The 25 Best Experimental Albums Of 2016

Free Radicals is THUMP’s column dedicated to experimental electronic music. Each month, we take a look at the trends emerging from the frayed fringes of the dancefloor and why they’re meaningful.

Electronic instrumentation offers near-endless possibilities to experimentalists. Over the course of this year, I’ve written in this column about hazy beatmakers who use geographical signifiers to interrogate rising tides of nationalism worldwide; about noise producers adopting classic rock tropes to create a newly warped Americana; and about a host of composers who are remapping everyday experiences through the use of musique concrte techniques. Existing at the vanguard of music technology, music like this offers opportunities for producers looking to push toward new sounds, forms and ideas. Below are 25 of the best albums that subverted conventions and rewired synapses.

25. Matt Carlson – The View from Nowhere

Matt Carlson, the synth-tweaking half of clarinet-and-electronics duo Golden Retriever, took some time on his latest solo effort to study the tenuous relationship between modular electronics and the human voice. The result is a stream of synthesizer-scarred syntactical experiments that can feel like gibberish, but under intense scrutiny reveals complex, overlapping structureslike the sound of Microsoft Sam slowly learning linguistics.

24. N.M.O. – Nordic Mediterranean Organization / Numerous Miscommunications Occur

That their debut LP features two nonsensical backronyms as its title is just the first sign that N.M.O.’s debut LP for Diagonal is a clever nest of club quips. The duo folds electro refuse and masonry-tough percussion scraps into abstract shapes that sound like the aural equivalent of an industrial origami or a pile of garbage, depending on your vantage point. The double-LP version is deliberately pockmarked with jarring locked grooves in the middle of the trackjust a few more slapstick pitfalls for unprepared listeners to get trapped in.

23. VHVL – EVN

The gentle EVN feels like a grab bag of meditative genresflickering drone, swooning new age, LA beat scene-ready boom-bapbut the pieces are united by their feeling of hopefulness and cautious ascension. After the treatment for a spinal injury left her bedridden for most of 2015, the Harlem producer and composer VHVL made a collection of ambient miniatures that feels like a sigh of relief.

22. Rashad Becker – Traditional Music of Notional Species, Vol. II

According to Discogs, Rashad Becker has been responsible for mastering nearly 1600 records since 1996, and it’s hard not to hear the effects of that intense listening on his intensely programmed solo work. Music for Notional Species, Vol. II picks up where the first installment left off in 2013, building synthesizer scrap heaps to the heavens with all the intricacy and technicolor beauty of a game of Tetris that you’re doomed to lose forever.

21. Lolina – Live in Paris

Live in Paris, Inga Copeland‘s debut LP under the Lolina moniker, was originally billed as a recording of 2015 audiovisual performance in the French capital. But the album’s credits suggest otherwise, saying that it was “written-by, produced, and mixed by Lolina in London.” As xenophobic rhetoric swelled in Britain and fueled the country’s vote to leave the European Union over the summer, the record’s complicated relation to place felt like a commentary on the rising tide of nationalism, both in England and abroad.

She interrogated our traditional understanding of the way that we understand thingslike records or peopleto be a product of the contexts in which they were created. With every foggy synth line and pinched pop structure, we wonder, would it even mean anything different if music this alien was made in Paris or London? How would that change the way it sounds? What does it mean to be from somewhere?

20. Wreck and Reference – Indifferent Rivers Romance End

Wreck and Reference have always been good at conjuring an empowered sort of depression, and Indifferent Rivers Romance End is the L.A. noise-metal merchants’ most confident statement yet. It’s a headlong dive into sickly synthesizers, black metal rot, and strangled post-punk vocals, with a lyric sheet that welcomes sickness, death, and the void with open arms. You’re left with the feeling that giving one’s self over to the darkness can constitute its own weird form of empowermentor, as “Languish” puts it, a path toward beauty, a path toward blindness.”

19. J.S. Aurelius – Goofin’ Drones

After accidentally picking up a book about drone warfarethinking it was a tome about drone musicDestruction Unit guitarist Jes Aurelius constructed Goofin’ Drones as as a way of connect the two. Sourcing audio from code used to hack, destroy, or otherwise disrupt the quadcopter crafts that the U.S. government uses for surveillance and combat abroad, Aurelius constructed this harrowing tape as a statement against “death by remote control.” As you might expect, its gestures are desolate, sudden, and unforgiving.

18. Chino Amobi – Airport Music for Black Folk

In a far cry from the placidity of the Eno album that gives this release its title, Chino Amobi’s brand of Airport Music blows nervous inner monologues to PA announcement volumes and creaks like mangled steel girders. The NON founder’s work often concerns the ways in which marginalized people interact with invisible power structures, and it’s hard not to read this release in the same way; its deeply anxious atmosphere is a compelling reminder of the reality that airports aren’t peacefulor even safeplaces for everyone.

17. Julianna Barwick – Will

The New York-based composer/vocalist‘s past records have favored weightlessness, exploring the emergent rhythms and harmonies inherent to her vocal looping process in zero-g. But Will feels heavy, dense, and full of conflicteach Moog sequence feels like a tractor beam, dragging her through space rather than drifting aimlessly.

16. Steve Hauschildt – Strands

Steve Hauschildt told me earlier this year that his work was in part a “quiet commentary” on the idea that “there’s actually no way to escape chaos, because we inhabit and experience an entropic universe.” You can feel Hauschildt grappling with that degeneration on Strands, a collection of quietly contemplative synths that are grounded by a puttering mechanized energy. There are things in this world that you can’t control, but Strands makes it feel like you can.

15. Puce Mary – The Spiral

Fredrikke Hoffmeier’s Puce Mary LPs all feel like deep descents into industrial underworlds, but the brief moments of beauty on her third full-length for Posh Isolationlike the airy background of “The Temptation to Exist,” or the tonic organ drones of “Masks Are Aids Too”make the trip all the more memorable. It’s a trip to hell, but via the scenic route.

14. Imaginary Softwoods – Annual Flowers in Color

Recorded in fits and starts in three different cities, John Elliott’s latest release as Imaginary Softwoods is a rarities collection of sortscompiling four years’ worth of ostensibly unconnected work into a tape-warmed tapestry of sequenced ambience. But you wouldn’t really get a sense of that piecemeal construction without that backstory on bandcamp. With its sagging, waterlogged analog synths lines and hushed spoken word, this one’s pretty unified in sound and spirit, shot through with the wistful discontent that breathes life into so much of the world’s best synth instrumentals.

13. TALsounds – Lifter + Lighter

Both with Good Willsmith and on her own as TALsounds, Natalie Chami’s well versed in making spur-of-the-moment gestures feel carefully plotted. Lifter/Lighter was recorded live with no overdubs, but you’d never guess it from whirlpool loop chaos of tracks like “Close My Eyes.” For music that has its roots in improvisation, it feels tight, as though Chami were composer forced to work in real-time. As her pieces have gotten more complex, they’ve become an increasingly precarious balancing act, which makes the tremendous beauty of Lifter/LIghter all the more moving.

12. Christian Fennesz and Jim O’Rourke – It’s Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry

Two electronics revolutionaries collide on this subtle exploration of remorse. The album’s two side-long pieces are made up of slowly droning electronics and guitars, and each bears a evocative title that gestures at the lovelorn sorrow that digitalist ambient recordings like this sometimes soundtrack. It’s a wholly moving experience, even after you realize that those titles are just lyrics from the song by classic rock cheeseballs Chicago that gave this record it’s titlea small goof amidst the gloom.

11. Moor Mother – Fetish Bones

Impressionistically outlining the history of the governmental oppression of black bodieswhether via physical force or legislationMoor Mother‘s debut LP fetish bones vibrated with an urgency that few albums this year vibrated with the same urgency, Fetish Bones. Institutional violence is met with spoken-word molotovs, sandpapered found samples, and production that sounds like Black Dice remixing Pete Rock (or vice versa). It’s a chaotic collage that feels every bit as unsettling as its subject matter, the sort of record that makes you want to throw down your headphones and take to the streets.

10. Motion Sickness of Time Travel – Affinity

Rachel Evans’ prolific release schedule as Motion Sickness of Time Travel slowed down for a bit following the birth of her first son a few years ago, but in the second half of 2016, she was back opening up portals to outer space at her natural pace. Affinity was her first release as a mother, and it also stands as the most overwhelming release she’s recorded to date. The belt-sander drones of “New Moon” and the synthy despondency of the nearly 17-minute long “Interlude” find Evans exploring the gloom inherent in cosmic music. In the desolate stretches of her synthesizer hums, there’s a depressing reminder that most of what’s beyond the stratosphere is just empty space.

9. Dedekind Cut – $uccessor

One of the ways you could listen to Fred Warmsley’s latest album as Dedekind Cut was by buying a yoga mat that came with a digital download. The product description for the “high quality PRO” mat promises “extra cushioning and comfort,” “safety and performance,” “longevity and durability,” and “stability”all of which turns out to be a pretty solid illustration of the patient, new age-y inclinations of the record. Unlike the unsettled atmosphere of some of his other releases under the moniker, this is ambient music as self-care.

8. Sarah Davachi – Dominions

I don’t know that many people on this list would buy into the idea that the vintage synths Sarah Davachi uses are, as her Bandcamp puts it, “obsolete machines.” But there is something wonderfully antique about the way that Dominions employs this old tech to make wheezing, defeatist drones, stuttering back into action and stumbling through the record’s 38-minute runtime. Davachi acts as a spectral conductor, making pieces that sound empty and haunted, like computerized funeral ballads from beamed from another life.

7. Felicia Atkinson and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – Comme Un Seul Narcisse

None of the track titles on this collaboration between composers Felicia Atkinson and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma are more than a couple letters long, but take all ten of them together, and they spell out a french phrase that translates to “melancholy objects.” The muffled murmurs and ASMR shuffling of Comme Un Seul Narcisse are personal and intimateminiatures to be picked up and pored over until they leave you with a deep longing for something just out of reach.

6. ine O’Dwyer – Locusts

The harpist-turned-cathedral-organ-wrangler ine O’Dwyer returned to the holiest of instruments this year for two tapes of sacred dissonance. Locusts is the better of the two, if only because it’s willing to indulge the darkness inherent to the church spaces in which she records this music. She evokes the Bible’s the funereal march of plague, death, and demise. And like the title suggests, atonal organ drones do sound more than a little like insectoid swarming.

5. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani – Sunergy

Sunergy is the full-borne fruit of incredible happenstance. Two of the world’s greatest Buchla synthesizer players met several years ago when they realized they were living in the same tiny Northern California town. After years of friendship and collaboration, they’ve emerged with a testament to the natural landscapes of the Pacific coast. The record’s shifts are subtle, but their effects colossal, like the movement of the water that’s enraptured Ciani over the last several decades.

4. Good Willsmith – Things Our Bodies Used to Have

The hydra-headed Chicago drone crew Good Willsmith have said that they approached Things Our Bodies Used to Have like a jazz record, staying united on themes but allowing each member the room to delve into outer zones, soloing wildly for minutes at a timeas much as that’s possible for a group that primarily makes electronic loops. As such, it’s a bit looser than their past releases, but that’s the realm they’ve always found richestpulling diamonds from sonic muck.

3. Oren Ambarchi – Hubris

In the past, Australian avant-guitarist Oren Ambarchi has done cranium-crushing noise and blistered ambience, but with help from psych-techno madman Ricardo Villalobos (among other experimentalist godheads) he dragged himself to the depths of the dancefloor on Hubris. Channeling his noise know-how through acid-warped, guitar-and-electronics zoning reminiscent of E2-E4, Ambarchi’s attacks the locomotive grid of techno with wiry, caustic melodiessomething like stumbling upon neon vomit in a club toilet as the rest of the night pulses ahead outside.

2. Autechre – elseq 1-5

The daring English duo‘s five-part, four-hour hard drive purge is a far cry from the humanoid beauty of their earliest work. It’s a pulsar-dense spiderweb of pitch-black Max/MSP outputs, held together by duct tape and saliva. There are few suggestions of life in it, but that’s part of the record’s powerits reminder that most machines hide no ghosts, just whirring bits of metal and untameable electrical impulses.

1. Huerco S – For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)

Back in May, I mercilessly cut THUMP’s UK editor Josh Baines’ attempt to describe Huerco S‘ new one as “the finest ambient record of 2016 so far” from a piece we were working on together. The joys that For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have) presented were muted; its reverb-drowned synths circling in locked beatless loops were pleasant, but where was the danger?

But I came to live with the record over the ensuing months, and I found myself returning to it for exactly that reason: as 2016 became harder to bear, it presented an alternative, an impossibly cozy, comforter-like shelter from the endless storm of shit that dominated my life (and probably yours too!) on both a personal and cosmic scale. I can’t think of a year in my life where I more frequently needed escape, but actually checking out from the world felt irresponsible. So I put the breaking waves of “Promises of Fertility” on repeat, and its cottonball synth lines reshaped the world around me. Everything was a little softer. For a few minutes things didn’t seem so bad, even if they still were.

The 25 Best Experimental Albums Of 2016

Free Radicals is THUMP’s column dedicated to experimental electronic music. Each month, we take a look at the trends emerging from the frayed fringes of the dancefloor and why they’re meaningful.

Electronic instrumentation offers near-endless possibilities to experimentalists. Over the course of this year, I’ve written in this column about hazy beatmakers who use geographical signifiers to interrogate rising tides of nationalism worldwide; about noise producers adopting classic rock tropes to create a newly warped Americana; and about a host of composers who are remapping everyday experiences through the use of musique concrte techniques. Existing at the vanguard of music technology, music like this offers opportunities for producers looking to push toward new sounds, forms and ideas. Below are 25 of the best albums that subverted conventions and rewired synapses.

25. Matt Carlson – The View from Nowhere

Matt Carlson, the synth-tweaking half of clarinet-and-electronics duo Golden Retriever, took some time on his latest solo effort to study the tenuous relationship between modular electronics and the human voice. The result is a stream of synthesizer-scarred syntactical experiments that can feel like gibberish, but under intense scrutiny reveals complex, overlapping structureslike the sound of Microsoft Sam slowly learning linguistics.

24. N.M.O. – Nordic Mediterranean Organization / Numerous Miscommunications Occur

That their debut LP features two nonsensical backronyms as its title is just the first sign that N.M.O.’s debut LP for Diagonal is a clever nest of club quips. The duo folds electro refuse and masonry-tough percussion scraps into abstract shapes that sound like the aural equivalent of an industrial origami or a pile of garbage, depending on your vantage point. The double-LP version is deliberately pockmarked with jarring locked grooves in the middle of the trackjust a few more slapstick pitfalls for unprepared listeners to get trapped in.

23. VHVL – EVN

The gentle EVN feels like a grab bag of meditative genresflickering drone, swooning new age, LA beat scene-ready boom-bapbut the pieces are united by their feeling of hopefulness and cautious ascension. After the treatment for a spinal injury left her bedridden for most of 2015, the Harlem producer and composer VHVL made a collection of ambient miniatures that feels like a sigh of relief.

22. Rashad Becker – Traditional Music of Notional Species, Vol. II

According to Discogs, Rashad Becker has been responsible for mastering nearly 1600 records since 1996, and it’s hard not to hear the effects of that intense listening on his intensely programmed solo work. Music for Notional Species, Vol. II picks up where the first installment left off in 2013, building synthesizer scrap heaps to the heavens with all the intricacy and technicolor beauty of a game of Tetris that you’re doomed to lose forever.

21. Lolina – Live in Paris

Live in Paris, Inga Copeland‘s debut LP under the Lolina moniker, was originally billed as a recording of 2015 audiovisual performance in the French capital. But the album’s credits suggest otherwise, saying that it was “written-by, produced, and mixed by Lolina in London.” As xenophobic rhetoric swelled in Britain and fueled the country’s vote to leave the European Union over the summer, the record’s complicated relation to place felt like a commentary on the rising tide of nationalism, both in England and abroad.

She interrogated our traditional understanding of the way that we understand thingslike records or peopleto be a product of the contexts in which they were created. With every foggy synth line and pinched pop structure, we wonder, would it even mean anything different if music this alien was made in Paris or London? How would that change the way it sounds? What does it mean to be from somewhere?

20. Wreck and Reference – Indifferent Rivers Romance End

Wreck and Reference have always been good at conjuring an empowered sort of depression, and Indifferent Rivers Romance End is the L.A. noise-metal merchants’ most confident statement yet. It’s a headlong dive into sickly synthesizers, black metal rot, and strangled post-punk vocals, with a lyric sheet that welcomes sickness, death, and the void with open arms. You’re left with the feeling that giving one’s self over to the darkness can constitute its own weird form of empowermentor, as “Languish” puts it, a path toward beauty, a path toward blindness.”

19. J.S. Aurelius – Goofin’ Drones

After accidentally picking up a book about drone warfarethinking it was a tome about drone musicDestruction Unit guitarist Jes Aurelius constructed Goofin’ Drones as as a way of connect the two. Sourcing audio from code used to hack, destroy, or otherwise disrupt the quadcopter crafts that the U.S. government uses for surveillance and combat abroad, Aurelius constructed this harrowing tape as a statement against “death by remote control.” As you might expect, its gestures are desolate, sudden, and unforgiving.

18. Chino Amobi – Airport Music for Black Folk

In a far cry from the placidity of the Eno album that gives this release its title, Chino Amobi’s brand of Airport Music blows nervous inner monologues to PA announcement volumes and creaks like mangled steel girders. The NON founder’s work often concerns the ways in which marginalized people interact with invisible power structures, and it’s hard not to read this release in the same way; its deeply anxious atmosphere is a compelling reminder of the reality that airports aren’t peacefulor even safeplaces for everyone.

17. Julianna Barwick – Will

The New York-based composer/vocalist‘s past records have favored weightlessness, exploring the emergent rhythms and harmonies inherent to her vocal looping process in zero-g. But Will feels heavy, dense, and full of conflicteach Moog sequence feels like a tractor beam, dragging her through space rather than drifting aimlessly.

16. Steve Hauschildt – Strands

Steve Hauschildt told me earlier this year that his work was in part a “quiet commentary” on the idea that “there’s actually no way to escape chaos, because we inhabit and experience an entropic universe.” You can feel Hauschildt grappling with that degeneration on Strands, a collection of quietly contemplative synths that are grounded by a puttering mechanized energy. There are things in this world that you can’t control, but Strands makes it feel like you can.

15. Puce Mary – The Spiral

Fredrikke Hoffmeier’s Puce Mary LPs all feel like deep descents into industrial underworlds, but the brief moments of beauty on her third full-length for Posh Isolationlike the airy background of “The Temptation to Exist,” or the tonic organ drones of “Masks Are Aids Too”make the trip all the more memorable. It’s a trip to hell, but via the scenic route.

14. Imaginary Softwoods – Annual Flowers in Color

Recorded in fits and starts in three different cities, John Elliott’s latest release as Imaginary Softwoods is a rarities collection of sortscompiling four years’ worth of ostensibly unconnected work into a tape-warmed tapestry of sequenced ambience. But you wouldn’t really get a sense of that piecemeal construction without that backstory on bandcamp. With its sagging, waterlogged analog synths lines and hushed spoken word, this one’s pretty unified in sound and spirit, shot through with the wistful discontent that breathes life into so much of the world’s best synth instrumentals.

13. TALsounds – Lifter + Lighter

Both with Good Willsmith and on her own as TALsounds, Natalie Chami’s well versed in making spur-of-the-moment gestures feel carefully plotted. Lifter/Lighter was recorded live with no overdubs, but you’d never guess it from whirlpool loop chaos of tracks like “Close My Eyes.” For music that has its roots in improvisation, it feels tight, as though Chami were composer forced to work in real-time. As her pieces have gotten more complex, they’ve become an increasingly precarious balancing act, which makes the tremendous beauty of Lifter/LIghter all the more moving.

12. Christian Fennesz and Jim O’Rourke – It’s Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry

Two electronics revolutionaries collide on this subtle exploration of remorse. The album’s two side-long pieces are made up of slowly droning electronics and guitars, and each bears a evocative title that gestures at the lovelorn sorrow that digitalist ambient recordings like this sometimes soundtrack. It’s a wholly moving experience, even after you realize that those titles are just lyrics from the song by classic rock cheeseballs Chicago that gave this record it’s titlea small goof amidst the gloom.

11. Moor Mother – Fetish Bones

Impressionistically outlining the history of the governmental oppression of black bodieswhether via physical force or legislationMoor Mother‘s debut LP fetish bones vibrated with an urgency that few albums this year vibrated with the same urgency, Fetish Bones. Institutional violence is met with spoken-word molotovs, sandpapered found samples, and production that sounds like Black Dice remixing Pete Rock (or vice versa). It’s a chaotic collage that feels every bit as unsettling as its subject matter, the sort of record that makes you want to throw down your headphones and take to the streets.

10. Motion Sickness of Time Travel – Affinity

Rachel Evans’ prolific release schedule as Motion Sickness of Time Travel slowed down for a bit following the birth of her first son a few years ago, but in the second half of 2016, she was back opening up portals to outer space at her natural pace. Affinity was her first release as a mother, and it also stands as the most overwhelming release she’s recorded to date. The belt-sander drones of “New Moon” and the synthy despondency of the nearly 17-minute long “Interlude” find Evans exploring the gloom inherent in cosmic music. In the desolate stretches of her synthesizer hums, there’s a depressing reminder that most of what’s beyond the stratosphere is just empty space.

9. Dedekind Cut – $uccessor

One of the ways you could listen to Fred Warmsley’s latest album as Dedekind Cut was by buying a yoga mat that came with a digital download. The product description for the “high quality PRO” mat promises “extra cushioning and comfort,” “safety and performance,” “longevity and durability,” and “stability”all of which turns out to be a pretty solid illustration of the patient, new age-y inclinations of the record. Unlike the unsettled atmosphere of some of his other releases under the moniker, this is ambient music as self-care.

8. Sarah Davachi – Dominions

I don’t know that many people on this list would buy into the idea that the vintage synths Sarah Davachi uses are, as her Bandcamp puts it, “obsolete machines.” But there is something wonderfully antique about the way that Dominions employs this old tech to make wheezing, defeatist drones, stuttering back into action and stumbling through the record’s 38-minute runtime. Davachi acts as a spectral conductor, making pieces that sound empty and haunted, like computerized funeral ballads from beamed from another life.

7. Felicia Atkinson and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – Comme Un Seul Narcisse

None of the track titles on this collaboration between composers Felicia Atkinson and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma are more than a couple letters long, but take all ten of them together, and they spell out a french phrase that translates to “melancholy objects.” The muffled murmurs and ASMR shuffling of Comme Un Seul Narcisse are personal and intimateminiatures to be picked up and pored over until they leave you with a deep longing for something just out of reach.

6. ine O’Dwyer – Locusts

The harpist-turned-cathedral-organ-wrangler ine O’Dwyer returned to the holiest of instruments this year for two tapes of sacred dissonance. Locusts is the better of the two, if only because it’s willing to indulge the darkness inherent to the church spaces in which she records this music. She evokes the Bible’s the funereal march of plague, death, and demise. And like the title suggests, atonal organ drones do sound more than a little like insectoid swarming.

5. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani – Sunergy

Sunergy is the full-borne fruit of incredible happenstance. Two of the world’s greatest Buchla synthesizer players met several years ago when they realized they were living in the same tiny Northern California town. After years of friendship and collaboration, they’ve emerged with a testament to the natural landscapes of the Pacific coast. The record’s shifts are subtle, but their effects colossal, like the movement of the water that’s enraptured Ciani over the last several decades.

4. Good Willsmith – Things Our Bodies Used to Have

The hydra-headed Chicago drone crew Good Willsmith have said that they approached Things Our Bodies Used to Have like a jazz record, staying united on themes but allowing each member the room to delve into outer zones, soloing wildly for minutes at a timeas much as that’s possible for a group that primarily makes electronic loops. As such, it’s a bit looser than their past releases, but that’s the realm they’ve always found richestpulling diamonds from sonic muck.

3. Oren Ambarchi – Hubris

In the past, Australian avant-guitarist Oren Ambarchi has done cranium-crushing noise and blistered ambience, but with help from psych-techno madman Ricardo Villalobos (among other experimentalist godheads) he dragged himself to the depths of the dancefloor on Hubris. Channeling his noise know-how through acid-warped, guitar-and-electronics zoning reminiscent of E2-E4, Ambarchi’s attacks the locomotive grid of techno with wiry, caustic melodiessomething like stumbling upon neon vomit in a club toilet as the rest of the night pulses ahead outside.

2. Autechre – elseq 1-5

The daring English duo‘s five-part, four-hour hard drive purge is a far cry from the humanoid beauty of their earliest work. It’s a pulsar-dense spiderweb of pitch-black Max/MSP outputs, held together by duct tape and saliva. There are few suggestions of life in it, but that’s part of the record’s powerits reminder that most machines hide no ghosts, just whirring bits of metal and untameable electrical impulses.

1. Huerco S – For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)

Back in May, I mercilessly cut THUMP’s UK editor Josh Baines’ attempt to describe Huerco S‘ new one as “the finest ambient record of 2016 so far” from a piece we were working on together. The joys that For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have) presented were muted; its reverb-drowned synths circling in locked beatless loops were pleasant, but where was the danger?

But I came to live with the record over the ensuing months, and I found myself returning to it for exactly that reason: as 2016 became harder to bear, it presented an alternative, an impossibly cozy, comforter-like shelter from the endless storm of shit that dominated my life (and probably yours too!) on both a personal and cosmic scale. I can’t think of a year in my life where I more frequently needed escape, but actually checking out from the world felt irresponsible. So I put the breaking waves of “Promises of Fertility” on repeat, and its cottonball synth lines reshaped the world around me. Everything was a little softer. For a few minutes things didn’t seem so bad, even if they still were.

The 25 Best Albums Of 2016 So Far

The history of dance music has primarily been told through singles. One great trackwhen properly nestled in the right DJ set, so the logic goeshas 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 outlinespop and club structures, mainlywould 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 genocideand 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.” 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 myselfreading 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 outhowever tremulousfor 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

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