By Jaran Chance
10: Jeff Rosenstock – Worry
Jeff Rosenstock’s solo career is undeniably at its strongest with the release of his fourth studio album Worry. Rosenstock’s solo effort has already garnered critical acclaim through his 2015 release “We Cool?” and just one year later he is right back at it.
In the face of the 2016 election, Rosenstock’s anxieties and outrage accumulate into the lyrical explosion that is Worry. In 37 minutes of relentless politically charged rock, Rosenstock comments on as many things he sees wrong with the world as he can cram into 17 tracks. All of this comes together to display what Rosenstock worries about in an incredibly cohesive grand work of energetic punk rock.
9: Andy Shauf – The Party
Andy Shauf is a mysterious and reserved Canadian singer-songwriter whose name took a sharp rise in popularity this year. After touring with The Lumineers and finding popularity on Canadian radio, Shauf locked himself in the studio with his instruments, and after personally doing almost all the studio instrumentation, The Party was born.
Shauf’s style of songwriting is hauntingly emotional and uplifting all at once. The Party is a chronicle of the types of people who attend parties. Shauf manages in his songwriting to fabricate these fictional stories in ways that command the listeners’ attention and demand to be taken seriously. To go along with the album’s ingenious story-telling, each song is laden with beautiful melodies. Without a doubt Andy Shauf will take the world by surprise in the years to come; don’t just put this album on a list somewhere and neglect to listen.
8: Frank Ocean – Blond
After four years of silence and confusion, Frank Ocean took 2016 by force and held the world’s attention for the entire month of August into September. Ocean’s follow-up to 2012’s Channel Orange miraculously lives up to and exceeds the four years of anticipation and excitement. Blond is the sound of confusion in the blinding spotlight; juggling thoughts of sexuality, unwanted attention, and the past. Though Ocean under constant building pressure, rather than crumbling, excels and thrives.
The beauty of this album is that after four years of rabid fans berating him for more music, Ocean simply made the music he wanted to make. Some fans were understandably thrown aback by this, but after time spent with Blond, the world has given it the same love they gave to Channel Orange. Ocean’s Blond is an introspective trip through themes of identity and inner conflict. The ballad of the millennial.
7: Lvl Up – Return To Love
Lvl Up are definitely the most exciting breakout act of 2016, finding their way from almost complete anonymity on their past two albums to #15 on The Rolling Stone’s top 50 list. That rank is well deserved as this album marks a refreshing reinvention of their sound.
The sound on this album explores driving rock anthems, twangy western guitar parts and everything between. The vocals are contributed by different band members for each song which is a particularly interesting dynamic of their sound. At times the lead guitarist will sing, then the bassist, then the rhythm guitarist. The themes and sounds explored on this album successfully pair together to form quite possibly the most unique and worthwhile indie rock endeavor of 2016.
6: White Lung – Paradise
White lung are Vancouver punk rockers that have been steadily fermenting and maturing in their sound in the past 10 years of touring. Their fourth studio album, Paradise, is an explorative punk rock album in the sense that the band took the familiar and made it unfamiliar. The album still has blistering driving guitar parts, and ferocious shouted lyrics, but at the same time, something about the sound is mysterious and enticing.
The hectic-distorted guitar work and haunting echoing vocals on Paradise help to make a new, cultured and distinct sound for White Lung. Paradise, clocking in at just under half an hour, is exactly the poignant lyrical assault your ears need to celebrate 2016’s closing.
5: Death Grips – Bottomless Pit
Death Grips once again swing hard and strong on Bottomless Pit, bringing their iconic, rabid and relentless form of experimental rap/punk rock to the table for another taste.
Bottomless Pit sees the band revisiting some familiar sounds and at times experimenting in completely unknown territory. “Giving Bad People Good Ideas” has got to be one of the strangest introductory tracks of 2016.
The album contains hectic and jarring instrumentals on tracks like “Spikes” while tracks like “Trash” have incredibly simple beats. All facets of this album, however, manage to bring the same provocative energy and make it work.
4: The Weeknd – Starboy
As the music video for this album’s title-track Starboy depicts, Abel Tesfaye sees the release of this album as a stark transition in his music career. In reality, not much has changed with the sound but there are some rather interesting collaborations on this album with the likes of Daft Punk, Lana Del Rey, Kendrick Lamar, etc.
There is speculation that the meaning behind the music videos for this album is that he has surrendered himself to the music industry and is sent down as a star to communicate for them in a twisted Ziggy Stardust manner. There is no way to truly know the meaning behind The Weeknd and his work, but perhaps there is more to Tesfaye than drugs, partying and girls.
This 18 track, one-hour eight-minute love song to drugs, alcohol, and material possessions definitely wanes in intrigue at times. The first half of the album is a lot stronger than the finish, but it is strong enough to keep me coming back, again and again, wanting more. Many have grown tired of the “misunderstood pop-star abusing drugs” cliché that The Weeknd frequents but the sound on this album is still fresh and delivers some of Tesfaye’s best work at times.
3: Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gales
Crying’s debut album, Beyond the Fleeting Gales, is everything it sounds like and more. It’s a heartfelt tribute to the fantastical themes dwindling in modern rock. In the same speech, Crying exhale a refreshing breeze of joyful creativity.
The influence of classic rock acts like Rush and Van Halen are prevalent but not in any way a hindrance to the creativity that Crying channels. The poetic, extravagant diction and imagery of Beyond the Fleeting Gales, however, does not represent the underlying message of optimism.
This album’s culmination of whacky synthesizer, fanciful uplifting lyrics, and shredding guitar riffs Anderson. a shameless rock ballad of optimism.
2: Microwave – Much Love
Microwave are a diverse, Atlanta-based four-piece rock band signed to Side One Dummy Records. (Jeff Rosenstock, Pup) Their sophomore release, Much Love, is the ballad of crusty touring rock musicians done right.
The introductory track “Roaches” is a mellow and melodic hymn preaching pity for cockroaches. This surely gives an accurate image of the content in store for the listener. However Much Love most definitely does not get stuck on bummed out lyrics or mellow and melodic instrumentals. The album is constantly shifting in sound from rock and roll jams to heart-wrenching refrains comparable to those of fellow Georgia-based act Manchester Orchestra.
Overall, Much Love with its crisp track transitions, goofy melancholy cover art, and ear-worm melodies is well worth the 34 minutes it asks for.
1: Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
Smiles are contagious, and Chance’s Coloring Book is a great big shining grin in musical form. Chance channels his gushing love perfectly through this 14-song gospel rap mixtape.
If it is not blatantly apparent from his grinning face on the cover art, Chance is happy, and he wants other people to be happy. For his party of a recording session, he pulled together a diverse band of friends and contemporary artists including, Kanye West, Lil Yachty, Noname and Lil Wayne.
The opening track “All We Got,” excellently expresses the message of Chance’s work in 2016. In everything he does, Chance preaches unity. Whether he’s attending an open mic with Chicago youth, organizing massive music festivals or reclaiming thousands of scalped tickets, Chance is simply trying to spread the wealth of happiness that his body encompasses.
The simple fact that music preaching togetherness and optimism can succeed so wildly in such a daunting world comes as a shining beacon of hope. This may not be his strongest work or the most talented rapping ever done, but it is an earthquake of a statement in the year 2016.
By Jaran Chance
20: Chris Farren – Can’t Die
Fun and goofy pop-rock record from the frontman of Fake Problems. Interestingly explores ideas of self-confidence and happiness.
19: A$AP MOB – Cozy Tapes: Vol. 1 Friends
Harlem-based hip-hop collective A$AP MOB are back with their debut album featuring artists like Wiz Khalifa and Skepta. Just a bunch of dudes having a blast over excellently produced beats.
18: Anderson .Paak – Malibu
On his first well-promoted, cohesive release, Malibu, Paak delivers a whopping 16 tracks of compelling hip-hop. Paak has definitely made a name for himself this year with such a strong album and his many features.
17: Pup – The Dream Is Over
Faced with an ultimatum, lead singer Stefan Babcock decided to blaze on in the face of adversary. He was told by a doctor that he could no longer sing the way he did or he would ruin his vocal chords. So keep that in mind when evaluating the punk cred of this lively punk rock album.
16: Touche Amore – Stage Four
This is a melodic “screamo” record with themes centralizing around the death of lead singer, Jeremy Bolm’s mother to cancer. Moments of this record converge to make some of the most emotionally distressing moments in music this year.
15: Nothing – Tired of Tomorrow
Nothing are a tuned-up yet mellow shoegaze band with underlying hardcore tendencies. This confusing bundle of sounds comes together to make for some interesting listening. Tired of Tomorrow is some of their strongest work yet.
14: Sioux Falls – Rot Forever
16 songs, one hour twelve minutes of melodic post-punk jams. Lo-fi production with mumbled lyrics and intricate guitar work balance well to make some of the easiest post-punk listening of 2016.
13: Chairlift – Moth
Whacky but catchy pop songs that unexplainably command the ear's attention. Do genres even exist anymore?
12: Pkew Pkew Pkew – Pkew Pkew Pkew
Super-fun joyous garage rock album about drinking beer with your friends and buying pizza. Gang vocals and power chords; so hilariously cliché that it works.
11: Mannequin Pussy – Romantic
Simply listening to this album’s 17 minutes of thrashing, relentless punk rock once will not be enough.
By Jaran Chance
29: Beyonce – Lemonade
On a ranking of importance, this album would easily find its way to the top. The images emphasized in the visual elements of this release are so incredibly poignant and relevant. However, at times, the imagery and themes in this album are entwined with Beyonce’s personal struggles and each topic competes for the focus. Beyonce is incredibly successful as a pop idol and her stress on black beauty and perseverance are unendingly important to this era.
28: The Dirty Nil – Higher Power
If you’ve ever wanted to shout at the sky and demand answers for your problems that’s what this album is all about. Some of very fun hooks and shouts are found on this aggressive punk rock album.
27: Creative Adult – Fear of Life
Creative Adult is interesting post-punk heavily inspired by bands such as The Smiths and Joy Division while simultaneously drawing from contemporary post-hardcore. The result in some very enjoyable and easy listening.
26: Thee Oh Sees – A Weird Exits
This awesome explosion of punk rock in no way struggles to hold attention for eight tracks. In fact so much worthwhile music was written in production that there was a carry-over record “An Odd Entrances” released a month later. Exits are the more lively and energetic tunes of the session. The easiest way to imagine the energy of this record is the cover art for their “Live in San Francisco” album.
25: SWMRS – Head North
Surprise, the drummer of this band is Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day’s son. This west coast indie-rock band sound like a combination of Fidlar and Arctic Monkeys. Unsurprisingly this album was produced by Zac Carper of Fidlar.
24: Vince Staples – Prima Donna
Vince Staples is yet another star struggling with unwanted fame and attention battles the emotions and confusion that ensue. Staples released a complex short film to accompany the release of this EP and worked into the tracks are thoughtful monologs. The speeches and film are interesting the first time then become elements to take away from the actual music. The tracks are strong but few and interrupted by monologs.
23: Kaytranada – 99.9%
Kaytranada is Louis Celestin, a Canadian guru of electronic beat production. Blending elements of funk, soul, R&B and hip-hop into his beats and snagging features from contemporary artists like Anderson Paak and Badbadnotgood, Kaytranada took 2016 completely by surprise. Kaytranada won the 2016 Polaris Music Prize over artists like Grimes and Carly Rae Jepson.
22: Look Mexico – Uniola
Uniola is a lively, poppy Cap’n Jazz-esque emo-revival album from Look Mexico over 10 year after their formation. The band could arguably be at their best ever with this release, delivering thrilling guitar parts and ear-worm melodies.
21: Pinegrove – Cardinal
Cardinal was one of the most surprising breakout albums this year, finding its way to many publications’ top 50 lists despite the bands relative anonymity months prior. This album is years of thought and songwriting channeled into an impressively strong debut. The frontman’s standout vocal style and the bands tight instrumental arrangements compose a very worthwhile folky rock album.
By Jaran Chance
39: Jordan Raf – Double Negative
Jordan Raf is an L.A. based crooner, experimenting in the realms of R&B and trap. Double Negative is 36 minutes of heavily sensual tunes displaying Raf’s vocal diversity.
38: Kyle Craft – Dolls of Highland
Kyle Craft is an intriguing blend of David Bowie, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones in his songwriting. For his debut album release, the Portland-based singer-songwriter channels a form of pure heartache through his signature wail.
37: CRX – New Skin
Lead singer of The Strokes, Nick Valensi, is also the lead singer of CRX. The band was formed behind a mutual love for Elvis Costello and the influences are apparent. Josh Homme, lead singer of Queens of the Stone Age produced “New Skin,” their debut album.
36: Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.
“untitled unmastered.” is a series of eight demos from the recording sessions of last years “To Pimp a Butterfly.” This isn’t really an album it’s just a cool thing that Kendrick did. It should be received and ranked as such. However, even in a year that Kendrick didn’t record a release he consistently stayed in the spotlight with high profile features such as tracks with Danny Brown, The Weeknd, Sia, Isaiah Rashaad, etc.
35: From Indian Lakes – Everything Feels Better Now
From Indian Lakes are organic indie rock with elements of post-rock. The eerie melodies are good for both enthusiastically singing along and falling asleep to.
34: Bon Iver – 22, A Million
“Folktronica” is one word I’ve heard used to describe this new sound. Whatever it is it definitely caught a lot of Bon Iver fans off-guard this year, with some even joking that it was not a real release similar to Frank Ocean’s “Endless.” As the year closes however, it is apparent that this is a real release and with further listening, the world has come to fully appreciate the new sound.
33: Jay Prince – Smile Good
Since his break on the scene last year, Jay Prince has not ceased his effort in the studio. He released two albums last year and another single already after “Smile Good.” Prince is a London-based hip-hop artist drawing influences from all over rap. The prevailing theme on “Smile Good,” is of optimism and unity.
32: D.R.A.M. – Big Baby D.R.A.M.
Yes the guy who wrote Broccoli released his debut album this year. D.R.A.M. or Does Real Ass Music is a rapper, singer and producer. The album is full of feel-good jams and the cover is an absolutely adorable picture of D.R.A.M. holding up a dog. Well worth the listen but maybe skip over listening to Broccoli for the 200th time.
31: Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Car Seat Headrest are lo-fi pop-rock headed by frontman Will Toledo. Recently picked up by Matador Records, the group released an album of reworked material, “Teens of Style,” late last year and this year’s “Teens of Denial,” debuts new material with the bands new melded sound of lo-fi production methods and access to high-quality equipment. The album features incredibly relatable lyrics and catchy riffs.
30: Bruno Mars – 24K Magic
Bruno Mars seems to be working at reinventing his familiar sound. Originally known for his singles “Grenade” and “Locked Out of Heaven,” his new record “24K Magic,” feels like he is settling in on a new sound of pop infused, James Brown influenced, funk. The first half of this record is very strong; catchy and enjoyable. The production on the second half falls flat and sounds completely hollow. Ultimately though singles, like “24K Magic” and “Perm” are party jams fit to enter into the new year to.