A look back at last year’s music scene
By Carlos Bilan, Staff Writer
Even though 2016 seemed like a terrible year due to the many unthinkable events that occurred, at least the amazing music scene was a redeeming quality. Here’s a look back at the best 20 albums from 2016.
20. Starboy by The Weeknd
This may be Abel Tesfaye’s most pop-sounding album to date, but it still feels like an authentic Weeknd record. In his previous album, Tesfaye perfectly portrayed dark realities, but with Starboy, this imagery is lit up with neon lights. However, tracks like “False Alarm” still recall the eerie and shadowy mood from his previous works. While this may seem like a brighter album, recurring themes like drugs and sex are still evident, though it doesn’t feel too self-indulgent. Tesfaye also explores a new sound he hasn’t before by collaborating with Daft Punk, and some tracks have an ’80s dancefloor vibe.
19. Wild World by Bastille
The British indie band Bastille’s sophomore album improves from their debut’s flaws and the result is a strong follow-up. The album’s sound explores the cityscape in the album art, and each track represents different parts of this panorama. For example, an intimate part of the city can be visualized from the tracks that have a minimalistic style, and the crowded streets surrounded by huge skyscrapers can be imagined in tracks like “Send Them Off” for its exuberant horns. The fact that all songs were written by Dan Smith is remarkable, as his lyrics are beautifully poetic.
18. Next Thing by Frankie Cosmos
If coming-of-age teen movies were made into an album, this would be the outcome. The album is rather fast-paced, since the majority of the tracks are around two minutes at most. Despite this, they do not feel too abrupt, and it’s one of the album’s strengths, since one track hops smoothly to the other.
17. E•MO•TION: Side B by Carly Rae Jepsen
This album is a follow-up to her underrated 2015 synth-pop gem, E•MO•TION. It is rare for extended plays to be solid, let alone an album consisting fully of tracks of which Carly Rae Jepsen cut off from the final product of E•MO•TION. That is to say, she potentially considered these as weak tracks, and she only released this album as a gift to her loyal fans. However, the EP is amazing and the tracks do not sound like filler, as each one has distinctly strong characteristics and catchy tunes.
16. Dangerous Woman by Ariana Grande
A solid pop album by Miss Grande that taps into her inner femme fatale for its mature sound and provocative nature. “Ain’t you ever seen a princess be a bad bitch?” Ariana asks seductively during the bridge of a standout track called “Bad Decisions,” and in this album, she really flaunts that persona. Ariana’s powerful and soulful vocals shine in this record, and the album does not sound generic, making it fresh and interesting.
15. Pool by Porches
A nostalgic and dreamy record that makes you think of rainy days, neon lights, soft pastel, and the ocean. Essentially, the album is composed of a multitude of synths, wonky basslines, and endearing hooks. Although Aaron Maine intended for this album to be something people can dance to, it feels more like the album has tracks ideal for the romantic slow dance during prom night in the ’80s. You could even consider this the album to listen to after the party for its chill vibe.
14. Sirens by Nicolas Jaar
A chaotic and adventurous record that starts off almost silent from the solemn opener “Killing Time” and becomes disruptive due to its experimental nature. Consequently, the sound lives up to the album title, as you feel a sense of urgency and intensity. Lyrically, the album conveys the continuous tragedies that happen in the Chilean-American artist’s home country. Jaar ponders about Chilean politics, but interestingly, it seems like America is caught in an almost similar situation.
13. Blood Bitch by Jenny Hval
It might be an album that is hard to digest for its experimental genre and the fact that it is a concept album. Jenny Hval considered this album an investigation of desire through bloodlust, so in this album, she thinks like a vampire. The album’s listening experience is rather cinematic; it is as though you’re watching an art house vampire film. The highlight “Conceptual Romance” is, to me, the most accessible track from the album due to its melodic phrases and mystical tunes.
12. Bonito Generation by Kero Kero Bonito
If sugar, spice, everything nice, and Chemical X were used to create the Powerpuff Girls then you could say the same for this powerpuff trio of music. Except to get Kero Kero Bonito, replace the formulas with video games, anime, everything pop music, then break a bottle of Chemical K for “kawaii”—the Japanese word for cute. A sonically cohesive album that incorporates different genres such as dancehall, electronic, house, and a dash of EDM. The tracks are also accompanied by tongue-in-cheek English and Japanese lyrics. This album is the future of pop music and a certified mood-lifter.
11. Freetown Sound by Blood Orange
After the horrifying shooting that happened in a gay nightclub at Orlando, Dev Hynes dedicated this album to marginalized groups. Hynes’ whispery vocals, accompanied by gorgeous synth tones, smooth funk, and alternative R&B make for a soothing listen. Many guest vocals are also featured in this album, and Hynes’ clever skills as a producer shine.
10. HOPELESSNESS by ANOHNI
An avant-garde and electronic album that is surprisingly accessible despite its experimental nature. The album’s message is politically charged, and, like the title itself, ANOHNI audibly conveys the emotion of hopelessness in many situations. For example, in “Drone Bomb Me,” she sings from the perspective of an Afghan girl who begs to be killed after her parents have been killed by drones. In “Four Degrees,” she plays the devil’s advocate and asks for the world to be burned from the negative effects of global warming. It’s a thought-provoking album, and ANOHNI does not hold back on anything she wants to say, even when it may sound controversial.
9. Front Row Seat to Earth by Weyes Blood
The album recalls musical elements from late 1960s acid folk and 1970s AM radio, but Natalie Mering reinvents the sound. It’s especially incredible how Mering wrote this entire album by herself and produced it with the help of only one producer. The result is celestial, and feels like a work of more than two. Embroidered with graceful arrangements and an enchanting voice, this album will make you feel like a VIP sitting on the front row receiving a meditative experience.
8. A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead
Like the title itself, listening to the album is like being in space. Tracks like the stunning “Daydreaming” make you feel like you are daydreaming on the moon, longing to come back to the Earth you belong to, or maybe to explore more of the wonders of space. The rock elements are gentle and the album has shimmering qualities. This majestic album proves once again why the band has had such a long-running and critically successful career.
7. Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper
Chancellor Bennet incorporates gospel and hip hop in this brilliant album that transports the listeners to a church of uplifting bops. Hip hop and gospel is a rather unusual combo considering how hip hop can be worldly in its messages and gospel is meant to be spiritual and holy, but this album proves that the two genres can work together without sounding too religious or alienating non-believers.
6. My Woman by Angel Olsen
Through the possessive pronoun “my,” Angel Olsen takes control of this identity through her vulnerable yet potent narrative. In this album, Olsen demonstrates her vocal versatility with the angst-filled highlight “Shut Up and Kiss Me,” in which you can feel the forcefulness in her tone. With the melodramatic centrepiece “Sister,” you can feel her longing, which is also enhanced by its enthralling guitar solo. The first half of the album evokes vigour, while the second half has a dreamier, more sentimental, mellow tone.
5. Puberty 2 by Mitski
From the title itself, the indie rock album by Asian American Mitski evokes the idea of a second puberty and being confronted by the realities of adulthood. What is amazing about this album is that it covers themes like depression, suicidal thoughts, and drugs, though it does not sound emo thanks to Mitski’s bravado in song-writing.
4. A Seat at the Table by Solange
Despite being in the music industry since 2003, it was not until 2016 when Solange finally got the recognition she deserved, thanks to this impressive album. It is an easy-listening album with funk, soul, and R&B elements. Lyrically, the album is a love letter to the black community and celebrates black womanhood. However, anyone could learn a lot from listening to this album; in the interlude “Tina Taught Me,” Solange’s mother talks about how being pro-black is not anti-white, and how celebrating black culture is not putting down white culture. Another important song is “Don’t Touch My Hair,” where Solange addresses why people should respect black culture by not appropriating it.
3. Blond by Frank Ocean
The highly anticipated album is a strong follow-up of his critically acclaimed debut. If you listened to this album and weren’t blown away on first listen, then I really suggest you give it another go because the more you listen to it, the more you start to notice its subtle grandeur. The track “Self Control” is a highlight, and it has a stunning outro that can give you goosebumps. The album is not Channel Orange part two because in that album it seems like Frank is only just growing his wings, but with Blond, he’s flying.
2. Lemonade by Beyoncé
A brilliantly structured R&B album that successfully delivers a narrative on the stages of grief, which echoes her rocky marriage with Jay-Z. The album also celebrates her upbringing, culture, and blackness, which makes it her most personal effort to date. Taking into consideration how she produced this album and showcased many different genres, Beyoncé proves yet again that she can create a ground-breaking album.
1. 22, A Million by Bon Iver
After five years, the indie folk band has finally returned with a glorious album that was well worth the wait. It is an artistically innovative album where traditional folk meets digital electronic sound. Concept-wise, the album has a creative track-listing; for example, “33 God,” the third track, has a length of 3:33. This accurately conveys the main theme of numerology in this record. The album’s lyrics cover philosophical and divine themes with a poetic approach. This album represents human knowledge, and how limited our thoughts can be as we try to decipher the world.