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Classixx - Faraway Reach

2016 Tropical House / Synth Pop Innovative Leisure In 2013, after toiling in the remix game for several years, Classixx released their debut full-length album of original material, the wonderful Hanging Gardens, a template for feel-good tropical house music that was bathed in lush summer synths, Kraftwerk-style melodies, and deep, mid tempo house beats. Since then, nu-disco has only risen in popularity (with the help of, among other things, Daft Punk’s embrace of the sound wi

Insomnium - Winter's Gate

2016 Melodic Death Metal / Progressive Metal Century Media There were many excellent melodic death metal albums released this year, but the strongest may have been Insomnium’s magnum opus Winter’s Gate, a 40-minute metal suite cut into seven tracks. It’s a masterclass in how to craft contemporary melodic death metal, incorporating everything from symphonic elements, spoken word segments, ridiculously catchy groove riffing, blistering lead guitar hooks, a great use of dynamics

Prins Thomas - Principe Del Norte + Remixed

2016 Progressive Electronic / Ambient Small-town Supersound Prins Thomas is a Norwegian progressive electronic musician often associated with longtime collaborator and fellow space disco cosmonaut Lindstrom. Both artists peddle in similar brands of spaced-out, long-form electronic music which incorporates elements of krautrock, house music, and minimal techno. In this respect, Principe Del Norte is a bit of an anomaly as it lunges headfirst into modern classical and spiraling

Ulcerate - Shrines of Paralysis

2016 Technical Death Metal / Atmospheric Sludge Metal Relapse Records One of the common refrains I hear from friends and colleagues in regards to the more extreme music I listen to routinely goes: “Why do they have to scream?” or “How can you listen to that screaming stuff?”. For many years I was of the same mind, but lately as my horizons expand into more experimental and difficult styles of music, I have begun opening up to the whole concept of growls, shrieks and croaks in

Dave Douglas - Dark Territory

2016 Jazz / Downtempo Greenleaf Records Dave Douglas is an avant-garde trumpet player and composer who has been releasing interesting nu jazz albums since the early 90’s. Over the years his sound has touched on everything from upbeat bop to experimental soundscapes. Dark Territory is his second album with the High Risk ensemble featuring electronic musician Shigeto, and falls firmly into the latter category. Shigeto provides shifting electronic backbeats and sonic undercurren

Dance Gavin Dance - Mothership

2016 Post-Hardcore Rise Records In 2016 the post-hardcore scene has mostly given way to djent and metalcore, but there are still a few bands fighting the good fight, and Dance Gavin Dance, despite their revolving lineup and divisive last few albums, remain among the strongest acts in the genre. Mothership is a grand showcase of everything the band does well — complex and mathy guitar riffs propelling three and four minutes blasts of screamo and rock, with vocals that alternat

Mayer Hawthorne - Man About Town / Part of One

2016 Contemporary R&B / Neo-Soul Vagrant Records Mayer Hawthorne is a bit of an anomaly in the admittedly overcrowded white boy soul scene. Getting his start as a producer of slick soul and funk-inspired beats, he gradually began incorporating his own voice into his arrangements and hasn’t looked back. From the Motown-infused throwback sound of 2011’s How Do You Do to the sprawling yacht rock of 2013’s Where Does This Door Go, Hawthorne (Andrew Cohen) has carved out a niche f

Field Music - Commontime

2016 Progressive Rock / Art Rock Memphis Industries I have a soft spot for Field Music, the art rock band based out of Sunderland, UK, as I spent a portion of my time at university in and around Sunderland for a time, and that city isn’t particularly renown for its music scene. Ostensibly run by two brothers, Peter and David Brewis, Field Music have been releasing workmanlike progressive indie rock for the better part of a decade. Influenced by the likes of middle-era Genesis

Eliot Lipp - Come to Life

2016 Instrumental Hip-Hop / Synth Funk Self released Eliot Lipp has been quietly releasing exceptional instrumental hip-hop albums for a decade, and he continues the trend with 2016’s Come to Life. This time around he integrates some lounge jazz and funk elements into his now signature brand of electro. Melodic synth and bass lines amble along, mostly at a comfortable mid-tempo. Everything is super catchy as usual, and while it may not be as immediately striking as earlier wo

Obscura - Akroasis

2016 Technical Death / Progressive Metal Relapse Records That fretless bass. Among the many things that technical death metal band Obscura does well (and there are many), the incorporation of fretless bass stands out as a particularly bold choice. Even more amazing is how well it works. Oftentimes in heavier styles of music such as death metal the bass is drowned out behind layers of crushing guitar riffs and pounding drums. The production on Akroasis, though still heavy, all

Breakbot - Still Waters

2016 Nu-Disco / Synth Pop Ed Banger Records From the opening synth strings and drum machine loop of Back for More all the way through to the closing title track, Still Waters shows Breakbot giving a masterclass on how to combine the best parts of Eurodisco into contemporary synth pop and R&B, resulting in a great big record of warm, glistening nu-disco. Male and female vocals trade off from song to song, resulting in a string of increasingly catchy dancefloor anthems, slickly

Oransii Pazuzu - Varahteliji

2016 Black Metal / Psychedelic Rock Svart Records / 20 Buck Spin Dark guitar riffing, extended jams, weird soundscapes — Oransii Pazuzu do psychedelic black metal better than most. Over an hour and ten minutes, Varahteliji incorporates everything from brutal Deathspell Omega-style black metal riff workouts, unsettling noise and drone interludes, psych guitar freakouts, and dark ambient passages, resulting in a truly unique metal record that rewards complete immersion. While t

Snarky Puppy

2016 Jazz / Fusion UCJ Records Snarky Puppy are one of the premiere jazz fusion groups working today. They combine immaculate musicianship with formidable live performances, often incorporating woodwinds, horns, and electronic experimentation into their sound. In the past their recorded output has often been meandering and unfocused, with jams lacking the kinds of hooks that would truly elevate their work. By focusing on the songwriting this time around and aiming to craft a

M83 - Junk

2016 Synthwave / Electro Pop Mute Records Over the last 15 years or so, Anthony Gonzalez, under the name M83 (named for the galaxy Messier-83) has risen from obscure shoegaze-inspired electronic artist to a high profile pop auteur, soundtracking the likes of the Tom Cruise-starring Oblivion and releasing increasingly epic space operas. After the career-highpoint Saturdays = Youth, which perfectly meshed the scope and grandeur of his earlier work with a more digestible pop sty

Fallujah - Dreamless

2016 Technical Death / Progressive Metal Nuclear Blast Records Somewhere in the annals of the Internet I came across a one-sentence review of Fallujah’s Dreamless which stated, to paraphrase, that this was “metal for metalheads who are into healing crystals.” I think the reviewer meant it to sound negative, but I was instantly intrigued. Plus these guys were opening up for Between the Buried and Me and Devin Townsend on tour this year, so my interest was piqued twofold. After

Devendra Banhart - Ape in Pink Marble

2016 Indie Folk / Lounge Pop Nonesuch Records Ever since the expansive freak folk of his early work, particularly the seminal Cripple Crow and the bloated Smoky Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, Devendra Banhart has made a concerted effort to reign in some of his more eclectic tendencies. Ape in Pink Marble, like his previous album Mala, seems largely inconsequential upon first lesson, but it’s exactly this feeling of effortlessness that elevates his newest album towards the top of

Haken - Affinity

2016 Progressive Rock / Metal InsideOut Records Modern progressive metal band Haken consist of six young guys from London, England, and together they do a pretty great imitation of early 90’s Dream Theater. I am only partially kidding, of course — it has always been a bit of a contradiction that a music genre that supposedly champions change and evolution so often falls back on the same few signposts from the past — but Haken provide enough youthful energy to their brand of c

Chthe'ilist - Le Dernier Crépuscule

2016 Technical Death / Doom Metal Profound Lore Records Quite possibly the heaviest record released in 2016, Chthe’ilist’s excellent Le Dernier Crepescule (or The Last Twilight) is an exercise in brutality and excess. The production on this album is nothing short of demonic, with detuned tremolo riffs and croaking vocals working to create an immense wall of sound. Blast beats and complex drumming abound — it’s truly about as heavy as you can get. Despite this, the album is ac

Robert Glasper Experiment - ArtScience

2016 Jazz / Neo-Soul Blue Note Records Robert Glasper is a Grammy Award-winning jazz musician and bandleader, and he’s had a pretty tremendous year. He helped curate the soundtrack for Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis biopic, and he continues to forge a unique path through contemporary R&B and neo-soul with his Robert Glasper Experiment project. The two previous albums recorded under this moniker, Black Radio and Black Radio 2, were heavily inspired by hip-hop and modern soul and fe

Inter Arma - Paradise Gallows

2016 Sludge / Doom Metal Relapse Records Paradise Gallows is a monolith of a record. Incorporating elements of sludge metal, psychedelic rock, death, doom, and black metal over a whopping 70+ minutes, casual rock listeners may find the endurance test too much to bear. Those who stick with it, though, will reap the plentiful rewards to be had, as these epic numbers will crush and bludgeon your senses into a fine, pulpy paste. Guitars bleed and cringe with dissonant and crushin

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