Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Best Albums of 2016

So it was mid-December and I realized I hadn't really listened to any new albums in 2016. Music has always taken a backseat to some of my other hobbies, but this was ridiculous. So I subscribed to Amazon Prime's music service, grabbed a bunch of albums I was interested in or that were getting end-of-year award buzz, and listened to them a couple times. That's right, I'm letting go of CDs. For the most part. To be honest nothing here truly grabbed me and refused to let go, but I enjoyed all of it a lot. Only featuring four artists I've ever really listened to before!

Best of 2016

10. Bon Iver - 22, A Million

Bon Iver's Justin Vernon is known for his folk leanings, but he's also interested in electronic elements, which is abundantly clear listening to this. There's a track or two that's just his autotuned voice with no accompaniment, and for every time he busts out his acoustic guitar, there's another where he's all about glitchy computer noises. He's exploring a lot of different directions he can go with his sound, which I like.

9. Angel Olsen - My Woman

My Woman sounds like it could have been recorded at almost any time since the 1960s, and I mean that in a good way. The songs range from punchy, immediate garage rock to a much dreamier and slower style, and Olsen's unique voice ties all of it together.

8. Kendrick Lamar - Untitled Unmastered

Even Kendrick's B-sides are better than a lot of peoples' singles. The songs here were recorded while he was working on To Pimp a Butterfly, and he performed a couple on television at the time. I'm glad he decided to release them like this, because even his experiments are really good. These songs are generally pretty chill in comparison to where he can go sometimes, and I enjoy all of his jazz influences.

7. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree

The recording of this album was influenced by the death of Nick Cave's son during its production, and I honestly can't tell how much that shows because I'm not very familiar with the band's work. It seems like a big part of things though, as the album sounds at times haunting and even apocalyptic, and Cave's unusual vocal delivery gives it a weight I really liked.

6. Solange - A Seat at the Table

Beyonce's younger sister is an accomplished musician in her own right. Solange has a nice voice, and a unique ear for R&B melodies that sound new and exciting. She's also not afraid to be political, with thoughts about blackness and how that matters in today's world clearly permeating the entire thing. It was a pretty common theme in the music of 2016.

5. Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book

What's the difference between an album and a mixtape? With production this high in quality, does it even matter? I wasn't familiar with Chance before this year, but I really like what he's doing. He has a unique style of rapping where he is sort of singing half the time, and it's hard to pin down where one begins and the other ends. He also has no problem talking about his faith in God in one moment and his desire to smoke weed the next, which makes him an interesting character. It's certainly the most joyful hip hop on this list.

4. David Bowie - Blackstar

David Bowie knew he was dying while he was making this, and it's obvious he decided not to go down quietly. I've only started to really get into his music, but he's a rock legend, and it's remarkable how much this album kind of kicks ass at times. It's also amazing how clearly he's singing about the end he saw coming, especially on great songs like "Lazarus" and the closing track. Every artist should hope to have a final statement as good as Blackstar.

3. Kanye West - The Life of Pablo

The Life of Pablo feels like a bit of a hybrid of Kanye's previous two albums - it has some of the eclecticism and vitality of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but also some of the abrasiveness of Yeezus. He calls it a gospel album, but he also raps about fucking models and making Taylor Swift famous. Everyone has a strong opinion on Kanye, and it seems like if anything he encourages it with what he's doing here. And damn if he isn't still the best producer in the business.

2. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service

I haven't listened to A Tribe Called Quest before, but I definitely need to check out their back catalog. It's amazing to me that they came together for their first album in nearly two decades, only months before Phife Dawg's unfortunate passing, and it's this good. Great rapping, great beats, and a great lineup of guests, probably mostly artists who they influenced with their earlier work. Good from start to finish.

1. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 3

This was scheduled to come out in early 2017, but it was released online early as a surprise Christmas present. Run the Jewels 3 kicks just as much ass as their last album, if not more. You can just feel the rage behind every verse and every beat. Other albums will give you more variety or nuanced songwriting, but nothing is as propulsive and focused and ballsy as this.

Delayed Entry

This is the best album that wasn't released in 2016 but I didn't hear until then.

The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers

I easily could have put The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars here, but I already talked about Bowie and I might as well talking about The Rolling Stones too. In the last few years I've been opening myself up to classic rock more, and Sticky Fingers is one of the best albums from the era I've found. The band is just banging on all cylinders, with really great songwriting backing up a solid mix of rock with blues and other elements that created the genre in the first place.

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