411’s Top 200 Albums Of 2016 (175-151)
Before we dive into the next 25 albums on our preposterously long countdown, remember to check out Part One (Albums 200-176) and to hit play on our Spotify playlist so you can hear the sounds we’re describing.
175. The Getaway by Red Hot Chili Peppers
The 411: First John, now Rick. The Getaway is the first Red Hot Chili Peppers’ album to be produced without Rick Rubin since 1989’s Mother’s Milk. Unlike the loss of dynamo guitarist John Frusciante, the loss of Rubin is a welcome one. The Chilis felt rudderless in the wake of Stadium Aracadium (a double album and a natural end point); The Getaway is the first suggestion that the stadium filling funk-punks may have found direction at last. The sonic palette is subtle, dense in a florid sense, but light in touch – a complete contrast to Rubin’s spacious, but jarringly imbalanced recordings. Danger Mouse (Black Keys) and Goddard (Radiohead) might have evened out the band’s sound to a farcical extent, but it affords a braggadocious rhythm section newfound refinement and gives guitarist Josh Klinghoffer a chance to shine with flecks of bright paint here and a gentle layer of gloss there. When The Getaway is at its best the Chilis are, whisper it, tasteful rather than mawkish. Anthony Keidis proves the major sticking point; this album could have soared in this countdown were the lyrics better. “Dark Necessities” is a bleak and fiercely impressive offering from the vocalist, but, more often than not, he’s simply an addition to the rhythm section, making the right choices, but saying the wrong words. Perhaps it’s time he hummed the melodies and let someone else have a stab at the words.
The Critics Say: “The brilliance of ‘The Getaway’ is in its subtleties, which define their most intimate and expressive album to date, and suggest that, after 32 years, the Chilis can still keep us guessing.” Clash
174. Tell Me I’m Pretty by Cage The Elephant
The 411: I will probably never be a convert to Cage The Elephent’s ebullient revivalism, but as the years have passed I’ve come to respect not only their hit making (that talent was always obvious), but the band’s ability to create murk drenched rock records. Tell Me I’m Pretty is perhaps the pinnacle of their sound: it’s raw, bristling and immediate, but there’s enough fuzz and enough depth in Math Shultz sardonic cries to give the band a more than superficial psychedelic edge. Tell Me I’m Pretty could be just another LP obsessed with recreating other people’s remembrances of the past (see Jake Bugg’s debut), but instead it’s a rich and rollericking record whose instrumentals always feel thrillingly live. Not only is TMIP sharper than its predecessor in every conceivable way, but the band continue their tradition of both varying and running their influences together to the point where a dash of Merseybeat (“Sweet Little Janie”) could lead absolutely anywhere. Warmth, breadth and plenty of charisma, I never thought I’d say this, but what’s not to like about CTE in 2016?
The Critics Say: “A confident, eclectic rock record with heaps of personality and charm.” Drowned In Sound
173. Indifferent Rivers Romance Ends by Wreck And Reference
The 411: Ambient sterility has never sounded so terrifying. In Wreck And Reference’s hands the most neutral or synthetic palette is a veritable torture chamber; one giant feedback-loop-come-shattered-mirror, forcing Felix Skinner to confront his own anxieties and those urges he simply cannot silence. It’s a testament to Wreck And Reference that this album is no gloom filled mausoleum, no mere paint by numbers collection post-metal synths stripped of the guitars, but a dense and deft work of judicial composition. There are horror movie buzzsaws and ear shredding glitches a plenty, but there are also subtle masterstrokes. “Flight But Not Metaphor” recalls Kraftwerk’s utopian vision of the future corrupted and dragged back a few hundred years to a rotten castle in Transylvania – where we find a demented count obsessing over a piano sonata. It’s tempting to point towards Trent Reznor’s soundtracking work as an obvious inspiration, but the feral screams and machine gun precision of the percussion (“Languish”) is something else entirely. Indifferent Rivers Romance Ends is a preposterous project that begs incredulity (especially in regards its lyrics/vocals), but one that triumphs with both persistence and a perfectionist’s rigor.
The Critics Say: “By scrutinizing where conversations fail, Indifferent Rivers Romance End finds new humanity not in the wallow but in the endless process of relating to things.” Tiny Mix Tapes
172. I LIKE IT WHEN YOU SLEEP, FOR YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL AND YET SO UNAWARE OF IT BY 1975
The 411: “The great decline of guitar driven indie music has always felt like an act of hubris, by staring at their shoes and making insular music for the converted (in the UK particularly), a once vibrant scene has become meek. 1975 frontman Matt Healy has many faults, but a lack of ambition and a personality deficit are not among them. He is brazen and ILIWYSFYASBAYSUOI is wildly ambitious to the point of parody. Like INXS before them, these surprising indie-pop crossover stars are happy to go full-blown boy band on an album that over-reaches in every conceivable direction. There might be pseudo-intellectual nadirs, moments of painfully-sappy-sincerity, instrumentals that aren’t remotely amazing (or original) and an implausibly long run time, but these factors fail to sink the good ship 1975. The 80s aping pop is too spritely and Healy, for all is gobshite agitator airs, is too convincing a frontman to be denied. The 1975 aren’t as interesting as they think are, but two albums in, they remain an intriguing proposition and ruthlessly aspirational force in a scene full of wallflowers.”
The Critics Say: “What they’ve made is a bold body of work that sounds effortless and odd and sophisticated.” Drowned In Sound
171. Made In The Manor by Kano
The 411: Kano is back and he’s, well, not quite revolutionized the scene, but he has reminded a generation of cocky youngins that he can run lyrical rings around even the hottest MCs. The formula that makes Made In The Manor fly is simple: give Kano a suitably aggro beat (something that’s all ferocity and no rhythm) and let the master MC showcase the kind of bars that made his Fire In The Booth must see TV/must listen radio. That’s not to say that Kano has no flexibility, “T-shirt Weather In The Manor” is a lovely stroll through the streets of the capital, reminiscing about sunny days when beefs are briefly squashed, fame is forgotten and even the thugs are all smiles. Sadly, the album is too long for its own good and there are moments where Kano is clearly trying too hard to have a club hit (“New Banger”) and his brash certainty only serves to reveal his insecurities. Ironically of course, Made In The Manor did provide a new banger by the name of “3 Wheel Ups”, a stellar single that made 411’s Top 100 Tracks Of 2015 and still sounds incisively buoyant. Better still, when Kano tries his hand at bleak introspection (“Drinking In The West End”, “Deep Blues”) he feels like a natural air to The Streets, an artist unafraid (or perhaps old enough) to tell it like it is.
The Critics Say: “MITM is an album with depth, and will please both hardcore grime-heads and casual fans. You’d have to be mad in the manor not to love it.” The Line Of Best Fit
170. Babes Never Die by Honeyblood
The 411: Honeyblood clearly learnt an important lesson between albums one and two. Despite losing half their line up, the revamped Glasweigan duo have decided that if your going to mine the sounds of years past, some dense guitar fuzz, anger and expertly observed imitation are not enough. To thrive channeling the sounds of yesteryear you need to sharpen your hooks so they snag deep beneath the surface, and you need a personality (or persona) capable of standing out from a densely packed crowd. Babes Never Die does both effortlessly. Nissan have already harnessed “Ready For The Magic” for an ad campaign and it’s testament to Honeyblood’s powers that it isn’t even the catchiest track on the record. Cat Myers and Stina Tweeddale sound like they are having a riot of a time channeling the spikey and bratty fringes of 90s pop as readily as they do the textures of Lush. There are plenty of somber moments of course, but when they cry, “won’t listen to any caution, just to have a little fun”, you believe them.
The Critics Say: “Peppered with catchy choruses and heroic riffs, and with sing-along moments galore, it’s much fuller, better rounded and more complete than 2014’s Honeyblood.” The Skinny
169. Rheia by Oathbreaker
The 411: Oathbreaker, a four piece from Ghent (Belgium), have quite possibly – without anyone taking all that much notice – if not reinvented the Black Metal scene, then certain laid the foundation for a thrilling course correction. The genre is by no means ailing; in fact its late-2000s renaissance not only rid the scene of dubious politics, but put the sound at the innovative forefront. Since then, plenty of strained, punishing and bleakly beautiful works have emerged in a crowded scene (Rheia is undoubtedly one such work), but as the ranks swelled the walls of pitiless, but inspiring noise became stayed. What Oathbreaker and Rheia do so brilliantly – amidst the pummeling percussion, splintering walls of guitar fuzz and depraved nihilistic shrieks (which are all marvelous, by the way) – is inject some human fragility. Caro Tanghe blows the primal/haunting dynamic apart; her vocals are soft, considered, soulful, dead eyed, distraught and crumpled in corner when they need to be. And better yet, the band afford her the necessary room; their restraint allows her to fill the void with pathos, making each lung busting assault against the encroaching blackness all the more exhilarating.
The Critics Say: “There is eloquence to this anguish, and it is an awful and lovely thing.” Exclaim
168. Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not by Dinosaur Jr
The 411: Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not is a very difficult album to review. It’s not so much a issue of what it sounds like – the Amherst three piece aren’t ones for reinvention on the whole – instead, there is only one pertinent question: is it any good? To avoid burying the lead, the answer is most definitely yes, but it’s worth pointing out that Dinosaur Jr. have been mining the same trough for a very long time and it’s a testament to their professionalism and craftsmanship that they manage to create such compelling music in the face of such inertia. J Mascis doesn’t exactly sound enthused, that would shatter the aesthetic, but Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not is inspired. The lead guitar, in particular, is both spritely and soulful. The legions of bands obsessed with recreating this exact sound should listen carefully to “Be Apart”. The mournful sludgy sound is easily replicable, but it’s the soulful sentiments and sharp pop instincts that deserve real consideration: great pop, after all, is more than mere aesthetic. Dinosaur Jr. don’t fake it, they do what they’ve always done and this time out the results are sublime.
The Critics Say: “While none of these may be new, the execution of it all, from composition to performance, means that Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not feels fresh, which is quite an achievement for a band approaching the tenth anniversary of its reunion.” AllMusic
167. Wonderful Crazy Night by Elton John
The 411: Let’s make a few things clear at the outset: Elton John is a bit naff, he always has been. He loves mid-tempo balladry and Bernie Taupin (his long time songwriting partner) is a fan of musical-esque lyricism. This should come as no surprise to anybody at this point, but it’s always worth asserting, because as great as Elton can be and has been, he’s rarely been cool. Wonderful Crazy Night is very much classic Elton: in its joyous, eminently hummable, insidiously melodious, naffness, but also in its wholehearted embrace of Americana (think Tumbleweed Connection). This is an older Elton, devoid of ruff edges, getting reacquainted with the sound and the showmanship that made him the biggest selling artist in the world. It is not a rival to The Union – Elton’s magnificient collaboration with Leon Russell – but it is proof positive that the veteran showman hasn’t lost a step. He can still rock and roll, he can still stop the show and he can most certainly still bring a tear to the eye. Wonderful Crazy Night is just that, it might look corny, but it’s one hell of an uptempo party. To top it off “Blue Wonderful” and “In The Name Of You” are fabulous additions to Elton’s cannon that should prove welcome additions to his setlists next summer.
The Critics Say: “There is a matured pacing and weight to the music and John’s vocal performances that make this record one of his finest in its own right.” Rolling Stone
166. Dystopia by Megadeth
The 411: Rather unfairly, the critics of the his world seem to have decided to pretend that Th1rt3en simply didn’t exist. Read the reviews surrounding the bludgeoning thrash assault of Dystopia and you’d be lead to believe that Megadeth have been floundering on the fringes since 2009’s Endgame. Not so, 2011’s Th1rt3en was a rip roaring and ambitious record, and Dystopia should be seen not merely as a return to form (and by extension formula), but the continued evolution of an older and angrier outfit. Dystopia is a mean record. Its teeth are snarled and its guitars slam, but not with the ironic insouciance of youth. There’s a weary hate at work here, like Dave Mustaine wants to drive out the rot (or the cancer as he puts it) once and for good. Therein lies the problem, viewed as a nightmarish introduction to horrendous regime on a distant authoritarian planet, Dystopia thrives; considered in light of Mustaine’s politics and you have an album that borders on genocidal hate speech. Still, if the subject matter is troubling, the musicianship is absolutely thrilling, “Fatal Illusion” will instantly join the elite canon in fan’s minds and the addition of Lamb Of God’s Chris Adler proves inspired.
What The Critics Said: “Dystopia is an absolutely blistering return to the state-of-the-art bombast and refined technicality of past glories like Rust in Peace and Endgame.” The Guardian
165. Next Thing by Frankie Cosmos
The 411: “Slight in the extreme, but don’t underestimate the potency of these introspective ditties. Frankie Cosmos serves up a sublime blend of forthright self-recriminatory lyricism with a heartbreakingly vulnerable tone. The specificity of lyrics is both endearing and illuminating, but sung by another voice or played at a different tempo, this album would fall flat on its face – taken exactly as it is, Next Thing is a homely masterpiece in microcosm.”
The Critics Say: “A matured yet playful execution, Kline takes the struggles of being a young woman in the modern world and transforms them into stripped-back offerings that–despite the scarcity of instrumentation and simple song structures–leave a strong impression.” Record Collector
164. Integrity Blues by Jimmy Eat World
The 411: Integrity Blues is perhaps the most appropriately titled album released this year. Despite recalling Futures, this is not the sweat flecked, angst laden Jimmy Eat World of old, this is a mature band thinking about there own fragility. Emotions no longer scream to the surface, nor are they childishly repressed, instead they are controlled and left to stew under the skin. They are no less potent of course, but they are distilled and distorted by age and understanding. Black and white hardly seems relevant, instead Jimmy swim in a sea of pale blues, shimmering greens and, yes, even anonymous greys. Composure and rock and roll don’t make natural bedfellows and yet on Integrity Blues Jimmy Eat World find the beauty, not in stoicism, but certainly in restraint and a duller, slower ache. The guitar work is tranquil, but loaded with lonesome undercurrents, like sitting by a swimming pool at night; the stillness and artificial light are eerie, strangely sorrowful, but beautiful nonetheless.
The Critics Say: “Integrity Blues is Jimmy Eat World’s best record since Bleed American.” Punknews
163. There’s A Lot Going On by Vic Mensa
The 411: Vic Mensa has displayed incredible potential in his short album-less career: he’s produced entrancing loops for the dancefloor, bombastically crass onslaughts for the mainstream and some genuinely perceptive rap verses for the hardcore fans. Opener “Dynasty” sees Vic set his sights (and the bar for this album to clear) very high. Craftily referencing some absolute classics of the hip hop cannon (“the maid’s cost too much, I’m cleaning my own closet”) in a rapid fire procession, he then sees fit to unleash a barrage of rhymes proclaiming his lyrical greatness. The six tracks that follow don’t exactly justify the hype: the highs are high (the anger in the face of police violence, “16 Shots”), but the lows are perilous (“New Bae” is bending over backwards to be a hit, and while far from a failure, it sounds like a badly sung scene chasing fraud). Luckily, “Liquor Locker” suggests Mensa might find his own pop voice in due course, while “There’s A Lot Going On” closes the EP with a masterpiece: an introspective tilt full of self-doubt, addiction and anxiety, the kind of issues that are still too rarely acknowledge in hip hop. Vic Mensa’s latest is an uneven, but excellent listen.
The Critics Say: “Throughout the EP, which is the best and boldest thing he’s made so far, he airs out his mistakes and fears, adding depth to well-produced, invigorating music.”
162. Is The Is Are by Diiv
The 411: Can you have too much of a good thing? Of course you can. Even the most devoted Diiv obsessive will be utterly overwhelmed by pillowly reverb and dreamy pleats by the time the improbably long Is The Is Are reaches its conclusion. Sure, everyone likes a cuddle, but Zachary Cole Smith is playing a dangerous game by immersing us in his world of slippery imperceptible edges and velvety nothings for over an hour. Still, it’s hard to complain too vociferously when it’s so easy to follow a jangly guitar line down the rabbit hole and just sink into Diiv’s dreamworld. The textures are simply luscious. The jam that concludes “Bent (Roi’s Song)” signals the listener’s descent and, from then on in, guitars dance in the foreground as reverb swirls and an addict’s voice whispers in your ear. So much is thrown at the listener that a lack of patience may provide an escape route, but for whatever the album lacks in variety or judicious editing, it makes up for in Elysian beauty.
The Critics Say: “‘Is The Is Are’ could be DIIV’s definitive statement. Forget all the baggage, this is just a band in a room, and the noise they make is thrilling.” NME
161. WALLS by Kings Of Leon
The 411: Kings Of Leon find themselves in an awkward spot, they can’t quite manage to write a hit as transcend or ubiquitous as “Sex On Fire” and they will not go back to the skittish, yearning, wildness of youth. They have grown up, perfected arena sonics and are in search of an album that truly resonates after Come Around Sundown delivered incredible, but fleeting highs and Mechanical Bull proved solid, satisfying and little else. WALLS goes someway to providing a solution as the ferocious rhythm section is unleashed to hum, ruminating and groove in whichever direction they see fit while frontman Caleb Followhill chooses (astutely) to follow R&B star Miguel’s lead. Rather than focusing on wild sex, dramatic fights or pitiless moans, Caleb instead talks about marriage and committed relationships with a warmth and maturity that few rivals can muster. The result is a collection of songs that speak to both great insecurity (what if she ever left me?) and incredible intimacy (openness and dependence rule, pretense is jettisoned). This evolution away from the nervous paranoia of youth to the surefootedness of the middle aged husband is set against snappy 80s power pop palette and delivered with glee (although at times it does feel like the band are aimlessly trying to find cool couplets for Caleb to wrap his twangy tongue around). The jagged wildness of old is long gone, but for the first time in a long while, it is not missed.
The Critics Say: “Here they sound more focused and alive than they have for a while.” NME
160. Incarnate by Killswitch Engage
The 411: It’s fair to say that, while there was some skepticism about their commercial possibilities, most observers believed Killswitch Engage would manage the transition to new/old frontman Jesse Leach comfortably enough. Nevertheless, it was quite the shock to see the band nominated for a Grammy so soon after a major departure/arrival. The success perhaps disguised the rougher moments (and general feel of) 2013’s Disarm The Decent. Incarnate, by comparison, is as smooth as butter or at least as buttery as full throttle metalcore gets. Jesse feels truly at home, free to show some vulnerability in the verses before screaming with a gruff tone that might feel underpowered at times, but has the huge benefit of clarity (the words and the hooks are front and center). Better still, despite the odd throwback track, the band are moving incrementally towards the progressive end of the spectrum and experimenting with sharper, less frenetic sounds. The harmonics are still there and efforts like “Hate By Design” will satisfy fans of all stripes, but beneath the surface subtle complexities are being added while Jesse ensures Incarnate is one of the year’s catchier records (if there was any lingering apprehension, “Until The Day” should silence those doubts).
The Critics Say: “It all sounds compellingly real; guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz adds brain-splitting riffs, and the rhythm section of Mike D’Antonio and Justin Foley locks it down hard.” The Boston Globe
159. Boy King by Wild Beasts
The 411: Wild Beasts took on a monumental challenge with Boy King. The Kendal four piece not only intended to reimagine their sound, but to take on a weighty topic: gender. Plenty of male acts have tackled the relations between the sexes before (normally in terms of relationships) or offered confessional narratives (trans tales, sexual experimentations, self doubts etc.), but few have offered a conceptual take on issue at large. The male gender role is restated, tested and parodied in humane and heartfelt ways, while the new interaction between feminist man and woman is boldly and proudly discussed. “Alpha Female” is not only an intriguing and honest intellectual proposition with its battle cry of “I will not hold you back, simple as that”, but it’s a great pop song that has a genuine sense of humor. This isn’t dry do gooder indie (we’ve already had far too much of that); this is considerate music that still has a groove and a wicked turn of phrase (“I’ll be right behind you”). The sound has been stripped down and simplified, putting the vocals firmly in the foreground and leaving the raucous guitar parts to tear up the script and inject some friction and frenzy into the music. Elsewhere the band are generally insidious, “B2U” is unnerving and “Ponytail” is frighteningly direct (“No doubt, you’re in or you’re out”), ensuring Boy King offers as much edge as it does intrigue.
The Critics Say: “A fifth album u-turn that few could pull off, ‘Boy King’ is the sound of a band reborn.” DIY
158. Pool by Porches
The 411: Aaron Maine might have ditched the guitars and gone full blown synth, but this is still the weepy work of basement obsessive. Unfortunately, Pool is one of those albums that cannot quite live up to its promise. Nevertheless, the marriage of Maine despairing lead and Frankie Cosmos soft backing vocals is absolutely devastating and makes for some of the highest highs achieved this year. Few album’s can match Pool’s opening trio: the eerily off time, statically aquatic “Underwater”, the shimmering disco despair of “Briads” and the supreme “Be Apart”. The latter is a work of genius: a cold and lonesome affirmation of an outcast determined to thrust himself towards the bright lights and the glory of dancefloor temptation because he “wants to be apart, be a part of it all”. The trouble is that Maine finds his soaring highs as hard to equal as his rivals. The driving indie of “Car”, “Shaver’s” stark stutters and the imploring chills of “Security” certainly standout from the crowd, but more often than not than not Pool crumples under its own wallowing strictures. It’s a shame. There are more cohesive works that don’t shine this brightly, but, at present, there’s just something missing (or too much included) for Porches to straddle the summit of this sort of list.
The Critics Say: “Maine often taps chic ’80s synth hooks, twangy guitar chords and disco/house jukes for an offbeat merger that carries the album’s sense of bliss throughout.” Exclaim!
157. Lady Wood by Tove Lo
The 411: Despite the title and the Sticky Fingers aping album art, Lady Wood is not a smut-laden assault designed to shock. Instead, the Swedish star aims to muddy the waters. This is the high (the low is coming in a follow up LP) and Tove Lo wants to inhabit a space between ironic situationist stunt and confessional reflection on being misunderstood. Teasing the reveal of her true self: is she a carnally obsessed party girl riding a never ending drug high, is she a woman whose sex life is contorted and obsessed over by intrusive society or is she playing a joke on us all, to bring our prejudices and our lust for the “Cool Girl” to light. Viewed in this way, the murk and the ambiguity is the message (a message delivered in a guise that unmistakable apes The Weeknd’s Trilogy). Despite mirroring the Canadian star’s blurry world of sex and stimulants, Tove Lo still stand tall: supplying club ready beats and offering an anodyne Scandi-pop delivery that masks sincerity of intention. She is perhaps too controlled and this emotional hall of mirrors might make for an intriguing intellectual proposition, but it does make Lady Wood an eerily detached listen. After all, who really wants a “Cool Girl”, when real ones are so much more interesting, but, then again, that is the point after all.
The Critics Say: “Lo sounds as if she’s in the throes of a quarter-life crisis. And what a beautiful and messy one it is.” Entertainment Weekly
156. Porta Bohemica by Trixie Whitley
The 411: Grown up, it’s an adjective that’s often used as short hand to say that a band has released an album that is thoughtful composed and shrewdly executed, but which lacks the energy or originality of youth. You know, something undeniably good, but a little boring. Well Porta Bohemica is by all accounts a grown up record, there’s no way around it, but let’s make this clear: it is never dull, in fact, it’s secretly thrilling. The product of a knowledge of 90s soul and slick rock production, carried by a smooth delivery and a voice rich in lived-in experience; Trixie Whitley’s latest is the work of a woman making music entirely on her own terms. She has no interest in chasing trends. Trixie simply has stories to tell and has the poise to deliver them in immaculately produced packages that doesn’t feel contrived – her soulful laments are never laid on too thick and her smoothness never erases the ache inherent in her songwriting. Porta Bohemica echoes the past, but you’d be hard pressed to place it in any era, including our own. Instead, this gorgeous collection defies time, but not place. The listener is situated in a darkened bar, sitting rapt, eyes locked on stage, starring at the spotlighted figure bearing her soul.
The Critics Say: “Somewhere, the late Chris Whitley is looking down on his daughter and is very, very proud.” American Songwriter
155. Dust by Tremonti
The 411: Sidestepping the weight of both expectation and derision that comes part in parcel with being a member of Creed (and Alter Bridge), has proved to be one of the great creative liberations of the new millennium. Mark Tremonti’s bruising, groove laden debut album can no longer be dismissed as a stand alone sensation. Three albums into his self-titled project and the former Creed man is staking his claim to be the world’s premier (pop) guitarist. It would be too easy to dive down the rabbit hole and enjoy soaring, pummeling and spiraling assaults Tremonti unleashes and lose sight of Dust’s overall musicality. Sure, Tremonti still occasionally struggles to find coherent rallying cry hooks (see “The Cage”), but more often than not he conjures a fist-punching chorus to match the long striding guitar work, while the more introspective workouts, like “Dust”, showcase a songwriter with panoramic ambition.
What The Critics Said: “Mark has hit a sweet spot with this album, brilliantly mixing excellent guitar playing, heavy riffage, big made-for-radio choruses, and introspective lyricism.” Ultimate Guitar
154. Fading Lines by Amber Arcades
The 411: Fading Lines is perhaps the perfect title for a dreamy debut so delicate and gauze-like that it appears to be vanishing before our very eyes. Each note and every lyric is like a whisper on a cold winter’s day, a puff of water vapor that drifts beautifully in front of your eyes before seamlessly disappearing into surrounding atmosphere. Fading Lines is therefore the faintest of debuts. Amber Arcades offer nothing designed to hit the listener over the head, even when its time to dance in the dawn light (as we do on the title track) there’s a feeling that every temporary high is part of a larger, though hardly more perceptible, entity. Annelotte de Graaf and her vocal represents the one guiding light. Twirling with us when the motor-pop guitars kick into gear and stargazing with us on the rudderless lullabies. The production balance proves perfect. Her voice never punctuates the haze, the odd syllable may spike, but she’s as much of a slave to her surrounds as we are. Remarkably, her voice and sweet narrative is never lost either, she’s always there – ever so slighty out of reach – whispering in your ear.
The Critics Say: “Blissful, elegant records like this do not come about by chance.” The Skinny
153. The Stage by Avenged Sevenfold
The 411: You’ve got to give it to Avenged Sevenfold, after the years of hard work and some tentative first steps, the band appear to have cemented themselves as the first proper festival headliner metal has produced since Slipknot. 2013’s Hail To The King seemed to do just enough to toe the line between virtuosity, bombast and hit making to appeal to fans a little longer in the tooth without sacrificing commercial immediacy. So with their superstardom so freshly secured what do they do? Follow it up with a concept album about our soon to be totalitarian master: A.I. In terms of social and historical zeitgeist it is right on the money, but it’s worth remembering that Avenged Sevenfold are marketing themselves to metal obsessives and not, extensively, readers of Homo Deus, Designing The Future or Data-ist philosophy. It’s testament to the band’s powers then that The Stage, despite its Floydian influences, is so muscular and unrelenting. This is big, bulldozing music that creeps, crushes, screams and adeptly sprawls when necessary. Ultimately, Avenged Sevenfold have managed to take a bold progressive lurch without dampening the rollercoaster thrills of their best work. Still, they’d do well to remember the lesson of their great heroes: it’s Appetite For Destruction and not Chinese Democracy that packs out the arenas.
The Critics Say: “Avenged Sevenfold have lost any previous limitations and inhibitions, and they’ve crafted a landmark metal album.” Classic Rock
152. Retribution by Tanya Tagaq
Genre: Throat Singing
The 411: I am generally ecstatic to see Tanya Tagaq’s success in 2016. That should not be read as a patronizing pat on the back – it’s more of a personal reflection. Back in 2012 I attended a conference and one of the panel discussions was on the future of world music. Each speaker brought an example of the music that they’d either used as inspiration or discovered and wanted to share. A panelist from the Guardian brought a tape of throat singing, it was beautiful, like a subdued bassy mix of deep notes and sweet melodies. I assumed one day a dance producer would sample the sound for a hit, but it’s thrilling to see Tanya Tagaq, the genuine article – an Inuit throat singer from Canada – making daring, evocative and dementedly visceral modern music. Retribution is nothing like the music I heard four years ago. This music is guttural and feral. Retribution roams and spasms like an early Tool record, carrying a depth of contorted artistry in the vein of Bjork while snarling with an animalistic fervor that would send any black metal frontman scurrying for shelter. It’s not all agony and bombast, however; “Centre” (a former 411 song of the week) is beautiful and spacious single whose rhythmic composition defies explanation. Still, in its best moments, Retribution has a bassy, industrial air and the unnerving aura of an arthouse slasher flick.
The Critics Say: “Retribution is immersive, cathartic, potentially even transformative.” Exclaim
Untitled Unmastered. By Kendrick Lamar
The 411: “untitled unmastered. is un understated reinforcement of Kendrick Lamar’s ferocious talents and the To Pimp A Butterfly ethos. For many, this surprise release will prove a revelation; a pleasingly paced monologue that sees K.Dot spilling syllables and social critiques with absolute ease. This is a conscious rap masterclass that plums 60+ years of decidedly black sonic innovation. When reviewing To Pimp A Butterfly I posited that Lamar expertly curated, but added little new to the legacy of Ashby, David, Funkadelic, Tribe and hundreds of others; however, here in 2016, Lamar feels serene. His dense wordplay sinks into these heady cultural surroundings and the rapper feels utterly at home as he spirals down into jazzy depressions and struts alongside buoyant funk highs. The detractors will rightly point out that Lamar’s decision to eschew overt pop and satisfying song structures is not an act of bravery (Chance The Rapper has no trouble spitting intellectual rhymes and penning feathery hooks), but there’s very little to criticize here. untitled unmastered. is less weighty than its immediate predecessor, but the album bears no burden of expectation and is, in many ways, a more pleasurable listen for that reason.”
The Critics Say: “Kendrick Lamar does an impeccable job of wrapping up the entire Butterfly process in a tidy bow.” Austin Chronicle