- KENDRICK LAMAR- UNTITLED UNMASTERED
“Untitled Unmastered” is essentially a b-sides release from 2015’s critically consensus album of the year “To Pimp A Butterfly”. Lamar issued the album without advance notice seventeen days after his Grammy Awards performance and didn’t even bother naming any of the songs. Some of the tracks has been part of Lamar’s late night tv or Grammy performances throughout 2015 and exemplifies how high of a level Lamar is working at, that he could come up with a collection of vault throwaways this quality that it can stand on its own. “Untitled Unmastered” is actually much more rap-oriented than “TPAB” which gratifies many of his fans disappointed at the former album’s turn away from rap and toward soul, funk & jazz. However, the songs do fit in with “TPAB’s” overall themes of anti-materialism, societal ills, faith and survival when the odds are stacked against you. Kendrick Lamar is simply one of the best and most important musical artists alive today and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
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Buy untitled 08 | 09.06.2014. [Explicit] Amazon
- THE RANGE- POTENTIAL
“Potential” is the second album release from Brooklyn-based producer James Hinton. Hinton’s trick is that he samples vocal samples from amateur musicians all over You Tube, taking various spoken word or rap hooks from the songs and creating electronic pop songs around the basic sample. The samples are often British voices, especially taken from Grime and Jungle music, which gives the album a rave-like feel. No one or two songs stand too tall above the rest and “Potential” is remarkably consistent with a seemless flow from one track to the next.
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- JAMES BLAKE- THE COLOUR IN ANYTHING
The one problem I have with “The Colour In Anything” is it’s just too damn long. If the track listing were narrowed down this album would have had a shot at my top ten. This is mellow, rainy day music of a deep beauty. Musically the album is rooted in both electronic music (of the non-dance variety) and R&B and lyrically it’s all about heartbreak. Tracks like “Radio Silence”, Love Me In Whatever Way”, “I Need A Forest Fire” & especially “Modern Soul”- one of his best songs yet, prove that now three albums deep, James Blake’s blue-eyed British, electronic sad soul is here to stay.
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Buy Love Me In Whatever Way Amazon
- ANOHNI- HOPELESSNESS
“Hopelessness” is Anohni’s first album since adopting her new persona and gender (she was previously known as Antony Hegarty) and she maintains the heartbreaking beauty and sadness of her previous incarnation, but adds a more electronic beat driven musical landscape to go along with a righteous anger at the state of the world. Whereas before she looked more inward and revealed personal truths, “Hopelessness” is outwardly focused striking out against our state of perpetual war and drone bombing of innocents as well as our look the other way approach to climate change and global warming. She warns against our massive surveillance state as well as the patriarchal state of hyper and violent masculinity which seems to have led to so many of our world’s largest problems. “Hopelessness” is the most depressing album I heard in 2016 but is never boring and outside of her dance music vocal collaborations (as Antony) with Hercules and Love Affair, it’s the most musically dynamic album she’s ever made.
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- KAYTRANADA- 99.9%
Kaytranada is Kevin Celestin, a DJ and producer from Montreal who has been popping up as a remixer on soundcloud and hip hop and dance albums throughout this decade. “99.9%” is his excellent full-length debut, a wonderful cohesive blend of hip-hop, soul, funk and electronic dance music featuring pure instrumental tracks alongside guest rappers like Vic Mensa and Anderson Paak. Only four of the album’s fifteen tracks don’t feature a guest, but neither his samples or his featuring guest spots ever come off as obvious or catering to the mainstream. “Glowed Up” featuring 2016’s MVP Anderson Paak is the most celebrated track on the album but my favorite is “Bus Ride” which appears toward the front of the album and once it starts “99.9%’s” momentum never let up.
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Buy Glowed Up [Explicit] Amazon
- DANNY BROWN- ATROCITY EXHIBITION
Eccentric Detroit rapper Danny Brown’s voice is an acquired taste. But he’s also one of the best and most original pure rappers as well. Brown takes many of his ideas and beats from outside of rap (Atrocity Exhibition is an old Joy Division song). The themes of the album are extremely dark- Brown portrays himself as often paranoid and hopeless, but he has a witty and even hilarious way of describing even his bleakest moments. Though Brown’s fourth album, “Atrocity Exhibition” really can be considered the third part of a trilogy (beginning with “XXX” and continuing with “Old”), each album really stands on its own both thematically and sonically. “Ain’t It Funny”, “Pneumonia”, “Tell Me What I Don’t Know”, & “When It Rain” are some of the many highlights but the real standout is posse cut “Really Doe” featuring rap heavy hitters Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul & Earl Sweatshirt.
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- KANYE WEST- THE LIFE OF PABLO
“The Life Of Pablo” is a total mess. The rollout was a mess. The album can be very inconsistent and some of it just isn’t up to West’s incredibly high musical standard he has achieved over the past decade plus. Love him or hate him, and most people at this point seem to hate him; or at the least are extremely frustrated by him, to deny that he is one of modern music’s great innovators is to either hate rap or to close your ears and be in denial yourself. The album can be off-putting with cringe worthy lyrics and pointless skits, but almost two handfuls of great songs make “The Life Of Pablo” yes another must listen to add to his oeuvre. Key cuts include Kendrick Lamar collab “No More Parties In L.A.”, gospel track and Chance the Rapper led “Ultralight Beam”, “Waves”, “Real Friends” and new single “Fade”.
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Buy Real Friends [Explicit] Amazon
- WHITNEY- LIGHT UPON THE LAKE
“Light Upon The Lake” is the debut album from duo Max Kakacek (formerly guitarist in The Smith Westerns) and Julien Uhrlich (drummer in Unknown Mortal Orchestra). Though released to little fanfare last spring it’s one of the most consistently rewarding albums of the year. Whitney mines the folk rock template, coming off as a mellower Girls or a happier Real Estate. Whitney has no large message, but every song on the album is flawlessly constructed and totally enjoyable, with Ehrlich’s off kilter vocals being the only possible hard sell.
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- BLOOD ORANGE- FREETOWN SOUND
Blood Orange is singer/songwriter & composer Dev Hynes & “Freetown Sound” is his third and best album. Like many of the few past year’s best albums it’s a reflection of race and gender in our changing society. Hynes traces his own roots, which start in Sierra Leone, Africa. The album runs 17 tracks deep and can be a lot to wade through. It’s more consistent than his last album “Cupid Deluxe” but lacks as many obvious standout tracks. Upon subsequent listens highlights begin to emerge like “Best To You”, Debbie Harry collaboration “EVP”, the prescient “Hands Up”, “Chance” and “Augustine”.
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Buy Best to You Amazon
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- PARQUET COURTS- HUMAN PERFORMANCE
Human Performance, Brooklyn’s Parquet Court’s 3rd proper album, likely would have shined brighter in a lesser music year. I feel like despite its greatness it seemed to get lost in the shuffle of the vast array of releases this year. “Human Performance” is both the group’s tightest and most hook-filled album to date and they lose none of their original slapdash charm in the process. The band alternates between terse, furious punk blasts (Outside), Velvet Underground style extended jams (One Man One City), jangle pop (Keep It Even and Human Performance) and punchy singles ready fare like “Dust” and “Berlin Got Blurry”. If it weren’t for Car Seat Headrest, Parquet Courts would be carrying the banner for indie rock album of the year. Don’t sleep on them!
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Buy Dust Amazon