The Top 50 Albums of 2016

the-top-50-albums-of-2016


40-sonderlust

Kishi Bashi has come a long way from the isolated violin loops that feathered about on his debut, 151a. As spectacular as ever, weaving together moments of tenderhearted sadness with awe-inspiring jubilee, Sonderlust is an obvious (in retrospect) follow-up to the prog-rock influenced Lighght. This is Kishi Bashi at his least theatrical, carving a name for himself far away from his of Montreal past. On Sonderlust, nearly ever song is about love, but never in romanticized bouts of expectations and desires. Through spurts of disco and glitch (but never without a gleam of orchestral might), Kishi traces love as a realist, albeit vaguely: sometimes post-break-up, other times through recognition of its fleetingness. “Statues in a Gallery”, the centerpiece and highlight to Sonderlust, asks almost imperiously, “Did you think I could live forever/Without anyone to love again?” We never get an answer, but Sonderlust’s emphasis makes it obvious: without love, life isn’t worth living.     – Zach W.

39-le-dernier-crepuscule

In January I had offered the possibility that this would be remembered as one of the best metal releases of the year. I still hold that to be the case. But what did Chthe’illist do better? By extension, what makes a great metal release? Is it the ability to be technically proficient? Surely not. Most, if not all, metal releases are a glamorization of musicianship: the fast-paced drumming that would destroy most players’ forearms, the rapid-fire solos and helter-skelter chord progressions that takes months of training to learn and replicate, and the ungodly screams and growls that leaves only a handful with their vocal chords in tact. No, these are common in any competent metal album. Le Dernier is here not because it’s impressive (it is), but because for fifty-minutes it bathes its sound in moist repulsion. It’s an unearthly record that never devolves into sci-fi tropes or themes. It merely unsettles.     – Zach W.

38-still-brazy

In retrospect, My Krazy Life was a muted version of YG. Flexing its star power and featuring DJ Mustard’s handiwork, it was a blasé look into West Coast lifestyles. An uninteresting companion to good kid, m.A.A.d. city. With Still Brazy, however, there is an unrelenting tension in YG’s homecoming. Seeped in SoCal G-Funk, there is old-school blood flowing throughout this project; however, this is not an undying bond to the legacy of his roots. YG shines a light on those who have betrayed him, those with their hands out, and the police, viewing all as an inexorable aspect of his world. The violence can be heard in every sneering verse from YG, from “Who Shot Me?” ,with it’s back against the wall, to the bouncing “Twist My Fingaz”. The synth patterns spark from the past as YG condemns his world, but there’s nothing he can do. The bubbling violence is inescapable, with songs acting as warnings: “Don’t Come to LA” and “Police Get Away wit Murder”.     – T. Pennington

37-the-benoit-pioulard-listening-matter

Benoît Pioulard is the pseudonym of Thomas Meluch. Before listening to this, I knew nothing about him. After listening to this, I feel like I know everything. The Benoit Pioulard Listening Matter is a tidal wave of music, effortlessly bleeding through emotive moments and beautiful snapshots into Meluch’s world. Using his experience with field recordings, this albums was written entrenched in the outdoors, observing the surrounding environments, and channeling the spirits to create tuneful folk arrangements. There are albums that are too fearful of outside influences that they become boring, sterile pieces of music. Meluch’s focus on the atmosphere that cradles these songs allow for spiritual exercises and soundtracks for every period of life that can be experienced.     – T. Pennington

36-third-law

Roly Porter made virtual reality before the influx: the cheap wave of VR that’s now upon us. But instead of wrapping a phone to your face, Porter delved deeper; texturized a journey in space, but not one in which we effortlessly gaze beyond the abyss and understand life and ourselves better than we ever did before. No, this is a simulation of a reality – a reality that exists in film, in drama, in dreams – in our imagination. Because aside from the album art, a gorgeous image of staring into something more, Third Law can only be what we make it to be; an interpretation of the soundscapes and tensions Porter casts unto us. Are we salvaged from the malfunctioning? Do we survive the clanging industrial sounds that could seemingly cast us into a cold, vacuous death? The rattling clamors on throughout “Known Space”: our final moments.     – Zach W.

35-spaghetto

On “3D”, Gaika chant-raps, “This is my city and these are my streets/In a state of emergency”. In an interview with fellow London native Dean Blunt, Gaika made it explicitly clear this state of emergency is not representative of anything. The tracks that openly discuss London aren’t metaphorical: the city is a dystopia, permanently stained in the blood of the Olympics, Brexit, and Trump. Spaghetto is made for those Gaika’s loved and lost, but as a love-letter it’s impossible to swallow. This is more a suicide note of full-fledged disgust with what’s become of life – for Gaika and for all living in London. In a way, Spaghetto is the lasting remnant before the total collapse of a culture. It’s a hopeful interpretation of an album that points towards little to be hopeful for. Even so, on “Glad We Found It”, Gaika dejectedly raps, “Nothin’ any good lasts forever/I’m gone”.     – Zach W.

34-blood-bitch

Jenny Hval has been more art than pop with her previous work. Blood Bitch is a refreshing change of pace that never sacrifices the necessity of the performance that Hval has prioritized over the years. Self-described to be about vampires, menstruation, and her personal transformations, Blood Bitch‘s use of gloom dips into ambient linearity, pushing toward a cavernous center. But Jenny Hval breaks these dreary performances with moments where light shines through, pop melodies that feel rooted in traditional goth sounds illuminate at necessary times. The guitars on “Female Vampires” rev up to bring a much needed accelerant in these transformative sounds. “The Plague” features warm tones pierced with noisy horror. Blood Bitch strikes a balance where Jenny Hval can indulge in her kitsch themes without forfeiting moments of pop stopping power.     – T. Pennington

33-0-02

0.02 is archival – everything digital, anything sound. But to cast aside comparisons of how it functions as a piece of experimentation, consider it an extension of the Sorites paradox. This paradox begs the question, “How much must be taken away before we’re left with something different?” Conventionally, it refers to a grain of sand being taken one by one from a heap of sand. At what point is it no longer a heap? Albur! thrives in ambiguity, focusing on one loop (a guitar on opener “20.59”) and begins to deconstruct its stasis. He chips away, distorts a piece here, adds layers of textures there, until finally we’re left with a sound that’s entirely unidentifiable from what it once was. At what point does the glimmering guitar strum on “36.76” become so nauseatingly bouncy, clipping and dissolving beneath the weight of its own distortion? 0.02 shows this process to be a natural one, something that cannot be quantified.     – Zach W.

32-plays-the-music-of-twin-peaks

If you want to read a review of this album that fully accounts for the legacy of Twin Peaks, you can read one over here. Personally, I’ve seen one episode of the show, and I understand its legacy, but I’ve never finished it. But that doesn’t hinder these twelve covers. The strength of the original soundtrack seemed to be its instant familiarity; it conforms to melodies that are disarmingly comfortable lullabies with surreal edges. Xiu Xiu tackle covering these songs like attempts to create effigies with them, combing abrasive nuances with spirals of uncanny madness. Screaming horns and twinkling guitars freely drift together along with Jamie Stewart’s dramatic vocalizations. It’s a haunting retelling of songs that had hints of being unhinged, but with Xiu Xiu at the helm, these tracks wildly swing between real nightmares and dreamy nightmares.     – T. Pennington

31-as-ep

There is no ideal place to be when the world ends, but one that is clearly horrifying is in the club. Mangled body parts and blood spattered across the floor, silhouetting as strobes reveal the crushed corpses against the wall. Amnesia Scanner offer up snapshots of this moments. Stuttering strings with an artificial quality electrify the opener, tensing up the muscles before the release. Vocal melodies spark and fizzle out. It’s dizzying up until your innards spill out. Drums demolish with a TNGHT level of hype. AS EP is a heart racing electronic thrust into a nauseous world. As much as it wants to deconstruct club music, it embodies the physical aspect that makes it so enjoyable. It’s a tormenting contrast in styles, one that draws the body in before exploding your brain against the ceiling.     – T. Pennington