50. SUMAC – What One Becomes
With names such as Aaron Turner, Brian Cook, and Nick Yacyshyn at the helm, there’s no doubt SUMAC were born to create thunderous music. Few bands can make such a massive sound with only three members. What One Becomes sees their brand of sludge become less riff-oriented and move more towards a plodding, pummeling approach. SUMAC aren’t content to stay at one tempo though; the band are just as comfortable pounding out menacing chords in separate octaves as they are launching into breakneck passages or suddenly giving way to spacey, fuzzy moments. This behemoth of a record is out to crush you, and Kurt Ballou’s production ensures it’s as organic-sounding as they come. –RogueNine
48 (tie). Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence
Some might argue that Devin Townsend is practically a god in the music industry. Ever since his debut album, Townsend has been creating some of the most surreal and entertaining music over these last twenty years, ranging from the modern pop-metal routines of the Devin Townsend Project albums to his more aggressive days in Strapping Young Lad. Transcendence is, in a way, the culmination of some of his best ideas thrown together into one hour-long record. While it certainly isn’t as reliable on the hooks as many of his previous albums, the album’s constant highlights take listeners on a journey that illustrates his development as a musician. Townsend has repeatedly said this was the first record where other band members joined him in the songwriting process; as a result, it is the first DTP album that feels like a complete band is performing rather than it being just another one of Townsend’s side projects. Transcendence may be the last Devin Townsend Project album, but it showcases just what an incredible artist he has become. –Toondude10
48 (tie). The Veils – Total Depravity
Few records can employ such a wide sonic palette but feel as complete as Total Depravity does. There are moments in songs like “King of Chrome” where the glitch-y, off-kilter percussion and bandleader Finn Andrews’ frantic drawl threaten to alienate, yet his charismatic posturing is just too compelling to abandon. Elsewhere, the cinematic swells in “Iodine & Iron” are more immediately pleasing, but when he croons the lines “I feel as mad as the moon / And twice as scarred”, there is an undeniable darkness that its gorgeousness can’t hope to belie. The exploration of sounds throughout the record – whether traditional or experimental, seemingly random or deliberate – drip with a feeling of burden and loss that pours into your ears and seeps down to your heart. Total Depravity has no consistent feeling, and yet it is a record that will consistently make you feel, for better or worse. –TheSpirit
47. Ulver – ATGCLVLSSCAP
The culmination of tracking and editing twelve performances over the course of 2013 and 2014, ATGCLVLSSCAP gracefully blurs the lines between live album and studio album. The recordings find the Norwegian collective exploring and reimagining their own material through the uncertainty of improvisation. And while certain tracks remain recognizably loyal to their original incarnations, others take a small motif and, from it, weave an entirely new experience, all amidst a few wholly original offerings. They each manage to mesmerize with lush droning, electronic tinkerings, and mantra recitations, at times treating vintage psychedelia with a unique modernist revision. The condensed and refined eighty minutes reflect an experiment and exercise not only in sound, but for each individual musician involved and the aggregate known simply as Ulver, and it’s quite beautiful to witness. –AngelofDeath
45 (tie). Deathspell Omega – The Synarchy of Molten Bones
By Deathspell Omega standards, The Synarchy of Molten Bones is refreshingly succinct. It’s a tight, crisp thirty minutes of their trademark manic black metal, short enough that there have been more than enough pointless arguments over whether it should be classified as an LP or an EP, with the band claiming the former. Regardless, it’s vastly more satisfying to discuss the music rather than how it was classified. The Synarchy of Molten Bones is vicious and to-the-point without betraying any of Deathspell’s dense songwriting. Full of absurdly technical, ever-shifting guitar and drum work, wreathed in waves of suffocating dissonance, it’s any fan’s wet dream. It doesn’t get bogged down in a need for change, preferring to tighten and condense their niche. Every release since Si Monvmentvm Reqvires Circvmspice has been been noticeably shorter than their respective predecessors, and, like Paracletus, Synarchy makes fantastic use of its brevity. Its punch is at no risk of dilution by being dragged out too long, and the music pummels and fades without becoming tiresome. While it doesn’t advance their sound particularly – as a matter of fact, it strips it back for a blunter approach – the hidden, faceless figures behind Deathspell Omega continue to refine their craft here and reveal why they remain the masters of an often copied, but never matched, sound. –Gameofmetal
45 (tie). Pinegrove – Cardinal
After a slew of promising EPs, fans of Pinegrove had built up high hopes for the introspective quartet from Montclair, New Jersey’s debut, because it had only been six years of waiting. In most situations, that type of wait for an eight song album that barely clears half an hour would be a disappointment, but Cardinal is a taut and perfectly thought out collection. Frontman Evan Stephens Hall deals in the type of heart-wrenching lyricism that makes lesser folk country bands drown in their own Evan Williams; however, the songwriting is at such a high level that it turns some of the saddest damn lyrics you’ll ever hear into a tear-stained sing along. In the hands of a group 10% less talented, Cardinal would become an overwrought slog, but Pinegrove have created something amazing. –Curse.
44. Gold Panda – Good Luck And Do Your Best
Upon landing in Tokyo to work on a project with photographer Laura Lewis, Gold Panda couldn’t have known that the end result would be a photobook and his third full-length album. However, the seed would soon be sown, quickly sprouting into Good Luck And Do Your Best. From the moment “Metal Bird” kicks off the album with its mesmerizing use of vocal sampling and exuberant bassline, there’s a familiar feeling of tranquility and repose that Panda’s had little difficulty constructing since his debut. “In My Car” follows suit, weaving together fiery drums, airy vocals, and a vivid blend of bass, synths, and even what sounds like a koto at one point to create one of the most extraordinary electronic tracks of the year. Panda’s ability to craft songs that are both entrancing and lively shines brightly on tracks such as “I Am Real Punk”, which, despite its subdued nature, still captivates with its simple electronic melody and accompanying guitar harmony. Good Luck And Do Your Best almost makes it feel like you’re walking in the streets of Japan, be it the massive, metropolitan environment of Tokyo or the bustling walkways of Kyoto. In the end, Lewis won an AOP award for the images she gathered in the photobook, and Panda created his finest piece of work since Lucky Shiner. –ExplosiveOranges
43. Swans – The Glowing Man
Compared to To Be Kind or The Seer, The Glowing Man is a relief. Absent the frantic immediacy of “Oxygen”, or the sheer enormity of “The Seer”, Michael Gira’s latest and last iteration of Swans is firmly adjusted to one mood: passive. Contrary to previous efforts, at times, as in “Frankie M.”, the excessive runtimes are a nonissue, never challenging as much as inviting listeners into the catharsis of a latter-day Swans song. The final track, “Finally, Peace”, articulates the motif best: a satisfying, if quieting, end to ’10s Swans. –Elliott
42. Niechec – Niechec
This post-avant jazzcore record is chock full of blippy sounds, crazy geetar parts, and saxophone that’ll knock your ears off. It’s instrumental wank that knows it’s wank, and in its self-awareness creates a wiry, fragmented record that throws its listener for a loop every time. Amidst all the chaos are some compositions that will shock and frighten listeners, yet also intrigue them; in particular, “Metanol” is an obvious standout. –Urinetrouble
41. Regina Spektor – Remember Us To Life
Ever since 2001, Regina Spektor has been producing an immensely strong and continuously impressive body of work – the slightly harsher and less-polished sound of her early releases makes a good contrast with the more tender style she’s been adopting since Begin To Hope. And if her 2012 album Cheap Seats – while a great effort in itself – may have represented a slight step back in quality, the Russian singer-songwriter makes a decidedly strong return here. Her lyrical wordplay remains intact and is better than ever, as standout tracks such as “Older and Taller” and “Grand Hotel” should confirm, and she even starts revealing a synthpop influence on occasion. Elsewhere, traces of some more adventurous songwriting and Regina’s always-refined vocal delivery add to this extremely accomplished effort. While she doesn’t necessarily reinvent herself on Remember Us To Life, there is a clear expansion upon her tried-and-true formula found in Cheap Seats, which could well signify a breath of fresh air for her. On her seventh studio album, Regina reignites her output in stunning fashion – the entire album is incredibly consistent and stacks up fabulously well as one of her best yet, as she reassures her place as one of the best of her craft. –danielcardoso
40. Frightened Rabbit – Painting of a Panic Attack
When I first heard Frightened Rabbit’s magnum opus, Midnight Organ Fight, there was a part of me that was able to relate to every word lead singer Scott Hutchison was singing about. It was an album that was not only highly relatable, but had a comedic edge to it that was unmatched. Through the sorrow, there was a light that told the listener to move on. With Painting of a Panic Attack, one would only have to listen to the opening single “Death Dream” to get a full glimpse that the band eschewed all comedy, replacing it with a downright depressing atmosphere. It is a song that approaches death in some beautiful lyrics, but by the end it seems all hope is lost. The rest of the album follows this rule, as there is no smiling to be found in this record. It is a deeply personal take on grief and depression that is unmatched in lyrical power. –Hogan
39. O’Brother – Endless Light
After over a decade of making music, it’s safe to say O’Brother is not content in making the same album twice. And who knows, they may even find some delight in throwing their fans for a loop and shaking things up with each release. What started as some multi-genre/post-everything behemoth band has slowly refined itself over time into what we currently see with their latest release Endless Light. What’s immediately striking about this album is how oddly… straightforward it is. This band used to throw curveballs at us, getting you settled and comfortable right before diving head-first into a longer track bordering ten minutes long. Now, everything is tight and compact, while songs are predictable in their structure and kept to digestible lengths. And while Tanner used to have maybe the weirdest voice in music, even a newcomer could sit through a song on here and not be utterly turned off by the vocals. One would think this would result in their weakest album, but instead Endless Light thrives in its smoother, refined approach. Much like Deftones, O’Brother can take a heavy sound rooted in distortion and make it go down smoother than coffee and Bailey’s on Christmas morning. Look no further than songs like “Your Move” or “Complicated End Times” where melody and distortion are happily married together. But the unpredictable side of O’Brother we knew is still in there, be it the wild wailings of the mid-sections of “Bloodlines” or the satisfying peak that closes out career highlight “I Am (Become Death)”. Just don’t get too comfortable with what you hear, it’ll most certainly be different next time around. –PistolPete
38. Moonsorrow – Jumalten Aika
Jumalten Aika is practically a clinic on what great folk metal should be. Granted, it has a rather blackened twist to it, and some might even say Moonsorrow are as much black metal as they are folk metal, but the point stands. Moonsorrow effortlessly balance scale, melody, dynamics, aggression, and just the right amount of cheese on their seventh full length record, a statement to the younger boys on how it’s done essentially. Brevity isn’t one of the band’s greatest strengths, as four of the songs fall within the ten to fifteen minute range and traverse multiple moods and techniques across their respective runtimes. But if there’s anyone that knows how to make bona-fide epics like these work, it’s Moonsorrow. “Suden Tunti” is a tighter, condensed track next to the bigger songs, but it doesn’t feel out of place in the track listing except in regards to its length. The final two tracks, particularly “Mimisbrunn”, are masterworks: they’re dynamic, shifting beasts that jump between elegant acoustics, soaring melodies, and blackened riffs with wild abandon. Jumalten Aika is a refreshing comeback from 2011’s relatively lackluster Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa, comprising many of the best traits from Moonsorrow’s greatest works, making for a record of unbeatable quality. –Gameofmetal
37. Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
“Awaken, My Love!” is a P-Funk album in 2016 with the express approval of George Clinton, and it doesn’t really get much cooler than that. Clinton’s guest appearances since Parliament and Funkadelic ended have largely consisted of popping up in hip-hop albums as a sort of godfather figure, making sure you knew the shit he was on was the real deal (“Synthesizer” and “Wesley’s Theory” being the best examples). He doesn’t actually appear on Awaken apart from a sneaky co-writing credit on “Riot”, but the influence of the Parliament-Funkadelic mythology is unmistakable. The superb multi-instrumental and production talents of Ludwig Göransson provide a rock-solid base from which Glover showcases a newfound confidence in his vocal range. While instrumentally the album is about as good as ’70s imitation can be, it’s in the songwriting that Glover distinguishes himself, as tributes to his newborn son colour the album both deeply sentimental and ridden with anxiety. These extremes sometimes appear within the same song, such as “Baby Boy”, where the impassioned chorus sees a desperate Glover pleading to his partner, his enemies, or just the world not to “take my baby boy … my pride and joy”. The message is offset by the climax, and the album’s finest moment, where an incredibly mature-sounding Glover breaks the fourth wall in order to deliver a message straight to his son: “Walk tall little one, walk tall”. –Rowan
36. Zao – The Well-Intentioned Virus
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Zao in 2016. They’ve not had a particularly consistent career, struggling to redefine themselves throughout their 20 years with varying degrees of success. The Well-Intentioned Virus is one of the better attempts, illustrative of a group that seems to finally have found themselves after floundering in mediocrity for many years. There’s a cohesiveness here that’s missing from previous records, bereft of any half-assed ideas awkwardly shoehorned in or aimless experimentation. It’s a decidedly focused record, moving through grooves efficiently, discarding a motif as soon as it hints at wearing out its welcome. The balance between heavy and softer moments helps this along swimmingly, never allowing the band to get bogged down in indulgent metalcore posturing; they seem a lot more thoughtful and melancholic than previous releases, giving themselves time for reflection in the downtrodden, sharply melodic moments. There’s a good vocal balance too, the encompassing gravely growls matched by cleans that are stronger than most in the genre, confident yet not overbearingly emotional. This is metalcore at its most mature, the result of a band left to stew in over 20 years of experience. –Mort.
35. All Human – Teenagers, You Don’t Have To Die!
Once you dig past the black humour, bittersweet nostalgia, and creepy horror movie aesthetics of Teenagers, You Don’t Have to Die!, you find a small core of genuine pathos. This is an album rooted in bitter and sardonic sadness, but in the middle of it all is nothing but some lonely kids looking for someone to love. When you dig up this little core, everything falls into place – the hell-raising, Jerry Jones-assisted climax of “Where’s My Upslope?”, the gorgeous Hammockian soundscapes of “Desert Fox Cubs Play Under a Sky Full of Stars”, “Rogue Bee”‘s tinge of electronica. They’re all just so much hand-waving and showboating in a desperate attempt for attention, one big bid to just not be so fucking lonely anymore. The fact is that Teenagers is probably the greatest achievement yet from the minds of two people who can chalk up some of this century’s finest post-hardcore works next to their names, and it feels like just the beginning. This is a very sad album, and it won’t make you happy to listen to, but it’s at least an invitation to not be sad alone. To borrow a line from the genre’s greatest lyricist: “Come on in and waste away awhile”. –Rowan
34. Saor – Guardians
Having experienced the explosion of gothic metal during the mid ’90s, I can spot quite a few similarities with the popularity of atmospheric black metal nowadays. One constant, though, seems to be the fact that an increasing number of artists are trying to incorporate elements that they assume will make their brand of black metal atmospheric, and more times than not, they fail. To begin with, a large majority think that writing long compositions is a guarantee for creating epic ambiance and that repetition leads to memorable, rather than dull, music.
Despite the clutter, when atmospheric black metal clicks, it usually succeeds triumphantly. However, calling this album simply atmospheric or black metal doesn’t do justice to Andy Marshall’s latest work. Guardians is an evocative trip through the high mountains and glens of Scotland. Instrumentally, the LP is almost impeccable with numerous magical guitar leads, a strong sense of melody, and little moments of brilliance. However, what elevates the music is the way traditional instruments like bagpipes and fiddles are incorporated, how the Scottish influences are woven into the album’s fabric, and, of course, the sheer level of impeccable songwriting. Many times we state that songs or albums are too long for their own good, but Guardians is exactly as long as it should be, and the repetition doesn’t lead to monotony. On the contrary, it leads to some of the most emotional and beautiful music of 2016. –manosg
33. Deftones – Gore
There’s a lot that can be written about Chino Moreno’s ongoing attempts to turn Deftones into a Cocteau Twins tribute act, and specifically the effect that it is having on the band’s resident ESP-axe wielder, Stephen Carpenter. But to do so would miss a lot of essential details about Gore, which is an album that is, for the most part, as acutely faithful to the Deftones sound as is possible. Lesser critics are grasping at disparate influences to explain it: Morrissey, Meshuggah, and inexplicably, space rock. In truth, it’s the sort of album that Deftones can make every few years and get away with: pretty, heavy, and artsy without being pretentious, because nobody performing a song called “(L)MIRL” can effect much importance. –Elliott
32. Tiny Moving Parts – Celebrate
Not long after Celebrate came out, I spent the better part of a week learning “Birdhouse” on guitar. “Birdhouse” is very technical, and like other Tiny Moving Parts songs I’ve learned, it greatly helped me push my guitar playing forward. The pure joy I experienced once the song had been mastered by my calloused fingers very much parallels the bright, warm tone Celebrate embodies.
Celebrate is most certainly an emo record – most of the lyrics are downcast, as is a good chunk of the music – but the overwhelming way the album makes me feel is euphoric, and, well, like I’m celebrating. The last two Tiny Moving Parts records were a tad highfalutin – with interludes, repeating melodies and lyrics that were intended to reinforce theme, and a sense of cohesion – but they ultimately ended up disrupting the flow of the records more than anything. Celebrate doesn’t try to be anything more than ten great songs, and it miraculously ends up feeling more thematically complete than the other two records.
Guitarist Dylan Mattheisen’s tapping riffs and arpeggios are as complex as ever, but Celebrate escapes being mathy-for-maths sake with its stellar, often subdued songwriting. “Common Cold” features not a single crazy guitar riff and ends up being the best song on the record, largely due to the brilliant duet with Foxing vocalist Conor Murphy. There’s just so much to feel good about layered within the contents of Celebrate. It’s concise, catchy, technical, bright, brilliant, and a record that’s forever embedded in my calloused fingertips. –Robert Lowe
31. James Blake – The Colour in Anything
Perhaps because James Blake’s music occupies emptiness and ‘the spaces in-between’ (whatever that means), the idea that he might progress from album to album hinges on the basics: the melodies, the textures, and the songwriting. Ambiance doesn’t provide ample space to hide, and though Blake might be try to obscure himself on occasion, he makes his most confident steps on The Colour in Anything. Obviously, this is a James Blake album, and by nature it is cold, subtle, and light on ‘moments.’ But it more than makes up for its lack of accessibility by emphasizing the moodiness of his craft. Although it’s been a long time since Blake operated under the pretence of being part of the UK electronic music scene – and even longer since the idea of him being a singer-songwriter was considered laughable – The Colour… consolidates the work of prior albums and emerges as his most sprawling and beautiful work yet. –Elliott