Picking the tracks of the year is not an easy a task as it may initially sound. Ask someone—anyone—to select the cuts that moved them over the course of the past 12 months and it's not out of the question that you'll end up with an entirely different collection of records than those which you had in mind before entertaining the idea of posing this very question. You see, music taste is a subjective matter; and what resonates with you at any given moment may not be flavor of the month with friends, family—or, indeed, anyone else.
Nonetheless, we held the discussion within the XLR8R offices anyway: what were your tracks of the year? What moved you? What touched you? Which cuts, of the thousands upon thousands that crossed your path, do you remember especially fondly as you look back upon what turned out to be a stunning year for music—if not politically, socially, and in just about every other regard.
In truth, this list could be endless: scanning through now reminds one of various other releases that would sit comfortably within this set of tracks—but we had to draw the line somewhere. This, after some careful consideration, is the selection of tracks that cropped up most frequently in our discussions—the records that ultimately became our favorites of the year.
Mark Ernestus' collaboration with Nigerian brass band Obadika resulted in a frankly brilliant April EP—of which the title track was particularly memorable.
It's difficult to choose a standout track from Moodymann's DJ-Kicks—but this newly released rework of Flying Lotus' "Tea Leaf Dancers" is as worthy a note as any. In truth, this edit is not too different from the original cut, but its inclusion on this release was enough to remind us just how good it is.
In the comments of the below video for DJ Sotofett's "Current 82," one user remarked that even though they were coming down from a final MDMA hit in the early-morning hours of an open air party, when "the pads of this tune come in slowly," "I get another, final euphoria rush out of nowhere"—and what an apt description. "Current 82" has a way of creeping up on you; before you know it, your eyes are closed and you're swaying in time with the woozy synths emanating from the speakers.
Following on from his debut album, There Is No Right Time, Berlin-based DJ and producer Ewan Smith (a.k.a. Youandewan) released another EP. Where that full-length was a reflective, emotional work, three-tracker Pinger is a more upbeat recording, built for club use—and the leading cut was particularly pleasant.
Sur is the label of three friends who aim to connect their homelands of Uruguay, Argentina, and their new musical home in Berlin. This is the label's first release; and what a way to start.
Berlin-based South Korean Peggy Gou made a name for herself with a set of records on Rekids, followed by a two-tracker on Phonica White in March. The woozy title track of that EP springs to mind when looking back on the year; after all, it's difficult not to smile at the warm, funky bassline and emotive strings.
While the name sounds more of a description rather than a title, it is as accurate as they come. This disco cut is exactly what its title says: a quirky track that is as highly playable as it is wonky. It's no surprise it was played out by a long list of leading DJs this year.
A track of "mystical and haunting beauty," according to YouTube comments. Let's leave it as that.
It would feel weird to have an end of year tracks list that didn't include DJ Koze. Luckily for us, the Pampa label head continues to churn out anthems that perfectly straddle the line between floating melancholia and club functionality.
A hypnotic and heady dub-techno cut from Borderland, and a standout from the Transport album, released in May.
This epic cut was doing the rounds for much of 2015, but only saw release in summer of this year. A dramatic, late-night track with chilling vocals, this is just another splendid John Talabot remix—but why would we every expect anything else?
"Saline Moon" is one of the funkier tracks on 2845, Gerard Hanson's second album as Convextion—and was as refined and timeless as one would expect.
Broken Knowz found Detroit upstart Jay Daniel stepping away from the raw and frenetic club sounds of previous releases towards a more mature and emotive sound. Of all the cuts, "Paradise Valley" personifies this direction most with its achingly smooth chords and loose, live drums.
Close your eyes and Raime's "Cold Cain" conjures images of a dark, dystopic future. Sitting somewhere in the nether regions between post-punk and something ritualistic, "Cold Cain" is almost a genre in itself.
A deep and melancholic cut on the debut compilation on Recondite's label.
Given that it was 10 years in the making, Cabanne's debut album hardly made the biggest splash when it dropped via Minibar in November—as good as it was. While much of the LP paid homage to the Frenchman's more musical background, "Nastish" was a more classic Cabanne cut: wonderfully produced with enough groove to make even the most tired legs move.
Omar-S "Head Chew Single" (FXHE)
Listen to those drum patterns.
Virginia's "1977"—taken from her brilliant Fierce For The Night LP on Ostgut Ton—was one of the most dance-inducing tracks we heard all year. When played at the right time, "1977" would cause dancefloors to erupt in a wave of smiles and uncontrolled body movements.
Was there a better self-produced piece of bedroom pop this year than Abra's "Cry Baby"? We think not. With heavy 808 beats, a funk-filled bassline, gritty synth work, and subdued, emotive vocals, "Cry Baby" signaled Abra as one of the America's most promising pop artists.
Taken from VRHT777, "Khū" is Vincent Lubelli's first release as Varhat—and also one of his most memorable. Its complex simplicity and the subtle evolution of the chord stab marked Lubelli as one of the most exciting talents in the French scene—a platform on which he went on build over the course of 2016.
The finest cut on one of the year's most eagerly anticipated releases; or, as written in our review, Sirens' "centerpiece." As will many of Jaar's tunes, it takes some time to really understand and appreciate, but few will deny that it sits up there with the Chilean-American's best ever works.
The video for Mark Pritchard's "Beautiful People" feat. Thom Yorke is its own best description. Haunting, otherworldly, and multi-dimensional, "Beautiful People" is so good it had us once again questioning if Pritchard and Yorke are truly from this earth.
SIT "Angels" (Amphia)
An obvious one if you follow Romanian techno. "Angels" was played out by many of the most widely acclaimed Romanian names, including Raresh and Rhadoo, throughout 2015 before it landed via Vlad Caia and Cristi Cons' Amphia label on their Sideways LP as SIT in February. It was then subsequently played out consistently for the course of the summer months—an easy contender for the track of the year in the sound aesthetic.
Youandewan's second entry on the list is very different to the first. While "Pinger" had the dancefloor in mind, "4D Anxiety" is much more chilled; a perfect demonstration of Youandewan's studio versatility.
Alexander Berg has established himself one of the most consistent techno producers out there—be it as Dorisburg or as Genius Of Time with Nils Krogh. His debut album saw him reveal his more conceptual side, optioning for lush soundscapes and quaint melodies rather than anything with too much groove. "Insvept" was the most captivating byproduct of this exploration.
This joyful, bouncy number inaugurated Vera and Alexandra's Melliflow imprint, and proved to be a soundtrack of the Berlin summer, of sorts, for those who spent time in and around Club der Visionaere.
It was one Sunday afternoon at Panorama Bar that XLR8R first heard Nick Lapien's (a.k.a. Lapien)"Something to Tell You." That day it was part of his live set; but just a few months down the line it landed on DVS1's Mistress Recordings. A smooth and soothing house cut that deserves its place on this list.
As a Raresh favorite for many, many months, there was a lot of hype around "Soul Correction" long before the artist and track name ever became public knowledge. XLR8R then announced the release just over four months ago, and then everyone wanted a copy. The single will only actually drop tomorrow, followed soon thereafter with a double LP in January. The label is Cure Music.
As Philip Kearney noted earlier this year, Israeli DJ-producer Maayan Nidam's "Looking Through A Glassy Mind" is one of the"most memorable moments" in Perlon's recent catalog—a fine compliment when you scan the label's discography. "Looking Through A Glassy Mind" came "Highly Recommended" by Hardwax; and it does by us too.
"Closer" was another slice of what Project Pablo does better than nearly anyone in the game right now: gentle and classy house music.
One of the most exciting prospects currently operating in Australia, Kllo made everyone stand up and notice when they dropped their sophomore EP, Well Worn, on Ghostly International. Arguably the EP's standout cut, "Bolide" is a perfect example of effortlessly head-nodding pop tunes the duo create.
This cut almost slipped under the radar until we stumbled upon a vinyl and flipped onto A2. Masterful production once again from Edward.
Temple delivered one of the finest cuts off of Fabric's gargantuan benefit compilation in November, an ominous recording from her live performance in May at Moogfest. The track's towering kicks, sinister vocal flips, and bellowing lead synths suggest that the larger-than-life feel of previous releases with R&S and 50Weapons has been incorporated flawlessly into her recent hybrid live/DJ sets.
Steven Julien "XL" (Apron Records)
B1 off Fallen, Julien's first full-length venture away from his Funkineven project, feels like a compilation of every element that makes the LP great: a melancholic, textured hardware jam with plenty of compositional unpredictability to elevate the grainy house and techno of past releases into more ambitious territory.
One of the most compelling byproducts of this years' Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art is this stunning joint piece between Elysia Crampton, Adrian Piper, and Kelela, part of a collaborative recording series hosted by The Vinyl Factory. Here, Crampton's knack for moving synth compositions is informed by input from Piper, whose philosophical background in the areas of racial otherness and subjectivity seem to perfectly complement Kelela's poignant lyrics.
"Extravío" represents a bold new direction for Chilean DJ-producer Imaabs. Here, the N.A.A.F.I mainstay merges the frenetic club sounds of his Distancia and Body Horror II releases with haunting strings from cellist Felicia Morales and a wall of vocals from multi-instrumentalist Lia Nadja.
This year, Massive Attack returned after an extended hiatus with the Ritual Spirit EP. Produced by Robert Del Naja and Euan Dickinson, the EP—which was some of their best work to date—contained "Take It There," a haunting cut that featured original collaborator Tricky for the first time since Protection. Although it was one of the first tracks to be released on this list, "Take It There" has stood the test of time and still sounds as impressive as the first time we heard it.
Once again, Traumprinz, Metatron, and Giegling deliver the goods with "2 Bad." In regards to a pure, outpouring of emotions on the dancefloor, no other track could compete with "2 Bad" this year. The vocal sample, soaring chords, and groove-led breakbeat all worked in harmony to create one of the year's most emotive dancefloor moments.
Taken from the Cheetah EP, CIRKLON3 [Колхозная mix]” also featured Aphex Twin's first video in 17 years.
In a brilliant debut year, Vera and Alexandra saved the best until last. Z@P's Sonic Utopia EP recently dropped via the Berlin-based label, on the A-side of which was "Diamante," a spacey, after-hours cut that shines among three other quality tracks.
The first single off Brian Leeds' widely-celebrated For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have) marks a standout moment in the Kansas producer's change of direction. Leed's employment of ethereal synth pads and fuzzy washes of texture complement his innate sensibility for crafting timeless melodies, a trait he's continuously displayed from 2013's Colonial Patterns onwards.
A captivating debut from Avalon Emerson on the Young Turks subsidiary. With those wailing melodies and intricate drum patterns, this is her most refined track yet.
"When I Try, I'm Full" is a mind-bending tapestry of multi-colored synth work from the LA-based Aurelia Smith, one of the biggest proponents of the stunning Buchla Music Easel.
Among A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead's triumphant return—and rumored swan song—was the overtly poignant "Daydreaming," Whether it was an ode to the demise of Thom Yorke's 23-year relationship with Dr. Rachel Owen—who sadly passed away this week—or the demise of the Earth via global warming, "Daydreaming" was without a doubt one of the most affecting and beautiful pieces of music released in 2016.
Filled with subtle confidence, orgasmic 808s, and her half-spoken vocals, Willow's "A2" sits somewhat singularly on the list due to its almost unclassifiable nature—something Workshop has always done so well. "A2" dropped in September on Willow's standout debut EP, Workshop 23, and has been on high rotation ever since. Play this on any half decent soundsystem and prepare to be dazzled.