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Best Music Of 2016

Talia Schlanger's Top 10 Albums Of 2016

Tanya Tagaq's Retribution was one of Talia Schlanger's favorite albums of the year. Katrin Braga/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Katrin Braga/Courtesy of the artist

Tanya Tagaq's Retribution was one of Talia Schlanger's favorite albums of the year.

Katrin Braga/Courtesy of the artist

There were two types of records that felt most vital to me this year: music to write your congresswoman a strongly worded letter to, and music to forget to. Thanks to the brilliant artists who provided the soundtrack for both — sometimes in the same record — and for rising to the task in a year when we really needed good art.

Talia Schlanger's Top 10 Albums Of 2016

Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love! album cover Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love! album cover

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"Awaken, My Love!"

  • by Childish Gambino

By December, many of us were yelling "Go home, 2016. You're drunk!" And then, on the second day of the last month of the year, we got invited to Childish Gambino's party. This is an alternate universe where Prince and MJ are still alive, where pan flutes sound badass and dad jokes go hand in hand with EDM. It also houses "Have Some Love," the funkadelic lovechild that would result if you mixed the DNA of "Lean On Me," "Come Together" and "What's Going On" in a lava-lamp test tube. The whole thing is straight-up good vibes. And lest we forget: This same human being created and stars in Atlanta, wrote for 30 Rock and has been cast in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming. Here's wishing Donald Glover at least one nap in 2017.

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Kate Tempest - Let Them Eat Chaos album cover Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Let Them Eat Chaos

  • by Kate Tempest

There are background records, and then there's Let Them Eat Chaos. Kate Tempest's bare spoken word on the opening track is an invitation to pure, immersive hypnosis. You can see the swinging golden watch in front of you; you can feel your eyes blurring and your attention sharpening on her voice. Follow it through London's underbelly. Meet the ambassadors of urban decay who toss and turn on dirty mattresses and bury busted hopes in thick hip-hop beats. In a particularly lucid moment on Let Them Eat Chaos, Tempest dares you to ask yourself "Where have you landed?" When 47 minutes are up, you will have no clue.

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Aurora - All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend album cover Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend

  • by Aurora

In a year running kinda low on hope, Aurora is an ambassador for it. At first glance, an album with the word "demons" in the title — and two separate versions of a "Murder Song" — might not seem like a beacon of hope or optimism. But listen further and let your body go; you'll find pockets of irresistible joy. "Through The Eyes Of A Child" is a plea for innocence, "Warrior" is a call to the action of love and "Conqueror" is an invitation to let it all go. Her "dance like nobody's watching" moment on The Tonight Show may be the most joyful event that aired on television in 2016. She was 19 when All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend came out, and if Aurora's talent, vision and heart indicate anything about her generation, the kids are gonna be all right.

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The 1975 - I like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it album cover Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

  • by The 1975

When change gets overwhelming, I dance in my kitchen. After packing up my life and home in Toronto and relocating to Philadelphia in October, this record from The 1975 became the soundtrack to the '80s-inspired tile sliding and spatula-microphoning that helped me cope in my new digs. It's 74 minutes of perfect pacing: a balance between heavy bass and pillowy vocals, between synths and sax. The 1975 even gives you a couple ambient interludes between danceathons to catch your breath and wipe your brow. I guarantee my new neighbors, like me, now know all the lyrics to this album, and I hope they liked it as much as I do. It's Miami Sound Machine on a spaceship, it's hipster Huey Lewis — and it saved my spirit.

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Tanya Tagaq, Retribution album cover Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Retribution

  • by Tanya Tagaq

Tanya Tagaq has said, plain and simple, that this is a record about rape — of women, children and land. She is an Inuit throat singer, a ferocious First Nations advocate and one of the most important voices in indigenous activism. Her screams, whispers, howls, moans and whimpers, set against pounding drums and percussive choirs, carry the pain of an entire planet and people. It is beautiful and uncomfortable. There isn't much sonic relief until the final track, when Tagaq lets you out of the vice-like grip of her vocals with an eerily pretty and alluring cover of Nirvana's "Rape Me." It is shocking to believe that the light delicacy you hear in that cover lives in the same voice that just scared the daylights out of you with its abrasive and demonic depths. But "shocking" and "true" are not mutually exclusive categories, as anyone who has ever asked to be believed knows.

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Solange on the cover of her new album, A Seat At The Table. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Solange on the cover of her new album, A Seat At The Table.

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A Seat At The Table

  • by Solange

If you replaced all the words in Solange's A Seat At The Table with nonsensical gibberish, it would still be, sonically, one of the strongest records of the year. From subtle horns cascading over oceans-deep bass to slow-jam snare to impossibly smooth vocals so sweet they'd shame honey, it would have been enough for Solange to have created songs this good that said absolutely nothing. But this is Solange. And this is a record that provoked conversations about some of the defining social issues of our time. Let's listen. And talk. And listen again.

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Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker album cover Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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You Want It Darker

  • by Leonard Cohen

At this point it's hard to say anything that hasn't been said about the beloved Bard of Montreal's final masterpiece. But I would like to say how grateful I am for it. Most of us Leonard Cohen admirers are complete strangers who don't know him, but who believe he knows our hearts with his work. We feel he knows us inside, and so we feel entitled to say we love him. And what a gift, then, is You Want It Darker. With love, great care and tremendous musicality, he prepared us for the inevitable in the most comforting way a loved one can: by saying "I'm ready" and then proving it so.

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Cover art for Bon Iver's 22, A Million.

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22, A Million

  • by Bon Iver

Over the past few months, it has sometimes felt like the world was flattened into two dimensions. The magic of Bon Iver's third full-length album is its power to infuse and elevate, to expand dimension through sound and to breathe life into the bleak — not in a way that is overly hopeful, but in a way that is rich, nuanced and real. If you need proof, take the record for a walk on an excellent pair of headphones and look around you. There's beauty and there's depth in everything, and Bon Iver pulls it up out of the ground, holds it to your ear and asks you to hear it.

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Kaytranada - 99.9% Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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99.9%

  • by Kaytranada

In 2015, Louis Kevin Celestin — a.k.a. Kaytranada — was sharing a room with his brother in his parents' basement in Montreal. He had already played sold-out shows around the world and signed to XL Recordings. He had not yet turned 24. Or come out. Or even released a debut record. But in May, he emerged with the colossal 99.9%. It's a dizzying and somehow cohesive masterpiece that's as much hip-hop as it is disco or funk or handclap house. It's also stacked with cameos by artists who themselves released some of the best works of 2016 — including Anderson .Paak, BADBADNOTGOOD and River Tiber.

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Xenia Rubinos - Black Terry Cat Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Black Terry Cat

  • by Xenia Rubinos

Within a few minutes of the beginning of Black Terry Cat, Xenia Rubinos purrs the line "Wherever you go" in a stunning, feline falsetto. It's a magnetic invitation, and before you know it you've followed that voice to the Brooklyn basement of a Chinese takeout restaurant, dancing bachata to the tune of an indictment of racial inequity in America. Rubinos spits rhymes about struggle with a frankness that is blatant and dignified, over chords that would make Coltrane cry. She's scream-punk meets Abbey Lincoln and Erykah Badu on a sweaty summer Saturday in New York. Black Terry Cat is vivid, vibrant and — in 2016 — totally vital.

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