Friday, December 16, 2016
Without further ado, here are my top ten albums of 2016:
Warpaint - Heads Up
Perfect mixture of their first album's driving post-punk and their sophomore album's murky electronics.
Porches - Pool
Water themes abound in this haunting collection of synth pop masterpieces.
The Weeknd - Starboy
The Weeknd is now firmly entrenched as a pop star, and he takes it to the next level with this deliciously varied set of R&B, pop, and electronic tracks.
James Blake - The Colour in Anything
Yes, it is way too long and needed some judicious editing. With that said, the jewels here far outnumbered the duds. Further exploring that wonderful voice, Blake married it to the most richly textural electronics in recent memory. Each song is deeply felt, and is akin to aural sculpture.
Beyonce - Lemonade
Only someone of Queen Bey's stature release an album about her husband's infidelity (with his assistance) and come out stronger and better than ever. This is a ferocious record that has Bey trying on all sorts of different musical looks, and making them all work for her.
Solange - A Seat at the Table
While her sister's album has garnered a lot of attention, it wasn't enough to overshadow this stunning record. For me, Solange just barely edges out Bey, more because this album felt more like a cohesive cycle of songs about what it means to be black and a woman in these times. It also skyrockets Solange into the upper echelons of songwriters. A truly amazing experience.
Beacon - Escapements
Ice cold synths and whispered vocals propel these tracks, reflecting on time, love, and memory. While to some this minimalism may be off putting, but for me, this duo expertly keeps you focused on their intricate productions. As the album journeys forward, the intensity rises, and by album's end, you are taken aback by how they have added more acoustic elements into the mix, showing that there is a beating heart at the center of things.
David Bowie - Blackstar
What more there is to say about Bowie? It is likely that we will never ever see anyone like him every again. He left this world a fitting epitaph to his life and work, the stunning Blackstar. For an album that is mostly about ruminations on death, there is a creative vitality to this work that shows the life still emanating from this great man. RIP David Bowie. My life has been better for having had you exist in it.
Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
Aside from "Burn the Witch," A Moon Shaped Pool is Radiohead's quietest record, full of ballads and lullabies. There is a despondency in these songs that is heartbreaking. Thom Yorke's haunting, very human voice gives the album its center and keeps it from being too morose. Radiohead are never satisfied with doing things the same way each time. It's a testament to their career, that they keep pushing the envelope, and A Moon Shaped Pool is certainly no exception.
Haelos - Full Circle
I am sure most people are like, who? And, why this album? At the beginning of this year, I was tasked with taking the California bar exam, and this record was basically my life-line back to reality. I had very little free time while going through that experience and I would pretty much listen to it early in the morning when going to the gym and through getting to and from work. There is nothing ground-breaking about their sound. It's an update on 90s trip-hop, but there is a wonderful, warm glow beneath the sounds. The harmonies especially are magical. While the songs all touch on the hardships of love, and the hardships of existing in this insane world, that underlying warmth provided hope. We all need hope. That is why this is my record of the year. It's gorgeous.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
Almost to the top, here are the records that just narrowly missed my top ten:
Cubicolor - Brain Sugar
Gorgeous downtempo electronica that was always a great rainy day record.
Local Natives - Sunlit Youth
Though they leaned more heavily towards electronics on Sunlit Youth, Local Natives never sacrificed melody or song craft. The songs here search for meaning in that hyper twilight hour between your 20s and 40s where you feel like you should be heading in the right direction, but are always doubting yourself.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree
Although the majority of Skeleton Tree was recorded prior to the accidental death of Cave's 15 year old son, the specter of his death hangs over this album. It's a haunting work, that is almost painfully insular; but it is a stunning reflection on life, loss, and seeking redemption.
Gojira - Magma
Born out of grief for the passing of the Duplantier brothers' mother (Joe is Gojira's singer/guitarist and Mario is the drummer), Magma is Gojira's tightest and most commercially viable record and yet its most somber and melancholy. While there are still raging songs here, the majority of the record finds the band exploring texture and drama.
Wild Beasts - Boy King
After their last impeccable record Present Tense, I was curious where Wild Beasts would take their sound next. They seemed to be wavering closer towards Talk Talk territory, becoming more and more ambient. With Boy King, they reveal that they had no intentions of fading into the background. Over 10 tracks, Wild Beasts amp up the synths and sleaze, and create a swaggering behemoth of an album.
A Tribe Called Quest - We Got it From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service
Laid back but overflowing with ideas and killer beats, this comeback record from A Tribe Called Quest couldn't have come at a better moment.
Banks and Steelz - Anything but Words
On paper, a collaboration between Paul Banks of Interpol and RZA of Wu-Tang Clan sounds like a disaster. In actuality, it was one of my biggest surprises this year. I still find myself going back to record and finding something new. A very melancholy tone hovers over the project, with tracks like "I Can Hardly Feel," "One By One," and "Gonna Make It" provided a triple punch of foreboding atmosphere.
Ariana Grande - Dangerous Woman
Ariana's amazing vocal range is highlighted on this stunningly diverse set of pop songs.
Tinashe - Nightride
Sleek and futuristic, Nightride is Tinashe's place holder while waiting for her major label album to come out, and seriously, it is some of the best R&B I have heard in awhile. If this is just a placeholder, I can only imagine how brilliant the next album will be.
Tegan and Sara - Love You to Death
While some could accuse Love You to Death as merely being Heartthrob 2.0, they would sorely be mistaken. Adding more depth and texture to their sound, Tegan and Sara have fashioned the best pop record of the year. Watch out Taylor Swift, these women are nipping at your heels.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Broods - Conscious
The Aussie duo Broods builds from their debut and crafts a hook-ridden collection of melodic synth pop.
The Avalanches - Wildflower
First things first, Wildflower is not Since I Left You. That it comes anywhere close to that masterpiece is itself a miracle. No one out there does sample based dance music quite like The Avalanches, and Wildflower, though 16 years in the making, doesn't disappoint at all. We just hope it is not another 16 before we hear from them again.
Rihanna - Anti
Anti is the first Rihanna album that doesn't sound like it was made in a vacuum. Most of her records are three or four killer singles surrounded by aimless filler while this is 13 songs that Rihanna wanted to record and fits her personality. She doesn't have to care what anyone thinks, and it shows. These tracks are loose and free, and perfectly Rihanna.
AlunaGeorge - I Remember
Perfect mix of club bangers, future R&B, and deep house tracks.
Boxed In - Melt
Boxed In's second record Melt was my go-to dance record this year. It always gets me moving.
Psychic Twin - Strange Diary
For a breakup album, Strange Diary is wonderfully warm, basking in the glow of its 80s synth pop sheen.
White Lung - Paradise
Blistering guitars take the driver's seat in this fascinating hardcore record. Less ragged than their previous records, White Lung's Paradise is sleeker, but that doesn't eclipse the fury that lurks beneath it.
Drake - Views
Full admission, even I think this album is a total mess; but what a fascinating mess. Tracks like "Controlla," "Hotline Bling," and the ever present "One Dance," keep this album from going completely off the rails.
Róisín Murphy - Take Her Up to Monto
Avant garde pop songstress Róisín Murphy continues her string of lovely oddities with this collection of striking tracks; her wit and grace intact.
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Continuing my countdown of my favorite albums of 2016:
Delorean - Muzik
While there are still several tracks on this record that will get you dancing, the majority of songs here strike a more melancholy tone. This collection feels like the comedown after the party, the memories of the evening fresh in the mind as you wander back home, wanting to be back in the thick of things, with nothing to worry about, all your cares lost to dancing. Reality setting in as the sun starts to rise.
Pantha Du Prince - The Triad
Although Pantha Du Prince works with the same minimal palate with each record, he still knows how to surprise. Over these gorgeous tracks, he takes what I call lullaby techno into sublime regions.
Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition
The music here is dense, dark, and unforgiving, with Danny spitting his paranoid and skittering verses over it. It's a challenging record and not an easy listen by any stretch of the imagination, however, it is essential listening.
Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Denial
Catchy as hell indie rock that was one of my favorite go-to guitar records, in a year that, for me, was fairly devoid of great rock music.
Dawn Richard - Redemption
The completion of a trilogy of records, Redemption finds Richard marrying her gorgeous vocals with maximalist production from producers like Machinedrum. Her records are always so striking because they don't sound like anything else on the R&B spectrum.
LUH - Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing
After his first band WU LYF imploded, singer Ellery James Roberts comes back guns blazing with his latest project LUH (Lost Under Heaven). This record is messy, over the top, dramatic, and intensely brilliant. Ellery doesn't do anything half assed, going for broke with each track. While it can be overwhelming at times, once you let yourself get swept up in its waves, you will be transfixed.
Jubilee - After Hours
Stylistically, After Hours is all over the dance floor map, jumping from trap, Miami Bass, and everything in between. In lesser hands, this would be a recipe for disaster, but Jubilee keeps it all in check, slamming down one jeep rattling track after another.
NOVAA - Stolen Peaches EP
German producer/songwriter NOVAA was working on an album called Peaches when her laptop with everything on it was stolen. She recreated most of the tracks, releasing them under the fitting title Stolen Peaches. These nine tracks, are quirky electro-pop, with tons of texture, warped samples, and vocal manipulations. Against all this sonic exploration, is NOVAA's warm, human vocals that bring a beating heart to the record.
Young Thug - JEFFREY
Young Thug continues to challenge notions of gender roles and stereotypes in his challenging music, and does it with sonically dense productions.
ANOHNI - Hopelessness
Working with Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, ANOHNI crafts a striking electronic protest record that speaks to these bizarre times we live in now.
Monday, December 12, 2016
It was a pretty great year for albums. I had a very difficult time narrowing the list down to fifty. I will be counting down to my number one record which will be revealed on Friday.
Sleigh Bells - Jessica Rabbit
At this point in their career, Sleigh Bells didn't appear to have any more tricks up their sleeves. With Jessica Rabbit, Sleigh Bells finally find a way to take their initial, brash approach and meld it with a more mature vision. While there are still many jeep rattling tracks here, it is the quieter, more nuanced songs that stick long in the memory.
Phantogram - Three
As Phantogram move closer to pop stardom, they still retain enough of their original edge to keep pulling me back in. Although Three felt more like a tentative step forward than a quantum leap, tracks like "Funeral Pyre" and "You Don't Get Me High Anymore," show that the duo can weave a masterful spell with ease.
Tove Lo - Lady Wood
Swedish pop star Tove Lo throws down another solid set of tracks that find her bemoaning the state of modern love and seeking solace in clubs and partying.
Olga Bell - Tempo
The hookiest art pop record of the year. The quirkiness is so charming you will be too busy dancing to realize this is an experimental record.
Totemo - Desire Path EP
Expertly textured electronica from Tel Aviv singer Totemo. These five tracks are so intricate, you almost need an archaeologist to discover each and every layer.
BASECAMP - In Stone EP
Gorgeous future R&B tracks with a bent towards electronic textures.
Balance and Composure - Light We Made
One of my favorite rock albums of the year, Light We Made showed Balance and Composure embracing more electronic textures and elements, but keeping them subtle and in the background, letting their clean hooks be the focus. This feels like their The Bends, and I am excited to see where they go from here.
Underworld - Barbara Barbara, We Face A Shining Future
Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future, is not a record that immediately hits you over the head or in the gut, it is a slow burner that reveals its charms delicately. Once it does, however, you understand and feel its sublime nature.
The Range - Potential
Amazing record that takes painstakingly curated clips from young performers found on YouTube and intertwines their words, their hopes and dreams, with skyscraping electronics.
Deftones - Gore
On their best record since White Pony, Deftones expertly merge their metal roots with sonic experimentation.