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My Top 15 Favorite Tracks of 2016

Both members of the band Justice looking away from the camera

All things considered, 2016 was a pretty great year in my career as a casual music listener. The year saw me deepening my tastes in avenues such as metal, jazz, and bonafide Japanese music (as opposed to music that simply plasters Japanese imagery all over its album art). I partially credit that to my move to Japan, though as always, most of the new music I discovered this year was within the borders of cyberspace.

This list has a single rule—only one track per artist. (Otherwise there’d be more Babymetal on here than I’m proud to admit.) Okay, let’s get started!

15. Crystal Castles – Char

This track’s disorienting synths and ethereal vocals resulted in the standout moment of Crystal Castle’s otherwise disappointing new album, Amnesty (I). Let’s hope that the inevitable Amnesty (II) contains more haunting bangers like this.

14. Underscores – Null

Underscores’ genre-bending Air Freshener was one of the most exciting EPs I heard this year. The music fluidly hops between wildly divergent jazz and electronic styles without any of the jarring discordance you might expect.

13. WONK – savior

This Tokyo-based “experimental soul band” manages to combine jazz and electronic sounds in a manner not unlike Underscores, but with the added bonus of vocals that fit perfectly into the band’s warm keyboards and virtuosic drumming.

12. Babymetal – Karate

Once you move past the gimmick of “little girls playing in a heavy metal band,” Babymetal provides some bafflingly enjoyable pop metal. (Wikipedia tells me to call this “kawaii metal,” but I refuse to propagate that term.) Don’t be one of the many who dismiss this band based on its premise alone—Metal Resistance ended up being one of my most replayed albums this year.

11. NVDES – My Mind Is (feat. Oliver Tree)

The infectious bassline that propels this track from start to finish is more than enough to forgive the track’s relentless noisiness. Throw this on at your next college party.

10. Vantage – Breaking Away

Yes, vaporwave was still a “thing” in 2016, but the best tracks to come from the genre sounded increasingly less like “slowed down elevator music played from a malfunctioning tape deck” and more like “French house for weeaboos.” Hey, I don’t mind. Vantage’s ナイトライフ [Night Life] EP was evidence that there are plenty of great samples left to be mined from the sounds of 1980s Japanese “city pop.” “Breaking Away” in particular is a high-energy jam propelled along by emotional strings and a relentless disco bassline.

9. Kero Kero Bonito- Graduation

Silly, bilingual lyrics and tongue-in-cheek (but tight) production has been a staple of Kero Kero Bonito’s music from the beginning, but they really hit their stride with this year’s Bonito Generation.

8. 水曜日のカンパネラ [Wednesday Campanella] – アラジン [Aladdin]

“Shining for you! I scrub for you!” There’s nothing about this Japanese dance-pop cut that isn’t fun.

7. Disclosure – BOSS

As much as I love the kind of obnoxious, vapid EDM that’s blasted across neon-colored festival grounds, it’s nice to know that there still groups like Disclosure out there making high-energy yet soulful dance tracks like “BOSS.”

6. Skrillex – Purple Lamborghini

There’s a point in the film Suicide Squad where an incomplete version of this song plays muffled in the background of a nightclub scene—and yet that mere taste of the track cemented that scene as my favorite of the movie. Hearing the full version unhampered by the film is… well, I’ll let you experience it. This is the sort of song that I imagine sounds even better blaring out of the speakers of a yacht while you and DJ Khaled smoke cigars and fire Uzis into the sky.

5. Bruno Mars – 24K Magic

Bruno Mars once again proves himself to be one of the strongest songwriters in pop music today. “24K Magic” is unapologetic retro-funk fun. Also, bonus points for bringing back the talk box. #blessed

4. Beenzino – Dali, Van, Picasso

I know very little about Korean music, but this smooth, smooth track from rapper Beenzino makes me think I should do something to change that.

3. YUC’e – Future Candy (short ver.)

And now for the most out of left field pick on this list: “Future Candy (short ver.),” a wonderfully overwhelming barrage of pixie-dust-covered chaos. It’s over in two minutes, but not before blowing your mind three or four separate times in the process.

2. Green Day – Forever Now

This multi-part slacker’s anthem harkens back to Green Day’s best album—and no, I’m not referring to Dookie. “Forever Now,” along with the strong singles off this year’s Revolution Radio, gives me hope that Green Day might still have it in them to write an album to rival American Idiot.

1. Justice – Safe and Sound

2016 was a particularly divisive year, but if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that the world needs more dirty, French disco music. Justice sought to remedy that with their new album, Woman, which ended up falling short of expectations—expectations set by this monster of a leading single. “Safe and Sound” layers a choral hook over the SLAPPIEST damn bass line I heard all year. If 2017 gives us more tracks like this, I’ll be happy.

Lessons from World Information Architecture Day 2016 @ Ann Arbor

A buddy and I stopped by the University of Michigan this past Saturday to attend Ann Arbor’s World Information Architecture Day. The all-day event was full of enlightening talks and generous giveaways. Below are the tweets I was able to send out before my phone died, as well as others’ tweets that I found enjoyable or insightful.

The day’s schedule:

Understanding how each part of UX fits together… as a unicorn!

On the “IA Wall” outside the auditorium, attendees were encouraged to write on a Post-it note what information architecture means to them. Perhaps the most satisfying moment of the day was this appreciation for my contribution:

They Don’t Want You to Know: The Key to Success in 2016

2016 resolution: Live like an internet self-help guru. Keep an inexhaustibly positive outlook on life, tongue-in-cheek platitudes and all.

To whom am I referring? Think of someone like Lil B, the alarmingly prolific rapper whose army of fans will leap to his (or his cat’s) defense no matter how many uninitiated haters miss the joke and call his music sloppy. This is a man who will show up to a nationally televised interview wearing a blouse and sun hat. Why? Why… not? He doesn’t take anything too seriously—his haters, his clothing, his music—but as a result he’s built a loyal following who clamor for his every word. (Fun fact—Lil B once personally told me he loved me in a Twitter DM. That really happened.)

Similarly, there’s Tai Lopez, the YouTube-famous, Lamborghini-driving bibliophile. How did Tai make all his money? Does he have any money? I’m still unsure. But when I look beyond the guy who peddles “67 Steps” to success and claims to read entire books in ten minutes, I see someone genuinely fired up about a life of self-improvement. Multiple Lamborghinis and Hollywood Hills mansion or not, that’s something to aspire to.

Even the final meme of 2015 himself, DJ Khaled, is an unlikely source of inspiration. I’m skeptical that the keys to success could truly be something as simple as washing with exclusively Dove soap or adorning one’s bed with seven pillows (minimum), but certainly there’s nothing harmful about drawing inspiration from someone so unceasingly success-minded.

Both online and off, these people draw devoted followers. Their claims might be grandiose, but they come across as optimistic rather than narcissistic. Goofy, self-aware uber-positivity as a guiding philosophy—it won’t be easy, but I think I’ve found a worthy goal for the year.

Lessons From the Making Learning Accessible Conference 2015 @ MSU

One of the benefits of living in a university town is that conferences come to you. Just this week there were not one but two usability conferences in the building literally across the street from where I live. Here are my tweets from one of them – the first (annual, hopefully) Making Learning Accessible conference at Michigan State University.

The Structural Integrity of Meaning

I don’t plan on going to graduate school immediately after earning my bachelor’s, but I still often find myself reading about the universities whose programs I’m considering. When one of these schools tweeted a video of the full introductory lecture of their “Information Architecture” course, I wasted no time bookmarking it for later. It’s long (three hours if you combine both parts), but what I’ve seen so far has answered a couple long-standing questions I’ve had about IA. And – as any good lecture should – it’s led me to a couple more.

The biggest question is, of course, “What is Information Architecture?” (I must admit I’m a bit relieved that even at the graduate level this is still a question that’s being asked.) The lecturer, Dan Klyn, offered a definition that’s a bit of an improvement over the usual “information architects are the guys who design the wireframes.” Klyn said (in what are apparently someone else’s words),

“Information Architecture is about the structural integrity of meaning across contexts.”

How can a message be communicated not only through the information itself but also through the way it’s organized? Information architecture, as I understand it, is about structuring meta-meaning around content.

The definition of IA was further explored in an exchange that happened later on in the lecture. A student in the audience asked something about how content strategy fits in with IA (I think – it’s hard to hear anyone other than the lecturer in the recording).

Klyn responded by saying that, in his mind, IA and content strategy are one and the same. That was the first time I’d heard such a comparison. Are they really equal? One prominent (female) content strategist, according Klyn, sort of agrees. She says, “content strategy is just information architecture for chicks.”

Well… that’s not the sort of thing I expected to hear. And not something that Klyn is onboard with, for more than one reason.

But let’s put aside that (admittedly unconfirmed) definition for another day. Does all of this mean that content strategy is, in turn, also “about the structural integrity of meaning across contexts”?

Well, I’ve got a lecture to finish watching.