Not gonna lie, 2016 has been a terrible year. And when it came to music, especially albums, while there have been some definite heavy hitters, it has been mostly just good, not great. And yet still I was able to make a top 50 list. These like always are my favorites, not the best, even though I always note, that some of the best albums of the year might be present. I judge on my own criteria, basically what I like the best at this particular moment. Literally tomorrow this list could be different. I'm mercurial. Deal with it. Anyways, here we go.
50. You Know Who You Are by Nada Surf
This would never make any end of the year critics lists, but Nada Surf has always been one of my personal favorite bands and this was their best album in some time. All around solid, nothing new but everything very well polished. Great work guys, keep it up.
49. 4 Your Eyez Only by J. Cole
Either you appreciate J. Cole or you just don't get it. I'm looking at you Shea Serrano. I fall in the former camp. Well kinda. I know his weeknesses. Lyrically, he could be better. Much better. And the production, while solid, is a little sleepy. Reminds me of Talib Kweli, who never really figured it out when he wasn't with Hi-Tek or Mos Def. And yet here I am looking forward to every record he drops, with only the slightest diminishing returns.
48. Weezer (The White Album) by Weezer
Can we talk about Weezer for a minute. These guys were done, making terrible music spanning several albums that were only still making music because of the goodwill they achieved with their early work. And I'm a Make Believe apologist, but Hurley, Weezer (The Red Album) and Raditude are awful. And then Rivers figured it all out, and they started making good music again. This is the second really good album in a row. No joke.
47. 99 Cents by Santigold
Santi's best days, as Santogold, gave us a new wave island fusion sound that was a kick in the ass. But then she changed her performing name, and well, kinda got a little boring. I'm glad to say 99 Cents, while not a full return to form, is a step in the right direction, as it feels very much alive and jittery. The highs drown out the lows and the positivity shins through. One of the funnest albums of the year.
46. Black America Again by Common
I don't love the new Common album. But game recognize game. And this is the best Common has sounded in years, with an anger and passion behind it. It almost like a soundtrack to a movie that has yet to exist.
45. Home of the Strange by Young The Giant
While I might not love the direction they are going, when I personally prefer their latest, it is nice to see them put real meaning behind their music, even if it isn't always 100% successful. Risk and reward. And this one does reward those who listen.
44. We Are KING by KING
Channeling late 80s/early 90s female lead R&B, these laid back grooves will not only take you back, but keep you up. Expertly crafted and nearly perfectly executed, it's hard to find R&B like this anymore. Was also a late edition to the list, so glad I took the time to squeeze it in.
43. Sunlit Youth by Local Natives
I don't know if Local Natives will ever "figure" it out. Whether they will ever get big or completely hone their sound. They try, they don't always land smoothly, but I enjoy the journey. Their latest is a meandering musical journey, perfect for a road trip across the country, just like the one I discovered their music on. Go West young souls.
42. In My Mind by BJ The Chicago Kid
First off, great year for Chicago music. But more on that later. With his sophomore album, BJ the Kid has given us the most modern soulful album I've heard in a while, mixing the old and the new very well. It doesn't always soar but when it hits, by does it hit, and the supporting cast ain't no joke. Such a great year for R&B and we are just getting started on this list.
41. Painting With by Animal Collective
Without fail, Noah Lennox weird little projects always make their way on my list. He makes strange catchy music with his bandmates, and I just can never get enough. Be it Panda Bear or Animal Collective or whatever else, I just want more, more, more.
40. Puberty 2 by Mitski
Probably the most appropriately titled album of the year, Mitski leads us on an emotional journey through her mind, dealing with all sorts of issues, be it depression, racial identity, sexual politics, among other. All the while she just really nails it. Good for her.
39. The End of Comedy by Drugdealer
I know basically nothing about Michael Collins and his various bands and projects. Dude seems to get around for what I can gather. And yet, here I am listening to this psychedelic pop record that feels like it's straight out of 1974, ten years before I was born, and loving it. It's saccharine for sure, and definitely nostalgic, but it is also dope. And I don't mean the drug. Pun not intended. Okay it was.
38. 24K Magic by Bruno Mars
Clocking in just above 30 minutes, Bruno Mars latest is a sugar rush, the epitome of short and sweet. Owing a lot to Mark Ronson, it feels like Bruno Mars is really at his highest level of confidence and it shows on the record. It's a deep as a kiddie pool and it doesn't always work but when it does, it flies. If only he could stay away from the slow jams.
37. Centerfold by MOTHXR
Fronted by a Gossip Girl star, this indie band masquerading as an electronic R&B outfit with a strange name and great hooks. While many might complain they are good not great, I beg to differ, feeling that the music does what it does, very very well. So grab some headphones and chill. You will be rewarded with at least a few ear worms.
36. Atrocity Exhibition by Danny Brown
I hate Danny Brown's flow. It's weird, his voice is weird too, and he never clicks with the beats he's on. And yet, I still enjoy his music despite my huge issues. I can't even tell you why. Maybe because it's so weird and there are so many great moments among the madness that I just accept my fate.
35. We Move by James Vincent McMorrow
James used to be a folk singer with an edge, but has no so slowly become an alternative R&B mainstay. That voice, goodness grief. Falsetto much? And folk side helps him avoid the pitfalls of most singer-songwriters whose voice often are leagues ahead of what is on the paper below them. I prefer his latest, but this is more than suffice.
34. Emily's D+Evolution by Esperanza Spalding
Remember when Esperanza Spalding became the only jazz musician to ever win Best New Artist at the Grammy's? Probably you don't, since Jazz heyday is long gone. There is no doubt she has talent, but this album really came out the blue. Who knew she has this funky Jazz fusion record in her, mixing old and new, channeling Bowie at times, and really just exploding all expectations she previously built. Maybe the most pleasant surprise and largest leap by an artist I've seen this year.
33. Care by How To Dress Well
Care is polished. It's as "mainstream" as Tom Krell might get. And it works. Mostly. Sometimes when you are under the big lights you either sink or swim. And this album mostly swims. So much so that it deserves a spot on my list. I just wish he returns to the dark corners where he belongs, because while this is very good, his last two were great.
32. Matter by St. Lucia
I love synthpop. I dunno why. And when it's done right, I am all in. As is the case with St. Lucia's sophomore record, which sounds an awfully lot like Passion Pit, but like the Naked and the Famous, that's not a bad thing. And I feel St. Lucia ascends above the comparisons making great 80s music in the 21st century.
31. 99.9% by Kaytranada
The best Canadian album of the year is also an electronic journey that's part funky, part punk and all the while hip-hop sensible. Celestin is like any good DJ with an impeccable ear and a fresh sense of style. Plus homebody knows who to bring on that would fit with his sensibilities to make this one of my favorite debut albums of the year. Can't wait to hear what's next from him.
30. For All We Know by Nao
It's only fitting that with the passing of Prince, we have those carrying the torch. One of them is the British singer Nao, who crafts funky R&B like no other. Her voice is so unique and she swings it like a sword. Really great record, even if it's a little long in the tooth.
29. My Woman by Angel Olsen
Yes, the later half at times feels like a sad sack slog, but Angel Olsen when she shines, is really blindingly good. Defiantly excellent.
28. Love & Hate by Michael Kiwanuka
Imagine if Curtis Mayfield or Otis Redding made a record today about our life and times. That's kinda what you get here. Kiwanuka comes into his own with the help of Danger Mouse. It's soulful, it's current, and it's all rather moving. It can be dark but benith there is rays of lights you can grasp. Great, great record.
27. Telefone by Noname
Another great record from the Chi, Noname, who you might recognize on the occasional Chance track, steps out on her own. With a sleepy delivery reminiscent of slam poetry, she dips into her life and times, often with a touch of nostalgia. It's very well delivered, the production being playful and fresh and the storytelling really coming in to it's own. Proof we don't have enough female rappers in the mainstream.
26. Starboy by The Weeknd
Starboy is hardly The Weeknd's best work. It shouldn't be on any end of the year lists. It's him fully embracing his pop side while leaving the much more interesting and darker tendencies behind. Yeah the lyrics are still a little messed up, but that's just it, they are a little messed up, compared to House of Balloons (his best work), which was straight f*cked up and beautiful. And yet, there is so much catchy pop here and that voice is so smooth, so so smooth, I just can't resist. Especially when Daft Punk stops by.
25. Hard II Love by Usher
I'm not a big Usher fan. Never really dug his music. But as he has gotten older, he might be getting better. His voice is still on point but not the lyrics, production and overall music around it, is just better. Yes, Usher made a better record than the Weeknd. And it kinda wasn't even close. But that album cover though. Woof.
24. Sept. 5th by dvsn
Hey, great R&B is great R&B. Hell this is the third R&B record in a row on this list. And on their debut, dvsn has a confidence and a mood that many acts take years to find. They know their sound, their OVO Sound to be clear. Often times they feel like the soundtrack of the hours after the club, walking down the wet city streets to your car than whatever debauchery is happening under the roofs. It's all high contrast, neon and smooth. Grab some headphones.
23. Awaken, My Love! by Childish Gambino
Childish Gambino aka Donald Glover has the hottest show on TV, Atlanta, and will soon be in a Star Wars movie. Boy has found his groove post Community. And then musically, the former nerdy rapper's music has evolved and is now unrecognizable. Not a single rap on the record, instead he channeling Parliament and Funkadelic in a way that much of this music wouldn't feel out of place on Maggot Brain. Love the direction, love the record, cant wait for the next one to sound nothing like this.
22. Farewell, Starlight! by Francis and the Lights
Second album with an exclamation point in a row! And it happens to be another excellent one. Francis has friends in high places and you can see why. Homeboy sounds so much like Peter Gabriel it's nearly disturbing. And on this record, he gives us the Genesis record in the 21st century we never thought we needed.
21. Views by Drake
Views is way too long. If Drake had cut the fat, he'd have a top 10 record, easily. But as it is, this is still a good Drake album, even if it's mostly more of the same. Less rapping, more singing than before, Drake is dangerously close to collapsing in on himself. But in the meantime, we get his very specific brand of hip-hop, and it's enough to keep us hungry for the next. But he's on thin ice.
20. blackSUMMERS'night by Maxwell
The middle of his proposed trilogy, Maxwell sure takes his damn time. We might not get the finale for another 7 years, but as this record and the previous proved, it'll be worth the wait. You really can't get R&B better than this, so supremely well crafted that it leaves many in it's dust.
19. Blackstar by David Bowie
It's almost too perfect. The man knows he's fading and leaves us his goodbye note in album form. And it's amazing, coming from a guy who only really dabbled in and out on Bowie. RIP my dude.
18. Malibu by Anderson Paak
Anderson Paak has been everywhere this year. He first showed up on Dre's Compton and since then has become the hottest name out there not named Chance The Rapper. If he shows up on your album, that track is gonna be fire, almost like a modern day Nate Dogg. But some of his best work is on his own album, a beautiful eclectic collection of California infused music. It's groovy, it's funky, it's fun and more than anything, it's awesome.
17. Freetown Sound by Blood Orange
It's not Cupid Deluxe for me, but Dev Hynes continues to make great music, this time diving into the racial and sexual politics of today. A times both introspective and topical, the album is a great rumination of the troubles of our times through the lens of this artist. Deep.
16. I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It by The 1975
The album, much like it's title, is long winded and oscillates between very well delivered pop rock and more experimental instrumental journeys. It's schizophrenic and yet much like the lead singer, isn't afraid to look like an ass if the music benefits from it. So strange for an artist to feel like a generic, better than average pop act on the radio but their record to reveal something much more deeper and interesting. It's the weird stuff I loved the most.
15. Ology by Gallant
Probably the best pure R&B album of the year, sometimes the best R&B is just one that truly nails it, keeping frills to a minimum and letting the voice just crush. And boy does Gallant crush.
14. Wildflower by The Avalanches
Maybe it took so long for all the samples to clear, but it was worth the wait, and album that flows from one song to the next, feature great guest stars and even better production. It's like a Frankenstein on a summer day to say the least, and hopefully we won't have to wait nearly as long for the next one.
13. untitled unmastered. by Kendrick Lamar
Maybe the best b-sides album I've ever heard.
12. 22, A Million by Bon Iver
Sometimes you gotta let an artist experiment and freak out a bit, just to get it out of their system. And that's what we get here, Bon Iver doing everything in his power to muffle his own voice. And yet it works, beautifully. A truly strange yet magnificent record.
11. Every Now & Then by Jagwar Ma
Apparently this is a dance/psychedelic record, but to me it feels just like a really great rock record in line with the best work of Foals, Local Natives and Young The Giant. Ever year I discover a band that I never heard before and fall in love. This year, it's Jagwar Ma. Definitely one of the highlights of 2016.
10. The Life of Pablo by Kanye West
The Life of Pablo is not a great album. Some may say it is, but I disagree. But it does have greatness within it. Enough moments that are truly something only a musical genius like Kanye can create. Now saw what you will about Mr. West outside of his music, but dude's struggle is our benefit sadly. And I just hope he gets right, for his own sake and for the music.
9. A Seat at the Table by Solange
Until this year, I was a bigger fan of Solange than her sister. Then Beyonce dropped an album which turned me around. And yet Solange later dropped her own that nearly brought me back. It's that good. Deeper and more experimental than her sister's, it doesn't have the highlights of the Beyonce record but it's stunningly close. Closer than it has any right to be.
8. Teens of Denial by Carseat Headrest
Apparently this is their 13th album. And yet it's the first I've ever heard. And well, I need to go through the backlog, because if it's half as good as this, then I've been missing out.
7. We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest
I might be bias. A Tribe Called Quest is my favorite rap outfit of all-time. I listen to The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders religiously. And even I didn't think they had this in them. Their time was over. Phife was gone, rest in peace. And yet, when I heard rumblings about a new record, I was cautiously optimistic. And then I heard it, and from track one, I was floored. This is not just a good job, good effort record. This is some of the best stuff they've ever done. And that's saying something coming from these legends.
6. Junk by M83
While this is definitely not the album I expected or wanted from M83, especially after the brilliance of their previous effort, it did win be over eventually. And then beyond. A love letter to the 80s and Gonzalez's own childhood, it's both nostalgic and yet fresh. And the real MVP is Mai Lan, who takes a good track and makes it a great one, often wrestling control of the album from Gonzalez for the better. Listening to this was a real joy.
5. Lemonade by Beyonce
I have never been much of a Beyonce fan. I dislike her Destiny's Child days and I feel much of her music is rather repetitive and shallow. But then I watched the HBO special that accompanied the album and I was in shock. It's breathtaking. And now I consider myself a fan. Sometime things change. 2016 was quite a year.
4. The Colour in Everything by James Blake
I'm gonna say something that many probably won't agree with. I think this is James Blake's best record. It's consistently great, track to track, all killer, no filler.
3. A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead
I love King of Limbs but even I admit it's a lesser Radiohead album. Moon Shaped Pool is not lesser Radiohead. It's prime Radiohead, and features music that can hang with their best work. Makes me so happy to have a truly great Radiohead album again, even though they aren't rare, haha.
2. Coloring Book by Chance The Rapper
I don't care what Chance says, this isn't a mixtape, it's a damn album. And a great one too. He deserves all the praise and attention he is now receiving. It's religious musings, the production, the collective energy, it's all gravy. Best rap album of the year and arguably the best album of the year period. And it's biggest strength is in a sh*t year like 2016, is it's unabashed positivity and light. Can't wait for Chance 4.
1. Blonde by Frank Ocean
There wasn't a single album I had wanted to hear more than the newest by Frank Ocean. And boy did I have to wait, baited and switched several times and even having to sit through the solid yet underwhelming Endless. And then finally, finally Boys Don't Cry err Blond arrived and it was not what I expected. It was good but it didn't blow me away. Then I listened to it again. And again. And again. And it all started clicking. And now, now I can't believe my initial tepid response. It's brilliant. Truly. And now I just want more, more, more.