Our generation seems to have agreed that 2016 sucked. But for those of us who survived, still navigating through the strange networks of reality and society, great music keeps pouring out. New music does not bury what came before it. It does not stack on top of it. It grows within it, expanding in every direction in a three dimensional axis. New music influenced by old music influenced by music older than it influenced by music newer than it.
Attempting to map musical history has become as complex as etymology. Words like “terrible” and “terrific” can mean something completely different even though they pull from the same root word. Just the same, music can take influences in completely different directions, contrasting interpretations and deepening the original listen.
As hard as I’ve tried to keep up with all new music that comes out, I’m still surprised by what I find. Music that came out 10 or 20 or 30 years ago I never heard of that sounds as if it could have been recorded today frequently comes into my ears. Some of them like Cornelius’s Fantasma from 1997 had been under my radar my entire life, seemingly sitting in a pocket of their own isolated genius. Studio’s Yearbook 1 from 2007 (a cool 10 years ago) had snuck under my nose since then but sounds as if it was a textbook for chillwave which would flourish just two years later. It’s understandable that things would go by unnoticed during pre-Internet eras, but this is the era of Spotify’s music recommendation algorithms, Bandcamp’s ease-of-publishing, Wikipedia’s endless editing, and Google’s data ubiquity. Somehow, despite all of this, it’s just as difficult to stay up-to-date. With enough time, I could just as easily have a List of 500 Favorite Albums of 2016.
Of course, time is the problem. Time is always the problem. The more tools we have to discover, the more overwhelmed we can become. This is both exhilarating and debilitating. But we still need more time. We never have enough time.
This is 2016. Retro has become a redundant word. Remix is part of any standard paint set. Revolutionary is commonplace. We often wonder what the future of music will sound like, and I think we now know: everything.
But I am biased. Anyone who says they like “all” music is either fooling their friends or fooling his or herself. My interests these days lead me to quirky pop hooks, entrancing soundscapes, gorgeous walls of sound, insatiable wit, ingenious creativity, and unbridled emotion. And the albums that tend to nail more than one of these things tend to be closer to the top of my list of favorites–which begins after the break.
Sort of dropped the ball this year. I usually do write-ups for at least the top twenty, but I only had time for the top ten. I blame the gym.
This was one of the most quality-rich years of music in recent memory. It was not only a monumental year for hip-hop and a wide range of electronic subgenres, but indie rock felt like it was more prevalent than recently as well. Much of this is thanks to shoegaze/dream pop becoming popular again, as well as post-rock and noise rock.
As I said, I’m short on time, so I’ll keep it concise and continue on to the list:
Every year I offer a bit of reflection on the last four quarters of music more so for my own personal musings. I have an annual personal journal (yes, I only update it once a year) for much the same reason: experiencing time is weird and full of paradoxes. It seems to go by fast, but so much happens. Little details go missing in the blur. Attempting to assign some descriptors known as words onto the experiences seems almost futile. But here I am.
For music, 2014 was an exceptional year. There were a few headline leaders taking a lot of acclaim as usual, but there is incredible volume of high quality artists making music. This is in thanks both to the democratization of the tools used in making/producing music as well as the continued improvement of digital distribution/streaming. Obviously we’ve been heading in this direction for a while now, but now that it’s being more frequently embraced by both content creators and listeners, the result has been incredible.
If you have the urge to listen to something new of any genre, it’s easier than ever. There are services that will even do the hard work of finding those artists for you. It used to be only a few crazies like me who would take the time to dig up and research new artists, but now, anyone with Pandora or Spotify can dive into something new. And I’m not being elitist about that — I think it’s awesome, and I’m glad people can experience new content so easily. Thanks, information age: you have officially become digital crack cocaine. And the masses are euphoric.
I felt so passionately about so many albums this year that 50 albums was starting to feel like too few. But the limitation helps me be more critical about the quality. I almost did narrative for the entire lot, but once again, it’s only for the top 20. I mean, for that alone, it’s nearly 10 pages of text in Google Documents. I don’t think people care what I have to say that much.
Okay, here we are. The list follows at the break:
Technically this is my Favorite Albums *10th Year Anniversary Edition (there may be a total of two people who’ve read them since that year, so it’s worth celebrating).
I started writing these in 2003 (originally on LiveJournal). They started as lists and eventually expanded into narrative discussions as well. As I’ve always said: it’s not my attempt at deciding what is better than what, but what I personally enjoyed the most. That’s sort of a cheap cop out, but I don’t consider myself a critic; I’m only a listener who occasionally enjoys sharing what I think and making recommendations.
The antithesis of a favorites list: a list of disappointments. I’ve played almost every major MMO on the market since 1999. I’ve seen some good games, some decent games, and some bad games. But, honestly, mostly bad. Here’s my depressing top ten.
I’m at it again with one of the only things I ever blog about anymore: my favorite music of the year. I did fifty again this year, with short to long write-ups about the top 25.
My overall reflection about this year in music: Not quite as strong as last year, but still good. There were many albums that I liked, but few that I really loved. The R&B influence on alternative music which has been going strong for going on 4-5 years has gone from hip to ubiquitous. But there are still some holdouts of bands with some actual equipment hanging around, and they’re still putting together great albums. It’s almost strange listening to new stuff from The Mountain Goats. It feels like it’s stirpped down, or too reminiscent of the past to be new.
Hip-hop feels like the real winner of 2012. Its popular and alternative acclaim is not only strong in the U.S., but also highly adored in Europe (especially the UK and France). Its influence is also felt strongly within electronic music spheres–be it indie pop groups like Purity Ring and Phantogram to those pesky trap music DJs.
80s dream pop inspired artists are still going strong, though one wonders how much longer we’ll allow their endlessly echoing reverb before we tire of them. I know I’m good for now, so long as the production is good and the vocals stay as ethereal as Victoria Legrand’s.
Perhaps there were no completely new and innovative movements this year. But I still feel like there was a lot of diversity, and certainly a lot of new artists with much to look forward to in the future.
On to the list… (I apologize for the long load times. I decided to insert audio links and they take a bit of time to load)
List of my most anticipated television seasons of 2012.
I’ve been contemplating and re-listening to the albums I’ve heard this year in anticipation for writing my Favorite Albums List for 2011 next month. It got me thinking about the state of current musical styles, and I felt compelled to make some comments on it as a whole. Not that I’m the Keeper of the Zeitgeist, but I do pay attention to new artists, their obvious influences, and the direction music seems to be going compared to previous years.
Been doing this every year since 2003, although it’s only recently that I started doing fifty a year. I only do write-ups for the top twenty though, although if I have the time I might finish the rest. I suppose I take the critical coward’s way out by saying this is my fifty “favorite” albums and not the fifty “greatest” albums, but it is highly subjective so I recommend you make your own list if you care enough to call me out on it.