With the passing of such great musical icons as Prince, David Bowie, Merle Haggard and George Michael, it’s really helpful that this year was also filled with really great music to help ease the grief of losing those whose art meant so much to us. It only made sense to make a list of my Top Ten Albums of 2016.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This list was compiled and written before Run The Jewels dropped their album RTJ3 on Christmas Day. Since I have not given it more than 1 ½ listens thus far, out of fairness to the albums that made the list, I had to leave it off. However I’m confident if I had the opportunity to give it more listens, it would have definitely made it; from what I've heard so far, it’s incredible. Okay….on with the list!
10. Metallica - Hardwired...To Self Destruct
Ah yes, I love a good Metallia record and they really delivered on this one, to the point that a lot of Metalli-haters have doubled back and actually given the band a little applause. Impressive since the album really combines all eras of Metallica (even the dreaded 90s era *GASP*) quite seamlessly. Even though there are a few missteps on the album, the songs that are really good leave you with your jaw on the floor. “Moth Into Flame” is surely to be added to the long list of Metallica’s best-written songs and no one leaves “Spit Out the Bone” without screaming out of pure giddiness. These songs keep playing in my head and I rush to put this album on, almost as if I need a daily dose of it to get me through the work day. Also, being a Metallica fan since the “Black Album”, it’s sure nice to have an album to make the “I like ‘old’ Metallica” crowd shut the fuck up for a minute.
9. Kendrick Lamar - untitled. unmastered.
In 2015, Kendrick Lamar released his third studio album To Pimp A Butterfly, which was a stunning work of hip hop, a genre-defining work. Critics and fans praised the album for its infusion of funk, free jazz and hip hop while tackling a wide range of topics like racial disparity, poverty, police violence, and substance abuse. If there were anything more thrilling and fulfilling than that album, it was the performances. Instead of just performing the tracks from the album, Kendrick would perform unreleased songs, tracks that didn’t make the album for a variety of reasons. After a desperate plea from basketball superstar Lebron James to release these songs, Kendrick released this 8-track EP that featured the songs in unmastered, some even unfinished, form. The release showcased Kendrick’s songwriting process to the point where people, including myself, marveled that his throwaway songs are better than most of the finished albums released by other rappers today. The themes he tackles and the way he spins them to make them relevant to himself and relatable to the listener is incomparable. The EP shows how deft a lyricist he is and how well-thought his verses are. It proved that his nickname “King Kendrick” is well deserved.
8. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
I’ve never been much of a fan of Radiohead’s, more like an appreciator. The way I feel about them is the way I feel about Pink Floyd, the music’s not for me but I recognize the genius. This album, however, I like a lot. From the moment I heard their first single “Burn The Witch” I knew this would be THE Radiohead album I would fall in love with. It’s a fantastic, beautifully engineered record filled with awesome instrumentals and inventive sound work. The album is far more personal than previous releases. The highlight for me is the song “Identikit” which constantly breaks me down with the lyric “broken hearts make it rain," the pain just oozing out from Yorke’s delivery. I’m glad I can finally say I like a Radiohead album. For a minute there, I thought I was fucked in the head.
7. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service
Tribe’s first album after an 18-year breakup was one hell of a comeback for the legendary hip hop group. The amazing thing about this album is that Tribe’s sound is both modern and a throwback, keeping their smooth delivery, playful back and forth, combined with instrumentals that sound current and relevant. It’s as if they had never broken up at all. It has everything you’d expect from a Tribe album - great rhymes, great beats, witty wordplay, important subject matter culled from current events, and most importantly, it allowed every Tribe fan the opportunity to say their goodbyes to the legendary Phife Dawg, who passed away in March of this year due to complications from diabetes. The features on the album are both blasts from the past, with Consequence and Busta Rhymes showing up, as well a passing of the torch to the next generation of MCs with Anderson .Paak and Kendrick Lamar. It’s the Tribe album we were all hoping for and now that we have it, we’re stricken that it’s their last. RIP Phife
6. Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love!
If you thought there wasn’t anything Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover) could NOT do, Awaken, My Love! simply proved it with a complete left turn from the gritty hip hop of his previous album, Because The Internet, to a more soulful, funk and R&B style. His voice is a revelation and has been blowing minds of fans wondering if he did anything in the studio to his vocals (he didn’t) or if that was his real singing voice untouched (it is). The music is covered with influences from Sly & The Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, George Clinton and the same goes for the lyrics. Gambino ties in provocative lines centered around social and racial themes that are also open to be interpreted by each listener. Gambino has proven to be one of the best artists of this day and age and this album may prove to be the prime example. I can’t stop listening to this album. Some of my favorite tracks are “Me and Your Mama”, “Riot”, and “Terrified”.
5. Anderson .Paak - Malibu
Anderson .Paak’s sophomore effort is a genre-bending, stylistic affair. Each song gives you something different. There’s a seamless mix of R&B, soul, rock, and hip hop throughout the album, making it almost unfair to label it any genre because of how much Anderson has infused in the music. The key word that pops into my mind when listening to this is “groove”, and it’s the best thing about this record. It makes you want to move while listening intently to it. It sounds and feels like a party record, a dance record, but thematically is a serious commentary on a wide range of subjects. He’s a fearless artist who continues to move in a direction of unpredictability and sonic creativity. It’s absolutely in my Top 5!
4. Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
Meant to be a kind of letter to his newborn son, this record is extremely introspective and filled with emotional life lessons and straight-up great tunes. It might not be as expansive to the country music genre as his previous album was, but it’s just as rooted in defiance as its predecessor. Tracks such as “Call To Arms” throw out the common ideology that one would typically find throughout the genre and also includes one of the most heartfelt renditions of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” you’ll ever hear. The addition of The Dap Kings adds a deep soulful feel, and mixes perfectly with Simpson’s southern twang, once again redefining what country music CAN sound like if one would just push aside any boundaries and the expectations of the country music establishment. This album has become one that I’ve constantly returned to and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.
3. Beyonce - Lemonade
Let me be honest, I’m not the most ardent of Beyonce fans. I like her but she hasn’t done anything that wowed me. Well, up until now. I’m attracted to music with a purpose and no other album was more driven by intent than Queen Bey’s Lemonade. Beyonce infused a variety of genres in her music, from rock and pop, to reggae and R&B, with artists from Kendrick Lamar and James Blake to Jack White and The Weeknd. It was her bold statement against unfaithful husbands, social injustice and racial inequality, and earned her a spot on the hit list of conservative pundits after her Super Bowl halftime performance of “Formation." There was more attitude than I had ever heard in her songs and there was a swagger about her that leads you to believe she KNOWS she’s untouchable. She’s here with something to say and dammit, you’re going to listen. “Hold Up” instantly became one of my favorite songs of 2016. The accompanying hour-long film brings striking and evocative imagery with wide-ranging themes. There was no way Beyonce was going to miss the mark with this album and she turned me from a casual fan to one that will never doubt again.
2. Margo Price - Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
This album gave #1 a run for its money because it was a fixture on my car stereo throughout the year. Even though it played to stereotypical country music themes, there was a bite in Margo’s delivery and power from the band and it delivered some pretty great songs that made the album feel modern and refreshing. Her lyrics were straightforward and witty and the music was a throwback to the days of Merle, Cash and, of course, Loretta Lynn. There’s no bullshit behind songs like “Four Years Of Chances," “Since You Put Me Down” and “Hurtin’ (On The Bottle)” which helped make Price the first female country artist to have her debut album land in the Top 10 on the Billboard charts (Which makes this album’s absence in the Grammy nominations such a glorious snub. Whatever). This album is great and I can see myself going back to it time and time again.
1. Angel Olsen - My Woman
One of my most anticipated releases this year, Angel Olsen’s third studio album packed such an emotional wallop for me that I couldn’t stand playing anything else. The songs are personal and well-written, with the first half of the album energetic and straight to the point while the second half is sprawling and evocative. The styles on both sides span between grunge, 60’s pop and low-fi alternative sounds. The catchiness of the single “Shut Up, Kiss Me” set the table for what one could expect from this release and then everyone was blown away with the almost eight minute “Sister," a song with beautiful, sensitive lyrics combined with powerhouse playing. This album shows strength for Olsen, not just in songwriting but in presence. My favorite song “Give It Up” kicks off with a Nirvana-esque guitar strum and kicks into high gear when Olsen declares “Where you are is where I want you." It’s a demand that has rarely been seen throughout her work. The slow-rising intensity to the song makes me hope for an open road so I can sing it at the top of my lungs without worrying about crashing into anyone around me. Olsen seems to be on a creative stride that began with her last album and only seems to strengthen with this one. It’s seeped into my mind and I can’t shake it, nor do I want to.
Thanks for reading - comment below with your picks!