50 Best Albums of 2016

Beyoncé smashed the system, Chance the Rapper counted his blessings, David Bowie left a powerful goodbye and more

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Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein, 'Stranger Things, Volume One and Two'
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47/50

47. Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein, 'Stranger Things, Volume One and Two'

The uncanny 1983 of Netflix series Stranger Things was a communicable virus of national nostalgia; and much of the heavy lifting was done via the vintage synthesizers of composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin band Survive. Their warm, pulsating music gave the John Williams era a John Carpenter makeover, tapping playful and romantic melodies with the surging wash of analog keys. Seventy-four brief cues and atmospheres sprawled across four vinyl discs made this the feel-good avant-garde event of the year. More than two hours of vocal-free burbles, drones, gulps and splashes, the albums run the gauntlet from achingly wistful innocence ("Biking to School," "First Kiss") to menacing ambience ("The Upside Down," "No Weapons") to minimalist propulsion ("Gearing Up," "Breaking and Entering") to the absolute panic of 65-second heart-attack "Lights Out." The cassette and CD-R underground has been mining the knob-twiddling era of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis for more than a decade now, but the wildly popular series mixed with Dixon and Stein's diverse emotional palette will likely make this a gateway to the experimental music upside-down for years. C.W.

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