The Nowhere Bros Albums of 2016 countdown is happening daily over on our facebook page – Sam & I are posting our 30 favourite albums of the year each day in December. Here’s my second instalment of picks.
#20 – Average Rap Band – El Sol
Los Angeles, swimming pools, deckchairs, pizza slices and shots fired at our former Prime Minister are just some of the highlights in Average Rap Band’s brilliant El Sol. A dramatic change in style from last year’s Stream of Nonsenseness EP, which had more of a traditional Hip Hop sound, El Sol is anything but traditional – the beats are Balearic, there are flourishes of electro and moody synthesizers, and a generous serving of porno sax in “Pool Side”. Tom Scott & Lui Tuiasau’s rhymes are typically witty and relatable, and additional contributions from Wes & Dirty, Jane Deezy and Kody Neilson round out an impressively cohesive, groovy and thoughtful release.
#19 – Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
This was without a doubt the messiest album of the year, not just in terms of content but also in its promotion, rollout and subsequent edits and tinkerings, yet it still held the attention of so many and provided some of the most iconic songs and moments of 2016. There’s the divine beauty in “Ultralight Beam”, a typically emphatic Metro Boomin beat in “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”, seas of autotune to wade through in “Highlights” and even nods to 2004 and 2005-era Kanye in the likes of “Real Friends”. The sequence from “Waves” through to “Wolves” is still one of my favourite musical moments of the year, and hints at how cohesive The Life of Pablo could have been – and yet the album’s imperfections are its defining characteristic, something which I’ve grown to appreciate as I’ve continued to revisit it throughout the year. Turbo Grafx 16 is certainly going to be an interesting follow-up to keep an eye on.
#18 – Preoccupations – Preoccupations
Canadian Post-Punk outfit Preoccupations (formerly Viet Cong) proved their resilience after a highly-publicised and controversial name change that stemmed from accusations of racism and cultural insensitivity, releasing a new self-titled LP that vastly improves on last year’s Viet Cong. With influences from the likes of Joy Division, New Order, The Cure and Bauhaus, Preoccupations is bound to make any fan of the Post-Punk genre smile with appreciation at its dreary and haunting synths (“Anxiety”), bursting rhythm sections with bright guitar melodies (“Monotony”) and pulsating adrenaline rushes (“Stimulation”). Preoccupations is not just an impressive record, it solidifies this group as spearheads of the modern Post-Punk revival.
#17 – Kaytranada – 99.9%
2016 has seen its fair share of rapid comeups, but Kaytranada’s rise from the Soundcloud platform to being one of the most sought-after and respected contemporary producers in the game is remarkable. 99.9% is an exemplary showcase for the 23 year-old, sporting 15 tracks that are pulsating, synth-heavy, psychedelic, funky and undeniably danceable, partly in thanks to the impressive cast of featured artists that make each track their own whilst retaining that distinct Kaytranada flavour. I can’t think of many more debut releases that impressed me more this year than 99.9%, and I’m sure 2017 will be just as fruitful for this promising beatmaker/sample fiend.
#16 – Weezer – Weezer (White Album)
Maintaining relevancy in the Rock world is a tough gig, especially if you’re a 90s-era band that has seemingly passed its use by date, evidenced by some woeful and forgettable material in the 2000s, but Weezer are back on an upswing with their tenth studio album. Instead of trying too hard to be radio-friendly, or associating with whatever is trendy in the Pop/Rock Hot 100, Weezer (White Album) is a return to the simplistic formula of powerful hooks, noisy guitars and angsty-yet-relatable subject matter that made Weezer (Blue Album) and Pinkerton so great, while combining influences from 60s-era Beach Boys and The Beatles to make the ultimate 2016 summer rock album. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the follow-up Black Album, potentially dropping next year.
#15 – Frank Ocean – Blonde
The hype was real, and Frank delivered. One of the defining albums of the year, and almost certainly the decade, Blonde is a stunning, intimate and smartly produced release that pushes the boundaries of R&B into uncharted waters. The contrasts to Frank’s previous album Channel Orange are so defined it’s almost jarring – the melodies aren’t always straightforward, the instrumentation often sparse and the highlight feature spot, Andre 3000 escalates the intensity with a minute-long rant of eloquence that far outshines Earl Sweatshirt’s guest verse on the previous album. But if ever there was an artist who could flip the script so dramatically and keep his audience engaged, it’s Frank – his soothing vocals and angelic falsettos have a kind of power that never fail to captivate, and his stories of socio-cultural awareness and development over the past four years just add to this album’s depth. It might be another four years until the follow-up, but I’m sure Frank will find a way to change the game again.
#14 – Anderson .Paak – Malibu
It’s hard to believe that Anderson .Paak’s stunning debut Malibu is nearly a year old, as it still has the same freshness and energy as the day it was released. Last year Kendrick Lamar was guiding hip hop through intersections of classic soul, funk and R&B, this year Anderson took those reigns and dominated the spectrum. His chilled, gravelly presence on countless tracks through the year, along with those distinctively seductive, funky and catchy grooves highlighted some of the best songs in 2016, and Malibu is slightly over an hour’s worth of just that. Whether it’s the Curtis Mayfield-esque soul in “Put Me Thru”, the synth funk of “Am I Wrong” or raw funkiness in “Come Down”, Malibu is 2016’s quintessential L.A. house party record – and those parties are fucking legendary.
#13 – BADBADNOTGOOD – IV
Canadian Jazz Fusion & Instrumental Hip Hop outfit BADBADNOTGOOD have shown an impressive amount of progression since their early records, there’s quite a contrast between the likeable-yet-formulaic jazz twists on old school hip hop and Zelda covers in 2011’s BBNG compared to IV’s remarkably mature and ambitious explorations of the Jazz spectrum that borders on experimental. With the addition of multi-instrumentalist Leland Whitty and an impressive selection of featured artists, IV is a welcome expansion of the group’s sound – there’s a healthy input of soul from Sam Herring in “Time Moves Slow”, psychedelic synthesizers from Kaytranada in “Lavender” and understated elegance courtesy of Charlotte Day Wilson in “In Your Eyes”, one of my standout tracks of the year. I love hearing artists take risks to evolve and expand their aesthetic without sacrificing in quality, and in that respect I think BBNG are just hitting their stride.
#12 – Noname – Telefone
Voices from Chicago filled the hip hop soundscapes this year, with a variety of narratives – amongst them Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, Mick Jenkins, Common, Vic Mensa, Joey Purp… but the Chicagoan who impressed me the most was 25 year old Fatimah Warner, aka Noname, who I had previously heard as ‘Noname Gypsy’ on Chance’s 2012 breakthrough mixtape Acid Rap – even back then her voice stuck out amongst the featured cast, and her rhythmic flow and emotive rhymes have translated perfectly four years later in her debut mixtape Telefone. The production is delicate and charming while retaining Cam O’bi’s trademark fusion of soul, gospel and hip hop, and Noname’s narrative-driven and compelling rhymes about love, death, mortality and abortions are incredibly refreshing to hear in a genre where feminine perspectives are almost nonexistent. Telefone is a definite throwback to the glory days of Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu, and Noname has already started to fashion a similar legacy in contemporary hip hop.
#11 – YG – Still Brazy
During his set at this year’s Coachella festival, Compton rapper YG unveiled the direct and booming anti-Trump political anthem “FDT”, which became a rallying cry during the following months leading into the US election, and generated substantial hype towards his second album Still Brazy. Ditching the established sound of DJ Mustard, YG instead opted for the likes of DJ Swish and jazz artist and producer extraordinaire Terrace Martin to create an incredibly robust album that pays tribute to the West Coast hardcore hip hop scene, incorporating the likes of classic G-Funk and P-Funk with more contemporary Trap influences, perfectly straddling that line between familiar and fresh. Still Brazy also somehow manages to incorporate a diverse array of subject matter – there’s political commentary (“Blacks & Browns”, “The Police Get Away wit Murder”) as well as straight-up bangers (“Twist My Fingaz”, “Why You Always Hatin?”) mixed with paranoid storytelling (“Who Shot Me?”), culminating in what is arguably the most cohesive gangsta rap project this year, from one of Bompton’s finest.