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 mix: Who needs a drink?

drink

The house-y, four-on-the-floor tracks for my November mix were chosen a while before I actually mixed and posted it, and, uh, things are a bit darker now. The title says it all, really. Show up and pour up.

Download from Mediafire

1. Wareika Hill Sounds – Mass Migration (Dub) – Mass Migration (Honest Jon’s)
2. Four Tet + Designer – Mothers – Mothers / Dark (Text)
3. Keita Sano – Unknown Forest – High EP (Unfulfillment)
4. Will Lister – After The Light – Phantom EP (Phonica)
5. Nautiluss – Odyssey – Reflections EP (Spectral Sound)
6. Prins Thomas – C (Ricardo Villalobos King Crab Remix) – Principe Del Norte Remixed (Smalltown Supersound)
7. The Orb – Alpine (Prins Thomas Diskomiks) – Alpine Diskomiks – Sin In Space, Pt. 2 (Kompakt)
8. Marquis Hawkes – Discopuss – Doornroosje (Aus Music)
9. Privileged Pup – Houze – white label
10. DJ Slym Fas – Luv Music – Selectors 001 (Dekmantel)
11. Mickey Pearce – Old Habits – Michael (Swamp 81)
12. Herbert – Deeper – Deeper (Petite)
13. The Field – The Follower – The Follower (Kompakt)
14. Trevino – Elements – Front (Birdie)
15. Joakim – Daemon – Daemon (Life and Death)
16. Answer Code Request – Neume – Neume (Ostgut Ton)
17. Pangaea – More Is More to Burn – In Drum Play (Hessle Audio)

Mixed Nov 12/2016 by Deemo for a-void.ca

Mix: Sweat / Sweatpants

When Nelly came out with two albums, sold separately, on the same day in 2004, it was such a colossal act of hubris that it almost defies description. It doesn’t help that, as I recall, neither one was very good or very well received.

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But Sweat and Suit are a testament to an ego big enough to more or less destroy a successful rapper’s career in one catastrophically grandiose gesture. And that’s why I’ve concocted my own version, the music world’s first answer-double-album: Sweat/Sweatpants.

sweat-sweatpants

One for bro-ing down in the club; one for sipping wine with a doo-rag on. Download one or both, or neither, but either way, enjoy.

deemo---sweat

Click here to download Sweat from mediafire.com

1. DJ Nori – Happy Sunday (Maurice Fulton Mix) – We Don’t Know EP
2. Komon and Appleblim – Silencio (Prins Thomas Remiks) – Silencio (Prins Thomas Remiks)
3. Mike Mind – Second Circle – Aether
4. Gui Boratto – Gate 7 – The K2 Chapter
5. Fort Romeau – And Now – Stay / True
6. Darkside – The Only Shrine I’ve Seen – Psychic
7. Joe – Slope – Slope
8. Gardland – Syndrome Syndrome – Syndrome Syndrome
9. Egyptrixx – Water (Reduced) – Water (Reduced)
10. Audion – Motormouth – Motormouth
11. Randomer – No Hook – Ruffa
12. Factory Floor – Two Different Ways – Factory Floor
13. Trevino – Gone – 3 And 1
14. Peverelist and Kowton – Beneath Radar – Livity Sound
15. Ctrls – Modular Framework – Shifting States EP
16. Tessela – Gateway – Nancy’s Pantry
17. Blawan – Shader – 30 Years of R&S Records
18. Gerry Read – Rubber Hands – U Got No God Damn Groove
19. Trade – Half Nelson – SHEWORKS005
20. Jam City – Worst Illusion – Club Constructions Vol. 6
21. Distal – Drone Circle – The Shadow Egg

deemo---sweatpants

Click here to download Sweatpants at mediafire.com

1. Prins Thomas – Sur Svie – Prins Thomas 2 Bonus Tracks
2. Cut Hands – Inchantment – Madwoman
3. Peverelist – Aztec Chant – Livity Sound
4. Adam Marshall – Memphis (feat. Maaskant) – Memphis
5. Policy – Wiseblood – Postscript
6. EMMA – Dream Phone Vip (Vip) – Blue Gardens
7. Acoustic High-End Research – Beer and Air – Gerd Janson presents Musik for Autobahns
8. Nguzunguzu – Break In – Skycell
9. Jam City – The Raven – Club Constructions Vol. 6
10. Morgan Zarate – This – Taker EP
11. Ital Tek – Violet – Control
12. Purity Ring – Amenamy (Jon Hopkins Remix) – Amenamy (Jon Hopkins Remix)
13. The Ethiopians – Empty Belly – Studio One Rub A Dub
14. Ride – Moonlight Medicine (Portishead remix)
15. Primal Scream – Higher Than The Orb Mix – Higher Than The Sun CDS