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THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2016

To finish off a rather tumultuous year – in every way possible – let’s revisit the albums that we felt comforted us, or at least provided us, a haven away from the ups & downs of 2016. Thanks for sticking with us for the past 3 1/2 years; here are our THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2016.

*Note: All images belong to their respective owners. We do not own them and are used for entertainment/informative purposes*

 

35. Endless (A Visual Album) – Frank Ocean

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Review By Jon Birondo

While the music has some brilliant moments by way of guitar licks and crescendos, seeing guys in designer sweaters make a staircase to the sound of experimental ambient music rarely makes me care. It’s nice to hear the songs transition from one to another though, as if we are hearing Frank’s musical progression compacted into forty-six minutes, but Endless is background music for people who like to pay attention to background music.

34. Painting With – Animal Collective

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Review By Jared Davis

On Painting With, Animal Collective (with the exception of Deakin, who’s sitting this album out) deliver their most accessible and direct album yet. However, this may seem to be their downfall with this project. Since the turn of this century, you could say that no other band has had a more diverse discography than Animal Collective. From the pretty acoustic sounds of  Sung Tongs to the chaotic and playful jams of Strawberry Jam to the grand and dense trippy hits of their cult-smash album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Panda Bear, Avey Tare, Geologist, and Deakin have made some of the most widely praised and celebrated experimental pop and electronic music of the 21st century. However, many songs here do offer some interesting ideas and rhythms never presented by the group before. Overall, it may be Animal Collective’s least experimental release yet. But it does offer what they always bring to the table with each subsequent album: a new style and a new direction.

33. Awaken, My Love! – Childish Gambino

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Review By Jon Birondo

Awaken, My Love! is a bold release from Glover, and it shows in his execution and in his daring stylistic shift; it’s also his best attempt at emulating one of the most pivotal records of his, and our, time: Maggot Brain. While the low points detract heavily from the experience (and easily come off as Maggot Brain cop-outs), the high points make up for the anticipation and mystery surrounding this album’s release; I’m especially glad there’s no rapping here, to further show Glover’s dedication to his new phase in his work. I’m probably inherently wired to just not like anything Glover does in the world of rap; but as far as his venture into funk, soul, and neo-psychedelia goes, I am undoubtedly a fan.

32. SremmLife 2 – Rae Sremmurd

from the album

Review By Michael White

Party invitation, the album: Rae Sremmurd are back with no punches pulled, only bangers. A never-ending buffet of songs about bumping uglies and pouring drinks. What could go wrong? Nothing, really. SremmLife 2 isn’t egregiously safe, but it sticks pretty closely to the duo’s formula from their year-old debut. he features on this album are also perfectly fitting. Kodak Black delivers his signature sleepy flow at the right moment on “Real Chill,” while Gucci Mane’s contribution to “Black Beatles” fits the mood perfectly, ad-libs and everything. Lil Jon and Juicy J make appearances as well, both contributing heavily to the album’s rambunctious persona. Overall, this is a fun release from the hit-making duo, and a solid addition to their discography.

31. Talk To You Soon – Ricky Eat Acid

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Review By Jon Birondo

Whether it be the diary-like song titles, the field recordings, or the intimate production and endlessly growing soundscapes – Three Love Songs was Ray at his most intimate, hypnotic, and transcendent. While Three Love Songs felt like a haze, Ray’s latest record is more in your face, with aggressive production and more eccentric elements, Talk To You Soon is a collection of haunting vignettes that paint a scatter-brained mind dealing with the dark side of introspection and anxiety. The result is utterly beautiful and shows Ray’s personal issues crafting music that both comforts and warns. Ray’s obsession with the mind, and our constantly shifting ability/inability to control it, will be a subject he continues to explore in full. Introspection is both dangerous and beneficial, above all it’s important. If anything, Talk To You Soon shows its necessity and its effects of contentment and self-identity; but also, how overthinking can lead to a state of panic, anxiety, and dismay

30. Nakamara – Nakamara

from the album

Review By Michael White

Denton has always been the best kept not-so-secret in the North Texas music scene. You can find fantatsic tunes of any persuasion in “Little Austin.” Nakamara is a band bringing old sounds with a new flair. The mixture of indie rock and jazz creates a cozy concoction. The silky smooth bass lines sound solid over the demonstrative drums and guitar, while the vocals are peppy. It sounds like what the most aspirational jazz club band would want to sound like, but can’t; silky smooth but fun.The guitars prance over the drums and the bass is driving with verve to an impressive degree.This is a fun listen and foreshadows great things to come for this new Denton band. We have our BADBADNOTGOOD here in Texas, but it’s cuter. Deal with it.

29. Teens Of Denial – Car Seat Headrest

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Review By Michael White

Reflecting on the past year in college is the only time where reflection has made me worry more. It’s the last four years that separate me from REAL LIFE. The past 20 years have been relatively structured, and the thought of being really on my own is a little unsettling. Thankfully, we have artists like Will Toledo and his band Car Seat Headrest to help synthesize these realities. Teens Of Denial is just the right combination of real angst and real musicianship, and although the album may be one song too long, CSH deliver a solid indie rock album for this generation of scared college students.

Will creatively plays on The Cars’ smash hit, “Just What I Needed” in his song, “Not What I Needed,” by playing with the same tempo and a similar chord progression but deliver a message that totally contrasts from the message and mood from the original song. The musicianship is solid 90s indie-rock worship, occasionally throwing in fancy instruments over this relatively lo-fi production. “Fill In The Blank” has tasty horns that flavor the song nicely. Teens Of Denial has many good songs and no bad songs, although there aren’t any songs that completely change the indie rock game. It’s a fun and very real listen regardless.

28. Hyperion EP – Krallice

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Review By Michael White

Every year, another band gains many fans but annoys many black metal purists. “It’s not kvlt! Where’s the evil! Why is it so cleanly produced!” These complaints and more plague comment sections everywhere when discussing these bands, the hatred sometimes overshadowing the praise from music reviewers. If listeners just listened to these bands without expecting Moonblood or Darkthrone, everyone would have a much better time, but I digress.Music school-inspired chord progressions and odd time signatures are, tee hee, signature to the New York-based band’s sound. Krallice have delivered an entrancing trio for ears thirsting for winding and atmospheric songs.

27. EMOTION SIDE B – Carly Rae Jepsen

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Review By Jon Birondo

Following last year’s spectacular  E•MO•TION, Carly Rae Jepsen has shared a companion EP of B- Sides continuing to show that she is making the catchiest, smoothest, and smartest bubblegum pop in mainstream music. It goes to show that crafting mature and tastefully crafted pop songs under a mainstream label is !possible!, if you simply go about it the right way. If she were to take away the weak tracks of E•MO•TION, and substitute them for the best tracks on EMOTION SIDE B, we may have had one of the best pop records this decade has to offer. For now, Jepsen remains as one of the best and brilliant pop acts in recent memory, and one people should be playing more attention to.

26. Starspawn – Blood Incantation

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Review By Michael White

Denver-based band Blood Incantation explore space on their 35-minute debut full-length, Starspawn. Following a well-received EP in 2015, the interstellar sonic force hopes to gain new listeners and cover new galactic ground. Although space is a mysterious and difficult thing to explore, these death metallers traverse the stars with technical prowess without inundating their compositions with unnecessary solos and musical showboating. Although Blood Incantation isn’t doing anything completely unique (bearing a strong resemblance to later Gorguts) they are doing it right. Expect these guys to gain more buzz in the coming months.

25. American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story – Kevin Abstract

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Review By Jon Birondo

American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story is a diary; a saga of deeply personal entries covering sexuality, love, relationships, and acceptance. Above all, it’s a journey of self-discovery from an ambitious and steadily rising 20-year old from Corpus Christi. It’s no surprise that homosexual African-American youth are one of the most overlooked, and heavily rejected, subcultures today, hell there’s an even a film to address this conflict. “I  Do (End Credits)” finds him, in a very high pitched voice, proudly proclaiming “I ain’t sorry about shit motherfucker”! If anything, that’s indicative of Abstract reaching his own form of self -acceptance amidst the personal conflicts in his life. If anything, that’s all he needs; and one can only hope that he maintains, and never loses, that sense of clarity.

24. Big Baby DRAM – D.R.A.M

courtesy of Pitchfork

Review By Michael White

D.R.A.M. has such a goofy style that is signature to him. He has such a refreshing sound that isn’t completely groomed yet, but that makes it sound more real. He sells nearly every single song on Big Baby D.R.A.M, even if the song is dumb (“Broccoli”). It just goes to show that how much heart you put into your music does matter.

23. Freetown Sound – Blood Orange

from the album

Review By Jon Birondo

Dev Hynes’ latest record from the Blood Orange moniker is a celebration of black culture, and an angry letter of protest in the face of oppression and adversity. To compliment, Hynes provides a soothing backdrop of reverberated synths and groove-inflected R&B to provide a jarring juxtaposition of serenity and anger, grace and rage. If anything, Hynes is simply singing about unity; about understanding; and about peace. He’s hell-bent on sharing this message, and has put this message through his art in a way that will bring opposing sides together. In a world so torn apart by hatred and violence and greed, all Hynes wants is to bring everyone together.

22. Prima Donna EP – Vince Staples

From the EP,

Review By Michael White

Long Beach based Vince Staples follows up his acclaimed debut from last year with a short collection of hard-hitting and all-too-real personal accounts on the new Prima Donna EP. Despite a few odd beat choices and a few useless features, Vince lays down viciously insightful bars about growing up in the ruthless Norf Norf. All of his songs are vitriolic and concerning, which has always worked for him in the past and still works on this project. However, a couple of the beats are odd and don’t fit with Vince’s style, not to mention the features are lackluster on Prima Donna. Regardless, this EP only foreshadows great things to come.

21. Plays The Music Of Twin Peaks – Xiu Xiu

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Review By Jon Birondo

Noise pop/experimental rock outfit Xiu Xiu have been making provocative and notorious waves with their disturbing and raw records of drone and dark ambient of the experimental nature. Their latest record however, is a set of reimagined and creatively covered tracks from David Lynch’s critically acclaimed 90s cult TV series Twin Peaks. Xiu Xiu masterfully insert their musical aesthetic into Angelo Badalementi’s iconic compositions giving these songs an entirely new form, and a new face of the surreal. With noise rock tendencies and some bonus imaginative tracks (“Josie’s Past”), Xiu Xiu masterfully and tastefully pay homage to the world of Twin Peaks, while making it just as disturbing, dark, and powerful as their own records. If you’re a fan of the show and soundtrack, this is a record you don’t want to miss!

20. untitled unmastered – Kendrick Lamar

from the album

Review By Michael White

untitled unmastered. is an enjoyable and solid experience just like any Kendrick project, but it doesn’t stand out among his other works…but I don’t think it’s supposed to. We have very jazzy production all over this project, especially on tracks like “Untitled 05,” my personal favorite instrumental on the project. We also have introspective and unapologetic lyrics, typical of Kendrick anyway. We don’t really have anything we haven’t heard before from Mr. Duckworth. However, he’s made it clear that this is a sort of a “b-sides” collection from tracks that did not make it onto To Pimp A Butterfly.

19. Wildflower – The Avalanches

from the album

Review By Jon Birondo

Plunderphonics and indie music legends, The Avalanches, return with their first record in 16 years: Wildflower. A collection of colorful and tastefully assembled tracks that somewhat shows the the group have been up to for the last sixteen years. While The Avalanches deliver some great tracks, some of their best, they nonetheless leave a lot to be desired. But don’t let that deter you from one of the year’s best records. While the first half of the record shines, the second half fails to register or even excite as most of the tracks nomadically wander about with pretty string arrangements and less-than exciting detours (the last two tracks proving to end this record out on a disappointing note).

Regardless, The Avalanches are back again, with a new record, with new tracks; Wildflower may run a bit too long and run out of ideas quick, but it’s back to business for the Australian plunderphonics wonderkids.As time has proven, it grows with each listen.

18. A Sailors Guide To Earth – Sturgill Simpson

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Review By Jon Birondo

If you’ve been paying any attention to the musical trends and tastes of this website, you’ll know country isn’t a genre we hold dear to our hearts (sans Kacey Musgraves). If I were to have another country artist that I would say is worth the listen, it’d be Sturgill Simpson. If Musgraves was important because of her progressive lyricism, then Simpson would be the perfect complement due to his unorthodox approach to the musical aspect of it all. Simpson crafts psychedelic, noisy, and claustrophobic country music similar to Wovenhand, but with some appeal to a wider audience. A Sailor’s Guide To Earth is a record dedicated Simpson’s wife and son; while that may sound cheesy and generic in theory, what follows is a deeply personal record that takes weird and bold musical passages, resulting in one of the most memorable listening experiences of the year.

17. People Can’t Stop Chillin – Sports

from the album

Review By Jon Birondo

People Can’t Stop Chillin’ is a stylish, ethereal, and dreamy record that is all about working past emulation and admiration, and will be popular amongst millennials obsessed with 80s revival music (i am one of these, if i am being frank). However, this is no serious crime against music purists; and I would be lying if I didn’t say that Sports are one of the few bands out there working today taking a genre, that is replete with indulgence and unoriginality, and truly making music wholly of their own without compromise, and without catering to their audience’s needs. They sound like they’re having fun; and if this is what the future of Sports (and 80s revival) sounds like, I see no harm in a few more of these being pumped out every now and then to show everyone how it’s done

16. Malibu – Anderson .Paak

from the album

Review By Jared Davis

Over the past year, singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Anderson Paak has been making waves in the hip-hop community. A large part of his recent fame can be credited to being featured on not one, but six tracks on Dr. Dre’s comeback album last year, Compton. Paak subsequently was featured on the new Busdriver mixtape and released a short collaborative EP with Stones Throw beat wizard Knxwledge as Nx Worries. Anderson’s smooth voice glided over these projects, causing quite a bit of hype to grow behind this new album, which it ultimately does a pretty good job of living up to. Aside from a handful of forgettable tracks, Malibu establishes Paak’s sound well and proves that funk is indeed making a comeback.

15. Wriggle EP – clipping.

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Review By Michael White

Every few years or so, there’s a Broadway musical that does so well that its notoriety transcends the thespian community and piques the interests of those with differing interests. I personally prefer other art to theater but even I heard the resounding praise of Hamilton. Although the soundtrack was undeniably catchy, it still was far from being my flavor. I do applaud Daveed Diggs for having a significant role in the production while simultaneously cranking out GREAT music with the noise-hop project clipping. Although a more mainstream audience has Daveed’s name on their tongues, clipping. is still just as abrasive and unabashed as ever.

Diggs’ breath control chops are flexed to the utmost ability on the “Intro” with an uzi-like relentlessness. Hard hitting bars about how “ounces and grams are the make of a man” convey cold truths as Diggs raps over nothing but sirens. Diggs, also, channels Outkast with his flow but remains recognizable despite the influence. The most amazing attribute of this track is even though it’s a dark song with a tortured sounding beat, it makes you wanna dance. The last two songs are fine but the beat and the flows don’t intertwine smoothly.

clipping. proves once again that they are titans in the realm of modern industrial rap and no amount of mainstream connection will adulterate the passion for the craft.

14. i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it – The 1975

from the album

Review By Jon Birondo

The 1975 are, at their core, romantics. To bash on their trivial-ness and childish perspectives is somewhat unfair given their young age. They know their audience, and they know what they know and have learned from personal experiences, I can imagine. The band draws from what they feel represents themselves, and have fully embraced everything about them: their flaws, their criticisms, and their weaknesses. I like it when you sleep… is bloated yes, but it’s a band operating on a level of skill that ignores the critics and complaints, and celebrates what makes them who they are. It’s an earnest, passionate, and radical expression that, while not for all, can capture a few hearts and charm a few minds.

13. Lemonade – Beyoncé

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Review By Jon Birondo

Beyoncé has always been a pop artist at heart, so commercial appeal is a must. But there are times when I wonder: when will she deliver something real? Something unapologetic? Something that will make her fans say “you either love it or you hate it”. In 2016, that moment came in the form of Lemonade. Challenging fans, Beyoncé varies the album’s styles playing with rock (“Don’t Hurt Yourself; personally, the album’s highlight), country (“Daddy Lessons”), and art pop (“Forward”). What we have is an album varied to the point of sophistication, with subtextual material relevant enough to generate discussion. Beyoncé’s voice could not, and would not be died down. Beyoncé’s deeply personal record became 2016’s torch for femininity, independence, and strength.

12. You Will Never Be One Of Us – Nails

from the album

Review By Michael White

Hardcore can be really corny. It’s too easy. With all of the lyrics about brotherhood and authenticity played out ad nauseam, it feels like a joke after a while. People will probably make the argument that “You Will Never Be One Of Us” is full of laughable anger directed at the big bad boogeymainstream. While I agree with frontman Todd Jones’ views on notable figures in the mainstream trying to capitalize on hardcore and metal subculture being detrimental (i.e. Ian Connor and Kimye’s appropriation of punk and metal fashion) a lot of themes in this new Nails album are generic and corny but only if you take it at face value.

If you understand that lyrically Nails is just self-aware of their popularity and they want to ensure that they won’t be the next Behemoth, “You Will Never Be One Of Us” is a statement that makes perfect sense for Nails at this point in their career. Although I understand upturned noses at the lyrical themes, no one can deny that this album will kick your butt worse than Flats from Spongebob could ever dream of.

11. Light Upon The Lake – Whitney

from the album

Review By Jon Birondo

After leaving the aforementioned indie heavyweights, Former Smith Westerns guitarist Max Kakacek and former Unknown Mortal Orchestra drummer/Smith Westerns member Julien Ehrlichhave managed to craft another ‘supergroup’ of their own evoking the earnestness and vulnerability of 60s soft rock with all the showiness, confidence, and charm of modern bands such as Girls. The band’s magic doesn’t lie in their past experience and musicianship, but rather their unique sound. Ehrlich’s solemn and vulnerable voice evokes a sense of melancholy yet with an odd sense of redemption and projected happiness – as if he knows everything is going to turn out all right.

10. Splendor & Misery – clipping.

Courtesy of clipping's bandcamp

Review By Michael White

clipping. has had an incredible year so far, with the amazing Wriggle EP starting 2016 off right for the band. However, this new full-length literally takes astronomical leaps into the final frontier. Splendor & Misery is an amazing accomplishment and melding of unlikely styles.The production is noisy as ever, but it simulates classic movie spaceship noises. This fits the concept of the record perfectly as it tells the story of a runaway space slave who’s getaway ship falls in love with him. The “bleeps” and “boops” that make up the MANY interludes of this album perfectly captures the feeling of being alone in space with nothing but a machine that loves you.

Even though this is just a 37-minute affair, so much can be said about and in this project that I can’t even put into words yet. This is the most multifaceted project I’ve heard all year, if not the past few years. Highly recommend for anyone wanted to escape into the stars.

9. Cardinal – Pinegrove

from the album

Review By Jon Birondo

Combining the earthy warmth of Wilco, with the open-hearted vulnerability of emo contemporaries such as Joyce Manor and Touché Amoré, New Jersey’s Pinegrove expand on their lo-fi debut with a grander, more emotional follow-up that makes for some of the most endearing, honest, and sentimental music you’ll hear this year.

On Cardinal, Pinegrove discuss friendships, relationships, and communication. How do we interact with everyone around us, and how we communicate define our relationships with other people. The real question they posit is, how do we make these day-by-day encounters mean something. The answer comes to us neither at the bottom of a bottle nor in one’s room all alone, it comes when we stop thinking inward, and start speaking and interacting outwards. Unity is the best virtue.

8. Stage Four – Touché Amoré

from the album

Review By Jon Birondo

This isn’t the first time an album has dealt with loss. It’s not even the first time an album of this genre has dealt with loss. It’s not even the first time this band has dealt with loss. However, it’s the first time in awhile an album has dealt with one specific episode of loss and fleshed it out so well without sounding repetitive. Touché Amore has come through with their most clearly personal album yet, another fantastic album in their discography.

The title Stage Four refers to the fact that this is the fourth LP from this band, as well as singer Jeremy Bolm’s mother’s stage four cancer diagnosis. Mrs. Bolm’s struggle with and her eventual succumbing to cancer constitutes the entire lyrical content of this album. Jeremy’s lyrics are more clearly centered around personal anecdotes and events surrounding her battle, causing his words to be more clear and less general than past Touché releases. His lyrics has always been bitingly honest, but these accounts of grief and regret that he delves into are absolutely gut-wrenching.

Stage Four is a beautifully and deeply personal album that demonstrates the band’s maturity.

7. Bottomless Pit – Death Grips

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Review By Jared Davis

The internet is a pretty strange place. In it, you will find countless Death Grips memes, fan-boy Reddit threads, trash, and above all, you will find MC Ride, Zach Hill, and Flatlander getting high off of all of it as they plunge further into the bottomless pit of dark and twisted cyber-punk insanity that put Death Grips on the map. Ultimately, Bottomless Pit features some of Death Grips’ most memorable production and hooks since their cult-smash The Money Store, yet slightly more direct, aggressive, and precise.

6. 24K Magic – Bruno Mars

from the album

Review By Michael White

A time to dance. That’s what this is. It’s a crazy world right now, with the election results causing everyone in the country to turn against each other. Right now we just need to dance. 24K Magic is the perfect dance album for the fall. I’ve always thought of Bruno Mars as a talented singer who always hopped on annoying songs. This one is different, it’s “not like the other boys.” Mars is COMMANDING on the entire album, singing with gusto over amazing pop tracks that hearken back to the 80s.

5. 22, A Million – Bon Iver

from the album

Review By Jon Birondo

Blonde, A Moon Shaped Pool, and now 22, A Million ; 2016 has been a year of moving, significant, and compelling records from artists who have not released anything for more than four years. 22, A Million joins the pack as one of those rare records where the artist completely revolutionizes their sound, simultaneously challenges yet comforts its audience, and so boldly defies categorization. Bon Iver takes a sharp and sudden turn into the strange and experimental, to the cryptic and ambiguous, while also crafting the same emotional, heart breaking, and bleakly honest music that’s defined them to this point. Long gone is the skeletal and cold folk music, and in comes music that redefines Bon Iver for the masses.

If you listen closely to Vernon’s pained ten songs on 22, A Million, you can feel an awakening, both spiritual and metaphysical; and it’s the sound of a door opening, and the pathways that it leads to are endless. It’s uncertain, yes, but this time around there’s a tinge of optimism hanging in air.

4. Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown

from the album

Review By Jon Birondo

Danny Brown’s path towards the ears of mainstream hip-hop fans is one of the most fascinating journeys to witness. 2011’s XXX allowed Brown to gain traction in the underground hip-hop scene, with visceral, gritty, and left-field tracks such as “Lie4” and “Die Like A Rockstar”. While The Hybrid remains Brown’s debut, XXX absolutely insane and maddening style, lyricism, and production kept Brown a singular and dynamic hip-hop figure. It wasn’t until 2013’s commercial friendly and party bangin’ Old that Brown was able to achieve mainstream appeal and success, collaborating with indie favorites Purity Ring. Now, with the entire world in his palm and EVERYONE eagerly anticipating what this unpredictable hip-hop guru will do next, Danny Brown did the next great step: go absolutely, unabashedly, and brilliantly INSANE. To preface, Danny Brown is an auteur (I know this is a cinema term, but adhere it to music for the sake of this review).

Brown is back in the grit and grime last visited on XXX, leaving the polished party bangers behind and confronting the harsh realities and destructive demons inside of him – the feelings and habits that not everyone wants to recognize. If anything, Danny Brown knows how to capture the mindset of a maniac, and allow us to see another one’s perspective without losing what made him so special in the first place. To deliver this perspective with gritty, brutal, and visceral flair – that’s an auteur trademark. It’s a tough feat to say the least, but someone’s gotta do it. And this isn’t the sound of someone gone mad, it’s the sound of a genius operating within the confines of a medium that can no longer contain his brilliance or audacity to keep the genre moving forward. His legacy is practically written already.

3. Blonde – Frank Ocean

from the album

Review By Jon Birondo

Unlike his musical peers (Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West), Frank is not concerned with making brash, outlandish political/cultural statements commenting on the climate of 2016 (the verse on “Nikes” about Trayvon Martin is as political as it gets.) Instead, Blonde is more concerned with what’s going on on the inside, specifically within Frank himself; the album’s an emotionally rich, musically sparse, and minimally composed meditation of love, heartache, introspection, sorrow, nostalgia, and pain – told in the quietest way by one of the best songwriters in the R&B genre. It appears that those four year following channel ORANGE were composed of more than Frank trolling his fans.

If channel ORANGE was him at his most straightforward and blatant, Blonde is Ocean at his most ambiguous, yet it’s laser focused thematically. Frank captures the emptiness, malaise, and despondency that comes with life with a compelling and stunning voice without seeming too indulgent; and while he may seem to be the center of it all here, he sounds much more than an artist saying what he sees to a crowd.  He sounds like a friend, one who has been subjected to feelings, ideas, and experiences that circulate around loneliness and is filled with sorrow, sadness, and pain. His voice ventures into the areas that we’ve only been to a handful of times, luckily, and it bleeds and hurts. But it also consoles, comforts, and – opposed to the zine title – cries.

2. Blackstar – David Bowie

from the album

Review By Emilio Chavez

Blackstar is the latest (and unfortunately last) album by David Bowie, one of the most interesting, stylistic, and ambitious recording artists of the 20th century. While not all of his projects may have held a high musical standard, at his best he was very creative and innovative – helping establish the groundwork for genres like glam and gothic rock. It would be hard to find at least one musician or band who didn’t owe at least a small debt to the influence Bowie had on their sound. Reportedly intended to be his “swan song”, this album was released two days before Bowie’s death, which casts a bit of an eerie shadow on it. Quite a few of the songs on Blackstar contain lyrics that sound like they came from the perspective of a man who knew he didn’t have much longer to live. But can this album stand on it’s own without the context of Bowie’s passing? I, for one, certainly believe so.

It’s almost certain that none of these songs are really gonna get much radio play despite the “Davie Bowie label” due to their somewhat atypical sound compared to a lot of contemporaneously popular songs as well as their somewhat longer-than-average song length. But do not think that this record should be considered any more than a footnote in Bowie’s career. This is a very ambitious and well-crafted record from one of the most artistically ambitious figures of the past decade. Bowie has shown that even despite his health issues as well as his comfortable status as a beloved musician, he still continued to take great care in his craft and wanted to produce one more great piece of work, even if he may not have been able to properly express everything he had on his mind.

Rest In Peace Starman.

1. A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead

from the album

Review By Jon Birondo

Radiohead redefine themselves with each record; and have changed themselves for the better with each release as well. Their legacy of their shape shifting different styles, and consistently nailing their sound each time echoes on their latest record: a melancholic lullaby A Moon Shaped Pool. Releasing unreleased live favorites such as “Identikit” and chilling soundscapes “Daydreaming”, Radiohead operate on a different level than they have before: less on execution, and more on reaching out to the human side of emotion for their fans. The tracks here are filled to the brim with sorrow, with pain. The feeling of loss, and of loneliness, is felt on every second of this record. For the fans of their twenty-five year career, this is the record that fans didn’t know they needed.

Radiohead prove with A Moon Shaped Pool that they can still sound better than before, and they manage to sound just as exciting, fresh, emotional, and essential as they have always been. The greatest song on this record “True Love Waits”, closes the record on one of the saddest notes of the year. With delicaate production (you can hear the keys rubbing against each other on the piano), impressions of Yorke’s past relationship with his late wife is felt in his pained voice.

Earlier this year Thom Yorke “wondered if people would care”; turns out, Radiohead needed us more than we needed them. A validation of that sort from an audience to a band just proves how much their time, effort, and music are worth. In 2016, Radiohead finally allowed us to partake in the sorrow, the pain, and the loneliness. A connection between a band and its fans is a special relationship you just can’t buy. Not now, and not ever. As the last lyrics to “True Love Waits” say: “don’t leave”.

 

Head Editor’s Note:

That’s it! Thanks so much to our loyal readers, and new visitors to the site. Your unwavering support, from a retweet to a page view, means the world to us. Since starting this blog 3 1/2 years ago Michael and I still cannot believe how large this passion project has grown. From covering music festivals to talking young-and-upcoming bands to reviewing albums before the release date, it has been an awesome experience, and we are glad to share it with all of you. Despite our little hiatus early this year, we are now back on track for the next three years or so!

However, running a website isn’t cheap; I wouldn’t ask of this if I didn’t need to but if you could, a donation would help us out a lot with domain and festival costs. $1 or $1000, anything helps; donate some money or pick up some fresh merch including shirts, stickers, phone cases, and much more! So if you have the kindness in your heart to donate even a little bit of cash, it’d make a big difference and would help keep us online. No donation is too small. Help keep the love alive!

Donate Here!

If a donation just isn’t enough, try looking at apparel with the Pretty Neat Grooves logo, designed by writer/photographer/artist Spencer Vilicic.
Apparel

 

It’s been a strange and tumultuous year full of unfortunate deaths, war, and political turmoil. Hopefully 2017 will bring us better times and memories – with some music to help us get through our daily lives. Below is the staff list – of those who worked with us this year. To them, I say “Thank You!” We’ll return in January 2017 keeping you informed with the best music out there!

Best,

Jon Birondo

 

Happy Holidays

from the Pretty Neat Grooves Staff 2016!

 

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THE BEST TRACKS OF 2016

2016, another great year for music. Here are the tracks we believe defined 2016 as a whole, in no particular order.

*At the bottom of the list you will find a Spotify playlist of the songs. For those songs that aren’t on Spotify, simply click the picture. Enjoy!*

 “Palm Dreams” Touche Amore

from the album

from the album Stage Four

 “Grown Ass Kid” Chance the Rapper ft. Mick Jenkins and Alex Wiley

from the mixtape Coloring Book (although unreleased due to sample legal issues)

“Wriggle” Clipping

from the EP Wriggle

“War Ready” Vince Staples

from the EP Prima Donna

 “Wave Goodnight To Me” Jeff Rosenstock

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from the album WORRY

 “Harambe” Young Thug

from the mixtape No, My Name IS JEFFERY

 “Dis Generation” A Tribe Called Quest

From the album,

from the album We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service

 “24K Magic” Bruno Mars

from the album

from the album 24K Magic

 “Come Down” Anderson .Paak

from the album

from the album Malibu

“Skrt” Kodak Black

from the single “Skrt”

 “Gwyn Ap Nudd” Black Funeral

from the album Ankou and the Death Fire

 “Ps and Qs” Lil Uzi Vert

from the mixtape Lil Uzi vs. The World

 “Into You” Ariana Grande

from the album Dangerous Woman

 “Cry” Carly Rae Jepsen

from the EP EMOTION SIDE B

“Real Friends (ft. Ty Dolla $ign)” Kanye West

from the album

from the album The Life of Pablo

 “Give Violence a Chance” G.L.O.S.S.

from the EP Trans Day Of Revenge

“FTBT” Ugly God

from the single, “FTBT”

“Savage Intolerance” Nails

from the album

from the album You Will Never Be One of Us

 “No Heart” 21 Savage & Metro Boomin

from the mixtape Savage Mode

 “Minnesota” Lil Yachty

from the mixtape Lil’ Boat

 “Caroline” Amine

from the single “Caroline”

 “It Ain’t Safe” Skepta

from the album Konnichiwa

“Ain’t It Funny” Danny Brown

from the album

from the album Atrocity Exhibition

“Because I’m Me” The Avalanches

from the album

from the album Wildflower

“True Love Waits” Radiohead

from the album

from the album A Moon Shaped Pool

8 (circle)” Bon Iver

from the album

from the album 22, A Million

“Start A Party” Rae Sremmurd

from the album

from the album Sremmlife 2

“Blackstar” David Bowie

from the album

from the album Blackstar

“Follow” Whitney

from the album

from the album Light Upon The Lake

“K.” Cigarettes After Sex

from the single

from the single “K.”

“untitled 07 | 2014 – 2016” Kendrick Lamar

from the album

from the compilation album untitled unmastered

“Walk To The One You Love” Twin Peaks

from the album Down In Heaven

“Needles In Your Skin” Oathbreaker

from the album Rheia

“Old Friends” Pinegrove

from the album

from the album Cardinal

“Love Me” The 1975

from the album

from the album i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

“Better Than Me” Blood Orange

from the album

from the album Freetown Sound

“Call This # Now” The Garden

from the single

from the single “Call This # Now”

“Summer Salt” Summer Salt

from the EP Going Native

“Alaska” Maggie Rogers

from the single “Alaska”

“Someone You’d Rather Be Dating” Sports

from the album

from the EP People Can’t Stop Chillin

“Complications” Nakamara

from the album

from the album Nakamara

“Dr. Doom” Noah LeGrand

from the album

from the EP You Sound So Gross Right Now

“Ivy” Frank Ocean

from the album Blonde

“FDT (F*** Donald Trump)” YG

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from the album Still Brazy

“Broccoli (feat. Lil’ Yachty)” D.R.A.M

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from the single “Broccoli”

“Shut Up Kiss Me” Angel Olsen

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from the album MY WOMAN

“Girl We Got A (Good Thing)” Weezer

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from the album The White Album

“Lyk Dis” NxWorries

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from the album Yes Lawd!

“Nas Album Done (feat. Nas)” DJ Khaled

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from the album Major Key

“Moth Into Flame” Metallica

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from the album Hardwired…To Self-Destruct

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HONORABLE MENTIONS 2016

2016: The past few months have been rough, to say the least. However, it’s also been a great year for cool music. Here are some honorable mentions that didn’t make it to “Best Of” but are still worth checking out.

– This list is loosely based on the original score each album received on its original review. –

99.9% – Kaytranada

While the sounds on this album are constantly fresh and invigorating, they are incredibly and wholly original showing that KAYTRANDA’s colorful and vibrant sound is not a victim to strategic use of sampling and constraining/limiting conformity behind a certain sample. However the album runs out of ideas fast; you can honestly listen to the first half of this record and get a sense of its nuances and musical depths/detours.”

LP2 – American Football

“If you have thirty-seven minutes in your day, get lost in this record. It’s perfect for the worrisome college student aimlessly going through the motions; and if you have been a fan of the band since the beginning, those special moments of your youth where getting lost to “The One With The Wurlitzer” was a daily exercise will feel all the more special. In this busy day and age, with friends moving in and out of our lives, it’s great to have the time to stop everything and take it all in, one song at a time.”

High Anxiety – Thom Sonny Green

“Thom Green does more than just drum for Alt-J, that is a fact. Aside from his dexterous and nimble percussive contribution to the already idiosyncratic sound, Green proves on his solo debut High Anxiety that he can hone his talents into a project that wouldn’t necessarily work in Alt-J repertoire. High Anxiety is composed of three years worth of instrumentals and ideas that Green has so carefully and precisely worked on while on tour; it’s a 66-minute instrumental electronica album, and a HUGE departure from what you would expect from Alt-J.”

Suburban Blues – if, the band 

Suburban Blues shows that if, the band listen to plethora of musical acts that they have thoughtfully echoed into their own sound. They’ve also shown an absurd amount of talent at such a young age, and have so much room to grow & create. It also goes to show what you can find in the deep & dark caverns of Bandcamp – where the future of music are starting to make their voice heard, for little to no money at all. My advice? Step away from the radio/Top 40/iTunes list, and find something new to listen. After this particular release, you’ll be glad you did.”

Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing To – LUH

“LUH (Lost Under Heaven)’s debut record, produced by dark ambient wonderkind The Haxan Cloak, is an unsettling, deceitful, yet compelling record. The moment you hit play, any semblance of subtlety and serenity is thrown out the window. Lead vocalist Ellery Roberts’ voice is one that is not easy to listen to, but it’s also not easy to forget. It’s raspy and throaty delivery complements the multitude of different tones this album has to offer. From orchestral/post rock buildups (“I&I”) to the traditional pop structure with some sharp synths to taste (“Beneath The Concrete”) to ambient soundscapes (“Future Blues”), there’s a lot to go around.”

We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest

“The discussion has been dominated by hip hop’s brand new voices who both preach and practice progression within the genre, to a point where many older, reactionary fans are feeling a bit isolated, and very confused. It’s anything but a new conversation. The growing divide peaked with Lil Yachty’s admission to never having listened to Notorious B.I.G. (he also confessed to never having eaten a vegetable, so let’s put things in context). Enter A Tribe Called Quest, who haven’t released music for nearly 20 years, but have been nothing but aggressively progressive for their entire career. With a discography matched by few, and a legacy solidified within the spectrum of American music, they have nothing to prove, but seemingly a lot to say.”

You Sound So Gross Right Now – Noah LeGrand

“Noah LeGrand is a multi-instrumentalist from Denton, Texas (or as trendy magazines call it, the place Jason Lee is making more fun :( ) He delivers mostly upbeat indie rock tunes with a sunny and simple aesthetic that isn’t overly sweet. Although Noah shows a knack for writing catchy melodies, You Sound So Gross Right Now has no diversity between the tracks. But even now, he’s delivered a set of solid bedroom singer-songwriter tracks for the masses.”

Adore Life – Savages

“Savages’ debut Silence Yourself is one of the greatest albums to come out of the 2010s era. Its volatile combination of noise rock, gothic rock, and post-punk, all led by a vocalist who evokes Annie Lennox in a brooding fashion, slapped many faces with tracks like “Husbands” and “Shut Up”, the latter being an apt title for what the album eventually did to audiences in 2013. What was most captivating about Silence Yourself was its relentless onslaught of grit & fury, of grace and emotion; Silence Yourself gave everyone huge expectations for Adore Life. However, after being promised a “beast of a record”, we’re met with one that abandons most of the grit and noise, and focuses more on songwriting – to an underwhelming effect.”

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OVERLOOKED RECORDS 2016

We need more writers! These are the records we listened to, but just could not make the time to review. Instead, here are our very, very short words on the numerous records we may have not been able to tackle. We are human – forgive us.

 

…we need more writers.

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IV – BadBadNotGood

This new album is not as exciting as it should’ve been, and a bit of a “weak one out” compared to other great jazz or jazz-influenced albums in recent times (Blackstar, The Epic, To Pimp A Butterfly, etc.). The addition of a fourth member, saxophonist Leland Whitty, doesn’t stop the album from feeling quite barren.

All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend – Aurora

While AURORA is a good singer, and some of the song topics are quite unexpectedly grim for this genre (“Murder Song (5, 4, 3, 2, 1)” is about the act of mercy killing), it’s over-reliance on minimalistic instrumentals that keep getting less and less interesting as well as some awful vocal melodies (“Running With The Wolves”, “Warrior”) keep her from really standing out in the wave of post-Lorde singer-songwriters.

Running Out Of Love – The Radio Dept.

For this album, The Radio Dept change their “Pet Shop Boys meets Slowdive”-esque sound for one more rooted in New Order style electronica. Unfortunately, the result is an album that is much more dull compared to it’s fantastically grim but blissful predecessors, even with the more politically charged lyrics this time around*.
*reference intended.

Tired Of Tomorrow – Nothing

While the alternative rock influences aren’t exactly used as well as they should be, and it ends up making their metal-influenced shoegaze sound less interesting than their previous album, Guilty of Everything, Tired of Tomorrow is still quite a solid album. Anyone interested in shoegaze, or at least those who liked their previous album, should stop to check it out.

Stoney – Post Malone

Admittedly, I’m quite a sucker for spacey,  ambient-esque trap instrumentals, so from a production standpoint, I didn’t find the album that bad. However, Post Malone’s mumbley “sing-rap” schtick is still quite bothersome, and it ranges from being tolerable at best (White Iverson), to being kinda grating (Deja Vu, Cold, Too Young) to being utterly unbearable at worst (literally any “emotive” ballad on this album). It also doesn’t help the fact that anything he says comes across as a well-off kid trying awkwardly to imitate his favorite rappers.

Spirit Phone – Lemon Demon

This album is filled to the brim with really great new-wave throwback tunes. The lyrics are not only goofy and fun, but also showcase a surprising amount of forethought and wit on them (“Lifetime Achievement Award” and “I Earn My Life” in particular). Neil Cicierega again showcases that he is far more talented and competent than the typical internet celebrity.

Worry – Jeff Rosenstock

I can’t believe I did it again. I forgot to listen to this guy’s album until about a month after it came out. This is the best pop punk, power pop, whatever-rock album I’ve heard all year. Brutally honest, funny but still poignant. “Wave Goodnight To Me” has the best chorus of Q4 2016, no doubt. The diversity of sounds on this album is great, too.

Jesu/Sun Kil Moon – Jesu/Sun Kill Moon

It’s very endearing to hear Mark Kozelek ramble on about life over these beautiful and brooding instrumentals on this very odd collaboration. It’s unlike anything else I heard this year and it really stuck out. Too bad I didn’t finish it until this month. If you like post-metal or really straightforward singer-songwriters, you’ll love this.

Hardwired…To Self-Destruct

This is the Metallica you wanted to hear. It’s not without its edginess lyrically, which can be hard to stomach, but these are still well-structured songs that really do rock. Great harmonized guitar leads and tasty production make this a super fun thrash release. This was way better than Megadeth’s new album.

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Coloring Book – Chance The Rapper

Adding to his collection of free mixtapes, Chance released his third album in May of 2016, which immediately stole the hearts of millennials around the nation.  Its upbeat fusion of hip hop and gospel made it the perfect album to throw on when you needed a picker-upper, ranging from soft sing-a-longs like “Same Drugs” and “Juke Jam” to bass-thumping bangers like “All We Got”, “No Problem” and “All Night”.  Perfect for any occasion, Coloring Book was an album to chill to and an album to dance to, and even though Chance was not going for the feel of Acid Rap, songs like “D.R.A.M. Sings Special” and “How Great” seemed to drag amongst the others.  In retrospect, this may have been his intention the whole time, opening Coloring Book with an anthem featuring Kanye West and the Chicago Children’s Choir, juxtaposing mainstream hip hop with his hometown gospel roots.

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Holy Ghost – Modern Baseball

The third studio album by the indie emo/punk rock band Modern Baseball sees no shortage of heavy subjects, despite the sometimes cheery-sounding vocals of Ewald and Lukens.  This contrast between mood and subject matter can be noticed particularly in songs like “Wedding Singer” and “Coding These To Lukens”.  However, the majority of the album is far too depressing to be saved by their creative wordplay and loud instrumentation.  If you’re ever angry, but have no control over the situation you’re in, this album is for you.

Telefone – Nonanme

This sleeper hit of a record showcases Noname’s knack for fusing eloquent flows & rhymes with soothing, and at times, quirky instrumentation. With the doo-wop magic of “Sunny Duet”, the fragmented xylophone sample on “Forever”, and the 90s – infused “Diddy Bop”, you’re sure to find a moment on Telefone you’ll come to love. With dexterous rhymes delivered very hushed and toned down, it’s no wonder why this gem slithered past your ears. Just don’t let it happen again.

When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired – Mothers

Delicate when necessary, propulsive to match the intensity, and all-around evocative and gut-wrenching, Mothers’ debut is a heart-shattering debut – a folk rock exercise through the typical ups and downs of melancholy. The pristine strings on “Too Small For Eyes” complement vocalist Kristine Leschper’s equally as pristine lyrics perfectly. The album dips in discordant moods (“Burden of Proof”) and driving folk rock tunes (“It Hurts Until It Doesn’t”,) providing a varied palate to soundtrack the low points in your life, and almost always reminding you the importance of getting back up again.

The Sun’s Tirade – Isaiah Rashad

With R&B infused production and a slurred, almost drunken, delivery The Sun’s Tirade is THE smoothest hip hop record of 2016. The entire sixty three minute record slides, glides, and slithers freely and ambidextrously to a transcendent degree. From star-studded bangers (“Wat’s Wrong) to meditative moments (“Silkk da Shocka”) to trap-influenced beats (“Tity and Dolla”), Isaiah Rashad provides an alluring record of hip hop that keeps you diving in back for more, constantly discovering a new detail every time.

Down In Heaven – Twin Peaks

The scrappy Chicago rock group’s second LP is a bittersweet and infectious collection of bluesy, power pop songs that will tickle anyone’s fancy. The album opener is a timeless ode to young love, while bluesy riff of “Butterfly” constantly reminds one why group choruses are, sometimes, a great idea. To diversify, The Boys insert a few hidden gems, such as “Heavenly Showers”, an acoustic ballad that is just as messy as it is sweet.

White Album – Weezer

Weezer is back – no doubt in anyone’s mind, especially after listening to this record. After a few missteps, the group has delivered there most consistent and enjoyable release. Back to the drawing board of the beginning, Weezer crank out power pop tune after power pop tune, complete with the sugary sweet hook and corny yet passionate lyricism. “(Girl We Got A) Good Thing” is an effervescent highlight of 2016 pop rock, while “Do You Wanna Get High?” remains a constant anachronistic title that never gets old, especially for Weezer’s die-hard fans.

The Glowing Man – Swans

Following the fantastic To Be Kind, and closing the chapter on the current reincarnation of Swans, Michael Gira and Co. deliver a dense, meditative, and churning 118 min record of some the most intense experimental rock you’ll hear this year. By trading their blunt aggressiveness for longer, slower, leaner, and more cathartic climaxes, the songs on The Glowing Man blended together, into a nearly two hour odyssey into the twisted and dark minds of one of rock’s oldest, and greatest, acts.

Lil Boat – Lil Yachty

While drowning in auto-tune and generic trap beat after generic trap beat, Lil’ Yachty manages to convey an astonishing amount of innocence into banger after banger after banger. As young as he is, Yachty’s ubiquity in the hip hop scene is unavoidable; and polarizing hip hop heads left and right, it’s an underdog story for the ages. Regardless of the praise and hate Lil’ Boat remains to be a catchy, fun, silly, and at times nuanced mixtape, and one of 2016’s best offerings.

Rheia – Pathbreaker

Blackgaze is still a trend, and it’s not tired just yet. Proof? Oathbreaker’s furiously demanding Rheia – a 63-minute journey of anger, pain, and darkness. Album highlight “Needles In Your Skin” ends with the most intense guitars and guttural screams of 2016. If you’re looking to let go of some aggression, or be immersed in it, then look no further than this burning and impassioned record.

No, My Name Is Jeffery – Young Thug

Young Thug is changing hip-hop for the better. While critics will condone his un-decipherable vocals, one cannot deny his enthusiastic and liberating need to express everything inside him, completely disregarding proper pronunciation and letting loose in a free-spirited manner. It’s unadulterated bliss, and produces some of 2016’s most important bangers; from the reggae infused “Wyclef Jean” to the absolute bonkers “Harambe”, No My Name Is Jeffery is a career best, and signals the irrefutable rise of Young Thug.

 

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READER’S POLL RESULTS 2016

Another year, and you guys prove to be the most inconsistent readers out there. We love you all! Here are the results!

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

from the album

  1. Blackstar – David Bowie
  2. Blonde – Frank Ocean
  3. We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest
  4. Malibu – Anderson. Paak
  5. (TIE) Cardinal – Pinegrove / A Sailor’s Guide To Earth – Sturgill Simpson
  6. American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story – Kevin Abstract

SONG OF THE YEAR

childish-gambino-awaken-my-love

  1. “Redbone” Childish Gambino
  2. “Because I’m Me” The Avalanches
  3. “Fill In The Blank” Car Seat Headrest
  4. (TIE) “Love Somebody” St. Lucia / “We The People…” A Tribe Called Quest
  5. (TIE) “Youth” Glass Animals / “You Don’t Owe Me” Son Lux / “Panda” Desiigner

 

EP/MIXTAPE OF THE YEAR

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  1. Coloring BookChance The Rapper
  2. EMOTION SIDE B – Carly Rae Jepsen
  3. No, My Name Is Jeffery – Young Thug
  4. iiiDrops – Joey Purp
  5. People Can’t Stop Chillin‘ – Sports
  6. Popestar – Ghost B.C

 

MOST UNDERRATED ALBUM

from the album

from the album

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. (TIE) WildflowerThe Avalanches / 24K Magic – Bruno Mars
  2. i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautful yet so unaware of it – The 1975
  3. Cardinal – Pinegrove
  4. (TIE) Splendor & Misery – clipping. / The Divine Feminine – Mac Miller
  5. Floss – Injury Reserve
  6. When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired – Mothers
  7. Sonderlust – Kishi Bashi

MOST OVERRATED ALBUM

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  1. Views – Drake
  2. The Life Of Pablo – Kanye West
  3. 4 Your Eyez Only – J. Cole
  4. Coloring Book – Chance The Rapper

 

BEST NEW ARTIST

from the album

  1. Whitney
  2. Noname
  3. Pinegrove
  4. Lil’ Yachty
  5. Anderson .Paak

MOST ANTICIPATED RECORD OF 2017

Damage & Joy – The Jesus & Mary Chain

Untitled – Mura Masa

RTJ 3 – Run The Jewels (LOL)

Nine Inch Nails (LOL)

The Garden

LCD Soundsystem

Lorde

Gorillaz

BEST MUSIC VIDEO

  1. LEMONADE – Beyoncé
  2. NIKES – Frank Ocean
  3. ALL THIS MONEY – Injury Reserve
  4. ONE NIGHT – Lil’ Yachty
  5. SHELTER – Porter Robinson

2016’S GUILTY PLEASURES

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Lil’ Yachty

“Panda” – Desiigner

Death Of A Bachelor – Panic! At The Disco

“Broccolli (feat. Lil’ Yachty) – D.R.A.M

“One Dance” –  Drake

“iSpy (feat. Lil’ Yachty)” – Kyle

EMOTION SIDE B – Carly Rae Jepsen

J.Cole

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“Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin'” Kid Cudi

Kid Cudi

Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin’ Album Review

Republic Records

Released December 16, 2016

Genre: Alternative Hip Hop, Trap, Pop Rap

Kid Cudi’s discography is a massive, ambitious, and divisive one. Some love the alternative hip-hop simplicity of Man On The Moon II; some like the more rock-influenced Indicud; and for some reason, people like Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven. Cudi’s music creates worlds where is the master of every element; and his ability to maintain control over every aspect of his records is an admirable feat. However, Cudi’s worlds are an acquired taste; you’re either in or out.

On his latest offering, Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin’, Cudi does not hold back – an 86-minute odyssey into the dark and eccentric psyche of Scott Mescudi. Sadly, despite the admirable amount of effort put into this record, the whole affair comes off as rather dull, and will hold little to no significance five years down to road. While this may be Cudi’s most focused effort yet since 2010, the songs here are too consistent, limited, and similar to even distinguish one from another. Too many times are songs structured around appreciating synths, trap hats, and Cudi’s mumbled vocals, that the result is rendered rather haphazardly.

This has held Cudi back, in retrospect; Cudi’s strongest point comes from his pop-influenced rock/rap fusions, or even his obscure yet stunningly realized tracks from his early days. Here, it’s difficult to distinguish track from track; the only standout is the ending track “Surfin'”, where the infectious melody and grooves is undeniably joyful. However, the outro section added on album cut is a disappointing extension of an otherwise decent track. Despite Cudi’s recent bout with mental health, it’s nice to him putting so much thought into his work; what doesn’t help is that a large chunk of it remains rather dull and insignificant.

Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin’ is one of Cudi’s most focused projects, sadly it’s just too focused.

FAV TRACKS: Surfin’

LEAST FAV TRACK: Wounds

SCORE: (5.0/10)

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“Starboy” The Weeknd

The Weeknd

Starboy Album Review

XO/Republic

Released November 25, 2016

Genre: R&B, Disco, 80s Synth Funk

The Weeknd has come a long way from being a blogosphere darling. No longer is he hiding behind anonymity and hazy, codeine soaked soft jamz. No longer is he crooning about being an awful person. For someone who appreciates morally guided artistry, this may sound like a great next step for Abel’s personal life, but it definitely affects his music. Starboy is just not very interesting in any sense of the word. Even though Abel might have the best voice in mainstream pop, his infectious voice cannot this album from being drab.

Production has always been extremely important for The Weeknd in the past, but that is not the case here. While everything is high budget and sleek, the melodies aren’t as sticky and sometimes the beats just have too much going on (“Nothing Without You”). Abel is singing over 80s-style synth-funk and disco for most of the album, like a nighttime chase-scene in a cheesy 80s action movie. In concept, this is a logical step for him to take in terms of picking beats – they are sadly subdued throughout. The most interesting song is “Rockin'” which sounds like he collaborated with a UK Garage producer. This song was a good move for Abel, but makes some awful moves on Starboy. As a huge fan of T-Pain, I was worried to hear The Weeknd use Autotune on the song “Sidewalks.” This is the ONE guy on the radio right now who doesn’t need Autotune. It didn’t make sense as an effect for the song and just sounded super out of place.

The Weeknd is not the same artist you showed your friends in the early 2010s when you wanted to prove you knew better R&B than them. Starboy is an uninteresting, shoddily-written (“I got an Asian Chick/she go lo mein”) way-too-long (well over an hour) mess.

FAV TRACK: Rockin’

LEAST FAV TRACK: Sidewalks

SCORE: (3.0/10)

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“American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story” Kevin Abstract

Kevin Abstract

American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story Album Review

Brockhampton/ EMPIRE

Released November 18, 2016

Genre: Alternative R&B, Alternative Hip Hop

American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story is a diary; a saga of deeply personal entries covering sexuality, love, relationships, and acceptance. Above all, it’s a journey of self-discovery from an ambitious and steadily rising 20-year old from Corpus Christi. Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, this buffet of genres, ranging from alternative rock to R&B to hip hop, showcases Kevin’s (born Ian Simpson) shift in direction to genres other than hip hop, previously showcased on his debut MTV1987.

Much like this year’s critically-praised Blonde, Abstract’s record also focuses on relationships, love, and gratification. Whereas Ocean’s sexuality is fully made known, Abstract’s expression is a bit less accepted. ““Can’t tell my family I’m bi, can’t tell my mother I’m gay, the hardest part of my day is wishing I was ***ing straight” he raps on “Papercut” over a Cranberries-esque guitar, choirs, and a jazzy cornet. It’s one of the many moments on this record where Abstract blends a multitude of genres into one cohesive song. The opener ‘Empty” is as pop as it gets, Abstract desperately asking his partner to stay (along with the conflicting ad-libs perfected throughout the track. “Tattoo” is more alt rock than it is R&B, as is “Yellow”; and “Echo” is pure orchestral R&B à la Channel Orange. In terms of styles, he isn’t changing or adding much. However, to cohesively blend this many genres, is impressive to say the least.

What really matters, however, is if Abstract feels, or has reached, any sort of gratification and acceptance – not just from his family but from everyone around him. It’s no surprise that homosexual African-American youth are one of the most overlooked, and heavily rejected, subcultures today, hell there’s an even a film to address this conflict. “I  Do (End Credits)” finds him, in a very high pitched voice, proudly proclaiming “I ain’t sorry about shit motherfucker”! If anything, that’s indicative of Abstract reaching his own form of self -acceptance amidst the personal conflicts in his life. If anything, that’s all he needs; and one can only hope that he maintains, and never loses, that sense of clarity.

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

FAV TRACKS: Empty, Seventeen, Yellow, Flintridge, Papercut, Miserable America, American Boyfriend,

LEAST FAV TRACK: Echo

SCORE: 8.3/10

from the album "24k Magic"

“24K Magic” Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars

24K Magic Album Review

Atlantic

Released November 17, 2016

Genre: Funk, Synth Funk, Pop, R&B, New Jack Swing

A time to dance. That’s what this is. It’s a crazy world right now, with the election results causing everyone in the country to turn against each other. Right now we just need to dance. 24K Magic is the perfect dance album for the fall. I’ve always thought of Bruno Mars as a talented singer who always hopped on annoying songs. This one is different, it’s “not like the other boys.” Mars is COMMANDING on the entire album, singing with gusto over amazing pop tracks that hearken back to the 80s.

The album kicks off with the title track. The synthesizers dance underneath Bruno’s spoken delivery. The drums pop, especially when they have a trap interlude in the middle of the song, and the guitars are in the pocket. The 80s worship is so well done here and cheeky, with great lines like “known to give the color red the blues.” I’m glad that Bruno has taken a concept like bling and make it not corny past the year 2010. There’s nothing else to say, just a great dance tune that will work its magic on anyone. This might be the 2010s version of “Back That Azz Up,” a song that will make anyone dance.

Speaking of sexual posterior movement, the one-two-three punch combo of “Chunky,” “Perm” and “Versace on the Floor” are incredibly sexy. “Chunky” has such a multilayered synth part that each listen reveals new surprises. “Perm” is total James Brown worship, but completely ensures “Azz” shaking. “Versace on the Floor” is reminiscent of Luther Vandross slow jams but the influence is well-executed. Bruno has so much confidence on all of these tracks and it’s infectious.

Bruno actually takes a lot of influence from 80s styles of popular music, from R&B to new jack swing to synth funk. It’s amazing to hear him tackle these styles with finesse, like on the song “Finesse” which sounds like a Bell Biv Devoe track. The fact that so many songs sound like songs made by other artists is a LITTLE disappointing, as some fans would want Bruno to come through with a distinct sound. His voice is so distinct, simultaneously boyish and mature, that it compensates for the music. A more distinct sound, and a stronger closer than “Too Late To Say Goodbye,” would have made this album even more incredible. With all of that said, it is still a great time and has great replay value. It’s also only a half hour long so it isn’t boring in the slightest. Enjoy for nostalgia or for the spirit of the funk!

Best New Music

FAV TRACKS: 24k Magic, Chunky, Perm, Versace on the Floor

LEAST FAV TRACK: Too Late to Say Goodbye

Score: (8.9 / 10)