Best of 2016: Dark Ambient / Industrial / Difficult Listening

This is my least listened to set of albums from this year and I believe it’s true for previous years as well. It’s still a fun one though, and it’s only 10-15% less than the other genres. I’m really rolling together a few different types of releases on this list, but they have in common a few things: they’re uncompromising, heavy, and very successful as pieces of art. 

10> G.H. - Housebound Demigod

The least of three notable releases on Modern Love this year, this represents the darker, weirder side of a dark, weird label. Gary Howell is closer to an Editions Mego level of abstraction and experimental structure, which makes for a compelling listen when given a somewhat traditional Modern Love sound palette.

9> Roly Porter - Third Law

A particularly expansive album in a series of expansive albums, Roly doesn’t disappoint with Third Law, a third album of a Trilogy of sorts and his first release on Tri Angle. When it hits, it hits big, like “Mass” and “In Flight,” but the journey there and back is an interesting one as well.

8> SØS Gunver Ryberg - AFTRYK

I listen to less and less Industrial Techno as time goes on, but I’m glad that I spent time with this 12”. There is some magic to the physicality of Holly Dicker’s music that is missing from other releases of this nature, but perhaps it’s the palpable soul of it that really draws me in. 

7> Lorenzo Senni - Persona

I can’t decide if this mini album drives me crazy or makes me excited. With influences that range from chiptune to trance to progressive electronic, it’s a questionable taste jamboree that somehow sees Senni on top the whole time. Like the film of the same name, you’re not sure if the performer or viewer is more insane. If you like mania, come on in.

6> Kerridge - Fatal Light Attraction

You’ve got to give Samuel Kerridge credit for mastering his gear to the point where you can’t tell that he’s mixing live or not. This happens to be a live set for an art exhibit that I wish I’d seen, because i’m sure it would have crushed/uplifted my soul quite a bit.

5> HEXA - Factory Photographs

A latecomer to this list, I just came by this record because of the Boomkat year-end, which is brilliant and terrifying as always. This is a collaboration between Lawrence English, one of my all time favorite abstract artists, and Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu), who I'd given up on long ago. This seems like an amazing soundtrack to pictures that David Lynch took of abandoned factories (that's actually what this is).

4> Oren Ambarchi - Hubris

I finally feel like I enjoy the music of this extremely prolific Aussie “guitarist.” This is his Krautiest release and propelled by similarly minded geniuses of Jim O’Rourke and Thomas Brinkmann. The third movement here is a towering behemoth that stands firmly in the canon of experimental rock music.  

3> Paul Jebanasam - Continuum

A three-track symphony of static, drones, hisses and a climactic cacophonous blast. Jebanasam seems to have a hand for classical composition and very strange track names that somewhat resemble individual movements within a piece. This is powerful sound art and one of the best of its kind.

2> Fis - From Patterns to Details

This album is a continuation of a musical conversation that’s been going on for years. Just look at Subtext’s recent releases to see the narrative: Jebanasam’s Continuum (just talked about that), Emptyset’s 12” and single releases, Roly Porter’s “Life Cycle of a Massive Star.” Along with Ben Frost and Ricardo Donoso, these artists have been redefining Dark Ambient and moving it past its terrible, simple name, into what people are now calling Post-Industrial, an equally dumb name. Mostly, this is Heavy Sound Art and this is what it should sound like.

1> Pita - Get In

Peter Rehberg continues his “Get” saga 12 years later, and in the meantime I had tuned in, so I kind of knew what to expect. And my expectations were circumvented! And surpassed! Pita has influenced laptop music forever with his releases and his label (Mego), and this is somewhere in between a patient masterwork and a victory lap in terms of its nature. It’s rare to find the top notch noise and top notch ambience in the same record, let alone the same song, but that’s the Pita promise, apparently.