I say it every year because it’s always true: this year has been great for music. All it takes to find the greatness is an open mind and a set of ears. And a little help from your friends. So to begin, I want to thank all my friends around the world for the tips and the tunes.
More than any recent year, in fact, I had a tough time sorting out all my favorites and cutting them down to only fifty for this list. It’s tough, but it’s also fun. Weighing these pieces of music against each other feels so unfair, but so personal. Deeply personal, in fact. There’s no one here but me, so keep in mind that everything is here because of one man’s opinions. Naturally, I’ll miss some things – so as always I welcome suggestions. Soon I’ll have a secondary list of all the other great albums I heard this year. In the meantime, I hope you read and enjoy and find some new stuff to enjoy here. This is a labor of love, and I just want to share the joy.
Speaking of joy, the header image is a photo I took of my son on one of the last warm-enough days before winter. I love being a dad, and I can’t wait to share music with my kid. For now he mostly just spazzes out to anything I play. Kids are great because they don’t have any prejudices about music. If it moves them, it moves them.
In the past I’ve gotten too verbose with these intros, so I’m keeping it short and sweet. Thank you for reading. These are the best albums of 2018.
I’ve been thinking lately about this hazy constellation of subgenres I listen to most and realized I’d love to be able to give it a name. Something simple to tag every post I make about this, to me, wholly definable little sound world that I return to always. It’s balearic, it’s techno and house, it’s jazz, it’s a descendant of both German kosmiche soundscapes and 4th world new age ambience. It’s a nebulous but powerful force roving between all of these sounds.
And although no music needs a label, it’d be really useful to name this sound. That way, I could say: Seahawks’ mini-album Starways exemplifies this genre better than anything I’ve heard in a long time.
Every day, I’m becoming more and more the person I decided I would be. There is no immutable, core me – at least, not on a long enough timeline. It’s freeing to realize this and to reflect upon it every once in a while.
They say that no matter what you’re writing about, you’re always revealing yourself. A moment on this blog tells you I keep my mind on the future, and I keep its aim true with a steady diet of sci-fi, art, music, and stories all filling in the aesthetics of the great beyond. It’s impossible to create anything without these influences pouring out. So it goes, with another mixtape: Until the End of the World.
Take a little journey into the digital forests of ancient Japanese video games and half-remembered dreams. This is Yume Park.
This mixtape takes a hard swerve into exotic space, bouncing rhythm, and funky groove. It’s a get-up-and-go sound for getting lost in the woods, resolute meandering after dark, a gateway into the balmy nights of summertime.
I finally visited one of the best record shops in the country, a little place called Gramaphone Records, nested in the north end of Chicago. This place feels tailor-made for my tastes, focusing on house and techno, providing room for all the weird corners of electronic music that most shops tuck into a dark corner.
Gramaphone is a groove music mecca, and appropriately enough, the place where I found one of my personal holy grail records. I can’t wait to go back some day soon, when my life looks very different.
I don’t often take note of federal holidays, especially when I’m not let off work, but Martin Luther King Jr. Day is perhaps the most important one in American history. It’s a modern holiday celebrating the life of a man whose passion for justice and equality changed the shape of our country undeniably for the better.
Unlike our other named holidays, nodding to historical figures with dubious or downright depressing impacts – can we end Columbus day already? – this one is an unquestionably good thing. King is one of the truest heroes my nation has ever produced. Recent world-shaking events have shown how vital his lessons continue to be.
Because this is a music site, I feel like sharing my favorite song that samples King’s words. This tune takes the fiery energy from his final speech, “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” and wrings every ounce of suffering from it. This is a harrowing but strangely soothing epic. It’s called Motorik Life (DJ Sprinkles’ Mountain of Despair):
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: