Wednesday, January 4, 2017

My Twenty Favorite Albums of 2016

Well, at this point it is clear that this blog only exists as a portal for me to post my year end list of favorite albums, and for my friend Bob to sporadically review weird rock shows he sees in Washington D.C. This isn't even the pre-eminent music blog named Static and Distance anymore. How the mighty have fallen.

Anyway, no one needs to read more about how "2016 was the worst year ever." Nonetheless, it was undeniably bittersweet for me as a music fan. David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen left us (plus two thirds of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer!). But we also got some truly remarkable new music this year, including two wonderful farewell albums from Bowie and Cohen. Personally, my listening habits shifted significantly. Most people who know me think of me as "that guy who really, really likes Radiohead" (and I still do! See below). However, 2016 was the first time since my circa-1997 days of Puff Daddy worship that I listened to as much hip hop and R&B as rock music. Turns out I had it right in middle school.

Just as I did last year, I made a Spotify playlist of my favorite songs of the year, which you will find at the end of this post. Unlike last year, I don't have the inclination to share extended blurbs about the albums on the list, but I did write brief endorsements.

And now, the moment that maybe three of you have been waiting for! Here are my favorite albums of 2016:

Honorable Mentions:
Kendrick Lamar- Untitled/Unmastered
Kaytranada- 99.9%
Pinegrove- Cardinal
Noname- Telefone
Danny Brown- Atrocity Exhibition
Whitney- Light Upon the Lake

Top Twenty
20. Kanye West- The Life of Pablo
This album is a mess, honestly, but the highlights ("Ultralight Beam," "Waves," "No More Parties in LA") are so good that it just barely sneaks onto this list.

19. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard- Nonagon Infinity
A perfectly executed psychedelic rock opus that can (and should) be played on an infinite loop.

18. Blood Orange- Freetown Sound
Nice third effort from alternative R&B artist Dev Hynes, featuring excellent collaborations with the likes of Debbie Harry, Empress Of, and Carly Rae Jepsen.

17. Jamila Woods- HEAVN
Fresh off her star turn on the chorus of "Sunday Candy," Ms Woods shows that song represented just the tip of the iceberg of her talent.

16. NxWorries- Yes Lawd!
Capping off an extraordinary year for Anderson .Paak, he and producer Knxwledge released this excellent collection of hip hop jams layered over a bevy of soul samples.

15. Bon Iver- 22, A Million
I found the whole numerical theme of the album (and its borderline incoherent song titles) a little pretentious, but the songs themselves are good and represent an interesting evolution of Bon Iver's sound.

14. Leonard Cohen- You Want it Darker
One of the best albums ever made by someone in their 80s, and a wonderful conclusion to Cohen's incredible life and career.

13. Weyes Blood- Front Row Seat to Earth
A beautiful and haunting collection of ethereal, dream-like folk songs.

12. Beyoncé- Lemonade
Catchy, lyrically engaging, and demonstrating a remarkably diverse array of sounds across its twelve songs, Lemonade is pop music at its best.

11. A Tribe Called Quest- We Got it From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service
Heck of a comeback album from these hip hop legends, made bittersweet by Phife Dawg's passing.

10. David Bowie- Blackstar
Bowie, ever the iconoclast, goes out with one of his strangest albums- a dark, jazzy/experimental work that sounds like nothing else in his catalogue (or anyone's catalogue, really).

9. Mitski- Puberty 2
This was definitely a down year for rock music, but this album bucks that trend. Simply great songwriting that hits you right in the gut.

8. Angel Olsen- My Woman
Angel Olsen has been one of my favorite songwriters for years now, and My Woman is her most impressive release yet. Far removed from the hushed bedroom recordings of her earliest work, the album sees her expanding her sound with synthesizers, slow-burning guitar epics, and punchy rockers.

7. Car Seat Headrest- Teens of Denial
This is simply one of the most ambitious and creative indie rock albums I've heard in some time. Too many memorable lyrics and hummable guitar hooks to count.

6. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds- Skeleton Tree
Though most of the album was written prior to the death of his son, the tragedy hangs over each of the songs on this devastatingly sad album.

5. Radiohead- A Moon Shaped Pool
Radiohead's most classically-influenced album by a large margin, A Moon Shaped Pool includes some of the prettiest music of their two-decade-plus career. Additionally, long-time fans such as myself were rewarded with excellent studio versions of long gestating songs such as "Burn the Witch" and "True Love Waits."

4. Solange- A Seat at the Table
Absolutely stunning album that powerfully explores societal issues pertaining to race and gender. Pair that with vibrant music that transcends the typical parameters of "R&B" and you have a classic.

3. Anderson .Paak- Malibu
Hard to believe this album came out during the second week of January because I have been listening to it pretty much nonstop since then. A fantastic melding of hip hop and soul music that was my go-to party album this year.

2. Frank Ocean- Blonde
Several people have told me they "couldn't get into" this album despite liking channel ORANGE, which is understandable. Blonde is not exactly accessible- there's hardly any drums on the thing, for one. However, its confounding qualities are what makes it so brilliant. Blonde is a moody, soul-bearing work by one of the most important (and least predictable) artists in music today. A perfect album for a melancholy solo night drive.

1. Chance the Rapper- Coloring Book
Was Coloring Book really the "best" music release of the year? Probably not. But we're talking about my favorites here, and this was the album (okay, technically mixtape) that most defined my 2016. The gospel-influenced songs on Coloring Book, brimming with choirs and horns, lifted my spirits countless times throughout the year. Chance's enthusiasm and positivity provided a needed contrast to an endless parade of negative world events. He also has proven himself to be one of the all-time great Chicago ambassadors, and driving around the city listening to these songs was a consistently joyful experience.

2016 Year End Compilation
Here are some of my favorite songs of the year, sans anything not available on Spotify (Linked here are the songs I would have included by BeyoncĂ© and Cate Le Bon. And fuck it, here's the entirety of Sheer Mag's III EP).

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