This is it. Year 10 of my Best Albums of the Year list is here, moments before we close a messy chapter on 2016. This year was filled with incredible music from new and established artists alike, but will likely best be remembered for the lives that we lost (David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Phife Dawg, Leonard Cohen, and sadly many more…) This year’s post is dedicated to their memory and will celebrate the best music of the year, much of which artists like them inspired in one way or another.
There’re hyperlinks everywhere (hyperlinks are fun…click em!) and there’s a full Spotify playlist (with two exceptions) at the bottom. You can check out the archives of my previous lists from 2006 – 2013 here, 2014 starting here and 2015 here. And now, welcome to Everything Ecstatic’s 50 Best Albums of 2016!
50-41: Stellar Spins
50. Gold Panda – Good Luck And Do Your Best
49. Porches – Pool
48. Charles Bradley – Changes
47. Rapsody – Crown
46. Eleanor Friedberger – New View
45. Big Thief – Real Love
44. Jay Som – Turn Into
43. Allen Tate – Sleepwalker
42. Elujay – Jentrify
41. White Lung – Paradise
The Top 40: The Year’s Best Albums
40. Young Magic – Still Life
Like taking a trip to Bali without leaving your seat. Melati Melay churned out easily the best Young Magic album to date (read my full review for Paste here.)
39. NxWorries – Yes Lawd!
Not that I really needed another Anderson .Paak album in 2016, (more on him later) but Yes Lawd! built on the canvas that producer Knxwledge made for Paak on the groundbreaking single, “Suede.”
38. Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam – I Had A Dream That You Were Mine
After producing a couple of songs from Hamilton Leithauser’s solo album, Black Hours, (including the fantastic “Alexandra”) Rostam Batmanglij —formerly of Vampire Weekend— joined forces with one of my favorite singers in Leithauser, for the exceptional I Had Dream That You Were Mine.
37. Sunflower Bean – Human Ceremony
This young trio from New York toured harder than most bands this year. Their debut LP dropped early in the year and never seemed to leave my rotation. Love the dueling vocals from Nick Kivlen and Julia Cumming and Jacob Faber on the drums is a beast on stage.
36. SALES – SALES LP
This Florida duo reminds me of early Best Coast (when it was still good.) I spun the Sales EP ragged waiting for the full length to finally come out and it’s a pleasure.
(Note: I always make a point of highlighting my favorite EP’s of the year and the next three picks reflect that. Cheers.)
35. Forth Wanderers – Slop EP
These Father/Daughter Records signees are from Montclair, NJ (same town as Pinegrove, more on them later) and the moment I heard the title track, “Slop,” I fell into the discog rabbit hole. There’s not much material cause they’re young (lead singer Ava Trilling just finished high school!), but all of it is great and I like the potential here a lot.
34. Rayana Jay – Sorry About Last Night EP
Really sweet concept EP from a Bay Area artist and it was cool to see Oakland’s Rayana Jay come into focus this year. The best two tracks here are produced by SF’s Mikos Da Gawd, including “Sleepy Brown,” which is easily one of the best Bay Area songs of the year.
33. Kllo – Well Worn EP
Found this Aussie duo via the Ghostly International (my favorite label) newsletter and Well Worn marks their first Ghostly release. I profiled them immediately after I heard their music and from where I’m standing, this release bridges a five-year time gap in electronic music (Buy me a beer sometime and I’ll explain this.)
32. Andy Shauf – The Party
One of the later additions to this list, the Canadian Shauf’s third full-length has become a go to for relaxing at home. “Alexander All Alone” is one of my favorite songs of the year and Shauf’s sound has matured immensely.
31. Whitney – Light Upon The Lake
This is probably my favorite morning album of the year cause it’s so calm and approachable. Soft horns billowing alongside gentle guitars, without being too tame. It’s a good one.
30. Caleborate –1993
Nice punctuation mark on a solid two-year run for Berkeley rapper Caleborate. 1993 is his most polished work to-date and he’s drawing a lot of attention from big names in hip-hop. Stoked to see what the future holds for this dude.
(NOTE: I live in San Francisco and also dropped The 16 Best Bay Area Albums of 2016, where Caleborate’s 1993 checked in at #3. Bookmark it if you live in the Bay or are just plain interested in good music.)
29. Skepta – Konnichiwa
I first heard Skepta on Blood Orange’s “High Street” from 2012’s iconic Cupid Deluxe. Since then, he’s become England’s definitive grime MC and even won the UK’s coveted Mercury Prize (top album of the year from the UK.) He leads the grime movement with charisma and authority. Peep this amazing performance of “Shutdown” from the Mercury Prize gala.
28. The Range – Potential
One of my favorite electronic releases of the year, The Range’s James Hinton infuses his productions with trivial samples of people singing on Youtube. It can be odd, but it totally works. Seeing Hinton play the “Swimbyosis” stage on the Woodward Reservoir shore while I was floating in the water at Symbiosis festival, was one of my favorite live moments of the year.
27. Jessy Lanza – Oh No
This was easily one of my most anticipated albums of the year following Lanza’s breakthrough 2014 LP Pull My Hair Back. On Oh No, she built on the aesthetic that she and co-producer Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys had previously established, while exploring her eclectic musical influences. Nods to footwork and 80’s pop abound and “VV Violence” was a killer single. Hear my April interview with her on the Noise Pop Podcast here.
26. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.
Kendrick Lamar needs only the cutting room tracks from last year’s #1 Album of the Year, To Pimp A Butterfly, to churn out one of the best hip-hop releases of the year. Untitled unmastered., with it’s sputtering free jazz beats, is a welcome bridge for whatever comes next for perhaps the best MC in the game.
25. Robert Glasper/Miles Davis – Everything’s Beautiful
It takes incredible talent to re-interpret Miles Davis tracks in memorable fashion. Bill Laswell, King Britt, et al. did a fine job with 1999’s Panthalassa: The Remixes EP, and now Robert Glasper — “your favorite producer’s favorite producer” — uses Miles samples for this album, the Original Soundtrack to Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead biopic. Glasper has features from Erykah Badu, Phonte, John Scofield, Stevie Wonder(!!) and Hiatus Kaiyote. But it’s Bilal along with Glasper and Davis on “Ghetto Walkin'” that steals the show.
24. Moderat – III
Berlin-based Moderat is Apparat and Modeselektor and damn it if the the whole isn’t better than the sum of its parts. This is their third effort together (duh) and they’ve never sounded better. III is an IDM masterpiece and lead single, “Reminder,” is one of the year’s best tracks.
23. Kamaiyah – A Good Night In The Ghetto
Queen of the Bay. I’m gonna keep referring to Kamaiyah as that, because she stole the fucking show in Bay Area hip-hop this year. “How Does It Feel” is the anthem the Bay Area needed the most and she’s poised to kill the game nationally. A Good Night In The Ghetto checked in at #2 on my Best Bay Area Albums of 2016.
22. Black Marble – It’s Immaterial
Ghostly International can do no wrong in my book. I was introduced to Black Marble this year and It’s Immaterial is a portrait in passing of life in a New York Loft. This is killer loner music and Chris Stewarts’ output sounds like the love child of New Order and Cold Cave.
21. Field Mouse – Episodic
Go ahead and file this as the most underrated album of the year. I’m miffed at how this Topshelf Records release didn’t garner the kind of critical praise that other Philadelphia artists featured on this album have. Episodic is engineered by Hop Along’s Joe Reinhart, features Cymbals Eat Guitars’ Joseph D’Agostino, Swearin’ and Waxahatchee’s Allison Crutchfield, as well as Sadie Dupuis (on the most excellent “Do You Believe Me Now?”) The music is awesome and is in the same vein as those aforementioned critically-acclaimed artists (“Over And Out” among other tracks, takes me back to some of my favorite 90’s alterna rock bands.) And that cover art? It’s done by none other than Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan. I love this record and it’s the definition of an underrated one. Don’t sleep on Field Mouse, they rock.
20. Twin Peaks – Down In Heaven
I had more fun seeing Twin Peaks live this year than just about anybody else. Caught ’em three times and hearing “My Boys” at Bonnaroo’s opening night was everything. These guys are in the zone and this is solid Chicago psych-folk rock.
19. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Radiohead might be the best band on the planet and A Moon Shaped Pool is a logical step in their story. Jonny Greenwood’s production is on point and this is yet another quality Radiohead release. Plus, they finally put “True Love Waits” on a record. Hell yes.
18. The Avalanches – Wildflower
16 years after their iconic Since I Left You, (One of my desert island discs) The Avalanches finally dropped a follow-up and it took me a while to get over what took them so long. They have Camp Lo opening the album up magnificently on “Because I’m Me,” Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bundick on “If I Was A Folkstar” and additional features from Danny Brown, MF Doom, Father John Misty and more…. Like Since I Left You, Wildflower shows how that The Avalanches are especially well-versed in a range of musical styles.
17. ANOHNI- Hopelessness
Not sure if there’s another artist who can fire shots at the Obama administration and their use of drone warfare in the Middle East, through gripping music that you want to listen to over and over again. ANOHNI (formerly Antony of Antony and the Johnsons) is joined by producers Hudson Mohawke and Daniel Lopatin of Oneohtrix Point Never for one of the most powerful releases of the year.
16. David Bowie – Blackstar
David Bowie is one of the most important artists of our lives and our parents lives and likely our children’s lives. He worked on Blackstar until he tragically left this world in January and this album will forever feel like Bowie’s ghost in our speakers, doing what he did best for decades.
15. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes has a firmer grip on pop music than just about anyone. Freetown Sound sees Hynes delving deeper into themes of love, sexuality, hate, politics and living in tumultuous times. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he’s the closest thing we have to Prince.
14. Adrian Younge – SomeThing About April II
There’s just so much fucking silk on this record. Adrian Younge conducting his soul orchestra, Bilal and Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier (my favorite vocalist of all-time) all over the record and if that’s not enough, Rapahel Saadiq. Younge is a modern-master, who pushes the boundaries of soul music and delivers his music with a stylistic feel that is unparalleled.
13. Jamila Woods – HEAVN
Chicago stay eatin’…What a beautiful record from one of the best young voices in hip-hop. It’s a display of Chicago’s fearlessly emotional and political hip-hop style, featuring a lot of the figured who matter in that scene, with Woods front and center. (This is one of the two entries not on Spotify, but you can listen to HEAVN on soundcloud in full here.)
12. Pinegrove – Cardinal
This is why we don’t drop Best of The Year lists in November. I finally spun this album late in the year and I’ve listened to it more than anything since. From Montclair, NJ, Pinegrove’s is indie rock that just kicked emo to the curb and builds small-town nostalgia with a hint of a banjo — the kind that doesn’t hit you over the head. Pinegrove just makes you so fucking happy to listen to them…When “New Friends” came on earlier today, it brought the biggest smile to my face and it always does.
11. Noname – Telefone
Chicago hip-hop comin’ atcha again and this album is proof of how dominant the Chi-town scene was this year. It feels like everything came together perfectly on this one. Noname (fka Noname Gypsy) was the vocalist on Chance The Rapper’s “Lost” (off of 2013’s Acid Rap) and now she’s brought in her own cadre of collaborators, like producers Cam Obi, Phoelix, Monte Booker and Saba. Start at “Diddy Bop” featuring Raury and Cam and then get lost in one of the best hip-hop releases of the year.
10. Beyonce – Lemonade
This is absolute ownage of pop music and pop culture. Beyonce is a fucking boss and the Lemonade visual album accompaniment is one of the greatest pop culture productions I’ve ever seen. (This is the other album not available on Spotify, hence it’s not on the playlist. You can bootleg it, or get it on Apple Music —or Tidal? — or e-mail bomb Jay-Z or something? Vinyl? Just do what you gotta do to get it.)
9. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service
This was a real treat for old school hip-hop heads. To hear Phife Dawg dropping posthumous bars making sports references like no other, Jarobi’s best flows, Q-Tip not totally stealing the limelight and features from Andre 3000 to Kendrick Lamar to Anderson .Paak…man, I just still can’t believe we got a new Tribe album in 2016. Bless up Tribe.
8. Låpsley – Long Way Home
This is my zen. I listen to this record religiously when I cook, which seems to be the only way I can absolutely unplug from the outside world. Last year’s Understudy EP made the list and shouts out to XL Recordings for quickly putting out Long Way Home. The 20 year old Brit is a most elegant singer, who pairs her vocals with her own nuanced electronic production featuring a resonating drop-vocal effect on most of her tracks. One of the most original projects I’ve heard in quite some time.
7. Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book
Give the man his credit, Coloring Book is the truth. Man… I wish I could vote for Chance for president. I mean…the guy single-handedly started a rampant independent music movement by shunning record labels when others in his position never did. He’s on his way to becoming one of the biggest artists in America and there’s soooo many classics on this album: “Blessings,” “Angels,” “Summer Friends” for starters, but this album has so much damn energy. It has gospel undertones bursting at the seams, but it’s incredibly self-aware and a helluvalot of fun. One love to Chance (Also, I beat him at ping-pong once…facts only.)
6. Frank Ocean – Blonde
I had to first get over the many jukes and psych-outs Frank Ocean pulled before finally releasing this record; it was borderline ridiculous. But once I got over myself, Blonde wonderfully picks up where Channel Orange (my #1 album of 2012 ) leaves off and it’s just Frank doing his thing. This is an incredibly ambitious album that’s well-executed from start to finish with a lot of stellar moments….Feel like that last sentence is the ultimate cliche for a great album, but there you go. Also, “Solo” (Reprise) with Andre 3000?!?!?!?! Shiiiiiiit!
5. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
This kid can write a fucking hook. Reminds me of when Cloud Nothings burst onto the scene and started making an album a year and quickly had this vast discog of rockin’ pop tracks. That’s where Will Toledo and Car Seat Headrest are at now. This album is catharsis for every angst-riddled, depressed, quasi-happy, lost, confused, anxious, stupid and blissfully ignorant kid…and whether that kid is a teenager or a thirty-something, Toledo speaks (screams) right into our souls, to find ways to say what we’ve always wanted to get out, but didn’t have the guts (or talent) to do so.
4. Solange – A Seat at The Table
This is absolute ownage of pop music and pop culture, while fully establishing your own identity as an artist, without pandering to, well…anyone. Solange affirmed that she is no longer living in her sister’s shadow with an amazing concept album. Her voice has never sounded this velvety and she got extremely creative in using Master P as the vessel to move the storyline of A Seat At The Table along; of being black and trying to become successful in America. The album’s production slate is also a who’s who in indie rock and soul-based hip-hop: Longstreth, Questlove, Saadiq, Welsh, Sitek, Sampha, Bainbridge, Q-Tip. Respect.
3. Kaytranada – 99.9%
My favorite electronic album of the year is from Canadian producer Kaytranada. Album opener, “TRACK UNO” was the best pure intro track of the year and from there, Kaytranada shows why he might be the best producer to match any vocalist’s flow. From Phonte to Vic Mensa to Anderson .Paak to Craig David…wait, wait…hold up? He got Craig David back out?! For real, “Got It Good” is serious shit and it has a totally different feel from Paak’s “Glowed Up.” 99.9% induces movement at every turn, but with the utmost versatility. The instrumental tracks are likewise prime, especially “BUS RIDE” with Karriem Riggins on the drums. And just when you think he’s out of tricks, the album closes with “BULLETS” featuring Little Dragon’s Yuikimi Nagano. Feel me?
(Note: 99.9% won The 2016 Polaris Prize, awarded to the best Canadian album of the year. I loooove watching the Gala on youtube every year. Watch it here with performances from Kaytranada, Jessy Lanza, Grimes, Andy Shauf, Carly Rae Jepsen, White Lung & more)
2. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – A Man Alive
Taken from my #1 Bay Area Album of 2016 entry:
What could easily be my overall album of the year, A Man Alive saw Thao opening herself up to her past and the intense emotions that came with living a life in the shadow of her estranged father. I had the pleasure of reviewing A Man Alive for Paste Mag earlier this year and it gave me an opportunity to dig into what I feel is the best lyrical album of the year. I remember on my final listen before I started writing, I lost my shit three times: On “Guts,” “Millionaire” and then “Hand To God.” These types of powerful music moments don’t come around too often and when they do, you’re probably staring an Album of The Year candidate in the face.
On Thao’s best record to date, she’s joined by producer Merrill Garbus of tune-yards, who helped Thao explore deep self-reflection and make music that spans far beyond her folk-leaning roots. I love this album, because it poked through the Bay, when hip-hop is really dominating the area for me in terms of quality and showed how good rock and roll can still be made here. It showed what an incredibly talented songwriter Thao is, who is still expanding her musical boundaries. But most of all, it showed how a San Francisco artist (Thao) and an Oakland artist (Garbus) can come together to create the best local album of the year, and it’s a microcosm for what we can all accomplish together if we bridge both sides of the Bay. This was the record that drove the point home of how we’re much stronger artistically if we look for ways to merge the creative hub that Oakland has become, with the inspirational beauty, infrastructure and musical history of San Francisco.
1. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
The best album of the year, also comes from this year’s most interesting artist. You couldn’t turn around without finding Anderson .Paak on a track somewhere in 2016. The man who finally blew up as the primary vocalist on Dr. Dre’s Compton record last year, is now a bonafide star. But this rise didn’t come without a decade-long struggle and Malibu tells the story of that.
What makes Paak so great, is that while his life — broken home, parents in jail/on drugs, marriage quickly annulled, career going nowhere — could easily be viewed as tragic, he never takes himself too seriously and always feels like he’s living in the moment that you’re listening to. In the end, he never stopped pushing forward and when he got a golden opportunity to make it to the top, he outworked everyone else to get there. And he still hasn’t stopped. I made a playlist of tracks Paak is featured on and I keep adding to it monthly, cause new tracks keep popping up. His NxWorries album is also on this list at #39. He’s been touring furiously, including 11 shows at SXSW en route to the prestigious Grulke Prize as the festival’s best performer.
Malibu is that album without a bad song. It’s the album that when one song ends, you’re sorta bummed, but then are quickly brought back to life when the next one starts. It’s the one where you go “Hey, that sounds like a 9th Wonder beat?” And it is. It’s the album that has songs about shitty exes that makes you laugh because you remember her/him. It’s hearing Paak talking about getting his first pair of Jordan’s and thinking about when you got your first pair of fly kicks. It’s the album with mounting visual and interactive media and performances that just make you wanna keep paying closer attention (This low-key Marvin Gaye inspired performance takes the cake.) And for me personally, it’s the album where I co-signed the dude a year ago, thinking he was gonna pick up steam quick, but had no idea just how much steam and how quick and incredibly inspiring his rise would be.
I’ll leave you with a lyric from my favorite song of the year, “The Waters” feat BJ The Chicago Kid and produced by Madlib. Where Paak, wearing a huge grin on the mic and knowing his career is about to explode, calls his shot in top form and lives to tell the tale:
I’m glad that you finally made it to the future but you’re late
And the price is through the muthafuckin’ roof
If you want you could wait outside the building
I ain’t takin’ no more meetings
The future is here and Anderson .Paak is a massive part of it. What an album, what an artist and here’s to the Best Album of 2016!
Cheers y’all and Happy 2017!