Nicky Heisenberg’s Albums of 2016

The worst year on record deserves an equivalent albums summary — and here it is! I talk a lot about Kanye because, like another repugnant narcissist the world has come to better understand this cycle, he sets the tone whether we want him to or not. All the “A Grade” Records and other notable records further down the list get write-ups.

😀 A Records

1. Kanye West — The Life of Pablo

So insufficiently woke he was hospitalized for it, so he can’t plausibly be the, er, voice of this generation, but in profaning the grace of Late Registration with the blood and guts of Yeezus, he’s produced or, at least, curated from every imaginable corner of popular and semi-popular music the most interesting beats of his career — which makes these some of the best beats ever. The music of several generations. You can deny this if you sleep better.

2. Chance the Rapper — Coloring Book

Like when Biggie out BoneThugged Bone Thugs-n-Harmony on “Notorious Thugs,” but a whole album’s worth with some of the best musicians alive — the gospel truth. The last two songs achieve transcendence.

3. Snakehips — All My Friends EP

Note that three of the four songs here are fronted by other musicians whose records I placed in my top forty. All of these men enjoyed their breakout year in 2016; in descending order of achievement: Chance the Rapper, Anderson .paak, and Tory Lanez. Here’s hoping that the singer of the fourth and probably finest song — some magnificent and singular unknown diva named Malika — finds her breakout in 2017. This perfect EP should help.

4. Swim Team — Swim Team

The dudes in the back bring the requisite fuzz, and occasionally melodic fuzz at that — but the doer of the Dirty Work here is Lillian Currens who can yelp, scream, whisper, drone, howl, lament, seduce, croon, snap, what’s yr pleasure? — and generally dress down any Tom, Dick, or Harry who’d dare suggest a riot grrl… what was it again… “Shut the fuck up?”

5. White Lung — Paradise

I write glibly about music for two reasons: it’s easier than making yourself emotionally available in any capacity (hello millennials!), and my subjects are often themselves fronting for some essential aesthetic purpose. In their darkest manifestations, these impulses are the same that motivated too many Brooklynites and Midwesterners alike to fail to just vote for Hillary Clinton like a goddamn adult. Whatever. To this end, I can’t write glibly about White Lung because, whether or not Mish Way-Barber would have voted Stein (she’s Canadian), she doesn’t front a damn thing except the best hard rock band in the world. These songs are tight, angry, noisy, honest, and they move in one direction: right at yr pencil neck. Her vocal discontentment is as convincing (not to mention as profound) as any since Donita Sparks’. “Hungry,” a song about — what else, jackass? — being hungry, is the best hard rock song in years. Listen to it and all the others on this magnificent album.

6. Macklemore — This Unruly Mess I’ve Made

I legit can’t decide if Macklemore is intelligent or stupid, so let’s settle somewhere else: he’s fun enough when he’s stupid to justify how serious he can get when he’s not. To that end, “White Privilege II” is the most nuanced and sophisticated thing a white musician has ever said about Black Lives Matter, and the song about pancakes is fucking hilarious.

7. Car Seat Headrest — Teens Of Denial

“Has the maturity to know pretty much everything there is to know about being an immature white twenty-something dude, and he still is one — the encompassing contradiction in an album of dozens,” says another immature white twenty-something dude, certain he has these matters figured out.

8. Youssou N’Dour — #Senegaal Rekk EP

Brad Luen was right to suggest this thing got soupy as an LP when our chef tossed in a few stateside cheeseballs, some ham, and a lot of corn (bad puns that would appear to make a much worse dish); and Robert Christgau was right when he said there’s a spiritual transcendence in the force of these arrangements (and most of all the singing) missing from contemporary American music. I would note that both overlook Chance, but ever since the first debate, it’s been pretty easy to forget all kinds of beautiful things about America.

9. The Paranoid Style — Rolling Disclosure

Brad Luen wrote the best thing anyone will ever write about this record, and not merely because, sadly, too few will write about it. I won’t try to top it, or even add anything. Read it and tell your friends — aggressively.

10. Lady Gaga — Joanne

The kind of cultural appropriation you’d think more folks would endorse; with strains of modern country, balladry, arena, Broadway, glam and alt rock, and, thanks Tony, lounge swing, this mess is her, hehe, White Album.

11. Azealia Banks — Slay-Z

The artist Kanye would be if his, uh, ravings weren’t scheduled tweets — and more importantly if he knew how to ease into each one of his experiments.

12. Charli XCX — Vroom Vroom EP

Here’s a rule: when an idea’s compelling but not consistently interesting, add dubstep. You end up with ARTPOP, the handful of good A$AP Rocky songs, Corolla commercials, and this.

13. Joey Purp — iiiDrops

With every tortured syllable Aesop Rock, self-styled Samuel Johnson of the rap game and something quite a bit more for alt-rap, which come to think of it could really use a new name, proves, for me anyway, that syntactical excess, not semantical excess, is literary aesthetics de jure in hip hop — enter Joey Purp, who plainspeaks his way to lyrical triumph with a vocabulary as varied (if not as, er, magniloquent) as Aesop’s, an omniscient vision of the streets that reminds you of Nas, and an ease of assonance that conjures, well, also Nas; it’s almost as if he didn’t need the English classes in the high school he dropped out of, which, four years between mix tapes, is a choice I hope he doesn’t come to regret, this fairly enormous achievement aside.

14. Todd Snider — Eastside Bulldog

As recently as 2012 the most intelligent and talented former addict in music (sorry, Weezy), Todd Snider is now hopefully something close to healthy. I suspect (wrongly, I pray) he didn’t write good lyrics for this record because he’s not capable. Enjoy him while you can.

15. Anderson . paak — Malibu

The first time I drank a beer, I shuddered and coughed like it was poison. After, I don’t know, twenty attempts — attempts I couldn’t explain why I took — I started to enjoy beer. This is Anderson . paak and his impossible rasp and his indefinable genre and his damn piano. Take your time and acquire him. You’ll be drunk on this record eventually — and after that, you’ll feel incredible every time you return. You may even double-fist him (see: NxWorries at #97).

16. Kate Tempest — Let Them Eat Chaos

Emily Dickinson inspired 150 years of bad poetry when she told us our brains were bigger than the sky. Spoiler alert: yours probably isn’t. On the other hand, when you’re wise enough to actually contain multitudes, and at 31, no less, you deserve every facile comparison to Dickinson that comes your way.

17. Jenny Hval — Blood Bitch

I don’t know the first thing about having a period, much less the history of menstrual art. But if this record is the full account the genre deserves, as others have suggested, color me intrigued. I’m really glad this strange, loud, and overwhelming album exists, and holy shit I’m thrilled I don’t have a uterus.

18. Drive-By Truckers — American Band

Douchebag white guys think a lot about auteurs because in America every auteur except Kanye is a douchebag white guy, and Kanye’s just a douchebag black guy with white friends (Prince and Michael Jackson are white, just ask your neighbor). Did you hear? Our douchebag godhead won a Nobel Prize this year. And I’m sure you’ve noticed this: auteur musicians are fantastic at titling their albums because these cats make STATEMENTS, man. But despite not being auteurs or douchebags, really, the Drive-Bys bested everyone at this very auteur-like thing except maybe the false-auteur prophet Mick Jagger (who’s no less the douchebag for it), when he called one of the Stones’ albums Exile on Mainstreet. They named their statement album Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, because no matter how hard Mike Cooley tries to suggest otherwise, the Drive-Bys are better than anyone at turning horror into beauty. “What It Means” is the best in this genre. This album, whatever the other songs try to suggest otherwise, is lifted by the transcendent horror and beauty of this statement. May the song of 2016, by 2016, and most thoroughly about 2016 (and of course douchebag white guys) live forever — but, please, only as a period piece. Only a douchebag auteur would hope otherwise.

19. A Tribe Called Quest — We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service

A beautiful send off by turns forceful, political, soulful, graceful, bitter, and rich; a testament to finding brother(and sister!)hood in strange and uncertain (and really hot) times, even and especially among those who’ve left too soon. And excellent proof that 2016 did more than turn politics on its head: though the fans want the feeling of a guy called West, but all they got left is this Tribe Called Quest.

20. Death Grips — Bottomless Pit

The fact that its best hook is “I’ll fuck you in half” notwithstanding, this album is a lot of fun.

21. Rhianna — ANTI

I only hated this thing for 11 months because, shame on me, I’ve never taken Rihanna seriously as an artist. More guts than Beyonce, more convincing than Gambino, more sex than Kanye (is that what he has?) — what more could you want? More singles? This thing’s called ANTI for a reason — and it’s more than you expected.

22. Baroness — Purple

A metal album gets an A whenever I can listen to it.

23. Moby — The Systems are Failing

Yes, every song here sounds the same. But the first one’s thrilling, so.

24. Various Artists — Hamilton Mixtape

“It’s not as good as the original.”

“No, but what is?”

“The first one didn’t rely on ‘fuck,’ the n-word, and…”

“I mean, it was set in the 18th century. “

“I don’t know…”

“Exactly.”

25. David Bowie — Blackstar

This thing has grown in my esteem since it debuted, primarily because its weirdness is compelling. But let’s not forget that it’s really weird, and therefore probably not as good as all its year-end list-topping might suggest. Whatever Blackstar’s demerits on that score, I reckon this is the perfect record to capstone Bowie’s unparalleled and unparalleleable career. Ziggy Stardust descends from the sky one last time, says some stuff no one’s prepared for, and leaves us looking for answers. You won’t find them, but that’s part of why you should listen.

26. Leslie Odom Jr. — Simply Christmas

I don’t know how you rate a Christmas album (I actually don’t know how to rate any album). So, uh, all of the songs here are great, and a few sound better than the originals. You should listen.

27. Swet Shop Boys — Cashmere

Mad innovative yo. Mad clever. Mad New York. Mad mad.

😊 A- Records

28. Tacocat — Lost Time

29. The Coathangers — Nosebleed Weekend

30. American Wrestlers — Goodbye Terrible Youth

I’ve waited 5 years for another really good Emperor X record. These guys are less urgent, less distinct, and a little murkier — but damn they’re close. Plus hooks, did I mention hooks?

31. Konono Nº1 — Konono Nº1 Meets Batida

32. Frank Ocean — Blond

33. Burial — Young Death / Nightmarket

34. ANOHNI — HOPELESSNESS

35. Mitski — Puberty II

36. Dej Loaf — All Jokes Aside

37. Beyonce — Lemonade

38. Tory Lanez — I Told You

39. Jinx Lennon — Past Pupil Stay Sane

40. Pussy Riot — xxx

41. Young Thug — JEFFERY

42. Miranda Lambert — The Weight on These Wings

It’s a neat and often grating trick to be both longwinded and glib (trust me). But you can get away with it when your voice is the size of the Southern voting bloc, and your lyrics imply you voted Clinton.

43. Leonard Cohen — You Want It Darker

44. Oval — Popp

45. Danny Brown — Atrocity Exhibition

46. Mannequin Pussy — Romantic

47. Childish Gambino — “Awaken, My Love!”

48. Fea — Fea

49. Nicolas Jaar — Sirens

50. Vince Staples — Prima Donna

51. Flatbush Zombies — 3001: A Laced Odyssey

52. Lydia Loveless — Real

53. Maren Morris — HERO

54. Robbie Fulks — Upland Songs

55. Youssou N’Dour — Africa Rekk

56. Tegan & Sara — Love You to Death

More of the same — just worse.

57. Jinx Lennon — Magic Bullets of Madness to Uplift the Grief Magnets

58. Ariana Grande — Dangerous Woman

59. Kaytranada — 99.9%

60. Jamilla Woods — HEAVN

61. DJ Shadow — Entroducing Re-Emagined

62. Fanfare Ciocărlia — Onward to Mars

63. Wussy — Forever Sounds

64. MIA — AIM

65. dvsn — SEPT 5th

66. Rae Sremmurd — SremmLife 2

67. Bombino — Azel

68. Sturgill Simpson — A Sailor’s View of Earth

69. A$AP Ferg — ALWAYS STRIVE AND PROSPER

70. Pet Shop Boys — Super

71. The Avalanches — Wildflower

😌 B+ Records (in alphabetical order)

72. A Tribe Called Red — We Are the Halluci Nation

73. Aphex Twin — Cheetah

74. BJ The Chicago Kid — In My Mind

75. Bob Mould — Patch the Sky

76. David Nance — More Than Enough

77. DJ Shadow — The Mountain Will Fall

78. DJ Snake — Encore

79. Future — EVOL

80. Future — Purple Reign

81. G Perico — Shit Don’t Stop

82. Homeboy Sandman — Kindness for Weakness

83. Kamaiyah — A Good Night in the Ghetto

84. Kyle — Smyle

85. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz — ColleGrove

86. Mac Miller — The Divine Feminine

87. Maxwell — blackSUMMERS’night

88. Merchanise — A Corpse Wired for Sound

89. Mr Lif — Don’t Look Down

90. Radiohead — A Moon-Shaped Pool

91. Regina Spektor — Remember Us to Life

92. Shopping — Why Choose?

93. The Knocks — 55

94. The Weeknd — Starboy

95. Thug Entrancer — Arcology

96. YG — Red Friday

😐 B Records (in alphabetical order)

97. Anderson . paak + Knxledge — NxWorries

Too crude by half.

98. Bent Shapes — Wolves of Want

You can bend shapes all you want, they’re still two dimensional.

99. Cam — Untested

100. Chimurenga Renaissance — Girlz with Gunz EP

101. Frankie Cosmos — Next Thing

102. How to Dress Well — Care

103. Jessy Lanza — Oh No

104. Kendrick Lamar — untitled unmastered

105. Kool Keith — Feature Magnetic

106. Loscil — Monument Builders

107. NOFX — First Ditch Effort

108. Parquet Courts — Human Performance

109. Schaum — Masayoshi Fujita / Jan Jelinek

110. The Range — Potential

111. Wilco — Schmilco

😒 Notable B- and worse records (in alphabetical order)

112. Bruno Mars — 24K Gold

113. Aesop Rock — The Impossible Kid

114. Beauty Pill — Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are

115. Solange — A Seat at the Table

116. Young Thug — I’m Up

117. J Cole — 4 Your Eyez Only

Experimental, at a minimum: ordinarily, you tone down the production when the lyrics are worth it.

118. The 1975 — I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

119. Tim Hecker — Love Streams

😶 Albums I couldn’t finish because of style biases (there may be a there there!)

120. Blood Orange — Freetown Sound

121. Conor Oberst — Ruminations

122. Tanya Tagaq — Retribution

123. YG — Still Brazy

124. 21 Savage & Metro Boomin — Savage Mode

😖 Albums I couldn’t finish because they’re terrible (there may be no there there)

125. King Dude — Sex

126. Nick Cave — Skeleton Tree

127. Lil Yachty — Lil Boat

The outer edges of the world that Future and Young Thug, and 808s and Heartbreaks?, created borders on the unacceptably strange. This album is a Technicolor horrorscape. Women presumed perfectly sane have sex with these men.

128. Miike Snow — iii

💩 The Worst Album in the Universe — 2016 Edition

129. Bon Iver — 22, A Million

In which the sad white guy, finding acceptance among black people, becomes a Yeezus disciple — and transcends his lowly station, self-actualizing into an auto-tuned sad white guy. D for sustaining depression, which is kind because he sounds like he needs it.