10. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
Coloring Book is a golden crisp mix of spirituals and the goodness of what is sweet mainstream rap. The signature trumpet embellishments from The Social Experiment’s Nico Segal and the gospel choir vocals bring an uplifting vibe that the listeners associate with Chance’s contagious charisma. Coloring Book is the promise of potential that was revealed in Chance’s 2013 album Acid Rap.
9. Mitski – Puberty 2
Mitski offers resignation can be powerful as resistance in her third album, Puberty 2. Loud as the buzz of her reverb-heavy guitars ring throughout the album, her songs are less about screaming out her problems than the struggle to keep it all to herself. Though it feels understandably exhausting to suppress her pain, it’s also a step forward into maturity. “Your mother would not approve how my mother raised me, but I do/ I finally do,” she sings in “Your Best American Girl.” There’s something profound to hear someone be at peace coming to terms the forces against your control will always be against you no matter how much you try to fight them.
8. Angel Olsen – My Woman
Angel Olsen’s My Woman is the album we needed in a year like 2016. The lyrics are strong and self-assured, yet dark and depressing. Olsen’s voice teeters between ethereal and daydreamy to guttural and rough. She unabashedly shares her feelings, the feelings we are all feeling, of confusion and pain, of love and bliss. Angel Olsen is MY WOMAN of the year.
7. David Bowie – Blackstar
David Bowie’s Blackstar is a monstrous thing. Unbelievably dense yet cryptic and forward thinking, it feels like a message beamed to Earth from one this planet’s most consistently groundbreaking artists. Arriving a mere two days before his death, in January of this year, it is an attempt to reconcile the bleak, bottomless dark of oblivion with the movable feast that is a life well lived. This dichotomy is best displayed on the morbid dirge of an execution in the “Villa of Ormen” breaking way to buoyant, blissful strings and lyrics steeped in darkly self-conscious reverie, defiant in the face of inevitable progress.
“Something happened on the day he died.
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside.
Somebody else took his place and bravely cried. “
I’m a Blackstar. I’m a Blackstar.”
The quartet, headed by Jazz saxophonist Donny McCaslin, are at their moodiest in the lush and vibrantly exploratory “Lazarus” as a frail and seemingly desperate Bowie implores the listener to “Look up here man, I’m in danger. I’ve got nothing left to lose.” But it’s on the tender, and poignant “Dollar Days” that Bowie makes his most sobering admission, acknowledging in strained whispers that he may never reach those “English evergreens he’s running to.”
At times vulnerable, cryptically reflective and full of terror, and at others brash, self-assured, and confident in the face of it all, Blackstar is a fitting eulogy written by, and for an artist whose career was defined by perpetual reinvention.
6. Anderson Paak – Malibu
5. Frank Ocean – Blonde
Four incredibly long years since the release of Channel Orange had passed. The world of music was missing and confused by Frank Ocean’s conscious absence. He cancelled a performance at FYF Fest in Los Angeles in 2015 and posted a false date for the release of his album midway through the same year. Fans waited impatiently until a riddle the form of a live stream began to emerge online at the latter half of this year, followed shortly by pop-up stores, and then suddenly came the release of Blonde.
Blonde is a gorgeous craft of pop that bends and pulls with the play of time. The soundscape is a precious engagement with space. Digital organs and bass shimmer on the track “Siegfried.” The heavy weight of Ocean’s pen is felt throughout the album. Blonde is a meditation on love and a mirror to his own self and at times of the own nation he inhabits. The line “that nigga looks just like me” on “Nikes” trembles the sentiment of Frank Ocean realizing the similarity in melanin between Trayvon Martin and himself. The romantic in Ocean is not absent but always present even after mentioning divisive issues. “I’ll be the boyfriend in your wet dreams tonight” in “Self Control” cause the hearts and body to swoon just like high school crushes.
Blonde holistically is an album that 2016 is undeserving of. Frank Ocean’s detailed and patient beauty throughout the album is one that surpassed the expectations that Channel Orange had set. Blonde is by far one of the most precious gifts that listeners have received in the year 2016.
4. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
A Tribe Called Quest returned in 2016 with a purpose. One catalyst for their reunion that hangs heavy is the passing of Phife Dawg, whose voice looms here less as a ghost than a spiritual guidance. But there’s also huge political turmoil in their backyard, and some of ours, too. They’re lost as the rest of the nation. Their jazz-inspired sounds touching upon notes aggressive as the tension of the country. But as “We the People…” sings, there’s one thing clear: the Tribe ensure the people won’t stand divided under their music.
3. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
Justin Vernon’s third studio album as Bon Iver opens with a question: “Where you gonna look for confirmation?” The whole album is ripe with symbolism that invites the listener to parse a hidden message. Whether or not Vernon intended a specific message be found is beside the point: we can find confirmation for our beliefs wherever we look.
22, A Million is Bon Iver’s first release in five years. It’s an album about love, lost love, getting lost, and trying to find meaning. There are lo-fi elements and synths and vocoders so the listener has no idea if this is an electronic take on folk music or a nu-dance singer-songwriter power ballad-type thing, and since we’re so used to classifying things, our brains start to hurt when that gets difficult. The best way to approach this album is to listen to it once when you’re sad, and once when you’re happy. Then a hundred more times.
2. The Avalanches – Wildflower
If you haven’t listened to The Avalanches before, then you are in for a real treat. These Australians most likely have a record collection the size of Texas. With a background playing in punk bands and heavily influenced from the electronic-dance and hip-hop scenes, working alongside artists such as the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy, Since I Left You was born in 2000 as a timeless classic. Sixteen years later, fans patiently awaited the return of The Avalanches and were not disappointed with the release of Wildflower. Taking samples and piecing them together oh so perfectly for a silky smooth compilation of mind-altering beats and groovy dance riffs, along with prolific sound bytes sprinkled throughout each track, this album is one you should listen to all the way through. Preferably, while laying on a waterbed, looking up at the stars after taking a bite of mushrooms. The only bad part about flying is having to come back down.
1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
We stand at the end of such a turbulent, confusing year in the geopolitical landscape that it’s easy to forget a Radiohead album was even released this year. Or that it’s incredibly touching, impressively dynamic, and will likely be everlasting in the hearts of fans. All the exuberance of hearing “Burn the Witch” and its insistent, fiery string pattern building momentum against the forces of evil feels incredibly distant at this point in time.
And maybe that’s fitting. Released back in May, A Moon Shaped Pool is a record that deals with the harrowing fallout of a divorce, where distance functions like a weapon and daydreaming is a fickle escape that too soon begins to imitate real life. The maturity and complexity of the lyrical sentiments on “Decks Dark,” a patient treatise on the afterlife, “Glass Eyes,” a panicked moment of existential drama, and “True Love Waits,” surely one of Yorke’s finest ever vocal performances, are wonderful to unpack with time, but simultaneously gut-wrenching. News broke on Monday that Thom Yorke’s partner of over 20 years, Rachel Owen, has passed away from cancer. And with respect to Yorke and his family, all we can hope to do is offer our support for a overwhelmingly giving artist and cherish the way she lives on through these wonderful, heartbreaking songs.