10. BADBADNOTGOOD – IV
The fourth album from Canadian jazz band BADBADNOTGOOD, known for their covers of hip-hop songs before they broke out with original material, is their most mature work so far. Saxophonist Leland Whitty has been upgraded to a full-time member of the band and his spastic solos give this record a huge boost. This is also their first project to feature vocals on some tracks and it works much better than expected. Future Islands vocalist Sam Herring gives a stirring performance on the gorgeous and moving “Time Moves Slow,” Charlotte Day Wilson lends grace and beauty to “In Your Eyes,” and Mick Jenkins’ smooth flows on “Hyssop of Love” make for a very interesting jazz meets space-rap collaboration. In addition, the band themselves are on-point throughout the album, crafting complex and engaging instrumental pieces such as “Speaking Gently” and the title track. I have been impressed with every BADBADNOTGOOD project so far, but this one in particular leaves me eager to see what they come up with next.
9. Tycho – Epoch
Epoch is the fourth Tycho album, and the second since keyboardist/producer Scott Hansen upgraded his ambient electronic project to a four-piece band. The first two records were firmly in the electronic realm, whereas 2014’s Awake pushed the style more towards alternative rock. I preferred the first two albums but did enjoy the addition of live instrumentation on the last one, so I had mixed feelings going into this. Thankfully, Epoch manages to take the best of both styles and merge them for the most consistent Tycho release to date. The instrumentation enhances the synth melodies without overpowering them and the production is better than ever. “Horizon,” in particular, instantly became one of my favorite Tycho tracks. This is a terrific collection of lush soundscapes, the perfect soundtrack for a hiking adventure or a day of relaxation on the beach.
8. Kendrick Lamar – Untitled Unmastered
When your B-sides collection makes the top ten, you know you’re on a roll. There are few people in any music community that aren’t loving what Kendrick Lamar is doing right now. It’s rare to see a mainstream figure using the spotlight to bring together diverse styles of music and pay tribute to his influences. Most big rappers just coast through their careers, releasing the same record over and over. I respected Lamar before last year, but never felt a reason to pay much attention to his music. It was mainstream rap, something I’ve never cared for much even at its best. But last year’s To Pimp A Butterfly was a groundbreaking work of art, an album so damn good that it united people of all different ages and musical tastes together in praise. It sure as hell got my attention, and this collection of leftovers from the recording sessions for that album is a classic in its own right, albeit a much shorter one. The tracks here are all, as the title indicates, untitled and unmastered. They showcase more of the forward-thinking raps and tripped-out soul and funk vibes that To Pimp A Butterfly started, with a looser vibe and a rawer sound. I really hope that Lamar continues to experiment and break boundaries moving forward.
7. NxWorries (Anderson .Paak & Knxwledge) – Yes Lawd!
The highly anticipated collaboration between vocalist Anderson .Paak and producer Knxwledge lived up to the hype and then some. Finishing what turned out to be an outstanding year for Stones Throw Records, Yes Lawd! is an instant classic. .Paak’s vocals are terrific throughout; he brings a full dose of soul and swagger, switching voices and personalities with ease. Meanwhile, Knxwledge supplies a steady stream of stoned instrumentals, mixing classic hip-hop grooves with old-school R&B melodies and psychedelic voice samples. It may be his best production to date, and he’s easily my favorite beat-maker out there right now. The collaboration definitely brings out the best in .Paak and I think this album is his finest work by a long shot. It’s unknown if the duo will ever make music together again, but I really hope this doesn’t end up being another classic one-off collaboration like Madvillainy.
6. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
The last time Radiohead gave us an album was in 2011, and it was the short and somewhat underwhelming The King of Limbs. It certainly wasn’t a bad album but, after a four year wait from 2007’s In Rainbows, it just failed to live up to the hype. In all fairness, it’s not always easy to meet fan expectations, especially when your discography includes beloved classics such as OK Computer and Kid A. I hadn’t truly been wowed by a Radiohead project in a long time and, as excited as I was to hear news of the band’s return, I worried that the magic might have finally run out for them. After all, their first album came out more than 20 years ago; nobody can do it forever. I am pleasantly surprised and delighted to say that the band proved me wrong and removed any skepticism I might have had. For the first time in years, a new Radiohead album is completely worthy of all the hype and acclaim. For me, this is easily their best work in 15 years and one of their 3 or 4 best albums overall. Listening to this on headphones took me back to 6th grade, when I was first discovering Radiohead and thought that Thom Yorke possessed a window into my soul. They are the only artist I listened to that young who I still love, all these years later. Yorke split with his partner of 23 years before this album was made, and the results of that heartbreak are heard all over it. This is a slow, sad, introspective record, imbued with a desperate longing to connect and a burning nostalgia for when things were better. Yorke’s vocals and lyrics are as gorgeous and haunting as ever, while Jonny Greenwood’s orchestral arrangements make everything sound huge. The combination of the live orchestra with some of the band’s most layered and experimental production to date make for breathtaking results. Radiohead are back in full force and they have proved beyond a doubt that they still have plenty of magic left in them.
5. DEAKIN – SLEEP CYCLE
The long-awaited first solo release from Animal Collective member DEAKIN is a revelation. In its mere 34 minutes, it seems to contain a whole lifetime’s worth of self-examination, doubt, and acquired knowledge. The album is so personal and intimate, it feels as if DEAKIN is taking you by the hand and leading you on a vision quest; he’s been through some tough times and learned a lot about himself, and now he wants to share what he learned with you. I truly cannot overstate the personal bond this record forged with me; as I work on writing my first novel, the themes presented here about doubting and psyching yourself out and how to overcome those feelings and just be yourself couldn’t be more relevant to me. This is also interesting as it’s the first time we’ve heard DEAKIN sing a lot (he generally only contributes background vocals in Animal Collective.) While his voice doesn’t have the raw power of bandmates Avey Tare and Panda Bear, I found myself very impressed with his vocals overall. I also love his guitar playing and the production on this thing is tremendous, the whole project flowing together as one inseparable whole. It creates a world in your head, a dark and swampy jungle where you’re all alone and don’t know what to do, until DEAKIN comes along and shows you the way.
4. Tim Hecker – Love Streams
Tim Hecker, known for his experimental ambient drone music, has developed a reliable fan base who love his signature style. His last album, 2013’s Virgins, started to push a bit away from the sound he’s known for and Love Streams continues that trend. This and Virgins are much more dynamic releases, keeping you on guard with constantly changing noise levels and instrumental soundscapes which seem to be ripping apart at the seams. Love Streams is also his first album to feature vocals, courtesy of the Icelandic Choir Ensemble. While some fans miss Hecker’s more ambient work, I personally am thrilled with this new direction. I wasn’t sure how vocals would be incorporated, but they add a whole new dimension of emotion and humanity to what could be initially written off as very not-human music. The voices here bend and twist around each other in awe-inspiring harmony, sounding like the voice of the universe itself calling to you. Just try to play “Music of the Air” without getting goosebumps. This album gives me the feel of a classical symphony, performed electronically. I also find deeper emotional themes and more personal connection than I do in any of Hecker’s previous releases. It’s virtually impossible for me to listen to the 1-2 punch of “Castrati Stack” and “Voice Crack” without tearing up. It’s just so damn beautiful, reminding me of something I’ve always known but can’t put into words. That is the power of Tim Hecker’s music.
3. TOBACCO – Sweatbox Dynasty
TOBACCO is back, and he’s grimier than ever. This album is so ugly and distorted in its production and visual imagery that it can only be described as filthy. Yes, this album is truly filthy in the way it revels in all things demented, demonic and disturbing – and I absolutely love it. TOBACCO makes music beyond description, a singular style and aesthetic that is very difficult to put into words. I can say that he uses analogue synths, cassette tape decks, and a vocoder to create his own musical universe. Sweatbox Dynasty is his most intense and accomplished work to date, like a roller-coaster ride into hell. The beats are more face-melting than ever, constantly breaking and snapping and interrupting themselves. The vocoder sounds more evil than it ever has; some of the vocals on this thing literally sound like Satan is whispering in your ear and it couldn’t be more awesome. Every track on this thing made me lose my damn mind the first time I heard it. By the time you get to “Let’s Get Worn Away,” the magnum opus of a closer, you won’t believe how lost you’ve been. This album is so close to being perfect, if only it was a little longer. At barely 30 minutes, it leaves you itching for more.
2. Death Grips – Bottomless Pit
How in the hell do these guys keep making such good albums? After 5 masterpieces in the last 5 years, one of which was a double album, I expected nothing from Death Grips in 2016. Instead, they gave us this beast of an album, easily as good as anything else they’ve released so far. Whereas each previous release had a certain sound or theme to it, Bottomless Pit feels like a summary of all the styles they’ve experimented with to date. It’s the first time one of their albums didn’t really do anything new, which some fans complained about, but it feels like a victory lap for the group. They had already firmly established themselves as among the most boldly experimental and boundary-breaking artists in music; they didn’t need to remind us of that again. Instead, they took all the techniques they’ve messed with, improved them, and compiled them into what plays like a Death Grips greatest hits album, even though all the songs are new. The energy starts at 11 with the whiplash-inducing “Giving Bad People Good Ideas” and it rarely lets up from there. Tracks like “Hot Head, “Bubbles Buried In This Jungle,” “BB Poison,” and “Three Bedrooms In A Good Neighborhood” are among the most intense and infectious the band has ever recorded. They also show they have range though, with breather tracks “Eh,” “Trash,” and “8080808.” Every song on here is an instant classic and all three members are at their best throughout. MC Ride continues to be the most fascinating artistic personality in modern music; his delivery is phenomenal, his lyrics are mind-blowing schizophrenic poetry, and the sheer power and range of his voice is staggering. Meanwhile, Zach Hill provides always-perfect rhythm/percussion and Andy Morin’s production is the crispest and trippiest it’s ever been. To the rest of you out there who understand the pure force of energy that this group has become, stay noided.
1. Animal Collective – Painting With
Here it is, the best album of 2016. I’m sure this surprises absolutely no one, as my love for Animal Collective is well-known. I have written at length about why they are my favorite artists to have ever lived. Their music and visual art has served as an invaluable inspiration to me ever since I discovered them in high school, and I can’t even begin to describe what these guys mean to me. People have called me insane or pathetic, saying it’s not normal to obsess over a band to the degree that I do. I could care less what others think; I feel genuinely sorry for anyone who is incapable of feeling the pure passion that I feel. With Animal Collective’s music, I finally found the art I had been searching for my whole life and every single song in their massive discography fills me with nostalgia and reverence. Painting With is their 10th studio album and the first new Animal Collective release that I’ve experienced as a fan (their last release, Centipede Hz, was in 2012 when I was still just getting into their music). DEAKIN is absent here, using the time to craft his outstanding solo debut Sleep Cycle. This means it’s back to the team of Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and Geologist that made Danse Manatee and Merriweather Post Pavilion. Unsurprisingly, the group has another classic masterpiece on their hands with this album. Painting With is a collection of short, tripped-out pop songs bursting at the seams with pure manic energy. Opening track “Floridada” sets the tone for the whole record with its irresistible hook and primal rhythms. The pace never lets up from there, each song bouncier and catchier and more colorful than the previous one. Every song is phenomenal, but my personal favorites are “Vertical” and “On Delay.” Painting With could not be a more appropriate title for the album as this thing is literally bursting with colors. Each song creates a painting in your imagination, opening the door for you to step through into another universe. Avey and Panda sound like they’re still 20 years old here, their voices buoyantly bouncing off one another at a speed likely to cause dizziness at first. Geologist brings the sonic delights as always; one of the key aspects that makes Animal Collective’s music so great is the level of detail in the mixing. Their music seems to breathe in a way that makes it feel alive, even at its most electronic, and that commitment continues here. I could honestly write about this album all day but, to spare you guys, I’ll wrap it up.
To conclude, I’ll just say that Animal Collective are still the best and always will be. Painting With is just another in a long line of masterpieces that extends all the way back to 2000’s Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished. I don’t know how much longer these guys can keep blessing us with transcendent music, but I selfishly hope that they never stop. After all, a life without new Animal Collective to look forward to sounds so cold and empty. Thankfully, this album shows that they aren’t going to run out of energy anytime soon.
Thanks for Reading! Let’s Hope That 2017 Is Another Great Year For Music