Saturday, December 17, 2016
A strong year for albums ends with a new year-end champ:
1.Frank Ocean Blonde: ever since Channel Orange and his sexuality became public knowledge four years ago, the music world have eagerly awaited Ocean’s next move. Blonde is a natural progression but Ben Beaumont-Thomas sums it up best for The Guardian online when he states that Blonde represents the psychic reality of 251st century youth culture. I’d go a step further and add queer fluidity to that. Blonde, with its ambivalent cover and alternative spelling, is unabashedly gay or, more correctly, not totally straight. Ocean gets his listeners so well because he reflects the same nervousness and insecurities and that transcends race and sexuality. All that frustration to compress individuality into the grand social acceptance boils over into the remarkable closing track, Futura Free, where he breaks down, strips his façade away and steps into full sublime mode.
2. Esperanza Spalding Emily’s D + Evolution: in a year dominated by the Knowles sisters, leave it to Spalding to release an album that combines the attitude and personal politics of both to present a superior album. Heavy, fink grooves run wild juxtaposed to her empowering lyrics. Emily’s D + Evolution is the result of a two year hiatus from music but given how perfect the first 7 tracks are, you’d never know. If the album catches its break after that magical opening breath it is just to catch a quick sip to press on.
3. Danny Brown Atrocity Exhibition: after two very different types of albums, one wondered which Danny Brown would be trotted out this year and I’m pleased to see that alien-Danny is just as intriguing. Atrocity Exhibition populates its spaces with a lot of proto-funk and braggadocio, two things he’s never been short of but he’s cutting it so much harder this time. Strains of Outkast and rock can be heard but clown Danny is in there too.
4. Kendrick Lamar Untitled Unmastered: fresh from repositions black culture last year with To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar now tosses out that album’s discarded tracks and it’s like a treasure trove of gems. In fact, I’m not sure how other artists can listen to these “rejects” and not have a sinking feeling that they’ll never put anything out half as good ( here’s looking at you J. Cole).
5. A Tribe Called Quest We Got It From Here…Thanks 4 Your Service: you know an album is elite when it draws out Busts Rhymes’ best work in decades (Mobius) and. Like D’angelo, there was a long gap between this and the last album and yet again it was well worth the wait. While waiting, Q-tip and company have updated their references and tackled new fights—even if the enemies remain the same. The Black Lives Matter struggle, xenophobia and identity crises all get thrown in. We Got It From Here…never tries to assimilate into the culture however but merely adds its piece, respectfully but forcefully.
6. David Bowie Blackstar: In avoiding making another rock album—by producer Tony Visconti’s own admission—David Bowie has surreptitiously turned into a new type of star at 69, the type that eludes the folly of his peers because he’s not trying to sound cool, he just fucking is cool. And that’s by not committing the often-made mistake of ripping his former self off or fronting with whichever flavor of the month musician is around. No, Bowie has simply reinvented himself and trusted that we’re open to his ongoing evolution.
7. Mitski Puberty 2: let’s get the St. Vincent comparisons out of the way first: both women approach pop similarly but Mitski drags her nails in mud doing so---which works out rather deliciously on nerdy hits like Happy and Dan The Dancer. She never loses focus though, which makes this album a grower.
8. Radiohead A Pool Shaped Moon: with their ninth album, Radiohead reminds us that no one does ghost rock quite like them and perhaps no other band ever will. It’s common knowledge that a lot of these songs have been around in some shape or form for at least 15 years now—a long gestation period—but that’s the charm of them, of a band that’s never wavered from an aesthetic we’ve come to love and appreciate as totally peerless sand high end.
9. Pusha T Darkest Before Dawn: nearly a year after its release, Darkest Before Dawn has not lost any of its potency, especially now in this Trump America. The gritty lyrics compliment the reality in the world’s super power…an unflinching personal view on greed and power.
10. Anderson .Paak Malibu: Anderson .Paak not only looks like an old soul but he sounds it too on the phenomenal Malibu, the album that has proven to be his breakthrough. A track-list that runs 16 songs could prove daunting but enough cornbread funk is here along with his sense of timing: listen to the precision that marks Come Down and see that this kat ain’t leaving anything to chance.