TOP ALBUMS of 2016
One of the earliest releases of 2016 was a no-doubter for inclusion on my year-end list. The first time I heard Anderson .Paak (@AndersonPaak), I have to admit I wasn’t impressed. Like most, I was introduced to him by way of Dr. Dre‘s (@drdre) 2015 album, Compton, and I wasn’t really feeling his contributions. To be fair, although there were definitely some jams on that record, I found it to be an incredibly underwhelming comeback overall. Due to this, perhaps, my first impression of .Paak was a cursory one.
Upon the release of Malibu, I was excited to see what he was capable of on his own and was pleased to have my expectations ultimately surpassed. This album takes the listener on an excitingly modern and upbeat musical excursion that tastefully harkens back to the nostalgic sound of funk and soul from the 1970s era. The lyrical content is also of a very high quality as Anderson demonstrates his capability for crafting picturesque tales to vividly describe his daily life, trials, and tribulations.
With production from the likes of 9th Wonder (@9thwonder), Hi-Tek (@HiTek), Madlib (@madlib), Kaytranada 🇨🇦 (@KAYTRANADA), and more (not to mention .Paak himself) and guest appearances including artists such as ScHoolboy Q (@ScHoolboyQ), Rapsody (@rapsody), and BJ the Chicago Kid (@BJTHECHICAGOKID), this record could end up standing as a relevant listen for years to come.
Standout track: “Put Me Thru”
*** As NxWorries, .Paak also put out a collaborative album with Knxwledge (@Knxwledge) entitled, Yes Lawd!, back in October. Although I wasn’t personally a big fan, I did see it ending up on plenty of year-end best-of lists. At the very least, that project is also worth a listen or two.
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These two albums certainly stand on their own merit, however, in my mind, it’s difficult not to couple them. If there was any silver lining to the loss of these two musical legends, it may be the fact, together, they managed to bookend the year with a pair of unbelievable swan songs.
Bowie‘s ★ was ironic in that it produced a revitalizing listen while the artist himself was in a period of physical decline. Keeping his liver cancer a secret from just about everyone (bandmates included), the lyrics are introspective, often morose, while at the same time, offering itself as a “parting gift” to his listeners and followers.
It has been reported that Bowie and his producer were listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar (@kendricklamar), Boards of Canada (@boctransmission), and Death Grips throughout these final recording sessions, a fact that becomes quite apparent when digesting the album’s bombastic, often chaotic, experimental free-jazz instrumentations.
Standout track: “Lazarus”
Leonard Cohen has always been a bit of a funny artist to me. Growing up, I heard his music constantly in our home and I literally couldn’t stand him. But as is often the case, you learn to appreciate the things you grew up with, if only because it provides an opportunity to reminisce. Saying that, as I’ve gotten older, I have really come to appreciate his music as well as the things that separate him from his contemporaries.
The raw emotions contained within You Want it Darker are palpable. In declining health, Cohen was forced to record his vocal takes from a specially-designed medical chair with his son, Adam (@ThisIsAdamCohen), producing the sessions.
Prior to his death, Cohen penned a letter to his long-time muse, Marianne Ihlen, who herself was on the verge of succumbing to leukaemia. She would pass on two days subsequent to its receipt. A little more than three months later and both of them would be gone. Many have speculated that Cohen finally left us with the cause being attributed to a broken heart.
As brooding and sparse as this album can be, it is truly a fabulous listen with a world-class musicianship. And it wouldn’t be fair to brand this album a “downer” either. Despite the ever-present theme of death that hovers ominously, Cohen‘s razor-sharp wit hasn’t dulled in the slightest. The Canadian icon couldn’t have gone out on a classier or more memorable note if he tried.
Standout track: “Treaty”
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His shrill high-pitched voice is tremendously polarizing – infectious to some, irritating to others – and his sinister, often hypnotic production entrances the listener with its psychedelic and near hallucinogenic qualities.
Despite his lightheartedness, Danny Brown has always had a sound that borders upon the paranoid and Atrocity Exhibition could be his most “evil” release to date. But he is also displaying a new maturity and confidence where he appears to have set no boundaries for himself.
While not for everyone, in my opinion, Danny could be one of the most interesting “mainstream” or “hype” rappers or whatever you want to call him. If you like rap that you can take drugs and mean mug to, this is one album you’ll want to add to the playlist.
…the new grill is weird, though. Toothless Danny >>>
Standout track: “Really Doe (feat. Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar & Earl Sweatshirt)”
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I’d been wondering what had become of this R&B trio ever since the release of their fantastic 3-song EP from 2011, the Story. Five long years later and KING (@weareKING) have finally released their long-awaited full-length LP. And it lives up to its somewhat lofty expectations!
Serene, airy, and dreamy, twins Amber and Paris alongside third member Anita tastefully intersperse their subtle vocal arrangements across a backdrop of luscious and atmospheric instrumentals that has earned them early co-signs from A-listers like the recently fallen Prince (@prince) and ?uestlove (@questlove) of the Roots (@theroots), to name a few. They were even famously sampled by Kendrick Lamar on his Section.80 album.
Although some of the songs here are previously heard compositions, these fresh re-workings feature lavish harmonies and head-nodding grooves that are sure to keep your ears perked throughout. The all-new originals manage to do all the same and more.
We Are King is an extremely promising official debut and an indicator that the group only has better things in store for the future. While this album didn’t have the popular acclaim to match its critical appeal, they are certainly an act worth keeping an eye on moving forward. Ultra chill and fully deserving of their surprising Grammy nom! 🌊 🏝
Standout track: “the Greatest”
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The fact of the matter is, they have shown with every release why no other metal band can even come close to what it is they’re doing. Often imitated but never duplicated, the Swedish quintet pop up every few years to drop a new album and completely obliterate their competition.
No other metal band is capable of producing these types of subtleties, intricacies, and complexities that have the ability to blow the minds of discerning listeners without overwhelming the average ear. In fact, I think Meshuggah are very much responsible for informing a lot of people about polyrhythms in general.
On the Violent Sleep of Reason, for the first time ever, we hear major writing contributions from bassist, Dick Lövgren. Alongside drummer Tomas Haake, the two are responsible for the vast majority of the musical composition work here and this provides a slightly sound than we’ve gotten used to on previous records. As Lövgren‘s previous writing credits can likely be counted upon one hand, this was pretty neat to see. The results here seem to have led to an even more percussive sound for the band, if that can be believed.
Perhaps, the biggest change on this album comes in the form of their “live off the floor” recording sessions. The altered approach manages to capture a raw and honest sound not previously heard before. Meshuggah has always had a reputation for being a little too perfect in the studio due to their (over?) reliance upon computers and software technology. The live approach really seems to have reinvigorated them.
For the most punishing grooves in existence, please look no further. Also, watch the drum play-through video below. The shit is unbelievable! However, I noticed one minor mistake in Haake‘s playing. Comment with the timestamp if you’re able to spot it!
Standout track: “Clockworks”
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If you like your heavy music fast, brutal, and violent, this is the band you need to be listening to right now. Call them powerviolence, call them grindcore, regardless of how you want to classify them, they’re busy tearing your fucking head off regardless.
Due to his outspoken nature, guitarist/singer Todd Jones had a somewhat controversial 2016 after being branded a “scene bully” by garbo music tabloid, Metal Sucks. However, in my opinion, the dude is a classic, aggressive, and straight-up pissed off frontman – AND I LOVE IT.
I grew up as a big metal fan and part of the reason I’ve become so disillusioned with the genre is due to the fact that there are far too many tropes nowadays and bands seem to appear to feel as if they need to assimilate in order to thrive. As far as I’m concerned, that is the antithesis of what rebellious music is supposed to represent.
Look, if you like heavy shit and you’re not a total wimp, put this on. If it gets you too amped, do something constructive and find a bully to beat up or something. Also, everything produced by Kurt Ballou is basically a must listen. SHIT IS RAW, BRUH.
Standout track: “You Will Never Be One of Us”
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While similar to Meshuggah in terms of influence and years in existence, musically, they’re on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Whereas the Swedes provide a full-on rhythmic assault to the senses that helped to propel the ‘math-metal’ movement, Neurosis have arguably done more than any other act has in regards to the pushing forward of sludgy and atmospheric heavy music.
Although the record is only five tracks, those familiar with the band won’t be surprised to see the total running time clocking in at 40 minutes. Another crushing release that reasserts their title of the kings of ambient doom from one of the most consistent acts of the past three decades.
Standout track: “Broken Ground”
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Prior to the actual release of Tired of Tomorrow, I have to admit that the first few songs weren’t immediately connecting with me. The first single, “Vertigo Flowers“, has a slightly different feel from their previous material and its follow-up, “Eaten by Worms“, contains a riff that sounds eerily similar to “Pink Maggit” by Deftones (@deftones).
The new album was a slight departure for Nothing (@BandofNOTHING) in that it places a larger emphasis upon their grunge components while edging their shoegaze elements a bit more into the periphery. Which isn’t to say this is a completely different band but it definitely have more of a ‘rock’ vibe going on this time around.
The guitars and vocals seem to be pushed higher into the mix with a slight decrease in the amount of reverb that saturates these particular recordings. As a complete body of work, this is arguably the band’s strongest effort to date.
Their sense of hopelessness and self-loathing is still ever-present but the music itself is much punchier, and for lack of a better term, ‘poppier’. As previously mentioned, certain songs clearly demonstrate that Nothing aren’t afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves (am I the only one hearing a bit of Nirvana‘s (@Nirvana) “School” on “Curse of the Sun“?) but at the same time, the aforementioned “Eaten by Worms” did become one of my favourite tracks on the album… 😏
A tremendous sophomore effort – highly recommended.
Standout track: “Eaten by Worms”
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This is the album that all the mainstream publications were kicking themselves over for releasing their year-end best-of lists before the 12 months had actually come to a conclusion. But to be fair, Run the Jewels (@runjewels) originally had this album scheduled for a January 2017 release and decided to drop it a few weeks early on Christmas Eve.
Seeing El-P (@therealelp) and Killer Mike (@KillerMike) transform into critical darlings while ascending into the realm of the mainstream has been pretty surreal. They’ve certainly come a long way since the Definitive Jux and Dungeon Family days (this despite Mike having won a Grammy Award with Outkast [@Outkast] in 2001).
It is pleasing to see them achieve the acclaim the two of them have worked so hard for. El has been a favourite producer of mine since the Company Flow days and his beats are now better than ever. As far as Mike goes, he has quickly gained a reputation for being a credible thought leader and political commentator. RTJ3 is the work of a group that has fully hit their stride, while at the same time, acknowledging that they have become a pertinent voice for a tumultuous social climate.
This record is stuffed with a diverse list of guest appearances including Danny Brown, BOOTS, Trina (@TRINArockstarr), Kamasi Washington (@KamasiW), and more. Far from militant or preachy, Run the Jewels also offer plenty of fun and silliness as they barrage you with a sonic assault of deep bass and hard drums.
One of the biggest hype acts out at the moment with all of the recognition being long overdue.
Standout track: “Stay Gold”
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I wouldn’t have expected this album to end up on my year-end list but here we are.
ScHoolboy Q (@ScHoolboyQ) showed a lot of promise early on in his career. The rapper turned heads with his 2011 release, Setbacks, and took listeners back to the G-Funk era with a street debut that was authentically west coast. He would follow that up with Habits & Contradictions, a stellar album that was only plagued by its lack of consistency.
Hopes were sky high by the time 2014’s Oxymoron dropped and the album landed flat on its face coming nowhere near expectations. So with the release of Blank Face LP, it seemed like a bit of a “all-or-nothing” moment. Thankfully, it sees ScHoolboy finally living up to his potential.
The most experimental and lengthiest release of his career, we hear the MC delving into the psychedelic at times (if not the straight up weird), and in the end, we are gifted with his most cohesive project to date.
2016 was a big year for Top Dawg Entertainment with releases from Kendrick Lamar (the to Pimp a Butterfly b-side compilation album, untitled unmastered.), Isaiah Rashad [@isaiahrashad] (the Sun’s Tirade), Lance Skiiiwalker [@skiiiwalker] (Introverted Intuition, his official debut), and Ab-Soul [@abdashsoul] (Do What Thou Wilt.) all making notable waves – the latter of which put me into a toss-up with this album.