Best Albums of 2016

30. SVIIB – School of Seven Bells

SVIIB almost never materialized. The album was written shortly before band member Benjamin Curtis died in 2013. The band’s co-founder and Benjamin’s partner, Alejandra Deheza completed the album and released it in February this year. SVIIB is just as dreamy and upbeat as their previous releases but holds much more pain within the lyrics. The album doesn’t feel like sadness, but rather a resilience, as the choruses are bold, the drums are powerful, and the synths are joyful. The uplifting tone makes it seem like a celebration of life as lovers, friends, and band-mates rather than a painful memory. This is their legacy, their most innovative project, and it’s gorgeous.

Favorite Songs: Signals, Ablaze, This Is Our Time

29. Weezer (White Album) – Weezer

The White Album is refreshing and is a return to form for Weezer like their 2014 release Everything Will Be Alright In The End. It’s been a long time coming for Weezer fans through the long years of “Beverly Hills” and a string of mediocre (and some downright bad) albums. The White Album is by no means their best work but it’s a strong album in every sense of the word. The pop-punk concept album feels like a mix between the Blue and Green albums and Pinkerton. It doesn’t tread a lot of old ground but it still feels like genuine Weezer. More than anything, it’s fun and upbeat as if Weezer have finally found themselves again after a 15-year drought.

Favorite Songs: Thank God For Girls, L.A. Girlz, California Kids

28. Blank Face LP – ScHoolboy Q

Blank Face LP is ScHoolboy Q at his best: it’s charismatic, sprawling, sinister, and shadowy. There’s nothing quite like it in the hip-hop scene right now and that’s why it stood out this year. There’s no doubt it’s a gangsta rap album yet there’s a diverse collection of styles used throughout the album that makes it feel unique. The dark, paranoia-inducing sound is backed through Q’s lyrics about gang banging, drugs, and triumph. It suffers from the 72 minute run time but the album is consistent enough to avoid total boredom. It feels cinematic through its atmospheric production and Q’s insight into his past. Never is Q overshadowed either, whether it’s Kendrick, Vince Staples, Jadakiss, or even Kanye. He never falters at any point in the album. It’s glorious, undeniably gangsta, and is the most Q album there possibly could be.

Favorite Songs: THat Part, Tookie Knows II, Ride Out

27. Wildflower – The Avalanches

Wildflower is the first album by The Avalanches in 16 years. It’s certainly been a long time since their last release Since I Left You. In some ways, they haven’t changed much. The Avalanches still use an insane amount of samples to create soundscapes that capture the essence of time: present, past, and future. The collage of voices mixed with the samples creates a marvelous journey. More than any other music group, The Avalanches succeed in creating a feeling in their music. You feel every rhythm, every groove, every 4/4 backbeat, every featured artist from Danny Brown to MF DOOM to Father John Misty to Toro Y Moi. Maybe it doesn’t live up to Since I Left You, but Wildflower is a perfect example of what music is really about: creating genuine feelings and expanding horizons from artistry past.

Favorite Songs: If I Was A Folkstar, Frankie Sinatra, Kaleidoscopic Lovers

26. The Impossible Kid – Aesop Rock

The Impossible Kid is Aesop Rock’s most accessible release to date and also his first in a few years. Aesop Rock is known for his extensive vocabulary with a wicked technical proficiency in manipulating his words but this has also turned off many listeners in the past. The Impossible Kid is much more clear and concise than previous releases. The wordplay is simpler and offers deeper insight into Aes’s mind. Even though he’s known for being a wordsmith, he also decides to step up the production through the use of dark piano scales and ominous synths. There are even some good hooks here and there. It’s very fluid and showcases Aesop’s growth as an artist and it’s admirable how he continues to innovate his music after so many years in the game.

Favorite Songs: Rings, Dorks, Blood Sandwich

25. Hopelessness – Anohni

Anohni’s debut album is a powerful protest album full of anger yet it’s strangely glorious and epic. Backed by producers Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, the electronic dance/synthpop record feels purposely juxtaposed between its genre and lyrical content. Anohni sings about drone bombs, global warming, torture, state surveillance all behind fizzling synths and powerful drums. It’s a sound you have to listen to truly appreciate. Yet it never feels preachy but rather empowering and motivating. Anohni’s voice is haunting and serves as a distinct reminder about important political issues we too often seem to ignore. Anohni reminds us there’s plenty of horrors out there but its bleak lyricism contrasted by the sweeping instrumentation reminds us that there is still hope.

Favorite Songs: 4 Degrees, Why Did You Separate Me from the Earth?, Drone Bomb Me

24. 22, A Million – Bon Iver

22, A Million is gonna sound a lot different than what you expect if you’re a fan of Bon Iver’s previous work. He opts to ditch the folk and indie sound in favor of an experimental electronic one. The elements of folk are still there to a degree but for the most part, samplers, synthesizers, and sequencers are the preferred instruments. The lyrics are much more existential in nature than his self-titled album or For Emma Forever Ago. The glitched voices and sparse synths mask Bon Iver’s haunting voice but it works surprisingly well. The autotune is beautiful and conveys an incredible amount of emotion despite intuition. This album is stunning in many ways and requires deeper listens to truly understand but it’s absolutely worth it.

Favorite Songs: 8(circle), 715 – CRΣΣKS, 22 (OVER S∞∞N)

23. Coloring Book – Chance The Rapper

Kanye said The Life of Pablo would be a gospel album. That turned out largely untrue but it turned out Chance the Rapper would fill those shoes much better with Coloring Book. Coloring Book is rich with gospel choirs, talented features, poetry, and religious metaphors. Most importantly, it proves Chance’s success in the mainstream is deserved. Coloring Book marks his growth and maturity from his 10 Day and Acidrap mixtapes. The instrumentation is lush and full through uplifting piano chords, head-nodding drums, and gorgeous horns. Chance’s voice is infectious while his backing vocals only serve to further strengthen the sound. It’s a record full of wonder and its positivity remains radiant throughout. If you’re still not convinced, watch Chance perform No Problems on Ellen with Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz. His happiness is truly genuine and contagious.

Fav Songs: No Problems, Finish Line/Drown, Same Drugs

22. Sirens – Nicolas Jaar

There’s a sense of unease and restlessness throughout Nicolas Jaar’s Sirens. The album is influenced by Jaar’s home country Chile and its politics/history. Jaar uses his noisy and chaotic background to layer and mask his lyrics about police brutality, corrupt governments, and mindless consumerism. The sound is particularly aware of itself and the sparse sounds and fleeting synths always seem to fight in tightly with one another. It weaves in and out of references (some in Spanish) compelling listeners to truly listen closely to understand. His political statement is sharp and inalienable. More than anything, it feels like illumination or self-discovery packed into an album. Listen closely.

Favorite Songs: No, The Governor, Leaves

21. Paradise – White Lung

Paradise feels much more pop-influenced than previous releases but strangely, it doesn’t detract from White Lung’s punk roots at all. It’s bold, much more outspoken, and full of anthems — something White Lung always strives to do. They love pushing boundaries of overwhelming their listeners and Paradise is no different. Yet they utilize more melody in their vocals and their slowed drums/guitars at intermittent points feel like a new formula to a genre often criticized as being too similar. Indeed it feels like White Lung have found a way to make the pop/punk rock sound refreshing and more accessible without ever losing their original feeling of claustrophobic frenzy. It’s surprisingly innovative and a wild ride from start to finish.

Favorite Songs: Kiss Me When I Bleed, Dead Weight, Paradise

20. The Color In Anything – James Blake

It’s really funny how the first time I listened to The Color In Anything, it was raining in Toronto. It felt purposeful and almost planned: James Blake’s melancholy is reminiscent of rainy days in dreary fogs. The Color In Anything still builds upon Blake’s previous work through his thickly layered production and cold baritone voice. The autotune is still there and beautifully emotive. His lyrics still predominately talk about heartbreak or sadness. It doesn’t break any new ground for Blake but his isolation and self-pity are truly felt. It alienates the listener and evokes deep feelings and memories yet only enough to realize the album is a reflection of catharsis. It’s uplifting at times and reminds us that heartbreak is a necessity of life and we must go on. The album is heart-wrenching in most places but it also serves as a release of emotions for Blake and perhaps, for his listeners as well. It’s a shroud of depression with a glimmer of light, brief and barely there, but still there nonetheless.

Favorite Songs: Waves Know Shores, I Need A Forest Fire, f.or.e.v.e.r.

19. Still Brazy – YG

On Still Brazy, YG brags in triumph “I’m the only one who made it out the West without Dre” but his success also carries a cautionary tale: he was shot in his LA recording studio by an unknown assailant last year. While YG used this event to mostly create an invincible image for himself, it’s also evident in Still Brazy that he’s become much more paranoid and is constantly questioning friendships. This event becomes the central focus in Still Brazy, the blend between the Blood YG and the successful millionaire YG. The production drips with classic g funk sounds done by Swish, P-Lo, Ty Dolla $ign, Hit-Boy, and more. YG’s strength lies in his storytelling and his “voice of the people” lines. Politics even appear through tracks like Fuck Donald Trump and Police Get Away Wit Murder. It’s gangsta rap as raw and gritty as can be and sets YG up as the spearhead for West Coast gangsta rap today.

Favorite Songs: Still Brazy, FDT, Twist My Fingaz

18. Telefone – Noname

You can tell Noname has been through a lot: she digs deep into her past full of nostalgia and somberness to find the lyrics throughout Telefone. Noname voices the struggles of generations in black women, black youth, and their joys and suffering. It’s a very Chicago rap album and you can recognize the influence throughout. Yet it feels like its own album, its own voice to the issues brought from a system that has failed for so many years. Her bleakness and sadness are juxtaposed with the jazz-influenced production containing glockenspiel glides, warm chords, and summertime synths. She has no need for braggadocio or tastes of fame, she’s satisfied with telling her story and bringing people together. It feels like a ray of light in grey skies and Noname reminds listeners they can come together and overcome their pain.

Favorite Songs: Shadow Man, Sunny Duet, Diddy Bop

17. 99.9% – Kaytranada

99.9% is the first studio album from Canadian producer Kaytranada. Perhaps his best skill is his sampling chops, he’s able to masterfully cut samples and weave them in and out of songs to create a mesmerizing final product. Combined with his ability to incorporate many genres ranging from house to jazz to hip hop and it becomes clear that Kaytranada’s abilities are far-reaching. 99.9% feels extremely hazy and mellow throughout with featured artists on all but 4 songs. Some of his songs are structured completely different than what listeners expect: extended outros, songs composed of almost purely chorus, and extreme repetition. It’s a unique approach that works: it’s one of the most intricate, detail attentive releases in recent memory.


16. Freetown Sound – Blood Orange

Freetown Sound is the third album by Dev Hynes as Blood Orange. Freetown Sound is a blend of funk, soul, RnB, and synthpop reminiscent of eras past combined with defiant lyricism about racial injustice and marginalized minorities. It’s a powerful album amplified by its references to police brutality in the US as well as its examination of the consequences of being a minority. Hynes uses Freetown Sound as a way to reflect on his own self and examine the anxieties of being black in modern day America. It’s unrelenting, defiant, and a deeply personal album that those who suffer under systemic oppression can relate to.

Favorite Songs: Better Than Me, Hadron Collider, Best To You

15. Nonagon Infinity – King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard

Nonagon Infinity’s name derives from its 9 tracks looping infinitely: the last note of the last song lines back up with the first note of the first song. The album feels like a constant train chugging along over and over with recurring themes, lyrics, and instrumentation. The majority of the album maintains its breakneck pace and creates an exhilarating sound of garage rock fused with experimental, psychedelic, and prog influences. The 41-minute album throws you along its breakneck ride until it reaches the end before going at it again. It’s a crazy roller-coaster ride that doubles as an interactive experiment of sorts and must be experienced.

Favorite Songs: Gamma Knife, Road Train, Robot Stop

14. Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest

Teens of Denial is a guitar-fueled album largely about depression, almost typically what you expect from an indie rock band. Yet Car Seat Headrest’s frontman Will Toledo is able to craft lyrics and utilize them so much better than what you would expect. His lyrics are more abstract, like grabbing whatever thoughts are in his mind and scribbling them messily onto the song. Choruses are not where you would expect them to be and lyrics are often vague but full of wit. Toledo is easily relatable and deftly crafts metaphors for being young and feeling empty. There are so many elements within the lyrics: drug use, depression, self-hate, self-love, and everything in between. It feels tremendous and full of emotion, a deeply relatable record in so many degrees.

Favorite Songs: 1937 State Park, Vincent, Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales

13. Jeffery – Young Thug

I don’t think most people can really grasp Young Thug’s innate musical talent. He’s weird. He’s mumbling nonsense. He dresses in women’s clothing. He just makes unintelligible sounds. On the surface, he is difficult to digest for a lot of listeners (both in music and outside of it) and so they write him off. Yet Thug is able to pull off incredible feats of vocal contortions and understands melodies better than classically trained musicians. Jeffery puts Thug’s talent on full display weaving in and out of melodies wailing off-key sounds that match up with the melodies, sneaking witty metaphors lined up with piano riffs, and even arpeggiating his voice on choruses. Jeffery is Thug’s most accessible work in the sense that it’s pop-oriented and everything sounds like a hook but it’s also his most ambitious. His flow is infectious in so many ways and if that was the only positive about Young Thug, it’d be enough. Yet his talent extends to his deep understanding of musical structure and sharp wordplay. The beats are hard-hitting and the features are all on point. Together they create Thug’s most ambitious project to date: constantly pushing boundaries and showcasing his ever-evolving range.

Favorite Songs: Wyclef Jean, Future Swag, Guwop

12. A Seat at the Table – Solange

Racism isn’t just an underlying thing in America. It’s always been there, and at present, it’s not lowkey. A Seat at the Table is about racism at its core, what it’s like for a black woman to deal with oppression, stereotypes, prejudice, and have to turn the other cheek. What it’s like to be dismissed. What it’s like to be harassed. Yet important albums aren’t necessarily the good-sounding ones. Not the case for Solange. She gracefully contrasts the soft, gentle RnB tones with brutal honesty in her lyrics. She weaves in interludes where her parents speak on racism and how deep it truly goes. It’s an intensely personal statement to black culture and her own experiences. Solange is able to craft a gorgeous album that fuses the personal and political, a stunning final product of neo-soul, funk, and RnB.

Favorite Songs: Cranes In The Sky, F.U.B.U., Don’t Touch My Hair

11. Ology – Gallant

Ology at 11 is definitely this list’s hot take so I suppose I should explain my reasons as to why I like this album so much. On first listen, Ology feels like a typical pop/RnB record. Nothing special. Yet all of its components come together perfectly, and whether it’s a mistake or on purpose is not important. Each aspect covers the other, removing glaring weaknesses. Ology is a slow-burning record, it takes time for it to come to life yet the build-up never feels boring. The instrumentation matches perfectly with Gallant’s soulful and beautiful voice front and center. Even when he misses with lyrics and it comes off airy/confusing, the backing production is shining. The rippling falsettos from Gallant pair so well with the instrumentation that at some points it doesn’t really matter what he says or how nice the synths sound, the product together has your head nodding still.

The biggest appeal of Ology is its unassuming nature: its typicality and adherence to a generic pop sound make it distinctly perfect at its goals. Maybe you can argue that pop music is boring, but Ology is pretty much perfect at face value. It’s similar to Carly Rae’s Emotion; albums don’t have to be deep to be good. It excels at what it’s good at and (accidentally?) covers its own shortcomings. Pick any song on the album, it’s guaranteed to be a good listen and its potential to be a long-lasting enjoyment is there. Pair that with Gallant’s beautiful voice and the densely layered production and you have a gorgeous album.

Favorite Songs: Skipping Stones, Weight In Gold, Talking To Myself

10. Skeleton Tree – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds

Skeleton Tree is a somber album. Not that it’s unexpected from Nick Cave, he’s referred to as the Prince of Darkness because of his lyrical obsession with death. Yet Skeleton Tree is different. It’s the sound of mourning and tragedy. During the recording sessions of Skeleton Tree, Cave’s 15-year-old son died from an accidental fall. Cave subsequently edited the lyrics and themes of death and mourning permeate the record. It’s a minimalist soundscape with an impenetrable fog surrounding it. Most of its sound has dissonant elements with odd time signatures. Combined with its sparse and shuffled beats, it is similar to ambient music. It’s clear that Cave’s grief is the focal point in the album and the instrumentation serves to create the dark atmosphere and nothing more. Cave is pained and tormented in his realization that nothing will ever be the same again. It’s a tragically beautiful record; each song is consistently powerful that’s stripped of everything but honest sorrow. Skeleton Tree is a beautiful album that stands face to face with a desolate air of grief, something most of us can only pray never to endure.

Favorite Songs: Girl In Amber, Rings of Saturn, Skeleton Tree

9. Malibu – Anderson .Paak

I could definitely be accused of favoritism here. I’ve been a big fan of Paak since he was called Breezy Lovejoy and was doing songs with Wax and Dumbfoundead on Youtube. His growth is undeniable, his numerous appearances on Dr. Dre’s Compton showcase his diverse talent, and Malibu only serves to solidify his breakout into the mainstream. Malibu is a very personal record of Paak’s life experiences. His talent is his ability to rap and sing interchangeably while sounding lush and smooth at all times. His hooks are infectious and his verses are cleverly crafted. His lyricism is one of his strong points; he’s able to be in the foreground of the album at all times never overshadowed by his features or production. Not to say those elements aren’t good either, the production is dazzling and beautifully soulful. The features never falter and even include Game’s most heartwarming verse ever. Malibu is a celebration of Paak’s struggles and successes with a sense of honesty and humility. It’s been a long time coming, and he knows that he deserves every moment of it.

Favorite Songs: The Bird, Silicon Valley, Am I Wrong

8. A Sailor’s Guide To Earth – Sturgill Simpson

A Sailor’s Guide To Earth is probably the most ambitious project Sturgill Simpson has attempted to date. At its core, it’s a country album but the diverse, roaring instrumentation makes it sound like anything but. In fact, it’s pretty easy to forget it’s a country album at all if not for Simpson’s southern drawl. Trumpets, trombones, pianos, violins, saxophones, and I’m pretty sure a bagpipe, all appear in the album. It’s a risk, after all, country is more related to pop than any other genre so why would you change up the sound when it’s successful? Yet Simpson does so masterfully, adding in lush strings, boastful horns, and soul influences. It’s a lot to take in but thankfully Simpson makes it work. The album is mostly about Simpson’s experiences with raising his son and the passion/exhaustion in between. It never feels corny in this regard but instead an honest and earnest representation of his experiences. There’s something to be said for an album that incorporates so many orchestral elements within it while retaining its fundamental genre/theme. It’s a daring move, one that could just as easily fail, but Simpson pulls it off. And as a result, the album is phenomenal. It completely pushes Simpson’s discography to new heights, so much so that his older work feels obsolete. It may be difficult to top but for now, there is no doubt A Sailor’s Guide To Earth is one of the best of this year.

Favorite Songs: Welcome To Earth, Call to Arms, All Around You

7. Hollowed – Ital Tek

The first time I heard Hollowed, it felt like it was listening to Burial for the first time again. The sparse and distorted synths/bass echos deep within you and it feels like going down a dark alleyway in a cyberpunk setting in the distant future. Hollowed is a much more experimental album than Ital Tek’s previous work and there’s always a feeling of uneasiness throughout. Its eerie atmosphere is undeniable throughout and produces a haunting sound. The bass speeds up throughout highlighting the listener’s uneasiness and urges them forward deeper into the dark unknown. It’s a slow-burning frenzy that works its way through your ears into your body and slowly travels throughout.

It’s a complex album in many ways that’s hard to dissect and break down from its abstract sounds into concrete descriptions. Of course, that’s the beauty of the album. The hellish dissonant synths drive you forward and then gut you just as quickly. You can’t really make sense of it until after it’s finished. It’s a journey full of twists and turns amplified by its ever-droning sounds. It’s relentless and the large spaces within the songs enhance the paranoia gradually. It’s a truly magnificent album in how it is able to convey such dark and gripping emotion in purely instrumental songs. Listeners are forced to dive deep and come face to face with their fears and that’s an impressive feat for an album so seemingly empty and repetitive.

6. Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown

Atrocity Exhibition is an…abrasive record to say the least. If we’re being honest, Danny Brown’s voice is already pretty harsh to listen to. You never really like it, you get used to it and appreciate it but you don’t really love it. So when you first listen to Atrocity Exhibition, you might just give up immediately. What is this Pitchfork meme Trout Mask Replica bullshit? But the real talent here is Danny Brown’s ability to rhyme over literally anything. The most freakish-sounding beats are no match for Brown as he drops bar after bar flowing intricately along with the nightmarish production. The features are all great, in particular, Earl Sweatshirt who definitely benefits from the dark, grimy sound of the record. Paul White’s production is one of the strong points here as well: the maniac, feverish beats are influenced by a variety of genres like industrial and post-punk. Most of the instrumentation is often slanted and have their layers collide. This helps the record feel claustrophobic and its sinister tone matches nicely up to Brown’s rhymes about copious drug use, paranoia, dark humor, and inner demons.

The album in many ways is a reflection of Danny Brown: it’s as outrageous as he is. At the same time, however, bold as it is, Brown never shys away from emotional vulnerability; the album often feels like a cry for help to deal with his terrors. The grimy and often polluted sound works nicely here: Brown captures raw emotion very clearly. Full of mood swings, there are times it feels completely suffocating and other moments where you want to dance to its strangely nihilistic but uplifting sound. It’s unexpected at every turn and you’re never really sure what you encounter next. It’s a slow descent into madness yet you’re always curious for more.

Favorite Songs: Really Doe, Downward Spiral, Pneumonia

5. Puberty 2 – Mistski

Barring unfortunate circumstances, everyone reaches their 20s at some point in their life. It’s a weird time: school, work, and responsibilities hurtle towards you throwing you into the unknown of “real life”. It gets really hectic and often depressing. Puberty 2 reflects on that: the difficulty in finding happiness in everyday activities. It’s a simple yet relatable subject matter. Everyone goes through the stage of getting home drunk at 7 am to waking up at 7 am for work, wondering where all the time has gone. The challenges of adulthood throw you off balance, and now you face difficult decisions every day. Mitski knows this better than most people: she sings for the happiness found in little things fully ignoring the ever-looming sense of dread. And sometimes she debates solving her anxieties with love. But they only ever leave her more alone.

Puberty 2 is backed through Mitski’s distorted guitar which sounds like typical indie rock. Yet there’s a distinct harshness to the rest of the sound, full of strange noises upon closer inspection. There’s full of influences pulled from other genres: dream pop, punk rock, folk chords, and so forth. It sounds like a great collage of noise and at first listen every song often feels overwhelming until you get to the chorus. Yet they all play important roles within the songs: some describe rage, some describe exhaustion, some describe love, others describe the pain and each sound’s texture is vital in those descriptions. It’s what ultimately sets Mitski’s record apart: nothing truly captures the emotion in a song as well as she does. She’s able to be emotionally vulnerable and explore themes others won’t. Her music is not your run-of-the-mill indie rock and can be off-putting but the gamble always pays off. The result is a deep-cutting record, one that leaves an impression on you for a long time to come.

Favorite Songs: Your Best American Girl, Fireworks, My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars

4. We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest

Tribe has always been a group that never sounds outdated. Some old-school rappers and rap groups age like milk, but Tribe always manages to sound relevant. So the real test here is the 18-year gap between this album and their last one. Can they really make an album that’s refreshing and modern that doesn’t depend solely on their nostalgic power? And in short, yeah, you’re goddamn right they can. This album more so than any other album this year feeds off the strength of being in the exact right place at the exact right time. By all accounts, this album shouldn’t exist: Phife Dawg died earlier this year, it had been nothing more than a rumor for 18 years, they had split up dramatically, and anything else along the way. But against all odds, it exists and it’s beautiful. It’s modern, relevant, and most of all, it sounds exactly like Tribe even after all these years. Now that’s a hard thing to do.

Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Jarobi all give their best performances tossing bars between one another and switching up constantly. Most importantly, their lyrics are relevant: they highlight the racist tones of America worsened by the campaign of Donald Trump. The production is gorgeous, jazz hip hop beats combined with intricate samples to produce an infectious sound. The mix is warm and crisp. Features from Kanye, Anderson Paak, Andre 3000, and Kendrick never take over and only serve to enhance the sound. This album can be argued for being ATCQ’s peak: it’s polished jazz-influenced sound, the best raps from the three of them, and the sheer relevance in how it arrived at the time it did. This album does not feel like a cheap money grab from the strength of their name, it’s a beautiful Tribe album that arrived in the right place at the right time.

Favorite Songs: We The People…, Dis Generation, Black Spasmodic

3. Blackstar – David Bowie

Calling Bowie a genius is an understatement. I really don’t think there has ever been anyone else who truly understands music in the way he does. Bowie was masterful in how he weaved genres in and out of his music. understanding exactly how each piece fit. His music was challenging, bizarre, and all the better for it. Blackstar in particular, is proof that Bowie was and still is a step ahead. Blackstar is not really rock n’ roll, far from it. It’s a very jazz-filled sound, full of horns, woodwinds, and strings. Bowie had been listening to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly while recording, and its influence shows. His wide understanding of music is certainly displayed here: the jazz-rock gives way into industrial, soul, folk, electronic, hip hop, and even showtune-esque sounds.

It’s an extremely dense album to unpack filled with strange references and vague lyrics. The majority of lyrics deal with death and nihilism which holds more weight given Bowie’s death only two days after the album’s release. Impending death, wishful nostalgia, immortality all appear as topics throughout. The crazy thing is that while it sounds like Bowie himself coming to grips with his own mortality, it can be interpreted in a multitude of completely different ways. It will stay relevant and interesting long after he’s gone. And though it’s mesmerizing to slowly unpack its secrets, Bowie is also sometimes very clear in his songs. Probably the most powerful song given his death describes a man yearning to spend his last years in the British countryside. It’s almost haunting.

Most of all, Blackstar is a culmination of Bowie’s entire career. Bowie gave his life for music and this is the end result: a beautiful album that continues to surprise even after his death.

Favorite Songs: Blackstar, Dollar Days, Lazarus

2. The Life of Pablo – Kanye West

There is no denying that The Life of Pablo is another masterpiece of an album from Kanye. Possibly the most anticipated album of 2016, Kanye delivered an amazing album, albeit not in the typical sense. Pablo is extremely fragmented, chaotic, and sometimes even deranged. A mix between My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus, it has detailed production that cuts samples in strange directions and abruptly starts/stops. Make no mistake though, its production is top-notch and is probably the strongest aspect of the album. Cohesive or not, Kanye understands how to make every part of a song interesting to listeners.

In Pablo, Kanye’s lyrics aren’t strong but they also don’t really have to be. The vast amount of guest features and memorable production remove the need for Kanye to be there at all times. Kanye instead opts to drop in and out of some songs making his shorter appearances weigh more as he raps memorable and often controversial lines. They’re not Kanye’s best bars by any means, but they worm into your head and stay there backed by the production. Compare TLOP to the rest of the albums on this list, how many lyrics from these other albums are as memorable as Kanye’s lines about Taylor Swift, Ray J, smoothies, sandwiches, and bleached assholes? It’s certainly not his most lyrical album, but at the same time, I think Kanye wanted that to further the unexpected nature of the album.

The huge mood swinging found throughout this album incorporates every era of Kanye’s career: soul samples, the infectiousness of pop hooks, industrial shit-talking, autotuned heartbreak into one sprawling soundscape. It constantly adjusts itself from braggadocio to overwhelming doubt bordering on paranoia. TLOP often sounds like the laziest, unfinished album Kanye has worked on but it’s more Kanye’s ability to make things seem easy. It’s constantly on the borderline of sounding great or awful but Pablo thrives on this vague border and as a result, the listener is never really sure what comes after. Kanye is able to intentionally throw the traditional album sound out the window and construct something undeniably genius. I suspect Kanye is the only artist to be able to pull it off too.

Favorite Songs: Ultralight Beams, Wolves, Real Friends

1. Blonde – Frank Ocean

Never has 4 years felt so long in the history of ever. Yet Blonde made the wait completely worth it. I don’t think there’s ever been an album that resonates so deeply and so quickly within me. The people who called Blonde an immediate classic were not wrong by any means. It’s a much different sound than Channel Orange, it’s sparse but Frank manages to include a lot more in the empty space. Blonde is a minimalist album incorporating elements of ambient music into RnB to create dreamy soundscapes, almost like vaporwave, cut with strange sounds, samples, and voices throughout. It puts specific emphasis on guitar and melodies and detracts from percussion throughout.

The main theme behind Blonde is growing up: the realization of adulthood slowly creeping up on you mixed with love, heartbreak, family, and dreams all force you to come to terms with maturing. Frank feels like he needs to leave an impression and wavers in self-doubt in not understanding how to achieve that while growing up. He’s come to grips with the pains of maturing yet there’s almost a desperate longing for youth. He isolates his fears and strips them down for all to see. It’s powerful and something easily related to: the difficulty adjusting to growing up and the yearning for youthful ignorance.

Frank’s transparency is a sharp contrast to Channel Orange. Channel Orange often left things to the imagination whereas Blonde bares it all for listeners to see. It’s a very personal album, a glance into Frank’s diary where he explores and reflects upon sexuality, love, heartbreak, family, and sentimentality. Yet even if Frank is very transparent, Blonde is a massive, sprawling album that invites listeners to listen over and over again to catch the little things throughout. A new mindset or new day can bring on different interpretations and small reveals that you never would have thought you missed before.

Blonde is an amazing album already through its sheer intricacy and inventive methods Frank utilizes to perfect his sound. His transparency without ego is refreshing to listen to and his ability to stay grounded allows him to create extremely emotive songs that resonate in listeners regardless if they relate to it or not. It takes time to fully reveal itself and requires continuous listening even now but each new reveal feels captivating and beautiful. Eventually, the vagueness clears itself and reveals one of the most interesting and immersive records ever made.

Favorite Songs: Self Control, White Ferrari, Ivy

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I turned my incoherent ramblings on music, anime, and video games into an entire blog.

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