One description that has followed Explosions in the Sky around for their whole career is 'cinematic,' a sort of shorthand to describe music featuring awe-inspiring peaks and valleys, a sort of star-gazing for the ears. The Wilderness doesn't exactly throw this formula out the window, but modifies it into something noticeably more urgent, a layer of angst being brought to their sound by harder hitting drums, and less drastic song structures. The beauty we've all become accustomed to is still here, but there's more of an edge this time around.
Baring a serrated edge on every side, Guidance is the most aggressive, dangerous, and violent album I heard all of last year, and it doesn't even require words to get its point across. Consisting of 7 tracks that almost all refuse to let up, Russian Circles prove once again that the sheer might of their white-hot power chords and pummeling drums are enough to force just about any listener into submission. If you're among the many who would be more attracted to Metal music if not for all the Cookie Monster vocals, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.
More so than any other album that came out last year, Blood Bitch is meant to be taken in as a whole, the disc playing out as a dreamlike ride with Hval as our otherworldly tour guide. Swampy, darkly tinged, yet somehow comforting, Hval's latest is, in her own words, "about vampires and blood and a lot of other stuff," and the feminist through-lines are as easy to spot as they are intriguing to untangle. None of this would matter if the music wasn't so unique and inspired, constantly percolating right beneath our vocalist's wispy call, as heavenly a hell as you'll ever find.
Anyone who tells you that they know exactly what Congrats is simply cannot be trusted. Part funk, part rock, part electronic, and bits and pieces of just about everything else, it's a record that never ceases to surprise, even after multiple listens. Voices flit around the edges of songs both rousing and romantic, serving as either saintly observers, or heckling heathens, joining forces with the head-spinning eclecticism of the sonics to create the best album of Holy Fuck's career.
Since we're already on a run of two straight weirdos, I might as well make it three. Sirens represents the most conventional album of Jaar's still-young career, but that doesn't mean you'll hear any of it on the radio anytime soon. The electronic producer approaches conventional pop and rock sounds the way an alien might, rejiggering our preconceived notions into something at once foreign, yet recognizable at your inner most core.
While I'm still not quite over Rostam Batmanglij departure from Vampire Weekend right as they had hit the peak of their powers (2013's Modern Vampires of the City), his first collaboration with Hamilton Laithauser has proved a mightily effective balm. Playing out like an ideal pairing between Batmanglij's former outfit and Laithauser's now-defunct The Walkman, I Had a Dream the You Were Mine is a pop-rock heavy-hitter, expertly blending the salty with the sweet, and never allowing one flavor to dominate the other.
Savages wouldn't have exactly been my pick for the band behind the most unique love letter of the year, but that's just why they're so up to the task. Where their post-punk/hard rock aesthetic clashes with the sounds emitted by other cupid enthusiasts, the London Four-piece games the system by treating romance as an absolute battle-zone, but neglecting to give into its many barbs, and finding optimism inside the struggle. The album is devastating, beautiful, petty, and inspiring, just like the subject it looks to chronicle.
Easily the most difficult album to rank of the entire year, this offering that exists primarily as B-Sides to last year's masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly is half killer, half filler, but good god, do the killers kill! I'd be a liar if I told you I had listed to tracks 1, 2, 4, and 7 since the surprise release first dropped, but the rabid rhythms of Untitled 05's fiery stereotype takedown, or the slippery outing of his affections on Untitled 06 proved to be some of my favorite moments of 2016 (not to mention Untitled 03 and 08). It's a lark, to be sure, but a lark made by a genius.
While My Morning Jacket deserves credit for making a small comeback with last year's The Waterfall, there's no real denying that Jim James has become more fruitful as a solo artist than a leading man. More thematically consistent than James' (also great) solo debut, 2013's Regions of Light and Sound of God, Eternally Even moves along at a steady clip, pointing your eyes toward lava lamps and black light posters as its grove sinks into the marrow of your bones. Funky, light, and never eager to push the gas any more than necessary, this is an LP that's easy to get lost in.
To describe Vince Staples as a pessimist would be the ultimate understatement; Only three years removed from his debut EP Hell Can Wait, the MC has already established himself as Hip Hop’s leading young nihilist. Consisting of only six proper songs and clocking in at just over 20 minutes, Prima Donna lacks expansiveness of Staples’ 2015 triumph Summertime ’06, but that doesn’t mean the Long Beach rapper is taking it easy. Paranoia, depression and violence hover over the proceedings like a dark cloud getting ready to let loose, from the aggressively skeletal War Ready to the talk-me-off-the-ledge back and forth of Loco. Staples certainly isn’t having any fun in his waking nightmare, but that doesn’t mean you won’t when the title track drops. It’s a contradiction that almost has to be heard to be believed.