The Best Experimental And Electronic Albums Of 2016

Editor’s note: The point of more extensive genre lists is to help give shine to albums that wouldn’t make it into the overall best albums list. So, despite the rap-specific list — where ranking is still next to godliness — we’ve opted to leave the albums that appeared on the overall best list off the genre-specific lists. But even for rap, some albums made the cut for their impact on the that sphere without cracking the best of list. After all, the point of these lists is to examine the way music has changed or moved throughout the year, and our year-end framework will continue to reflect that impetus. Though it is meant to highlight the best work in this genre, hopefully, you can also make some discoveries through this list.

20. The Range, Potential
Earlier this year I wrote about James Hinton, aka The Range, and his music’s place in the intersection between generations that remember life before the internet and those who don’t. The span of electronic and experimental music that is possible has increased considerably with technological advances, but Potential plays more into the communal aspect that the internet has opened up. By sampling various recordings, voices, and people to create a textured, sometimes lonely and sometimes celebratory reflection of what the future offers. Potential lives up to its name by taking the murky, skittering familiarity of his production and pairing it with strange, new characters.—Caitlin White

19. Xiu Xiu, Plays The Music Of Twin Peaks
It took something as beloved as Twin Peaks to get me into a band as esoteric as Xiu Xiu. Certainly, the band have established themselves as a presence in the experimental/electronic field, but as a new listener in this realm, I felt a bit intimidated about where exactly to dive into their oeuvre. Plays The Music Of Twin Peaks is their twelfth album, and though it was probably born out of the band’s own interest in the TV show and Lynch’s work, it became a gateway of sorts for new fans to latch onto the storied band. Given they tend toward experimentation in the greatest sense of the word, as in, each album is wildly different from the others, the through-line of familiarity within some of these melodies — “Laura Palmer’s Theme,” “Love Theme Farewell — adds a layer of accessibility that allows the listener to fully immerse themselves in Xiu Xiu’s strange, mesmerizing world.—C.W.

18. Empire Of The Sun, Between Two Vines
If you’re a fan of Empire of the Sun, it’s hard to imagine being anything by delighted by Two Vines. With their third album, Australian duo Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore delivered the same sort of thing they’ve delivered previously — euphoric, sunny songs that celebrate life — only this time with an extra infusion of euphoria and sunshine. As Steele noted when the album was released, the record was made in Hawaii and most of the songs were written with island life and all that it entails serving as muse. “I’d spend the morning surfing, then roll in and make music into the night,” Steele said.

With help from Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac along with Henry Hey and Tim Lefebvre from David Bowie’s Blackstar band, Two Vines is the perfect soundtrack for a drive down a coastal highway. Or, of course, for when you’re feeling like you’re drowning in the cold, dark heart of winter and need to escape to a sunny paradise within your mind, it can help your imagination to take you there.—Brett Michael Dykes

17. The Avalanches, Wildflower
There’s a special satisfaction when a long absent force in music returns after many years, and completely delivers on the exact same level they operated on before the hiatus. That’s exactly what The Avalanches did this year with the release of Wildflowers, a guest-heavy, near-perfect collection of old school funk, soul, hip-hop and R&B samples, all stitched together in one brilliant, wavy blanket. The Melbourne DJ collective released a single album in 2000, Since I Left You, that became the kind of cult classic that snowballs over time, gathering more and more adoration as the years without a follow-up went by. Even if you never latched on the first time around, Wildflower will suck you in with a maze of hazy, smart, soft and warm sounds that feel like timeless renderings of the best moments of every song across the years. While listening to this record I’m most struck with my own millennial description of them to a friend — like if Girl Talk didn’t suck. Either way, their gift for creation out of summary makes this record a must-listen; that Danny Brown feature doesn’t hurt, either.—C.W.

16. M83, Junk
Back in 2011, the French electronic band M83 released Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, an album that producer Anthony Gonzalez composed after moving to LA for the first time. The masterful double album was their sixth release,d but it put them on the map in a new way, introducing a whole new fanbase to the wonder of group. Sadly, they haven’t really been able to recapture the magic of that record since, and Junk is very different from the sound they were pursuing five years ago. Though it comes without the whirring, urgent dream-punk synth sound that marked Dreaming, the record still manages to convey some of the same pathos and glory. As long as you can get past the truly heinous cover art, you’ll discover gentle, winding electronic tracks that soothe the soul without stirring much up.—C.W.

15. Polica, United Crushers
This album, the third full-length release for the synthpop band from Minneapolis, might now be for everyone. It’s a highly political album, to the point of being militant, and one that screams loneliness and isolation to boot. As singer Channy Leaneagh described it upon its release, United Crushers is “heavily political and deeply personal with thick references to social injustice, self-doubt, and isolation, the rapidly increasing urban decline in gentrification, overcoming music industry machinations, and finding true and honest love in the wake of it all.” Okay then!