Black America Again
My review of this is GLOWING and warranted, as this is one of, if not his most inspired work to date. Common has history on his side and the future in his mind and heart, and the album encapsulates that and then some. Common, formerly known as Common Sense, offers just that on Black America Again.
The record is a serious affair, carrying legitimate weight in almost every track. Knowing this actually limited my ability to listen to it so loosely, but in return it helped me grow with each play. Lyrically it’s ambitious and deep, but musically it’s a throwback to the early 90’s when he came up. The combination makes for a really cool vibe and a record that will be with me for a long time.
Notable Tracks: "Black America Again" // "Red Wine"
Though the albums are very different, this sort of took the place of Jamie xx’s In Colour, which was one of my favorite records from last year. The talented guest list tells you enough by itself. You know you're doing something right when so many unique talents from an array of genres show up to assist on your debut LP. Not only does this speak to his talent, but also his scope.
99.9% has vision. Delving into hip hop, soul, electronic, jazz, alternative, R&B, etc. isn’t something that many artists can do with proficiency, nor can they do all of it on the same album and maintain a consistency and flow, yet he does, and with ease. This Montreal based artist is the real deal. Smooth, confident, and skilled; KAYTRANADA is someone who keeps me assured that the future of music is in good hands. Absolutely dope.
Notable Tracks: "GOT IT GOOD (feat. Craig David)" //
"GLOWED UP (feat. Anderson .Paak)"
The Life Of Pablo
This album has grown on me considerably. Initially I was conflicted, it felt like a series of well produced singles that didn’t compliment each other in the slightest. A bunch of ideas at war with each other, but after the year Kanye had, it was easy to see that this record mirrored his state of mind, and the chaos wasn’t a misstep but rather an artistic look into the mind of a man we will never fully understand.
My growth in appreciation doesn’t mean it’s errors have disappeared, and that I don’t still crave the seamlessness of his previous efforts, it just means that I get it. As for the highs of the record? They touch the sky. This is some of the best music he’s made, and I’m glad I stuck with it long enough to realize that.
For the skeptics, he’s definitely more than the picture his antics present. I’m a big time Kanye believer and feel he’s been vital and will continue to be vital to the growth and expansion of hip hop and music in general. The dude is TALENTED. That’s all. Carry on!
To read my review, which was my initial reaction, CLICK HERE.
Notable Tracks: "Ultralight Beam" // "Waves"
I was a bit weary of putting this on the list. It was released in 2015, then removed, and then REreleased (officially!) in 2016. I probably would have ranked it a bit higher without the conundrum but alas.
When I first heard Primitives I was over the moon. It was one of my favorite first listens in a long time. Exciting, different, dreamy, complex, it had it all. And while this obviously didn’t make the top 20 favorite albums of the year, 22 ain’t bad (it's my favorite number!). And in case you were wondering, it still possesses all of the qualities I mentioned.
Though I generally don’t reserve the word beautiful for an album like this, I have to say, it really embodies that feeling at times. There are so many layers to each track that it’s impossible not to get completely wrapped up in the sound. Grab some good headphones and take Primitives for a test drive. If you like the first song, then the album is exactly what you want it to be. If you don’t like it…just like…keep doing you I guess?
Notable Tracks: "Intro" // "Spectrolite"
After a 2014 debut that already had them sounding like a seasoned act, they came back and showed us that the only way they’re going is up. Good Grief is better than it’s predecessor in every way, debunking the sophomore slump vehemently.
Genre wise it jumps around quite a bit, though it never feels disconnected. That’s something I point out on a few of the records on this list, simply because the process should see the music butting heads, but when they create a blend that rises above it, it becomes something special. That something special is Lucius’ Good Grief.
Here’s my full review, CLICK HERE and show me just how good of a reader you are!
Notable Tracks: "Something About You" //
"My Heart Got Caught on Your Sleeve"
What’s been largely recognized as the best album of the year comes in at number 20 for me. Does this discredit my opinion?! It’s good, obviously, my review for it said as much, and I think a top 20 finish in any year is commendable. However, I honestly can’t possibly see it being the best of the year.
We not only have to judge it against this years, but against his own discography as well, and while the circumstances surely alter how we receive the work, much like Leonard Cohen’s record, it remains a good, not great output. The dark tones and subject matter make for a consuming listen, and his awareness of death's pursuit of him is chilling.
While I won’t say this is a perfect album, I do feel it’s a perfect ending to one of the greatest careers an artist has ever had. He changed music forever, and for the better, and that’s something that very few people can claim. RIP.
Notable Tracks: "Lazarus" // "Dollar Days"
He can do no wrong in my eyes. Even as he came out and said that he felt his earlier work could have been much better I felt the need to argue the man himself, “You’re wrong about you! You did great! I know best!” However, that’s not the case with Ouroboros. This record is patient, calculated, and overflowing with passion.
The best thing about Ouroboros is that it sounds like it’s from another time, while also rising above the “dated” label. It’s soulful folk/ rock/ blues/ etc. and it’s spectacular. Built to complement the vinyl format, it plays in two parts, with four tracks to each side. While the two sides definitely share similarities, they are very separate entities. One thing they do have in common? A great sound.
Is it a full review you crave? Say no more! CLICK HERE!!
Notable Tracks: "Homecoming" // "In My Own Way"
Are You Serious
Perpetual gift to God’s green earth Andrew Bird released another album and I’m going to be honest, I have no idea where to rank him. I LOVE everything he does and my bias towards him is constantly at an all time high. This is also a bit detrimental because I’m never sure exactly how good his albums are comparitively. Everything is gold! Solid fucking gold! Sorry.
Are You Serious is a much more personal adventure for Bird. After courting a series of hardships this album became the release of it all. His brand of sound still employs a steady mixture of folk/ country/ classical/ alternative/ etc. and how he can still impress and surprise me after all these years speaks to his talent and mind. Andrew Bird is one of my 10 favorite artists ever, this is just another chapter to cement that belief.
If you feel like reading me repeat how much I love AB over and over then CLICK HERE.
Notable Tracks: "Roma Fade" // "The New Saint Jude"
While Amos has always had a spiritual quality to him, he’s never approached it as head on as he does here, on the aptly titled Spirit. This record is pure joy, and his best record since his debut (you read that right).
He’s always been reliable in the soul department but he takes it to another level here. The best way I can describe it is, as a whole, it’s a home cooked meal, chili and cornbread on a cold night, hanging and laughing with family and friends. There is warmth here. It’s genuine, it’s real, and it’s waiting for you!
I could talk about it for day and actually did in my review. CLICK HERE!
Notable Tracks: "Running Out Of Time" // "Wait Up For Me"
Somewhat lost amongst all the Beyonce talk was ANTI, an album that is far and away Rihanna's best record, as well as a departure from the conventional pop structure (something she did BEFORE Beyoncé’s record aka Rihanna was on this path without influence which couldn’t make me happier).
ANTI is all over the place in the best way, despite the hiccup that is “Kiss It Better” every song is gold. The seductive “Desperado,” the psychedelic “Same Ol’ Mistakes,” the retro soul “Higher,” the Cudi drenched “Woo;” the list goes on and on. And despite all the diversity, there is little to no disconnect. Super. Star.
Rihanna has always been a go-to for me, I dig her vibes even when she goes straight pop, so the fact that this record is so much more has me ecstatic. Props Ri Ri. Keep doing you.
CLICK HERE for the full review and then tell me how far I’ve come.
Notable Tracks: "Consideration (feat. SZA)" // "Desperado"
The Dreaming Room
Do you ever listen to an artist and you just know they’re elevated? Their connection runs so much deeper than the sounds, it’s in everything they see, feel and taste as well. That’s what Laura Mvula’s music sounds like. Elevated. Natural.
The Dreaming Room is such an expanse from her first LP Sing To The Moon that I was taken aback. Her vision is ambitious, and thankfully instead of being overwhelmed by it she remained calm and executed a work that’s as sweeping as it is affecting. It challenges and and enlightens and made me feel in a way no other album this year did.
This record is necessary. A beautiful collection of sounds. Listen and love.
Notable Tracks: "Overcome (feat. Nile Rodgers)" // "Show Me Love"
It’s hard to judge such a specific sound. Danny Brown is not a universal presence. There’s no “If you love ______ then you’ll LOVE Danny Brown!” He is alone in his artistic universe. As a result I don’t know anyone who casually likes him. It’s two groups, fans who love him and onlookers who judge those who love him i.e. after my sister listened to him her words to describe the record were, and I quote, “He’s scary.” Can’t win ‘em all.
His spastic, chaotic style, nasally voice, and dark subject matter is enough to turn anyone off, but if there’s anyone on this list who I’d employ the “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” sentiment for, it’s Danny Brown. I’m not saying you’ll love Atrocity Exhibition, but there’s definitely a lot to sift through under the surface.
For my full review, and to hear me do my damnedest to convince you to dedicate yourself to sweet Danny B CLICK HERE.
Notable Tracks: "Lost" // "Ain't it Funny"
Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam Batmanlij
I Had A Dream That You Were Mine
Genuinely obsessed with Rostam, so really anything he touches has me touting his brilliance. Luckily for me, he always delivers. Seriously. And his teaming up with Hamilton Leithauser, frontman for the excellent and in-hiatus The Walkman, led to an album that keeps on delivering.
With Hamilton taking fronting the vocals, it leads the group to approach a modern rockabilly soundscape, and it couldn’t sound better. No two songs sound the same, and the record has more than it’s fair share of “I LOVE this song” moments. Whether or not this was a one time gig or a combination we can expect more from is unknown, but the fact that we’ll always have this record helps me sleep better at night.
For my full review where I go into much more depth, and I know how much you crave depth, CLICK HERE.
Notable Tracks: "A 1000 Times" // "1959 (feat. Angel Daradoorian)"
You Want It Darker
The album title is about as telling a title as I’ve ever come across, as he delves into the shadowy places of his mind. It might even be the heaviest 36 minutes on this list, then again, Cohen’s work has never been a go-to to be lifted. As a fan of music, I appreciate his contributions, but on a personal level he’s always been more miss than hit. I value atmosphere and feel, more than lyrical prowess (because I’m simple <3), so with acts like Cohen, where he talks his way through (not even speak-sing, literally just…speak-ing), I can never full appreciate it. You Want It Darker is a different story.
Cohen’s awareness of his own finality is chilling, but it gives the album a final thoughts feel, adding weight to his words, and that’s saying something considering he’s made a career out of his heavy thoughts. The words weren’t what hooked me though, it’s his music that I was so drawn to, and my appreciation of that is what led to my appreciation of his words. The cinematic nature of the record presented a unique atmosphere, one in which I envisioned Cohen as the main character performing a series of monologues, each song a different scene.
This album is beautiful, powerful, and engaging; causing me to question my take on his work prior to this now. It looks like I’ve got some listening to do…
Notable Tracks: "You Want It Darker" // "It Seemed the Better Way"
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
It’s rare that I discuss a country record, let alone praise it. It’s not that I don’t like the genre, I listen to it regularly, it’s just that I don’t see it as progressive, it is what it is, and that’s fine. Well, fine for some, not for Sturgill Simpson.
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is his most ambitious project, as he takes his signature country/ rockabilly mashup and adds in a little New Orleans jazz, alternative rock, even some classical arrangements…and that’s just the first track. This record is all over the place and yet it couldn’t feel more cohesive. The first time I heard it I was blown away, and that initial feeling hasn’t softened eight months after it’s release. That’s when you know something’s good.
I despise the Grammy’s, and I’m definitely not contented with only him being nominated because there are SO MANY other artists who also deserve recognition, but I will say, anything that gets Sturgill more fans is a good thing, because dammit! He deserves ‘em!
Notable Tracks: "Welcome To Earth (Pollywog)" // "In Bloom"
Citizen of Glass
This is my least favorite of her three albums, so the fact that it cracked the top 10 is a testament to my love, a love that is and hopefully will continue to be well documented. What she provides is completely unique, and her consistency with that gift is nothing short of heaven for me. The atmosphere she creates is full of wonder and beauty, but there’s always a sense of foreboding, a crack in the porcelain. It adds an heir of mystery, making your mind wander and explore.
Citizen of Glass sees her expanding that sound a bit, working with different instruments and arrangements. While the result sees the record flow a little less smoothly than her past LPs (Philharmonics and Aventine) it’s also given us some of her best singles.
I could honestly talk forever, and did in my full review, so instead of repeating myself why don’t you go ahead and CLICK HERE. The all caps haven't gotten less aggressive have they?
Notable Tracks: "Familiar" // "Trojan Horse"
A Seat at the Table
With grace and poise, that’s how Solange’s A Seat at the Table tackles the current racial, social, and artistic climate. Stylistically, this is the counterpart to Frank Ocean’s Blonde. With interludes that speak directly on the subject, the albums goal is clear and concise, while the music is sensual and dreamlike.
The minimalist approach actually speaks louder to me, it’s relaxed and elegant, and aims for the heart rather than an aggressive call to arms, which is why, of all the albums that took the issue of race head on this year, none of them impacted me more than A Seat at the Table.
I wrote a whole lot more about this record, so to read the extraordinarily long version CLICK HERE.
Notable Tracks: "Weary" // "Mad (feat. Lil Wayne)"
*Beyoncé hasn't made Lemonade available on Spotify, so I'll post a extended version of the single "Daddy Lessons" / if you read my full review of the record I included a handful of songs there as well*
This album took the world by storm, so I’m assuming all of you have heard it. It’s personal, it’s vulnerable, it’s powerful, it’s original, it’s diverse, it’s…everything. With Lemonade Beyoncé challenged the structure of what a pop album should be, and I’m hoping the rest of the pop genre's drones follow suit.
My favorite thing about the record is the how it’s presented, each song is a different emotional stage, and with each stage she adopts a different genre to represent it. Honestly it’s genius, and is format that only works in this specific concept.
This was the first record I really dove into this year, and it opened my eyes for the rest of the year’s releases. So while it didn’t end up being my absolute favorite, it definitely held the reigns on my perspective. Incredible stuff.
To read my full review CLICK HERE.
Notable Tracks: "Hold Up" // "Freedom (feat. Kendrick Lamar)"
22, A Million
I love that this is at number seven on my list simply because it speaks to the strength of this year in music. I’ve probably listened to this record once a day since it came out. This album is beautiful, it’s different, and honestly could be interchanged with any of the records in spots 3-6.
22, A Million carries such a unique presence, and is the literal definition of quality over quantity at 10 songs and 34 minutes. The growth that Justin Vernon experienced in the five year gap between records proved to be more fruitful than even I had imagined, and the result is an album that I will hold dear for quite some time.
To read my full review and say “Great points Spenser!,” CLICK HERE.
Notable Tracks: "22 (OVER S∞∞N)" // "29 #Strafford APTS"
A Moon Shaped Pool
This album is a dream. Like an ACTUAL dream. Patience is a trait I bring up often, in regards to both musicians and listeners. There are some things I need to mature before appreciating, and some things artists need to mature before creating. While I’d argue that Radiohead has been mature for quite some time, there is no doubt that time played a significant role in A Moon Shaped Pool.
This was another record that I listened to incessantly but wrote nothing touting my gratification. This album’s strength comes from Thom Yorke, the undisputed commander in chief, relinquishing his duties as the head creative force and allowing guitarist and genius (literally), Johnny Greenwood, equal say with the musical direction. The finished product is deeply moving, a tempered, beautiful and cinematic production, very much in the way that I described Cohen’s You Want It Darker.
With A Moon Shaped Pool Radiohead creates something unique within their own wide ranging discography, which, after 30 years together, is something special by itself, the fact that it’s THIS good is just icing on the cake.
Notable Tracks: "Daydreaming" // "Identikit"
Love & Hate
“Cold Little Heart” could be the best song of the year, and it’s what opens Michael’s second LP. Starting a record in such a grandiose way can have two affects, either it can be all down hill from there, or the rest of the album can maintain. Thankfully, Love & Hate did the latter, and then some.
Think about that opening montage in Up and how it was the definition of love. It’s the best scene in the movie, but there is SO much to love in the hours that follow. While there aren’t ‘hours” that follow “Cold Little Heart,” there is a solid 45 minutes, and it is a journey.
It’s an ode to a different time musically while being a critic of the current time lyrically. That blend makes for a compelling listen when you’ve got a poet with a voice of gold who, along with super producer Danger Mouse, composed a soulful, bluesy, throwback that hits every spot you could want. This record is a jam. Get on it.
Full review got you down? But gettin down is so fun! That’s what I thought, HERE. YOU. GO.
Notable Tracks: "Cold Little Heart" // "Love & Hate"
Best live show I saw in 2016. One of the best ever, actually. This guy is a MACHINE. He is soul, he is funk, he is hip hop, he is jazz, he is music. To define him would cage him, I can't do it. This album was a progression I did not see coming following his debut LP, the uneven Venice. But from the very first song of Malibu you knew you were in for something special.
The record is everything. The album plays like a constant contradiction: it’s fast, it’s slow, it’s fun, it’s serious, it’s patient, it’s reckless; and yet, with all those warring factions, it couldn’t have a more seamless flow. It’s a testament to the talent of .Paak, who’s future is as bright as anyone making music today. I might even go on a limb and say he has the potential to be a male Janelle Monae. And if you know me that is literally the greatest compliment I can give, to not just an artist but to a human being in general.
Smooth grooves for all the moods. Go now. Don’t look back. And if you get the chance to see him live do it, money is no object to you, live your best life and then text me and say “TYSM Spense” and I’ll say, “Don’t thank me, thank Jesus, because that man is GOD GIVEN.” Praise.
“Spense, where dat full review??” Ahh sorry bruh, CLICK RIGHT HERE RIGHT QUICK. “Dope.”
Notable Tracks: "Am I Wrong (feat. ScHoolboy Q)" // "Come Down"
Chance The Rapper
Honestly has anyone here been as lifted in their lives like they were during “Finish Line/ Drown” into “Blessings (reprise)?” The answer is no, forever and ever amen. This album bleeds positivity and holiness but is also extremely grounded in its own way; the combination is something that I wanted from Kanye’s album after hearing it’s opener, “Ultralight Beam,” in which Chance lays down the best verse on the whole record.
This album was on repeat for months, and I was so obsessed that I didn’t write a review. I couldn’t find the words despite writing thousands of them trying to explain my love and affection. At the end of the day all those words can be summed up in four: Listen to this record. And thankfully so many of us did, and continue to.
Chance is good and God is great. Now rejoice in both their glory.
Notable Tracks: "Same Drugs" //
"Finish Line / Drown (feat. T-Pain, Kirk Franklin, Eryn Allen Kane, & Noname)"
A Tribe Called Quest
We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
Realistically this album could be number one. It just hasn’t been with me very long, but I also know it’s not going anywhere.
Tip, Phife, Jarobi, and Ali (with the help of a few studly guests, namely Busta who is in TOP form) created something timely and timeless. They were a driving force in my love of hip hop and and my love of music as a whole and the weight of that, personally, cannot be measured. To say this album might be their best sounds almost blasphemous when considering their discography but the fact that it doesn’t feel odd to state that speaks loudly enough.
The record is transcendent. 30, 40, 50 years from now, when first time listeners come along, I guarantee they won’t be able to tell you what era it’s from. It is it’s own entity. Or, in the words of Tip, “You can’t define us, X, Y us or Z us.” We got it from Here is all time. React accordingly.
Here’s my review, and when you look at the length and say, “Spense…it’s…SO long” just know that it used to be twice as long and that I had the best intentions, I swear! CLICK HERE to read it. Chest bump for everyone who finishes it.
Notable Tracks: "The Space Program" // "Dis Generation"
When debating this list there was only one thing I was sure about, and it was Blonde in the number one spot. No album has been such a persistent presence in my brain and on my tongue. There’s a revolving door of melodies from this record flowing through my brain daily. It’s funny, there was SO much hype when it came to this record, and rarely does the hype match the actual product, but in this case, I was truly unprepared for how much I love this.
It didn’t hit me right away, but when it did, it was game over. I was listening in my room, maybe a week after it’s release, and in an instant I went from, “this is a good album” to “this is the best album of the year” and nothing else came close in the months following. It’s patient, subtle, sparse in it’s sounds, and even in it’s lyrics at times, but there is so much in the quiet, pensive moments. I've never heard such directionless direction in my life.
I wrote a lengthy review, so instead of reiterating my obsession, just CLICK HERE and decide if you still respect me and my opinions. If you come to the conclusion that life without me is beneficial, remember that I still love you. Forever!
Notable Tracks: "Solo" // "Seigfried"
Thanks for reading! And I know I promised I'd share a few photos of Alice and I from Christmas, so here you go. She's too good to me!