More than perhaps any other year, 2016 has been marked by surprises, both beautiful and heartbreaking, and sometimes even both. The rise of the “surprise release” continues, as the stars that once initiated the practice — Beyoncé and Radiohead — came back to do it again. There were more big names, too, like the unexpected drops of The Colour in Anything, Coloring Book, and untitled unmastered.. On top of all that, there were the records that came with just a little notice though still unpredictable in their final release, like Kanye’s ever-changing Life of Pablo, Drake’s Views, and Rihanna’s ANTI.
Though, as we all know, not all surprises are happy. We also had to deal with shocking loss, mourning the passing of Glenn Frey, Prince, and David Bowie, to name a few. Though surprising, the latter of those came with a beautiful silver lining, the album that will stand as Bowie’s stunning farewell. That kind of shattering artistic presence will be sorely missed, and we’ll forever be digging back into the remarkably layered curtain call that is Blackstar.
Finally, there were other, less obvious surprises: the near-constant surprise that comes with each excellent new album. It might not register similarly on a newsworthy scale, but we’re still stunned each and every week by the flood of excellent new albums that make their way into our world. They can break us down to crying puddles or raise us up to unknowable heights, and we’ll be waiting patiently, gratefully for the next one to arrive.
25. Greys – Outer Heaven
Origin: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The Gist: The Toronto punk quartet takes a giant leap forward on their second album, crafting noise rock that’s not just aggressive, but keenly self-aware.
Why It Rules: An album in constant conflict with itself, Outer Heaven pairs the manic energy of punk with a probing intellect that reaches beyond the genre. In an interview with Consequence of Sound, vocalist-guitarist Shehzaad Jiwani described the band’s sophomore effort as an attempt “to make the noise more melodic and the melodies more dissonant.” Over the course of just 10 songs, Greys oscillate between hard and soft, anxious and acerbic, but they never sound anything less than fully engaged. –Collin Brennan
24. The Body – No One Deserves Happiness
Origin: Providence, Rhode Island
The Gist: Lee Buford and Chip King have released handfuls of massively weighty releases in the last few years, both on their own and collaborating with others. The two make pummeling noise sound somehow comforting, embracing the cathartic ritual of shrieking out and hammering at something.
Why It Rules: No One Deserves Happiness explores the harsh bottom of sludge, doom, noise, and more, scraping away at the eardrums. Though that may seem daunting, it’s somehow uplifting — sure, you may not be happy, but The Body insist that no one should be, considering the inevitable end. –Adam Kivel
23. White Lung – Paradise
Origin: Vancouver, Canada
The Gist: The Canadian punk trio White Lung have spent a decade upping the ante on their hardcore sound, each record building intensity on top of the last. 2014’s Deep Fantasy saw them at their leanest and gnarliest, setting a high standard to match.
Why It Rules: Rather than try and build something even heavier, lead vocalist Mish Barbery-Way and co. find success in pulling themselves back on Paradise. The record lets the band revel in balladry alongside monstrous anthems, resulting in their most impactful and emotional record to date. –Dusty Henry
22. Kaytranada – 99.9%
Origin: Montreal, Quebec, via Port-au-Prince, Haiti
The Gist: After making his name as a skilled producer and remixer, Kaytranada has arrived with a varied and promising debut LP.
Why It Rules: If electronic music is a spectrum, 99.9% touches on nearly 100 percent of it, and it does so very well. A sampling of the featured artists on the album can attest to that, whether Kaytranada is making jazz fusion with BADBADNOTGOOD or alternative hip-hop with Vic Mensa and Anderson .Paak. –Derrick Rossignol
21. Låpsley – Long Way Home
Origin: Southport, England
The Gist: This 19-year-old wunderkind is a techno-virtuoso, a Mozart with a Macbook who pours her molasses voice over shimmering R&B beats.
Why It Rules: Is pure gorgeousness enough of a reason? With painterly attention to detail, Låpsley mixes old-fashioned musical tropes with new-fangled techniques on Long Way Home to create a dazzling array of lush soundscapes. –Wren Graves