Best of ’16: My Favorite Albums of 2016

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 2.13.01 PM31. Huerco S
For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)
Proibito
Though the K.C.-producer’s debut LP Colonial Patterns enjoyed overwhelming acclaim, he seismically shifted his sound for his second one, veering from opaque beat music to oceanic, drifting synthscapes. Though it’s a risky move, it pays big dividends, and the disc plays like a single transportive track, destined to sweep you away.

Stream it on Spotify.

30. Mélanie De Biasio
Blackened Cities
Le Label
Don’t let the fact that the Belgian jazz singer’s rumination on modern city life is presented as a single 24-minute song turn you away. It’s a surprisingly digestible listen with more than enough footholds to latch onto. Though the instrumentation is free-wheeling and improvisational, De Biasio’s gentle vocal is always there to guide you, appearing and disappearing at just the right times.

Stream it on Spotify.

29. Lil Uzi Vert
Lil Uzi Vert Vs The World
Atlantic
From his hair to his sound, everything about the Philly native is vivid and colorful. LUVvsTW is nine songs of boundless, youthful energy with some of the most adhesive hooks of the year. And though his subject matter is pretty consistent, Uzi is adept at switching his flow up, often a few times in one song. One of the most fun releases of the year.

Stream in on Spotify.

28. The Hotelier
Goodness
Tiny Engines
Instead of trying to recreate the pain of their brutal, beautiful breakthrough LP, Home, Like Noplace Is There, the Worcester, Mass trio let some light and (ahem) goodness into their sound. Cathartic as they may be, the disc’s 13 songs tend to focus more on life than death, picking out a number of small, tender moments and blowing them out with their signature nimble guitars, pounding drums, and Christian Holden’s unique, strained vocals.

Stream it on Spotify.

27. CFCF
On Vacation
International Feel
It’s been a long, shitty year. And if you feel like you need a vacation, the ever-reliable CFCF is ready to transport you to warmer climes. Like any island sojourn, the record is soothing and relaxing, but unlike the real thing, you’ll still get to sleep in your own bed or wake up to a devastating sunburn.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 2.14.06 PM26. Silk Road Assassins
Reflection Spaces
Planet Mu
Though they are based in the idyllic town of Bath, the UK post-grime trio make music for a (seemingly rapidly approaching) dystopian future. After finding success with a string of Internet singles and live sets, their debut project shines more light on their unsettling vision. Jammed with icy, crystalline synths, skittering percussion, and innumerable layers of sub-bass, Reflection Spaces feels like speeding through the city at night with only flashing neon lights to guide you back home.

Stream it on Spotify.

25. Payroll Giovani x Cardo Got Wings
Big Bossin, Vol 1
Self Released
At this point, you can pencil the Detroit native in for (at least) one dope project a year, and 2016 was no different. Though it’s a touch bloated, BBV1 is chock full of sharp, melodic production, courtesy of the always-reliable Cardo Got Wings, that is sure to delight anyone with a soft spot for 90’s hip-hop.

Stream it on Spotify.

24. Lontalius
I’ll Forget 17
Partisan
The teenaged New Zealander rose to Internet fame thanks to a collection of heartsick, stripped-down versions of pop songs, recorded in his bedroom. And though the songs on I’ll Forget 17 are his own, they buzz with the same disarming quality that made those covers so easy to fall in love with. His sound is equal parts teenage angst and restrained (p)optimism, simultaneously accepting that young love is miserable and messy but also formative and beautiful.

Stream it on Spotify.

23. Lil Yachty
Summer Songs 2
Quality Control
What the 19 year-old lacks in #bars (spoiler: they’re fine), he more than makes up in melody and songwriting. From its explosive opener where he bellows “we are the youth” to the reflective, down-tempo closer “So Many People,” Yachty continues to build on his original, genre-defying sound, built to piss off rap conservatives for years to come.

Stream it on Spotify.

Kodak-Black-Press-Photo-cr-David-Cabrera-2016-billboard-154822. Kodak Black
Lil Big Pac
Dollaz N Dollaz
Totally miscast as a non-lyrical rapper along the lines of Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert, the Pompano Beach native’s proper debut is packed with mature storytelling, impressive bars, and stark, honest pain. Ironically, the 19 year-old has all the qualities that hip-hop old heads are supposed to lionize, but they’re clearly too busy obsessing about his hair and Instagram account to actually listen to his music.

Stream it on Spotify.

21. Andy Stott
Too Many Voices
Modern Love
In short, Too Many Voices is the most direct of the legendary Manchester producer’s five records. Stott strikes a potent ratio between his dark, industrial roots and new melodic elements like icy synths (“New Romantics,” “On My Mind”) and Allison Skidmore’s mellifluous vocals (“Butterflies,” “Too Many Voices”). That said, this is still an Andy Stott album, so there are plenty of noisy, harsh moments on this thing, but they’ve never been balanced quite so well before.

Stream it on YouTube.

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 2.16.03 PM20. Negative Gemini
Body Work
100% Electronica
Dance records that are both cohesive and versatile are exceedingly rare, but Virginia-born, NYC-based Lindsey French’s stunning sophomore LP nails that balance just right. Body Work glides from mid-tempo cuts (“No Rum,” “Body Work”) to hi-BPM house tracks (“Break,” “Infinity”) and even to the occasional ballad (“You Never Knew,” “Don’t Worry Bout the Fuck I’m Doing”). No matter where she explores, the disc always feels cohesive, thanks to the ultra-warm synths and trance-y percussion that permeates through just about all of its 11 tracks.

Stream it on Spotify.

19. Ezale x DJ Fresh
The Tonight Show
Fresh In The Flesh
If it wasn’t for my 4th favorite album of 2016 (¡oooooh foreshadowing!), the Oakland duo’s LP would have been my favorite album from my home region in years. The pair sacrifice quantity for quality, crafting 25 minutes of wall-to-wall G-funk mastery. DJ Fresh’s ultra laid-back, soulful beats are the perfect canvas for the hyperactive MC to smear his colorful storytelling and unshakable, affable swagger on.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 2.16.57 PM18. Gaika
Spaghetto
Warp
The owner of the most singular sounds of the year, London’s Gaika crafted a pair of ultra-modern LPs that distill the sound of the city. Like my home city of San Francisco, London is booming, slick, and multi-cultural but also teaming with uncertainty, tension, and inequality. Gaika mirrors all of this in his music, which has touches of romantic lovers rock, raised-fist protest music, propulsive industrial, and deconstructed dancehall.

Stream it on Spotify.

17. MssingNo
Personal Trainer
Self-Released
Though his excellent Fones EP got plenty of good press, this mixtape was MssignNo’s real masterpiece of 2016. 24 minutes of pure ear candy, the Londoner mixes monstrous flips of Ariana Grande, The Biebs, and Zara Larsson with the delicious instrumental quasi-grime that he’s been crafting his whole career.

16. Ryuichi Sakamoto
Nagasaki: Memories of My Son
KAB
Though the legendary Japanese composer just turned 65, he is still crafting some of the most affecting instrumental music on the planet. His gorgeous soundtrack is just as devastating as the film’s subject matter (a woman being visited by the spirit of her late son who perished in the bombing). While there is plenty of the spare, piano genius that he’s best known for (“At The Graveyard,” “How Are You?”), that’s far from all that’s on here. In fact, Nagasaki has some of the finest woodwind work I’ve ever heard from him. This is the work of a true genius.

Stream it on Spotify.

 

KING's first full-length album, We Are KING, comes out Feb. 515. KING
We Are KING
KING Creative
We need as much healing music as possible, and nothing soothes the soul quite like the gorgeous three-part harmonies of King. Their long-awaited debut LP fuses their therapeutic voices with a gorgeous array of quiet storm arrangements. As much as it’s not fair, I can’t write about this album without bringing up the actual G.O.A.T. Sade, but the similarity is too uncanny to ignore.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 2.19.25 PM14. Jamie Isaac
Couch Baby
Marathon Artists
Another uber-talented graduate of The BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology (Amy Winehouse, King Krule, Adele, Kate Nash), the 22 year-old Londoner matches traditional jazz influences with modern, minimalist songwriting. His laid-back tenor is adept at expressing the malaise and restlessness of trying to find your way in the world and will also resonate with those trying to recapture the passion that got them searching in the first place.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 2.20.20 PM13. Camp Cope
Camp Cope
Poison City
The most cathartic album I heard this year, chief songwriter Georgia Maq holds absolutely nothing back here, writing about loss, love, fear, disappointment, and everything in between with staggering honesty and insight. There are a handful of songs on here that just crushed me. Whether it’s a goodbye to her father (“Song for Charlie), another shitty day at the office (“Flesh and Electricity”), or an uncomfortably close look at depression (“West Side Story”), Maq proves over and over that she is a songwriter of rare ability, fearlessness, and empathy.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 2.21.32 PM12. Kanye West
The Life of Pablo
G.O.O.D. Music
The irrepressible Chicagoan’s seventh LP is as messy as the year that spawned it. A record of intense dichotomies, Pablo features some of Kanye’s most innovative, ambitious arrangements, but it is held back by his wildly inconsistent, often vacuous lyrics. Tracks like “Father Stretch My Hands,” “Fade,” and “Ultralight Beam” are sensory feasts that feel (ultra) light years ahead of everything else, but the disc is ultimately held back by too many tracks that feel unfinished or ill-conceived. That said, the collection serves to give us tremendous insight into the chaotic, exhausting space that one of the world’s greatest and bravest artists currently finds himself in.

Stream it on Spotify.

The “Fade” video may be NSFW.

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 2.22.33 PM11. Beyoncé
Lemonade
Parkwood
Not many artists have the power to stop the world anymore, but Beyoncé absolutely stopped me in my tracks when she dropped this visual album out of the sky one Saturday in April. I remember it so well, because my girlfriend and I were an hour late to a dinner (sorry, Marco) because we physically couldn’t pull ourselves away from the TV, totally enthralled by the gripping drama that played out in front of us. From the video’s captivating imagery to the heartbreaking and confessional lyrics, Lemonade is a daring statement from the rare megastar who is unafraid to take huge swings with real stakes.

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 2.24.00 PM10. Rihanna
ANTI
Westbury Road / Roc Nation
Rihanna albums tend to be huge. Huge hits. Huge arrangements. Huge guest-lists. ANTI is anything but. This super lean, 43-minute collection has no throwaways, no filler, and no bullshit. However, it does feature one of the few true forces of nature we have, at her peak vocally and artistically. She slithers through the disc’s stripped-back instrumentation on forceful standouts like “Needed Me” and “Yeah, I Said It” and belts the shit out of ballads like “Higher” and “Love on the Brain.” Even it’s biggest hit, “Work,” is the most low-key smash of her career, giving her ample space to shine (bright, like a diamond) in the way that only she can.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 2.24.53 PM9. 21 Savage x Metro Boomin
Savage Mode
Slaughter Gang
In an industry increasingly driven by singles, you just don’t hear many albums that capture a cohesive mood like this foreboding, hissing album from 21 Savage and Metro Boomin. Each of Metro’s nine tracks are skeletal, restrained, and hollow, which is divergent from much of the maximalist rap you hear on the radio. That atmosphere is perfect for 21’s unique, low-key delivery. Though he rarely raises his voice, his words carry weight that few others do, and on Savage Mode, he gives us a glimpse of what a singular artist he is.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 2.25.40 PM8. Solange
A Seat At The Table
Columbia
Though it just fell out of the sky one day, Solange Knowles’ exquisite, sprawling third album was years in the making. In fact, the genesis of standout track “Cranes In The Sky” goes back eight years. And believe me, you can hear it. A Seat At The Table is an album of incredible craft; from the lush, diverse instrumentation to Solange’s thoughtful, socially impactful lyrics to her expressive vocals, every piece of it is beautifully conceived and executed. It’s a stunning album that will retain its importance long after 2016 and will act as a beacon of positivity and identity in these dark times.

Stream it now on Spotify.

2016_dawn_press_1711167. Dawn Richard
Redemption
Our Dawn
On her third album in four years, the New Orleanian ensures the Heart Trilogy gets the thrilling finale it deserves. Ambition and exploration have always been key cogs of the Dawn Richard experience, and Redemption delves even deeper down the tripped-out dance-floor rabbit hole, crafting thrilling collection that is built to defy categorization. Thematically, Redemption follows  its predecessors, and Dawn stands as a warrior for love, steadfastly fighting for the devotion and respect that she deserves. It’s a powerful message that feels especially essential in T**mp’s America.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 2.28.01 PM6. Lydia Loveless
Real
Bloodshot
I’ve heard a ton of alt-country albums that sound like Lydia Loveless’ fourth LP, but very few (like, three… maybe) with this level of potent songwriting, storytelling, singing, and guitar-work. Even more impressively, all of it is handled by a 26 year-old from rural Ohio. She’s the kind of songwriter who will have you in tears (“Out on Love,”), cracking up (“Midwestern Guys”), and planning your wedding (“Bilbao”) in just three concurrent tracks. Not one of the disc’s ten tracks are wasted with each offering something special and worthwhile.

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 2.28.49 PM5. Jenny Hval
Blood Bitch
Sacred Bones
Just 15 months removed from releasing the second best album of 2015, the mercurial Norwegian returned with this glorious concept album that was inspired by Virginia Woolf, vampires, and menstruation. Like her previous works, Blood Bitch feels more like a film than an album, built around a coherent thematic and sonic language that functions outside the constraints of modern music. In other words, its standout tracks (“Conceptual Romance,” “The Great Undressing”) feel less like singles and more like great scenes; they may stick out in your mind, but don’t wield an ounce of the same power outside the context of the larger piece. In a generation where singles are king, this is more valuable than ever.

Stream it on Spotify.

Like always, both Jenny Hval videos are NSFW.

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 2.29.29 PM4. Kamaiyah
A Good Night in The Ghetto
Self-Released
Though she’s still a couple months short of her 22nd birthday, Kamaiyah Johnson has already crafted one of the best Bay Area records of the last 10 years. A Good Night in The Ghetto is the masterful LP that the East Bay deserves, reflecting the joy, pain, hope, and uncertainty of life in one of the most complicated places in the world right now. While the region is currently enjoying unprecedented financial success, it is also undergoing equivalent gentrification and homogenization, leaving scads of families and communities displaced from their homes and facing uncertain futures. There’s traces of all of that here, as Johnson is channels the city’s optimistic spirit (“Out The Bottle,” “I’m On”) without shying away from the hurt (“For My Dawg”) and inequality (“How Does It Feel”) that surrounds her. Her magnetic personality and melodic flow is a perfect match for the 90’s influenced production that recalls the Halcyon days of Rappin’ 4-Tay and Too Short. In short, it’s a mature statement that captures life in the Bay in a way that few others have managed.

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 2.30.22 PM3. Anderson .Paak
Malibu
Steel Wool
It’s probably easier to make a list of things the 30 year-old doesn’t do than what he does. On his expansive, jazzy second LP, Paak writes, sings, raps, arranges, produces, and plays drums, all at an insanely high level. He can shift from seasoned soul crooner (“The Bird,” “Silicon Valley”) to funk band leader (“Come Down” “Put Me Thru”) to uplifting MC (“The Dreamer”)… often multiple times in the same song. Of his many gifts, the one I appreciate the most is his storytelling. Insightful, affecting, and wise beyond his years, Paak deftly strikes a positive, inspiring tone without coming off as preachy or pandering. It’s a message that we desperately needed but rarely heeded in 2016.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 2.31.34 PM2. The 1975
I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of it
Dirty Hit
Everything about the Manchester megastars’ second LP seems like the ingredients to a dumpster fire. From the title (seriously?) to the 74-minute running time to the fact that there are three (3!) ambient tracks to the song titles (“Please Be Naked,” “UGH!”), it all seemed like the disc would shoot for the stars, but hit the ceiling. Incredibly, not only is I Like It When You Sleep… not sabotaged by its delusions of grandeur; it is buoyed by them.

It’s a truly impudent, audacious LP that isn’t satisfied with recreating the magic of their legendary influences (i.e. Queen, Wham!, INXS); it actually aims to better them. “She’s American” and “The Sound” are basically the best Huey Lewis songs that were never written, while moody ballads like “Somebody Else” and “A Change of Heart” could have come off any hits of the 80’s compilation. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Really, when you strip away all of the gloss, bluster, and awful haircuts, this record is a testament to the quartet’s incredible songwriting acumen and frontman Matt Healy’s status as a real-life, rare-as-a-motherfucker rock star.

Stream it on Spotify.

7802586-3x2-340x2271. Frank Ocean
Blond(e)
Boys Don’t Cry
There was only one entry on either list that wasn’t up for negotiation. From the moment I heard it, I knew that the peerless New Orleanian’s second LP would top this list. Relentlessly progressive in every possible way, Blond(e) is the sound of a genius at work, dutifully crafting the sound of the future while the world wonders what he’s up to. The pressure to perform miracles must have grown more arduous by the month (hilariously chronicled by Jay Versace), but the more you listen to it, the more you realize why it took so long.

The devil is in the details here, and as I listened to it more and more, I realized little things like the gospel tone of the descending keys of “Solo” and the way he hesitates before the second verse of “Good Guy” to highlight the awkwardness of a first date. I’ve had about 10 favorite songs on it depending on the day, and I know that it’s the kind of album that will keep revealing new elements of itself to me and growing right along with me.

Stream it on Spotify.

Posted on by TP1.COM in Best of '16, Featured

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