Top 50 Albums of 2016

Sure it may be a full week into 2017, and about two weeks after my songs list, but I finally completed my top 50 albums of 2016 list.

I’ve also put together a playlist of all the recommended tracks, so if you’re feeling like wasting 12 and a half hours, here is a link to the Spotify playlist. 

Enjoy


* Denotes that an album is not on Spotify for some bullshit reason

50. Local Natives – Sunlit Youth

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A solid follow-up album, but nothing spectacular. Almost works better as background coffee-shop music than something to sit down and listen to.

Recommended Tracks: Villainy, Past Lives, Coins

49. Gonjasufi – Callus

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Calling this lo-fi would be generous. Gonjasufi has gone darker and more distorted than his past work, creating an lengthy album with some moments of brilliance but also many moments that fall flat.

Recommended Tracks: Maniac Depressant, The Conspiracy, The Kill

48. Tim Hecker – Love Streams

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Tim Hecker sure has a style. His complex orchestration of mini-layers create an album that teases cohesion but never fully reaches it.

Recommended Tracks: Castrati Stack, Music of the Air, Up Red Bull Creek

47. BADBADNOTGOOD – IV

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Since they started, BADBADNOTGOOD have always let their guests take over the sound of a song. Rather than forcing the guest into the style of a BBNG song, the Colin Stetson / Samuel Herring songs sound like Colin Stetson / Future Island songs, but they still manage to lay down solid tracks with no features.

Recommended Tracks: Confessions Pt II, Time Moves Slow, IV

46. Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Stranger Things Soundtrack

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Much like the TV show it backs, this album is nothing revolutionary, but just a very well executed take on a familiar concept.

Recommended Tracks: Kids, Biking To School, Fresh Blood

45. LNZNDRF – LNZNDRF

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The other brothers of The National put together a solid record, one that creates hazy atmospheres from track to track without a need for massive climaxes.

Recommended Tracks: Beneath the Black Sea, Future You, Hypno-Skate

44. Kishi Bashi – Sonderlust

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There are some beautiful concepts on this album, I just wish Kishi Bashi would stop ruining songs with the word ‘lover’ and stop writing songs about board games.

Recommended Tracks: Can’t Let Go Juno, Hey Big Star, Flame on Flame (a Slow Dirge)

43. Wild Nothing – Life of Pause

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Every single song that Wild Nothing creates makes me feel like I’m driving with my windows down through nature in the summer.

Recommended Tracks: Reichpop, Life of Pause, To Know You

42. Frightened Rabbit – Painting of a Panic Attack

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Frightened Rabbit can still write a sad song, but the variations are close to running out.

Recommended Tracks: Woke Up Hurting, Death Dream, An Otherwise Disappointing Life

41. Parquet Courts – Human Performance

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Yup, still sounds like Bushwick.

Recommended Tracks: Human Performance, Dust, Berlin Got Blurry

40. James Blake – The Colour In Anything

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The main recurring knock for albums in 2016 is that many of them are bloated with excess songs. After releases with 10 and 12 songs on them, James Blake comes back with a 17 track behemoth. While many selections on this album are worthy, the album would be far better if he were to cut about 5 songs worth of chaff.

Recommended Tracks: I Need A Forest Fire, Radio Silence, My Willing Heart

39. White Lung  – Paradise

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Similar to White Lung’s previous effort, this album excels in its brevity. This quick and fast paced punk offering is in-and-out in the perfect length of just under 30 minutes.

Recommended Tracks: Dead Weight, Kiss Me When I Bleed, Sister

38. KAYTRANADA – 99.9%

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Kaytranada does a fantastic job of mixing some electronic sounds in with the soul and funk themes throughout the whole album.

Recommended Tracks: GLOWED UP, TRACK UNO, GOT IT GOOD

37. Xenia Rubinos – Black Terry Cat

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I happened to see Xenia Rubinos open for Battles a little more than a year ago, and was looking forward to her new album ever since. Usually the tracks just consist of drums, a synth and vocals, but she somehow makes each part feel grander than it is.

Recommended Tracks: Mexican Chef, Right?, Lonely Lover

36. The Weeknd – Starboy

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Another bloated album by a good artist. There is absolutely no reason this should be 18 songs long, especially since it falls off tremendously in the second half. However, the top 8 songs on this album are some of The Weeknd’s best work in years.

Recommended Tracks: I Feel It Coming, Party Monster, Six Feet Under

35. Nicolas Jaar – Sirens

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The most impactful songs on this album are the 6+ minute long tracks that Nicolas Jaar gives time to evolve and grow with time.

Recommended Tracks: Wildflowers*, No, Three Sides of Nazareth

34. Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit EP

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At only 4 songs, Ritual Spirit is a true EP, and a fantastic one at that. Each cut of this EP is wholly different from the last, but still maintains a cohesive feel throughout.

Recommended Tracks: Voodoo In My Blood, Dead Editors, Ritual Spirit

33. Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

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I loved half of this album and didn’t mind the other half (with the exception of California, that song is an abomination). Donald Glover tries his hand at soul with a Funkadelic-influence sound, and on Awaken, My Love! he succeeds more often than not.

Recommended Tracks: Redbone, Me and Your Mama, Baby Boy

32. Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book

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Another album where I genuinely enjoy the top cuts, but some songs just don’t do it for me. While lush with gospel vocal arrangements, Coloring Book excels when Chance is having fun, rather than preaching.

Recommended Tracks: Angels, No Problem, Summer Friends

31. The Avalanches – Wildflower

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A welcome return from an extended hibernation. The main difference between this and Since I Left You is the addition of guest vocalists. There’s nothing transformative here, but I’m also not sure if that’s what The Avalanches were going for. Its an extremely fun record that could have been released in 2001 and would have fit right in.

Recommended Tracks: Colours, Because I’m Me, The Wozard of Iz

30. Wilco – Schmilco

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By far Wilco’s simplest album. Even though they’re older and less experimental, Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline can still write impactful music.

Recommended Tracks: If I Ever Was a Child, Normal American Kids, Someone to Lose

29. Gordi – Clever Disguise EP

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Gordi was a pleasant surprise of an discovery in 2016. Her five song EP shows her capability of writing engaging but sparse arrangements to compliment her voice. I’m looking forward to her full LP hopefully coming soon.

Recommended Tracks: Can We Work It Out, Wanting, So Here We Are

28. Beyoncé – LEMONADE*

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Beyonce tried on every style of music within 12 tracks, and most of them succeeded. Her work with Jack White, James Blake, Kendrick Lamar, and The Weeknd all are all successes, but the middle section of the album falls flat during the DADDY LESSONS, LOVE DROUGHT, and SANDCASTLES stretch.

Recommended Tracks: FREEDOM, HOLD UP, SORRY

27. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered. 

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This album of castoffs and loosies is better than the majority of rap albums released this year. It’s a clear continuation of his sound on TPAB and Kendrick can still bring it.

Recommended Tracks: untitled 03 | 05.28.2013., untitled 02 | 06.30.2014., untitled 07 | 2014-2016

26. Preoccupations – Preoccupations

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Name change controversy aside, Preoccupations is a incredibly solid follow-up. There is nothing mindblowingly unique about it, but each and every song captivates attention even with their driving and drone-y length.

Recommended Tracks: Zodiac, Memory, Anxiety

25. Injury Reserve – Floss

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One of the last entries of 2016, Injury Reserve came through with a more mature effort on their sophomore album. Along with the surprise RTJ3, December was a fantastic month for hip-hop.

Recommended Tracks: All This Money, Oh Shit!, Keep on Slippin, Look Mama I Did It

24. Steve Hauschilds – Strands

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Arpeggios. Arpeggios everywhere.

Recommended Tracks: Same River Twice, Ketracel, Time We Have, Strands

23. Pinegrove – Cardinal

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One of the few indie rock records released this year that actually left an impact. I can easily foresee Pinegrove becoming the next indie darling in the years to come.

Recommended Tracks: Old Friends, Cadmium, Visiting, New Friends

22. Mitski – Puberty 2

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Mitski is the master of being as quiet or as loud as is perfectly needed.

Recommended Tracks: Your Best American Girl, I Bet on Losing Dogs, Fireworks, Crack Baby

21. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

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Is there anybody that puts out more quality music than Will Toledo? Teens of Denial has some fantastic indie-rock moments, but it could also afford some heavy editing.

Recommended Tracks: Vincent, Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales, Fill In The Blank, Destroyed By Hippie Powers

20. Jesu / Sun Kil Moon – Jesu / Sun Kil Moon

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Sun Kil Moon clearly isn’t for everybody. The best songs on this album are the quieter songs, with ambient or acoustic guitar backings, and Mark Kozelek doing what he does best and rambling about everything and nothing at all.

Recommended Tracks: Beautiful You, Father’s Day, America’s Most Wanted Mark Kozelek, Exodus

19. Vince Staples – Prima Donna

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Could Vince Staples make bad music if he tried?

Recommended Tracks: War Ready, Pimp Hand, Prima Donna, Big Time

18. Anderson .Paak – Malibu

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If 2016 had an MVP award, it might go to Anderson .Paak. Not just for his excellent release Malibu, but for his guest work on other albums. Expect to hear Anderson on 15 chart topping songs in 2017.

Recommended Tracks: Get Down, Heart Don’t Stand A Chance, The Season / Carry Me, Am I Wrong

17. Death Grips – Bottomless Pit

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Bullshit will-they-won’t-they-release-it semantics aside, they delivered with Bottomless Pit. It has the signature Death Grips sound, but as weird as it is to say, it might be their most accessible album to date.

Recommended Tracks: BB Poison, Bubbles Buried In This Jungle, Houdini, Ring A Bell

16. Carly Rae Jepsen – E-MO-TION Side B

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With the exception of Store (mainly the grating chorus), each one of these tracks could easily have made the final cut of E-MO-TION. The 80’s still ooze out of each song, with lush synths adding the finishing touches. Carly Rae Jepsen is still making the best pop music right now.

Recommended Tracks: Fever, Roses, First Time, Cry

15. Schoolboy Q – Blank Face LP

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If this album was 6 songs shorter, it might be 10 places higher. Schoolboy Q’s aggressive vibe is matched by his beat choice. Also, can we all agree in 2017 to stop letting E-40 as a guest rapper on songs? He ruins every single track he is on.

Recommended Tracks: Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane, Str8 Ballin, Tookie Knows II, By Any Means

14. Solange – A Seat at the Table

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I usually don’t like skits, but on A Seat at the Table they actually serve a purpose creating a cohesive narrative. Solange wrote the whole album as a story, and succeeds perfectly. An immaculately crafted record.

Recommended Tracks: Cranes In The Sky, Don’t You Wait, Don’t Touch My Hair, Don’t Wish Me Well

13. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound

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As I’ve written time and time again this year, this album could have been better if it was edited down a bit. Some of Blood Orange’s best songs are buried within the 17 songs. Dev Hynes is so damn good at creating a feeling of warmth with his songwriting.

Recommended Tracks: Hands Up, Augustine, E.V.P., Better Than Me

12. David Bowie – Blackstar

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A beautiful and fitting farewell to one of the music’s most important pioneers.

Recommended Tracks: Lazarus, Blackstar, I Can’t Give Everything Away, Dollar Days

11. Noname – Telefone

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Such a fantastic debut album. Noname knows she has a nailed a sound and nearly perfects it on her first attempt. He style is low key, soulful, and buttery smooth. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Recommended Tracks: Yesterday, Diddy Bop, All I Need, Bye Bye Baby

10. DEAKIN – SLEEP CYCLE

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Since Painting With was such a unmitigated disaster, I’m considering this the real Animal Collective release of the year. Deakin puts forth his much anticipated solo-effort, one that matches the heights that Animal Collective reached while he was a contributing member.

Recommended Tracks: JUST AM, GOLDEN CHORDS, GOOD HOUSE, FOOTY

9. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

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This album has the best and most out-there beats on any hip-hop record this year. What other rapper picks the beat for Dance in the Water or Ain’t It Funny? Also, Really Doe might be the best group track released this year, although Ab-Soul is still garbage. Danny Brown is only getting better.

Recommended Tracks: When It Rain, Really Doe, Pneumonia, Dance In The Water

8. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

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While this album can be a bit of a mess and confusing at times, its highs are some of the best of the year. The Sister Nancy sample at the end of Famous, Chance’s verse on Ultralight Beam, the icy synths on Freestyle 4, the first three minutes of 30 hours, the Kanye and Kendrick trade off on No More Parties in LA, and the beat drop on Father Stretch My Hands are all incredible. I just wish he could have removed some of the nonsense and made a more concise album.

Recommended Tracks: Ultralight Beam, Famous, No More Parties in LA, Real Friends

7. William Tyler – Modern Country

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This is my most played album of the year. William Tyler is so damn talented at creating an atmosphere made for a long road trip and getting lost. Sure he may have creepy long fingernails, but he couldn’t create songs with his trademark finger-plucked style without them.

Recommended Tracks: Highway Anxiety, Gone Clear, I’m Gonna Live Forever (If It Kills Me), Kingdom of Jones

6. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 3

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What an unexpected but wonderful Christmas present. The opening five tracks to this record could not start the record on a better note with the best production El-P has ever done. The bad-cop / bad-cop style is one that RTJ has mastered completely. I’m still not sure how they manage to produce songs that hit like a brick and don’t get stale.

Recommended Tracks: Call Ticketron, Talk To Me, Thursday In The Danger Room, A Report To The Shareholders : Kill Your Masters

 

5. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

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Not many artists really evolve their sound quicker than Bon Iver. With each album, Justin Vernon has added more instruments and more recording tweaks. If you told me when For Emma, Forever Ago was released that just two albums later he would write a song like 715 – CRΣΣKS, there was no possible way I would have believed it. Not only has he added these tricks, but he’s still writing compelling music.

Recommended Tracks: 29 #Strafford APTS, 33 “GOD”, 715 – CRΣΣKS, 8 (circle)

4. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

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This record has weight. It’s heavy. It hurts. Nick Cave conveys emotion through his voice better than anybody. He doesn’t need more than some light backing to let his voice power through. If you watch him play these songs pull off his movie One More Time With Feeling you understand just how much of himself he poured into these songs.

Recommended Tracks: I Need You, Girl In Amber, Jesus Alone, Skeleton Tree

3. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

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If this happens to be Radiohead’s final album, finally releasing a studio version of True Love Waits would be the way to do it. What began as almost a myth of a song, to having a studio live version with an acoustic guitar, to the final version with icy keys, is the ideal ending to either an album or a career. What a ride it’s been.

Recommended Tracks: Daydreaming, True Love Waits, The Numbers, Decks Dark

2. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

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After a nearly 20 year wait, and the far too soon passing of Phife Dawg, ATCQ could not have come back stronger. It’s almost unbelievable how incredible this record is. On top of hearing Q-Tip, Jarobi, and Phife all on the same track again, the next best thing that we get some prime Busta verses. 2016 wasn’t all bad after all.

Recommended Tracks: Dis Generation, The Space Program, Enough!, Lost Somebody

1. Frank Ocean – Blonde

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I loved channel ORANGE. It was my favorite album of 2012. So when I first listened through blonde I was a bit underwhelmed. It didn’t have the same immediacy or the same initial impact that I first felt listening to channel ORANGE. I took a break, waited a day, and then tried again. The second listen I liked it a bit more, and with each subsequent listen blonde got better and better. The subtly that Frank plays with on this album is so impressive. Songs like White Ferrari and Solo are barely anything more than Frank’s voice and one instrument, and they’re some of the most engaging songs of the year. I keep coming back to this album and I keep finding a new favorite moment. I railed against the overlong album often in these rankings, but Frank is the only one who delivered with each and every track. I have a feeling that this album will stick in my rotation for many more years.

Recommended Tracks: White Ferrari, Siegfried, Nights, Pink + White, Self Control

Top 50 Songs of 2016

If I’ve learned one thing in 2016, it’s that trying to fill 100 slots with songs and albums that I like is next to impossible. I don’t like that many things. I’m back down to 50, which seems like it is far more manageable for both me and anybody reading this post. Leave a comment, text me, or yell at me in person if you think I’ve missed your favorite song this year. I can almost promise I didn’t do it on purpose.

Follow these links for the Spotify and Apple Music playlists of all the songs.

Enjoy,

~Zach


* Denotes that a song is not on Spotify for some bullshit reason

50. Rihanna – Desperado

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Rihanna’s voice melds so perfectly with the slow meandering beat.

49. Dinosaur Jr. – Be A Part

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J. Mascis’ voice may forever sound like he has cement in his nose when he sings, but he can still craft great rock songs with unbelievable solos.

48. Yeasayer – Gerson’s Whistle

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Amen & Goodbye was a bit of a mess at points, but Gerson’s Whistle is proof that Yeasayer can still write songs that are up to par with their past work.

47. Dawes – We’re All Gonna Die

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As a notable sucker for overtly depressing song lyrics, this song is right up my alley.

46. Frightened Rabbit – Woke Up Hurting

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Just like the Dawes song, but with an upbeat backing track!

45. Parquet Courts – Human Performance

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Human Performance is a bit more sing-songy than their past work, but they managed to make the style fit.

44. clipping. – Wriggle

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I’m just happy Daveed Diggs took time out of his day portraying one of America’s founding fathers in the most popular musical on the planet to produce a song about S&M.

43. Crystal Castles – Kept* 

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I thought Alice Glass’ departure would completely destroy Crystal Castles, and for the most part it did. However, this one song off the album is worth the listen. It’s an unique mix to Crystal Castle’s typical sound, with the vocal chopping and sampling over a house beat.

42. Jóhann Jóhannsson –  Heptapod B

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This might be on here because of how much I loved Arrival, but Jóhann Jóhannsson managed to craft a damn fine song with warping drums and non-lyrical vocals that fits this movie so well.

41. Wilco – If I Ever Was A Child

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Even when Wilco is playing it easy with simplistic songs, they are still able to create memorable and fully fleshed out ideas. The backing noodling guitar makes this song for me.

40. Mac Miller (feat. Anderson .Paak) – Dang!

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Trust me, this will not be the last time you see Anderson .Paak on this list. His style of singing really fits with this beat. The Mac Miller part is there too, I guess.

39. BADBADNOTGOOD (feat. Colin Stetson) – Confessions Pt. II

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This is another predictable outcome given my affinity for Colin Stetson. He’s my second favorite saxophonist working right now.

38. Beyoncé (feat. Kendrick Lamar) – FREEDOM* 

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Lemonade was an experiment in styles for Beyoncé. This one worked, and having Kendrick Lamar on a track never hurts. The drumline style drums adds a perfect punch to this beat.

37. Childish Gambino – Redbone

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This song sounds nothing like anything Donald Glover has made in the past. This is good news, because I couldn’t stand his past work.

36. Pinegrove – Old Friends

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Lead singer Evan Stephens Hall has a wonderfully lazy style to his voice. This is the best version of your local hometown garage band.

35. Injury Reserve – All This Money

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Injury Reserve is constantly making some of the best underground hip-hop right now.

34. Laura Marling – Soothing

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The minimal finger-plucked bass pairs so intimatley with Laura Marling’s voice. This song makes Semper Femina one of my most anticipated albums of 2017.

33. Portugal. The Man (feat. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Zoe Manville) – Noise Pollution

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Portugal. The Man comes back from their longest hiatus yet with a song that sounds familiar but slightly tweaked. Also Mary Elizabeth Winstead has a feature for some reason. Still not sure about why that is.

32. Massive Attack – Voodoo In My Blood

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Driving heavy drums kick off this song, and persist almost entirely through, giving this song an incredibly uneasy feel.

31. Angel Olsen – Shut Up Kiss Me

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The way Angel Olsen sings the main title to this song might be my favorite little vocal delivery of 2016.

30. Kishi Bashi – Can’t Let Go, Juno

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This song does sound like it could be in a Samsung ad, and I’ll be honest it might make me buy the product. As long as they promise it won’t explode this time.

29. Francis and the Lights (feat. Bon Iver) – Friends

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Let’s be honest. This song would be better if it were all just Bon Iver singing.

28. The Weeknd (feat. Daft Punk) – I Feel It Coming

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I’m so happy The Weeknd and Daft Punk decided to team up, but I wish it had happened sooner. Can you imagine if it was The Weeknd singing Get Lucky instead of old ass Pharrell. He could actually hit the high notes in that song.

27. Gordi – Can We Work It Out

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I had no idea who Gordi was until I saw her open for Bon Iver. She killed it live, and I was happy since it introduced me to her EP. One of the most pleasant surprises of 2016.

26. Carly Rae Jepsen – Fever

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I’m glad Carly Rae Jepsen kept with her 80’s vibe on her B-Sides compilation. Fever could easily have been one of the best tracks off E-MO-TION.

25. Clams Casino (feat. Vince Staples) – All Night

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Vince is the absolute king of rapping over these minimal and space beats.

24. Death Grips – Houdini

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I’m just as shocked as you are that Death Grips made an actually catchy chorus.

23. James Blake (feat. Bon Iver) – I Need A Forest Fire 

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James Blake’s production and songwriting style really fits with Bon Iver’s vocal style. The looped background vocal sets the stage for Justin Vernon’s soaring falsetto to take over.

22. Kendrick Lamar – untitled 03 | 05.28.2013.

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I’m just thrilled that this song got a proper release after he debuted it out of nowhere on Colbert. This studio version completely lives up to its live debut.

21. Kaytranada (feat. Anderson .Paak) – Glowed Up

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The first 3 minutes of this song could easily be it’s own standalone track. While I do like the final 2 minutes, I just don’t think it matches the first half of the song.

20. Solange – Cranes In The Sky

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A wonderfully soulful arrangement from the Knowles sister you know less about. All of the little string flourishes in the background really complete the sound of this song.

19. Noname – Yesterday

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Noname is my favorite debut artist of the year. She has a natural ability to create a smooth flow over soulful keys. I can’t wait to hear more from her in the future.

18. William Tyler – Highway Anxiety

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Nobody creates a soundscape with finger-picked guitars better than William Tyler. This might be my most played song of the year, just purely based on how many times I’ve put it on while working, driving, or zoning out on the subway. He effortlessly paints a serene and calming atmosphere warped over bends like a river for the full 9 minutes.

17. Car Seat Headrest – Vincent

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Layered guitars, teenage angst, and gifted songwriting are the Car Seat Headrest calling card, and they’re at their best in Vincent.

16. DEAKIN – JUST AM

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This is the style I wished that Animal Collective would have come out with. Short samples, meandering verses, and slightly echoed vocals. Reminds me of something that would have fit perfectly on the Fall Be Kind EP.

15. Anderson .Paak – Get Down

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I told you that you would see more Anderson .Paak on this list. Is there anybody who’s style and performance brings more of a smile to your face?

14. Chance The Rapper (feat. Saba) – Angels

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There is, and its Chance The Rapper. His smile and exuberance for his craft bleed into this song. It’s gospel for the current hip-hop scene, and on this song he’s perfected it.

13. Danny Brown – When It Rain

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On the other side of hip-hop, you’ll find Danny Brown. When It Rain is dark, driving, and neurotic. There isn’t much low end to this song, but it doesn’t need it. The slow, uneasy build is just accentuated by Danny’s frantic style.

12. Jesu / Sun Kil Moon – Beautiful You

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This is a 14 minute song about nothing. For some unknown reason I love it. It’s one of the most atmospheric and ambient backing tracks that Sun Kil Moon has used, and he turns it into an almost trance-like performance. His rambling style is accentuated by the slow chanty vocals that come in during the latter half. It’s a perfect song for a late night drive.

11. Mitski – Your Best American Girl

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Mitski sure as hell knows to how to write a song with a payoff. The climax of this track might be the best lead-up to a big moment in a song in 2016.

10. A Tribe Called Quest – Dis Generation

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Welcome back. There are innumerable hip-hop songs that try and pull off the mid-verse back and forth, but Dis Generation nails it. It also contains one hell of a Busta resurgence that America desperately needed.

9. Blood Orange – Hands Up

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Dev Hynes has the rare ability to make a song about a terribly serious topic, but turn it into its most beautiful form. Hands Up sounds like a love song, but reads like a cautionary tale. Just incredible songwriting.

8. Schoolboy Q (feat. Jadakiss) – Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane

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Schoolboy Q is clearly at his best when he’s dirty, grimy, and angry. Groovy Tony’s beat is just the perfect pair for Q’s voice. Also Jadakiss’ delivery on the line “Getting high watching NBA league pass” is low-key my favorite music moment of the year.

7. Run The Jewels – Call Tickerton

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I don’t think I can love a beat more than this one. RTJ3 only came out a whopping 3 days ago, but this had skyrocketed up my list. It’s a 3 minute panic attack, and has one of Killer Mike’s best ever verses toward the end. It also incorporates a sample as the chorus better than just about any song I’ve heard.

6. David Bowie – Lazarus

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You can’t help but think of the context that David Bowie wrote this song in every time you hear it. It’s a last hurrah, a swan song, and a fitting end if that is even possible. The saxophone layers with the distorted guitars and walking bass line make a fantastic arrangement. It’s a 6 minute track that gets better the entire time.

5. Frank Ocean – White Ferrari

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On Blonde, Frank Ocean toyed around with minimal orchestration, and perfects it on White Ferrari. Rarely do you hear anything more than his voice, a held synth or acoustic guitar, and some backing percussion. He somehow creates a lush song without ever using more than 3 or 4 tracks. The last minute is raw and emotional, and shows why he’s one of the best songwriters right now.

4. Bon Iver – 29 #Strafford APTS

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This song is the perfect mix of past, present, and future Bon Iver. He incorporates the finger-picked guitars of his first album, the saxophone group of his second, and the autotune and audio glitches of his latest, all while maintaining his signature sound. One of his most complete and fleshed out songs to date.

3. Kanye West (feat. The-Dream, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin, & Chance The Rapper) – Ultralight Beam

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Some of the best Kanye songs are when he cedes the floor to somebody else. While Kanye starts off this song, he quickly passes it off, and each feature builds on the soundscape of gospel choir and 808’s. Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin, and Chance The Rapper each effectively deliver their version of a sermon. You can practically hear Kanye grinning from ear to ear as Chance preaches his verse. This is everything.

2. Radiohead – Daydreaming

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Radiohead can make phenomenal music with polyrhythms, odd time signatures, and in unusual keys, yet they still excel at the basics. Daydreaming is nothing more than some slow arpeggios at the core, but all the small additional layers make this song a masterpiece. The twinkling keys, ghastly vocals snippets, building strings, and synth layers flesh out the full orchestration. It also doesn’t hurt to have Thom Yorke’s emotive voice in addition to all of that. Jonny Greenwood’s experience scoring films sure as hell pays off on this fully immersive song.

1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – I Need You

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2016 was a tough year for many people. The reasons may vary, but most of the world’s population can empathize over that common theme. That pain is so clear in Nick Cave’s cracking voice. The unexpected loss of his son is inseparable from the track, creating a powerful and heart-wrenching experience. The song is a simple concept, and every single part of it contributes to the feeling of loss, sorrow, helplessness, and pain. I Need You relates specifically for Nick Cave, but feels so relatable to the listener. As this unique and trying years ends, there’s no better advice than to just breathe.

Top Albums of 2014

 

This list was supposed to be finished a few days after my top 75 songs list, but D’Angelo suddenly releasing his first album in 14 years + Christmas killed that plan. Anyway, enjoy!

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

 

A$AP Ferg – Ferg Forever

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Akin to most mix-tapes, there is too much chaff and not enough wheat.

Recommended Tracks: Fergsomnia, Perfume, Reloaded To Let It Go 2

Alt J – This Is All Yours

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A decent follow-up album to An Awesome Wave, but ultimately falls under the dreaded sophomore slump category.

Recommended Tracks: Hunger Of The Pine, Every Other Freckle, Bloodflood Pt. II

Cloud Nothings – Here And Nowhere Else

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A catchy, upbeat indie rock record that satisfies, but doesn’t insist you come back for more.

Recommended Tracks: I’m Not A Part Of Me, Now Hear In

Broken Bells – After The Disco

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A decent sophomore effort from Danger Mouse and James Mercer, but not notably different or better than the first.

Recommended Tracks: After The Disco, The Changing Lights

The Roots – … and then you shoot your cousin

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When you really sit down and listen to the album, you quickly discover that it is an EP’s worth of music cleverly disguised as an LP.

Recommended Tracks: Never, When The People Cheer 

Sisyphus – Sisyphus

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A solid but underwhelming album from the collaborative efforts of Sufjan Stevens, Son Lux, and Serengeti.

Recommended Tracks: Alcohol, Calm It Down, Take Me

SBTRKT – Wonder Where We Land

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Hit or miss throughout, specifically some of the guest features.

Recommended Tracks: NEW DORP NEW YORK, The Light

Speedy Ortiz – Real Hair EP

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The collection of four songs for this EP are all pretty good, but fails to meet the same standard as Speedy Ortiz set on Major Arcana.

Recommended Tracks: American Horror, Everything’s Bigger

The Black Keys – Turn Blue

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Danger Mouse now has two albums he helped create in the Honorable Mentions section and none in the full countdown. I wonder if those are related…

Recommended Tracks: The Weight Of Love, Bullet In The Brain

TV On The Radio – Seeds

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I fail to understand how TVOTR can write a song as thought-out and layered as Quartz, and on the same album put a song that sounds like it should be played during the resolution scene of a straight-to-TV (no pun intended) Lifetime movie.

Recommended Tracks: Quartz, Careful You

 

TOP 50 ALBUMS OF 2014

 

50: Rubblebucket – Survival Sounds

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While a few of the songs on Survival Sounds are some of the best that Rubblebucket has written, a good number on the album fail to stick to your ribs.

Recommended Tracks: Carousel Ride, On The Ground, Young And Old

49: Big K.R.I.T – Cadillactica

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Cadillactica is mainly so low due to the uncocionable decision to leave off the far superior version of Mt. Olympus in favor of a highly neutered version.

Recommended Tracks: Mt. Olympus, King Of The South, Cadillactica

48: Jack White – Lazaretto

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I’m beginning to fear that I enjoy the memory of Jack White’s music more than the music itself.

Recommended Tracks: Lazaretto, High Ball Stepper, Black Bat Licorice

47: John Frusciante – Enclosure

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John is still producing the best music from any RHCP related member, including the full band.

Recommended Tracks: Fanfare, Stage, Cinch

46: Aphex Twin – Syro

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I’ll admit that I wasn’t the most ardent follower of Aphex Twin before this album dropped, so this release was more of a pleasant surprise than a long-awaited gift.

Recommended Tracks: Asiatsana, Minipops 67 (Source Field Mix) 

45: Scott Walker + Sunn O))) – Soused

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Clocking in at 50 minutes and only 5 songs, Soused is an odd mixture of an opera and halloween soundtrack that somehow works incredibly.

Recommended Tracks: Brando, Fetish

44: Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!

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A sadly constant theme on You’re Dead is beautiful tracks being cut short before they have time to fully form.

Recommended Tracks: Never Catch Me, Cold Dead, Coronous, The Terminator 

43: Death Grips – Niggas On The Moon

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The most style consistent album that Death Grips has put out to date. While it still has the same chaotic backing beats and angry hobo vocals, NOTM didn’t grab me quite as instantly as their past discography.

Recommended Tracks: Black Quarterback, Up My Sleeves, Fuck Me Out

42: Tobacco – Ultima II Massage

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Dirty, lo-fi, and just plain fun.

Recommended Tracks: Streaker, Eruption (Gonna Get My Hair Cut At The End Of The Summer), Lipstick Destroyer

41: Beck – Morning Phase 

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Every Beck album has its own theme, and much like Sea Change, his 2014 effort focuses on the calmer side of his songwriting.

Recommended Tracks: Blue Moon, Morning, Wave

40: FKA twigs – LP1

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As great as Tahliah’s vocals are of her first full length, many of the beats on this album left a slightly sour taste in my mouth.

Recommended Tracks: Two Weeks, Lights On, Video Girl

39: Brian Eno / Karl Hyde – High Life

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I discovered this album during my mop-up period in December where I go back and see if I missed any albums that could make the list. I’m extremely happy I decided to give it a listen, Karl Hyde is a perfect compliment to the more upbeat side of Eno.

Recommended Tracks: Who Rings The Bell, The Satellites, Witness

38: Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes

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Thom Yorke’s second full length solo effort, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, is a logical follow up to his 2006 entry The Eraser. A drum machine, deliberately minimal synths, and crooning vocals create Thom’s distinctive style.

Recommended Tracks: The Mother Lode, A Brain In A Bottle, There Is No Ice (For My Drink)

37: Swans – To Be Kind

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In the same time, you could either listen to this album in entirety or watch the new Annie movie. Do yourself a favor and choose To Be Kind.

Recommended Tracks: A Little God In My Hands, Oxygen, Nathalie Neal

36: Parkay Quarts – Content Nausea

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One of the two LPs that Parquet Courts / Parkay Quarts released in 2014. This particular release had some very high high’s and quite a few mediocre low’s.

Recommended Tracks: Pretty Machines, Content Nausea, Uncast Shadow Of A Southern Myth

35: J. Mascis – Tied To A Star

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I sat next to J Mascis in a bar in Amherst over Thanksgiving break. I was too nervous to go up and say how much I appreciated him and his music. That shows how much I appreciate him and his music.

Recommended Tracks: Me Again, Wide Awake, And Then

34: Real Estate – Atlas

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The last two Real Estate albums have been very similar. Usually for most bands, I count that as a fault, however, there a few where I don’t think much variation is needed between each album. Real Estate falls firmly into that category. Atlas is a very solid album for a very consistently solid band.

Recommended Tracks: Talking Backwards, April’s Song, The Bend

33: Leon Vynehall – Music For The Uninvited

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This album came recommended with very high praise from my buddy Carl. I don’t hate Carl, so I gave it a listen, and tuns out, I enjoyed it very much as well. Thanks Carl!

Recommended Tracks: Goodthing, Inside The Deku Tree, It’s Just (House Of Dupree)

32: Alvvays – Alvvays

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One of the best indie-pop albums of the year. With an incredibly strong single in Archie, Marry Me, the entire album encapsulates summertime love in a fictional city which bares an uncanny resemblance to New York.

Recommended Tracks: Archie, Marry Me, Next Of Kin, Dives

31: Vince Staples – Hell Can Wait EP

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I had almost zero intention on listening to this EP based off my past run in’s with Vince’s releases. Lucky, I don’t have much else to do other than listen to music, and gave this short EP a listen. Vince picks his beats masterfully on this album; they’re unique, but not too unique just for the sake of being different.

Recommended Tracks: Limos, Blue Suede, 65 Hunnid

30: Panda Bear – Mr. Noah

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Panda Bear is another artist where you pretty much know what you’re going to get with his releases. You’re going to get elongated, echoey, layered vocals over pulsing and repetitive beats. They’re going to be equal parts weird and uncannily catchy. Hopefully his full length next year can surpass the quality he produces on Mr. Noah.

Recommended Tracks: Mr. Noah, Untying The Knot

29: Owl John – Owl John

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Yet another release from Scott Hutchison (of Frightened Rabbits fame) that pulls at the heartstrings. He has managed to release quality material year after year, and Owl John is no different.

Recommended Tracks: Ten Tons Of Silence, Los Angeles, Be Kind, Cold Creeps

28: ScHoolboy Q – Oxymoron

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“My Daddy A Gansta” is the first line on this LP, spoken by ScHoolboy Q’s adolescent daughter. For the most part, he lives up to that title on Oxymoron. This album had what seemed like unlimited pre-release singles, but some of the best tracks are the the deeper cuts. Also, to be fair, some of the deeper cuts would serve better back on the cutting floor.

Recommended Tracks: Prescription/Oxymoron, Man Of The Year, Collard Greens, Fuck L.A.

27: Jungle – Jungle

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Jungle’s self-titled album is a throwback to the 70’s with just enough modern day influence. Sometimes, you don’t need to break the mold to create a quality album.

Recommended Tracks: Time, Busy Earnin’, Platoon

26: Chromeo – White Women

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Chromeo perfectly tiptoed the line between their machismo and pop appeal. This is an album laden with singles that are perfect for both Top-40 and college radio. Also, I’m just going to pretend that Frequent Flyer isn’t on this album.

Recommended Tracks: Jealous (I Ain’t With It), Sexy Socialite, Old 45’s

25: Arcade Fire & Owen Pallet – Her (Soundtrack)

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As I said in my top 75 singles list, I think I may enjoy this album partly because of how much I enjoyed the movie Her. That being said, this soundtrack is a perfect mix of simple piano, orchestra, and electronics. One of the most emotional albums of 2014 without a word sung.

Recommended Tracks: Photograph, Morning  Talk / Supersymmetry, Sleepwalker

24: Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal

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The better of the two release by Parquet Courts / Parkay Quarts this year. While neither match the mastery that was Light Up Gold, Sunbathing Animal contains some of the best songs written by the band. Even though there is a bit of filler on the album, the overall result is a record clever lyrics, catchy hooks, and quality songwriting.

Recommended Tracks: Sunbathing Animal, Instant Disassembly, Black And White

23: Caribou – Our Love

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Caribou has built a career of using short, repetitive loops and pairing them with slowly building backing instrumental. Our Love is no different. My favorite full length of his to date, the five song stretch from Can’t Do Without You to Our Love has to be his best work yet.

Recommended Tracks: Can’t Do Without You, Our Love, Julia Brightly

22: The Twilight Sad – Nobody Wants To Be Here & Nobody Wants To Leave

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The second horribly depressing Scottish band on the list. With song titles such as “Drown So I Can Watch” and “Pills I Swallow” how can you not fall in love with the album?

Recommended Tracks: Last January, It Was Never The Same, Theres’s A Girl In The Corner

21: clipping. – CLPPNG

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If Death Grips are the king of horribly abrasive hip-hop vocals, clipping. are the king of horribly abrasive hip-hop beats. I mean, one of the beats on this song is literally just the eardrum-piercing sound of a $5 alarm clock, yet they somehow make that work. They also incorporate an electric drill into a beat that somehow doesn’t throw the whole thing off. By far one of the most unique and dark hip-hop albums of the year.

Recommended Tracks: Body And Blood, Work Work, Wake Up, Story 2

20: The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream

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If I ever need to relax, this is the album I’ll put on. There is a decent amount of Bruce Springsteen prevalent in the songwriting style of The War On Drugs, but they manage to make sure not to stray too close to the sun, and crash and burn in an Daedalus and Icarus style plagiarism case.

Recommended Tracks: An Ocean In Between The Waves, Burning, Under The Pressure 

19: Future Islands – Singles

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If only every song on Singles was as good as Seasons (Waiting On You). This albums has either great songs, or ‘eh’ songs, and nothing else.

Recommended Tracks: Season (Waiting On You), Spirit, Light House

18: Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty

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Even though Lese Majesty isn’t as ground-breaking as Black Up was, it is just as impressive of an album. While the album does overstay its welcome just a little bit, Shabazz Palace’s sophomore effort is well worth the listen.

Recommended Tracks: Forerunner Foray, Dawn In Luxor, Ishmael 

17: Grouper – Ruins

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It’s incredible how much Grouper can do with just piano and breathy vocals. The title Ruins perfectly describes the record, its the skeletal remains of something more.

Recommended Tracks: Clearing, Call Across Rooms, Lighthouse

16: White Lung  – Deep Fantasy

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Deep Fantasy is a flurry of drums and reverb-heavy guitar from front to finish. It doesn’t give you a chance to breathe before its done in an extremely enjoyable and passionate 22 minutes.

Recommended Tracks: Down It Goes, I Believe You, Face Down

15: Tune-Yards  – Nikki Nack

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The most colorful and playful album of 2014. The entire album has the spirit of a young child, screaming and yelling to create chaos in the middle of a beautiful scene. It wouldn’t shock me if the lyrics to this album were written in technicolor crayon.

Recommended Tracks: Wait For A Minute, Real Thing, Water Fountain

14: How To Dress Well – What Is This Heart?

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This album is as enjoyable as the album cover is terrible. I mean, come on, you look like Manu Ginobili after Game 6 of the 2013 NBA finals.

Recommended Tracks: Words I Don’t Remember, Face Again, Pour Cyril

13: Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World

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It only took a full decade, but DFA1979 finally released their much anticipated sophomore album. Even though it isn’t as raw as their mind-blowing debut album, The Physical World still delivers the same quality of driving bass riffs. Hopefully we don’t have to wait another 10 years for the follow-up this time.

Recommended Tracks: Right On, Frankenstein!, Government Trash, The Physical World

12: Mac Demarco – Salad Days

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This album sounds like the personification of a lazy summer afternoon that you spend drinking beers while sitting in lawn chairs in the backyard.

Recommended Tracks: Salad Days, Blue Boy, Let Her Go

11: Liars – Mess

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Yet another album that fits its title perfectly. At points it’s separately angry, creepy, somber, and downright weird. It is the only album that can start with “Take my pants off” and end on an actually personal and sad moment. One of the few records of the year that successfully pulls off multiple styles without those songs feeling forced unnecessarily into the mix.

Recommended Tracks: Mask Maker, Mess On A Mission, Left Speaker Blown

10: Spoon – They Want My Soul

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Is there any band over the last 15 years that has put out as much quality music as Spoon? Every release the come through with a high quality record, and every year they seem to be forgotten about come year end. Spoon still holds the title for “Most Underrated Yet Still Incredibly Popular Band.”

Recommended Tracks: Do You, Inside Out, Let Me Be Mine

9: Julian Casablancas + The Voidz – Tyranny

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As I wrote in my Top 75 Songs of 2014 list, I still cant believe that Julian Casablancas came out with some of my favorite music this year after his past output. This album was everything I wished the past few Strokes release would have been. It’s adventurous, abrasive, unique, yet still has enough of his own personal style. You can buy this album via both cassette and USB implanted lighter, because why the fuck not.

Recommended Tracks: Human Sadness, Where No Eagles Fly, Johan Van Bronx

8: Todd Terje – It’s Album Time

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It’s sounds as if 1950’s Cuba and 2014’s Norway had a music baby. This is the style of electronic release I never knew I wanted to hear, but now that I have, I can’t stop listening.

Recommended Tracks: Delorean Dynamite, Inspector Norse, Svensk Sas

7: Perfume Genius – Too Bright

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Perfume Genius is quickly becoming one of my favorite artists. After a debut album I just could not get into because of the vocal processing, he has released two personal top 10 albums in his last two releases. On Too Bright he ventures outside of his normally basic piano and vocal structure and adds in more instrumentation and completely hits the balance perfectly. He still has the emotional weight that made Put Your Back N 2 It so heavy, but added more range in song structure.

Recommended Tracks: Fool, Queen, Grid, Too Bright

6: Run The Jewels – RTJ2

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Somehow El-P and Killer Mike have steadily improved over the past few years, even though their previous production was some of the best out there. RTJ2 is no different; it is the rightful next step after the first time the twosome paired up. It’s angrier, brasher, more egotistical, and more absurd. If they could just keep releasing an album a year that would be great.

Recommended Tracks: Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck), Oh My Darling Don’t Cry, Lie, Cheat, Steal, Love Again

5: Ariel Pink – pom pom

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I was hesitant going into this album based off of my experiences with Ariel Pink’s past work, however this record completely changed my mind on his music. The record clearly references multiple different styles throughout history, yet each of them have their own unique ‘Pink’ hue. Every time I re-listen to the album I find a new part to focus on, which makes me keep coming back for more.

Recommended Tracks: Put Your Number In My Phone, Black Ballerina, White Freckles, Picture Me Gone

4: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata

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This record contains 17 songs and none of them are filler. The coupling of Freddie’s smooth and deep flow with Madlib’s beats are a match made in Gary, Indiana. One of the best qualities of this album is that the songs which only have Freddie rapping are just as good as the tracks that have features. Whether he’s rapping about eating wings with mild sauce, basketball, or his life, Freddie creates an intricately detailed picture.

Recommended Tracks: High, Thuggin’, Harold’s, Knicks, Piñata

3: D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah

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This fucking album through my whole fucking list off. I had everything set and was ready to start writing, but noooooooo, D’Angelo decided to suddenly come off his 14 year hiatus and release a masterpiece out of nowhere (if you count nowhere as years and years of teasing new music without anything actually materializing). It was well worth the wait. Black Messiah maintains the ideal balance between D’Angelos’ famous early 2000’s R&B vibe and his insane songwriting ability. Every song is so meticulously layered with drums, piano, bass, guitar, and vocals that with each listen you can find something new. Throughout the album, when D’Angelo plays guitar, it sounds as if he has a melody that he intends to play, but cuts in and out, creating a unique style that works better than I could have imagined. Welcome back D’Angelo.

Recommended Tracks: Sugah Daddy, Really Love, The Charade, Another Life

2: St. Vincent – St. Vincent

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Everything that Annie Clark touches turns to gold. In her fourth full length album, St. Vincent has slowly changed styles, yet has created memorable album after memorable album. It is very clear on that her collaborative LP with David Byrne had an impact on her songwriting style, specifically on the single Digital Witness. On her self-titled release, Annie churns out some of her most angled and of kilter music. The opening track begins with a distorted synth rhythm that persists throughout the song and sets the tone for the rest of the record. The heavy distortion led guitar is the signature on the record. The distortion comes in with most weight on Huey Newton, a bisected song with a fantastic payoff. I can’t wait to see where Annie takes her music from here.

Recommended Tracks: Huey Newton, Digital Witness, Rattlesnake, Birth In Reverse, Severely Crossed Fingers

1: Sun Kil Moon – Benji

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Benji consists of acoustic guitar and death. With each mindless detail, Mark Kozelek slowly forms a portrait of an old man who has been through a great deal. In order, the songs focus on; a death in the family, an eventual death in the family, a death in the family, losing your virginity, mass murder, assisted suicide, a troubled father-son relationship, sad tales from Mark’s youth, a serial killer dying, friends dying, and jealousy between friends. The rambling, unnecessarily detailed style of Mark’s writing creates the emotional base for the album. No detail is too small; what’s on the walls at a sports bar, what movie he watched with his grandma, what time his second cousin got off her RN shift. Each piece in the puzzle, no matter how insignificant, adds to the weight of each song. There hasn’t been an album in my recent memory that has the same emotional resonance that this one did.

Recommended Tracks: Ben’s My Friend, Micheline, Jim Wise, Carissa, I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same