Hands-up, who agrees: listing fifty albums in an end of year poll is a total cop-out? How about pointlessly arranging them into a meaningless order too? Yeah, that's the way I'm feeling right now. "Just gimme the best of the best will you?"... I hear you say. Ok ok, especially for you, here's only the releases that I deem really worth checking out.
First though, a quick overview of 2016
Nobody can deny the last twelve months can best be described as annus horribilis (what with celebrity deaths, Brexit, Trump, war and terror attacks) but in terms of music it's been nothing short of annus mirabilis. Bolstering this surplus of all we care about and crave for (i.e. quality House, Techno, Electro, Ambient and Pop) we've borne witness to countless new genres, each a mutated form only vaguely referencing its heritage - and I'm not just talking about Techno splintering off into Ambient territory or a rowdy head-to-head between Electro and Indie. No, with the likes of Anna Meredith boldly fusing Techno traits with Classical music (check Nautilus from her album Varmints) or Crotaphytus introducing a subtle Dub Reggae mouth organ refrain to a massive Electro riff (on GJ 1214 b from Spiralgalaxie) or even Time Traveler's clever use of buzzing guitars atop a tasteful Techno beat (on Middle Break / Restricted Areas from album I'm Made Of Stars / Journal) it's like we've been eavesdropping on confidential conversations about the future direction of electronic music, a tête-à-tête rather than a full blown argument.
As the year has progressed, my list of favourite releases has been perpetually shifting, only the very best remaining in place. From the turn of the year I had Milton Bradley's debut album Tragedy Of Truth up there, on constant rotation, its dark Techno vibes turning out to be my most listened to album. In its place other certifiable Techno monsters stepped in and out of the limelight, from the likes of RVO, Slam, Juan Atkins & Moritz von Oswald as Borderland, D.U.S.T. (with their totally banging album Agony Planet) and SHXCXCHCXSH. French producer Laurent Prot, aka In Æternam Vale, temporarily grabbed my full attention with his career-spanning collection Pink Flamingos, which demonstrated well his keen skills at producing the very best Techno and Ambient compositions. So too did Lebanese producer Jawad Nawfal, aka Munma, with his emotive, colourful album Three Voices. Away from Techno, Jessy Lanza brought her tasteful Pop to a wider audience with Oh No, Daniel Haaksman turned his attention to African rhythms on African Fabrics and in Vicarious Memories These Hidden Hands produced an astounding album of warped Pop that turned electronic music on its head.
And as the year draws to a close, a few late releases have crept onto my playlist, including the excellent debut Valere Aude, from The Romans (that's Gunnar Haslam and Johannes Auvinen) and Nina Kraviz's solid Fabric 91 mix.
Ambient, Not Ambient
For me though, Ambient music stole the limelight in 2016. Or to be more precise (as I hinted at with Compy 38) the whole notion of Ambient music that isn't quite Ambient, a crossover between genuinely Ambient music and something a little more upbeat. Also, this idea of heritage in musical genres has become more significant as I found many of my favourites from this year had their foundations in Ambient music, whether it's been based on field recordings, a dreamy synth, a live recording, a gently repetitive melody or a tinkling piano. A few notable inclusions in the canon of Ambient, Not Ambient include the Eluvium album False Readings On, an hour of simply beautiful music (only the over-indulgent 17 minute closing track prevented it from appearing in my final list of favourites), For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have) by Huerco S and Donnacha Costello's Mono No Aware — all very good Ambient, Not Ambient albums.
If you listen to anything...
And so, onto my final list of favourite music of 2016. In no particular order:
loscil - Monument Builders
Eleven albums in and Scott Morgan maintains his rich source of ideas and delivers another amazing album. Powerful, majestic and transportive, a momentary escape from the daily slog.
Favourite track: Straw Dogs
Faten Kanaan - The Botanist & The Archaeologist
Twelve ephemeral tracks, spookily transport you back to a time when memories were few and the outlook was open.
Favourite track: Spy Films
Ocoeur - Reversed
French producer Franck Zaragoza makes, what is best described as, Modern Classical, a blend of piano, field recordings and electronic music. Oh, the times I drifted off to sleep at night listening to this beauty.
Favourite track: Aside
Steven Julien - Fallen
A surprise inclusion to some extent as I've never really been a fan of Steven Julien's more celebrated work as Funkineven, but something clicked with this tasteful collection of stripped back House and Techno. The kind of music I'm likely to stick on when I need a little pick-me-up while working in the office.
Favourite track: XL
Ozel Ab - Valis
As I said in my post, this sophomore EP effort from Luke Palmer, aka Ozel Ab, gives us five Techno workouts that work, with heavy bass and touches of Acid, it's the most superb stuff. Very highly recommended.
Favourite track: Down The Cut
Mr Fingers - Outer Acid
Larry Heard returned to his Mr Fingers guise for the first time in over ten years and the result was unexpectedly sublime.
Favourite track: Quazars
Steve Hauschildt - Strands
The perfect companion piece to loscil's Monument Builders: the power of the music lifts the soul while the thematic undercurrent of industrial pollution and recovering nature inevitably plays on the senses.
Favourite track: Strands
Ziúr - Deeform
With two EPs in 2016, (Deeform followed Taiga) Berlin-based producer Ziúr used her punk roots to make electronic music with attitude.
Favourite track: Collar Bone
Time Traveler - I'm Made Of Stars / Journal
A colossal album in terms of running time and breadth of style. This was Michele Pinna's debut album as Time Traveler and it feels like he laid everything he had on the line. As I suggested in my review, perhaps one or two tracks less would have elevated things to an even greater level. As it stands, this is arguably the most underrated Techno album of 2016.
Favourite track: Middle Break / Restricted Areas
Leonardo Martelli - Previsto
The follow up to last year's immense EP Menti Singole goes one step further in terms of quality. It's more of the same gorgeous Detroit Techno and deep Electro but everything's slightly better. The finest form of electronic musicianship, I bloody love it!
Favourite track: Negli Abissi
Umwelt - Days of Dissent
The only album I rated 10/10... that should say all you need to know. Read the review if more persuasion is needed.
Favourite track: Company of Lies
Odd Nosdam - Sisters
Favourite track: Sisters
Illum Sphere - Glass
Ryan Hunn took his emotive electronic music in a new direction in 2016, Second Sight was testament to that. In contrast to his debut album Ghosts Of Then And Now, his second, Glass, saw him shift away from making music through methods of live instrumentation and instead focus more on electronic techniques.
Favourite track: Paradise
E.R.P. - Ancient Lights
The talents of Gerard Hanson overflowed in 2016. As Convextion he produced a top quality album in the form of 2845, and with this immaculate EP entitled Ancient Lights he produced four tracks that delivered the very best Electro and Techno.
Favourite track: Ancient Light