanity’s self-imposed terror quite like, “You want it darker / We kill the flame.” Cohen’s ability to chronicle our most depraved proclivities with his spiritual grace has rarely been in finer form. When he sings, “I’m ready, my lord,” who can blame him?
10. Tie: Suuns – Hold/Still / Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
It just depends on whether I’m in the mood for minimalist electronic psych-rock or beautiful, yet uncomfortable, gut-wrenching despair in audio form. Sometimes it’s hard to choose.
Will Brooks (Josey Records)
1. Anderson Paak - Malibu
From our first introduction to Mr. Paak on Dre's Compton we were hooked. Raspy, overly soulful and worthy of back to back listening sessions. We have been guilty of this on many occasions.
2. David Bowie - Blackstar
Music is the great healer. We were extremely saddened by the passing of the inimitable David Robert Jones. Blackstar was the medicine we needed. However, we would jump at the chance to cease the dosing, if it meant that Bowie would return to us. We will after all accept what we are given and keep him close to our hearts.
3. Jon Bap - What Now?
From Buffalo, NY, Jon has ventured down south and now calls Dallas home-base. With an arsenal of music online as well as stuffed in his vaults, we will always have some new flavors within arms reach. This album is full of love, family, masterful production and a firm stepping stone to this incredibly soulful path. Keep your antenna tuned to this cat. You will NOT be disappointed.
4. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service
Eighteen years is a long time to wait between albums dropping. Our initial listen washed away the years and brought us back to a time when hip-hop was tangible. All of the elements that went into the creation of this masterpiece are felt in the production. For the OG heads, nodding with eyes closed commenced. For those hearing ATCQ for the first time, let this be your introduction to a whole new world.
5. The Frightnrs - Nothing More To Say
From the first crack of the drum, the authenticity of this album transports you to a time when the Heptones, the Wailers, U-Roy and Sugar Minot were household names. It's incredible to hear this sound in 2016.
6. Kaytranada - 99.9%
This should be on everyone's 2016 list. It's fun, energetic, feel good music that will make you dance and keep you singing the hooks for days after listening. We couldn't wait for this one to drop.
7. Cass McCombs - Mangy Love
We knew what were getting into with this album as we had a promo copy that we wore out a few weeks before the vinyl dropped. Swirling guitars, a slight soul slant and witty lyrics kept this one on heavy rotation. We're probably playing it now, as you read this.
8. SPK - In The Thick of It
The ever evolving mind of one Spencer Kenney has kept us on our toes since we first dipped them in the Howler Jr. pool. This album is hard to drop into one genre. With elements of '80s soul and lo-fi rock,and deft songwriting, this record will captivate those who find themselves outside the lines of the mainstream channels. The cherry on top is his reinterpretation of Flying Lotus' "Unexpected Delight." Big up to Ghostdrank for the gorgeous album artwork.
9. Chris Staples - Golden Age
This one was unexpected. Superbly written songs, which romanticize past events, suddenly stop you in your tracks with the familiarity of the stories sung. There is a longing in the lyrics. With each listen you are brought deeper into the mind of the man who has been through what seems like a great deal.
10. The Claypool Lennon Delirium - Monolith of Phobos
The weird and wonderful marriage of two amazing musical legacies finally collide and create one of the most interesting records to date. Claypool turns down the odd meter, only slightly, to meet Lennon on the path toward a world only they could inhabit.
Tom Strong (Josey Records, producer, DJ)
David Bowie - Blackstar
(In a class of its own, not part of top 10)
The Avalanches - Wildflower
MNDSGN - Body Wash
Grant - Cranks
Will Long - Long Trax
Duke Hugh - Canvas
Al Dobson Jr - Rye Lane Vol II & III
Seven Davis Jr - Live From The Other Side
Mala - Mirrors
2814 - Rain Temple
Best Local Albums: Convextion - 2845
Cygnus - Cosmos
Blixaboy - Humanoid X
SPK - In the thick of it
SURVIVE - RR7349
Jon Bap - What Now?
Bill Converse - 7 of 9
VA - TRU Halloween EP
Best Dance 12-inch Singles:
ERP - Ancient Light
Mr. Fingers - Outer Acid
Chaos In The CBD - Invisible Spectrum
Inoue Shirabe - Function Spring
DJ Sonikku - Secret Island
Harvey Sutherland - New Paradise
214 - North Cascades
HOLOVR - Trace Realms
Project Pablo - Priorities
Call Super - New Life Tones
DJ Red Eye (Resident DJ at Beauty Bar and It'll Do)
Best Albums of 2016
Convextion aka E.R.P .- 2845
Louie Vega - XXVIII
Crooked Man - s/t
Eli Escobar - Happiness
Seven Davis Jr - Live From The Other Side
Factory Floor - 23 23
Demuir - TruSkool
De La Soul - The Anonymous Nobody
Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love
Soul Clap - s/t
Best Singles of 2016
Midland - "Final Credits"
Lnrdcroy - "Oozecity "
Multipass feat STHRN GRL - "Love Revolution"
DJ Pierre - "Talking Bout The Spirit"
Matthieu Faubourg - "Please, stay."
Luca Morris & Mozzy - "What Im going Through"
Red Rack'em - "Wonky Bassline Disco Banger"
Fango - "Amnios"
Rex The Dog - "Teufelsberg"
Arthur Baker feat Alan Vega - "Angel of Hell (Paranoid London Remix)"
Chris Rob- "Love Will Find A Way (Ian Friday Vibation Vox)"
This year, afro house went huge after bubbling just under the surface for so many years. Everybody decided they were techno ...but they were actually mostly "techno." People made authentic deep house with distorted kicks and called it "lo-fi" house. House music brought politics, civil rights and social dilemma back to the forefront of lyrical content again. Not that it ever left, but it was very present this year. Lines were blurred with great success and the vinyl-only releases were massive.
Lily Taylor (musician, promoter at Crown & Harp)
In no particular order…
Seres - Seres
Psych rock, punk, no wave, freak out deliciousness. Seres’ live shows are really fun and so is this album. I wish I spoke Spanish so I could sing a long better.
Sunkissed - Ashleigh E
Ashleigh E is a master vocalist and a monster talent. Incredibly versatile, she brings her deep knowledge of music to her original songs that leads the listener though the entire album. Hooks that seem simple are actually nuanced and complicated chordal structures. I love that it comes across as effortless and easy, but once you dive in with your ears, you realize the complication of the arrangements.
Far From the Silvery Light - They Say The Wind Made Them Crazy
Sarah Ruth Alexander and Gregg Prickett are a musical force, but use great restraint to focus the listener into an alternate world of west Texas wind storms and vast expanses. Hauntingly beautiful.
FAIRY SUPER CRYSTAL BLUE - Ethereal and The Queer Show
If fantasy had a sound, it would be this album. There are truly psychedelic moments mixing PC, synth pop, elements of techno, R&B, and almost a New Age feel.
Music for Hospitals - Wanz Dover
Gorgeous, lush, soft. I love this album. Growing up, my mother was sick for over a decade; I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals. This album heals and soothes the part of my muscle memory that associates anxiety and hospitals together.
Silence Is Being Substituted - Derek Rogers
Derek Rogers’ work is mind melting. It ebbs and flows from pretty to disturbing and back again into a captivating listening experience. Notoriously hard to define, his work just satisfying to listen to (at any volume).
Orgullo Primitivo - Orgullo Primitivo
Experimental grindcore industrial noisecore performance art punk. Stefan Gonzalez is in so many bands it’s hard to keep up; this is a solo project, released by his brother Aaron Gonzalez this year.
It Will Make Sense for Now - Cut Shutters
It Will Make Sense for Now was released in August 2016. The album is a live performance by Chase Gardner and Adriana Valls recorded April 2016 by Nate Litz and released on Art for Motels. Cut Shutters is known for their artful and clever exploration and presentation of sound textures, dynamics, and processes. Still in university, they pull from the long lineage of experimental music they are studying, presenting work in contemporary circumstances and teaching all of us in the process.
Thanksgiving With The Clowns - Bukkake Moms
I really love this band. I’ve seen them live countless times, and was sad to hear about their “last show,” but I’m holding out that I’m just being punked. Elements of traditional no wave, early punk, and free jazz makes this 2016 album something I want to listen to over and over.
Broken Roses - The Michael Palma New Quartet & Jeremy Sinclair
It’s jazz, baby. These guys are able to capture the quintessential essence of what I think of when I think Jazz, but these tracks are all new compositions and arrangements. Free, yet controlled delivery of the forms and solos. It’s a pleasant sonic ride the entire album, my favorite being track number four, "Paying Homage."
Jonathan Patrick (contributing music writer)
1. Kanye West - life of Pablo
2. wwwings - Phoenixx
3. Young Thug - JEFFERY
4. Elysia Crampton - Demon City
5. Angel-Ho - Red Devil
6. Yen Tech - Mobis
7. Various Artists - Pirata 3
8. Gaika - Security
9. Vince Staples - Prima Donna
10. Dedekind Cut - $uccessor
2016 was a year where reality seemed to sputter and spark, slipping into surreality in frightening and unbelievable ways. Similarly, much of this year’s best music was fractured, uneven, volatile. From Kanye's thundering, unedited wreckage of a masterpiece to the restless vocal acrobatics of Young Thug’s ceaselessly exploring, blazingly melodic Jeffery, 2016 proved to be a year for large voices to take even larger platforms, and to seek out increasingly unconventional and intensely political lanes.
The perversely beautiful intersection of pop celebrity and identity politics was a big player in this narrative, as made most explicit in the pioneering fringes of underground emergent club music, where artists like Elysia Crampton and labels like NON WORLDWIDE and Mexico’s N.A.A.F.I stood as tall or taller than any pop megastar. It was within these hands that the voices of the marginalized and disenfranchised were most felt — and most celebrated.
Kate Siamro (Spinster Records)
1. Mystery Lights - Mystery Lights
This first time record of this Brooklyn based band blew my mind. I can’t wait for them to come out with more work. Garage psych rock done right.
2. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
At first I was disappointed in this release, however it took a bad break up and an all-time low to find some emotional connection with it. Ok Computer will always be my favorite Radiohead album, but this one is great when wanting music that mopes with you.
3. Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
I usually shy away from any country music made after 1980… I think the only song that has moved me in the genre since 1980 is Johnny Cash’s cover on NIN “Hurt.” This album however gave me a little hope. His cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” gave me goosebumps. He is raw and a sound from the past.
4. Bon Iver - 22, A Millon
This album really solidifies the sound of what “folktronica” is. If someone randomly told me that folktronica was a thing, I’d be turned off by what my imagination would come up with, but Justin Vernon made maybe one of the most progressive albums of 2016. He doesn’t use synth as a fill in, which I appreciate.
5. Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition
If you’re looking for dark, experimental, and deep, this album just keeps giving. It was creepy enough for me to be hooked on it for Halloween music.
6. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
Can we just say comeback! After two decades. I lost my shit on the first song when they used a sound bit from Gene Wilder. It felt like a reminder of all the tragic losses this year. All around amazing record and best comeback record I’ve ever heard.
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7. Whitney - Light Upon the Lake
This album makes me feel like a little kid going off to summer camp. His voice is so unique and each song intro has this monologue style I like soon to be layered with trumpets and a folky style. It’s uplifting and soothing. The album title truly suits the vibe of their sound.
8. The Avalanches - Wildflower
I wanted to not like this album, but its catchiness destroyed me. I played this catchy positive high energy album at Spinster. It's '70s disco, hip-hop, poppy, and funky. And it just keeps giving, with 21 tracks on the album. It never ends and flows.
9. David Bowie - Blackstar
David Bowie died a little after its release. I cried to this record. This is the best send off he could have given us. Thank you Bowie, you never ceased to amaze me.
10. Thee Oh Sees - An Odd Entrances
They are a great punk band and they're bringing back a style that I love. It's a companion album to the three months prior album A Weird Exits, using songs they didn't put on there. It's funny that I like the leftovers better. They're a great garage psych punk band.