2016 music. A rock star released his magnum opus, then cancer stole him just hours later; later, a competitive rapper proclaimed that opus 2016’s best; but somehow it missed out on a Grammy nomination for Best Album; meanwhile, a country singer who got the nod emphasized his wish for a certain R&B artist to take his spot; then we realized that yet another R&B artist will eventually take home the grand prize; still, hip-hop outplayed R&B in critical acclaim the whole time; and now, aware that a “genre” is perhaps a socially-constructed self-fulfilling prophecy, music exits 2016 towards a more eclectic future era.
That’s what I have to say on music this year. A melodrama and a metanarrative wrung into one elaborate run-on sentence. Now then, before we encounter my top 10 movies, let’s get to the (unranked, uncontroversial) music edition.
Blonde – Frank Ocean
Yet again, Frank sprouted the year’s smoothest, shiniest R&B work. Blonde finds its own impeccable depth, rather than sputtering in Channel Orange’s shadow. The catch is that you really have to look into Frank’s visionary scope—the devastating emotion cloaked in meandering haziness—to let his slick soul suck you into his swirling seas of sorrow. But even if the highly melancholic album isn’t for you, know that Nights is one of the most well-produced songs ever made. Its last three minutes are astonishing.
Blackstar – David Bowie
Blackstar is David’s final treasure chest. His catchy voice drifts chillingly between vague introspection and capricious humor—a balance beam wobble between a legendary career and a cold death—across interstellar melodic space. And the band’s clean wash of drums, trumpets, & strings all but ensures that the Starman doesn’t pass softly into the night.
Lemonade – Beyoncé
Unlike lemonade, Lemonade is unpleasant; it will pierce you with the shattered container of this wonder woman’s image, marriage, sex, & skin. And these important motifs are heightened by bright drops of pop, soul, reggae, trap, etc. But why is Lemonade so sweet, you ask? Its hour-long film is the sugary pitcher from which the music trickles. The music is solid, but the film is a revolutionary paradigm of cinematography, choreography, & storytelling—and has redefined what it means to make an album. Prepare to watch the tallest Grammy Award chip its quarters in for the tallest glass of Lemonade. If not, it’s thank the ultra political Recording Academy for never giving the best album the best album award. (Examples in the last seven years alone: In Rainbows, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Channel Orange, Good Kid M.A.A.D City, and To Pimp a Butterfly,)
Sunlit Youth – Local Natives
With each monochromatic indie pop anthem we bicker through, indie’s colors fade. But Sunlit Youth is one of 2016’s alternative highlights, bridging thoughtful commentary on aging & political cynicism with dynamic acoustics & melodies. Gorilla Manor and Hummingbird set the target afar, but this band’s third shot is no misfire.
Sunlit Youth has its cheesy hits, but songs like Coins are lovable passion overdoses.
Wildflower – The Avalanches
Since I Left You became the best electronic album in the world 15 years ago, and Wildflower is an applaudable distant sophomore; it’s vibrant, animated, trippy, psychedelic, & smart. A hypnotic river that twists and turns with unwavering pace, it flows well with Beach House, Tame Impala, or any other study playlist band.
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth – Sturgill Simpson
Written for Sturgill’s son, A Sailor’s Guide seamlessly weaves intimate lyrics and eclectic instrumentation. If Ryan Adams and Chris Stapleton are the only country artists you’ve liked (you’re not alone), please know that this conceptual journey—a very different genre’s spin on The Dark Side of the Moon—is astonishingly authentic. It will rock Grammy night.
As it gradually boils up from 0 to 100 over 4 minutes, open your ears to the album’s adventurous ode to Kurt Cobain.
99.9% – Kaytranada
Everyone knows that proverbial aux chord hog with those weird Soundcloud remixes. This list’s club-oriented album, 99.9% represents the peak of that hog’s ambitions; it’s a shadowy underground melting pot of computer sounds, famous voices, & manipulated nuances. And like a drunken battle between Flying Lotus and The Weeknd, it’s a masterful digital mess.
Malibu – Anderson Paak
What happens when jazz, poetry, and old-school rap collide in a vacuum? Malibu. With tunes as unique as Anderson’s lyrics, it’s a much needed hybrid shake of 20th-century groove and 2st-century innovation. From The Bird to Celebrate to Am I Wrong (below) to Room In Here, all of the album’s songs blows their own cool gusts of air.
A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead
Speaking of studying, A Moon Shaped Pool is an organic dream that would stimulate any hyper-educated student alone in a room. Melodically intellectual but also hauntingly ambient, think of it—conceptually speaking—as a demon silently glaring into a mirror to reflect upon its own existential insignificance. Just don’t whip it out in front of your friends, unless you want to end up like me; don’t be that weird kid in philosophy class who asks tedious questions about stoicism amid a classroom of stoics who just want to get out of there.
Why do hipsters call Radiohead the world’s best band? One of the saddest and most beautiful little songs you’ll hear, All I Need is a formidable explanation. Just wait ’til you get to the final minute.
Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper
Chance, star of this post’s cover, is young, bright, friendly, and fun. Coloring Book is funky, entertaining, deep, and brilliant—what a match. Do you like clean, upbeat music? Listen to All We Got and Angels. Party bangers? No Problem and All Night. Church songs? How Great. Sappy Drake vibes? Juke Jam, Same Drugs, & Summer Friends. With a mixtape even better than his last, Chance fully deserves the Grammy haul he’s set to receive.
Haven’t met and/or fallen for his style? Here’s Chance’s Sunday Candy (it’s less than 4 minutes long).
- 2016 was the year of intelligent rap, and shoutouts go to Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown, A Tribe Called Quest, Young Thug- even Travis Scott. Thumbs down to Drake (Views is far from his best), Future, & J. Cole; all three are quite overrated, anyway.
- Further shoutouts go to Bon Iver, Car Seat Headrest, Nick Cave, Palace, D’Angelo, Childish Gambino (now a funk artist), James Blake, & Young the Giant. For their memorable art, props to them—and many others.
- Lots of people don’t know more than a couple of this list’s albums, so let’s spread awareness! Sure, people don’t listen to good music, but we can change that.
I began this post pondering David Bowie’s condensation of the human narrative—birth and death. Naturally, we will now close with it. Sorry for the goosebumps, please comment with your thoughts, and I hope you blast away with some new music for yourself.