In a year of unique, outstanding music some records stand out of the crowd



Edward Brancale

In a year filled with tragic deaths and massive political upheaval, music was always there to provide a voice. Whether it be the gospel-rap of Chance the Rapper or the electro-folk of Bon Iver, these albums shone brightest in such a dark time. Here are the ten best albums of 2016.

Honorable Mention: Childish Gambino-“Awaken, My Love,” Kendrick Lamar-“untitled unmastered,” James Blake-“The Color in Anything”

10. Danny Brown: Atrocity Exhibition

Danny Brown may not be the most popular rapper, but he may be the most artistic. After his superb mixtape “XXX” and its tripped—out follow up “Old,” “Atrocity Exhibition” (bearing the name of a Joy Division track) captures Brown at his most eccentric. Starting from moody opener “Downward Spiral,” Brown raps over some of the most freakish instrumentals you will ever hear on a rap album at a blistering pace. The real highlight is the posse cut “Really Doe (feat. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt),” possibly the best rap collaboration of the year. 

9. Schoolboy Q: Blank Face LP

After a chart-topping 2014 that included a stop at Villanova’s Hoops Mania, LA rapper Schoolboy Q remained relatively quiet until the release of this year’s “Blank Face LP.” While his major label debut “Oxymoron” toed the line between gangsta rap and party anthems, “Blank Face LP” is an introduction to the hellish landscape many are subjected to growing up in Compton, California. From the album’s vivid opener, “Torch (featuring Anderson. Paak)” listeners are introduced to the darkest corners of Q’s mind, as he ponders both his past and future on tracks like “John Muir” and “Tookie Knows II.”

8. Whitney: Light Upon the Lake

Comprised of former members of indie-rock outfit Smith Westerns, Whitney quietly released one of the year’s best indie rock albums in “Light Upon the Lake.” With very little promotion, Whitney established itself as a genuinely enthralling rock group thanks to its impeccable songwriting. Incorporating themes of heartbreak and nostalgia, Whitney’s music is utterly relatable and upbeat, and it’s hard not to get lost in the retro guitar riffs on songs like “The Falls” and “No Matter Where We Go.” 

7. Kanye West: The Life of Pablo

Everyone has their opinion, but Kanye West has become transcendent whether you like it or not. He feeds on the villainous role the media has created for him, allowing him to immerse himself in the landscape of “The Life of Pablo,” an allusion to the Apostle Paul (or maybe Pablo Picasso, or Pablo Escobar). On his most expansive album to date, West finds room to embody all three, while incorporating everything from gospel on the Chance the Rapper-assisted “Ultralight Beam” to old school-Kanye on “No More Parties in LA” with Kendrick Lamar. 

6. Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial

Will Toledo, lead singer of Car Seat Headrest, is perhaps the most underappreciated songwriter in the rock world. His compelling understanding of youth culture and its struggles reaches its peak on “Teens of Denial,” the 13th record from Car Seat Headrest. Toledo examines teen dilemmas on “Vincent” and the pain of depression on “Fill in the Blank.” The real highlight is “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” which draws an analogy between getting home in a drunken stupor and just getting by in life.

5. A Tribe Called Quest: We Got it From Here, Thank You 4 Your Service

When the world learned of Phife Dawg’s death back in March, it shuddered at the loss of “The Five Foot Freak.” In addition to the tragedy, hopes were dashed of another A Tribe Called Quest masterpiece. However, group leader Q-Tip answered the prayers of loyal fans with the group’s final album, “We Got it From Here, Thank You 4 your Service.” An album filled with both political raps (“We the People”) and Tribe throwbacks (“Enough!!”) along with features from Kendrick Lamar, Talib Kweli and Anderson .Paak, the nostalgic album proves that Tribe’s still got it. 

4. Frank Ocean: Blonde

Frank Ocean went dark after the release of “Channel Orange” in 2012, with only passing hints and rumors to tide fans over until his next release. It wasn’t until earlier this year that we were promised a follow up, and the most anticipated album in recent memory did not disappoint. Ocean approaches this album with more torn down instrumentals and lighter production, allowing his voice to shine through as the album’s true guide. “Nikes” is a glowing, dreamy assertion of Frank’s return, while “Self Control” is one of the most emotional and heartbreaking tracks of the year. 

3. Anderson .Paak: Malibu

While he may not be as well-known as he should be, Anderson .Paak managed to steal 2016 with some of the best features of the year (including “Dang!” by Mac Miller and “Dapper” from Domo Genesis), as well as two full length albums, “Yes Lawd!” with producer Knxwledge under their moniker NxWorries, and “Malibu,” one of the finest albums of the year. A blend of soul and hip-hop that is unprecedented, .Paak smoothly toes the line with tracks like “The Waters” and “Am I Wrong,” establishing a landscape that firmly sets him apart from the rest. 

2. Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book

After 2013’s “Acid Rap,” fans were afraid that Chance the Rapper had set the bar for himself way too high. On “Coloring Book,” Chance takes that bar and breaks it, producing the best rap album of the year with one of the most uplifting tracklists in recent memory. As Chance is highly anti-label, he has generated significant buzz for his success in the absence of major label support, highlighted by the track “No Problem,” a dizzying banger with a throwback guest verse from Lil Wayne. “Summer Friends” allows Chance to return to the days of his youth and reflect on where he’s been and where he’s going, and with this triumphant album, it seems as though the sky is the limit for Chancellor Bennett. 

1. Bon Iver: 22, A Million

Bon Iver’s legend had become something of a handicap. Back in 2006-07, lead singer Justin Vernon holed up on a Wisconsin cabin, drinking beer, chopping wood and writing songs about his relationships and struggles. The product of this was “For Emma, Forever Ago,” the band’s debut and one of the most heartfelt indie-folk albums in the genre’s history. Their 2011 follow up, the self-titled “Bon Iver,” doubled down on the heartbreak while adding more instrumentation to their sound. 

On “22, A Million” Vernon takes that sound, warps it beyond recognition, and adds his unique voice and enigmatic songwriting to create one of the most significant stylistic departures in recent memory. Instead of guitar led folk rock, Vernon adds electronica and vocoders (while also creating his own instrument, the Messina) for an art-pop sound that is all its own. Thankfully, Vernon pulls this off in a big way. “33 God” combines optimism and melancholy in beautiful fashion, while “29 #Strafford Apts” and “00000 Million” takes the best parts of his folk roots and layers them over his new sound.