2016 was a year that happened. Do I need to sum up the year? Fuck no, you were there for it. The year wasn’t all shit, though, as it was pretty kind to the arts, music included. My top five of the year kept fluctuating between about twenty albums that all could’ve taken the top slot in a less eventful year (or #2 in a year host to a To Pimp a Butterfly-quality masterpiece), so if you think my top five is weird, well, consider the source. We take the good with the bad, though, and oh boy were there some bad albums this year. Okay, it wasn’t that bad to be honest, but there was some shit, and while we’re not about to make a definitive “worst of” list for a variety of reasons, I’ve done this for a couple of years in a row now, so why stop now. As always, this list consists of music released between the first of December of 2015 and the thirtieth of November of 2016.
Settling on a fifth-worst pick was not easy. #4-1 on the shit list were easy to determine due to their rancid shit quality, but I struggled for a while to settle on an album that deserved to be mentioned in the same breath as the madness that is about to follow. Then I thought, “What is the Songs of Innocence of the year, an album that deserves no positive press due to the circumstances surrounding its release?”, and the answer became clear. I mean, fuck, I didn’t ask or want a new U2 album on my iPod, but at least they were doing their best to get the album out to a wide audience, unlike Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. We’ve yet to give this album a proper review, and we’ll continue to hold out until West finishes the album. Pablo is still exclusive to Tidal, the worst music service going today that is best known for keeping its contents behind a considerable paywall, because it isn’t as though music is made for the masses. Even Beyonce, who is married to one of the co-founders of Tidal, has put her album out on competing music services. It isn’t easy being a fan of Kanye West, but this represents the first time West’s ego makes the act of listening to his music a chore.
On the bright side of life, there was a chipper hip-hop album with gospel elements that I did care for last year, and that was Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper, my fifth-favorite album of 2016. I get how this might not have been someone’s cup of tea, but 2016 was a year where I needed hip-hop that lifted me up, and Coloring Book did the job better than any other album this year. There’s only two albums in my top five that take a glass half full approach to life, so take this as needed contrast.
I dedicated the month of September to covering popular music in this column, and by that I mean “music that is actually popular”. It didn’t go so well, as you may have guessed, and the worst of what I covered was A Day to Remember’s Bad Vibrations, the fourth-worst album of 2016. I was completely unfamiliar with ADTR’s music going into that month, and I’ve no interest in ever listening to them again. They make soft rock that thinks it rocks hard while the lead singer thinks that singing from his throat is the first step of sounding like a boss. The result is laughably awful music that comes across as a parody of itself. Seriously, the album is not worth your money, you need to listen to this shit.
My fourth favorite album of 2016 may not have been the most technically accomplished rock album of the year, but it was one that hit its spot so well that I kept coming back to it more than any other rock album of the past year: Blackstar by David Bowie. Far from the best album Bowie ever made, but who better to pen Bowie’s eulogy than Bowie himself? In a year packed with misery, Blackstar was perhaps the best album to represent the past year. Seriously, 2016 was the worst year of the Aughts, goddamn.
I know it is easy to rant against the mid-life crisis of Corey Feldman’s Angelic 2 the Core, but this is as high as I can place this disasterpiece. No track rises above being mediocre, it is too fucking long, I sing better than Feldman in the shower, and it features the worst Snoop Dogg verse ever on its best track, and you need to stop everything you’re doing and listen to it. This is music’s version of The Room, a terrible project in concept and execution that is so hypnotically shitty to almost backflip into being quality. I can’t not laugh while listening to this, and that means I can’t place it any higher than #3 on the shit list; for as bad as it is, at least it provokes a positive reaction.
I made this point at the top of the column, but it bears repeating that this was such a great year for music that what should have been slam-dunk picks for AOTY end up ranking as low as twentieth on my personal list. #3 on my tops list, for instance, is Atrocity Exhibition by Danny Brown, arguably the man’s new artistic high point, which is saying a lot because I suggested that his previous artistic high point, Old, was a strong contender for the best album of the decade. Here, though, is a loving tribute to madness put over the beastiest beats of the year at #3. It isn’t #3 because of any fault it possesses but because of personal preference for what’s above it, but goodness gracious, what a fantastic work.
#2 on the shit list is a familiar face on my shit list, and I anticipate she’ll always have a place on my shit lists for any year she puts out a new album until she changes gears and makes music that matches her technical capabilities: Thank You by Meghan Trainor. My noted distaste for Ms. Trainor’s music as puzzled at least one other Earbuddy writer, so let me take this time to clarify what I don’t like about her. Ahem: some girl out there is aspiring to be the next Meghan Trainor. She is combing Trainor’s material for guidance. She’ll grow up to think that writing songs with conflicting messages is not just acceptable but a key to creative and commercial success, that a cute turn of phrase is enough bombast by itself, that “good” feminism means taking time out from being a man’s accessory to deliver a dick kick every once in a while. This might come across as irrational or ill-thought, but I’ve seen this happen enough times that I feel a bit of personal responsibility to do what I can to shut this down before it becomes a problem. You’re welcome.
My second-favorite album of 2016 is Bottomless Pit by Death Grips. I can hardly believe it, too, but these boys have actually made sense of their post-hip-hop electronica tendencies and have landed on noise punk, which suits them quite well given their aesthetic. Our official review wasn’t exactly glowing towards this album, but I’m a sucker for abrasive art. Sue me.
I know making these lists and this column involves listening to the discussed music all over again, but my least-favorite album of 2016 is so uniquely boring, misguided, and overlong that I could only stomach one track of it. Then again, I suppose congratulations are in order as this man becomes only the second artist (after Kendrick Lamar) to top any of my year-end lists more than once so far this decade. I hated Indicud with all of my heart, but Kid Cudi’s Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven is even worse, meaning I hate it with all my heart, soul, lungs, kidneys, brain, and any and all other organs or concepts I possess. It isn’t just that it is bad, oh no, nor is it that it is ninety minutes of bad music—it is that it is ninety minutes of bad music that comes across like a suicide note. Cudi checked himself into rehab to deal with depression, and I hope he gets the help he needs, but there’s something to be said about the people he surrounds himself with that Bullet represents his cry for help. None of y’all fuckers thought to take him to a doctor after a recording session?
My favorite album of 2016 is an album I have a weird obsession with. It did poorly on our collective year-end, but in putting my own list together, I couldn’t find an album I could place above it. It isn’t perfect, but it is as close to being perfect as any album I listened to last year. My top pick of 2016, the album that deserves more love than all others, the one that I’d encourage anyone to spend their hard-earned cash above anything else released last year, and an album that proves that the Western World doesn’t have a monopoly on fantastic pop music: Amaranthus by Momoiro Clover Z. If you missed out on this one last year, give it a chance this year.
We're going to keep trying to look on the bright side of life.
Read past editions of Own It or Disown It.