The 25 Best Albums of 2016 So Far
The long-players that have been making our hearts beat faster, in no particular order.
Artwork by Avery Scott
The history of dance music has primarily been told through singles. One great track—when properly nestled in the right DJ set, so the logic goes—has the power not only to set the dancefloor alight, but to shift the sound and energy of a scene writ large. You're never going to spin a full-length album at peak hours, but the format has furthered some of the dancefloor's great paradigm shifts, allowing producers to explore the furthest corners of their sound. Moments of euphoria are spread further out, but they're just as present, and always worth the wait. We've already told you the year's best tracks, now strap in for the long-haul below and check out the 25 best albums of 2016 so far.
Amnesia Scanner - AS
Amnesia Scanner has never felt real, at least in the sense of corporeal human beings with fleshy fingers programming the mutant beatwork and ASCII melodies that make up their music. But earlier this year, they made their debut in the physical world with AS, issued in varying forms of paper and plastic. The short EP contains some of their most hookily structured material to date, as if the shadowy figures behind the curtain realized that restructuring their jabbering vocals and drum judders into more recognizably humanoid outlines—pop and club structures, mainly—would make their work more legible to mere mortals. As it turns out, appending sinew to steel does not a human make, but AS' real draw is in the ugly bits, where meat and tech collide in a beautiful cyborgian failure.—Colin Joyce
ANOHNI - Hopelessness
Sonically ambitious, ecologically minded, and emotionally fragile all at once, ANOHNI's HOPELESSNESS is one of the most multifaceted records 2016 has seen yet. The New York-based artist, formerly of the band Antony and the Johnsons, has crafted a protest album that plays out like an assault on society's grandest ills: climate change, government surveillance, drone strikes, and genocide—and it's particularly interested in the places where all of the above intersect.
But the record's genius lies partly in the sneakiness with which it plants these messages in the ear. Bolstered by production by Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, HOPELESSNESS uses the physicality of dance music to bruising effect, making ANOHNI's political provocations both more palatable and more punishing. Speaking to THUMP earlier this year, ANOHNI said that the way she "express[es] rage most effectively is very sly." A spoonful of ecstasy helps the dissent go down, right?—Anna Codrea-Rado
Autechre - Elseq1-5
Way back in 1992, Autechre surfaced to the world at large on a Warp compilation called Artificial Intelligence. The English duo would spend the next few decades exploring the sort of robotic comedowns hinted at in that title. But like their last few releases, their new album, Elseq1-5, is a little less optimistic, a compendium of the distressing sounds of digital decline. Across five parts and four hours, they conjure a terrifying stream of pops, clicks, and clangs from a distressed architecture of software patches they've been building over the last few years. The record sounds like a slowly corrupting hard drive, where all memories of a dancefloor have already been obliterated. In their place, there's just a void.—Colin Joyce
Baauer - Aa
It's time to let the let the Harlem Shake go. Sure, it's cool to reflexively hate on musical memes, but at least Baauer's viral break-out inspired college kids to be creative. And anyway, if you don't forgive him, you're missing out on one of the few experimentally minded producers unafraid to aim his technicolor productions for a stadiums' highest rafters.
So yeah, of course Baauer's album was amazing. The dude really goes for it on tracks like the neon "GoGo," which is as likely to go off in hip clubs as it is in frat houses. There's also a slew of guest spots big and small, though none are as positively ecstatic as London grime MC Novelist and Brooklyn rapper Leikeili47 spitting over stuttering big room production on "Day Ones." Like his former LuckyMe labelmate Rustie, Baauer's always been proof that you can sound big without sounding dumb, and Aa's the most cunning summation of that idea yet.—Oliver Kinkel
Babyfather - BBF hosted by DJ Escrow
Britain feels divided right now. It's a weird and often sad place of progress and regression, where the homeless have iPhones but the rich still run the newspapers. The old narratives of protest and party politics are slipping into irrelevance, as are previously held ideas of race and national identity. All told, nothing makes much sense at the moment, which is probably why it has taken an artist as reflexively nonsensical as Dean Blunt to respond to it effectively. Employing many of the same brush-strokes as on his previous albums, with the addition of the mysterious DJ Escrow and Gassman D characters playing a central role, the end result is a record full of strange non-sequiturs and street-side samples. It's a blurry commentary, but it had to be.—Angus Harrison
Dust - Agony Planet
Producers Michael Sherburn and John Barclay and performance artist Greem Jellyfish have been lighting up the Brooklyn underground for the last few years, but with their debut full-length, it sounds like they're finally blasting into the great unknown. On Agony Planet, Greem's dead-eyed, monotonous murmurings push Sherburn and Barclay's punishing industrial techno into a realm that feels positively sci-fi. And though it's not totally tangible on record, her flair for fantasy—one light-up headdress I've seen her sport onstage has to be the most intricate stage costuming of any Brooklyn techno act—injects this often straight-faced corner of electronic music with a needed dose of surreality. In 2012, the three-piece covered the 1987 rave classic "Your Only Friend," but the twists and turns of Agony Planet prove that they have their eyes as much on the future as they do Phuture.—Oliver Kinkel
Felicia Atkinson and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma - Comme Un Seul Narcisse
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma is a potter and Felicia Atkinson is a poet. Of course, both are best known for their cosmos-cracking ambient compositions, but their first full-length together—Comme Un Seul Narcisse, released this March after years of friendship—seems to circle around their more mundane preoccupations. It's a record of delicate curves and assonant murmurings, its electric pianos reverberating against what sounds like creaking baseboards and fumbled zippers. Separately, they've always made music that bends toward transcendence, but here they've unlocked the magic in the everyday.—Colin Joyce
Floorplan - Victorious
As an ordained minister and one of techno's all-time greatest producers, Robert Hood's surely no stranger to euphoria of Biblical proportions. But little throughout the techno maestro's career has felt as miraculous as Victorious, his latest LP as Floorplan and his first with his daughter Lyric as part of the project. Over 11 tracks, the pair perform Lazarus-level reanimations of some of the dancefloor's longest-running forms, making house and techno that sounds as joyful and unrestrained as a Pentecostal revival. If you manage to stop dancing, you might just fall to your knees in awe.—Colin Joyce
Good Willsmith - Things Our Bodies Used to Have
The three members of Chicago drone trio Good Willsmith—Natalie Chami, Doug Kaplan, and Maxwell Allison—all have compelling solo projects that aim toward the weirdest and wiliest corners of experimental electronic music, but something special happens when you put them all in the same room. That alchemy has never been more compelling than on Things Our Bodies Used to Have, their latest full-length for Umor Rex.
As with all of their solo recordings—and, really, the efforts of so many ambient-minded noiseniks—they employ delayed guitars, looped vocals, and doomy synthesizers. But on Things Our Bodies Used to Have, these elements feel more like volatile reagents than a soup of pensive noises. Of course, even the most dangerous chemicals can become stable when introduced into the same vessel, and in 2016, you're unlikely to see another reaction this compelling.—Colin Joyce
Huerco S - For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)
Who could have guessed that a dancefloor devotee like Huerco S would ever release an ambient record? Not even dear old Nostradamus himself could have had that one scrawled on a Post-It, but hey, even the greatest of soothsayers have off-days. For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have) is an object lesson in the meditative power of sparse, texturally focused music. Sitting somewhere between Harold Budd and Emeralds, it's a beautiful, affecting record that uses its slightness to its advantage, each wispy synth an invitation into a luminous world that you'll want to drift into time and time again.—Josh Baines
Jessy Lanza - Oh No
"I totally rage out about irrational things that I'd be embarrassed to share with people I care about, let alone people that don't know me," Jessy Lanza told THUMP in May when asked about the impetus behind the follow-up to her 2013 debut, Pull My Hair Back. Oh No, the Canadian vocalist and producer's second album for Hyperdub, might have been inspired by the banalities and irritants of daily life, but the resulting record is anything but commonplace. Drawing on an array of influences that includes Chicago footwork, Japanese synth-pop pioneers Yellow Magic Orchestra, and the frenetic BPMs of South African Shangaan electro, the ten songs showcase Lanza's multivariate production skills, along with those of collaborator Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan. But where her malleable falsetto was previously buried low in the mix, it's at the forefront here on the skittering, four-on-the floor "VV Violence" and the slow-burning "I Talk BB"—a final touch necessary for making the everyday otherworldly—Max Mertens
Julianna Barwick - Will
Brooklyn-based composer Julianna Barwick has spent the better part of the last decade reaching for the sky, twisting layer after layer of her own voice into cumulonimbus-light meditations. She complicates that a bit on Will, utilizing a few new toys and tools—including a Moog Mother and a few other synths—to tear straight through the troposphere into the inky blackness beyond. There's still glimmers of light throughout—really, are there any more majestic entities than the ones that can be found in deep space?—but by and large, it's the stark and synthetic sounds that predominate. As with her previous records, these compositions float, but songs like "Nebula" lose sight of the ground below. It's scary out there.—Colin Joyce
Kaytranada - 99.9%
Montreal's Kaytranada furrows into sunken grooves and big bounces on 99.9%. Released on XL Recordings in May, it's a technicolor dreamcoat of a debut album, stitching together a chromatic patchwork of rhythms and melodies from a flashy list of collaborative hands that includes UK garage sweetheart Craig David, Swedish synth slingers Little Dragon, and California rapper Anderson Paak. They're cut from different cloths, but united in vivaciousness—and it helps that Kaytranada seems so stoked to be doing the weaving.—Anna Codrea-Rado
Kowton - Utility
Joe Cowton, aka Kowton, is keen to stress just how much he likes looped kick-drums. "I'm not one of those people who goes home and listens to jazz, or whatever," he said during a conversation for a THUMP interview earlier this year. "I'm always listening to something with that repetition." Utility absolutely fulfils this brief, but this music it's anything but one-note. Kowton fuses heads-down techno—that constant kick—with a rugged, more rough-around-the-edges feel thanks to some seriously aggro samples and synthesizer lines. Consequently, Utility fulfills its function, but with a twist. It's a collection of 4AM weapons with an inimitable UK growl.—Angus Harrison
Leon Vynehall - Rojus
Whether he's releasing stompy floor-fillers or slow-burning delicacies, Leon Vynehall's music sounds like it was designed to make you dance around in your kitchen until reality begins to melt away. The Brit's sophomore mini-LP for Running Back—clearly, he enjoys leaving us wanting more—succeeds in the same vein, with club-ready beats that are sure to transport you somewhere lush, warm, and full of life. The album's first single, "Blush," pretty much sums it up the best. Take it for a ride and tell me you don't feel like you're on a dancefloor occupied by the entire animal kingdom. Lions, Tigers, Leon...oh my!—David Garber
DJ Marfox - Chapa Quente
When Lisbon's batida scene started garnering international recognition in 2014, the internet scrambled to comprehend this astoundingly unique music that was coming out of the suburbs of Portugal. Some compared its aggressive sonics to that of grime and footwork, but such conversations undersell the giddy efforts of records like Chapa Quente. It's been said that batida is understood to mean something like "my crew's of beats," but even within the tight-knit scene that he lords over, DJ Marfox exhibits happy idiosyncrasies. "B 18" and "Tarraxo Everyday" rely on an unholy marriage of syncopated hand-drums and arpeggiated synth runs. You still might not be able to fully understand what's going on, but the glee is palpable—Oliver Kinkel
Mood Hut - Disco Mantras Vol. 1
Whether it be New York's crowded hustle or Detroit's industrial decay, the world's best music often offers a portal into the city where it was made. Vancouver's Mood Hut has built a reputation in parallel with the mystical charm of its breathtaking city by the water, offering up a slew of dancefloor cuts that conjure the misty mystery of the Pacific Northwest.
Though some of the producers in the label's orbit have become known far beyond the city borders (Jack J and his Pender Street Steppers collaboration most notably), the label's debut full-length, a compilation called Disco Mantras Vol. 1, features a rolodex of artists you won't recognize (and who, incidentally, don't appear to have any other releases to their names). Appropriately, the music doesn't feature very many of the easygoing bass lines that have become a Mood Hut signature. Despite what the record's title suggests, this is something more slinking, subdued, and strange. Apparently there's more to Vancouver than meets the eye.—David Garber
Omar-S - The Best
Only Alexander Omar Smith—better known to us commoners as Omar-S—could get away with actually naming an album The Best. But that title doesn't come off as haughty in the least, because Smith's take on house tropes on his latest full-length is, well, pretty perfect. Not only do we get to hear his ingenious programming on creepy bass workouts like "Take Ya Pik, Nik!!!!!" and the acid-drenched "Bitch.... I'll buy Another One!!!"—but he's brought some of his friends along for the ride, including legendary Motor City maestros Kyle Hall and Norm Talley. Of course, the grandiose claim he's making here may yet prove untrue—there's still close to six months left this year—but either way, Omar's still better than most.—David Garber
Puce Mary - The Spiral
Frederikke Hoffmeier, the Danish noise scene lynchpin who records under the name Puce Mary, understands darkness. Over the course of a pair of full-lengths and a slew of collaborations, she's been able to wring the best bits of bleakness out of creeping noise and industrial structures. But no record she's made to date is as terrifying as her 2016 release, The Spiral. Each track slowly spins more elements into its destructive path, its squalling static and distorted vocals suggesting that maybe soon the song will consume you too. Still, Hoffmeier's greatest strength this time around is in restraint, conjuring sheer terror out of its few creaking parts—like the distant piano key that rings slow and lonely throughout the title track. It's a lesson learned from horror movies: the scariest bits aren't always the monsters themselves, but the knowledge that after the credits roll, you'll be all alone.—Colin Joyce
Sasha - Scene Delete
This Welsh producer is best known for issuing introspective yet punishing techno tracks, but Scene Delete, his first full-length in over a decade, is club music stripped to its most skeletal self. Tracks like "Linepulse" vibrate sleepily over minimalist beats, earning their place in the pantheon of downtempo gems that comprise the LateNightTales series/label. In an interview with THUMP, the producer born Alexander Paul Coe said that he's "always liked to put ambient ... sounds into [his] club tracks," but Scene Delete is the wholehearted embrace of that ideal, a collection of dancefloor bangers that move at a glacier's pace.—Anna Codrea-Rado
Skepta - Konnichiwa
is the platonic ideal of crossover albums. Skepta's lyrical prowess, honed over a decade in London's underground, is on full display—see: the hilariously scathing and somehow-still-relevant Vine punchline on "Corn on the Curb"—but his typically aggressive production feels assertive enough this time around to open him up to a brand new audience.
By combining his signature war-ready bass lines and fed-up horns with more pop-leaning compositions—most noticeably on the Pharrell-assisted "Numbers"—Skepta has managed to turn North London's hyperlocal grime sound into music for the whole world. It's feels universal, in both senses of the word—something that's personal enough to resonate in all corners of the Earth and emphatic enough to shake other parts of the galaxy, too.—Trey Smith
Suzi Analogue - ZONEZ V.1
Brooklyn-based DJ/producer Suzi Analogue told THUMP earlier this year that she intended her February release as a sort of abstract personal history—a disorienting, non-linear mish-mash of forms to "show how much of a mix [her] life is." Within a single track, she's likely to pull on threads of footwork, glitch, jungle, and grime and twist them together into tapestries that depict the richness and vibrancy of all these seemingly irreconcilable sounds. The bubbly bleeps of tracks like "Bottle Drizzy Tears" and the sunny hums of "I Get It" highlight the central joy of an enterprise like this: you'll never be as happy as when you get to be wholly and truly you. —Colin Joyce
DJ TiGA - The Sound Vol. 1
Newark-based Jersey club producer DJ TiGa has said that The Sound Vol. 1 is for the stragglers. "I just want to help everybody catch up so that nobody feels left behind," he told us back in April. "Because there's a lot to [Jersey club]." That's a generous thing of the 26-year-old artist to say, but it's unlikely there are many people who aren't left in the dust by his debut for J-Cush's Lit City Trax. Remixing everything from hip-hop hits to an NFL theme song and a Cousin Terio Vine, the mixtape is an exercise in profound artistic tenacity: just when you think he can't fit another idea into a track, he fits in eight.—Alexander Iadarola
Uli K - Elusivo
Long the most laconic and sensitive member of Long London's Bala Club crew, singer/songwriter Uli K steps out of the shadow of younger brother Kamixlo (who's released on PAN sublabel Codes) and pal Endgame (recently signed to Hyperdub) and into blinding, heartrending vulnerability. Uli told The FADER at the time of the EPs release that it that it was part of a process of coming to terms with heartbreak and gender identity by presenting all the misery and confusion wholly unvarnished, or as they put it "snitching on myself—reading my diary out loud."
That pain reverberates throughout. Even over the fractured beats care of Berlin shredder Mechatok and frequent Yung Lean collaborator Whitearmor (Lean also turns up for a brief verse, on that "Drifting"), Uli sings of blood and money, voluntary loneliness, and romantic dissolution. The catharsis these stories offer feels generous, a hand stretched out—however tremulous—for whenever you feel similarly broken.—Colin Joyce
Various Artists - Pampa Records Vol. 1
There's a dizzying array of sounds and styles represented on the first label compilation from DJ Koze's Pampa Records, from Jamie xx's rave retro-gazing to Matthew Herbert's butcher-shop techno trickery. But the unifying concept is the unmitigated joy that a dancefloor can bring. UAE-born producer Abood Nasrawi makes that explicit on his contribution "Bump with You," sampling a small child's giggly suggestion that singing "embarrassing," but dancing is "ok." The track then lurches into glassy-eyed, unrestrained beatwork, permission for liftoff having been granted from the mouths of babes. Pampa's stable of signees and friends often adopt worn club forms, but their productions underscore why people return to things like house and techno over and over again: club music's currency is ecstasy.—Colin Joyce