Yeah, I know most of these lists are released before 2016 actually ends, but cut me some slack, I’m a busy med student. I had a three week winter break, but those days were reserved strictly for drinking, sleeping, and doing the least productive activity I could come up with at the moment. Without further adieu, let’s say peace to 2016 and review the year’s music.
I still can’t decide whether or not 2016 was a good year for music, or a bad one. Seems to be somewhere in between. This is because 2016 delivered a handful of undeniably classic albums, but at the same time, lacked the depth and consistency of years past.
Last year we saw Tame Impala become titans of the music world, Sufjan Stevens evoked rivers of tears with Carrie & Lowell, while Jamie xx swept nostalgic joy throughout the dance floors.
I started this list with the intention of writing a typical “top 25 albums of 20xx” list with the albums ranked. But how the hell are you supposed to compare a record by Danny Brown to a record by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds? It seems almost criminal. Furthermore, I had a hard time coming up with more than 10 albums I truly loved this year. I could make a list, but past number 8 or so, the rest would be lost in an amorphous mix of “not bad but really not amazing either”.
Such a polarity exists due to the fact that we had several legends drop long awaited albums, while the up-and-comers kind of suck. I mean really, who did we get this year? Who are the new names of 2016? Car Seat Headrest? Kaytranada?
2016 seemed to be a year when the old legends said, “fuck you kids and your bleeps and bloops, we’re still better than you”, and dropped albums decades into their careers that make the new wave of artists’ magnum opuses look like Rebecca Black’s debut. Leonard Cohen & David Bowie each gave the world one last gift before departing, Nick Cave and Radiohead showed no signs of slowing down, and even The Avalanches rose from the dead to show the new kids on the block how to use a sampling machine.
2016 was also the year of overrated megastars.
Beyonce’s Lemonade rode the wave of a genius marketing plan, playing to the hearts of the man-hating millennial woman under a guise of “women’s empowerment”, while at the same time claiming, “you can watch my fat ass twist boy, as I bounce to the next dick boy” – truly a champion for women, mothers, and wives. You go girl.
Furthermore, I can understand enjoying an album and not worrying about the artistic merit behind it, but when the album’s hit song has an ELEVEN person writing crew including Ezra Koenig, Father John Misty, Diplo, Soulja Boy, and Karen O, its pretty laughable to take Beyonce seriously as a creative artist. It took more people to make this album than it took to build the Great Wall of China.
Kanye’s The Life of Pablo marks the first definitive moment in his career in which you cannot say he executed some genius thematic plan with his album. It was sloppy and underwhelming, with a few bangers thrown in. For all the critical acclaim and praise Mr. West has attained throughout his career, Pablo seems to be the first time we can definitively call bullshit on the facade.
While the two aforementioned basic-bitch deities seem to crave the spotlight at all times, Frank Ocean remains somewhat of an enigma. To be fair, the former Odd Future crooner had the weight of the world on his shoulders in eager anticipation for the follow-up to his heralded debut. I wanted Blonde to be as good as Channel Orange. You wanted Blonde to be as good as Channel Orange. The world wanted Blonde to be as good as Channel Orange. Blonde was not as good as Channel Orange. Because Frank Ocean is a likable artist with an enormous anticipation for his sophomore album, I think the critical world WANTS Blonde to be better than it is, so they’ll pretend. But let’s be real… the highs on Blonde are small hills compared the Channel Orange‘s Mount Everest.
Hip-Hop is in a weird state right now – aside from Chance, Danny Brown, (formerly) Kanye, Vince Staples, etc., there isn’t really anything interesting going on in the stagnant universe of rap music. Ever since the advent of Vine, it seems like most rap songs are engineered to be quick-hitting internet sensations with an accompanying dance move (dab, juju). We were spoon-fed countless, moronic, one-hit-wonders that will soon be forgotten. Most of these songs make me want to drip hydrochloric acid into my ears. Trap has to die sooner or later, right? Hey, at least A Tribe Called Quest reunited.
We said goodbye to the Starman and hello to Starboy. The Weeknd took the next step in his ascent to fame with his 2016 album, culminating his rise from drug-addled crooner to pop megastar. And for once, we are given a pop star who actually has artistic merit and a distinctive aesthetic, who is liked by by many hardcore music fans and passive radio listeners alike – and that’s quite the accomplishment. Other artists such as Kaytranada and Anderson Paak gave R&B fans fresh takes on the genre with their own unique blends of music. Blood Orange released another gem, too.
Does rock music exist anymore? 15 years ago, the cool kids asked Santa for a guitar for Christmas and started covering The Strokes with their friends. Now they buy a preset of overused drum loops and work on some sick dropzzz to imitate their overlords, Skrillex and Diplo. So, in 2016, we got… Car Seat Headrest? Sweet. The 1975? You can have that one back. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard? Dope, but not a whole lot of replay value there. A new Wilco album was nice, but that doesn’t exactly spark excitement.
Speaking of The Strokes, they released a three-song EP that showed promise, harkening back to the good ol’ days (“Threat of Joy”) and skating forward into the future with the dystopian anthem, “Drag Queen”. Iggy Pop partnered with Josh Homme to hit us with Post Pop Depression, an unsurprisingly cool album from one of the most iconic rockers of all time.
Where’s electronic music at? The fucking Chainsmokers dominated the charts with music that sounds like it was made for Kidz Bop. “Closer” literally reads like it was written by a 16 year-old. This was probably the worst offering of 2016’s music, not just because the music was bad, but because it caught on so quickly with the basic choker-wearing girl crowd and inescapably blasted through speakers at every damn bar you went to. Then we were gifted with the atrocity of Marshmello, who is so horrible that it almost seems like a joke. Please, Santa Claus, please deliver me an album from Caribou, Four Tet, Jamie xx, or an equivalent electronic artist with creative talent in 2017.
Speaking of electronics, one of the best uses of the synthesizer in a 2016 recording was undoubtedly in the soundtrack to the hit show, Stranger Things. Bridging off of that, Xiu Xiu released Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks, and that is certainly worth checking out if you’re craving a damn good cup of coffee while looking forward to the 2017 reboot of the iconic Lynchian mystery drama.
A favorite of a mine, Animal Collective, released one of my most anticipated albums of the past year, Painting With. According to history, you never really know what you’re going to get with Animal Collective. They take risks, they experiment – sometimes it blows your mind, sometimes it leaves you with a headache. Painting With was somewhere in between; an incredibly “busy” album with short, punching electronic songs that mostly failed to entrap you in a psychedelic world of mesmerizing sound as they’ve done in the past. Aside from a few gems, it was soon forgotten after its release.
Despite this, on-and-off Animal Collective guitarist, Deakin, surprised us all with a gem of an album that maybe 46 people even heard.
After reviewing the year, it’s time to give out the accolades and awards for the year of 2016. Unlike little league baseball, not everyone here gets a participation trophy, but I’ve tried to include all who deserve recognition, good and bad.
2016 Music Superlatives
Most overrated album: Beyonce’s Lemonade – I’ve given my two cents on this album already, but to reiterate, this corporate ploy took advantage of current social issues, staged marital troubles to create a compelling narrative, all to deliver some mildly catchy pop tunes that weren’t even that good.
Most Underrated Album: Deakin’s Sleep Cycle – Many doubted this guy’s creative contributions to Animal Collective, but he proved that he’s an artistic force with this one. Too bad hardly anyone will listen to it. With a meager 250,000 Spotify listens of his biggest song, “Golden Chords”, it’s pretty apparent that hardly anyone checked it out. I’m sure you haven’t, reader. So give it a listen. Seriously, do it. Then again, it’s not like beautifully written psych-folk would ever be liked by The Chainsmoker fanboy crowd, so perhaps there’s no point of listening.
Corniest Rap-Lyric-Turned-Instagram-Caption of the Year: “(Runnin thru the 6) wit my woes” – We get it, you have friends who sometimes engage in drunken sexual acts. You guys took a few shots together. You went to the bar and yelled these lyrics. Got a late night slice of pizza after the bar. Woke up with a hangover and said “I’m never drinking again”. Remembered that you and your friends took a few pictures with alcoholic drinks in hand. Picked the one you looked good in even if your best friend looked fat. Threw it on the ‘gram and gave it this caption because you thought it was clever and kind of edgy. Everyone will love it. 250 likes guaranteed.
The Catchy Rap Hit that Wasn’t Terrible: “Panda” by Desiigner – I GOT BROADS IN ATLANTA
Best New Artist: Car Seat Headrest – They’ve actually released over ten albums, but Teens of Denial was the first focused record with all new songs, and it propelled Will Toledo’s group into indie stardom.
Worst New Artist: Marshmello – This guy is like if Deadmau5 had a one night stand with a 16 year old Taiwanese hooker with Chlamydia and knocked her up with precum. His masked marshmallow head gimmick is played out and corny. He tries to make generic bass-drop brostep, an already terrible genre, and somehow manages to even do that terribly. And somehow he’s popping up high on festival lineups… Yikes.
If You Love This Album There’s a 92% Chance You Drop Acid 3+ Times a Year: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s Nonagon Infinity – Heady jamz broo.
Most Annoying Song: “Closer” by The Chainsmokers – Many, many annoying songs were released this year, so topping all of those atrocities is quite the accomplishment. Congrats, Chainsmokers.
- Honorable Mention: anything with Rihanna
- Honorable Mention 2: any corny EDM song with a pop singer hook
Worst Song of the Year and Potentially Ever: “Stressed Out” by 21 Pilots – I devote a 3,000 word post to how bad this song is, but for my health I’ll keep it short; it’s really bad.
Most Disappointing Album: Animal Collective’s Painting With – While not a bad album by any means, I had incredibly high hopes with Painting With. It’s simply territory that comes with being one of the best musical groups of the 21st century. Standing alone, some of the songs were brilliant, but collectively, it’s a hard album to sit through.
Album That People Say is Good but Was So Boring I Couldn’t Listen to More Than Two Songs: Mitski’s Puberty 2 – Yawn.
Best Live Show I Saw: LCD Soundsystem – It’s worth noting that I didn’t see as much live music this past year as I typically do, but anyone who witnessed one of the group’s monumental reunion shows knows that the hype was well deserved. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in such absolute awe as I was when I saw LCD headline Bonnaroo. And I’ve seen Paul McCartney, Radiohead, Springsteen, etc., so that’s saying something.
The Album that Basic Girls Who Claim to be Indie Love: The album by The 1975 with a really long name – “I’m kind of a free spirit. Bon Iver changed my life. Lana Del Rey is the artist of our generation. Totally going to ‘Chella next year. Found the cutest flower crown for $130 at Urban Outfitters.”
Album Most Likely to Make A Grown Man Cry: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree – If you’ve been in a good mood lately and need reminding that the world is full of sadness and tragedy, look no further.
Best Musican Social Media: Father John Misty – Finally, a brilliant musician with a sense of self awareness. Father John Misty’s Instagram account was the stuff of legend – trolling 90% of concert-goers and millennials, he frequently posted pictures of him in beautiful settings staring into his phone screen while also uploading videos mocking his own profession (“it’s just rock & roll, man”). Sadly, he deleted his Instagram so no one can go back and view the beautiful performance art from Tillman. But if you know, you know.
Worst Album to Listen to if You’re a Recovering Addict: Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition – This album could make Ghandi want to buy an 8-ball, roll into an underground club, rip shots until he pukes, and end the night getting escorted out of a grimy strip club for grabbing a pregnant stripper’s ass. And I mean that in the best way possible.
Biggest Surprise: Childish Gambino’s Awaken My Love – Never been a huge fan of Donald Glover’s rapping, but his funk-soul output at the end of the year took me by surprise. The sheer fact that he had the creative ambition and musical ability to pull of a project like this deserves respect.
Worst Fad Inspired by a Song: Mannequin Challenge – Stop doing this. Stop… It’s not funny. Stop. Ha ha, but really stop. FUCKING STOP.
Biggest Breakout: Tame Impala – I first heard of Tame Impala in 2012. In 2013 they were an daytime tent act at festivals. In 2016, Tame Impala took the success of their 2015 masterpiece Currents and became behemoths in the music world, on the verge of taking the next step and becoming a headliner along with artists like Arcade Fire who followed a similar path. Kevin Parker simply can’t lose.
Best Music Video: Three way tie:
- “Gosh” by Jamie xx – Grandiosity done right. No CGI. No special effects. Perfectly orchestrated visuals to accompany the hardest electronic track of 2015.
- “Lazarus” by David Bowie – As chilling as the song.
- “Burn the Witch” by Radiohead – When this came out, Radiohead fans had chills and were hit with the realization that Thom and the boys were about to hit us with another classic. Sinister, powerful, and everything we wanted from Radiohead in 2016.