Welp, this took a lot longer than I anticipated. But that’s what college will do to you. Oh well. Better late than never! What I present to you now is a list of my favorite albums from the past year. Followed by each title is a little description of what I liked about the record. Each is quite short because I wanted to save time and space, but perhaps I will put out a more in-depth review of a single project. Also, the albums are not in any particular order until you get to the last 5 or so. Hope you enjoy and find some cool music!
Good For You-Aminé
Top Songs: Yellow, Spice Girls, Wedding Crashers, Slide, Heebiejeebies
Good For You is the debut studio album from Aminé, a 23 year old rapper hailing from Portland, Oregon. Aminé is most known for his viral hit, “Caroline” , which saw great commercial success by peaking at number 11 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and the music video being viewed over 200 million times on YouTube. I was anticipating this release greatly and had good expectations for the project. Aminé really impressed me with the singles he released, and did not disappoint with this project. Aminé utilizes a very interesting and unique sound, mixing rap and pop elements together into a very distinct mood that also matches up with the album cover, which I always find entertaining in a project. Aminé’s unique voice really allows him to incorporate rap and singing in a very original manner. He shows off his versatility in both exploring paths not often taken in music, as well as in creating commercial hits. This album is a very cohesive piece that I find myself coming back to when I need a taste of summer.
Forced Witness-Alex Cameron
Top Songs: Candy May, Runnin’ Outta Luck, Stranger’s Kiss, Politics of Love
Alex Cameron is an Australian singer who made his debut initially back in 2013 with his album, Jumping the Shark, where Cameron embodies this persona of a washed-up, struggling entertainer. I was a big fan of the record when I came across it and looked forward to what more Alex Cameron had in store. This past September, Cameron released his second album, Forced Witness, a record that I found to be better, and more polished than the first. Cameron’s voice comes with such power on this tape and incorporates some great, quirky lyrics that keep me wanting more. The production and instrumentals on all these tracks are very polished and composed beautifully, incorporating both pop and alternative elements that remind me a lot of music from the 80’s. There are a few stand out tracks that I listen to quite frequently, but this record works really well as a complete unit, each song building off the next.
Bravado-Kirin J Callinan
Top Songs: S.A.D., Big Enough, Bravado
Another artist out of Australia, Kirn J Callinan brings quite the unique pop record to the table. A lot of the material on this record is pretty out there, but comes together beautifully as a cohesive unit. The production on this record was superb and really polished. Mix the crisp production with Kirin’s powerful vocals and you’ve got yourself one of the best pop records I have heard this past year.
Top Songs: Blood On Me, (No One Knows Me) Like My Piano
British singer Sampha made his debut this past year with his 10 track album, Process. This is a record that I love solely based on the vocals and the lyrics. Sampha has such a powerful, melodic voice that really takes over the song. And he plays off of the simple instrumentals so well. I feel as though I can get completely lost in his music when I am listening to his singing. Sampha really blew me away ever since the first time I heard his voice on “(No One Knows Me) Like My Piano”, and he has made me very interested in what else he has to bring to the table.
Top Songs: Dreams Tonite, Your Type
Indie pop group Alvvays released their second studio album this past September, three years after their debut. I enjoyed quite a few tracks off of their first record, most notably “Archie, Marry Me”, so I was excited to check out Antisocialites. As always, I was very drawn by lead singer Molly Rankin’s vocals, which is so infectiously beautiful. The record was also able to accomplish something that I always appreciate, which is to emit a certain, consistent vibe or mood. This record has such a late summer feel to it and always take me back to being outside on a nice August night when I listen to it.
Dedicated to Bobby Jameson-Ariel Pink
Top Songs: Time to Meet Your God, Santa’s in the Closet
Named in honor of 60’s singer Bobby Jameson, an artist who left the music industry and did not resurface until the mid-21st century, Dedicated to Bobby Jameson is the 11th studio album of Ariel Pink’s career. Ariel Pink chose to dedicate the album to Bobby Jameson because, according to Ariel, his “life resonated with me to such a degree that I felt a need to dedicate my latest record to him.” Like Antisocialites, this album has a great late summer feel to it. As usual, I couldn’t get enough of Ariel Pink’s unique voice and old-school, 60’s style of music. Ariel Pink has a certain niche that I find myself coming back to frequently.
Top Songs: Sweep Me Off My Feet, Paint Me Silver
This record was a bit out there. There were only a few songs on the album that had replay value, yet I felt the album, as a whole, was quite good. The production was intense, yet odd, but not in a bad way. The album had a very epic feel because of it. I wish I had better headphones to really enjoy the production and instrumentals a bit more. I wasn’t really familiar with their work, aside from “Sweep Me Off My Feet”, but the more and more I grew to like the track, the more I wanted to check out The Weather and the rest of their discography. And I was not disappointed. Michael Gira’s vocals are out of this world. I will be certainly diving into more of their work in the future.
Sleep Well Beast-The National
Top Songs: The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness, Born to Beg, I’ll Still Destroy You
Quite the moody album, Sleep Well Beast is another solid project from The National. The entire record is filled with dark, dreary instrumentals paired with lyrics to match the tone. As usual, Matt Berninger provides great vocals that allows you to practically feel his somberness. And what ties this entire record together is the fact that the album cover perfectly reflects what is heard on the record; a lovely touch that I appreciate on any record.
A Crow Looked at Me-Mount Eerie
Top Songs: My Chasm
Phil Elverum really delivered on this record. So much of his heart and emotions are vividly expressed throughout this album. Inspired by the passing of his wife, Geneviève Castrée in July 2016, Elverum crafted a record filled to the brim with his own personal thoughts and emotions intertwined with music of such dreariness and emptiness. I really commend Elverum for what he has created. I cannot fathom the emotions that he has felt throughout this entire experience and to use his music as an outlet and to show the world “this is how I feel” is quite inspiring. This album is really something meant to be listened to altogether, so it was difficult to pick out my tops songs, but I highlighted “My Chasm” because I think it really embodies the core of the album’s content and the last line always gets to me:
“Look at me, Death is real”
Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood-Sun Kil Moon
Top Songs: Philadelphia Cop, Sarah Lawrence College Song
This album is one of the most interesting records I’ve listened to. I’ve listened to a bit of Sun Kil Moon’s previous work, so I was familiar with what sort of style Mark Kozelek goes for. Sitting at just over two hours of content, this album is quite the piece to sit through. Personally, I could not get through it in one sitting, not because of boredom or lack of interest, but simply because it is such a dense piece of music. Much of the lyrics are quite self-reflective and express Kozelek’s beliefs and outlook on the society we live in. Kozelak delivers lyrics in a seemingly bothered, apathetic attitude where he does not care about what people think about his opinions or whether they are hurt by his words or not. And although many of these tracks start off taking jabs at certain aspects of life, he seems to come around and become more open or sympathetic.
Lovers-Anna of the North
Top Songs: Moving On, Someone, Lovers, Fire, All I Want
I first came across Anna of the North when she was featured on Tyler, The Creator’s album, Flowerboy, on the track “Boredom”. I absolutely adored her soft, melodic voice and was intrigued to see what her own music was like. Lovers is a beautiful little pop record with great production and harmonious, beautiful vocals. The tracks are very catchy and feature great hooks that aid in the catchiness of the tracks. The album has a very wintery feel, in my opinion and really sticks to the same sort of mood throughout, allowing it to be a nice cohesive record. I can see Anna of the North having a more widespread appeal and experiencing great success in the coming years.
Top Songs: Name for You, Mildenhall, Half a Million
I had never really listened to an entire Shins record before, but my brother highly recommended this one to me and I certainly was not disappointed. James Mercer’s story leading up to this record is an interesting one. I had no idea that at this point in time, The Shins has really been a one person show when it came to the actual crafting of the record. Mercer wanted to take The Shins back to their roots on this record and I think he accomplished something great. The melody’s are soft and fun, the lyrics are introspective at times, and Mercer’s vocal performance was some of my favorite of his. There was nothing crazy or experimental about the album, but I still thought it was a great. Not every record needs to do something completely out there to be a great album. Sometimes the simpler, the better. But that actually isn’t necessarily the case with this record because on January 19th, The Shins released The Worm’s Heart, which is Heartworms, but the tracklisting flipped and each song re recorded in a tone opposite the original. So fast songs are played slow, slow songs played fast, quiet songs played loud, loud songs played quiet, etc. I really enjoyed this idea because I always wondered what certain songs across all genres would sound if they were done differently. I would love if other artists did something like this with their music.
At What Cost-Goldlink
Top Songs: Crew, Some Girl, Pray Everyday (Survivor’s Guilt)
Goldlink has been one of my favorite artists over the past couple years and At What Cost was a great listen for me. I loved the hooks on this record, especially on Crew, and found Goldlink’s style of rap to be quite pleasing. Goldlink has always had a bit of a unique sound, making his music really stand out among the rest. At first glance, this album seems a bit odd due to the cover alone (I personally wasn’t a fan of it, but it has grown on me). But this album is so much better than what the album cover displays. Goldlink’s soulful mix of rap, pop, and R&B on At What Cost is a lot of fun to listen to and displays Goldlink’s growth as an artist. Goldlink’s flows were great and his style switches on different tracks were fantastic. I thought Goldink’s lyricism was some of his best, especially towards the back-end of the record. Also I enjoyed the choice of features, especially Shy Glizzy (His verse entrance is one of my favorites in recent memory) and Steve Lacy. I really hope Goldlink can keep this up.
Top Songs: Kill Jay-Z, The Story of O.J., Family Feud, Bam
I was really glad Jay-Z came through with this record. After Magna Carta Holy Grail, I was left a bit disappointed with Jay-Z. And far too often, rappers passed their peak popularity years have difficulty in making a solid record, but Jay-Z did that and then some. 4:44 has some of Jay-Z’s best lyricism, involving very personal and introspective thoughts on his whole life. And the production is out of this world, No I.D. really outdid himself on this one and Jay-Z has always had a great ear for beats. It was really hard for me to find any faults with this record because it’s just so clean and smooth. Jay-Z’s flow is so infectious I could listen to it for hours. And this album is the perfect length. Not too long, not too short. Goldilocks would be all over this record.
Top Songs: Love Galore, Doves in the Wind, Drew Barrymore, The Weekend, Pretty Little Birds
SZA has to have one of my favorite voices in music right now. I can’t get enough of it. It so smooth and infectious. I enjoyed Ctrl much more than I did Z and think it really established and showcased what SZA is capable of and can bring to the world of music. With such smooth production and vocals, this record really works well with itself. The production doesn’t drown out the vocals like on some records, but instead helps the vocals stand out, which is definitely SZA’s strength. I really enjoyed SZA’s lyricism on this record, as well. I thought a lot of the lyrics were passionate and very reflective on who SZA is as a person. Ctrl had a perfect summer mood that was great to listen to while relaxing out in the sun this past summer.
4eva is a Mighty Long Time- Big K.R.I.T.
Top Songs: Big Bank, Subenstein, Get Away, Keep The devil Off
I feel this is one of the most slept-on projects released this year. Big K.R.I.T. really came through on this record. His flows were crazy, his lyricism was impressive, and this project kicked ass. I had a lot of fun the entire time I listened to this album. I really liked his use of the two-discs, as well. It was one of the few times where I feel like it actually worked. Sometimes an artist will split the project into two discs, but there will really be no distinction between the two discs, so splitting seems unnecessary. But on 4eva, there was a clear beginning and end to each disc. This album had some great bangers like “Big Bank” and “Subenstein”, as well as some slower tracks like “Mixed Messages” and “Higher Calling”. And it seemed like the first disc was focused on more upbeat songs, while the second half focused more on touching, lyrical tracks. I thought this created a nice parallel between the two halves of the album.
ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$-JOEY BADA$$
Top Songs: TEMPTATION, LAND OF THE FREE, ROCKABYE BABY, RING THE ALARM
One of many politically driven projects released this past year, AABA, was up there on my list of favorites. Despite being at times rather surface-level in terms of introspection, an aspect many did not feel was effective, I found the record to do a very good job of tackling issues society faces today. Sometimes being deep and “woke” is not what needs to be heard. In terms of wanting to change the mindset of the people of America, sometimes those who are the most blatant or simplistic in delivering their messages, are the ones who are listened to because their message is one that all can understand clearly. And I feel that’s exactly what this album accomplished. Diving deeper into the record, I found Joey’s flow and delivery to be some of his most gritty and powerful performances, yet he still found room for some more commercial hits like “TEMPTATION”. This album was another drift away from his early styles like on his mixtape 1999, a style that I wish he would go back to at times, but all artists need to progress and move forward, and I am a fan of the direction he is going in. The features on this record were some of the best in the past year (especially on the song “RING THE ALARM”) and I thought fit in perfectly on the record. Overall, I found myself very happy with this album.
Special Edition Grandmaster Deluxe-The Cool Kids
Top Songs: The Moonlanding, Break Your Legs, On The Set, T.D.A, Too Smooth
My god this is a fun album. This was one of the few albums this past year where I was hooked from the beginning. Chuck Inglish’s production is superb as always and this project really reminded me just how talented he is as a producer. The beats were so catchy and bouncy. You can’t help but nod your head when listening to a lot of these tracks. Mikey Rocks was great on this record. I really came to appreciate his flow and talent on the mic after listening to this. My favorite verse on the entire album had to have been his on “The Moonlanding”. It was so infectious and smooth. Really helped create a dope intro to a dope album. If you ever want to hear what dope flows with great production sounds like, check out this album.
Top Songs: Pizza Shop Extended, Windows Up, 17 Wit a 38
IWASVERYBAD has been another step in the right direction for IDK. My first experience with IDK was back on the Subtrap project and I was very impressed, so I was excited when IWASVERYBAD was released. What I liked most about the project was definitely IDK’s skill at rapping. His flow was outstanding, his ability to switch up styles was great, and his voice is very raw and powerful. Almost has a bit of this evil, menacing vibe to it. A lot of the lines on this record are delivered with such fierce force paired with great lyrics to back them up. I thought the production was solid on this album as well and I really enjoyed some of the features, “Pizza Shop Extended” being the one that stands out the most. Not done by IDK himself, but the callback to “Clint Eastwood” by Del the Funky Homosapien was awesome. IDK definitely has the ability to blow up and become a force to be reckoned with in the rap community. Not sure how I feel about the name change though. Not very unique if you ask me and a questionable choice from a marketing standpoint.
Top Songs: DNA. ELEMENT. HUMBLE. LOVE.
I’d be silly to not include Kendrick on this list, but I will admit that I was a bit disappointed with this project. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great album, but I was hoping for something a bit different from Kendrick. This album wasn’t as in-depth or introspective as I was expecting, especially after an album like To Pimp a Butterfly. DAMN. definitely felt more commercial as evident by its widespread appeal and radio play. You didn’t see many people bumping songs off TPAB, but it’s hard to go to any party or sporting event without hearing “DNA.”, “HUMBLE.” or “LOYALTY.” played. But like I said, I did still enjoy this record, I thought it had a lot of very good hype tracks, with great production to go along with it. There was still some emotion, as seen on tracks like “LUST.” or “DUCKWORTH.” And what I like a lot about Kendrick, as a whole, is that he seems to have a different voice on every record. It really highlights how Kendrick strives to try new things and go down different paths with his music instead of cranking out the same thing every time.
The Never Story-J.I.D.
Top Songs: NEVER, EdEddnEddy, D/Vision, Hereditary, 8701
Oh man I loved this project. I have never been so quickly blown away by a new artist like I have J.I.D. His flow is one of the best out of any of the new rappers emerging these days, and is a breath of fresh air from the typical trap artists that are popping up all over the place. The same goes for the production, which I must say, is stellar. When I first heard that beat switch on NEVER…fucking forget about it. His voice and style of rapping I find very unique which is always a plus when so many new artists try to sound like whatever is hot at the time. His lyrics were fun, clever, and filled with creativity. There weren’t many features on this record, which I really like to see for a new artist because it allows them to show the listeners right off the bat, “This is what I can do”. But the EARTHGANG feature was great, I think J.I.D. works really well with them, both on and off this album. And even the 6LACK feature was good. I’m really excited to see what J.I.D. does next and how his music progresses as time goes on.
Top Songs: Ascension, Saturnz Barz, Andromeda, Busted and Blue, She’s My Collar, Let Me Out
Unlike many, I felt that Humanz was still a great record. But then again, I’m a huge Gorillaz stan and will love just about anything they put out. This record had great production and was super catchy, especially on the first half. It was a real danceable record, which fit in nicely with their “end of the world dance party” theme that they were sort of going for. This album had some relevant themes to this day and age, especially in a political sense. Some of the messages were rather surface-level, or underdeveloped, such as censoring out “Trump” and “Obama” on “Let Me Out”, but other tracks like “Ascension” and “Hallelujah Money” had some clever, creative political messages. I thought the features on this record were great and really suited Gorillaz’s style, but they were a bit overpowering. I, like many others, could’ve used a lot more 2D on this album and I feel Damon and Jamie realize this grievance from the fans. I understand and agree with a lot of the criticisms that people have about this record, especially the lack of 2D, but I still really enjoyed the album and thought it was great to hear new Gorillaz after being gone for so long. I cannot wait to see what more Damon and Jamie have in store for the future of Gorillaz.
Top Songs: HEAT, GOLD, GUMMY, SWEET BOOGIE, ZIPPER, BLEACH, HOTTIE
If I’m going to talk about BROCKHAMPTON and, I cannot talk about one without the others, so I’m going to talk about all three projects as a whole. Also it’s difficult for me to pick a favorite because they’re all so damn good. For an independent group that met over the internet, these guys already have great skills and production value. This entire project was so smooth it was hard to believe it didn’t have some major label production. Q3 and Romil are so talented, as well as the rest of the members of this boy band. Their work ethic and dedication to their craft is something that is not seen often and I admire greatly. To release three great projects in the span of one year is unbelievable. And the energy they bring is completely unmatched. Their chemistry and the way they seem to feed off each other is so much fun to listen to. Their sound is unique and every member brings something different to the table, whether it be a different flow or different style. And Kevin’s hooks are so damn catchy. They get stuck in your head after one listen. It’s incredible. These guys all have potential to do great things and I look forward to seeing what they all can do.
Flowerboy-Tyler, The Creator
Top Songs: See You Again, Who Dat Boy, Boredom, 911/Mr. Lonely, November, Glitter
Holy fuck this album is great. Tyler has been progressing, evolving, and experimenting for years and I think he’s found a sound that he executes to a T. His mix of rap, jazz, and R&B is something that very few have ever done with such flawlessness. His usage of singing and features were outstanding. His ability to weave the harmonies in with the leading vocals were so smooth and beautiful. Tyler seems to be able to bring out the best in the artists he works with and help play to their strengths. Tyler has been able to turn me onto artists I hadn’t heard before, but eventually fell in love with. Anna of the North was the artist that I fell in love with this time around. This record’s instrumentals and production are so pretty. Flowerboy also has shown a more mature Tyler. He’s completely gone away from his more obscene lyrics and subject matter, which has definitely improved his music and his widespread appeal. At times on his older albums, I felt a bit uncomfortable listening to some of the lyrics. But on Flowerboy, there’s just so many great lyrical moments. This album definitely had a lot more emotion in it and more truthful, honest reflections on his own life. Tyler Discusses and touches on topics such as love, sexuality, and friendship with such honesty and eloquence. This entire album had a serene, lovely summer evening vibe, which perfectly ties into the album cover (which is actually one of my favorite covers of all time). I was blown away by this record and there’s not doubt in my mind that this is one of the best albums I have heard this year. Definitely Tyler’s best, as well.
Pure Comedy-Father John Misty
Top Songs: Pure Comedy, Total Entertainment Forever, Leaving LA, So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain
Pure Comedy is out of this world. It’s clearly not an album for everyone, and many might find it boring, but you can’t help but admire what Josh Tillman has done here. The dreary, honest mood that this entire album encapsulates is quite thought-provoking and emotionally triggering. Pure Comedy is a record that takes a hard look at society and reflects on the world with brutal honesty. Tillman is clearly upset with the what is happening and the way things seem to be heading. Most of the problems or grievances that he discusses on this record have to do with entertainment and how much society craves it. We want to be entertained at all times and don’t really care to see the problems that surround us. We just plug in and drown the noise out. I could go on for hours about all that Tillman talks about on this record. This is one of those albums where it can be enjoyed even more if you sit down with the lyrics in front of you and follow along as you listen. What I like most about this record is how empty the instrumentals feel. By making the instrumentals very light and simple, it allows the listener to focus more on the lyrics. But with Pure Comedy, the instrumentals aren’t used to just support the lyrics, they also help build and tie in the overarching mood of the album. This album is meant to feel cold and empty. Pure Comedy is truly a masterpiece and I find myself coming back to it all the time, still to discover new things that make this album work so well.