Across the Margin winds down its rollout of the Best Albums of 2016 with albums 10-1…
As we stated to kick off this countdown of the Top 50 Albums of all time, 2016 was a son of a bitch, but the music released all year was absolutely astounding. So much so that a few albums near and dear to our heart didn’t make the cut. Albums like Andrew Bird’s Are You Serious?, Banks and Steelz Anything But Words, Bob Weir’s Blue Mountain, James Blake’s The Colour in Anything, Arc Iris’ Moon Saloon, Empire of the Sun’s Two Vines, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s Nonagon Infinity, Vince Staples’ Prima Donna EP, Woods’ City Sun Eater in the River of Light, Cass McCombs’ Mangy Love, Drive By Truckers’ American Band, Wild Nothing’s Life of Pause and Elza Soares’ The Woman at The End of the World. With all praise due to all these wonderful albums, the line must be drawn somewhere. But without any further adieu, Across the Margin presents the Top “Ten” Albums of 2016…
10. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
It’s been five years since Bon Iver has given us a new album, and in all that time our love affair with Justin Vernon’s extraordinarily touching For Emma, Forever Ago, hasn’t wavered. So when the indie-folk masters dropped 22, A Million on us back in September, we were expecting more of the same soaring falsetto and affecting, layered soundscapes that captivated us back in 2007. But 22, A Million is nothing like For Emma, Forever Ago. Bon Iver’s turned its back on all the beautiful alchemy, aching imagery, acoustic magic and alluring intimacy of their debut album and instead replaced it with a mysterious and experimental foray into the darkened depths of the heart. There’s auto-tuned voices, electronic wobbles, and lo-fi bass that threatens to implode from its own weight. There’s vocals forced through synths and samples so thoroughly that what comes out the other end is otherworldly, beautiful. There’s forced distortions and lurching bleed-throughs from parallel, invisible realms existing in each song that the combined effect is the uncanny feeling that each song is really two, if not three songs, stacked up upon each other. And what Bon Iver is doing is hopping between each one like moving through parallel universes, giving us glimpses of other possibilities, other realities, all while never truly diverging from the rigid confines of the song. 22, A Million is one of those special albums, one where you can see the divergent point clearly, the moment when an artist says “Fuck it, let’s go all out and make a mind-bender.” If it takes five years for Bon Iver to create music as epic as this, we’ll gladly wait another five more just to see what they have in mind next.
9. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
On “Dreamers,” the closing track to to Anderson .Paak’s brilliant album Malibu, the singer croons “I’m a product of the tube and the free lunch / Living room watching old reruns.” In this highly inspirational song, a shout out to “all the little dreamers, and the ones who never gave a fuck,” .Paak paints himself as relatable, a man of the people, which he very much is. But also, he is a burgeoning star who dropped one of this year’s most impressive albums. In the wake of his remarkable appearance on Dr. Dre’s Compton album (“Animals”!), where he quite literally stole the show, we were licking our chops in anticipation of the release of Malibu, and safe to say we weren’t disappointed. Malibu is .Paak’s second full length release, succeeding 2014’s Venice. Prior to that he released a pair of noteworthy EPs in 2015, a self-titled venture produced by the Blended Babies and a project called Link Up & Suede with Knxledge as NxWorries. But honestly, all off .Paak’s releases prior to Malibu pale in comparison. It’s an album which highlights his firm grasp on a plethora of genres, ricocheting from soul to funk to R&B and hip-hop with ease, with many of the tracks being an exemplary blending of each. Whether he is spitting straight fire on “Come Down,” a James Brown-esque funk fest, cooling it down with some thick R&B on “Am I Wrong,” or waxing poetic upon some 60s era soul on “The Bird,” Malibu is a beautiful journey, as uplifting as it is funky.
Essential Tracks: “Come Down,” “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance,” “Am I Wrong (Feat. Schoolboy Q),” and “The Dreamer (Feat. Talib Kweli & Timan Family Choir.)”
8. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
“Stay in the shadows / Cheer the gallows / This is a roundup / This is a low-flying panic attack,” Thom Yorke sings on “Burn the Witch,” the opening track to Radiohead’s latest album, A Moon Shaped Pool. The song is heavy with droning, repetitive modernist strings, arranged expertly by Johnny Greenwood, creating a driving, unsettling vibe that does an excellent job of setting the tone for the remainder of the album’s tracks. There’s flashes of earlier Radiohead songs in those lyrics – OK Computer’s “Lucky” comes to mind, where Yorke wails “Pull me out of the aircrash” or Hail To The Thief’s terse rocker “A Wolf at the Door” where Yorke sings “Drag him out your window / Dragging out the dead / Singing I miss you” – and “Burn the Witch” is a bright dash of the bands vintage sound. But what follows can be hardly described as “classic Radiohead.” The remainder of the songs, except for the album’s closing track “True Love Waits,” which first appeared on the 2001 live album I Might Be Wrong, are beautiful, dark, traumatic, questioning, and introspective songs flush with signs and hidden symbolism. It feels like Radiohead have spent their lives searching for truth through their music, and along the way calling out the intertwined and complex realities that plague our existence (propaganda, consumerism, subservience, violence and war). But on A Moon Shaped Pool, that quest for truth has been replaced by a simpler search, one into the intricacies of the soul, where the real truths lie. Radiohead’s ninth studio album is a departure for the British foursome, an immaculate masterpiece, meditative in its message yet unsettling in the organic truths that it endeavors to dredge up from our collective depths.
7. The Besnard Lakes – A Coliseum Complex Museum
The Besnard Lakes are a Canadian indie rock group from Montreal. We state this so plainly and matter of factly as we believe far too many people are not familiar with one of the greatest rock bands out there crushin’ it. Formed by the husband and wife team of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas in the early 00s, The Besnard Lakes brand of psych-rock is simultaneously mesmeric and biting. Their latest album, A Coliseum Complex Museum, may be their best work yet (although 2007’s The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse and 2010’s The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night are two unadulterated classics that age like a bordeaux from the Medoc Region of France). It’s an album that sounds as if it was produced by the wicked mind of Brian Wilson and it is an expansive journey, a bold foray into a sonic, theatrical soundscapes defined by ornate arrangements and dizzying crescendos. The crown jewel on the album, amongst crown jewels, is “Pressure of Our Plans,” a song that exhibits the band’s knack for remodeling an uplifting melodic groove into a vorticose whirlwind of frenzied psychedelia. “Pressures of Our Plans” is an essential Besnard Lakes’ track that is as mind-bending as it is soaring, and can aptly serve as an ideal starting point for newcomers to the band. We couldn’t recommend delving into this band more.
6. Frank Ocean – Blonde
“I’m not brave…” Frank Ocean belts on the epic “Siegfried,” but his smooth transitions from soulful wails to winding raps that act like a lyrical rollercoaster is anything but safe. Yet if his lyrical and vocal prowess was all he had to offer, Ocean would not stand tall above other alternative R&B artists. Instead, each track contains musical textures that build upon each other along with tempo shifts that turn soaring ballads into acoustic reveries into club ready beats. Over seventeen captivating tracks, which includes a bevy of all-star guests, including Andre 3000, Beyonce, Yung Lean, James Blake, Jamie XX, Yung Lean, Tyler the Creator, Kendrick Lamar, and Pharrell, Ocean provides soulful recollections on sex, fame, extroversion, adolescent and consumerism. Yet at no point does Ocean lose control over his powerful vision, creating an experience that is much like our modern world—almost too much to bear in its beauty and pain, made transcendent by the possibilities of the future.1
5. Jim James – Eternally Even
Jim James’ latest solo album arrived at an opportune time. Landing about a week before the world was forced to come to grips with the idea of a President Trump, Eternally Even provided a catharsis in time of much need. When we are yearning of a something bright, we have found that there is no more splendid of a light emitted from a human than what comes from James. Eternally Even is a throwback, one where you can literally hear the crackle of the needle across the record as the songs dance along (specifically on the hypnotic “The World’s Smiling Now”), but it’s also a look ahead, encapsulating throughout the album an echo emulating from the future. It’s a future where psychedelic rock reigns supreme, and the hope of a better tomorrow is realized, with Jim and his otherworldly voice providing both a grim wake up call and the reassuring confirmation that everything is going to be ok.
4. Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
To commemorate Childish Gambino’s instant classic, we would like to allow The Roots’ Questlove, who was absolutely floored by the album (as were we!), initial reaction do the talking:
“Dude I’m so fucked up right now. I can’t even form the proper hyperbolic sentence to explain to D’angleo why I woke him up at 4am to listen to this. I’m like – when is the last time someone sucker punched me on this level…..I mean I knew #AroundTheWorldInADay was coming & it was a left turn – I’m about to blow the wigs off music historians…..but I thought I was getting some fresh millennial 2016 hip-hop shit and I got sucker punched. The last sucker punch in black music I remember in which NO ONE had a clue what was coming was Sly’s #TheresARiotGoinOn – read my IG about it (the flag) – I’m writing in real time ‘cause – Jesus Christ the co-author of #WearwolfBarmitzvah just SONNED the shit outta me. In the best way possible. I was NOT expecting a trip to Detroit circa 1972 at United Sound Studios. I haven’t written or been stunned by an album I wasn’t expecting since that time I got an advance of #BackToBlack. The music is so lush man, I can see the kaleidoscope color mesh of the #Westbound logo. Dude I can’t curb my enthusiasm. All I know is if #P4k try to play him again with these ratings there WILL be a riot goin on.”
3. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
Chance the Rapper’s latest album, Colouring Book, is a soulful and thorough exhibition of one of the most talented young musicians in the world. Although this was – technically speaking – his first commercial release, Chance remains the greatest unsigned rapper in all of hip-hop. Coloring Book highlights what it is about Chance that brings us so much joy: his lyrical dexterity and rhythmic finesse, his utter exuberance towards life and for hip-hop, and the soulful soundscapes he crafts that act as the canvas he paints upon. It’s an album that celebrates triumphantly the Chicago culture that influences his art and his societal viewpoints. To us, the track “Mixtape,” brings home where Chance stands out from his peers. The track serves as a commemoration of his desire to forge his own path. Acting as an ode to the artform of mixtapes, “Mixtape” is Chance’s opportunity to shine his ethos and for his fans to celebrate his efforts to hook up the goods “straight out the faucet.” With dope verses by both Young Thug and Lil Yachty, “Mixtape” is just one of the many outstanding tracks on Coloring Book, but the one that makes clear why Chance is so special of an artist in the first place. And Coloring Book confirms, boldly and with zeal, that Chance is one of hip-hop’s most promising and inspiring young stars.
2. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Brace yourself for a bold and possibly controversial statement, but we believe that Car Seat Headrest’s album Teens of Denial will authentically be celebrated for generations to come as one of the greatest rock albums ever conceived. We say this without hyperbole and knowing that we are placing this album right there along with the untouchables, such as Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation, Wilco’s Yankee Foxtrot Hotel, Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted, Arcade Fire’s Funeral, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. To us, Teens of Denial is just that phenomenal. Frontman and songwriter Will Toledo is just twenty-three years old, but at such a young age he has found a way to channel his youthful unrest and anxieties into a rock opus that is gassed with flickers of his influences, bands like Nirvana, The Breeders, Pavement, and the Pixies. But while the album forces old heads like us to recall our most beloved indie rock bands of the 90s, Teens of Denial transcends the comparisons that have burdened its release, and exists as a novel and exciting piece of modern art. So many of the tracks on Teens of Denial commence as as a seed, that blossom into a fully formed and vibrant plant urgently. Exhibiting the crafty songwriting ability of a man twice or even three times, Will Toledo’s anthemic hooks make us want to holler at the top of our lungs with him in ways that make us feel fully alive. Teens of Denial is a sure bet that Car Seat Headrest has so much more to offer and a beautiful future ahead, but if for some reason Toledo’s creative output diminishes, he will always be able to hold his head high having crafted one of the best rock albums we’ve come across….period.
Essential Tracks: “Vincent,” “(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem),” and “Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales.”
1b. Various Artists – Day of the Dead
For the majority of us, 2016 hit like a drive by and nobody caught the plates. But this year, The Grateful Dead had a hard-earned and undeniably warranted moment in the sun. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Grateful Dead, the four original members — Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, and Bob Weir — reunited at Chicago’s Soldier Field in 2015 for a series of concerts known as “Fare Thee Well” marking the original members’ last-ever performance together2). In the wake of this legendary and successful series of shows, the Dead seemed to be back in the consciousness of music lovers, and this year Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National brought together a sweeping collection of artists to reinterpret and breathe new life into the music of the Grateful Dead. In what amounted to five hours of music (59 songs in all), a plethora of exceptional talented musicians congregated to give a hat tip to a band that helped redefine the sounds of Americana music. From Courtney Barnett to Wilco to Jim james, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Mumford and Sons, the Flaming Lips to Kurt Vile and beyond, so many of the most notable names in music today crafted a tribute album the likes we had never seen. One that felt novel in light of the fact that each band or artist’s signature sound was entirely on display, but all the while listeners were able to understand what makes the songs, and thus the Grateful Dead, so amazing in the first place.
The release of Day of the Dead was truly an emotional experience for us. Throughout the last decade we have been privy to too much negative talk and connotations about one of America’s best and most important bands. And the Day of the Dead felt like sort of a validation for the Grateful Dead, a retelling of all the legendary rockers accomplished in their prolonged and beautifully strange career, and an ode to their impressive contributions to American music.
1a. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it From Here…Thank You For Your Service
When the first album from A Tribe Called Quest in eighteen years, We Got it From Here…Thank You For Your Service, kicks off, it begins with a mission statement, “It’s time to go left and not right / Gotta get it together forever / Gotta get it together for brothers / Gotta get it together for sisters.” Immediately, it is clear that not only are Tribe back, and not fucking around, but that the album they had crafted was done so with purpose, and to provide a much needed perspective and positivity on current events. Although in many ways a new Tribe album was beyond overdue, We Got It From Here…Thank you for Your Service arrived right on time as there is no time in recent history where the healing power of poignant and positive hip-hop was needed so badly. For us here at Across the Margin, the most important song to be released all year is the first single off of We Got it From Here…Thank You For Your Service, “We The People,” a song that calls attention to the authentic dangers many Americans face on the daily and the importance of unity in the face of an oncoming storm. “We the People” is not the only socially conscious track on the album as “Whateva Will Be” and “Melatonin,” are rife with powerful messages. But don’t get it twisted, this isn’t simply about poignant lyrical content, but about the fact that Tribe came back sounding as smooth and funky as ever, with their patented sound wholly intact, that jazz-infused soulful hip-hop that only they are capable of.
We Got it From Here…Thank You For Your Service isn’t just abanger of a hip-hop album or an important album in the midst of a country disjoined, but it also serves as a coming out party of sorts for Jarobi (who knew he could spit like this!), a confirmation of the enormous talents of Q-Tip,(one of the best to ever do it), and a fitting tribute and farewell to the late, great Phife Dawg.
1. David Bowie – Blackstar
It seems like 2016 has been flush with musical farewells. From Phife Dawg and Leonard Cohen, to Prince and David Bowie, the loss of such incredible artists has left the world just a little bit dimmer. And in our chaotic and modern times, where new paradigms are falling into place while older, more deeply rooted one’s become deeper set, it’s the power of music, and the uplifting presence of the artists who create it, that possesses a sincere power to bring us all together. Back in January of 2016, when the path this contentious year has taken had yet to be journeyed upon, David Bowie released his twenty-fifth studio album, an album entitled Blackstar. But what no one except for those in Bowie’s closely guarded intimate circle knew, was that Blackstar was more than just another album from the glam-rock superstar. What Blackstar was was a final farewell, a swansong of a release coinciding with Bowie’s sixty-ninth birthday, and a parting gift to his adoring fans around the world. Sadly, the realization of the true depths to Blackstar, and the intended message behind its songs, would only become apparent when the cultural icon passed away after a secret battle with liver cancer two days later. The news of Bowie’s death hit us all hard here at Across the Margin, especially in the context of the fact that we were all so thoroughly enchanted by the album. The newness and wonder of the music mixed with the raw, unadulterated sadness of his death was a bittersweet pill to swallow. It was like trying to mix oil and water, and the two conflicting currents of emotions swirled around us for days as we tried to make sense of it all. But with time comes understanding, and as the weeks passed, and we began to appreciate Blackstar for what it really was, a touching goodbye, but also one of the most extreme, and staggeringly honest and touching albums Bowie has ever produced. We came to see that with Blackstar Bowie wasn’t just offering up a musical blueprint on how to move on from this realm, he was instead pulling a modern-day Lazarus, restoring a life taken away all too soon through the transformative power of his music, and in that way, we feel Blackstar deserves the distinction of Best Album of 2016. David Bowie may be gone, but his essence and his spirit live on dutifully in Blackstar, and in that way, the Thin White Duke has ensured that he will live forever.3