10. Pinegrove “Cardinal”
I was listening to this record earlier this year in my office when a co-worker walked in. She immediately perked up when hearing the music and said, “Who is this? It sounds like high school.” That perfectly sums up Pinegrove’s sound. If you were deeply immersed in the early 2000s emo scene, on the fringes or mocked it from afar you understand the reference upon first listen. The whole thing drips with earnestness. Lead singer Evan Stephens Hall looks like your friend from high school or at least the kid you look back fondly at, saying something to the effect of “Evan was always so nice.” His lyrics ring true and the music wraps around you like a warm blanket at Friday night’s football game, for which you can’t explain why you’re there. While this records does not match up to their compilation tape “Everything So Far,” its a fine album with well executed songs.
9. The Hotelier “Goodness”
I hesitated to go back to back emo bands. But there is more of an expansion here with The Hotelier. I also questioned my love for this record because of where the band is from, Worcester, MA. Despite the bias this whole album is a real representation of discovering adulthood. The record is complete. Every song moves into the next one into the next poem into the next clang of guitar. It’s a reflection on who we used to be and how we can use the reflections of those older than us to make our best selves. Christian Holden’s lyrics leaves it on the table, its their for you to dissect, read and put back together. Plus “Piano Player” was also one of my favorite songs of the year one of the few I listened to for an entire day.
8. Danny Brown “Atrocity Exhibition”
Danny Brown sounds grounded and unhinged all the time. Is it planned? Does he just snap from lucid to insane moment to moment? Up until this album I never knew how to follow a Danny Brown verse. In 2012 he had that song “Grown Up,” and I was convinced Danny knew what he was doing. But then he kept featuring all over everyone’s mixes and songs and he sounded like an open mic comedian with great potential: the premises are there, he just can’t stop himself from making it about his dick. To keep up with the metaphor Atrocity Exhibition is his best joke, for a lot of reasons. People didn’t expect it, the music is syncopated and jarring at moments and it fits well with Danny’s odd flow and there also great grooves to get comfortable with him until he slaps you upside your head again. For reference, “Really Doe,” don’t really use this phrase, but the track is fire.
7. Bon Iver “22, A Million”
I didn’t want to like this record. The previous two records were great, his work with Kanye was great. Then I was reading about how much more expansive he was getting with this record. He used something like 50 saxophones and even more vocal distortion and he was being a crazy artist talking about math as harmony and infinity and space. But this record is beautiful. Truly. If it were a painting I’d stare at it. If it were food I’d order it again for take out. If it were any smell I’d buy it as a cologne. Its been said, I understand, but his voice is another instrument. He is first Justin Vernon in the orchestra that made this record. Every song is still sad, it is still recorded specific to his voice and yet still it is universal a gift, it seems only this guy can do.
6. Culture Abuse “Peach”
Fun, that’s what this record is. And its a dosage of fun prescribed by a doctor to a aging punk who is depressed or got sober or is a family man. This record is just fun. It’s quick and hard hitting and catchy. There’s nothing hyperbolic about it. When you have a song called “Yuckies” on the album you know you’re not smearing any bullshit on your ears. Hell, just for the fuck of it they throw in a little SoCal ska breakdown. I don’t need to wax poetic too hard on this own because I can really only write and explain fun so many times before its not fun anymore.
5. Whitney “Light Upon the Lake”
I hate to admit I first listened to these guys after reading about them in the New York Times Fashion Magazine. It’s okay if you stop reading now. But, if you like dreamy, infectious pop music with saxophones I think you should stick around. These sad songs made up of good hooks can satisfy anyone looking to find someone who has a similar aesthetic to midday outdoor beer garden. The songs have meaning and aesthetic its no wonder they were having a discussion with Elton John in the NYT. I have always been a sucker for “la la las” and Whitney does not disappoint there. It was one of those records I didn’t want to end so I’d put it on full repeat, so that “Light Upon the Lake” never had an end or a beginning.
4. Kamaiyah “A Good Night in the Ghetto”
“Oh shit!” That’s been the repeated phrase for me as it is for Kamiayah all over this record. Straight out of Oakland, CA and only 19 years of age Kamaiyah talks real. Fuck what you think about a millennial, this girl has been through some shit, worked out of it and worked through it. When she says “How does it feel to be rich/ how does it feel to just live?” I am simultaneously feeling that and boppin’ my head to it. Damn, that’s good. She talks about taking advantage of thirsty dudes and unsupervised nights all in a breath and throws down just as hard about not having as those rappers who are considered great rap about having. The beats all remind us of a time just before Kamaiyah was born (’95) and yet she still sells it like she was there with us. Yet also telling as to get the hell out of nostalgia and think about her more!
3. Frank Ocean “Blonde”
Worth the wait. I get it. We live in a hyperbolic age where everything is bae and lit. Beyonce might as well have beheaded Zeus and Kanye is at the same time the greatest and garbage. But Frank Ocean’s long awaited album is great. The album previous “Channel Orange” was also great. The little I caught of “Endless” his visual Def Jam dump was pretty sensational. But this, this album came at the right time. It has signature stuff like his loose delivery bouncing back and forth between rapping and singing. It has him playing with pitch and harmony and composition. And it also has him giving us what he’s feeling. As a single white male I realize that this album probably even isn’t really for me. And yet at the same time it speaks to me. Either its empathy or a true connection, but Frank actually tells it like it is despite what another recently elected asshole says.
2. Chance the Rapper “Coloring Book”
At one turn a party, at another spiritual, the next sexy, then he starts talking about his grandma. Chance has blown up since I listened to only “Sunday Candy” for days on end. He had arguably the best verse this year on arguably the best song this year, designed a hat for the Chicago White Sox, charmed us all on those Twix ads and is changing America’s mind that they should help Chicago’s murder problem and not ignore it. Much like his resume he is all over the map on this record, which I guess technically is a mix tape, but in the digital age who cares about titles? Song in and song out Chance discusses his true beliefs in God and people and Chicago. As a man who would do anything for his hometown too, I feel this dude. And, it seems, a lot of America is too.
1. Anderson .Paak “Malibu” and “Yes Lawd!”
I know one is him and one is him with the producer Knxwledge but come on this is the year of Anderson .Paak. He features on Mac Miller’s “Dang!,” he is in car commercials, he is nominated for best new artist, he features on one of the best tracks of the year: “Glowed Up” by Kaytranada and still put out two amazing acts of R&B, hip-hop and soul. He is the future. This is the sound that he has not created but he did make in his image for the year 2016 and beyond. Horns, piano have always existed in pop. However they took a break when we became obsessed with technology. And while he wasn’t the first to bring it back he has made it sound the best. I haven’t even started on how he can kill a verse and kill you with his raspy, soul-filled voice. My favorite track of year is his “Celebrate.” The structure is a throwback with a simple bass-line and piano and the bridge even gives a taste of those driving Motown drums. The lyrics however are very of the now. He admits things are rough right now, but they used to be worse and yeah they could get bad again but we might as well enjoy it now, in the moment. Much like art or music or even the year 2016 itself: yeah it sucked and it seems like its going to get worse but right now? There’s a lot of good happening too.
Hockey Dad “Boronia”
My pop rock summer album. The summer began with Malibu and bookended with this infectious collection.
Blood Orange “Freetown Sound”
Expansive and new sounding high art project that also has one of my favorite tracks of the year, “Best To You.”
Sturgill Simpson “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth”
Country music done right.
YG “Still Brazy”
“Fuck Donald Trump”. And other bangers.
Metal at its best. You know when a horror movie shows the monster and the monster’s origin story is just sad? That’s this record.
A Tribe Called Quest “We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service”
Modern Baseball “Holy Ghost”
A great take on mental health.
Childish Gambino “Awaken, My Love!”
Funk is back baby!
Angel Olsen “MY WOMAN”
Lyrics that slap you in the face, making you readily turing the other cheek pleading for more.
Car Seat Headrest “Teens of Style”
Who is he? Why is it good? “Killer Whales”? Yes.
Solange “A Seat at the Table”
Not for me, but again empathy.
Kanye West “The Life of Pablo”
Its a mess, but man I wish I could make messes like this.
Stay tuned for me to be posting weekly takes on music, movies, culture and more. Plus I will be re-posting some of my favorite pieces from my old blog for which I am locked out of: http://www.scornedstandingup.tumblr.com