2016: Music in Review

2016 may be seen in the future as the year that Western liberal democracy began its slow decline into obscurity, as a growing number of such countries elected to act in a reactionary matter, reverting to the good old days of strongman leaders and the mindless bliss of fascism. Consider the Brexit vote in Britain, and the car-crash-in-slo-mo U.S. election season marked by vitriol and "fake news", which culminated in President-Elect Donald Trump. Yes, the end of days might very well be here.

Thank goodness that music survived! I prophesied in 2009 that 2016 may see the death of the album. Although it seems that physical releases have gone the way of the dodo (considering that so many of the year's best haven't yet seen a release on either CD or its faddish older cousin vinyl), the album itself as a concrete block of musical expression is as alive and well as ever. In the build-up to this page, my initial list of albums numbered 97, and it was a huge challenge to cut it off to 50.

It seemed that 2016 was the year where all the major artists, some of whom had been absent for several years, decided to release a statement into the tailspinning world. There was a period in the late spring where there were so many surprise releases by highly-esteemed artists that it became a sprint to keep up with them all: another Beyonce visual album, Radiohead's triumphant return, James Blake and Autechre and Frank Ocean (FINALLY) and Blood Orange all released vital statements within a short period, and they were nearly all streaming exclusives (some still unavailable physically).

A final development was the continued dominance of streaming music, and the way it has impacted not only sales figures, but the way albums themselves are developed. Drake would never be mistaken for a vital artist despite his enormous popularity, but he has managed some relevance in the past with carefully crafted albums. Now, with the way Billboard figures streaming figures into its sales charts, there is no reason why Drake shouldn't throw up a ponderous and utterly shit 20-track album as an Apple exclusive and watch it top the charts for THIRTEEN WEEKS as if it was this generation's Thriller. Ditto for The Weeknd, whose Starboy is a hopelessly lost mish-mash of 18 tracks built so massive simply for the streams that artificially inflate its sales.

But make no mistake, this was a good year for music. However we consume it, the album is alive and well, as evidenced below.

Albums of the Year


50. Gojira, Magma

The Duplantier brothers have never shied from balancing their blisteringly technical metal playing with towering melodies, and their sixth album is their most satisfying yet. "The Cell" coasts on a mutating blast-beat, the title track is a mid-tempo epic, while "Stranded" is the most explicit in addressing the death of their mother, which hangs over the album's sombre mood.


49. The 1975, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

Matt Healy's band has been slagged as a boy band with guitars, so he decided to go full Duran and blow up the sound to an expansive 74-minute joyride of unstoppable hooks and gauzy textures. It has too many instrumental tracks in the back half for its own good, but as far as maximalist pop goes, this is pretty darn good.

The Sound

48. Khemmis, Hunted

Signed to the 20 Buck Spin label that produced a near-breakthrough for Magic Circle last year, Denver-based Khemmis was the band that surged ahead with this tasteful collection of doom riffs recorded hot on the heels of their debut from last year. Their approach is "sludgy, melodic, and ultimately triumphant" and the five-track album is a great tribute to bands like Sleep and Yob without too much copying - expansive tracks that soar high, and a 13-minute title track that closes the album and leaves you circling to the start.

Hunted Album

47. Kanye West, The Life of Pablo

Kanye has been in the spotlight for so long with such consistent output that it goes to show that his most disjointed album is likely his defining one. This one plays like a greatest hits, with a little bit of every Kanye: soul-Kanye, backpack-Kanye, production-whiz-Kanye, aggro-Kanye, bloated-Kanye, funny-Kanye. He answers a phone call during ab-libbing; he makes tasteless comments; he lays down his finest beats and his worst; he samples Goldfrapp and Arthur Russell; he introduced Desiigner to our detriment; he loves himself. The release pattern probably reflected his inner space. This is the most Kanye of all Kanye; I hope he overcomes his demons.


46. Kvelertak, Nattesferd

The Norwegian hard-rock masters' third album is one of many firsts: first without a distinctive Baizley cover, first not produced by Converge's Kurt Ballou, first to cement their own special sound. They embrace their pop abilities, and first single "1985" is a gleaming song that would have done prime Van Halen proud - never mind that it's all in Norwegian. A great top-to-bottom album meant to be blasted with the windows down.


45. Savages, Adore Life

London's Savages took their time crafting a follow-up to their incendiary debut Silence Yourself, and what they sacrificed in their speed, they increased in their intense delivery. They rely on repetition a bit too often, but it's that hypnotic chant that often drives the point home, and their live show (with singer Jehnny Beth doing her best Iggy Pop) is one to experience.


44. Nina Kraviz, fabric 91

London's Fabric has had a tumultuous year capped by a miracle: facing certain closure, it rallied to stay open in the face of controversy, and was blessed with some of its finest mixes to date. It's no mean thing when your list of mixes are by names like Eats Everything, Ryan Elliott, and Scuba, but its Kraviz's breathless mix that took the cake, a hypnotic 41-track monster guaranteed to cause whiplash and excessive sweating.

Nina Kraviz takes you on a трип

43. Huerco S, For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)

Already hailed as a defining ambient album, this collection of soundscapes stands as one of the year's best to unwind to, made by the Kansas producer to reflect the music he listened to on tour to calm his nerves. Why half of the tracks end abruptly is a discussion for later; for now, comfort is all around you.

The Sacred Dance

42. YG, Still Brazy

Socially conscious but hard AF, YG is at the vanguard of the new renaissance of West Coast gangsta rap. His sinewy sophomore album is a mean machine, and although it could stand to lose a couple of weaker tracks, he still shines despite the absence of producer DJ Mustard, and it's the trio of protest songs that closes the set which push it into minor classic territory.


41. Jessy Lanza, Oh No

Once again collaborating with Jeremy Greenspan, Lanza's sophomore album was another triumph of retro-futurism, a sleek blend of 80s synth, sinogrime and post-disco supporting her airy voice, here given a bit of a punch-up. A satisfying album that stayed in my ears all year.

It Means I Love You

40. Lola Colt, Twist Through the Fire

A shimmery blend of post-punk and psych noir, this London band smoulders through their sophomore album, hitting all the right buttons in the pleasure centre as they reference Siouxie, Echo & the Bunnymen, Kraftwerk, Ennio, and dirty garage rock for an utterly addicting ride.

Twist Through the Fire Album

39. Shackleton, Devotional Songs

It seems as through Shackleton has gone the way of his namesake in exploring uncharted territory: on his newest long EP, he makes extensive use of vibraphone, accordion, and marimba on four extended tracks, and these are often the only percussive elements in the acoustic timbers that dominate. Although he has worked with voices before, it has rarely been so dramatic: Ernesto Tomasini provides his four-octave voice in a result as indebted to '70s prog rock as classical opera. Another chapter in a relentlessly fascinating career.

Rinse Out All Contaminants

38. Moodymann, DJ Kicks

Kenny Dixon has been a Detroit mainstay for so long, with such a rich history of music and performance, that it's a little stunning that this is his first commercially available mix album. Nonetheless, he makes it count with this gloriously off-kilter and eclectic mix (the first in an historic run of five for the K7! label this year), whose charms are too many to list.

37. Ital Tek, Hollowed

Alan Myson used current technology to create the album he wanted to when he was 14: anyone used to the crazy footwork of his past work will be stunned by the stately guitar drones and synth soundscapes present here, and although he does concede to the beats and bass that made his name on tracks like "Jenova" and "Terminus", this album is primarily a glorious ambient haunt.


36. Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker

The culmination of a career resurgence that has few rivals in recent history, Cohen's third album in four years is probably the weakest of the bunch, but the one that will live on as his intended final salvo before the cold embrace of death. His wry humor and deep observational skills intact, this final ode to life fully lived is sombre and menacingly funny, a typical Cohen effort of stately elegance.

You Want It Darker

35. Underworld, Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future

Although they never really went away, it has now been 20 years since an Underworld album that had a mainstream impact, not to mention the seismic impact of "Born Slippy" - leave it Hyde and Smith to reassert themselves after a six-year wait. Unassuming but powerful, with Hyde's recent collaborations with Brian Eno a telling influence, this album was created without thinking of where it fits into their overall story: turns out it fits near the top of the list.

I Exhale

34. Opeth, Sorceress

Now three albums into their prog renaissance, this is the first effort from Mikael Akerfeld's collective that feels like "prog Opeth" rather than "Opeth playing prog". The musicianship is reliably stellar, and the production is uniformly excellent, as well as beefier than the previous two albums, making this a top-tier prog-metal album you can proudly headbang to.

The Wilde Flowers

33. Demdike Stare, Wonderland

I have kept this group at arm's length because of their forbidding nature on past releases that dabbled in the occult over triple-LP length albums: the airy synths on opener "Curzon" clue you in on the new ground they find, the perfection between the bewitching haunts of Tryptych and the club beats of Testpressing for a sound that is unmistakably theirs.


32. Kendrick Lamar, untitled unmastered.

When your last album was To Pimp a Butterfly, chances are even the table scraps are worth a full release and will prove to be better than a lot of rap out there. K.Dot has been in full God Mode for several years now, and its a huge understatement to say his next move is breathlessly anticipated. Just no more ill-advised Maroon 5 collabs, please.

31. Lone, Levitate

When I have a fever, I tend to stay in bed and whine to my wife. When Matt Cutler had a fever, he was inspired to craft an homage to the jungle and breakbeat music of his youth, and made one of his defining statements. His formula had been feeling well-trod after the peak of Galaxy Garden, and this ruthlessly efficient album is a kick in the pants, clocking in at 36 minutes, and smeared with the distinctive Lone fluorescent synths.

Backtail Was Heavy

30. Pangaea, In Drum Play

Co-founder of the Hessle Audio label, with a Fabriclive mix already under his belt, Kevin McAuley steps out with his first full-length, and it is a doozy: bright euro-techno that leaps off the turntable with a jaunty idiosyncratic attack that is uniquely Pangaea. The tempo is consistently upbeat throughout, and the final track throws a trick, starting off as a dubstep throwback before mutating into a massive techno monster. One for your feet.


29. Skepta, Konnichiwa

Grime has been waiting for another breakout star for over a dozen years now, and Skepta took prime advantage of the pent-up demand for a mainstream attack with his fourth album. Taking the best elements of grime and throwing in a healthy mix of US trap resulted in a major success and a Mercury to boot.


28. Mark Pritchard, Under the Sun

A folk album in all but name, Pritchard's slab of electronic pastoral beauty was a much-needed tonic during this year: an album of ebbs and flows, gentle ambience and rumbling tectonic bass, startling genre leaps and fantastic vocal contributions (including an all-time great from Thom Yorke). It keeps you rapt for its entire runtime.

Beautiful People ft. Thom Yorke

27. Skee Mask, Shred

One of the most supple techno records of the year, Skee Mask's debut album is clearly written and constructed as an album rather than a collection of breakbeats. There is a progression from the ambience of opener "Everest" to the kick thump of "Autotuned" to the retro throwback of "Melczop 2", and the juxtaposition of the occasional assertive rhythm to the generally gorgeous synth melodies is part of what makes this album shred.


26. Convextion, 2845

Dub techno done right: Gerard Hanson has a small discography but a rabid following because of his attention to detail: every sound here is immaculately placed and perfectly formulated to please your inner ear, taking you on a sonic adventure that lasts an hour (or four because you have to replay it). An essential escape album during this year.

New Horizon

25. The Avalanches, Wildflower

It could never live up to the hype, but the Avalanches made a damn good try of it. On the initial few listens, it was the hip-hop tracks that stood out (and not always in a good way), but soon enough this was yet another LP that you could get lost in, a hazy and joyous mess of noise and melody.


24. Death Grips, Bottomless Pit

For a band so famously cataclysmic and mercurial, Death Grips have had a steady stream of output in the past five years - at times to their detriment. It's a huge relief for fans that 2016 saw their best album in years, a caustic mix of noise and more noise, the logical progression of the rap-metal hybrid that doesn't end in the late-90s nu-metal fiasco. Play it loud and proud.


23. The Field, The Follower

Axel Willner has been a mainstay of my musical journey ever since his Field project debuted nine years ago, and by this point you know what you're getting with a new Field album. Hence the surprise when the chunkiness and menace of the beat drops on the title track, and intensifies on "Monte Verita" - as familiar, so new. Another reliable set of dreamy and driving Krautrock-dub from the Swedish master.

Monte Verita

22. KING, We Are KING

Their first EP dropped five years ago and was instantly lauded by artists like ?uestlove and Prince. Now after years of delays, the trio from Los Angeles finally delivers their debut full-length. The wait was so worth it. This is the type of throwback R&B-pop album that establishes a vibe and does not relinquish its grip over nearly an hour. The voices of Anita Bias and twins Paris and Amber Strother are like smoked honey, and the music is lush: think of the best elements of Sade, Janet, SWV, and Jodeci, update it with modern production values, and you get the unmistakable vibes of KING. Long may they reign.

We Are KING Album

21. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree

It's morbid to say, but I think everyone was ready to laud this album whether it was good or not. A living legend who has made his career singing and storytelling of humanity's darkest impulses, recording a new album as he experiences a parent's worst nightmare: there was no way this could fail. Although his son's death was not a direct inspiration in the subject matter, the delivery was certainly affected, and this collection, with Cave emoting and wrenching untold emotions over the Bad Seeds' barest and most hushed music to date, may very well stand as his definitive statement.

Jesus Alone

20. Junior Boys, Big Black Coat

The 80s-indebted cover; the pulsing Detroit techno of the title track; Jeremy Greenspan's ongoing collaboration with Jessy Lanza: we knew this was going to be an album to remember from Hamilton's finest, and so it is. This is JB's most consistently upbeat record, expanding on It's All True's blissful closer "Banana Ripple" to reach new heights of dance-pop, and well worth the five year wait.

Big Black Coat

19. Blood Orange, Freetown Sound

Women's voices dominate the latest effort from pop impresario Dev Hynes, a dense concept album he made for those who were told they were "not black enough, too black, too queer, not queer the right way" - the end result is an album whose power is revealed through repetition, where a single listen is hardly enough to even see the entire surface, let alone scratch it. Much the same way that Cupid Deluxe took ages to unfurl, this blend of baroque pop and poetry and philosophy will be pored over for years to come.


18. Esperanza Spalding, Emily's D+Evolution

The type of artist seemingly focus-grouped to win Grammys (famously winning Best New Artist over Justin Bieber, Drake, Mumford & Sons, and Florence + the Machine) and critical adulation, Spalding took a real hard left turn this year with her freak-out fusion album situated midway between her standard jazz fare and the rock stylings of Living Color.

Good Lava

17. D∆WN, Redemption

A girl-band cast-off and former member of Diddy Dirty Money, Dawn Richard has been blazing her own unique path through the R&B world recently, eschewing the usual trap-pings of today's in vogue sounds for something more esoteric. Redemption is largely co-produced by Machinedrum, and the lush synthetics and dark soul of tracks like "Hey Nikki", "Tyrants", and "The Louvre" are the type of future-shock R&B tracks that we thought left with Aaliyah. This album is the conclusion to an impromptu trilogy, and although it has a ring of finality about it, she is just getting started.


16. Anderson .Paak, Malibu / NxWorries, Yes Lawd!

Dr. Dre may not have a perfect record of scoping and pushing talent, but when he gets it right, he gets it damn right. Snoop Doggy Dogg. Eminem. And now Paak. After nearly stealing the entire show on last year's Compton, Paak rode the hype into the sun with two enormous new albums: his sophomore album, which recalls nothing less than prime Curtis Mayfield and maybe even Stevie in its warm scope and social commentary; and an effortlessly breezy collaboration with Stones Throw producer-wunderkind Knxwledge, a Madvillain-esque album of bangers and bits. Paak is humble and brash, unafraid to flaunt his talents (there are few right now who can both rap and sing as well as he does) in the quest for R&B/rap/soul perfection. A talent for our times.

The Season / Carry Me / The Waters

Best One

15. Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book

You know you're on top of the game when the stodgy Grammy academy hears your call to allow different forms of music be eligible for nominations - and you're the main beneficiary. Chancellor Bennett has had a charmed few years as he continues to grow in stature while doing the same thing: free mixtapes with the help of nobodies like Kanye West and Lil Wayne. Coloring Book is his best yet, another ramshackle and unhurried collection shot through with joy and positivity, reveling in his new fatherhood while lamenting his native Chicago's continued violence, all set to the gospel sound that Kanye was chasing on his own album. When Kit Kat co-signs on your brand, you know you're going places: the bar is set absurdly high.

Same Drugs

14. Deftones, Gore

Having long transcended their beginnings, Deftones have settled into a comfortable middle age as a career band who produces impeccable heavy music equally indebted to shoegaze and metal. The recording was marked by creative tensions between singer Chino Moreno and guitarist Stephen Carpenter, with Moreno playing "Morrissey to the guitarist's Meshuggah". In the end, the band manage to split the difference, with the textural atmosphere of Moreno punctured by some of their heaviest riffs, reaching a post-metal state of experimental bliss.

Phantom Bride

13. Kyle Hall, From Joy

Although this is technically a late-2015 release, it was an album that rarely left my playlist through the year. Hall had been touted as one of Detroit techno's future stars, and his sophomore album cements that reputation: these eight expansive tracks graft the ensemble feel of jazz to techno's 4/4 pulse, and breathe deep as they take their time unfurling. Hall has an innate sense of melody, and nearly every track has a distinct motif that embeds itself in your head, whether a vocal sigh or a piano run.

Strut Garden

12. Prince of Denmark, 8

"You will never have everything." Weimar-based Giegling is a label who has built up a rabid fanbase solely on their consistent excellence. Case in point: this ridiculously lofty album from Prince of Denmark, aka. Traumprinz, aka. DJ Metatron, who never plays live and about whom only his records are known. His music is emotional yet clubby, perfect for home listening but also punchy enough to pack a floor - this collection is no different. So when the label announced an 8x12 album, nearly three hours long, retailing at 100 euros, and promising that we'll never have everything (there are reportedly multiple versions of the album with slight differences and tracklisting), it naturally sold out on name recognition alone. Thankfully, 8 is exactly the type of rewarding and enriching techno that is worth listening to endlessly.


11. Frank Ocean, Blonde / Endless

The most talked-about artist of recent years, as famous for his silence as for his outspoken gender views, it has been a long time since Channel Orange, and the rumors of label interference were proven true with this unexpected double release after years of torturous false starts. Though Endless has seemingly been dismissed as the runt of the litter, it does represent Ocean's daring vision and works in tandem with Blonde's saturnine magic. The production is impeccable, the emotions bone-deep, and the melodies like wisps disappearing from sight. It'll be a long time before it is unpacked, but the journey will be worth it.

10. Wolf People, Ruins

Running in the tradition of British psychedelic folk, Wolf People came to their sound in a roundabout way: Jack Sharp and Tom Watt were crate-digging for beats for a potential hip-hop production when they discovered obscure psych, blues and proto-metal records and decided to recreate those sounds with a highly literate approach. Their third album is a heavy slab of post-human psychedelic folk, with dueling guitars, synths and unique drumming, a sound akin to getting lost in the night forest.

Ruins Album

9. Nicolas Jaar, Sirens

In a genre populated by mystery people, few are as consistently slippery as Jaar. He has hardly been silent since his debut album five years ago (recall the triumph of Darkside in 2013), but his method remains out of reach, for better. He has never shied away from referencing the politics of his native Chile, and this is his most explicitly pointed material yet, counteracted by an increased confidence behind the boards - it's scary to think about how much better he could still get.


8. Syd Arthur, Apricity

A young English band equally indebted to Pink Floyd and forest raves, Syd Arthur's third album in insanely catchy and anything but straightforward: their greatest skill is playing songs that are structurally simple and rhythmically complex. The songwriting has blossomed so that songs like "No Peace" and "Into Eternity" and "Seraphim" remain stuck in your head for days. A psych prog triumph.

Sun Rays

7. Autechre, elseq 1-5

Got four hours to spare? Has Autechre got a treat for you! The last few years have felt like an avalanche of goods for the heads: their first double-album in 2013; nine hour-long live performances, and now this five-part album (or five albums). They've long been poor editors, but that is to our benefit: this work can be taken apart, randomized, or simply played in order, and the magic is the same. Some of the old sounds, a lot of the new sounds, it is the gift that keeps giving.


6. Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 3

Cannonballing into the fray three weeks before its release for a "Christmas fucking miracle", RTJ definitely did not save 2016, but rather added another fascinating aspect to it. More expansive and layered than their previous work, the third collaboration between Killer Mike and El-P notes just how successful and unexpected the group has become, spokesmen for a generation that has seen some truly troubling times. Although overall it plays more like an El-P solo album with Killer Mike along for the ride (and does not reach the collaboration's high-water mark of R.A.P. Music, Mike's 2012 solo album), there is no mistaking this as anything but one of rap's best efforts of the year

Hey Kids (Bumaye)

5. Danny Brown, Atrocity Exhibition

Danny Brown's latest has as much to do with rap as it does with post-punk: after all, it is named after a Joy Division song, itself named after a J.G. Ballard novel. He has proudly worn his non-rap influences on his sleeve from the start, and his third album is a wildly diverse, nauseatingly crazy journey into the darkness. Any semblance of his previous good times on drugs has been replaced with dead-eyed resignation or abject paranoia, and the explosive music reflect this at every step.


4. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool

The most important band of their generation is finally back, with rumors of A Moon Shaped Pool being their final act. If it is so, we can take comfort in them going out on top and in fine form. Many live favorites that have never been done in the studio, as well as older tracks, are here, including "Burn the Witch", "Present Tense", and a show-stopping "True Love Waits" refashioned as a plaintive piano ballad. That the tracklist is alphabetical is probably a coincidence; that this is one of their best albums is not.


3. Solange, A Seat at the Table

There are rare albums that catch the tenor of the times and reflect it back at us through a mirror. The sadness, resignation, frustration, hopefulness, and redemption of the human experience is important and difficult to convey in music, especially during this turbulent time. Solange's third LP is one of those albums. This is the exposure of a woman's soul overlaid with exceptional and timeless music, a psychedelic R&B-soul hybrid that could have been recorded in the '70s or the 2040s. I expect this will be a future classic.

Cranes in the Sky

2. A Tribe Called Quest, We Got it from Here...Thank You 4 Your Service

We should not have been so lucky. It was beyond any expectation for Tribe to release a new album 18 years after they sputtered out with The Love Movement - we certainly did not deserve anything half as good. After Phife's death in May, it would have been fitting if we had the past to commemorate them with: five masterpiece-to-great albums, a searing documentary. Instead, they secretly recorded this paean to love and loss while Phife was here with us, enlisting an army of (un)likely collaborators for a joyous final salvo, with all the great rapping and commentary that they had given us so many years ago. They got it from here, but we are the thankful ones.

We The People...

1. David Bowie, Blackstar

We had two days during which to assess Blackstar as merely the excellent new David Bowie, the second in a late career resurgence we didn't deserve. Two days to wonder and wander in the expansive, jazzy surroundings, with oblique references to (we can certainly surmise now as) death, wondering where Monday went, who "the great I Am" is. Friday was his birthday and the album's release; by Sunday night he had gone. In a career where he planned and executed so many things right, he saved his biggest feat for the very end.
It's now impossible to assess this work as a mere "album" from a true force, how it might have slotted into the year without his death, where to consider it within his vast oeuvre. Needless to say, this is among his very finest: seven tracks with zero filler, precise and joyful and haunting, summarizing everything and being its own thing. This was Bowie's incredibly generous final gift to the world, and the black star that overshadowed the entire despicable year. We will need this going forward.


Honorable Mentions

Tegan and Sara, Love You to Death
The Canadian sisters hit 80s pop gold on their succinct eight studio album, a blinding blast of perfection.

The Rolling Stones, Blue & Lonesome
You have to give them points: 11 years after their last studio album, the Stones bash out this all-covers album in three days, and turn in some of their best performances in decades. Mick Jagger, especially, sings like a man possessed, clearly in love with the music of their youth.

Kaytranada, 99.9%
Bringing a whole host of Caribbean influences to his electro-hip-hop melange, this Canadian producer's debut album promises a great time and future fun.

Dream Theater, The Astonishing
The ideal DT for those who thought DT was playing it way too safe with their prog rock.

Metallica, Hardwired...to Self Destruct
Saying this is their best album in a quarter-century is an easy point. Hard, furious, yet blissfully unconcerned with current events in a year that could have used their input (ex. "One").

Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor's Guide to Earth
This leather-lunged country belter borrows as much from post-rock as from the Ol' Opry for a satisfying fusion.

Rihanna, Anti
The most iron-clad singles artist of the past two decades finally puts a half-decent full-length on her resume, with none of the 2015 warm-up singles present.

Iggy Pop, Post Pop Depression
The still-living legend teams up with Josh Homme for a rock extravaganza, one of his most consistent and enjoyable releases in a career full of them.

Alcest, Kodama
They had previously achieved a black metal-shoegaze mix of perfection; their next album was closer to Coldplay. Now, Alcest confound expectations with another roaring slab of queasy beauty.

The Early Years, II
The British band made us wait a decade. The return was worth it: post-punk Krautrock and electronic tinges done right.

Golden-voiced singer hooks up with Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never for the most excoriating political album of the year.

dvsn, Sept. 5th
OVO signees who out-classes their label head at every turn, this is a throwback to the old days when the Weeknd made lethargic R&B that was, you know, good.

Pet Shop Boys, Super
The English synth-poppers have never gone away, and they haven't sounded so inspired in years. A reimagining of their imperial period, with tasteful production from Stuart Price, this was non-stop killer.

Tim Hecker, Love Streams
Co-produced with Ben Frost, Hecker's latest missive is yet another sublime piece of ambient trippiness.

Overrated of the Year

Beyonce, Lemonade
Taking a shot at Queen Bey is akin to the flea yelling at a herd of elephants, but whereas her self-titled album from 2013 was a brave and tuneful collection asserting her feminine power - bolstered by videos for each song and released in total secrecy - her newest album was more of the same, only greatly diminished. Releasing another visual album is probably her right as the innovator of the form (and make no mistake, "Lemonade" the movie is excellent), but another "secret" release (hidden behind hype for a movie) was simply useless. The content of the album left much to be desired as well: her partnership with Jay Z is too valuable for the type of woman-scorned-scorched-earth approach she is hoping to get across, and the tacking on of "Formation" at the end undermined the whole concept.

Drake, VIEWS
I am of two minds naming this album overrated since the consensus is correct for once: everyone agrees that it is a garbage album; overlong, ponderous, and as lazy as you can get. However, it is the combination of this and the convoluted new streaming tabulations, as well as its Apple Exclusive status, which artificially inflated its sales to monolithic proportions, that renders this album worthy of an overrated status. For its status as the best-selling album of the year, I don't know a single person who enjoyed it.

Worst of the Year

In this day, it is so easy to insulate yourself in your own tastes that you can often ignore anything that would be disagreeable to you. However...

Charlie Puth, Nine Track Mind
I didn't have to dig far to come up with this putrid pile to take the honors. Puth is responsible for the treacle of "See You Again", which rode some Paul Walker clips and Wiz Khalifa verse to a billion views on YouTube, and his duet with Meghan Trainor on the execrable "Marvin Gaye" is like a perfect storm of awfulness, wholly innocuous, a vortex of suck anytime it came on the radio. Just hit ignore.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, This Unruly Mess I've Made
Nope, it can't be undone. They let him in the door, and some poor uninformed kids are going to grow up believing this garbage is "hip-hop". You reap what you sow.

James Blake, The Colour in Anything
I have been a champion of Blake's since his breakthrough EP's, and after a long wait came the interminable album, a brutal 76-minute slog that was like spending an endless rainy afternoon staring out of the window, the monotony never once broken by anything resembling a living beat. His influence on today's music is widespread, and he has collaborated with many of the most popular artists working, which makes this album extra disappointing: he has gone from the cutting edge to being second best.


Release Overkill
I realize this is the ultimate first world complaint, but the rapid rate of releases this year required an undue diligence in keeping up on top of things, and served to cannibalize lesser albums that couldn't cut it. Remember Animal Collective? They released an album called Painting With in January. M83? Complete with its (intentionally?) awful cover art, Junk was relegated to the landfill. To be fair, these were hardly fantastic albums that demanded a top 10 placement, but they are upper echelon artists whose releases would have demanded major attenion.
January saw the releases of great albums by Suede (Night Thoughts), Steven Wilson (4 1/2), Tortoise (The Catastropist), and Ty Segall (Emotional Mugger) - all would be buried before summer hit. This is like complaining about there being too may puppies in the world, but when you're short on time and attention, so many good things at once are overwhelming.

Lady Gaga, Joanne
I want Gaga to succeed: she is one of the true genuine heirs of the glam movement, who has an innate understanding of showmanship and whose past output has mined its influences for greatness. However, it may be time to accept that she has peaked. She certainly gives it her best shot on this collection named after an aunt who died young, but this material is beneath her: "A-Yo" is a weak retread of weak Taylor Swift; "John Wayne" attempts swagger but suffocates under a non-chorus; and although tongues started wagging at word of a Kevin Parker collaboration, the resulting "Perfect Illusion" is underwhelming and marred by an unearned key change. She can sing the hell out of anything, but it was her powerful, messy Bowie tribute at the Grammys that would summarize her year: emotions spent on a misguided concept.

Endless and Persistent Death
Aah, speaking of...

A Tribute

Death comes for us all, and his scythe decimated the music community this year. It has been a tough 12 months to be a music fan, as seemingly every month brought the (often) untimely passing of a legend, artists we've long ago accepted as being part of our lives and indestructible - beyond the trappings of a mortal life. Sadly, the calendar year of 2016 was like a conveyor belt carrying artists to their deaths. And it will only get worse. As the megastars enter their 60's, 70's, maybe even 80's, every year going forward will feel like a small part of our childhood has been stolen from us, least of all because of our own impending doom. It has always been like this. As I look back (and keep in mind that this list is far from complete), I find myself sad about the loss of these artists, but also glad because our lives intersected. A thousand years from now, nobody will remember David Bowie, or Prince, or George Michael - let alone me - but it gives me some comfort in passing on their music to my daughter and beyond.

David Bowie - January 10
I had a copy of Blackstar about two weeks before its release and spent the holiday season burrowing into the album and wondering what the hell the video was about. On the night of the 10th, my wife and I watched Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban after putting our daughter to bed. When the movie ended, I happened to check Instagram and saw St. Vincent post a picture that said NO in giant bold letters. I showed it to my wife and had a chuckle. Five minutes later, I was Pitchfork's main page and saw the headline like needles in my eye: "David Bowie Has Died". My daughter didn't wake up, but my shocked shout was certainly loud enough to have done the trick.
Bowie has been a part of my musical journey since 1997's Earthling, and his discography is almost without peer. In the months after his death, I spent a lot of time revisiting it, especially works that weren't as familiar to me, albums like Lodger and Never Let Me Down. His chameleon nature served him well for so long, and his music - along with his small but potent film oeuvre - remains an eternal favorite.

Maurice White - February 3
If you have been to a wedding, or really any gathering where people are dancing to music, you will have heard the work of Maurice White and his band Earth, Wind, and Fire. His joyous R&B party music, with its thoughtful performances and fervent musicianship, will outlive us all.

George Martin - March 8
A fabled lifetime of work came to a close when Martin passed away at the grand age of 90. If you are unaware of his production work on the near-entirety of the Beatles catalogue, as well as the decades of stewardship as he ushered their music in the 21st century with careful remastering work, you should stop reading right now.

Phife Dawg - March 22
A founding member of A Tribe Called Quest, Phife was the "five-foot assassin" who provided the necessary grit to counteract the smooth flows of Q-Tip. A lifelong struggle with diabetes is seen as the major reason why he was unable to continue in the music business as Q-Tip has done, and although his untimely passing at 45 was tragic, his story was given a glowing coda with the release of Tribe's final album in November, a joyful celebration of his life and a chance to hear his voice one last time.

Prince - April 21
As shocking as Bowie's mystery illness and sudden death was, it was nowhere near as bad as the Purple One's death at only 57. When I think about Prince, I think about his restless genius and extensive contributions to pop music throughout the 80s, and his continued showmanship on stage. He may have been 57, but even in recent years he could have passed for a man in his early 40's, such was his energy and passion, not to mention his still-prodigious musical output for himself and proteges. We would learn about his struggles in recent years, and his death had the paradoxical result of opening the floodgates to his fabled vault - it's estimated that he has only released 40% of his total recorded material - as well as the posting of live performances and studio recordings onto streaming services, something he was notoriously reticent about. He has been lionized in death as a black genius, a cultural lightning rod and musical genius: there is no doubt about it.

Prince Be - June 17
When you think about the biggest rappers out there today, your Drakes and Weeknds, and consider their style of downbeat "cloud rap" - introspective and laid-back, with pillowy and minimal backing music - chances are you don't consider P.M. Dawn. You should. There was a moment in 1991 when rap could very well have gone down that avenue thanks to the success of Prince Be and his brother DJ Minutemix, whose "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss" took a famous guitar riff from Spandau Ballet, added ethereal harmonies (and the first hashtag), and rode it to #1. The accompanying album, Of the Heart, Of the Soul and Of the Cross, is probably one of the most underrated of that entire decade, a perfect synthesis of Hendrix psychedelia, confessional harmonies, singing rap and deeply introspective Christian-influenced lyrics, something they managed to make even better on 1993's The Bliss Album...?. Of course, in the end gangsta rap won out, and P.M. Dawn would fall out of favor as "wannabe hippies", an unfair assertion. Be had suffered from diabetes for years, and his death has lead to a reconsideration of his hugely, quietly influential work over a quarter of a century ago - a reconsideration that deserves to be more widespread.

Bernie Worrell - June 24
One of the great unheralded sidemen whose contributions are as influential as the bigger names they serve, Worrell served as keyboardist for Parliament-Funkadelic's greatest period, and was a major contributor to later-day Talking Heads. His influence is incalculable.

Alan Vega - July 16
When you think of confrontational performers, Vega should be high on the list. His work with synth-punk pioneering band Suicide with Martin Rev is legendary, channeling the deranged spirit of Elvis fronting an outfit of pure screeching noise. This may belittle his lengthy other contributions to the world of visual arts and music, but for the purposes of this page, it's his work with Suicide (whose first two albums are the definition of essential) that will live on.

Kashif - September 25
Sometimes seen as an also-ran, Arista Records' attempts to out-Prince Prince, Kashif was a highly talented and influential multi-instrumentalist who is seen as one of the first to introduce MIDI into his sound, as well as a pioneering synth artist. Discover his varied and enjoyable work on YouTube.

Pete Burns - October 23
The British singer for 80s synth-poppers Dead Or Alive, Burns would become widely-known for his progressive sexual views and his vividly androgynous, cosmetically enhanced, appearance.

Leonard Cohen - November 7
The year's second great example of a living legend performing at his own wake, Cohen released his intended swan song You Want It Darker just 17 days before he passed away in his sleep. His lifetime of poetry and music has been rightly trumpeted since then, and his later-day renaissance is a textbook showbiz success story.

Leon Russell - November 13
A silently influential and prolific artist who dabbled in pop, rock, bluegrass, country, soul, and blues, Russell had produced and performed with artists as wildly diverse as Sinatra, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Clapton, Ringo and George Harrison - though he was probably most well-known for his massive snow-white beard and wrap-around shades. He left behind a huge body of work to study.

Sharon Jones - November 18
Although she had only been an active singer starting at 40, Jones had a brief and intense career that saw huge critical acclaimed with her Dap-Kings band, performing a much-needed soul revue sound that had audiences loving every minute. Considering her steady stream of great releases over the past decade, her death will be keenly felt by R&B fans.

George Michael - December 25
I write this with two calendar days of 2016 remaining, but I hope that Michael's tragic death will be the last of the year. Michael seemingly completes a hat-trick of massively popular 80s queer icons who sold hundreds of millions of records (along with Bowie and Prince) who were taken this year. Reflections on his life and career focus on his wondrously powerful and emotive voice, a pop craftsman of the highest order who was also a sensitive interpreter of other peoples' work, as well as a privately charitably person. He took his public humiliation in 1998 in great stride, but his career was never the same afterwards - a great shame, and a huge loss to the music community now and in the future, when he could have been the next Tony Bennett singing into his late years.

The music community had it hard this year, and this list is nowhere near comprehensive enough to cover all the losses, but there were so many others from public life who died. There were losses in the film industry: Alan Rickman, Jacques Rivette, Curtis Hanson, Vilmos Zsigmond, Andrzej Wajda, Garry Shandling, Abe Vigoda, Carrie Fisher and her mom Debbie Reynolds within a day of each other, Gene Wilder, Anton Yelchin, Michael Cimino, Abbas Kiarostami, Garry Marshall, Alexis Arquette, and 99-year-old Zsa Zsa Gabor. Writers like Anita Brookner, Umberto Eco and Harper Lee (on the same day!), Imre Kertesz, Edward Albee, and William Trevor. Public figures like Muhammad Ali, Nancy Reagan, and John Glenn. It has been a tough year for celebrities!

See you all next year, I hope!