411’s Top 200 Albums Of 2016 (#200 – 176)
December is upon us and it’s time for 411 Music to unveil its ungainly, overstuffed and (as I’m sure you’ll tell us) largely illogical countdown of the top 200 albums released in 2016.
Why such a long list? Well that’s simple, I’ve been ill and had a lot of family issues to deal with this year so we’ve fallen behind with album reviews and weekly columns. So to make up for the drought, 411 is going to tell the story of 2016 in music, by discussing as many of the best releases as we possibly could.
[Disclaimer: We haven’t heard every record in existence, if your favorite is missing, it’s not necessarily a snub and, considering the size of the list, take the placements with a pinch of salt. This is all about sharing great music, picking what should be 176th instead of 175th was a case of splitting hairs and nothing more]
Lastly, feel free to share your choices in the comment section, if we get enough replies, we can run a reader’s list later.
Enough talk, let’s get on with the show!
200. Landlord by Giggs
The 411: Giggs’ improbably deep delivery has set him apart from his rival rapper since day one, but the Grime game’s lyrical sloth has never quite managed to channel the brilliance of his features into a start-to-finish classic album. Landlord nearly continues that disappointing career trajectory. The beats (as always) aren’t quite up to par and there is a sense that this easy going MC, who doesn’t need to get dark to intimidate anyone, is better in short doses. Mercifully, Giggs is so focused and charming in his commitment to contrast the timbre of his vocal with the levity of his lines, that Landlord flows from beginning to end with ease. In short, Giggs might be jokes, but he is no joke. The rise of trap has worked wonders for the Peckham rapper. He no longer strikes a discordant note against frenzied rhythms of South London, he’s free to bounce and bop at his own tempo. He’ll never be the most dexterous MC, but he knows how to detonate his punchlines and deploy his unmistakable cadence to achieve maximum impact. For the love of God though, someone give Giggs an A-grade beat, he’s been stuck spitting on generic bumpers for too long.
The Critics Say: “Make sure you’ve paid your rent and make sure you’ve paid your homage to the landlord” The Independent
199. This Is Acting by Sia
The 411: “Sia Furler, songwriter-for-hire extraordinaire, decided rather than consigning her rejected tracks to the dustbin of history (or the LPs of Z-list stars) she’d create an entire album of castoffs. The end result is an album that is both testament to Sia’s ferocious power and an indictment of characterless songwriting. This Is Acting is full of non-specific, broad based and largely anonymously produced pop songs (it is bizarre, given the foreknowledge that the songs would be non-specific and impersonal, that the production choices prove so anodyne). Mercifully, despite these undeniable flaws by design, This Is Acting is not a bad album. Sia is a force of nature and, when she throws her weight behind the right track, she sets the world ablaze. Sheer force of will transforms these songs into arena conquering juggernauts and it’s hard to imagine anyone (be they Rihanna, Madonna or Zayn Malik) recording a superior version of “Alive”. Therefore, This Is Acting is not a failed experiment, but one that should, nevertheless, not be repeated.”
Suffice to say, I’ve come to enjoy This Is Acting more since its release, but for the exact reason stated above, Sia unbridled energy and her commitment to her performance elevates the material.
The Critics Say: “Somehow … broad strokes suit these songs; Sia’s unabashed aim is uplift, and her feel for sing-along-until-your-neighbor-bangs-on-the-radiator hooks rarely falters.” Entertainment Weekly
198. For All Kings by Anthrax
The 411: 1987, it seems, was very much back in fashion within metal circles this year. No doubt the outsiders cynical reply: “isn’t 1987 always en vogue in metal circles?” Well, okay, yes, the thrash sound has never exactly faded from prominence, but it’s rare to see four or more of the scenes most important acts releasing critically acclaimed and fan pleasing LPs in the same year (more on that later). For All Kings is an important achievement for Anthrax. They regained their composure on 2011’s Worship Music, right in time for the lucrative Big Four reunion, and this release proves the band are right back on track. Joey Belladonna might struggle when the band move away from the melodic end of the spectrum, but For All Kings thrills when the pace picks up and Scott’s guitar is let off the leash. By the end of the LP, Anthrax manage to bring the two styles together on the blistering, but buoyant “Zero Tolerance”.
The Critics Say: “NYC’s premier thrash icons have stopped being an endearing shambles and reconnected with their collective mojo.” Team Rock
197. Divides by The Virginmarys
The 411: Macclesfield’s The Virginmarys have issued the music world an important reminder on Divides. In today’s environment we tend to turn to rap/soul in US and grime in the UK for outrage in the face of injustice, but there was a time when rock musicians were intent on shaking the system to its core. Divides is not a latter day U2-esque plea for well meaning universalism, but the bubbling up of a very specific rage, that of the post-industrial towns where so much is expected, but so little can seemingly be achieved. These are raw, under-produced rock songs that scream out against, not merely the drudgery of the 9-to-5 in (as it was then) David Cameron’s Britain, but a sad and bitter reflection on the fact that for so many working people the security of a 9-to-5 job is out of reach. A potent blend of pub, punk and classic rock tones brings this browbeaten frustration to life, lending The Virginmarys a gruff sagacity a group their age couldn’t have plausibly earned.
The Critics Say: “one of the few albums I’ve listened to that doesn’t have a duff track on it” AntiHero
196. Gore by Deftones
The 411: “Deftones have settled into middle age rather nicely. This comes as a quite the surprise considering the slippery-but-nevertheless-seething angst that fuelled the band’s 90s heyday. Gore, by comparison, swims beneath a sea of muddy, distorted guitar work, but rather than seeking sardonic nihilism or cathartic release, Chino Moreno offers a tender turn. The swampy textures assimilate the singer’s sweet and sorrowful vocals, creating an inner echo chamber, which feels both oddly teenage (the moody hoodied child sulking in his bedroom) and adult (complex and contradictory emotions are weighed and measured rather than petulantly screamed)…
…Deftones have yet to go off the textural deep end, for every naval gazing “Hearts/Wires” or strained “Acid Hologram” there’s a wicked groove (“Geometric Headdress”) or a circling harpies style breakdown (“Gore”). At the end of the day, Deftones are still serving up a traditional rock record (albeit at reluctant one) and Gore’s best moments arise when the band embrace a sense of ambition.”
The Critics Say: “This is a record of sweeping complexity, that captures the raw energy Deftones have always thrived upon” Drowned In Sound
195. Anti by Rihanna
The 411: Like This Is Acting Before It, I’ve changed my mind about Anti since it’s release. I no longer think it’s a dreary 5/10 album. The flaws are still present, Anti is a mess, a little aimless and very poorly sequenced, but nevertheless it remains an intoxicating listen. The fragments of brilliance draw you back in over and over and over again. So below is my original reaction to Anti, but six months on, the criticism still hold up on paper, but not when you press play.
““Bitch Better Have My Money” (which does not feature on Anti) set the internet ablaze and suggested Rihanna, the pure pop bad girl, was going to take her mainstream audience to the streets. She may have flirted with the artistic edge alongside Drake and Jamie xx, but she never truly pulled the trigger. 2016 was to be the year RiRi did a Beyonce, thumbing her nose at safety conscious execs with a guerrilla release. The theory was impeccable, the practice strangely turgid. Anti delivers to a very limited extent. RiRi dives into the avant-RnB quagmire and surfaces sounding mundane. She ramps up the attitude without discovering an edge: it’s well intentioned, but unspectacular.”
The Critics Say: “By the end of Anti, Rihanna may not arrive at any definitive conclusions about her art but she’s allowed herself to be unguarded and anti-commercial, resulting in her most compelling record to date.” AllMusic
194. Shape Shift With Me by Against Me!
The 411: “Shape Shift With Me is an appropriate title, not because this is another record infused with the trans experience, but because Laura Jane Grace has fashioned an album that flits between a varity of styles without ever abandoning Against Me!’s grimy core sound. Laura Jane’s voice, like Brian Fallon before her, carries a romantic Springsteenian richness that imbues a snappy pop single like “Boyfriend” with the rustic filter of Americana. And that might just be Against Me!’s greatest achievement: taking cutting edge outsider issues (like trans politics and romance) and turning them, not only into great rock music, but into fundamental, almost timeless, American issues.”
The Critics Say: “For the pop-punk band fan, this is a dream come true. Catchy as anything choruses, short track times, tight and sparse rhythms make this a record I wish came out when I was in high school.” Pretty Much Amazing
193. Requiem by GOAT
The 411: Crazily costumed, enigmatic, recluses – that description alone suggests that GOAT are the type of band astute fans might expect to blaze like a comet across the night sky only to disappear out of sight from all except the telescope wielding obsessives. But here we are in 2016 and GOAT are still making marvelous music that might prompt parody, but remains both astutely observed (in its embrace of both acid and krautrock) and joyous in its use of instruments typically confined to the “world music” category. Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to Requiem is that the sheer quality of its jams and the insistent nature of its rhythms means that the shy Swedes can no longer be written off as a curiosity. This is the work of a serious and substantial musicianship. That’s no to say Requiem is po faced and serious, far from it, everything shakes and rattles with a delightful energy that puts the thrill of live improvisation ahead of any pseudo-spiritual nonsense. Whether it’s the flute that fires “Temple Rhythms”, the billowing sax that holds “Goatband” together or the deliciously distorted guitar of “Goatfuzz”, GOAT can bend any instrument to their shamanistic will.
The Critics Say: “Some fans may miss the heavier guitar attack of Commune, but the band carry off this new approach like the true sonic explorers they are.” AllMusic
192. Sessions by D.I.T.C.
The 411: “We’ll be here long after the tight jean era”, D.I.T.C. certainly don’t pull their punches. After 26 years in the game they have no interest in chasing trends or making friends. If you’re hoping to hear the future sound, you might as well turn back now, because Sessions is straight bars over a boom bap beat. D.I.T.C. flit between extreme braggadocio at the expense of their younger peers and genuinely powerful and profound assaults on black complacency. They might admire crowds screaming “Black Lives Matter”, but they have no time for multi-millionaires being fed by the fingers that have squeezed the life out of poorer communities. Unsurprisingly, Sessions has little to offer other than head bobbing bars, but unlike the classic rap albums they admire, they have the good sense to avoid overstaying their welcome. D.I.T.C. drop 11 content heavy tracks, the occasional dubious hook and get out.
The Critics Say: “In a digital age where mumble rappers are climbing the ranks and earning more clout for their social media standing rather than their lyrical prowess, D.I.T.C.’s Sessions is a refreshing, solid representation of hip-hop on a higher level.” XXL
191. Real by Lydia Loveless
The 411: “Can you really be too multi-talented? Lydia Loveless certainly tests the theory on Real, an album that is so expertly pitched between rock arenas, dingy dive bars and the country homeland that it doesn’t quite capture the thrill of any one of those sounds. Sure, the murky, guitar driven middle ground is punctuated by neat country riffs, but ultimately Lydia’s arrangements are less than the sum of their well orchestrated parts. So given these mild frustrations, how has Real claimed its place on this list? That’s easy, Lydia Loveless’ array of messy love stories and crippling flaws demand keen eared listening, forging a bond with listeners that transcends alt-country posturing. The bass lines routinely add spice as Loveless manages to deliver a series of killer and deeply resonate lines without falling into the classic country trap of playing to back row. Better still, there is genuine sonic evolution taking place, rock-tinged-country is still her bread-and-butter, but an undercurrent of 80s’ inspired electronica lends Loveless a smooth and soulful saunter (“Heaven”). Giorgio Moroder might not be a wholly novel reference point in 2016 (nor is Fleetwood Mac), but in these bleak country confines the injections prove damn right revolutionary. Real is honest, conflicted and astutely observed.”
The Critics Say: “Loveless manages to strike a similarly compelling balance of grit and pop throughout the rest of Real.” Slant
190. Glory Days by Little Mix
The 411: The UK is not accustomed to living without an imperious girl group making bugglegum pop devoid of shame and rich in artistry. Girls Aloud sustained a nation for a generation and now, after some faltering pretenders, Little Mix appear to have taken the throne. Like The Spice Girls before them, the four piece feel suitably human, they look and sound great while still carrying a girl-next-door quality – as if this pop superstardom lark was just a big game of dress up. Sadly, while they’ve now proved their staying power, they’ve yet to rival “Biology”, “The Promise” or any of the Girls Aloud singles that left critics speechless. Glory Days can’t match that standard, but what it does offer is both consistency and dexterity. Weepy ballads, teenie bopper pop, brash self assured anthems and, yes, trend chasing “mature” club jams. In fact, Little Mix do so much, so well, so often, that it’s about time they stop pleasing the crowd and start expressing themselves. The girlish yet spikey “F.U.”, “You Gotta Not” and “Shout Out To My Ex” feel true: so more of that next time, less cool club schtick and Little Mix will go down as the next Great British girl group.
The Critics Say: “Little Mix’s vocal grit and sassy group chemistry make Glory Days such a celebratory album.” AllMusic
189. If I’m The Devil… by Letlive.
The 411: The headline coming out of If I’m The Devil…’s release was, perhaps predictably, that Letlive were issuing their mainstream credentials by bringing the hooks and big stage bombast inherent in their sound to the fore. To put it bluntly, the critics were not wrong: If I’m The Devil… feels like a land grab, a band with obvious crossover potential cashing their hardcore chips and investing in some anthemic trappings. The injection of immediacy works for two reasons: firstly, it’s in the band’s nature (Letlive feel at home with echoing cries and towering guitars) and, secondly, because Jason Aalon Butler’s songwriting is up to the challenge. He craftily finds ways to universalize his message, while penning verses that speak to the conflict between personal torment and political outrage. The results recall a more emotionally insecure Rise Against in their late-2000s pomp.
The Critics Say: “It’s the album of their career.” Team Rock
188. The Feminine: Act I by Anna Wise
The 411: Propelled into the limelight by a collaboration with Kendrick Lamar, Anna Wise has done everything in her power to make 2016 her year. Starting with the “it would be funny, if it weren’t so true” lead single “BitchSlut”; she offered a withering assault on the roles women are forced into in the world of romance: i.e. the Bitch/Slut dichotomy. Nothing on The Feminine: Act I is as immediately chart friendly as “Bitchslut”, but the album does continue its themes of using pop to illustrate and dissect social norms and gender roles. When The Feminine is at its best the EP reveals the absurdity of the roles we are coaxed into (princess and protector, for example) without hiding their allure. This is satire after all and twinkling synthpop is deployed to subvert the notion of possession. Elsewhere though, Anna Wise is just writing good pop songs framed in thrilling patriarchy dismantling suites. “Go” might be more meditative than most, but it’s still a tale of pain and ache unintentionally inflicted, and the desire to stay, but also scream go.
The Critics Say: “Those obvious peaks don’t overshadow the rest of this 16-minute tour de force” Spin
187. HERO by Maren Morris
The 411: Now normally I’m a refined English gentleman, but occasionally I stumble across something that summons my South London roots and, upon hearing “Sugar” by Maren Morris, my initial response was: “U Wot Luv?”
To translate (roughly), that’s: what the fuck are you on? Maren Morris crams into the first 30 seconds of Hero some rootsy Country twangs (naturally), some sexy modern R&B (think Selena Gomez’s coming of age record) and a not so subtle aping of Taylor Swift. There’s an urge to suggest that Maren Morris should cool her jets and settle on one sound, but as the bubblegum country of Hero unfolds, the brazen blend of modern pop and cookie cutter Americana begins to hit home. In truth, the album is better when Morris sticks closer to country, allowing her to employ a modern eye and pop sensibilities (like Musgraves and Lambert before her) to pick holes and laugh at the hypocrisy of small town life. Unlike her heavyweight forebears, Morris adds a layer of R&B seduction and pop sweetness to her crass and crafty tongue (“What you do with trash? You take it out. So why you letting him hang around?”). Her barbs aren’t as craftily hidden as Musgraves’, but that only serves to give Hero the brash ballsiness of youth. The sonics might make you balk, but give Morris half a chance (or half an album) and she’ll win you round.
The Critics Say: “Hero belongs to the digital era but it’s the songs — smart, sharp, and hooky — that make this a great modern pop album, regardless of genre.” AllMusic
186. Big Baby D.R.A.M. by D.R.A.M.
The 411: The novelty has warn off and it turns out D.R.A.M. wasn’t a fad. He’s a genuine star, whose fame is built on a depth of charisma and warmth conveyed by his big barreling vocal. D.R.A.M. makes people smile and much of his debut album will have fans chuckling along, but the real revelation on BBD is that the connection between gregarious artist and audience is so strong that, when the mood darkens, the pathos grows. If D.R.A.M. were a less credible artist, his appeal would evaporate the second he asked his audience to take him seriously; instead, as he croons across an array of murky click tracks, he pulls us into his world of faltering seduction. Perhaps it’s the humor and honesty that permeates his music or the way he sets the stage so thoroughly before revealing the punchline (“Wifi”), or maybe it’s the fact that D.R.A.M.is the rare party friendly rapper who seems genuinely concerned with pleasing and caring for his partner that makes his music so damn likeable – but who honestly knows. Big Baby D.R.A.M. is hearty, loveable music from an artist whose feet are reassuringly rooted to the ground.
The Critic Say: “The dizzying array of styles and themes always entertain, and D.R.A.M.’s confidence as both a singer and rapper allows him to pull these threads together.” Now Magazine
185. Everybody’s Heart Is Broken Now by Niki & The Dove
The 411: Imagine if a band with a natural ear for a big booming pop hook and a dancefloor filler chose to ditch their catchiest and most immediate elements and attempt to find poignancy (rather than joy) in disco itself. It might sound intriguing and brave, but it’s also incredibly risky and, in the wrong artist’s hands, could result in leaden music full of aimless groves and ill-defined emotions. Luckily, Swedish duo Niki & The Dove display masterful judgment as they embrace the existential drift and sweetly dwell on a series of somber lows beneath the bright dancefloor lights. At times the music can seem rudderless and pretty for its own sake, but, once the listener acclimatizes to Niki’s headspace, crystalline gems begin to shine beneath the misty surface. The deft combo of Fleetwood Mac on downers (“Lost UB”) and tropical lilting sweetness (“Coconut Kiss”) prove utterly devastating and, suddenly, it all becomes clear: sometimes the best things in life only cross your path when you allow yourself to meander.
The Critics Say: “Everybody’s Heart Is Broken Now resolutely clings to the idea that faded memories can be given vibrant colour” MusicOMH
184. I, Gemini by Let’s Eat Grandma
Genre: Art Pop
The 411: Let’s Eat Grandma are a fascinating proposition. Like so many millenials they seem unaffected by the peer pressure of yesteryear that said you that to be either this or that: rock or pop, hell, real rap or phoney hip hop. But, unlike many of their own age group, these 17-year-olds from Norwich, England don’t seem to be using their diverse taste as a cultural signifier either. This isn’t about referencing all the coolest bands to gain kudos, far from it. I, Gemini is informed by the British Folk tradition and instead of feeling contrived, it really does feel as if this duo simply tried to take the sounds they’ve fallen in love with and turn them into a coherent whole. Childish rhymes, 90s pop hooks, delicate xylophones and recorder solos are all set atop bleak, low key, gothic sludge. The result is at times childish (echoing PC Music’s sardonic satire), but in a way that recalls the creepiest horror films. Menace and mistrust inform every inch of this LP.
The Critics Say: “While their pop sensibilities are clear, the music is surreal and dense, with guitar, synthesiser, saxophone, glockenspiel, recorder and vocals that lurch from sugary to shouty.” NME
183. Ellipsis by Biffy Clyro
The 411: Biffy Clyro have wholeheartedly embraced their role as arena rocking, festival headlining, superstars in the UK without sacrificing the masochistic lyricism and jagged angles that made them stars on the underground circuit. Edges have certainly softened to a considerably as the level of ambition the band have displayed increased. Ellipsis is perhaps the point where Biffy dive headlong over the cliff that seperates their past from their present. The overarching mood of “Medicine” might be bleak and sardonic, but Biffy’s music is now infused with a straight forward sense of glee at their own accomplishments (“There’s no I in team”) and fuzzy romanticism (“Darling, you’re my everything thing”). Ellipsis might be the moment when their sound comes apart at the seams: daggering guitars and sugary doo-wops prove impossible to reconcile and Biffy opt for more either/ors than ever before. Still, if Biffy are embracing their role as a mainstream fixture, they are doing with a collection of songs that are as tender as they are hummable – and, hey, when they need to rock out, the lads from Kilmarnock can still tear the house down (“Animal Style”, “In The Name Of The Wee Man”).
The Critics Say: “Ellipsis is the band’s best album since Puzzle.” Kerrang
182. Heads Up by Warpaint
The 411: Warpaints’ self-title sophomore album felt like a strenuous work, as if the band members were all too aware that they had a heralded debut album to not only follow, but to live up to. Heads Up by comparison (turned out in two as opposed to four years) feels devoid of tension. There are still dark, shadowy lows and plenty of experimentation that smacks of “trying to evolve”, but rather than feeling forced, each new idea and every alien sounds feels like the result of a band having fun. The dense layers of electronic clatter and startlingly sonic choices of “By Your Side” convey a wonderful sense of raw trial and error, as if Warpaint have been taken over by the groove and have just decided to hit a button and see what comes of it – read and react. It’s fitting then, that’s such a dense oddity, would be flanked on either side by flighty pop hits. This quickly becomes the story of the album: a taut stand off between the loose hypnotic jams of their debut and the desolate gloom of their second. Taken as whole, Heads Up is disjointed experience, destined to dislocate and jar awkwardly at every turn, but for a band who have always wailed serenely from beneath a haze of heavy instrumentation, this sense of conflicted detachment feels wholly appropriate.
The Critics Say: “Often working separately as they balanced various side projects, the recording sessions for Heads Up have resulted in an eclectic, nuanced collection of songs.” Exclaim
181. Lonesome and Blue by The Rolling Stones
The 411: It’s hard to hide the disappointment that, despite some less than stellar releases from the 80s onwards, the Stones didn’t treat the world to some original material. 2013’s “Doom And Gloom” proved that they could still write a rollericking rock single, but perhaps it’s only right that, as the band approach the end of their career, they turned the clock back to the very beginning with a pleasingly raw collection of blues covers. Back when John and Paul were covering Chuck Berry, The Stones were wrapping the minds around the muddy sounds of the Mississippi – and it’s good to see Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon cuts making the tracklist here. Serving ostensibly as a Jagger showcase, his croaky, but nevertheless rock solid vocal and tortured harmonica are very much the star of the show. And yet, the album truly catches light when Keith finds some of the old magic (as he does on Memphis Slim’s title track) as his fidgety notes rise above the barroom lurch that accompanies most every track on the album. Charlie Watts has let it be known that, at this stage of his life, he really can’t be fucked with The Stones (he’d rather play pub shows with his own band), but if Mick’s start-to-finish energy and the Ronnie & Keith of the delightful three track run starting “Hate To See You Go” can get it together: the old dogs might just have one last great album left in them yet.
The Critics Say: “It may not be the kind of definitive album statement that will rock the music world to its foundations but it more than demonstrate that the world’s greatest and longest serving rock band have still got what it takes.” The Telegraph
180. In Memory of When I Gave A Shit by LOLO
The 411: LOLO, aka Lauren Pritchard, is an intriguing proposition. Her backstory is a treasure trove: she started as a teenager and lived with Lisa Marie Presley on one hand, while starring in Broadway musicals and co-writing tracks for Panic! At The Disco on the other. If the previous sentence and that gloriously OTT album title didn’t give the game away, In Memory Of When I Gave A Shit is ludicrously dramatic and LOLO is unafraid to bust a lung to drive her point home. That’s not to say bombast rules as subtlety is flattened beneath a steamroller vocal, far from it. LOLO fills her verses with a great depth of detail (from Chinese takeaways to late night laments) and never hides her narratives behind either arrangement or chandelier shattering vocals. If there’s one criticism of In Memory Of When I Gave A Shit, it’s that LOLO struggles to find a distinctive sound (Lorde looms large over “The Courtyard” for example), instead the singer settles for a soul tinged take on a classist pop palette.
The Critics Say: “She proves her skills as an honest—and killer—storyteller” The Skinny
179. Always Strive and Prosper by A$AP Ferg
The 411: Always Strive And Prosper (did he pick that title to leave an unhelpful acronym for reviewers?) is an intriguing proposition: on one hand it’s a continuation (more slick bangers) and on the others it’s a shockingly thoughtful evolution for a rapper primarily known for conquering the clubs. Critics might argue that Ferg simply muddies the waters, neither delivering true conscious rap or serving up hits on the scale of years past, but this is setting the bar needlessly high. Ferg succeeds in re-establishing himself as positive role model by detailing his struggle and stressing the importance of always looking beyond your immediate horizons. The fact that he does this on tracks that are bending over backwards to chart (see “Strive”) is frustrating, but not fatal. Better still, Ferg proves he has more to say than “roll up your sleeves son” on the fabulous “Let You Go”: a track that sees Ferg ruminating on his partners words and stepping into the shoes of a woman who loves him dearly, but has to hear him spit misogynist rhymes. Frankly, I struggle to name a more mature starting point for a hip hop single in 2016 than: “my love for you music is bitter sweet…downloaded your mixtape, it sounds so good, but why you gotta say things that me sound so small…my daddy and whole family hear it, where’s the respect? I don’t feel it”.
Other artists might be masterfully projecting riotous rage, but like Kendrick before him, Ferg remembers “let he who is without sin, cast the first stone” and turns the burning glare of recrimination on himself first – while serving up bangers of course.
The Critics Say: “Ferg has crafted a tender tribute to the people he loves most. It’s not often that albums that bang this hard are this moving.” The A.V. Club
178. Splendor & Misery by clipping.
The 411: clipping. have always operated on a different plane of existence to their peers, but on Splendor & Misery they not only leave the earth behind, they also jettison ties to rap obsessives who would have once been their fans. Six-minute masterpiece “All Black” sets the tone. The beat is skittish and minimal in the extreme, an ambient slice of anodyne nothingness; like algarhythms running and machinery humming away in the dark of night. The verses are equally detached: the group set themselves apart from peers who scream Kendrick Lamar lyrics while posting pictures of themselves flexing on Instagram. clipping. are not interested in the façade. They appear to have surveyed the culture at large: white and black, lethargically disinterested and politically engaged, and judged them all equally vacuous. Now that’s all personal interpretation because, and here’s the kicker, Splendor & Misery is a concept album: a tale of the sole survivor of a slave rebellion on a alien planet stowing away and making his way across the galaxy. However, just as the references are all earth based (there’s a Mathew MCConaughey illusion after all), the root causes of the band’s stony, airless, bleakness are not hard to find. Splendor & Misery is not an easy listen by any means, but the tightly packed intensity of the verses and Hamilton star Daveed Diggs’ flair for theatrical compositon carry the project.
The Critics Say: “Utterly uncomfortable, but with such an imaginative foundation that you can’t help but feel invited back to try to learn a little more about the strange and beautiful world of clipping.” Under The Radar
177. Nothing’s Real by Shura
The 411: Shura’s was dancing on the tip of all the right bloggers tongues in 2014, a year later she’d win the approval of Elton John and this July it was time for Shura to stand and deliver with Nothing’s Real. Of course, the idea that an Internet age star would be judged on the merits of full length LP is in itself a dubious concept (although Adele and Taylor might disagree). Nothing’s Real isn’t so much a revelation (it’s practically a Shura greatest hits collection) as confirmation of what we already knew: Shura isn’t going to reinvent the pop landscape, she’s continuing the trend of using an Instagram filter and 21st century sensibility to deliver some 80s revivalism. Everything here is melodious and employs a light touch. Even in her more profound and polished moments there’s a playful air of the under produced. Greg Kurstin production leans, as it always does, on the side of the inoffensive and anonymous, but here his bland accompaniments serve to let a shy and thoughtful songstress shine.
The Critics Say: “The songs flow into each other seamlessly as well as standing on their two own feet, which is an astonishing achievement.” The Line Of Best Fit
Dig In Deep by Bonnie Raitt
The 411: There’s something thrilling about hearing an old rocker like Bonnie Raitt give INXS’ synthetic rock masterpiece “Need You Tonight” the Americana treatment. What makes Raitt’s interpretation click is that she respects the pop hook. She doesn’t slow it down or draw it out, she keeps the punch of the original, but adds a gloriously gruff and seductively slimey guitar part. She takes something polished and makes it dank and dirty, without blunting its edges. The same trick helps Dig In Deep to flourish at large. Raitt will deliver a poignant and remarkably smooth vocal – she’s tender and so is the accompaniment – but then a hoggish slide guitar or a rough rattle will break in and tip the track over the edge. Ultimately, Dig In Deep is a showcase for everything Raitt has learn over the years. She can sit and stew, she can boogie woogie and she express some virtuous politic outrage (at the expense of trickle down economics) with the laid back sarcastic brutality of Dire Straits. She might appear sage, but she’s not immune to agony; Raitt’s has just lived enough to see the highs and lows for what they really are.
The Critics Say: “Never mind dig in deep: this is an emotional excavation.” Classic Rock
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