What a year. At least the music was good. See below.
10. Run the Jewels – RTJ3
I downloaded this album yesterday so it’s a late entry to the top ten. The protest rap that RTJ has virtually perfected has become therapeutic in the era of Trump, and this album is all flames and anger and intelligence. I need to listen to it more (and I will) to fully appreciate it (and I will) but for now, here it sits as the perfect close-out album to flip the bird to 2016.
Best line (so far) – “See, I'm a pervert with purpose that make you question your purviews”
9. DIIV – Is the Is Are
Every year I need a light, floaty album to rouse me out of the cold winter, and in 2016 it was DIIV’s latest album that woke me out of hibernation. This record evokes partial sunshine and chilly breeze. The reverb guitars and breathy, quiet vocals betray the dark lyrics and perfectly capture the specific shade of gray that colors late winter and early spring.
Best line – “Would you give your 81st year / For a glimpse of heaven, now and here?”
8. Glass Animals – How to be a Human Being
If I could only use one word to describe Glass Animals’ sound it would be “slippery.” It’s a glorious feeling to put on this record and feel yourself vibing to the tribal drum beats and smooth vocals. Then the electronic production comes in and coats everything in metaphoric audible KY Jelly and you just slide through the next hour or so.
Best line – “my girl eats mayonnaise / out the jar when she’s getting blazed”
7. St. Paul and the Broken Bones – Sea of Noise
Bourbon, pad thai, Nike sneakers, and Southern Rock. When done right those are things that I can’t help but enjoy. This album was so soulful and happy that it’s almost impossible for me to listen and not dance around or at least tap my toe and bob my head. The horn section and pipe organ are oh so nice and blend the rock structure with soul vibes, making me want to drink sweet tea and eat fried chicken and clap my hands.
Best line – “Can we use all this love we ooze / Let's try, but we always confuse it”
6. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
The eighties vibe that Dev Hynes puts out through his music transports me to my first recollection of truly enjoying pop music when I was young. It’s a combination of dream and memory that I feel when listening to Blood Orange that makes me appreciate the music so much. Duran Duran, Hall and Oates, George Michael…the best parts are all captured and amplified and updated. And whenever he busts out a sax solo I am flooded with nostalgia in the best way possible.
Best line – “My father was a young man / My mother, off the boat / My eyes were fresh at 21 / Bruised, but still afloat”
4 (tie). A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
When an artist hasn’t released anything new in almost twenty years, my immediate response to their latest work is going to be skepticism. Add to that the unfortunate and untimely death of Phife Dog, and I was certain that this album was going to be a shell of what ATCQ was in the 90’s. You can imagine how blown away I was when I heard this album and it had all the catchiness and consciousness of peak ATCQ, with the bonus symbolic timing of being released right after Trump was elected president (and promised to make America great again). Like the following veteran band, the overtly political themes of the album are sad and poignant, betrayed by the celebratory, dance friendly music they are encased in.
Best line – “The fog and the smog of news media that logs / False narratives of Gods that came up against the odds / We're not just nigga rappers with the bars / It's kismet that we're cosmic with the stars”
4 (tie). Drive-By Truckers – American Band
I look at American Band as a spiritual cousin to Tribe’s album, being released right around the election and having similar political thrust coupled with catchy, almost cheerful music. There are few artists who weave stories with lyrics as well as DBT, and this album covers everything from Black Lives Matter to school shootings to the red scare and the band’s typical dissection of Southern culture. It’s the best DBT album in years and I pick up on more poignant messages in it every time I listen.
Best line – “If the victims and aggressors / Just remain each other’s others / And the instigators never fight their own”
3. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Radiohead paints musical pictures that can be interpreted in infinite ways. A game I play is to close my eyes and listen to Radiohead and then create a “mind painting” of the song. To me, and probably no one else, Decks Dark conjures drone strikes in Syria. Identikit is a lonely man who spent too much money over the weekend and needs to get a payday loan. The Numbers is a peasant fishing beautiful goldfish out of a rich man’s koi pond at night, then using them to feed his starving family. The album is a hallway of murals.
Best line – “Efil ym fo flaH / Efil ym fo flaH / Efil ym fo flaH…”
2. Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
A seventies acid funk album from someone whom I relate to as much as Donald Glover is too much my shit. My first listen to this album was “no way. Did he read my mind and make something I wanted before I knew I wanted it?” And even that interpretation takes away from the fact that this album is mature, insightful, political, personal, and beautiful. Of all the BLM songs released this year, Boogieman is my favorite because the seventies vibe reiterates that this problem of racial discrimination in criminal justice has existed for decades. The songs about fatherhood surprised me because I didn’t realize that Donald had a son now, and that seems to be some explanation about why his most recent work feels so mature. One final point: the overarching theme of paranoia on this album sneaks up on you…which is crazily symbolic.
Best line – “Little hands, little feet / Tiny heart, tiny beat / Oh, thinkin' 'bout the time we spent falling in love together / I don't wanna leave you, I don't wanna deceive you / But oh, when mama cries from daddy's lies / Oh my, please don't take him away, mama”
1 1. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
What I needed the most out of an album in 2016 was unbridled optimism. Thank you, Chance.
Best line – “When the praises go up / The blessings come down”