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).
“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.
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.