These are the records I like from 2016. I’m sure there are other good ones, but these are the ones I liked from what I have heard. If it is not here I either a) didn’t like it, or b) didn’t hear it.
Mavis Staples – Livin’ on a High Note
Could be categorised as more of the same, but it’s an accomplished record from a singer whose later life life renaissance appears to be getting better with each release. This is at least as good as her first record produced by Jeff Tweedy, You Are Not Alone, and better than the stodgy One True Vine.
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
True to form, where they were expected to create an album that was a continuation of the style explored on King of Limbs, Radiohead confounded expectations. A Moon Shaped Pool felt immediately familiar, due in large part to some of the songs being upwards of a decade old. “True Love Waits”, a song that has gained near mythic status, was around at least 20 years ago in one form or another. A lot of the album is centred around the demise of Thom Yorke’s relationship and it feels like a break up record. It’s not gloomy, but the melancholy is unrelenting. It also has the aura of perhaps being the last Radiohead record for a long time, or even ever.
Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.
This collection of pseudo-B sides is an interesting look behind the scenes of the epic To Pimp a Butterfly. I prefer this record over that one, with TPAB sometimes feeling overly contrived, whereas untitled unmastered. has a lighter, more delicate touch. The songs have space to inhabit without the excessive framing of the more serious TPAB.
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Outside country music circles, Sturgill Simpson is mostly known for his rendition of the Nirvana song “In Bloom”. It’s a tough song to make sense of, even the original, and Simpson manages to make it something far more melodic and epic that it has any business being. While I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it is better than the Nirvana version, he imbues it with a rhythm and sincerity that elevates it far beyond a standard cross-genre cover. Despite its strength, it’s also the worst song on the album. As with his previous record, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, he’s alt-country in the vein of a more refined Uncle Tupelo, not the Garth Brooks mental breakdown that is Chris Gaines. The closest comparison is probably Ryan Adams, if Ryan Adams didn’t seem like such a dick.
Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
Childish Gambino proved people wrong when he appeared as the stage name of actor and comedian Donald Glover. While Childish Gambino remains a ridiculous name, his first record was genuinely unique and interesting. On “Awaken, My Love!” he sacrifices some of the uniqueness to channel his influences and create a fantastic journey of funk and soul. Paying such homage can sometimes backfire and a record can sound too derivative, but this still sounds like the Childish Gambino from Because the Internet, despite the vastly more polished sound and lush production.
And some more I don’t have much to say about but they were still better than most:
And the Anonymous Nobody… – De La Soul
Let’s Take a Trip – Tall Black Guy
Human Performance – Parquet Courts
I did like other records this year that I hadn’t heard before, but they aren’t from 2016. For example, my first exposure to Kendrick Lamar was To Pimp a Butterfly, but I didn’t think it was that great. But then I heard him on Dr Dre’s Compton record this year and so I decided to give Good Kid Maad City a go and I liked it a lot more. So, there’s two more new to me: Compton and Good Kid Maad City.
Here are others:
Radiodread – Easy Star All Stars
Fishscale – Ghostface Killah
Breathe – FredFades and Ivan Ave
Icky Mettle – Archers of Loaf
I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside – Earl Sweatshirt
Shin Joong Hyun & The Yup Juns – Shin Joong Hyun & The Yup Juns
Pure Mood – Ringo DeathStarr