Arctic Drones’ 50 Favourite Albums of 2016

2016. Hasn’t everything been said already – in varying degrees of hyperbole? With all of the doomsday scenarios and miscellaneous other negativity we’ve had at our throats all year, we here at Arctic Drones would like to invite you to sit back by the fireplace, take a moment to appreciate those close to you, and join us in looking back on what was, as always, a splendid year for music. You just have to know where to look for your silver lining.

This year showed us yet again that there is an enormous amount of raw, upcoming talent demanding to be heard all over the world. Here, we attempt to do this justice, and we think our picks offer a reflection of this year’s strongest releases.

Picking our favorites for the year is never easy, and this list is by no means exhaustive or authoritative. Still, we’re confident there’s something for everyone here – from “dream-thrash” to anthemic millennial angst to hazy psychedelia and much more.

Let us know what you think – whether you feel we missed something (or should have left something out…) or you would like to comment on the artists we selected, the floor is yours!

Words by Jonathan Spratling

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST AVAILABLE HERE
PRESENTED IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER

36 – THE INFINITY ROOM

The Infinity Room is an ever-evolving, ten-track concept album from 36 (Three-Six). Each track represents a room, and each room is a different shade of the preceding room. At first the tracks all sound like each other, utilizing the same core sounds and textures, but listen closely and each track exists as its own entity, evolving as we the listener explore the deepest reaches of The Infinity Room. By the end of it all, expect to be weeping on the floor in an emotional mess. By Roberto Pereira

RELEASE INFO: 26 October 2016, 3six Recordings, released through A Strangely Isolated Place
TAGS: Electronic, Ambient, Drone, United Kingdom
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

65DAYSOFSTATIC – NO MAN’S SKY: MUSIC FOR AN INFINITE UNIVERSE

While the game itself unfortunately fell flat on its face, the legacy of its soundtrack will forever live on as one of the best musical journeys through space. While it isn’t the exact music you’d find in the game (which would be impossible), it’s still bloody fantastic. By Aaron Edwards

RELEASE INFO: 05 August 2016, Laced Records
TAGS: Post-rock, Instrumental, Soundtrack, United Kingdom
MORE INFO: Soundcloud || Facebook

ANIMALS AS LEADERS – THE MADNESS OF MANY

Animals As Leaders have always lived on another plane of existence. The Madness of Many is a down-to-earth effort this time around (by their standards anyway), which not only impresses technically, but also connects with its audience on a deep and emotional level. The Madness of Many is Animals As Leaders finally coming into their own as musicians and cementing themselves as one of metal and progressive music’s finest modern acts. By Roberto Pereira

RELEASE INFO: 11 November 2016, Sumerian Records
TAGS: Progressive metal, Djent, Fusion, United States
MORE INFO: Website || Facebook

ASTRONOID – AIR

With Air, Astronoid changed the metal game without anybody noticing. Some malevolent souls claim that “dream-thrash” is just another needless epithet, but this record surpasses any contemporary metal gaze act with forward-thinking pop-sensibility and a happiness-inducing aura that borders on the Pentecostal. By Robert Westerveld

RELEASE INFO: 10 June 2016, Blood Music
TAGS: Shoegaze, Post-black metal, Post-metal, United States
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

BEASTWARS – THE DEATH OF ALL THINGS

2016 was a year of turmoil, upheaval, and change. The Death of All Things could have easily been the soundtrack to 2016. Snarling and clawing their way through 9 tracks of destruction, Beastwars have crafted one of this year’s finest sludge efforts. A hauntingly fitting album for any post-apocalyptic future. By Roberto Pereira

RELEASE INFO: 22 April 2016, Self-released
TAGS: Sludge, Doom, Stoner, New Zealand
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

CULT OF LUNA & JULIE CHRISTMAS – MARINER

From the pulsing drums, dual vocals and killer riffs of “A Greater Call” to the jaw-dropping, epic climax of “Cygnus,” this album is a triumph front to back. The addition of Julie Christmas’ sometimes ethereal, sometimes throat-scraping vocals really added a welcome dimension to the band. This is what my mind has always conjured when trying to imagine what post-metal should sound like. By David Zeidler

RELEASE INFO: 08 April 2016, Indie Recordings
TAGS: Post-metal, Progressive metal, Sludge, Sweden
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

CULTURE ABUSE – PEACH

Effortlessly cool and catchy, Peach is the debut effort from San Fran punks Culture Abuse. It took all of two listens to fall in love with this album; it has an honesty and charm that’s instantly relatable, without sounding pretentious or overused. Easily the most convincing punk record I’ve heard this year. By Kane Power

RELEASE INFO: 08 April 2016, 6131 Records
TAGS: Punk, Grunge, Indie, United States
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

ELUVIUM – FALSE READINGS ON

The best work of the ambient composer Matthew Cooper since 2007’s Copia. Layers of abstract noises, splendid organ chords and operatic choral vocals weaving together delicately…  Await deeply introspective journeys into your own life, to the darkest corners of life and nature, to the vast emptiness of space and to more places than you would expect.  By Aytac Denk

RELEASE INFO: 02 September 2016, Temporary Residence Limited
TAGS: Ambient, Neoclassical, Noise, United States
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

EMMA RUTH RUNDLE – MARKED FOR DEATH

This may be the best material Emma Ruth Rundle has ever taken on, and that’s saying something considering her resume over the past six or seven years. It is undoubtedly the weightiest, in terms of content. She takes on pain, self-doubt, addiction and unhealthy relationships, all wrapped in the shroud of religious imagery. The decision to build upon her singer-songwriter persona from Some Heavy Ocean with fuller arrangements was a wise one; still, the album’s best song features only ERR’s voice with a heavily distorted acoustic guitar. By David Zeidler

RELEASE INFO: 30 September 2016, Sargent House
TAGS: Alternative Rock, Singer-Songwriter, Neo-Folk, United States
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

EVERY TIME I DIE – LOW TEENS

Their best work since 2009’s New Junk Aesthetic; Every Time I Die hit the mark with Low Teens.  There’s all the usual frantic hardcore and southern-tinged metal-core we’ve come to expect from ETID, but Low Teens is their refined form. Stand out track “Map Change” has a Deftones-esque chorus that sees the band reach new heights. By Kane Power

RELEASE INFO: 23 September 2016, Party Smasher
TAGS: Metalcore, Hardcore, Southern Rock, United States
MORE INFO: Website || Facebook

FREE SALAMANDER EXHIBIT – UNDESTROYED

Nils Frykdahl of Idiot Flesh and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum fame/infamy, along with many former members of his previous ventures, have formed Free Salamander Exhibit and have finally burst forth, after years of teasing. Their inaugural album is a vicious blend of black metal, progressive metal and art rock, the likes of which has not been seen in the wild since the glorious times of SGM. Tense, challenging, mercurial and above all, unique. 2016’s musical landscape needed this band like air! By Mircea Laslo

RELEASE INFO: 16 December 2016, Web of Mimicry
TAGS: Rock-in-Opposition, Experimental, Progressive rock, United States
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

GHOST BOX ORCHESTRA – HIGH PLAINE

Ghost Box Orchestra are all about sand, salt pans, tumbleweeds, and the glaring gaze of the American Old West’s sunlit afternoons. High Plaine is an eight-track kaleidoscopic monstrosity from Ghost Box Orchestra, drugging its listeners in a haze of audible fuzz and echo-laden vocals. This is incredible psychedelic rock from a band that is still criminally unknown in many circles. By Roberto Pereira

RELEASE DATE: 17 May 2016, Self-released
TAGS: Psychedelic rock, Shoegaze, Stoner rock, United States
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

GOODBYE, TITAN – DAEDALUS

With Daedalus, Goodbye Titan has the honor of releasing the best post-rock album of 2016. They seemed to take a little from each of the great post-rock bands out there, but mixed it up in their own dark and melodic way like no one else has done it this or any year. An album that will take much more than a year to be fully digested. By Eloi Mayano-Vinet

RELEASE INFO: 07 May 2016, Self-released
TAGS: Post-rock, Ambient, Instrumental, United States
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

JARDÍN DE LA CROIX – CIRCADIA

Jardin De La Croix have outdone themselves with Circadia, with its impressive and sweeping progressive metal passages infused with brilliant mathematics. Possibly the best math rock I’ve ever heard, regardless of year. By Aaron Edwards

RELEASE INFO: 18 October 2016, Aloud Music & Lar Gravacions
TAGS: Instrumental, Math rock, Progressive rock, Post-rock, Spain
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

JEREMY FLOWER – THE REAL ME

One of the most complex albums to come out this year, and the reason the term “instant classic” was invented. Brilliant composition, flawless production, breathtaking mood. Half art-rock masterpiece, half contemporary classical breakthrough. One for the ages. By Mircea Laslo

RELEASE INFO: 08 January 2016, Self-released
TAGS: Art-rock, Experimental, Chamber-rock, United States
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

JHEREK BISCHOFF – CISTERN

Melancholy and excitement collide to great effect in this truly moving record by Jherek Bischoff, an orchestrator and composer fully revealing his uncanny talent. The story behind this album translates into the music in a wonderful way, and it fires up the imagination exquisitely. By Mircea Laslo

RELEASE INFO: 15 July 2016, The Leaf Label
TAGS: Ambient, Contemporary Classical, Experimental, United States
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

JIZUE – STORY

From the first few minutes of hearing the album opener “Atom” (if you don’t count the short Prologue), it was clear that this was going to be yet another sophisticated, genre-defying, unpredictable and catchy album by Jizue.   The Japanese quartet have never disappointed since their formation a decade ago, but with Story, they certainly stepped up their game by polishing their extraordinary instrumental dexterity with great production. By Aytac Denk

RELEASE INFO: 25 May 2016, Bud music, Inc.
TAGS: Math rock, Jazz fusion, Post-rock, Piano, Japan
MORE INFO: Itunes || Facebook

KOVLO – TIMELAPSE

A wonderful post-rock album all shaped around the bass guitar. All the songs are carefully organized into a unique and wonderful piece of art that will surely stand the test of time as its loud presence stays with the listener from the very first listen. By Eloi Mayano-Vinet

RELEASE INFO: 23 January 2016, Fluttery Records
TAGS: Post-rock, Progressive rock, Instrumental, Switzerland
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

LOST IN KIEV – NUIT NOIRE

The long-awaited second album from Lost in Kiev pushes them to explore even darker melodies matched together with a pretty murky story told across the record. This release is a treat even when looking only at the instrumental layers, but together with spoken word it creates something much bigger that definitely lives up to already high expectations I had for Lost in Kiev. By Jacek Kozinski

RELEASE INFO: 2 September 2016, dunk!records
TAGS: Post-rock, Post-metal, Cinematic, France
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

MASSIVE ATTACK – RITUAL SPIRIT

There’s not much to say about Massive Attack that would be an eye opener. This 17-minute long EP comes with 4 brilliant songs leaving you wishing it was an album.  Trip-hop pioneers excelled at production and artist collaboration while staying as innovative as they were more than 25 years ago. By Milana Jovic

RELEASE INFO: 28 January 2016, Virgin Records
TAGS: Trip hop, Electronica, United Kingdom
MORE INFO: Website || Facebook

MOUTH OF THE ARCHITECT – PATH OF EIGHT

Mouth of the Architect was one of the first bands that got me into the genre, so hearing this release made me super proud of the band’s ability to grow and break the familiar formula of success without losing the sound that made them successful in the first place. Path of Eight is fresh, mature and hypnotic. By Milana Jovic

RELEASE INFO: 07 October 2016, Translation Loss
TAGS: Metal, Post-metal, United States
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

NEUROSIS – FIRES WITHIN FIRES

There is nothing more wonderful than to see a band with a career of 20 years and a catalogue that includes masterpieces like Through Silver in Blood and The Eye of Every Storm, among (many) others, put out yet another amazing album. To witness a legendary band like Neurosis pushing forward yet again with Fires Within Fires is encouraging and refreshing for any new bands out there struggling to make it. By Eloi Mayano-Vinet

RELEASE INFO: 23 September 2016, Neurot Recordings
TAGS: Post-metal, Sludge metal, Doom metal, United States
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

NIECHĘĆ – NIECHĘĆ

This Polish outfit stretches jazz far beyond what most people imagine it to be, adding both atmospheric elements and a certain driving sense of urgency. In doing so, it condenses several songs to a more accessible format, all the while leaving plenty of room for a healthy amount of rambling, unfiltered improvisation. The fact that the complexity and musicality jazz aficionados demand from their music never suffer in the process is a testament to Niechęć’s proficiency. By Jonathan Spratling

RELEASE INFO: 1 April 2016, Self-released
TAGS: Jazz, Post-rock, Instrumental, Poland
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

NOTHING – TIRED OF TOMORROW

With their second album, Philadelphia’s Nothing have climbed to the very top of contemporary alternative bands, as Tired of Tomorrow has placed amongst the albums that define shoegaze. There are countless memorable moments on this album, but “ACD (Abcessive Compulsive Disorder)” has ranks as one of the best shoegaze song ever written. This album needs to be played on vinyl, and played loud. By Eloi Mayano-Vinet

RELEASE INFO: 13 May 2016, Relapse Records
TAGS: Shoegaze, Post-Punk, Dream Pop, United States
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

ORSON HENTSCHEL – FEED THE TAPE

This summer a visual artist from Düsseldorf caused somewhat of a commotion at AD, when Feed the Tape was dropped at the office. Using estranged sound samples and polyphonic vocal music, Orson Hentschel created eight morsels of rhythmic horror pastiche that will make your heart stop every time. By Robert Westerveld

RELEASE INFO: 26 February 2016, Denovali Records
TAGS: Noise, Electronic, Experimental, Germany
MORE INFO: Bandcamp || Facebook

Continue the list on the next page: 26 – 50 (In alphabetical order)

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2 Comments

  • Gary, honestly, I think that some of us were also surprised that “Rheia” didn’t find its way onto this list. I think it probably would have shown up on a decent amount of our Top 10’s or Top 15’s had we expanded that far out, but at the end of the day it didn’t show up on any of our Top 5-6. Still a great record though, thanks for pointing it out.

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