My favorite albums of 2016

There was an awful lot of music I liked this year, but not a lot of complete albums that I loved.

Even as someone who is totally nonplussed by Raidohead and can’t seem to find the appeal of Queen Bey, this was a great year for music.It seemed like there were always several good albums to parse through every month, and it was easy to do because the music was quality and there weren’t many totally transcendent albums taking up my time with repeat listens.

It took a lot of thought and pointless delineation for me to figure out which albums I would name as my favorite of the year, but the cream and the chafe must be separated, and I want to crank this list out while it’s still 2016, dammit.  So, here they are in descending order. I know it takes away some drama, but why bury the lead? If you want to stop reading by No.6 or so, it’s fine, I understand.

1. Car Seat Headrest-Teens of Denial

This was one of the few albums I got hung up on this year, and  I can’t tell if it’s because I’m a sucker for hooks and derivative guitar rock, or if it’s because it was such a sprawling statement of disaffection that it took me a while to digest it all, but I do love it. The lyrics are funny without being totally detached, Will Toledo sounds like the exact middle ground between Ray Davies and Julian Casablancas and every version of guitar-driven indie rock is represented on this sprawling album.

2. Angel Olsen-My Woman

The interesting folkie from Asheville, N.C. with the distinctive voice made a truly great album. “Shut Up and Kiss Me” alone justifies the album’s existence, but it’s joined by eight other excellent songs(“Intern” is fine, but vestigial. On a hip-hop album it’d be “Intern (Intro)”). I’d even argue “Give It Up” and “Not Gonna Kill You” are event better than “Shut Up…”. While I’m particularly keen on the album’s tighter, rocking first half, but the more ethereal, ambient second half is great too, and it includes the album’s emotional center, “Sister”, which clocks in at seven minutes and change

3. Kanye West- “The Life of Pablo”

West’s slightest and sloppiest offering since 2007’s Graduation is excellent. Production, as always, was immaculate, and “Real Friends” and “Wolves” are some of the most emotionally stirring work Kanye has done. TLOP wasn’t a grand statement like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and it contained a variety of sounds that kept in from having the cohesion granted by Yeezus’ uniformly abrasive texture. This album has been accused of feeling like a greatest hits compilation because of that lack of a through line. But in the same way you can be conditioned by a mix tape to sequentially connect two totally unrelated songs, eventually the album’s structure feels surprisingly comfortable. It easily stands among the year’s best releases.

4.G.L.O.S.S-Day of Trans Revenge

An absolutely furious onslaught of frenzied hardcore couldn’t be more topical. It’s scant run time barely exceeds seven minutes, but that’s just the right amount of profane rage to take in at one time. This is as loud, fast and vicious as you could ever want punk to be.

5.Martha-Blisters in the Pit of My Heart

I don’t know that I’ve seen anyone be as high on this album or heard someone gush about it the way I’m about to. This is without a doubt the catchiest collection of songs I heard all year. It is absolute bubblegum power pop, and that’s OK because it’s executed to perfection. Every song has at least one hook that burrows deep into your brain before re-emerging as a half-hummed melody days later.

(Tie)6. Chance the Rapper- Coloring Book/ Noname-Telefone

Gypsy first popped up on my radar during her excellent verse on Chance’s Acid Rap track “Lost”, so it felt right to have them tie for this spot. The classic backpack-sounding beats on Noname’s album are intensely comforting and perfectly compliment the dense, monotone and slightly cerebral rhymes that Telefone has in spades. Coloring Book is the sort of joyous explosion that only Chance could pull off. Both are tremendous works. It was a big of a letdown after Acid Rap, but “No Problems” is  a hell of a song, and if it leads to a joyful, vaguely psychedelic movement in hip-hop, I’d be pretty happy.

8.Mitski-Puberty 2

This is a quarter life crisis captured in a recording studio. In the same way Coloring Book could only come from Chano, I couldn’t imagine anyone else making dour expressions of self-doubt and existentialism seem so funny and fun. For me, this album is at its best when Mitski bangs out slightly abrasive pop-rockers. “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” and “A Loving Feeling” are two of my favorite songs from this year.

9.Kaytranada-99.9%

This is everything I loved about Settle by Disclosure, including an AlunaGeorge feature. This album is a little stranger and much funkier. I can only listen to it in the car if the speed limit is 55 MPH or higher.

(Tie) 10. Bon Iver- 22, A Million/ Katie Dey-Flood Network

Both of these albums are deeply weird, spacey works by interesting and supremely talented singer songwriters, both of them include songs with inscrutable titles and both are among this year’s absolute best music releases.

 

 

 

 

 

Get a Life (of Pablo)

After months of buildup that included Twitter beefs, constantly evolving tracklists, Fashion Week previews and last second studio tinkering, The Life of Pablo, Kanye West’s seventh studio album is finally out.

After a couple of listens, it’s clear West was right when he said via Twitter TLOP wasn’t the greatest album of all time. It’s almost certainly not even the best Kanye West album of all time.

 

 

However, it is a thoroughly entertaining and interesting album. There’s a handful of songs that can go toe-to-toe with anything in the canon of Kanye, but despite the final version of the album being an 18-song behemoth, it somehow TLOP still feels kind of slight. It’s jumbled, not entirely cohesive and the whole seems to be just a little bit less than the sum of its parts should be.

Of course, this album is still quite good.

In defense of the seemingly lower stakes, it does seem being free of the thematic weight of his last two releases allowed West to be a person instead of a capital-A Artist or hedonistic, industrial God.

“Real Friends” and “Wolves” sound like genuine introspection and thoughts about the human condition, and while “I Love Kanye” is both a total goof off and the logical endpoint for West’s egomania, it’s tongue-in-cheek, actually funny and displays a self-awareness that’s always a little surprising. The First Family of E! is also all over this album. Kim, North and Saint all get plenty of mentions, and it seems like being 38 and having a growing family genuinely occupies a lot of West’s head space in a good way.

It’s not the epic scope of a show businesses orchestral tragedy, an album full of bangers or a meditation on being an English professor’s son in the Southside of Chicago, but it is interesting to get more of a glimpse into the day-to-day and mentality of a larger than life and occasionally cartoonish superstar.

As always with a Kanye release, thinking about the production choices is half the fun of a first listen. TLOP uses familiar Kanye West tools: soul samples, gospel vocals, vocal manipulation, but in a way that still seems alien to his body of work. This sounds fresh and different

Although it’s kind of an odd duck, TLOP definitely sounds like a Kanye West album. It’s tough to imagine any other artist creating what sounds like a combination of Late Registration and Yeezus–exactly as odd of a marriage as it sounds, but more functional than expected. Cold, angry industrial tones and gospel vocals share a lot of space on this album, and it makes for a really interesting moments.

It might not be a statement, but it’s a collection of solid songs with a couple classics thrown in. Nothing sucks, and despite being 18-songs long, the album doesn’t drag. It might not be West’s absolute best, but it’s among his most interesting, and I’m sure sometime in the near future, I’ll improbably be hearing a whole lot of tracks that sound like “Father Stretch My Hands” on the radio, because no one spurs popular hip-hop quite like West.