Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Top 50 Albums Of 2016, 10-1


We've reached the end of 2016. The 12 past months have been interesting, to say the least. As our society begins to crumble, faced with the daunting effects of a controversial POTUS set to take over, we must turn to art for salvation. Bad news has spread like wildfire across televisions, computers, and cell phones, which is why the music I found most appealing this year were those albums that deferred attention by making something beautiful.

And while a slew of disappointing releases came to fruition, no, don't expect to find Ab-Soul, Post Malone, or Vic Mensa here, some success stories emerged as unexpected candidates assumed roles with albums made outside of their preconceived threshold. These 50 albums spread the gamut of my musical understanding for 2016, finding recourse in the dark world of a slave ship gone rogue, a man finding conflict within his own brain, a summer road trip down route 66, and a demented children's party out on a yacht. Diversity in music is at an all-time high, and with these 50 albums, I'm set on proving why.

*All albums from 2016, apart from two, which released at the tail end of 2015.

Also be sure to check out my best albums of 2015 and 2014.

Beyonce | Lemonade | Review

Ten years ago, my younger self, still trying to maneuver his way through new musical interests, would've laughed at the thought of Beyonce making a high-quality album. Like all music snobs at one point or another, I condemned Pop music as being vapid. However, it took albums like Lemonade, one's capable of being appealing and creative at the same time, where my opinion started to shift. Who would've thought that one of the year's most popular albums would be a concept centered around the tribulations between one of music's strongest power couple. Lemonade did that just, sending a rift through the industry in the process, regardless of the mischievous marketing intentions.

While the fabrications and awareness from Jay-Z may lessen the appeal for many, I stay unfazed, content on the evolution of Beyonce found within than the exterior efforts Lemonade pushed. Like a well-told narrative, the main character of Lemonade, Yonce herself, explores her own decisions, regrets, and dilemmas, coming to a sound, and beautiful, resolution on 'All Night.' There's your archetypal discovery on 'Hold Up,' revenge on 'Sorry,' payback on '6 Inch,' and self-assurance on 'Freedom.' She comes full circle, and for a glorified Pop album, that commitment to artistry is imperative to its own success.

clipping. | Splendor & Misery | Review

Much was said about clipping.'s Splendor & Misery. The Experimental Hip-Hop trio made waves with their unorthodox mix of Industrial and West Coast with 2014's CLPPNG, an album that still remains one of my favorites in recent memory. But where do you take a group already flourishing in all facets? Well, if Wriggle, the six-track EP from earlier this year was any indication (hint: it wasn't), you'd go the more traditional Pop route, making catchy tunes that only relied on the Industrial as a crutch. Instead, they confounded all expectations and released what may arguably go down as one of the most left field Rap albums of all-time.

Rather than tell the story of the streets, clipping. took to space, removing the West Coast edge with that of old slave Spirituals. Set in the distant future, Splendor & Misery followed Cargo #2331 and his journey to the limitless. It was brave, unusual, and, most of all, completely unparalleled, even for a genre that feels it's expanding. Take the sensational 'True Believer' that layers dingy, tucked-in-the-corner slave chants over emotionless steel drums and fractured wiring, or the phenomenal finale 'A Better Place' where Cargo #2331 finds solace in the unknown, content to abandon all he's known for what's left to come. Splendor & Misery did exactly that, elaborating upon the splendor and the misery a slave shall endure.

Bon Iver | 22, A Million | Review

While Kanye West sure has a lot of friends, none seem as strange as Justin Vernon, the head and soul of Bon Iver. Their allegiance stems not from similar backgrounds, nor fame promoting 101, but a true, passionate love of each other's artistic form. Whether a coincidence or not, Bon Iver has followed West's career thus far to a tee. You have the innocent origins of College Dropout and For Emma, Forever Ago, the large, organic expansion of that with Late Registration and Bon Iver, Bon Iver, and finally the breaking of the mold with Graduation and 22, A Million. Now sure, the latter album feels most similar to Vernon's work with West on Yeezus, but that doesn't mean trajectories are on point, with both artists searching within themselves for music that feels personal despite adhering to noted trends.

22, A Million borrows from James Blake, Francis & The Lights, and a handful of other minimalistic Alternative R&B artists, but with 22, A Million, Bon Iver did something unnatural; they took from the past in the form of samples. Meant to represent Vernon's conflicting memories, fragments disposed across the record helped to make it one of the most peculiar, but endearing of 2016. Standouts like '8 (Circle),' '33 "GOD",' and '22 (OVER S∞∞N)' breathed a new, fresh, unnatural beauty into not just the genre, but music as a whole. Vernon's weary vocals contemplating his own lost mementos helped the vast instrumentation fill a room like none other.

Deakin | Sleep Cycle | Review

In 2010, Animal Collective released their most acclaimed release yet with Merriweather Post Pavilion. However, a familiar name to their cult-like fans, Deakin, was absent. Fans immediately started questioning his contributions. And while the lackluster Painting With was also Deakin-less, the narrative was already set. Thankfully, redemption was at hand as Sleep Cycle, an often-delayed Kickstarter-funded project, released this April, bringing all AnCo fans back to their innocent, soul-seeking glory days. For Deakin, Sleep Cycle meant more than just an album, it was a hurdle to his own inhibitions, a project that dominated his life for the past 8 years.

You sensed that as the lurking, quaint, and atmospheric Sleep Cycle churned onwards. 'Golden Chords,' the opening track that failed to eclipse the Singer/Songwriter hard wire, witnessed Deakin questioning his own successes and whether he'll have any at all. It's a beautiful little harmony of a man lacking confidence, setting the scene for when Sleep Cycle would find it. By 'Footy,' the music was beaming, filled with life, and anthemic. With just six tracks and 33 minutes, Deakin was able to come full circle, overcoming his own odds in a quest to prove himself worthy. Sleep Cycle accomplished that swimmingly, a lovely portrait of frailty, and an excellent contribution to the AnCo canon. 

Yoni & Geti | Testarossa | Review

I'm a sucker for concept albums. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. Given time, I could rant about the fact that music seems to be the only major form of entertainment not reliant on story, theme, or arch. The vast majority of albums merely exist as a means to contain secular, unrelated tracks. The scarcity of dedicated concept albums make their appearance all the more appealing to me, so in cases like Yoni Wolf & Serengeti's Testarossa, even if the story of a struggling musician on the road, his family at home, didn't seem to hold value, the execution, in musical form, was still remarkable.

Using motifs, emotional tugs, recurring plot points, and nondescript character sentiments, Testarossa thrived by bringing to music what was missing. On sillier tracks, like 'Frank,' where we learn about the lead's best friend, or 'Down,' where he parties with a woman half his age, the importance of Testarossa seems sparse. Why's this story have purpose, you may be asking yourself. Well, diversion's like 'Madeline' or 'The Lore' hint at a family in distress, and with the grand finale 'I, Testarossa,' all becomes clear, as the poltergeist oozing out of the model Testarossa returns home in hopes of amending wounds. It's a portrait of the missing family; fears, worries, and events that get resolved without the world finding out.

Car Seat Headrest | Teens Of Denial

There's been a distinct lack of discussion over the state of Indie music. Now, that thought may be silly, considering we haven't even answered what Indie is yet. But the general consensus sees names like Arcade Fire, Animal Collective, and Sufjan Stevens spark up immediately. These high-profile artists needn't be concerned, as the real problem of Indie lies in its future, with a noticeable absence of up-and-comers worthy of inclusion. That goes without mentioning Will Toldeo and Car Seat Headrest, his Indie Rock group, that released their best album this year in Teens Of Denial.

Combing what made Indie cultural nearly two decades ago, Teens Of Denial languished in adolescent pessimism, coming-of-age fears, and loud anthems to support both ideologies. Meshed within that were catchy hooks unknown to Indie Rock in recent years, with stellar standouts like 'Destroyed By Hippie Powers,' 'Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales,' and 'Cosmic Hero.' In reality, Teens Of Denial acts like Toledo's very own Greatest Hits, a perfect summation of every facet of his enigma. The music is stellar, the stories are personal, and the arch is life-affirming. It's just what the Indie scene needed.

David Bowie | Blackstar | Review

The story of Blackstar is no stranger to anyone by now. David Bowie's death sent shockwaves through 2016, a year regarded by many as notoriously morbid. Yet Bowie's quiet death, thanks to Blackstar, felt particularly beautiful. He knew. There's no question about it. From the imagery of him becoming an actual star, to the cover being the first not to feature his face, to the constant overbearing topic of life, death, and acceptance, Blackstar was consumed by its owner's own demise. Bowie's commitment to his craft grew from the first days in the shadows of The Beatles, to the decades spent in his own lane, to the growing pains of a new generation, to Blackstar.

There is no question David Bowie is, in my eyes, the greatest artist to live. The fact that Blackstar, made in secret forty years past his prime, was able to succeed with such quality is a testament to his unrivaled talents. It apparently took influence from current greats Kendrick Lamar and Death Grips, while toying with Art Rock, like "Heroes," and Jazz Rock, like Black Tie White Noise. From the tearful 'Lazarus' to the fearful 'I Can't Give Everything Away,' Blackstar wastes no time with the time it's given, cause Bowie himself knew it was limited. 

Lil Ugly Mane | Oblivion Access | Review

Late last year, Lil Ugly Mane ended his career with a bang. This was only a few months after I had discovered him with Third Side Of Tape, yet the claustrophobic, unnerving, and portentous Oblivion Access felt oddly personal. It'll remain to be seen if Lil Ugly Mane sticks to his retirement, and if he does Oblivion Access might as well be the perfect send off, leaving the enigmatic Internet commodity off on rocky footing. If the grand finale, capturing a man mocking his own fan base, and his own insanity, 'Intent And Purulent Discharge,' meant anything, it's clear the impact his music caused went well beyond sheer enjoyment.

Oblivion Access is a dark, monstrous beast that twists Hip-Hop tropes over and over, confounding expectations similar to Death Grips. Being that it was his last project, Lil Ugly Mane made sure to throw the kitchen sink at the album, finding a chaotic mix between bangers, conscious tracks, instrumentals, and noise. End of the day, Oblivion Access is a true Experimental album. The two twin towers acting as the pinnacle, 'Collapse & Appear' and 'Leonard's Lake,' showcase this beautifully, the former using a disturbed, emotionless Siri to act as an inner demon, the latter using a 1920's Jazz quartet as a reawakening. 

Danny Brown | Atrocity Exhibition | Review

Mark my words. If it hasn't already happened, Danny Brown's Atrocity Exhibition will go down as one of Hip-Hop's most revered albums. No, it's not a grand opus intent on changing the world like To Pimp A Butterfly or My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy. No, it doesn't reinvent the wheel like Enter The 36 Chambers or Madvillainy. And no, it won't alter the course of the genre like Ready To Die or Stankonia. But what Atrocity Exhibition does better than any Hip-Hop album I've heard is flawlessly merge mainstream and experimentation. It's simultaneously trendy and left field, current and distant, relatable and just downright bizarre.

Danny Brown and Paul White, who provides two-thirds of the insane beats here, have created a world where asinine lyrics about drug addiction, sexual problems stemming from an overzealous attitude, and street-wise smarts become a form of entertainment thanks to their outrageous execution. The variety is unparalleled, from the demented circus on 'Ain't It Funny' and 'Golddust,' to the unorthodox bangers in 'When It Rain' and 'Pneumonia,' to the inner-city darkness of 'Tell Me What I Don't Know' and 'Today.' Atrocity Exhibition entertains in ways no album before it has. Named after a scenario of utter human depravity, that acknowledgment seems fitting. 

The Avalanches | Wildflower | Review

There's no denying the rapid transitions our world has endured following the swap into the new millennium. With 9/11 looming in the near future, and the unfathomable expansion of the Internet causing massive, dynamic global shifts on the horizon, humanity has sought to seek refuge in the past during these trying times. However inept, there's a reason Donald Trump's slogan rang 'Make America Great Again.' Fear and paranoid have run rampant, coinciding, as art and culture are always prone to do, with our music turning a stoic face towards the pitfalls of modern society. Maybe, ideally, that's what makes The Avalanches' Wildflower so great. It's not concerned with the problems of the present. In fact, it's not concerned with problems at all. The Avalanches' sophomore LP simply admires music in its purest form. Samples taken from decades spanning humanities global expansion dance, skirt, and twist over and under each other without a care in the world.

Like any great work of art, Wildflower had meaning beyond that which the album explained. Hidden between the melodies, compositions, and samples were emotions tied to time lost. You see, the nostalgia burning through Wildflower, by way of whimsical joy and sorrowless bouts of beauty, sought to redefine the uncharacteristic childhood Robbie Chater and Tony Diblasi underwent. One day they're scouring unearthed samples with their buddies just now entering adulthood, the next they're enduring a midlife crisis wondering where the time went. These 21 songs represent that impure time when expectations were null, fame was nonexistent, and music was merely something you'd bump on the walkman. Wildflower wasn't just an admiration of 60's hippie culture, it was a journey through life before hardships, where unexpected joys spilled from all corners.

Like an impulsive summertime road trip across route 66 in a beat-up station wagon, eyes fixated on the passing landscapes from the backseat window, Wildflower sought out the beauty in our world, not the ugliness intent on defining it. And really, with 21 tracks extending out over an hour, Wildflower really was that journey. An experience set on diving headfirst into that pressing bout of nostalgia that always springs to life at the slightest of similarities in the present day. Each moment was brighter, happier, and more vivid than the last, creating a swelling collage of scenic backdrops designed to make you reminiscence on life's good side. Speaking on behalf of any one song here would be a disservice to the remaining catalogue itching for recognition, as with The Avalanches' seminal work, Since I Left You, Wildflower works best as a collective whole. In 2016, anguish, despair, and sorrow set the tone. Wildflower didn't win this year for me by depicting those feelings strikingly. It won 2016 because it did the opposite. 


  1. Nice list, nice writeups! I saw your comment on the Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith page.

    1. Awesome! Thanks for enjoying them. And very cool, that was a nice little find I had towards the end of the year, really enjoy her album