Wake Radio recommends that you check out these albums from last year:
10. clipping. – Splendor and Misery
2016 was quite the year for this experimental hip-hop group. Lead vocalist and rapper Daveed Diggs, hot off of his portrayal as Lafayette in the wildly successful Broadway musical Hamilton, released two EPs this year. Wriggle, a filthy, S&M inspired joyride, and Splendor and Misery, the first album’s polar opposite. This hip-hop space opera infuses equal elements of prog-rock and slave spirituals, telling the story of the lone survivor of a slave uprising on a spaceship. It’s as rewarding to listen to as it is obtuse, and should be right up the alley for anybody looking for theatrical, lyrically dense rap music.
9. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
So much has been said about this album already, another review of it only seems pointless. Multiple delays, name changes and song lineups characterize what is ultimately an album as beautifully flawed as its production. Tracks such as “Famous” and “Ultralight Beam” are personal, raw and fitting for a man on his seventh album in the public eye. Kanye said it best himself: “name one genius that ain’t crazy.”
8. Jeff Rosenstock – Worry.
Considered an “elder statesman” and legend of the punk community, Jeff Rosenstock dropped one more album in 2016 to make sure that we don’t forget it. Worry touches upon the fiery pop-punk sensibilities that made Rosenstock’s past two solo projects so memorable, but refines them and spans a larger range of sounds while doing it. It isn’t preoccupied with the faux gravitas that most modern punk seems to be obsessed with, and is all the better for it.
7. Pinegrove – Cardinal
Cardinal is the only album I listened to this year that brought me to tears upon finishing it. On their first full length album, Pinegrove polish songs from their early demos and add new ones to create a familiar, lived in sound. The album’s mix of folk, country and rock music makes for a potent, emotional listening experience that is unlike any other album released last year.
6. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
When Chance the Rapper said “let’s do a good-a** job on Chance 3,” it was not just a clever line on the opening of The Life of Pablo, it was a promise of things to come. The Chicago native came through with his most joyous, well-produced, and star-studded release yet. Swelling choirs and horn sections by The Social Experiment make every song feel like the warmest, happiest Sunday church service. The albums religious overtones do not hamper down Chance’s message, but in fact enhance it. Even if you dislike gospel music, this album is worth a listen.
5. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Danny Brown could rap over the sound of a can opener and it would still sound amazing. The drug-fueled highs of his last two records come crashing down around Danny Brown as his signature nasally flows bounce and rock over an impressive range of beats from a large number of big-name producers. In the end, Atrocity Exhibition lives up to its name perfectly — a hellish succession of song’s from rap’s most interesting weirdo.
4. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
One of the few straight rock records worth listening to last year, Teens of Denial is Car Seat Headrest’s 12th album to date. The opening track, “Fill in the Blanks” is an anthem for the disillusioned, and delivers its message with one of my new favorite chorus hooks of all time. Rife with punchy lyrics, slamming guitar riffs and sing-along choruses, this album still feels like it was made by a band in its prime.
3. Childish Gambino – Awaken My Love!
Coming right smack in the middle of what some are calling a renaissance of funk and soul music, Donald Glover, alias Childish Gambino, released a convincing work to cement that renaissance as a true movement happening in music today. Awaken My Love! is a raw, exciting piece of music that contains Glover’s most jarring and smooth work to date. It’s an album that wears its influences (Bootsie Collins, Sly and the Family Stone, Parliament Funkadelic) on its sleeve. Questlove woke up at 4 a.m. excited about this album, and if that doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what will.
2. David Bowie- Blackstar
When an artist, especially one as prolific as David Bowie, releases an album and dies two days later, you better pay attention to his final work. This album is creepy, it’s sprawling and I would expect nothing less from one of the greatest artists ever to walk this earth. Over seven colossal tracks, Bowie discusses themes of death, space and the infinite, which are fitting topics. The man himself delivers a dramatic, ethereal performance, especially on tracks like “Lazarus.” If you enjoyed any of David Bowie’s past works, this album will act as a final act of closure for the life of a great man.
1. Frank Ocean – Blond
The leadup to this album has been one of the most drawn-out and mysterious in recent memory. Blond is a concept album that is as sonically lush as it is melancholically written. Upon first listen, you can definitely hear that this is the work of a man who has taken his time. It is surprisingly subdued for a modern R&B record. Those expecting another Channel Orange will be initially disappointed, since where the last record was extravagant, Blond is minimalist. It relies less on vocal pyrotechnics and decadent beats, choosing instead to let raw feeling and glamour convey the same ideas. You would be remiss if you were to skip this album, as it will most likely be talked about for many months to come. Frank Ocean has truly created something special and to forgo it is to ignore one of the largest cultural phenomena of the last year.