#30: Warpaint – Heads Up
Not often do I fall in love with electronic pop, but these ladies in Warpaint got me all turned around. From the start, the beats make you move and the lyrics keep you listening. The songs last just as long as they should, and each leads effortlessly into the next. Warpaint never leaves you hanging or yearning for more, and listening to Heads Up feels like floating down the musical river on a big, spacious raft. There are no issues. You are not cold. It is wonderful.
The vibe of this album is so good and solid, it almost feels like it was recorded live; I dance to it in my living room the same way I did when I saw Warpaint play at The Echo this last summer. This is the band’s third album, and it’s quite obvious they’ve gotten used to collaborating with one another because they’ve crafted a melting pot of beautiful, colorful tunes. It’s more “bright” than Warpaint’s other albums, which shows maturity and progress! You go, girls. – Anthony Marks
Listen: “New Song”
#29: Cass McCombs – Mangy Love
Cass McCombs, the prolific and poetic singer-songwriter from Northern California, approaches folk music in a completely dynamic way, continuing to surprise listeners seven albums into his career. On Mangy Love, he explores and implements songwriting techniques we’ve seen on his other endeavors, including bluesy ballads, jazz solos, psychedelic arrangements, and wry, sardonic lyrics. But this time around, he does it in such a delicate manner that the disparate elements weave together in a way that normally shouldn’t make sense but, in this case, works seamlessly.
Tracks like “Rancid Girl” and “Run Sister Run” are raw and blunt in their lyrics and sound a little darker and heavier than you would expect from the singer-songwriter, but “Opposite House,” which features another artist on this list, Angel Olsen, and “Medusa’s Outhouse” showcase his vocal abilities and delicate, introspective folksy side. It’s a dynamic album that will hit you slowly, but it guarantees to offer something new upon each listen. As fellow blogger David Fisch so eloquently stated upon seeing McCombs live, he is an artist that “bellows his fractured musings about life with grace…” – Jillian Goldfluss
Listen: “Opposite House”
#28: M83 – Junk
Anthony Gonzalez and M83 returned in 2016 with Junk, an album that has so much going on that I didn’t know quite what to do with it at first. But don’t let the title fool you. This LP overflows with disparate examples of colorful electro pop that are anything but throwaway music. Some tracks reach back to evoke 1970s TV themes or soundtracks (“Tension”), while others sound like they come from a yet-to-be-discovered palette of the future (“Go!” and “Laser Gun”).
Gonzalez’s sound has come a long way since 2005’s Lower Your Eyelids to Die With The Sun. Though you may now find him at the top of festival billings or scoring Hollywood blockbusters, Junk sits at the celestial crossroads of his more cerebral early work and his breakout LPs, 2008’s Saturdays = Youth and 2011’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. – Kyle Smith
Listen: “Bibi The Dog (feat. Mai Lan)”
#27: Nicolas Jaar – Sirens
I texted Mr. David Fisch one day and said, “Dude! I need good music to listen to at work! Help! I’m stuck!” And he quickly wrote back saying I should listen to this album. From the minute the sound crashes in (literally), I felt transported. The serenity is palpable, and yet it is as cool and mysterious as it is peaceful and intriguing.
Listening to the way that Nicholas Jaar plays with layers and found sounds to create this sonic world is like taking a master class in experimental music. If you really listen to Sirens, though, you’ll hear a jazz album pushed through the colander of techno and electronica, then topped with a dash of classical for good measure. It is textured, thoughtful, and overwhelmingly beautiful, allowing the mind to drift and unwind but remain grounded. – Melissa Karlin
Listen: “Killing Time”
#26: Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book was one of the most highly anticipated rap albums of the year, and it did not disappoint. Featuring the likes of Kanye West, Kirk Franklin, Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, Fortune, T-Pain, and the Chicago Children’s Choir among others, the album pulls heavily from the gospel tradition. From “Blessings 2” to “How Great,” the music is personal, often speaking to a higher power and delving into Christian ideology. That being said, the album is incredibly relatable, regardless of religious affiliation (or lack thereof).
A born and raised Chicagoan, Chance addresses the difficult realities that plague many of the Windy City’s inner-city dwellers. He tackles the corrupt political nature of Chicago in a reflective and wise way. He is able to provide commentary while exploring and contextualizing the deep roots of hip hop, rap, and gospel. Backed by a choir on what is my favorite track, “Finish Line / Drown,” this lyric delivers the crux of the album: “Take me to your mountain / someday Chicago will be free.”
It’s a revolutionary, independently released album that leaves me eager to see what 2017 brings for Chance the Rapper. – Zein Khleif
#25: Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
I would call Danny Brown the “sleeping giant” of the current hip-hop landscape except for the fact that he hasn’t slept a wink. He’s just a lethal weapon of a minstrel, an emcee who, for three straight albums now, has proficiently spoken into a megaphone about the internalized emotional tug-and-pull of experimental artistry, something I think goes mostly unnoticed due to Brown’s persona.
That persona, though, is what drives his music and his compositions, and no showcase of the Danny Brown experience has been as boiling hot as Atrocity Exhibition. It’s an all-time high for Brown, who crafts a cinematic and refreshing rollercoaster journey from the bottom to the top and back to the bottom again. His production has never been better, with 15 tracks that tie together mostly because they’re all so intricately detailed — there’s always something going on, inside and out. The middle set of “Ain’t It Funny” through to “Dance In The Water” is easily one of the most thrilling pieces of music I’ve heard all year, and it’s a testament as to why Brown deserves the crown now more than ever. – David Fisch
Listen: “When It Rains”
#24: Glass Animals – How to Be a Human Being
There’s a lot to love about the sophomore release from British four piece Glass Animals. Its instrumental richness and stylistic shifts alone are worthy of a critical nod, but perhaps the thing that stands out the most about How to Be a A Human Being is its superb storytelling.
Lyrically, it graduates from the whimsical nonsense that was featured heavily in the band’s debut, Zaba (don’t worry, though — you still get occasional glimmers of it with tracks like “Pork Soda”), opting instead for character-driven poetry. No track does this better than album opener and lead single “Life Itself,” which tells the story of a geeky, sci-fi loving social outcast amidst the backdrop of sumptuous drums and a toe-tappingly irresistible chorus. – Lesley Park
Listen: “Life Itself”
#23: Weezer – The White Album
After several years of questionable musical choices and regrettable album artwork, Weezer proved that they were back and meant business with their 2014 album Everything Will Be Alright in the End. Following in the footsteps of that forward movement, their latest self-titled record (AKA The White Album) is another entry in their discography that falls under the “classic Weezer sound” category that casual fans and die-hards alike have pined for since the band first made noise in 1994.
It’s an undeniably California record with a summery vibe that highlights just how great it is to feel like you’re in love [“(Girl We Got A) Good Thing” and “King of the World”] while also acknowledging just how much love can really ruin a day at the beach (“Jacked Up” and “Endless Bummer”). Frontman Rivers Cuomo is a master of the melody, and he doesn’t disappoint here, with songs that are bolstered by thick, distorted electric guitar, triumphant solos, and quirky background vocals that resonate with the social misfit inside all of us. – Sean Kramer
Listen: “L.A. Girlz”
#22: Chairlift – Moth
It’s been almost a full year since Chairlift released Moth. Given that today’s digital world provides limitless access to infinite options, this embarrassment of riches breeds fickle and fleeting fans. So taking a trip around the sun provides more than ample opportunity to see if new music stands the test of time. Here we are in December, and I’m still discovering textures on the masterfully self-produced indie, neo-soul, dance melting pot LP from Patrick Wimberly and Caroline Polachek.
Not only is Moth the real deal, Chairlift’s live performance is equally dynamic. From an album release show at Teragram Ballroom in January to El Rey in March to Pasadena in October at the Taste of South Lake, Chairlift has proven more than capable of nimbly reproducing this studio gem in a live setting. When you slip in Danny Meyer’s sax work, in comes a new dimension.
Memorable Moth moments include vocal high-wire act and slingshot track “Ch-Ching,” the soaring “Unfinished Business,” and the sublime, gently glitchy, and meditative instrumental outro on “No Such Thing as Illusion.” Check out “Show U Off” and wait for that falsetto climax from the divine Ms. Polachek. – Kyle Smith
Listen: “Show U Off”
#21: Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Saying that Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide To Earth came out of left field is an understatement. It came from the past, present, and future.
The album opens with “Welcome To Earth (Pollywog),” a tender, dreamy dedication to Simpson’s son in the feel of a classic ’60s country ballad, only to stop on a dime and turn into a Motown rock ‘n’ roll bounce. It’s the perfect way to start an album that no one expected to hear. Furthering the idea of doing the unexpected comes the cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom.” Really, no one should ever cover Nirvana. It’s sacred. It’s just fine the way it is. But this is a great tribute that stands alone.
Simpson’s first two records play around with the country genre in a way that both confuses and endears openminded fans of modern or country music. That same core sound is still there on A Sailor’s Guide…, but then the horn section and organ come in. The whole album plays with conventional ideas and blurs lines to perfection. – Gerry Doot
Listen: “In Bloom”