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:
This is the soundtrack to my cyberpunk dreams.
More than almost any other release I heard last year, HK sends me spiraling down the rabbit hole of my subconscious, detached from routine, from worry, from time itself.
This week has been as busy as ever so I didn’t have a ton of time for new music, but I made up for that with deep enthusiasm for what I did discover.
Thanks to Dam-Funk’s excellent new entry in the DJ-Kicks series, I’ve been looping a certain new-to-me album half a dozen times over the past day alone. I’ve also spent time in one of the most sublime virtual worlds ever created, in The Witcher 3.
This week felt heavy, swallowed by darkness, but I worked through it and kept pushing. I climbed up until I felt the final warmth of the sun on my skin. I got on my bike and kept going, further every day. I had some hard talks with those closest to me, and I now feel a peaceful sense of clarity about this moment in life.
I also listened to some amazing new music that both eased and enhanced my journey.
This album changes everything for the Dream Catalogue mastermind.
With last month’s deep-dive into the Dream Catalogue roster, I became aware that label co-founders telepath テレパシ and Hong Kong Express had each released an incredible amount of material in the past year. Their output rivals that of every other artist on the label combined, and incredibly, most of it is top notch. Sure, a handful of them tread in the same ultra-drifting waters, but somehow there’s a fascinating diversity of styles between the pair, all lit with the signature cyberpunk glow of the burgeoning label.