The breakout star of Dre’s Compton album last year came into his own in a big way in 2016. Malibu is a rich gumbo of funk, soul, and jazz-inflected hip hop; in other words, it’s got Kendrick Lamar’s fingerprints all over it and we should start thinking of a name for this movement, or something.
#59: Swans – The Glowing Man
Less crushingly oppressive than previous Swans efforts, Michael Gira and Co. still manage to make two hours of music sound like the far end of forever. Unlike older Swans albums, The Glowing Man is more filled-with-air, esoteric, and ambient, which makes for an interesting contrast.
#58: Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
Dev Hynes makes modern R&B that’s trapped in a hole-in-the-wall dance club in the Eighties, like if Prince were actually Frank Ocean in disguise but from Brooklyn instead of L.A. His voice is thoroughly modern but his instrument choices harken back to the days when world rhythms and funky, squelchy synth sounds were de rigueur for hit songs. As much of a solid, exuberant pop album as it is, it’s also a volley fired into the increasingly uncertain night; Hynes describes it as “for everyone told they’re not black enough, too black, too queer, not queer the right way, the underappreciated. It’s a clap back.”
#57: Moon Hooch – Red Sky
Two saxophones and a drummer, baby that’s all you need. With the airless pretentiousness of the way people treat jazz in modern times – as though it were stately classical music to be played in the company of august rich white people – it’s easy to forget that it has it’s origins in dance music. Brooklyn’s Moon Hooch have not forgotten that – Red Sky is a collection of funked-out grooves that pop right out of speakers with a strut rarely heard in modern jazz. If prog rock was the sound of dressing rock ‘n’ roll up in a tux, and fusion was the sound of jazz trying to catch up with it, Moon Hooch is the sound of that tux being ripped off and cast aside in favour of some club wear, or at least a comfortable pair of shoes.
#56: PUP – The Dream Is Over
Two or three times a year, a band comes along and reminds us why punk rock continues to be a vital and life-changing force in rock ‘n’ roll. Typically these bands are from Toronto. PUP is no exception.
#55: Yak – Alas Salvation
Speaking of life-affirming punk rock, here’s some from across the pond. Crunchy, heavy, and off-the-wall, Salvation is an album to get drunk and fall apart to.
#54: Kacy & Clayton – Strange Country
A gorgeous collection of backwoods folk, country, and pop influences, Strange Country at times lives up to its name exactly. It’s a little bit June + Johnny and a little bit Grateful Dead all at once, a breeze with a hint of a storm coming.
#53: A$AP Ferg – Always Strive And Prosper
As his first album’s name implied – and as he affirms on the first track here – A$AP Ferg is a bona fide Trap Lord. On his second album he manages to outdo everyone else in A$AP Mob except maybe Rocky, who still holds the chiefdom by the skin of his teeth. Unrepentant hedonistic trap music for the Drake era.
#52: Dalek – Asphalt For Eden
The New Jersey alt-hip hop group hadn’t released an album since 2009, and were in fact on “permanent hiatus” from 2011 to 2015. A move off of Mike Patton’s Ipecac Records to Profound Lore (a Canadian, mostly metal label) prompted a return to the studio however, and the result is exactly right. Asphalt For Eden is unmistakably a Dalek album: lo-fi, ambient-industrial production, subversive wordplay, and blatantly uncommercial lengths. The perfect companion for a slow, suffocating apocalypse.
#51: Deakin – Sleep Cycle
Deakin – whom we all blame for Centipede Hz – used a Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of this album. When he sort of fell off the radar after making his funding goal, people were up in arms about being cheated, defrauded, etc. What really happened was the story of a guy who’s caught at the worst possible conjunction for an artist – a horribly anxious perfectionist, aka “Kanye West”. The album that finally came out, though, is pure spun gold, an affirmation that, stripped of all their acid-drenched childlike wonder and gonzo borderline-annoying studio sounds, the best Animal Collective songs are actually Deakin songs. Who knew?
#50: Lucy Dacus – No Burden
Part indie-rock also-ran to Courtney Barnett (or, at times, Florence Welch), part world-weary country-folk album meant to burn a candle to. The entire album functions as a slow-burn epic crafted out of individual slow-burn epics.
#49: Matmos – Ultimate Care II
The sole instrument on this album is the group’s Ultimate Care II washing machine – poked, prodded, drummed on, and recorded while running normally. If that doesn’t intrigue you then I don’t know what would.
#48: Autolux – Pussy’s Dead
A spare, mysterious sort of record, with drumlines that bring to mind Radiohead – early Bends-era Radiohead. This also goes for the vocal melodies, which at times seem lifted whole and breathing from the darker parts of that seminal album. Think of the spirit of The Bends filtered through a more Hail To The Thief sound and you’ll be halfway there.
#47: Africaine 808 – Basar
A German take on world music, filtered through a lens of psychedelic electronic production that revels . Call in global acid, if you have to call it something.
#46: Brood Ma – Daze
Aggressively experimental IDM that crosses over into industrial territory fairly often. Most of the tracks on Daze are less than two minutes, and it comes across like the breezy spirit of Robert Pollard fronting Skinny Puppy for kicks.
#45: Josephine Foster – No More Lamps In The Morning
A re-recording of older material, No More Lamps In The Morning feels at first blush like another entry in the Joni Mitchell-Joanna Newsom continuum, but it taps into something older than that. It’s music that might have felt at home at the end of the Second World War, proving that above all good music knows no age.
#44: Cross Record – Wabi Sabi
Wabi Sabi is an album that rolls over you in slow waves, rocking you gently in the same way that a ship stranded at sea in calm, windless waters will walk you gently. In the back of your head, you know there’s something dark swelling in the background – never making it home again, for instance – but you’re too relaxed to do anything about it.
#43: Kevin Gates – Islah
Kevin Gates is simultaneously two things: a hard-edged street dude with a tattoo of a gun on his hand and a penchant for teaching you a lesson with “bullet after bullet after bullet”. The other is an emotional ladies man, who talks about his complicated relationships and his bedroom moves in explicit detail. Thus, “2 Phones” is his signature, an anthem so specifically true to himself that it seems obvious: two phones, one for the plug and one for the load.
#42: Savages – Adore Life
The London band’s sophomore album is denser, tenser, and thicker than their searing debut. “Evil” fights like “Husbands” did, and “T.I.W.Y.G.” is their most punk rock song yet. The title track is the centerpiece though: is it human to adore life? Because I adore life.
#41: Yorkston/Thorne/Khan – Everything Sacred
Three supremely talented players craft a fusion of Western folk, jazz, and Indian music that mesmerizes and energizes as much as it soothes the soul. Much of it was improvised, if you ever want to feel bad about your own creative talents.