Best of 2016: Albums

This is what the Friend Zone looks like

I was talking to someone the other day about how I remember as a kid reading magazines with ads promoting album release dates months in advance. I would make a note of it and then go to Sam Goody on that date (always a Tuesday), pick up the album and rush home or pop it in the car CD player on the way home. Of course this all feels very quaint in 2016. Now I open Spotify and get a notification that an artist I regularly listen to just put out an album on Friday. Or I wake up and find one sitting in my iTunes. Many people have written about how surprise drops (which should just be called “Beyonces” at this point) are upending the industry. And post-Beyonce/Lemonade artists now have to up the ante with “visual albums” and exclusive streaming deals.

It’s frankly too much to keep up with and can be overwhelming for a busy person looking to take in as much as possible. Still, 2016 was a great year for albums.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t address the quadruple-platinum elephant in the room and that is Drake and VIEWS — easily the biggest (musical) disappointment of 2016 for me.

This is a miserable album, but not in an artistic way. I do not like where Drake’s head space is. It’s starting to show that “his circle got so small that it’s a period” because his rapping is increasingly claustrophobic. Those “trust issues” seeping all through the bars. This man is not engaging with the world. He sounds like a person surrounded by an inner circle that flatters him constantly and tells him he can do no wrong, yet he will never get the love or respect he thinks he deserves and we all suffer for it.

This isn’t dramatically different than his previous work but at least that included clever lines, that now just fall flat like the sixth season of Martin (“what are thoooooose?” — c’mon dawg).

It is a supreme irony that his worst album to date is a commercial juggernaut, setting chart records and crushing album sales. He needs to get out of the Six and Calabasas and stop chasing women who should learn to “love people and use things, and not the other way around,” because the broads he’s into sound miserable too. I used to think Drake really got millennial angst around interpersonal relationships and commitment but now it’s starting to feel like a drag and also kind of unimportant.

He of course has a right to make any kind of music he wants but I certainly don’t have to listen.

20. Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight / Travi$ Scott

I’ve always thought Travis $cott’s aesthetic was pretty whack, but dammit he finally won me over. You don’t need a pint of codeine to appreciate what he’s going for here. Instead of feeling like a post-808s Kanye, Drake, Kid Cudi, he feels more like their logical conclusion.

19. Blackstar / David Bowie

Swan song of one of the most talented and consistently brilliant artists in rock history. RIP.

18. Blank Face LP / Schoolboy Q

Nightmare on Hoover Street.

17. Blonde / Frank Ocean

Not a hook to be found but that’s alright.

16. Starboy / The Weeknd

I don’t buy it Abel, but if you insist on being the saddest boy at the party I’ll go along if the songs are this catchy.

15. Moon Shaped Pool / Radiohead

Formerly known as the Most Important Rock Band in the World, Radiohead is back to layer the shit out of every composition they touch. I look forward to listening to this album 10 years from now and discovering a mandolin solo I’d never heard before until Bose invented the headphones to pick it up.

14. Yes Lawd / NxWorries

R&B singer Anderson .Paak and producer Nxwledge team up for an album that I can only describe as, sorry, “groovy.”

13. 24K Magic / Bruno Mars

If you haven’t heard Bruno Mars this year I can only assume you haven’t been to a wedding. Mars’ particular brand of retro lite-funk is perfect for these occasions. It’s funky enough to get the kids on the floor but light enough that your Aunt Karen puts down the prosecco and joins you.

12. Telefone / Noname

Spoken word artist turned rapper delivers understated and brilliant album.

11. The Dream is Over / PUP

I don’t think I’ve heard this much self-loathing since the last episode of Louie.

10. Malibu / Anderson .Paak

Anderson has the back story of a bluesman (his dad went to jail for beating his mom). He makes music that embraces every side of humanity: gospel, good sex, fighting, drugs, liquor, love. The music of someone who truly lives and understands the cost of things.

9. Tween / Wye Oak

I don’t know what’s in the water in Baltimore, but between Wye Oak and Beach House I will never not feel like I’m in an indie movie.

8. Freetown Sound / Blood Orange


7. untitled unmastered. / Kendrick Lamar

These throwaways from the sessions that produced last year’s To Pimp a Butterfly are better than what 90 percent of rappers could spend their entire lives trying to create.

6. A Good Night in the Ghetto / Kamaiyah

Tough, vulnerable “freaks” just wanna have fun. Word to Cyndi Lauper.

5. 22, a Million / Bon Iver

“Sorry, I can’t do Saturday. The misses and I are heading out for some apple picking in Virginia.”

“No worries, man. The pumpkin patches there are bomb too. Hey what’d you put in this cider? Is this a new recipe?”

“I dunno, I think it’s cloves. Sophie’s trying a new Pinterest recipe.”

4. Lemonade / Beyonce

More than just airing the family’s dirty laundry or a Kill Bill-style revenge fantasy — it has less blood shed and better tunes than the Tarantino film. If her self-titled album was a celebration of marital bliss, Lemonade reminds you that shit is hard work.

3. Coloring Book / Chance the Rapper

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness; come before his presence with singing.” — Psalm 100: 1–2

2. ANTI / Rihanna

Never considered an album artist — more of a megahit chart dominating machine — the 28-year old veteran makes a cohesive statement on her eighth LP. It’s becoming more difficult to call her voice underrated because at this point you have to be deaf to not feel its power. She’s also shed her bot image, emoting all over songs like “Higher” and “Love on the Brain.”

1. The Life of Pablo / Kanye West

Loose and not at all abrasive like Yeezus. Even though the World’s Oldest Millennial’s well-documented mental state has deteriorated over the last few years, this album finds him embracing fatherhood, therapy and reckoning with “The Old Kanye.” Despite the expert beatmaking and irrepressible personality that comes through in the songs, Kanye’s best talent will always be reading the zeitgeist and pushing it back out through his own lens. Whether it’s conscripting Chance the Rapper or Post Malone or Kendrick Lamar or Sia or Frank Ocean he gets the best out of his collaborators.