Top 20 Albums of 2016

I guess now that I’m doing this music blog stuff I actually should put out a list of my top albums from the last year. But I didn’t realize how monumental of a task it would be. People talk a whole lot of shit about how 2016 was garbage for music, but some of the following albums are going to be among my favorite albums for a very long time.

20. Thao & the Get Down Stay Down – A Man Alive

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I still remember discovering this record. Back in February when I decided I would finally stop being a wuss and actually play through the Dark Souls franchise, I quickly decided that they were games that I could successfully play with my own music. So when I was playing through the DLC for Bloodborne, specifically that one part where you have to go down a fucking well and repeatedly get pounded into the ground by these terrifying fish-giant-things–I saw this show up on my Spotify recommendations. I fell in love with this record. Even after I have left Bloodborne in the dust, the idiosyncratic pop music found on this record has stuck with me. I think I’ve heard this album at least a hundred times,  and after I found out that Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus was on Production duty, I listened to this album at least another hundred times.

19. Regina Spektor – Remember Us to Life

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It took me a while to actually sit down and listen to this album. I’ve always been a pretty big fan of Regina, but the reviews for this album kept saying that it was a disappointment–her least inspired album to date. And I believed them–for a while. Finally I decided to just say fuck it and give it a listen around like October I think. God damn, what were all these people listening to? This is her best album since at least Begin to Hope if not fucking Soviet Kitsch. Some of these songs are heavenly, namely “Black and White” and “Grand Hotel” while “The Trapper and the Furrier” and “Sellers of Flowers” show off Spektor’s impeccable talent at storytelling. Don’t listen to the haters. If you like Piano-led Singer/Songwriter music, you’re doing yourself a massive disservice by not listening to this album.

18. Animal Collective – Painting With…

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With maybe the exception of Centipede Hz, Painting With… might be Animal Collective’s weakest album, so I was a little bit disappointed with this album at first. There are some filler tracks that shouldn’t be on here, but the highlights of this album really outshine any flaws that there might be. With tracks like “Floridada” and “Golden Gal” I couldn’t resist repeating this album ad infinitum in the first few months of 2016.

17. PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project

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The lead-up to this album was fantastic. She turned the recording of this album into a TV show or something (it was at least streamed on the internet). And the singles she released “The Community of Hope” and “The Wheel” made it seem like we were going to get the natural follow-up to her 2011 masterpiece, Let England Shake. And that’s pretty much what we got.  It has the same kinda-folky sound that Let England Shake had, the same political lyrics, but this time she focused her attention on the hypocritical poverty and crumbling infrastructure that we face here in the United States. The only problem was that since she was an outsider looking in, the songs were never able to provide much in the way of biting social commentary, but seemed more like a narrator describing what the audience is seeing. Still though, in some spots the songs can hit pretty hard, and the songs themselves are pretty great.

16. Weezer – Weezer (White Album)

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This album shouldn’t have been as good as it was. It’s been 20 years since Pinkerton. Let that sink in for just a second. It’s been 20 years since fucking Pinkerton. Since then Weezer has been releasing garbage albums because they didn’t have to worry about album sales. They knew they could write one decent single and it didn’t matter what the rest of the album sounded like. They would sell albums and they would get all the radio play they needed off of the back of their first two albums. But then streaming became the primary way that most people listen to music, and they realized that they’d again make more money if they made good albums. And the result was this magnificent album. I knew they had it in them, and now that I got this album, I’m not sure if I’m happy I got it, or angry that I had to wait this long.

15. Isaiah Rashad – The Sun’s Tirade

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Are there any bad artists on TDE? It’s a serious question, please point me to a TDE album that isn’t great. I’ll wait. Until then, Isaiah Rashad dropped the stunning Cilvia Demo back in 2014 and ever since then I have been waiting for him to drop a full length commercial project. I knew it would be one of the most lyrically dense hip hop albums in whatever year it dropped. Well unfortunately, this came out in the same year as a Common album, so it can’t win that honor. Still though, this album explores issues like race and depression in today’s America in a very convincing and sobering way. Check it out.

14. Hinds – Leave Me Alone

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I never had a lot to say about this album, but I think I might have listened to this album more than is actually healthy. It’s not original, shit it could be argued that it’s not even that good. But you know what? It’s a lot of fun, and that’s enough. Next!

13. Amber Arcades – Fading Lines

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Have you ever listened to an album that makes you just close your eyes and feel like you’re floating through the skies on a cloud of pure bliss? It might sound absurd, but that’s what this album does if you let it. The vocals are buried under layers of beautiful guitar noise, and more notably some breathtaking bass guitar. Seriously for a shoegaze album, the bass lines on this thing are out of this world, and they’re what hooked me to this album initially. Listen to the title track if you want to see what I mean. Oh and earlier I said that the vocals are buried, but even though they are very low in the mix, they still shine through. They are that bright. I love this record.

12. The Julie Ruin – Hit Reset

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We’re getting to the point right now where it’s really hard to place albums. Including the Amber Arcades album above, everything from here on has been on repeat since it came out. I found this record, and I didn’t even know that it was a Kathleen Hanna album until I started it. I just said “oh hey, here’s a new album, let’s listen to that”. And then I was hit with the attitude, the energy, the middle finger to everyone who has ever even ironically said the word “Feminazi” or “SJW”. This record is more than anything else a picture of the times where social issues are written off by many as something as shallow as a fashion choice. But if there’s anything that Hit Reset proves, it’s that we still have a lot of work to do, and if this is the soundtrack to progress, we could do a lot worse.

11. Anna Meredith – Varmints

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When people try to tell me that music today is stupid or that it all sounds the same–that music was so much better in the 70s–artists like Anna Meredith reassure me that they’re just fucking deaf. On Varmints, Meredith flawlessly melds together orchestral arrangements, rock music, and electronics to create an amazing sound. This album can take a relatively simple musical idea, like the repeating horns on lead single “Nautilus” and twist and turn it to eventually transform it into an immense cacophony that you simply have to sit back and stare at the wall and soak it all in. There are so many times on this record that you are convinced that things have finally calmed down, and then a couple of minutes later you have no idea what’s happening. It’s so good at switching from an unassuming indie tune to an experimental monument.

10. Mitski – Puberty 2

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Here we go. Top 10. Halfway done. I expected Puberty 2 to be some sort of indie folk or shoegaze album, just by looking at the cover. It was neither. Right from the start, with the chaotic, mechanic drumming of “Happy” I was hooked. There are spots on this album that sound like 90s romanticism, but it is all so well written and memorable. Equal measures explosive and beautiful, I will carry this album with me for a very long time, probably one of my favorite new discoveries of the last year.

9. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

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Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a hopeless Kanye fanatic, but even still, The Life of Pablo took me a very long time to appreciate it. Messy, chaotic, schizophrenic… I found myself skipping to the cleaner songs like “Famous”, “FML”, or “Ultralight Beams”. But as time went on, I found that I kept listening to this album over and over and over again. I got hooked. I stopped skipping songs. For a while I didn’t know why, but a few months ago I sat down and actually paid attention to it again, and it all made sense. This is a portrait of Kanye, both as an artist, and as a public persona and the explosive dichotomy that exists between the two. The Life of Pablo might actually be one of the strongest albums Kanye West has ever made because of, not in spite of, its chaotic nature.

8. Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos

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I know a lot of people who forget that Rap music is supposed to have a heavy focus in Poetry (Rhythm and Poetry, it fits, right?). Kate Tempest hasn’t forgotten. I’ve never heard before in my life any music with lyrics this good. Brimming with melancholic imagery and metaphors that effortlessly make the listener imagine that the world around them is crumbling down, Let Them Eat Chaos doesn’t necessarily entertain, it enlightens.

7. Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”

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I was waiting a very long time for a new studio album by Donald Glover. When he dropped “Me and Your Mama” I didn’t know what to think. I knew he wasn’t going to drop a Rap album, and this track sounded like Pink Floyd and Parliament had a baby. “There’s no way that the album is going to sound like this” “Holy shit, the album totally sounds like this”. I was blown away. 2016 was the first year that I really ventured into R&B/Soul music, and this album felt like it was some kind of reward for exploring that genre. It’s just packed end to end with interesting melodies. Even when his vocals seem a little bit over the top, the instrumentation is fucking out of this world. It’s lush, it’s beautiful, it’s got soul. This album probably should be higher, but unfortunately it came out near the end of the year, so this is the highest spot that I felt would be necessary. Listen to this album, and if you already have, and you’re disappointed that it didn’t sound like his old music…Stop whining and give it an honest listen.

6. Beyoncé – Lemonade

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I don’t think anybody saw this album coming, and I really don’t think anyone saw this album being the cultural force that it was. For at least a few months you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing something about this album, or the accompanying HBO thing. And it wasn’t all just hype. Lemonade is Beyoncé at her most creative. She bounces between genres effortlessly, between Garage Rock to Soul, from typical Pop balladry to Country–all while exploring social themes of feminism and race.

5. David Bowie – Blackstar

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I don’t know what I could say about this album that would do it justice. I still remember the day this album came out. I remember sitting down and being blown away by the title track, getting the line “Where the fuck did Monday go?!” stuck in my head. Then that Sunday came and I woke up and pulled up Facebook and saw that he passed away. I was–I still am–devastated. But it only serves to show how much of a genius Bowie was. He knew his time was up, and before he died, he explored his own death in the way that only he could–through music. And the result is a masterpiece that might just be his best album. Where the fuck DID Monday go?

4. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

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This is a concept album but not. I know that seems kinda off, but stay with me for a second. Danny Brown may not have intended for this album to tell a specific story, but the themes and sounds of this album are all so interconnected. He makes you feel like you’re going through your own “Downward Spiral” (heh, see what I did there?) of drug abuse and self-destruction. By rapping over such bizarre beats that no MC in their right mind would even consider, Danny Brown actually makes you feel like you’re on drugs.

You can go ahead and just consider the next 3 albums tied for Album of the Year

3. Solange – A Seat at the Table

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This album is gorgeous in every imaginable way. Right from the moment that this album started I knew I was in for something special. There is no way that an intro track can be this good, and then when “Rise” leads into that fucking spectacular bass line that starts “Weary”? Fuck, man. A Seat at the Table has been my go to album for working, running errands, even playing games. There are so many moments where Solange crafts such impeccable melodies and heavenly harmonized vocal segments. And that’s not even considering the uplifting message of identity and pride that seeps through this entire album. This album, for the forseeable future will hold a very special place in my heart.

2. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

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People who know me know that I’ve been a Radiohead fanatic for as long as I’ve been a music fan. And when Radiohead droppedBurn the Witch” after a billion years, I actually screamed. I am not even shitting you. I think I listened to that track something like 32 times the first day it was out. I just had it on repeat, I didn’t even want to think about listening to anything else. Then A Moon Shaped Pool came out, and hit me like a pile of bricks. I was speechless after the first time I heard it. And the second. And the third. Just like “Burn the Witch” I think I listened to this album on repeat for like 3 straight days. Every single track is heartbreaking and beautiful in that classic Radiohead way. Unlike Ok Computer, Kid A, or In RainbowsA Moon Shaped Pool doesn’t find Radiohead experimenting. Instead Thom Yorke and co. opted to just create something beautiful. And that’s exactly what they did.

Alright. We’re finally here.

1. Frank Ocean – Blonde

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I knew this album was going to be my AOTY from the second I heard it. I wasn’t a huge fan of Channel Orange. I didn’t think it did anything that was really interesting. Maybe I was wrong, I still haven’t gone back to give it another chance, maybe I never will. But Blonde feels like the album that Frank Ocean should have made from the beginning. There’s nothing that stands out above anything else. There isn’t a single track here that calls too much attention to itself. That might sound like a criticism, but it works. Instead of a collection of songs, Blonde works as a self portrait above anything else. Through the tracklist here, Frank explores every nook and cranny of his personality, of his soul. And it’s not just through his lyrics either. It’s through the sound of each song, it’s through the way he sings. It’s through the sketches that he uses as interludes between the different parts of this album. I have listened to this album countless times. I still don’t fully understand it. Maybe I never will. But maybe that’s the point.

 

 

 

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