Useless Weirdo’s picks:
5. Next Thing – Frankie Cosmos
When it comes to album production, I’m usually a huge fan of an overabundance of musical elements. It allows me to re-listen to albums over and over again listening to a part of a song for the umpteenth from a different perspective and never get sick of it. Radiohead’s Kid A and Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible come to mind. But every so often there’s a bare bones act that can pull this off with limited flair and Frankie Cosmos did that for me. There’s something perfectly simple in the way Greta Kline is able to shape so many dreamlike 2 minute songs into a work that rarely feels repetitive that I was able to listen to end to end nearly three times in a row on a road trip down the coast. It’s a tight 30 minute album that leaves you thinking happy indie folk thoughts.
Recommended Tracks: “On The Lips”, “Fool”, and “Is It Possible/Sleep Song”
4. Blackstar – David Bowie
I grew up in a household that loved David Bowie and his output since his beginnings has been pretty solid. Hell, I’d be willing to defend Bowie’s Eighties work simply for it being the decade that gave us Let’s Dance and the Labyrinth soundtrack. He’s been one to predict where music was headed while still staying relevant the entire time. There’s a reason Live 105 was playing new Bowie tracks well into the Nineties. But listening to this album for the first time felt like a goodbye that I figured only meant no new Bowie or live shows. In a way, I guess that turned out correct in the worst way possible. Blackstar acts as a closing chapter and an epilogue on one of the greatest careers in music. The final track “I Can’t Give Everything Away” feels like the point where the credits are rolling at the end of the film on David Bowie’s live. He said all he wanted to say and now it was time for him to unfortunately say, “adieu” in the greatest way Bowie ever could.
Recommended Tracks: “I Can’t Give Everything Away”, “Lazarus”, “Blackstar”
3. Malibu – Anderson .Paak
In the film La La Land, there’s a point where Ryan Gosling is talking with John Legend about how jazz is dying, but John Legend says that the issue is that Ryan Gosling is refusing to acknowledge that jazz is all about evolution and living in the past. The best example of that evolution today has got to be Anderson .Paak’s latest, where he has continued this modern trend in hip hop to include live instrumentation and is now back into a style with some classic soul and modal jazz influences. But unlike those genres, it’s both incredibly fun to dance to and to simply lie back and take in the atmosphere of the recordings. Him and his studio musicians make a large sound for a guy with a clear picture for where he wants his music to go: to the stars while waving the banner of the past with pride.
Recommended Tracks: “Am I Wrong”, “Lite Weight”, “The Bird”
2. 22, A Million – Bon Iver
In certain circles, this comment could get some stones thrown my way, but here it goes: I don’t think Bon Iver is an interesting enough band to listen to on an album end to end. If they just released EPs, they’d be perfect. However after this album from Justin Vernon, that statement just doesn’t hold water for me anymore. 22, A Million is the perfect combination of past Bon Iver work with everything Justin Vernon has learned on the side while collaborating with the innovative pop music producer of this decade Kanye West (I am dead serious about that distinction). It blurs the beauty of the multi-subgenre folk music on “Holocene” with the non-human sounding despair from Kanye West’s formerly underrated masterpiece 808s & Heartbreak, creating a sound that’s able to evolve and stay varied through all 10 tracks.
Recommended Tracks: Honestly, all of them but “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄”
1. Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper
I’m not going to be breaking any new ground by saying 2016 was a huge bummer, but every so often there’s something or someone to break through the negativity to give the world a form of hope or positive energy. Within one track on Chance’s third mixtape, he’s able to remind us that at the end of the day we still got the positivity of music to push us through the darkest days and sometimes your biggest fan has to be you. It should be prefaced that the album is extremely Christian, so that could be a turn off for some, but if you can put that behind you, you’ll find some of the most gorgeous gospel sounds in mainstream music in some time. It’s pretty clear that Chance and Kanye were on similar wavelengths when making this album and Kanye’s maddening The Life Of Pablo, but it’s clear Chance has produced the superior product end to end. The vision of this is far clearer and Chance basically did everything he could to try and make the world forget, just for a moment, that maybe 2016 wasn’t the worst year in recent memory. And for me, for exactly 57 minutes and 14 seconds, Chance the Rapper did exactly that.
Recommended Tracks: “All We Got (feat. Kanye West & Chicago Children’s Choir)”, “Same Drugs”, “Angels”, “Finish Line/Drown (feat. T-Pain, Kirk Franklin, Eryn Allen Kane, & Noname)”
5. Weezer (The White Album) – Weezer