Despite quite a few extremely well done releases from a variety of genres, 2016 felt like a relatively safe year for music releases. Despite that, several albums struck lightning from surprise drops to final albums from some of music’s greats. And while the albums of David Bowie and Leonard Cohen were fantastic for many reasons, these top five have been on repeat and hope to usher 2017 into a brighter more upbeat start.
5. Car Seat Headrest
Teens in Denial
Punchy, melancholic and full of spirit, the 10th full album and first major release cemented guitarist and lead singer Will Toledo as an unexpected talent. Taking cues from early Stokes while dishing in loads of self deprecation, the band’s heavier hits allow for the deeper, slower cuts to sink in and leave an intimate sadness in the listener. It’s hard not totally bad for these so called Teens in Denial as they traipse from party to party on binge control looking for a sense of meaning to their madness. It is hard not to relate. Stand outs come from the synth ballad of Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales and the adrenaline soaked Vincent.
4. Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels 3
Originally slated for the beginning of 2017, the rap duo of Killer Mike and El-P surprised many with a christmas gift in the form of their much anticipated third release. Expanding further from RTJ2 with a heavier focus on politics and a razor sharp production from El-P, they hit harder than ever and pull no punches. The best song of the album rests solidly in the middle with Call Ticketron using a looping bass along with an old-timey sample integral to its structure, while the last half gives both a chance to bust out their best flow to date. Be sure to also check out bangers 2100 and Oh Mama.
3. Young the Giant
Home of the Strange
Only their third release to date, Young the Giant has grown in confidence and skill with each album. Their newest effort tells the tale of the bands’ parents and their immigration to the United States. Fusing lead singer Sameer Gandhi’s silk vocals with exceptionally strong instrumentals, their album has many of the catchiest singles of the year with Amerika and the bassy and vibrant Something to Believe in. Yet the best hits seems to come from a few of their deeper cuts as both Titus was Born and Silvertongue offer a beauty and funk missing in quite a few releases of late.
2. The Neon Demon Soundtrack
Carving out its own identity from its respective film, this soundtrack is an integral part to the style and ethereal quality of Nicholas Winding Refn’s exceptional horror film. A synth heavy whirlwind of glittery keys and metronomic bass, Cliff Martinez creates a thumping propulsion of dark deeds while reflecting the high class Los Angeles grime presented in the movie. Haunting and soaked in neon is Julian Winding’s The Demon Dance, one of several songs not by Martinez, is a bloody and integral song to the album. Both providing one of the best moments in the film as well as a thunderous song in its own right. It provides a highlight in the realm of electronica from this year. Martinez himself seems to increase his bravado of tones and spectrum with each collaboration with the director, this being possibly his best yet.
1. Childish Gambino
Awaken, My Love!
Smooth, sultry and distinctly Donald Glover, despite its many influences, his third full album changes his usual repertoire of electronica-rap to an exclusively jazz and R&B focused effort. While originally unexpected this new direction fits Gambino’s style while further expanding his creative repertoire. Each song sees him vary his delivery with high pitched falsetto-light in Redbone to the wavy and stressed California. Each song seems to reveal a little bit more into the private life of Glover, as he lays bare his lost love with the mother of his child while trying to expand on the ever growing bond to his newborn son. These emotions culminate in the defensive BoogeyMan which presents a John Wick anti-hero as the focus of the story while the revelatory Stand Tall closes out the album with a growing chant, as Gambino yaps triumphantly among the chorus cementing a strong future for the ever expanding Glover.