The Top 20 Albums of 2016
  • WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2016

  • Posted by: Baeble Staff



20. Yeasayer - Amen & Goodbye

Yeasar's Amen & Goodbye could easily be filed under "Albums You Might Have Missed," but with the band's production techniques and unique choice of instruments, they're able to stand out. With this latest effort, they tried to do something different - it's ambitious in that they tend to stick to the basic pop formula on most songs, but create different sounds that aren't heard anywhere else. "Silly Me" is easily one of the catchiest songs of the year - a song that could be seamlessly transitioned into a Vampire Weekend set - but the use of quirky instruments gives it a spiritual texture. The "Yeasayer sound." They finally experiment with female vocals on the record as well, a highlight being the second half of "Half Asleep" when the groove kicks in. It's a sensation that will make your ears tingle. - Kirsten Spruch



19. Kaytranada - 99.9%

When Kaytranada released his debut-album 99.9%, he showed the world that there aren't many producers like him. Kaytranada effortlessly blends hip-hop, funk, and house with an insistent focus on complex rhythms - most likely adopted from African music and Dominican merengue. There isn't one genre you can pinpoint on 99.9% and there's a relaxed melodic vibe to the album. Collaborators on the album include BadBadNotGood, Little Dragon, Anderson .Paak, and Vic Mensa and only four of the album's fifteen tracks do not feature a guest. But even when the songs stand alone, such as "LITE SPOTS," Kaytranada displays his impressive range. Every song is carefully crafted where the layered synths, mini key and drum solos and bass lines all have a distinct purpose. 99.9% is full of energy and excitement and is one of the most unique albums of the year. - Mandi Dudek



18. Angel Olsen - MY WOMAN

Before MY WOMAN, Angel Olsen has always been this sort of "sad girl" with a guitar. And we loved it! There was nothing wrong with it...But when she released MY WOMAN, she opened up. She showed us that she can laugh ("Shut Up Kiss Me"), she showed us that she can flirt with synths ("Intern"), and she showed us that she can sing with even more confidence and peel off some of the excess reverb on her voice (every track). She sang differently and her band played differently. Olsen's past efforts were her teenage years, and MY WOMAN was womanhood. Metaphorically, of course. - Kirsten Spruch



17. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam - I Had A Dream That You Were Mine

This new collaboration between The Walkmen's Hamilton Leithauser and Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij came out of nowhere, but boy, are we glad it did. Their debut album is borderline lo-fi with distant, roughly-recorded drums and Leithauser's impeccable roar. It's easy to label, too: indie rock. It even made us feel nostalgic at times. But if it makes us feel nostalgic and it's so easily label-able, then how is it also so damn fresh? There was no other album released this year that sounded similar to this, yet they didn't try anything outlandish - a simple guitar, drums, bass, and vocals. Maybe it's in the songwriting - after all, we'll never be able to forget the chorus in the lead single, "A 1000 Times." - Kirsten Spruch



16. Anderson .Paak - Malibu

Like many artists on this list, Anderson .Paak is a genre-blending mastermind who combines hip-hop, soul, R&B, and rock into his own funky little world. Malibu is the second studio album from .Paak but the most sincere, soulful and honest of his work. He channels the struggles he went through in his short 30 years of living into Malibu by celebrating his progression and not forgetting where he came from. Each song seems to describe a vivid memory for .Paak and he embraces them - whether they're good or bad times. He showcases his abilities as a singer, rapper, lyricist and multi-instrumentalist in the album, while also teaming up with several producers and artists. Malibu has funky jams like "Am I Wrong" with Schoolboy Q and the fun, upbeat and optimistic track "Come Down" then slows things down in "Without You," which features Rhapsody. Anderson .Paak's Malibu reminds you that you can do anything, no matter where you came from. - Mandi Dudek



15. Kanye West - The Life of Pablo

The Life of Pablo was undoubtedly the most controversial album of 2016, and Kanye has certainly done his part to disillusion some fans this year. But we can't let that take away from the music, and the fact is TLOP still showcases Kanye's incredible talent. While less cohesive and possibly less personal than previous albums, TLOP has a certain frantic energy that can be unsettling and pleasing at the same time. As usual, guest appearances are abundant and Kanye makes them shine, whether via production or performance. We won't forget Chance the Rapper's verse on "Ultralight Beam" anytime soon, and Metro Boomin's "Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1" beat was so good it started a meme craze. It would be a mistake to get lost in the controversy of TLOP and miss the oddly vulnerable self-scrutinizing moments that appear on almost every track. Kanye has personal struggles just like the rest of us - if you couldn't see them in his music, you can at least see them in the recent headlines. They may take away from the music, but they also add a good deal. The bottom line is Kanye West is still a creative force to be reckoned with, as so many of his contemporaries have made clear, and TLOP did not prove otherwise. - Ben Feit



14. A Tribe Called Quest - We got it from Here Thank You 4 Your service

In a year full of many musical surprises, was this the year's most unexpected album? It has to be. You can't blame Tribe fans for being oh so skeptical about ever hearing new tunes from their heroes. The group fell apart at the seams back in '98 (though they did resurrect themselves on several occasions), and Malik "Phife Dawg" Taylor died of complications from diabetes unexpectedly in March. And yet here we are, 18 years removed from their last album. We got it from Here sounds like the Tribe Called Quest you've always known and loved. We got it from Here plays like a moving tribute to the group's fallen brother, Phife Dawg (check out the clips of the group performing on SNL last month). We got it from Here is the album you need to get you through these crazy, post-election times we now live in (The last song of the album and thus the last song of their career is a song fittingly titled, "The Donald"). In short, We got it from Here exists. And with rumors swirling about a final tour in the works, I guess we have at least one thing to look forward to in 2017. - David Pitz



13. Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book

Chance The Rapper delivered one of the strongest rap albums of the year with Coloring Book. It's a rich hip-hop album with gospel choirs as the backbone and embodies a spiritual hue throughout. Chance delivers conscious-minded bars with clear (and lusciously raspy) pronunciation over beats that blend hip-hop with soul, jazz, and funk. There's a long list of featured guests on Coloring Book, such as Knox Fortune on the uptempo dance track "All Night"; Future delivers an auto-tuned verse on "Smoke Break"; and Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz are hype-up the anthemic track, "No Problem" - one of this year's best hits. Coloring Book came at a time where America needed to hear it most - with police brutality, a KKK-endorsed President-elect, and a unspoken divide in our nation - "Music's all we got" as Chance professes in "All We Got." - Mandi Dudek



12. Rihanna - ANTI

We've always known Rihanna was an outstanding vocalist, but she shines the brightest on ANTI. The instrumentation has been toned down and her voice is the star. The start track, "Consideration (Ft. SZA)," relies heavily on a glitchy beat, low-key, eerie synths, and Rihanna and SZA's back and forth vocals, who at first sound like the same person. Lyrically, the album continues to prove that Rihanna is the most bad ass bitch out there, "Didn't they tell you that I was a savage / F*ck your white horse and a carriage," she sings on "Needed Me," one of the best singles of the year. Rihanna takes on the traditional role of a man, playing with emotional detachment and overall attitude. This is progressive. This is what the future sounds like. - Kirsten Spruch



11. The 1975 - I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

The 1975 made the transition from a black and white aesthetic to a hot pink aesthetic flushed out with blue eyeshadow, leather pants, and 80's-everything look pretty seamless. Sounding like something off of a M83 record, soaring synths overwhelm the senses and quirky guitars pan left and right. Frontman Matthew Healy is anything but afraid, pouring his sensitive emotions and insecurities out in songs like "Somebody Else," "A Change of Heart," and "Loving Someone." People who would never dare consider themselves a 1975 fan quickly made the switch after the release of this album and rightfully so, because besides the title, The 1975's sophomore album is almost perfect. - Kirsten Spruch



10. Bon Iver - 22, A Million

Justin Vernon's voice has been a big source of comfort to a lot of people for most of the last decade. His falsetto is capable of transporting the hurt, heartbroken, and yearning back to that infamous cabin where Bon Iver was originally conceived. But on Vernon's third album, 22, A Million, Wisconsin's native son torches the image of the lonesome, wounded folkie camping out in solitude with a sound that that suggests he's taken a lot of inspiration from his collaborations with Kanye and James Blake over the years. 22, A Million is Bon Iver in the lab, exploring new artistic territory, favoring experimental studio-craft over raw, acoustic emotion. "10 d E A T h b R E a s T," for example, is the most abrasive and daring of the bunch, tumbling around on a crunchy bed of severely distorted drum patterns. The rest of 22, A Million is still pretty calming, but folk, it is not. Glassy synthetics, trinkets of programming that pop and fizzle in unexpected places, surreal vocal modifications, and cryptical poetics and imagery inhabit every song on the record. For Emma really does feel like forever ago. - David Pitz



9. Blood Orange - Freetown Sound

Dev Hynes of Blood Orange has always been one of today's most impressive creators. He not only sings, but he also dances and plays multiple instruments like piano, cello, and violin. And in addition to all of that, he's also collaborated with a plethora of notable artists like Carly Rae Jepsen, The Chemical Brothers, Florence + The Machine, Solange Knowles, and more. So when he was set to release Freetown Sound, we were eagerly anticipating. But he hit us with a doozy - something unexpected - and exceeded our expectations. He used this project to address the important issue of being black in a white world. He also takes this issue and intertwines it with femininity. The spoken word in "By Ourselves" performed by poet Ashlee Haze is something we'll never forget, "Feminism says as a woman in my arena / You are not my competition / As a woman in my arena your light / Doesn't make mine any dimmer." And Hynes backs up this notion by featuring several incredible female vocals on the record, such as Debbie Harry, Empress Of, Nelly Furtado, Zuri Marley, and more. After all, actions do speak louder than words. - Kirsten Spruch



8. Solange - A Seat At The Table

Like close friend Dev Hynes' album Freetown Sound, Solange's A Seat At The Tables spends a majority of its time addressing black womanhood. This is where Solange really took a step forward and decided to try something adventurous - enormous statements hidden in subtle instrumentation. The singer has always had a wall up, but she has finally experimented with being open. She also uses sketches and clever interludes to piece it all together. Solange is flourishing as a songwriter, and she has one hell of a story to tell. - Kirsten Spruch



7. Mitski - Puberty 2

There are some albums that you can listen to over and over again without ever getting tired. Mitski's Puberty 2 is one of those albums. With its blend of dream-pop, indie rock, and even garage punk at times, it's very possible that it will never get old. When watching Mitski live or in a video, she always moves with grace and poise, and her voice is the same - smooth, calm. She recites vivid stories about men coming over to eat all of her cookies and use her for sex and then leave while she takes a quick trip to the bathroom. In "Your Best American Girl" the half-Japanese transplant dives right into a 90's punk rock guitar riff, as she, still calmly, sings "Your mother wouldn't approve of how my mother raised me / But I do, I think I do." In "My Body's Made of Crushed Little Stars," a rapid-fire acoustic guitar sounds like it's going to break all of its strings as Mitski sings one of the most relatable lyrics on the record, "I wanna see the whole world / I don't know how I'm going to pay rent." Listening to this record will take you into Mitski's world, where we can imagine her sitting in her room, cleaning up cookie wrappers left behind by a stupid boy and jogging outside to calm her nerves right before she puts on a clean white button-down. All of the events she writes about seem like small moments, but like she realizes on the album's uplifting ender, "A Burning Hill," it's all about loving the littler things. - Kirsten Spruch



6. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

What's most interesting about Radiohead's ninth studio album is just how delicate it feels. A Moon Shaped Pool is not a musical world that overwhelms the senses with detail rich compositions. Instead, the record eases away from Thom Yorke's schizophrenic, laptop obsessions of late, moving into a place where more subtle bits of programming meet eerie orchestrations, haunting drips of piano, English psych-folk acoustics (almost Zeppelin-esque), warped music box ambiance, and Yorke's alien voice hovering just above it all. There's still plenty of drama to be had, like during the cinematic buildup of slasher strings during "Burn The Witch," but A Moon Shaped Pool is the quietest we've heard Radiohead in a long time. And honestly, doesn't a quiet escape from the world sound pretty good right now? - David Pitz



5. James Blake - The Colour In Anything

Utter heartbreak. If I'm ever asked to describe James Blake's The Colour In Anything, that's usually all I can muster up. Utter heartbreak. The gut-wrenching repetition of "I can't believe this, you don't wanna see me" in "Radio Silence," the desperate willingness to change for a lover in "Love Me In Whatever Way," and the hopeless attempt to convince someone that they're the one in "Choose Me" - it's all there. The utter heartbreak. The distraught lyrics are combined with a gradual but enormous build in almost every song, created by layers upon layers of voice samples, electronic beats, and synths-galore. James Blake puts forth his greatest maximalist effort yet. - Kirsten Spruch



4. Childish Gambino - "Awaken, My Love!"

We knew what Donald Glover was capable of after he demonstrated his potential with "Atlanta" and "Community," but we never saw this coming from Childish Gambino - the persona who released Camp and Because the Internet. A.K.A. rap albums.

Something I've always said is that a great album will always have the ability to transport you into a different world. I asked myself if Childish Gambino's "Awaken, My Love!" did that for me and the answer was so clear: Yes. The three-part screamer "Me And Your Mama" had listeners falling to their knees. "Boogieman" is embellished with little details that make it so dynamic - conversational voices, creepy guitar scratches, keyboards flying off into all different directions. In "Terrified," crying female vocals close out the song, repeating "no" over and over again, powerfully inducing fear. Glover proves that he really is capable of just about anything. And although we're loving the funk, let's admit it: it's not necessarily the most popular genre out there right now. With a small amount of modern exceptions like Kendrick Lamar, it's something we rarely hear. Glover's attempt to bring it back might prove to be a huge success, because while he's paying homage to musical history, he's also breathing brand new life into it. And this could even lead to bigger things, like showing our children both the roots and future of music with a single piece of work. - Kirsten Spruch



3. David Bowie - Blackstar

After secretly battling cancer for 18 months, David Bowie tragically passed away. But he wasn't going to disappear without a final word. As he watched death creep up to bite from underneath his bed, he managed to inch away for just a few extra minutes to release one of his most powerful works to date. When Blackstar was first released, it was all a bit of a mystery. Videos of Bowie in a hospital bed with bandages and buttons over his eyes, the final track on the record, "I Can't Give Everything Away," and the lyrics "Something happened on the day he died / Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside / Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried / I'm a blackstar, I'm a blackstar." But once the news came, it all made sense. He left us with the actually kind of funny lyric "I've got drama, can't be stolen," where even Bowie himself acknowledges the fact that he's a legend. And to be blunt, the idea of death is terrifying, and when you're battling cancer for months on end, it's all you're thinking about. Bowie took those fears and forced the entire world to confront them on their own - thinking about saying goodbye to Bowie, but then also maybe relating it to a friend or family member who is suffering from the same disease. Watching Bowie leave was terrifying, and anyone who has personally dealt with cancer felt the fear even more. He was a true artist who pushed boundaries and felt the need to gift us with one last piece that would conclude his lifelong story. Blackstar is not just a heartbreaking record that will make you feel emotional, it's something that will take you weeks, or even months, to process. We're coming up on its one year anniversary next month and I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. - Kirsten Spruch



2. Frank Ocean - Blonde

During all of the hype and pressure we were creating, it seems like Frank Ocean was not scared of disappointing at all. Instead of responding with Channel Orange-esque hooks, he responded with grace and poise. He responded with a record made meticulously with ease. He responded with ambitious sonic and lyrical experimentation. He responded with minimalistic instrumentation so he could focus on telling stories...No, scratch that. They're not stories, but prose. With this, he exhibits a certain maturity, restraint, and sophistication that is so hard to find in a world of egotistical bangers. Sounds of summer and a poetic flow that comes as effortlessly as breath is all present and Ocean has never been his truest self until now. After purposely not submitting the record to be considered for a Grammy, it's clear what his intentions were: to make progressive art for himself and the world, and to continue moving forward. - Kirsten Spruch



1. Beyonce - Lemonade

Not only is Lemonade an album with killer vocals, attitude, and even a country song, but it's also a cinematic full-length film...a visual delight. Beyonce has a certain mystique and has always kept us at arm's length, so naturally, everyone's hearts dropped when she completely let down her wall and took us through the different phases of an unfaithful relationship: intuition, denial, anger, apathy, emptiness, loss, accountability, reformation, forgiveness, resurrection, hope, and redemption. Was it actually happening in her life or was she just acting? It doesn't matter, because a possibly-cheating husband wasn't even the main focus of the story. There were other significant stories as well - being a black woman, the different generations of women in her family, and motherhood. The infidelity was just the juicy icing on the tabloid cake. Undoubtedly ambitious and wildly successful, with a good dose of dramatic statements, Beyonce transcends pop with Lemonade. - Kirsten Spruch

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