Decades
A quarterly report that looks back
on music and film from 10, 20, 30 years ago

Top 50 Albums of 2007

on January 23, 2017, 1:00am
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Decades is a new, recurring feature that turns back the clock to critical anniversaries of albums, songs, and films. This month, we dial it back to the top 50 albums of 2007.

“Ten years! Ten years!” Remember that line from Grosse Point Blank? Think it was Jeremy Piven, back when he looked more like Bruce Springsteen and less like Hair Plug Harry. Nevertheless, it’s been a whole decade since 2007, though really, it feels like two depending on where you’re standing. For us, 2017 marks the 10th anniversary of Consequence of Sound — hold the bubbly; we’ll blow out the candles come September, rest assured — and there’s this nagging feeling that time’s been both long and short, namely because it’s easy to lose track of time when you’re in a never-ending marathon.

It’s all about the cycle. We start the year with new albums, we love or hate those new albums, and we put a few of those new albums on a year-end list before Christmas. Rinse and repeat. Doing that 10 times has made things feel fast, but when you actually break out of that bubble, it’s disheartening to know how much time has actually gone by. I mean, do any of you even remember 2007? Of course you do. It wasn’t that long ago, right? Well, kind of. Come to think of it, we were still living in Bush’s America, where Heath Ledger was alive, Kanye didn’t shrug, and Obama was a Senator with his sights on Capitol Hill.

Sure, we were on the precipice of a financial crisis that would reach near-biblical proportions, but that hardly affected the music industry, at least not the quality. Indie rock was all the rage, music festivals were sporting their strongest lineups, and Radiohead were essentially giving away one of their best albums to date. In the months ahead, we’re going to take a long stroll through that year, focusing on its albums, songs, and films. It’s going to be nostalgic, yes, but also rewarding to see how the then wound up shaping the now. We’re looking at the whole thing like a bizarre pop culture science experiment.

This month begins with albums, next month songs, and the month after that will tackle films. Looking at the first list, however, it’s almost unfair how many essential albums were released between January 2007 and January 2008. Naturally, hindsight only made it more difficult to piece this thing together, and that’s something you have to consider when you’re looking back 10, 20, or even 40 years ago. What was big then might be small now and vice versa. Yet sometimes — less often than we’d like to admit — culture actually got it right the first time around, and that’s pretty much the case with this list.

Of course, we’re a little bias having lived it, but we’ll leave it to you to agree, disagree, or rebel. If anything, you’ll have a kick revisiting most of these albums, some of which may have never left your rotation. If our “calculations” are correct, they never did.

–Michael Roffman
Editor-in-Chief

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Public Enemy50. Public Enemy – How You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?

Political music isn’t an easy sell. Part of what allowed Public Enemy to reach cultural-phenomena status during hip-hop’s golden age was their understanding that the PSA could also be a party. It wasn’t enough just to clean clocks with a powerful message – knowing what time it was meant both pumping fists in solidarity and busting moves in defiance. It’s that formula that Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and longtime producer Gary G-Wiz turned back the giant clock to on How You Sell Soul…, especially on third single “Harder Than You Think”. Sampling Shirley Bassey’s “Jezahel” and Flav’s own banter from the group’s original single, “Public Enemy No.1”, G-Wiz amps the former’s horns to 11 as Chuck booms atop about both the state of hip-hop and the black community. It’s a rally, it’s a dance-off, and it’s a reminder that PE are still in full effect boyeeee. –Matt Melis

Last Seen: The group, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, continues to record and tour while Chuck D also spits vocals for political supergroup Prophets of Rage.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Beirut49. Beirut – The Flying Club Cup

After breaking into the indie stratosphere with their 2006 debut, Gulag Orkestar, Zach Condon and Beirut returned a year later with the charming, thrilling Flying Cup Club. The record pushed further into the romance and drama of its predecessor, thanks in part to lush, cinematic string arrangements from Owen Pallett. Strings, brass, accordion, and organ detail the French countryside, Condon emulating the works of Jacque Brel and other prominent chanteurs. And though the international, classical pop influences make Flying Cup Club an enchanting listen, Condon delivers soaring songs like “Nantes” and “Guyamas Sonora”, melodies that would thrive even stripped down to the barest of bones. His vocal harmonies gelled here as well, growing in both clarity and depth from their already heady sweetness. Rather than nostalgia or cultural tourism, Beirut’s sophomore album feels like a lonely, smoky night in Paris lodged specifically within Condon’s mind. –Lior Phillips

Last Seen: After Flying Cup Club, Beirut started slowing down, taking four years between albums, eventually leading to 2015’s middling return, No No No.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Ryan Adams48. Ryan Adams – Easy Tiger

Ryan Adams fans were spoiled for choice in 2005, the prolific and acclaimed singer-songwriter releasing three very different full-length LPs in a single calendar year. It would have been a sucker bet to wager on what Adams’ next record might sound like two years later. But rather than the album equivalent of a split-personality disorder, Adams emerged on Easy Tiger sounding as confident and assured in his craft as he had since the epic Love Is Hell. Whether crooning on a country-tinged cut like “Two” or plugging in in an abandoned garage on “Halloweenhead”, Adams gets in and gets out, keeping it tight and showing what a master songwriter can do with a mere two or three minutes and change. –Matt Melis

Last Seen: The sneak peeks at Adams’ upcoming album, Prisoner, suggest possibly his best work since Heartbreaker.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Explosions in the Sky47. Explosions in the Sky – All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

Rarely do bands sound as invigorated and adrenalized on their fifth studio album as Explosions in the Sky do on All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone. The album touched down two years after the Austin rockers tried their hands at improvisation with 2005’s conceptual effort, The Rescue, and while it didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel for them (that would be 2011’s Take Care, Take Care, Take Care), it came fully stocked with rousing anthems that reached for the nosebleed section with every single note. Blame it on a little self-awareness — let’s not forget, they had just scored Peter Berg’s Friday Night Lights, whose television adaptation bowed on NBC in the fall of 2006 — but it worked. “The Birth and the Death of the Day” cracks open the album with heavenly light, and “It’s Natural to Be Afraid” remains one of their most triumphant epics clocking in at a little over 13 minutes. Fun fact: “Welcome, Ghosts” soundtracked the opening portion of this writer’s Halloween wedding. So, if you weren’t convinced then… –Michael Roffman

Last Seen: The boys recently released last year’s excellent The Wilderness, which was preceded by some of the better scores in Hollywood today, from David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche to Berg’s Lone Survivor.

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Good Bad Not Evil46. Black Lips – Good Bad Not Evil

It seems a little weird to be retroactively celebrating a Black Lips album, if only because it’s the band’s raucous, unpredictable live shows that have always been their calling card. But if the rude, crude garage rockers from Atlanta ever came close to capturing the breathtaking scope of their real-life antics in the studio, it was on their 2007 Vice Records debut, Good Bad Not Evil. Playful and rebellious in equal measure, the album tumbles along on a wave of hooks that help the Lips truly stand out from their garage rock brethren, whether it’s the sloppy doo-wop of “Bad Kids” or the drunken rock ‘n’ roll of “Veni Vidi Vici”. It’s hard to shake the suspicion that the Black Lips are just a bunch of scuzzy punk jerks, but catch them at the right time and they’ll state a pretty convincing case for starting a riot. –Collin Brennan

Last Seen: The group have mostly been laying low since their 2014 studio album, Underneath the Rainbow.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Dan Deacon Spiderman of the Rings45. Dan Deacon – Spiderman of the Rings

There’s experimental electronics, there’s poppy dance, and then there’s whatever elasticity Dan Deacon discovered on his fourth full-length back in 2007. Hearing Spiderman of the Rings for the first time was like stumbling into the lucid dreams of a cartoon show, complete with slapstick absurdity (“World of Hair”), vocal extremities (“The Crystal Cat”), and goofy vocoder about your dad (“Snake Mistakes”). What allowed Deacon’s LP to stand out from a kid making weird loops in his basement was Deacon’s balance of energetic frenzy with genuinely moving repose. “Big Milk” is strangely peaceful and, like much of the record, still holds up today, but it’s epics like 11-minute “Wham City” that show Deacon meddling with instrumentation, knobs, and strangely human elements that can effect you in a way that’s deeper than a record of bizarre Baltimore electro-art seems capable of. –Nina Corcoran

Last Seen: Prepping for his 2012 album, America, to soundtrack the New York City Ballet stage at the end of this month.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Lil Wayne Da Drought 344. Lil Wayne – Da Drought 3

With the smoked-out, word-drunk brilliance of Da Drought 3, Lil Wayne managed to be incredibly original while jacking beats from hits that were already distinct. He rapped over some of the era’s classic beats (riding the skying horns of T.I.’s “Top Back”, say, or the chop-up-the-soul Kanye of Cam’ron’s “Down and Out”), though he also traveled back in time to take on ‘90s East Coast classics (Nas’ “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)” and Jay Z’s “Dead Presidents”). He revamped many of the original songs by conveying contagious joy; the tape might represent the most fun anyone’s ever had rapping, with hilarious and unpredictable similes and metaphors. It’s all more than enough to keep things interesting all the way through the two-disc, 29-track, 108-minute tape, even as the features are few. Wayne was well on his way to greater fame and further acclaim with 2008’s proper LP, Tha Carter III — an album that resulted in seven nominations and three wins at the 2009 Grammys — but there are plenty who maintain that DD3 remains his greatest work. –Michael Madden

Last Seen: Though the general rap-listening public has been impatiently awaiting Tha Carter V, Wayne hasn’t exactly disappeared from the public eye: Last year, he released ColleGrove (his collaborative album with 2 Chainz) and his prison memoir, Gone ‘Til November: A Journal of Rikers Island.

Listen: YouTube

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Liars Liars43. Liars – Liars

After three albums of varying experimentalism — from dance punk to witch-hunting art rock to electro-acoustic drone — Liars announced a self-titled album, as if to make sure their reintroduction was a friendly one. Liars splices more of the motorik punk sound into the trio’s mix, a haunted noir of shadows and sharp teeth. That darkness had a magnetic pull, all the rhythmic intensity of no wave with the heightened stakes they’d earned on the massive Drum’s Not Dead the previous year. From the Jesus and Mary Chain-echoing “Freak Out” to the full-speed, tooth-gnashing Lost Highway nightmare of “Plaster Casts of Everything”, from slasher terror to existential break, there’s a heavy menace to Liars — though even the bleakest moments have a subtle beauty. It may not be the sublime epic of their previous album, but their self-titled is a sharp thrill that doesn’t lose any of Liars’ depth. –Lior Phillips

Last Seen: Liars most recently returned with 2014’s Mess, a record that dealt with chaos, uncertainty, and complication in a deliriously cathartic, dance-friendly, electronic bump.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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El P I'll Sleep When You're Dead42. El-P – I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead

At this point, it’s actually difficult to imagine El-P without the man-mountain that is Killer Mike flanking him on record or stage. Really, that just speaks to the lightning-in-a-bottle partnership the two have forged as Run the Jewels two decades into their respective careers. But with that newfound mass appeal should come fresh faces eager to learn what El was up to before becoming one half of the world’s most popular hip-hop duo. Brimming with dense rhymes, features from across genres, claustrophobic production, and a sense of hard-earned wisdom (“I might have been born yesterday, sir, but I stayed up all night.”), I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead reveals El-P polishing gems long before his Jewels days. –Matt Melis

Last Seen: El-P and Killer Mike dropped their third critically acclaimed collab, Run the Jewels 3, on Christmas Eve.

Buy: Amazon

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Rilo Kiley Under the Blacklight41. Rilo Kiley – Under the Blacklight

Looking back, one might argue Rilo Kiley’s Under the Blacklight could have been titled More Disastrous. What was supposed to be their big major-label debut at Warner Bros. wound up being the curtain call on Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett’s popular indie rock outfit. What’s worse, those who followed them from the beginning felt marginalized by the album’s slick pop sheen and its bevy of eclectic guest musicians, ranging from Jackson Browne to Phantom Planet’s Alex Greenwald to Maroon 5’s James Valentine and Mickey Madden. But, you know what? Screw the haters. The album was a blast then, and it’s a bigger blast now. More importantly, it was a total precursor to what indie rock would become in the years after. Songs like “Silver Lining”, “Close Call”, “The Moneymaker”, and “Breakin’ Up” could easily be mistaken for something on FM radio today. And to top it off, Sennett went all Lindsey Buckingham on us with “Dreamworld”, and it totally fucking worked. Love this album. –Michael Roffman

Last Seen: In 2014, Lewis confirmed the band had officially broken up, which was right around the time she released her last solo album, The Voyager. Sennett has kept busy with Night Terrors of 1927 alongside pal Jarrod Gorbel. Oh, well.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon
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The Shins Wincing the Night Away40. The Shins – Wincing the Night Away

It only makes sense that the year of Peak Indie would have one of its progenitors leading the charge — and lead they did. The Shins dropped Wincing the Night Away at the end of January 2007, which kind of, maybe, sort of set the table for the remaining 11 months. Granted, it was always going to be a hurdle topping their diamond sophomore album, Chutes Too Narrow, but James Mercer returned to the fold sounding bigger, brighter, and broader. Opening track “Sleeping Lessons” found the New Mexico outfit whispering to millions as opposed to thousands, working with a candle-lit serenade that hallmarked a fully realized outfit as opposed to a soft-spoken poet holding a guitar. The rest of the songs followed suit, especially on transformative singles with the epic swells behind “Phantom Limb” and the Gorillaz-esque beats supporting “Sea Legs”. This was early mainstream indie rock done right. –Michael Roffman

Last Seen: James Mercer will return with Heartworms, coming March 10th to a record store near you.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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ickythump Top 50 Albums of 200739. The White Stripes – Icky Thump

Can an album that received near-universal acclaim upon its release be considered underrated? When it’s The White StripesIcky Thump, the answer is probably no, but it’s complicated. As Jack and Meg White’s sixth and final studio album together, Icky Thump is often seen as their most tired-sounding — the work of a duo who had already squeezed everything they could have out of their sound and didn’t know quite where else to go. Of course, that particular reading overlooks just how much fun the Whites seem to be having on songs like “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do What You’re Told)” and the bluesy “Rag and Bone”. It’s not a tour de force like Get Behind Me Satan, and it never produced a truly massive single on the scale of Elephant’s “Seven Nation Army”, but Icky Thump is an album whose sneaky sense of humor and casual brilliance are too often taken for granted. –Collin Brennan

Last Seen: The White Stripes broke up in 2011 and haven’t been heard from as a duo since. Meg retreated from the spotlight, but Jack White continues to record prolifically as a solo artist as well as with other bands and projects. He has also stayed busy producing albums on his Third Man Records label.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Grinderman Grinderman38. Grinderman – Grinderman

Labels can cast long shadows and carry enormous weight. Is it any real wonder then that in the mid-aughts Nick Cave opted to shelf the Bad Seeds in favor of a side gig? While it’s true that the project, dubbed Grinderman, simply comprised a smaller selection of Bad Seeds members, the freedom of not having his name out front inspired Cave to return to a rawer sound reminiscent of his post-punk work with The Birthday Party. A decade later, Grinderman remains as caustic, unnerving, and seamy as ever, whether it be Cave’s spoken-word deliveries confronting violent sonic assaults (“No Pussy Blues”) or his dark, princely voice rolling atop the band’s waves of distorted blues (“[I Don’t Need You To] Set Me Free”). While Cave seems content to keep adding to his string of beloved Bad Seeds records, we surely wouldn’t begrudge him and the boys leaving themselves a life raft. S.S. Grinderman, anyone? –Matt Melis

Last Seen: A one-off performance at Coachella in April 2013.

Buy: Amazon

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Jay Z American Gangster37. Jay Z – American Gangster

American Gangster may not be Jay Z’s best release, but it’s definitely his weirdest from a conceptual standpoint. The self-mythologizing New York City rapper was apparently so blown away by the 2007 Ridley Scott film of the same name that he set out to create a concept album in which he starred in the title role. The biggest surprise, perhaps, is that it worked beautifully, with Hova using modern blockbuster cinema as the muse for his strongest and most self-assured work in years. It’s a hungrier-sounding album than its immediate predecessor, the limp Kingdom Come, probably because it finds the rapper rediscovering and reveling in his hardened street image. American Gangster also benefits from solid production by The Neptunes (“Blue Magic”, “I Know”) and guest appearances by Beanie Sigel, Lil Wayne, and Nas. –Collin Brennan

Last Seen: Courtside at a Brooklyn Nets game? Jay Z has been mostly out of touring and recording since 2014, though he’s made a name for himself as a business mogul and, of course, as a trophy husband to Beyoncé.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Andrew Bird Armchair Apocrypha 36. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha

Following up a career best record is tough. That’s what Andrew Bird faced with the release of Armchair Apocrypha, coming on the heels of breakthrough 2005 album The Mysterious Production of Eggs. And in many ways, the record portrays a knowledge of this, that more attention than ever before would be bestowed on it. It’s not a look that Andrew Bird wears poorly. Employing more electric guitar than ever before, “Fiery Crash” and “Heretics” find the twitchy genius capable of filling rock star shoes. Even better is when Bird refines what he does best, layering loops of violin, glockenspiel, vocals, and his trademark whistle. “Plasticities” adds distorted guitar to the formula for one of Bird’s biggest anthems, while “Imitosis” flaunts vocabulary for a loose tango. Bird wouldn’t stick with this happy medium of accessibility and identity for long, but in 2007, he was everything to everyone for a brief moment. –Philip Cosores

Last Seen: After Armchair, Bird’s next two albums would crack the top 20 of the Billboard 200. That popularity hasn’t stuck, but it has turned into a solid career, with Are You Serious being the latest addition in 2016.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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NIN - Year Zero35. Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero

After a six-year absence between The Fragile and With Teeth, Nine Inch Nails fans saw a much quicker turnaround from a healthier Trent Reznor on Year Zero. A departure in many ways from previous NIN recordings, the concept record found Reznor, who had forged a career out of baring his own bruises, turning outwards as a songwriter. Frustrated by the state of government, he envisioned a dystopian America set in 2022, and the album’s collage-like songs borrow from different perspectives to depict that bleak reality. At the time, Year Zero marked Reznor’s most ambitious project (it had its own video game) by far, and given the state of greed and dishonesty in our current government, it may horrifically turn out to be his most prescient. –Matt Melis  

Last Seen: Reznor dropped a new NIN EP, Not the Actual Events, two days before Christmas. Also of note, it marks the first appearance of collaborator Atticus Ross as part of the band.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Jens Lekman Night Falls Over Kortedala34. Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala

It’s hard to say whether Jens Lekman’s sophomore album, Night Falls Over Kortedala, would work in 2017 like it did in 2007. Sure, there might have been a little more patience from listeners a decade ago, but it runs deeper than that. The album is built almost entirely around the charms of its namesake, with Lekman’s quirky, insightful tales heightened by his Swedish accent, penchant for big arrangements, and deadpan sense of humor. In a time when independent rock and roll was getting more attention than ever before, it fit neatly in a place that barely exists for this type of music anymore. Still, Lekman’s music is built around the idea of timelessness, and the fact that it was given a fair shake in 2007 allows it to still hold weight. Night Falls Over Kortedala functions as a bit of a time capsule, but one whose joys never quite lose their luster. –Philip Cosores

Last Seen: Lekman has only released one full-length since, with his fourth LP, Life Will See You Now, out in February.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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The Field From Here We Go Sublime33. The Field – From Here We Go Sublime

Axel Willner, the Swedish musician behind The Field, dances on his toes with From Here We Go Sublime. Instead of pinning himself to a subsection of minimal techno, he shifts his weight on each song, creating a star-shaped pattern on the floor in the process that makes its tracklist order so dazzling. “Silent” transitions to louder bass on “The Deal” but somehow feels softer. “Over the Ice” challenges your heartbeat to a race. Yet here, The Field’s greatest moments come from reduction. With a miniature woodblock and a single note sliding up a guitar neck, Willner injects “A Paw in My Face” — a song of repetitive, thudding bass — with the most uplifting, vibrant, freeing melodies you could hope to dream of. He continued to make records that exhale slowly, filling the room with their sound, that serve as an extension of this LP, but none have felt as innocent in their movements as this one. –Nina Corcoran

Last Seen: Pretty recently, actually. The Field released his fifth album under this moniker, The Follower, in April of 2016.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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The Gaslight Anthem Sink or Swim32. The Gaslight Anthem – Sink or Swim

There was nothing particularly cool about The Gaslight Anthem in 2007. They looked like Social Distortion, worshiped Bruce Springsteen, and wrote about times of yore, where muscle cars, sad radio songs, and all-night diners were cultural touchstones. Frontman Brian Fallon sings with sandpaper gruff songs that reference Dazed and Confused, On the Waterfront, and The Clash. In many ways, the earnest New Jersey punks were operating on a different plane than what was being widely consumed at the time. But that’s also what makes Sink or Swim a great debut album. Fallon’s devotion to black-and-white nostalgia doesn’t come from a place of commercialization or exploitation. It pumps red in his veins. The collection isn’t quite as ambitious as the classic that would follow, The ’59 Sound, but it’s stacked with anthems that soar in their lack of pretension. “These are the songs that we sing,” Fallon announces on “We Came To Dance”, grease on his hands and a pack of cigarettes rolled in his sleeve, the perfect counterpoint to a year of music notable for its art-house cool. –Philip Cosores

Last Seen: The Gaslight Anthem went on indefinite hiatus in 2015, releasing five albums in eight years of existence. Last year, Brian Fallon released his debut solo album.

Buy: Amazon

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Stars Of The Lid Stars Of The Lid And Their Refinement Of The Decline31. Stars of the Lid ‎- And Their Refinement of the Decline

After a six-year silence, drone duo Stars of the Lid returned in 2007 with arguably their most influential release to date, And Their Refinement of the Decline. Looking back, the title’s comically antithetical. The record launched them to (relative) fame outside of the genre even though they haven’t released a single album since. Why bother with a follow-up? Though there’s less acoustic instruments, Stars of the Lid alter previous roles in a way that elevated their past work, letting horns burst momentarily or strings serve as melodic bumpers. And Their Refinement of the Decline is a masterpiece that gives the more you listen. Clocking in at just over two hours, their LP becomes as much a commitment of time as it does an escape from it, allowing listeners to strap themselves onboard and float away to a section of the sky only these two have the key to. –Nina Corcoran

Last Seen: A teaser trailer for a Stars of the Lid film appeared in 2008, but otherwise the band’s been quiet. Both members have released material through their other projects (Bell Gardens and A Winged Victory for the Sullen, respectively) since then instead.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon
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The Avett Brothers Emotionalism30. The Avett Brothers – Emotionalism

The Avett Brothers were around long before Emotionalism, having polished off three studio albums and a live record for Dolph Ramseur’s humble North Carolina label, Ramseur Records. But really, the band’s career arguably began with Emotionalism, as it introduced the world to the folksy quartet with its unabashedly poppy folk songs. Needless to say, all that time in the mountains paid off considerably, and when it came time to deliver, they delivered. On paper, the hefty, hour-long record should play out like one long, meditative stroll through the backwoods, but that’s just not the case. Thanks to Seth and Scott Avett’s knack for dancing melodies — you know, the cozy stuff that can either tickle the funny bone or lull one to sleep at the drop of a bowler hat — Emotionalism sounds more like modern folk’s answer to Meet the Beatles!. It’s incredibly accessible, sure, but never at the sake of compromise, which is likely why producer Rick Rubin came calling thereafter. –Michael Roffman

Last Seen: Oh, you know, they’re on their ninth studio album now — last year’s True Sadness — which was recently nominated for Best Americana Album at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards. They’re basically unstoppable.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Les Savy Fav Let's Stay Friends29. Les Savy Fav – Let’s Stay Friends

When you’ve got a frontman like Tim Harrington, it’s easy to overlook how great of a studio band that Les Savy Fav are. The band have become known for the antics of their singer, but over the course of five LPs from 1997-2010, Les Savy Fav blurred the lines between post-hardcore and the more palatable indie rock of the time. On their best album, Let’s Stay Friends, the lines are as blurry as ever. Opener “Pots and Pans” is cinematic and expansive, “What Would Wolves Do?” moves with the rock swagger of The Strokes, “Brace Yourself” is straight art rock that would feel at home on a Liars album, and there’s even a stripped-down duet with Eleanor Friedberger. It’s considerable range for a band renowned for making a scene. And there are plenty of moments suited for that energy, too. The album’s two best songs, “The Equestrian” and “The Lowest Bitter”, are propulsive without sacrificing melody, the vision of a group that didn’t feel confined by appearances or reputation. –Philip Cosores

Last Seen: Les Savy Fav hasn’t made a record since 2010, but the band haven’t officially broken up. Bassist Syd Butler still owns Frenchkiss Records and also plays in Seth Myers’ house band with Seth Jabour.
Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Arctic Monkeys Favourite Worst Nightmare28. Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worst Nightmare

Few bands felt the pressure of the dreaded sophomore slump more acutely than Arctic Monkeys, who had turned themselves into the darlings-du-jour of the notoriously hyperbolic British press with their 2006 debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. But unlike the many English rock bands that came before them and failed to stand up to prolonged scrutiny, Alex Turner and co. managed to produce a stunning follow-up that amplified and expanded upon everything that was good about their first outing. From the locked-in riffage of “Brainstorm” to the more expansive balladry of “Fluorescent Adolescent” to the sexy, dangerous closer “505”, Favourite Worst Nightmare contains 12 rock-solid pieces of evidence that Arctic Monkeys were there to stay, and anyone who didn’t like it could piss off. Though it’s sometimes overshadowed in the band’s catalog by their debut and the more dance-ready AM, this one might represent the most crucial junction of the band’s (now quite long) career arc. –Collin Brennan

Last Seen: Arctic Monkeys officially went on hiatus following their AM tour in 2014, and Turner used the time off to fine-tune another sophomore effort — The Last Shadow PuppetsEverything You’ve Come To Expect. In December of 2016, he thankfully announced that the Monkeys had regrouped and begun work on a new album.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Battles Mirrored27. Battles – Mirrored

Was Tyondai Braxton the secret ingredient to Battles? To a sizable chunk of Battles fans, the answer is yes, definitely, how can you even ask such a thing? The trio was once a quartet, and when they made their debut with Mirrored, math rock flourished for the first time in what felt like years. John Stanier carved out his place as a drum icon with the menacing rhythm of “Atlas”, Ian Williams let his guitar tangle itself on “Tonto” and then wiggle itself clean, and Dave Konopka used electronics and delays to elevate rock music to a new standard all throughout. This isn’t just playful tempos and miniature melodies. It’s a rock group exploding for all of us to watch, and Braxton’s vocals — straightforward or manipulated — smoothed it out with a level of eeriness (“Leyendecker” still gives me shivers). First impressions matter; Battles set theirs so high that fans can’t agree on the merits of their following LPs except that Braxton’s leaving in 2010 shouldn’t have happened. —Nina Corcoran

Last Seen: Last year where they continued touring behind 2015’s La Di Da Di through mid-tier venues and festivals alike.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Baroness Red Album26. Baroness – Red Album

The color-coded catalog of Baroness proves that metal needn’t be viewed as an outsider, a genre cast out and forever banished to trudge beyond the boundaries of the mainstream. In a year, as evidenced by this list, that indie rock reigned, the ambitious debut from this Georgia sludge metal outfit dispelled many of the stereotypes that keep metal categorized apart from other guitar-based fare. What most characterizes Red Album is its unpredictability both between and within tracks. It’s a record that growls, pummels, and thrashes, yes, but also one that continually shifts its landscape and keeps listeners guessing and on edge. It’s the first real inkling of the balance of melody and mayhem that the band would go on to refine and perfect in the decade to come. –Matt Melis

Last Seen: 2015’s Purple found the band pushing more towards the mainstream without sacrificing their fiery roots.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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St. Vincent Marry Me25. St. Vincent – Marry Me

With debut album Marry Me, Annie Clark transformed from one of many robed figures in the Polyphonic Spree and guitarist for Sufjan Stevens into St. Vincent, revealing to the world her own insular genius. Her gift for twisting and subverting, both musically and lyrically, was apparent even on this first record, from the dare of an album title onward. The record is playful, darting and flitting around some powerful core that it only begins to hint at. It’s tempting to catalog the most thrilling lines (“Your skin’s so fair, it’s not fair,” “Let’s do what Mary and Joseph did/ Without the kid,” “I’ll call up my favorite muse for a drink/ Half full, or two”), but Clark showed here she’s much more than a series of punchlines or riffs — though she had both in droves. There’s a magical sheen apparent even here, one that spawned a million sighs and smiles. –Lior Phillips

Last Seen: After her dystopic, majestic self-titled 2014 record, St. Vincent toured and toured, only recently stopping long enough to announce the next record, due this spring.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Against Me New Wave24. Against Me! – New Wave

New Wave saw Against Me! sign to Sire Records, much to the chagrin of the fans who resented their gradual evolution from a DIY, bucket-and-guitar punk band to one of the great, impassioned rock bands of this era. It seems like a foolish debate now, when AM! would only continue to turn out great punk songs from there, but it was a stark departure from even the ambitious stylistic evolution of 2005’s Searching for a Former Clarity. Yet, what’s remarkable about New Wave is how, for its dalliances with dance punk (“Stop”), pop hooks (“Thrash Unreal”), and sauntering grooves (“Ocean”), it’s in every way an AM! album, with all the breathlessly wordy delivery and calls to action that even the most die-hard fans would expect. Laura Jane Grace’s delivery anchors the album from top to bottom, and right at the cusp of an era in which genres would become forever blurred across the whole of the music industry, Grace saw the simplest way to make a better future: “We can be the bands we wanna hear.” It’s the sound of a band learning how to just make music for themselves, rather than the demands of a scene, and the messy process that usually comes alongside that. –Dominick Suzanne Mayer

Last Seen: Still going strong, albeit with only half of their original lineup, after releasing Shape Shift with Me last year.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Kevin Drew Spirit If23. Kevin Drew – Spirit If…

Before oversized bands became a gimmick, there was Broken Social Scene, putting Toronto on the musical map for good by roping together what seemed to be every notable musician in the city. During downtime between albums, co-founders Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning released solo albums, the prior of whom’s expanded on the quieter warmth of the group’s material. Spirit If… soothes with acoustic percussion and muted keys on songs like “Safety Bricks” and “Broke Me Up”, but things burst seconds later, “Lucky Ones” and “Backed Out on the…” letting Drew get reckless behind his guitar in the way that he does best. It’s a snapshot into what makes Broken Social Scene’s songwriting so sturdy, minus the full emphasis of horns or layered harmonies, as well as who’s responsible for the brazen song titles. Then, when it closes with “When It Begins”, you’re wrapped up in a group mindset once more, where Drew forces you to promise you can’t forget what you felt along the way. –Nina Corcoran

Last Seen: Onstage with Broken Social Scene for a small handful of shows in 2016. Now, he’s in studio with the Canadian supergroup working on their fifth album.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Okkervil River The Stage Names22. Okkervil River – The Stage Names

Following their most revered album, Black Sheep Boy, The Stage Names represented Okkervil River’s attempt to up the ambition even further with a double album. Of course, the record didn’t end up being the planned double album, with its second half, The Stand Ins, released the next year. But that doesn’t mean The Stage Names failed to approach the high bar set by Black Sheep Boy. It opens with two of the group’s strongest singles ever, “Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe” and “Unless It’s Kicks”, both of which still provide the climax of Okkervil concerts to this day. “Plus Ones” is the most accessible creative writing exercise ever put to music, with songwriter Will Sheff imagining the history of music’s numerical numbers with a small addition. And there is closer “John Allyn Smith Sails”, telling the story of poet John Berryman before incorporating “Sloop John B” for a foray into timelessness and tradition. Writing in person, Sheff’s lyrics are still able to cut to the bone, making the experiences of others seem as if they’d happened to him. It’s all very literary while still remaining warmly accessible. It was just the kind of follow-up that would solidify him as a master. –Philip Cosores

Last Seen: While this was undoubtably the golden age of Okkervil River, the project would still ascend to these heights with 2013’s The Silver Gymnasium and released a serviceable record last year, Away.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon
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blonde redhead 23 Top 50 Albums of 200721. Blonde Redhead – 23

After six promising and intermittently energizing albums of psych rock, New York trio Blonde Redhead took fate into their own hands on 23, cutting away from anything that detracted from their mystic, dreamy batch of chilled sweetness. Rather than crowd the margins with chamber pop flourishes, Kazu Makino and the Pace twins (Simone and Amadeo) carve out an ice cave of twinkling electronics and minimalist percussion. The wet haze of ‘90s shoegaze permeates the record, particularly the stunning title track and the burnished, shimmering “The Dress”. The trio produced themselves and paired with Alan Moulder for some mixing, his experience in grand, gothy rock, like Depeche Mode and Smashing Pumpkins, combining with their intense introspection and dream pop proclivities for a lithe, engaging listen. –Lior Phillips

Last Seen: With no new album in three years, Blonde Redhead most recently released a box set digging out singles, radio sessions, demos, and more from their first two years.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Band of Horses Cease to Begin20. Band of Horses – Cease To Begin

Band of Horses’ career thus far can easily be divided in two, with a line drawn straight between their first two albums and everything that’s come after. Cease To Begin, their second LP, works as sort of a career climax, perfecting the best parts of their 2006 debut, Everything All the Time, that saw them receiving wide attention for inescapable single “The Funeral”. Between records, all of the horses except for songwriter Ben Bridwell galloped away from the band, but the collection doesn’t sound like a batch of fresh ponies. “Is There a Ghost?”, “Ode to LRC”, and “Islands on the Coast” strive for the same kind of rafter-reaching maximalism. But what makes the record special is where it establishes an identity for Bridwell as a songwriter. “No One’s Gonna Love You” explores tender territory, while Bridwell’s Southern upbringing shines through on “The General Specific” and “Marry Song”. Later albums would push his Carolina roots to the forefront, but on Cease To Begin, it finds a balance with Pacific Northwest guitar rock for the best batch of songs that he’s ever written. –Philip Cosores

Last Seen: Why Are You OK, the fifth Band of Horses album, was released last year to a Top 20 debut on the Billboard 200, getting some of the best reviews that the group had seen since Cease To Begin.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Menomena Friend or Foe19. Menomena – Friend and Foe

With their third release, Portland’s weird rock trio Menomena fell onto the map and won listeners over immediately. Friend and Foe rustles unsettlingly, like a part of the band’s brain is rotting and the other part is rushing to salvage it, limbs going limp while whatever energy remains zips through their bodies with superhuman strength. It’s an album of deformed indie rock framed by the wiring of pop structure beneath it, and when all three members trade off on vocal duties, the album becomes a story full with character and complexity. Friend and Foe remains a flawless record because of its well-timed outliers. It’s the overpowering chord on organ in “Muscle’n Flo”, the eerie xylophone on “Wet and Rusting”, the prodding of baritone saxophone on “Evil Bee”, or the cheeky cow calls on “Running” while a jazz bassline bounces ominously. Menomena can’t help their weirdness, but on Friend and Foe, they package it with enough twisted pop to lure listeners in for good. –Nina Corcoran

Last Seen: Pianist and singer Brent Knopf left the band in 2011 to pursue his solo project, Ramona Falls. The remaining two released a record in 2012 (Moms) and then parted ways to pursue various collaborations and bands, including Pfarmers and Bloc Party.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Burial Untrue18. Burial – Untrue

Though it was his second album, Untrue is the marker that set the template for everything Burial has released since: the samples of crackly vinyl, the chopped-and-screwed vocal samples, the gray, rain-soaked atmosphere that inspires head-nodding, rumination, and huddling for warmth. His work also felt like being let in on a secret because, at the time, his identity was a mystery. That fed deeper, closer listens to the work and even more questions. Did he really construct all of these tracks without samplers or sequencers, instead using editing software Sound Forge? Was this Richard James or Fatboy Slim or Hyperdub label head Kode9 working under an alter ego? How can I get this song out of my head? Some proved easier to answer than others, but in a decade of oversharing, it hasn’t stopped feeling good to have sounds that elude simple explanation and actively avoid easy categorization. –Robert Ham

Last Seen: Burial released his most recent single, “Young Death/Nightmarket”, late last year and might have made his first ever live appearance at the 2016 Unsound Festival.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Dinosaur Jr. Beyond17. Dinosaur Jr. – Beyond

There just aren’t many happy endings for bands. And if you were an ‘80s DIY outfit finally getting called up to the big leagues for a cup of coffee, the odds of a gentle landing in your new surroundings seemed to decrease exponentially. That’s part of what makes Dinosaur Jr.’s Beyond feel like such a joyous occasion. After almost two decades apart from Lou Barlow and nearly as long without Murph, J Mascis once again found himself flanked by his long-lost brethren. They’re one of the few bands to actually survive their Our Band Could Be Your Life chapter, and tracks like opener “Almost Ready” and “Been There All the Time” sound like pure jubilation as a result. Nobody can sludge up a beautiful guitar melody like J Mascis can, but Beyond stands as a reminder that certain people – sometimes the ones you want to kill most – bring out the absolute best in you. –Matt Melis

Last Seen: Their last album, 2016’s Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, saw the band pushing boundaries and receiving more critical acclaim.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Feist The Reminder16. Feist – The Reminder

Three years after charming the world with “Mushaboom”, Feist returned to show not only that she’s capable of additional hits, but that she’s a songwriter with a natural craft that only grows with time. The Reminder is Feist’s crowning achievement, and every single song holds up over a decade later: “I Feel It All”, “The Limit to Your Love,” and “1234”, even if iPod commercials almost ruined the latter’s charm. Listening to The Reminder, you get the feeling that Feist found levity. Her voice floats not due to its grace, but its eagerness. As her stories unravel through heart-shaped lyrics that, thank goodness, aren’t about a partner (Music has enough of that), Feist sings about cutting roots, the abuse of sadness, and personal growth. At 31 years old, she wrote an album that inspires listeners to live freely, even when there’s a chance you’ll get hurt. –Nina Corcoran

Last Seen: In the studio with Broken Social Scene in 2016. There’s no word yet on how much she’s on their new album, but she offered her “lover’s spit” for their fifth LP in some capacity.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Panda Bear Person Pitch15. Panda Bear – Person Pitch

More so than any other member of Animal Collective, Panda Bear has managed to build a solo career that not only stands on its own, but exists in a space that doesn’t require AnCo fandom as a prerequisite. Person Pitch is his third solo effort but was the first to gain any real traction with a wide audience. The album comes across as homespun and intimate, the work of an artist given the proper time and space to build an entire world from scratch. But then again, Pandy was never really alone. He cites a wide range of influences on the record, including contemporaries like Phoenix and Ariel Pink and less obvious choices like George Michael and The Notorious B.I.G. Chief among these, though, is Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, with Person Pitch often sounding like a direct leap from Wilson’s most psychedelic moments. “Good Girl/Carrots” is a sunny day at the beach complete with all the wind, crowds, and chaos that the setting can attract. Opener “Comfy in Nautica” is a bright march that functions as a mantra. And best is “Bros”, 12 minutes of AM-radio nostalgia that drips sepia tone. The influence of the record would extend to both his own band with their landmark Merriweather Post Pavilion and to the knob-turning weirdos who’d craft genres like chillwave and vaporwave. But on its own, it’s as singular and delightful of a trip down the rabbit hole as you’ll find on record. –Philip Cosores

Last Seen: Kickin’ with his AnCo bros, poppin’ up on Daft Punk records, and still releasing acclaimed solo offerings, most recently Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper in 2015.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Kings of Leon Because of the Times14. Kings of Leon – Because of the Times

Back in 2007, Kings of Leon were still underdogs when they released their third studio album, Because of the Times. With Aha Shake Heartbreak, the Nashville rockers had won over their international audiences — especially in Europe and Australia, good lord — but they weren’t exactly rock ‘n’ roll heroes to Americans. Of course, that’d all change a year later with Only by the Night, which would catapult them into stardom and bring their entire catalog into every bar across North America, but that was still around the corner. No, this year and this particular album is arguably the most interesting chapter in Kings of Leon’s career because it finds the Followill brothers on a rickety creative bridge, where they were not only maturing but figuring out what the hell works for them. As such, the album’s an erratic if not intriguing gallery of moods and melodies, fueled by varied singles (“On Call”, “Fans”, and “Charmer”) and non-traditional choruses (“Knocked Up”, “Black Thumbnail”). Sadly, they crossed the bridge. –Michael Roffman

Last Seen: It’s been a series of highs and lows for the boys as of late, from festival headlining sets to embarrassing controversies, but last year’s WALLS notched them a No. 1 single with “Waste a Moment”.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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of Montreal Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?13. of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

of Montreal’s eighth album, Hissing Fauna Are You the Destroyer?, is a concept album about Kevin Barnes transforming into a new alter ego, glam rock star Georgie Fruit, a persona with a complicated history detailed across multiple albums and plenty of backstory. For such a grand, complicated story — especially one filled with references to high literature and drug culture in equal measure — Hissing Fauna is far more fun than its complications suggest. On top of all that, leading up to the album, Barnes dealt with depression and a temporary separation from his wife. And yet the cynicism and existential dread can’t help but glitter when draped in these glam accouterments, Barnes flipping the black-hole nothingness of his depression into a compelling presence that spills out of the speakers in maximalist glory. And, in the end, Hissing Fauna feels as transformative for the listener as it clearly was for Barnes. –Lior Phillips

Last Seen: After some diversions into more electronic-leaning fare, of Montreal released a surprise EP just after the turn of the year with a staunch return to proggy classic rock.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Tegan and Sara The Con12. Tegan and Sara – The Con

Tegan and Sara’s career has now featured two distinctive acts, and The Con could be seen as the climax to the first one. Maturing from a folky duo to indie rock titans took five albums, but one of the talents of the sisters is just how seamless that transition seemed. The fuzzy electric guitar kicks in during the title track, and the record announces its departure, building to Tegan yelling with a fiery rasp, but it’s hardly a one-note affair. There’s the the electronic pulse of “Are You Ten Years Ago”, the straight-ahead pop bounce of “Back in Your Head”, and the tasteful emo of “Nineteen” to all showcase a pair that wanted to reflect disparate influence and tastes. Best of all is the finish, Tegan’s tender ballad “Call It Off”, which turns the dissolution of her five-year romance into a timeless monument to heartbreak. At the time, it seemed like it would be nearly impossible to top, and it’s appropriate that the way Tegan and Sara were able to achieve that was through a reinvention. As it stands, though, The Con is a songwriting peak from Canada’s favorite twins. –Philip Cosores

Last Seen: Embracing ’80s pop fantasy with a pair of fantastic records, 2013’s Heartthrob and 2016’s Love You To Death.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Justice11. Justice –

“It’s incredible that anybody can look back fondly on the debut studio album from French electronic duo Justice, if only because “D.A.N.C.E.” was once so maddeningly ubiquitous that it gave MGMT’s “Kids” a run for its money as Most Overplayed Song of the 2000s. Dance floor PTSD notwithstanding, we can now look back on Cross with fonder critical eyes and appreciate it as the thrilling party record it truly is. Justice may not have single-handedly revived disco with their operatic club masterpiece, but they did create one of the most seamless fusions of electronic and pop music to date, a frisky, kinetic romper tailor-made for the A.D.D. generation and hugely influential on the EDM explosion that would hit both sides of the Atlantic in the early 2010s. As songs like the uber-distorted “Waters of Nazareth” demonstrate, Justice also deserve credit for smuggling disco into the ears of teenagers who care more about what looks cool than what sounds good. Fortunately for Justice, Cross checks both boxes. –Collin Brennan

Last Seen: Funny you should ask, because it wasn’t that long ago (November of 2016, to be exact) that Justice finally released their third studio effort, Woman, and starred in a fiery music video with Susan Sarandon. The duo will be hitting the touring circuit hard this summer, with confirmed appearances at Panorama, Coachella, and other festivals around the world.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon
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Animal Collective Strawberry Jam10. Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam

Animal Collective’s four-album run between 2004 and 2009 is among the best streaks by any band. And right in the thick of it is Strawberry Jam, coming at the point where the four-piece started recognizing their own rising star and embraced elevated expectations. Much of the material was toured ahead of the recording, which saw the band retreat to a studio in Tucson to make their “desert album.” Following a solo record from Panda Bear earlier in the year that firmly established him as the band’s breakout star, co-lead Avey Tare takes the road less heralded on Strawberry Jam. But for those invested in the band, it’s obvious whose record this is. Be it on the pair of legitimate singles, “Peacebone” and “Fireworks”, or the unhinged wailing that makes “For Reverend Green” a stone-cold classic, Avey’s tightrope walk between melody and chaos shoves the band to heights that would make sense in the bigger rooms their burgeoning popularity demanded. Panda Bear would deliver his answer on the following Merriweather Post Pavilion, but with Avey at the helm, Strawberry Jam was a psychedelic circus that proved the freaky Baltimore band could exist under the spotlight and not lose the fairy dust that made them special. –Philip Cosores

Last Seen: After 2009, the band’s output became more spotty, including last year’s Painting With. Still, Panda Bear’s 2015 solo album and Deakin’s excellent 2016 offering show there is not a shortage of ideas left for these guys to explore.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Spoon Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga09. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

The complexity of Spoon’s music only becomes apparent when you try to write songs like theirs. On sheet, the Austin indie rock act’s music is easy to learn, but feel-good riffs and pop structures are nearly impossible to create if you plan on creating your own voice simultaneously. On Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the band’s sixth studio album, Spoon offer their strongest collection of songs that do exactly that, ones that stand not only on their own — “Don’t Make Me a Target”, “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”, “The Underdog” — but as a synchronized tracklist. They turn a cover song (“Don’t You Evah”) into a bona fide hit. They make scratchy guitar (“Eddie’s Ragga”) a cleansing scrub. They use static piano (“The Ghost of You Lingers”) to create onset tension. Spoon mastered the art of indie rock on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, and if you doubt it, all it takes is one listen to “Finer Feelings” to sit back and think, “Fuck. I wish I wrote this.” –Nina Corcoran

Last Seen: Gifting us singles like “Hot Thoughts” before their new album of the same name drops in March.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon
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Kanye West Graduation

08. Kanye West – Graduation

“N-now th-that that don’t kill me/ Can only make me stronger,” raps Kanye West in the hook to Graduation single “Stronger”, simultaneously paraphrasing Nietzsche and recognizing the risk he’s taking in sampling electronic French duo Daft Punk. Think about it: At a time when gangsta rap had emerged as the dominant expression of hip-hop in the mainstream, West was audaciously choosing to blend his own take on the genre with elements of electronica, disco, indie rock, and other eclectic styles. Graduation is in one sense the culmination of a trilogy that began with his debut album, The College Dropout, but it also marks the beginning of a more ambitious, outward-looking phase of West’s career. With classics like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus now in our rearview mirror, we can better appreciate just how important a milestone Graduation represents for West and for hip-hop in general. –Collin Brennan

Last Seen: Ooph. West’s recent history has not been pretty, culminating in the psychological breakdown that forced him to cancel his tour on the heels of last year’s The Life of Pablo. But he remains one of hip-hop’s unparalleled geniuses, a controversial figure who may or may not have his best work still ahead of him.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon
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Arcade Fire Neon Bible

07. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

After the absolute smash surprise that was Funeral, Arcade Fire had a lot to live up to. As the months went by, they purchased and holed up in a former church/Masonic temple, converting it to a studio; released a preview to raise money for relief in Haiti; put out some playfully confounding promo videos; and set up a hotline to release the album’s first single and allow listeners to leave the band messages. The resulting album, Neon Bible, deserves all this mysterious build-up, its grandiose arrangements and thoughtful lyrics making an intense connection even with the playfully opaque promotion. From the stately organ of “Intervention” to the dark surf bass of “Ocean of Noise” and the hurdy-gurdy grind of “Keep the Car Running”, themes of a fear of the modern world, a need for change, and an anxiety over god and government tie everything together in an entrancing package — much like the theoretical glowing book of its title. –Lior Phillips

Last Seen: After some time away, Arcade Fire are gearing up for their fifth album and first in four years, including international festival dates

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon
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MIA Kala06. MIA – Kala

M.I.A.’s second album and still her best, Kala launched 1,000 “Paper Planes” with a Clash-sampling single that may go down as one of the best and most subversive pop songs of all time. But there’s much more to Kala than its most famous track, and the album itself is a stunning testament to M.I.A.’s globe-trotting brand of music, which culls influences from her native Sri Lanka as well as from the various dance styles spanning South Asia and Europe at the turn of the 21st century. Coming just two years after her breakthrough debut Arular, Kala expands upon its predecessor in nearly every way, merging political activism with party music while paying due reverence to both. It is, in many ways, a defining document of globalization with all its warts and triumphs, recorded in various locations around the world and arriving at a time when America and other countries around the world were beginning to question the virtues of an imperialistic foreign policy. Today, Kala lives on in the continued play of singles like “Boyz”, “Jimmy”, and, yes, “Paper Planes”, but it’s just as rewarding when consumed as a complex historical document tied to a particular time and place. –Collin Brennan

Last Seen: We may well have seen the last of the English-Sri Lankan rapper, who released the spotty AIM in 2016 and has not yet committed to a sixth studio outing.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon

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Bruce Springsteen Magic05. Bruce Springsteen – Magic

Ever the elder statesman, Bruce Springsteen struck at the heart of America with Magic. Similar to 2002’s The Rising, which offered glimmers of hope to a devastated post-9/11 society, The Boss painted big, wide portraits of a country at war. Remember, we were still a year removed from waving bye-bye to Bush, and the New Jersey bard was hardly the guest of honor at the White House. No, his eyes were on weathered soldiers, on small towns, and on the liberties that were being jeopardized by our own government through security and surveillance. There’s an urgency to Springsteen’s songwriting here that’s smarter and far more prescient than what he put to paper for The Rising, and he cruises through each track with an endurance that’s matched by his trusty E Street Band. Runners like “Gypsy Biker”, “Last To Die”, and “Long Walk Home” sound young, fresh, and angry, while ballads like “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” and “Magic” rank among his finest compositions. It’s one of his strongest efforts to date and certainly the best album of his late-career run. –Michael Roffman

Last Seen: Snubbing Trump by partying with Obama and keeping things 1600.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon
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The National Boxer04. The National – Boxer

Aging is a brutal experience, and it’s not always that way because of the major moments: death, illness, loss, and so on and so on. In the world as Matt Berninger sees it throughout Boxer, love and age conspire together to tear the vigor out of a person in tiny increments all the time. That’s not to say it’s an entirely bleak vision of one’s middle years, but that humming unease of “Apartment Story” says it all. There’s equal comfort and dread behind the sentiment of “stay inside ‘til somebody finds us/ Do whatever the TV tells us/ Stay inside your rosy-minded fuzz for days,” a reminder that even in the most content moments of one’s life, the next schism is waiting around the corner. Despite this, there’s a romance to Boxer, even if it often curdles into the unassuming menace of “Brainy” or the existential uncertainty of “Ada”. And while The National have continued to make more sonically ambitious music in the decade since, Boxer offers a timeless vision of middle-class anguish in all of its mourning and selfishness and masculine arrogance and affection and warmth. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Last Seen: Working on the follow-up to 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me, an album that Berninger has promised will be “weird, math-y, electronic-y.” We can’t wait.

Listen: Spotify

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Bon Iver For Emma Forever Ago

03. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

In text, the world had heard it before: guy gets his heart broken, he retreats to a meek cabin in the woods, he conquers isolation and self-hate by creating a record. On record, the world hadn’t seen it this raw. For Emma, Forever Ago introduced Bon Iver to the world as a band on the edge of shattering in a way everyone, either through empathy or reliability, felt for. It’s present in the soft, baritone blues of “Blindsided”, the percussion running blindly on “Lump Sum”, the guitar string’s flawed ringing on “Flume”, the cold clattering of a train on “Wolves (Act I and II)”, and those now-iconic howls of “Skinny Love”. Hurt is a swollen wound that pounds as it tries to heal, and Bon Iver’s debut LP couldn’t stop pounding in a way that allowed his pain to become your own — and, in turn, to heal your wounds, too. –Nina Corcoran

Last Seen: Touring behind their third full-length, 2016’s incredible (and sententious) 22, A Million.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon
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Radiohead In Rainbows

02. Radiohead – In Rainbows

“Where were you when Radiohead dropped In Rainbows?” Without leaning too hard on hyperbole, the unorthodox, pay-what-you-want release of Thom Yorke and co.’s seventh studio album felt like the moon landing for the music industry. Sure, that’s overselling it by about a margin or two, but it’s quite telling how the medium has since been adopted and evolved by a multitude of artists and labels. Some might argue this informed the overwhelming praise behind the album, but that’s an idiot’s take. After all, In Rainbows is peak Radiohead, a lightning-in-a-bottle album that manages to be both challenging and accessible. It’s a perfectly lean 43 minutes that never affords itself a single hiccup, demanding instead to be listened to all at once. Yet unlike, say, more sprawling masterpieces like Kid A and OK Computer, it’s refreshingly singular, too, working even better at a micro level, where you can find new favorites, whether it’s the somnambulant sounds of “Nude” and “House of Cards”, the popcorn shakes of “15 Step” and “Weird Fishes / Arpeggi”, or the groovy melancholy of “Reckoner” and “Jigsaw Falling into Place”. In hindsight, they could have ended it all here, and you’d have a flawless scrapbook of Radiohead. But they didn’t, and we’re better for it. –Michael Roffman

Last Seen: Critics were very nice to last year’s A Moon Shaped Pool, which the band continues to support by headlining festivals and touring the world. It’s a good time to be a Radiohead fan.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon
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LCD Soundsystem Sound of Silver

01. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver

Shoving together two ostensibly jarring strands — euphonic dance and the caustic frenzy of rock — LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver is a musical exploration of fearless and compelling scope. It’s a masterpiece both gorgeous and tragically cathartic; listeners of all stripes throw their throbbing bodies on the dance floor, letting them flail, hearts swell, souls rise, and eyes dampen. With a swarming arsenal firing in all directions throughout, James Murphy and co. took pieces of their Nike-sponsored composition, 45:33, and plucked out the full-blown emotional showpiece “Someone Great”, a life-changing (and life-changed) song of loss and lack. A charming illustration that, alongside his band members’ talent for creating previously undefined strains of electronic furor, Murphy proved that he holds a brilliant grasp of how melodic mechanisms can be produced for intense bliss. “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down” plays out with a rye, self-effacing smile, while “North American Scum” deadpans delightfully. And then, of course, there’s the ecstatic kick “All My Friends”, the new wave/Krautrock layers of sequenced blips that will spread hugs and smiles across whatever air it’s played in. Sound of Silver feels like a friend, even after all this time, one that has only grown closer with age. –Lior Philips

Last Seen: After semi-retirement, LCD Soundsystem returned to the shock and delight (mostly) of their massive fanbase, with the promise of a new album in addition to a tour. A final leg of that tour was canceled so that they could put finishing touches on that return album, which should be out sometime in 2017.

Listen: Spotify

Buy: Amazon
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01. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
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03. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
04. The National – Boxer
05. Bruce Springsteen – Magic
06. MIA – Kala
07. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
08. Kanye West – Graduation
09. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
10. Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam
11. Justice –
12. Tegan and Sara – The Con
13. of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
14. Kings of Leon – Because of the Times
15. Panda Bear – Person Pitch
16. Feist – The Reminder
17. Dinosaur Jr. – Beyond
18. Burial – Untrue
19. Menomena – Friend or Foe
20. Band of Horses – Cease to Begin
21. Blonde Redhead – 23
22. Okkervil River – The Stage Names
23. Kevin Drew – Spirit If…
24. Against Me! – New Wave
25. St. Vincent – Marry Me
26. Baroness – Red Album
27. Battles – Mirrored
28. Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worst Nightmare
29. Les Savy Fav – Let’s Stay Friends
30. The Avett Brothers – Emotionalism
31. Stars of the Lid ‎- Stars of the Lid and Their Refinement of the Decline
32. The Gaslight Anthem – Sink or Swim
33. The Field – From Here We Go Sublime
34. Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala
35. Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero
36. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
37. Jay Z – American Gangster
38. Grinderman – Grinderman
39. The White Stripes – Icky Thump
40. The Shins – Wincing the Night Away
41. Rilo Kiley – Under the Blacklight
42. El-P – I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead
43. Liars – Liars
44. Lil Wayne – Da Drought 3
45. Dan Deacon – Spiderman of the Rings
46. Black Lips – Good Bad Not Evil
47. Explosions in the Sky – All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
48. Ryan Adams – Easy Tiger
49. Beirut – The Flying Club Cup
50. Public Enemy – How You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?

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