2016 continues to produce amazing music. I’ve been thinking whether in fact 2016 is the best year for music in over twenty years. I did some research to see how consistent other years have been, and in my opinion this year has been the best year for music since 1994. The last three months of releases have been no different from the previous six months in terms of quality, with new albums from the Avalanches, Blood Orange, BadBadNotGood and of course Frank Ocean. Considering this, picking my top twenty tracks from this period was again very difficult, and again many tracks missed out by a whisker.
Because I’m Me (feat. Camp Lo) – The Avalanches
Before Wildflower dropped, it had been sixteen years since the Avalanches last album. So, as with any long gap between records, I was excited, but at the same time nervous to hear their new offering. Thankfully the album pops, and the first full-length track on the album sets the tone for the rest of the record, with big horns and a cameo from hip hop duo Camp Lo. They began with a bang in 2000, and came back with a bang in 2016.
Brown Girl – Aaradhna
New Zealand soulstress Aardhna came back in 2016 after a four-year break to release her most commercially successful album to date “Brown Girl”. And although, to me, the album seems a bit disjointed, the title track is stunning and contains a great soulful vocal from one of this country’s modern-day great singers.
Bus In These Streets – Thundercat
Thundercat teased a potential new album with the Beach Boys-sounding psych-pop track “Bus In These Streets”. Produced by Flying Lotus, it sounds very different from his other work, but in a good way, and one can only hope that his inevitable second record drops soon.
Come Near Me (feat. Ghostpoet) – Massive Attack
2016 has been a very busy year for Massive Attack. They released an EP in 2010, have toured, while 3D has been linked to the identity of infamous graffiti artist Banksy. They haven’t released a full-length album since 2010, but with the release of this gloomy down-tempo track “Come Near Me” and the reputation these guys have for surprising their fans, a new record might not be far away from Bristol’s finest.
Digging For Windows – Zach de la Rocha
Talk of Rage Against the Machine’s former front-man releasing solo material has been around for years. He has the name recognition, he has the talent, so when was the music coming? Well, while his other Rage band-mates tour as part of Prophets of Rage, Zach released the first single off his now officially announced solo record that will drop next year. Produced by Run the Jewels El-P, I would describe “Digging For Windows” as techno-rap, and, on first listen, I instantly liked what I heard. Roll on 2017 I say.
E.V.P. – Blood Orange
Dev Hynes aka Blood Orange has released one of the best R&B records of 2016 in “Freetown Sound”. And one of the standout tracks from the album was “E.V.P.”, which to my ears has quite an 80s Sade/George Michel feel to it. It’s glorious beat, catchy chorus, and Debbie Harry’s guest vocal appearance makes this essential listening.
Harambe – Young Thug
Young Thug is one of the busiest and arguably most progressive artists around at the moment, having released three mixtapes this year alone. This track, named after the famous gorilla Harambe is from his latest release “Jeffery”. The track is an out and out banger and reinforced to this non-trap fan that this very popular genre can in fact produce good tunes.
In Your Eyes (feat. Charlotte Day Wilson) – BADBADNOTGOOD
Jazz is making a comeback to the mainstream and I am loving it. Most of this is down to the great label Brainfeeder, but also acts like BadBadNotGood who released their stunningly good record “IV” in July. This track “In Your Eyes” featuring vocals by Charlotte Day Wilson is a beautiful example of contemporary jazz, and highlights to me why this genre, often maligned by mainstream ears, is in a strong place right now.
JoHn Muir – Schoolboy Q
Hip hop has had a very strong year in 2016 and Schoolboy Q’s album “Blank Face LP” is one of the reasons why. In an album that is filled to the brim with great production and fantastic lyrics, the track “JoHn Muir” is one of the standouts, with its infectious beats and an aggressive vocal proving that Q is one of the best rappers in the game at the moment.
Lose (feat. Cassie) – Travis Scott
(excuse the shitty video – blame Apple Music for having exclusives)
Travis Scott is another one of the up and coming artists in the very competitive hip hop game. He’s just dropped a very solid album via Apple Music “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight”, an album that contains plenty of groovy bangers like this one. It is testament to his popularity globally that his upcoming show here in Auckland sold out in quick time.
Lying Has To Stop – Soft Hair
Alternative darling Connan Mockasin has teamed up with LA artist Sam Dust for a new collaborative project Soft Hair. They have an album coming out in October, and released a teaser of what to expect with this falsetto-laden pop goody “Lying Has To Stop”.
Moonbeam – LEISURE
If you follow this blog you will know I have been banging on about LEISURE since they dropped their first track “Got It Bad” last year. Since then they have continued the pattern of releasing one off singles every few months. Well, that is about to end with the announcement their self-titled debut album will finally drop in October. This spacey new track “Moonbeam” is the first single, and if it is anything to go by, the album should be a good listen.
Pink + White (feat. Beyonce) – Frank Ocean
The most anticipated album in years dropped last month. Yes, after delays, rumors, unexplained video streams, and a video album release, Frank Ocean finally gave us his second album “Blonde”. It took a few listens to really appreciate its beauty, but if you give it some time it really is a beautiful record with gorgeous tracks like this one “Pink + White”.
Reality Check (feat. Eryn Allen Kane & Akenya) – Noname
Noname is a hip hop artist out of Chicago who has already gained a strong reputation by featuring on two Chance the Rapper mixtapes. She has also just released her very own mixtape “Telefone”, which was a more than solid debut featuring great R&B tracks like this one. When I tell people there are shades of Lauryn Hill on this record I mean it, and I feel there is plenty more to come from this talented artist.
Self Control – Frank Ocean
“Self Control” was one of the highlights off “Blonde”, featuring a beautiful vocal by Frank and some really nice delicate acoustic guitar playing. It also contains one of the lines of the year in the form of “I’ll be the boyfriend in your wet dreams tonight”. The first time I listened to this song was one of those rare moments where a song completely captures your attention and takes you away with it. In that four minute period, nothing else mattered.
Shadow Man (feat. Saba, Smino & Phoelix) – Noname
Another excellent track of Noname’s debut “Telefone”. This one has more of a gospel feel to it and also features fellow Chance the Rapper collaborators in the form of Saba, Smino and Phoelix. What is it with Chance discovering new hip hop and R&B talent?
Snoopies (feat. David Byrne) – De La Soul
Seminal hip hop group De La Soul have returned after twelve years with the crowdfunded album “and the Anonymous Nobody…”. Considering how much effort it took for these guys to release another record, this comeback is very solid, with some excellent tracks and a nice flow across the record. “Snoopies” is one of those excellent tracks and features one of the kings of pop David Byrne doing his best David Bowie impersonation.
Sweet Dissatisfaction – Lawrence Arabia
Lawrence Arabia is one of New Zealand’s best songwriters of the last decade, and if anyone can write a pop melody it is him. Because of this, I expected him to deliver on his latest album “Absolute Truth”. Tracks like “Sweet Dissatisfaction” hark back to 60s baroque pop with horns, lush melodies, and at times quite beautiful harmonies. If you get a chance, go see Lawrence at the WonderGarden new years eve festival in Auckland, it should be a beauty.
The Halfwit In Me – Ryley Walker
Following on from his acclaimed 2015 album “Primrose Green”, American singer-songwriter Ryley Walker is back with another record. Walker is unique in that he is an American playing Nick Drake-inspired English folk music, something which to my eyes never really took off in the US. However, what he does, he does well, and this track from “Golden Sings That Have Been Sung” could have you thinking he is actually English after all.
We Don’t Give A – NAO
Probably my find of the year. NAO is a British singer who is making big waves at the moment with her unique brand of contemporary R&B. Her debut record “For All We Know” is a stunningly good first up effort with great production and very cleverly crafted R&B tunes. One of these is the club banger “We Don’t Give A”, a track that hooked me on first listen with its massive bass-heavy beats and catchy as hell chorus. The album was so good, it immediately went into my top ten releases of 2016.