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

Brian Danaher
Design­er

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

Alex Register
Design­er

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