My Top Five Records of 2016
2016 produced some great albums, but there can only be five that are my five favorite (that’s how top five lists work).
5. Kendrick Lamar Untitled Unmastered
“Get God on the phone,” seems as appropriate a phrase for 2016 as any other. Doubtful that Kendrick Lamar had any inkling that Trump would be President elect as he produced the line, deep in the sessions that would produce 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Somehow though, this collection of outtakes and scraps created concurrently with the Compton rapper’s second masterpiece is the one I keep going back to again and again. It’s some of his loosest and most playful lyrical work since “Backseat Freestyle”.
4. The Hotelier Goodness
There hasn’t been a record this in touch with the raw, anxious, and epic patois of a certain type of dude since Titus Andronicus put out Local Business. And that dude is awesome! But so are the guitars, and the drums, and the vocals. This record rocks, even as it rips your heart out. Every once in awhile, the world needs a reminder that emo isn’t pejorative, and this record is it.
3. A Tribe Called Quest We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
In a year that the album became increasingly identified with a mood, no record stood and fell on the strength of its songs as much as ATCQ’s first record in 18 years. “Solid Wall of Sound”, “Kids”, “Melatonin”, and “Ego” stood out on first listen, but subsequent listens reveal further joys. Hearing Q-Tip at the top of the game is a fantastic companion on the journey through 2016’s most pleasant surprise.
2. YG Still Brazy
Who knew we missed G-Funk this much? YG, apparently. His falling out with DJ Mustard, who produced much of YG’s debut My Krazy Life, allowed him to explore a different sonic palette to great results. “Twist My Fingaz” is the best song of the year, “FDT” is the best political song of the century, and “Gimme Got Shot” is a great rebuff to all the mooches in your life.
1. Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial
“You’ve got no right to be depressed, you haven’t tried hard enough to like it,” shouts Car Seat Headrest frontman Will Toledo on “Fill in the Blank”, the opening track of their first proper album, Teens of Denial. It’s unclear who is saying this to Toledo, an unsupportive friend, a parent, a clueless counselor. More likely, as anyone that’s struggled with depression knows, it’s his own depressed brains shouting it at him.
And so begins twelve tracks of quotable, shout along lyrics set to tight indie rock riffs, telling tales of young person’s blues. What saves the record from typical sad sack fare is that Toledo never veers in cringe-worthy territory, instead infusing his ne’er do wells with a fighting spirit that probably hurts them in the short term but points to a hopeful future (if the insanity doesn’t kill them first). For example, on “Destroyed By Hippie Powers”, the protagonist is asked, “What happened to that chubby little kid who smiled so much and loved the Beach Boys?” His response? “What happened is I killed that fucker and I took his name and I got new glasses.” All you kinda sad, kinda angry clever kids have your new hero.
Other albums I really liked that came out this year: Chance the Rapper — Coloring Book, Drive By Truckers — American Band, Connor Oberst — Ruminations, Cousin Stizz — Monda, Bon Iver — 22, A Million, Angel Olson — My Woman and a TON others. 2016 was a great year for music. It’s kind of like a Twilight Zone episode, so much great music to listen to and digest, but the imminent nuclear apocalypse gives us so little time to really enjoy it.