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The 37 Best Overlooked Albums of 2016

The best stuff you probably missed because you were too busy tweeting about B*yoncé.

Illustration by John Garrison

For whatever reason, some albums get less critical love than others. Chalk it up to a lack of hype, less visibility, or lazy promotional efforts. Whatever the cause, some records are bound to get swept under the rug to make way for the glory of a few select darlings each year. These overlooked gems might've slipped through the cracks in 2016, but all are still highly worth your time, Here are a few albums that unjustly missed out on many of the critics' coveted year-end lists (including ours) in this especially jam-packed year in music.

The 100 Best Albums of 2016
The 100 Best Songs of 2016

In a year in which the album as media event became the dominant format, 2 Chainz instead offered the refreshing, matter-of-fact guarantee that he would just make music that was fun as shit. Across three variably defined projects, there are countless quotable lines and moments of pure satisfaction, ranging from the back-and-forth battle rap energy between 2 Chainz and Wayne on "Bounce" to the dreamy, Quavo-summoned club fantasia of "Good Drank." Whether he's going to the Gucci store just to mingle or demanding he only be taken to the hospital if the ambulance has rims on it, 2 Chainz has created a self-sustaining world of luxury, hilarity, and absurdity both in tune with current rap sounds and transcending them. Plus, he figured out how to give us the next best thing to a Weezy album in a year where we were screaming "free the Carter." There's a case to be made that 2 Chainz is the most consistent, or at least consistently entertaining rapper working today. But why argue that case when you could listen to him talk about eating a caesar salad with codeine dressing instead? —Kyle Kramer | LISTEN

You can chalk Abdu Ali's Mongo up as another much-needed project in 2016 that dedicates itself to the global healing of black people. But Ali separates his project from others by conveying that message with force rather than comfort. On Mongo, Ali faces the same discrimination not only for being a black man, but for being a queer black man—and numbers have proven that both of those qualifiers could likely contribute to someone losing their life. He screams over what sounds like a fantasy wonderland crashing into a drum circle on "I'm Alive (Humanized)," channels the rage of loss on "Tears of a Black Muva," and encourages you to take a moment to recognize your wins on "Did Dat." There's no textbook way of dealing with dehumanization and discrimination, and with Mongo, Abdu Ali makes a strong case for rage being the best way to tackle both. —Lawrence Burney | LISTEN

If there's one artist who deserves an award for executing a wackadoodle-wonderful, 360-degree idea this year, it's New York's own Adam Green. The singer-cum-artist-cum-filmmaker has devoted the better part of five years to this project: a self-directed rework of Aladdin "wherein the lamp is a 3D printer, the princess is a decadent socialite like a Kardashian, and the planet gets a sex change." As well as starring in this film, the 35-year-old made all the sets and props out of papier mâché—a real sight to behold—and of course the soundtrack is a full album that's as groovy and perfectly off the wall as his elevator pitch suggests. There's something Beck-like in Green's rich yet lackadaisical tones (particularly on the 60s-influenced "Someone Else's Plan"), but where Beck feels considered even his most surreal moments, Green looks at the world through a skewed, rainbow kaleidoscope, and this record is a portal to another world where life is upside down and groovy. Kim Taylor Bennett | LISTEN

Petrol is an album firmly rooted in LA, the hometown of producer and saxophonist Brian Allen Simon, a.k.a Anenon. You can hear it in the freeway sounds bookending the album, in the haze of the synths, and in the stop-and-start rhythms that build and shift like traffic patterns. But like LA itself, Petrol is too loose and sprawling to be defined by any one feel or experience; rather, it's a work that acquiesces to your mood. Simon's experimental palettes can be alternatingly gray and melancholy, or warm and vibrant. Cut and resampled from a live improvisation session with a violinist and bass clarinetist, the album is messier than any of Simon's previous works, in a good way. It offers impressions of other genres, from drum 'n' bass to classical, without veering fully into them. The result is a record that feels entirely unfamiliar and entirely present, placing emotional substance over musical style. It's about finding comfort in, or amidst, cacophony—a reminder that we're always in transition. —Andrea Domanick | LISTEN

A quick listen of "To Move On," Alex Izenberg's lead single from his debut Harlequin on Domino Records offshoot WeirdWorld, might suggest that this is just another sad dude in his early 20s writing off-kilter pop songs that sound like piano ballads from the 70s. It's that, sure (and really good when it is that, by the way), but Harlequin is also an extremely complicated album that gets fuggin' weird. Outside of the introspective piano tracks like "Grace" is a psychedelic pop dreamscape of a record that feels like an acid trip on a hot day in July. It's spectacular. —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN

Natasha Khan loves a narrative. Sometimes her stories are contained in a single song ("Laura"). At other points her imaginative sprawl is funneled into an entire album, as on her second record, Two Suns, and here again on her fourth opus, The Bride. A deeply immersive experience, accompanied by Lynch-like visuals, the arc follows a woman falling in love ("Joe's Dream") and her journey from a widowed bride—her husband Joe killed en route to the church—as she heads out on a road trip of grief and self-discovery. Eventually the bride comes up for air, pushing past the anguish and the ghosts to hope and new beginnings. Twee as this all sounds on paper, you'd be hard-pressed to hear these songs, much less witness the 37-year-old deliver them live, without feeling the prick of genuine emotion. She's heartbreaker, this girl, a rare, true talent who continues to take her emotion and innovate. —Kim Taylor Bennett | LISTEN

Big Deal are dunzo which is a real big fucking bummer. Exhaustively telling their story this past summer, just before Alice Costelloe and Kacey Underwood announced the band's dissolution, was tough. The London-based duo started making music as friends, wound up as lovers, and returned to being friends, and much of this journey can be mapped in the music they made together. Their third album is a million miles from the sighing fragility of their 2011 debut, with Costelloe sounding more like a beer-swilling Karen O than the moony teen who started off down this road. Here they deploy stampeding drums and frustrated howls, fuzzed up 90s guitars and boy-girl vocals that dance together and fall apart ("Say Yes," "Veronica"). It's indie rock with a ripe red heart and in these songs you can feel it beat and bleed a little too. —Kim Taylor Bennett | LISTEN

Book of Sand's Occult Anarchist Propaganda is exactly that—an ideology-driven, extreme metal Gesamtkunstwerk that combines its maker's leftist politics with existential dread, howling wrath, writhing harmonies, eerie strings, and brutish shards of raw black metal. The one-person project has counted eight releases since 2009, and the latest sticks to Book of Sand's stated themes (anti-racism, feminism, veganism) without feeling preachy, falling back on rote audio samples, or sacrificing an iota of intensity. Thanks to our rotted empire's continuing collapse, black metal's ugly flirtation with fascism has gained ground—which is why an album like this, that comes from such an explicitly leftist place, is so important. Occult Anarchist Propaganda fans blasphemy's black flames with a Molotov cocktail. The argument has always been that black metal is about extremity, and what's more extreme than proposing we burn it all down and start anew? Toeing the party line is for the weak, whether you're clad in gauntlets or a three-piece suit. With Occult Anarchist Propaganda, Book of Sand has issued a challenge, a call to arms, and a damn fine black metal album besides. —Kim Kelly | LISTEN

Blood Ceremony's Lord of Misrule was missing from the bulk of this year's avalanche of metal-focused year-end lists, a curious omission that perhaps says more about the year's glut of releases and general trend towards extremity than the merits of the album itself. The Canadian tricksters have always stuck closer to progressive rock, 60s folk, and 70s psychedelia than to overtly metallic crunch (though they do get pretty goddamn heavy when the mood strikes). Their latest offers no exception; rather, they double down on their blessedly weird (wyrd?) signature sound, dialing up the psyched-out pagan vibes and even venturing into mellow acoustic territory on "Things Present, Things Past." Despite its warm, pastoral tones and easy-riding riffs, the album trafficks in darkness; its overarching theme is one of death and decay, a morbid bacchanalia extravagantly illustrated by vocalist Alia O'Brien's soaring vocals and nimble flute. The end result goes down devilishly smooth, like a goblet of summer wine spiked with hemlock. —Kim Kelly | LISTEN

As more extreme metal bands move further into progressive, atmospheric territory, the exact opposite trend has been fomenting in the underground, where aggression and traditionalism are praised to the high heavens. War metal in particular remains the last frontier—an unassailable blockade of hideous, lo-fi savagery, where the weak are scorned and the nastiest, most violent perpetrators reign. Caveman Cult are well aware of these rules of engagement and confront the challenge head on—most recently (and convincingly) on the Tampa trio's debut LP, Savage War Is Destiny. Their laser focus is trained on one thing, and one thing only: sheer, unbridled barbarity. Their party line: fuck melodies, fuck atmosphere, and fuck everything but absolute brutality, blown-out distortion, and riffs that put the total fucking war back into war metal. From the blood-soaked crawl of "La Eterna Guerra Sangrienta" to the horrific squall of "Supremacy of the Savage Hordes" and closing volley of "Caverns of Atrocity," the album's rampant bludgeoning never lets up, not even to lull the listener into a false sense of security. If there ever was an album that truly exemplified the phrase "all killer, no filler," it's this one. —Kim Kelly | LISTEN

Charles Bradley is an icon. There's no other way to say it—unless you refer to him by his nickname, "The Screaming Eagle of Soul," but even a ridiculous nickname like that doesn't quite sell how important this man is. In a year that gave the world countless acts trying to recreate the past (looking at you, Childish Gambino, even though your record was good), Bradley continued to provide us with his incredible voice, incredible sound, and incredible existence. Changes is a record that's so emotionally powerful that it's almost difficult to listen to, but the warmness of Bradley makes it work. Earlier this year, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Pray for Charles. Pray for 2017. Pray for the future. —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN

You may remember Crying from their underground hit "Bodega Run" a few years back, which exploded and has been trailing them like a chiptune "Smells Like Teen Spirit" ever since. If not, even better. Their debut album came out this year and it basically blows anything you may have known about them out of the water. At the time of writing, the last two comments on their Bandcamp page are "Bloody brilliant album" and "Bloody silly record" and that actually does a perfect job of summarizing the duality of the band Crying have become. One one hand, they sling about riffs that land anywhere on a spectrum from Weezer to Van Halen. On the other, you could sit with the lyric sheet—full of poetic meditations on reflecting, transforming, and moving forward—and come away with a much more subdued (but no less impactful) impression of what B eyond the Fleeting Gales is about. Whip the two together, though, and what you get is one of the most sweaty, cathartic, feelgood power-pop albums since Paramore's self-titled. — Emma Garland | LISTEN

If someone had told you that former members of the pop punk band Fireworks were starting a new project and then asked you to take a guess as to what their sound would be, you wouldn't have gotten it right if you had a hundred chances. More pop punk? A good guess, but nah. Moshy hardcore? Wrong. Acoustic sad-guy emo? Nope (thank god). Give up? Good, because Fireworks' Adam Mercer and David Mackinder went for something way different when they teamed up with their dauntingly powerful-voiced friend Ali Shea to create Empty Houses, a pop soul act that has more in common with 60s Motown than 2000s Warped Tour. On their debut, Daydream, the three do their hometown of Detroit proud with upbeat and infectious nods to classics like The Supremes and The Ronettes (and in fact, they've paid homage to "Be My Baby"), giving their sound a classic and timeless quality. It's a truly ambitious and unexpected project that might've scared the punk kids away, but oh well. —Dan Ozzi LISTEN

With Marching Church's Telling It Like It Is, Elias Bender Rønnenfelt—who typically spends his time snarling in Iceage—delivers a project full of his trademark grunt. It's record that, like all great music, is driven by crippling anxiety and frustration, and kind of sounds like the soundtrack of a vampire. This is the type of album that's suited more for a melodramatic rock opera than a stingy punk basement, and Rønnenfelt's eccentricities are put on forthright display. Somebody call Nick Cave. — Eric Sundermann LISTEN

Mikey Erg picked an unfortunate time to release his most ambitious work to date. This summer, as he was announcing the surprise, triumphant return of his beloved New Jersey three-piece, The Ergs!, he was simultaneously promoting his first solo LP, Tentative Decisions. Naturally, fans flocked to the reunion news and put the album on the backburner. But now that the smoke has cleared, it's time to take a closer look at this record. Erg thoroughly exceeds expectations of what can a guy with a love of power chords and a penchant for 60s pop hooks can do. While Tentative Decisions is definitely threaded together by the brokenhearted three-chord jams Erg has made a name for himself on, it is so much more than a pop punk record. Erg pushes himself into some new and intrepid songwriting territory, aided by the production of Jeff Rosenstock, who has a gift for bringing out the darkness in people's songs. Tentative Decisions is the album where we see Mikey Erg break out from being some guy in a pop punk band (or more accurately, every pop punk band) to become a serious artist. —Dan Ozzi LISTEN

Milk Teeth is a grunge revival band. No, wait. Milk Teeth is a hardcore band. Actually, no, hang on, Milk Teeth sounds like Veruca Salt meets Hopesfall. Or, wait, fuck. Milk Teeth sounds like… uh, they just sound like Milk Teeth, okay? Vile Child is such an odd, scattershot record that it's not going to be easily categorized, and that's its charm. For 12 songs, it drifts all over the damn place, abruptly and frequently shifting gears without much rhyme or reason. "Swear Jar (again)," for example, sees bassist Becky Blomfield crooning over some minimal and down-tempo jamming through a chorus pedal, leading right into the next track, a grimey hardcore ripper growled out by guitarist Billy Hutton. Vile Child is manically eclectic and makes little sense at times, making it come off less like a congruous album and more like a mixtape your friend with ADHD made you. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN

Here's a harsh truth that punk fans need to hear. Gather 'round, because this important: You know that gruff-punk sound that's been really popular for the last decade? Well, it's tired as hell and it needs to die. We don't need 6,000 bands singing about chugging PBRs while doing a second-rate Chuck Ragan impression. Rarely can a band put enough of a unique spin on the whole party punk vibe to make the genre worthwhile. Prince Daddy & the Hyena's Thought You Didn't Even Like Leaving opens up in that all too familiar territory, but then takes an abrupt turn. For a half-hour, the album breaks the mold and proves that there's still some fight left in that creaky old punk warhorse, tossing in a few golden-era Weezeresque guitar licks, squeaky voiced screams, and jump-up-and-down choruses about being off your meds. Acts like PUP and Jeff Rosenstock largely sucked up the conversation around pop punk this year (and with good reason: their albums were excellent), but Prince Daddy & the Hyena can hold their own among them. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN

They don't make 'em like G Perico anymore—which might be a cliché thing to say if the LA rapper didn't literally rock a jheri curl, calling to mind the city's gangster rap patron saint Eazy-E. He does so in more ways than one: For the guy who has shit to say about that look down at the club, G Perico laughs, "it's a small world 'cause I'm fucking his girl; she think she in love." Another one of his girls does taxes and buys him Air Maxes. Whether he's sending PayPals to help his friends in jail or bragging about keeping the same phone number, G Perico's musical world is as full of these satisfyingly memorable details as it is of heartbreaking stories, violence, and foul-mouthed jokes. Pulling together a blend of classic G-funk, trap, and ambient baroque spaceship music, Shit Don't Stop has the sound of a modern LA and the spirit of timeless gangster rap. —Kyle Kramer | LISTEN

The bands that see breakout success in modern hardcore tend to all be fashion-conscious bros doing impressions of moshy rap-rock acts that thankfully went extinct years ago. So when a band comes along and breaks the mold, it often gets washed over by the sea of stagedivers. Florida's Gouge Away, with their lightning fast songs that average under 90 seconds, piercing squeals, and nods to late 90s screamo and powerviolence greats, didn't stand much of a chance of getting noticed among the flood of windmill kickers, but goddamn if their debut LP doesn't rip the whole scene to shreds. , Dies wears its politics proudly on its sleeve, with Christina Stijy's lyrics staunchly taking a stand against animal testing, police brutality, and social injustice. The type of hardcore that Gouge Away plays might not be en vogue these days, but it damn well should be. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN

If HECK was releasing Instructions in 2003, the band would have their pick of about 10 dozen hardcore labels chomping at the bit to sign bands like them. The Equal Visions and Revelations of the scene would flock to find the hot new white-belt-wearing metal-tinged hardcore act, and they'd have struck gold with HECK. But, of course, it's not 2003. It's 2016, and the cookie-cutter hXc labels have since shut down and the owners have taken jobs as graphic designers, which is probably for the best. But HECK remains and Instructions still destroys. The album bridges the hardcore generational gap between modern acts like Defeater and the beloved heavy hitters of yesteryear like The Blood Brothers, Refused, Botch, and Since by Man. It culminates in an absurdly long, three-part 16-minute epic that could stand as its own EP. The Nottingham band is so unapologetically chaotic that they border on being overly cheesy at times, a fact the four-piece seems aware of. But hey, chaos is chaos. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN

Holy Fuck describe Congrats as their arrival record—the album they've always wanted to make, but didn't have the process or chutzpah for on their previous projects. The result has been largely deemed too pop and melodic for their old noise head fan base, and too discordant and plain ol' weird for fans of most anything else. That's a tricky stylistic middle ground to straddle—artists who do often end up sounding watered down or directionless. But Congrats levels up the Toronto outfit's sound, honing their lo-fi scuzz into a sleek collection of songs that are less cerebral and more id. You can dance to it as much as you can take a deep dive with headphones. It's a peculiar kind of dissonance: Tracks like "Tom Tom" and "House of Glass" pit tribal rhythms and chillwave synths against dirty reverb and vertigo-inducing feedback. "Sabbatics," meanwhile, sounds like a trop house hit sent through the Upside Down from Stranger Things. If this year was all about getting weird, Congrats just might be the perfect soundtrack. —Andrea Domanick LISTEN

There's something to be said for making music that is unequivocally pretty. And, even when he is questioning whether he is evil or warning of impending natural disaster, Irish songwriter James Vincent McMorrow unfailingly rises to that standard. His songs, driven by his spellbinding falsetto and skeletally spare synthesizers, shimmer plaintively, summoning up the LA nights that McMorrow consciously chose to make them in. He maintains the intimacy of his acoustic roots even as he borrows from the distant sounds of half-remembered radio R&B (courtesy of producers like Nineteen85, Frank Dukes, and McMorrow himself, incidentally making this the best OVO-adjacent project of 2016). "There's a reason that people move or people don't or people change or people stay the same completely," McMorrow muses as things come to a close; this album, with its subtle mutability, seems happy to meet people wherever they are in that reasoning, offering ideas, consolation, and spellbinding notes to keep coming back to. —Kyle Kramer | LISTEN

Sacramento's Mozzy has a motor that falls second to nobody in rap right now; there are 12 projects that have his name on them as either a contributor or solo artist this year. Some artists never reach that milestone within an entire career. One of the standouts from his hefty 2016 collection is the 19-track Mandatory Check which adds onto his long list of dexterous street takes with the slaps of Bay Area rap providing the foundation. When Mozzy gets into a pocket, taking breaks between bars feels non-existent as his word choice rivals those who write write about his music. That's what makes projects like Mandatory Check a treat to listen to—he's a archive for imaginative language. He bangs at "occupants" instead of a squad on "Cold Summer," and describes events teetering on the fence of legality as "activities." Where the range in content falls short, Mozzy makes strides by adding color to distinguish himself from the pack. —Lawrence Burney | LISTEN

NBA Youngboy won the hearts of many this year with an impressive motor (he released four mixtapes!). The 17-year-old Baton Rouge rapper's main draw is what pulled so many into the Kodak Black craze a couple years ago: impressively mature storytelling by a complex teenage character. 38 Baby hosts stories of Youngboy revisiting lessons by elders to keep him alive, being a young father, and pushing through despite being overlooked. There's refreshing fire in Youngboy's conviction; you can feel that he is trying to rap himself into a better life situation. At times, like on the project's title track, he opts to use signature Louisiana rap production, giving a vintage feel to some of his music. And at only 17, he snagged features from his city's most celebrated artists in Boosie Bad Azz and Kevin Gates. If Youngboy can find himself on the right side of some serious legal troubles, he could propel himself to be rap's new darling teenage artist. — Lawrence Burney | LISTEN

One of the best things about Nice as Fuck is the way this group and their subsequent album came about: just three girlfriends—Jenny Lewis, Erika Spring, and Tennessee Thomas—hanging out in NYC, galvanized by a number of factors: each other, a close-knit community of women, and what was going on around them (NAF were staunch in their Go Bernie! support). It's a slim collection fired with the DIY spirit and the bass-driven minimalism of post-punk, plus plenty of feminine sass, with lyrics that ping from the personal to the political with ease ("Cookie Lips," and "Gun" being respective examples). This is not sophisticated or particularly labored over. But this album feels raw and engaged, and in a world where people spend an hour FaceTuning their features into blurred oblivion for Instagram grat, this sort of give a damn attitude makes for a welcome palate cleanser. —Kim Taylor Bennett | LISTEN

We've already put forth gushing torrents about this record. You could fall in love to this album. You could have sex to this album. You could cry a little to this album. You could stare at the sunset and smile outta the corner of your face to this album. If you like Cass McCombs you'll dig this. Same if you're down with Steely Dan. There's nothing flashy about the LA-based 30-something's ditties—they're relatively sparse, and warmly, lovably downtrodden ("Times are hard for dreamers / I wanna be a believer / I wanna know what it means"). Sometimes they'll make you feel a little tummy tingling. It's worth noting that in his video for "You Belong to Me" Yaryan falls in love with, and has his heartbroken by a golden retriever. Talented and humorous eh? Press play on this please. —Kim Taylor Bennett | LISTEN

Nerds shall inherit the earth and we hope they're all as smart, dashing, and capable of killer falsetto hooks as Michael Lovett a.k.a. NZCA LINES. This London-dwelling multi-instrumentalist has been romancing the eardrums since the off-kilter synthpop of 2012's "Okinawa Channels," but where his self-titled first album was peppered with stories of cryogenically frozen lovers, radio airwaves transmitting subliminal messages, and a dude who falls in love with his spaceship, this second effort is concerned with a post-apocalyptic world where everyone's partying 24/7 because it's always summer and we're all gonna die. As such, "Two Hearts" is an Italo disco-meets-Teutonic banger and "Persephone Dreams" is melancholy Vangelis with delicious dashes of steel drum. This is what Lovett gets up to when he's not playing bass/keys/guitar in either Metronomy or Christine and the Queens, which makes him just too damn cool. —Kim Taylor Bennett | LISTEN

When perusing an even vaguely metal-centric "overlooked albums" list, it's almost inevitable that one will come across one of Damian Master's projects—not due to any gaps in quality, mind, but by sheer dint of his Colloquial Sound Recordings label's voluminous release schedule. The label seems to unleash a new tape every few weeks (not that anyone's complaining; good shit is good shit, and if there's anything Master excels at, it's the creation and curation of certified Good Shit). A Pregnant Light may be CSR's flagship act, but its moody purple-black tones have little in common with prickly, ragged metalpunk like Aksumite—or with Ornamental Headpiece, the label's latest goth-tinged, antisocial hardcore metalpunk monstrosity. The addition of a collaborator—Citizen's Jake Duhaime—adds depth, and a wilder feel; on CSR releases, we're usually treated to an opaque peek inside Master's warped mind, but here, there are two mad geniuses at work. Breachedbirth is "a filthy, feral dose of lo-fi black metalpunk, prickly and mean; the lyrics to songs like "Gun Wrapped in a Party Dress" and "Shattered Cheekbone" are short, nasty, and brutish, fucked up poetry for dark bar corners and darker alleys." No matter how goth he gets or how many mainstream accolades pile up, Master is a rotten punk at heart, and he makes it no more apparent than on this gnarly little piece of work. —Kim Kelly | LISTEN

There might not be a better time than right now for a Nigerian migration to America's pop charts. Wizkid accomplished the unthinkable this year by being featured on Drake's "One Dance," which now stands as the most streamed song of all time with over a billion plays. Wizkid also showed up on his fellow countryman Patoranking's album God Over Everything. Patoranking describes himself as a reggae artist first but he does a great job of seamlessly intertwining those ambitions with the jazz undertones of Fela Kuti's afrobeat of the 70s and the rapid, contemporary update on those elements with today's afrobeats. God over Everything in its religious assertions is similar to the work of Chance the Rapper stateside this year; while both albums take moments to profess their unwavering faith, neither make a proper gospel album, as they find plenty of room to blend in their secular interests. Patoranking accomplishes that beautifully with tracks like "No Kissing" with Sarkodie, "This Kind Love" with Wizkid, and "Daniella Whine" with Elephant Man and Konshens. — Lawrence Burney | LISTEN

Written and recorded during a turbulent time for the best New York guitar group in the world, this is the sound of four young men going a bit mental due to touring a lot and going from Death by Audio headline slots to every major television chat show on American TV. A lot of great art comes from suffering but this doesn't sound like any of them are whinging about their lot; rather coming out of a tough time with anthemic jams like the title track and then tender love songs about girlfriends who had to live through all the chaos and weirdness of suddenly being famous and lots of people looking at you; "Austin Brown's Steady On My Mind" being that song. Andrew Savage's art got nominated for a Grammy because it's a wonderful, inventive record made by bright young minds that has a punk rock spirit underpinning all the catchy artistic rock. If you don't have this record you're a bit of a dingus tbqh. —Andy Capper | LISTEN

Fetty Wap and PnB Rock are kindred souls—romantics with a sixth sense for melodies that make you hype as hell—so their collaboration was perhaps an inevitability as well as a blessing. Who better to paint the rosé-hued days of summer in the light they deserve? Who more fitting to capture the spark of new crushes, to celebrate beauty that's finer than fine wine, baby? Money Hoes and Flows doesn't pretend to be anything more than a fun mixtape thrown together in a few recording sessions and released as a seasonal party soundtrack. But literally what else could you ask for? Besides, it makes the case for PnB Rock as a legitimate star, brings through Monty and A Boogie to make the proceedings feel more like a celebration, and answers the question of what it would be like if you invited DJ Drama to your pool party. Throw this on, pour yourself a cold drink, and slide up to that special someone you've had your eye on. In the words of DJ Drama, it's about "less talk, more vibe," and this tape gets the vibe exactly right. —Kyle Kramer | LISTEN

The second album from Porches is nice. Understandably, that doesn't sound like the best sell for a record you should listen to, but nice things are nice and who are you to tell us we can't describe records in this way? This is like a hot, soapy bubble bath on a hangover, a recline in a pool-side chair in the middle of summer, a gasp of fresh, winter air from atop a hillside. It is a slice of beauty. — Ryan Bassil | LISTEN

Just when the hardcore act Punch was starting to gain some traction, they parted ways with their integral singer Meghan O'Neil, who left to venture out on her own. She re-emerged with a new project last year, Super Unison, and teased her new style with an EP, paving the way for this year's full-length debut, Auto. O'Neil isn't on Level 11 at all times like she was during in her Punch days. Instead, she relies more heavily on slightly more melodic interludes and belts out her trademark ferocious growl when called for, giving it even more of an impact. Auto shows off O'Neil's vocal ability as she flexes an impressive array of high volume singing styles. She dialed things down just a little bit on Auto, and somehow made everything hit harder. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN

Between To Pimp a Butterfly, Kamasi Washington, and Thundercat, jazz enjoyed something of a mainstream moment in 2015. But Velvet Portraits is a worthy reminder that the genre doesn't require the momentum of someone like Kendrick Lamar to bouey its resurgent pop success—nor should we wait for another record like his to make us pay attention again. Infused with blues, R&B, and G-funk as much as jazz, Velvet Portraits finds its cohesiveness in the spirit of its varied collaborators rather than any particular genre. It's a love letter to their California and LA in particular, both in its inspiration ("Valdez Off Crenshaw," "Oakland") and sound (the album could double as a primer on the legacies of Egyptian Lover and Dr. Dre). But you don't have to know about jazz or West Coast production to get into it. It's jazz the way Sun Ra is jazz, or the way Frank Ocean is R&B. The result is at once scenic and complex, challenging and visceral. You can leave it on repeat at parties or dissect each track over late nights at home, just don't overthink it. — Andrea Domanick | LISTEN

"Would you love me if it all falls down?" Tink asks two tracks into her latest mixtape. The question is as much for her fans as for a lover. Four years after the Chicago multihyphenate arrived as one of hip-hop's most promising voices, the 21-year-old's prolific but mixed output has left her treading in the wake of the buzz cycle, debut album indefinitely on the way. Ultimately, Tink answers her own question. She knows exactly what she's doing, from the tape's referential cover art to its release date on the 15th anniversary of Aaliyah's death. It's some of her most personal and vulnerable work yet, opening with the therapy session of "Lime Light" and spending its remaining tracks parsing intimacy and the complications that accompany it. That lime light is all hers—Tink still won't lean on features, save for a Lil Durk slot on "Stay On It." She does returns to the production of mainstays Timbaland, Cookin Soul, C-Sick, and others, but it's the confident ease and delivery of her verses that keep you listening. Diary 4 isn't concerned with hits, but any of its tracks could help break another newcomer. It's a worthy reminder that Tink's album, whenever it arrives, will be worth the wait. —Andrea Domanick | LISTEN

Writing about Uškumgallu is a sneaky way to also throw some shine on its creators' other projects (some of whom—like Ash Borer, Dagger Lust, and Urzeit—also released excellent albums this year) but as a full-blooded member of the emerging Vrasubatlat collective, the duo is more than worthy of its own spotlight. Uškumgallu's especial appeal lies in its innate understanding of the power of tension, and ability to harness it in service of chaos. The Portland duo's debut LP rallies around a core theme of mental illness, and pushes their interpretation of psychosis to the brink, seeking to explore (in their words) a "labyrinth of madness." Despite the songwriting's quality and obvious refinement, there's nothing predictable or rote about Rotten Limbs in Dreams of Blood, which is a rare boon when tackling this kind of subterranean black metal. Instead, there is suspense, and a different spectre lurking around every corner—whether it's a manic hyperblast, a ponderous riff, a thrashy break, a snarled word, or one of the many truly torturous, howled vocal spasms that haunt the corridors of this release like so many vengeful ghosts. Each listen brings new clarity, and fresh horror. —Kim Kelly | LISTEN

Wretch - Wretch

One would be forgiven for assuming that Wretch constitutes a direct continuation of now-defunct Midwestern doom entity The Gates of Slumber, vocalist and guitarist Karl Simon's longtime focus. Rumors of Gates' dissolution swirled shortly before the passing of bassist Jason McCoy laid the project to rest for good, and Wretch is named for the band's final album, but make no mistake: Simon's latest endeavor stands alone. Joined by bassist Bryce Clark and drummer Chris Jordan (another Gates alum), Simon leaves his former band's fire and fantasy behind, instead populating his new songbook with tales of very human pain, suffering, and grief. What's more, the burly vocalist finally allows himself to delve into his naturally lower register, revealing a mournful, weathered moan with which to spin his sad tales. His voice also bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain Wino's, which, while unintentional, dovetails beautifully with the warm, slightly psychedelic nature of Wretch's lumbering, groove-heavy, traditionalist doom. It may be blasphemy to say this, but it's true: on Wretch, Simon et al have managed to out-Saint Vitus Saint Vitus themselves. The students have become the teachers, and as long as Karl Simon lives and breathes, the spirit of true doom with stalk the earth. —Kim Kelly | LISTEN

The 100 Best Albums of 2016
The 100 Best Songs of 2016

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