Here are my top 10 albums of 2016. Hope you enjoyed the countdown this month. What a year it has been for music. Bring on 2017!!
10: NAO – “For All We Know”
British R&B/soul singer Nao burst onto the scene this year with her stunning debut album “For All We Know”. I discovered her on the Guardian’s new artist of the week segment and I am so glad I did, as from the first listen to “For All We Know” I was hooked. This is R&B like nothing else, the production is 90s-based with lots of drum machines and beats, while her voice is other worldly and something I would describe as being like a cross between Diana Ross and Grimes. If she keeps making music like this, I am sure more and more people will stand up and take notice as it is fresh and interesting in an often-overcrowded R&B market. I am so glad she is coming to Laneway, and I am pretty sure she will be well-received by a crowd who are always on the lookout for new and exciting acts.
9: Shiraz & LSJ – “Jive Days”
These guys are the future of New Zealand hip hop, and the best part about it is that they are still not even 18. Straight out of the Grow Room in Auckland, Shiraz & LSJ as a duo have talent beyond their years and with this show up a lot of musicians who were recording before they were even born. “Jive Days” is quite simply amazing and has shades of Dilla and Madlib about it especially in the beats and samples. From the opening track to the end it flows perfectly, and both of them feed off each other with plenty of humour thrown in. Watch for these two to continue to grow as artists in the next few years.
8: Leisure – “Leisure”
I had been waiting for Leisure to drop an album for so long that when it finally arrived it could easily have been a flop. They had been drip feeding songs for nearly two years, including great tracks such as “Hot Love” and “All Over You” that this album in my mind simply could not fail. Thankfully, it wasn’t a failure and it actually exceeded my expectations. This is the ultimate summer album for 2017 and is 100% meant for lounging around in the sun sipping cocktails. The album is very eclectic and does a good job fusing different styles, from funk to R&B to hip hop to jazz fusion. These guys know how to write tracks that have both groove and feeling, and are able to keep the listeners attention throughout without repeating themselves. I really hope they continue as a collective and another record comes soon because this one was so worth it.
7: Kanye West – “The Life of Pablo”
Well!! What can I say about this album! It is an absolute mess of an album, but a good mess and I could not imagine it being any different. It had multiple name changes, there are multiple track lists, multiple versions, and with what we know now about Kanye, I guess this album and the story around it reflects his state of mind this year. The production is overblown, the lyrics are often senseless, but many of the tracks are damn catchy and anthemic in nature, from “Father Stretch My Hands Pt 1” to “Fade” to “No More Parties in LA”. When I look back and remember 2016 in music, many of the tracks that come to mind are off this album, and if that is not a sign that an album made a mark, then I am not sure what is. P.S. I hope you get better Yeezy.
6: Anderson Paak – “Malibu”
2016 has been Anderson Paak’s year, breaking through with his stellar California R&B/soul record “Malibu”. This album is full of absolute bangers and to my ears has taken R&B back to its glory years. The sound is very traditional, with horns, heavy rhythms and some smooth-as vocals from Anderson. Where many in R&B these days are placing greater emphasis on beats and slick production, on this record all that is thrown out the window in what can only be described as a let it all out boogie record. From the Miles Davis-like “The Bird” to the hip hop-infused “Am I Wrong”, this album has it all and can definitely satisfy your party needs this summer. Give it a listen now if you haven’t already.
5: Frank Ocean – “Blonde”
We waited for it seemed like an eternity and then it finally dropped, an album from the enigma that is Frank Ocean. But, it was a visual album of him building a staircase. At this point I was like what the hell is going on Frank? Then, “Nikes” dropped, OK we seem to be getting somewhere now, and finally on the Sunday boom!! “Blonde”, four years in the making. However, would the most hyped album of the year live up to the hype? Was it too big to fail? Well, thankfully, it lived up to the hype, but you had to give it a few listens, you had to sit with it. “Blonde” is one of those albums that on first listen you won’t get it, after all it’s not “Channel Orange”. But if you give it time, you will get it, you will love it and it will become like all good albums, something familiar to call upon when you need it. “Blonde” is quite simply the work of a man at his creative peak, and although we live and hope for another album from Frank, if it is his last one, then it is the perfect statement to sign off on.
4: Kaytranada – “99.9%”
2016 is the year that broke Kaytranada as a producer force to be reckoned with worldwide. The Canadian collaborated with nearly everyone in the game this year, while he also dropped his stunning debut album “99.9%”. This was not only the best dance/club album of 2016, it was also hands down one of the best releases full stop with bangers a-plenty, scintillating production and some great features. Anderson Paak, Little Dragon and Syd slay it out the park on this, while getting Craig David to feature was for me the masterstroke of 2016. This is just the start for Kaytranada, there is no doubting he will continue to be high in demand with artists desperate to get him to produce their record/collaborate, while if his other mixtape “0.01%” is anything to go by, the vaults are full and surely we can expect more from this talented guy very soon.
3: NxWorries – “Yes Lawd!”
Oh Anderson Paak why do you do this to me? I had my list sorted and you go and drop another record, and its so god damn good. NxWorries of course is the off shoot collaboration between Anderson Paak and producer Knxwledge. Signed to the legendary Stones Thrown Records out of L.A., the duo hinted at what was to come with an E.P. last year, and although what they released was solid enough, nothing prepared me for “Yes Lawd!”. This record floored me on first listen, something not many albums manage. This was the “Madvillainy” of R&B records, with slick beats, outstanding Madlib-level production and of course Anderson’s soulful vocals. On listening I was thinking how could Anderson release a better record than “Malibu”? Well, he just did, and without sounding over the top, in my mind this record in time will become a Stones Throw classic. The sooner NZ promoters get Anderson Paak down here whether it is as NxWorries, or solo the better, and we can finally bring balance to the force in seeing John Campbell interview one of 2016s brightest music talents.
2: Average Rap Band – “El Sol”
Tom Scott is one of New Zealand’s greatest 21st century song-writers. He says it like it is, even if controversial, and he stirs the pot in an age where artists are too scared to speak out with the risk of alienating their fan base or record label. On his latest project Average Rap Band, a collaboration with former @peace band mate Lui Tuiasau, he continues to speak out, addressing similar themes (the pitfalls of entertainment/the point of living) to what he explored so well with Home Brew and @Peace previously. This album is also a new musical direction for Scott, moving towards a more chilled-out/synth-driven Balearic beat sound. The beats are less pronounced here, with Tom instead going for a more atmospheric approach, something he achieves successfully. This record was released just before winter, not an ideal season for Balaeric beat. However, now that summer is here, this album will be perfect for jamming pool side complete with cocktail in hand.
1: David Bowie – “Blackstar”
My number one choice for album of 2016 is “Blackstar” by David Bowie. I didn’t pick this because it is Bowie and I am a big fan, but because of the amazing musical and artistic statement that this album represents. This is a man who knew he was dying, but instead of accepting his fate and drifting away, he decided to turn his death into music, into art, into an event. With this, he concealed this fate from his fans to the point that the album was able to be released without people realizing the circumstances behind it until it happened. Then, there is the music. When most artists of Bowie’s generation are playing the live nostalgia circuit, and are long passed releasing groundbreaking work, Bowie was releasing an avant-garde jazz record. He was pushing musical boundaries, taking risks and experimenting right to the end, something many artists can only dream of. I mean who else decides to release an experimental jazz record at this stage of their career? Even if he hadn’t passed, this album, to me would still stand up artistically as a quality album, as the music holds up on its own comparatively speaking with other releases from this year. It is just such a shame that this happened to be the final act from one of popular music’s great leaders. Rest in peace Starman and thank you.