Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Top 50 Albums Of 2016, 50-21


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.

Before we begin, a little something extra. Three bonus records included on the list because yours truly already wrote their summary before seeing them slowly drop out of the top 50. These three records, thusly, represent #51, #52, and #53.

53 | Bonus
Parquet Courts | Human Performance

It may be incredulously by the books, but Parquet Courts' Human Performance worked purely off its esteemed appreciation of Indie Rock.  Feelings of abandonment, exile, and loneliness dominate the release, in similar vein to Parquet Courts' 90's inspirations like Modest Mouse and Built To Spill, while also adhering to the chilled nature of 2000's Indie with the likes of Wilco and Grizzly Bear. Andrew Savage's nasally vocals help to accentuate the emo-like state Parquet Courts find themselves in, so on songs like 'Human Performance,' 'Steady On My Mind,' or 'It's Gonna Happen,' his subdued fears and transgressions rise above the despondent production. And then, with the flip of a coin, 'Pathos Prairie,' 'Captive Of The Sun,' and 'Berlin Got Blurry' provide the uppers to offset the crashes.

52 | Bonus
clipping. | Wriggle | Review

Before clipping. went on to confound their fans even more so with Splendor & Misery, the six-track EP Wriggle set expectations low. Not in quality mind you, but the perception of simplicity. Apart from the delirious title track, which heavily samples the Power Electrics band Whitehouse, every cut here feels more Pop-oriented than ever. For outsiders, that statement might confuse, as clipping. still honors their code of conduct by incorporating Industrial instrumentation and violent ambient sounds. However, thanks to Daveed Diggs' lackadaisical content and hook-based pieces, Wriggle felt like their most accessible work yet. Hell, he even sang, R&B style, on 'Our Time,' and presented himself as a darker Childish Gambino with 'Shooter.'

51 | Bonus
Serengeti | Doctor My Own Patience | Review

For all the stellar content Serengeti has produced in such a short time, it's a shame his stock hasn't risen much since the days when Kenny Dennis, his Chicago-obsessed alter ego, took the stage. If creating three projects impersonating a stereotype ironically wasn't enough to warrant labeling Serengeti an absurdist, his clashing of Hip-Hop, Spoken Word and Indie surely will. While there's been better LP's attached to his name, even this year with the immaculately arranged Testarossa, his second collaboration with Sicker Man certainly isn't a slouch. With Doctor My Own Patience, Serengeti officially transcended Hip-Hop, choosing instead to sing over Synthpop ballads. What he lacked in emotive tendencies, a prominent feature of his best works, he gained in a knack for catchy set pieces.

DJ Shadow | The Mountain Will Fall | Review

While his 2000's work has failed to muster many redeemable factors, The Mountain Will Fall was a nice expansion for DJ Shadow. I won't say return, because that implies this LP is anything remotely like his 90's work, which it is not. However, what Shadow does with Wonky, a dying genre bred from the immature youth, is nothing short of riveting. The title track, 'Three Ralphs,' and 'Ghost Town,' amongst others, really showed his distorted view of modern day production tendencies. Then there's 'Nobody Speak,' which, thanks to Run The Jewels and an incredible music video, is his most popular single in a long, long time. Mountain Will Fall, while distancing itself from the sample-laden days of yore, still invokes periods of pure experimentation thanks to odd sound collages and unique instrumentation.

Terrace Martin | Velvet Portraits

Sometimes it saddens me the selective nature of the music community. Take Terrace Martin's Velvet Portraits, a work of Jazz revivalism that barely garnered any attention, despite the creator being featured prominently on Kendrick Lamar's grand To Pimp A Butterfly. Yet, Kamasi Washington, another Jazz artist Lamar worked with, has received widespread notoriety for his LP The Epic. While I do think the latter is the better of the two, Velvet Portraits is no slouch, forgoing lengthy Jazz sessions for condensed bouts of Soul, Funk, and R&B. He even pushes new ideas over old music, like 'With You's' electric autotune or 'Patiently Waiting's' evolutionary production. As with any great Jazz revivalist album though, there's no shortage of percussion, brass, and strings layered between each and every track.

Childish Gambino | "Awaken, My Love!" | Review

It was the risk heard round the music world. Childish Gambino going Funk and Soul. And no, not as a crutch for his deeper Hip-Hop endeavors. On "Awaken, My Love!," Gambino completely abandoned his previous albums altogether, content on working under entirely new precedents. The result could've been better, but in reality, it could've been much, much worse. While it's not Hip-Hop, Awaken worships the roots of the genre before the seed had even been planted, using influences like Funkadelic, Sly & The Family Stone, and Bootsy Collins to supreme effect. With Gambino ushering in the birth of his first child, Awaken acts as the nightly lullaby, an album set on impressing the newborn with values Gambino's father likely instilled on him. Working two-fold, the album also aimed to do the same with Gambino's rabid fanbase, pushing their musical limitations to corners they've yet to explore. 

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith | EARS

A misshapen, yet intoxicatedly beautiful collage of exotic Ambient noises and lush, atmospheric Indietronica comprises the bulk of Kaitlyn Aurealia Smith's experimental release EARS. Intended as a trip through a magically dark forest, Smith's peculiar album didn't come to my attention till recently, but that delay didn't lessen the impact it had. Even though it's decisively less explosive than his best work, EARS reminds me of Dan Deacon's Bromst, an album which took synthesizer work to the next level, pulling in off-kilter instrumentation to battle an ever-revolving collage of sounds that don't feel ripe for this world. In Smith's world, this culminated in the album's best track, and lead single, 'Arthropoda,' which is just an immaculately arranged subset of internal ideas and haunting choirs, creating a work that's both inviting and off-putting.

Czarface | A Fistful Of Peril | Review

The trio of Inspectah Deck, Esoteric, and 7L, otherwise known collectively as Czarface, have battled the current landscape of Hip-Hop with their past. Forming in 2012, the comic book-inspired group have reveled in their Boom Bap origins, pushed onwards by 7L's hardened production, in an attempt to bring creative glory back to the fading sub-genre. On Fistful Of Peril, the trio relies heavily on themselves, choosing to relinquish major key players in their past LP's like MF DOOM, GZA, and Action Bronson. The quality, while slightly diminished, still proved Czarface as a formidable force, and with standouts like 'Dust,' 'Two In The Chest,' and 'Steranko,' it was clear Boom Bap can still thrive if given an outlet for ingenuity. 

Baauer | Aa | Review

With the short-lived Wonky scene all but dead, with many producers outright switching to Alternative R&B, Baauer's debut LP set to morph both scenes into a quick, blurry burst of energy. Aa may have been delivered late to fans, failing to capitalize on 'Harlem Shake,' but Baauer had enough bubbling ideas to invite a crowd who haven't yet given up hope. While different in style, less focused on bass, more on detailed layering, instrumentals like 'Body' and 'Sow' bring about the quality TNGHT brought to the genre years back. And while an album of those would've been preferred, Baauer's choice feature cuts found value in their inherent oddness. 'Kung Fu,' which joined Pusha T and Future in a strange new world, and 'Temple,' which was better than any M.I.A. song on her own album, made Aa's second half an entertaining journey.

Pusha T | Darkest Before Dawn | Review

Right before 2015 came to a close, one rapper had to put a stamp on the year. It wasn't his official follow-up to My Name Is My Name, but Pusha T's Darkest Before Dawn signaled a shift for the artist to more socially aware commentary over GOOD Music's unusual beats. Inverted instrumentals like 'Untouchable' and 'Crutches, Crosses, Caskets' helped to push Pusha into territory all his own, with beats that are as trademarked as the man himself. More than that, Darkest Before Dawn, on tracks like 'F.I.F.A.' or 'Sunshine,' revealed Pusha T as a dexterous artisan, capable of rapping over styles he's not been accustomed to yet. Now we just gotta wait for King Push to see where he goes next.

AFFKT | Son Of A Thousand Sounds | Review

With a plethora of producers heading towards Alternative R&B ground, using as many notable names to dot their releases as they can, it's refreshing to hear an album still firmly cushioned in rhythmic dance floor Electronica. AFFKT's Son Of A Thousand Sounds did just that, bringing with it the sounds of The Chemical Brothers, Caribou, and Lemon Jelly. Like the cover, which pulses with a bevy of hues, the music found within pulls from every corner of the color wheel, as lush instrumentals like 'Boira' and 'Ceniza' match wits with the starry atmosphere of 'San Diego' or the mechanical wonderland of 'Mareny.' And that goes without mentioning the three Sutra Gutierrez-assisted cuts, which all help to divvy up the loot. 

Injury Reserve | Floss | Review

Last year, Injury Reserve emerged from the Arizona desert to act as a new Hip-Hop trio set on bringing a different sound to the game. While they, by default, accomplished the former, the latter left a lot to be desired. The improvement from their debut to their sophomore LP, the teeth-themed Floss, is palpable. While they've still yet to craft a sound of their own, their talents and diversity across the board have improved. They took to re-envisioning artists like Kanye West, Danny Brown, and Cakes Da Killa, while continuing to find a groove in the Hardcore Hip-Hop scene, which made for an LP that was surprisingly diverse and enjoyable. While they still have room for improvement, the writing's on the wall that these three emcees may be formidable in the near future.

Radiohead | A Moon Shaped Pool | Review

Since the turn of the millennium, there's been no band more lauded than Radiohead. And while my praises don't come as often, seeing the greatness in Ok Computer, Kid A, and nothing more, there's something beautiful and earnest to be unearthed in A Moon Shaped Pool. Thom Yorke's vocals seem as fearful as ever, feeling the splitting of earth and all the relationships found on it in his frail bones. The orchestration, some of Radiohead's mightiest yet, makes the clashing between organic and synthetic a compelling affair. Standouts like 'Burn The Witch' and 'Present Tense' investigate both sides of the spell, the mechanical and the natural.

De La Soul | And The Anonymous Nobody | Review

Even though A Tribe Called Quest, in a stroke of Hip-Hop fate, would one-up them by the end of the year, De La Soul's return marked a distinct shift for the trio as the album's creation became a primary point of interest. Entirely crowd-funded, And The Anonymous Nobody poised De La as forgotten truth-sayers, not that shocking a statement given the group's absence from famous digital media platforms. With a slew of odd features, from 2 Chainz to Little Dragon to David Bryne, the trio got back to their simple, honest hearted ways, vibing over silly tunes that came direct with poignant messages.

Justice | Woman | Review

No, Woman doesn't eclipse Justice's fantastic debut, an album that set to reinvent French House just as it was about to implode, but what their 2016 LP does accomplish is a refinement of previously combustible material. For better or worse, there's a fine measure of sanity here, with each song finely tuned down to mechanical standards, something hits like 'D.A.N.C.E.' and 'Tthhee Ppaarrttyy' would laugh at. But deep down, 'Safe And Sound,' 'Pleasure,' 'Alakazam,' and more are impulsive Dance tracks, content on being overarching exclamations on how the genre should sound. Perhaps what conflates most listeners is Woman's departure from Justice's previous aggression, a palpable choice as the album centers around female empowerment. The calm, serene, and resolute finale 'Close Call' isn't a sound that drew crowds in to Justice's material, but that doesn't make it any less magical.

Flume | Skin

Many felt Flume's second LP, Skin, failed to live up to the expectations set by his debut. I understand this sentiment, but where Skin succeeds in my eyes is in its admiration of changing Pop. There's hardly a safe spot on this piece, jumping from soulful R&B crooners to hard-edged rappers to Indie Pop sweet-talkers. If anything, the disappointment largely comes as a result of his beats, the bread and butter of Flume, taking a backseat. There's only a few to be found here. In the place of others is magnificent Pop creations like 'Never Be Like You' and 'Say It' that take subtle R&B singers Kai and Tove Lo to another dimension, moving them effortlessly amongst the many corridors.

Schoolboy Q | Blank Face | Review

While Habits & Contradictions, still Schoolboy Q's definitive work, wasn't able to move units in the way Q hoped, his follow-up project, Oxymoron, did just that, littering the project with addictive hooks and trending instrumentation. Some backlash resulted, forcing Q to make his 'return to roots' album sooner than expected. Blank Face was the final piece, a dark, dingy Gangsta Rap piece that lingered behind the shadows despite sounding crystal clear. While the production was on point, Q still struggled with making meaningful discussion, a disappointment given the album's preceding short film. For connoisseurs of the fashionable LA street scene though, Blank Face was just the right ingredient. 

The Caretaker | Everywhere At The End Of Time | Review

Creative musicians always tend to go out with a bang. But for The Caretaker that wouldn't have been apt. Even since 2011's successful An Empty Bliss, James Kirby has become more immersed in the diminishing mental capacity of Alzheimer's patients. On Everywhere At The End Of Time, the first in a six-part series set over the course of the next three years, The Caretaker himself has been diagnosed with the same thing he once tried to unearth. The initial stages, bright, clear, and full of visual memories, loop ad nauseam until the memory itself fades. Full of life, Everywhere signifies hope, even if impending doom is just around the corner.

Frank Ocean | Blonde | Review

Fans of the ever-elusive Frank Ocean waited four years to see how he'd follow his opus channel ORANGE. To them, it was an eternity. The newest generation of music lovers, consuming media at a faster click than ever before, couldn't bear to wait any longer. Toying with their patience, Ocean built a staircase to nowhere during an uninterrupted live stream. It was an experiment that, while translating to Endless, didn't do all that much for Blonde. Ocean's stripped down take on Alternative R&B, bringing out only the essential elements, divided those anticipating another eclectic affair. Nevertheless, this is one of music's most talented artists, and while Ocean's Blonde doesn't quite compare to its predecessor, it's certainly no slouch.

Nicolas Jaar | Sirens

After spending years since 2011's Space Is Only Noise finding his sound, jumping from atmospheric Art Pop to experimental Sound Collages to Ambient, Nicolas Jaar landed back where he belonged, creating a spacious environment that aimed to incorporate visions of the future with respect from the past. The result was Sirens, an album that spent time teasing Elvis-inspired medley's ('The Governor'), 50's Doo-wop ('History Lesson'), and Salsa ('No') into a collage that sounded as personal as it did global. Speaking on behalf of an impending political revolution, Jaar aimed his sights on cultural tension by amalgamating different generations through vastly different musical genres.

Young Thug | Slime Season 3 | Review

Trap, more than any other sub-genre of Hip-Hop, has endured a plethora of mediocre content as a surplus of flash in the pan artists hope to catch the wave. Sitting atop the mountain waiting for someone to dethrone him is Young Thug, who's manipulated the genre and amassed a large following of fans in the few years since his establishment. And yet, for me, it wasn't until Slime Season 3, and it's mere eight songs, where not only his full potential, but Trap's as a whole, was reached. Banger after banger, led by the monstrous 'With Them' that took Yeezy's Season 3 to new, strange heights. 

Kishi Bashi | Sonderlust | Review

What happens when an artist known for surrounding himself with the brightest of Indie Bubblegum Pop undergoes tremendous personal anguish? Well, Sonderlust. It was Kishi Bashi's third album, but more importantly, his first since dealing with an impasse, both musically and romantically, as he and his wife of 13 years briefly separated. You can hear the torment, the pain, and the hope through these 10 songs, all disguised with a thinly veiled layer of sunshine. Unlike Lighght, which was overspilt happiness through and through, Sonderlust had a sense of dread building behind it. It's finale track, 'Honeybody,' leaves us in a state of uncertainty, as the happy-go-lucky feel is split between reality and fantasy.

The Weeknd | Starboy | Review

As the antithetical Pop star, The Weeknd has taken it up himself to unravel the dark, dirty secrets of fame. He's not the first to do this, but in an era that's absurdity glossed over by sugarcoated plastic idols, his shrouded demeanor, especially on Starboy, has been one to admire. With his largest LP yet, The Weeknd surfaced as a never-ending hit-making machine. From the elusively confident 'Starboy' to the breath of fresh air 'I Feel It Coming,' Starboy spends its eternity finding just what makes a Pop/R&B smash. His voice as fragile as ever, the production as overwhelming, which makes the constant conflict Starboy undergoes rather obvious.

Chance The Rapper | Coloring Book | Review

Three years had past since Acid Rap, the mixtape that put Chance The Rapper on the map, released. In the constantly propelling Internet age, that's unheard of. After years of extraneous work to boast his appeal, Chance returned with Coloring Book, an ode to his recently born daughter and the impressions he hopes to instill on her about life. Gospel played a prominent role, as did a slew of guest characters who all encounter this child, chiming in their own slice of life. From Lil Wayne to Francis Starlite to Young Thug, Coloring Book wore Chance's influences on its sleeve. The outpouring of positivity that engulfed almost every song, every moment, only goes further in capturing a new life being brought into this world.

Elzhi | Lead Poison | Review

One of underground's Hip-Hop's most tenured emcees, Elzhi struggled to follow-up his most popular release yet, 2011's magnificently done Elmatic. If Lead Poison is any indication, we know why. Severe writer's block, especially for someone so focused on the pen, can halt any and all progression as any artist. But leaping over those confines, creating songs centered around such a struggle, is what Lead Poison ended up being about. Thematic variation unheard of in modern day Boom Bap, from daily life problems to blood-sucking vampires to songs literally beating up each other, Lead Poison brought the ideas bubbling in Elzhi's head to the surface. 

dvsn | Sept. 5th | Review

In a year that saw Alternative R&B essentially, and hopefully, reach its peak, there stood an album unaffiliated with the growing trends, concerned instead with the sexual rendezvous' of 90's R&B. A two-piece outfit with no face, image, or marketing, dvsn thrived purely off the tension found within Sept. 5th and its preceding singles. Using gospel singers as a full-blown instrument rather than tacky shoe-in, Sept. 5th excelled by harboring its inspirations in a vat of sensual atmosphere. Tracks like 'Too Deep' and 'The Line' lingered under all this weight, just waiting for the right moment to release the pressurized valve. Sept. 5th was never overburdened, always in control.

Death Grips | Bottomless Pit | Review

Since their inception in 2011 with the impeccably volatile Exmilitary, I have never once seen Death Grips be predictable. That changed this year with Bottomless Pit, an unassuming album by their standards, that shifted their outlook from being two steps ahead of their fans to falling right in line. Nonetheless, with the success of their breakout The Money Store, another batch of 13 deliriously catchy and batshit bangers will surely make the cut. It wasn't the looming monstrosity of The Powers That B, but the after effects of such ambition, causing them to revert back to their roots. Short trunk-rattlers in the confines of an Industrial power plant, that's Death Grips' bread and butter.

Lil Yachty | Lil Boat | Review

Arguably Hip-Hop's most controversial figure in 2016, you'd never guess it watching an interview or music video with the guy. Lil Yachty's innocent smile, bizarro personality, and cherry red dreadlocks were everywhere this year, and it all started with this mixtape. Lil Boat, a project that immediately took listeners into a world of Yachty's own creation, infused Trap with earnest, juvenile fun. With standouts like 'Wanna Be Us' and 'Minnesota (Remix),' the Atlanta outcast gathered a following of like-minded weirdos who weren't afraid to blast Trap-engulfed nursery rhymes. The genre's expanding, and, despite tremendous backlash that'll surely last for his whole career, Lil Yachty and his Lil Boat represent the shifting tide of what's deemed accessible.

Mick Jenkins | The Healing Component | Review

For his hyped debut, Mick Jenkins finally explained his water obsession. You see, in his eyes, the healing component to nullify the wounds of this world is love. And thus, his Healing Component was born, centered around the perception of love, how relationships interact and differ, and how Jenkins himself imagines the invisible feeling. Unlike his breakout mixtape, The Water[s], Jenkins chose to revel in his refrained measures instead of leaping into explosives, causing the release to feel less impactful visually, but more so mentally. With the lingering percussion of 'Drowning,' the wall-filling noise of 'As Seen In Bethsaida,' and the verse-oogling of 'Angles,' thanks to Jenkins and fellow Chicago star Noname, The Healing Component had no shortage of impressive moments to take in, like a fresh glass of water.

Japanese Breakfast | Psychopomp

Psychopomp, the debut album from Japanese Breakfast, sat dormant on my Spotify for a handful of months, unlistened to. That was until 'Everybody Wants To Love You' appeared as a YouTube recommendation and I, in a curiously bored state, gave it a chance. Safe to say, I'm glad I did, as the bubbly Twee Pop anthems stands as one of my favorites of the year. More than that, Psychopomp excelled by accomplishing so much with so little. There was the buttery smoothness of 'Rugged Country,' the Indie Rock edifice of 'Heft,' all found before the emotional finale of 'Triple 7.'

Anderson .Paak | Malibu | Review

There's few artists as well-versed in Hip-Hop's current family tree than Anderson .Paak. Making his dues with LA's Hellfyre Club, an underground collective with names like Busdriver and Milo as part of its cast, before surfacing from those same streets with Dr. Dre's Compton, it's safe to say .Paak has a firm grasp on the industry. With Malibu, his second LP,  the crooner reenvisioned his West Coast roots with a sweet, breezy, summertime feel. Expert lyricism and instrumentation littered the project, and despite a handful of guest features to keep things interesting, Malibu was firmly .Paak's for the taking. In such a short time, with this project alone, he's already created a strong, independent aesthetic for himself.

Frank Ocean | Endless | Review

While Blonde garnered all the attention, it was actually Endless that stuck with me more. A confusing, at times dangerously so, look at social media's harmful ways, Endless represented the lives of our technologically advanced youth with short, nondescript, half-finished tracks that failed to even have discernible lengths. While Blonde reveled in Frank Ocean's personal dilemmas, Endless, surrounded by Wolfgang Tillmans's 'Device Control,' fractured ideas and components into a vague mist that loomed over Endless' entirety. There were only a few plots left untarnished, 'Rushes,' the album's phenomenal standout and climax, being one of them. If you think of Blonde as Ocean's completed self, complications and all, Endless depicts the man lost amongst the pieces.

Massive Attack | Ritual Spirit | Review

There's something primal about Ritual Spirit, a feeling we haven't felt from Massive Attack in well over a decade. Shocking considering this is their first official venture into Hip-Hop, with two of the four songs entirely centered around the genre. On 'Dead Editors' the duo brings in Roots Manuva, and on 'Voodoo In My Blood' they do the same with Young Fathers. The result brings a sinister, almost demonic vibe to Ritual Spirit, something the remaining two songs, especially 'Take It There,' which reunites Massive Attack with Tricky, excels at flushing out. Two decades removed from the Trip-Hop scene, this four-track EP still proves the genre's excellence given the right atmospheric tone.


  1. Hi, first time in here. See a post of you on The Avalanches shoutbox commenting about this list. Lost most of my music (external hd) and I didn't follow the new releases. This looks fine and could help me to start over. Thanks, nice blog and interesting taste. ;)

    1. Thanks! Terrible to hear about the HD, my iPod almost broke the other day and I almost had a heart attack. This list should do you well for 2016, I'd say. Hope you enjoy it!