I couldn’t come up with ten. I blame myself, living out in the woods with tenuous internet and not seeking out as I should have new sounds this year, at least not with the usual amount of diligence. I know there were things I missed, which this year’s staff lists revealed to me. I was aware that I should be hip to Solange’s new one. I wasn’t even thinking about Thao & the Get Down Stay Down. I didn’t even try to cop the new Laura Mvula and I know better than that. Still, my ears heard new sounds and found that they were good. I’ll do better searching next year, though this year still served my ears pretty well. Hopefully, you agree that they can do the same for you.
8. Natural Child – Okey Dokey (Self-Released)
It’s always fun to hear this Nashville trio who much like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups totally got peanut butter all up in my chocolate have gotten Americana in my garage rock and the benefits are clear. Their latest album has a bit more polish than their past endeavors but not too much, their roughness is part of the charm.
7. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (XL)
They did it again. They do it every time, and they seem to keep doing it better. Radiohead pulls at the heartstrings as much as they warp the brain and they keep making music that can only be referred to as alternative because pinning down what it is they do now to one descriptor can only lead to them being alternative to whatever it is one might try to say about them. However, in A Moon Shaped Pool, Thom Yorke, the Brothers Greenwood, and co. have gone back through the roots of their sound over the years and like seasoned artists expressed what made them them– the lush arrangements, the electronic blips and bloops, the layers and directions, some guitars here and there. They brought it all to do what they do every time, and they keep getting better at it.
6. Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love! (Glassnote)
Donald Glover had the benefit of the surprise. No one saw coming that his next release would be an all out funk album, adeptly harnessing the essence of Funkadelic and Sly Stone to create an album outside of its time and brilliant enough to make even the skeptical give some plaudits. To those who were always fans, Glover’s work ethic and humor is still just as apparent as before yet now these attributes are focused toward a larger idea that has completely taken over for a much greater good– the funk.
5. Kaytranada – 99.9% (XL)
When this album really takes hold, it’s a marvel. The melding of electronic and R&B elements into just the right dosage of chill seems to come easily for the young DJ who is well connected enough to make such a compelling work. Of course, he’s Canadian, being kind is part of being connected, and of collaboration.
4. NxWorries – Yes, Lawd! (Stones Throw)
I’m not fully certain how to describe Anderson.Paak. His half rap/half singing cadence is infectious, like listening to a deacon who’s been through some shit. It’s even harder to put a finger on what has always made Knxwledge such a brilliant producer. I could try to say something like “earthy” and maybe you could grasp some greater meaning, but really no one could have any clue. The pair are unique in their talents and are having a moment. Yes, Lawd! is one of those moments.
3. David Bowie – ★ (Blackstar) (Colombia)
Imagine you’re able to orchestrate the last possible moments before your death on the grandest scale, like Tom Sawyer watching the most massive funeral from the rafters and he’s actually a historically relevant literary figure instead of a mere rapscallion. The whole world is watching and you know it and you know the rest of the world doesn’t even fully understand all they’re seeing yet– the implications of the creation, the story of its creation physically and emotionally. How would you lay out your last master work?
If you’re smart, you’d pull together the best multifaceted collaborators in the game, keep your distinctive vision (it is your last master work, after all), and let the brilliance flow. I’m not David Bowie. You’re not David Bowie. But I’m glad David Jones was David Bowie, and that he had the good taste to love Donny McCaslin, Tim Lefebvre, Jason Lindner, Mark Guiliana, and Ben Monder.
2. Psychic Temple – III (Asthmatic Kitty)
III is brilliant in its ability to be so many things. It’s an album full of sweet folk, rock, jazz, Americana, and blues. It is concrete in its schizophrenia. It’s a collection of songs that are so many excellently done things. It’s a group of arrangements from Chris Schlarb that are masterfully written from the finest of ears, and his voice fits in perfectly. The Psychic Temple continues to shine in all their glory spreading the gospel of music to the land. In their third album, one may not be quite sure what the Psychic Temple is anymore but like any cult, they’re a continuously compelling group to keep following.
1. Mndsgn – Body Wash (Stones Throw)
Ringgo Ancheta has made an electronic album has has no aspersions about really being an R&B album, or is that meant to be vice versa? However, in melding these influences together , he has developed his sound even further than his previous album, Yawn Zen, which already had that predilection before the dude turned it up to 11. This is an album that feels good all over, in the ears and the feet and the shoulders and the neck and the hips and the hands and everywhere else where people feel the vibe. Body Wash is an album that sounds fantastic and further proof that Mndsgn is very very good at this music thing.