Every year since 2011 I’ve put together a list of my favorite music. I don’t know precisely why, but I do enjoy retrospectively considering the amount of great art we get treated to every year. Usually, I keep some sort of running tally as the year goes on to make the ordeal easier, but for some reason that didn’t really come to fruition in 2016. Maybe it was because life got in the way of me taking in as much new music as I usually do, maybe it was because I’ve pretty much settled into a routine of favorite artists, maybe its because most of the bands I like released their 3rd to 4th best album this year, maybe its because I honestly don’t have a favorite album this year, but it didn’t happen. Looking back, it also has the tendency to get semi-pretentious, something I’m looking to avoid. So, when I was thinking about making this post I made a decision: away with sequential lists and on to just a smattering of music I played over and over again I think would be worth giving a shot. In no particular order, here’s some music I listened to in the down year:
Animal Collective-Painting With: Does it match their run from Here Comes The Indian to Merriweather Post Pavilion? Not quite, but there’s a lot of great songs (and lyrics, as always) on a vibrant record that takes its cues from Panda Bear’s solo career while integrating Avey Tare’s looseness. One of my most spun albums of the year.
James Blake-The Colour in Anything: Messy, long, sprawling, scattershot and drenched in luscious beauty and a torrent of authentic emotion.
Bon Iver-22, A Million: Justin Vernon isn’t the first artist to combine glitchy, electronics with folk sensibilities (a feat which The Age of Adz blows him out of the water with) but this is still a very good and organic evolution of his cautious adventures.
David Bowie-Blackstar: It’s truly jaw dropping to see an album that is this artistically venturous, bold and groundbreaking situated in the late era of a long tenured artist. It’s been hard to return to since his passing, but Bowie gifted us with one of his best albums before leaving us.
The Caretaker-Everywhere at the end of time: This is an interesting conceptual mediation on memory, but if we’re being honest I just really enjoy the fact that the Caretaker evokes The Shining so well.
Kaytranda-99.9%: Of my many 2016 regrets, not listening to Kaytranada’s debut more is up there.
Kendrick Lamar-untitled unmastered: I enjoyed this album much more than To Pimp A Butterfly. Feel free to rage quit my page now, I understand.
The Lonely Island- Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping: Andy Samberg & co. rarely get the credit they deserve for intelligently deconstructing pop trends and satirizing hyper masculinity since they drench it in absurdity. Even worse, they never get the attention they deserve for how well produced every Lonely Island song is.
Cliff Martinez-The Neon Demon OST: Not as iconic or ahead of the curve as Drive‘s musical accompaniment, but Martinez’s glossy, half-electro, half-ambient score may quietly be the best work of his career.
M83-Junk: Yes: it’s not Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, but not many albums are. Campy pastiche is rarely this sincere, but even then: underlying the funky turn is a sort of longing, anxious malaise both artistically and personally. Junk’s complexity unfolds with every subsequent listen.
Nicolas Jaar-Sirens: Front runner for my album of the year. An absolutely stunning, politically sharp and avant-garde electronic effort from beginning to end that feels all the more timely as the end of the year approaches. Jaar remains at the forefront of smart (and enjoyable) dance music.
Kanye West-The Life of Pablo: Kanye West makes it very hard to be a fan of Kanye West in absolutely every region except the music he produces.
Zomby-Ultra: It takes some pretty great music to get good reviews in spite of consistently alienating both critics and your peers. Zomby is lucky he’s this talented. Jagged, atonal and unforgiving dance music.
Beck-Wow: This is probably not as good as I think it is, but Beck being such a big part of my high school routine I cannot help but have a soft spot for everything he releases.
Blood Orange-Augustine: Not a profound thought, but this is a pretty lovely, understated song, isn’t it?
James Blake-Modern Soul: Lyrically and melodically the most beautiful thing to be released in music this year.
Chromatics-Dear Tommy: WHERE IS THE ALBUM, JOHNNY JEWEL? IT’S NOT FAIR TO KEEP TEASING US WITH SONGS LIKE THIS. If its epic title song is a harbinger of things to come, Dear Tommy (the album) will probably be near the top of your list next year.
Danny L. Harle-Super Natural (feat. Carly Rae Jepsen): If this is PC Music’s last great gasp, it’s a pretty fun one.
Deakin-Golden Chords: Turns out that there are other Animals in the Collective than Panda Bear and Avey Tare? Stripped down, bare and personal-what feels like just a lonely Deakin and his guitar-this is a gorgeous and emotive tune.
Justin Hurwitz, Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone-City of Stars: I still have just a couple of days to wait until La La Land is released, but if it’s as magical as the lead single from the soundtrack (and the festival reviews suggest it is) we’re all in for quite the romantic treat.
Vic Mensa-There’s Alot Going On: After spending the better part of a year proclaiming his greatness, Vic Mensa returns with his sincerest–and best–song to date. Some of the most impressive rapping of the year as Mensa spits apologetic bar after bar and weaves through an expansive story, but what lifts it to one of my favorites of the year is how it deftly reveals the frail emotional state that so often hides behind the braggadocio rampant in hip hop.
Skepta-Lyrics (feat. Novelist): I’m still pretty overjoyed he won the Mercury Prize in spite of all the competition, there really isn’t enough good grime reaching mainstream levels these days. The production on this one, in particular, is ridiculous.
Symmetry-The Magician: With all due respect to Mike Simonetti’s gritty original (and understanding his artistic frustration with this release), the Johnny Jewel sheen does lift the snarling Magician into even grander territory.
Kanye West- I Love Kanye: Perhaps the most intellectually satisfying meta-narrative in any song this year. (Really, though, I too liked Ultralight Beam the best, just like you. I just wanted to be snarky).
Whitney-Golden Days: Breezy, summer fun in the continued absence of Real Estate.
The xx-On Hold: The xx seem to be giving Jamie license to insert more color into their music after his successful solo venture, and it works in a magnificent manner to move them past the dreary aesthetic of Coexist with what may be their best track since their debut.
Honestly, though, when I’m looking back 2016 wasn’t great, but it couldn’t be all too bad, because I got to see Brian Wilson perform God Only Knows live not once, but twice. And how can a world where that happens be without hope?