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:
It’s the summer of 2016 and I’ve felt more energized than I have in years. In addition to writing more frequently than ever, I’ve rediscovered my passion for mixing and recontextualizing music.
I make mixtapes that I’d want to listen to, sharing music the way I hear it. This one is a night drive for future ghosts.
This week was very, very good in music. First, one of the only artists I’ve enjoyed since my teenage years had a quietly triumphant return. Next, I saw an incredible film called The Lobster. Finally, a couple big surprises hit me. Sure, a lot of hours were spent with the Underworld back catalog, but there was plenty of time to discover new stuff. I heard the incredible rebirth of an artist I’d forgotten about, and had my perceptions blown away by another.
Let’s go over the good stuff:
Underworld may finally be settling down, but it’s the most radical thing they’ve done in well over a decade. Instead of reaching to stay one step ahead, the duo of Karl Hyde and Rick Smith sound relaxed and happy to explore their surroundings for once.
Languishing for two decades in the rare original Dark & Long single, Underworld’s Thing In A Book is finally seeing the light of modern day this month. Courtesy of the 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe edition of legendary dance album, Dubnobasswithmyheadman, the wider world can appreciate what has been one of my favorite hidden gems for years now. It’s a 20 minute minimal techno monster, an otherworldly take on Dark &Long that jettisons our solar system, hitting light speed on the way to stars beyond.
Underworld could have laid claim, at a certain point in time, of being the greatest band in the world. Of course, Karl Hyde and Rick Smith are modest Brits and known to loathe any self-aggrandizing boasts; the music speaks for itself, on record or in person. They truly bloom in a live environment, as a matter of fact. Where most of their peers are revealed, like the Wizard of Oz, to be little more than men with smoke and mirrors, Underworld unleash a godlike stadium-sized audio invasion. I’m here to share an album, not an experience. So from here we go crazycrazycrazycrazycrazycrazycrazy…