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My Favorite Music of 2016, by Dan Redding

best music 2016

Photos: Day Wave (Pooneh Ghana), Kamaiyah (YouTube), DIIV (Thomas Hawk)

Listen: I’m not going to be the Debbie Downer who reminds you of all the reasons 2016 sucked (Bowie). I’m not going to bum you out with negative vibes (Prince). And I’m certainly not going to tell you all the things (Trump) that went wrong (Bowie) this year (Prince).

Instead, I’m going to be positive. 2016 was the year I launched Culture Creature (the one-year anniversary is rapidly approaching, so I’ll save my major self-reflection for that). A ton of great music came out this year – and I was fortunate enough to interview many of the artists that released my favorite music of 2016. Here’s my favorite shit:

Kamaiyah, A Good Night in the Ghetto

Oakland rapper Kamaiyah’s A Good Night in the Ghetto includes two of 2016’s catchiest songs: ‘I’m On’ and ‘How Does It Feel.’ The latter asks sincere questions about the American dream (“I done worked all my life / now I wonder, how does it feel to just live?”) while keeping the party going. Much like the retired Oakland rapper 100s (subject of one of 2016’s best Culture Creature interviews), Kamaiyah’s sound draws on classic 90s hip-hop production.

Baauer, Aa

Baauer’s Aa is a bizarre collage of fizzy sonic adrenaline. The Brooklyn producer’s album is built with hip hop beats and headbanging breakdowns, woven from a tapestry of audio samples recorded around the world. Its best songs (‘GoGo!’, ‘Pinku’) remained on my playlist throughout the whole year. In one of my first posts at Culture Creature, I wrote that Baauer’s music “taps into a primal urge that makes you wanna bug out – the same urge perfected by heavy metal bands like Gojira and Sepultura.”

Day Wave, Hard to Read EP

Day Wave’s Hard to Read EP is another release that I never tired of during 2016, despite listening to it nearly every day. Bittersweet standout ‘Gone’ is that rare breakup song that’s at once melancholy and celebratory. In the summer of 2016, Day Wave leader Jackson Phillips told me about his “surreal” year of success.

Denzel Curry, Imperial

Denzel Curry is a beacon of old-school rap values in a contemporary rap scene crowded with gimmicky human memes (RiFF RAFF, Lil B) and mainstream pop dudes like Drake. On his Imperial mixtape, the Florida native applies mature introspection and verbal agility to his vivid storytelling skills.

Taking Meds, My Life As A Bro

Taking Meds won me over the first time I saw them live. The band has a compelling frontman in Skylar Sarkis and a brilliant shredder in guitarist Ben Kotin. The band’s debut LP, My Life As A Bro, delivered on my high hopes; it’s packed with math-y song arrangements, grunge-y riffs, and enigmatic lyrics. Read the Culture Creature interview with Taking Meds.

Angel Du$t, Rock the Fuck on Forever

Most hardcore punk is serious and intense – which is why it’s so refreshing that Angel Du$t have gone against the grain and made a record that’s melodic, fun, and even kinda carefree.

DIIV, Is The Is Are

Contemporary rock is overflowing with post-Sonic Youth neo-grunge bands. On Is the Is Are, Brooklyn’s DIIV (named after the Nirvana song ‘Dive’) have crafted a deeply personal record rather than a mere rehash of the year punk broke. Zachary Cole Smith’s romantic, harrowing lyrics (Would you give your twenty-fifth year / for a glimpse of heaven now and here?) offer a trip into the morbid side of addiction.

Danny Brown, Atrocity Exhibition

Danny Brown has the wildest and most versatile flow in hip hop. Atrocity Exhibition finds him bouncing restlessly from contemplative storytelling (‘Tell Me What I Don’t Know’) to his high-pitched bonkers yelp (‘Really Doe’). The latter combines eerie production by Black Milk with versatile, competitive MCs, resulting in my favorite hip hop track of the year.

Jank, Versace Summer EP

The scrappy Philadelphia punk band Jank deliver an infectious dose of DIY rock with Versace Summer. Matt Diamond’s soaring, sweet rasp will lodge Jank lyrics (“Am I not cool enough for you?”) in your brain permanently. In August, Diamond told Culture Creature that “hooks are key” to the band’s songwriting success. Read the Jank interview.

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