Top 12 Albums 2016

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Here’s my Favorite 12 Albums of 2016.

12 because 10 isn’t ever enough, and “favorite” (as opposed to “best”) because objectivity in art is impossible.

There are a lot of albums from 2016 that I didn’t listen to, and a lot of other albums that I heard once but never spent time with, so expect plenty of 2016 music to trickle out here in the next several months. I don’t make definitive lists because I change my mind too much, but this is stuff I have listened to the most over the last year.

(presented in alphabetical order)

The Avalanches – Wildflower (Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 11 July 2016) This is only their second proper album but so far I love it, from the Biz Markie song The Noisy Eater to some of the quieter interlude bits. It’s heavy-sampled and heavily tropical with that same perfect nostalgia/sadness feeling that Pet Sounds really perfectly handles. This was the band I discovered when I first got into new music after high school and they remain one of my favorites of all time.

Beyonce – Lemonade (iTunes (for purchase)Tidal)
A ton of amazing music was released this year. When it comes to Tidal-exclusives from legendary artists, Beyonce has Kanye beat, hands down. It’s packed with perfect tracks that push the boundaries of pop music into new and exciting places. It’s pretty inescapable and that’s for good reason.

Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book (DatPiff, Apple Music, Spotify)
I mentioned Kanye above, and Chance had a crucial role in the single best Kanye song from this year, but then his 3rd mixtape (album? I get that it’s…not, but maybe we should just call them albums at this point?) blew The Life of Pablo out of the water. Chance stretches his style in this mixtape, trying different styles and cadences while he matches with his guests. His voice is versatile, both as a rapper and singer as well as his voice as a writer. His exuberance is infectious, and this mixtape gets better with each listen.

clipping. – Splendor & Misery (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks 14 September 2016) This is a hell of an incredible album. It’s a dark afrofuturist science fiction story, told by insanely precise, heavily rhythmic raps over avant-noise soundscapes. It’s unquestionably the evolution of noise-hop, and a clear next step from the noisy Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein, and afrofuturist scifi rap of Deltron 3030.

DM Stith – Pigeonheart (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 1 August 2016) This is, without question, a headphones album. I tried listening to it a few times this week in the car with kids and playing out of the speaker of my phone and I was not moved. Then, after the kids were all asleep, I donned my preferred listening headphones (Sony MDRZX110 – less than $15 on Amazon) and this album exploded before me into sound-shapes and mind-colors or something. Stith’s trademark haunting ghost vocals are there, backed by a dazzling array of sounds both organic and synthetic. This album is deep, unfolding with multiple listens, and it somehow stays unpredictable, like some sort of weird audio fractal. Highly recommended.

Eola – Dang (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 12 October 2016) This is absolutely my favorite album that I’ve stumbled upon recently. I saw it described on twitter as “lo-fi droney gospel” and I flipped out–I am the exact target market for that. It’s gorgeous and meditative at times, and playful and honestly pretty dorky at other times. But I’m in love hardcore with this record. I will be listening to this for a while.

Helado Negro – Private Energy (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 12 October 2016) I have a confession: I love Helado Negro’s music. I mean, I guess it’s not much of a confession, but every single thing that Roberto Lange has released as Helado Negro has gripped me and I am a buy-every-album fan for life at this point. This album, his fifth full-length (there are also several EPs), really exhibits his growth in songcraft. There’s still the dense electro-acoustic production, and the psychedelic interludes, but everything (even the songs en Español) are so much more singalongable this time around.

Jamila Woods – HEAVN (only on Soundcloud)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 18 July 2016) If, like me, you’re into Chance The Rapper, you probably will recognize Jamila Woods’ voice. She is the driving force of Sunday Candy and Blessings (I) and her solo album is incredible even given the high expectations I had going into it. It turns out that she is a poet and playwright in her spare time, and that’s hardly a surprise after listening to the album. It’s a free download from soundcloud and you should absolutely not sleep on this.

Justice – Woman (Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks 23 November 2016) Justice is one of my favorite French electronic music duos (along with Daft Punk and Air), and I think they’ve gotten better with each album. Though they have mostly abandoned the dirty, noisy version of French Touch house music that made them huge, their focus on combining 70s rock and disco continues to pay off. A perfect steering wheel tapper for LA traffic.

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3 (free download on runthejewels.com, Apple Music, Spotify)
With this third album, Mike and El have cemented themselves in the list of greatest rap duos of all time. They’re still angry and they drop more knowledge in a verse than most rappers do in a whole album. El-P’s production is still singularly top-notch and neck-snapping, too. It’s the kind of album that you put on when you need to feel like you can throw refrigerators through walls.

Sound of Ceres – Nostalgia for Infinity (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
It’s weird how sometimes you find a band who make music just for you. Sound of Ceres hits that sweet spot for me that’s right between tiki-bar-era tropical exotica, shoegaze with whispery feminine vocals, warm ambient noise, and perfect-chorus pop songwriting. The music is so inviting, and it reaches right into my heart like little else. I want to live inside of their songs.

TW Walsh – Fruitless Research (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
TW Walsh is a hell of a songwriter, and I’ve been a big fan of his work with Pedro the Lion, with David Bazan, with The Soft Drugs, and on his solo albums. But this time, he’s augmented his sound with some noisy synths and other experimental elements, and it really makes a big difference to me. The sonic textures on this album really highlight his songwriting skills and production knowledge. I bought this on tape and couldn’t stop listening for months.