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Top Ten Albums of 2016

2016 represented an incredible increase in the diversity of music culture. The Arrowhead has compiled a list of the top ten albums of 2016, all which embrace this shift.

Renzo Mayhall, Features Editor

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2016 was rife with highly anticipated album releases, and many great albums. Today’s music culture is strikingly diverse–the ska-punk magnum opus Worry by the legendary Jeff Rosenstock, is just a couple spaces away from the surprisingly bold funk of Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love. This diversity is what makes the music culture of today so beautiful, and is really represented through this selection of works.

 

  1. Awaken, My Love

Donald Glover, popularly known by his stage name, “Childish Gambino,” is a modern renaissance man. With Awaken, My Love, he shifts genres from rap to funk, resulting in one of the most unexpected records of the year. On every track, the instrumentation and production is beautiful, intricate, and layered. While Glover’s vocals are sometimes strained and jarring, he otherwise shows himself to be capable of singing well, and expressing strong emotion. While sometimes vague, the lyrics are usually timely and poignant.

 

  1.  Teens of Denial

Teens of Denial is a masterful album of DIY-rock that showcases incredible singing and songwriting from frontman Will Toledo. It’s the “white male ennui,” to quote Pitchfork, of indie rock, yet it is not contrived or unoriginal in the least. Teens of Denial is lo-fi, bedroom rock at its most emotive and genuine.

Artwork for “Teens of Denial.”

  1. Worry

Jeff Rosenstock, a punk legend who is very well-known and renowned within the scene, has delivered one of the best punk albums of the year with Worry. Worry extrapolates elements of Jeff’s previous music career, from the ska punk (musical genre which incorporates the reggae tones of ska and elements of punk) of his band “Bomb the Music Industry!” to his pop-punk solo work. Jeff has a witty and expressive songwriting voice, and he comments on many themes throughout the album, from the monetization and corruption of music festivals to the feelings one is faced with heading into their thirties. Raw and unpolished, this is another great album from Jeff.

 

  1. Run the Jewels 3

Run The Jewels, the rap duo of El-P and Killer Mike, has been putting out consistently entertaining projects for years now. Their verses are continually thought-provoking, hilarious, violent, and technical. On Run The Jewels 3, El-P and Killer Mike are still doing an amazing job. This time around, the production remains hard-hitting and synthetic. The thematic content of the project, however, holds a more political and revolutionary tone–especially on the tracks, “Don’t Get Captured,” and “A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters.” This album demonstrates a timely and welcome shift in their lyrical content.

 

  1. Blackstar

David Bowie’s last project is a beautiful goodbye that cements his legacy as a progressive, genre-bending, envelope-pushing artist. It’s expansive and full of intrigue; Blackstar incorporates elements of jazz to an atmospheric end rather than to an upbeat one.Thematically, Blackstar is existential through-and-through–timely enough, considering Bowie’s age during production and his heartbreaking passing. It is hard-hitting, and at the same time contemplative. It’s a last album that does justice to Bowie’s career as an artist, a musician, and a thinker.

The album artwork for “Blackstar.”

 

  1. Malibu

Melodic, layered, and full of soul, Malibu is Anderson Paak’s latest project. The beats are dotted with guitar lines that groove and resonant choral backings. Paak evokes his contemporaries at times with his verses, flow and inflection sounding like Kendrick Lamar at points, and his sometimes inspiring tone that is akin to Chance the Rapper’s positivity. However, this is a record that is entirely his own, and a rewarding listen.

 

  1. 22, A Million

22, A Million is a far cry from Bon Iver’s 2007 release, For Emma, Forever Ago, and the albums that followed. Many fans were unsurprisingly upset at Bon Iver’s sharp stylistic turn; while his previous records were organic folk affairs, 22, A Million is glitchy and electronic. Autotune distorts Vernon’s voice, and various samples and synths fill the background. Sonically, the album is beautiful. Each track is a lush, expansive soundscape. The songwriting is cryptic at times, yet is similarly beautiful and emotive. I’d call it folk music for the 21st century.

 

  1. Coloring Book

Coloring Book is one of the best albums of the year, and that’s in part thanks to its unrelenting positivity. During the heat of the election cycle, division seemed to be everywhere. Vitriolic speech was prevalent, and there was a lack of general sympathy. Coloring Book overwhelmingly and persistently contrasted the mood of the time in which it released. Chance the Rapper delivers a brilliant gospel-rap album, if one could call it that. Chance’s verses are as well-written, clever, and humorous as they always have been. The features are good: Jay Electronica has an amazing verse, Future and Kanye do their parts without taking away from Chance’s vision and sound. Overall, it is a beautiful work, and radiates with Chance’s infectious spirit of community and positivity.

  1. Blonde

Frank Ocean’s latest project was highly anticipated by many, and Frank definitely delivers on Blonde despite the hype. He didn’t create an accessible album- Blonde is nearly devoid of percussion, and consists of stripped down instrumentals with melodic synths, strings, and guitar. However, the production is exquisite–layered and intricate despite its seemingly simplistic nature. Not only has Ocean’s songwriting grown more expressive, his voice has as well. His voice truly shines on songs like “Solo.” For some fans who are here from Channel Orange, the album’s lack of accessibility may deter them at the outset. Hopefully though, for many patient and attentive listeners, people will be able to find beauty and emotion in the small touches and intricate details of the album, as well as in Ocean’s songwriting and vocals.

 

  1. Cardinal

Cardinal is undoubtedly one of the best albums of the year. It’s definitely been critically underrated and overlooked, but not under-appreciated by listeners. This album is an intertwining, beautifully written opus about relationships, friendships, and interaction. It is about growing up. Even though Evan Stephans Hall, the frontman and songwriter of Pinegrove, uses specific occasions to illustrate feelings at times, his struggles and thoughts are universally relatable. Albeit possibly a tad bit too cleaned up- live recordings truly capture the rough-around-the-edges sound that makes Pinegrove so musically engaging–each track features lush instrumentation that is always heavily tinged with Americana. A must listen for anyone who has ever had to grow up, Cardinal is a beautiful work.

The album artwork for “Cardinal.”

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Top Ten Albums of 2016