A long strange playlist for a long strange year, here are my personal favorite tracks of 2016, a year that felt more like an endless procession of Boschian nightmares than a standard measurement of the earth's rotation around the sun.
- Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker
- Nicolas Jaar - Three Sides of Nazareth
- Gonjasufi - Krishna Punk
- Kiki Hitomi - Nightwalkers
- A Tribe Called Quest – Melatonin
- Mura Masa – Love$ick (ft. A$AP Rocky) (Four Tet Remix)
- Mosca - Cedar Wood State (Volt mix)
- Pearson Sound – XLB
- J. Albert - See You At The Bank
- Paul Woolford - No Requests (Special Request Fantasy FM Mix)
- DJRum – Sometime I Share (Space Race Part 3)
- Burial – Young Death
- Willow - Untitled A2 (Workshop 23)
- Sofie Letitre - Perfect Mistake (The Thing With Five Eyes Remix)
- Machine Woman - I Can Mend Your Broken Heart (Kassem Mosse Remix)
- DJ QU - Lotus (feat. Charlotte Carter-Allen)
- Midland - Final Credits
- Hi & Saberhägen - WC122
- Wbeeza – Ferguson
- Neinzer - The Beacon
- ZK Bucket - Your Body (drifter remix)
- Isaac Tichauer - Higher Level (Bicep Mix)
- Mano Le Tough - Energy Flow (DJ Koze's Splasher remix)
- Bonus: Escape From New York - Fire In My Heart (Instrumental Dub)
Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker
“There's a lullaby for suffering, And a paradox to blame”
In theme and tone this haunting track is the perfect investigation of the cold, dark fog that settled over this year and the struggle and desperation to glean any sense from it. That Cohen, like so many other great artists this year, delivered it and then walked off stage forever seems viciously appropriate.
Nicolas Jaar - Three Sides of Nazareth
“He said morality is dead on that side. It’s been thrown on the ground on this side.”
Nicolas Jaar sounding not a little bit like classic Never Never Land UNKLE? This is one of those moments when I feel like a solitary member of the target audience for a track.
Gonjasufi - Krishna Punk
Something about Callus left me a little flat, too many too short / too similar songs perhaps. But there are still a few transcendental moments and the inclusion of Pearl Thompson’s guitar (formerly of a little band called The Cure), turns out to be a brilliant counterpoint for all that hum and fuzz of the Sufi’s production and voice. Add some raga-punk urgency and I’m sold.
Kiki Hitomi - Nightwalkers
Kiki Hitomi solo LP is as strange and wonderful as you would expect. This lurching late night fever dream of track is one of several highlights.
A Tribe Called Quest – Melatonin
“The world is crazy and I cannot sleep, but…”
One of the all too scarce comforts in this horror show death march of a year was that the Tribe LP was so good. Neither a nostalgic re-tread of past glory nor a pained break in new direction, We Got It From Here... is like an old friend turning up after years (18!) and immediately reminding you of why you used to hang so much. But even this was bitter-sweet with Phife passing just before it saw the light of day.
Mura Masa – Love$ick (ft. A$AP Rocky) (Four Tet Remix)
The annual obligatory Four Tet entry. I don’t know a thing about Mura Masa but he and Rocky have a nice little pop song here, however when you add those Four Tet remix chops and that off-kilter yet driving percussion, it's insanely addicting, much like last year Chvrches rework and most likely next year’s yet unheard gem.
Mosca - Cedar Wood State (Volt mix)
The electro b-boy bleeper meets Mosca’s next level production chops. In lesser hands this could have been a solid but forgettable DJ tool but instead it is as restless as it is relentless without feeling figety or overproduced. Someone needs to get this to the Showtime! kids on the train.
Pearson Sound – XLB
In my mind this is a spiritual kin to Cedar Wood State albeit with more of its grime & UKF DNA at the surface. Again it is a pretty sparse affair but the production and sound design take it too another level. This is the sound of the stripped down experiments on last year’s LP being weaponized for the afterhours warehouse and was probably responsible for the most WTF dancefloor moments of the year.
J. Albert - See You At The Bank
Ridgewood QNS representing. Not sure if the title is a shout out to the classic Houston St. club - pretty sure J. Albert is young enough that his mom could have been an og regular - but there is something just the right side of nostalgic in this one.
Paul Woolford - No Requests (Special Request Fantasy FM Mix)
The best bit of the Special Request project is that it’s not just jungle tropes being repurposed, it’s the whole of English underground, so you get early hardcore and even a bit of speed garage in the mnix for good measure. I’m also a big fan of having your weirdo alias remix your tracks even if it may be psychologically questionable.
DJRum – Sometime I Share (Space Race Part 3)
A return to form for DJRum. Something in the vibe of this one, that R&B vocal juxtaposed with the rawness of the break and bassline, reminds me of classic Stuck on Earth, backroom at Vinyl, jump-up jungle. Those hand claps weaving in and out of the breaks though, that's something all together fresh.
Burial – Young Death
The return of the year end Burial release. This one reaches back to classic Untrue, though the trance chords and sudden tempo changes of the newer materials are still here. The result is an uneasy balance of the familiar and unknown, a dynamic that has been essential to Burial's work since South London Boroughs.
Willow - Untitled A2 (Workshop 23)
Talk about killing it on your first official release. This is the paradigm for a less is more approach, stripping everything back to the essentials and then just finessing the groove. Fathoms deep. Can't wait to hear more.
Sofie Letitre - Perfect Mistake (The Thing With Five Eyes Remix)
The return of Jason Kohnen, aka Bong-Ra, and essential member of my two fave dark jazz outfits The Killminjaro Darkjazz Ensemble and Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corp. Here in his new guise adding just enough doom to Ms. Letitre gorgeous vocal to make all the hair on your neck stand up. Also check Live at The Nocturnus for the full Thing experience.
Machine Woman - I Can Mend Your Broken Heart (Kassem Mosse Remix)
This team up was always going to killer, but this defied my expectations. Hypnotic and otherworldly, on a good set of headphones this track will lure you in and re-wire your neurons with each haunting refrain.
DJ QU - Lotus (feat. Charlotte Carter-Allen)
DJ QU can do no wrong. That deep soulful vocal in an uneasy marriage to a raw-af growler of a bassline, the percussion constantly threatening to run off the rails but still propelling you forward. No one but QU does it like this.
Midland - Final Credits
If you found yourself raving on boat, rooftop or sweaty warehouse this summer you most likely witnessed the power of this one to whip a crowd into a sweat soaked frenzy. From the teasing first cords building through to the massive climax worked every time. Add that huge melancholy, hell down right depressing vocal, for a year that had no time for songs about love and understanding and this one was a lock for underground anthem of the summer.
Hi & Saberhägen - WC122
After wearing out sections of Four Tet and Ben UFO sets to listen to this one it finally gets a release. It’s pretty straight forward but those chords and that strained vocal sample get me every time.
Wbeeza – Ferguson
A big, rolling slab of UK House, with just enough Detroit to give it serious resonance. Pretty one just runs dark and deep for days,
Neinzer - The Beacon
Sometime around December of last year Ben UFO starting playing two wonderfully weird tracks that he conspicuously never named and never turned up on the tracklists of his Rinse shows. These tacks would turn out the be The Fear and it's flip side The Beacon by Neinzer, a produce had never heard of. By the time The Beacon finally hit wax in the fall, a certain strain of headz had worked themselves into a full on frenzy. After wearing out sections of radio shows listening to in on heavy repeat, the obsession final hit its apex when I got to witness Ben and Joy-O drop The Beacon at Sublimate, in a sweaty warehouse while early morning light poured through a filthy skylight.
ZK Bucket - Your Body (Drifter remix)
Isaac Tichauer - Higher Level (Bicep Mix)
In a year where my sunrise moments were more often found at the gym than the club/rave, teh combination of these two tracks in the hands of Ame & Dixon were my sunrise gym anthem. Absolutely cathartic and revelatory while staying just on the right side of cheese the way only the Innervisions crew can do it.
Mano Le Tough - Energy Flow (DJ Koze's Splasher remix)
No, subtle this one is not, but like everything Koze touches, it is a total fucking joy.
Bonus: Escape From New York - Fire In My Heart (Instrumental Dub)
Pressed in a run of 500 copies in 1984 and then lost to obscurity, until DJ Harvey played it on Boiler Room and broke the internet / Discogs. A timely re-issue on new sub-label Isle o Jura followed and quickly resulting in that hug baseline rolling through my head when I woke every morning from May – August. Revenge from the two dollar bin.