David Bowie - Blackstar
Bowie showed us, earthlings and mortals, a way to be human. A way to be individuals with what little time we’re given on this planet. The making of this album is instant mythology - knowing his end was near, keeping it close to the heart, and triumphing with his canon’s crown jewel. The band is purely in step with itself and its leader, a truly fluid and heartbreaking effort.
KING - We Are KING
We had the EP, which felt like enough. We first danced to “Hey” at the wedding. Running late, we caught the last of a live set which sounded so sexy and communal. And then we got the full experience, a record so rich with love and harmony it’s almost impossible not to put on repeat. A trio whose work sings for itself without pretension.
Solange - A Seat At The Table
While the older Knowles might be the world’s best showperson, the younger had one of the year’s most important albums. In a barrage of days that saw a seemingly endless stream of black bodies dehumanized, Solange was right here to show us that there is no band-aid for this. The music feels like clay, molded by its architect the way that Marvin Gaye would.
A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
My head exploded when I first heard “Excursions,” the lead track from 1991’s The Low End Theory. Similar cerebral activity, coupled with a reverent and childish excitement, hit me in the year of Tribe’s return, which was also the year they lost Phife. There’s a pervasive melancholy, a weathered age and a vivrant creativity that illustrates music’s enduring unification.
De La Soul - …and the Anonymous Nobody
In 1991, De La released De La Soul Is Dead, effectively killing the sound which began their career two years prior. It is in that spirit, one of cyclical birth and death, that we get the Anonymous Nobody. A Kickstarted ($600K!) record culled from hours of live jams (heavily featuring bass hero and co-writer Kaveh Rastegar), this is the same hypnotic, heady art-rap-meets-everything the gang has always pushed. That sound is whatever the hell they want it to be, and it succeeds.
NxWorries - Yes Lawd!
Anderson .Paak crushed 2016. While Malibu is a fantastic listen, this collab with Knxwledge, who grabs the torch from Dilla and Madlib, was my light in the last days of December. The duo is so synced, and .Paak is forthright about relationships, infidelity and sex in a way that Bruno Mars wishes he could be.
Esperanza Spalding - Emily’s D+Evolution
She could always play, that was no secret. She opened for Prince, performed at the White House. But this identity, a Self with a creative missive, has her sincerely opening up to a world of influence and sound. Nate Chinen nailed it when he said she is “both the Joni and the Jaco in this equation — a considerable feat.” A challenging ride yielding a similarly whimsical live experience, Spalding has fully arrived on her own.
Julian Lage - Arclight
As a kid, I had a subscription to Guitar World, and the heroes who graced its covers were often Dave Navarro facsimiles, 7-string chuggers and, if all else failed, Slash. Julian Lage is none of that, once a child prodigy who played swinging if not sometimes bland “Jazz” music. Then he went electric, riffing voraciously in the American Telecaster style that hearkens back to greats like Scotty Moore and the soulful fluidity of Charlie Christian. Devoid of effects and overdubs, this band truly shreds.
Kendrick Lamar - untitled unmastered.
When your b-sides EP is better than most LPs? Kendrick. A nebulous collection of unnamed jams that slink in and out of Angeleno neo-G-funk showcases the rapper’s elasticity and fervent candor. An unpolished look behind the curtain at the best in the game, whose incendiary performance at this summer’s Panorama festival was inspiring.
J. Cole - 4 Your Eyez Only
Hip-hop is feeling more and more like Game of Thrones, with House K. Dot in the Hills of Hollywood, House Chance of the Tundra of Chicago and House Cole from the Sheltuh, the North Carolina home studio where J. and co. made the followup to 2014 Forest Hills Drive. A stylistic midpoint between Tupac and Organized Noize, Cole’s content is about the home or the absence thereof. A rumination on fatherhood, Cole’s strength is in his songwriting, crafting narrative arcs like a novelist.
Sumac - What One Becomes: Aaron Turner, best in class.
Xenia Rubinos - Black Terry Cat: Most improved badass. Most exciting drumming by Marco Buccelli.
Autolux - PUSSY’S DEAD: Lilting, lush and somber. Greg Edwards is a legend.
Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool: Hearing these songs live was the ultimate. Still got it.
Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book: Independence at its finest.
BADBADNOTGOOD - IV: “Time Moves Slow” (ft. Samuel T. Herring).
SiR - Her: Best EP of the year.
Mndsgn - Body Wash: Grooves for days, nights, and the gloaming.
Childish Gambino - Awaken! My Love: Another step in one of the most exciting careers of our time.
Run the Jewels - RTJ3: “I mean, come on!” - Jerry Seinfeld.
Thundercat - “Bus In These Streets”: Hero.
For the streamers, a Spotify playlist. Here’s to a musical 2017.