Music

The 20 Best Electronic Albums of 2016

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2016 highlights that as well as any other year on record.


20. Julianna Barwick - Will (Dead Oceans)

Technology permits musicians to their physical limitations. Since Pierre Henry and Edgard Varese infused tape loops into symphonic music, horrifying the academics who viewed electronic equipment as devilish as the flatted fifth. Turntabilism made looping an art and the prevailing tool that changed the way modern music is composed and understood. Like Liz Harris' project Grouper, Julianna Barwick's Will takes the art of the loop to supernal heights. Will plays like a score to diary that never will be filmed. Her cherubic choral creations on "Same" coil around tender places of the heart, whereas "Big Hollow" sings emptiness into the heart's four chambers.

Tense and terse moments marked by minimal arrangements thicken the atmosphere with more dread and less joy. When "Heading Home" begins with percussive block piano chords, it foreshadows little of its intent. And therein lies Will's charm: it blends feelings that should cancel each other out when they surface together. -- Stephan Wyatt



19. Mr. Oizo - All Wet (Ed Banger)

I almost wrote off French producer/director Quentin Dupieux (a.k.a. Mr. Oizo) several years ago. He and his muppety character Flat Eric made an indelible impression on me in the late '90s, with his unbelievably fat and funky sound carved entirely from analog equipment, hence the title of his 1999 debut album, Analog Worms Attack. Then he kicked his gear to the curb, and went all in on his computer, subsequently issuing a bizarre streak of releases that ranged from challenging to "unlistenable" (the latter of which was the opinion of a former label). There have been hint of genius in his madness scattered here and there, but all the pieces came together on his sixth full-length, All Wet. This album has all the shredded beat mania one expects from Oizo, but it's peppered with indisputable evidence that he has hit his pop stride. Compare the awful, awkward crap he made with Uffie to his channeling of such eclectic singers and producers as Charli XCX, Boys Noize, Siruismo, Peaches, and Skrillex into this, one of the most fun and freewheeling albums of the year, and it's clear how far he has come. -- Alan Ranta


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18. Tobacco - Sweatbox Dynasty (Ghostly International)

Superb to chill out to, yet psyched-up enough to keep the party going, Thomas Fec hit the sweet spot with Sweatbox Dynasty. The mainstay of synth-psych band Black Moth Super Rainbow underwent a period of rediscovery leading up to his fourth solo album as Tobacco. He didn't plug anything in for a year after 2014's Ultima II Massage, until he could ignore the inspired itch of his creativity no longer, but he decided to go backwards to go forwards. As in the beginning, he recorded Sweatbox Dynasty in pieces, laying down individual tracks and effects to tape, before running the results through a sampler. This builds in a kind of character, the unpredictability of imperfect machines smothered with a blanket of tape hiss, smoothing over the more jarring flights of experimental fancy still embedded in his bad acid trip sound. In taking a small step back, Rec has taken a big leap forward towards mastery of psychedelic synthesis and surreal vocodery, and he was damn close to perfection to begin with. -- Alan Ranta



17. Patten - Psi (Warp)

Greek letters signify for many their days in school, be it studying the classics or engaging with mathematical formulas, but whatever the association, it's certainly heady stuff. Electronic music, too, has its own reputation for being a genre concerned as much with the epistemic impact of its sound as the aesthetics of it. But right from the start, Patten's latest album presents itself as a warped take on the stellar sound cultivated by Future Brown and its members; this is not, however, the only road they take, as synthy ambience pops up, as well, indicating an ability to find range within a singular feel. Wherever they draw their influences from, Psi nods towards a world unto itself. -- Brian Duricy



16. Katie Gately - Color (Tri-Angle)

Tri-Angle has consistently shown itself to be one of the most forward-thinking labels in music, and especially so when you consider that their ethos has always at least tangentially related to what we know as "pop". So despite the excellent and one-note doom of Brood Ma's Daze, they also managed to release Katie Gately's full-length debut Color, whose brightness and creative jubilance practically jumped out of whatever listening device you prefer. After a string of progressive pop pieces whose lengths varied greatly, Gately trimmed down her work just enough to prove that at even nine minutes, you can make every second essential. Color is full of surprises but is packaged in such a way that you can enjoy it mindlessly or intensely and still be rewarded. -- Brian Duricy

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