20 Best Avant Albums of 2016

The year's best in ambient, noise, out-jazz, synth music, contemporary composition and more

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Jóhann Jóhannsson, 'Orphée'

11. Jóhann Jóhannsson, 'Orphée'

More than anyone in the contentious Venn diagram where the indie-rock record-label community meets swirling bouts of modern composition, Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson is making the greatest strides into the consciousness of the mainstream. Thanks to his relationship with directors Denis Villeneuve and James Marsh, his recent scores to The Theory of Everything and Sicario have garnered accolades no less impressive than a pair of Academy Award nominations – and it won't be exactly surprising if his breathtaking score to existential alien flick Arrival results in a third. His most dazzling recent work, however, is his first stand-alone album in nearly eight years. Orphée matches repetitive, bittersweet, gorgeous piano and string melodies with crackles of the curious shortwave radio "numbers stations" beloved by dreamers like Wilco and Cameron Crowe. Like an emotional, Arvo Pärt–esque representation of The Conet Project, Orphée shows a modern master of ambiance coaxing the Air Lyndhurst String Orchestra and vocal troupe Theatre of Voices into breathtaking washes of melancholy, swoon, nostalgia and mystery.

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