TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2016

To say that 2016 was a “terrible year” has undeniably become somewhat of a cliche. It’s funny; for me, 2016 was great. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series. IU basketball eliminated Kentucky from the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Mondialiste won the Arlington Millon. I reconnected with and gained a Sidekick who lights up my days. I saw Radiohead and Sigur Ros, easily my two favorite living bands, live, within 30 days of one another, with her. Also, Harambe happened.  You get the idea.

Musically, it was also strong, if odd. Traditional rock took a backseat as indie rock’s presence in the spectrum as it pertains to quality continued to become more and more subdued. It was an extraordinarily weak year for electronic music as well. While those genres came up lacking in 2016, rap and R&B stepped authoritatively to the front, and even so, this year might best be remembered from the long overdue albums delivered by classic artists that have been around since the early 90s (Radiohead, A Tribe Called Quest) and also those that delivered worthy swan songs just before leaving this world (David Bowie, Leonard Cohen).

I can’t use them all though. Here were my Top 10 Albums of 2016:

#10: Cobalt/ Slow Forever

cobalt  

When asked recently to describe the purpose of Cobalt’s music, I deferred to a good friend whose appreciation for metal far surpasses mine. He responded rather perfectly, “Guttural angst. Rural miasma. A curious expedition into general misanthropy.” Calculated, precise and angular while still maintaining accessibility despite its aggressiveness, Slow Forever marked a revitalized return to form for the two man act complete with new lead singer Charlie Fell, formerly of Lord Mantis. This is black metal on its surface but defies genre in reality, holding a unique niche as a hybrid crossover between that and hard rock. The guitar riffs here are simply so melodic and memorable that they nearly overwhelm the guttural ferocity of the vocals.

The raw energy of the guitar hooks dominate the entirety of the album and are clearly present on the instantly engaging opener “Hunt The Buffalo”, which showcases an almost western edge, but it’s the hidden nuances that give Slow Forever such sharp, interesting edges over the course of an album that could have easily relegated itself to repetitive screaming- the way the sludge-driven coda of the constantly evolving “Elephant Graveyard” cuts off suddenly without warning, the intense, grinding riff of the epic “King Rust”, the tonal contrast of the pure rock hook and atmospheric paranoia on “Cold Breaker.” Like Deafheaven’s Sunbather, which has arguably become the template for the black metal crossover genre, Slow Forever utilizes soft interlude tracks to bring the listener down a bit between waves of intensity. It’s a sequencing technique that works effectively here and keeps the album focused on its music first and foremost rather than devolving into redundancy based purely around screaming vocals, which instead work to provide balance and emotion.

#9: Chance The Rapper/ Coloring Book

chance

The rise of Chance The Rapper from Chicago’s underground rap scene over the past five years has been the stuff of legend, as his unlikely ascension led to a headline gig at the 2015 Pitchfork Music Festival behind the strength of two mixtapes. On his third, Chance delivers an upbeat, if stripped down effort, highly focused in its spirituality to such an extent that it practically plays like a Gospel concept album. Coloring Book starts softly with the tone-setting “All We Get”, but then explodes into the bright summer anthem “No Problem”, which somehow seems to make what would sound from a lot of rap artists like a threat or warning to the music industry instead bounce along with positivity and confidence. Chance’s decision to avoid signing with a label and to base his income strictly upon live performances based on word of mouth has been an unorthodox one, but has worked just fine up to this point, and it’s a rare thing indeed in this day in age for rap as a genre to provide so much collective joy and cheer. Call it soft if you want or find a shoulder to cry on if it suits you, but the spaciousness on tracks like “Summer Friends” and “Same Drugs” truly emote like few rap albums do.

There’s an uncommon amount of patience and nonchalance here, and on first listen, it is fair to wonder when the party action will pick up. But the true brilliance of this collection of songs lies in how well the latter ends up balancing out the former. “All Night” seems like the quintessential party track, short, sweet and compact, while “Angels” sounds more like old Chance with its combination of off-kilter beats and horn elements. “Mixtape” even adds an unsettling vibe of darkness with some help from Young Thug, but the context fits perfectly here as a centerpiece. With Coloring Book, Chance appreciates, doesn’t threaten, and simplifies the backbone of rap itself, and in the process shows how much more it is capable of in what was already a very strong year for the genre. When the praises go up, the blessings come down.

#8 A Tribe Called Quest/ We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

tribe

18 years in the waiting, A Tribe Called Quest delivered their final collection of hip hop, and it resonates as a proper send-off to say the least. Double-sided and checking in at just under an hour over its sixteen tracks, it’s an ambitious effort, reminiscent of Vince Staples’ 2015 album Summertime ’06 in terms of scale. The primary difference is that Tribe has such a strong back catalog to fall back on, and as a result, We Got It From Here comes off sounding more like a triumphant victory lap than anything else. Complete with guest performances from Anderson Paak (who made a great record this year in his own right), Kanye West, Jack White, Talib Kweli and Andre 3000 (whose spitfire exchange with Q-Tip on “Kids” is a standout moment here), the album manages to retain its unique east coast sound on tracks like opener “The Space Program”- sparse, brittle beats and razor sharp rhymes- while still sounding decidedly current and of the moment. Dropping the week after the election, the chorus Q-Tip delivers on highlight track “We The People” sounds almost impossibly fitting: “All you black folks you must go/ All you Mexicans you must go/ And all you poor folks you must go/ Muslims and gays, boy we hate your ways.”

Founding member Phife Dog passed away earlier this year, putting some doubt into longtime fans’ minds in regard to the feasibility of this project coming to fruition, but not to fear, he’s featured prominently here from start to finish, and gets a homage from Busta Rhymes, who chants his name in reggae fashion over the entirety of closer “The Donald.” Busta Rhymes was always closely associated with Tribe’s prior work, and his presence here is an added bonus that doesn’t really feel like a guest appearance. His contributions to near perfect tracks like “Dis Generation” take the record to another level. More melodic tracks like “Enough!” and “Lost Somebody” provide balance and help avoid any chance of hook-less redundancy. While the first half of the second side tends to meander a bit and the record as a whole could arguably have been a few tracks shorter, it’s hard to penalize the group much, as none of it seems overly indulgent. Penultimate track “Ego” might be the single most immediately grabbing moment here, with its ominous bass line that picks up an incredible hook and subtle electric guitar as it bounces along effortlessly. It’s a reflective track lyrically, but it’s also a microcosm of the entire album- these guys have earned the right to have a big ego and to have some fun with their swan song, which hits on serious current topics without ever taking itself too seriously.

#7: Blood Orange/ Freetown Sound

bloodorange

Dev Hynes has had his fair share of memorable singles as Blood Orange, but nothing in his back catalog indicated that anything as complete, ambitious and with as much scope as Freetown Sound was on the horizon. There isn’t a single weak moment over its 17 tracks, and there’s a tonal consistency here thanks to impeccable production that results in an atmospheric and ethereal vibe that is rare for the R&B genre. There’s a whispery quality to Hynes’ vocal delivery that lends an element of intimacy to every song here. To its credit, the soft, soothing nature of this album is balanced effectively by some truly incredible beats. After “By Ourselves” opens the record with some slam poetry, the dark, pumping drum machine of “Augustine” follows, complete with carefully subdued but gorgeous piano lines and plenty of politically charged lyricism, which finds Hynes more reflective and pained than actually angry in regards to the current state of the treatment of African Americans in American society. Centerpiece “E.V.P” is an immediate banger, showcasing the hardest drum line on the record and adding saxaphone, funk elements and synthesizers over its catchiest hook. What makes this such a stunning moment is the juxtaposition of these seemingly sunny musical aspects with such lyrical uncertainty: “Choosing what you live for/ It’s never what you make your life/ How could you know/ If you’re squandering your passion for another?”

Highlight track “But You” probably best demonstrates the overall theme of the album, as Hynes appears to be singing to himself and offering himself encouragement as he grapples with his own self-image and construction- “You are special in your own way.” Tonally, it’s a masterpiece that evokes Michael Jackson’s more reflective, optimistic work, and brings together a devastating, perfectly executed bridge with jabs of electric guitar through its coda. “Hands Up” is a more direct observation of the Trayvon Martin killing than the closing lyric on “Augustine” offers, but musically, it’s the exact opposite of aggressive or combatant, as it glides along effortlessly and mournfully. Female guest vocals power two of the album’s most tender tracks, as Empress Of absolutely soars on “Best To You”, which picks up tempo as it evolves into a steady groove and Hynes begins to trade lines with her; it’s a song about wanting to give love and feeling helpless when that feeling isn’t being reciprocated. And Nelly Furtado shows up on “Hadron Collider”, one of the prettiest tracks here. Freetown Sound touches on so much, combining its small stories and societal observations into a mass collection that eventually adds up to a lot- a dreamlike, seamless mix of melancholy, beauty and hope.

#6: Anderson Paak/ Malibu

apaak

Anderson Paak burst onto the scene this year to such an extent that his third proper full length feels more like a sprawling debut. A concept album loosely-based around a surfing analogy, Malibu plays like a magnum opus of innovative music that straddles the line between rap and R&B in a manner far more personal than anything from artists like Drake or Future. These songs are accessible, yet confident, honest and thought-provoking, thanks in large part to Paak’s admirable vocal command. The breezy, effortless warmth of opener “The Bird” sets the stage immediately, as Paak tells the story of his family background with a soulful vocal delivery that can’t really be described as either singing or rapping, complete with an atmospheric horn and a gorgeous piano line behind it. It’s a truly unique niche that he fills as this isn’t an album that can be categorized by genre, constantly shifting and evolving between musical styles. Insightful tracks (“Look at the time/ My God/ So precious/ Is yours/ Is mine”) like “Am I Wrong” border on straight up club music, complete with more horns through its coda, while “Put Me Thru” evokes soul from a more distant generation, and “Silicon Valley” almost seems to borrow horns from Outkast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” behind its seemingly satirical lyrics and intentionally overpowering vocals. The most complex track on the album is a doubly titled effort; “The Season” begins as a somewhat dark R&B track before shifting suddenly into the swanky, effortless groove of the hip-hop section “Carry Me,” with Paak’s ability to straddle the line between genres with his raspy vocal on full display. There is hardly any way to even reasonably explain the brilliance of the tightly-coiled power of “Come Down”, which packs its triumphant funk vibe into an intense three minutes that we wish would never end (“Cool beans/ Cool beans!”).

The greatest attribute of Malibu, though, may be the way it concludes. The aptly titled penultimate track “Celebrate” could serve well as a closer on an album equally ambitious as this one, as an upbeat bass line meets more major piano keys, creating a song every bit as optimistic, warm and imparting of young wisdom as its title suggests: “It’d be a bad look/ Talkin’ bout what coulda been/ So let’s celebrate/ while we still can”. But it’s really all just a setup for the incredible closer “The Dreamer” and its rolling drum line, which looks at something as dark as poverty as a glass half full situation : “Who cares ya daddy couldn’t be here/ Mama always kept the cable on/ I’m a product of the tube and the free lunch/ Living room, watching old reruns.” It isn’t even remotely easy to make a 16-track album without any clear low point or drag that still sounds this varied, vibrant and consistently melodic. Paak appears poised for even bigger things in the future, and with this record, has created a persona that is very difficult not to love. Listening to this, I have the exact opposite reaction I still have when I listen to To Pimp A Butterfly; Paak’s arms are open, not closed, and his smile feels wide and accepting.

#5: Danny Brown/ Atrocity Exhibition

danny

With his fourth full-length album, Detroit’s Danny Brown takes a detour way off the mainstream map. There may have never been a hip hop album made before that sounds quite like Atrocity Exhibition, an unsettling, menacing and unrelentingly dark collection of introspection. There’s plenty of stylistic variation here but the album never deviates from its steady vibe of internal paranoia and terror. The overwhelming sonic experience provided by tracks like “Ain’t It Funny” and “Golddust” is straight up panic-inducing behind their deep, powerful bass beats; I imagine this is about exactly how it feels right before having a heart attack. In contrast, the raw, spacious, and haunting beats on “Pneumonia” and “Today” make a strong impact due to how chilly and stripped down they are. Confessional opener “Downward Spiral” sets the tone immediately, as Brown amazingly rhymes a word that appears to be the plural of “ghost” with “oh shit” as the track builds in a manner representative of being trapped in a claustrophobic nightmare of his own creation (“I gotta figure it out”), while the brutal “White Lines” finds him in the thralls of a potentially fatal drug overdose. Brown’s unique nasal vocal delivery is among the most recognizable in rap, and it’s easy to forget how unparalleled his flow can be, but we are reminded of that fact as he spits rapid-fire rhyme schemes on the brilliantly tense and apocalyptic “When It Rain”, and the moments where he uses his more baritone speaking voice on tracks like “Tell Me What I Don’t Know” and “From the Ground” add depth and complexity to the record.

If there was a stronger back to back duo of tracks all year than the high-powered, rock-driven bass line of “Rolling Stone” and ultimate posse track “Really Doe”, I’m not sure what it was. The latter stands out especially, as Earl Sweatshirt, Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul lend verses behind a horrifying bell chime loop. Only “Dance In The Water” seems truly out of place here, with its ramped up and somewhat overdone rave beats, but we’ll allow for a small misstep, especially since the album concludes as powerfully as it does. The soothing and melodic penultimate track “Get Hi” is as peaceful as it is depressing, as Brown seems to be simultaneously lamenting and justifying drug dependence through its devastating hook: “Say ya had a bad day/ Want the stress to go away/ Just rollup/ Take the pain away/ And get high.” “Hell For It” is the perfect closer, as Brown takes the intensity to another level, which is saying a lot on this album. There’s such anger and fear evident here, especially as his voice constantly evolves from his usual nasal tone into a more threatening sounding baritone on the back end of the beat. (Not even Iggy is safe). As great as his last album Old was, it’s easy to make the argument that the best three or four moments here are better than anything on that record. Its rare focus and consistent tone renders this is the strongest hip hop album of the year, and 2016 provided many rap highlights.

#4: Avalanches/ Wildflower

avalanches

Sixteen years in the making, the long-awaited follow-up to The Avalanches’ legendary Since I Left You is impressively varied and substantial, and is as worthy a follow-up effort as could have been reasonably expected over such a timespan. While still heavily dependent on sampling, the primary difference lies in the amount of guest appearances present on Wildflower. There’s the obvious appearance of Danny Brown and MF Doom complete with a carnival beat on highlight track “Frankie Sinatra”, where the calypso sample from Australian artist Robbie Chater perfectly balances the line between being kooky and brilliant, in the same way that classic Avalanches tracks like “Frontier Psychiatrist” did, complete with elements of electro-swing that make it a repeatedly fun and addictive listen. Brown shows up again on the dreamy “The Wozard of Iz”, but Wildflower also features contributions from Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue on psychedelic tracks like “Colours”, “Harmony” and “Kaleidoscopic Lovers”, while Toro Y Moi’s Chaz Bundick lends a sunny, ethereal vocal element to the steady “If I Was A Folkstar.” Even Biz Markie drops by to help out with the impossibly silly “The Noisy Eater.”

Opening track “Because I’m Me” evokes memories of the title track from their debut, with its nostalgic, self-affirming female vocal that glides along a triumphant beat. There’s so much mood and feel here, from the glimmering sweetness of “Sunshine” to the bouncing groove of “Subways” and the bittersweet optimism of the gorgeous penultimate track “Stepkids.”There’s a certain wistfulness that permeates all of The Avalanches’ music, and it’s perfectly captured by the joyful closer “Saturday Night Inside Out”, complete with guest appearances from Father John Misty providing backing vocals on the chorus and David Berman reading a spoken word poem. Making music out of samples is time-consuming, as it requires as much listening as it does creativity and meticulous application, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that we’ve had to wait so long to hear music as unilaterally unique as this is. (There aren’t any Avalanches imitators out there). What might be a surprise after all this time though, is that the delivery is again so well executed and so worth the wait. Wildflower retains that same consistent, unmistakable sound that is decidedly Avalanches, yet still also carries with it a certain timeliness, and a modernized air.

#3: ANOHNI/ Hopelessness

anohni

If you’ve ever wondered what an electronic album from Antony and The Johnsons would sound like, you now have your answer. ANOHNI is the post-transition moniker of the artist formerly known as Antony Hegarty, and this effort far surpasses anything previously put to record in what was formerly a more baroque pop style. Hopelessness flips any notion of reliance upon some past formula completely on its back, and it’s a powerful statement, both musically and politically. ANOHNI’s other-worldly voice absolutely soars on standout track “4 Degrees”, and has there ever been a song about the impending apocalypse that sounds this beautiful? It’s clearly a sarcastic commentary on global warming, as the artist attempts to convince us that if we are going to continue to destroy the planet, we should do so because we want to-“I wanna see this world, I wanna see it boil.” It all builds behind a percussion sample that sounds as though it has been fired out of a cannon, picking up horns and violin that cascade upon themselves through the coda. Elsewhere, there’s more politically charged lyricism on tracks like “Drone Bomb Me”, a dark, suicidal cry from the perspective of a young child who has lost her family in a drone attack, and “Execution”, which takes a hard look at American foreign policy decisions behind its steady synth beat. The chilling “I Don’t Love You Anymore” uses an echoed, fuzzy bass beat with an off-kilter time signature behind a subtle, gorgeous church organ as listeners are forced to confront the stunning, transition-confirming line “You left me/ for ANOTHER girl.” No one is off the hook here, as “Obama” investigates the disappointment felt now by many relative to the naive expectation of “hope and change” eight years ago over music that resembles a Gregorian chant.

A surveillance analogy, “Watch Me” is the most melodic and intimate moment here, among one of the very best, as dark but soothing beats glide behind the addictive “Daddy” chorus line, while centerpiece “Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth” arguably delivers the single most incredible vocal performance on the record. While it hits hard, nothing comes off as finger-pointing or preachy here. In fact, tracks like the devastating “Crisis”, which again touches on drone bombing, find ANOHNI grappling with personal culpability and asking the listener to do the same over its apologetic chorus. Closer “Marrow” is such a soft, restrained letdown with its gorgeous but understated piano lines. A bracing indictment of society combined with a new sound altogether from what was once a familiar artist, Hopelessness is the embodiment of a new identity.

#2: Bon Iver/ 22, A Million

boniver

In 2011, Bon Iver released their impeccably produced self-titled album, which at the time of this writing, is still easily in the Top 3 best albums of the decade. Given that, it’s no surprise that this release stood as one of the most highly anticipated of the year. While it doesn’t quite match the greatness of its predecessor, the band should be commended for simply conceding its own inability to top it, and instead doesn’t even try. Everything about 22, A Million, from the bizarre, Aphex Twin-esque song titles to the sequencing and composition, demonstrates the undertaking of a new direction entirely, and it’s a far less accessible one. There’s an ambient quality to this record, with its crackling, glitchy synths, echoed percussion loops and vocal processing, that makes it sound even more stripped down than either Bon Iver or For Emma, Forever Ago did, which is an interesting observation considering those were both composed of primarily acoustic songs, while these lend more toward the electronic variety. The auto-tuned vocal manipulation on “715- Creeks” is so prominent it sounds almost like it could have been lifted from 808s and Heartbreak, ironic since Kanye West has noted that lead singer and mastermind Justin Vernon is his favorite living artist. “10 Deathbreast” opens with unorthodox, chaotic electronic drums that pick up complex horns and lifted vocal samples through its powerful crescendo. But this level of experimentation isn’t for everyone, to say the least of those fans hoping for more of the same after five years of patiently waiting. To that end, the band doesn’t completely divert from its lifeblood, and it’s the highlight “8 (Circle)” that is most reminiscent of their immediately prior work, and again, that’s a very good thing. Straightforward but bursting from the seams with emotion and melody behind impeccable production and its gorgeous synthesized horn, it’s a reminder that sometimes what isn’t broken doesn’t need fixing. The ballad “29 Strafford APTS” isn’t a notable diversion either, with its pretty acoustic guitar plucks, subtle violin string orchestration, and of course Vernon’s unmistakable falsetto. “666” combines a bit of the old with the new, as a gorgeous melody combines with synthesized trumpet and a commanding drum backbone.

But what makes 22, A Million such an exciting record are indeed the moments where the band takes risks and succeeds. “33 God” opens with what sounds like a typical piano line, but evolves quickly and astonishingly over its three minutes, revealing stunning complexity as it explodes into buzzing synth, ethereal howls and thunderous drumming. Opener “22 (Over Soon”) begins with a shot of sharp synth before Vernon’s heavily processed voice alternates stanzas with his regular one. It’s an atmospheric, spacious track that examines finality, picking up subtle horns before it suddenly cuts off without warning, an analogy for the question/ reality it raises and obsesses over in the first place. Still, what prevents this album from completely living up to its admittedly sky-high expectations are moments where the focus seems to meander and flatten out on tracks like “21 Moon Water” and “_45_.” Those tracks water down the back half a bit, but aren’t enough to undo the overall impressiveness or cohesion present here, especially as closer “00000 Million” ends it on such a strong note. Melancholic piano carries Vernon’s aching vocal in a manner that is straightforward but heart-wrenching, as the album ends with the somber resignation “If it’s harmed, it harmed me/ It’ll harm me, I let it in.” In a way, the ultimate direction and result of 22, A Million is reminiscent of Kid A, in that a band seemed either bored or unwilling to revert back to some pre-determined formula or expectation, and was more intrigued by looking forward rather than backward while playing by its own rules.

#1: Radiohead/ A Moon Shaped Pool

radiohead

Radiohead has arguably been the single most important band to the musical spectrum in terms of contribution over the course of my 37 years of life. In fact, can you think of another band in history with a reasonable argument to have made the single greatest album of three different decades? Their previous eight studio albums spanned eighteen years and covered an incredible breadth of musical ground, beginning with the rock-driven Pablo Honey and The Bends, evolving into the musical personification of perfection that is OK Computer, and then veering off course to set the stage for the change to come in the new century with the more electronic and experimental albums Kid A and Amnesiac. In Rainbows was a serious return to form in between the more scattered offerings found on Hail To The Thief and The King of Limbs, but over the course of time, Radiohead has provided something for everyone. Personally, while I appreciate and adore all of it, I’ve always been more drawn to the beauty of their work than the power of it. Softer, more nuanced tracks like “Street Spirit”, “The Tourist”, “How To Disappear Completely” “Exit Music” and “Pyramid Song” are to me, the band at their very best. Given that tonal preference, with A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead has delivered exactly the kind of album that I had always hoped they would make. These songs are rich, beautiful and emotional in a manner above and beyond what the band has ever put all in one place previously.

Opener “Burn The Witch” is a politically charged number that serves as somewhat of a red herring. It’s surely a highlight, but isn’t indicative at all of what the rest of the album sounds like, either musically or lyrically. The melody is ominous but pretty, and as Radiohead has never made a song with this type of staccato string instrumentation, it’s an immediately engaging listen. The driving synth buzz is as chaotic as the album gets however, and Thom Yorke’s high falsetto wails are the star of the show. Last year, Yorke split with his longtime partner of 23 years (Rachel Owen) in an “amicable” fashion, but everything that comes the after the first track has a sense of heartbreak, pain and sadness that adds a measure of relatable beauty. “Daydreaming” delivers a gorgeous, repetitive piano line beneath some of the most hopeless lyrics he has ever written; this is the true tone-setter, as lyrics like “It’s too late/ The damage is done” seem to simply surrender to loss. But While A Moon Shaped Pool is much too complex to be categorized as a “break-up” album per se, it is highly evident through his songwriting that the toll the separation took on Yorke was immense. “Present Tense” is arguably the most honest, emasculating song he has ever written. The absence of any other instrumentation during its lush, engaging opening guitar line lends focus to his gutwrenching plight. The closing line “In you I’m lost” sounds so defeated that it actually turns uplifting and optimistic somehow.

“Decks Dark” is an early standout and grabber, as the amazing piano riff that starts the song is reminiscent of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”, but also showcases a subtly dark beauty as a lifted choral element enters over the bassline. A sense of doom builds as Yorke repeats “Just a lie” over and over again; any time he sings at this sans-falsetto pitch level for an extended period of time, it just sounds like he’s talking and it conveys hopelessness and fear, reminiscent of previous closers like “Wolf At The Door.” The complete shift into a breakdown groove complete with echoey percussion blasts through the coda adds an unexpected and layered contrast, and it’s one of the most complex songs they’ve ever put to record- drummer Phil Selway gets extra credit on this one for his contribution. “Ful Stop” holds a unique spot on the album as it’s basically the only track that could possibly be described as up-tempo, but that doesn’t mean you’d want to dance to it. There’s nothing in the band’s catalog that compares to that synthesized horn that carries the first minute and a half, and I’d argue it’s the single most ominous sound the band has ever created. After that, there’s a shift in tempo that is highly reminiscent of “Jigsaw Falling Into Place”, as few other songs have demonstrated such propulsion in combination with such ethereality. The coda comes together in a lush manner similar to how “Arpeggi” made you feel like you were literally underwater drowning with weird fishes. Even in moving forward, Radiohead has not forgotten to draw upon what has gotten them here.

There is a lot to enjoy here even on less immediate and more challenging tracks. “Identikit” turns anthemic after its punchy riff, intermittent synth jabs and choral interjections, as Yorke wails, “Broken hearts! Make it rain!”, while the steady, melodic groove of “The Numbers” adds warmth and depth, and the stripped down orchestration of “Glass Eyes” and raw acoustic flavor of “Desert Island Disk” contribute to the tonal beauty that permeates this album. Perhaps the most rewarding element though requires patience, as closer “True Love Waits” was actually, FINALLY given the official, committed-to-album recording that it always deserved. The band did so by stripping the song of its acoustic guitars and instead revitalizing and freshening it with hypnotic, haunting pianos. What remains is a slower, emotionally darker, more lyrically powerful ballad than existed before. It’s the perfect closer, greatest song and most welcome surprise on the year’s best album, thankfully still containing one of my favorite Radiohead lyrics of all: “I’m not living/ I’m just killing time.” Leave it to Radiohead to take a song they’ve been playing for 20 years, change its primary instrument entirely, remove a chord, slow it down to a virtual halt…and in the process create a piece of music that perfectly ties together, both thematically and musically, a collection of other pieces with far more recency. That, my friends, is true genius.

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