The answer to the question 'Who Won 2016?' is unfortunately obvious and obviously unfortunate, but Anderson .Paak's name certainly belongs on the shortlist. Heavily featured on 2015's Dr. Dre swan song Compton, the R&B luminary showed up on just about everyone in the game's best song, and even released an album with a full band named NxWorries (#31 on this list). But his calling card is undoubtably his debut solo LP Malibu, an hour long exploration of Paak's life and youth that couldn't go down easier if it tried. This one is all swagger and sunshine, and while it failed to produce a true break-out song, the steady pleasure of listening to the disc from front to back does away with that concern completely. Sit back, relax, and let those rays of warmth come down on you.
When Anthony Gonzales and friends decided to name the new M83 record Junk, it served less as a description than a warning. After waiting 3 whole years for the group to return after 2013’s epic double-disc Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, one would be forgiven for initially wrinkling their nose at their obviously scaled-back ambition. Where the aforementioned, deeply beloved album made its bones on star-gazing grandeur, Junk is almost a lark, too silly to take seriously until you notice how its finest moments absolutely refuse to leave your brain. Go! is about as big of a banger as the band has ever made, but even goofy delights like Do It, Try It and Bibi the Dog reveal their pop-song mastery after only a couple of listens. Sometimes it feels good to just let your guard down, and allow some cheesiness into your heart.
For the last decade or so, there's been a lingering feeling that each new Radiohead might just be their last, and who could blame them? Having scaled the mountain over and over again in their storied career, the odds of genuinely blowing minds again are slim, which is what makes A Moon Shaped Pool's emphasis on subtlety and intimacy such a brilliant decision. More so than on any previous disc, Johnny Greenwood takes the reigns, his increasing interest in orchestral accompaniments popping up on almost every single track, and dominating most. As for Thom Yorke, the maybe-human-probably-alien who's fronted the band for two decades now has finally allowed his personal life to bleed into the proceedings, singing a lonely, lovelorn call on almost every track, and only boarding the UFO once or twice. It's another great addition to a discography chock full of them; we'll miss these guys when they're gone.
Boasting of more ambition by himself than any number of full bands, Michael Kiwanuka's latest is a throw back to the sounds of yesteryear, a soulful lament fleshed out with orchestral assists and immaculate production. The depth of feeling on hand would be difficult to measure in miles, Kiwanuka exploring themes from racism to heart break to familial discomfort, the very core of his being constantly on display. As brave as it is preposterously gorgeous, the record plays out as a throwback to a more grandstanding time in music, and an answer to anyone who ever claims that they just don't make them like they used to.
The first and most obvious thing to say about the Swet Shop Boys debut record is that I have literally never heard anything quite like it. The hip hop duo consisting of Heems (formerly of Das Racist) and Riz MC (an actor best known for his roles in Nightcrawler, The Night Of, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) are American and British, respectively, but harbor theoretically conflicting roots in India and Pakistan These cultural origins result in an emphasis on South Asian-infused beats, all crisply produced, and perfectly tailored to each of their specific styles. The wordsmiths don't disappoint either, Heems riding his signature line between mockery and dead-eyed seriousness, while Riz, british accent and all, slices through with razor-sharp wordplay and flow. Their perspective is as unique as their song is irresistible.
I had the immense pleasure of seeing Glass Animals last year, when they were touring in promotion of their break-out album Zaba, and was immediately struck by how eager they seemed for stardom. It was odd to witness from a band who had just released such a strange, potentially esoteric album, but it now seems clear they were in the process of transitioning to How to Be a Human Being. Bringing the freak flag down to half mast, the Oxford four-piece has turned their focus to making one festival-ready anthem after another, each enormous in sound and intrinsic in immediacy. Their left turn into radio rock territory has obviously thrown fans for a loop, but it only takes a couple listens before you've all but forgotten that gonzo energy you were expecting to receive, and are singing along to one pristine slice of pop after another.
A Schoolboy Q record is like an enormous chocolate cake; obviously bad for you, comically indulgent, and god damn delicious. Making good on the promise he showed on 2012's Habits & Contradictions, Q again stands tall amidst a world of sin and wanton debauchery, perched atop a mountain made of some of the best hip hop production you'll ever hear. While the man born as Quincy Matthew Hanley has precious little to say about the state of the world, his nasally, snarling flow is able to adapt to a variety of different styles, from the white-knuckle fury of Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane to the warm G-Funk of Neva Change. These are empty calories, to be sure, but the way they tickle the taste buds keeps you coming back for more.
My Woman is an album that prioritizes variety, but not in the 'forget everything you just heard last song' way that many artists think variance necessitates. Comprised entirely of guitar-led tunes, the LP visits rock, punk, lo-fi, and even leans lightly into country without ever feeling like Olsen is stretching past here limits, or even the continuity of the album. The singer/songwriter is a Jill of all trades, just as captivating when she's swaying in slow motion on Heart Shaped Face as when she is rollicking downhill on Shut Up Kiss Me. It feels lazy and reductive to compare her to Courtney Barnett, but the two share almost the exact same sonic panorama, and even exude similar world views through their seemingly autobiographical lyrics. Olsen, however, is the more stayed and steady of the two, a best friend you can rely on to show you a night on the town, or offer a shoulder to cry on.
Singing Saw is a cult-of-personality record, an eight track offering with sounds all over the map that leans heavily on the specific charm of the artist at hand. Wether strumming delicately on opener Cut Me Down or creating a towering chant-along on the title track, Morby proves adept at steering whatever genre car he's presently decided to drive off the lot. The through line is his steady, unamended pace, both in the cadence of his voice, and the hazy, detached nature of his words. Months after its release, I still can't tell if the guy is a cool hang or a morose depressive, but what I do know is that Kurt Vile had better watch his spot, because Kevin Morby is coming to take it.
Musical throwbacks to the 80’s have been a staple of popular, acclaimed independent music for going on a decade now, but apparently someone forgot to tell Porches that they’s supposed to be as bombastic as sonically possible. While Pool owes more than a few debts to the days of Duran Duran and Michael Jackson, it gains intrigue by leaving so many of their toys in the sand box, and emerging with a sound minimal enough to make The XX jealous. Frontman Aaron Maine sings as if the weight of the world has already collapsed his poor shoulders, all while skittering percussion and whining synthesizers sigh heavily in pessimistic agreement. Everyone knows that fewer words are capable of expressing more thoughts; the very same goes for sounds.
Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2016
Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2016