Sure it may be a full week into 2017, and about two weeks after my songs list, but I finally completed my top 50 albums of 2016 list.
I’ve also put together a playlist of all the recommended tracks, so if you’re feeling like wasting 12 and a half hours, here is a link to the Spotify playlist.
* Denotes that an album is not on Spotify for some bullshit reason
50. Local Natives – Sunlit Youth
A solid follow-up album, but nothing spectacular. Almost works better as background coffee-shop music than something to sit down and listen to.
Recommended Tracks: Villainy, Past Lives, Coins
49. Gonjasufi – Callus
Calling this lo-fi would be generous. Gonjasufi has gone darker and more distorted than his past work, creating an lengthy album with some moments of brilliance but also many moments that fall flat.
Recommended Tracks: Maniac Depressant, The Conspiracy, The Kill
48. Tim Hecker – Love Streams
Tim Hecker sure has a style. His complex orchestration of mini-layers create an album that teases cohesion but never fully reaches it.
Recommended Tracks: Castrati Stack, Music of the Air, Up Red Bull Creek
47. BADBADNOTGOOD – IV
Since they started, BADBADNOTGOOD have always let their guests take over the sound of a song. Rather than forcing the guest into the style of a BBNG song, the Colin Stetson / Samuel Herring songs sound like Colin Stetson / Future Island songs, but they still manage to lay down solid tracks with no features.
Recommended Tracks: Confessions Pt II, Time Moves Slow, IV
46. Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Stranger Things Soundtrack
Much like the TV show it backs, this album is nothing revolutionary, but just a very well executed take on a familiar concept.
Recommended Tracks: Kids, Biking To School, Fresh Blood
45. LNZNDRF – LNZNDRF
The other brothers of The National put together a solid record, one that creates hazy atmospheres from track to track without a need for massive climaxes.
Recommended Tracks: Beneath the Black Sea, Future You, Hypno-Skate
44. Kishi Bashi – Sonderlust
There are some beautiful concepts on this album, I just wish Kishi Bashi would stop ruining songs with the word ‘lover’ and stop writing songs about board games.
Recommended Tracks: Can’t Let Go Juno, Hey Big Star, Flame on Flame (a Slow Dirge)
43. Wild Nothing – Life of Pause
Every single song that Wild Nothing creates makes me feel like I’m driving with my windows down through nature in the summer.
Recommended Tracks: Reichpop, Life of Pause, To Know You
42. Frightened Rabbit – Painting of a Panic Attack
Frightened Rabbit can still write a sad song, but the variations are close to running out.
Recommended Tracks: Woke Up Hurting, Death Dream, An Otherwise Disappointing Life
41. Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Yup, still sounds like Bushwick.
Recommended Tracks: Human Performance, Dust, Berlin Got Blurry
40. James Blake – The Colour In Anything
The main recurring knock for albums in 2016 is that many of them are bloated with excess songs. After releases with 10 and 12 songs on them, James Blake comes back with a 17 track behemoth. While many selections on this album are worthy, the album would be far better if he were to cut about 5 songs worth of chaff.
Recommended Tracks: I Need A Forest Fire, Radio Silence, My Willing Heart
39. White Lung – Paradise
Similar to White Lung’s previous effort, this album excels in its brevity. This quick and fast paced punk offering is in-and-out in the perfect length of just under 30 minutes.
Recommended Tracks: Dead Weight, Kiss Me When I Bleed, Sister
38. KAYTRANADA – 99.9%
Kaytranada does a fantastic job of mixing some electronic sounds in with the soul and funk themes throughout the whole album.
Recommended Tracks: GLOWED UP, TRACK UNO, GOT IT GOOD
37. Xenia Rubinos – Black Terry Cat
I happened to see Xenia Rubinos open for Battles a little more than a year ago, and was looking forward to her new album ever since. Usually the tracks just consist of drums, a synth and vocals, but she somehow makes each part feel grander than it is.
Recommended Tracks: Mexican Chef, Right?, Lonely Lover
36. The Weeknd – Starboy
Another bloated album by a good artist. There is absolutely no reason this should be 18 songs long, especially since it falls off tremendously in the second half. However, the top 8 songs on this album are some of The Weeknd’s best work in years.
Recommended Tracks: I Feel It Coming, Party Monster, Six Feet Under
35. Nicolas Jaar – Sirens
The most impactful songs on this album are the 6+ minute long tracks that Nicolas Jaar gives time to evolve and grow with time.
Recommended Tracks: Wildflowers*, No, Three Sides of Nazareth
34. Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit EP
At only 4 songs, Ritual Spirit is a true EP, and a fantastic one at that. Each cut of this EP is wholly different from the last, but still maintains a cohesive feel throughout.
Recommended Tracks: Voodoo In My Blood, Dead Editors, Ritual Spirit
33. Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
I loved half of this album and didn’t mind the other half (with the exception of California, that song is an abomination). Donald Glover tries his hand at soul with a Funkadelic-influence sound, and on Awaken, My Love! he succeeds more often than not.
Recommended Tracks: Redbone, Me and Your Mama, Baby Boy
32. Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book
Another album where I genuinely enjoy the top cuts, but some songs just don’t do it for me. While lush with gospel vocal arrangements, Coloring Book excels when Chance is having fun, rather than preaching.
Recommended Tracks: Angels, No Problem, Summer Friends
31. The Avalanches – Wildflower
A welcome return from an extended hibernation. The main difference between this and Since I Left You is the addition of guest vocalists. There’s nothing transformative here, but I’m also not sure if that’s what The Avalanches were going for. Its an extremely fun record that could have been released in 2001 and would have fit right in.
Recommended Tracks: Colours, Because I’m Me, The Wozard of Iz
30. Wilco – Schmilco
By far Wilco’s simplest album. Even though they’re older and less experimental, Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline can still write impactful music.
Recommended Tracks: If I Ever Was a Child, Normal American Kids, Someone to Lose
29. Gordi – Clever Disguise EP
Gordi was a pleasant surprise of an discovery in 2016. Her five song EP shows her capability of writing engaging but sparse arrangements to compliment her voice. I’m looking forward to her full LP hopefully coming soon.
Recommended Tracks: Can We Work It Out, Wanting, So Here We Are
28. Beyoncé – LEMONADE*
Beyonce tried on every style of music within 12 tracks, and most of them succeeded. Her work with Jack White, James Blake, Kendrick Lamar, and The Weeknd all are all successes, but the middle section of the album falls flat during the DADDY LESSONS, LOVE DROUGHT, and SANDCASTLES stretch.
Recommended Tracks: FREEDOM, HOLD UP, SORRY
27. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.
This album of castoffs and loosies is better than the majority of rap albums released this year. It’s a clear continuation of his sound on TPAB and Kendrick can still bring it.
Recommended Tracks: untitled 03 | 05.28.2013., untitled 02 | 06.30.2014., untitled 07 | 2014-2016
26. Preoccupations – Preoccupations
Name change controversy aside, Preoccupations is a incredibly solid follow-up. There is nothing mindblowingly unique about it, but each and every song captivates attention even with their driving and drone-y length.
Recommended Tracks: Zodiac, Memory, Anxiety
25. Injury Reserve – Floss
One of the last entries of 2016, Injury Reserve came through with a more mature effort on their sophomore album. Along with the surprise RTJ3, December was a fantastic month for hip-hop.
Recommended Tracks: All This Money, Oh Shit!, Keep on Slippin, Look Mama I Did It
24. Steve Hauschilds – Strands
Arpeggios. Arpeggios everywhere.
Recommended Tracks: Same River Twice, Ketracel, Time We Have, Strands
23. Pinegrove – Cardinal
One of the few indie rock records released this year that actually left an impact. I can easily foresee Pinegrove becoming the next indie darling in the years to come.
Recommended Tracks: Old Friends, Cadmium, Visiting, New Friends
22. Mitski – Puberty 2
Mitski is the master of being as quiet or as loud as is perfectly needed.
Recommended Tracks: Your Best American Girl, I Bet on Losing Dogs, Fireworks, Crack Baby
21. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Is there anybody that puts out more quality music than Will Toledo? Teens of Denial has some fantastic indie-rock moments, but it could also afford some heavy editing.
Recommended Tracks: Vincent, Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales, Fill In The Blank, Destroyed By Hippie Powers
20. Jesu / Sun Kil Moon – Jesu / Sun Kil Moon
Sun Kil Moon clearly isn’t for everybody. The best songs on this album are the quieter songs, with ambient or acoustic guitar backings, and Mark Kozelek doing what he does best and rambling about everything and nothing at all.
Recommended Tracks: Beautiful You, Father’s Day, America’s Most Wanted Mark Kozelek, Exodus
19. Vince Staples – Prima Donna
Could Vince Staples make bad music if he tried?
Recommended Tracks: War Ready, Pimp Hand, Prima Donna, Big Time
18. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
If 2016 had an MVP award, it might go to Anderson .Paak. Not just for his excellent release Malibu, but for his guest work on other albums. Expect to hear Anderson on 15 chart topping songs in 2017.
Recommended Tracks: Get Down, Heart Don’t Stand A Chance, The Season / Carry Me, Am I Wrong
17. Death Grips – Bottomless Pit
Bullshit will-they-won’t-they-release-it semantics aside, they delivered with Bottomless Pit. It has the signature Death Grips sound, but as weird as it is to say, it might be their most accessible album to date.
Recommended Tracks: BB Poison, Bubbles Buried In This Jungle, Houdini, Ring A Bell
16. Carly Rae Jepsen – E-MO-TION Side B
With the exception of Store (mainly the grating chorus), each one of these tracks could easily have made the final cut of E-MO-TION. The 80’s still ooze out of each song, with lush synths adding the finishing touches. Carly Rae Jepsen is still making the best pop music right now.
Recommended Tracks: Fever, Roses, First Time, Cry
15. Schoolboy Q – Blank Face LP
If this album was 6 songs shorter, it might be 10 places higher. Schoolboy Q’s aggressive vibe is matched by his beat choice. Also, can we all agree in 2017 to stop letting E-40 as a guest rapper on songs? He ruins every single track he is on.
Recommended Tracks: Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane, Str8 Ballin, Tookie Knows II, By Any Means
14. Solange – A Seat at the Table
I usually don’t like skits, but on A Seat at the Table they actually serve a purpose creating a cohesive narrative. Solange wrote the whole album as a story, and succeeds perfectly. An immaculately crafted record.
Recommended Tracks: Cranes In The Sky, Don’t You Wait, Don’t Touch My Hair, Don’t Wish Me Well
13. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
As I’ve written time and time again this year, this album could have been better if it was edited down a bit. Some of Blood Orange’s best songs are buried within the 17 songs. Dev Hynes is so damn good at creating a feeling of warmth with his songwriting.
Recommended Tracks: Hands Up, Augustine, E.V.P., Better Than Me
12. David Bowie – Blackstar
A beautiful and fitting farewell to one of the music’s most important pioneers.
Recommended Tracks: Lazarus, Blackstar, I Can’t Give Everything Away, Dollar Days
11. Noname – Telefone
Such a fantastic debut album. Noname knows she has a nailed a sound and nearly perfects it on her first attempt. He style is low key, soulful, and buttery smooth. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Recommended Tracks: Yesterday, Diddy Bop, All I Need, Bye Bye Baby
10. DEAKIN – SLEEP CYCLE
Since Painting With was such a unmitigated disaster, I’m considering this the real Animal Collective release of the year. Deakin puts forth his much anticipated solo-effort, one that matches the heights that Animal Collective reached while he was a contributing member.
Recommended Tracks: JUST AM, GOLDEN CHORDS, GOOD HOUSE, FOOTY
9. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
This album has the best and most out-there beats on any hip-hop record this year. What other rapper picks the beat for Dance in the Water or Ain’t It Funny? Also, Really Doe might be the best group track released this year, although Ab-Soul is still garbage. Danny Brown is only getting better.
Recommended Tracks: When It Rain, Really Doe, Pneumonia, Dance In The Water
8. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
While this album can be a bit of a mess and confusing at times, its highs are some of the best of the year. The Sister Nancy sample at the end of Famous, Chance’s verse on Ultralight Beam, the icy synths on Freestyle 4, the first three minutes of 30 hours, the Kanye and Kendrick trade off on No More Parties in LA, and the beat drop on Father Stretch My Hands are all incredible. I just wish he could have removed some of the nonsense and made a more concise album.
Recommended Tracks: Ultralight Beam, Famous, No More Parties in LA, Real Friends
7. William Tyler – Modern Country
This is my most played album of the year. William Tyler is so damn talented at creating an atmosphere made for a long road trip and getting lost. Sure he may have creepy long fingernails, but he couldn’t create songs with his trademark finger-plucked style without them.
Recommended Tracks: Highway Anxiety, Gone Clear, I’m Gonna Live Forever (If It Kills Me), Kingdom of Jones
6. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 3
What an unexpected but wonderful Christmas present. The opening five tracks to this record could not start the record on a better note with the best production El-P has ever done. The bad-cop / bad-cop style is one that RTJ has mastered completely. I’m still not sure how they manage to produce songs that hit like a brick and don’t get stale.
Recommended Tracks: Call Ticketron, Talk To Me, Thursday In The Danger Room, A Report To The Shareholders : Kill Your Masters
5. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
Not many artists really evolve their sound quicker than Bon Iver. With each album, Justin Vernon has added more instruments and more recording tweaks. If you told me when For Emma, Forever Ago was released that just two albums later he would write a song like 715 – CRΣΣKS, there was no possible way I would have believed it. Not only has he added these tricks, but he’s still writing compelling music.
Recommended Tracks: 29 #Strafford APTS, 33 “GOD”, 715 – CRΣΣKS, 8 (circle)
4. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
This record has weight. It’s heavy. It hurts. Nick Cave conveys emotion through his voice better than anybody. He doesn’t need more than some light backing to let his voice power through. If you watch him play these songs pull off his movie One More Time With Feeling you understand just how much of himself he poured into these songs.
Recommended Tracks: I Need You, Girl In Amber, Jesus Alone, Skeleton Tree
3. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
If this happens to be Radiohead’s final album, finally releasing a studio version of True Love Waits would be the way to do it. What began as almost a myth of a song, to having a studio live version with an acoustic guitar, to the final version with icy keys, is the ideal ending to either an album or a career. What a ride it’s been.
Recommended Tracks: Daydreaming, True Love Waits, The Numbers, Decks Dark
2. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
After a nearly 20 year wait, and the far too soon passing of Phife Dawg, ATCQ could not have come back stronger. It’s almost unbelievable how incredible this record is. On top of hearing Q-Tip, Jarobi, and Phife all on the same track again, the next best thing that we get some prime Busta verses. 2016 wasn’t all bad after all.
Recommended Tracks: Dis Generation, The Space Program, Enough!, Lost Somebody
1. Frank Ocean – Blonde
I loved channel ORANGE. It was my favorite album of 2012. So when I first listened through blonde I was a bit underwhelmed. It didn’t have the same immediacy or the same initial impact that I first felt listening to channel ORANGE. I took a break, waited a day, and then tried again. The second listen I liked it a bit more, and with each subsequent listen blonde got better and better. The subtly that Frank plays with on this album is so impressive. Songs like White Ferrari and Solo are barely anything more than Frank’s voice and one instrument, and they’re some of the most engaging songs of the year. I keep coming back to this album and I keep finding a new favorite moment. I railed against the overlong album often in these rankings, but Frank is the only one who delivered with each and every track. I have a feeling that this album will stick in my rotation for many more years.
Recommended Tracks: White Ferrari, Siegfried, Nights, Pink + White, Self Control