So, as promised, here are my 10 favorite albums of last year. These are just my personal picks, but feel free to start a discussion or share your favorite albums in the comments. I definitely missed some albums this year, and we can share some great music.
10. Bon Iver- 22, A Million
Hype and weird track names notwithstanding, this is actually a really good album. This is quite different from the last Bon Iver project, as its a little more experimental and electronic, but I still prefer the kind of subtle auto-tune ballads that only Justin Vernon can convincingly pull off. This album made the list just by the track '(715) Creeks' alone. It really reminds me of the Blood Bank EP, which remains my favorite Bon Iver record.
This record was not what I was expecting, but I still really enjoyed it. Chance decided not to use the quirky and schizophrenic flows that defined Acid Rap, and instead look inward for a more introspective, spiritual and emotional listen. With its gospel aesthetic, I feel like this is what Kanye wished The Life of Pablo was, but he had to half ass it and rush it out before this mixtape dropped. It speaks to this project a lot where I can still enjoy it with some of my least favorite rappers like Future, Young Thug and 2Chainz appearing. The sky is the limit for Chance now, and with staying independent, the voice here is his alone.
8. Death Grips- Bottomless Pit
This is the most straight forward Death Grips have been since The Money Store, and is probably the most metal hip-hop or hip-hop adjacent album ever. The drums on 'Giving Bad People Good Ideas' sounds like its sampled straight from a black metal record. Death Grips lost me a little bit with the obtuse nature of the first disc of The Powers That B, but I really appreciate them at their most stripped back, straight to the point and aggressive. I also appreciate that they can poke fun at themselves and their rabid fan base on tracks like 'Trash' and 'Eh', while still providing content that lives up to the hype surrounding them.
7. Frank Ocean- Blonde
The wait was well worth it. Frank Ocean went a lot more experimental on this project than on Channel Orange, and it yielded a project with a lot of depth and tons of replay value. At first, I was super turned off by the Endless project he dropped right before this. I was just baffled, as it seemed like just an extension of the interludes from Channel Orange, and was about to dismiss Frank. Luckily I didn't. I won't have any trouble waiting another 4 years if this is what Frank can conjure in that time. You don't rush an artist at work, and this is proof of that.
6. El-P & Killer Mike- Run the Jewels 3
I'm glad I waited until into 2017 to do this post, because I would not have had this record on my list, as it came out so late (sorry Lush, you got bumped off for this). El-P and Killer Mike deliver another amazingly dense and crazy hip hop album. I feel like this one is a little more grandiose and serious in tone than Run the Jewels 2, but just as aggressive and with just as much wordplay and attitude. I'm glad I had more time to sit with this, and I'm sure you'll be seeing this on year ends for this year, since critics will feel bad for posting their lists so early and passing over this.
5. Leonard Cohen- You Want it Darker
In what is unfortunately to be Mr. Cohen's last studio album, he paints a heartbreaking portrait of death, and a joyous celebration of life. This is sadly adding to the growing number of albums released right before an artist's death, and will forever be associated with that event. We lost a large number of great artists in 2016, and Leonard Cohen was arguably one of the best songwriters among them, if not of all time, and his poetic sensibility will be greatly missed.
Donald Glover really went on a tangent on this record, which is a complete departure from the hip-hop he is known for. I didn't listen to any of the teasers for this album, because I wanted to listen to it all together, so I was not expecting this at all. This is more of a funk and R&B record, and he pulls it off wonderfully. Now looking back, the cover is a huge homage to Maggot Brain, or at least I'm going to take it that way. Hats off to his band here, as they are killing it on every track, from the Bootsy Collins bass popping on 'Redbone' to the instrumental on 'Boogie Man', which almost sounds like something Zappa would have recorded around Roxy & Elsewhere. Donald really can go anywhere musically after this album, and was really able to showcase his vocal chops in a way never before seen.
3. Nails- You Will Never Be One of Us
As someone who is really just starting to get into heavy music, this is easily the most punishing album I've ever heard. I eased my way in with atmospheric black metal, but Nails is pretty much as brutal as one could possibly get without the music just being a literal punch to the teeth. At 21 minutes, this is their longest album, and you wouldn't want any more. The band keeps it lean, runs through 10 tracks of pure chaos, aggression and anger, and then disappears. It's interesting that Jeff Whitehead of Leviathan did the art for this, as his last record, Scar Sighted, did for me last year what Nails is this year, which is broadening my musical horizons and getting me more into the more extreme parts of music.
2. Swans- The Glowing Man
Following up one of 2014's best albums, To Be Kind, Michael Gira and company had their work cut out for them, but Swans delivered in a big way. The Glowing Man is less immediate and aggressive than its predecessor, but builds on its formula of monstrous tracks with epic lengths and gargantuan builds in instrumentation. There's a lot of subtlety in these walls of sound, and grabs and entrances the listener. Also, 'When Will I Return?' is probably my favorite song of the year, and yet also one of the hardest to listen to when you find out what its about. An extremely powerful listen and a fitting end to this iteration of the band.
Danny Brown continues to be a rapper that sounds like no other. With his two distinct voices, sometimes he doesn't even sound like himself. This record has unpredictable flows, unorthodox beats and a mood that sounds like a drug binge that makes Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas look like a day at the zoo. This music really brings you into Danny's mind, or at least the persona he puts on (I really doubt he could flow over some of these instrumentals with this much skill without being sober at least part of the time). Sometimes you hear the beat and wonder, 'how is he going to rhyme over this?' And then he does. I really wish there was more hip-hop that was this experimental and pushing the artist to their very extreme.
So those are my picks. Feel free to share your list, and check back in for more reviews and record related musings.
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