Year in Review
Top Songs of 2016 | #16 – 30
by Joshua P. Ferguson
Whenever we do these lists—so, for the past eight years basically—we're always nagged by the thought that we're missing something. Most of us are sure we are. But when you scan our list of the top songs of 2016 (and this post is only the first half of it), there's so much diversity, so much to love... so many earworms.
Still, there was a lot that didn't make it. With a few notable selections, we avoided repeating songs from artists who made it into our Top 20 LPs lists. This year, it felt like there was so much to sift through and so many tough decisions on what to include, so breadth was the goal. It certainly feels like we've succeeded. Let us know what you think.
Thunder Tillman "Exact Location of the Soul" — ESP Institute
From bigger names like Tame Impala or Yeasayer to key releases from Soundway and ESP Institute, psychedelic music had a big impact on us this year. "Exact Location of the Soul" from Swedish duo Thunder Tillman is a crystalline representation of why. Hazy, droning, driving and wandering, this is a song you sink into. But while you're there, you're not sitting still.
Boys Noize "Starchild" — Boys Noize Records
We'll be the first to admit the reason we fell for Boys Noize's "Starchild" is because he's so obviously doing his best Moderat impression. The highly syncopated beat, the otherworldly squelch? We've heard these before. At least Boys Noize keeps things fresh. His choice to enlist Poliça's Channy Leaneagh proves there's ample room for company in this little niche of German techno-pop.
Kuedo "In Your Sleep" — Planet Mu
We only included two songs by artists who landed in our Top 20 LPs this year. "In Your Sleep" is one. Across his work, Kuedo excels at creating vast soundscapes—these undiscovered worlds of jagged rhythms puncturing ambient moods. Here, he captures these same moods but filters them into a syrupy pop structure with help from Wild Beasts' Hayden Thorpe. It's a break from the norm (if you can call anything Kuedo does normal) and stands out as the high point on his LP Slow Knife.
Mr. Fingers "Aether" – Alleviated Records
Over the past four years, deep house has reached such lofty popularity that even a once-universally praised figurehead such as Dixon is seeing the backlash. Maybe that's why so many people found such joy in hearing one of the sound's Godfathers return, and return in peak form. Every track on Mr. Fingers' "Outer Acid" EP is brilliant. Seriously. Twice we swapped out the track we want to include here. So we settled on the warm, ethereal sway of EP closer, "Aether."
Trentemøller "Never Fade" — In My Room
Trentemøller's "Moan" days are mostly behind him, but even his most recent work on Fixion captures that same sense of brooding beauty. As he moves further into dusky surf-rock territory, a track like "Never Fade" harkens back to his early days, all mid-tempo tech and slick tension. The righteous sentiment it brings with it is just a bonus.
Ben Marc "Wait" (Atjazz Rudinova dub) — Atjazz Records
Ben Marc's "Wait," particularly with this remix from Atjazz, brought three worlds into alignment for us this year: The early Aughts broken beat scene, its German future jazz counterpart and our own world at that same time. It recalls, purposefully if you're to read any into "Rudinova," Jazzanova's best remixes. It's heavy jazz syncopation, from that relentless ride cymbal to the piano that bops its way through every measure. This is the music that got us here and it hasn't sounded this fresh in some time.
Pantha Du Prince "The Winter Hymn" — Rough Trade
With "The Winter Hymn," we're back in the realm of brooding and frosty tech sounds. A kindred spirit to Trentemøller in mood, Pantha Du Prince shares the innate ability to fuse ice, steel, heart and soul. Here, it's through the sparkling chimes, taught drumming and angelic refrains that give them life.
Convextion "New Horizon" — Mojuba
Talking up Ital Tek's Hollowed, our No. 1 record of the 2016, we singled out the way electronic music captures our imaginations with its sci-fi qualities. This is something Convextion knows well. A much-lauded voice in the U.S. dub-techno sound, Convextion's "New Horizon" broke a nearly 10-year silence with 16 minutes of astral blips, metallic creaking, synth atmospherics and only the most subtle techno pulse. This is 2016's premier interstellar musical journey; a ride we've taken countless times since its release.
Isaac Tichauer "Higher Level" (Bicep remix) — LOFT
A peak moment from Âme and Dixon's epic b2b session for BBC's Essential Mix, Bicep's remix for Isaac Tichauer launched forth as one of 2016's most potent club tracks. Thanks to that burrowing synth line and its potent drum fills, "Higher Level" lives up to its name every time we hear it.
Mano Le Tough "Energy Flow" (DJ Koze Miles & More remix) — Permanent Vacation
DJ Koze's remix of "Energy Flow" for Mano Le Tough fills a very important slot on this year's list. It didn't quite crack the top 10, but it represents a sound and mood that has played an integral part in our love of deep house. A sound that's been represented in previous years thanks to tracks like The Chemical Brothers' "Wide Open" in 2015 and Âme's remix of the Sailor & I from 2014, it's lush and driven by a vocal line that lends the pop sensibility we some times need to get our peak dance-floor feels.
Willow "Untitled A2" — Workshop
This stand-out from Willow sits in glorious opposition to the two tracks that come before it on our list. "Untitled A2" is as stripped back as a dance tune comes, an exercise in minimalism that captured the attention of just about everyone keeping tabs on underground house and tech sounds—both the media outlets and the DJs, us included.
Kanye West "Fade" — GOOD Music
His record was a hit, his songs are showing up in end-of-year lists left and right and we weren't immune. For us, it's Kanye's "Fade" that became a cornerstone of eclectic sets this year, hitting that sweet spot of choice house sampling and Kanye's stream-of-consciousness flow.
F.T.R.M. "L.O.S.T." — PG Goes Dance
We're not as deep into edit culture as we have been in years past, but not even this slow motion brilliance from Fort Romeau avoided our gaze. It was a highlight of Gerd Janson's Delmantel mix and became a highlight for us too, an edit that we could listen to on an endless loop.
Leafar Legov "Years" — Giegling
This was Giegling's year, in part thanks to this man. Leafar Legov hypnotized us with his contribution to RA's podcast series and kept us caught in the headlights with "Years," a twisting and turning half-time affair mixing eerie piano, dark strings and just enough rhythm to live in Legov's own murky world somewhere between house, techno and downtempo.
David August "J.B.Y." — Counter
Closing out the first half of our best songs of 2016, David August continued to prove his versatility with the mid-tempo bomb "J.B.Y." Overflowing with cascading synths, layers of handclaps and deep valleys of atmospherics, "J.B.Y." sounds like a maximal Nicolas Jaar, groovier but no less meditative. It's a sweet spot that's a cornerstone of August's sound and a promise of what's to come in 2017, when we're hoping to hear the debut of a full length from this brilliant young artist.