The New Year is a time for reflection of ourselves and the society we live in. What was good? What was bad? What was ugly? Some of the highlights of 2016 were, for the lack of a better word, ugly. As the year comes to an end, most of us will be celebrating with fervor as we cannot help but remember the shitshow it has been. Although, there is one thing that the universe let us have this year, and that is some great music releases. It goes without saying that music has healing power, whether you use it to meditate, cope, or just jam out. The Topper Radio staff has decided that these are the best albums, in no particular order, to come out of 2016. Listen along with us as we use the power of positivity to launch ourselves full blast into the next year. Because we survived, bitch.
Lamentations – Moses Sumney
“Lamentations, an album that cannot be compared or accurately described – it is in its own lane.”
One of my personal favorites albums of 2016 is Lamentations, by Moses Sumney. The five songs featured on Lamentations are all strong pieces of work — which beautifully embodies the creativity of Moses Sumney. On top of that, it is probably one of the few things that bring about relief, calmness, and soul lifting from such a crazy year. Even though it is not a religious album, it has a very soul soothing vibe.
Need to finish that resumé with a clear head, but can’t do it in silence? Go ahead and press “play” on this album, because you will immediately be refreshed just from the first song “Ascension.” Another beautiful thing about this album is that no matter what typical genre “background” you come from – this album will readjust your taste. It is a very powerful body of work by Moses Sumney, so please do yourself an amazing favor before 2016 ends and indulgence in this amazing album.
Yes Lawd! – Nxworries
You’ve probably heard of Anderson Paak by now either from his album Malibu or the catchy tune “Suede” that blew up a while ago before this album dropped.
Knxwledge has been making beat tapes for a while now on Bandcamp and his latest album dropped about a year and a half ago, Hud Dreems. If you are into soulful samples and nice drum loops check him out; he is an animal.
This was one of the albums I was most excited for in 2016 because Knxwledge is one of my top favorite producers and Anderson Paak has been killing it lately. Their first single “Suede” was released over a year ago, so this album had been in the works for awhile now. They did release an EP as Nxworries last year called Link Up & Suede, but that was just a small taste. At the end of the music video for “Suede” which was released last year, they played a snippet of a song which would later be known as “Lyk Dis” from the album.
For all you R&B and hip hop fans, this album is a must listen. All the transitions on this album are very smooth and make it feel like just one seamless listen every time. The song “Wngs” is an old, catchy beat from Knxwledge’s “Kauliflowr” combined with Anderson Paak’s vocals. Most of the tracks have soulful samples that just give you that feel-good vibe and leaves you wanting more. The track “Can’t Stop,” highlights Knxwledge and his unique style of sampling with just the beat and no vocals from Paak. At the end of the song there’s a sample from the TV show Rick and Morty. “Scared Money” is a track that will remind you of disco and make you feel like you were in an 80s dance club. The last track “Fkku” is a catchy, funny tune to end the album. You will remember it every time you listen to it. Overall, this album will always put you in a good mood and it is a fresh, creative twist to the soulful R&B game.
Gameshow – Two Door Cinema Club
2016 saw the release of Two Door Cinema Club’s Gameshow, serving as a return to form for the Irish three-piece. Further evolving the band’s pop-inspired alt-rock sound, this banger from Bangor is their latest release since 2013’s Changing of the Seasons EP, and the first since leaving France’s Kitsuné label.
Fans of 2DCC have grown used to steady change between releases, with the boys’ sound maturing steadily since Tourist History in 2010. Frontman Alex Trimble cites both Prince and David Bowie (RIP, damn you 2016!) as heavy influences on Gameshow, and it is quite apparent. From the exploratory falsetto in “Je Viens De La” to “Ordinary”’s funk-inspired groove, the influence of 80’s radio pop on this album is undeniable.
Diehards may lambast the continued shift from progressively-building, synth-backed guitar riffs and explosively upbeat jams that characterized early Two Door tracks, but Gameshow manages to keep the acoustic aesthetic of the band intact while also vastly changing the overall content of the music itself. Supported by lively, lovingly sincere performances across the United States in support of its release (particularly ACL ‘16), time will likely cement Gameshow as a seminal great born from six years of musical growth.
Blonde and Endless – Frank Ocean
I was one of those crazy-ass stans that had been waiting for what seemed like an eternity for Frank Ocean to drop some new material since his monumental, ingeniously-crafted Channel Orange release in 2012. Channel Orange legitimately shook my soul, marking such a definitive point in my teen years (I had recently turned 15 when it came out), so I was desperately itching for some new music. Well, it finally came on the night of August 19th, when I received multiple texts that Frank had released a visual album through Apple Music. Upon receiving this news, I immediately went to my room, lied down on my bed in complete darkness, opened up the app on my phone, and watched the visual album. To be completely honest, I lost interest in the rather dull and anticlimactic visual footage after about 10 minutes, so I decided to just listen to the album. Even though I wasn’t necessarily feeling the visual aspect of the new material, I definitely could not say the same for the music.
From the very beginning of Endless, Frank Ocean establishes a new, mature sound, allowing his vocals to take a step back and allowing the production and beats to take center stage. Frank released this to satisfy and complete his contract with Def Jam so that he could be fully over and done with them, now free to be his own independent entity. Opening up (and eventually closing out) with a monotonous German techno song, Mr. Ocean’s visual album is rather difficult to actually listen to and appreciate, but for those who take the time and effort to dedicate their ears to this 45-minute long masterpiece, the time will prove to be valued. The second track on the album is definitely a standout for me: a beautiful, breathy cover of “At Your Best (You Are Love)”, originally by The Isley Brothers, but also famously covered by the late Aaliyah (the song was also originally released on what would’ve been Aaliyah’s 36th birthday). Following this track are multiple chunks of music that seem to be comprised of short snippets of previously recorded material, so yes, none of these songs seem to be completed tracks, which is also a reason why this album is not that accessible to listen to. However, this album still proves to be a work of art regardless, especially towards the end of the piece. Some songs that I would specifically recommend are “Comme des Garçons”, “Wither”, “Slide on Me” (which flows ever so smoothly into “Sideways”), “Deathwish (ASR)”, and “Rushes”.
Originally, I thought that this was the main album that Frank was releasing, but boy, was I wrong. The following day, he released yet another full-length album, and I eventually went on to learn that this was what everyone was actually waiting for. Blonde debuted on August 20th, in addition to Frank organizing only a handful of pop-up shops in major cities around the world and creating a magazine, adequately titled Boys Don’t Cry, to coincide with the release of the album. When actually listening to Blonde for the first time, I was already so wholeheartedly invested in Endless, that I just wasn’t that impressed. However, this quickly changed, and after about a week, Blonde became the central focus of my whole life. Like Endless, this album was a very mature step for Frank, which some people vibed with, but a good handful didn’t. Maybe the masses were expecting something more exciting after the long wait, but what Frank delivered was much more subtle and muted, but still very intense in terms of emotional release. The album opens up with the single “Nikes”, followed by “Ivy”, where Frank altered his vocals in order to signify the happenings of the song occurring at a younger, more innocent time in his life. Some other major tracks on the album are “Pink + White”, which feature some understated background vocals from Beyoncé, the queen herself, “Self Control” (featuring Yung Lean), and my favorite track off of the album, “Nights”. Within the span of the 5-minute long song, Frank reaches the midway point of the album, documenting it through switching the song from an upbeat tempo to a slower, R&B type of vibe. The second half of the album takes a downtempo, more emotion-heavy feeling, and finishes off with “Futura Free”, which features some footage of a past interview with Frank’s younger brother.
All in all, Frank’s back to back musical releases made my 2016 worthwhile despite all of the terrible shit that happened this year, and ultimately changed my life for the better. The two albums not only compliment each other but also show off two sides of Mr. Ocean’s mysterious and multifaceted personality. Not only did Frank explicitly discuss the idea of duality through his frequent bringing up of his bisexuality, but the two albums balanced each other out perfectly. Blonde in my eyes represents the daytime, while Endless is more of a nighttime jam. Blonde stands for being in love and experiencing all of the emotions that come with it, while Endless is more focused on passion, the raw, gritty, sexy kind. Blonde itself even stands for duality, being actually called “Blonde” but stylized as “blond” on the album itself, suggesting Frank Ocean’s masculine and feminine sides of his being. Frank is notoriously known for being an elusive and complex soul, an artist ahead of his time. These two albums were an amazing manifestation of the typical genius he puts into his work and were definitely a main highlight of 2016.
Innocence Reaches – Of Montreal
Of Montreal is a band who has been prolific in how Kevin Barnes, the mastermind, has released music. Having released at least an album since 1991, it is almost impossible to say that they belong to a genre. They continue to send fans on a rollercoaster with this new album: Innocence Reaches. Exceeding electronic than anything since Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, their 14th album creates a sound that is reminiscent of something that has been influenced by electronic artists. With raw and honest lyrics, it is always interesting to hear how the artist understands his emotions and then converts that understanding into music and song. Most of the album was created in Paris while Kevin Barnes was staying in a friends apartment. My favorite tracks have been “Let’s Relate”, “a sport and a pastime”, and “Chaos Arpeggiating.”
– Benji Fitten
Sunlit Youth – Local Natives
Even though we can all probably agree that 2016 was full of not so great things, you cannot say the same for the music industry in 2016. This year was a game changer for the music scene, from big headliners like Kanye, Drake and Rihanna to smaller artists like Pinegrove and Twin Peaks. Every music genre across the spectrum had new album releases, making 2016 a great year for music.
Although I love the hip hop/rap albums that came out this year, I am going to go back to my indie alternative loving roots for my favorite album of 2016. Local Native’s new album that came out in September, Sunlit Youth is my pick for 2016.
Local Natives took me a long time to get into. I saw their performance in 2013 at Lollapalooza and honestly was not amazed. However, fast forward three years later and their performance at ACL in 2016 really got me hooked.
Their third album is such an important album for 2016. The band brings up social issues within their lyrics, making their music not only fun to listen to, but also very influential. They bring up feminism and the generational disconnect between millennials and older generations. Every song is a good one, there is not one track on the album that I do not like. They decided to take their influential platform to a new level this year when they participated in “30 days, 30 songs,” a playlist of songs from artists for a Trump-free America. Their song “Fountain of Youth” was featured on the playlist. The lyrics “I have waited so long Mrs. President” references Hillary Clinton and her historic campaign for the presidency. These lyrics caught my attention, which is one of the reasons I got into them in the first place before I saw them at ACL. They pack so much energy into their performances while keeping up the incredible vocals. I saw them 3 times in 2016 and I would see them again tomorrow if I could.
This album is a work of art by Local Natives. It has good songs that you not only can dance/ sing-along to, but also gives you a way to expand your worldview. If you have not listened to the new album, get on it ASAP. If you have never listened to Local Natives, I definitely recommend listening to Sunlit Youth; it will give you hope for 2017.
“Awaken, My Love!” – Childish Gambino
It is safe to say that this was one much-anticipated album. “Me and Your Mama” came out and everyone was both confused and captivated by this entire new side of a familiar rapper. Then, “Redbone” dropped and our ears were perked once more at the weird, new take Gambino had on his music career. I jammed to those songs almost exclusively until the Friday of the release, and so did most other people I know. “Me and Your Mama” was a fun mix of genres that made me excited to see how Gambino would play around and experiment with his music, while “Redbone” showed an interesting tune that I felt resonated perfectly with my soul. This sounds like an exaggeration but some music surpasses the ears and goes straight to your core, “Redbone” did that by interesting me with its first couple of minutes and then killing me softly with a rift in its second half. That all being said, I was very excited for the rest of this album to come out.
I set a time for a listening party, ignored the link to the leaked songs, and then could not wait past the midnight drop and listened to it ahead of all my friends anyways. And, after all of that, I was disappointed. The songs were weird but too weird. They were hard to follow in narrative and did not really seem to ever get anywhere. Of course, there were some very impressive parts, like his closing guitar solo at the end of zombies, but other than that the only thing the album seemed to do was confirm that the two pre-release songs were good. I was upset by this but when I later listened to it at my listening party, I realized two things that many of my friends agreed with.
- I mostly just got turned off by the weirdness of everything between “Redbone” and “Me and Your Mama,” which gave me a negative impression on the rest of the songs. This is a shame because my personal favorite is now the fun, upbeat “Califiornia,” which was right after “Redbone.” The rest of the album, while still very weird, consists of quality music showing that Gambino has a wide array of musical talents.
- This album grows on you. It has a very solid vibe to it that easily sneaks into your musical palate once the songs all become familiar. Even the songs that lost my interest to the whole album (“Have Some Love,” “Boogieman,” “Zombies,” and “Riot”) are very easy to appreciate now.
Donald Glover has shown how little he cares about genre and how much he can create. In essence, he seems to be quoting Supa Hot Fire by saying “but I’m not (just) a rapper”. So take some time, and end your 2016 by listening to “Awaken, My love!” as many times as you need to.
Soft Hair (self-titled)
On October 28, experimental pop duo/intense bromance, Soft Hair, released their LP also titled Soft Hair. The duo is a collaborative project between Sam Dust (LA Priest) and Connan Mockasin. Being a huge Connan fan and enjoying the other collabs he has done (Myths 001 with Dev Hynes AKA Blood Orange, in addition to working with James Blake, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Vince Staples,) I was really excited for this release. Although Soft Hair has some questionable moments, it is overall a great listen.
The album opens up with an upbeat track titled “Relaxed Lizard.” While listening to this, I immediately thought of Prince and during the last 30 seconds it becomes really apparent that they are channeling the late icon. Throughout the album, we get to hear equal parts of Connan and LA Priest and neither seem to overpower each other, which I found refreshing. Mockasin’s guitar always tends to sound like it has been submerged in water, and pairing it with Dust’s synth is really a match made in heaven.
The most notable track is “Lying Has To Stop.” This song has the typical rhetoric of love and lies, which is what much of the album plays off of, but is carried out in a nonconventional way. Next, comes the standout and my personal favorite, “In Love.” Dust opens the song in a way that hooks you in right from the get-go. Overall this album is truly magical, and given the fact that it took SEVEN years to make, it was well worth the wait.
Fireplace: TheNotTheOtherSide – Hodgy
Fireplace: TheNotTheOtherSide is rapper/producer Hodgy Beats’ first debut album. MC Hodgy is an LA based artist who emerged in the scene with hip-hop collective Odd Future back in 2008 when “The Odd Future Tape” dropped. Hodgy has also been associated with other projects such as MellowHype, a hip-hop duo consisting of Hodgy and OF member Left-Brain. The two have four albums under their name. As of today, Hodgy has released five mixtapes.
I chose Fireplace: TheNotTheOtherSide as my 2016 pick for a number of reasons. First, one staff member already took Frank’s new album and secondly, I have followed Odd Future since 2012. I am predisposed to give in whenever Earl, Tyler, Frank, Domo Genesis, and, of course, Frank Ocean release a single or album.
Hodgy’s album is filled with interpersonal lyricism, jazz beats, West-Coast spice, and consistent flow. Hodgy’s delivery over diverse instrumentation is what makes it enjoyable, despite not knowing the “purpose” behind the record, which doesn’t bother me. It is fair to say that Hodgy exercised his talents being one of the most undermined members of OF, compared to Tyler or Frank. The rapper raps family, racism, the competitive mindset within the hip-hop community in “Barbell.” The sound of the album switches lanes in between being moderate and full-speed. Track six, “Final Hour,” with rap icon Busta Rhymes, is a rapid-flow filled song with a soul-like chorus. Another notable track on the album is “Tape Beat” featuring Lil Wayne. The beat is minimalistic with dynamic layers that pair with both rappers. Wayne, of course, gives his signature punchline verses and Hodgy tags along with him.
This record overall was a fresh introduction to listening to a Hodgy project fully. I will probably feature a track or two either on my show, World’s Strongest Boy, or play it for a friend looking for new hip-hop in the coming months.
CDW – Charlotte Day Wilson
You know good music when you hear it because it feels right. There is a silent moment that occurs when listening to a great album that makes you believe that this album was made for you. There is a connection.
The Toronto-based singer and producer Charlotte Day Wilson released her eponymous debut EP CDW earlier this year, to which I am grateful. The mood of this album was very “2016.” By that I mean, this album is somber, but it moves. It keeps going. It is emotional in every sense, and unapologetically so.
Wilson’s low, soothing voice dances over soundscapes and smooth beats in a way that is hypnotizing. The smooth jazz influences in this R&B EP are impossible to miss; warmth emanates from her tracks in the form of sweet, delicate drum beats, purposeful keys, and soulful saxophone riffs. The sound of this album is brilliant, simply put.
The most notable of the tracks on the album is “Work.” It is catchy, of course, making it Wilson’s top-charted song. She uses this track to show off her smooth voice, as well as her ability to harmonize. I had the pleasure of seeing Wilson perform live this year, and this song definitely grabbed me.
The most masterful and emotional song on the album is, however, “Where Do You Go.” It is a dreamy, romantic tune, which is odd considering the lyrics tell the story of a girl who “can’t stay.” Wilson laments several times, “I thought you had my back, but you’re not coming.” Without listening to the lyrics, however, you would think that it was a sensual love song. Although, in a way, it is.
When thinking about the best music that has come out of 2016, this EP shines in my mind. I look forward to hearing more from the talented and ever-sultry Charlotte Day Wilson.
Skeleton Tree – Nick Cave
My pick for 2016 would have to be Nick Cave’s comeback album Skeleton Tree. You can hear the lament in his voice for the loss of his 15-year-old son Arthur who tragically died from falling off of a cliff near his home in Brighton, England. This record was very different than the rest of Cave’s albums, but still had the drama he brings into his music. Listening to this album is to listen to art. The music is intimate with Cave sitting at the piano, singing to you directly, and his band playing the drums quietly and violins in accompaniment. The songs let your mind decide what it sees and breaks you down to understand what Cave is going through. Cave is struggling with the reality of his loss and you feel as if though you are walking around in his mind, your heart aching with his. It is an album you listen to if you want to escape and allow your mind to wander as Cave walks you through vignettes of sorrow.
The final track ends with some hope, Cave repeating to you “It’s alright now” on the track “Skeleton Tree”. There is something desolate about this entire album and the great unknowns of this physical world. Cave’s voice is numb and haunting, letting you hear his pain and live through his tragedy. This album is all about morality: the physical and the spiritual. Cave’s grief presents itself to you and speaks to your soul, uncovering feelings you may have kept dormant. It is okay to cry listening to this album, Nick Cave will be there with you.
The Sun’s Tirade – Isaiah Rashad
During the two years after his first release, Isaiah Rashad battled with drug and alcohol addiction which almost resulted in him being dropped from his label. Thankfully, Isaiah was able to find himself thanks to his support group, and release his debut studio album, The Suns Tirade. In an interview with the popular New York radio station, Hot 97, just prior to its release, Isaiah described the two years between his first release, Cilvia Demo, as basically one long rant, hence the word “Tirade” being in the title. In the same interview, he further goes into detail saying that being in Los Angeles, where it’s really hot, and discovering all Los Angeles has to offer, affected him. Los Angeles – hot, the sun is hot; Tirade – A long angry speech or rant = The Suns Tirade.
One of the standout lines from Isaiah Rashad’s Cilvia Demo project is, “Now, I’m praying that I make it to 25/They be calling doctors for my health/And ‘no’ is kinda hard to say to drugs/’Cause I been having problems with myself.” Two years later, after battling some inner demons, Isaiah releases his second project, The Suns Tirade, a brutally honest and open album.
The artist does an amazing job of portraying the vibe of this album. Isaiah floating above a moving car basically gives you a summary of what you are about to listen to. Throughout the album we see a man floating through life, finding himself, through the ups and downs. Isaiah Rashad raps for those that do not know how to put their anxieties into words. His emotions spill out with every single syllable that he raps. The Suns Tirade sounds like the diary of a 25-year-old put next to smooth, southern beats. The ups and downs of Isaiah’s life are perfectly articulated on every track. He is still growing as a person, and he is not afraid to show that. Using his amazing vocal range, Isaiah can go from a sort of singing voice to an aggressive flow in tracks like “Park,” to show how he could be feeling at a certain time. Maybe he is feeling down on himself, or maybe he’s ready to stunt on those that doubted him, “Trust me I feel like the man, trust me I feel like the Wop, rock,” he aggressively raps. We then see another side of Isaiah. On tracks like “Stuck in the Mud,” he raps, “Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I sleep for a while? Can I work on myself?” Isaiah is admitting his flaws. He is not going to leave anything unsaid in any of his songs. On the same track, he later raps, “Pop a xanny, make your problems go away.” Like many people, Isaiah has vices that he is continuing to battle with and is not afraid of the judgment of others, even though these vices are what almost got him dropped from his label. On “Dressed like Rappers” he raps, “I can admit, I been depressed, I hit a wall, ouch,” giving an insight into his life and admitting his flaws, Isaiah is attempting to move forward.
There is no doubt about it, 2016 was a great year for music. Across all genres, music has been able to inspire us and create love in our hearts. It is true, music cannot change the political climate or even the actual global climate, but as we try to change ourselves, our country, and our world, we can rock out while doing it.
From all of us at Topper Radio, die forever, 2016.
Rest In Peace to the greats we lost this year: George Michael, Prince, and David Bowie.