Unranked Honorable Mentions:
Jeffery by Young Thug
Blank Face LP by ScHoolboy Q
Cashmere by Swet Shop Boys
Emotion Side B by Carly Rae Jepsen
Freetown Sound by Blood Orange
The Dream is Over by Pup
Rot Forever by Sioux Falls
Paradise by White Lung
Cody by Joyce Manor
I Had a Dream That You Were Mine by Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam
As you can tell by the long list of honorable mentions above there was a ton of pretty good stuff that came out this year. I considered almost every one of these for my number 10 album of the year and even as I sit here I’m not satisfied with everything I’ve mentioned, so here are a few more that I also enjoyed (A Seat at the Table by Solange, Puberty 2 by Mitski, WORRY. by Jeff Rosenstock, Stage Four by Touché Amore, plus The Hamilton Mixtape which I didn’t even count for this list). It was a good year for music, one that I felt was pretty balanced–I doubt that very many of these will make my best of the decade list, but I enjoyed so much of them.
10. iiiDrops by Joey Purp
From the opening moments of iiiDrops Joey Purp speaks with a purpose. There’s an urgency both in his raps and his beats, which make you feel as if he’s standing on a soapbox preaching to anyone who will listen. That’s not to say it’s all sincere, he’s got a fun track with Chance the Rapper which was his biggest hit of the year (“Girls @”), but for the most part he’s socially conscious, speaking out about Chicago, and the ups and downs experienced there. “Photobooth” is the best song on the album, but “Cornerstore” exemplifies the urgency Purp brings to it.
9. Moth by Chairlift
This is the first album I ever really listened to by Chairlift, a duo who announced their separation just weeks ago, ultimately a shame because their final album is a wonderful work of synth influenced indie pop. Moth throws together a collection of wonderful melodies matched with grooving, uplifting beats. “Crying in Public” was a constant go to for me (I named it my number two song of the year)–it’s a incessantly calming song, filled with positive vibes, while “Polymorphing” probably gives the best overview of the electronic catchiness of the album as a whole.
8. Leave Me Alone by Hinds
Hinds is a Spanish indie rock band, their debut album is filled with loosely constructed garage-y songs that get by on the band’s enthusiasm. It’s a wry rock album, drifting from solo to chorus and vocalist to vocalist but always feeling more fun than sloppy. I would play this on any beach day even if the band’s approach is antithetical to the tight construction of the Beach Boys. “Warts” has a fun and memorable guitar lick and features the band almost obnoxiously singing “ba da ba da ba ba” in a way that will make you smile.
7. Goldman’s Detective Agency by Martha
Every review I’ve read of this record loves to mention the Canadian group’s progressive politics, perhaps because it’s not immediately noticeable in the band’s Warped Tour pop-punk vibe. Catchy pop-punk like this is not known for its anarchic perspective, even if that’s where the genre evolved from. Martha’s views are probably why it’s garnered success in the indie scene, and they certainly deserve it for pushing those boundaries, but this album thrives on how perfectly catchy it is. It makes use of alternating vocals from its male and female vocalists (though they might argue there’s no need for gender distinctions) to make perfectly layered guitar-driven pop songs. “Ice Cream and Sunscreen” features both vocalists in a song that brilliantly crescendos from sunny strumming into full pop-punk.
6. Hopelessness by ANOHNI
The bleakness of ANOHNI’s album title is squeezed out into every second of her album here. She truly believes in expressing that sentiment and uses slowly drawn minor electronic music to do so. It’s an ethereal experience, lamenting the state of the environment, Obama’s presidency, and the government’s spy tactics. It’s sorrowful all in all, with “Why Did You Separate Me From the Earth?” reaching peak existential cry.
5. Blackstar by David Bowie
There’s no better way to describe Blackstar than haunting. It’s an album filled with references to life’s culmination, regret, and resurrection, released just days before Bowie would end up passing. Musically it soars, meandering through long songs with jazz interludes and that classic Bowie performance. Donny McCaslin and company are the backing band, offering up some of the best musicianship on any album that came out this year. “Blackstar” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away” are both reflections on life, filled to the brim with pathos.
4. TIE: Lemonade by Beyonce; Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper; The Life of Pablo by Kanye West
Okay a bit of a cheat here, but these three albums are pretty inarguably the biggest representations of popular music this year. All three released albums to great accord and fanfare, pushing boundaries and reclaiming the album as a viable option in 2016. I looked forward to each and listened to each as much as anything else this entire year, yet I find major flaws and sections I don’t really like in each. Their songs filled my best songs of the year lists, but I find stretches of each unignorable-y skippable. I figured why not combine them all in one big cheat, both recognizing their brilliance and how cautious I am to label them my favorites of the year.
Chance was the breakout star of pop music this year (though you should check out my best albums of 2014 list, which includes his wonderful mixtape Acid Rap in my top 10– *humblebrag*) and Coloring Book saw a lot of traction. There’s good reason for this, it’s a gospel-filled sincere rap album with guests from Lil Wayne to Kirk Franklin to Justin Bieber. At first I didn’t like some of the production choices (particularly on the intro to “All We Got” which I felt was really messy), but I kept returning to it over and over. Some songs grew on me (like “No Problem” which ended up being one of my favs from the year), while others I still find kind of boring (“Summer Friends”; “Mixtape”; “Juke Jam”). There are parts of this album I will forever return to and others I probably won’t listen to again.
The Life of Pablo
Kanye consistently promised us the world with this record and by making so many promises he kinda shot himself in the foot. He rushed its release and as a result it… feels rushed. There are a lot of great ideas throughout the whole thing, but some of them end before they have any right to, while others seemingly drag on forever. “Ultralight Beam” is the song of the decade and its flashes of brilliance show up throughout a lot of the album, but Yeezy should’ve cut out some of that filler, let some songs live in the bonus material realm, and come in with a nice tight 12 track album. But for now we can use the skip button and wait for that Trump/Yeezus ticket that we’re bound to have four years from now.
The most fun I had on Twitter this year was reading people’s reactions to the release of Lemonade on HBO, it was hyped up and met everyone’s expectations for what a new Beyonce album should be. I think the issue I have here is I wanted it to be more similar to her self-titled record which was an absolute I’m the emcee here feminist hip-hop anthem. Lemonade obviously is a singularly focused album about a supposed infidelity and all that comes with it–and that part works–but I didn’t enjoy her stray into more bluesy, Americana songs as much as I like what she was doing previously. It’s a personal preference and one that really only shows up on about a third of the album.
3. untitled unmastered. by Kendrick Lamar
Leave it to Kendrick to unexpectedly drop an album of B-sides and have it be one of the best things that came out all year. It’s not as tied together as his two full-lengths, and you can certainly see where each song might have fit if it had made it to Butterfly or MAAD City, but this allows for nine songs to come together in untethered bliss.
2. 22, A Million by Bon Iver
When I named Bon Iver’s self-titled album my favorite of 2011 I figured it was a cliche pick from an artist who had peaked in popularity, but I couldn’t ignore how brilliant the album was. This is exactly how I feel about 22, A Million which further elevates Justin Vernon’s project into the avant-garde. He used special technologies to layer his vocals here, pushing his sound into a textured wonderland that is both worlds away from his twee acoustic debut, while somehow managing to capture the same tone. The whole thing is beautiful and I appreciate his willingness to push to the fringes of music. It’s been rewarding every time.
- Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest
Will Toledo’s indie rock project is a masterclass in rock ‘n roll for the internet age. Born out of the DIY Bandcamp scene and having released something like nine albums across the past six years, Headrest shows what is possible for indie rock in 2016. While self-produced quirky lo-fi jams are a bastion of rock music, Headrest expands those ideas to their fullest, creating huge anthems that pull together vast ideas. His music is a like a well curated Tumblr blog, featuring references to all sorts of things, poetic ramblings, and memes alike. Like someone who grew up with the internet, Teens of Denial is an ironic piece of sincerity–there are tongue-in-cheek moments and others where you have to ask if Toledo is even trying, but it all pulls together in an amazing effort. Most importantly the songwriting is brilliant, these are rock songs that can stand alongside anything that’s ever been written and is why Teens of Denial is my favorite album of the year.