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Albums of the Year 2016

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*Best of 2016*

10) Porches
Pool
[Domino]

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09) Chance the Rapper
Coloring Book
[self-released]

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08) Bon Iver
22, A Million
[Jagjaguwar]

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07) Animal Collective
Painting With
[Domino]

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06) Young Thug
JEFFERY
[Atlantic/300 Entertainment]

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05) Blood Orange
Freetown Sound
[Domino]

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04) Danny Brown
Atrocity Exhibition
[Warp]

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03) David Bowie

[ISO/RCA/Columbia/Sony]

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02) Solange
A Seat at the Table
[Saint/Columbia]

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01) Kanye West
The Life of Pablo
[Def Jam/GOOD]

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Here is a list of my twenty favorite songs from 2016. These are listed in alphabetical order and has been limited to one track per artist.

Blood Orange – Best To You (Feat. Empress Of)
Bon Iver – 1 0 d E A T h B R E a s T
Cass McCombs – Bum Bum Bum
Chance the Rapper – Smoke Break (Feat. Future)
Danny L Harle – Supernatural (Feat. Carly Rae Jepsen)
David Bowie – Lazarus
Deakin – Golden Chords
DJ Diamond – Lab 2 This
Frank Ocean – Nikes
Kanye West – Real Friends
Kero Kero Bonito – Trampoline
KING – The Greatest
M.I.A. – Survivor
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Need You
Pusha T – Got Em Covered (Feat. Ab-Liva)
Radiohead – Ful Stop
Rae Sremmurd – Black Beatles (Feat. Gucci Mane)
Rihanna – Work (Feat. Drake)
The Weeknd – Starboy (Feat. Daft Punk)
William Tyler – Gone Clear

2014: Albums of the Year
Ariel Pink

*Best of 2014*

05) Eno/Hyde
High Life
[Warp]
Eno/Hyde

04) Spoon
They Want My Soul
[Loma Vista]
Spoon

03) Aphex Twin
Syro
[Warp]
Syro

02) Future
Honest
[Epic/Free Bandz/A1]
Future

01) Ariel Pink
Pom Pom
[4AD]
Ariel Pink

Here is a list of my favorite songs from 2014. These are listed in alphabetical order.

18+ – All The Time
Ariana Grande – Problem (Feat. Iggy Azalea)
Ariel Pink – Lipstick
Aphex Twin – Circlont6a [141.98] (syrobonkus mix)
Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks – Little Fang
Bobby Shmurda – Hot Nigga
D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Sugah Daddy
Death Grips – Have a Sad Cum
Eno/Hyde – DBF
Future – Benz Friendz (Whatchutola) (Feat. Andre 3000)
Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting On You)
ilovemakonnen – Club Goin’ Up On A Tuesday (Feat. Drake)
Mac DeMarco – Passing Out Pieces
Migos – Fight Night
Panda Bear – Mr. Noah
Pure X – Valley of Tears
Real Estate – Crime
Spoon – Do You
Taylor Swift – Shake It Off
The War On Drugs – Red Eyes

TomboyPanda Bear’s heavily hyped fourth album, Tomboy, is released and it lives up to expectations, although ultimately with reservations. Preceded by four singles that were released on four different labels and by the instantly-classic Person Pitch album, Panda Bear’s latest continues the creative streak that the Animal Collective members have been on for over five years. Meme-generating terms such as “post-Merriweather Post Pavilion” and “post-Person Pitch” have littered the internet inasmuch as defining new bands’ sound (for the record: chillwave is analogous with “post-Person Pitch“), so it could be said without hesitation that Tomboy was expected to be yet another game-changing album from Animal Collective’s most-visible band member.

Tomboy was recorded in a basement in Benfica, Portugal. In that respect one can understand the, let’s call it, dimmed-colors present here, at least compared to Person Pitch. The tracks “Drone,” “Slow Motion,” or the ambient “Scheherazade” exhibit ghostly vocals and other elements that evoke cool feelings. But, the entire album can’t be classified thusly. “Surfer’s Hymn” is the best example of a track that sounds the most like “old” Panda Bear, this track also sounds much better on the album than the single-version that released a few weeks before. The single-version of this track had a pitch-shifted vocal that I thought ruined everything. And, “Surfer’s Hymn” does sound contrived at the start, but Noah Lennox (who is Panda Bear) pulls it together into a cohesive, single-worthy (which it is) track.

The production here is commendable. Tomboy was originally planned to have been mixed by Animal Collective members Avey Tare and Deakin, but instead it was mixed by Spaceman 3 member Sonic Boom. The news that this album changed mixing personnel came late in this album’s gestation period, two of the album’s singles had already been released when this was said to be. Did this decision create the hushed-euphoric elements? I can’t say, but I will say that it didn’t harm this album any. Panda Bear has previously credited Beach Boys, and to be specific, Brian Wilson, as a source of inspiration for the music he creates. Several tracks on this album have beautiful harmonies, specifically the album-standout “Last Night at the Jetty,” which has a Beach Boys-style songwriting structure. Panda Bear is able to use his voice as an additional element in the music. Well, of course, but what I mean is that he uses it not unlike the way a guitar or percussion would be used. Specifically in “Last Night at the Jetty” during the breakdown of the repetitious “I know I know I know know I know I know I,” that speeds up the pace of the song. He does this again to great effect with that track’s b-side, “Drone.” Although, Panda Bear doesn’t do this to the same level of success that was displayed in Person Pitch. On that album, “Bros” and “Good Girl/Carrots” used avant-garde songwriting and production styles to alter pop music paradigms; unfortunately nothing on this album displays that kind of creative ingenuity. But, let’s not discredit the music on Tomboy, this album is superb. Another production element that owes a great deal to the themes in this album is the intonation of Panda Bear’s voice. His voice possesses an organ-like quality that makes the album feel otherworldly. The majority of the album is sung in the same intonation which keeps this sentiment present throughout.

Panda Bear noted in interviews that Tomboy would be guitar and rhythm-driven. The latter is correct, but only a few tracks use rhythm-guitar, one being the eponymous “Tomboy” track which is the album’s first high-point. Although the track is generally sparse, Panda Bear creates a great sense of depth with a minimal amount of ingredients. “Alsatian Darn” is noteworthy as well for its use of acoustic guitar and its handclaps, proving to potentially be the album’s most accessible track. Panda Bear could have instead said that the album does have a higher amount of singing than other Animal Collective albums, even on the ambient-style tracks.

As mentioned earlier, Animal Collective, and specifically here Panda Bear, continue to create abstract representations of pop music, but nothing on this album shouts “Eureka!” like Person Pitch had done. Tomboy is paced thoughtfully and showcases how music is often a production of the environment in which it was created; here it was a basement in the sun-washed city of Lisbon, Portugal. Last year, Avey Tare released his first solo album, Down There, as he was going through a divorce. That album was subdued and emotional, and despite its brevity, could be considered as the better release of these two records. Thankfully, sometimes the sun does shine through the reverb and the haze in Tomboy, and it’s OK if you go out to bathe in it.

(Reviewer’s Score: 3.8/5)

2010 Albums of the Year

Another year of music has come to a close and I have produced yet another list of albums that resonated with me more so than others. This time around, I have shortened my list to a “Top 10” as opposed to my traditional “Top 15.” I will also be giving out a “Label of the Year” recommendation as I have noticed that I have been listening to specific labels more so than random records this time around.

In 2010, there wasn’t a definitive trend in music. 2009 saw the “lo-fi” and “chillwave” fads sweep through the Brooklyn and San Francisco music scenes. This year the only thing that could be said in the way of a trend is that smaller labels were able to make good with humble, but not necessarily “lo-fi,” recording practices. These smaller imprints utilized social media outlets to their advantage to let a wider audience hear the music they were releasing.

Hip-hop had an excellent year with a lot of artists blowing-up with outrageous albums. This is noteworthy because many critics last year claimed, including Sasha Frere-Jones of the The New Yorker, that hip-hop, as-we-know-it, was dead. Artists like Ke$ha, Black Eyed Peas, or Soulja Boi created lackluster disco-pop albums that somehow managed to pass for hip-hop. This summer, Curren$y exploded out from the mixtape scene and dropped Pilot Talk, an album that samples trip-hop (a la Ski Beatz) layered beneath Curren$y’s smooth and diverse flow. Big Boi’s ridiculously titled album Sir Lucious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty was the most creative major-label hip-hop release I had ever heard, that is until Kanye West’s magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy came out this past November.

Independent rock acts embraced classic pop-music structures. Arcade Fire released an excellent album (The Suburbs) that sounded not unlike 1980s stadium-filling pop acts (think Depeche Mode). Even my personally beloved Deerhunter released an album that was a significant departure from their established “ambient-punk” sound, as they headed towards a 1950s/60s pop sound with their new album Halcyon Digest. For the haters that want more of the traditional Deerhunter, stop by the band’s blog where Bradford Cox has released four volumes of demos (for free) under his Atlas Sound solo-project name, many good tracks can be found there in those volumes.

As I mentioned above, I want to recommend a “Label of the Year.” This year that recommendation will go to the small New York City-based imprint, Olde English Spelling Bee. This label’s blog, which serves as their main Web page, is loaded with several different artists to keep an eye out for in the future. The artists that are signed with this label come from many different genres and they are producing avant-garde works that shouldn’t be overlooked. New Jersey-based singer/songwriter Julian Lynch who fuses together American folk with worldly sounds, synthesizer-soundscape architect Michelle Gauldi (stage name Stellar OM Source), and Matthew Mondanile’s psychedelic-pop project Ducktails are artists signed to this rising imprint from New York City.

Now here are my top albums of 2010…

*Best of 2010*

10) Big Boi
Sir Lucious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty
[Def Jam]

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09) LCD Soundsystem
This Is Happening
[Virgin/Parlophone/DFA]

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08) Future Islands
In Evening Air
[Thrill Jockey]

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07) Woods
At Echo Lake
[Woodsist]

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06) Avey Tare
Down There
[Paw Tracks]

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05)Four Tet
There Is Love in You
[Domino]
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04) Curren$y
Pilot Talk / Pilot Talk II
[BluRoc/Def Jam]

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03) Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Before Today
[4AD]

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02) Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
[4AD]

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01) Kanye West
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
[Roc-A-Fella]

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Now that you’ve read my Top 10, I would also like to leave you a list of must-hear songs/singles from 2010. These are just in alphabetical order.

Arcade Fire – Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Round and Round
Beach House – 10 Mile Stereo
Big Boi – Tangerine (Feat. T.I. & Khujo)
Crystal Castles – Not In Love (Feat. Robert Smith)
Deerhunter – Desire Lines
Four Tet – Sing
Freddie Gibbs – National Anthem (Fuck the World)
Holy Other – YR LOVE
Joker – Tron
Julian Lynch – Just Enough
Kanye West – Monster (Feat. Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Bon Iver)
Kanye West – Runaway (Feat. Pusha T)
LCD Soundsystem – All I Want
Marnie Stern – For Ash
Motion Man – Porno Mustache (Feat. Lyrical C)
Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal
Stellar OM Source – Island Best
Umberto – Night Stalking
The Walkmen – Angela Surf City
Weekend – Coma Summer
Woods – Suffering Season

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My Beautiful Dark Twisted FantasyBefore the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye’s label G.O.O.D. was promoting the album by releasing a single every Friday. I paid no attention to this. Yes, I knew that hip-hop had delivered some surprises in 2010 (see Curren$y, Big Boi, Big K.R.I.T., Freddie Gibbs), but, I heard The Blueprint 3 (and it was so terrible), therefore I wasn’t expecting anything beyond decent from Kanye. Calling his latest album to be his best gives it some serious credit (ahem, Late Registration), but I will not stop there. This album is truly one of the best hip-hop albums ever, taking Kanye West’s status from hip-hop great to pop music icon.

When I purchase hip-hop albums I typically go for compact discs rather than vinyl LPs because it is easier to skip from single-to-single or bypass skits. There is no need for this with Fantasy, it is meant to be heard from start-to-finish. The sequencing is top-notch, from the introductory track “Dark Fantasy,” the call-to-arms of “All of the Lights,” right on to the resolution of “Lost in the World.” The production quality is the best that you will hear as well, with Kanye West and Mike Dean heading the production efforts on nearly every track. If someone told me that “Runaway (Feat. Pusha T)” was recorded in outer space, I would believe them. The one track where Kanye isn’t listed in the production credits is the track “Devil in a New Dress (Feat. Rick Ross).” This track is instead produced by Bink!, a producer I had never heard of, and yet it is so lush. The Smokey Robinson sample layered with guitar and piano, plus a stand-out verse by Rick Ross keeps the album rolling, in what is essentially, single after single. “Devil In A New Dress” sounds so good it could be endless, and similar to The Beatles with “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” on Abbey Road, Kanye abruptly drops the track and blows it to pieces with a simple note structure using two octaves during the start of “Runaway (Feat. Pusha T).” I wouldn’t even call “Runaway” a hip-hop track; it is pure pop especially with its sing-along chorus. It even ends with Kanye singing indecipherably through a talkbox with violins and piano backing him up, seriously… Eureka! No major-label artist is making music like this. A must-hear track on this album (besides “Runaway”) is “Monster,” featuring verses from Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj. There is no doubt that I have suffered some sort of permanent hearing loss from blasting this song during my trips to work. And, if you had any qualms about Nicki Minaj’s authority, she proves that she can stand up to the hype surrounding her as she performs a mind-blowing verse with an ecstatically-schizophrenic flow.

Fantasy is the summation of West’s discography thus far. It captures the MC credibility of College Dropout, the orchestration of Late Registration, the ego-tripping of Graduation, and the emotional unrest of 808s & Heartbreaks. Weaving all the elements together while adding higher peaks and darker lows.

(Reviewer’s Score: 4.8/5)