Private Life is an ambient funk masterpiece from a mysterious new artist named Garrett. This auspicious debut LP expands the dreamy palette of Music From Memory, adding a dose of earthbound swagger to the usually anti-gravity label. Who could produce such cloudlike beat sculptures?
The answer was obvious the moment I pressed play. This is actually a new project for funk legend Dam-Funk. With a deep focus on the most dreamlike aspects of his distinctive sound, it just might be his best work yet.
Chuck Johnson’s latest album Balsams was the first music I heard after my son was born. In its own low-key way, it was the perfect introduction to the world for a newborn baby. This is some of the most sumptuous, warmly crafted, undeniably human ambient music I’ve heard in years.
I started writing this two years ago, but couldn’t find the right words. Midori Takada’s debut Through The Looking Glass is an album that shrugs off description, flitting on dream logic like a hummingbird through a garden. I’m still not sure I can capture what makes this album special, but I’m happy to try and convince everyone to listen.
The quickest way to state the appeal for myself is this: the album sits at the perfect crossroads between my love of modern classical music and Japanese surrealism. There’s a lot more to it, though.
This mix explores the cyberpunk dream world where deep techno and hip-hop meet.
It’s a reflection of where my head is at in early 2017, meshing flights of fancy with the hard texture of life right now. Everything feels weird, glowing with potential for catastrophe and catharsis. Every day is spent finding a new sense of balance, eyes finding the horizon.
An Act of Love is a gentle midnight surprise, music as pulsing revelation birthed in the moment between waking and tumbling into dreams. It comes on ominously before dissolving into inescapable rhythm, leaving a breadcrumb trail through memory toward some warm place half-recalled.
R23X is about to make a much larger name for himself in the nebulous sound world curated by the Dream Catalogue label. VELTAHL is a striking moment of clarity sustained over 20 tracks of kaleidoscopic digital fantasia. It’s an explosion of crystalline tones and warped samples, adventure music for kids who grew up on pixelated visions of the future.
Looking back at what a shit year 2016 has been, it’s no wonder I published more music writing than ever before. As the months wore on I found myself swiping away more and more real news in my feed and just getting lost in Bandcamp and other music sources. I wasn’t really trying to bury my head; I was looking for a better way of thinking.
The world is what it is, but I can frame it and focus on it however I choose. Immersing in the toxicity of bad news and worse reactions changed my perception one way, so I aimed to change it another way. Art has been a life sustaining tonic all my life, a refuge sought in times of stress, loneliness, and most of all, deep frustration. If I’ve hit a brick wall, I know that obsessing about the problem won’t help. I need to detach, breathe, and follow something made to surprise. A good story or song is something to be lost in, sure, but it grants perspective. It can bend the light just so, showing me a new way to see.
Perspective also comes from travel. The simple but profound act of experiencing other parts of the world can never be overestimated. This is where the image at the top of this list comes in. It’s Greenland, as seen from my plane back home to the United States from Ireland a month ago. I happened to open the window shade during the brief window when we were passing over the very tip of the continent-sized island. It felt like magic.
I’m entering 2017 with hope that good news can happen and that we can press on, even when our heroes are gone. I look around and I wonder who the future heroes are going to be. Those people will be standing against the dark tide and risking everything. They’ve got new ideas to replace the scary old ones that never quite die.
Looking back on the past year of music, I see a lot of new ideas and new perspectives on old ones. The best kind of music always elicits surprise, even if it’s made in a familiar way. There’s a flash of feeling, a rush of blood, and it clicks. Everything on this list mattered to me and I hope some of it can matter to you.
Let’s begin the countdown. These are the 30 best albums of 2016: