I don’t like to play favorites, and when it comes to bundling a group of artists or songs together at the end of the year, I absolutely hate ordered lists. I’m not going to say Frank Ocean’s Blond is better than Lido’s Everything, but not as good as Lemonade. The list is already arbitrary enough without setting an individual priority, which itself would be based on different criteria for each person/album/track on the list. I won’t do it and you can’t make me.
However, if you were to twist my arm behind my back and force me to pick a standout artist for the year, I would choose Lane 8. It was a tough choice between him and Dusky, who put together an album, a compilation release for their label 17 Steps, and managed to put together an Essential Mix in the running for Essential Mix of the Year for BBC Radio 1.
Even with all of those qualifications, it wasn’t quite enough to overcome the steady output and evolution of Lane 8’s sound. Where his 2015 release ‘Rise’ felt like the sun, like daytime, his output in 2016 feels more like the moon, like the humbling introspection of staring at the ceiling before you go to bed. He opened the year with the Midnight EP, which felt like a descent from the euphoria of ‘Rise,’ gently stepping down into the darkness where he spent the better part of the year. With each subsequent release, his sound exploring the space of minor keys and dynamic rhythm and a steady 4/4 beat. This is not to say that the music is sad. Far from it, I feel hope first and foremost. Maybe a little forlorn, but decidedly optmistic.
Lane 8 continued his regular release of quarterly seasonal-themed mixes and toured regularly. He’s ending the year with a series of shows entitled, “This Never Happened,” a US tour featuring extended sets where Lane 8 asked the crowd to just put their phones away and to just be in the moment. For somebody as phone-depending as I am, this is a big ask, but the last show the artist made that same request for turned out to be one of my favorite performances of all time. It completely changed how I experienced the show and I felt more connected not only to the people on stage, but also to those around me. (Also, that performer was Prince, so part of that feeling could have come from him.) It’s a beautiful concept and an eye-opening experience for all involved.
As fortune would have it, I got to see Lane 8 and Dusky perform in succession at Electric Forest last summer, and it was a magical moment when they shared the stage for the transition.
Honorable mention goes to Amtrac, the producer/vocalist/remixologist out of Kentucky who sounds like he actually belongs in a dark London club closing in on the end of the night, rather than somewhere on the cusp of Appalacia. It’s dark, it’s moody, and it’s sexy as hell.
As for covers, I found Rihanna‘s cover of “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” by Tame Impala a standout. She managed to stand the song on its head by reversing the role of the storyteller and added a smooth, glossy, and warm layer on top that made it immediately her own. The syrup to the original’s stack of pancakes.