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Top 50 Albums of 2016

on November 28, 2016, 12:00am
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Deftones40. Deftones – Gore

Deftones ascended to nü metal sainthood by preaching a religion defined almost entirely by carnal contrasts: sex and death, intimacy and violence, new romanticism and primal aggression. Sixteen years after White Pony — their Sermon on the Mount — the band renew their profane vows to flesh and fury on Gore. It’s their most immersive, elegant record to date, texturally rich and yet, as highlight “Doomed User” so turbulently demonstrates, unflinchingly surly. Gore certainly runs the hard rock gamut, swiveling from “Acid Hologram”‘s paranoid shoegaze, to “Xenon”‘s creeping sludge, to the Jerry Cantrell-featuring stunner, “Phantom Bride”. However, for all its diversity, the album’s ultimately a triumph of firm devotion — and, of course, deathly beauty. –Zoe Camp

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Savages39. Savages – Adore Life

The gestation for the second album by British band Savages was long and complicated, involving multiple studios and a residency in New York that forced them to reassess the writing of several songs. While that could have been the recipe for overreach or work with all the passion squeezed out of it, Adore Life feels fuller and richer than their previous LP, Silence Yourself, even though nothing has been added to their unique formula. The songs are simply more dynamic than ever before. “T.I.W.Y.G.” and “Adore” build and recede like tidal shifts, pushing vocalist Jehnny Beth and guitarist Gemma Thompson to furious new realms. On the latter, especially, Beth sounds as if she’s trying to knock down an entire building with just the power of her voice. Savages take the title of this album very much to heart, as it urges listeners to appreciate every breath and every encounter with the world, no matter how seemingly insignificant. —Robert Ham

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Whitney38. Whitney – Light Upon the Lake

Over the course of three Smith Westerns albums, the group matured from fuzzed-out buzz band to 70’s-sheen rockers. But with the emergence of Whitney, it’s apparent that it wasn’t frontman Cullen Omori that made the Smith Westies such an intriguing project. Instead, it’s guitarist Max Kakacek and drummer Julien Ehrlich that have managed to repurpose the band’s best ideas and push things to unexpected places. Where the guitar work previously evoked Bowie and Harrison, Whitney introduces the most straightforward elements of Grateful Dead into the fold, resulting in a record, Light Upon the Lake, that pops with jukebox familiarity. Maybe it’s the guidance of fellow 70’s rock aficionado Jonathan Rado that translates the ideas of Whitney into such a fully-formed, unexpected debut, where a band from Chicago evokes the best moments of Bay Area jams and Laurel Canyon breeziness. It didn’t need Elton John’s cosign to get attention, but it wouldn’t be surprising if other classic rock dignitaries fell similarly in love. –Philip Cosores

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The Range37. The Range – Potential

Potential is the sound of voices united, pieced together from across the globe. That’s not cheesy rhetoric; it’s just what happened. The Range, aka producer James Hinton, crafted the album from various obscure YouTube clips. Some of people singing covers, some of people rapping — basically anything that spoke to him on some level. The result is an uplifting work that bonds together people who might never meet with airy club beats. It captures the feeling of both a late night deep dive into the untouched troves of the internet as well as the loneliness that birthed the original videos. With Hinton’s executed vision, it becomes an amazingly hopeful record. The grunting synth-bass tones and swift piano lines on “Copper Wire” flourish beneath the vocal samples, which alternate between pitched up and pitched down. For an electronic artist, the human voice is Hinton’s greatest instrument. The lush arrangements feel built around each clip, not the other way around. In a year where it’s easy to feel divided or alone, Potential is a reminder of the power of our voices pulled together with the intent of making something beautiful.
–Dusty Henry

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Noname36. Noname – Telefone

Noname is too modest to fling her debut mixtape into the major label arena, but her collaborators over the years, including Chance the Rapper to Saba, are more than happy to spread the word. It’s hard not to. Noname is the kind of rapper who appears as a magical figure, someone with remarkably ripe talent and polished work that seems too good to be true, too on the nose to be ignored, too well-crafted to be a debut. On Telefone, she slowly opens cupped hands to reveal soft words that she reeled out of darkness. The production cushions that, full of muted piano, finger snaps, and fluttering vocal harmonies. She talks about death and loss with the optimism of someone clinging to survival mode. She prays for friends to make it home safely in “Casket Pretty” but then swings into pure motivation on “Reality Check”. She does all of this and more, and yet there isn’t a single moment that can be pinpointed where she gets arrogant about it. Noname is the writer and illustrator of her own magic, a type of aching that clings to the sunny side of its soul. The louder her music is played, the brighter her cadence glows, giving her lyrics a type of 3D craft that makes Telefone a diary of lessons too relevant to keep to yourself.  –Nina Corcoran

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Into It. Over It.35. Into It. Over It. – Standards

For any indie kid who came of age in the mid-aughts, the slow burn of Into It. Over It.’s Standards plays like a dog whistle, calling up memories of a simpler time. The influence of Ben Gibbard and Mike Kinsella on the work of Chicago-based artist Evan Thomas Weiss has always been undeniable (Weiss was even in a band with Kinsella for a time), but he’s so much more than just a mimic; on Standards, his band’s most accessible album yet, he proves himself to once again be a thoughtful and observant narrator of his own life and the lives of those around him, trucking in similes and gentle, reflective, reverb-heavy melodies that are evocative even without the O.C.-era context. Recorded in analog at John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone Studio in San Francisco, there’s a warmth and lived-in quality to this record that can feel like a kind of homecoming.

Emo is a much-maligned genre, but Weiss and company make perhaps one of the strongest cases yet for its continued legitimacy. Standards is understated, lush, and carefully plotted; there are emotions, yes, but no hysterics. “They torch their twenties like it’s kerosene,” Weiss, who turned 30 this year, sings of his hometown friends. We’re all entering a new decade together, all of us mid-aughts indie kids, and thank god we have Weiss to show us the way. –Katherine Flynn

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sioux falls34. Sioux Falls – Rot Forever

Though it’s not going to be regularly compared to Infinite Jest, there’s something to the connection between Rot Forever and the maximalist postmodern literature masterpiece. The band formerly known as Sioux Falls (the group took on the moniker Strange Ranger once they learned that the word Sioux was offensive to many Native American communities) share a dual aesthetic with the David Foster Wallace epic — their debut LP feels like they throw everything at the wall to see what sticks, but it also feels carefully and intelligently curated. Simply put, even at 72 minutes, just about everything sticks. The then-trio wear classic indie rock influences (Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, Pavement) on their sleeves, but make things their own through the post-modern twist of analyzing the sleeve itself. Guitarist/vocalist Isaac Eiger sounds as if he’s shredded his journal and his vocal cords in equal measure, but knows the former well enough by heart to deliver the rough-hewn self-analysis all over again and in doing so pushes the latter despite the wear and tear. His lines at once evoke incredibly personal details and rally around universal frustration. “I miss my dog and my sister,” he howls on the excellent “If You Let It”, as if those words verified the world’s decay. It’s hard to tell if nothing is alright or if everything’s getting tough, but Strange Ranger/Sioux Falls are there with you for the ride. –Adam Kivel

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Gojira33. Gojira – Magma

“It’s bigger than me.” With those simple words spoken in an interview with Rolling Stone, Joe Duplantier, the frontman of French metal outfit Gojira, cut to the chase of the appeal of his band’s Magma. Joe and his brother Mario act as the core of the experimental outfit, and they lost their mother while demoing tracks for their massive new LP. While they once peddled death metal, the record became something so much more interested in connection, with each other in their grooves, with the listener in more approachable hooks, with something greater than all of us in its mystic appeal. Tragedy informed the album, and yet songs like the math-y, magnetic “Low Lands” or the acoustic, golden “Liberation” have an astral, heavenly quality, the music of the spheres ringing beautifully and incredibly loud, especially as the counterpoint to the gnash and churn of more peak experimental metal. –Adam Kivel

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Explosions in the Sky32. Explosions in the Sky – The Wilderness

After slumming it in Hollywood for nearly half a decade with Peter Berg and David Gordon Green, Explosions in the Sky finally returned this year with their long-awaited followup to 2011’s Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. How they still find ways to make their brand of post-rock feel as fresh and angelic as it first did 16 years ago is one of the many alluring facets of The Wilderness. It’s another sprawling epic, yawning with fresh air and stretching impressive muscles previously unused by the Lone Star post-rockers. Digitized bleeps and bloops punctuate their amber swells (“Tangle Formations”) while Chris Hrasky’s rousing percussion (“Logic of a Dream”) turns self-respecting atheists into believers. Good thing, too, because heaven waits by the end with “Landing Cliffs”, quite possibly the group’s most tender, tranquil ballad to date — and that’s saying a lot. Producer John Congleton bottled up magic with this one, and we could use it right now. –Michael Roffman

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babymetal metal resistance album new j pop Top 50 Albums of 201631. BABYMETAL – METAL RESISTANCE

Leave it to three upbeat J-pop idols to deliver one of the most eclectic metal records of the year. When BABYMETAL burst on the scene, their singers only had a passing familiarity with metal. Critics derided them as a manufactured pop outfit, but vocalists Su-metal, Yuimetal, and Moametal paid them no heed. This blank slate continued to favor the kawaii metal band with their latest release, METAL RESISTANCE. Backed by the uber-talented Kami Band, BABYMETAL smashed genre conventions on their sophomore LP. The record traversed the chasms among subgenres, from power metal (“Road of Resistance”, assisted by Dragonforce’s guitarists) to pummeling metalcore (“KARATE”) to synth-infused nu-metal (“Awadama Fever”). The band even incorporated some oddball flourishes (vaudeville piano on “Tales of the Destinies”, a shimmering, anthemic interlude on “Meta Taro”). As the vocalists’ saccharine harmonies bolster an even more accessible sound, BABYMETAL arrived full-force on US shores to solidify their cult status. –Killian Young

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