So it has obviously been a long time since I posted on this blog, but I wanted to come back with a bang – which is exactly why I put together this behemoth. I love music and I love sharing my love of music, so if this prompts you to listen to any one of these albums – like it or not – that would make me happy. After this post, I plan on posting weekly, so look out for that! Enjoy.
Without further ado, my favorite albums of the last year!
- Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3
I have been a huge fan of Run the Jewels since their first project. I don’t want to say
this project is a step back exactly, but I do not think it was as good as Run the Jewels 2. I don’t think it was as cohesive as either of the other two projects. It almost feels as though it was rushed. That being said, it still clocked in at 20 for my albums of the year, so that should indicate just how great these guys are. Both Killer Mike and El-P has been shining for years, but they both got somewhat of a revitalization with their formation of Run the Jewels. They do braggadocios rap at its best, no holds barred. They also refuse to shy away from social issues in their work though. Killer Mike has always been like that while never sacrificing his wordplay and emcee skills for the sake of it either. El-P both again holds his own as a rapper and produced some wonderful fast-paced, occasionally industrial sounding beats. The record also has some great features from the likes of Danny Brown, BOOTS, and Kamasi Washington. With this third straight really good release, I think El-P and Killer Mike have cemented their names among some of hip hop’s best duos. Yeah, it may be a little early to say that, but I think the conversation needs to be had. If you want to check out more from Killer Mike, I would start at R.A.P. Music. If you want more El-P’s production, I would head over to the group Cannibal Ox’s work, namely The Cold Vein.
- NxWorries – Yes Lawd!
Now come on, you knew Anderson .Paak was going to make this list. He undoubtedly had one of the best 2016s of any artist. He released his debut, Malibu (which I’ll get to later), has had some absolutely stellar features, and dropped this project with producer Knxwledge. Now this particular album has 19 tracks, but only one song goes longer than four minutes. I wanted to mention this because I feel like so often artists do not consider the length of a project or the songs it contains and the effect that has. .Paak and Knxwledge struck a perfect balance here. With Knxwledge’s smooth production, one song almost flows into the next and none of them overstay their welcome. At this point, I’m also convinced that .Paak could actually sing anything and make it sound wonderful. The album moves from jams like “Suede” and “Wngs” into more contemplative tracks like “Khadijah” with an ease that seems like it shouldn’t be attainable for a duo releasing their first studio album. I really look forward to hearing more from NxWorries moving forward. If you want more .Paak – which you definitely should, but I won’t judge if you don’t – check out Malibu. If you want more Knxwledge, he’s got a handful of nice beat tapes in his back catalogue (some that even feature earlier iterations of instrumentals from Yes Lawd!) that you should check out.
- Michael Kiwanuka – Love and Hate
Kiwanuka’s first album a few years was a decent mix of folk, rock, and soul that had more than a few songs I still return to from time to time (especially the track “Home Again”). With his most recent release, he added something that wasn’t on his debut much – funk. He still retains that soft soul sound to his voice, but over more adventurous instrumentals. Man, does he do it well too. The album itself often feels like a meditation on different aspects of life from “Black Man In A White World” to “I’ll Never Love.” Sometimes it sounds as though Kiwanuka is bearing his soul (I guess pun intended even though I’m not proud of it) on the track, whereas on other tracks like the opening “Cold Little Heart” and the last track “The Final Frame” he often lets the instruments themselves take the spotlight. If you like Kiwanuka’s record here, I would recommend visiting Alabama Shakes. I was reminded of them a few times while spinning this Kiwanuka record, and I will jump at any chance to plug them.
- Jeff Rosenstock – WORRY.
Jeff Rosenstock’s album only runs 37 minutes, but he manages to pack quite a punch in each of his 17 songs. The lead track, “We Begged 2 Explode,” (my favorite track on the record too) takes the listener through a gambit of emotions from despair to anger to even a little bit of joy as Rosenstock croons “Friend will disappear after they fall in love/Fall in love and get married/Isn’t that shit like, craaaaaaaaaaaaazy?” But that’s par for the course for this album. It’s punk, it’s despair, it’s anger, it’s a furious tribute to the awful year that was 2016. I’ll be honest, I actually know very little about Rosenstock himself. I have never heard anything else from him, so all I can speak to is the strength of this album and it really does have that. I really like Rosenstock’s voice, his songwriting is a huge plus, and there is some really enjoyable guitar playing all over this record.
- Cass McCombs – Mangy Love
Within the first 30 seconds of Cass McCombs “Bum Bum Bum,” I knew I was going to enjoy this album. McCombs is another artist I had not listened to prior to this year. I absolutely love the guitar on “Bum Bum Bum,” and his soft-spoken singing (sprinkled with bits of a wonderful falsetto) matches it beautifully. The album continues that same trend the deeper you get into it. The guitar doesn’t go away, but he adds horns on tracks like “Laughter Is The Best Medicine” and a piano on “Low Flyin’ Bird.” (Probably my favorite track on the record) McCombs’ songwriting is another huge plus here, especially with tracks like “Medusa’s Outhouse.” By the end of Mangy Love, I came to appreciate how McCombs refused to be limited to one genre of music. He retains the same general sound with his voice, but he seems to take something from punk music, country music, folk music, and even some jazz music. It all adds up to an album that is absolutely worth your time.
- Isaiah Rashad – The Sun’s Tirade
If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen that I had Isaiah Rashad’s sophomore effort, The Sun’s Tirade at No. 2 for the rap albums that were released in 2016. He still retains that title even after listening to RTJ3 (Run the Jewels) and We got it from here…Thank You 4 Your Service (A Tribe Called Quest). He isn’t featured on many records like Future or Boosie Badazz, but when Isaiah releases music, it’s consistently near the top of my list. I will say, I don’t think The Sun’s Tirade is quite as good as his first effort, Cilvia Demo, but I absolutely loved that record. Sometimes you just want to be in your own head. Sometimes you want that slower music. The kind of music you might play with your windows down late at night driving through your city. Isaiah Rashad makes that kind of music for me. Often times, it just sounds as though he is just messing around churning out his work, his flow sounds that effortless. I will say though, I was a bit disappointed his single, “Nelly,” wasn’t on this record, but that’s okay, because now I am just going to advocate you go and listen to that.
- Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
My favorite rap album of 2016! Danny Brown just keeps getting better. This album sounds like anxiety. I have no idea if that could possibly explain what I mean by itself. The production all over this album relies on really dark sounds, occasionally venturing into more industrial/experimental sounds. If you have ever heard Danny Brown rap, you know how well Danny’s flow mashes with those types of sounds. Not to mention you have tracks like “Lost,” “Downward Spiral,” “White Lines,” whose lyrics seem to, at times, mirror the tone of those sounds. All of that adds up to what I was referencing about anxiety. So far, I probably haven’t made this project seem that appealing, but all those things I mentioned are what make it so special. The first track is “Downward Spiral,” and I do not think he could have picked a better one to lead the album. While this may not be the project to start with if you are new to Danny Brown, I would recommend at least giving it a shot. As jarring as the record can be, it also showcases the potential of a willingness to push sonic boundaries.
- Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Throughout this entire record, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was seeing a movie unfold in my head. It isn’t so much that the lyrics form a larger story or that it’s a concept album. It’s that as I moved from song to song, I felt myself walking down some path I had never been down. I couldn’t see faces, just silhouettes. I didn’t know where or why I was walking. All I could do was hear this album, track by track, passing in one ear and out the other. It was actually quite beautiful. My experience has almost nothing to do with the album itself (as in I have no idea why I went to that place or that I could guarantee you’d listen to the album and see or feel the same thing), but in that way, this album just stuck with me. Tracks like “Daydreaming” can still make me feel as though I am walking that path by myself, immersed in a wondrous – though at times haunting – instrumental. Honestly, I still haven’t even broken down much of the lyrics on the record, because every time I go to listen to it, I cannot stop myself from focusing on the sounds as opposed to their meaning. I would definitely recommend listening to this record, especially when you can just be alone with it.
- Whitney – Light Upon The Lake
The feeling I get listening to this debut record from the band, Whitney, is a very one I get when I watch Wes Anderson’s films. It’s packed full of breezy, whimsical nature that doesn’t settle for staying in that place. It wants to comfort you and indulge you in your fantasies, but at the same time, the record and the films are trying to leave you with more than you arrived with. Alright, I fear I took the comparison too far and it got away from me, I’ll reign it back in to talk specifically about this album. Light Upon the Lake lives with the beautiful instrumentals featuring different horns on numerous songs, acoustic guitars, pianos, and more combined with the often high-pitched singing of Julien Ehrlich. It’s a combination that brings each and every song vibrancy and depth, similar to the way Wes Anderson’s delicate selection of scenery combines with performances of recurring actors like Jason Schwartzman do the same for his films (hah! You had to have known I would try it again…).
- Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
I probably made it about halfway through this record for the first time, and said to myself, “Man, does this guy know that he kind of sounds like Michael Jackson? Even some of this instrumentals…this can’t be a coincidence.” Uh, well, if you look at the cover of this record…Blood Orange definitely had a poster of MJ as the only thing (besides the mirror on the adjacent wall) hanging on the wall. I felt kind of foolish and vindicated in my suspicion at the same time. To be clear though, it’s definitely not Blood Orange trying to impersonate MJ. I want to make this very clear. Blood Orange is a damn star in his own right. This album is stellar. It mixes songs about relationships, social issues, and general meditations on life in content, but it does it in a way that separates him from many other artists talking about similar things. For instance, go listen to “Hands Up” and tell me the last time you heard a track that devastating but catchy at the same time. It is on songs such as that that Blood Orange’s creativity shines. The album is a long one with 17 tracks, but you can’t help but feel at the end that it is completely justified. Blood Orange takes on a journey and if I may be frank with you, it’s to shut up, throw on track one, and listen to what the man has to say.
- Frank Ocean – Blonde
I recently relistened to Frank Ocean’s debut album, Channel Orange (please listen to this if you haven’t already…or even if you have), and it was even better than I remembered it being. It also served to get me incredibly hyped up for Frank Ocean’s next album. Not long after I relistened to that, we got that next album. While I’m not sure I’m ready to say that it was better than his debut, it’s a great album. Blonde follows a thread that has always run through Frank’s music (even back to the wonderful Nostalgia, Ultra days). Even though his songs often have broad applications to the listener’s life, they are deeply personal songs. On this record, he actually features a voicemail from his mother (which actually transitions into my favorite track). I have come to love that about Frank’s music though. It’s so intimate, both in content and in instrumental and even the way Frank sings. At times during this record, it feels like he might as well be in your living room singing the track just for you. It’s often stripped down with a focus on each syllable Frank utters. I have no idea how many times I will say there is beauty in simplicity and quietness during the course of my life, but listen to “Solo,” and try to convince me that that isn’t beautiful. Actually, don’t try, because I’m sorry to tell you that you could never convince me of such a thing. By the way? We got another Andre 3000 verse on this record (remember “Pink Matter”?), and I can’t even describe the delight that filled me when I recognized his voice.
- A Sailor’s Guide to Earth – Sturgill Simpson
There was a time that I hated country music. I used to slander the genre to no end. You know what, we all have our flaws. Mine happened to be that I weirdly reversed course on a genre I loved when I was really young. Okay, maybe it’s also that I’m not telling you the truth. I still hate Blake Shelton and a good portion of country music. However, that does not mean I won’t listen to country music. Boy, am I glad I broke that rule a while back. Have you heard Sturgill Simpson? I actually listened to his last album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and was a fan. When I heard he dropped a new album, I thought offhandedly, “Oh yeah, I’ll give that a listen.” Never will I speak offhandedly about a Sturgill Simpson record again. What I love so much about this record is how much it refuses to play by the rules. Simpson has a pretty traditional-sounding country music voice, but it works so well with the varying instrumentals all over this record. No two songs sound all that similar. He goes from big, near operatic sounds on the lead track to a country cover (with horns!) of Nirvana’s “In Bloom.” (which by the way is undoubtedly the best cover of that song I have ever heard) It’s that combination of staying true to the roots of country music, embracing who you are as an artist, and pushing yourself outside of what is comfortable that has me singing the praises of Sturgill Simpson.
- Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN
I loved Angel Olsen’s previous album, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, and two things stuck out more than anything else when I think about it: her songwriting and her beautiful vibrato. Guess what? Both of those are back on her new record. The sound feels completely different though. It doesn’t completely abandon the stripped down sound of her last album (it even brings it back for tracks like “Woman”), but it often sheds for a faster, more electric tempo. The results are wonderful. Songs like “Shut Up Kiss Me” are absolute jams that still showcase her stellar songwriting. However, you also have tracks like “Sister” on the background that return to a softer sound that relies primarily on her vocals. Either way, it’s a combination that has had me return to this album four times now. (I know that may not seem like a lot, but I listen to new albums each day, so I don’t return to albums as much – this one I did) My favorite part of this album is how Olsen takes seemingly disparate songs and runs a theme through all of them to create this cohesive sounding album.
- Mitski – Puberty 2
The first time I listened to this record, I was on a plane. Now if you have ever tried to listen to music on a plane that’s moving, you know it’s not exactly easy. I couldn’t hear half of what Mitski was saying and I actually fell asleep 2/3 of the way into the album. I knew I had to relisten to it, and boy, am I glad that I did. Mitski has a really sweet voice, but the strength of this album to me was how damn unique the instrumentals were. The first track alone, about halfway through, sounds like a kazoo (don’t worry, I don’t actually think it’s that), but it works! It really does. It’s one of the shorter albums in my top 20, but don’t let that fool you, Mitski packs a punch in a short amount of time. Look no further than “Your Best American Girl” for that. One of the marks of a truly great album is one that upon returning to it, you pick entirely different songs as your favorite. Each successive time I have listened to Puberty 2, I picked different songs as my favorite. It started with “Your Best American Girl,” then it was “Thursday Girl,” and on this listen, I’m actually leaning toward “Crack Baby” or “Happy.” Also, there are only 11 songs on this album, and 4 of them have been my favorites so far, it’s only a matter of time until I just declare the record one giant favorite.
- Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
“Fill in the Blank” may be my favorite lead track of any album that came out in 2016. The song is absolutely infectious, but digging a little deeper, it’s also a wonderful piece of songwriting. I also noticed on probably my third listen of this album that it hits me in three song bursts. Those first three songs (“Fill in the Blank” to “Vincent” to “Destroyed By Hippie Powers”) are stellar and then it goes into the decent “Drugs with Friends.” The next best three song streak on the album is the one near the end that starts with “Cosmic Dancer.” I absolutely love the way that song starts. Also, if you can make a 10-minute plus track that I really enjoy, you know you have a great album on your hands (see: “The Ballad of Costa Concordia”). See, we are getting into the top 5 now, and I am just going to gush about how much you should listen to each of these records, because they legitimately are that good.
- Pinegrove – Cardinal
“Old Friends” gives “Fill in the Blank” a run for its money as the best lead track on a 2016 album. What I love about this particular record isn’t just the song writing and singing of Pinegrove’s Evan Stephens Hall, Josh Marre, Nandi Plunkett, and Zack Levine. It is this lovely raw Americana sound that the band has perfected. It isn’t exactly a country sound, though it has those elements. It isn’t exactly an indie rock sound, although it also has those elements. It is some bridge between the two, and with Cardinal, I think Pinegrove found their sweet spot. It’s only a 30-minute record, and I think that was a perfect length for this album. It showcases their offbeat singing, their wonderful guitar playing, and some of their heartfelt songwriting.
- David Bowie – Blackstar
What in the world could I possibly write about this album that would do it justice? David Bowie knew he was dying, and as his longtime collaborator and producer Tony Visconti said, this record is the parting gift he left us. Bowie’s last couple records in general have been a return to form for him, but none came close to touching Blackstar. If ever there were a time to talk about the beauty in death and leaving this world, it would be while listening to this record. You cannot escape the record’s emotional gravity. It follows you through every track, but at the same time, you can’t help but feel some sort of release while you listen to the record too. Blackstar is art rock, Blackstar is jazz, Blackstar is David Bowie, and there will never be another. Rest in peace, Mr. Bowie. Thank you for everything. (P.S. this blog used to be named after a lyric in “Girl Loves Me” off this record – “Where the Fuck Did Monday Go?” – I still absolutely love that lyric and the way it echoes in that song, but decided it would be uncouth or whatever to keep that as the official name of the blog)
- Solange – A Seat At the Table
Remember how I said that Car Seat Headrest’s album hit in three song bursts, well Solange’s A Seat At the Table has the best three (even four actually) song run of any album I listened to in 2016. “Cranes in the Sky” starts this run, and it’s my favorite track on the album. However, “Mad” delivers a fantastic song about emotion, retaliation, and letting go. It also gives us some of the best Lil Wayne work in years. That moves into “Don’t You Wait,” which is just a wonderful song about Solange not giving into criticisms of her work or changing her style to appease said critics. A bonus track I would include in this run is “Don’t Touch My Hair” which is a great collaboration with Sampha. Really, this whole album is a great run, but that specific run right in the middle is my favorite of the year. Solange brought it with this album, and you should just sit back and listen. Take in what she’s saying. You might learn something too.
- Bon Iver – 22, A Million
If you know me beyond an acquaintance in any respect, you probably know how I feel about Bon Iver’s work (spoiler: I really like it). Initially when I heard this album, I thought, this is weird. It’s electronic, it’s at times experimental, and it’s a departure from his previous work. I can’t even decipher the damn song titles. In fact, I can’t even understand what Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon is saying 90% of the time I hear him, but on this record, it feels like none of that matters. Some music finds a way to worm its way inside you, so that when you hear it, something greater than that happens – you feel it. 22, A Million is that for me. It’s probably going to be another 10 listens before I can decipher meaning from the album as a whole, but what I love so much about this record is that I don’t give a damn about that. I know how it makes me feel, and that I didn’t get with many albums this year. My favorite track off this record at the moment is “29 #Strafford APTS.” Go ahead and give it a listen. I have no idea how you’ll feel about it, but I hope it can make you feel something the way it does for me.
- Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Before I ever listened to this album, I saw the trailer for the making of the album, called One More Time With Feeling. I’m not going to say anything else, just watch.
This album was made after the abrupt death of Nick Cave’s 15 year old son. That is the event he is referring to in the trailer. David Bowie’s Blackstar carried the gravity of his death while listening to it, but this album carries something entirely different. Whereas Bowie’s album felt almost as if it was a goodbye, this doesn’t feel like that at all. It feels like album that is screaming, “Please don’t leave me,” without ever wanting to say exactly that. It’s a record that ponders how to move on, or even if you can move on, from enormous loss. What does it mean to lose someone? What does it mean to move on? Ordinary life becomes difficult and completing the most mundane of tasks comes with extraordinary difficulty. No one knows this better than Nick Cave. I…don’t really know how else to pitch this to you. This is the best album I listened to in 2016. It’s devastating, it’s not liberating. It’s not about the freedom or the beauty in death. It’s about the exact opposite. It’s about how paralyzing loss can be. It’s about meaninglessness. It’s about digging deep within yourself and struggling to keep going without the person you love most. Take 40 minutes of your day sometime and just sit with this album. Allow Cave’s words and the instrumentals of The Bad Seeds to wash over you.
That’s my list! I would recommend you listen to all those records, but that’s also because I love music to no end. Just in case you also wanted a list of other albums I considered for my top 20 and thought would be worth your time, I also compiled that. These are in no particular order, but I hope you enjoy!
Hero – Maren Morris
Midwest Farmers Daughter – Margo Price
Magma – Gojira
HOPELESSNESS – ANOHNI
I like it when you sleep – The 1975
Human Performance – Parquet Courts
Changes – Charles Bradley
Lemonade – Beyonce (the ONLY reason this didn’t make my list is because I only got a chance to listen to it once, it would have been top 5-6 if I had more opportunities to listen)
Malibu – Anderson .Paak (again, the only reason this didn’t make the top 20 was because I only got to listen to it once)
Human Ceremony – Sunflower Bean
Blood Bitch – Jenny Hval
Konnichiwa – Skepta
When You Walk A Long Distance – Mothers
You Want It Darker – Leonard Cohen
Next Thing – Frankie Cosmos
Utopia Defeated – D.D. Dumbo
The Colour In Anything – James Blake
Wildflower – The Avalanches
Up To Anything – The Goon Sax
Ology – Gallant
Blank Face LP – Schoolboy Q
Still Brazy – YG
Hella Personal Film Festival – Open Mike Eagle & Paul White
Everybody’s Heart Is Broken – Niki and the Dove
Nonagon Infinity – King Gizzard and Lizard Wizard
Stranger to Stranger – Paul Simon
Untitled unmastered. – Kendrick Lamar
Hope Six Demolition Project – PJ Harvey
The Easy Truth – Skyzoo & Apollo Brown
Big Baby DRAM – DRAM
No Burden – Lucy Dacus
ANTI – Rihanna
blackSUMMERsnight – Maxwell
Lil Boat – Lil Yachty
We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service – ATCQ
Goodness – The Hotelier
And The Anonymous Nobody… – De La Soul
Honor Killed the Samurai – Ka
99.9% – Kaytranada
JEFFREY – Young Thug
Return To Love – LVL UP
The Life of Pablo – Kanye West
Emily’s D+Evolution – Esperanza Spalding
American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story – Kevin Abstract
American Band – Drive-By Truckers
Collegrove – 2 Chainz & Lil Wayne
Pretty Years – Cymbals Eat Guitars
Schilmco – Wilco
I Had A Dream That You Were Mine – Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam