Best of 2016: Ambient / Abstract / Progressive Electronic

This year saw a lot of artists who make lo-fi analog house ditching their beats into washes and adding drones on top. In addition, long time stalwarts largely took a turn for the darker and more mysterious. It was an exciting year for weirdos and the music that they listen to, for sure.

10> Tim Hecker - Love Streams

This feels like a step backwards, perhaps the first true step backwards in the history of Hecker’s stellar career. Many months after its release, it still does play pretty well for music, and that’s because it’s still better than a vast majority of music ever made.

9> Klara Lewis - Too

Lewis’s sound experiments have begun to sound like no one else’s. Her sound palette starts with field recordings, analogue, and ambient washes but goes quite a bit deeper than that. But also, it’s her sense of composition is what makes Too a unique and interesting listen.

8> Kemper Norton - Toll

Once I knew what this album was about specifically (a particular oil spill), the whole construction of it started to make sense. We need to feel the weight of the circumstance with the cavernous drones, but the emotive words definitely help in creating the narrative. Toll represents a successful story told through both sound and word, which I find a rarity in abstract music.

7> 2814 - Rain Temple

Vaporware was nearly impossible to follow this year, but I fully intend to catch up during the interstitial to see if anything else notable happened. Two of the heavy hitters, Telepath and HKE, came together once again to drop this slab of space wandering, and I’m glad that they did. HKE has been getting more into beats, which appear a few places here, and voices are explored more minimally than before. Less novel than their previous work together, but no less good.

6> Huerco S - For Those of you who have never (and also those who have)

Huerco S is one of the aforementioned now-ambient-leaning outsider artists who also counterbalanced his ambient release with one that was more straightforward (and less good). The hype surrounding this release (ambient hype?) is a bit odd though not underserved in terms of his cachet in the analogue community and the strange and beautiful textures explored here. 

5> You’re Me - Plant Cell Division

A Vancouverian collaboration tape on 1080p is enough to sell me sound unheard, but this one happens to be a particularly special little number. In the intersection of ambient and lo-fi house, Yu Su and Scott Gailey sculpt sound in a unique way together. Sometimes dusty, sometimes lush, it’s an intriguing and fun listen all the way through.

4> Loscil - Monument Builders

Speaking of Vancouver, Scott Morgan lives there and is influenced by the surroundings. This album has more intense moments than he has ever previously had, with references to Phillip Glass and as I hear it, OneOhTrix. Though it’s somewhere in the middle of his now vast discography, I recommend this one almost as highly as Sea Island from 2014, which was my number one ambient album that year. 

3> Sophia Loizou - Singulacra

One of the first releases from Donoso’s promising Kathexis label in Boston, this is a perfectly sculpted apocalyptic soundscape. There are haunted chimes of what used to be: techno, hardcore rave, industrial…but none of those exist anymore in the world of Singulacra. 

2> Body Boys - Hood Spectrum

I knew that the most engaging Body Boys tracks were ones that were overwhelmed by drones and that had distant techno beats buried underwater in the mix. Then they went and made a whole tape of that stuff! It worked out perfectly, for them, and me, and no one else probably! Amazing night music.

1> Steve Hauschilds - Strands

This its my life affirming record of the year. I get many visuals about time collapsing onto a point where these sounds were created by luck and nature, just as I like to think my best art is created. There are secrets to the universe buried in between these bullshit boring analogue noises (Emeralds reference, nailed it). This might be my second favorite Emeralds related release after the epic Allegory of Allergies.