2016: the year of the album. Especially in drum & bass…
Not a week has gone by when another genuinely interesting LP document has landed and commanded our attention. We’re not talking your standard ’12 bangers for cash’ scenarios – we’re talking stories, concepts and honest projects that really explore the artists potential and the wider context.
Krakota, Audio, Misanthrop, Mutated Forms, Break, SCAR, DLR, Mikal, Technimatic, Fourward, Paul SG… The list goes on and on. And while the same can’t be said for other genres in the bass realm (dubstep hasn’t had quite so many landmark albums this year, for instance), we’re still classifying 2016 as a vintage for authentic, detailed and well-considered bodies of work.
Here are 15 our editorial team recommend the most…
Ash Walker – Echo Chamber (Deep Heads)
Easing ourselves into this top 15 with a beautiful album that may well have dodged your radar, Ash Walker’s organic, hip-hop-informed, soulful take on low end music isn’t part of the loudness war or the shouty social media race. It doesn’t try to earn hipster points with its obscurities, either – it’s just a really cool, smoke-stacked album that taps into the same veins we’ve been mainlining Kruder & Dorfmeister and Bonobo into for years… Hazy, psychedelic, warm and serving something new on every listen. It’s the ultimate soundtrack to any sesh, it’s the perfect antidote any stress and the perfect soother to any life mess… Whether you’ve found this article through your love for drum & bass, dubstep or anything between treat yourself and plug in to the mystic dub charm of Dark Hour or the spellbinding Afghanistan. Just beautiful. (DJ)
Audeka – Lost Souls (Methlab)
Methlab have had a gargantuan year in 2016, constantly pushing the boundaries and formalities of drum & bass in new and exciting ways. If there’s one record that really sums up this activity and accomplishments best, it’s Audeka’s debut LP. The label’s first artist album, it’s a consummate introduction to the emerging Wisconsin trio who first made themselves known collaborating with Rawtekk in 2015. Lost Souls shows them developing their own signature and narrative with a unique balance of shades that at any given moment could flare up from delicate pianos to face-melting sound design and fade back again. Complete with a narrative concept and illustrations from Methlab’s SHVLFCE, it’s the type of album that gives more and more on every listen. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure, digest Oracle for an idea of the scope, balance and breadth this album displays. (DJ)
Bukez Finezt – Decade Of Weight
One of the more incredible aspects of dubstep has to be the genre’s uncanny ability to assume various forms. Heavy. Melodic. Deep. Energetic. Riddim. That last one was kind of a joke, I think? Bottom line, there really is no set formula for this stuff. However, a high percentage of the more successful producers do share some similar characteristics. In an industry designed around strange, eccentric, and unique individuals, it’s only natural that a badman like Bukez Finezt would find himself in the middle of all the madness.
Now, in regards to the album itself, Decade of Weight is as spellbinding as it is spectacular. Once you lay ears on this 13-track masterpiece, you’ll never view bass music the same again. Seriously, the places Bukez takes dubstep are borderline nonsensical. Every time this pioneer tests the limits of what’s feasible, he strikes pay dirt! Over and over again. From the dubstep jaw-droppers to the spacey hip-hop feels, this luxurious LP presents us with a remarkable balance of distinguished compositions.
I also have to give a brief shout out to the guys from Ganja White Night for their brilliant Mr. Wobble LP. Job well done on a proper release! (Barrett Nelson)
Excision – Virus (Rottun)
Who says dubstep is dead? Excision’s latest album shows otherwise – featuring the full spectrum from insane in-your-face bangers (Throwin’ Elbows) to melodic hands-in-the-air anthems (Drowning), Excision proves that dubstep’s still packing a punch… and an elbow. (Sampo Kaskia)
Dom & Roland – Last Refuge of a Scoundrel (Metalheadz)
Album of the year was a no-brainer for me this year. Dom & Roland stepped up to deliver Last Refuge of a Scoundrel on Metalheadz, and he did so with such style and finesse that he managed to not only create a masterpiece, but he showcased a sound that was so quintessentially Metalheadz, and yet so recognizable as Dom & Roland, it was as though the label had found the missing piece to their puzzle.
Hauntingly powerful, and beautifully melancholic in parts, the release takes the album format back to what it should be – a journey from start to finish, with every track leaving you floored with its impeccable production, multiple layers and attention to detail.
From relentless drum patterns, to atmospheric build-ups, to genre-bending break-downs, the album is truly a future classic, evoking a real sense of nostalgia, all the while retaining a fresh maturity in its production.
Special shout has to go to A New Renegade – definitely one of the most beautifully arranged tracks of the year for me. The cinematic intro sprinkled with that atmospheric vocal, followed by those delightfully loose drums creates a lush ambience that is then rudely interrupted by a diabolical mentasm, almost like a mischievous kid coming along and messing up that pretty sand castle you were quite proud of. The subsequent drums that break through after the pause have elicited a lot of air-punching and furious nodding from me the past few months. Here’s to a brilliant album, and a really sore neck. (Maja Cicic)
Fabriclive 90: Kahn & Neek (Fabric)
Welcome to the future… After six years of system-shakers Bristol’s Kahn & Neek step up to the Fabriclive series with a mix that will suck you in and hold you down for the full journey. Laced with icy atmospheres and a strong narrative, it’s pure subversive soul until Gantz’s Shaitan shakes us to our very core and ignites the heavier section of the mix. More than a representation of their club abilities, this is tailored for headphones and long journeys home, reflecting a much wider picture than their own sound and stance. Fabric/Fabriclive have delivered some of the best blends of all time but this incredible piece of mixcraft is a whole new benchmark that closes off with one of the most poignant endings possible… Kode9 and Space Ape’s take on The Specials’ Ghost Town stirs on so many levels it chills your bones. A more powerful mix document would be very tricky to find. (DJ)
Fred V & Grafix – Oxygen (Hospital)
Whether I’m in my bedroom, walking somewhere, or even at work, I get lost in this album every single time. Fred V & Grafix’s soulful and uplifting production has won me over here. Being an avid fan of the dark and gritty side of drum & bass, this LP for me was an imperative reminder of the soft, delicate side to the genre that I admittedly lose touch of sometimes. Between all the relentless, hard hitting releases of 2016, Fraffix’s LP was the biggest breath of fresh air for me. It’s ethereal and it’s dreamy. That’s not only down to the duo’s production values but also the emotive vocals throughout the 15 tracks. Each track is individually alluring, yet all seamlessly entwine together as one. Which to me, not many LP’s achieve. It’s simply gorgeous. (Candice Fernandez)
Homemade Weapons – Negative Space (Samurai)
I’ve been thoroughly impressed with Homemade Weapons this year and is someone who needs shouting out. Three massive releases, including two on his own label which he also launched this year, is busy going for anyone. But he wasn’t finished, as the Negative Space LP got released this month on Samurai’s main label.
Negative Space is a serious piece of work. It’s 12-tracks of militant D&B are ruthless to the highest order. What makes it stand out and earn a place on this list is his consistent level of perfectly crafted patterns of dark, industrial soundscapes and the images of a not-to-distant dystopia he creates in each track, whilst all the while making drum and bass tracks that seriously get you moving and shaking.
Speaking to Homemade Weapons in an interview I learnt that the consistency of mood is important to his music, just like listening to an industrial or metal album he says, which Negative Space does expertly. A talented all round musician who’s bang in form and the album reflects that. It’s proper heavy and if you like your industrial, darker D&B tips then this is definitely one to check, t r u s t me. (Reuben Hunt)
Kimyan Law – Zawadi (Blu Mar Ten Music)
Contrary to popular belief, Vienna-based Kimyan Law doesn’t use $10 earbuds to produce on any more. He now uses $20 ones.
Doubling the value of his gamechanging debut album Coeur Calme would be a lot harder, considering how different his first album was from everything when it landed. But this is what he’s done. Maintaining his unique position in drum & bass as a dreamweaving musician and story teller, there’s more range, depth, colour and moments of restraint at play. Gullier tracks like Yore Dub and Luba reflect his last two years of performance experience while elsewhere there’s a powerful soulful pull to tracks like Magic and a cool departure into more garagey/future beats in the form of Citadelle. Exploring and representing his scope and vision in great detail, Zawadi is the distinctive and genuinely unique work of one of the scene’s most singular individuals. (DJ)
Levelz – LVL11/ The Mixtape
Manchester collective Levelz have been around for a minute, but 2016 saw them embark on a serious mission. Comprising of MCs Black Josh, Chimpo, Chunky, Fox, Skittles, Sparkz, T Man, Truthos Mufasa and music from Biome, Dub Phizix, Metrodome, Chimpo, Bricks, Sparkz, Skittles, Rich Reason + Jonny Dub, they’re Manchester’s answer to the ultimate multi-genre super group. With the release of their legendary LVL11 Mixtape this year, so ensued months of me trying to rap along badly, feeling infinitely cooler than I actually am. If you haven’t listened to this album, then you haven’t really made the most of the year I’m afraid.
Superbly produced, infinitely fun, and riddled with flows that are downright mind-blowing, the collective don’t take themselves too seriously, and it’s in this environment they seem to have flourished and really found their stride. While the album is fun, it certainly doesn’t lack substance with socially conscious bars and each member bringing their backstories to the fore, creating a really powerful balance throughout. This is a sheer masterclass in how to execute an album with pure class, and it’s a free download too. What an absolute bunch of dickheads… And if you know Levelz, you know I mean that in the nicest possible way. Do yourself a favour & get the album on repeat, then go catch them live – If you haven’t done so already, then my god… you’re in for a treat. (Maja Cicic)
LSB – Content (Soul:r)
The preliminary reason my artist of the year is LSB is this album. I eagerly awaited it as soon as I heard it was in the pipeline and it didn’t disappoint. The standout track for me is Missing You, which is also one of the finest releases from the entire year, but that’s not the only track which shines; the likes of I Need Love, Lydian, The Optimist and the Calibre-esque Capture My Heart are also exquisite.
Lydian sets things up perfectly before we’re launched into ten more tracks of first-rate goodness. It also features the vocal talents of Tyler Daley, MC Sense, Dain Stuart, Millie Watson and the increasingly prevalent DRS, who all bring something different. Lots of drum & bass albums these days seem to feature a token house or techno track chucked in which, let’s be honest, never sound that great, but this one is straight up drum & bass which is one of the main things I like about it. No nonsense, just eleven very well produced tracks. (Robin Murray)
Machine Drum – Good Energy (Ninja Tune)
In a year of Brexit, Trump Elections, Fabric closures and the deaths of Lemmy and Bowie to name but two what underground music (and potentially the world at large needed) was some hope. What we got, possibly by way of some cosmic design or purely by the rogue fortune of timing was Machinedrum’s all to aptly titled Good Energy
To the uninitiated Good Energy might come as something of a curveball when assessed on the merit of Machinedrum’s previous output but strip away those juicy day-glo synths and unabashed positivity and the dense percussive streaks and infinitely intricate drums machinations of previous releases are still very much in place. This switch up in tone merely breathes a new lightness of touch and sense of experimentation to Machinedrum’s already almost peerless back catalogue.
In more placid times this might have simply been regarded (by myself) as a consistently good listen, but framed around the (admittedly absolutely dogshit) cultural, socio-economic and political backdrop of 2016 it ended up coming closer to a rallying cry for positivity, hope and progression. Timing is everything. (Matt Bayfield)
Neonlight – My Galactic Tale (Blackout)
Two words: Neon City. An evocative, dynamic slice of orchestral D&B dynamite, it’s up there with Dom & Roland’s Siren Song as the best album opener this year. Stirring, dramatic and powerful, it’s the soundtrack to every sporting event and feel-good montage your brain has ever spat at you internally. It’s the type of track that makes you want to run up mountains, karate chop bricks and tell haters to suck their mums. Most importantly, it sets the theme and energy for the rest of the album; a constant balance of dark and light, processed and natural, soft and hard. It’s neuro but not as we know it – from the staccato operatics of Critical State to the out-and-out digital rawness of Bad Omen, My Galactic Tale has been a real highlight in Blackout’s consistently full-steam output this year. (DJ)
Noisia – Outer Edges (Vision)
Let’s face it… Noisia could slap your grandma and you’d probably forgive them. Whether it’s their label, their radio show or their insane concept show, they can genuinely do no wrong for a large amount of us. But this? This second album doesn’t just summarise their successes, it compounds them. Built in an upcycling mindset where their best ideas from the last six or seven years are developed and taken to their very extremes, it’s a showcase of how infinitely technical music can still be effortlessly funky and stirring. It was also a kindly reminder of Noisia’s cross-genre muscles – while some camps and fanbases in drum & bass seem solely focused on their own sound and niche (which is always dangerous), Noisia run the whole gully gamut taking time to offer some TLC to oft-maligned subgenres like breaks (the hairy donut-chomping Collider) and skullstep (the furious Get Deaded) Two key highlights for me at Into Dust where the whole arrangement is subverted into some type of D&B cyclone. And then there’s The Entangled. Every genre and strand of electronic music that ever made your skin melt in awe is smelted down into just three minutes of pure electronic heaven. Salute so hard your arms fall off. (DJ)
Urbandawn – Gothenburg Clusters (Hospital)
Personally, I think a good album is defined by the narrative it represents. If you’re trying to paint a picture with a whole mess of random, non-cohesive colors, it’s going to look rushed and adulterated. An album has to be something that characterizes you, and fully encapsulates the emotions designed by you and what you’re establishing.
This leads directly into why I believe Urbandawn has the best album of 2016. The culture and his daily life bleed into his productions in a way very few artists really know how to do in the first place. Every track carries a sense of soulful seasoning. Exemplified in the title tune Gothenburg Clusters, his ethnic soundscapes create a sonic journey that arrives into one of the darkest, truly funk-based drops of the year. Without albums of this magnitude, I feel as though a piece of the big-picture puzzle we’re all trying to complete would be missing in action. (Shane Consouls)