What We Can Learn From the Music of 2016
January 12th | 2017

Since we moved into our office in July, we’ve developed a tradition of nominating a Zeus Jones DJ on Fridays (affectionately known as the ZJDJ).

We each take a turn compiling our favorite —or at least office appropriate — music to fill the eight-hour day. Whatever we want, totally free from judgment. Okay, there’s actually quite a bit of judgment. This might come as a shock, but not everyone in the office is interested in listening to Janet Jackson’s “All for You” 47 times in a row. Recently a coworker deemed my chill electronic music the worst elevator music he’d ever heard. So there’s that.

In all seriousness, we respect each other’s tastes, and we have fun learning something a little intimate about our coworkers. After all, music has the ability to heal us, help us express ourselves and connect with each other. The type of music a person listens to and shares with others shows us a lot about how they self-identify.

Zeus Jones isn’t in the music industry, but we are in the culture industry. We have a responsibility to understand what’s going on in the world around us in order to help our clients build culturally aware brands — ones that do more good than harm.

If we want to understand the attitudes and opinions of culture, we look to art.

Culture had a tough year. We witnessed a continued fight for Black Lives, too many gun massacres, an exhausting election, a struggle to protect sacred land, violence erupting all over the globe, the deaths of some of our most beloved artists, and — more frightening than anything else — a backlash against human rights and inclusivity.

And I’m not going to say, “Well, at least there was good music!” because I think we’d all rather have equality and safety while sacrificing innovative music. But if we’re looking for a silver lining (and after this year, who isn’t?!), I think in five or 10 years when we look back at 2016, we’ll listen to our playlists and recognize that some great art – and some important art – came out of the cultural tension that’s dominated this year. There were some definite wins in the music of 2016, and they deserve recognition.

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This is the first year I can remember in my *long* millennial life where top album lists have almost unanimously been dominated by women and people of color (and especially women of color!). Beyoncé and Solange had two of the most beloved albums this year, as well as newer artists such as Noname and Anderson .Paak. Not that these marginalized groups have just started to make incredible music, but music critics and listeners are finally beginning to give them credit for it. The most well known musicians, such as Radiohead and Kanye, made albums that felt more personal and emotional than their previous releases. 

The rejection of major labels by artists such as Frank Ocean meant that we witnessed raw emotions and freer self-expression. And juxtaposed with heavy emotions and politically charged lyrics, we heard a resurgence in bubbly pop and dance electronica that helped us cope with the depressing headlines. There were more collaborations than I can remember, Chance the Rapper’s and Kaytranada’s albums are a few great examples, and many of them crossed genres, showing us that our culture values cooperation and the effort to reach across boundaries. The music of 2016 shows us that, as a culture, we’re becoming more global, open-minded, willing to explore, and interested in experimentation — even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

In the past year, we listened to a lot of music over our speakers at Zeus Jones. So, in the spirit of year-end lists, here are five takes on our favorite albums from 2016:


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10 Carla dal Forno, You Know What It’s Like
09 Japanese Breakfast, Psychopomp
08 Jessy Lanza, Oh No
07 Kornél Kovács, The Bells
06 Solange, A Seat at the Table
05 A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
04 Kaytranada, 99.9%
03 Shura, Nothing’s Real
02 Frank Ocean, Blonde
01 Beyoncé, Lemonade

Brad Surcey
Designer & Partner

10 Pusha T, Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude (this came out at the end of 2015, but I’m still counting it)
09 James Blake, The Colour In Anything
08 Radian, On Dark Silent Off
07 Burial, Young Death / Nightmarket
06 Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 3
05 Porter Ricks, Shadow Boat
04 Rival Consoles, Night Melody
03 Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
02 A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
01 Frank Ocean, Blonde

Christian Erickson
Creative & Partner

13 Albums (I couldn’t get it to 10) – in no particular order – that tapped into my love of either abstract experimentalism or dark minimalism in 2016:

Loscil, Monument Builders
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, EARS
Marie Davidson, Adieux au Dancefloor
Nicholas Jaar, Sirens
Underworld, Barbara, Barbara We Face A Shining Future
Tim Hecker, Love Streams
Holy Fuck, Congrats
Botany, Deepak Verbera
6lack, Free 6lack
The Range, Potential
Ólafur Arnalds, Island Songs
Kanye West, The Life of Pablo
Kristin Hersh, Wyatt at the Coyote Palace

10 Jim James, Eternally Even
09 Yumi Zouma, Yoncalla
08 Luke Roberts, Sunlit Cross
07 Library Tapes, Escapism
06 William Tyler, Modern Country
05 Fruit Bats, Absolute Loser
04 The Range, Potential
03 Whitney, Light Upon the Lake
02 Kevin Morby, Singing Saw
01 Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool

Zach Jenson
Strategist

10 The Radio Dept., Running Out of Love   
09 Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam, I Had a Dream That You Were Mine
08 Pantha Du Prince, The Triad
07 D.D. Dumbo, Utopia Defeated
06 Classixx, Faraway Reach
05 Ariana Grande, Dangerous Woman
04 Shura, Nothing’s Real
03 Jim James, Eternally Even
02 Whitney, Light Upon the Lake
01 Chairlift, Moth

After noticing a distinct lack of heavy music on the other lists, I decided to tailor mine a bit — with a few key exceptions…

10 Oathbreaker, Rheia
09 Skeletonwitch, The Apothic Gloom
08 Nails, You Will Never Be One of Us
07 Culture Abuse, Peach
06 Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book
05 Nothing, Tired of Tomorrow
04 Panopticon, Revisions of the Past
03 Frank Ocean, Blonde
02 Pinegrove, Cardinal
01 Knocked Loose, Laugh Tracks