And as another year draws to a close, it’s time to announce the Top Twenty albums of 2016. This list varies wildly from synthpop, hip hop, emotional pop ballads, and even a strain of good old country. The order was difficult to pin down since there’s tons of great albums, but i’m very happy with this list and hope you enjoy it and can at least maybe pick up a few new records you may have not heard before. Enjoy guys!
GONE IS GONE, SELF TITLED
KRISTIN KONTROL, X COMMUNICATE
DAVID BOWIE, BLACK STAR
20.SOLANGE, A SEAT AT THE TABLE
For a long time, Solange stood in the shadows of her much more famous sibling. Truth is, she still does, but the strength among this record makes it obvious that she’s no second fiddle. Sure the sister in question is a giant star, but Solange Knowles makes it look easy through every track on “A Seat at the Table.” It’s cohesive, and even better, every song is written by her, which is something Queen B never does.
19. MIIKE SNOW, iii
These guys were a huge breakout success with their first record, but even though they might not be blowing up stadiums worldwide, this record is fucking good. It’s a conscious synth-pop rock album with savory vocals and beats throughout, and it shows the true and growing potential of this band. You may have forgotten about these boys, but you shouldn’t have, because they put out their best record this year.
18. MITSKI, PUBERTY 2
A late comer to the countdown finds us at number 18. I had only heard of Mitski in the last few months, but after hearing what she actually brought to the table i was more than impressed. With vocals reminiscent of Annie Clark of St. vincent, Mitksi is able to intermingle a sullen soft desperate voice that winds over a multitude of impressive sounds, which makes her all the more appealing. A nice chill record with a twist, all in all.
17. PREOCCUPATIONS, PREOCCUPATIONS
I would have preferred they hadn’t changed their name from Viet Cong, but I guess you have to do what you have to do. Regardless of title though, Preoccupations keep their feet grounded in the style of music they always have. It’s heavy, dense, long winded at times, but thoroughly enjoyable throughout. It’s one of the better rock records of the year, and if you liked them before, you’re still gonna like them after you explore this album.
16. FRANK OCEAN, BLONDE
After years of waiting, Ocean deciding to make everyone go crazy with two album releases in a matter of days. The other honestly was mostly a waste of time for me, but this record, “Blonde” is a natural step for the best member of OFWGKTA. It’s sexy beyond belief, and although none of the songs are even close to up tempo, the patience that exudes from every song makes this record a solid addition to his growing arsenal of thoughtful, relaxed and layered music.
15. SAVAGES, ADORE LIFE
From the pummeling opening notes of “The Answer,” you know that Savages, the female foursome juggernaut, isn’t fucking around. Singer (INSERT Name), wails her voice chaotically but poised in a way I’ve never heard before. The musicianship that accompanies the record is also incredibly tight for a band still somewhat fresh in the giant world of growing bands. It’s crunchy in the best way possible, and I personally challenge all these macho tough guy bands to see if they can match the strength of Savages, because they might get fucked up.
14. EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY, THE WILDERNESS
EITS have been doing this for so long now that they basically have a framework for awesome albums pretty consistently. “The Wilderness,” the band's seventh album and first in five years, is more of the same that we’ve loved since 2000. It’s methodical and patient, never reaching out too much before the time is right. All the members of the band, from Chris Hrasky on drums to Michael and Munaf on varied instruments show their individual power and pull all of it together to give us a record that’s poignant and beautiful, and yet another solid record from a band that seems to be able to do no wrong.
13. DEFTONES, GORE
After all these years, the Sacto boys are still making metal with a twist, but also metal that can perch itself atop all the best of the genre. Tracks like “Doomed User” take advantage of the one two punch that is Carpenters racing guitar parts as they accompany Chino high pitch scream in a beautifully dangerous way. I might be biased in my love for this band, but that bias comes from the fact that I’ve never been let down by the sheer power and energy of this band. They’ve not only emerged as the most notably talented band from the Nu Metal era, but they refuse to give up, and can still drop the hammer when it comes to making a solidly heavy record.
12. MONO, REQUIEM FOR HELL
Japan’s noisy, post rock masters Mono have steadily been releasing quality albums for the last sixteen years, and while their personal growth has been obvious, not all of their records can match the darkness in density and tone that they reach on “Requiem for Hell.” Over the course of forty-six minutes, the slow burn is evident, but it’s also somewhat beautiful, which might seem odd given the title of the record. If you’re into instrumentally based challenging bands who give you the gift of imagining whatever world you brain can conjure up while listening, I’d highly suggest this tried and true act.
11. CHANCE THE RAPPER, COLORING BOOK
Over the last few years, Chance has been gradually becoming more and more of a big deal in the music world, and while I was late to warm to his unique brand of hip hop, I’m glad I did. His latest “mixtape,” “Coloring Book” is the best signal yet that he will be headlining festivals if his upward trajectory keeps going in a similar direction. It rips and roars enthusiastically, and has enough all star guests to put other rappers to shame. With his trademark voice rapping over a brilliant mix of traditional beats and horns and drums, “Coloring Book” adds to the testament that not only is Chance the next talented rapper set to blow up, but he’s done it entirely on his own, which isn’t easy when you consider how rough the music business is.
10. STURGILL SIMPSON, A SAILORS GUIDE TO EARTH
Now you could probably look at me and see that I don’t get into too much country, but from my angle, Simpson has easily transcended that notion. Sure he’s not Tim McGraw or other mediocre musician under the vast country umbrella, but what works so well for him is how ancient, full hearted, and sincere he comes off. This is country done in the ways of Cash and Nelson. Sturgill’s voice is warm, compassionate, and full of spirit in the halls that the country legends of the past left for him to discover. This record had a great impact on me, and hopefully it will do the same for you.
9. BAT FOR LASHES, THE BRIDE
Natasha Khan has grown so much from the early beginnings of her work as Bat for Lashes, but the more things change the more they stay the same. That’s not to discount her work on this record at all, far from it. This concept album about a wedding doomed before it even began has all the workings of her past records, but it’s decidedly darker and slower in pace. Many songs feature her deep and painful voice over low ambient beats, and it works in a way that it shouldn’t. Khan keeps somehow managing to stay under the radar, but in those shadows in the dark recesses of her own brand of melancholy atmosphere, she shines bright enough for you to find your way back to her.
8. DANNY BROWN, ATROCITY EXHIBITION
On his fourth full length proper record, Brown explores more territory unknown to him than on his previous efforts, and well it makes for a compelling listening experience. The low tempo beats on opener “Downward Spiral” make for an interesting entry into his “Atrocity Exhibition,” but the wonder doesn’t stop there. “Rolling Stone” is a chill track that’s energized by Brown's trademark high pitched vocals. His voice should never work in the context of what he’s trying to do, but maybe that’s what makes him such a standout talent. He continually grows in his art and finds ways to make things stick that shouldn’t
7. ANGEL OLSEN, MY WOMAN
Olsen has been on my radar for quite some time, but with “My Woman” she’s expounded her talent with an album full of mismatched songs in various styles, narratives and soundscapes. Some songs are slower and brooding, some are more clear rock oriented tracks, but all of them are hypnotizing and wonderful to listen to. “Shut up and Kiss Me,” the best song on the album and one of the best tracks of the year is a declaration to get out of your own head and be grateful for whatever happiness you can find. That type of mindset is sprinkled all over the album, and it plays to perfect effect as Olsen becomes the woman that indie rock needs right now.
6. NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS, SKELETON TREE
For more than thirty years, Cae and his Bad Seeds have been steadily building a catalog that’s as different record to record as it is consistently amazing and unparalleled. On “Skeleton Tree,” the band's sixteenth record, the pain and dread is palpable throughout. Built on the background of the death of Cave’s son in an untimely freak accident, this record is dark enough to make you want to run. In that darkness though, you see the soul of a man who’s broken and left to wonder what it all means. This album isn’t an easy listening by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s one that radiates beauty in the way Cave’s voice and the musicianship of the band come full circle and make for a thoroughly thought-provoking example of loss explored in musical form. A tour de Force record.
5. THE AVALANCHES, WILDFLOWER
And holy shit look at this, they finally released their second album. I won’t lie, i was very much in the corner of this record isn’t going to be worth the long wait we’ve endured since their first record came out in 2000. But in fact, I was wrong, and I can also see what took so long. The album moves forward much in the same way that “Since I Left You” did, but the added help from musicians outside of the confines of the band really adds a fresh layer to their sampling techniques. Danny Brown adds to the infectious ‘Frankie Sinatra,” while many others including Ariel Pink add their unique flare to this whirlwind that’s described as taking a cross country trip while experiencing the world through drug hazed eyes.
4. A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, WE GOT IT FROM HERE.. THANK YOU 4 YOUR SERVICE
After so many years it’s easy to forget just how important this hip hop group is. For their first release in many many years, ATCQ manages to come off stronger and more potent than they ever did. The album resonates with the same like minded attitudes that made the group such a powerhouse decades early, and that’s where the strength comes from. Guest spots from the long forgotten but sorely missed Busta Rhymes makes it all the better, with each song exacting revenge and bringing banging beat after banging beat. With the tremendous loss of Phife Dawg earlier this year this makes it harder for the album to remain a full embodied ATCQ record, but i have a feeling Phife would love that his comrades came together one last time with a proper goodbye that fans everywhere can eat up.
3. LADY GAGA, JOANNE
For all intents and purposes, my main complaint from Gaga up until this point was that she seemingly relied on theatrics and palor tricks rather than her proven voice. That all changed however with “Joanne,” her sixth record. The record is bare of most of her usual elements, but that’s what makes it such a profoundly good record. Her voice soars throughout the album, and songs like “Perfect Illusion” brings the good from the past into a new more mature light. It’s a rocking song that can pass as a radio hit while still staying true to what she’s trying to accomplish. Backed by Kevin Parker in the producer chair along with Mark Ronson, the album also features great guests like Florence Welch and Joshua Homme from Queens of the Stone Age. It’s a remarkably good record that everyone can get into it, even if you haven’t been hugely in love with her up until this part. I’m sold on this, and you might be too.
2. RADIOHEAD, A MOON SHAPED POOL
After five years, the enigmatic kings of alternative rock finally returned this year. Plenty of people didn’t fall in love with the previous “King of Limbs,” but “A Moon Shaped Pool,” brings it back to the layered, thoughtful, solemn sound that made the band so interesting in the last decade or so. Song after song finds it grove in ways only Yorke, the Greenwoods and company can. Many of these songs are familiar to hardcore RH fans, but it’s the new ways the band can change styles among the same song that make it sound so fresh. “True Love Waits,” the longtime fan favorite b- side finally shows up on a proper record, but it’s not what we were used to hearing. It’s wonderful all the same, but it’s in those ways that the band is able to spread their experimental tendencies and produce something that sounds way ahead of the curve in areas that would see other bands fall to the ground in defeat.
1. CHILDISH GAMBINO, AWAKEN! MY LOVEDonald Glover has gradually been veering away from his indie sampled beats since his early records, but what he does on “Awaken! My Love” is truly remarkable. Glover as Gambino manages to make a record that keeps the spirit of Prince and Outkast in the forefront while still making an album that very much sounds like a Gambino record. Up until last week no one had heard this record, but it wasn’t until the record came across my path did I fully understand who should take the number one slot on the Top 20 albums of 2016. Glover sings and croons with the best of them, while injecting this soulful record with the attitude and gloss of a powerful avant garde funk record from the heydays of funk jams. Song after song on “Awaken!” makes me miss the old days where it was just Gambino and his beats, but that’s not the whole story. Sure the old shit is great, but on this record he breaks out in big ways and conquers everything he touches. It’s joyous, uplifting and a drastic about face that makes me excited for what he may have in store for us in the years and albums to come. My number one record of the year, “Awaken! My Love” by the incomparable Childish Gambino. Thanks for reading!
Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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