My Top 5 Albums of 2016

2016 was another year that SLAYED the music game. I can’t keep up with the amount of good good that blessed us this year.

5. Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

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Donald Glover was already one of my favorite people. I was a fan of his comedy and a total nerd about the show Community (#sixseasonsandamovie), so when I discovered, many moons ago, that he rapped under the name Childish Gambino, I feverishly sought out his music. And loved it. His raps are so clever, it’s painful. Yes, I know, he’s rapped some unsavory sexist shit, but you have to appreciate the artistry. And I am NOT an apologist about this sort of thing. But anyway…

It had been a few years since a Childish release, so I was awaiting more rhymes to blow my mind. NOT SO, it turns out. This isn’t a rap album! I guess it’s an R&B album, but in a lot of ways it defies genre. It is a masterpiece, start to finish, as if we expected anything less from Mr. Gambino. Once I get my hands on a hard copy of this album, I’ll have a lot more to say about it critically, but for now, SLAY THE GAME, BAE.

Consider the tracks:

“Me and Your Mama” and “Redbone”

4. Solange – A Seat At The Table

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Before ASATT, Solange hadn’t released new music since her 2012 EP True (which is a 7-song dose of heaven), so this album had to face and overcome a lot of hype. And ohmylordinheaven does it deliver. This album is 100% pure #BlackGirlMagic. Knowles incorporates moving spoken word into nofucksgiven anthems like “Don’t Touch My Hair”—for Solange, the personal is political. Apart from being poignant and brave, the songs themselves comprise 51 minutes of solid songwriting and performances. Solange’s voice is certainly more delicate than that of her very famous sister, but its fragility is made powerful both by the subject matter of the songs and the perfectly tight melodies and arrangements.

Even the title of this incredible album takes a fierce stand. Solange is demanding that black women, arguably one of the most marginalized groups in the world, be granted autonomy over their own bodies and experiences. It is cutting and badass, and we especially need fearless work like this under the fascist regime currently dismantling our government. Solange will save us.

P.S. Every single person on Earth that is cool (André 3000, Questlove, Raphael Saadiq, Q-Tip, Lil’ Wayne, Rostam, Kelly Rowland, Miss Tina!) makes an appearance on this album, so don’t sleep!

Consider the tracks:

“Cranes in the Sky” and “Rise”

3. case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs

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I nearly had a heart attack when this collaboration was announced. Queen of my existence Neko Case teaming up with two equally rad ladies whose music I adore (k.d. lang & Laura Veirs)? From the first track, “Atomic Number,” to the last note, this album is gripping, emotional, and just fun enough to not leave you in a puddle on the floor contemplating your own lack of talent and drive (oh, is that just me?). Produced by the incredible Tucker Martine (also Laura’s husband—s’cute!), the album balances sparseness with rich string arrangements in a way that never feels heavy-handed.

Each of the songwriters’ voices comes through so clearly, but at no point is any of the women stealing the show. k.d.’s songs are sultry and slower, Laura’s have a pop vivacity to them that sparkles. Neko, it seems, holds the remote control to my emotions. This is as close to a perfect record as it gets, guys. Go forth and listen.

Consider the tracks:

“Best Kept Secret” and “Delirium”

2. David Bowie – ★ (Blackstar)

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Look up here, I’m in heaven. Bowie blessed us with this beautiful love note on his 69th birthday, 2 days before his sudden and tragic death from cancer. There is not much I can say about this album that has not already been said beautifully in the past year, but I can express how much I truly love it. It was the man’s 25th album. To put it in perspective, Nirvana made 4. Twenty-five albums—twenty-five expressions of Bowie’s infinite genius. In some ways, it feels like the album is lost to the tragedy, overshadowed by heavy-handed tributes and cover versions. And that Lady Gaga Grammy thing, forchristssake.

There are still a lot of emotions wrapped up in this for me, so here, read what a bunch of brilliant people have said about this opus:

Pitchfork

Rolling Stone

Consequence of Sound

Consider the tracks:

“Lazarus” and “Dollar Days”

1. of Montreal – Innocence Reaches

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I know. I put this above David Bowie. There is a special ring in hell reserved for me. But goddamnit if I don’t love of Montreal. Everything Kevin Barnes lays his hands on is pure gold (see Pillar Point’s most recent album). Innocence Reaches was everything I wanted from the new oM. Over the last few years, oM has genre-hopped at a head-spinning pace. 2013’s Lousy with Sylvianbriar was recorded to tape, has a heavily-featured girl singer (the incomparable Rebecca Cash), and is the most rootsy, acoustic thing the band has released. Last year’s Aureate Gloom expanded on that theme, but added a frantic rock energy to it. Innocence Reaches gives the people what they want without compromising Kevin’s penchant for brilliant, provocative lyrics and innovative song structure. It has all the dance energy of 2007’s Hissing Fauna but with delicious trap beats tucked in so tastefully they don’t distract, only enhance. Lyrically, the album gives zero fucks—perfect in a year that saw so much hatred and bigotry from the right. In the land of of Montreal, gender is largely irrelevant and individual expression is celebrated. The opening track “Let’s Relate” contains the lines,

Amalgam, I think that you’re great 

Let’s relate

I already like you

I like that you like you

I think that you’re great

I want to relate

Barnes uses the simplest possible language to convey a sentiment that has been impossible for so many to grasp. Seeing him perform this track wearing a hat that said, on each side of the brim, BOY or GIRL, really drove the point home.The following track, “It’s Different for Girls,” is a male feminist anthem for the ages. Typically, this doesn’t work. Men inserting themselves into this conversation often goes awry. But Barnes handles the topic, presumably inspired by his own fluid understanding of gender and the fact that he now has a teenaged daughter, with such finesse that he actually adds to the conversation without trampling over women’s voices. Lines like, “For every one ‘psycho bitch’ there’s ten thousand aggro pricks” are really, really fun to sing at the top of your lungs.

Basically, Kevin is a goddamned genius.

Consider the tracks: 

“Trashed Exes” and “My Fair Lady”

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This list may change and evolve dramatically—I haven’t even heard all of the 2016 releases that we have, and there are so many more I still have to buy, like my beloved Frank Ocean and Chance the Rapper (who crushed the game on SNL recently). I haven’t even listened to the new Bon Iver yet, which is insane since Justin Vernon is basically my sexual orientation.

A few honorable mentions:

Beyoncé – Lemonade

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Because I’m a human woman, and Beyoncé SLAYED ALL DAY with this #flawless album. This isn’t just a “Bey is queen of all things” type of shout out. This album is actually a musical triumph. Everyone who’s anyone had a hand in making this a balls-out amazing album. She and Solange tagged-teamed 2016.

Consider the tracks:

“Don’t Hurt Yourself (feat. Jack White)” and “All Night”

Various Artists – The Hamilton Mixtape

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You already know I love me some Lin-Manuel Miranda. The features on this are insane. I’m only like, ten years younger than him, so our mutual love for Ja Rule/Ashanti duos makes perfect sense. Even if you’re not a musical person, this mixtape is worth it for “Wrote My Way Out”, and “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” alone.

Consider the tracks:

“Say Yes to This” (Jill Scott) and “My Shot” (The Roots, Busta,Joell Ortiz, & Nate Ruess)

 

**I googled these images, y’all. No credit taken.

 

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