There are a grand total of three movies that feel completely assured for a nomination (see below). La La Land gets the edge because its story traverses Hollywood's favorite subject: itself.
The most universally adored movie of the year, I would bet my theoretical first born child we hear this movie's name tomorrow morning.
The last of the assured combatants, Manchester has been lauded ever since its first screening, and showed up at every important precursor.
I might be over-thinking this one given that Hidden Figures didn't show up at the DGA, but nods from SAG, PGA, and WGA are mightily impressive, as is the film's status as the top grossing movie in the country right now. The voters will be swayed by the rapturous audience reaction.
Here's where things get tricky. Lion doesn't have the same following as any of the movies listed above (and even some listed below, for that matter), but it does have infamous Oscar whisperer Harvey Weinstein's backing. Throw in its appearances at the various guilds, most tellingly director Garth Davis' nomination from the DGA, and we should be set.
I love Arrival to an unhealthy extent, which is perhaps why I've felt oddly pessimistic about its chances unto now, but the guilds seem to agree with me. WGA and PGA were one thing, but when Denis Villenueve popped up at DGA, I started to believe.
The actors represent the biggest voting block in the academy, and Fences is obviously cat nip to them, having snagged a nomination for Best ensemble at SAG, and standing a real chance of boasting two Oscar winners come late February (Denzel Washington and Viola Davis). Love from the PGA and WGA only make it more certain.
The first three feel like guarantees, and the next four seem more likely then not; here's where it gets reeeeally messy. PGA and WGA sided in its favor, which gives it about as strong of a case as anything listed below, but missing out on SAG might have been a sign of things to come.
There is no evidence to support this prediction. Silence was shut out of every major guild, and isn't even having a particularly strong run on critics' top 10 lists. That said, this is a Martin Scorsese passion project, and until one of his late-year releases actually misses on a Best Picture nomination, I'm marking them all down.
I am predicting these nine films to be nominated (I don't have some crazy math equation that helped me determine this number; these just seem like the ones). The following is where I rank the next movies in line.
10. Hacksaw Ridge (Previous Ranking: 40)
No one will be surprised if we hear Hacksaw Ridge announced as Best Picture nominee tomorrow morning, as it is the sort of stately war epic the voters tend to favor. That said, if I'm picking Silence, someone has to step aside, and snubs at every guild save the PGA (plus Mel Gibson's lingering personal history) have me predicting a miss.
11. Loving (Previous Ranking: 10)
Somehow I'm already taking total fliers even though I'm only at the #11 slot on the list. No one saw Loving (including the voters, if the guilds taught us anything), but it's got meaty subject matter and a pair of lauded performances. Just don't wager on it.
12. Nocturnal Animals (Previous Ranking: 16)
The latest from Tom Ford certainly has its champions, and the film's strong showing at BAFTA makes one wonder. Still, it's an absurdly salacious flick that came out in a year where the Picture nominees already feel fairly assured.
13. Deadpool (Previous Ranking: Not Ranked)
Nominating a superhero film, let alone one as crass as Deadpool, would be an unprecedented act by the academy, so I'm certainly not predicting it, but the path to a nod is certainly there. Not only is Oscar always trying to figure out how to more greatly popularize his awards gala, but citations from both the PGA and the WGA reveal a much more positive reaction than anyone could have expected.
The top three on this list already have their plane tickets purchased and their hotel rooms booked. Chazelle takes the first slot because of the ambition of making a modern original musical, but as far as mere nominations are concerned, ranking this trio against each other is a mere formality.
2. Barry Jenkins---Moonlight
Call him 1A. Chazelle and Jenkins are headed for a photo finish, so the nod is a no-brainer.
3. Kenneth Lonergan---Manchester by the Sea
He doesn't have nearly the odds of winning as either the names you see above, but all signs point to Lonergan being just as safe when it comes to making the final five.
4. Denis Villeneuve---Arrival
Now we drop from 100%, iron-clad locks to a couple smart bets. Villeneuve has been slowly amassing a cult following the past handful of years, and Arrival is the type of 'big' movie that gets you votes. The DGA nod might have sealed the deal.
5. Garth Davis---Lion
I certainly never thought we'd end up here, but Davis snuck into the DGA's (supposed) final slot, and competition below him seems relatively slight. Except for...
6. Martin Scorsese---Silence
I'll probably end up kicking myself for leaving Marty off my list come tomorrow morning, but there's literally no evidence that this surprise is coming. It seems insane that Scorsese could miss the cut for a period epic, but there's still nothing else to go on here.
7. Mel Gibson---Hacksaw Ridge
Not gunna lie, I thought this might be a perfect moment for Gibson's big comeback, but missing out at the DGA hurt a lot. If he can't get back in Oscar's graces with a well-respected war drama, we might be wise to just cross his name off in future races.
8. Theodore Melfi---Hidden Figures
Every year at least one flick makes a much bigger splash than we expect. I'm going with Hidden Figures, and by that measure, Melfi is my pick for Best Director upset if we end up having one.
9. David Mackenzie---Hell or High Water
Copy and paste everything I just said about Melfi, but for a movie whose odds I like just slightly less.
10. Denzel Washington---Fences
It's a long shot, but couldn't you imagine the Academy's glee at inviting Denzel to the ceremony as a double nominee? And again, the acting branch is likely to go ga-ga over this one.
I can't picture either Affleck or Washington missing the cut, and the precursors have certainly taught us to think of Casey as the frontrunner, but his recent scandals make him only a 99.9% certainty. Denzel is at 100%.
2. Casey Affleck---Manchester by the Sea
As was the case when I was discussing the top three directors, having a number by Affleck's name is largely a formality. This is happening.
3. Ryan Gosling---La La Land
In all my years of wasting time caring too much about the Academy Awards, I have never seen this barren of a Best Actor lineup. In all honesty, Gosling's slot still feels up for grabs, but he's in the presumptive Best Picture winner, and are there really three names below that could keep him out?
4. Andrew Garfield---Hacksaw Ridge
SAG, BAFTA, and the chaos of war should be enough to garner Garfield his first Oscar nomination, but again, no promises. If he hadn't shown up at those two spots, would we even be considering this?
5. Viggo Mortensen---Captain Fantastic
Speaking of no guarantee, am I really picking Captain Fantastic for major category representation? Like Garfield he has both SAG and BAFTA's backing, but seriously, what a strange year?
6. Joel Edgerton---Loving
Loving appears to be juuuuust on the outside of every major race it aspires to run, so if Oscar likes it even just slightly more than we think he does, Edgerton and some of his peers might sneak in.
7. Andrew Garfield---Silence
This is a pure 'how much might they secretly love Silence?' play. If the answer turns out to be 'a lot,' then this is a big, meaty role that could swap places with his Hacksaw Ridge performance.
8. Tom Hanks---Sully
It does seem like the Academy will invite Hanks back at some point, his last nomination having occurred some 15 years ago, and the wide-open nature of this race could still do the trick.
9. Jake Gyllenhaal---Nocturnal Animals
I guess this is what you call a qualitative judgment, something I try to avoid as often as possible when making Oscar picks. We've seen enough from the guilds to know that there's at least some love for Nocturnal Animals within the voting body, and damn if Jake isn't great in the flick.
10. Adam Driver---Paterson
Can you imagine the gasps if this were to happen? Driver is nothing if not an up-and-comer, has been endlessly adored for his work in the film, and like I keep on saying, those last three slots seem ripe for the taking.
Everyone's favorite performance in half of voters' favorite movie. Tinseltown will burn to the ground before she misses for La La Land
2. Natalie Portman---Jackie
What once seemed like the performance to beat has seen its respective film saddled with poor box office results and almost no buzz. Still, I can't really see Portman missing out.
3. Amy Adams---Arrival
She's been nominated by just about everyone in the planet, and Arrival might have even been a Best Picture nominee in the old format when they only invited five films. Seems like the only question is wether she can finally win.
4. Meryl Streep---Florence Foster Jenkins
Uuuhhhhhhh. I know why this is happening, and so do you. I have no doubt that Streep is great in FFJ, but if literally any other actress were to take her place, would they even be in the top 20 of this race? When will this stop?
5. Isabelle Huppert---Elle
Moreso than any other acting race, Lead Actress seems more inviting to foreign performers. Emily Blunt may have taken the fifth slot at SAG, but Huppert has the power of passion on her side, as many believe she not only deserves the nomination, but the eventually trophy as well.
6. Emily Blunt---The Girl on the Train
No one saw The Girl on the Train, and critics almost uniformly shrugged their shoulders. I know she got in for SAG, which is more than anyone below her on this list can say, but I'm predicting the middling reaction to her film as a deal-breaker.
7. Annette Bening---20th Century Women
We're used to seeing Benning in the 'always a bridesmaid, never a bride' role from her supposed second place finishes for American Beauty and Being Juila. Now she's similarly on the bubble, but for the nomination, not the win. Might they finally just have mercy?
8. Taraji P. Henson---Hidden Figures
Hey, I guess the horse is dead, so why not keep kicking it? If something manages to shock tomorrow morning, expect it to be Hidden Figures. Henson might be able to ride the wave.
9. Ruth Negga---Loving
Someday I will stop saying the same things about Hidden Figures and Loving (and Silence, for that matter). If Loving has more champions than we expect, this is much more than merely conceivable.
10. Jessica Chastain---Miss Sloane
This would basically represent Chastain's coronation as the new Meryl Streep. I certainly don't expect it, but more than a few will vote for her on name alone.
Best Supporting Actor:
My favorite of this year's major categories, the Supporting Actor race feels wide, wide open. I wouldn't bet my life on any of these gentlemen, but the fact that Ali gives everyone's favorite performance in such a beloved film should do the trick.
2. Dev Patel---Lion
I still have yet to see Lion, but I get the impression that Patel has little-to-no chance of winning this award. That said, if I'm really putting chips on this flick to get both Picture and Director nominations, predicting him seems safer than all these other chumps.
3. Hugh Grant---Florence Foster Jenkins
Good god... this is my #3? An industry vet whom many might feel is long overdue in a film that tons of voters will see just so they can say how great Meryl Streep was? Sure. At least he's not splitting votes with anyone in his own movie, unlike...
4. Lucas Hedges---Manchester by the Sea
Oscar loves to nominate unknowns in this category... but usually only older unknowns. That said, Hedges is a major player in many voters' favorite film of the year, and that SAG nomination emboldens me.
5. Jeff Bridges---Hell or High Water
I know, I know, predicting an industry legend below those four is a risk, but Bridges already has his golden naked man, and there will be a lot (and I mean a lot) of voters that will lean in favor of Foster if there's only one Hell or High Water nominee. I still give The Dude the edge.
6. Aaron Taylor-Johnson---Nocturnal Animals
If you've read this far into my predictions, you probably noticed that the Golden Globes don't really effect my predictions, so ATJ's victory there means little to nothing to me. That said, the BAFTA citation certainly moves the needle, and means more to his campaign than anyone below him on my list can boast of.
7. Ben Foster---Hell or High Water
If he makes it in tomorrow, I'll be kicking myself for not having the guts to predict Foster. He gives the most showy performance in a much-beloved film, but missing out on every major precursor gives me pause.
8. Michael Shannon---Nocturnal Animals
This is honestly the same logic as Foster, only with a slightly more celebrated actor, and a slightly less celebrated film. He too has a co-star in the way.
9. Kevin Costner---Hidden Figures
This would just be silly, but again, if I think Hidden Figures might be tomorrow's big surprise...
Best Supporting Actress:
I've felt the need to mince words on several frontrunners in other categories, so let me be abundantly clear; Davis already owns this Oscar, and everyone else is just here for decoration.
2. Michelle Williams---Manchester by the Sea
The next two on my list are likely nominees based largely on how beloved their respective films are. Yes, I do think Moonlight is the more adored of the two, but Williams is so admired among her peers that I'll give her the slight lead.
3. Naomie Harris---Moonlight
... not that it genuinely matters, because Harris missing for her work in Moonlight would send a tremor of shock through just about anyone who's been following this race.
4. Nicole Kidman---Lion
Known, lauded actress in a film that's about to land Best Picture nomination. Again, I've yet to see Lion, but in a category this barren, Kidman seems like the logical choice.
5. Octavia Spencer---Hidden Figures
This is theoretically where chaos should reign supreme, but Spencer has shown up at every imaginable precursor, and there's simply no one there to steal her spot. It's a funny thing that happens when the eventual winner feels so assured.
6. Janelle Monae---Hidden Figures
... Again... If Hidden Figures goes nuts tomorrow, everything is on the table.
8. Greta Gerwig---20th Century Women
20th Century Women doesn't have a whole lot of buzz behind it, but as I keep saying, this category is wide open, and Gerwig has been appreciated by many (myself included) for years now. It might finally be time to strike.
7. Hayley Squires---I, Daniel Blake
Look, I'll come clean; I literally have no earthly idea what this movie is about, and it has yet to make any sort of impression stateside. That said, the brits completely love this film, and Squires appears to be their favorite performer. Every so often the British voters observably sway things, and this category is just up-in-the-air enough to make it possible
Best Original Screenplay:
This and La La Land feel completely safe, but Manchester is dialogue-driven, so if I have to put someone in first place, this is the obvious choice.
2. Damien Chazelle---La La Land
If you really think that the Best Picture favorite might miss out in a category that will likely include talking animals, you are nuts.
3. Taylor Sheridan---Hell or High Water
The two screenwriters listed above Sheridan both penned Best Picture locks. Hell or High Water is the only other film in this category with a real chance at sitting at the big kids' table, and is thusly almost just as assured.
4. Efthimis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos---The Lobster
I am in no way, shape, or form the first person to notice that the screenplay categories almost serve as an alternate universe wherein indie film snobs get to see their personal Best Pictures awarded. That's not exactly my position on The Lobster, but it sure seems like the obvious choice for that sort of nod.
5. Byron Howard, Jared Bush, Rich Moore, Josie Trinidad, Jim Reardon, Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee---Zootopia
You wouldn't assume as much, but animated films have been sneaking into the screenplay categories more often than not in the recent years. The film listed directly below feels like an obvious threat to steal this spot, but I'll stick with the global box office phenomenon.
6. Matt Ross---Captain Fantastic
Like The Lobster, Ross' work here seems like the stuff that film geeks would likely cherish. That might be enough, but seriously, who saw this movie?
7. Noah Oppenheim---Jackie
Like the film listed above, but with a splashier lead performance to draw voters to the flick, but less overt passion amongst the masses thus far.
8. Mike Mills---20th Century Women
This one is pretty far out there, but Mills' screenplay is a soul-baring labor of love, and if we see either Benning or Gerwig tomorrow, this suddenly becomes more likely.
Best Adapted Screenplay:
In case you suddenly started reading this article on the last category I'm covering today, Best Picture has only three obvious invites. Moonlight is one of them, and the only one represented in this category. Bet the house.
2. Eric Heisserer---Arrival
Even as an avowed fan of Arrival, I was (and still am) a bit skeptical on the feature's overall chances... and yet even I knew Heisserer's work had to be Oscar-bound.
3. Allison Schroeder---Hidden Figures
Wait... did I tell you that I love Hidden Figures' chances tomorrow morning? Did I say it enough?
4. Luke Davies---Lion
As the only other film on my shortlist that feels comfortably in the Best Picture race, Davies seems like a fairly sure thing.
5. August Wilson---Fences
If this was an original screenplay, I don't think there would be any possibility of Wilson's work missing out. It's not, but even if all we're talking about is a simple copy-paste job, I don't know how voters love Fences (as I predict they will), without taking her along.
6. Tom Ford---Nocturnal Animals
After both BAFTA and SWG nominations, this one feels almost impossible to leave out. But here's the thing; I've seen Tom Ford's movie, and I can simply envision to many voters being made queasy by its amorality.
7. Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese---Silence
Seriously though, what is Silence goes bananas tomorrow? I know it's little seen and esoteric in its own way, but if we know anything about these voters, Scorsese+period+epic+religion is mighty tantalizing.
8. Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan---Hacksaw Ridge
This is the 'if my movie shows out more than we all expect' slot.
9. Jeff Nichols---Loving
This is the 'if my movie shows out more than we all expect' slot... again!
10. Whit Stillman---Love & Friendship
I simply can't shake the thought of this sneaking in at the last second. Again nooooooooobody saw this movie, but I still can't shake the idea of it's 'people's champion' possibilities.
Monday, January 23, 2017
Saturday, January 14, 2017
This just in: 2016 was a tough year. You could feel it in nearly every facet of day-to-day life, from world news to politics to your best friends' bad day. Even most of the excellent art we received last year was fraught with gloom and doubt, so hats off to Car Seat Headrest, who made an album that's essentially about nothing more than being young, dumb, and sedated. Frontman Will Toledo guides us through his early 20's haze with one hilariously self-effacing crack after another, all as lo-fi drums pound, and earworm guitar lines quickly make their way into your long-term memory. There's seemingly an endless line of bands that will forever want to be the new Pavement, but Teens of Denial puts this Virginia four-piece squarely at the front of the line. Here's to hoping these mangy college rockers don't give up the spot anytime soon.
"I want to start again," bellows Taylor Rice, providing both the opening line and thesis statement behind Local Natives' excellent third album Sunlit Youth. First emerging on the scene with 2009's rousing Gorilla Manor, the band opted to use their moment in the spotlight to release sophomore effort Hummingbird, a beautiful and delicate record that prioritized the pristine over the pulsating at nearly every turn. Their latest LP seems eager to place them back in the ranks of music festival titans, and if there's any justice in the world, they will be. Lightly modifying their caffeinated-Fleet Foxes aesthetic with sparingly-used electronics, the album has world domination on its mind from start to finish, each of the 12 tracks completely convinced of its status as the true standout. Harmonies ring, drums crash, and guitars wail; it's stadium-level rock that's eager to redefine the idea after U2 and Coldplay have driven it into the ground.
Endless by Frank Ocean
The wait for Frank Ocean’s follow-up to his 2013 breakthrough Channel Orange was a long and painful one, and finally met it’s end in about the strangest way possible. Accompanied with a music video that essentially turned out to be a beautifully captured wood working class, Endless arrived out of nowhere in late June, and bore a sound lightyears removed from Ocean’s previous works. Gone was the warming glow of his old aesthetic, replaced with something dark, dank, and spacious. Clocking in at just over 45 minutes despite its 18-song tracklist, Endless plays like side B of Abbey Road if the Beatles took the wrong drugs instead of the right ones, but in Ocean’s capable hands (and otherworldly voice), the warped, swampy sound fits like a glove. I never knew to ask what a Radiohead album by Frank Ocean would sound like, but I’m so glad to know the answer.
HEAVN by Jamila Woods
By far the most over-looked album of the year, HEAVN is a disc of pillow-soft sonics and uncompromising ideas that somehow marries these two polarities without even seeming to try. Where other recent R&B records have addressed racial injustice, police brutality, and black beauty in ways both subtle and convincing, Woods goes directly for the throat, favoring candid descriptions of generation-spanning violence and abuse. Yet the tracks themselves are sumptuous as can be, each immaculately produced number tickling the eardrums, more recognizable as bedroom tunes than the protest music that they actually are. HEAVN possesses the wisdom of a teacher, and the comfort of a lover. It lives up to its name.
Anthony Hegarty had floated around the outskirts of the independent music scene for years, fronting projects like Antony and the Johnsons and Hercules and the Love Affair, and even lending his wholly unique croon to a number of other projects without ever committing fully to any of them. Hopelessness, by the starkest contrast imaginable, plants its flag deeply into the earth over and over again, refusing to even instantaneously look away from the world's brutal and bruising truths. Her first post-op effort, Anohni leaves no stone unturned in her stately evisceration of the globe's present state, musing on omnipresent surveillance, political corruption, and the growing divide between the victims and perpetrators of wartime manslaughter. Her voice, which has always seemed strangely inhuman, is perfect for relaying the surreal darkness of these ideas, and matches perfectly with the percolating electronic textures created by Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never. It's certainly not an easy listen, but 2016 wasn't an easy time.
The complete Kanye West experience has always been an amalgamation between his irrefutable talent as a producer and the whirling dervish of his public persona, but the valley between the two was deeper and wider than ever last year. By now, The Life of Pablo has been all but swallowed up culturally by Kim, Taylor, Trump, and a fainting runway model or two, but that doesn't mean that there isn't still something beautiful and exhilarating here if you can tune out the noise. The first Ye album that doesn't represent a sea-change in the music industry, Pablo plays like a Greatest Hits record, synthesizing almost every sound he's ever visited into a sprawling, messy, exciting whole. Zigging and zagging in a way that might cause whiplash if our driver wasn't such an expert, Kanye's eighth LP is unneeded proof that this maniac still has the goods, and throws bigger and better musical celebrations than anyone else in the industry.
And to think that for a few brief, fleeting hours, I was perfectly happy with Endless being the new Frank Ocean album we had all been salivating over for years. Blond, in every imaginable sense, is the main event, playing Star Wars to the Endless' weird indie flick, making good on all the promise of 2013's still-classic Channel Orange. With this sort of wish-fulfillment praise, you'd expect the disc to be titanic and grandstanding, but Blond nearly foregoes those sounds and styles wholesale, creating an intimate space for Ocean to unfurl his mastery as both a singer and a songwriter. Don't let the album cover fool you; the disc certainly has its moments of lonely despair, but is more defined by the expansiveness of its emotional pallet, containing moments of joy, pain, anger, swagger, and capitol h Humor. The sounds beneath him are less eclectic but no less winning, a collage of warm summer nights and slow-motion sunrises, immaculately crafted but ever careful to not upstage our troubadour. At first I wondered if it was too modest an offering after such a prolonged wait. Now I wonder if it's the best thing Ocean has ever done.
Lemonade by Beyonce
What is there left to say about Lemonade that has still gone unspoken? The event album of the year by nearly any measure, Queen Bey's second visual album exploded in the early days of summer, debuting on HBO and dragging Jay-Z's laundry out into the world for all to see. It's been talked about as a feminist epic, a thoughtful distillation of blackness through the decades, and even potentially as a hoax created by a rich and powerful couple who knew we'd eat this up like catnip. What's perhaps been under-reported is just how damn good the album sounds, usually the point of releasing music, but here relegated to seventh banana. Glossy and bright, down-tempo and depressed, defiant and enormous, the disc is a smorgasbord of styles and sounds, and would probably maintain this exact slot on my list even if it's connection to the real world didn't exist. Beyonce has fully arrived as an album artist.
When we first met Justin Vernon, he was known simply as the guy from the cabin capable of slicing through both time and space to speak directly into the core of your being. There's no doubt that the religious fervor with which people treated his voice must have been intimidating at first, his following involvement in projects that deemphasized his signature talent standing as proof. 22, A Million brilliantly splits the difference, funneling his croon through one voice-altering device after another, and caking all of these outsiders onto his normative howl, forcing it to fight through the ghosts of his own conscious. It's a beautiful, swirling mix of sound and feeling, and while those odd song names seem intimidating at first, they end up serving as an admission of Vernon's failed attempt to find greater meaning. As one of the only outside voices solemnly offers on closer 00000 Million, "The days have no numbers."
My favorite album of 2016 is also the only one that could honestly be described as a miracle. Following an 18 year period of silence, Tribe announced their plans to release a new album near the end of year, and hip hop heads had a right to be skeptical. Not only is rap particularly harsh on its elder statesmen, but the group had been split apart by inter-band conflict. Oh, and their very beating heart, Phife Dawg, had past away in the spring. Not only is We've Got it from Here the lord's perfect opposite of a victory lap, it was released a mere three days after the election of Donald Trump, and its mix of frustration and buoyant defiance seemed to predict it in advance, and served as an immediate balm for myself and many, many others. Q-Tip brings his A+ game on every track, flowing smoothly and creating some of the best hip hop beats you'll ever here. Jarobi gets in on the fun too, and his first appearance with the Tribe since the early, early 90's feels vibrant and fresh. Then there's Phife, who we're simply blessed to get one more crack at, one of the funniest, warmest, funkiest rappers to ever grace the planet. We'll miss both him and Tribe at large, but holy hell, this is how you're supposed to go out.
Highlighted songs and album titles denote links to music unavailable on Spotify
Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2016
Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2016
Friday, January 13, 2017
Similar to my feelings on the album as a whole, John Muir is an almost impossible song to rank given that its detractions are fairly obvious, but its delights are enough to knock you off your feet. Crude, rude, and completely content to play the villain, Q's flow bounces tauntingly across the track, boasting of whatever sordid excess pops into his head in any given moment. Then there's the beat, a massage to the ear drums that surrounds you like a warm G-Funk bath. Producer Sounwave's work behind the sound boards here isn't so much a tribute to a time gone by in 90's West Coast hip hop, but a perfect recreation of its highest heights, fully comfortable standing next the finest of Dr. Dre's discography. Yes, I know that's some pretty lofty praise, and I mean every word of it.
My last annoying tie of the Top 100 Songs of 2016 belongs to Bon Iver, whose gorgeous album 22, A Million is often too self-contained and of-a-piece with itself to offer many standalone moments. These two reach the front of the pack by traveling almost completely divergent paths, the former possessing the disc's most gigantic moments, while the latter floats into and out of existence with hardly a whisper. Surrounded by distorted voices that seem to serve as an indecipherable conscious, God sees Justin Vernon's signature falsetto slice through the clutter, gaining further power on a bed of rolling drums. Stafford is a perfect opposite, the singer switching back into his lower register for a seemingly traditional folksy lament that gains extra power through the sort of minor production flourishes that serve as the album's trademark. Vernon is known to take all manner of different routes to beauty, and he usually winds up at his destination.
My favorite track off Blond stands out because it does what the rest of the disc refuses to do; raise its voice. Where most of the album allows Ocean's words and voice to basically speak for themselves, Self Control turns a simple late August ode into a journey from playful flirtation to kiss off painted in kaleidoscopic wonder. Flipping in and out of vocorder, Ocean relays simple plans for a knowingly temporary romance, only Alex G's lovely six-string strumming accompanying him on the steady gallop to the final act, where the roof blows open, and you can suddenly see the stars. Turning up the volume on Franks voice and layering it into infinity, the track suddenly becomes gorgeous, melancholy and all-encompassing. And then it's gone.
After a career chuck-full of them, this might just be the most hype Kanye song that the rapper has ever released. "Your love is fade!" a voice exclaims from the silence, firing a warning shot across the bow, the track diving right into its rolling sea of bass and synth with utter abandon. Yeezy himself eventually joins the proceedings, but is a savvy enough producer to keep his voice relatively low in the cue, and just let that beat rock. Chris Brown's digitally shattered vocals, pounding drums that plow through space, a forceful chorus of brawny-sounding female voices; this one is pure bombast through and through, a jolt of power and energy that shoots up your veins and courses through your body. Play it at 11 and a half, and go conquer the world.
This is by no means the first time that Thom Yorke has reached through Radiohead's psychedelic fog, attempting to tug at heart strings. How to Disappear Completely tries but gets caught up in ravishing oddity, House of Cards played it straight and remains unconvincing, and Thinking About You came out before Yorke was abducted by aliens. Twenty years later, the real thing has finally arrived. A simple, ruminating guitar line echos across a vast black canvas, Yorke's feeble voice raising only to the track's same gentle plateau. A small handful of other sounds enter the fray, but somehow their amassing only pushes our singer's lovelorn lament further to the center, his loneliness palpable as the track erodes around him. Many attribute the song's emotional punch to knowledge that the Radiohead frontman and his longtime partner Rachel Owens split before the album's release, but I'd wager it's more about the simplicity of his approach. Nothing here is clever or strives to impress. It's as refined and unfettered as its vocalist's plea; "Please don't leave."
Strangely mysterious despite forgoing even a modicum of subtlety, Crisis envisions a sort of relationship counseling session between the oppressed and the tyrannical. "If I killed your mother/with a drone bomb/how would you feel?" Anohni asks with disarming sincerity for such a brazenly horrific statement. Wafting above counterintuitively bright electronic production from Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, the singer's questions keep on coming and coming, eventually breaking down into a seemingly tearful apology for things we all know are unforgivable. The earnestness in her voice makes it perfectly clear that this is not a joke; it is a reckoning with the pervading awfulness that engulfs large swaths of the world, and a virtual promise that when certain lines are crossed, no passage of time or extending of olive branches can ensure that those wounds will ever heal.
Father John Misty's 2015 release, the resplendent I Love You, Honeybear, is an album about bitterness, anger, and jealousy, and the hard-fought way that love can loosen a person's grip on those ideals finger by finger. Real Love Baby, in that case, serves as a sort of epilogue, where our lovers have finally reconciled their differences, and think only of embracing one another. Dropped suddenly on Soundcloud in the dog days of summer without a proper album release in sight, this is bare-bones affection, Josh Tillman's contented guitar strums seeming to emit rays of sun all by themselves. Old school, sapped of all irony, and potentially romantic to a fault, Real Love Baby is the sound of the biggest cynic in the room offering the most deeply felt utterance you'll ever hear, filling you up with warmth and hope.
As a huge, irrational Kanye fan, I couldn't help but be completely delighted by the Yeezy, Taylor, and Kim debacle of this last summer, but it's a shame that anything could distract from The Life of Pablo's very best song. Built in a sort of pseudo-triptych fashion, Famous takes three passages that would all be the best part of just about any other song and melds them together seamlessly, creating half of a 'greatest hits' album in all of three minutes. Rihanna is first through the door, a hushed organ whining in the background as the singer's sultry croon fills the air, sucked back out of existence by an elephantine beat drop. Cold, hard, and nearly impossible to sit through, a ringing sends sparkles shooting across the songs darkness as Ye raps about all manner of his own awesomeness. He and Rihanna trade the mic for a couple more moments until Sister Nancy's Bam Bam shatters the glass ceiling, moving us from winter to summer over the course of a second. A sonic joyride from start to finish.
Should it be any surprise that, on an album full of noise, sound, and mania, the calmest and most clear-eyed moment would come when David Bowie started writing his own obituary? Down-shifting all the way into second gear, Lazarus is a waltz on downers, adorned in horns that sigh, guitars that pierce, and a storyteller dictating from on high. "Look up here/I'm in heaven," the song opens bluntly, casting the whole affair as a funeral procession even upon initial release, when the Star Man was still with us. It was only two days later when he passed, and while I often find it beside the point to let the outside world bleed into a song, the level of self-awareness is utterly haunting, as are the twisted, brooding instrumentals that take over the song in its back half. In terms of words, sounds, and real-world events, Lazarus is the sound of a wise man realizing that it's finally time to be laid to rest.
As if it wasn't surreal enough to have one music legend openly accept his own demise, 2016 possessed two such incidences, though their thoughts on the afterlife don't exactly meet eye-to-eye. Where Bowie immediately declares his station among the saints, You Want it Darker sounds more like the boat of Charon's trip across the river Styx, a doomed journey full of spite and despair. His gravel-filled voice all but dilapidated, Cohen rattles off both his sins and his opposition to a sort of domineering holy light, preferring to cast himself down into hell rather than acquiesce. A brushed snare drum taps one note, a bass line rumbles deep down below, and a choir of tortured souls rises and falls, pitying the ruined man that is about to join them in eternity. It's certainly not a positive reading of the song, but that's because Cohen has completely denied us of one, practically taunting the listener for the desires expressed in the title before he finally resigns. "I'm ready, my Lord."
"It's kismet that we conflict with the stars." That line, uttered near the opening of Phife Dawg's triumphant verse on We the People... has turned the wheels in my mind more than any other hip hop line I can think of. Tribe has always been something of a merry band of rebels, but the lead single from their 2016 LP brings a new sense of spite and revolt to the table, powered by angered guitars and militant percussion. Q-Tip's production is on point as always, but there's no horsing around in his bars here, examining gentrification and the many subtle steps that lead to its accomplishment. It's not so much of a plea for equality as a call for awareness and action, which is where that Phife line comes in. The many non-white people that populate the entirety of the world have been treated as adversaries for so long that it's almost become a source of pride, a defining factor that unites just as much as it divides. Embracing that struggle with open arms is the only sensible thing to do, and with Tip behind the boards and Phife back on the mic, Tribe is ready to lead the march.
Adore didn't have to serve as a semi-title track in order to stand out as Adore Life's centerpiece; not only does it carry itself with the entire weight of the world, but the song stands out as the clearest manifestation of the album's difficult thesis. A steady rumble of bass and guitar that seem to double as the wick to a sonic powder keg, vocalist Jehnny Beth steadies her normative howl into a wounded hush, bemoaning her openness and vulnerability before repeatedly asking herself an almost elemental question; "is it human to adore life?" The snares and snakes of life have taken their pound of flesh, but Beth refuses to surrender, not because she believes in love or fate or better times ahead. As the track builds to its show-stopping conclusion, it becomes clear that this perseverance is the product of a gratitude for being alive in the world, for waking up every morning and breathing in the air, for the possibilities that they bring.
All Night by Beyonce
Lemonade is a concept album in every sense of the word, the story of a woman (Beyonce, sure, we'll say it's her) learning of her husband's infidelities, and going through all five stages of grief. The structure peaks at its very conclusion, where the singer finally reaches acceptance, and the storm clouds seem to part at her behest. Dripping with romance despite carrying a knowing note of sadness, All Night is resoundingly gorgeous, Bey's brave, beautiful vocals bounding off of strings and drums that roll across the beach at sunset. Having conquered both her depression and Jay-Z's career, Beyonce takes her world domination to previously unthinkable heights by sampling the horns from Outkast's Spottieottiedopaliscious, an act that I had honestly assumed was illegal until I heard how bewitchingly divine they are here. It's the sound of ravishing triumph, and the best song of Beyonce's career.
At Your Best (You Are Love) by Frank Ocean
Go ahead, take your shots. I'll be here when you're done. I fully understand a bit of skepticism propping up at seeing such a contrarian pick as the best song of 2016, but I honestly can't explain how bowled over the was the first time I heard At Your Best (You Are Love), and the feelings that washed over me as the world faded away. Bathed in a sea of white that was created by Johnny Greenwood, James Blake, and the London Contemporary Orchestra, Ocean's falsetto is superhuman, as radiant as it is soulful, imbued with a level of affection that people start wars over. Only lightly altered from the Isley Brother's 1976 hit of the same name, Endless' lead-off track is wisely wary to fix anything that isn't broken, the production carrying itself with a level of formal class that's nearly impossible to find. But this one's all about Frank, who seems to be in the process of ascending into a celestial space, and being fitted with a crown and angel wings. I've never heard this song and immediately recovered afterwards. It is an entrancing diamond, and my favorite song of last year.
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Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2016
Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2016
Thursday, January 12, 2017
It's not as though Anna Wise's 2016 EP The Feminine: Act 1 is devoid of sass (a quick look through the tracklist dismisses this thought off hand), but there's nothing here to predict just how dark and sinewy closer Go turns out to be. Ushered in on menacing, pulsating bass blasts, the song rides these nocturnal waves from start to finish despite injecting the song with any number of unexpected instrumentals along the way. It's a titan of the tear-it-all-down-and-let's-go-home variety, with a bevy of tricks that catch your ears completely off guard.
29. Fountain of Youth by Local Natives
Sunlit Youth is an album that's all about grandstanding enormity, so it stands to reason that its finest single moment is also its most towering. Don't let the laid-back sing-a-long of the tune's opening verse fool you; Fountain of Youth goes from 0 to 60 the second that percussion-driven chorus hits, and the whole band rings out like a choir of proud rebels, their chants bouncing gloriously off one another. Those looking to see these guys live in the near future ought to load up on lighter fluid, because those torches are going to be in the air for a while.
A three-headed monster of How to Be a Human Being standouts, I've racked my brain for months trying to decide which of the three has pole position on the album, and yet here we are. Life Itself is the obvious single, a gargantuan slice of pop rock that tones down the exotic elements of their sound in favor of massive chorus drops and a world-conquering percussion pulse. Youth, by comparison, is the more traditional Glass Animals song, a wiggly, forest-tinted oddity that affords lead singer Dave Bayley ample space during its spacious verses before dousing him in a sea of bizarro synths. Then there's closer Agnes, an immense track that bookends the proceedings with the aforementioned Life Itself, but while the opener uses its rousing sounds to whip your ears up into a frenzy, the closer wraps its arm around you and bides you to sway along. Please don't make me choose.
Describing a truly great Pantha Du Prince song almost requires language that stands separate from the words commonly associated with music. Defiantly formless and unpredictable, In an Open Space effects the listener more like weather than sound, a spacious, swirling monolith that contains a startling density of emotion despite refusing to clarify its true meaning. It's dance music that you're not supposed to dance to, electronica with hardly any artificial sounds, and a space-case that proves both clear-minded and forward-thinking. It is not of this earth.
The two major standouts of Kendrick Lamar's surprise 2016 release untitled. unmastered. couldn't come at you from more differing angles, both in terms of sound and content. 03 positively bursts with joy, Lamar rattling through the different pieces of faulty advice that he's been offered as a way of shaking them all off, and rising above the noise. The beat is bubbly, light, and forever charging forth, a perfect foil for 05, whose mellow, wafting sonics belie a thunderstorm going on just beneath the surface. The MC finally gives voice to this internal riot at the two minute mark, leaping out of the blocks with enough fury to leave Usain Bolt in the dust. It hardly matters if the Compton rapper is speaking for himself or playing a character; he's better at speaking for you than you'll ever be.
For one reason or another, you rarely hear an artist even try to pair the sweet with the sensuous, perhaps worrying that one mood and timber might lessen the impact of the other, but Dev Hynes has no such concerns. The standout track from the producer/singer/songwriter's latest feels genuine and heartfelt from the opening moments, guest vocalist Empress Of cooing her lines contentedly, trying less to impress than simply comfort. It's this level of guard-down intimacy that makes the track work, as much a love letter reading of endless devotion as it a track to be shared between two lovers behind closed doors.
Truth be told, nothing on M83's newest album Junk should really work, and there's no greater embodiment of this success-briefly-disguised-as-failure than Go! Band figurehead Anthony Gonzales' voice is nowhere to be found, replaced with the previously unheard of Mai Lan, and cloaked in an unnerving amount of gloss and 80's-leaning melodrama. There's even a damn countdown to the chorus, but all these facets that would prove cloying in the hands of a less committed artist rocket their way over the finish line due to Gonzales' unshakable belief in the path he's chosen to take. Corniness and confidence rarely experience such an intersection, and by the time that predictable-but-heavenly guitar solo rips the last 30 seconds in half, you're right in the palm of M83's hand.
Solo might not be my favorite Frank Ocean track of last year, but it's certainly the most indicative of where he was in 2016. After drumming up an ungodly level of anticipation for his follow-up to 2013's Channel Orange, including one falsely-reported release date after another, you'd be forgiven for expecting the singer/songwriter to come out guns blazing, but Blond is dominated by songs that color slightly outside the margins, refusing to simply hand over the R&B bliss that you want because it's so well aware of what you need. Powered by a remarkably simple organ line upon which Ocean sing-speaks his way up to the pearly gates, it's earnest without being obvious, humorous without being a joke, colossal while still imploring you to lean in closer to glean its many secrets. Just like Frank himself.
The undisputed winner of 2016's "God, I Wish that Song was Longer," award, Whateva Will Be is our first true reintroduction to A Tribe Called Quest's signature game of microphone hot potato in almost two decades. Despite laying claim to four completely different voices and world views, Phife Dawg, Q-Tip, Jarobi, and Consequence lock in as though connected at the brain stem, each capable of taking over a verse mid-line without ever slowing the song's steady roll. It's a groovy, seemingly effortless display of their legendary interactivity, and just happens to lay claim to one the the most beautiful vocal layerings I have ever heard on a hip hop song.
"I know some fans thought I wouldn't rap like this again/But the writer's block is over, emcees cancel your plans," claims Kanye West near the end of No More Parties in LA, and he's wholly correct on both counts. While many (myself included) view West's previous LP Yeezus as an out-and-out triumph, it wasn't exactly his bars that kept us coming back for more. LA repositions Ye as an actual rapper, not just a genius producer who happens to indulge in hip hop, by centering almost exclusively on his most favorite subject: himself. Picking up the baton from an ever-impressive Kendrick Lamar, West goes absolutely berserk, almost as self-effacing as he is self-glorifying on a sprawling tangent about everything that's been going on in his life. As with all things Yeezy, those averse to egomania might be wise to stay at home. Everyone else will be busy having a blast.
Sandcastles by Beyonce
Lemonade is an album full of glitz, glamor, and immaculate production, its resounding emotional core distracting the listener from just how polished and decidedly modern the disc is as a whole. Sandcastles, by contrast, is a song that could have existed 100 years ago with nary a change, a simple piano ballad that forgoes even the slightest adornment of bells and whistles in favor of pure, gut-wrenching emotion. Firmly at the depression portion of her stages of grief, Queen Bey offers fragments of her recent history while battling with herself about their meaning, uncertain if the greater strength comes from self-preservation or forgiveness. But all that description is almost beside the point; Sandcastles is Beyonce all by herself in front of lightly-tickled ivories with her soul completely exposed for everyone to hear. In this field, her and Adele are in a league of their own.
A small, almost delicate slice of badassery from a man not accustomed to baring his teeth, I Have Been to the Mountain boasts of all the things that make a great Kevin Morby song, but adds more then a few ominously dark cloud's to the song's vista. There's seemingly unlimited space in the trunk of this song's car, able to cram in plinking pianos, slippery, lightly-distorted guitars, rousing horns, and a choir of wailing angels without ever feeling overpacked. Clocking in at just over 3 minutes, Mountain is like the final stretch of a song three times its size, throwing all its weight into the climax of a track that Morby hardly bothered to properly start. You won't mind.
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