Last thing to wrap up the year: my fairly standard, internet music community participation badge post of my top 10 albums of 2016, with a live performance by each artist (if I could find a good one) to give you a better idea of what they’re about.
10. James Blake – The Colour in Anything
– Earlier this month I didn’t see James Blake’s The Colour in Anything on many end of year top 10 lists, but it is worthy of a spot because Blake’s sound is the perfect application of electronics to deliver clean and crisp, deeply emotional sound: Modern Soul. There’s a long tradition of Brits having Soul and it’s no coincidence Blake has production credits on Beyonce’s Lemonade and Frank Ocean’s Blonde. Beyond Blake’s electronics, his lyrics hit in such a way that they’re easy to get lost in, particularly when on a bus or plane as I often was while listening to this album.
9. The Weeknd – Starboy
– The Weeknd’s third album was released late in the year but gets better with each listen; I find myself finding more to like. Having Daft Punk guest on two tracks, the hit “Starboy” and the delightful “I Feel It Coming”, which bookend the album is a clever trick. In between less esoteric but otherwise great producers such as Metro Boomin, Cashmere Cat, Benny Blanco, Diplo, and Jake One lend a hand as Abel delivers another solid album.
8. KAYTRANADA – 99.9%
– I wrote about KAYTRANADA’s 99.9% back in July and it’s still the best “anytime album” come late December. KAYTRANADA is a universal mood improver and I will always listen to anything he produces, regardless of who (if anyone) is laying the vocals. A couple of months ago he dropped a dance edit of Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky” and it’s a gem, a prime example of his infectious style and sense of rhythm. Kay doesn’t have many live sets online, so listen to this Q&A he did for the Red Bull Music Academy, it’s like a podcast.
7. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
– Dev Hynes is a particular artist. Not only do I mean he has a particular look but his Freetown Sound has a particular purpose, a particular tone, it sounds like empowerment. The first track begins, “Oh, they took and skinned my name”, and leads into powerful spoken word extolling the virtues of capital F Feminism. The rest of the album carries messages of the maligned over eternally summer danceable beats. There’s a lot to discover and a lot to like once you’ve given it a few spins. Oh, and that album art is top 5 (top 5, top 5).
6. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
– I wrote about Anderson .Paak’s Malibu back in January and I’m still uncovering little sounds and references .Paak drops throughout the journey through the California city in his image. If not for Chance, .Paak would be the artist of the year. He too gets an I’ll-listen-to-whatever-he-puts-out pass and hasn’t ever let me down.
5. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
– I wrote about Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo back in April and was frustrated by what appeared to me to be a crisis of confidence, yet still Mr. West (with the help of Chance the Rapper) delivered one of the best albums of the year that could’ve been better. Now I’m just hoping Kayne himself gets better.
4. Solange – A Seat at the Table
– I wrote about Solange’s A Seat at the Table last week and am very happy to own it on vinyl. Really, all of the albums in this list are worth of a vinyl purchase, if you’re into that sort of thing. Solange was never under the shadow of her sister’s career, but now there’s no doubt she’s got a stage and voice and vision of her own to deliver.
3. Frank Ocean – Blonde
– I wrote about Frank Ocean’s Blonde last week and am very happy to own it on vinyl as well. Also, just the other day someone chopped + screwed it and called it Purpl and it’s not bad at all. Naturally Frank does not have any new live performances or interviews online, not even a bootleg.
2. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
Chance the Rapper’s third mixtape Coloring Book, much like his second mixtape Acid Rap, is as good as any other album released this year. Which makes you wonder if, when he releases his first album, will it be as good as his mixtapes? Of course it will, Chance the Rapper has the Midas Touch. He makes a point of owning the whole song; acting as one of music’s best writers, producers, and rappers, and then releases it for free — he hates labels that much. He’s rewriting the rules and blazing a trail for independent musicians to follow, singing the praises of God and letting the blessings come down the whole way. I’d still happily pay for a limited edition vinyl pressing.
1. Beyonce – Lemonade
– I wrote about Beyonce’s Lemonade back in June and it’s still a tour de force of creative prowess and personal power. Regardless of how much or little you want to belive Beyonce deserves credit for crafting Lemonade given she taps many collaborators to execute her vision… IT’S HER VISION. She’s the one true visionary artist with the power to inspire and implement her ideas on a global scale. It’s almost unfair to expect Beyonce to take it to another level, to rise higher creatively and professionally than she is now, but that’s her thing.
/// Others Receiving Votes ///
A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
BadBadNotGood – IV
Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks In Whispers
D.R.A.M. – Big Baby D.R.A.M.
DJ Khaled – Major Key
Domo Genesis – Genesis
Drake – Views
Francis and the Lights – Farewell, Starlite!
Gallant – Ology
Mac Miller – The Devine Feminine
Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate
Noname – Telefone
NxWorries – Yes Lawd!
Rihanna – ANTI
Schoolboy Q – Blank Face LP
Terrace Martin – Velvet Portraits
Toro y Moi – Live from Trona
Vince Staples – Prima Donna (an EP, but with very good short film)