Basement Dwelling: The Top 25 Albums of 2016 (Part 2)

Here we are, folks — the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The creme de la creme; the best of the best. Through streaming services, compact discs, vinyl records, and cassettes (lol), I listened to a countless number of albums this year.

Below you will find my top ten favorites. The ten LPs that made my music nerd heart flutter, made me reevaluate my life, made me do a dance, made me cry, or simply made me say, “Damn, that was really good.” The ten records you should have been listening to instead of complaining about how “music isn’t good anymore” or downloading Tidal (c’mon, you knew [insert “Tidal exclusive” album] was going to be available elsewhere eventually).

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the first part of this list, which ranked my favorite albums of 2016 from #25 to #11.

These are my top 10 records of 2016:

#10 Album:  A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service

When I heard there was another Tribe LP slated for release, I was more than a bit skeptical — I thought it was going to be an outright disaster. You may be wondering, “Why is that?” Well, because I was afraid that a new LP from one of my favorite rap acts of all time (their first in almost 20 years) would cheapen their legendary body of work. As a music fan, moments like this make me squirm in my chair, reminiscing about that regrettable, half-assed cash grab record that never needed to exist. Thankfully, We got it from Here doesn’t fall in that category in the slightest. It’s the most vital and conscious hip-hop record that this year was desperately asking for — and one that will continue to be relevant for years to come. We go it from Here sees all of the original members of Tribe killing it for one last time, providing an array of incredible protest rap.

R.I.P. Phife Dawg
R.I.P. A Tribe Called Quest
Thank you 4 your service.

#9 Album: Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

Rap’s emo, Molly-popping mad genius is back at it again, this time with one of his most divisive and stunning works yet, Atrocity Exhibition. Going more in favor of introspective, experiential rap instead of delivering the old school hip-hop bangers he’s known for (but let’s face it, that side of Danny Brown is ever-present on this record too), Atrocity Exibition lives up to its name. It provides a disturbing, mangled look at the upsides to making it in the music industry as well as the human psyche. This is the way, step inside…

#8 Album: Angel Olsen – My Woman

On the follow-up to 2013’s impeccable Burn Your Fire For No WitnessMy Woman sees Angel Olsen becoming an even more gifted songwriter as she delivers a record of ten earnest, absolutley affecting indie folk songs that stand leagues above her peers. “Never Be Mine” and “Intern” burn with longing and captivating songwriting that are beautiful as they are endlessly listenable. “Shut Up Kiss Me” and “Not Gonna Kill You” stand as parallels to these, being some of the most confident and absolute best rock songs of 2016. Angel Olsen is her own woman, and this record shows she’s everyone else’s as well.

#7 Album: Anderson Paak – Malibu

“Who’s Anderson Paak?” That’s the response I would often get when I would mention this record to most people. The best answer to their question, is to literally just put on the record and allow it to speak for itself. If Frank Ocean is R&B’s modern-day Marvin Gaye, then Anderson Paak is its Stevie Wonder. Malibu is an astoundingly beautiful record that’s as enduring and joyful as it is emotional and heartbreaking. It’s a record of heart-on-the-sleeve, experimental R&B that is every bit compelling as an album as it is biographical piece that examines how hard the tribulations of life can be when you’re trying to make a name for yourself doing what you love as a musician and performer by spreading a message of nothing but love and funky as hell tracks.

Who’s Anderson Paak? You should damn well know by now.

#6 Album: Parquet Courts – Human Performance

Parquet Courts have done a lot in the four short years since they’ve emerged onto the scene in 2013 with their breakthrough debut LP Light Up Gold. They’ve put out five releases since that album, have traveled a wide range of musical paths tracing through underground rock history, signed to Rough Trade, and have grown a base of die-hard fans (yours truly included). But what have they yet to do since then? Make a record that feels 100% them and to grow into their own as a band (something I already thought they did), but Human Performance is the documentation that they officially have. Where this leads from here is far too exciting, but for now, what’s been presented here is ridiculously great.

#5 Album: Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Radiohead are known for putting out records that can be drab and a bit of a downer. I would make the argument that this is maybe the saddest record that Radiohead has put out to date. Why is that? Radiohead has written about the pre-milenial tension of technology and wrote songs that were shockingly in tune to what the state of the world was like before 9/11 even happened. Radiohead is a band that wrote songs about our civic duty as people to try to keep our world a sustainable place to live. But what makes A Moon Shaped Pool so poignant, more so than ever before, is because it’s about the loss of love.

A Moon Shaped Pool is a tried and true breakup record. Moving from political to private in subject matter, Pool lays bare everything in front of you, covered in wounds and looking for comfort — but it gives back to you instead. Like a good friend that you haven’t seen in a while but you never miss a beat with when catching up. In a literal sense, this is kind of true. After the release of what many believed to be an underwhelming LP, 2011’s The King Of Limbs, Radiohead has comeback with a record that nearly sounds like a sequel to their 2007 masterpiece In Rainbows. This album is saturated with beautiful and compelling moments up and down. Starting with the cascading Strings of “Burn The Witch” to the krautrock drone of “Ful Stop,” this is prime Radiohead. A Radiohead that’s giving a middle finger to anyone who doubted they had another perfect record left in them. This album is substantial proof.

#4 Album: David Bowie – Blackstar

Can any more really be said about the matter? It’s been practically a year since the death of icon David Bowie, and every time I think about it, it still feels like there’s a void somewhere. Being broken over the death of a person you didn’t actually know but who made your life a little bit better through their work is a complicated feeling, but nevertheless sad. The death of David Bowie was 2016’s red herring. The universe took away a shining light of creative force and a lot of life got sucked into the void that was left behind. But through that, this record remained. Blackstar is a symbol that despite the most dire of circumstances and horrible situations life can serve you, you never give any of it up, because there’s still a lot of beauty to be found in tragedy. There’s still inspiration to make you value life, art, whatever makes you feel alive more than ever, even in the face of death. That was David Bowie’s parting gift, how you use it is up to you.

All I can say is, thank you.

#3 Album: Frank Ocean – Blonde

Hype! So much hype! But my God, was it paid off in spades. It’s been five years since Channel Orange dropped, and we’ve been waiting with strong anticipation as to what Frank Ocean’s follow-up would sound like. Unsurprisingly, it sounds like nothing else on earth. Channel Orange was one of those “everything including the kitchen sink” kind of albums that displayed a new artist giving the best of what he had, making for one of the absolute best records of the 2010s. Opposite that, Blonde is the sound of the same artist stripping back everything and exposing themselves in the most beautiful way possible. Blonde is very much a subdued affair — its instrumentation is simple, its production light and airy, and its hooks and structure are massive. The entire record feels as though it flows under a stoned stream of consciousness throughout its duration. Even though it may not hit you on first listen, it’s not intended to. The album’s catchiness settles in like an infection and makes you want to tend to it more and more. The perfect return record from someone who is already building a perfect body of work.

It’s so good to have you back, Frank.

#2 Album: Death Grips – Bottomless Pit

I don’t know if I can recall having such varied discussions with people about a band than those I have regarding Death Grips. There’s more or less three different ways people see this band:

  1. They have utter disdain for the group and think that what they do is nothing but noise and an over-the-top use of obscenities.
  2. They view them as almost a near-joke act or meme due to the assworld that is the internet and those who inhabit it.
  3. Then there’s those who view Death Grips as one of the defining acts of the decade — an act that is every bit as volatile to music as punk rock was in the late 70s/early 80’s — who find almost everything they do to be a groundbreaking and genius work of art.

I fall into the third camp, and if I was pressed to explain why I feel this way, then my answer would be their 2016 LP, Bottomless Pit. This record is an absolutely visceral, crazy, and expansive record that shows Death Grips at their most flexible while displaying their widest range of sounds. Ever wonder what it would sound like if Death Grips did a straight up punk track? The title track is for you. Ever wonder what it would sound like if NWA made a track under the influence of strong psychedelics? Then check out “Three Bedrooms in a Good Neighborhood.” Bottomless Pit is everything I love about Death Grips rolled into one album: blisteringly intense, frenetic rap music with a message that calls out all of the ugliness and evil of western civilization in its lyrics. It’s a hungry record with so much to prove from a band that has already proven quite a lot.

#1 Album: Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

  • Being 21
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Regret
  • Self reflection
  • Feeling unimportant
  • Constant dissatisfaction
  • Going to bars for the first time
  • Feeling out-of-place everywhere
  • Making mistakes
  • Bad relationships
  • Not letting go
  • Drinking
  • Using substances to cope with stress
  • Really good indie rock

The preceding list describes a large portion of my life over the last 365 days, as well as the themes of Car Seat Headrest’s Teens Of Denial. I have gravitated towards this record since the day it came out, and yes, I was lucky enough to receive a recalled version of the vinyl edition in the mail the day it came out (another reason why i look at this record so fondly). This album hits such a sweet spot of expertly crafted indie rock that plays off like a mixtape of all of the best parts of underground/indie rock of the last 30+ years. Right from the get-go with “Fill in The Blank,” if you’re not immediately hooked by that opening guitar riff, then, well, I guess there’s just no hope for you. I’m sorry. It strikes the perfect balance of being insanely catchy (“Destroyed By Hippie Powers”). reflective and dark (“Vincent”), and a bit of both in-between (“Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”). With so many highlights and great moments to revisit, it makes replaying this album a necessity.

Going back to a point I made above, another thing that draws me to this album is the fact that it feels like a time capsule. Not just in the influences it draws from, but because no matter what, I will look at this record as a reflection of myself circa 2016. It’s young, it’s naive, it’s genuine, it’s inexperienced — and that’s kind of all part of the appeal. It captures many moments and feelings that I’ll look back on fondly forever. Good with the bad, every experience through growing older has led me to a place that feels very good right now. I hope that stays the same, and this record has been there, being the perfect encapsulation of how I feel at the right time through it all. And I know it’s not going anywhere soon, because I’m gonna play it again and again and again.

— Dan Fiorio, Music Blogger

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