2016 Favorites: 10-1

10. The Frightnrs – Nothing More To Say

Around this time last year, I was challenged by MMJ to diversify my listening experiences. She had already broken me out of my comfort zone by bringing to me jazz gigs and reggae concerts, but the singular enjoyment of one night of music was hard to stretch out into a full-length album, much less something that I would dig enough to spin on repeat throughout the calendar year. Then along came the Daptone debut by Queens four-piece The Frightnrs, and their infectious blend of neo-soul and island dub hooked me immediately. This time, I’m buying the tickets. – MMDG

9. Jamila Woods – HEAVN

In a year in which critics heavily celebrated women in R&B, giving high rankings to albums by both the Knowles sisters, I feel like this provocative little album didn’t get the attention it deserves. It didn’t make a ton of year end lists, and when it did, I felt it was always ranked too low, which is incredible since HEAVN is such a bold album.

Though ideas about race, specifically being Black in America, are at the center of the record, HEAVN is not a warzone, but much more a site of peaceful non-resolution. The album is filled with interesting moments where Woods remixes and references songs from the early aughts, songs by Paula Cole and Incubus that I would say are largely viewed as uncool, or at the very least, not hip. But when they’re recontextualized in her songs, they become something different, something fresh. They’re familiar but also strange, taking something we thought we knew and showing us a different side of it. Most of these songs are by white artists, making it a really interesting point of entry for a conversation about reappropriation in music, where inspiration ends and fraud begins, but that doesn’t say much about how enjoyable the record is.

Woods is a thoughtful lyricist with a beautiful voice. She may not have the savvy to maneuver her songs through different genres to increase her accessibility, like Madonna, Shania Twain, and yes, Beyonce, but I think HEAVN is more audacious in its lyrics and music. Woods’s poetry is spliced with pieces from pop music, which is basically music for everyone, and uses it to insinuate something private and personal. – tyrannofloresrex

8. Beyoncé – Lemonade

Arguably the most important album of the decade. It’s a shame that her “cooler, hipper” sister took top ranking in a number of lists this year. Nothing against Solange, but Lemonade is a landmark, a reply to the turbulent times in which we now find ourselves, and a battle cry empowering a new generation of women and activists to not settle for anything less than we deserve. – ghostyorb

7. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

A Moon Shaped Pool was the first Radiohead album I can honestly say I fell in love with. I’ve never seen them live and before this year hadn’t taken the time to appreciate their music. Granted, I can sing every word of “Karma Police…” but who can’t? I may have been “too young” to truly embrace their past albums, but am now eager to dive in and immerse myself in their back catalog. – LDG

6. M83 – Junk

I want these guys to write the soundtrack to my life, starting now. Of course, the movie of my life is not as awesome as a singing yorkie flying through space, but at least I will have some sweet, sweet jams to kick out.  – ghostyorb

5. Niki & The Dove – Everybody’s Heart Is Broken Now

What is it with the Swedes and mastering pop songcraft? Do they take classes in elementary school? Is it the water? It’s probably the water. So pure and clean. This was without a doubt the album I listened to more than anything. Even though it had an early spring release date, I was spinning tracks off of Everybody’s Heart Is Broken Now into the last hours of 2016 on NYE. It’s really not even fair how many incredible tracks are on this thing. Most bands would kill for just one “So Much It Hurts.” That’s the opening track and literally just the beginning of this album’s many offerings. If Malin Dahlstrom’s voice doesn’t immediately sway you, the endless hooks provided by the other half of the group, Gustaf Karlof, most certainly will. “You Want The Sun” is summer incarnate with one of the most airbass-able basslines in recent memory. The last two minutes of “Coconut Kiss” are my favorite two minutes of music from 2016, period. If you are the type of person who on occasion likes to have fun, listen to this and have a whole hell of a lot more. – hltchk

4. Mitski – Puberty 2

I wasn’t familiar with Mitski when this year started, but I’d be damned if I wasn’t immersing myself in her whole damn catalog by the end of the year. Puberty 2 is such a hodgepodge of musical styles that somehow coalesces into this perfect blend of an album. Wether it’s the minimalist punk of the opening track “Happy,” the 90’s pop anthem of “Your Best American Girl,” or the dream-pop inspired “Once More to See You,” Mitksi shows she’s not afraid to experiment to make the sound she wants. – MeanOldPig

3. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

We all heard the rumors that another album was on the horizon for A Tribe Called Quest, but I was doubtful (hopeful, but doubtful). Let me start by saying it was worth the 18-year wait. This album not only highlights the talent of TCQ, but also features an immense amount of modern hip-hop artists. This album also sends a message. With the political undertones in the first few songs, this album makes a very direct request, asking America to “Get it Together.” – LDG

2. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – I Had a Dream That You Were Mine

When The Walkmen called it quits after 2012’s Heaven, they went out on top, culminating a ten-year career by celebrating the “golden light years… the best we’ll ever know.” It was a definite change of pace for the Brooklyn band, whose previous four albums had been characterized by wanderlust, isolation, and melancholy, backed by the achingly powerful vocals of the band’s frontman. When Hamilton Leithauser first embarked on his solo career, he collaborated with a number of talented musicians, including Vampire Weekend’s Rostam, and their “Alexandra” was one of the highlights of 2014’s Black Hours. On this full-length project, the two have struck gold, revisiting themes of love and longing, loss and discovery, while still forging something new, and looking forward. Ringing guitars and piano keys are replaced by percussive rhythms and  banjo strings; the lyrics on songs like “Sick as a Dog” speak to that empowering ability to accept what was in the past – be it good, bad, or blindingly painful – and take pride in a new beginning. The best years we’ll ever know? Honey, we ain’t seen nothing yet. – MMDG

1. Angel Olsen – My Woman

My Woman marks a shift in Angel Olsen’s impressive young career. Her previous album, 2014’s excellent Burn Your Fire For No Witness signaled that the lo-fi folk singer was moving into an indie rock type sound, though she would only dip her toes in on a few songs on that record. “Intern,” the first single released off of My Woman introduces synthesizers, a move that has spelled disaster for other lo-fi artists in recent years, but for Angel Olsen the addition of a fuller sound to back her impressive songwriting is welcome. Her voice is obviously her greatest asset, and My Woman gives her plenty of space to belt out her unique brand of sorrowful crooning. “Heart Shaped Face” is an excellent example of My Woman’s minimalist side. Olsen uses repetition to emphasize her pained lyrics, so that by the time the listener hears her whisper “heartache ends” for the fourth time it feels almost contradictory, like it won’t ever end.

Lyrical simplicity is one of the strongest techniques Angel Olsen uses on My Woman, but another area in which she has improved considerably is her musicianship. “Sister” features a rousing guitar solo that begs to be seen live, while “Intern” uses its synthesizers to create a Lynchian bridge toward the song’s end. Standout track, “Woman,” finds an easy groove upon which Olsen can build up to her most pained vocal delivery to date, as she cries “I dare you to understand / what makes me a woman.” The line is repeated three times, much like other exceptional lines elsewhere on the album, to reach an emotional climax that few artists are able to achieve. In a year where many artists are looking to the past, Angel Olsen manages to do just that while also looking ahead, adding texture to her sound while simplifying her lyrics. My Woman is a remarkable achievement, and with half of Idle Times’ voting body placing it at the top of their year end lists, it stands as one of the most agreed-upon “best albums” to ever grace our Favorite Forty. – IP

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