The 50 Best Albums of 2016

In this post: an introduction, reviews of the top 10 albums of the year, a complete top 50 list, and a streaming playlist with a track from every top 50 album save for those not on Spotify. See you in 2017!

There were no seismic shifts in the pop landscape in 2016, nor in 2015, nor in 2014, nor in recent memory. The last time I remember feeling a legit sense of the earth moving under my feet (um, ears?) was when in 2006-2007 the Neptunes and Timbaland ceded ground to Kanye West’s now-dated chipmunked vocal samples, The White Stripes (and before them, The Strokes) firmly rewrote the pop-rock template and the Dixie Chicks told the world they weren’t ready to make nice. All the change since then has felt incremental, which may be a function of my age, but aside from maybe Drake and 40, who has rewritten the playbook — anyone’s playbook? Maybe it doesn’t work like that anymore. Technological change can generally be seen only in the rear-view mirror, but I can’t help thinking it’s changing the way the music evolves. Weep for the future historians who have to find a through-line in the evolution of music in the teens.

If that’s the way things are, or will be, then 2016 was the year I stopped worrying and learned to love the absence of a bomb. None of the albums on my top 10 list feel like any kind of quantum leap forward, but they are all masterful and constantly stimulating, even surprising, on the tenth or even fiftieth listen. It’s pretty shocking to me that a straight-up gangsta rap record like Still Brazy or an instrumental-rock spazzout like Return To Sky would end up atop my list, to the point that I often wonder whether I’ve started privileging the familiar over the unexpected as a kind of defensive mechanism, against the shell-shock of the new. But the flipside of that is my disdain for the records proclaimed as epochal (Arcade Fire *durrr*, Taylor Swift *yawn*) has made me more enthusiastic about records that feature maturing talents, like Blonde, and that showcase mature artists operating at their peak, like Anguis Oleum and A Moon Shaped Pool. It’s exciting to be around when the music world is being turned upside down, but it’s no consolation prize to bear witness to a crop of artists who be doin it and doin it and doin it well.

1. Frank Ocean - Blonde (Boys Don't Cry)

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Team Frank Ocean was already a heaving bandwagon when Blonde dropped, though to these ears the hype was premature when Channel Orange was the only evidence on offer. Whatever, I probably wouldn't have thought Prince was a genius on the basis of his first album, and yet, and yet. Blonde is plenty full of genius-signaling greatness, in flashes of wry lyrical humor ("did you call me from a seance? You from my past life") and epic ballads like "White Ferrari" that just scream This Is Everything You Never Dared Hope He Could Become. There's something in Ocean's ability to leave a line hanging in the synth-soaked, sometimes guitar-wrist-flick-punctuated air. He owns the space between words, shapes it invisibly with the last line and the next one. Even the funkier moments like "Pink + White" are expertly paced hops from one melodic cloud to the next, with his signature move of brightening the harmony in mid-lyric. More than any other impulse he seems to have, Frank Ocean just loves to yank the listener from nostalgic, sometimes idyllic images drenched in romance to mundane, pungent detail about drugs or, often, driving. "We're alone, making sweet love, taking time / but god strikes us!" To me, the centerpiece of the album is "Solo" for the simple reason that it works on a granular detail level -- capturing a moment of pure bliss from an acid trip on a dance floor -- but it also works its way gradually through a heartbreak that left him alone, exposed without a lover and without the rhythm section whose absence leaves a joy-shaped hole in the track. Absence and space are the most expressive parts of the album, and knowing how to play them is irrefutable proof that Frank Ocean has ascended to a higher plane. Though if he really were some kind of god, he'd be the kind that likes to day-trip back to earth, maybe as a swan, just to mess with some poor human for a few hours before returning skyward.

 Selections from a-void’s Best Albums of 2016

 The List: 1-10

1. Frank Ocean – Blonde (Boys Don’t Cry)
2. YG – Still Brazy (400/CTE/Def Jam)
3. Lorenzo Senni – Persona (Warp)
*4. Tim Berne’s Snakeoil – Anguis Oleum (Screwgun)
5. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani – FRKWAYS Vol 13: Sunergy (RVNG Intl)
6. Causa Sui – Return To Sky (El Paraiso)
7. Pangaea – In Drum Play (Hessle Audio)
8. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (XL)
9. DVA [HI:EMOTIONS] – Notu_Ironlu (Hyperdub)
10. Kaytranada – 99.9 (XL)

 11-50

11. Pet Shop Boys – Super (X2)
12. Vince Staples – Prima Donna EP (Def Jam)
13. Weaves – Weaves (Buzz)
14. Parquet Courts – Human Performance (Matador)
15. Dinosaur Jr – Give A Glimpse Of What Yr Not (Jagjaguwar)
16. Matmos – Ultimate Care II (Thrill Jockey)
17. Gucci Mane – Everybody Looking (Atlantic)
18. *Purling Hiss – High Bias (Drag City)
19. A Tribe Called Red – We Are The Halluci Nation (Pirates Blend)
20. *Useless Eaters – Relaxing Death (Castle Face)
21. The Gaslamp Killer – Instrumentalepathy (Gaslamp Killer Music)
22. The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It (Dirty Hit/Interscope/Polydor/Vagrant)
23. Skepta – Konnichiwa (Boy Better Know)
24. Bardo Pond feat Guru Guru and Acid Mothers Temple – Acid Guru Pond (Fire)
25. Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial (Matador)
26. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You For Your Service (Epic/Sony)
27. Kenny Barron – Book Of Intuition (Impulse/Universal)
28. Poirier – Migration (Nice Up!)
29. Hieroglyphic Being And The Configurative Or Modular Me Trio – Cosmic Bebop (Mathematics)
30. Camera – Phantom of Liberty (Bureau B)
31. Rihanna – Anti (Def Jam)
32. The Field – The Follower (Kompakt)
33. Trevino – Front (C Birdie)
34. Marquis Hawkes – Social Housing (Houndstooth)
35. Warpaint – Heads Up (XL)
36. *Fp-oner – 6 (Mule Musiq)
37. Lone – Levitate (R&S)
38. *Lawrence – Yoyogi Park (Mule Musiq)
39. Black Milk and Nat Turner – The Rebellion Sessions (Computer Ugly)
40. Pye Corner Audio – Stasis (Ghost Box)
41. Africaine 808 – Basar (Golf Channel)
42. *Andrew Cyrille – The Declaration of Musical Independence (ECM)
43. Dr. Lonnie Smith – Evolution (Blue Note)
44. Jakob Skott – All The Colours of the Dust (El Paraiso)
45. Dynamis – Distance (Tectonic)
46. Gerry Read – Chubby Cheeks (Timetable)
47. Solange – A Seat At The Table (Columbia/Sony)
48. Steve Haushcildt – Strands (Kranky)
49. Future – EVOL (Epic/Sony)
50. Prins Thomas – Principe Del Norte (Smalltown Supersound)

* = not on Spotify

New mixes: Subscript/Superscript

If January is for resolutions, what does it mean that most of them never see out the month? I’d argue that January is just where the regrets of the past year go to die. With that in mind, I’ll be getting two regrets out of the way right now – I regret that I didn’t upload either of these four on the floor mixes when I made them, because they both rule. Enjoy. One more post coming, then see you (with renewed vigour) in February…

Subscript

Click here to download Subscript from Mediafire

Deemo – Subscript by Deemo on Mixcloud

1. Freeform Five feat. Róisín Murphy     – Leviathan (Tom Trago Dub Mix) – Leviathan (Eskimo Recordings)
2, Martyn – Two Leads and a Computer – The Air Between Words (Ninja Tune)
3, Lord Of The Isles – Horizon Effect – 301C Symphony EP (Permanent Vacation)
4. Danny Benedettini     – Blown Away – Correspondant, Compilation 02 (Correspondant)
5. Ciara – Body Party (Kaytranada’s never going to release this shieeet) – web
6. Gui Boratto – Take Control (Come And Hell Mix) – Take Control (Kompakt)
7. KZA – Taking It – Dig & Edit 2 (Endless Flight)
8. Hayfever – Ground Collapse (Maddslinky ‘Nj Shuffle’ Mix) – Ground Collapse (Formula Records)
9. Moon man – The Great Speech – Lucky Star Ship (Daisy)
10. Röyksopp & Robyn – Say It – Do It Again (Dog Triumph)
11. Paul Kalkbrenner     – Böxig Leise (Pig&dan Remix)     – X (Paul Kalkbrenner Recordings)
12. GoldFFinch – Stronghold – Stronghold (Turbo)
13. Ill Blu – Clapper – Hyperdub 10.1 (Hyperdub)
14. Cardini&Shaw – Pepper Labejia – In The Ballroom (Correspondant)
15. Youandewan – FM Jam – Youandewan EP (Aus Music)
16. Avatism – Adamant (Lake People Remix) – Adamant Remixes #2 (Houndstooth)

Recorded June 29 2014

Superscript

Click here to download Superscript from Mediafire

Deemo – Superscript by Deemo on Mixcloud

1. Vermont – Dynamik (Prins Thomas Version 1) – The Prins Thomas Versions (Kompakt)
2. Dauwd – Moiety – Saleh EP (Kompakt)
3. Romare – Roots – Roots (Ninja Tune)
4. Huxley – Give 2 U (Will Saul & Komon remix) – Give 2 U (Aus Music)
5. Bonobo – Pelican – Flashlight EP (Ninja Tune)
6. XDB – Afrikk (Philogresz Remix) – Afrikk (Echocord)
7. Massimiliano Pagliara – Native Tribes Of Jaguar (With Credit 00) – With One Another (Robert Johnson)
8. Sascha Funke – Zug Um Zug (Original Mix) – Zug Um Zug (Kompakt)
9. Marc Antona – The Fifth Season – Rattle Snaps EP (Dissonant)
10. Graze    – Banding – Soft Gamma Repeater (New Kanada)
11. Jimmy Edgar – Burn – Saline (Ultramajic)
12. Bruce – My Legs Wouldn’t Go Quick Enough – Not Stochastic (Hessle Audio)
13. Tarjei Nygård – Suratkorps (Tarjei’s Handarbeidsversjon) – Suratkorps (Full Pupp)
14. Kim Ann Foxman     – Be Mine     – Heidi Presents Jackathon Jams with Kim Ann Foxman, Soul Clap (Heidi Presents Jackathon Jams)
15. Max D – High Life – High Life (Hot Haus)
16. Redshape – Leaves (Stripped 2 Clip & 303) – Leaves (Running Back)
17. Audion, Troels Abrahamsen – Dem Howl Feat. Troels Abrahamsen (Michael Mayer Instrumental Mix) – Dem Howl feat. Troels Abrahamsen (Kompakt)
18. Hieroglyphic Being and The Configurative or Modular Me Trio – The Human Experience – The Seer Of Cosmic Visions (Planet Mu)
19. The Black Dog – Fraction Slide – Sound Of Sheffield Vol. 03 (Dust Science)

Recorded Nov. 29, 2014

Four pon de floor roundup: Hot Since 82, Gardland, Hieroglyphic Being

Here are some four pon de floor discs for your consideration. This wraps up album review week; if you missed it, check out the Rappity raps and Beats Etc roundups at your leisure. Next week: a new mix, and maybe some additional surprises…

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