As the year winds down and we get closer to 2017, the time to reflect upon 2016 is upon us. There’s quite a lot to look back on, as 2016 has been one of the most unpredictable, unrelenting, and generally odd years in recent memory. This applies to the year’s musical landscape as well. While in 2015 the biggest, most acclaimed album of the year, To Pimp A Butterfly, was cut and clear, this year there is much more to debate on the subject. So in the end, after thousands upon thousands of records were released over the past 365 days, which ones came out on top?
#16: Sarah Neufeld - The Ridge
With her work with the likes of Arcade Fire, Sarah Neufeld has proved that her skills as a violinist are strong enough to bring a casual listener to tears when working alongside her bandmates on albums like Funeral and The Suburbs. However, with The Ridge, Neufeld has proven that she can make equally moving music by herself. While there is some additional instrumental accompaniment on some songs, most of the music comes from Neufeld, whether it be through violin or vocals. With so few elements, Neufeld is still able to make some wondrous compositions and use her instrument in so many ways.
#15: Gold Panda - Good Luck and Do Your Best
With Good Luck and Do Your Best, UK producer Gold Panda doesn’t tread too much new ground. Like previous records, we’re given a set of extremely textured, intricate, and emotional microhouse and downtempo this album’s Bandcamp page accurately describes as “natural house.” However, what makes Good Luck so special is that it features Gold Panda doing Gold Panda better than ever before. Even previous efforts like Lucky Shiner weren’t this consistent ‒ everything from the off-kilter “Song For A Dead Friend” to the melodically somber “Autumn Fall” to the potential song of the year “Time Eater,” nearly every track satisfies. All in all, Good Luck and Do Your Best is the most zen album of the year, as well as just being one of the best electronic albums of 2016.
#14: Bruno Mars - 24K Magic
With 24K Magic, there are no doubt some attempts to recreate the success of “Uptown Funk.” Expecting Mars to do anything but try and go in a similar direction as “Uptown Funk” with his upcoming record is simply foolish. However, considering that it is one of the best Top 40 hits of the 2010s, this isn’t exactly a bad thing. Besides, Mars has proven before that the sounds of 80s and 90s Contemporary R&B brings out the best in him, and he continues to prove so with 24K Magic. Never before has Bruno stayed this consistently energetic and entertaining with his vocal performances. Add in some of the most fun, funky, and colorful production to grace a Bruno Mars record and you get an absolute blast of a pop record.
#13: Jeff Rosenstock - WORRY.
Jeff Rosenstock has been in the game for quite a while. Coming through with his first record with his first band in 1998, he’s released over a dozen records with various bands since. All this experience shows with WORRY.. Rosenstock is able to cram so much passion, energy, and emotion into the 37 minutes this record runs through. The first half is definitely the lyrical high point of the record as Rosenstock mixes the “young forever” sentiment of pop punk, the delayed maturity of a 34-year-old in a young man’s genre, and some political commentary that is definitely a product of the year in which this was released. The second half, while not nearly as lyrically detailed, is a jaw-dropping,retrospective of all of the shades of rock and punk Rosenstock has played throughout his illustrious career in an Abbey Road-style medley. All together WORRY. is one of Rosenstock’s greatest achievements and an album that’ll even appeal to listeners who usually have a vendetta against anything that even has a whiff of pop punk.
#12: Andy Hull & Robert McDowell - Swiss Army Man OST
Swiss Army Man is a weird movie. When your movie caused some people to walk out at the Sundance Film Festival, a place where odd films are the status quo, you know you’ve got an oddball on your hands. But much like the film, the soundtrack to this independent film still manages to work even with its outlandish techniques. As an A capella soundtrack, Andy Hull and Robert McDowell of Atlanta indie rock outfit Manchester Orchestra manages to make so much out of so little. The soundscapes the duo create alongside Swiss Army Man co-stars/guest vocalists Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe cover a wide array of emotions: they can be incredibly soothing, bombastically euphoric, or absolutely heartbreaking. Furthermore, this is all without the soundtrack’s source material, which is a sign that Swiss Army Man OST transcends the typical background noise affair many everyday movie soundtrack would provide you. But that’s what makes Swiss Army Man, the film and its soundtrack so mystifying: they aren’t everyday. They’re a once in a lifetime kind of experience.
#11: Anderson .Paak - Malibu
If the Anderson .Paak’s multitude of features on major hip hop and soul releases in 2015, including Dr. Dre, The Game, GoldLink, and BJ The Chicago Kid, Malibu is no doubt the subsequent slam dunk. Over the 17 tracks on this record, .Paak and his co-producers like Madlib, 9th Wonder and DJ Khalil blend the musical worlds of pop, funk, soul, and R&B masterfully to create one of the smoothest, grooviest, and sexiest sonic experiences of 2016. Upon these great instrumentals, .Paak proves why he’s been in such high demand as a featuring artist. Anderson .Paak solidifies himself as one of the most promising soul artists of the 2010’s on Malibu with his passionate, raspy vocals, irresistible charm and personality, and some lyrical moments that give the listener a bit of an insight into his past alongside the usual soul affairs. Malibu, as great as it is, still feels like only the beginning of the evolution of an artist, which tells quite a lot about what we can expect from .Paak these next few years.
#10: Charles Bradley - Changes
Changes is unrelentingly pure in many ways. However, sonically it is a bit rugged in some places. Bradley isn’t afraid to let out some James Brown-esque screams within his showstopping vocal performances, and it affects the album for the better. Charles Bradley has always had an amazing set of pipes on him, but he sounds more explosive and impassioned than ever before. Where Changes sounds pure is in the stylistic department. You won’t find a single trendy sound on here. Instead, what’s delivered is an incredibly solid, well-written set of soul songs that call back to the early roots of the genre that Bradley lived through and embodies in 2016.
#9: Glass Animals - How To Be A Human Being
If there is one thing that Glass Animals’ sophomore record has, it’s personality. Coincidentally, How To Be A Human Being is also a record about personalities. The concept of Human Being is a vehicle for Dave Bayley to vastly improve his songwriting and his lyrics. Sometimes the details within them are a a bit too silly for some, but the tales of various people Bayley met during the band’s extensive touring are more often entertaining than not, and can be quite emotionally moving in the of “Mama’s Gun” and “Agnes.” But the real star of the show is the production. Glass Animals’ unique blend of hip hop, pop, trip hop, electronic, and world music is more potent, more bold, and more colorful than 2014’s Zaba by a landslide.