The Top 50 Albums of 2016



Course ID: MASO 1110

Course Title: Introduction to Masochism

Course Professor(s): Leo Ashline & Shaun Ringsmuth

Course Description: Embrace the pain that comes with music. Learn what it means for music to be as deadly as an electric fence or as sharp as a razor blade. Discover the sonic pleasures that can grow from the pain of noise, and how beneath that pain there exists melody and familiarity of music, even if at times it’s unrecognizable as such. Sift through power violence and electronic dissonance until you’ve realized the bliss that chaos can bring. Know that this is a stepping-stone for more to come, but realize too that even an introduction can offer brutally comprehensive understanding.

Prerequisite(s): Nine Inch Nails discography (No waivers allowed)     – Zach W.


Tim Hecker’s greatest strength has always been his ability to give a voice to the voiceless. To give his voice to moments or realms that exist purely beyond the physical. To life, and decay. It can be dreary, abysmal work. But it never lost its stupefying nature. With Love Streams, Hecker attempted to give a voice, a message, to the purely aesthetic vocalizations of a choir. What can a chorus say through its arrangement alone? Without explaining itself, Love Streams embodies the stunning nature of what form a voice can take. Soft, effervescent organs build up an ethereal tone before being undercut by a white noise excursion. Choral arrangements are spliced together with strings that break the bow as they rise and fall. The static choking of “Voice Crack” highlights the diversity in power of the voice when “Black Phase” features a liturgical purity. Love Streams showcases a variety of things, but its uplifting beauty is a natural beauty that has been missing from Tim Hecker’s catalogue.     – T. Pennington


Who’d have ever thought a Charli XCX release would be so transfixing, so confusingly all over the place and unpredictable in spite of a twelve-minute run time? Probably the same people who were so enamored with EMOTION last year. But I digress: Vroom Vroom is the hydraulic-pumping, engine-revving pop masterpiece no one knew they wanted. It plays to the ideology of poptimism without ever subjecting itself to a false intellectualization that so many poptimists push onto what they deem “forward” or “smart” or “just good, clean pop”. Elevated in large part by SOPHIE’s ingenious production (arguably his best, even over PRODUCT), Charli XCX sublimely crashes together her previous sensibilities and attitude with the PC Music aesthetics, making for a release that’s better than either camp has released before. At the risk of asserting too much importance to such an otherwise small, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it EP, Vroom Vroom may be best remembered as the starting point for bringing A.G. Cook’s label into the mainstream. No longer is hyperbolic pop seen as this unnervingly surreal take on the genre. Now, it’s becoming standard.     – Zach W.


A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service is not a farewell letter. Of course it incorporates elements that indicate it’s the final album from the legendary hip-hop group, but there’s more to it. Instead of an album lamenting the current state of where the music they influenced has gone, they approach music the only way they know: positivity. It’s a vital tone, especially with the topics they cover. So much has occurred since their hiatus, but they never forcefully try to catch up with past trends. Their jazzy style maintains its levity with updated flourishes and interpolated old school samples. It’s a celebration of hip-hop’s surge to the forefront of popularity, their landmark status, the accomplishments they’ve achieved. Instead of attempting to silence current trends, A Tribe Called Quest continues the conversation they started decades ago. They have a lot to say, but their personality breaks the ice and they convey messages we need to hear from figures such as these.       – T. Pennington


“Metal Album of the Year” may not sound like a huge feat or title coming from a publication site that doesn’t specialize in it. But Terminal Redux is one of those rare metal releases – the kind that penetrates beyond the genre, interpolating and exploring other branches of music to create something surprising without losing that absolute metal luster. Vektor have a history of dabbling in prog-rock touches, but the conceptualization of the album’s storyline – an operatic, militaristic plot that rivals the arcs and forthrightness of Splendor & Misery – is spectacularly new for the band. But Terminal Redux is more than a concept album. Vektor take it one step further, creating a world for these characters in which their recurring actions are paralleled by similarly recurring melodies and patterns, making for a story that could reasonably be told instrumentally. As a piece of music, Terminal Redux preeminently thrives beyond its inherent gimmick. Vektor interlace moments of fiercely punishing black metal with Rush-inspired acoustic prog and ambient, creating breathing points amidst the trudges, the solos, the blast beats – all without ever losing their signature charge.     – Zach W.


Human Story 3 is a retelling of a story James Ferraro has told us before. It’s a story of commodities and elevator music. And the future. And…I don’t know. It seems kind of pointless. Why do I have to write this again? Because Zach W. liked it? Alright…Human Story 3 is the syndication of Ferraro’s work. It is the  new age approach to media at it’s core. It is the representation of our consumption in a way that has been explored before, but it understands this. It references Starbucks and nameless boards of directors in an attempt to punctuate an event. There is a narrative we’re not seeing, there is something behind the scenes in Ferraro’s mind that bends and uplifts and makes these midi-orchestral moments grand. There is enjoyment in not knowing what we’re supposed to be looking at, being batted around from these airy instrumentals to chaotic barrages. And Ferraro makes it clear that we are not the audience of this music; rather, we’re a component that is as involved. It’s whimsical, but whimsy to one person can be arson to another.     – T. Pennington


Despite taking five years to release Konnichiwa, Skepta opens his long-awaited return by brashly shrugging, “By now you should know I hate waiting/I’ve got no patience.” Where he may be lacking patience, he certainly compensates with a penchant for lyrical wit, abrasive digs at his competition, and an impenetrable confidence that never lacks couth. He demands you fix up and look sharp in his presence. He doesn’t trust those outside the Tracksuit Mafia, least of all record labels. And even though there’s huge devotion on Konnichiwa toward brag-raps about drugs and women, Skepta admits he’s lost the ability to relax.

But this inability to calm down has created a hyper-focused rapper whose lyrical jackknife sharpness sustains throughout. Even when relying on weak similes and lines that would otherwise be laughable (comparing his run-up to Usain Bolt, denying someone the title of “Killer” because their name’s not Cam, using Mufasa and Simba’s relationship as reference for how much he loves a woman), he offers unadulterated poise. It’s been a while since someone has felt so genuine in their beliefs in themselves, so absolutely certain in their distinction from the crowd. And beyond believing in it, Skepta proves it. Comparisons are cheap, and maybe with Konnichiwa there was a desire to imprint grime the same way Boy In da Corner did. Instead, he’s created a hip-hop album that’s as whole and untouchable as Hell Hath No Fury.     – Zach W.


BBF is a lot of things, but satire isn’t one of them. Notwithstanding general consensus on Dean Blunt’s music, very little is meant to be ironic. In truth, the only part that’s clearly meant to hold any irony is the recurring “This makes me proud to be British”. Dean Blunt is not proud to be British. Nor is he making music as a joke, as a statement against music. BBF is not anti-culture – rather, it’s the looking glass of London, and by extension the world, in the modern age. It’s dystopian. It’s unsettling. It’s disappointing. Oddly, it bangs. Blunt and Esco deliver bars over some of the aforementioned artist’s most entrancing beats to date. And although Blunt may see his work as straightforward, there’s an indisputable fog that surrounds everything he does on BBF. Some of it’s hip-hop that cuts out before momentum can build. Some of it’s harsh noise that’s preceded by Arca’s atmospheres. There was a time people weren’t even sure Blunt was accompanied by anybody else on the record. But in spite of your interpretation, there’s little doubt that BBF is one of the most perplexing, exciting additions in the Blunt discography.     – Zach W.


Laundry is an undeniably nocturnal activity. Even if done during the day, washing machines occupy our basements or our closets, tucked away in darkness. Laundromats open 24 hours a day offer refuge from our lives to study a meditative act. Matmos, sampling an Ultimate Care II washing machine have provided the sound effects of one’s headspace when gripped with everyday insomnia. The patient rhythms crank and gush outward, shifting and clattering with a vicious cycle. But what they capture with even more simplicity is the attitude when stuck in the nighttime. The gazing off to stars, the slips into waking dreams. The ambience of everyday life. It functions like a science fiction vessel, tripping through the heavens. Conflict with ourselves and the complexities of life are conquered in a 38 minute wash cycle, and we are awoken with a buzzing screech notifying us that the wash has finished. Nothing more, nothing less.     – T. Pennington


The riot is an act of personal climax. The riot is rarely done when someone feels personally fulfilled. A social ill that has no personal impact on someone will never incite a riot inside them. A face in a riot is the face of a person who has stakes in the uproar observes this process, dissecting the personal moments experienced. The quiet before the glass shatters, ending the peaceful wait for generational realignment. The violent sashay. The acceptance that nothing will change, as every chapter shows that every move we make is a failure. Or doest it? The individual has more power than it seems, and Nicolas Jaar fights to prove that with every track. He fights to show us that a dictator from Chile has frightening power, and that with a system built full of “Yes”, individuals must fight for our “No”. The music of Sirens imprints itself with a multitude of Jaar’s past work. The opening “Killing Time” is a microhouse explosion with crystallized force. The use of historically Latin based and traditional American music acts to provide an analogue for where America is. And the staccato percussion and moody melodies entice us to find our stake in the riot. Because there isn’t enough “No” in our riots to expel such a dysfunctional system.     – T. Pennington

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