Topher’s Top 20 Albums of 2016
20. Panic! At the Disco – Death of a Bachelor
Released at the very beginning of 2016, many of the singles (“Hallelujah,” “Victorious,” “Emperor’s New Clothes”) from Panic! At the Disco’s newest were actually unveiled last year. Had that not been the case, Death of a Bachelor likely would have been higher on my list. Nevertheless, Brendon Urie’s first effort without a backing band does not disappoint.
19. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
The Life of Pablo boasts some stellar cuts (“Ultralight Beam,” “Feedback,” “Real Friends,” “No More Parties in LA”), making it a notable release from the year, even if, after the long wait and multiple revisions, it doesn’t quite stack up to Ye’s past efforts.
18. Lewis Del Mar – Lewis Del Mar
Singer Danny Miller and drummer Max Harwood first garnered attention in early 2015 with their debut single “Loud(y).” The Brooklyn-based indie duo blends acoustic guitars with electronic samples and tight Latin-inspired beats; the result is a fantastic combination they call experimental folk pop, something rather evident on their self-titled debut.
17. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Hip hop fiend Danny Brown doesn’t stop bringing the nasty flow on his latest. Spacey – almost galactic – beats (“Really Doe”) and a resounding sonic discord (“Ain’t It Funny”) pair with top-notch production to make Atrocity Exhibition one of the top hip hop releases of the year.
16. Square Peg Round Hole – Juniper
Juniper is the sophomore full-length from Philadelphia-based ambient rockers Square Peg Round Hole. Its eclectic feel and percussive-driven instrumentation is what makes Juniper the only “instrumental” album on this list.
15. Deftones – Gore
The eighth studio effort from the long-time alternative metallers is essentially a continuation of the Koi No Yokan sound and thus feels like the next logical step in their discography. Like its predecessor, Gore is somehow more accessible than past Deftones material, even with singles like “Prayers / Triangles” feeling less like singles and more like part of a whole, best digested all at once.
14. Glass Animals – How to Be a Human Being
Glass Animals had one of my favorite songs of the year in “Life Itself,” but that isn’t the only gem on How to Be a Human Being, which strikes a fine balance between indie pop and electronica, even wandering into trip-hop territory at certain points.
13. Gallant – Ology
Christopher Gallant, artistically known simply by his last name, has crafted a powerful R&B album in his full-length debut. With cuts like “Bourbon” and “Percogesic,” Ology is the perfect after-dark record.
12. Phantogram – Three
The rock influence is evident on Three, and although some of the tracks have a harder edge to them, the undeniable trip-hop sound this Saratoga Springs duo has become so well-known for is still in the forefront.
11. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
2016 was a breakout year for Chancelor Bennett, and his third mixtape is part of the reason for that breakout. Coloring Book prominently showcases Chance’s gospel roots, features a mixed bag of big names in hip-hop (Kanye West on “All We Got,” Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz on “No Problem,” etc.), and flows effortlessly and cohesively. All of this comes without a label backing, making Coloring Book that much more impressive.
10. Beyoncé – Lemonade
Beyoncé just keeps getting better and better. From rock on “Don’t Hurt Yourself” to quasi-reggae on “All Night,” and everything in between, Lemonade boasts a wide variety of sounds, in addition to numerous musical guests (Jack White, The Weeknd, James Blake, Kendrick Lamar). It may be considered a “pop album,” but Lemonade has so many different layers to it that it’s no wonder why it’s the only such release on my list.
9. Zao – The Well-Intentioned Virus
Zao has been a household name in Christian metal circles for at least a decade and a half now, and with their long-awaited follow-up to 2009’s Awake?, the metalcore quintet continues to melt faces and blow minds. Right away, The Well-Intentioned Virus stakes its claim as best metal release of the year, hands down, with each one of its ten tracks being aggressive in its own way.
8. Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
Donald Glover is known for many things, and perhaps most famous for his hip-hop alter ego Childish Gambino. This time around, however, Glover delves into multiple other styles, such as blues, funk, soul, and rock. The result is melded seamlessly with a throwback feel, harkening back to the 1970s (particularly on “Me and Your Mama” and “Have Some Love”).
7. Ray LaMontagne – Ouroboros
Ouroboros is brooding indie folk at its quietest moments and searing psychedelic rock at its loudest. Both extremes are executed flawlessly, making LaMontagne’s latest the perfect record for a late-night drive.
6. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
In my book, .Paak holds the honor for “banger of the year” with the funky “Come Down,” but Malibu isn’t all bangers. In fact, the California rapper’s sophomore full-length is equal parts hip-hop and neo-soul, which will hopefully pave the way for him to have a breakout year in 2017.
5. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3
El-P and Killer Mike continue to raise the bar with Run the Jewels 3, a 14-track tape full of perfectly-tailored guest appearances, from Danny Brown’s verse on “Hey Kids (Bumaye),” to the sultry saxophone line from Kamasi Washington on “Thursday in the Danger Room,” to the straight fire brought forth by Zack De La Rocha on the closer “Kill Your Masters,” just to name a few.
4. Young the Giant – Home of the Strange
Irvine alt.-rockers Young the Giant have outdone themselves yet again with Home of the Strange. Lyrically their third full-length is an homage to the American immigrant, while musically it is a mixed bag of power, drive, and groove. There are certainly highlights (“Elsewhere,” “Jungle Youth,” “Silvertongue”), but I contend that there isn’t a single weak tune on the record.
3. De La Soul – and the Anonymous Nobody…
De La Soul is one of alternative hip-hop most influential collectives, and on their ninth full-length, the New Yorkers prove why this is the case. The result of multiple improvised jazz sessions and guest features, the 17-track and the Anonymous Nobody… never lets up.
2. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
Not one, but two influential alternative hip-hop groups from the Big Apple made a comeback in 2016. For A Tribe Called Quest, the legendary trio was able to set aside their differences and come together for one last hurrah, even if Phife Dawg passed away before they could finish. The resulting double album, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service, is bars upon bars upon bars, backed by rocking beats (quite literally on “Dis Generation”) and killer production throughout.
1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
A Moon Shaped Pool is a masterpiece with very minimal flaws, boasting lush orchestral arrangements (such as those on “Burn the Witch”) and even venturing into the eerie confines of krautrock (on “Ful Stop”). Radiohead diehards will cry that the English rockers’ latest is not their greatest, but I know for a fact that A Moon Shaped Pool will be in my own personal rotation for quite some time.
Honorable Mentions (in order of release)
Nothing But Thieves – Nothing But Thieves
I would have included the eponymous debut from UK alt.-rockers Nothing But Thieves, but I figured that since its initial release was in October of 2015 (releasing to the US this past February), I ought not. That said, Nothing But Thieves is still worth checking out, especially with its follow-up on the horizon for 2017.
Illya Kuryaki & The Valderramas – L.H.O.N.
Sleeper alert! This Argentinean hip-hop duo was just nominated for a Grammy (for Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album). Only time will tell if L.H.O.N. wins the award in February, but regardless, the latest from Illya Kuryaki & The Valderramas is a funky rap album sure to get you moving.
Los Fabulosos Cadillacs – La Salvación de Solo y Juan
Speaking of Argentinean groups, legendary ska act Los Fabulosos Cadillacs revealed the twelfth chapter in their extensive career back in May. The concept album, titled La Salvación de Solo y Juan, is a musical and lyrical journey. Fellow gringos, I’m begging you: don’t let the Spanish deter you from checking out (and enjoying) this awesome record.
The Hamilton Mixtape (Various Artists)
Anyone not living under a rock has at least heard of the musical Hamilton in the last year, a theater production with so much influence over popular culture that it has given way to all kinds of dope collaborations and a few of my favorite songs from the year – I’m looking at you, “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done).” With appearances from Kelly Clarkson, Usher, Alicia Keys, Nas, Chance the Rapper, and many more, The Hamilton Mixtape is, in my humble opinion, the best compilation of the year.
J. Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only
From the chilling opener “For Whom the Bell Tolls” to the closing title track, J. Cole delivers once again with 4 Your Eyez Only, an album which just narrowly missed my top 20 to begin with.