Tag Archives: Albums (2016)

Best albums of 2016 — full list

The full list:

1. KING – We are KING
2. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
3. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
4. Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings
5. Maxwell – blackSUMMERSNIGHT
6. Britney Spears – Glory
7. Rae Sremmurd – Sremmlife 2
8. Fantasia – The Definition Of…
9. David Bowie – Blackstar
10. Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks in Whispers
11. Dawn Richard – Redemption
12. Schoolboy Q – Blank Face LP
13. Kevin Gates – Islah
14. Pusha T – King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude
15. K Michelle – More Issues Than Vogue
16. Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town
17. Maren Morris – Hero
18. Parquet Courts – Human Performance
19. Suede – Night Thoughts
20. Bonnie Raitt – Dig In Deep
21. Beyonce – Lemonade
22. Vince Staples – Prima Donna (EP)
23. Shura – Nothing’s Real
24. Lori Mckenna – The Bird & the Rifle
25. Alex Anwandter – Amiga
26. Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger
27. Anderson Paak – Malibu
28. Anohni – Hopelessness
29. The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
30. Katy B – Honey

Best albums of 2016 – Part Five

4. Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings

In October I thought the second disc was a disappointment after the masterful second. Now I need it all, even the song about the Tin Man and the dear old sun. Big, beautiful, as responsive to affection as a willing heart, The Weight of These Wings has the inevitability that masterful albums wear and none of the self-importance. As I wrote last month, I hesitate to call The Weight of These Wings her best album less than three years after Platinum earned this honor, but here’s the thing: Platinum reflected the confusion of an artist who at the peak of her clout was indulging in wistfulness about VCRs and with a yen for dumb jokes at the expense of women no less hick-ish than the persona she has adopted since Kerosene. Using the road as a controlling conceit and the ramshackleness of the double album structure itself, The Weight of These Wings arrives with a rather unsettling confidence, the questions answered, the referent-rummaging settled. A plain sense of things.

3. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service

Seizing a historical moment that threatens to flatten them as much as us, Q-Tip, Jacobi, and the late Phife Dawg write a classic up-with-people anthem that recontexualizes Phife as a voice of cross-cultural protest. As a conceptual move and palliative, sticking “Lost Somebody” on the second side strengthens the album’s inexorable current; so present is Phife on “Dis Generation” and “The Space Program,” the little bro eulogized by Tip and Jarobi, that the transformation of man into symbol reflects We Got It from Here‘s depiction of the potency of ideals in a dark time. “Mass un-blackening, it’s happening, you feel it, y’all?”? Mass un-everything, Tip.

2. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

I imagine the Detroit rapper stepping away from a mic, driving himself home, and opening a bottle of a Catena Zapata in front of House of Cards. It’s not that I don’t believe him when he raps about smoking so much he faints or about lines and lines of coke; it’s that the interaction between his lurid scenarios and his high, barking voice creates a not unpleasant distance. Paul White’s beats are up to Brown’s nightmarish scenarios.

1. KING – We are KING

Too vaporous for some listeners – hell, sometimes too vaporous for me. This most delicate of albums, recorded and produced and written by Paris Strother and Amber Strother and Anita Bias, has a warm glow. Its mildness is a balm. Its dedication to modest sensuality a relief. Adult in the best sense. The Strothers also had a hand in Corinne Bailey Rae’s fine album. Expect to read more credits.

The best of 2016 — Part four

8. Fantasia –The Definition Of…

I understand Idol worship is not the stuff of which “narratives” are made, not when a hep industry cat can admit to a homosexual crush using Notepad; otherwise he sings about love and loss with as much conviction and less skill as anyone in R&B. Would that Fantasia inspire similar devotion. As powerful as 2013’s Side Effects of You, The Definition Of… puts that chalky voice against electronic settings and gospel pop.

7. Rae Sremmurd – Sremmlife 2

Thanks to mannequins, that eternal mystery called Paul McCartney, and its indelible hook, “Black Beatles” has become the most surprising #1 hit in years. A rarity too: I haven’t gotten tired of it, and every week it’s earned a more fervent listenership. The album doesn’t let up either.

6. Britney Spears – Glory

After releasing the most distracted album of her career three years ago, Britney Jean commissions Justin Tranter, Robopop, and more Scandinavians than the credits to a Bergman film to write and produce a collection as protean, brazen, and sybaritic as any in her catalog. Mattman & Robin are responsible for “Do You Wanna Come Over” and presumably its flamenco guitar runs and the curious line “We use our bodies to make our own videos” in “Slumber Party,” while the NYC axis gets “Just Luv Me,” an electronic crawl through a rueful corner of Spears’ id. Judging from the in-Glory-ious sales, she has much to be rueful about.

5. Maxwell – blackSUMMERSNIGHT

From my SPIN blurb: A piano run here and a hi-hat there are all Maxwell needs to evoke desire, both ungratified and achieved. On his first album since 2009, the neo-soul avatar proves himself master of a terse R&B that has finally caught up to ambitions that his first couple of albums couldn’t support melodically. Shimmering pleas like “Gods” and “Lake by the Ocean” limn their title metaphors with precision and punch. Yet with Maxwell there’s a sense in which the beloved matters less than the valentines he writes: “You are the object I get lost in,” he coos on “Hostage,” admitting that concentration has made him moony. Celebrating his own prowess while pledging his troth on one knee, he’s a classic love man after all.

Best albums of 2016 – Part Three

12. Schoolboy Q – Blank Face LP

A few days ago Blank Face LP sat in the bottom half of my top ten. Replays undermined my case. Its weaknesses are its strengths, though, the sprawl reflecting an imagination struggling over the age-old conundrum: is description criticism? As I wrote in July, It’s hard to figure out what Schoolboy stands for or who he is besides a party boy who in this climate and thanks to his bros (Kendrick, Anderson Paak, etc) summons more interesting beats and backdrops than he would’ve in, say, 2006; it’s like Hillary running as a progressive. But, like Hillary, it’s what I needed in 2016, especially if the tracks are as heady as “Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane” and “JoHn Muir.”

11. Dawn Richard – Redemption

Pairing with Machinedrum for jungle-inflected sparkle machines like “Love Under Lights,” Dawn Richard evokes a drunk-at-3.am. bliss with a handful of catchphrases and her thick soprano. “Lazarus” sounds like Daft Punk’s “One More Time” heard from beneath a pillow. Collaborations with Noisecastle III take greater risks. A despondent Richards wanders “The Louvre” to the accompaniment of distorted violins and punctuative bass drum (“Stare at you like you’re a work of art/You should be on a wall instead of hangin’ in my heart.” Redemption is a meteor shower on a clear cold night.

10. Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks in Whispers

This creator of two genteel predecessors finally writes melodies worthy of a Grammy winner, and the result is her best album: a poised example of adult music that foregoes neither an erotic life nor a consideration of what adulthood means. With contributions from the classic (Valerie Simpson) and new (KING’s Paris and Amber Strother) wing of R&B.

9. David Bowie – Blackstar

Not a film star. Not a porn star. Not a black star. He never gave anything anyway.

Best albums of 2016 – Part Two

16. Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town

Her debut an intelligent bore, Brandy Clark’s sophomore album is the equivalent of a defibrillator. She does disco-inflected country (“Girl Next Door”), sarcasm-crazed Loudon Wainwright (“Daughter”), and well-lit melancholy (“Three Kids and No Husband”). Still too infatuated with details, but she’s singing as if she had to inhabit a Bernard Sumner libretto; she’s coming along fine.

15. K Michelle – More Issues Than Vogue

The year’s best title. Suffering exquisitely while asserting her right to ravish and be ravished, K Michelle is a diva to her bones. If R&B still made pop inroads, female secretaries and clerks would treasure her albums while men would recognize the similarities between their wives and lovers and the women Michelle inhabits and for whom she sings; she’s too practical for self-help bromides. Her priorities demand resolution yesterday. She’s at her best in “Not a Little Bit,” the sturdy piano hook mirroring her determination to get over it; and on “If It Ain’t You” she blasts a man who accuses her of being complicated – “you can take it,” she assures him.

14. Pusha T – Darkest Before Dawn

Possessor of the best sneer in hip hop, Pusha T writes scenarios that draw from headlines as much as from heist films. “I’m my city’s Willy Falcon/How you niggas celebrating Alpo?” he rasps on “F.I.F.A.” Elsewhere he aims his scorn at johnny-come-latelys who eat swordfish. With beats by Metro Boomin, Q-Tip, and even Kanye contributing something listenable, King Push releases a solo album that comes in at a fleet thirty-three minutes. If you bought it during last year’s Xmas rush, give it another listen.

13. Kevin Gates – Islah

“2 Phones” is the mainstream rap hit that won’t be denied, indelible enough to force me into passive voice. The rest of Islah has a slew of other odes to a lifestyle that’s catching up to Kevin Gates but from which he is nevertheless too infatuated with to disavow.

Best albums of 2016 – Part One

20. Bonnie Raitt — Dig in Deep

“Because [she] has never sounded young or shown much interest in courting the youth market, she has stood in place waiting for us to age into the experiences depicted in her best material,” I wrote earlier this year in a Red Bull Music Academy piece about five good Bonnie Raitt moments. On her best album since the impeachment of Bill Clinton, Raitt has stopped waiting: she’s aging and still playing and writing the hell out of new material, including what might be new material to her. Take “Need You Tonight,” transformed into a stomper with a staccato rhythm and punctuated with guitar blasts. The message? “I’m lonely.” Even my six-year-old niece can identify.

19. Suede – Night Thoughts

“To record songs celebrating anthemic and hysterical responses to adversity is a hallmark of the young,” I wrote in February. I couldn’t shake now “Like Kids” remined me of how I’ve seen parents respond at their kids’ Little League games. Although I ignored it for most of the year, Suede’s second album since emerging from a druggy haze took on new urgency in the last few weeks. Now, the way Richard Oakes’ guitar tracks soar into the upper reaches of phantom cathedrals creates the phony uplift I need.

18. Parquet Courts – Human Performance

Derivative stuff, derivative even of themselves, but the NYC quartet sustain their post-Feelies feel-around. Best line: “Berlin got blurry/When my eyes started telling it to.”

17. Maren Morris – Hero

From June: “Beware of country producers bearing sequencers,” purists might say from a defensive crouch from within Chris Stapleton’s beard. And the song with the sequencer is called ’80s Mercedes,’ no less. On her major label debut, the Texan hooks up with the fella who’s worked with P!nk, Christina Aguilera, and Daughtry for a series of some of the most delicious electrotwang since Big & Rich. Speaking of “rich,” it’s the name of a whip snapper of a second track that cops the Steve Miller Band for the kind of nyah-nyah hook that’ll delight the jokers and midnight takers at her shows.”

Celebrating: Dawn Richard and A Tribe Called Quest

Dawn Richard – Redemption

Dawn Richards aspires to become a cuckoo clock, an ice cream bell, a set of wind chimes. On her third full length release, the former Danity Kane singer, in a move that’s closer to synthesis than subsummation, melds with twinkling and often unsettling soundscapes; Redemption is a meteor shower on a clear cold night. Pairing with Machinedrum for jungle-inflected sparkle machines like “Love Under Lights,” Richard evokes a drunk-at-3.am. bliss with a handful of catchphrases and her thick soprano. “Lazarus” sounds like Daft Punk’s “One More Time” heard from beneath a pillow. Collaborations with Noisecastle III take greater risks. A despondent Richards wanders “The Louvre” to the accompaniment of distorted violins and punctuative bass drum (“Stare at you like you’re a work of art/You should be on a wall instead of hangin’ in my heart”). I haven’t heard a track all year as perfervid as “L.A.,” an aural ecosystem whose creators, like Yahweh on the third day, get carried away with the possibilities: a keyboard like John Cale’s organ part in “Sister Ray,” power chords, and a Dixieland coda by Trombone Shorty that Dierks Bentley could respect. Fans of Blackheart: rejoice.

A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service

I was in tears when that squirrelly burr joined the snare in the first forty seconds of “We the People.” On point, Tip? All the time. Seizing a historical moment that threatens to flatten them as much as us, Q-Tip and Jarobi write a classic up-with-people anthem that recontexualizes the late Phife Dawg as a voice of cross-cultural protest. Coupled with opener “The Space Program,” We Got It from Here… offers the best one-two punch in a career that includes 1991’s “Excursions” and “Buggin’ Out,” and 1993’s “Steve Biko” and “Award Tour.” With Tip assuming most of the bass duties and some of the keyboard parts, We Got It from Here has the charm of experts reveling in beats and noises like twenty-year-olds. These are tracks thought all the way through: “Melatonin,” anchored by the thwack of a Linn drum programmed to sound like Prince in 1982 for the sake of detailing how the world is too much with us but particularly for black men; the Chris Sholar’s tentative guitar runs jabbing at a worried Anderson Paak’s ribs in “Movin’ Backwards; the ten seconds of silence followed by Jack White’s own guitar squall at the end of “Conrad Tokyo.” As a conceptual move and palliative, sticking “Lost Somebody” on the second side strengthens the album’s inexorable current; so present is Phife on “Dis Generation” and “The Space Program,” the little bro eulogized by Tip and Jarobi, that the transformation of man into symbol reflects We Got It from Here‘s depiction of the potency of ideals in a dark time. “Mass un-blackening, it’s happening, you feel it, y’all?”? Mass un-everything, Tip.