So we’ve come to the end of 2016 and I’m looking back on the year and taking a closer look at what music I’ve listened to throughout. I know deep down that this sort of thing is pretty dumb, but I think at the end of the year it’s fun to look at what really hit me and what has held up across an entire years worth of time. I originally wanted to keep this list to fifteen albums, but seeing as I only started this blog in September, there’s a lot of great music from this year that I didn’t get to talk about yet, so, out of the several hundred records I heard in 2016, I narrowed it down to forty picks ranked in order of increasing awesomeness.
40. Chance The Rapper- Coloring Book (Hip Hop)
I have to admit, this just barely made the list. There are quite a few misfires on this project, to the point where I really didn’t like it the first time I heard it. But, despite an over-reliance on features and some questionable mix choices (seriously, that Kanye part on the first song is way too damn loud and sounds like ass), what Chance does get right is so transcendently good that I’m willing to overlook some of the not so great guest appearances and production oddities, although I feel it’s only fair to place this closer to the bottom because of its problems.
39. Frank Ocean- Blonde (R&B)
After four years, Frank Ocean returns with a moody, quietly introspective record that takes a little living in to get used to. I didn’t like this upon first listen, but as I let everything sink in, the vibe and lyrics really started to reveal themselves in a way that made this a really unique record for me, perhaps being overshadowed by the craziness surrounding its release. I think Frank Ocean is one of the best lyricists in modern music, and this record is almost just as much a lyrical experience as a musical one.
38. Iggy Pop- Post Pop Depression (Rock)
This album is the result of the collaboration between two of the coolest people in music history. Iggy Pop might just be the second-coming of Jesus Christ, and here he works with Queens Of The Stone Age main man and rock’s resident cool guy Josh Homme, and what we get is a rumbly desert rock album that combines the sandy sounds one has come to expect from Homme and the degenerate wit of the godfather of punk himself.
37. Purson- Desire’s Magic Theatre (Psychedelic Rock)
I first discovered this band when they opened for Ghost in Nashville, and I instantly fell for their old-school brand of psychedelic hard rock and folk. This sort of retro-drugged up rock sound is being done to death these days, but Purson bring a musical eclecticism and prog-tendencies that a lot of their peers never really muster. Hendrix and Heart references abound on this one.
36. Xiu Xiu- Plays the Music of Twin Peaks (Experimental/Soundtrack)
I know it’s a real hipster thing to go on about Twin Peaks, a show from the nineties that probably isn’t as good as most people will tell you. But I love the series, and its soundtrack is absolutely classic, and this record of covers by the band Xiu Xiu is a must if you’re into the show. I would love to see an edit that incorporated these industrial, spooky renditions of classic pieces of music from the show into an episode or maybe even incorporated into the upcoming reboot.
35. Puppy- Vol. II (Alternative Rock)
This is a really small band that I would love to see make it big. Their second EP is a great combination of crusty metal riffs and catchy alternative rock. If you really love the sound of nerdy alt-rock bands like Weezer or Motion City Soundtrack, this short collection should satiate a bit of that hunger.
34. Car Seat Headrest- Teens Of Denial (Lo-Fi/Indie Rock)
This guy has made something like thirteen albums, most of which were recorded on his own, in the past six years or so. I don’t even think E-40 makes albums that fast! Regardless, this has everything I look for in good alternative rock: emotional and melodic, but with enough bite as to not be totally lethargic like so many other acts in this genre.
33. Beyonce- Lemonade (Pop/A Bunch Of Other Genres)
Before I get into this album, I wanna come out and say that I am NOT part of the Cult of Beyonce. Not a worker bee in the Beyhive. That being said, this is a fantastic record and a great example of how to make pop music with substance in 2016. The main thing this album made me realize about Beyonce herself that I never really thought about before was her versatility as a performer. She holds her own in a gaggle of different styles and genres across the record’s twelve tracks. While this record is the result of the efforts of a bunch of different people, including the producers and and additional songwriters that helped to sculpt the backdrop, Beyonce holds all of it together magnificently with one of the best vocal performances of the year.
32. Deathspell Omega- The Synarchy Of Molten Bones (Black Metal)
Although it’s near the bottom of the list, Deathspell Omega win hands down for best album title of the year. “The Synarchy Of Molten Bones”? That’s awesome. Doesn’t get much more metal than that. I don’t listen to a whole lot of black metal (it’s definitely a genre I have to be in a certain mood for), so it takes an exceptional record to really jump out at me. And this is one of those records. One of the most frightening bands to do it, these anonymous Frenchmen give one of the most disorientingly evil thirty minutes of music to come out in 2016.
31. Death Grips- Bottomless Pit (Experimental Hip Hop)
The latest from the Sacramento experimental hip-hop maniacs places emphasis on catchy hooks while being as abrasive and chaotic as ever. MC Ride is at his most unhinged on tracks like “Hot Head”, and the production team of Andy Morin and Zach Hill have perfected the craft of terrifying noise based beats, but with a certain amount of sheen that somehow makes the record more palatable than some of their earlier work. It’s almost the logical end result of what The Bomb Squad started with the production work they did for Public Enemy. Bear in mind, however, that this is still just as mental as you would expect from Death Grips, but, just like they’ve proven with past records, this is still somehow catchier than it has any right to be.
30. Ka- Honor Killed the Samurai (Hip Hop)
In a year where mainstream hip hop has continued its several years long nose-dive, artists like Ka proved that there’s still room for conceptual, thought provoking rap music. This record, surrounded by the some of the most creative production I’ve ever heard on a hip hop album, is conceptually anchored in a metaphorical link between the life of the honor-before-everything samurai of feudal Japan and the struggle of minorities in poverty stricken areas of America. It’s a quiet yet striking record that doesn’t really sound like anything else released this year.
29. Gojira- Magma (Metal)
The vanguards of French extreme metal decide to take things down a notch for a more straightforward, stomping record compared to the slamming technical songs of their past work. Whether or not this change of pace really elevates their career commercially remains to be seen, but one thing that is certain is that this collection of songs makes for a less intimidating listen for more casual metal fans, with more clean vocals and less angular instrumentation. While that may be a turnoff for some fans that loved the band for their blunt yet progressive sound, the songwriting here is strong enough to make this essential listening for metal in 2016.
28. Childish Gambino- “Awaken, My Love!” (Funk/Soul)
Donald Glover really went out on a limb with “Awaken, My Love!” and it pays off in large dividends. Ditching his alt-rap sounds entirely for smooth funk and psychedelic soul, I struggle to think of artists who improved this much with this big of a stylistic shift. In addition to some of the best production I’ve heard in a long time, Glover also proves that he has a singing voice to be reckoned with, something that I don’t think anyone was expecting.
27. Radiohead- A Moon Shaped Pool (Experimental Rock)
Five years after the disappointing The King of Limbs, Radiohead return to form with a more organic sound, couched in lush strings and crisp instrumentation. Tom Yorke is as cryptic as ever, and his falsetto just as haunting. Songs like “Burn the Witch” and “Ful Stop” convey a sense of urgency without ever getting really loud, impressive for a band with three guitarists, and Johnny Greenwood brings his best orchestration to date.
26. Aesop Rock- The Impossible Kid (Hip Hop)
The rapper with the largest vocabulary of all has made one of his most cohesive projects yet with his seventh album. Rock’s messages may be difficult to decipher sometimes (I had to go to RapGenius on just about every song here just to get an idea of the ideas being conveyed), but the flows here are impressive enough to enjoy on their own and the production slams appropriately. A must for people seeking some extremely lyrical hip hop.
25. Black Peaks- Statues (Post-Hardcore/Progressive Metal)
Talk about a band that was tailor-made for my tastes! Progressive rock, hardcore, metal, and grungy alternative rock collide in a debut record from a band that really came out of nowhere. Most impressive about this is how singer Will Gardner rides the massive ebbs and flows of the music backing him, combining everything great about Thom Yorke, Devin Townsend, and Maynard James Keenan with an elegant poise that rarely shows itself within this type of music. These guys are gonna have to pull together something truly magnificent to top this record.
24. clipping.- Splendor & Misery (Experimental)
A hip hop album on the very fringes of what could actually be considered hip hop, this record borders on ambient spoken word at times, but the lyrical narrative, combined with the dread-lined atmosphere, is gripping to the point of real tension. After releasing a fairly straightforward EP of the sleazy industrial rap Daveed Diggs and crew are known for earlier this year with Wriggle, I was not expecting something this experimental from their next full-length, but it pays off in a major way. The phrase “experimental hip hop sci-fi concept album” may be the last words a casual listener would ever want to hear, but this is legitimately unlike anything I’ve ever heard before, and even if you can’t take the experimentally minimalist musical texture, you have to admire the way these guys made the story of this so easy to follow with such out there musical ambitions.
23. Kvelertak- Nattesferd (Metal)
Kvelertak are another among the critically acclaimed metal bands that radically changed up their sound this year. While their two previous records offered a unique blend of hardcore punk, black metal, and hard rock, Nattesferd opts to go completely for an old-school British heavy metal sound. While the brutality may have been dialed down, the anthems have been turned up to eleven, and the Norwegian band impressively makes an album with no English lyrics that is still really catchy and fun to shout along to.
22. Various Artists- Southern Family (Country)
I’m of the opinion that anything Dave Cobb touches turns to gold, and here is possibly his magnum opus. Taking inspiration from White Mansion, Cobb curated this compilation of brilliant modern country artists and works them into a work epic in scope. This record features a diverse array of sounds, from sleek modern Nashville country to mountainy Americana to southern rock. All of this is an exploration of the idea of family, and as cheesy as it may sound, it’s one of the most emotionally complex country albums I’ve heard in awhile. Dave Cobb is, to me, the shining light of modern country music.
21. Oranssi Pazuzu- Värähtelijä (Black Metal/Experimental)
Something that always intrigues me are artists that take two things that clearly do not go together but somehow make it work. Oranssi Pazuzu collide black metal and psychedelic rock into a claustrophobic soundscape that is, frankly, quite terrifying. Black metal mainstays like dissonant minor chords and distorted ambient screams occupy the same space as hammond organs and raga-esque drones in what turns out to be a massively trippy journey.
That’s just the beginning though. Stay tuned for the top 20!