Best Films of 2016

My last list in the best of the year lists is always the movies, because the end of the year is always loaded with films getting their debuts in last minute in order to qualify for varying awards runs. That being said, there are quite a few films that I either missed their run in my town or they have yet to make it here. Some of these films include: Toni Erdmann, Paterson, Silence, 20th Century Women, The Handmaiden, Certain Women, Elle, Camera Person, Things to Come. I plan on updating this list as I see these films, so expect it to be fluid (and keep checking it out because you’ll never know if there’ll be a new number 1!).

One other note I wanted to make before beginning this list was to acknowledge the lack of diversity amongst the stars and directors in my top 15. Last year’s #Oscarssowhite controversy certainly didn’t seem to really affect the hype train among critics, whose opinions I usually try to keep up with. Only Pablo Larrain (from Chile) and Hirokazu Koreeda (of Japan) are non-white males in my top 10. Some of you may roll your eyes at my acknowledgement of this and others of you may care, but I think it’s important to watch films by people who are not white males and I will try to be more cognizant of this moving forward. My 16 through 22 picks are all about or directed by people outside this realm, but just couldn’t crack into the movies that impacted me most (an arbitrary process, I know, but I try to rank them according to what I felt was the best combination of skill and personal impact). Movies are meant to transport you into someone else’s experience and it’s so important to make that experience be told by someone outside of the the small viewpoint it is so often told from. Here’s to more films by people of color and women going into 2017.

25. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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24. Krisha

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23. High-Rise

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22. Moonlight

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21. The Club

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20. Moana

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19 Divines

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18. American Honey

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17. The Fits

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16. Kicks

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15. Embrace of the Serpent

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14. Love & Friendship

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Whit Stilman takes his dialogue-heavy wit to the Victorian era in what is a pretty straightforward period adaptation of a Jane Austen short story. It’s one of the most cleverly written scripts of the year, using the complex social dynamics of the time to craft what almost becomes a sort of screwball comedy. Kate Beckinsale gives one of the best performances of the year as a manipulative socialite making her way through the world. If you can keep up with it’s sharp dialogue you’re bound to enjoy it.

13. Midnight Specialmidnight-special

Jeff Nichols is one of my favorite working directors and his first feature of 2016 (he also made the respectable civil rights tale Loving) was a sci-fi thriller that doubled down on Nichols’ consistent exploration of family and manhood. The film follows a father (Michael Shannon) as he tries to protect his son from both the government and a cult of religious obsessives as they try to figure out the strange powers his son has. The central mystery of this boy’s purpose is intriguing, the chase aspects are thrilling, but ultimately the film is most interesting in what it means to be a family with Nichols’ putting his characters in unique situations to examine this question (as he also did brilliantly in Take Shelter).

12. Everybody Wants Some!!

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Everybody Wants Some!!, on its face, seems like an effort to try to recapture the magic of Dazed and Confused, but in reality it’s so good that there’s no way anyone can accuse Linklater of trying to capitalize off of old successes. It takes place in the 80s, following a group of baseball players in their first few days before college begins. Linklater is a master of having his characters sit around a discuss ideas, allowing for dumb jocks to be the smartest people in the room, and capturing in totality the excitement and uncertainty of youth. No other director is better at making you feel like you’re sitting around chilling with your pals.

11. Hell or High Water

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This is essentially ‘Texas: The Movie’ and perhaps the most representative story of what is now Donald Trump’s America. It follows two brothers (played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster) as they try to save their family’s ranch by stealing from the bank that’s about to foreclose on them. Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham star as two cops trying to catch the brothers, their tenuous but loving relationship guiding them along. The film follows both sets until its final culmination of complicated and unfortunate violence. Director David Mackenzie captures a certain American spirit, one of disparaged people caught in a bad place and desperate for a wave of goodwill to move through their lives. It’s a distortion of the American dream, one filled with plenty of laughs, and that will leave you dumbfounded as to how we got here and where we go next.

10. 10 Cloverfield Lane

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This prequel to Cloverfield was shrouded in mystery, with little known about its plot or that it was even coming out. The team behind this film were satisfied to take a fairly successful existing property and create something within its world without really caring about the world of the existing property. The known entity of there being some sort of monster attack brilliantly exists in the background while Dan Trachtenberg chooses to heighten tension within the house where Mary Elizabeth Winstead finds herself. It’s more psychological thriller than monster movie and Winstead (and the viewer) have no idea whether to be terrified or thankful for John Goodman’s presence (he’s terrifying, and great). It was one of the biggest surprises of the year for me and it pays off brilliantly.

9. Our Little Sister

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Hirokazu Koreeda is one of my favorite working filmmakers, he crafts small scale family stories where tensions run low, but spirits often run high. This isn’t to say his characters don’t go through a lot, they certainly face situations with high stakes, but the viewer never feels like these characters won’t be anything other than alright. Our Little Sister is about three sisters whose father, who had abandoned them years earlier for another woman, passes away. At the funeral they learn of their step-sister and eventually decide to take her in. The film then fairly simply follows the four of them as they reside together, experiencing those pieces of life that are most important–small disappointing and joyful moments that when placed together make up one’s being. It’s beautiful, like a cup of green tea warming you from the inside out.

8. Manchester By the Sea

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Early on Manchester By the Sea decides it’s going to wreck you, with Casey Affleck’s brother dying and the introduction of Affleck’s nephew who he is now in charge of. From there Kenneth Lonergan puts you through heart break after heart break as the circumstances of Affleck’s morose Lee Chandler are slowly revealed. This would all be utterly devastating (and it still is) if Lonergan didn’t make the film equally as funny as it is depressing. Lee’s relationship with his nephew Chandler is often ostentatious–they are two depressed people trying to get by, neither afraid to say how they feel–leading to often vicious and brutal snipes that actually help to relieve the tension quite well. The ubiquitous phrase all the feelings has never felt more appropriate than it has here, for good reason, Manchester will likely exist in our collective vernacular for quite a while.

7. The Nice Guys

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This is the funniest movie that came out this year, even if on its face it’s not a straightforward comedy. The Nice Guys follows Ryan Gosling’s private detective Holland and Russell Crowe’s fixer, Jackson, as circumstances force them to come together. Shane Black is able to pull off perfectly constructed slapstick as the two bumble their way throughout Los Angeles trying to find a missing girl. Gosling is surprisingly a comedic genius here. Ultimately, and similar to Inherent Vice, the movie is about decency, the idea that goodness exists in the world even if it is found in the seedy places one wouldn’t expect. The world is a corrupt place, but somewhere out there is an awful detective who really just wants to make things good for people.

6. Sing Street

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Sing Street is a frontrunner for the movie I’m most likely to put on during a Sunday evening when I just want to be comforted. It’s a John Hughes-esque teen comedy directed by the guy who gave us Once and featuring some outstanding original music. Cosmos is a teenager in Ireland, he’s just been forced to change schools, his parent’s marriage is falling apart, and he’s reached that age where his identity is beginning to be discovered. And then he sees a girl and decides to commit everything to impressing this girl. Following his brother’s advice he starts a band, inviting the girl to star in his music video, and through the new wave bands he sees on MTV, his interactions with this girl, and his keen ability to actually write songs, he begins to reach self-discovery. It’s fun, sentimental, and is actually able to capture all the excitement and importance of music–particularly to the lost teenager.

5. Jackie

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“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” is a lyric and the main theme in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. This is the quote that most profoundly ran throughout my head while watching Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, his English-language debut, which follows Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of her husband’s death. It’s a tale of personal tragedy, Jackie is dealing with the loss of her husband, the father of her children. But it’s so much more than this, she must deal with the legacy of who her husband is, not only her personal and complicated relationship with him, but how the entire country will view him for years to come. Larrain portrays all of this with a meandering camera, his grainy cinematography is probably more beautiful than anything else I saw on the big screen this year. The personal and the national intertwine in an absolutely devastating tale of loss.

4. La La Land

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From its opening moments, featuring a Los Angeles traffic standstill that quickly turns into a stage for a giant musical number, I was hooked by La La Land. It’s simultaneously a throwback to Hollywood musicals, while also capturing  a modern feel. That opening number, which makes a celebration out of the most tumultuous parts of Hollywood–the never-ending traffic and sunshine that won’t go away–captures the dreamlike notion of the movies. And boy does it do so, vibrant colors splash off the screen, characters are always exquisitely dressed, and perhaps most importantly it stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone who will charm the socks off of you. Damien Chazelle lets us believe in the unbelievable bliss of romance. Yet, things can never be all good and Chazelle brings us back to reality. As the characters dreams come true, their romance slowly dissipates, but, lest we forget all the magic that preceded it, we get treated to one final glorious sequence that utterly nails everything that could have been, all the dreams that we experience and the magic that lies therein, whether or not they come true.

3. Hail, Caesar

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Hail, Caesar is a tribute film to films and this, while on its face is fairly annoying, is pulled off brilliantly here. The Coen brothers tell the story of their love of cinema through the lens of a crisis of faith. Josh Brolin stars as a old timey Hollywood fixer who must consider if the work he does (mostly trying to make sure his ill-tempered movie stars do what they’re supposed to do) is worth it. He’s been offered another job, one that will pay more and be easier, but there’s just something about movies… The Coens lovingly pay tribute to all sorts of films as we see Scarlett Johansson in a water set piece, Channing Tatum tap dance his way through a musical number, and breakout star Alden Ehrenreich try to transition from cowboy pictures to a prestige drama. At the center also lies a comical mystery in the disappearance of George Clooney’s Baird Whitlock, which helps tie together the existentialism that Brolin faces. While the crisis facing Brolin is about the power of movies, it also doubles as an affirmation that movies do have a spiritual worth that can lead us into a better well being–good thing too, because I keep watching them.

2. The Lobster

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Yorgos Lanthimos’ English language debut offers up a wacky dystopian world, one in which people without romantic partners are forced to live together in a hotel and if they do not find love within 30 days they are turned into an animal of their choosing. It’s a subtle and often dark comedy that parodies our Bachelor watching culture that is obsessed with finding “the one”. As the film progresses though, the nature of the parody changes a little, showing that the opposite of a ridiculous belief, when taken to the extreme, can also be awful. It’s a strange movie to be sure, but was one of the most fun stories to watch play out.

  1. The VVitch

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The Witch succeeds not by giving us supernatural frights (though that is there), but by heightening tensions in what is, at its core, a family drama. Robert Eggers’ horror flick shows us a horror not brought about by explicit evil, but by bringing us into hyper-religious colonial America, a world devoid of grace. In this world where blame out signifies love true terror is allowed to breed like wildfire. The film could almost be titled “How to turn your child into a witch” for it so perfectly captures the idea of how something like this could come to be. To boost, the film is beautifully shot and Anya-Taylor Joy gives an outstanding performance. The ending is extremely dark, let that be known, but it hammers home that idea that when we don’t allow for grace in our lives, it is the most horrid of all evils.

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Posted in Best of 2016, Cinephilia, Top Ten List | 2 Comments

Top 10 Albums of 2016

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Coloring Book

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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

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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.

Lemonade

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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

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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

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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.

  1. Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest

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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.

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Top 10 TV Shows of 2016

I watched more new television this year than any other year. There is just so much of it out there these days, from network shows that surprise, to streaming only originals that get the budget of full on movies. Some of our best creators have moved to TV, because that’s where both the money and acclaim lies, so keeping up with all the latest shows is essential for any pop culture connoisseur. That being said, there are still so many shows that were on last year’s list that didn’t return this year, making this list even more diversified than it would have been. None of Nathan For YouMaster of NoneReview, or Fargo (which were all in my top 10 last year) released a new season this year, which means they will likely come out in 2017, making my year all the more busy.

10. Bajillion Dollar Properties (season 1 and 2)

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The launch of Seeso by NBC this year provided a platform for comedians to do shorter and smaller things with little need to draw in huge audiences. Bajillion Dollar Propertie$, a parody of high end real estate shows, launched with the network and has already come out with two seasons of its ridiculous and improvised satire. Each episode, for the most part, follows a pretty standard routine–each broker has some new client or goal to meet, we are introduced to them (typically played by someone from the UCB/Earwolf crowd) and learn about whatever abhorrent idea they have of what they want in a home. Add in some office hi-jinx and you’ve got the show in a nutshell. It’s not groundbreaking, but if you enjoy funny rhythms and indie comedians then it’s a must watch.

9. The Night Of (Limited Series)

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HBO jumped into the crime story rage this year with The Night Of, a gritty tale about a young Pakistani adult who experiences one awful night and the aftermath of all that happens. Part murder mystery, part courtroom drama, it expertly draws out this tale across six episodes, intensely bringing you into Naz’s life as his experiences slowly change him. I didn’t find the pilot as gripping as some, but I found the conclusion more satisfying than others.

8. The Good Place (Season 1)

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The latest from show runner Michael Schur (Parks and Rec; The Office; Brooklyn 99) takes place in the after-life. Like all of his previous shows, it’s a workplace drama, filled with wacky but sincere characters who work together to get by–only this time it’s all in heaven–or as they call it in the show, “the good place”. It’s a clever show and heartwarming, like Schur is great at doing, but is also highly serialized, featuring very specific rules for the world that has been built. It’s one of those shows that you can only hope they have an idea of where they want it to go (and apparently Schur and co. do), but for now it’s been a great ride.

7. Brain Dead (Season 1)

Wake Up Grassroots: The Nine Virtues Of Participatory Democracy, And How We Can Keep America Great By Encouraging An Informed Electorate

CBS released BrainDead this summer, where it was promptly ignored by both critics and audiences alike. The network, which is the biggest network in the US due to its pervasive knowledge that most of America really just wants to watch Kevin James, cancelled it after this season, and ultimately ignored that it had one of the most unique and strangest shows of the year on its hands. It’s a political satire that tries to explain the partisan state of our union through the premise of bug aliens invading our brains. It stars Marie Elizabeth Winstead (who crushed it this year) and Aaron Tveit (of Broadway fame) as its two impeccably charming and good looking leads who fall in love despite being across the aisle politically and in the middle of an alien invasion. It recaps every episode with a new song from Jonathan Coulton and at one point has a US senator eat someone’s brains. If any of this at all interests you, I recommend watching it, because we need more weird things like this on mainstream television.

6. Crazy Ex Girlfriend (Season 1)

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The comedy auteur is alive and well and the fact that CW gave Rachel Bloom the resources to fund what is a pretty raunchy musical comedy is shocking. It’s about a woman facing a mid-life crisis of sorts, who, upon running into a high school fling decides to upend her successful life in New York to move to West Covina, California. The show turns into a crazy love triangle and while it mocks many of Rebecca’s decisions, is thoroughly feminist and progressive. All of this madness takes place intertwined with big bombastic musical numbers that cover every genre of music. It’s delightful for the comedy and musical theater nerd alike.

5. Veep (Season 5)

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Veep came back in full force this year, creating electoral circumstances that at one point in time (maybe January of 2016) might have seemed crazy. It’s the best straight up comedy on television, satirizing our politics in a way that has never felt more essential than right now at this moment.

4. The Americans (Season 4)

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The Americans continues its run of being the highest stakes drama on television. This year saw Phillip and Elizabeth, two Russian spies living undercover in America, continue to deal with the tensions that come with their job and the very real feelings they’ve developed for the people around them and the place they live. As the stakes rise for the show, each character grapples with the tasks they’ve been given and whether the orders they receive are worth following through. Russia’s interventions in US elections and our leader’s man crush on its autocratic leader should only make this show more interesting and poignant moving forward.

3. Catastrophe (Season 2)

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I put this Amazon original on on a whim this year (accidentally watched the second season before the first) and it became an instant favorite. It’s a shame (and a blessing) that each season is only six episodes, but what results is a raunchy realistic romp about two people forced together by a pregnancy who manage to make it work in brutal, conflict ridden honesty.

2. Lady Dynamite (Season 1)

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I think this is perhaps the best spiritual successor to Arrested Development since the show ended its initial run in 2005 (maybe even more so than the critically mixed fourth season–a season I will admit to enjoying quite a bit). From the same producer as ADLady Dynamite is a fictionalized account of Maria Bamford’s comedy career and time spent in recovery for bipolar disorder. The show is abstract, filled with minute jokes and zany bits as it jumps from time period to time period (each aided by its own color palette). It’s a true pleasure for any comedy nerd, one that is sure to reward those who come back for rewatches, catching every callback and pop culture reference. It’s a weird show, no doubt, but I found it both hilarious and delightful.

  1. Atlanta (Season 1)

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Atlanta was the year’s critical darling, drawing comparisons to everything from Twin Peaks to The Wire, while blending a deadpan comedic tone throughout. It’s Donald Glover’s project, he stars as Earn, a poor 20-something (more like young poor rather than poor poor, though certainly most of the spaces he occupies are not known for their wealth), trying to navigate his life vocationally, while also taking care of his daughter and trying to figure out his relationship with his (ex-?) girlfriend. He becomes the manager of sorts to his cousin, Paper Boi, an up and coming rapper in Atlanta. Despite what may sound like a straightforward premise, the plot is all subtext to whatever Glover and his crew feel like showing on screen. There is little serialization here and each episode takes place entirely in its own context. There are episodes that are all about Paper Boi, there is one that focuses entirely on Van (Earn’s girlfriend) and what is going on in her life, and there are some that parody various things within the rap community (drug deals, the club). It’s a show where anything can happen at any moment and after I finished each episode, I immediately wanted to watch it again.

Shows that just missed the cut: Fresh Off the BoatStranger ThingsGilmore Girls: A Year in the LifeLoveUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

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2017 Pop Culture Goals

I mentioned yesterday that I failed to meet 1/2 of my goals, and the year before that I think I failed pretty spectacularly, but casting aside this evidence that I should just give up on creating pop culture goals for myself, I am doubling (even tripling, probably) down on what I want to do. These goals, for the uninitiated, are purely pop culture oriented–I don’t publish any list where I lay out actual goals for myself, that would be too revealing and would probably garner way more clicks than this blog is used to.

This is the part of the year where we begin to grin and bear these sorts of things, we believe that the world is our oyster and with the grand resetting of our year, comes a utopian view of the future. With my sights set on this heavenly narrative these are my goals for the year.

Side Note: Every year I ask myself if this will be the year I try to read David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus Infinite Jest, the answer this year is no, but we’re getting there…

The Goals:

Rewatch ten of my favorite films from 2007

Ten years ago this year is when I first started really watching movies, making a conscious choice that this was something I was going to do. I was aided by Netflix, which at the time was providing their DVD service–a feature I miss quite a bit–and by the fact that it was a monumental year for cinema. Many of the titles from that year are some of my all time favorites.

I would like to celebrate this anniversary of sorts by rewatching ten of my favorites from that year, seeing how they hold up after this amount of time, particularly now that I am quite a different person than the 17 year old who made the decision to be a cinephile all those years ago. The movies I plan on watching: There Will Be BloodThe Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert FordThe Diving Bell and the ButterflyThe King of Kong: A Fistful of QuartersChop ShopLars and the Real GirlGone Baby GoneMichael ClaytonNo Country For Old MenFour Months, Three Weeks, Two Days

Read 3,000 pages

Toward the end of this year, in order to finish one of my goals for the year, I set up a reading plan for myself. I enjoy reading, but often find myself distracted by the current-ness of the moment, checking Twitter and refreshing The Ringer or Stereogum to see what new pieces they’ve come out with. But books, both fiction and non-, are important pieces of longform thought that deserve to be disciplined into my life. Having a scheduled regiment for myself was helpful and I’m hoping that giving myself a goal this year will push me to read more.

The goal that I’ve set for myself is 3,000 pages–or, roughly, 8 pages a day–something I hope will get me to read around 10 books this year. I figure 10 books is a good amount to give me a mix of novels and non-fiction pieces, both new lit and classics I’ve never read, diverse authors, and religious works. It’ll give me the chance to finish things I never got around to finishing (looking at you Guns, Germs, and Steel/Crime and Punishment) and will leave me more well-read overall.

Some things I hope to read: Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim; Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates; The Nix by Nathan Hill; Americanah by Chimamada Ngozi Adichie; The Plague by Albert Camus

Watch 5 films from my watchlist 

It’s easy to get lost trying to keep up with all the new stuff coming out, but it’s essential to see the classics, noting where we’ve been, and what has influenced us all along (plus then I won’t have my film nerd card revoked!). I figure watching five old things from a list I have is a good goal to have. A sample of things I would really like to watch: Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest; Edward Yang’s Yi-Yi; Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood For Love; Jacques Tati’s Playtime; Tarkovsky’s The Mirror; Bergman’s Persona

Finish television series I am in the middle of

There are a couple of shows that I absolutely adore, but I have pushed them to the back burner in order to keep up with shows that I enjoy less. This is dumb, right? This year I will finish Mad Men, I’ve just started season four, and the Korean highbrow reality show The Genius, where I am in the middle of its second season.

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2016 Pop Culture Goals in Review

Every year I give myself pop culture goals, things to give me a sense of intentionality in what I consume and experience throughout the year. Resolutions are arbitrary, but I find that it helps shape the way that the year goes, pushing you in one direction or another. (Read last year’s here).

I gave myself only two goals last year to make things simple, yet I still had mixed success. I’ll release my goals for 2017 tomorrow, but as a sneak preview I’m giving myself way more to do, an ambitious goal for someone who failed somewhat spectacularly this year. That’s what these goals are for right? Setting up some sort of standard to push one’s self forward even if nothing happens at all.

I’m a bit behind on my best of 2016 schedule (the strange combination of Christmas and sickness–happy holidays, right?), I hope to correct this in the following few days, so stay tuned and check out all the other lists here. 

Last year’s goals:

The goal: Listen to people’s pop cultural recommendations. 

I set this goal so that I would align myself with people’s opinions, trusting–or, at least, submitting myself to–their judgments when it comes to popular culture, an area that I very rarely allow for any outside opinions to sway what I want to watch or participate in. I met this goal in the sense that for the first few months of the year I took notes of things people recommended to me. This was a good and sensible start, but I must confess that I don’t think I ever–consciously at least–followed one person’s recommendation. Now to you, the recommender, I would like to formally apologize. I would like to apologize for not following your recommendation, for which you must feel some sense of betrayal; for not keeping to my word–which must make me look quite arrogant and silly for even doing this in the first place, and finally, I would like to apologize for not caring in the least that I did not follow your recommendation–my life was a spectacularly pleasant one, pop culturally and otherwise, and not following your advice made it, at least marginally, better off for it. To 2017!

The goal: Read a fiction book released within the last year

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I did this! Well maybe not technically, because the book I read, Viet Than Nguyen’s The Sympathizer–the tale of a Vietnamese spy living in the US during the Vietnam war–was released in 2015. But I counted it as such because it won the Pulitzer for best novel this year and I figured jumping on the zeitgeist was really what this goal was all about. It was an enjoyable book, one that wrestles with identity, using fantastic prose and politics to explain the inherent struggle of biculturalism. If you want to borrow it, let me know.

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Top 15 Podcasts of 2016

The best of 2016 coverage continues with my 15 favorite podcasts of the year. Check out the other lists here.

15. improv4Humans

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This might be a little influenced by Matty Besser putting on a great show when I saw him with Wild Horses live at Now Hear This Fest. Ever since then it’s reinvigorated my love for the show. Besser brings in some of the best folks in the indie comedy scene to do improvised scenes based on a variety of suggestions from Twitter, YouTube videos, guest musicians, and more. There’s always a keen ability to take each scene down unexpected paths, with great callbacks, and great bits that pay off hilariously.

Listen to: Ep. 264 Live at Now Heart This Fest

14. Election Profit Makers

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Below you’ll find a few measured and moderate politics podcasts, ones that use data and truly try to discover the truth–this is not the case with Election Profit Makers–whose sole purpose this election cycle was to make a buck. They placed bets on whether the candidates would mention certain words during debates and which way certain states would go. They did what they wanted and though they were biased to one side, this never affected their true desire–that they wanted to make money. The show was always entertaining and even educational for anyone who finds playing the odds fun.

Listen to: Ep. 15 MIKE PENCE NEEDS TO DROP OUT SO I CAN GET PAID

13. Vox’s The Weeds

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The Weeds is Vox’s political podcast where they try to take the political nature of things out of the equation and do deep dives into the issues. Obviously Vox has their left leaning biases, but it’s refreshing to hear talk about actual written up policies and the expected results of enacting policies. It’s a nerdy, but fascinating listen and is perhaps best represented by an episode they recorded at the height of the election where they don’t mention Donald Trump’s name once.

Listen to: Is Obamacare failing?

12. Spontaneanation

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Paul F. Tompkins is a delight, so naturally his improv podcast follows suit. It’s very particular to Tompkins’ interests– soundtracked by Eban Schletter’s live piano tinkering and featuring a bunch of small segments that allow for the show to naturally mine comedy from. The most underrated part of the show, and probably my favorite part, is when Tompkins introduces his guest improvisers, showing off a charming and often hilarious camaraderie with his guests that is a joy to listen to.

Listen to: Ep. 88 East NYC Village w/ Oscar Nunez 

11. The Watch

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Grantland shut down in 2015, leaving an internet pop culture void for many of us. Earlier this year Bill Simmons’ new pop culture/sports venture The Ringer rose from Grantland’s ashes. Nothing will ever replace Grantland, but The Ringer is very satisfying. With the disappearance of Grantland, former podcast of the year Hollywood Prospectus was gone, but with The Ringer came the reuniting of best buds and pop culture fiends Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald in the form of The Watch. The two essentially carry over the same dynamic, fun banter about the latest happenings in television, movies, and music that is both intelligent and lighthearted.

Listen to: Ep. 102 Gilmore Girls, Hell Hath No Fury Turns 10, and The Weeknd’s Starboy Re-Up

10. 2 Dope Queens

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WNYC is probably best known for producing public radio type shows like Radiolab (see below), so it was kind of a surprise when it was announced that the latest show added to their roster would be a podcast that is essentially just a reproduction of a live comedy show. I kind of believe that public events that are recorded and put into podcast form are not actually podcasts, but who really cares because 2 Dope Queens is fantastic. Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams (of The Daily Show correspondent fame) host, often opening with in-studio banter that leads into on-stage banter before a curated list of stand-ups take the stage. They feature a diverse set of comedians that typically are an amazing array of the funniest people in America (caution: not safe for most situations other than your earbuds or a comedy club).

Listen to: Ep. 1 Dad Bods

9. Hot Takedown

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Fivethirtyeight grew in influence this year–after all it was an election year–but they proved that expertise when it comes to numbers is insightful in every facet of life. As a huge sports fan, the data driven perspective has become an essential part of watching and keeping up and the Hot Takedown crew is a big part of that. Whether it’s debating the story bias inherent in our sports narratives or coming up with formulas to determine who is the best at a particular sport, they do some of the best sports analysis around.

Listen to: Is the College Bowl System Unfixable?

8. Hang Up and Listen

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Year after year this podcast shows up on my favorites list. It’s a consistent show about what is happening in sports, taking the perspective that Slate is known for–the contrarian–and allowing their hosts to discuss and debate the issues and topics of our time. It’s the smartest sports podcast you will find, period.

Listen to: The Japan’s Babe Ruth Edition

7. Rob Has a Podcast

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You won’t find this show on any other list of the best podcasts of the year, but you will always find it on mine. Rob Cesternino covers reality television, using a combination of live shows, experts, and former contestants in what typically combines the strategic elements of these shows with the callbacks and fan interaction of a talk radio show. There are plenty of inside jokes and sound drops that when combined with the constant work Cesternino puts in to the show (almost an episode a day) it proves that RHAP really is one of the best shows around.

Listen to: Survivor 33 Finale Feedback Show

6. This American Life

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This American Life consistently makes the best pure storytelling podcast around. I don’t think there’ll ever be another show that matches the charm of Ira Glass with the consistent tone of each of its radio presenters, not to mention the emotional depth each episode brings along with it. There are duds now and then, but each episode is a masterclass of radio.

Listen to: Ep. 603 Once More With Feeling

5. Slate’s The Gist

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Last year’s reigning podcast champion, Pesca delivered on another year of great news coverage. He always has a unique perspective and delivers it in his intros and spiels, while also bringing in interesting guests to interview and explore current topics with. No podcast has made me think more and there’s almost no one else whose opinion I will seek out via podcast form.

Listen to: Boeing, Get Off My Plane

4. Comedy Bang Bang

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If you had to make me choose what my favorite podcast was, I’m probably going with Comedy Bang Bang. Scott Aukerman’s brand of willfully obtuse hosting alongside improvised characters is the perfect range of comedic tones and talent. This year featured the rise of Jessica McKenna as a CBB superstar, along with the Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ cast, and some excellent live shows, proving the show is as strong as ever.

Listen to: Ep. 463 Holiday Spectacular

3. Radiolab/More Perfect

Radiolab and its spin-off show More Perfect are masters at setting up a premise, causing you to believe in it, before destroying that premise and leaving you even more confused about the subject than when you began. They capture grey areas and force you to live in them as they create the most beautiful sounding radio around. More Perfect was an incredible set of shows exploring the Justice department and the cases that were and are important to our lives every day in America. Never have I realized just how frail our lives as members of a Republic were until I learned from these shows that our fates rely on an interpretation of just a few words by just a few people–God help us.

Listen to: Imperfect Plaintiffs 

2. FiveThirtyEight Elections Pod

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A crazy election season ended in a crazy outcome and the thing that got me through most of it was FiveThirtyEight’s reliance on cold hard numbers. Sure the numbers and the data were a little mishandled and perhaps relied on too heavily, but I needed the voices of Nate Silver, Harry Enten, Clare Malone, and Jody Avirgan to help explain to me why different things were happening. Aside from this, the show has a fun dynamic and its hosts have a great repertoire with one another, giving you that old podcast feeling that you’re sitting around with friends–they’re just friends who are way smarter than you.

Listen to: Final Election Preview

1. Doughboys

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The Doughboys started as a comedic venture into chain restaurants, an idea that’s still at the core of the show, but has been cast aside to allow it to truly thrive as the comedian’s comedy podcast featuring two guys who kind of dislike each other trying to get by week after week. Every guest on this show remarks just how much they enjoy listening to the show, something not even the most popular podcasts usually get. It’s probably its blend of sincere interest in the commonality of food, particularly food places that each person in the US has experienced, with silly but clever insult comedy. Every episode has layers that draw you in, basic food etiquettes and interests are discussed, in-jokes are created that reward the listener episode by episode (I guarantee there’s no place else where The Force Awakens‘ Unkar Platt has gotten more traction than with the Doughboys), and Wiger and Mitch’s love-hate dynamic is a great listen that paid off with a behind-the-scenes mostly real fight and make-up in the last episode of the year. Not to mention the strangest March Madness bracket that ever occurred during the “Munch Madness: Doughboys Tournament of Chompions”, a battle to find the best fast food burger that ultimately (and strangely) served as a precursor to our post-truth year.

Listen to: Ep. 40 Tournament of Chompions: Carls Jr. vs. Fuddruckers 

Honorable mentions: Dom and Colin Podcast, NPR’s Embedded, Science Vs.

Posted in Best of 2016, Top Ten List | Tagged | 1 Comment

Top 100 Songs of 2016 Pt. III (33-1)

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Alas, the finale of the best songs of the year. I hope you enjoy them and my thoughts, as I’ve tried to explain why each song means so much to me–and every song here does mean quite a lot to me. I realized this as I was listening to them again, trying to gather my thoughts about each one. There are progressive, tense ideas both musically and lyrically throughout each of them. There’s joy, pain, death, and life all in equal measure. There’s hardly a safe song among them, so proceed with caution, for each is a stumbling block that we can use to lift us higher.

Check out part I here

Check out part II here

Enjoy.

33/32. “Blessings”/”Blessings” by Chance the Rapper

Coloring Book at its best is a Gospel album for the modern age and Chance brings so much joy and sincerity to it that it’s inspiring he actually pulls it off. He even put two songs titled “Blessings” on it, which he uses as a straight forward admonition of all the ways he’s been blessed. Both are essential, which is why they’re listed here sequentially, the former introducing the idea, while the latter concludes it (and the whole album), including my favorite line which Chance delivers twice beautifully: “I speak to God in public, I speak to God in public“–there’s no shame, proselytizing, or pointed purpose to this lyric–it’s just pure joy.

31. “Formation” by Beyonce

I wrote about this in the year’s top pop hits.

30. “Last You Heard of Me” by Joyce Manor

It opens with a few hard strokes of the guitar before reverting to a muted vocally-led tale of a night out on the town. The song uses a rather simple party setting to characterize a romantic cynicism rather bleakly (and beautifully–at least to me) saying: “When for a second our eyes meet/And in the moment I see everything/Start to finish, sad defeat”. Is it better to have loved and lost than never loved at all? Apparently not.

29. “The Awkward Ones” by Martha

Martha create wonderfully catchy pop-punk songs equally lead by power chords and the vocals of pretty much every member of the band (both male and female). “The Awkward Ones” is my favorite track off of the album because of the way the guitars drive forward its infectious rock melody.

28. “Father Stretch My Hands” (Parts 1 & 2) by Kanye West

Much of The Life of Pablo feels like it’s incomplete and I’ve always felt that both “Father Stretch My Hands” parts belong together, conjoined in the holy mess that Kanye has created. The intro to part 1 creates this beautiful beat to which Kanye sings “I just wanna feel liberated” before it leads into rather graphic tales of his strange sexual exploits. Part 2 continues this thought, intercutting desiigner’s wealth anthem “Panda” next to longings of spiritual expression. It’s a beautiful mess that perfectly captures the human experience in all of its highs and lows.

27. “Worth It” by Moses Sumney

Moses Sumner is one to watch, his EP, Lamentationcertainly proved that he is capable of creating highly produced bits of auto-tuned wonder. “Worth It” best captures his ability to make a lament as he questions the unconditionality of love, recognizing the love given to him, but asking if he is deserving of it. Sumney captures the cry of humanity with unbelievable beauty.

26. “Dana Katherine Scully” by Tacocat

Everything about Tacocat is tongue-in-cheek, from their silly name, album artwork, and beach-rock vibe, they never seem like they want you to take them seriously. “Dana Katherine Scully” is a tribute to Gillian Anderson’s character in The X-Files, a seemingly shallow bit of fun and a way to sing about something they grew up watching. Underneath this–what truly makes this song work–is a reverence to the character who ultimately serves as a strong female role model for the band members to look up to. This is necessary in a world where “the truth is out there, but so are lies”.

25. “Kiss Me When I Bleed” by White Lung

I’m sure there are plenty of interpretations of White Lung’s fiery punk jam, but I like it best as this sort of sincerely creepy love song. They use darker imagery to convey the most basic thing people write songs about, reinterpreting the love song for their own purposes. The narrator shrugs off the criticisms she’s received for falling in love, having kids, and committing to someone else, but sometimes the ultimate defiance is the act of making a choice, even if that choice is the traditional one.

24. “Photobooth” by Joey Purp

“Photobooth” will grab you right away, using siren-like noises and bass heavy beats for Joey Purp to declare his message. What I love about Joey Purp is that he delivers every verse with such an urgency that his message feels important no matter what it is (though most of what he has to say is socially conscious). “Photobooth” is one of my favorite combined bits of music and vocals to come out this year.

23. “No Problem” by Chance the Rapper (feat. 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne)

This is probably the most fun song in the slew of sincere jams that make up Coloring Book. Opening up with a choir before leading into Chance’s threats that if someone tries to interfere with his music making process, they’re going to have problems. It’s an endlessly singable chorus and guests 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne add to the fun with their verses.

22. “White Ferrari” by Frank Ocean

I’m not the biggest Frank Ocean fan, though I want to be, I mean what’s cooler than thoughtful indie R&B? But part of me just likes the much more poppy melodies of someone like Usher or Ne-Yo. Not that one has to choose, and Ocean is certainly a remarkable talent, creating stuff that is always interesting and worth diving into. “White Ferrari” is the best pure Ocean track on the long-anticipated Blonde, it’s soothing and graceful and shows why Ocean gets as much attention as he does.

21. “THat Part (Black Hippy Remix)” by ScHoolboy Q (feat. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul & Jay Rock)

The original is great, the guitar that leads into Q’s chorus is as intense as anything on an album full of epic beats and deliveries, but the remix was absolutely lauded for replacing a subpar Kanye verse with the other members of Black Hippy–and, frankly, it is better. They took an already great song and added a great verse from Jay Rock, a new verse from Q, and an instant classic from Kendrick (just look at that rhyme scheme).

20. “Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An)” by Car Seat Headrest

Car Seat Headrest takes small Bandcamp ideas and blows them up into giant rock ‘n roll anthems with layered parts, repeating choruses, whispered verses, and crushing guitar. “Unforgiving Girl” is a great song, no doubt about that, but as I sit here and think about why I love it so much, there’s a part of me that recognizes that I have it on here, because it’s chorus is so memorable. Is it truly better than the rest of Teens of Denial? I’m not sure, and there is certainly one song that I like best from the album (listed below), but the whole album really deserves this spot.

19. “Floridada” by Animal Collective

Listens one through ten of this song (which actually got a lot of airplay on the Sirius XM college rock station that I keep accidentally paying for) felt like a silly subpar offering from Animal Collective, whose schtick often alternates between silly and brilliant noisy pop. Eventually though, the repetition and layered vocals began to really work for me. It doesn’t have the pathos of their best work from Merriweather Post Pavilion, but it’s a really fun song.

18. “Below” by White Lung

“Below” shows White Lung parting from their usually aggressive punk sound, leaving it for what turns out to be their most well-written and complete song (at least from Paradise). There’s a dreamy soundscape to it and it reminds me a bit of what Makthaverskan was doing on II (my favorite album of 2014) with its ethereal musicianship crossing paths with the intensity of its front woman.

17. “untitled 02” by Kendrick Lamar

“untitled 02” could very easily fit onto To Pimp a Butterfly, with its jazzy horns interplaying over Kendrick’s moral dilemmas. The song deals with the themes that Kendrick’s work has been about thus far: what does one do with both faith and success when you’re in the midst of desperate violence? He goes back and forth between the two here, rotating between getting “God” and “Top” (Top Dawg Entertainment) on the phone as he reckons with the stuff he’s done and the stuff he’s got.

16. “666 t” by Bon Iver

Yes, I was too lazy to figure out how to make an upside down t (or supposedly a cross) like is in the actual song title. Bon Iver is apparently too pretentious to use the characters available on a standard keyboard. Yet, Bon Iver is the best at creating melodies, especially ones that soar like “666 t”. Here Vernon outlines some sort of journey he’s been on, from the opening verse where “6’s hang on the door” (explaining the song title) and each chorus progressing him in his journey from having “heard about it” to “learned” to finally having “laughed about it”. It’s unclear what he’s talking about it–like the album as a whole–it’s all shrouded in mystery, but what he offers is quite the ride.

15. “Used to This” by Future (feat. Drake)

Future dropped this lone single a couple of months ago, with it a music video of he and Drake dancing around a bunch of sexed up female soccer players. And that was it. It feels like the song mostly when unnoticed or unmentioned from there. Future is wont to just drop music at any moment, so it’s not really a surprise, but it did feel really random and likely fell short of whatever he envisioned the song being. But, I absolutely adore this track–it’s a catchy, almost poppy song that shows Future could make radio hits if he wasn’t such a sad and desperate person (what is the future we need? This Future or that Future? I think we need both F(f)utures.)

 

14. “Go!” by M83 (feat. Mai Lan)

This was another grower for me, M83’s 80s laden electronic vibes are always hit or miss for me, but after a while the simple chorus of “Go!” became infectious to me. There’s a guitar solo toward the end where the chorus comes in and boy is it great.

13. “Really Doe” by Danny Brown (feat. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt)

Some of my favorite episodes of Comedy Bang Bang are when they bring in all of the fan favorites to do their most beloved characters in what is essentially just an all-stars episode (you could use SNL as an example of this as well). This song is like that, bringing in some of the best people in the game to each perform their own respective parts in what is one of the best songs of the year. When there’s this much talent, it’s hard to screw it up and Danny Brown & company certainly have made the most of all they’ve been given here.

12. “Jesus Alone” by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

“Jesus Alone” is a haunting piece of poetry set to music. It’s supposedly mostly ad-libbed and about the death of his son, which makes the way it haunts even more soul-cutting. It’s about memory, about longing, about achieving something without reaping the rewards of that achievement.

11. “Lazarus” by David Bowie

It’s hard to detach most of what Bowie did on “Blackstar” from his subsequent death just days after the album release. “Lazarus”, which is ostensibly about being raised from the dead, becomes exponentially more powerful when keeping this in mind. Even if Bowie had not tragically passed away so soon after, the performance he gives here is stuffed to the brim with pathos and set to a creeping drum and bass line with jazzy horns intercutting with impeccable timing.

10. “Burn the Witch” by Radiohead

It’s weird to think that the best band of the last 20 years could still be making music that was essential to their catalogue, yet “Burn the Witch” is one of the best songs they’ve ever made. “This is a low flying panic attack” is one of my favorite lines of the year, evoking disastrous fear with a subtlety that matches the eeriness of the song.

9. “All Night” by Beyonce

So much of Lemonade has Beyonce fiercely going after a man that has presumedly cheated on her and she does so with a thriving intensity. “All Night” shows things beginning to evolve into a level of forgiveness, shown by the memory of romance with her love. It’s an exquisitely groovy jam that features a sample from “SpottieOttieDopealiscious”, showing that Outkast are the surprise kings of the year, even as Bey continues her reign as queen.

8. “Solo (Reprise)” by Frank Ocean (feat. Andre 3000)

Hey look its Outkast again! My favorite surprise of Blonde is this track, literally just 3000 rapping over a piano and distant beat for a minute-and-a-half straight. He offers some straight up fire here begging the question as to when that new 3000 album will drop.

7. “Drunk Driver/Killer Whales” by Car Seat Headrest

Will Toledo uses the melancholic depression of post-party regrets to express his existential thoughts about humanity, while throwing in a reference to Blackfish, in order to show the real depravity of humankind. He acknowledges the worst impulses of humankind: the highs we seek and the rationalizations we make, while offering up that “maybe we can learn to start again” choosing an alternate path for our lives. This all happens underneath a perfectly written indie rock song that slowly builds into Toledo’s main refrain “it doesn’t have to be like this”.

6. “Groovy Tony/ Eddie Kane” by ScHoolboy Q (feat. Jadakiss)

ScHoolboy Q had the best produced album in hip-hop, if not all music this year, offering up breathtakingly layered beats to track his often rough vocals. The combination of the two on “Groovy Tony”, along with his intense tale of narcotics dealing, is pure cinema–as gripping as any film I’ve seen all year. Jadakiss comes in essentially stealing the mic and shredding up the atmosphere with a turbulent verse before part II kicks in, changing up the track like any standard plot twist would.

5. “Blackstar” by David Bowie

Blackstar opens up with the eponymous track, a sprawling nine minute song that dives right into a haunting Bowie vocal before taking its time to fully express its ideas. It’s a tightly produced experimentation with jazzy solos that lead into Bowie’s idea of a blackstar–a star that is about to collapse, reaching its singularity, where it becomes something else altogether–an idea that again is apropos to the tragedy that was his death.

4. “Hold Up” by Beyonce

Beyonce uses an Ezra Koenig tweet that was a twist on “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to outline the feelings of still being in love with the one who cheated on you. She’s simultaneously confident and insecure here, expressing that she doesn’t want to feel “jealous or crazy”, but she’d rather choose the latter than be lied to or manipulated. It enters the mind of someone “who’s the baddest woman in the game”, is desperately in love, but also desperately angry; personifying the tension inherent between ones ideals, feelings, and the reality of dealing with the imperfections of humanity.

3. “Your Best American Girl” by Mitski

Mitski’s break up anthem opens up with quiet acoustic strummings as she gently sings in a way that is almost reminiscent of a lullaby. All this happens before the distortion kicks in with a guitar heavy chorus. The song is about cultural differences and how they affect relationships, particularly her own, as she lays out how the lack of ability to compromise between different ways of life can tear people apart. It’s rough, but it feels lived in as she expresses how she tried to be “your best American girl” but ultimately could not. It’s sorrowful, but empowering.

2. “Crying in Public” by Chairlift

Chairlift’s electronic ballad expresses the idea of love entering into the midst of the trials of life. It beautifully builds a narrative where the protagonist is overwhelmed by life, but comes to the sudden realization that there is something more that is gripping her. It’s endlessly listenable, both solemn and hopeful in a way that soothes the soul.

  1. “Ultralight Beam” by Kanye West (feat. Chance the Rapper, Kirk Franklin, The-Dream, Kelly Price)

From the very first moment I heard this song, that night when everyone was waiting for the album that Kanye was supposedly going to drop, it became my number one song of the year. With “Ultralight Beam”, Kanye kicked off the reuniting of Gospel and hip-hop in a major way, creating what is not only my favorite song of the year, but likely my favorite to come out in the last decade.

It opens with a little kid preaching, setting the tone for the holy tension that Kanye finds himself in throughout most of TLOP. Then comes the autotune, and the “I’m trying to keep my faith”, before Ye introduces the ultralight beam and “God dream”. It’s the best production Kanye has ever done, really an altogether glorious experience. The-Dream brings in some beautiful lyrics, there’s a full-blown Gospel choir with Kelly Price blowing us all away, and the man himself–Kirk Franklin–delivers a benediction to end it.

All of that and we haven’t even mentioned the real star of the show, Chance the Rapper. Chance delivers the best verse of the year, shaming every Christian rapper ever for missing out on all the cool wordplay that can be mined from the story of Lot’s wife, and declaring his arrival as a superstar.

Every bit of this song is perfect and it’s ending cry of “faith, war, safe, more” encapsulates everything this year has been about, looking up towards the heavens as the earth around us remains in holy turmoil.

Posted in Best of 2016, Top Ten List | 1 Comment