#25. Atrocity Exhibition by Danny Brown
Atrocity Exhibition is the opposite of pleasant; it’s filthy and brutal, a no-holds barred stream of debauchery and tumult. Danny Brown has long lived on the fringes of hip-hop, whether it be due to his abrasive rapping voice, discomfiting persona or the translation of his darkest parts and times into his music. But with this album, Danny has abandoned any notions of conforming to traditional hip hop sounds, instead plunging into the depths of his psyche, with some of his most left-field hip-hop and electronic production.
While the dreary hedonism on here – full of drugs and sex – is certainly disconcerting, Danny also raps of his many conflicts, and the violence he has been, and continues to be witness to, describing his past with an oft-repeated nihilism. The production, though, is the most evidently anti-mainstream, anti-radio, aspect of Danny’s music. Combining layers of electronica, hip-hop and post-punk, there’s grisly percussion, glitch-y synths and haunting, psychedelic samples. Atrocity Exhibition, then, is a piece of utter chaos, interspersed with tales of sordid successes, that most musical audience would be turned off by. And yet, it exists as the ultimate middle finger to commercial music.
Listen to: Rolling Stone, Pneumonia
#24. Telefone by Noname
I’ve been waiting on a Noname album ever since I heard her heart-rending verse on Chance the Rapper’s Lost (back when she was Noname Gypsy), her tempered voice and mellow flow acting as a front for deep introspection. In the years since, Noname has put together an intensely personal coming-of-age record, her poetic lyricism and spoken-word cadence delivering her story in evocative arrangement.
Noname’s form of confessional hip hop reflects that of several of her Chicago peers – Chano, Saba, Mick Jenkins – but there’s some unabashed soul-searching with a depth that some of her peers miss. She’s not a rapper’s rapper, but her thoughtful musings are layered with deliberate detail, and she raps intricate phrases with ease. No other album in recent memory has revealed the soul of a pensive black woman as well as this one; and given the America’s social climate, this scion of black femininity is a welcome addition to hip-hop.
Listen to: Diddy Bop, Shadow Man
#23. The Wilderness by Explosions In The Sky
Explosions in the Sky are one of the finest post-rock bands of our times for good reason: their sprawling music encompasses an array of textures, often within the same songs, but they resonate in intimate notes. Songs float in an expanse of space, sometimes surging in volume, sometimes shedding its moving parts down to the bare minimum. the mood shifts between intimate, to soaring, to shades of melancholy; the instrumentation is intricate, but never messy, making impeccable use of an array of musical components. As for the music itself, its beauty lies in the range of emotions it evokes. While the song titles and the moods of the soundscape themselves convey a trotting journey through the titular abstract wilderness, the reactionary perspective to each of these moments is entirely subjective to the listeners. And therein lies the significance of this record, and EITS themselves – epic in scale as it may be, it resonates with the audience with a familiarity that is entirely personal.
Listen to: Wilderness, Logic of a Dream
#22. Nonagon Infinity by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
An album that embraces aggressive weirdness and amps up the adrenaline to over 9000, while never really taking itself overly seriously, Nonagon Infinity is that rare beast – and it truly is a beast – of an album that is made for the purpose of finding out to what strange new extents music can be pushed. It’s loud, it’s relentlessly paced, and its garage-rock/psychedelic instrumentation is a vortex that is nearly impossible to get out of once you’re sucked in. One of the primary reasons for this immersion is the sequencing of the tracks; besides the impeccable segue of each track into the next, this is also probably the first album in the history of music that can be played as a continuous loop, its assigned end smoothly flowing into the opening notes of the album. Once you begin a listening session, there is no escape – while the wonderfully arcane lyrics are a delight, the frenetic soundscape will ensnare you in its spiked jaw, and the endless loop will imprison you in a perpetual stampede. Enjoy your stay.
Listen to: the whole album
#21. Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Music can often exist by itself, in meaningful vacuum, but there are albums where the context is inextricable from its content; Skeleton Tree is one of those albums. Although created prior to the tragedy, there is no denying the influence the event has had on the creation of this work: the death of Nick Cave’s 15-year old son.
There is no joy to be found here; the music over which Cave’s husky voice deadpans is almost underproduced, with no unnecessary flourishes or embellishments, yet moving in its own right. The voice and the words are front and center; the esoteric ruminations on death permeate the album, with anecdotes that simultaneously feel fantastical and personal. The pain and darkness that came with the tragedy is pervasive, and it influences every aspect of the music here. But it feels like Cave is speaking to his listeners just as much as he’s looking inwards, his eyes to a clouded-over sky, his feet on unstable ground; the result is one of the most sadly beautiful albums in recent times, and one that will stay with its creator and its audience for a long time to come.
Listen to: Rings of Saturn, Magneto