No matter what your opinion of 2016 is, it was certainly an impressive time for music. Here are some of the Texan’s top picks for the year.
Honorable mentions (in no particular order): The Impossible Kid – Aesop Rock, Lemonade – Beyoncé, Before the Dawn – Kate Bush, Floss – Injury Reserve, untitled unmastered. – Kendrick Lamar, Run the Jewels 3 – Run the Jewels
10. Terminal Redux – Vektor
After a five-year absence, Vektor released their third album in 2016. Combining influences of progressive metal with black and technical thrash metal, Terminal Redux is their finest work to date. With this LP, the band has crafted a fun-fueled science fiction journey that appeals not only to metal fans but music nerds alike, showing what Vektor is capable of with balance and ambition.
9. Honor Killed the Samurai – Ka
It’s remarkable that in 2016 someone can still make an album — especially a hip-hop album — that sounds like nothing ever created. Yet, by removing drums from his songs, that is exactly what Ka did with Honor Killed the Samurai. This LP is a dark, atmospheric ride through the somber and mysterious world Ka has woven with his lyrics. If you’re looking for the concentrated essence of East Coast hip-hop, look no further.
8. HOPELESSNESS – ANOHNI
The best art pop album of the year, HOPELESSNESS carries with it a burden for its listener. Political discussions riddle the album and brings everything from war, nature and general politics under scrutiny. ANOHNI’s approach is subtle, but her tone is often pessimistic and angry as she reflects on the past and contemplates our future. Her brutal honesty is what makes this record so great and keeps listeners coming back for a challenging but fulfilling experience.
7. A Seat at the Table – Solange
I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t enjoy A Seat at the Table upon first listen, but by the end of the year, Solange’s third album clicked with me and easily surpasses her sister’s Lemonade. Solange’s neo-soul infused pop sound brings an introspective and mellow feeling to an otherwise bold protest album, incorporating poetic subtleties in her lyrics that many other artists in her genre outright lack to build a hearty experience.
6. Awaken, My Love! – Childish Gambino
By far the most surprising release of the year, Awaken, My Love! sounds as if it were pulled straight out of the 1970s, bringing an unbridled collection of soulful, catchy and infectious songs to this record. Presented by music’s jack-of-all-trades Donald Glover, the LP kicks off with one of (if not the) best songs of the year, “Me and Your Mama,” continuing on to dive deep into discussions of modern love and racial struggles. Although he is known for his rap music, Childish Gambino’s transition into music’s resident soul man went without a hitch.
5. Bottomless Pit – Death Grips
Coming off of their seminal double LP The Powers That B, it seemed like the industrial hip hop trio Death Grips had few places to turn. But as always, they surprised with another signature chaotic release. Bottomless Pit features some of DG’s most surprisingly palatable music, yet they sound as hungry as ever with songs such as “Three Bedrooms in a Good Neighborhood” and “Spikes” that keep their energy high while diving deep into the strange and twisted thoughts of MC Ride.
4. Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown
Atrocity Exhibition combines all of the best elements of Danny Brown’s previous releases. It’s extremely varied yet an engaging listen for fans from all walks of life. In a year with many impressive hip hop albums, this LP stands out because of its dark subject matter, first-person self-explorations and unrelenting creative consistency.
3. Blackstar – David Bowie
Before his death earlier this year, Bowie released his most impressive work in almost four decades with Blackstar. This LP is a haunting experience. Bowie uses art rock as a vehicle for some of his most melancholic and depressing tracks to date. After his passing just a few days after this album’s release, it’s easy to see Blackstar as a concept record about death. At its core, this is a foray into Bowie’s feelings about his life and accomplishments and his thoughts on the afterlife, making the experience heartfelt and ominous.
2. A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead
In typical Radiohead fashion, A Moon Shaped Pool takes several listens to gestate. Although this may not be an absolutely brand new sound for the band, each song on this record contains something special and surprising, drawing in listeners for a fantastic experience. Framed perfectly with guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s orchestral scores, songs such as “Daydreaming” and “Identikit” take on lives of their own, building with lush effects and frontman Thom Yorke’s lyrics to wow even the most seasoned of Radiohead fans.
1. Blonde – Frank Ocean
Easily the most hyped album of this year, Blonde looked like it was never going to come out. After unexplained delays and what felt like an endless wait, the pressure was most certainly on for Frank Ocean to deliver his most impressive album to date. Although Blonde is certainly introspective and deep, it probably isn’t the most complex release of the year — but it’s the one I keep coming back to. It’s a bittersweet record, full of pure and primitive emotion. Ocean’s sparse arrangements, echoing guitars and beautiful voice encapsulate his ups and downs of life, delivering on the years of hype.