Eight Hip-Hop Producers You Need to Know Right Now

Hip-hop production is an even more mercurial game than rap itself—teenage sensations emerge overnight, catching stars’ ears with FL Studio loops made in 10 minutes after school. Then there are the elusive studio rats, cranking out platinum albums for years without ever doing a single interview. In between there’s a wide world of talent, from Los Angeles SoundCloud wizards selling beatpacks on Twitter to Atlanta rise-n’-grinders hoping to become the next Metro Boomin.

Keeping up with the best of them is a lifehack for finding amazing new music before your friends, but the sheer quantity can become overwhelming. We understand—we’ve been there, and we’re here to help. Below, we’ve listed eight rising producers you should become familiar with so that next time you’re handed the aux cord you won’t need to have an existential crisis and knock the grill over in a blind panic. Just stay calm, follow these talents on social media, and venture out to BBQs this summer with heat on your phone and peace in your mind.

VHVL

Harlem-based beatmaker VHVL bridges the gap between hip-hop production and plasticine Actress-esque futurescapes with releases like 2016’s EVN, her sparse instrumental tape on Matthewdavid’s imprint Leaving Records. Stunners like “0006” lacquer vintage hip-hop drum patterns with high-definition futuristic detail, like icicles hanging from a Victorian windowsill. VHVL grabs the beat scene with both hands, yanks it out of its holding pattern of stoner-friendly beats and dusty jazz samples, and forces it to engage with our treacherous, high-definition present. Look out for her next tape ODD coming sometime this year, and don’t miss her appearance at MoMA PS1’s Warm Up on July 1.

Cubeatz

Though not a household name, German duo Cubeatz have left their inventive fingerprints all over some of the biggest releases of the last few years. Their best work to date is “Ronda (Winners)”, off Lil Uzi Vert’s 2016 mixtape The Perfect Luv Tape. It’s a tumbling wisteria vine of a beat, translucent xylophone blooms winding around a delicate twig of bass so fragile you worry it might snap off in a strong breeze.

That same feather-light touch permeates the duo’s work on street anthems like “No Heart” by 21 Savage, “Goosebumps” by Travis Scott, and “Tunnel Vision” by Kodak Black. Cubeatz excel at helping rappers fulfill their pop potential by lacing their beats with spectral melodic updrafts. They may never take the spotlight for themselves, but expect their work to keep dominating the radio for the foreseeable future.

Supah Mario

Few major rappers have done more to promote underground producer talent than Young Thug. His thirst for experimental sounds means that in addition to boldface names like Metro Boomin and Mike WiLL Made-It, his tapes always come loaded with off-kilter beats from relative unknowns. Take Supah Mario. According to an interview with Mass Appeal, the producer from Columbia, South Carolina was working as a janitor making $400 a month when he managed to get the beat for “2 Cups Stuffed” placed on Thug’s breakout 2013 mixtape 1017 Thug. Though he’s never met the enigmatic rapper, he’s fed him a steady diet of unorthodox beats since then, including the reggae-tinged standout “Wyclef Jean” from Thug’s album Jeffrey last year. His biggest break to date come when Drake happened to hear one of his beats in the studio, which became the bubbly “Ice Melts” on the superstar’s 2017 release More Life. According to an interview in Billboard, only at that point did he feel confident enough to quit his day job. With work lined up for rappers like Post Malone, Lil Uzi Vert, and Famous Dex, he probably won’t need to get another one anytime soon.

Ronny J

If you’re a teenager who prefers rappers with candy-colored dreadlocks, absurd ad-libs, and a Xanax fixation you’ve probably heard the work of Ronny J—the South Florida producer’s credits include production for youth magnets like Xxxtentacion, Lil Pump, Rich Chigga, Denzel Curry, and Keith Ape. So far his defining work is on fellow Floridian Pump and Smokepurrp’s 2016 collaboration “Broke My Wrist,” which summons mosh-inducing energy from cage-rattling drums, a growling bass line, a dump-truck-backing-up beep sound, and not much else. It sounds like he cranked it out in five minutes, and all the better for it. If you can’t get down, you’re probably too old.

Last month Ronny announced a forthcoming mixtape featuring exclusively South Florida rappers, boasting, “BIGGEST TAPE ON THE INTERNET OTW!” Judging by the hype around his region’s trademark sound, he might just be right.

Pi’erre Bourne

Playboi Carti spent so long teasing his self-titled debut mixtape that some of his fans started wondering if it could live up to their sky-high expectations. Finally, in March, two new songs emerged that assuaged all their worries—”Magnolia” and “#Wokeuplikethis,” both produced by someone named Pi’erre Bourne who was, at that point, largely unknown outside of Atlanta. They’re two of the most infectious songs Carti’s ever released, due in part to Bourne’s production. His flute loops and richly detailed synths cast the rapper’s machine-gun bursts in a sublime, golden light, like he’s rapping while walking around a calm pool in the Versaille sculpture gardens. In the last ten seconds of “Magnolia” Bourne cuts the drums, revealing a gorgeous synth loop that’s been lurking in the wings—it sounds more like a detail you’d notice on a subdued track from Yaeji, Galcher Lustwerk or even Moodymann than an Atlanta street record.

When the tape dropped in full last month, Bourne had credits on more than half of its fifteen songs. This exposure has catapulted him into the upper echelons of rap’s new generation—in an interview with XXL, he says he’s been hit up by the likes of Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, and Rich the Kid for beats. Expect to hear his catchy producer tag—”Pierre, you wanna come out here?”—booming out of car speakers all summer long.

H!tkidd

Despite its rich history, present-day Memphis often finds itself outshone by Southern rap meccas like Atlanta and Houston. Enter H!tkidd, who’s keeping his city on the map with a versatile sound that blends cloud rap and local gothic influences into something all his own. He has an adventurous taste in collaborators—this year’s #WHATITDOMANE tape featured everyone from Sweden’s Yung Lean and Bladee to prolific Memphis rapper Chris Travis and Chicago upstart Nina Tech. H!tkidd’s even worked with London’s elusive Bala Club crew, lending several vaporous beats for Uli K to croon over last year. His crowning achievement, though, is his production on the stunning “Ballin Like Messi,” by Chicago’s Adamn Killa and Killavesi. Trance arpeggios and neon pads seem to suspend the rappers’ slurred melodies in amber, like a Top 40 jam heard through a narcotic fog.
Bonus points for his ruthless T.A.T.U flip on Killa’s “My Stance.”

Jaegen

Jaegen burst on to the scene back in 2015 as the go-to producer for Ramriddlz, outfitting the Toronto sensation’s lilting rhymes with gentle tropical beats. In the years since, dancehall-lite completed a friendly takeover of the pop charts, and Jaegen has been perfectly positioned to ride the wave. Case in point, last month French Montana tapped him for “Unforgettable,” which features Swae Lee. It’s his biggest look to date, and he doesn’t disappoint—Jaegen has a knack for blending sad and sweet elements, and here he expertly undercuts the drums’ hip-swiveling thrust with soft pads and contemplative filter sweeps. Sure, Montana is no Popcaan, but with a beat this breezy it all just falls into place. With the “song of the summer” sweepstakes right around the corner, expect Jaegen to become a secret weapon for stars hoping to boost their singles with a Caribbean power-up.

Nedarb

If you’ve spent a long time in the seedy corners of the rap internet ruled by the likes of $UICIDEBOY$, Black Kray, Xavier Wulf, and Slug Christ, you probably encountered Nedarb’s lo-fi, sample-heavy beats years ago. But the Los Angeles producer reached a whole new stratosphere of success when he hitched his wagon to Lil Peep’s unlikely shooting star, producing all of the Long Island emo rapper’s 2016 mixtape California Dreamin. Peep blew up shortly after, and many songs on that tape now boast millions of plays online. Highlight “Beamerboy” (which also features Lil Tracy) demonstrates Denarb’s omnivorous taste in sample material, as he flips The Microphones’ “Headless Horseman” into a cavernous amphitheatre for Peep’s morose croon.

Always prolific, success hasn’t slowed down Nedarb one bit—his SoundCloud is a faucet of new music, usually featuring obscure rappers who bought his beats over Twitter, where he regularly offers deals like “$500 FOR A 10 TRACK COLLAB ALBUM W/ ME + PROMO.” Don’t knock his hustle. Nedarb’s unexpected success is a testament to the power of throwing everything at the wall until something sticks.

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.