Under the Radar’s Top 100 Albums of 2016

Dec 16, 2016
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Everybody knows the dice were loaded in 2016. Everybody knows the election was fixed, everybody knows the good gal lost. Everybody knows, that's how it goes, in 2016. Everybody's got this broken feeling, like too many legends just died and we got a future president who lied and lied. Everybody knows Brexit caused woes. The poor stay poor, the rich get rich, that's just how it goes.

Ashes to ashes, funk to funky, David Bowie went to heaven, joined by Prince, Leonard Cohen, and Ms. Sharon Jones. We lost some great ones in 2016, and not just musicians, there was the dad from Growing Pains and the mom from The Brady Bunch, the first American to orbit the Earth, and the most inspiring boxer of all time. Maybe we lost a bit of democracy too. The most divisive and toxic U.S. election in recent memory culminated with a result few in the artistic community wanted to accept, foreshadowing an uncertain 2017. The popular vote meant little, perhaps thanks to the meddling of state sponsored foreign hackers. You wanted it darker baby, well 2016 left us all black and blue, but as usual, there was a plethora of worthy music to distract us from the doom and gloom.

In this day and age there seems to be more and more music fighting for our attention at the click of a mouse or smart-phone screen. Music fans are often living on fast food sound snacks, quickly disposed of in favor of the next nibble. But there were many musical main courses worth considering in 2016. We've narrowed it down to 100. They include aforementioned musical icons issuing their final albums at death's door, a sophomore album 16 years in the making, a concept record about a grieving bride, and even one EP, by reunited shoegazing legends who broke up again soon after its release.

So how did we arrive at such a menu? Twenty-one of our writers and editors (including myself and my co-publisher/wife Wendy) each submitted their personal Top 45 albums of 2016 lists and then those were all combined and calculated together to form this master list. For an album to make the list it had to be picked by at least three writers, but most were picked by more than that. Our #1 album was the runaway winner, with all but two of those who voted having it on their list somewhere. Each of the rest of Top 10 were picked by anywhere from 11 to 16 of our writers, so it was a true consensus. There are tens of thousands of albums released each year and there are some good ones that almost made our list, check out our forthcoming honorable mentions list for some of those.

So everybody may know that 2016 wasn't the greatest year for many (but there have been worse). Leonard Cohen may have called it back in 1988, the dice are loaded in many ways. But dearly beloved, in 2017 let's roll them anyway, and let's dance and let's go crazy, despite the rough times the next four to eight years may bring. It's what David, Prince, Leonard, and Sharon would've wanted. By Mark Redfern

1.

David Bowie

Blackstar

ISO/Columbia

Mere days before he left us, David Bowie released Blackstar, and for one long weekend it played endlessly on loops, throngs of Bowie fanatics scratching their heads at the album’s mystical lyrics and otherworldly themes. His death pulled back the curtains and the symbols became clear; Bowie, diagnosed with cancer, intended Blackstar to be his final statement, a meditation on mortality, a dark and poignant work that rivals the best of his entire career. It is symbolically significant, but also features Bowie at his absolute finest—a long, spooky rock epic in the title track, the gorgeously sung ballad “Dollar Days,” the haunting video for “Lazarus.” Not only was it a final great Bowie album, but Blackstar set the tone for 2016 early on, echoing the gloomy shadow that his death left hanging over the rest of the year. By Cody Ray Shafer

2.

Radiohead

A Moon Shaped Pool

XL

After The King of Limbs’ relatively minimal reception, it seemed that Radiohead would be on the decline, band members splitting off into increasingly time-consuming side projects. So when Radiohead released the urgent, strings-laden “Burn the Witch” in early May, quickly followed by the sorrowful, gorgeous “Daydreaming,” hope began to soar for LP9. That A Moon Shaped Pool is not only warmer and more organic than Thom Yorke and co. have sounded in years, but also one of their best releases to date, is 2016’s most pleasant surprise. Even better is that we finally get to hear studio versions of live favorites “Identikit” and “Ful Stop,” not to mention the already-legendary ballad “True Love Waits.” Moody and desolate as always, Radiohead in 2016 finally showed their human side again. By Scott Dransfield

3.

Angel Olsen

MY WOMAN

Jagjaguwar

Around midway through 2014’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness, Angel Olsen sneeringly warns “If only I had nothing more to say.” In retrospect, you can almost hear her crosshairs lock onto indie rock mediocrity. MY WOMAN is an impossibly admirable feat: It’s a record that exists on its own terms. It’s the result of a deeply-manifesting sound at the mercy of one of today’s most vital creatives, and it’ll do as she pleases. It’ll roar when she roars, and mourn when she mourns. It bites (“Shut Up Kiss Me”) as naturally as it tranquilizes (“Woman”). Olsen is in equal parts a poet and a pop star, and her third outing will surely help to eradicate the myth that the two are mutually exclusive. MY WOMAN will capture hearts and imaginations in a single cast of the net. In a year that needed it most, it’s a record that you can be immersed indefinitely in. By Marty Hill

4.

M83

Junk

Mute

Junk comes dripping in nostalgia, from its cover—with the title in colorful kid font and two creatures seemingly escaped from McDonaldland—to the music therein. Anthony Gonzalez eschews the hipper poise of his breakthrough Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming to indulge in the guiltier pleasures of his youth, and to great results. Hair metal ballad guitar solos, ’80s dance music synth lines, thickly-produced vocals, and bits that sound like cheesy TV sitcom theme songs all find a home on his latest, but it blends together into an LP that works not only as one of the year’s best pop concept records, but as a fuzzy trip down memory lane. Junk is grandiose, it’s catchy, and, hell, it’s even a bit nerdy, but we’ll be cranking up the volume and setting it to repeat all the same. By Austin Trunick

5.

Blood Orange

Freetown Sound

Domino

In the wake of Prince’s passing, records like Freetown Sound are an affirmation that all is not lost in the musical world. Dev Hynes’ second full-length as Blood Orange flaunts an extraordinary blend of musicianship and artistry of which you’d have to imagine the recently-departed musical icon would have approved. A brilliant singer, writer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, Hynes’ R&B/funk/soul fusion comes entwined with lyrics that explore topics like race, sexuality, and spirituality with an invigorating fearlessness. And, like the late rock star, he probably could do it all himself, but he’s got a talent for bringing great things out of his hand-picked collaborators, which here include Debbie Harry, Nelly Furtado, Ashlee Haze, and Carly Rae Jepsen. Prince may be gone, but thankfully the bravery and ingenuity that he embodied lives on in artists like Hynes. By Austin Trunick

6.

Parquet Courts

Human Performance

Rough Trade

The irresistible, swinging twang of “Berlin Got Blurry” was reason enough to keep Human Performance handy this year. But highlights are everywhere, from the friendly thump of the opening “Dust” and its motivating action statement (“Dust is everywhere. Sweep!”) to the title track’s pounding, wordless ride-out that you never want to end. By Hays Davis

7.

Car Seat Headrest

Teens of Denial

Matador

As Teens of Denial presents Car Seat Headrest (aka Will Toledo) in a full-band setting following a string of Bandcamp albums, it’s hardly the sound of bending to convention. “Fill in the Blank” is rock-out joy over lyrics that contradict the buzz, and the best relief for the unreleased tension of “Vincent” is to repeat it. Where next, Mr. Toledo? By Hays Davis

8.

Leonard Cohen

You Want It Darker

Columbia

For those of us who couldn’t have said it better, Leonard Cohen gave us a voice for decades. On his final album, Cohen sings, “If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game,” but the haunting You Want It Darker is one more vital statement from an artist who never folded. By Hays Davis

9.

Weyes Blood

Front Row Seat to Earth

Mexican Summer

Weyes Blood, aka Natalie Mering, swings for the fences on her third LP, Front Row Seat to Earth, and strikes gold. It’s the record in which Mering comes closest to capturing the divine alchemy akin to outsider songwriters Linda Perhacs, Vashti Bunyan, and Bridget St. John. She succeeds gloriously. By John Everhart

10.

Jim James

Eternally Even

ATO/Capitol

The My Morning Jacket frontman’s latest solo release is a deep dive into dark, soulful psychedelia. Eternally Even is instrumentally rich and seductive, and James expands his lyrical ambitions into a more honest space, with grim political undertones. Eternally Even is worthwhile from beginning to end, and arguably James’ most interesting work to date. By Cody Ray Shafer

11.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Skeleton Tree

Bad Seed Ltd.

This year gave us no shortage of bleak yet confrontational music, so of course it is the same year Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds released Skeleton Tree, a hauntingly beautiful record about loss and death. The album was recorded following the death of Cave’s teenage son, adding another layer of grief to songs already defined by despair. If you’re feeling brave, listen to Cave’s moving performance on “I Need You.” By Cody Ray Shafer

12.

Underworld

Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future

Astralwerks

The classic British electronic group returns with its ninth full-length, and they’re not showing any signs of slowing down creatively. Hypnotic and danceable, yet thoughtful and meditative, tracks like “Low Burn” and “Nylon Strung” further cement Underworld’s legacy in the genre, and the album is cohesive beginning to end. By Scott Dransfield

13.

Wye Oak

Tween

Merge

Wye Oak is such a consistently impressive band that even a record like Tween, pieced together from cuts that didn’t make their previous two albums, is one of the most blissfully enjoyable records of the year. Highlights include the gorgeous “No Dreaming,” and the folksy closing track, “Watching the Waiting.” By Cody Ray Shafer

14.

Bat For Lashes

The Bride

Parlophone

Those who RSVP’d to The Bride heard the best wedding band ever. Natasha Khan pared back her sound to minimalist electro-pop for this 12-track concept album. The lament “In God’s House” describes how a bride waiting at the altar learns that the groom has been killed in a car crash. It’s the catalyst for “Honeymooning Alone,” the character’s decision to embark on a voyage of self-discovery. The album’s singles are all taken from the first half of the record. On “Joe’s Dream,” propelled by dreamy Rhodes keyboard and a strummed Stratocaster, Khan’s vocal teeters between the thrill of falling in love and a foreboding disquiet about the couple’s future. A steady Krautrock groove propels “Sunday Love,” one of Khan’s best pop songs. The songwriter leaves the best song until last. Khan, blessed with one of the most emotionally expressive voices in popular music, gives her lovelorn character a happily-ever-after during “In Your Bed.” On The Bride, Khan lifts the veil on the meaning of love and completeness. By Stephen Humphries

15.

Lush

Blind Spot EP

Edamame

After a 20-year absence from recording, shoegazing icons Lush returned in 2016 with a brilliant 4-song EP that made it sound like they never left. Eschewing the heavier sounds of 1994’s Split and 1996’s Britpop-inspired Lovelife, the sound here is somewhere between their early EPs and their debut album Spooky. Lyrically, though, Miki Berenyi explores more adult themes like parenthood in “Out of Control” while paying tribute to deceased drummer Chris Acland in “Lost Boy.” Now that they’ve announced their breakup again, let’s be glad that they left behind this parting gift. By Matthew Berlyant

16.

A Tribe Called Quest

We Got it From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service

Epic

When most fans think of A Tribe Called Quest, one of the first things that springs to mind is smooth jazz instrumentals and the playful vocals of MCs Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Jarobi White. Those expectations are brazenly defied on “We the People....” one of the standout tracks from the group’s “final album,” We Got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service, which features bleak percussion as a backdrop as Tip makes a chilling refrain out of the bigoted screed that have come to the fore in today’s social media and political discourses. It’s one of many thrilling moments from one of the year’s very best rap albums, which will also satisfy longtime fans with Tribe’s jazzier bread and butter on songs like “The Space Program” and “The Killing Season.” Guest contributors include Kanye West, Andre 3000, Talib Kweli, and Kendrick Lamar, while posthumous bars from sadly deceased founding member Phife Dawg also abound, making the LP a multigenerational, baton passing affair. The pride in those younger MC’s vocals is palpable as they partake in a project that will long be a standout in the rap pantheon. By Kyle Mullin

17.

The Radio Dept.

Running Out of Love

Labrador

For their fourth album, The Radio Dept. leads us into the darker corners of Swedish life with lyrics that turn toward troubling political and intellectual trends. The music sometimes reflects that unrest, though there’s never less than just enough hope in these notes to balance the picture and suggest a way forward. By Hays Davis

18.

Bon Iver

22, A Million

Jagjaguwar

The treated vocals, odd tweaks, and instrumentation that often matched the unusual songs titles may have chased away a few Bon Iver purists, but 22, A Million is the sound of an artist finding fascinating ways to demonstrate how exploring one’s strengths hardly equates to working in a box. By Hays Davis

19.

DIIV

Is The Is Are

Captured Tracks

DIIV’s sophomore release is, despite its inscrutable title, a compulsive, cohesive, and listenable album from beginning to end. It sounds just like the band’s name suggests; a blend of indie rock and post-punk, with the reverb all the way up and sounding like you’re submerged underwater. By Scott Dransfield

20.

The Avalanches

Wildflower

Astralwerks/Modular/XL/EMI

Wildflower, The Avalanches’ long anticipated follow up to their 2000 debut Since I Left You, delivers a cascade of feel-good grooves layered with eclectic samples and pulsing with hypnotic energy. Tracks like “Frankie Sinatra” and “Subways” are impossible not to love, and prove Wildflower was worth the wait. By Cody Ray Shafer

21.

Yeasayer

Amen & Goodbye

Mute

A leaking roof destroyed much of what would’ve been Yeasayer’s fourth record. They salvaged what tape they could, and fragments of those lost songs were sampled to build their most cohesive collection thus far. With ruminations on birth, death, and religion throughout, Yeasayer are artists who continue to mature with each release. By Austin Trunick

22.

Solange

A Seat at the Table

Saint/Columbia

Although the world was blown away by Beyoncé’s political and poetic Lemonade this year, her 30-year-old younger sister, Solange, delivered an incredible album addressing grief, racism, empowerment, and healing. Throughout her 21-song opus, she offers a spiritual message for white America. It’s an album that is meant to educate more than entertain. Standout tracks like “Don’t Touch My Hair” and “Mad” show Solange truly stepping into her own; she remains unapologetic, and she should. Alongside guests like Sampha, Lil Wayne, Kelela, and Master P, Solange reveals a new, more mature self with A Seat at the Table. By Ilana Kaplan

23.

Charlie Hilton

Palana

Captured Tracks

Plush guitar plucks pepper the breathtaking pant of Charlie Hilton and we are legitimately spooked within the first two minutes of Palana. Hilton’s powdery but pure monotonic Nico-meets-The-Shangri-Las shadow drops like feathers on water. Just as a feverish dream sets in, her words and the wit therein, leaven her phantom. On Palana, Hilton teaches softly, “Get off my back, I’m not your pony,” with a smirky eye. Just as readily she observes, “I know that you’re non-fictional, you’re as true as the line that lies on the horizon,” bestowing a tender meaning to something we often associate with a bored librarian. Hilton’s voice is a booming fog, and her voice conveying these words is all it takes. Certainly, the magnificent ’60s-cured electro-pop landscape doesn’t hurt. The production scales back at times, almost seemingly as an act of respect. It’s as if the instruments, even those of Mac DeMarco, who contributes on “100 Million,” are bowing to a voice that is so cleanly impressive on its own. Palana sucks the breath straight out of the room, and puts it back together through song, proving substance can be found even when it cannot be translated with a straight dot to the ‘i.’ By Lauren Hardy

24.

Wild Beasts

Boy King

Domino

Five albums in eight years without a dud is impressive, particularly when a band continue to expand their artistic breadth. These groove-driven numbers are a departure, but still eminently recognizable as Wild Beasts, inflected with the band’s signature androgynous Roxy Music-esque sound. After all this time, they’re still “hooting and howling,” and we’re still utterly captivated. By John Everhart

25.

Glass Animals

How to Be a Human Being

Harvest

Glass Animals follow up their excellent debut with How to Be a Human Being. The songs are lush and catchy, and tell stories inspired by secret recordings made by the band while on tour. The focus on character and drama rewards repeated listens, but the hypnotic production and instrumentation on tracks like “Life Itself” and “Youth” will keep you hitting repeat. By Cody Ray Shafer

26.

Mitski

Puberty 2

Dead Oceans

There’s a moment on Mitski’s fourth LP that stands out as her most piercing yet. “You’re all I ever wanted/I think I’ll regret this” she croons on “Your Best American Girl” before a myriad of swirling, distorted guitars are hurled forwards, in equal parts deafening and life-affirming. As is often the case with Puberty 2, it’s utterly elevating. Quite simply, 2016 needed Mitski. By Marty Hill

27.

Britta Phillips

Luck or Magic

Double Feature

The first solo LP by Britta Phillips (Luna, Dean & Britta) is bifurcated into half covers and half originals, and it’s hard to distinguish them, as she makes the covers completely her own via her kaleidoscopic yet distinctly idiosyncratic vision. There’s little luck at work here, but plenty of magic. By John Everhart

28.

Cass McCombs

Mangy Love

ANTI-

Cass McCombs’ eighth album is a political lightning bolt, showcasing some of his most vitriolic lyrics to date. Sadly, McCombs is still a “musicians’ musician,” which is short-hand for “respected but not popular.” That likely won’t change with Mangy Love, but those who do listen will be rewarded with McCombs’ crown jewel. By John Everhart

29.

School of Seven Bells

SVIIB

Vagrant

Like David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, Benjamin Curtis grappled with the prospect of his looming death on the fourth and final album by the duo School of Seven Bells. The result is a synth-pop album that traces the arc of the relationship between Curtis and singer Alejandra Deheza. “When he died, I fell apart,” she sings on “Ablaze.” But this is no maudlin exercise. These hooky melodies celebrate Curtis’ life. By Stephen Humphries

30.

Beyoncé

Lemonade

Columbia/Parkwood

Beyoncé has nothing to prove in 2016, but she still has plenty to say. On Lemonade, the world’s most fabled pop star locks horns with systematic oppression and prejudice, and invites everybody else to do so too. With such an inherent knack for melody, you wonder how anybody could ignore her. By Marty Hill

31.

Caveman

Otero War

Cinematic Music Group

Those of us who’ve followed Caveman from the very beginning were among those most surprised by their third album. Gone are the ramshackle rhythms and Beach Boy-like harmonies of the first two LPs, and in their place is this far-out rock epic with dreamy synths, a spacey soundscape, and science fiction overtones. This change in sound came out of nowhere, but it’s amounted to the band’s best album yet. By Austin Trunick

32.

Frankie Cosmos

Next Thing

Bayonet

Coming in at under half an hour, Next Thing is an exhibition in making every second count. As are the chiming, un-threatening guitars around her, Greta Kline’s warm stream of consciousness songwriting is omnipresent. Few records require such little attention to enjoy, but if you lean in closer, there’s plenty to fall in love with. By Marty Hill

33.

Danny Brown

Atrocity Exhibition

Warp

Danny Brown’s latest release is less an LP than a musical welcoming into his manic mind state. The album is full of skull splittingly aggressive beats and cerebral stream of conscious rhymes about drug binging, melancholy wallowing, and worries about police brutality. Those instrumentals are mostly deftly delivered by producer Paul White (aside from a couple of tracks helmed by the likes of Black Milk, Petite Noir, and The Alchemist). Those eclectic musical choices (rattling chimes on “Really Doe,” haunting cabaret vocal samples on “Lost,” hornet’s nest-esque feedback on “From the Ground,” and more) complement Brown’s delivery perfectly, which ranges from ambling and downtrodden to frantic and flailing. Never have mania and depression been so vividly conveyed, and genius and madness have never been so thrillingly blurred. By Kyle Mullin

34.

Sunflower Bean

Human Ceremony

Fat Possum

Yeah, Sunflower Bean have been hyped to death, but the praise is obviously deserved when you listen to their splendid debut, Human Ceremony. They vividly capture the imagination of youth on these taut, jangly numbers, which are imbued with heart-wrenching vulnerability in Julia Cumming’s lyrics. Where they go from here no one knows, but they’ve delivered a debut for the ages. By John Everhart

35.

Frank Ocean

Blonde

Self-Released

Channel Orange, Frank Ocean’s landmark 2012 debut, was loaded with musically ambitious yet instantly catchy hits like “Pyramids,” “Lost,” and “Monks.” However Blonde, his eagerly awaited follow up, features far subtler numbers that demand greater patience and more careful listening from fans. Those tunes are worth closer listens, however. “Pink + White,”—from its brief, dramatic string laden intro and midway conga breakdowns to the melancholy piano lines throughout—careens from one thrilling, unpredictable musical moment to the next as Ocean gently equates love with “glory from above,” in his gentle croon. The equally brilliant “Solo,” lacks such exciting musical left turns, but instead showcases Ocean’s voice, as soft organ notes and faint synth lines underscore the singer’s rafter rattling vocals about “bulls and matadors dueling in the sky.” On “Skyline To,” he speak-sings the verses about time speeding by over ethereal electrical guitar warbles and dream like vocal snippets. “White Ferrari” uses only a few acoustic strums behind ear engulfing waves of vocal overdubs “Nikes” has tinny percussion and vocals rendered helium high by Auto Tune. “Nights,” meanwhile, features staccato electric guitar notes and static electric-esque crackling 808 beats. None of it is accessible as Channel Orange’s more conventional fare. But by pushing the musical boundaries of R&B and pushing his listeners past their expectations, Ocean broke through any and all conventions to release one of the most fearlessly creative LP’s of the year. By Kyle Mullin

36.

C Duncan

The Midnight Sun

FatCat

Scottish artist C Duncan follows up his promising debut Architect with an even more assured follow-up, delivering even more excellently constructed dream pop on an album inspired by the classic science fiction TV show The Twilight Zone. Every sound and layer is confident and deliberate, adding up to a beautiful album pillowy enough to sleep on, yet interesting enough to study. By Scott Dransfield

37.

Wild Nothing

Life of Pause

Captured Tracks

You need to stop and give pause while listening to Wild Nothing’s third LP. It’s easily their most ambitious to date, but it takes an attention span and a willingness to give it multiple listens to fully realize its brilliance. Frontman Jack Tatum should be commended for his pristine, elegiac arrangements, and the sheer audacity he exhibits while, to paraphrase One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, attempting to tear the damn sink out, and giving it hell. One day, this album will be recognized for its greatness, but 2016 isn’t the time. Give it five years and it’ll be heralded as Wild Nothing’s magnum opus. By John Everhart

38.

Flock of Dimes

If You See Me, Say Yes

Partisan

Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner delivers a collection of gorgeous bedroom pop songs on her debut solo full-length as Flock of Dimes. It exhibits what an accomplished musician Wasner is in just how different this album is from Wye Oak (who also released the excellent Tween this year). While that band has a visceral kick, Flock of Dimes are content to gently prod with wistful, meditative sounds that cohere into a complete, utterly captivating whole. Where Wasner goes from here no one knows, but she shows on If You See Me, Say Yes that all bets are off for what stylistic direction she may take next. By John Everhart

39.

The Veils

Total Depravity

Nettwerk

Indie pop, hip-hop, gothic, and the avant-garde all converge on “Axolotl,” the grippingly eclectic opening track from The Veils’ latest LP, Total Depravity. Co-produced by topnotch hip-hop star El-P (of Run the Jewels fame), the haunting track finds frontman Finn Andrews singing about amphibians, rotten souls, giddy Gideons, maudlin nightmares, overpriced salvation, and “elemental chemicals” that have him growing “tentacles.” That Nick Cave-esque spookiness of his lyrics and delivery are taken further on tracks like “A Bit on the Side,” which also has hip-hop and dance musical elements courtesy of El-P. And while those genre blending songs are laudably ambitious, Total Depravity’s most enjoyably catchy tracks are more musically conventional, especially the sparsely scored and blatantly gothy “King of Chrome,” or, better still, the ruggedly bluesy “Low Lays the Devil.” Indeed, whether they’re striving for experimentalism or more conventional homage, The Veils are never less than grippingly listenable and devilishly fun on Total Depravity. By Kyle Mullin

40.

Primal Scream

Chaosmosis

Ignition/First International

Bobby Gillespie is in a riotous mood throughout Chaosmosis. He hopscotches stylistically, leaving footprints of blue-eyed soul, Motown, and scorching electro rave-ups. He also recruits some big name guests in Sky Ferreira and HAIM, who never detract from the songs with their contributions, but complement them tastefully. Primal Scream have come a long way since their C86 contribution, the pastel “Velocity Girl,” consistently challenging their sizable audience with radical pivots, while ultimately rewarding them with unexpectedly excellent albums such as Chaosmosis. By John Everhart

41.

Savages

Adore Life

Matador

Savages are a band in a classic sense. They’re four parts of a whole that’s greater than its individual parts. The charismatic and confrontational Jehnny Beth is certainly their leader, but Ayse Hassan’s thunderous cacophonous bass lines, Faye Milton’s dynamic drum work, and Gemma Thompson’s caustic guitar figures are all essential. And on Adore Life, an album worked out live via numerous concerts in which the arrangements were fleshed out, Savages come into their own, cultivating a sound rooted in influences such as PJ Harvey and Swans, but transcending them. This is a band that’s largely insular, and that ethos is in full view throughout the push/pull fireworks display of Adore Life. Traditional bands are rare in 2016, but Savages make a very good case as to why they can be so exhilarating, and essential. By John Everhart

42.

Chance the Rapper

Coloring Book

Self-Released

Chance the Rapper’s had a good year, capped off by his recent performance at the White House Christmas tree lighting ceremony. At the center of it all is his 2016 mixtape, Coloring Book. Chance infused the album with gospel music, producing his most spiritually lighthearted work yet. Highlights include “All We Got” and “Same Drugs.” By Cody Ray Shafer

43.

Katy Goodman and Greta Morgan

Take It, It’s Yours

Polyvinyl

Katy Goodman (La Sera) and Greta Morgan (Springtime Carnivore) have collaborated extensively in the recent past, but not quite like this. They’ve never been ones to rest on their laurels, so in 2016 instead of just one great album each (La Sera’s Music for Listening to Music To and Springtime Carnivore’s Midnight Room), they also released this great covers album. They reimagine a list of punk and New Wave classics (the title comes from a barely audible line in The Replacements’ “Bastards of Young,” one of the songs covered here) as soft, sad, slow laments and the effect is not unlike what Mark Kozelek has done for years with punk and metal songs by the likes of Descendents, AC/DC, and others. Stripped to their cores, the songs are proven to be great compositions amenable to any style and Goodman and Morgan prove to be great interpreters of others’ material as well as great songwriters. By Matthew Berlyant

44.

Kevin Morby

Singing Saw

Dead Oceans

Ex-Babies frontman pulls cock-eyed wool through a needled eye, creating the gentlest of razor sharp attestations on his third solo album, Singing Saw. Like frequently and rapidly departing geese, Morby moves through recollections via instrumentation lush and forlorn, his fastidiousness sweetly betrayed by his plentiful old-soul pout. Singing Saw feels like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen are in the room—Morby’s voice and cadence uncannily suggestive of their forces, but still implicating his fast and shaggy, street-running youth of yesteryear. The warmly pulsing production sites influences ranging from Gil Scott-Heron to Elvis Costello, and touches of vocal echoes, horn pumps, and bright piano encircle rich lullaby-laced song schemes both jangly and complex and stunningly simply. Morby’s grown up and he’s gotten on, and despite his efforts, he’s not getting rid of that “song book in [his] head.” Rather, he’s suddenly cemented his doom to bear such a pronounced gift. Morby’s fruit is ripening before our eyes, and Singing Saw cuts it all the right ways. By Lauren Hardy

45.

Jamie Lidell

Building a Beginning

Jajulin

Jamie Lidell caramelizes one’s soul on Building a Beginning with a vibrant vocal immediacy that stirs an undeniable comparison to Stevie Wonder. The Brit, who lives in Nashville, quakes and devours us in a jubilant 49 minutes as he preaches behind a genuine pulpit of modern soul, funk, and gospel, his cascading voice like a levy of notes spilling over gorgeously one after one. From the gospel-tinged mountain-mover in “Motionless” to the straining confessional beauty of “Believe In Me,” Lidell empowers his listener by the continued promise of a new era of brazen songmakers. Welcome to the new Nashville, y’all. By Lauren Hardy

46.

Minor Victories

Minor Victories

Fat Possum

The outcome of long distance collaboration between its members, never together during its recording, Minor Victories self-titled debut is praiseworthy just on the basis of commitment. Justin Lockey of Editors recruited his brother James Lockey, Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite, and Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell to find harmonic balance of orchestrally laced shoegaze on top of the iron and steel of it’s post-punk underpinnings. By Charles Steinberg

47.

Amber Arcades

Fading Lines

Heavenly

Fading Lines, the debut album by Amber Arcades (aka Dutch musician Annelotte de Graaf), sounds like being caught between sleep and consciousness, and not necessarily having to pick a side. It’s indecipherable, mesmeric, and surprisingly melodic. It acts as proof that hazy psych-pop aesthetics don’t have to be formulaic and dull, and stands out as one of the strongest debut records of the year. By Marty Hill

48.

Lucy Dacus

No Burden

EggHunt/Matador

Hailing from Richmond, Virginia, Lucy Dacus is the latest singer/songwriter to be accurately hyped out of the city. Her debut album No Burden comes together as a guitar-heavy confessional that shows her vocals oscillating from husky to airy throughout—something that calls to mind the likes of Sharon Van Etten and Julien Baker. Dacus shows she can truly hold her own on the LP, opening with “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” a track that has her fighting against the patriarchy (“I’ve got a too-short skirt, maybe I can be the cute one/Is there room in the band?/I don’t need to be the frontman/If not, then I’ll be the biggest fan”). After listening to the cohesively crafted album, it’s hard to believe that it was made in one day. It’s that seamless, lo-fi perfection that makes No Burden one of the best albums of the year. By Ilana Kaplan

49.

Boxed In

Melt

Nettwerk

Boxed In (the moniker for British beat smith, songwriter, singer, and record producer Oli Bayston) crafted numerous catchy dance tracks for his sophomore album, Melt. Highlights include the anything but forgettable grooving song “Forget,” “Jist,” which features a galvanizing mix of punchy percussion and warbling synths that seem precisely engineered to leave toes tapping and hips shaking, and “Oxbow,” which has a thwacking backbeat with gentle keyboard punctuations that coincide neatly with his swooning singing of lyrics like, “When you look at me so helplessly.” Melt’s title track pulls off an even trickier juxtaposition, as its sunny synths and happy go lucky jangling percussion contrast with lyrics about a lover fading away, along with hopeful closing bars about distance melting away, just as yearning guitars chime in for the climax. These enthralling elements, and more, make Melt a white hot album that will leave listeners soaking up every note. By Kyle Mullin

50.

The Lemon Twigs

Do Hollywood

4AD

The Lemon Twigs (aka brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario) are looking poignantly backwards while moving gracefully forward on their debut record: a love letter to the past and a signpost towards the future. Produced by Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado, Do Hollywood is a unique and kaleidoscopic trip through sound and melody with a profound nostalgia, yet somehow fractionally distilled into something quite startling. Much is made of the D’Addario brothers’ precocious ages (19 and 17) but we’ve had musicians with youth and startling talent before—that is not new. What is new is the way that as composers, they have a quite astonishing and highly-tuned pop ear for channeling the likes of Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney, Scott Walker, Jeff Lynne, and Ray Davies into a world of color, exploration, and barnstorming joy. Aside from The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt and The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, it’s difficult to think of anyone making music like this these days; certainly not two kids barely out of school. By David Edwards

51.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Nonagon Infinity

ATO

52.

NZCA Lines

Infinite Summer

Memphis Industries

53.

James Blake

The Colour In Anything

Polydor/Universal

54.

PJ Harvey

The Hope Six Demolition Project

Vagrant

55.

Cymbals Eat Guitars

Pretty Years

Sinderlyn

56.

Luke Temple

A Hand Through the Cellar Door

Secretly Canadian

57.

Anderson .Paak

Malibu

Empire/Obe/Steel Wool/Art Club

58.

Springtime Carnivore

Midnight Room

Autumn Tone

59.

Jagwar Ma

Every Now & Then

Mom + Pop

60.

Whitney

Light Upon the Lake

Secretly Canadian

61.

Chairlift

Moth

Columbia

62.

Mass Gothic

Mass Gothic

Sub Pop

63.

Lambchop

FLOTUS

Merge

64.

Soft Hair

Soft Hair

Weird World

65.

The Divine Comedy

Foreverland

Divine Comedy Records

66.

Xiu Xiu

Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks

Polyvinyl

67.

Jenny Hval

Blood Bitch

Sacred Bones

68.

TEEN

Love Yes

Carpark

69.

ANOHNI

HOPELESSNESS

Secretly Canadian

70.

Shearwater

Jet Plane and Oxbow

Sub Pop

71.

Warpaint

Heads Up

Rough Trade

72.

Psychic Twin

Strangers

Polyvinyl

73.

Still Corners

Dead Blue

Wrecking Light

74.

Thomas Cohen

Bloom Forever

Stolen

75.

Wilco

Schmilco

dBpm

76.

Merchandise

A Corpse Wired for Sound

4AD

77.

Teenage Fanclub

Here

Merge

78.

Woods

City Sun Eater in the River of Light

Woodsist

79.

Metronomy

Summer 08

Because Music

80.

Black Mountain

IV

Jagjaguwar

81.

Marlon Williams

Marlon Williams

Dead Oceans

82.

Tim Hecker

Love Streams

4AD

83.

Preoccupations

Preoccupations

Jagjaguwar

84.

Field Music

Commontime

Memphis Industries

85.

Frightened Rabbit

Painting of a Panic Attack

Canvasback Music/Atlantic

86.

Teleman

Brilliant Sanity

Moshi Moshi

87.

Yann Tiersen

EUSA

Mute

88.

Iggy Pop

Post Pop Depression

Loma Vista

89.

Quilt

Plaza

Mexican Summer

90.

The Invisible

Patience

Ninja Tune

91.

of Montreal

Innocence Reaches

Polyvinyl

92.

Suede

Night Thoughts

Suede Ltd.

93.

Weird Dreams

Luxury Alone

Tough Love

94.

Fear of Men

Fall Forever

Kanine

95.

Slow Club

One Day All of This Won't Matter Anymore

Moshi Moshi

96.

Julianna Barwick

Will

Dead Oceans

97.

Steve Gunn

Eyes on the Lines

Matador

98.

Tegan and Sara

Love You to Death

Warner Bros.

99.

Plants and Animals

Waltzed in from the Rumbling

Secret City

100

Cat's Eyes

Treasure House

RAF/Kobalt Label Services

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Psychskier
December 16th 2016
4:42pm

So may lists this year and none of them, this one included with Band of Horses “Why Are You OK” or The Boxer Rebellion’s “Ocean by Ocean”, two really strong albums from start to finish

Brad
December 22nd 2016
11:26pm

I know it was fixed but I don’t know if Bernie identifies as a gal. Great list though. Favorite album so far is Angel Olsen…cuts to my core in a deeply deep way.

Venta Patinetes Eléctricos
March 9th 2017
10:07am

Awesome playlist. I love to hear them as I move around the city on my electric hoverboard. It is impressive how easy it is to move urban with electric vehicles Have you tried them?

Score Hero hack
March 10th 2017
10:21am

Incredible playlist, my favorite songs are here! 10/10