The countdown continues into the middle third of my top 30 albums of 2016 list. Hope you have enjoyed it so far.
20: De La Soul – “and the Anonymous Nobody…”
2016 was the year of comebacks and De La Soul was one of those, releasing their first studio album in 12 years. The group used Kickstarter to raise the funds to record the album and then repaid the fans in spades with a quality album. Instead of using samples the group used a full band on the record, while the features list is an all-star cast including the likes of Snoop Dog, David Byrne, and Damon Albarn. I’m wrapped for these guys especially after the struggles they have had with record labels over their career.
19: The Grow Room – “Exhibition III”
The Grow Room is a creative collective out of K Road in Auckland that has really taken off this year with their videos, releases, and gigs. One of their first official music releases was this outstanding mixtape which showcased some of the best talents on their roster of outstanding musicians. Featuring the likes of Badcrop, Melodownz, and Shiraz & LSJ, this mixtape had plenty of variety and was a strong mix of hip-hop, beats, and electronic. With so much creative talent bursting at the scenes I am certain there will be plenty more to come from K Road’s finest in 2017.
18: Blood Orange – “Freetown Sound”
R&B and soul have had a good year, and it is albums like this one, the latest by Dev Hynes aka Blood Orange that is one of the best. Through its tight beats, well put together synths and smooth vocals, “Freetown Sound” has an 80’s Sade/George Michael feel to it. It is also one of those albums that needs to be listened to back-to-back to be fully appreciated, with the whole of the album greater than the sum of its parts. Hynes also does a great job exploring issues of identity in association with race and gender on this record which adds a whole other dimension to the tracks.
17: A Tribe Called Quest – “We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service”
Words cannot describe how happy I was when I heard the news A Tribe Called Quest were releasing one final album, their first in 18 years. This album is extra special not just because of the length of time since their last, but because this was the last album they recorded with Phife Dawg who sadly passed away earlier this year. Thankfully, the music is awesome as well and sees Q, Jarobi, Shaheed and Phife talking about current socio-political issues and producing quality work that can be put right up there with their best.
16: Noname – “Telefone”
2016 has seen some great albums released by artists talking about black identity and struggle, namely Beyonce, Solange and Blood Orange. But one album, or should I say mixtape is right up there in this regard also and that is the debut by Chicago rapper Noname. “Telefone” as it is called very much reminded me of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” in terms of its sound, the intersection between rap and R&B, but also its lyrics, as Noname much like Hill raps about being a young mother. Chicago is bursting at the seams with rappers at the moment thanks to albums like “Telefone”, and given she is still only in her mid-20s, I expect her star to continue to rise.
15: Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino came back this year with arguably his most ambitious project yet. “Awaken, My Love!” has the intensity of “Blackstar” and the ferociousness of “Atrocity Exhibition” in what can only be described as a modern-day p-funk record. Every track holds the listener’s attention and right throughout you are sitting on edge waiting for the next unexpected turn. After hearing this, I struggle to see how Donald can make another album as far out of the box as this one.
14: BadBadNotGood – “IV”
We seem to be living through a golden period for jazz and jazz fusion. Last year it was Kamasi Washington, this year it was Terrace Martin and BadBadNotGood. The Toronto group returned with their fourth studio album aptly titled “IV” and it was a beauty. Featuring the likes of Mick Jenkins and Kaytranada, this album was the perfect mold between electronic beats and free jazz, in the exact way a contemporary alternative jazz fusion record should sound. It’s because of this balance and a clever selection of featured artists that made this a record that could appeal to both jazz and non-jazz fans, something that is not always easy to achieve.
13: Michael Kiwanuka – “Love & Hate”
British singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka returned this year with his first album in four years. This album to me was hotly anticipated because of how good Kiwanuka’s soul-infused debut was, and it lived up to that anticipation, even bettering his first record. “Love & Hate” has this overly ambitious symphonic soul sound aka Isaac Hayes, and combines lush strings with bluesy guitar licks, big choruses and Michael’s simplistic, yet soulful vocal delivery. It is also a very ambitious record both sound-wise (the symphonic soul) and length-wise, three of the songs are over seven minutes, something which could be described as risky on the often hard to get right second album. Despite being quite an ambitious project, Kiwanuka managed to pull it off earning himself a Mercury Prize nomination and number one record. I would call that a job well-done.
12: Solange – “A Seat at the Table”
The Knowles sisters have had a great 2016 with both releasing stellar albums. Although it perhaps did not receive the same level of attention as “Lemonade”, Solange’s album “A Seat at the Table” is just as good, and is already right up there as a modern-day R&B classic in my opinion. Combining great interludes with at times quite understated soul tracks this album has a subtle beauty to it, while Solange’s vocals appear effortless both in terms of delivery and character. This is a beautiful album, and although it hasn’t been widely recognized by say the Grammys, this album will be remembered by those who had the fortune of listening to it.
11: The Last Shadow Puppets – “Everything You’ve Come to Expect”
Out of all the albums on my list, this one flew under the radar the most. After an eight-year absence, Alex Turner and Miles Kane returned as the Last Shadow Puppets with their second album, and what a return it was. Not only did they better their debut album, but they produced one of the standout guitar records of the year, in what was an overtly sexy take on California-infused indie. When they collaborate, Kane and Turner fit together like a glove, perhaps because they do not take themselves or their music too seriously. Combining humorous lyrics with echo-chamber laden Malibu pop, “Everything You’ve Come to Expect” is the perfect West Coast pop-rock album. And with an additional E.P. just released, hopefully, these two stick at it a bit longer so we don’t have to wait another eight years for new music.