I came on here with the intention of making you laugh but honestly I’m just not feeling up to it. I’m still reeling from 2016’s greatest tragedy, of course I’m talking about Kevin Durant leaving OKC to join the Warriors, but I obviously didn’t need to tell YOU that. Fortunately for me I have an outlet in which I can channel my disgust, anger, disappointment, confusion, and any other negative emotions people have when they’re disgusted, angered, disappointed, and confused? Yes people I am talking about JESUS. But also music! Jesus AND music (order is subjective, jk non negotiable <3).
This year I listened to just over 300 new albums, and once again I KNOW in my heart of hearts I still missed out on some seriously good music. But the knowledge that there are so many small artists doing amazing things is what keeps my hunt constant. So while my pursuit of listening to everything slightly resembles a dog chasing it's tail, I enjoy the infinite battle.
Like last year there are a few restrictions. No musicals (apologies to Waitress// love you Kimiko), no film scores (apologies to Ólafur Arnalds), no live albums (apologies to J. Cole) and no EPs (apologies to…so so many artists). I also decided to exclude December releases entirely (apologies to Childish Gambino, Run The Jewels, and J. Cole again). It didn’t feel right weighing albums that I would be listening to for less than a month against the rest of the field. However I did make a December Roundup that is just to DIE for (insert the voice of any mom saying that, any mom at all).
Music is so subjective, and while I doubt anyone will say, “This is the perfect list!,” that isn’t my intention. Art gives my life meaning, it gives me clarity, it opens my mind and more importantly my heart. Of all the art forms, music speaks the loudest to me. The intention of this site is to share these sounds with you in hopes that it can provide you with the same things it provides me, and the intention of this list is to recognize who did it best.
Here are my 50 favorite albums of 2016, I hope you guys find something you like!
S U R V I V E
Let's start with something cool. Cool, but specific, so damn specific! S U R V I V E is one of the pioneers of the synth heavy retro electro resurgence (two of their members were the duo behind the Stranger Things score), pushing it more in to the spotlight, however not doing much by way of genre expansion. Then again, they cater to a niche audience, so maybe fine tuning is their focus. Either way, driving through the city at night with this blaring through the speakers is a night all of you should invest in.
To read my full review CLICK HERE.
Notable Tracks: "Dirt” // "Copter"
Under the Influence
This is the first record from Steady Holiday, but make no mistake, it’s creator, Dre Babinski has been around for awhile now. After spending her career as support for other artists she finally decided it was time to step into the spotlight herself, and I’m glad she did.
Vocally, her delivery and tone reminds me of Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino, though the comparison stops there. The feel here is dreamy and noirish, music fit for a foggy day as Dre weaves in and out of her relaxed melodies and gentle instrumentals with ease and confidence. It’s good stuff.
Notable Tracks: "Open Water" // "When I See Color"
All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend
I’m always hesitant to heap praise on younger artists, I think it’s a combination of jealousy and disbelief. How are they THIS talented and literal teenagers! Well she’s finally escaped her teens, and now at the ripe old age of 20 I think it’s time I paid my respect.
All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend is an accomplishment for an artist of any age. It’s electro pop a la Oh Land but with an affinity for darkness, both figuratively and literally. The album makes you feel like your floating at times, and every song has enough momentum and intrigue to be a single. If you need a late night album to drift off to, look no further. Except definitely look further on this list because we’re just getting started. You feel me?
Full review is HERE. Click it, tell all your friends about it, maybe it will get to our Norwegian superstar Aurora. Who knows. God knows. He knows everything!
Notable Tracks: "Through The Eyes of a Child" //
"Murder Song (5, 4, 3, 2, 1)"
Honestly I probably would have put this album on here even if the entire thing wasn’t good, if only to reward them for “Adore.” The title song is restrained power at it’s finest, wrapping itself around you and not letting go. Thankfully for us, they let loose on other tracks, so that pent up grit doesn’t get wasted.
This album taps into a specific mood, and it lets you know exactly what you’re getting into from the first note. It’s loud, it’s angsty, and it’s raw. This isn’t something I’ve casually thrown on, and it definitely isn’t suited for every occasion, but the fact that it was released back in January and it never faded from my memory speaks volumes.
To read my full review CLICK HERE. How aggressive does my all caps “click here” read? Are you like, “Spense, CALM DOWN” or is it more “Thank goodness he used all caps. Also I love you.” If it’s the first one don’t tell me, if it’s the second…wassup?
Notable Tracks: "Adore" // "T.I.W.Y.G."
James Vincent McMorrow
We Move is good, even great at times, but it just didn’t hook me like Post Tropical. That’s not to say it won’t get to that point though. You know those albums that you casually put on, and then as it’s playing you think, “wait this is really good,” and yet once it’s done you forget about it again? That’s We Move for me.
I feel like I’m being contradictory considering it’s on my list of TOP ALBUMS and I just eluded to the fact that it’s a bit forgettable BUT I think that’s more due to how much I loved the great albums and how taken I was with newer artists slipping into the mix. That’s why I think, in time, I’ll look back and say, “why didn’t I put that record higher?”
Full review is RIGHT HERE.
Notable Track: "Evil" // "Get Low"
Good Will Prevail
GRiZ has been providing me with the perfect platform to embarrass myself on the dance floor for years now and with Good Will Prevail he's outdone himself. His electro-funk-soul combo gives us as much fun as any album on this list (and if I valued "fun" in music as much as I should this record would rank much higher, but alas, I am too serious *raises nose, turns cheek, scoffs at fun*).
GRiZ's live shows are where he really shines, especially with him going off on the saxophone. Seriously, I'd say that GRiZ, Run The Jewels, and Anderson .Paak might have gifted me the most energetic live shows in recent memory. Praise be to music.
Notable Track: "Good Times Roll" // "PS GFY"
This Beautiful Game
THIS GROUP RIGHT HERE. The small time funk outfit who throws down big time grooves. More importantly their live show is an absolute blast, so if you ever get the chance, make sure you’re in attendance.
While the mood is light and their lyrics often often humorous, the talent is extremely real. These guys can get down. Also, the day Antwaun Stanley, the groups oft featured vocalist, decides to become a full time member will be a day to rejoice. Make it happen guys!
Notable Tracks: "Animal Spirits" // "1 for 1, DiMaggio"
Young the Giant
Home of the Strange
I love Young the Giant. Other opinions be damned! This album is a step forward lyrically but musically I preferred Mind Over Matter. Still, I put this on all the time, sit back and let it flow. Lead vocalist Sameer Gadhia might be my favorite frontman in rock. His tone is so unique, both smooth and raspy, he’s the driving force behind my appreciation.
There are so many small things I dig here (that guitar work during the last minute of “Elsewhere,” subtle and strong), and the fact that the record flows so well despite not fully committing to any one direction is a win by itself.
Read my full review CLICK HERE! Or don’t honestly I DON’T CARE.
Notable Tracks: "Elsewhere" // "Art Exhibit"
Pristine followup to 2012's Savor. The opening track, “1200 Weeks” tells you all you need to know. Those layered vocals swallowed me right up! And then she hits you with the sax to open track two?? Have mercy!
The album's pacing is outstanding, and her sensual instrumentals and soft voice build an atmosphere that you won’t want to leave. Think Iron & Wine’s Kiss Each Other Clean, but…less. Does that make sense? It doesn’t. Got it. Just know that even when it grooves, it still soothes (i.e. “It’s Funny How”), a line that isn’t easy to straddle. I can't wait to see where she takes her sound on the third time around.
Notable Tracks: "Misery Loves Company, Too" // "Pockets"
Sorry Trevor, I know you think this should be higher. Competition is stiff man! This is an album that actually took a few listens for me to enjoy, but once I did it was so easy to throw on and let play. M83’s approach seems more cinematic than other electronic groups, unfolding like a score to a movie rather than a collection of songs.
If this record is anything, it's unique, as well as definite departure from their previous outputs. It has all the cheese of an opening credits song from a 70’s sitcom (listen to “Moon Crystal” and tell me I’m wrong); starry eyed ballads, synth heavy disco grooves, and so much more. They basically took music that I would never intentionally listen to and tweaked it so that I would. This record may take a few spins, but once you’re in, you’re IN.
Notable Tracks: "Solitude" // "Laser Gun (feat. Mai Lan)"
There’s an instant warmth in his sound. While I love and praise artists for pushing themselves and their craft, there are a few that I wish to simply remain the same. That’s not to say I don’t want them to grow, I do…it’s just that I count on their consistency like I would a trustworthy friend, I need it to maintain my sanity.
Everything about him soothes; the acoustics, the voice, the lyricism, there’s so much love here. Come to think of it…why isn’t this ranked higher?
To read my full review of Paperweights so you can understand the true extent of my appreciation CLICK HERE.
Notable Tracks: "Lullaby Love" // "Vanished Into Everything"
This record has received a ton of love this year, and I get it, definitely, but not to the extent of where they have it. The record's rawness is it’s best strength, especially as the world seems to be increasingly populated by polished, forgettable sounds; making artists like Mitski (and a few others on this list) that much more important.
Puberty 2 is one of those records that every time I have it on, I think “Oh yeah, I love this!,” but I also rarely had the desire to put it on. It’s sort of like those movies that you loved watching, but don’t feel like throwing on all that often. Which puts me in a predicament in terms of ranking. When I craved it, it hit the spot in a way that would warrant a top 15 finish, but at the end of the day, I didn’t crave it that much. Still, I can’t deny that it made a significant impact on me, and that it deserved some love.
Notable Tracks: "Happy" // "Your Best American Girl"
When I first heard this record it hit me pretty quickly that it was something I’d really enjoy, considering how much it resembled Agnes Obel (queen of magic and beauty) in mood and feel. So when I saw they were doing their European tour together I said, “That makes sense” and THEN looked online to see how much I could sell a few unnecessary organs for to travel and see them live because it is a genuine dream team.
At Swim is a departure from her previous work, but in doing so she was able to put together something beautiful, as well as her most complete album to date. Its simplicity charms, but it’s the emotion in her sound that sits with you. Her beautiful and somber vocals create an instant vulnerability allowing you to connect without trying.
For a full review, where I say what I said above but I take much longer to do it, CLICK HERE. I know you want to spend more time on this site so stop acting so distant and read it ok??
Notable Tracks: "Undertow" // "Tender"
Blank Face LP
ScHoolboy Q can be a scary dude, just listen to this record. And his last record. And the record before that. But there’s also a great deal of honesty shrouded in all the intimidation. While Blank Face isn’t necessarily a difficult album to get into, I’d also say it’s definitely not for everyone.
The record features a generous amount of producers, which usually ends in disconnect, but somehow he made everything fit together nicely, despite juggling quite a few styles. A feat which he accomplished by switching up his flow and delivery while staying lyrically consistent with strong storytelling and bravado. It’s good stuff if, in fact, you’re into his “stuff.”
Notable Tracks: "Groovy Tony/ Eddie Kane" // "Neva CHange"
Emotions And Math
Oddly enough, the way I feel right at this moment is the reason this is ranked where it where it is. I say that because on a day when I say “I want to listen to Margaret Glaspy” this album is an easy top 20, but on a day when I’m not really feeling in the mood (today) it sits towards the back. I figured I’d throw it in the middle, a placement method I use for Joseph’s record a few spots later, but for different reasons. I’m consistent AF.
Emotions And Math is raw, honest, loud, and surprisingly melodic underneath all that angst. In fact, that description can be summed up in one song, “Love Like This.” She sounds a bit like the combination of Laura Marling and Shakey Graves. Tasty right? RIGHT. Charming might not be the first word to come to mind when you listen through the record the first time, but it’s a word you’ll eventually begin to use, and it’s also the reason you’ll keep coming back.
Notable Tracks: "Emotions And Math" // "Love Like This"
I rarely describe a hip hop album as warm, but this year provided us with two of them. The first of which is Chicago native Noname’s Telefone. Her flow is slick and calming, presented over a jazzy R&B fusion that runs heavily on soul.
The opening track, “Yesterday” embodies the album. It’s a perfect opener for the record as well as a perfect introduction to Noname herself, for those who are coming in blind. She’s been largely associated with Chance The Rapper for the similarities in their approach, but I’d argue that she is her own entity who happens to complement the man extremely well.
This is one of the best hip hop records of the year, and in a genre that’s largely controlled by males, it’s refreshing to hear a new voice and see the dynamic change a bit.
Notable Tracks: "Yesterday" // "Shadow Man"
Car Seat Headrest
Teens of Denial
Among the few major surprises for me this year was Teens of Denial, as most of the elements that make up the record are ones that don’t run parallel to my usual tastes. It’s loud, brash, unpolished rock, but to leave it at that would be a crime, because in addition to those characteristics it’s also smart, honest, and funny.
I remember sampling some of Car Seat Headrest’s work a few years ago, back when it was still a solo effort from Will Toledo, and to put it bluntly, I didn’t enjoy it. So when Teens of Denial was released I wasn’t planning on listening, but after receiving rave reviews I knew I had to at least give it a chance, which was obviously a good choice considering it’s position on this list.
While the song lengths may seem intimidating at first glance, it never stays in one place too long; not once did I get the urge to move things along. At it’s core it’s a simple album, but it doesn’t care. It’s never anything more or less than exactly what it wants, and needs, to be. Bravo.
Notable Tracks: "Vincent" // "Drunk Drivers/ Killer Whales"
Emily’s D+ Evolution
As with almost all experimental jazz, I need to be in a specific mood. Usually my “specific mood” line occurs when I haven’t listened to an album enough to comfortably crave it/ make it work at all times BUT this is different. Esperanza’s innovation and passion is forever at the forefront of her sound, but her knack for unorthodox melodies and instrumentals can make the casual listen a bit…difficult.
Emily’s D+ Evolution is nothing if not ambitious. And the fact that everyone is so committed to it’s expanse is one of the main reasons it works so well. The album constantly challenges natural construct and in doing so offers moments of elevation rare to even the best albums on this list. The only issue is that you have to be patient enough to find them. Easy right? RIGHT!
CLICK HERE for my full review!
Notable Tracks: "Good Lava" // "Funk The Fear"
I’m Alone, No You’re Not
I’ve gone back and forth between ranking this in the top 20 and then having it slide all the way back to mid 40’s, which is a bit odd considering the consistency and excellence of the album. Like with other albums I've had trouble placing, I choice to find a happy medium.
When I’m listening to I’m Alone, No Your Not, I am absolutely in and it’s all I want to listen to forever. Then I’ll put on something else from this year and think, “I kind of like this better.” Ultimately I think this speaks more to their potential than anything. Throughout the record they hint at how ridiculously talented they are and I’m just anxious to see how they’ll realize that and what sounds will stem from their minds when they do.
Listen to album's closer, “Sweet Dreams.” That’s hands down one of the best tracks released in 2016. If they could create on that level for entire record they’d be looking at a best album of the year nomination from me. And I'm sure my Top 50 is the only list that matters to them. It has to be...right? Right guys?
CLICK HERE for a full review…I think…? Depends on your definition of full I guess.
Notable Tracks: "Whirlwind" // "Sweet Dreams"
Slice of Paradise
Not enough people listened to this record. Slice of Paradise is the second LP from Cool Company and a MAJOR step forward in every way. I was hooked from the first listen. Fusing jazz, funk, R&B, hip hop, and whatever else you want to throw their way, this NY duo could do no wrong, putting out an impressive collection of grooves that never tire.
Fans of Anderson .Paak’s Malibu tune in, this record plays like it’s little brother. It’s fun, sexy, diverse, and a whole mess of other things you definitely want to feel. Hit play. Do it. I’m gonna sit and stare until you do it. Thank you.
I wrote a mini review in my singles section, which you can check out HERE.
Notable Tracks: "Faded" // "Habit"
The Last Shadow Puppets
Everything You’ve Come To Expect
Can we all agree that Alex Turner is the coolest guy around? I’m not even at a loss for words, I truly feel that he is simply the epitome of cool. Arctic Monkeys somehow continues to get better and better and with it Alex continues his ascent to the top of the food chain. Oh! Uh...Miles Kane is in the band too, also dope, we love you too Miles. I promise.
Everything You’ve Come To Expect as an album title directly opposes it’s own existence, considering that after eight long years of no follow up to the groups first album (The Age of Understatement) I gave up hope. Naturally that's when this album appeared. It definitely explores the retro rock genres, dipping into doo-wop, rockabilly, blues, punk, etc. making for an eclectic listen. It seems the extended break of this side project group worked in their favor, this album is better than their first in almost every way (I do miss the James Bond-y noir sound, i.e. “My Mistakes Were Made For You”).
It’s a great listen, so do it, listen to it. Have I ever steered you wrong? Outside of that ONE time that you literally won’t stop talking about…seriously STOP everyone is over it. Ugh. Hate you…
Notable Tracks: "Miracle Aligner" // "Sweet Dreams, TN"
There is a lightness and joy in his music that infects me like few other things I listen to. While his ability to blend classical, alternative, pop, electronic, etc. is incredible, it's so much more than that. The layers in his sound (and there are LAYERS) are beautiful; his vocals are somehow equal parts soothing and energetic, and his lyrics are both clever and poignant. There really is SO much to love.
This album’s sound is a slight departure from his previous work, largely woking with a 70’s era vibe. If that doesn’t seem ideal to you, try giving it a listen anyways. If anyone can take a sound you don’t care for and make it addictive, it’s Kishi Bashi. The albums final track, “Honeybody,” is one of the years best. Simple and warm, I can’t think of a better closer to a record.
Notable Tracks: "Ode to My Next Life" // "Honeybody"
The Colour In Anything
This played like Frank Ocean’s Blonde in the sense that I thought it was fine until one listen when it hit me, and just like that I became obsessed. While my obsession has softened since that two to three month period of discovery, I still put it on on rainy days, foggy days, gloomy days…basically when it isn’t bright.
The atmosphere in The Colour In Anything isn’t overwhelming, which is why you’re almost surprised when you get sucked into it, and trust me, you will. Blake’s music is quiet, and his arcs are subtle, mix in his velvety vocals and penchant for repetition and you might as well be signing up to be hypnotized, but in the most beautiful way possible mind you.
Notable Tracks: "Radio Silence" // "I Need A Forest Fire (feat. Bon Iver)"
We Are KING
This Los Angeles based trio knows exactly who they are, which is a pretty special thing when you consider that they just released their debut album. With old school R&B as the platform of choice, they take you on a sonic journey that dips into different generational sounds, with the skill and precision of seasoned artists.
We Are KING stands as both an introductory and a declaration. Their smooth and often dreamlike nature creates an instant comfort and warmth, leaving you in a more than inviting mood for their sensual adventure. And who would deny a sensual adventure?? Also laughing that I called it that and laughing more that I truly can’t think of a better way to describe it. Let’s say it one more time, together now: SENSUAL ADVENTURE! Thank you, love that. Now start the album and go on one. No need to wait for me, I’ll just be here…typing and stuff. I’m sure my own sensual adventure will happen *fights back tears* soon…
CLICK HERE for my full review where I don’t mention an S.A. once! Shame, I know.
Notable Tracks: "Supernatural - Extended Mix" // "Native Land"
I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
The 1975 received a TON of love this year and it’s all warranted. I was a only casual fan of their self titled debut, so I did a double take when I like it when you sleep… came out. It was SO GOOD. I honestly would never have predicted a growth like this. During it’s high points this work is as fun, beautiful, loud, and serene as any album on this list, the only problem is it’s not high all the time.
There are stretches of brilliance here that make this more than deserving of the spot, but at a run time of an hour and 14 minutes, there are some skippable moments. In fact, I enjoyed the record much more when I would split it into two listens. Make no mistake though, this record is an absolute jam and worth your time.
Notable Tracks: "Love Me" was the hit, but I want you to lay down and get comfortable and listen to "If I Believe You" // "Please Be Naked" // "Lostmyhead" back to back to back. Best 1, 2, 3 of the year.