Year in Review | 2016 Round-Up
Taking the Pulse on What's Good in 2016 So Far.
by Joshua P. Ferguson
It's impossible to cover it all. Come December, we'll attempt to. We always do. Taking a snapshot of all that was great in music and culture for an entire 12 months is a tall order. Some artist, song or mix always gets left out. There's usually some twinge of regret that we didn't cover this or that earlier in the year when it was truly buzz worthy, instead holding it up as a high point so many months later. It's inevitable.
This year we're doing something about it. (Or at least trying to, as this post has been about 7 weeks in the making... Oh summer, you eternal distraction, you.)
This round-up won't totally alleviate our frustration. It still isn't as much space as we'd like to dedicate to each one of these artists and their output. But it's a start. If nothing else, it'll give you an opportunity to catch up on 2016 at its half way point. Well, just past half way, any way. So far, it's a dizzyingly good one, mostly for the following reasons:
Music for Sunsets
The warm months always put us in a Balearic mood. It hit us hardest two years ago with the one-two punch from International Feel that was new music from chill out legend Jose Padilla and label head Mark Barrott. Well, Barrott's back with another batch of gossamer gems on Sketches of an Island 2 and It's unclear if he's managed to top himself or if we're just really craving his brand of thoughtful island delights.
Anitnote's D.K. perfects a similar vibe with his mini-LP Island of Dreams. In it's all-too-short span, the record recalls those early Padilla Cafe Del Mar mix tapes, overflowing with digital chimes, pan flutes and gorgeous reverb.
With the White Isle in their backyard, Spaniards Delorean have never been immune to the sound. Their latest offering, Muzik, recruited John Talabot pal Pional for production duties and doubled-down with nine tracks of glistening Balearic beats.
DJs Being DJs
There was a time when a DJ could just be a DJ, with nothing more than the odd dj-friendly edit to their name. At some point, this became a lot harder to do—at least for budding globetrotters. A few marquee names do seem to be reversing the trend of late. Namely Jackmaster, whose DJ-KiCKS installment sees the Glaswegian taking listeners on a very personal journey through ambient, afro-centric, classic Chicago, Detroit and his native UK with his signature eclectic aplomb.
The other is Running Back's Gerd Janson. A similarly well-equipped selector who admittedly does dabble in production, he's one of the few who's truly deserving of the cliched title of "The DJ's DJ." He consistently traverses deep, funky, discoid and all-around classic sounds, and does so masterfully on the latest in the Fabric mix series, number 89.
Rolling in the Deep
Throughout the world of arts and culture, there's a trending toward an appreciation for slow. In music, for us, the finest purveyors of the slow movement are producers like Traumprinz, a.k.a. DJ Metatron. Rather than pitch down the tempo, these artists take their time to get where they're going, dotting the landscape of their music with peaks of energy and a sea of emotion. This is the essence of the Giegling highlight's latest, "2Bad," and what makes it stand out as one of 2016's best dance cuts.
To carry on our concept of slow, enter DJ Sotofett. The Norwegian producer has long been an underground favorite, and he's seen his profile rise of late thanks to a handful of well-placed and critically acclaimed releases. Chief among them is "Current 82." Lifted from a split 12" for Keys of Life, a sprawling deep house cut in the vein of Larry Heard or Ron Trent. It's simple mix of rolling drums, syncopated bass and swirling atmospherics is precisely the brand of deep house you're meant to get swept up in—to live inside for a time, which we've done often since its release.
If Traumprinz and DJ Sotofett are artists pushing an appreciation for taking it slow in deep house, than DJ Koze's Pampa Records is their kindred spirit in imprint form. Home to the likes of perennial Dialogue Inc faves like Robag Wruhme and frequent contributors like Axel Boman and Roman Flugel, the label has become an indisputable go-to for our favored brand of dance music. Earlier this summer, Pampa debuted its first label compilation; 20 songs that perfectly encapsulate everything we love about the sound Koze and Co. are championing.
We can thank a recent excursion to Berlin, and techno vinyl mecca Hard Wax more specifically, for bestowing on us the glorious LP that is Transport by two of techno's greatest: Detroit originator Juan Atkins and his Berliner counterpart Moritz Von Oswald, who record together as Borderland. The second LP from the pair to surface on Berlin's Tresor label, Transport shifts from the sparse jazziness of their 2013 debut to embrace the concrete and mechanics that have long inspired the genre they helped create.
While not actually a companion piece, the latest LP from Dial Records co-founder Lawrence is about as perfect a RIYL as any from Borderland. Out on Mule Musiq, Yoyogi Park is a sophisticated ride through techno's subtler side; an LP that constantly flirts between the dance floor and your headphones—and sounds at home with either. It's simultaneously ethereal and punchy, delicate and tough and, as such, compelling in a way we find many techno releases are not.
A last minute addition to this round-up, but an utterly relevant one, Convextion's techno pedigree goes well beyond our expertise in the area. Lauded since the mid '90s, his music is dubby and potent, and in the lineage of the Detroit and Berlin greats. He's been largely quiet these past 10 years. That is, until 2845 surfaced last month on Mojuba sub-label a.r.t.less. We're in no position to call it a return to form, but we can say its epic, spacey jams touch on our favorite elements of what techno can be, particularly album opener "New Horizon."
Before the beats and the swirl of electronics, our first love is jazz—and it's seen some particularly compelling entries into the canon this summer. First is Sarathy Korwar, an Indian jazz artist living in London who traverses between traditional jazz and traditional Indian elements. The result is the one-of-a-kind LP Day to Day, which manages to seamlessly blend tribal incantation, fusion jam session and tabla beat meditation all into its nine tracks.
Canada quartet BADBADNOTGOOD have to rank among our greatest discoveries of 2016. Their latest, IV, for Innovative Leisure, is a sharp and contemporary vision of jazz's reach, touching on modern R&B, soul and electronic sounds. There's incredible range on this record and yet it all works, from the vintage soul lamentation of "Time Moves Slow" to the wild explosion of sax-funk that is album standout "Confessions Pt II."
Never Ending Chill-Out
This list is full of masters of their form—2016 has been a great year that way—but Mark Pritchard happens to be a master of many forms, from afrobeat to ambient. On his latest for Warp, Under the Sun, he skews decidedly to chill-out. It's a meditative listen, but no less a complex or compelling one. There are spikes that show off his knack for tough bass workouts (see "Infrared") but the album's standouts, like the Thom Yorke accompanied "Beautiful People," are best enjoyed in a laid back position.
Billed as a collection of ambient and modern classical compositions, Orbital Planes and Passenger Trains Vol. 1, is a wholly captivating head trip from Wales label Serein. Featuring a hand-picked tracklist of underground composers that truly do run from trip-hop to modern classical to pure ambient, it's as the name implies, a listening journey moving simultaneously outward and inward, and one well worth getting onboard for.
Those of you who caught our extensive feature on vaporwave, which capped off our 2015 musical coverage, will not be surprised to find 2814 resurfacing here. The duo, comprised of Hong Kong Express and Telepath テレパシー能力者 cracked the ceiling of the underground last year and their sophomore effort, Rain Temple, has been eagerly anticipated since. And for good reason. It builds on their earlier productions, seeing the duo solidify a sound that is anything but dimensional. It's been singled out as surpassing Birth of a New Day, and with engulfing dystopian soundscapes of tracks like "Eyes of the Temple" and "Inside the Sphere," we're inclined to agree.