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:
Young Thug was one of the last artists I discovered in 2015, making a huge impression as this year began, on constant rotation in my car on slow, snowy drives to work. His off-kilter brand of hypnagogic hip-hop clashed in an exquisitely weird manner with the frigid surroundings and I couldn’t get enough.
Now that summer’s ending and a chill threatens every night, he’s back with his best material yet. This time I was ready.
This week seemed to rush by, with the dying embers of summer swirling all around me. It’s been flush with great music, lots of bicycling, and a really fantastic sandwich.
A pair of short hip-hop albums defined my listening, along with a darkly mysterious little techno release that I’ll share. But most of all, I watched the Netflix show Stranger Things in its entirety. I was utterly floored.
Did you know DJ Shadow released a new album this year, and that it’s pretty good?
Nobody Speak is of the unquestionable highlights, a team-up with hip-hop superheroes Run The Jewels. Now there’s a hilarious, action packed video to go along with it.
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.
A million people write on Drake’s every move so I’m not going to try to compete with all the lengthy reviews of Views. This is a new Drake album and you’ve probably already got an opinion. I’m just writing to say that despite the meandering bloat, this album is full of serious fun and hits some of the highest peaks of his career.
This week has burned by in a whirlwind of heat and new music, pushed along by the constant pulse of discovery. I stumbled up loads of totally new artists and revisited some recent material, resulting in radical newfound appreciation.
Since it’s finally acceptable weather here in Michigan, I’ve spent a lot of time outside. But I brought my music with me. D.K., Studio OST, Sepalcure, and even Drake enhanced my time in the humid lakeside.
Let’s get into it.