Best albums of 2016 (#11 – #20)

This Unruly Mess I’ve Made by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis 

Pop Rap. It’s become cool to hate on these guys because they probably shouldn’t have won the Grammy for their debut which many thought Kendrick Lamar ought to have won for Good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012) . Their sophomore effort This Unruly Mess I’ve Made received mixed reviews and not every song is good. The writing is often self-indulgent(Light Tunnels, Buckshot, Bolo Tie), and not as catchy as their debut.
So why am I still including the album in my top 20? Mainly because I admire the introspection, honesty, and also the variety of topics explored. I rate tracks such as White Privilege II(racial issues from various perspectives), Growing Up(about parenthood), St Ides (about family and the non-commercial life) very highly.  The Train(about detachment and departure) and Kevin(about the loss of a friend to drugs) may grow on me.

E·MO·TION: Side B by Carly Rae Jepsen
Synthpop. Throughout the process of her last album, it was revealed that 250 songs were composed and now we get a bunch of the unreleased tracks. Side B is arguably among the best EPs of 2016 and some of the material is equally as good, if not better, than her album E•MO•TION.
I especially enjoyed Fever and The One, both very retro 80s, as is most of the 8-track EP. It’s front-loaded, yet so were many of the byegone albums she was influenced by.






Hella Personal Film Festival by Open Mike Eagle + Paul White
Hip hop. Wouldn’t go so far as to label it a comedy album. Written in a non-serious manner, so the delivery and opinions don’t become overly self-righteous.
The album title is a bit misleading though, as it isn’t specifically about a film festival.
They confront contemporary issues such as cursing(the song Insecurity), how we are slaves to technology and daily responsibilities(the song Check To Check), news coverage and political involvement(the song Leave People Alone), gun violence(the song A Short About A Guy That Dies Every Night), and racism(the song Smiling).
Favorite lyric:
“But maybe everlasting life is a curse though
Eternity is drama making life the commercial”

Freetown Sound by Blood Orange
Alternative R&B. Consistently good, with pop hooks and political awareness, but too much computerized instrumentation. Highlights include E.V.P., Augustine, and Better Than Me






Lemonade by Beyoncé
R&B. An interesting, ambitious concept album concerned with, among other things, infidelity and black lives matter, accompanied by a film aired on HBO. You could say it’s self-indulgent, but if you have experienced any kind of injustice in your life you could feel empowered by her ability to soldier on.
If I’m honest, the cd as stand-alone wasn’t as captivating. The music needed the visuals to work its wonders on me. Although it has been argued there are longer versions of Freedom and Love Drought on the cd. I particularly like the tracks Daddy Lessons and Hold Up.

A Seat at the Table by Solange
R&B./neo-soul. Beyoncé’s sister Solange Knowles also put out an album this year. Pleasant, easy-listening music, yet not memorable enough to be a classic. The single Cranes in the Sky is great and feels timeless. Junie is another stand out and the most fun and upbeat track. If I’m honest, the interludes are more compelling to me than the majority of the songs.

You Want It Darker Leonard Cohen 
Sing-Songwriter. Third leg of a trilogy, along with Old Ideas (2012) and Popular Problems (2014). He turned 82 this year and his vocal performance is simply not as powerful as it used to be. His delivery is lacking in variety.
The good thing is he still has a way with words and the poetic lyrics tell you where he is at, coming to terms with god, love and death. While it isn’t a requirement to be elderly and frail to identify, the material does seem geared towards the experienced adult. He also mused about similar themes on his previous two albums, so You Want It Darker could feel slightly redundant if you listen to the trilogy back-to-back-to-back.
I would label it a minor Cohen album. The first two tracks You Want It Darker and Treaty are memorable with best of the year potential, but unfortunately the record loses steam after that early promise with too many dull moments. I’m a longtime fan, so I hate to give a middling review. RIP Leonard Cohen. We lost a legend.

Woman by Justice

Nu-Disco. The groups third album. An undemanding, easy listen, which is sometimes all we need. You could argue the tracks are too long, and on first listen I didn’t care for the album, but give it time and may grow on you. Highlights: Safe & Sound, Randy, Fire, and the live YouTube version of Alakazam! Justice could easily have used a super model to feature in Fire music video. Kudos to them for the choice of 70-year-old Susan Sarandon.

Braver Than We Are by Meat Loaf
Rock Opera. What the album has going for it is the epic production which sounds like nothing else in contemporary music. Meat Loaf’s vocal is not what it once was (which he openly admits in the opener) and that is the albums weakness, but the guest singers do a fine job of supporting.
There’s quite a bit of variety. More and Godz have elements of hard rock. Souvenirs has an enjoyable saxophone solo. Who Needs the Young is a blend of country and cabaret. Most memorable is Going All the Way Is Just the Start (A Song in 6 movements). The worst is Skull of Your Country, which annoyingly reuses parts of the 80s classic Total Eclipse of the Heart.

Basses Loaded by Melvins
Sludge Metal. Kindly recommended by Aussie film blogger Epileptic Moondancer. Melvins are new to me. The album could be described as metal riffs with jazz thrown in. Considered a return to form by the band. Has more replay potential than the new Metallica. Highlights include The Decay of Lying, Choco Plumbing, Hideous Woman, Planet Distructo and War Pussy.
The bizarre mid-album track Shaving Cream felt out of place. Apparently the band have a goofy side, so I suppose it’s normal for them. Maybe I’m Amused is probably a pun on Paul McCartney’s Maybe I’m Amazed. I Want to Tell You is a Beatles cover.

Albums #21 – #25:
Untitled unmastered. by Kendrick Lamar (Jazz Rap)
Junk by M83 (Synthpop)
Honest Life by Courtney Marie Andrews (Country)
2013 by Meilyr Jones (Chamber Pop)
Nothing More to Say by The Frightnrs (Rocksteady/Reggae)

Agree or disagree? What do you think about these albums/artists? I’ll share my top 10 albums of 2016 soon.

8 thoughts on “Best albums of 2016 (#11 – #20)

  1. Two there which will make my top ten, no prizes for guessing which. I like the sound of Hella Personal Film Festival; will have to check that out.

    My original reaction to Skull Of Your Country was exactly the same as yours… until I learned that it was actually written before Total Eclipse of the Heart and that Steinman had actually re-used the “turn around” refrain in that. However, it works much better there… and hearing this now, when it happens, you can't help but want Bonnie to come belting in with her next lines.

    Still, glad I'm not the only Meat & Jim fan in the blogosphere. A lot of bloggers look down their noses at them.

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  2. @Rol: I like opinionated hip-hop, and the Open Mike Eagle album sits in that category. He doesn't take himself too seriously.

    Skull of Your Country just sounds odd to me. I actually listened to new Meat Loaf album because of your blogpost, so thanks for bring it to my attention. Besides the new LP, I only know Meat Loaf from a greatest hits cd and his contributions to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I have his 1977 album on my to-do-list.
    Any reason why bloggers look down their nose at Meat and Jim? I was thinking because the music could be perceived as pretentious and lacking subtlety, plus the fact Meat Loaf doesn’t write his own lyrics.

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  3. I think there are many reasons. Operatic rock has never been seen as cool (see Queen also). Steinman's pomposity is often mistaken by people who don't understand his humour… or those who believe humour has no place in rock. I also think that Bat Out Of Hell being one of the top ten best selling albums of all-time will automatically predispose some people to dislike it, since popularity is never cool. (See also Dire Straits.) For me, Steinman takes the Spector-esque rock 'n' roll template Springsteen refined on Born To Run and then turns it up to operatic parody levels. He throws in Wagnerian abundance and more angels and devils than Dante but keeps his tongue firmly in his cheek. If rock 'n' roll is essentially teenage melodrama, there is no more pure example of the form than Bat Out Of Hell. Of course, that's another problem with the last album: should teenage melodrama really be performed by a 69 year old? That said, Meat isn't the only pensioner still making a living out of it.

    There are basically three great Meat & Jim albums: Bat, the hugely underrated Dead Ringer, and Bat 2. This one doesn't come close to any of those… it's not even up there with Steinman's own ill-fated (but still adored by some, myself included) solo album, Bad For Good. But it's the best I could hope for, under the circumstances.

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  4. @Rol: Interesting. I haven't listened to enough Meatloaf to notice the tongue-in-cheek-ness. I'll keep that in mind for later.
    You've got me curious to check out Dead Ringer (1981) and Bad For Good (1981). I'll start with Bat 1 & 2. Thanks for the album recommendations.

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  5. I keep seeing Solange and Beyonce at the top of most “best of” lists this year. Usually not my thing but it seems I should give them a listen. Haven't heard the others either but the Open Mike Eagle + Paul White album sounds intriguing. Looking forward to your top 10!

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  6. Eric@The Warning Sign: I’m not a massive Beyoncé and Solange fan either.
    Lemonade album is powerful as part of the one-hour HBO film. On its own the cd is not as strong to me.

    Hope you enjoy Open Mike Eagle. You might want to start with his 2014 song ‘Dark Comedy Late Show’ which is quite original in how he pretends to be a talkshow host.

    I just posted my top 10 albums of 2016, including thoughts on the year in music!

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