Last week I published the first part of the list of my ten favourite albums from this year, and as I’m sure that you’ve all been unable to go about your lives with the sense of anticipation for part two weighing on you, I’m pleased to announce that you’ll find the remainder of the list below the cut. As I said in the last post, there was a whole lot of great music this year, but I think I’ve just about settled on a top five.
5. Solange – A Seat At The Table
One of the most popular Last.fm tags for this album is ‘love at first listen’, and there really is no better way of describing it. Big sister Beyonce might have stolen much of the limelight when she dropped Lemonade earlier this year, but the low-key nature of this album’s release belies the fact that it’s easily the more interesting project of the two. Its instrumental pastiche of funk, soul, and R&B influences is certainly easy on the ears, but it’s the sublime vocals that shine here: Solange’s honest storytelling touches heavily on mental health, interspersed with cogent race commentary to create a truly powerful ode to black womanhood.
3 picks: Cranes In The Sky, Mad, Don’t Touch My Hair
4. ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face LP
When discussing Isaiah Rashad’s album in last week’s entry I drew attention to the stellar quality of TDE’s recent output, and nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than Quincy Hanley’s latest. Building on the success of 2014’s Oxymoron, Q delivers a 72 minute breakdown of his rise from drug dealing origins to sold-out concerts, segueing effortlessly between gangster braggadocio and insightful commentary on life in the hood. A runtime like this would normally have me balking but to be honest it’s only the Tyler-produced Big Body that misses the mark, with album closer Tookie Knows II perhaps the best track on the entire project.
3 picks: Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane, JoHn Muir, Tookie Knows II
3. Frank Ocean – Blonde
When Frank Ocean broke four years of silence with Endless this summer, my reaction (one I imagine was shared with many peers) was largely one of confusion. I mean, on the one hand, it was new work from Frank Ocean. Conceptually speaking, the video was certainly interesting enough and the music that soundtracked it was by no means terrible. It was just… Was that it? Four years of waiting for a new album and this is what we got? The answer, as it turned out, was no. Like a bolt from the blue, the fabled Boys Don’t Cry (renamed to Blonde) arrived a day later to rapturous acclaim.
There was never any danger of this being terrible, but it still surpassed some seriously lofty expectations. Sonically beautiful from beginning to end, some more low-key instrumentals allow Frank’s delicate vocals to truly shine. The features are strong (shoutout to Andre 3000 on Solo (Reprise)) and even the skits are good. It’s generally just a really fucking great album.
3 picks: Ivy, Solo, White Ferrari
2.Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Brandon Anderson had actually released three EPs and three albums before Malibu dropped in January, but after a Dr Dre cosign at the back end of 2015 it was this effort that really made people pay attention and set the stage for the meteoric rise that he’s had this year. Paak’s musical energy manifests as an infectiously catchy blend of contemporary R&B and neo-soul, with just the right amount of hip hop and subject matter variation to avoid feeling stale. The collab album he dropped with Knxwledge in October was good, but Malibu is a cut above. I’ve little else to say about this one other than telling you to listen ASAP if, for some reason, you haven’t already.
3 picks: Heart Don’t Stand A Chance, Am I Wrong, The Dreamer
1. Noname – Telefone
Firstly, for the pedants among you, I am aware that technically this is a mixtape and not an album. But you know what? When the music is this good, the technicalities cease to matter. Noname turned heads with some big features on a number of Chance The Rapper projects (from Acid Rap’s Lost right through to Coloring Book’s Finish Line / Drown earlier this year), and this was the year she finally blessed us with that long-awaited debut project. Telefone is an intensely honest collection of personal tracks that chart Fatimah Warner’s life from then through to now and beyond.
Bursting with features from some of the finest names in the Chicago scene (Eryn Allen Kane’s beautifully-sung hook on Reality Check is a personal highlight) and supported by some solid production work from many of the same, Noname’s flows are on point and her storytelling is excellent. My only gripe with this is that, at half an hour, it’s pretty short, but hey: it’s only a mixtape, and she apparently has another project dropping next year. If the new stuff is even half as good as this, she’s going to be one to watch for years to come.
3 picks: Diddy Bop, Reality Check, Shadow Man
Well, there it is. My five favourite albums of the year which, if you haven’t already, you should absolutely go and listen to. Narrowing a year as great as 2016 down to just 10 releases was tricky, and Run The Jewels didn’t make it any easier by releasing RTJ3 three weeks earlier than promised. Rest assured, if you’re wondering: I loved that too, but I couldn’t bump anyone else out. Thanks as always for reading, and I’ll be back with some thoughts on Planet Coaster in 2017!