There are no rules that blogs can’t post more than one ‘Best of’ post at the end of the year (well, we hope not), so when our good friend Matt Wild of Vieon offered to share his Top 10 of 2016 with us, we jumped at the chance Take it away, Matt…
As the year wraps up, I thought I’d take the time to indulgently write a listicle for the internet. Here are the top 10 new albums from 2016 that I’ve been inspired by and generally listening to on repeat…
65daysofstatic – No Man’s Sky
Sheffield’s favourite post-rockers returned in 2016 with their soundtrack to the massively controversial and debatably marketed open world explorationathon No Man’s Sky. Impressive and complex drum work (as ever), with some genuinely poignant piano melodies, synthetic atmospheres and fluttering arpeggios round off an album which is half typical ‘studio album’ and half ambient game soundtrack.
Best track: Heliosphere
Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygene 3
Anyone who knows me at all won’t be surprised to find this here – what is surprising is how good this album is. JMJ entered the traditional aging rocker ‘wilderness years’ from around the turn of the millennium onwards, and only recently began winning back critics and new fans with firstly the release of the two-parter collaboration series Electronica in 2015 and now the final instalment of his legendary Oxygene series. The third album contains parts 14 to 20, which are impressively varied and yet still very much on theme for the series, with arpeggiated synth plucks, sweeping phased string pads and burbling sound effects. However much of a 70’s throwback this sounds like on paper however, the production is thoroughly modern and Jean-Michel hasn’t shied away from using soft synths and newer digital instruments alongside his old analogue classics. A sequel worthy of the name.
Best track: Oxygene Pt. 17
Justice – Woman
The French duo return for 2016 with an album which is on the surface surprisingly similar to their last effort Audio Video Disco from 2011. Carrying over the now-classic Justice sound of overcompressed drums, slap bass and a penchant for gurgling, beautifully overdriven synth leads, Woman is clearly from a band that have found their groove, much to the disdain of those who preferred the more heavily sample-driven, choppy style from their debut album. One of the few bands brave enough to turn softer and rely more on song-writing chops with age, rather than edgier and noisier.
Best track: Fire
NZCA LINES – Infinite Summer
On hearing NZCA LINES for the first time, I distinctly remember commenting to a friend that they were ‘Metronomy, if Metronomy stopped being shit’. I was referring to Metronomy’s album Summer 08, out this year but as you’ll note, definitely not on this list. NZCA LINES have taken a similar approach to wonky pop songs, but are significantly more musical – album opener Persephone Dreams (which is a title I wish I’d come up with for a song) has a thoroughly unusual and enchanting chord sequence and even a steel drum solo interlude, but still sounds coherent, driven and catchy.
Best track: How Long Does It Take
Faunts – Ostalgia Vol. 1
Canadian electronic post-rockers Faunts rather suddenly reappeared in 2016 after many years of lying practically dormant with this new five-part EP; if you’re a fan of Mass Effect, you’ll remember them as the band who wrote the closing credits song for the first and third instalments. Gorgeous washed-over production emphasises the offbeat percussion, rolling bass guitar and distant, reverb-heavy vocals while the whole adventure is glued together with some very subtle but effective synthesizer work.
Best track: Thirty-Three, Pt. 2: Remembered
Yello – Toy
Baritoned Swiss millionaires Dieter Meier and Boris Blank (most famous for 1980s half-comedy half-high art music videos) are back for their first studio album in 7 years. Fast paced from the beginning, it owes a surprising amount to late 90s and early 2000s dance (think the car chase from The Bourne Identity), before slowing down for the more chillout-related second half (even dipping into true, Eno-esque ambient at times). Funky, driving with guest female vocalists all over providing an effective counterpoint to Meier’s famous baritone half-narrated / half-sung words.
Best track: Limbo
Vangelis – Rosetta
2016 was clearly a year for unexpected comebacks as another synthesizer legend made his return for the first time since 2001 to soundtrack the ESA’s attempts to land a tiny robot on a comet. Vangelis is still clearly relying on a somewhat dated synth setup (including now somewhat unconvincing Roland JV ‘orchestral’ voices) but it doesn’t detract from a more synth-driven album that retains all of Vangelis’ trademark musical cues – CS-80 brass, medieval-esque plucked melodies and electric piano glissandos everywhere. It’s a relatively (and maybe in places slightly indulgently) self-referential piece, with clear throwbacks to his previous work on Blade Runner, Albedo 0.39 and Chariots of Fire, but that makes it all the more enjoyable for those of us that thought Vangelis had essentially retired.
Best track: Sunlight
Royksopp – Never Ever
I’m slightly cheating here because this isn’t actually an album; it’s really a single, but given how Royksopp have sworn off the concept of releasing albums, here it is anyway. The sublime Susanne Sundfor returns to lend her stunning voice to this synthpop banger. Sticking with the same incessantly catchy chord sequence from the start, this is a masterclass in songwriting and production, with disco guitars that will have you dancing all the way home. The Extended Dub Excursion version (almost 20 minutes long) is well worth it too.
Best track: Never Ever
Various Artists – Star Wars: Headspace
This was a bit of a surprise – a Rick Rubin-curated compilation of Star Wars-inspired songs by acclaimed electronic producers from all over the world. For some reason, even though this is liberally, liberally topped with nominally cheesy Star Wars samples (Wookiees, TIE fighters, droids and lightsabers abound), it’s actually excellent (for the most part…), which is testament to the ability of the producers involved. It’s also hugely varied, from the pounding, incessant beats of Royksopp’s Bounty Hunters to the atmospheric soundscapes of Bonobo’s Ghomrassen (these guys are clearly as big Star Wars nerds as me, so I’m loving it).
Best track: Sunset Over Manaan (ATTLAS) [not just because of the Knights of the Old Republic shoutout, either…]
M83 – Junk
The first release since M83 burst onto the mainstream with 2011’s Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, this album had a lot to live up to. Sadly, it’s not as good as its predecessor, but still more than worth a listen – honky-tonk-driven opener Do It, Try It is delightfully catchy, and the album hits a peak with the almost Floydian Solitude. Interviews with Anthony Gonzalez (the man behind the band) suggest that he’s unhappy with the level of fame that Hurry Up We’re Dreaming catapulted him too, and there’s more than a hint within this album that he’s trying to do something deliberately different; however, on occasion, this comes across as a bit forced. It’s a testament to his skill as a songwriter and producer that the album doesn’t collapse under this pressure.
Best track: Solitude
So there we have it. Enjoy, and thanks for reading!