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ATVS Ranks: Top 10 Albums Of 2016 (& Lagniappe)

Your local ATVS hipsters rank their top ten albums of the year.

Head coaches come and go and so do otherworldly talents at running back, but music is forever. Despite the fact that it is constantly changing and evolving, it is always here for us and is one of our lone constants in this world where change is inevitable and comfort is a rarity.

…But we’re only human and we view everything through a scope of time and love few things more than objective lists. And end of year lists constitute a combination of both.

So, as a holiday gift from the hipsters on staff at And The Valley Shook!, here are our Top 10 Albums Of The Year (And Lagniappe)

Adam Henderson

Honorable Mentions (no order): GROUPLOVE | Big Mess; Miike Snow | iii; Bas | Too High To Riot; Jeff Rosenstock | WORRY; Kanye West | The Life Of Pablo

10 – Kendrick Lamar | untitled unmastered.

An album compromised solely of B-sides lands on an Top 10 Albums Of The Year list.

That’s the power of Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, the best rapper alive right now. A compilation of songs that were either cut from or made post-To Pimp A Butterfly, untitled unmastered. is somehow remarkably more connected than most albums released this year are. Pimp Pimp Hooray indeed.

Over the course of 35 minutes, Kendrick raps on nothing new for him: social injustice, his status as a celebrity and his relationship with his home of Compton, sin, and of course, his place in the rap game. Led by the long and winding piecemeal jam session that was Levitate (untitled 07), untitled unmastered. was a statement, but it wasn’t stuff we haven’t heard before. untitled 03 debuted during The Colbert Report’s end run and was expected to be a single, but was never heard from again until untitled unmastered. dropped. Everything else was cut from TPAB out of necessity, but the fact that everything still gels together as a standalone album is a testament to Kdot.

9 – Future | EVOL

Over the course of 2014-2016, Future Hendrix went on a scorched Earth tour of the likes I’m not sure we’ve seen in the rap game. If Kendrick is the best rapper in the game, Future was the most tireless, dropping project after project after project.

Released just in time for Mardi Gras, EVOL was the coup de grace for Fewtch’s prolific run. Future would go on to host a banging mixtape for DJ Esco titled Project E.T., but Evol was the album that marked the midnight hour of Future’s long night over the rap game.

Future majorly changed little from his run for EVOL, fucking bitches in Gucci flip flops graduated to fucking DA ladies in their mouth though. But for EVOL he added to his repertoire. It’s as if he felt the Esco Boomin-type beats getting stale, so he added different tempos and even some guitar based beats, which is what transforms Maybach from a solid display of lyricism to certified banger.

And of course, the difference between what Future raps about and what every other trap rapper talks about is the hurt coming from Future. While he’s bragging about the life he’s living, it’s very obviously that Future is very much not ok with it. This is hinted at the veiled sarcastic nature of welcoming new recruits to his stable of women in Xanny Family. This come to a head at Lie To Me, where in a roundabout way Future talks about issue that we haven’t heard him address before, such as social-media created frustrations and his own failures outside of the rap business. But Low Life is the banger of all bangers on EVOL, where Future fully embraces his lifestyle behind a verse of the year set of bars from The Weeknd, which nearly nobody saw coming.

But this is Future, and despite all of that, the final two songs on the album are the ultimate flexes. There’s Fly Shit Only where Future puts his flow on display on top of another beat that features a guitar base and then there’s Wicked, where Future tells of the ways he’s been wronged by wicked women and the ways he himself can become wicked over the mother of all Metro Boomin’ and Southside beats.

Oddly enough, the next dominant force in the rap game could not be any more different from Future’s…

8 – Yeasayer | Amen & Goodbye

Four years of work. 39 minutes and 26 seconds to show for it.

That’s what happens when an experimental band like Yeasayer leaves synthpop and goes to upstate New York to record a new album, only to record it again after a leak following a rainstorm ruins all the tapes from the studio time.

So what happens when you get (read: have) to record an album for a sound you’ve just jumped into for a second time? You end up with Amen & Goodbye. The work Yeasayer put into bringing the album to the public pays off though. And don’t make the mistake of thinking they didn’t take their time with the second go around, this is the first and second verse from their single and probably the best song on the album, I Am Chemistry:

I'm digoxin from the foxglove plant

The last remaining VX from Anniston

I'm an ACN and I'm DDT

Tap into your spine

I am a chemistry

It's a gas, a sarin for high tea

A C4H10FO2P puts you on your knees

A sulfur dichloride with ethylene

I say it again: I am a chemistry

All of that to express the way that the narrator is bad for you. Unless you’re an actual chemistry major, good look making sense of that without the help of Genius. And that’s the effort they put into every song on the album. Over the course of those 39 minutes and change Yeasayer tackles the tendencies for victims of abuse to blame themselves (Silly Me), the economy (Dead Sea Scrolls), being in love with the idea of somebody (Divine Simulacrum), headaches (Gerson's Whistle, which samples the same rainstorm that destroyed the tapes), and suicide (Cold Night), all which despite genrehopping, are remarkably tied together with biblical references being the knot on top.

It’s a miracle that Amen & Goodbye was even made, a testament to hard work and a tireless pursuit of perfection that in the end reflects the time put into it with it’s undeniable quality.

7 – Chance The Rapper | Coloring Book

Chance kept true to his word.

He did a good ass job with Chance Three and made it so free and the bars so hard there’s not one gosh darn part you can’t tweet.

I’ll talk about this in more detail down the list, but Coloring Book was Chance taking Kanye’s lob pass to the rim for a glass-shattering dunk. It’s impossible to tell what kind of lasting effect Coloring Book and The Life Of Pablo will have on the rap game.

But as far for the actual mixtape goes in terms of the quality of the song, Coloring Book failed to take the next step. There is no such thing as bad song on Coloring Book, and the highs are incredibly high, from the undeniable catchy flow of No Problems to the soul-searingly long and clean How Great into that transitions into Chance spilling his heart over broken beat. But in between, there’s something more to be desired. Backed by Donnie Trumpet, every song in good, but at times the tracklisting felt disconnected. Nowhere else is this more evident by the gospel-soaked How Great transitioning into Smoke Break, a song exactly about what you think it is, complete with a feature from Future.

I think in the end, this album will be remembered for what it did to the rap scene and the way rappers approach their profession, if only for content over quality. And that’s wholly ok.

If you’re mad at me for Coloring Book’s slot, stick around and let me explain.

6 – Tegan And Sara | Love You To Death

Pop music can have heart after all.

At this point in their career, the Quin sister’s eighth album should not have songwriting this brisk and honest. At this point, their music should be drivel that is designated for chart positions and fun to listen to, and not still something that deals with the struggles of sexuality.

Tegan And Sara have the best of both. Maybe this is due to the fact that Love You To Death was written by both siblings, ending the cycle of alternating writing credits on albums. Anchored by Boyfriend, the lone single from the album, Love You To Death is 39 minutes of non-stop fun music with serious lyrics attached to it. Boyfriend deals with a relationship with another woman who has never had relations with another woman and the difficulties that presents. Boyfriend is preceded by That Girl, an honest reflection of the changes and compromises that both sisters experienced in their lives from when they both became musicians and open in their sexuality. And then there is White Knuckles, a song about the hardships that the sisters have endured together as band that boiled over in a Scotland dressing room, where Neil Young encouraged the duo to cancel their remaining shows and take some time to sort out their differences.

Love You To Death isn’t music that makes you think too hard or addresses the hard topics in society, but it’s the perfect marriage of car trip music and pure emotion that we turn to music for so often. Between Ellie Goulding, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Tegan And Sara, pop music is carving out a niche outside of the mass produced bouncy drivel that it has become over the years.

5 – Parquet Courts | Human Performance

“It’s like if David Byrne was more American.”

Those are words of fellow ATVS staffer Zach Rau about Parquet Courts (AKA Parkay Quarts) frontman Andrew Savage. It’s a spot on comparison, as the Talking Heads influence is undeniable in Parquet Court’s fifth album in as many years.

The album (excluding the digital-only Already Dead, which is fantastic in it’s own right) kicks off with Dust, a song about Dust. There’s no double meaning or metaphors. Dust is everywhere, so sweep. What makes Human Performance so great is that they can go from singing about a germaphobe’s worst nightmare and the fact that their favorite Chinese place just closed without an ounce of warning (I Was Just Here) to the gut-wrenching Human Performance, where Savage ponders a past relationship and meditates on if he deserved the heartbreak he is currently experiencing, singing “It never leaves me, just visits less often; It isn't gone and I won't feel its grip soften without a coffin” about the depression that follows the end of the breakup.

But nowhere is the Talking Heads similarity stronger than it is on One Man, No City, which sounds exactly like a B-side from Speaking In Tongues, where Savage rejects the notion that a person’s identity is in any way dependent upon the city they are from or currently live in, eventually leading a rejection of basic tenants of human day to day life, all of which takes place over a bongo-lead beat backed by simple yet effect guitars and bass.

Even when they slow it down like they do on the tambourine and mournful guitar based Steady On My Mind, Parquet Courts knocks it out of the park.

There is a dip in quality after Berlin Got Blurry, as the goodwill brought up by the Talking Heads cues starts to fade. Overall, Parquet Courts showed that they know what kind of niche they fit into and became much more confident as a band, but the only thing Human Performance didn’t do was leave a mark on that incredibly particular style of music.

4 – Domo Genesis | Genesis

The last thing any of us were expecting from the Odd Future clan was an album that poured soul all over a bunch of laid back beats, but that’s exactly what we got on Domo Genesis’ debut album.

The aptly named intro Awkward Groove plays directly into One Below, which begins with a long message from Domo’s mother about coming to grips with the fact that it’s time for her to share the talent her son has with the world. And then she does just that as Domo raps one of my personal favorite verses of the year about his come up and his formative years, both as a person and as a rapper, which sets the pace for the rest of the album, Go (Gas) notwithstanding. One Below breaks down into Wanderer, a song with a beat and piano loop so simple and so it’s impossible not to bob your head as Domo raps about the possibility that he has given up on everything in his life to pursue a rap career.

What makes Genesis stand out from the contemporaries is that outside of Go (Gas), the entire are raps placed over extremely laid back and simplistic or uptempo and moving beats, both of which normally are just used for novelty songs on an album. It’s refreshing to see those types of instrumentals lining for an entire studio album and to be paired with some pretty great bars.

But the jewel of the album is Dapper, a song which is more in line with your typical rap song but is placed on an upbeat base that is undeniable along with the voice of Anderson .Paak accompanying Domo’s smooth as silk flow.

3 – clipping. | Splendor & Misery

There’s no point in dressing it up more than I have to: it’s a space rap opera.

It shouldn’t work. It should be as corny as Hamilton. It does and it isn’t.

clipping. is an experimental hip hop group and that’s a conservative way to put it. They’re rapped over a beat that was just an alarm clock going off and a beat composed strictly of gunshots. Nobody made them do that, they did it to simply see if they could. And they could. Nobody made them make a concept album about human cargo that overtakes a ship that is conflicted with how to feel about its new captor. The story begins with The Breach, where the human cargo fighting and overtaking the ship is narrated strictly from the ship’s perspective (because the songs form a narrative, I will not be linking to them, you have to actually listen to the album).

In true concept album fashion, the songs bleed and fade over into each other making it difficult to notice different songs unless you’re fully paying attention, but a few songs in particular stand out, the first being All Black, the six minute place-setter for the story about a ship and its newly appointed captain. All Black is unique in that it is told entirely from the ship’s perspective, just like The Breach, but here we gain insight into the ship’s analysis of the cargo and the situation they are now in. Here, the word “all black” has three different meanings: the first is that the ship has lost contact with its base, leaving it “in the dark”. Secondly, the ship has been taken over by a slave, who is indeed black. Lastly, the ship decides not to divert from its course and continues its journey into the deepest pocket of journey. The beat that unfolds over is nothing but bleeps and bloops and a slow rise and fall of strings, something that sounds like it was lifted from Interstellar.

Air ‘Em Out is the second of such songs that are noteworthy. Without giving away too much of the plot, Air ‘Em Out serves as the “turn” of the story, and it’s perfectly placed. A much tougher rap, Air ‘Em Out goes from a thrashing trap song on the verses to hip-hop epic for the hook, which is placed over gleaming synths that get progressively stronger and stronger. Out of the entire album, Air ‘Em Out stands as the best candidate for a single or even standalone song (it made an appearance in the Auburn Tiger Tracklist here on ATVS).

What follows Air ‘Em Out is a string of songs that move the story to it’s climax, A Better Place. Again, there’s no spoiler of the plot in this review, but the protagonist and the ship are looking for “a better place to be somebody else” as they sink further and further into the all-black everything.

2 – David Bowie | Blackstar

The man who fell to Earth eventually rose back up, but not before saying one last goodbye.

11 months later, it’s still hard talking about it. It’s even harder talking about this album without talking about David Bowie the person and the musician.

So I’ll get right to it and try to be as succinct as possible. David Bowie did not get me into music, nor was he or his music incredibly vital to my growth and development as a person. I didn’t grow up during Bowie’s peak and I didn’t fully tap into the Bowie discography until I reached college. But I know. Too often we throw the phrase “there will never be another ____” around, but will never be another David Bowie. David Bowie wasn’t a “once in a lifetime” talent, Bowie was a once talent. The music was just facet of what made David Bowie so unique, he was constantly reinventing himself and at times it just seemed that he was decades ahead of his time most of time and the other times he was operating on an entirely different spectrum than everybody else on the planet.

Blackstar was the last time he would do that. Unbeknownst to the public, before his death two days after his 69th birthday Bowie was diagnosed with liver cancer. Blackstar was released on January 8th, Bowie’s birthday, and served as his goodbye to all of us.

Blackstar begins with the track of the same name, a work composed originally for The Last Panthers. But given Bowie’s death and the theme of the songs that followed it, the subtext has changed a bit. From this new perspective, Bowie talks about his career and what his departure from the world will mean for the rest of us.

Something happened on the day he died,

Spirit rose a metre then stepped aside

Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried

“I’m a Blackstar”

David Bowie the person is gone. But his legacy, from his music to his personality, will live on forever and continue to inspire the next generation of artists as it already has for acts like Lorde and Lady Gaga.

And then there is Lazarus, Bowie’s self-eulogy that opens in the most gut-wrenching way possible:

Look up here, I'm in heaven

I've got scars that can't be seen

I've got drama, can't be stolen

Everybody knows me now

In true Bowie fashion, I’m not sure if this has ever been done before. Sure, artists have looked back on their careers and lives in music form, Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen, in this very year, have done that. But I’m not sure anybody has eulogized their own life, let alone as good as Bowie did on Blackstar. Even his goodbye, Bowie was always doing something that was just one step ahead artistically than what anybody else even considered doing. Blackstar will serve as a testament to his legacy, a solitary candle.

1 – dvsn | SEPT. 5TH

Fuck With Me Now.

Those are the first words sung by dvsn front man Daniel Daley laid over producer and other half of dvsn Nineteen85’s pitch-shifted guitar strums. And honestly, I was hooked on the album before those words were spoken thanks to the catchy and innovative work from Nineteen85.

dvsn is much more than the combination of an immaculate singing voice and top level production and songbuilding. dvsn is about confidence, and sex. The confidence is inherit, you either have it or you don’t. Daniel Daley has it in spades, as it permeates through his voice and Nineteen85 has the instrumentals to accompany that. Which is good, because dvsn is also about love and sex and it requires confidence to talk about that. Not chasing it, anybody can talk about that. No, dvsn is about the issues that comes with sex and long-term relationships, how it can be therapy (Do It Well), a temporary fix to our problems (SEPT. 5TH), a hallucinogen (Hallucinations), and how it can bring out two polar extremes in people (Angela). In the titular track, the narrator is asking his girl to literally come fuck with him now, but he’s also telling her that he now he is ready for that kind of love, as Daley himself is more mature than most of his contemporaries and is much more cautious of that kind of attachment.

It’s hard to pinpoint where exactly it happened, but at some point in the past two decades R&B turned from songs about passion to songs about boning. What makes SEPT. 5TH so great for me is the fact that it’s the perfect fusion of contemporary instrumentals (outstanding contemporary instrumentals, that is) with the passion that was prevalent in the 90’s. Sex is an integral part to relationships, and to avoid all the complications that arise from it is just as childish as chasing it from every pretty woman (or man) you meet (which is also addressed in Try/Effortless). And it’s the confidence and frankness that is on display here that takes SEPT. 5TH from a “pretty good album full of bedroom bangers” to “Album of the Year”. There's a lot of people on this Earth who can hit to notes to the hook on Hallucinations, but very few can convey the emotions that go along with it like Daley can.

But there’s one person I have to say and I’m only saying it once so pay attention: dvsn is an OVO Sound Label, which took their already released singles and built an album around it in two short months. So to their boss, Aubrey “Drake” Graham: Thank you.

You only get one.

Best New Artist – dvsn

Honorable Mentions (no order): Domo Genesis, Kiiara

You don’t make the Album of the Year on your debut and NOT win Best New. This time last year, dvsn had just two songs to their credit, total (the third had yet to be released). By February they were signed and their full-length album was out in March. Not only was that a meteoric rise, but it was accompanied by an Album of the Year and little to no press. It’s not easy to be an R&B artist and thrive in a year where Frank Ocean underwhelmed us once more and Beyonce just decided to drop an album, but the boys from Toronto did it.

Artist Of The Year – Chance The Rapper

The biggest surprise of 2016 wasn’t the Cubs finally breaking through or Trump being nominated as President, it was gospel music’s resurgence into hip-hop. And at the forefront was Chance The Rapper, who let a beautiful rendition of How Great Is Our God ride for two minutes and four minutes as an into to a track on his third mixtape Coloring Book. Much like fellow Chicago rapper Kanye West, spirituality has always been a big part of who Chance is both as a person and a rapper, but with Chance 3 he took it a new level.

And here’s the thing: everybody loved it. The internet would have always loved Chance, but with Coloring Book Chance’s popularity soared to new heights.

And true to his word, he did it all without the help of a label or charging for his music. Think about that: somebody that has dropped a nearly universally praised album with two hit singles and is the new face of Kit Kat (literally) did all of that as an unsigned act, releasing all of music as mixtapes.

So for accomplishing all of that on his own, Chance The Rapper is the Artist of the Year for 2016.

Song Of The Year – Kanye West | Ultralight Beam (Ft. The-Dream, Kelly Price, Chance The Rapper, & Kirk Franklin)

Honorable Mentions (no order): Kiiara | Gold; Chance The Rapper | No Problem; Domo Genesis | Dapper; The Chainsmokers | Closer (Ft. Halsey)

If Chance The Rapper was the biggest force in the gospel revival movement that happened inside hip hop this year, then it was spearheaded by Ultralight Beam, the intro to Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo. Ultralight Beam is one large prayer, lasting five minutes and 21 seconds, and true to Kanye West, it is an epic. It relies on minimalist instrumentals, which was a nice change of pace from Yeezus. Instead, the vocal performances are what drives the song to be so great, from Kelly Price’s searing vocals and overpowering choir backing to what will go down as one of the best verses in rap history.

Ultralight Beam is Kanye’s song, but only technically. Ultralight Beam is Kanye’s song in the same way that a lobbed basketball belongs to the person passing it. Kanye recognized the potential Chance has and instead of going to the rim himself he placed it exactly where he needed to for Chance to complete the alley-oop.

Chance brought the backboard down.


2016 was an awful year. A divisive presidential campaign resulted in the country electing our collective id president. Beloved performers like Prince died too soon. Horrible bombings took too many lives in Orlando and Aleppo. Alabama and the Penguins won titles. Things got dark, man.

Pop music is uniquely suited to address a suddenly shifting zeitgeist. The gestation period from the germ of an idea to finished product is not nearly as long as, say, film or TV. So pop music has responded to this nut kick of a year by inundating us with a bunch of party anthems. A cursory look at the top singles and downloads shows a long list of insipid, escapist tunes. As if we just partied harder, none of this would be happening. Karl Marx was off the mark when he identified the opiate of the masses.

Even our most acclaimed artists like Kanye West, Frank Ocean, and Bon Iver decided this would be the time to release dense, inscrutable, deeply personal albums. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Worse yet, the records were boring as hell. Kanye then doubled down with his Unintentional Salute to Fascism Tour. Pop stars have always held themselves out to be demigods, but the subtext has never been less sub and more text than now. It’s like we’re in a bad rewrite of Wicked + Divine.

I don’t need every song to be a protest ballad or anything, but come on, guys. This year was spectacularly lousy for all of us. Luckily, outside of the charts, this was a fantastic year for new music, as musicians rose to the challenge. It was such a great year, I expanded my list of favorites to 11, just like Spinal Tap, and even listed a similar record a seriously considered for the top 10 to go along with each entry (with helpful YouTube links to the singles!). And even this excludes dozens of great albums. This really was a banner year. For my music library, at least.

11 - Beyonce | Lemonade

OK, one pop star rose to the challenge, as Beyonce essentially repurposed a bunch of songs about airing her dirty laundry with Jay Z into a commentary on Black Lives Matter and the experience of black women in America. I tend to find the Bee Hive to be the Bama fans of the internet: Beyonce has achieved cultural dominance yet her fans swarm to every small corner to loudly denounce even the slightest criticism of Queen Bey. The album works because the songs are great, first and foremost, but it is telling that Beyonce’s statement in favor of identity policy misses the mark entire on class and economics, as the album was released on the propriety service of Tidal, and the movie on the premium channel of HBO. There’s a metaphor about liberalism there. (Hear Formation)
But maybe… Rihanna | Anti. But I’ll be honest, when I want my pop hooks, I listen to Rihanna more often. (Hear Desperado)

10 - Modern Baseball | Holy Ghost

Critics keep trying to kill rock n roll, prematurely declaring the genre dead every year, but it steadfastly refuses to die. In fact, rock is still the best-selling genre by such a wide margin its sales are nearly the same as the next two genres combined (pop and R&B/hip hop). Nowhere is rock more alive than in Philadelphia, a scene which keeps churning out great bands. The greatest of these bands is Modern Baseball, which has lurched forward out of their adolescence and into its awkward adulthood. This is the record for when the know it all graduates, stares out into the huge world, and realizes just how little he knows. But they still know how to crank out huge riffs. (Hear Wedding Singer and Apple Cider, I Don’t Mind)
But maybe… Joyce Mannor | Cody. Modern Baseball’s tourmates are a classic third wave emo band that has similarly finally tackled adulthood. (Hear Fake ID)

9 - Danny Brown | Atrocity Exhibition

How cocky is Danny Brown? He’s directly quote Bombs Over Baghdad in one of his songs cocky. Hip hop has the illusion of being dangerous, as most songs are “shocking” within the expected confines of the rules laid down over the past three decades. And then there’s Danny Brown, veering all over the damn place. Yes, he raps about doing drugs and whoring it up, but his actions often have consequences, and this is a record that seems to revel in the sheer toll this reckless life takes on the body and soul. “Live a fast life/Seen many die slowly/Unhappy when they left/So I seize the moment” he barks on “Ain’t It Funny.” But he saves his most nimble rhymes for “When It Rain,” denouncing the way his hometown of Detroit has been allowed to die on the vine. Brown lives up to his boast that he was doomed from the time he emerged from the womb, but his choices are certainly helping him down that path. (Hear: When It Rain and Pneumonia)
But maybe… Chance The Rapper | Coloring Book. The flip side of Brown’s nihilism is the positivity and joy of Chance the Rapper. Sorry, Chance, I’m in the mood to wallow. (Hear Blessings)

8 - Nice As Fuck | Nice As Fuck

Jenny Lewis, formerly of Rilo Kelly, has kicked around from project to project the last few years, and she emerged this year in a new lo-fi project in support of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Adopting the trappings of flower power and 60s sloganeering (the “Give a Damn” t-shirts were a nice touch), Lewis and the rest of NAF strip down pop music to its bare essentials, even taking out the guitar. A drum, a bass, and some simple keyboard back up simple vocal tracks that sound like first drafts. It’s an urgent cry for help, as if they didn’t have time to review and revise, this had to exist right here, right now. While so much of the music establishment sat on its ass, Lewis got up off her ass and did something, and encouraged you to do the same. There’s no time like right now, there’s no one but us. (Hear: Guns and Door)
But maybe… Julie Ruin | Hit Reset. Kathleen Hanna is another music vet, formerly of Bikini Kill, who has found a new, stripped down project as a vehicle to vent her anger. (Hear: I Decide)

7 - Sturgill Simpson | A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

The term “Dad Rock” gets thrown around disparagingly a lot, but it’s never been an actual drama or anything. Simpson changes that, sort of… he’s a country artist, but making this album is an unapologetic love letter to his newborn son. As a dad myself, having a new release aimed specifically at me is almost disorienting. Pop music worships at the altar of youth, even more than film and TV. And here is Simpson, refusing to play that demographic game and making an adult record for his fellow adults. At the same time, he seems in on the Dad Rock joke, as he also throws in a country cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” for good measure. And it kicks ass. (Hear: In Bloom and Brace for Impact).
But maybe… Shovels And Rope | Little Seeds. The married partners are also new first time parents, and they ruminate on the new dynamic in their family and their band. (Hear: St Anne’s Parade)

6 - Bent Shapes | Wolves of Want

Every so often, you hear an album that feels like it was made just for you. That’s Wolves of Want to me. Bent Shapes are hyper-literate, over-educated nerds with an obviously deep knowledge of pop music history. They riff off the classic Germs’ song “What We Do Is Secret” by flipping it to Public, which is also a wry statement on our social media era. The song also starts with a reference to my favorite Beatles song (“I’ve Just Seen a Face”) and closes with the shrug off, “All in all, you were just another pic on my wall.” The album is packed so many references it ought to come with footnotes which, let’s face it, is my kind of album. The power pop veneer should make it go down easier for everyone else, but I’m not as interested in the candy-coated shell as the chalky medicine inside. This isn’t for everyone, but it’s certainly for me, and it’s my list. (Hear: New Starts in Old Dominion and What We Do is Public)
But maybe… Muncie Girls | From Caplan to Belsize. Named after THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, this British pop punk band is taking its first tentative steps into literate punk rock, not yet fully formed. (Hear: Respect)

5 - Drive-By Truckers | American Band

I’m not sure when DBT transitioned from the young upstarts of Southern rock, redefining and recontextualizing the genre, to the old statesmen of the scene. But consider the journey complete. After some troubling years for the band, they have emerged out the other side a smaller, wiser unit that is more comfortable in its own skin. The Truckers have always inserted politics into their take on the southern experience, but never so explicitly. However, for such a political record, it’s not like they are offering a whole bunch of answers. At the heart, the Truckers are storytellers, and while they try and guide you down a path, it’s important to know the chorus of “What It Means” ends with a question mark. But the strongest songs on the album are still variations on the same theme: “What does it mean to be Southern? What is it to be American?” The story of Patterson Hood’s ancestors in “Ever South,” the way we carry our past like scars in “Darkened Flags On the Cusp of Dawn,” or Cooley’s sneering look at Civil War mythmaking in “Surrender Under Protest” get to the heart of the band more than the current political posturing. But as liberal America wonders how to talk to the white working class, they might want to start by locking themselves in room with the entire DBT catalog. Start with this record. Play it loud. (Hear What It Means and Surrender Under Protest)
But maybe… Dexateens | Teenage Hallelujah. A little angrier, a little scruffier, and a little louder. The Dexateens make you want to lock yourself in trailer full of meth. (Hear Shake n Bake Astrovan)

4 - Thao And The Get Down Stay Down | A Man Alive!

Her earlier work more easily fit under the broad umbrella of Americana, but Thao Nguyen spread her wings on this album for a multi-genre mashup. Heck, she even samples the Amen Break on “Meticulous Bird,” which sounds like a lost B-side from Luscious Jackson (Mental Note: Listen to more Luscious Jackson). Thao is a ferocious live performer, which has never really come across on record before, but here it sounds like she is let loose like a prowling tiger. She wants to go down every blind alley, every discontinued path. It’s not a seamless mashup, but an actual mash up, like she has two toy trucks and she’s slamming them together for her own amusement. It’s an exciting album, and my wife’s favorite of the year. Which sort of makes it one of my favorites.(Hear Astonished Man and Nobody Dies)
But maybe… Katy Goodman & Greta Morgan | Take It, It’s Yours. A collection of punk covers reimagined as country-ish easy listening tunes. Talk about your genre mash-ups. (Hear Sex Beat)

3 - A Tribe Called Quest | We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

Tribe holds a special place in my heart. If you went to college in the early 90s, it’s almost as if The Low End Theory was included as part of your college orientation packet. In many ways, Tribe defines hip hop for me, and I’m not alone in that. I can’t be remotely objective about it. I have all of their records, I saw them in their heyday, and I devoured the documentary on them. For years, we waited for Phife and Tip to bury the hatchet and finally reunite for one more record, but we never believed it would actually happen. Hip hop had moved away from their sort of tag team vocals and wordplay. When Phife Dawg died earlier this year, it seemed like an end, not a beginning. To everyone’s surprise, it turns out Tribe was in the studio and Phife had already laid his vocals down for one last go around. It’s everything I wanted it to be. They pass the torch in “Dis Generation,” attack gentrification in “Space Program,” take prescient shots at the incoming President Trump in “Conrad Tokyo,” and finally say good bye to Phife Dawg on the final track, “The Donald.” The guest slots come fast and furious, especially from frequent collaborator Busta Rhymes, but it’s fitting that the final line of the album is “Phife Dawg.” This was his final gift, and one last hard elbow throw at his difficult friend, Q-Tip. (Hear We the People)
But maybe…De La Soul | The Anonymous Nobody. It’s almost like a full Native Tongues reunion up in here. I would’ve been ecstatic just with this reunion. (Hear Royalty Capes)

2 - PUP | The Dream is Over

2016 didn’t just suck in the abstract, it sucked on a personal level, too. My son was born with a birth defect known as lambdoid craniosynostosis which essentially means the joints in his skull were fused together, preventing brain and skull growth. He had surgery on my birthday which is par for the course as far as my birthday goes. During surgery, I sat in a quiet hallway blasting my iPod at a fairly unhealthy volume, in a futile attempt to avoid my utter helplessness. This was the album I listened to. Over and over again. The title of the album is taken from the doctor’s advice to the lead singer of PUP when he discovered polyps on his vocal chords rendering it impossible to sing (or in PUP’s case, scream). He made it through surgery okay and while the record isn’t specifically about surviving surgery, it feels like it is. I especially dug into “Sleep in the Heat,” an ode to his dead pet, as I mentally adjusted the lyrics to fit my situation (“You're wasting away and nothing I do is gonna save you/I'm trying my best but you can't even/Look at me or talk to me or tell me what's happening to you”). No album meant more to me personally this year. PUP is a bunch of kids from Canada, but they got me through one of the worst moments of my life. Thanks, guys. DVP, on the other hand, made me laugh. (Hear Sleep in the Heat and DVP)
But maybe… Dirty Nil | Higher Power. Perhaps we should outsource all of our punk rock to Canada. They appear to be better at it right now. (Hear Zombie Eyed)

1 - Car Seat Headrest | Teens of Denial

Never has an album about crippling depression sounded so good. “Fill in the Blank” kicks off the record with a bang, but it also is one of the best single descriptions of depression in song. You keep asking questions until you shut up, as friends helpfully suggest you haven’t tried hard enough to like it. A former bandcamp project now signed to Matador, Will Toledo’s bedroom punk is now a full-fledged band with the ambition to match. He seamlessly alternates between tuneful pop and long, sweeping epics. And he’s lyrically spot on, describing a drug experience, “I did not transcend, I felt like a walking piece of shit/In a stupid looking jacket” until later “Filled with loathing and religious fervor/I laid on my friend’s bedroom floor for an hour/And tried not to piss my pants.” The song eventually closes with lines of “Drugs are better with friends” overlapping with “Friends are better with drugs” as if the two line readings competing for air. The album even had its own bit of controversy, as the Cars removed permission to use a sample on “Not What I Needed,” causing Matador to pull the release and forcing the band to re-record the song without the sample. Instead, he got creative and sampled a loop of his own song played backwards. This is an ambitious, terrific debut, and it keeps getting better on every listen. (Hear Fill in the Blank and Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales)
But maybe… Hotlier | Goodness. If lo fi is not your thing, the lush recording of Hotelier has all of the ambition without any of the crackle and pop of Car Seat Headrest. (Hear Piano Player)

Artist of the Year - The Grim Specter Of Death

We didn’t just lose a disproportionate number of great, beloved artist this year, we lost artists who staring down the end of their mortal coil reacted by recording their thoughts about the very end. David Bowie’s Blackstar and Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker are the works of immense talents who tried to walk into death by documenting the experience for the rest of us. The albums are depressing, but also quite hopeful given their circumstance. The body dies, but the artist lives on. Look how Prince returned to the top of the charts after his death as millions sought out the comfort of his music after his surprising death. We’re only on this rock for a short period of time, and our responsibility is to try and make it a little nicer than you found it. The body dies. The legacy lasts. Or to quote Westworld, they become music.

Harry Caray


Thank god I get to write about something that isn’t our frustrating but yet somehow 6-2 basketball team. Let’s hop into it.

When Adam told us about this and ranking ten albums for this year, I didn’t think I’d have enough. Turns out I actually had seven too many, so let’s get those out of the way as “honorable mentions.”

Bruno Mars | 24K Magic: Honestly took me by surprise. Yeah Bruno is really poppy and mainstream and you’re probably sick of hearing the album’s namesake already, but trust me when I say this album is sexy as hell. Favorite song: Perm.

Empire of the Sun | Two Vines: That Band With That Song In That Car Commercial released an album just before Halloween, and while the work as a whole won’t set the world on fire, it’s a very enjoyable listen if you’re into their clean, electric sound. Favorite song: High and Low.

Modern Baseball | Holy Ghost: Poseur talked about this plenty above me, and while it didn’t quite strike the same chords with me as it did him, it’s a must-listen if you like where rock and roll is heading. You’ll probably say I’m contradicting myself by putting this on honorable mentions instead of ranking when you see my #1, and you’re probably right but I procrastinated and I don’t care. Favorite song: Everyday.

Kendrick Lamar | untitled unmastered.: It’s a solid listen, and I see Adam raving about it on his list, but I’m having a hard time ranking an EP as an album. Apples and oranges, kinda. But I also didn’t care for half of it. Which in this case was three out of eight songs. This B-sides EP did give me one of my Kendrick favorites and imo one of his top 10 tracks in untitled 02 | 06.23.2014.

Red Hot Chili Peppers | The Getaway: The Chili Peppers’ first album since 2011’s “I’m with You” didn’t really give me high expectations, especially since I’m mostly out of my RHCP phase. Clocking in at 53 minutes, the album can feel like it’s dragging towards the end, but overall it’s funky as hell and worth a shot. Favorite song: Goodbye Angels.

Saint Motel | saintmotelevision: For those LSU Baseball fans out there, these are the guys who made Antoine Duplantis’ walk-up song, and their other music is catchy as hell too. You’ll probably recognize the opening track Move from Little Caesars ads or something, it’s everywhere. Favorite song: You Can Be You.

Sturgill Simpson | A Sailor’s Guide To Earth: Another one Poseur covered already, so I’ll spare you any further detail. I preferred “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” to this one, but that’s not fair at all to an objectively really good album. Love or hate country, give this and the aforementioned Simpson album a listen or three. Favorite song: his cover of In Bloom.

Now, unlike my colleagues, I realize that a hefty majority of you won’t sit down and read every word of this article for an hour, so I’ll keep it short. Also unlike my colleagues, I’m pretty new to this whole “writing thing.” But that’s a silly, very accurate excuse of why I’m keeping this short.

10. Mitski | Puberty 2

I didn’t take notice of this album until it had already been out for a couple months, when I saw it receiving rave reviews. Having never heard of Mitski, but willing to explore anything painted under the entirely-too-broad stroke of “Indie Rock,” I dove in not really knowing what to expect. While her vocal ability didn’t totally blow me away, I was hooked on the atmosphere her usage of unconventional instrumental distortion created. Now I know I’ll get crucified in the comments for even suggesting this, but it listens like and almost mimics “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” especially with tracks like Fireworks and My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars. Give it a listen for yourself if you haven’t already. I can see myself moving this further up my list with more listens, each time you’ll find something new you like about it.

9. Yuck | Stranger Things

No, this has nothing to do with the new hit series from Netflix, as good as that show is. I first found out about Yuck in my Noise Rock phase a couple years ago as they shared a record label (Oxford, MS’s Fat Possum Records) with Bass Drum of Death, and fell in love with their self-titled debut. Their sophomore album was very similar in sound, but just not relatively good, in my opinion. So I definitely had an idea of what to expect from this release. The first couple tracks, especially Cannonball, gave me the impression “Stranger Things” would be more of the same from Yuck, which would’ve been fine with me. The rest of the album, however, is a lot more relaxed, “90s sounding” than their previous records. It’s pleasant and refreshing, and honestly my favorite album of theirs by far.

8. David Bowie | Blackstar

This is one of those rankings where I can recognize how good it is, and not just because of who released it and with its timing. I’ll admit, that heavily overrated it for a lot of people. I can feel Adam getting ready to give me shit about this. Drown your disappointment in me in the Southern Comfort, buddy. He already covered this pretty well in his section, ranking it second. I’ll let his review speak for me here, despite how overrated I think the album is.

7. Everything Everything | Get to Heaven

Before I get started on this one, I just want to establish that I have no idea what kind of genre I should use to describe it. Indie pop? Electric rock? It wouldn’t really be fair to the album as the work as a whole is something I can honestly say I’ve never heard before. Now, while it may have been released in their home country of England in 2015, “Get to Heaven” didn’t find its way to the United States (and more importantly, Spotify) until this February, so I’m counting the bucket here. The lyrics are dark and heavily political, referencing mass shootings and general unrest, especially in Europe. The sound itself is gripping and compelling, with pure bangers frontloading the record in Distant Past and Spring/Sun/Winter/Dread. If you count the bonus tracks as part of the album, Brainchild is not only my favorite from the album but is easily an all time favorite song of mine.

6. Daniel Woolhouse | What’s that Sound

I tried looking this guy up on Wikipedia, and I’m going to assume he doesn’t have a page, or doubles as a racecar driver from New Zealand. So I can’t really tell you much about the artist besides his championship season in 2013. Back to music, “What’s that Sound” provides some of the most relaxing, stress-relieving tracks I’ve heard in 2016, I can fall asleep to this album anytime, and I say that in a good way. It’s contemporary enough where you can suggest it to casual music lovers like your parents, and fresh and organic enough where even filthy hipsters like Adam and Poseur could fancy a second listen. Favorite tracks from the album include Map of the Moon and Soup for Brains.

5. Highly Suspect | The Boy Who Died Wolf

‘Member when rock was hard rock? ‘Member Chris Cornell? Oh, I ‘member! For rock lovers and purists alike, this is a definite must-listen. As Poseur reiterated in his Modern Baseball ranking, rock ain’t dead, and these fellas from Cape Cod are busy killing it, in a good way. The opening track and the album’s first single (and Grammy nominee for Best Rock Song) My Name is Human blew me away on my first listen, as my first exposure to Highly Suspect. The guitar melodies aren’t going to melt any faces, but they’re so carefully and masterfully crafted that the most apathetic listener can tell these guys are at the top of their rock songwriting game. I bring up Chris Cornell because lead singer Johnny Stevens has very similar pipes, and that isn’t an exaggeration. Stevens shows off his range and chops throughout the record, but especially from his frisson-inducing performances in the opening track and Little One.

4. Kishi Bashi | Sonderlust

Jupiter One founder and noted multi-instrumentalist Kishi Bashi released his third solo album this September, and while many anticipated it I admittedly stumbled upon it when browsing through Spotify. Actually, digging through their “New Releases” section every Friday has become somewhat of a tradition for myself these last few months. “Sonderlust” is my favorite of what 2016 had to offer in gorgeous sounding music, mostly riding off Bashi’s commendable falsetto. And if you’re like me, don’t be turned off by the word “falsetto” assuming it’s an abrasive overpowering feature like how Passion Pit tends to work. Bashi’s vocals can be included in his sizable arsenal of instruments, melting into each track seamlessly. There’s not much more I can say about this album other than how well it’s put together, produced, and instrumentally crafted. Favorite song is a tie between Hey Big Star and Who’d You Kill. This will go down as an all time favorite, and could’ve easily been my #1 if 2016 didn’t include releases from two of my favorite artists, as well as this next obvious choice.

3. Chance the Rapper | Coloring Book

Ok, I’m just going to assume you’ve heard and read plenty about this album enough to where I can spare a few sentences here. Chance makes some of the most positive, uplifting tracks today that also happen to be catchy as all hell. Anytime a non-believer like myself is engulfed in each track enough to sing about angels, God, and blessings, that’s just music being great. I’ll also take this opportunity to tell you to listen to Wonderful Everyday if you haven’t already.

2. PUP | The Dream is Over

No kidding, I made my list before reading Adam and Poseur’s rankings. Still not sure what the chances of both Poseur and I ranking this album #2 are. Just bizarre. Either way, after falling in love with PUP from discovering them through a combination of NHL 15 and their INSANELY GOOD music videos making waves on Reddit, I was extremely pumped and anxious every day this release got closer. I kept the repeat button on each time their three pre-release singles came out, I was a mess. Their massive energy, fun time signatures, and simple yet hugely important guitar riffs were a huge draw for me on their self titled debut, and “The Dream is Over” did not disappoint in these regards at all. The opening track, to me, is somewhat of a callback to the first album’s track Dark Days, detailing how life on the road making pennies and sleeping on couches and floors can be torture for the best of friendships, as well as the lead singer’s vocal chords, as Poseur noted above. While I don’t care for a couple tracks, the majority of the album is throttled with memorable, beautiful guitar riffs and catchy vocals. This ranking is highly influenced by bias for a band I’m just in love with, I’ll admit. But for me, they lead the return, or a new turn for the punk rock genre. Speaking of punk...

1. Jeff Rosenstock | WORRY.

Different people interpret a work of music’s worth through different factors. Some give over-contrived justifications of what they truly believe qualifies as “objectively good,” and that’s what they enjoy, some just want to have fun and listen to some catchy ass Taylor Swift. To me, an album’s worth is rooted in the happiness, sadness, fear, anger, and memories it evokes. Jeff Rosenstock is, in my opinion, an above-average musician and songwriter. Those are everywhere and release albums every week. The difference he makes, however, comes from the pure, raw emotions he conveys through his lyrics but more effectively his vocals. He is not a great vocalist. He is in a class of his own when it comes to pressing his emotions through studio albums. That is so scarce not only today but throughout every age of music. I can’t sit you down and use perfect terminology to describe why his music makes me fall in love, cry, miss people I’ve never met, get happy, get angry, and quite frankly scared shitless of growing up. I can only tell you that’s how it makes me feel. Instead of truly reviewing this album and picking out certain songs, I’m challenging you to find 37 minutes, put on some headphones, and read along with the lyrics and just let yourself feel.