For many, 2016's sole light was music. As is always the case in times of cultural unrest, musical artists responded to widespread feelings of alienation, anger, and fear by producing vital, overflowing works in which a listener can find comfort, escape or understanding. However, as a result of this mass of musical output and creativity, countless albums have been overlooked and under-appreciated in favor of the dozen albums which seemingly represent The Year in Music for critics, DJs, and many listeners. These records (Beyonce's Lemonade, Bowie's Blackstar, Chance the Rapper's Coloring Book, to name a few) need to be carried into 2017. This article offers ten additional albums to bring with us into 2017, for their distinct abilities to throw hooks, chaos, and energy into the 2016 maelstrom, and with which we can continue to process, escape, and understand.Rihanna - ANTI (Westbury Road/ Roc Nation)
In a year when Beyonce and Frank Ocean were showered in critical praise, Rihanna's sneakily brilliant ANTI flew comparatively under the radar, despite marking a strong artistic transition for a major pop star. Four years in the making, ANTI shows Rihanna at her most woozy and icy, tossing off one-liners and virtuosic vocal performances with an intense, slightly glazed-over stare. The record is also quite musically diverse, mixing Rihanna's trademark dancehall-tinged bangers ("Work," "Consideration") with off kilter electro-R&B cuts ("Woo," "Love on the Brain") and a Tame Impala cover no-one knew to ask for ("Same 'Ol Mistakes"). Call it the best musical rejuvenation of 2016.
Katie Gately - Color (Tri Angle)
Katie Gately makes pop music played through a blown out speaker. On her Tri Angle (and full-length album) debut, Color, Gately channels the spirit of Arthur Russell and Meredith Monk, translating her past experiments with sound collage onto more traditional pop song structures. Since releasing the brilliant 2013 tape "Pipes," Gately has evolved and stretched as a composer and vocalist on a number of stand-alone tracks and EPs. Though Color is the most explicitly poppy composition Gately has released to date, it maintains her previous work's unpredictability and sense of wonder. On the gorgeous, slightly menacing title track, the clarity of Gately's vocals grows distorted by the increasingly massive sound structure surrounding them, the steady waltz meter slowly drifting the album to its conclusion.
So Pitted - neo (Sub Pop)
So Pitted's neo is the joyously noisy, bratty debut LP from one of Seattle's finest purveyors of noisy, bratty, minimalist punk. Building off a number of increasingly unhinged EPs, neo is a lurching, fluid testament to the vitality of local punk, losing none of their deadbeat spirit in the transition to Sub Pop Records. On album highlights like "feed me" and "rot in hell," So Pitted channel PNW punk greats Blackouts and Dead Moon as if overheard on a dollar store boombox at a skatepark.
Ian Sweet - Shapeshifter (Hardly Art)
Ian Sweet's knotty, angular Shapeshifter LP was one of the most invigorating albums of 2016, every tempo change and guitar workout complimenting Jilian Medford's excellent songwriting and melodic chops. The LA-based trio has been around since 2013, but Shapeshifter marks their debut full-length. Though ostensibly a power pop/ punk record, Medford's vocals and guitar work add an undercurrent of disorientation and paranoia to the record, which adds to its off-kilter, occasionally euphoric sensibility.
Helado Negro - Private Energy (Asthmatic Kitty)
Helado Negro's gentle, warm Private Energy LP is a powerful statement on identity, language, and connection. Roberto Carlos Lange, the voice and perspective behind Helado Negro, has long succeeded at creating textural, rippling electronica, joined by Lange's expressive croon. Private Energy builds upon the success of his past recordings, Lange's textures matching the spirit of his lyrics about human connection ("I feel invincible without your wisdom/But I feel invisible without your wit") or his ode to his skin color ("I love you...You're stuck on me"). These directly radical approaches to viewing the self and romantic connection congeal with glowing rhythms and sounds to create a moving document on everyday life and love.
Abra - Princess EP (True Panther)
Released on the heels of her debut record Rose, Abra's Princess EP is a 22-minute snapshot of her immense talent and potential as a singer and producer. Explicitly channeling 80s pop and house music, such as Janet Jackson or Sa-Fire, Abra builds upon the tradition of soulful club bangers, mixing in elements of outsider pop or electronica (Glasser, Tamaryn). Unwilling to be pigeon-holed as an R&B artist, the self-proclaimed "darkwave duchess" creates between genre designations, which results in a unique, evolving musical and visual style.
Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones)
Jenny Hval's masterful Blood Bitch LP is a concept record about menstruation and vampires, inspired by 70s giallo horror films. It is at once intimate and expansive in scope, Hval's voice constantly morphing from whisper to shriek as she explores blood as identity and connection. Hval's music is built on constantly shifting perspectives, voices, and forms of performance-- she uses Blood Bitch as a means to give encouragement, singing gently, "Don't be afraid, it's only blood."
D.R.A.M. - Big Baby D.R.A.M. (Atlantic/ Empire)
By most standards, D.R.A.M. had a breakout 2016. Hitting No. 5 on the Billboard Charts with the infectious, buoyant "Broccoli" (feat. Lil Yachty), the 28-year-old rapper/singer released his debut record, Big Baby D.R.A.M., towards the end of October. However, missing from the critical discourse around D.R.A.M. is an acknowledgment or appreciation of his talent. More than just a novelty songwriter, Big Baby D.R.A.M. showcases D.R.A.M's classic R&B croon and knack for classic, often piano-driven hooks. The album format also allows D.R.A.M room to experiment and stretch beyond the constraints of stand-alone singles. The result is a joyous, associative testament to D.R.A.M.'s talent.
Robert Glasper/ Miles Davis - Everything's Beautiful (Sony Legacy)
Despite consisting of repurposed Miles Davis samples, Robert Glasper's Everything's Beautiful does not immediately announce its importance. Glasper zones in on the subtle grooves in Davis's archives, crafting smooth, intimate R&B and funk with help from collaborators like Bilal ("Ghetto Walkin' "), KING ("Song for Selim") and Phonte ("Violets"). The set showcases Glasper's strengths as a pianist, collaborator, and curator, acting as a spiritual follow-up to his great 2012 album Black Radio. The album's highlight, the gorgeous "Maiysha (So Long)," featuring Erykah Badu, showcases Badu's spaced-out lyrics cut against keyboard work from Glasper, creating a relaxed, open soundscape.
Dyke Drama - Up Against the Bricks (Salinas)
Immediately preceding the breakup of her utterly kickass (and increasingly famous) band G.L.O.S.S., front woman/vocalist Sadie Switchblade released a full-length record under the Dyke Drama moniker, proving the energy and vitality of G.L.O.S.S. would be continued in the members' new projects. Touching on Replacements-esque power punk, country music, and the hardcore rush of G.L.O.S.S., Dyke Drama's Up Against the Bricks is among the year's most infectious punk-y shrugs. On tracks like "You Can't Count on Me," "Say When," and a cover of Lucinda Williams's "I Just Wanted to See You So Bad," Sadie carves out a small beam of light to carry forward. She will keep shouting into the abyss, to her eternal credit.
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For the past few weeks, we’ve been sharing with you KEXP DJs’ Top 10 Albums of 2016 lists in anticipation of KEXP Listener's Top 90.3 Albums of 2016, which we will reveal, and countdown on air, this Friday starting at 6AM.