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“Dolby’s Top 20 Albums of 2016.”

I find it odd how here in 2016 amidst not only a litany of major star deaths but an almost equally upsetting processional of false “genre” death professions, we really have a richer music genus in America than we ever have. We’re not all operating under computer bit paradigms listening to nothing but techno, or donning turbans and straw skirts listening to nothing but “World Music”… in fact we may even have some good ol’ traditional rivalry on our hands, between the punk rock of Riot Fest, and the jam spirit of Lockin’, and Bonnaroo.
Now, you could take this obstinate persistence of music’s greatness and transcendence a number of ways. One, you could theorize that there’s an underground colony actually PAYING all these artists, or you could chalk it up to groupies still facilitating in backstage exploits of pleasures for all these rockers and rappers. But I have a different theory. It’s just THERE. It’s just in people to rock out — we like communicating, and likely, these “artists,” say whatchu want about ‘em… actually DO embody all the artist stereotypes — they’re introverted, less likely to yak it up about the first thing that comes to their mind, more likely to make their statements by ways of calculated, sonic structure.
It was another good year for “indie,” probably, on Dolby Disaster. Big surprise. Corporate America in the art world has for some time now been like some crippled dog with cancer, or a one trick pony — men are manly, women are shifty (and sy borgs). So this is the in betweens. This is the individuals who could not be categorized, by jocks, by cheerleaders, by A&R’s, by themselves, or even by moments, by time. The tick tock of the clock is painful, but not tonight, friends. Cheers.

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Honorable Mention:

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Shearwater – Jet Plane and Oxbow
Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book (mixtape)
Umphrey’s McGee – Zonkey
The Matchsellers – Songs We Made up
Dumpster Babies – Lost and Found
Twin Peaks – Down in Heaven
Plague Vendor – BLOODSWEAT
Beyonce – Lemonade
The Prettiest – Funs Cool
Jake Bugg – On My One
The Gloomies – Blackout (EP)

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20 Deerhoof – The Magic

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POORNESS… is a necessary compliment to QUALITY. And not that this band’s last few efforts like Offend Maggie were total disasters or anything — there was just SOMETHING claustrophobic about them, something overproduced. Like The Hives on 2012’s Lex Hives, the band sounds angry and determined here, with something to prove, and more importantly, something in tow.

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19 Thee Commons – Loteria Tribal

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“Astonishing.” “Astonishing” can be “un-astonishing” too, in the While We’re Young sense of the word, in the manner of, “This is actually something that exists which is pure, is very much of its place and time” (god now I’m sounding like The Big Lebowski here). California surf rock.

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18 Alex Cameron – Jumping the Shark

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I have to say, this dude was just the biggest DOUCHE BAG on facebook, I couldn’t stand him! But then I listened to the music and figured damn, he’s backing it up, one thing is balancing out the other. Rarely is music influenced by this many different genres this side of Odelay-era Beck.

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17 Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger

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Brief disclaimer: this album is VERY Stooges. It might just make you lament the fact that, like, nothing could ever be REALLY better than those snot-nosed grimers from Michigan who hated Woodstock and rocked out like a bunch of crackhead car mechanics out of work. But how’s this for irony: Ty Segall is fewer men, but even more sound, and the caterwaul guitar solos are the best part.

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16 Wilco, Shmilco

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I was like, straight up, if this album isn’t too overproduced I’ll probably put it on the list, because chances are the song quality is there, like it pretty much always has been with this band. I mean, it’s very hard to imagine Wilco turning into like some hit-making machine: they’re just as rustic as ever, and god-damn, these songs might even be TOO campfire sing-along-y, but always seeming to take shape in abnormal ways, whether it’s the bass taking the main melody, or the skewed vocals of the opener which call to mind Radiohead’s “Like Spinning Plates.”

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15 Billy Bragg & Joe Henry – Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad

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It was a long time coming, these legends of folk merging and doing this stuff — a little mellower than Wilco, railroad themes presented often in the lyrics.

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14 Andy Stott – Too Many Voices

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I kept making the mistake: every Flying Lotus album that came out, I’d be like, This is exactly like the last one!… and cast it off, in probably all of my inner fist-making rage. Too Many Voices is exactly like Luxury Problems, and this is just why I like it, but Stott always was eerier and more expansive — like that guy who stops lifting weights to go off in the corner on some bizarre, semi-melodic, semi-rhythmic soliloquy (which Major Lazer used to do), mind you.

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13 Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit (EP)

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In these inverted new times we live in, THIS is the new Radiohead — violently self-immolating, musically original and grafting of an indelible impression. It’s the chigger crawling in the craw of Radiohead’s new pop, the animal that has grown more legs than Radiohead has creative cognitive cogs, a new torrent dripping dark paint on the canvases of our minds. True to band form, the titled track here explodes with electric energy on the strength of trippy, noodling guitar, but the themes remain dark and foreboding, though no less of a full meal, necessarily, than “Teardrop” was, on the other end of the spectrum.

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12 Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

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At first I was a little lukewarm on this album, being mind you a huge Hail Mary Mallon fan, but I saw a really hilarious video for “Kirby,” a song about the secret evil, gory and violent urges possessed by his house cat. Nobody would confuse it with Biggie street triumph, but still, it’s prolly got its own lil’ niche… sense of humor goes a long way.

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11 Erin Tobey – Middlemaze

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On “Work it out,” a track ribald and energetic by Tobey’s laconic standards, the singer pleads for young girls to “Stay home in your bed” because “The world is full of men.” Granted, I’m not sure if this respite is the result of disgust from overexposure or frustration at underexposure (I’ve never SEEN Tobey, don’t know don’t know)… but I ACCEPT this easily as within the song Tobey tends to her considerable portion of surprising element, letting a chord here or there linger for longer than I thought she would, for longer than Iggy Azalea would, etc. And overall, it is the chord progressions which makes this a champion pop record, a project otherwise taking roughly the shape of Cate Le Bon’s Mug Museum.

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10 Fruit Bats – Absolute Loser

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The influences here are wild and eclectic, just like the Fruit Bats’ own indigenous “Sweet Midwest” — from Brit pop to Califone guitar twang to more median indie folk, but what really marks Absolute Loser’s patience to let little post-verse moments come into full fruition, reflecting on their own glorious loserdom, maybe? Anyway, they have the perfect singer with which to perpetuate much of the music I’m pretty sure many of us still know and love.

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9 The Dirty Nil – Higher Power

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Thank you Dirty Nil… now I will never have to process the term Husker Du ever again, unless I get in some tastemaking competition or something. Ontario’s TDN fathom out punk for the up-to-date, rushed 20-teens, but rather than stepping out and making awkward cultural statements, these guys just turn the other cheek with a sonic sneer, with songs that morph and turn on a dime, but also, are way simpler than they first seem.

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8 Ka – Honor Killed the Samurai

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Fourth installment here from low-key, eerie Brooklyn rapper, forging a unique bridge over the gap of “consciousness” and street toughness. Probably my favorite advancement of music that’s quintessentially New York, especially in hip-hop.

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7 Slow Moses – Charity Binge

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Sure, they’re borrowing. It’s like they’re taking a bunch of almost-spoiled things out of your fridge and blending an unlikely half-borrowed recipe of their own: but it’s fun, and the production melds all the disparate forces together perfectly. I heard about this band because they touring with my favorite band, Califone.

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6 Jenny Hval – Blood Bit**

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Eclctic variation is how the Norwegian siren pulls this one off — and constantly slippery ground, but not the kind you walk on, though it kind if is, too.

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5 Dandy Warhols – Distortland

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The Dandy Warhols have a lot of ways of manifesting their artistic vision, whereas sometimes their statement is just that they have no vision, as on the pedestrian and torpid Welcome to the Monkey House, possibly the one weak album of their whole catalogue. Much like Everclear, the Warhols are a late-’90’s band which has gone through ebbs and flows, but are now back to making heady pop which varies refreshingly from album to album (if not necessarily WITHIN the given album), and Distortland is of misleading title, the band’s turn back toward tender, tortured pop in the vein of, of all things, Len’s “Steal My Sunshine.” It’s music that reminds us that the shape of one’s desire can often form an edifying ideal in and of itself.

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4 Kevin Morby – Singing Saw

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I just can’t get enough of this ethereal folky wonder housed on my college town’s label Dead Oceans. In fact, he sums up the values of Bloomington very well: he’s about as far from mainstream or cliche as you can get, while still making music that’s palatable and pristine.

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3 Painting with Animal Collective

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Never has an Animal Collective album been this… Animal Collective! Ever find that with a band, it’s like the hutches are off — the things that stopped them from being who they were are removed, and now, it’s like Big Boi said (“This sh** is like breathing to me”) — they are simply just walking down the street and breathing, the “indie” cosmonauts we know and love, yes, way too indie for Taylor Swift, did I mention they’re too indie for Taylor Swift? Oh yeah, the album — it opens with “Floridada,” a song about a state everybody hates, and closes with easily their best album finale since “Derek,” “Recycling” (God are these some STUPID A** TITLES), which pits a sensually tense major-chord progression against immediate dissonant deconstruction. In a “stroke” that’s hardly surprising, but actually fairly new for this band, they lay these disparate parts right on top of each other, parts which cozy up in unrelenting but disconcerting certainty. And in between opener and closeur, it’s a classic New York electronica train ride, very hip-hop-influenced, hence appropriating the Ratking choice of opening act. Enjoy? Eh, that’s not the right word. Exfoliate?

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2 Christopher Wick – Alla Prossima! (EP)

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This here cluster of shenanigans is nothing more and nothing less than glorious jazz-tinged electronica very much in the vein of The Internet or Flying Lotus, though perhaps even more organic than the average, like something like Black Milk’s live drums applied to techno, which of course ends up playing as pretty much the exact opposite of techno in every way imaginable.

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1 Ras Kass – Intellectual Property: S012

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One of the elder statesmen of the hip-hop genus here releases a swooning, swerving epic, street tough and gritty but most importantly, bulbous bombastic and… LONG! This sucker is long, like rap CD’s used to be in the ‘90s. The guest list is enough to daunt Jay-Z (he even steals Bun B for one cut), but what’s most important about Ras Kass is how he doesn’t sound like he’s TRYING to have fun, and as with any gritty ghetto hip-hop, you don’t want to get too close to him, he’s seen too much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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