Looking back at what a shit year 2016 has been, it’s no wonder I published more music writing than ever before. As the months wore on I found myself swiping away more and more real news in my feed and just getting lost in Bandcamp and other music sources. I wasn’t really trying to bury my head; I was looking for a better way of thinking.
The world is what it is, but I can frame it and focus on it however I choose. Immersing in the toxicity of bad news and worse reactions changed my perception one way, so I aimed to change it another way. Art has been a life sustaining tonic all my life, a refuge sought in times of stress, loneliness, and most of all, deep frustration. If I’ve hit a brick wall, I know that obsessing about the problem won’t help. I need to detach, breathe, and follow something made to surprise. A good story or song is something to be lost in, sure, but it grants perspective. It can bend the light just so, showing me a new way to see.
Perspective also comes from travel. The simple but profound act of experiencing other parts of the world can never be overestimated. This is where the image at the top of this list comes in. It’s Greenland, as seen from my plane back home to the United States from Ireland a month ago. I happened to open the window shade during the brief window when we were passing over the very tip of the continent-sized island. It felt like magic.
I’m entering 2017 with hope that good news can happen and that we can press on, even when our heroes are gone. I look around and I wonder who the future heroes are going to be. Those people will be standing against the dark tide and risking everything. They’ve got new ideas to replace the scary old ones that never quite die.
Looking back on the past year of music, I see a lot of new ideas and new perspectives on old ones. The best kind of music always elicits surprise, even if it’s made in a familiar way. There’s a flash of feeling, a rush of blood, and it clicks. Everything on this list mattered to me and I hope some of it can matter to you.
Let’s begin the countdown. These are the 30 best albums of 2016:
I just keep coming back to this little three song EP and I finally realized why. So I wrote about it because more people need to get familiar with Project Pablo.
Yes, I’m posting one of the most famous songs of the last half century. I don’t care if it’s well known. The video, created by Aardman Studios and Brothers Quay, is one of the most original and exciting music videos ever crafted.
Despite all the acclaim and the “you should have already seen this” atmosphere, it’s a vital, wild, uncompromising vision of music in motion. This is one of the greatest short films of all time.
This is some of the brightest, most colorful music I’ve been into in a long time. It’s a psychedelic magic trick, striking the pulse of zeitgeist labels like 1080p and Orange Milk from far out of left field, a completely unexpected place and time.
I was tricked in the best way when I first heard Soichi Terada Presents Sounds From The Far East.
My favorite musical discoveries often appear on the most unexpected detours. As I leapt from one Twitter feed to another last week, I was surprised to learn that Robert Glasper recently crafted an entire album of reinvented Miles Davis tunes.
Even better, there was a music video for his take on eternal jam Maiysha, with new vocals courtesy of Erykah Badu.
Frank Ocean is about to return with a followup to his landmark debut channel ORANGE, and I felt like I needed a reminder of why we’re all so excited. After all, it’s been four years. That’s an eternity in pop years, and even longer on the internet.
So I turned to the my favorite old song and looped it. There’s nothing like this type of tune.
Freetown Sound is one of the biggest surprises of 2016, and I’ve felt tongue-tied every time I listen. This album is a violent rush of pop mastery, the kind of cultural explosion that’s rarely matched with such slick and catchy production. It’s difficult to talk about.
What I do know is that Blood Orange has somehow conjured the urgency of Kendrick Lamar’s American dystopia and the defiant fantasia of Beyoncé’s Lemonade while sounding like no one but himself.