For many in the West, 2016 will be remembered for Trump, Brexit, terrorism in Europe and an absurd number of pop culture deaths, from Bowie to Muhammad Ali. By comparison, China had an unusually quiet year. Nonetheless, there were still a few goings-on in the world's most populous country.
In our 2016 Year in Review series, we recap the best (and worst) of China's year in the worlds of technology, social media, sport, fashion, food, arts and more.
Loved by some, missed by many – here’s our Top 50 Albums of 2016 from mainland China. This year marked the return of the father of yaogun, the impressive evolution of a teenage jazz prodigy and a trio of outstanding Blade Runner-inspired discs from Shanghai. For the full 2016 Top 50 Albums List, click here. For past editions, visit our 2013 Notable Albums list, our 2014 Top 25 Mainland China Albums list and our 2015 Top 50 Mainland Records list.
50. Zhang Xiongguan: New Sound from the Past
A fixture at Shanghai’s JZ Club, the guitarist merges his post bop roots refined at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music with more contemporary sounds he explored while studying at the New England Conservatory. Comprised of songs written during his two year stay in Boston, New Sound From the Past confidently lives up to its title - incorporating modern jazz flourishes in an easily digestible classic jazz package packed with enchanting melodies.
49. Gui Gui Sui Sui: Wu Xing
Notorious for incorporating wild characters from zombie bluesmen to rap-rock demigods at their live shows, the Beijing based duo are working on a trilogy of EPs themed around their personas. The first, Wu Xing, is based around the characters of Lord Kamemameha and Lady Chakra and their encounters with the ancient Chinese concept of the five elements that govern the cosmos. Heady stuff, but Gui Gui Sui Sui make it easily digestible, musically moving from garage rock stompers to pretty ambient beats.
48. Johnny Utah and the Utards: True Feelings
Point Break serves as the muse for the Suzhou act that captures all the goofy brilliance of the action classic in their slick debut album. True Feelings is all power pop in the vein of Cheap Trick and Red Cross that overwhelms with its catchiness. Despite a mini-national tour, their singer has sadly returned to Australia where he’s urging his fellow Utards to come back home.
47. Djang San: Eye.爱Ai.I
The mad man of Beijing’s music scene continued his torrid streak of releases (we’re not going to try to count, we always get it wrong but it's definitely more than 35) with albums inspired by Beijing smog and collaborative projects with bassist Clancy Lethbridge. For those overwhelmed with the choices, we recommend his two-part Eye.Ai.I project for a glimpse into Djang’s aesthetics where traditional instruments like the zhongruan and the pipa are refiltered through disparate genres from Latin rock to psychedelic folk.
46. Dokedo: #WFC
2016 was the year that the Howie Lee led Do Hits collective of forward-thinking producers truly became a label thanks to template setting releases like this one. #WFC (aka. Who fucking cares) is an appropriate name for Dokedo’s debut with the Beijing producer introducing his take on the label’s “future music” aesthetic where tribal drums meet glitchy bass lines and skewered traditional Chinese sounds.
45. The Death Narcissist: Content! Content! Content!
The stoner rock trio is a Beijing super group of sorts bringing together members of Nakoma, Luv Plastik and The Harridans in one fuzzy package. Content! Content! Content! cuts to the chase for a pounding exploration of garage rock from menacing punk to bombastic grunge.
44. Miserable Faith: Youth Today
The Beijing-based rock veterans formed in 1999 at the Beijing MIDI Music School and they’ve become the perfect representatives for the open minded musical campus. Pioneers of the country’s hardcore rock scene, the group has steadily built up a fanbase thanks to their frequent festival appearances. Last year, they toured America for the first time and performed at the Modern Sky Seattle Festival, while at home they're now able to book prestigious venues like Shanghai Concert Hall. For their Modern Sky debut, they prove to be in fine form with their mastery of their diverse sound where thunderous hard rock meets reggae grooves and traditional Chinese sounds.
43. Linfeng: Soft Smell
Originally the bassist for Shanghai garage rockers Banana Monkey, Linfeng has found new life as a producer of laid-back sunny instrumentals. On his follow-up to last year’s Some Time, he taps into his band past adding groovy bass lines, funky guitar licks, electro keys and soulful vocals for an irresistible R&B inflected jam perfect for the dancefloor or the bedroom.
42. Dear Eloise: Uncontrollable Ice Age Stories
On their fourth full-length record, Dear Eloise has crafed an enchanting lo-fi soundtrack for 'their winter record.' P.K.14 frontman Yang Haisong and his wife Sun Xia (who previously played bass in the iconic group) continue to harness their poetically sparse mix of distorted hiss, lo-fi distorted guitars and dream-pop melodies spotlighting the lyrics of two of China's true rock poets.
41. New Pants: Because of You Life is Hot
You can’t stay young forever. As one of Modern Sky’s original acts, New Pants had Beijing dancing for years with their infectious dance rock. However, on their eighth album and first one in five years, Millionaire Peng and friends do the most punk rock thing imaginable - embrace maturity. Because of You Life is Hot signifies a stylistic turn for the group, downplaying the groove for melodic Mando pop-rock that puts the focus on New Pant’s often overlooked songwriting chops.