It’s been nearly 12 months and the shit-storm that is 2016 is almost over. Thankfully, 2016 brought with it a staggering amount of excellent music. In light of this, any 2016 music retrospective is going to be flawed and incomplete. With that in mind, we decided to have each of our writers choose one superlative for the music of this past year. We hope you enjoy.
Most Forgotten Album – “Endless” by Frank Ocean
Make no mistake; this is not to be confused with most forgettable album. But any reference to Ocean’s Apple Music exclusive visual album are met with a cocked head and: “Do you mean ‘Blonde’?” While “Blonde” is no doubt the superior, more cohesive, Frank-er record between the two, “Endless” serves as more than just a way for Ocean to wiggle out of his Def Jam record contract or show off his woodworking ability. While many of the songs feel like airy rough drafts, songs like “(At Your Best) You Are Love” and “Rushes To” and the album’s sonic theme in lo-fi atmospheric experimentation prove that this album should be regarded as the true chronological successor to “channel ORANGE,” rather than the album you skip over and disregard to get to “Blonde” (well, only if you’re on Apple Music).
Most Relatable Album for the End of Fall Quarter – “This is Acting” by Sia
From everything ranging from the last parties of fall quarter like frosh formal to the quiet times of hard work and studying in the few weeks before exams, songs like “Alive” from “This is Acting” have you covered. It’s got frustration and liberty as its central emotions, and you’re bound to sing along — or scream along — with its catchy beats and unforgettable lyrics. It’s also incredibly eclectic, with familiar pop melodies sounding as though they belong to her previous albums or even other singers, but Sia, of course, being Sia, pulls it off with her powerful voice.
Funniest Album of the Year – “Big Baby D.R.A.M.” by D.R.A.M.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I find D.R.A.M.’s debut album to be hilarious. Everything from the album art of D.R.A.M. cheesin’ with a puppy to his sexy bedroom song parody “WiFi” (featuring the legendary Erykah Badu) is just the right amount of ridiculous. Even his stage name, which stands for “Does Real Ass Music,” is clever. Honestly, the dude’s just a happy guy. His goofy but heartfelt treatment of R&B and rap is the kind of music you play when you want to put a smile on your face and don’t want to think too much.
Best Cover Song – “Fickle Sun (iii) I’m Set Free” by Brian Eno
My spring quarter almost ended in disaster. I had to write about 70 pages in the last month of my junior year, half of which went to a capstone on racial injustice. (AMSTUD can be horrifically depressing sometimes.) There were times that I would be overwhelmed by the gravity of the subject matter, or question my ability to get everything done; in these moments I would turn to Eno’s cover of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Set Free” from Eno’s most recent album “The Ship.” Every time Eno sings the title, it’s like a sunbeam that cuts through doubt and despair. It helped me find it within myself to keep on writing and keep on fighting. It still does.
Most Underdeveloped Album – “W:/2016ALBUM/” by deadmau5
The no-I-don’t-know-how-to-pronounce-that-either (or alternatively, the this-is-Stanford-we-should-all-know-it’s-the-W-drive) album hits the ground running with the melodious “4ware” that perfectly encapsulates the traditional spirit of the mau5. The album as a whole is a crossover between the well-known mau5 style and uncharted territory, which provides a refreshing new sound but also a sense of wanting; so many novel ideas, not as much development on them. It’s sure worth the listen, but the mau5’s true potential has yet to be unleashed.
-Arvind “Vince” Ranganathan
Freshest Album of the Year – “Bop City” by Terror Jr.
Up-and-coming pop trio Terror Jr. are largely unknown on the Internet; their rise to semi-fame has largely been due to Kylie Jenner’s usage of their song “3 Strikes” in an advert for a product of hers. But make no mistake — this minimalist group, consisting of two super-producers and an unnamed frontwoman contributing heavily autotuned vocals, is making music that’s about as fresh as it gets. They’ve been criticized for making similar sounding songs, and their debut album is barely an album at 8 tracks, but their music has an ethereal, floating quality to it. All of their production is both subdued and impeccable, featuring airy vocals and lyrics that play cleverly with millennial slang and culture.
Best Sample of a Conservative Cultural Commentator – “Drug Dealers Anonymous” by Pusha T and Jay-Z
“Drug Dealers Anonymous” is already a good song after a minute and a half, with Pusha T contributing yet another sleek, menacing verse about pushing cocaine (I personally like his line about “baptizing a brick,” but there’s really something for everyone) over an even sleeker beat courtesy of DJ Dahl. Yet it goes from good to great as Pusha T’s verse ends and an unexpected voice shows up. Yes, that’s Tomi Lahren, probably best known as that one conservative political commentator who gets shared by people you went to highschool with on Facebook. She’s sampled in what must be the most inventive way to introduce a Jay-Z guest verse — two bars of Lahren attacking Beyoncé for Jay-Z being a drug dealer followed by 48 of, well, Jay-Z talking about being a drug dealer.
Best Farewell Album – “Blackstar” by David Bowie
In a year filled with the tragic deaths of a variety of incredible and influential musicians (Prince, Phife Dawg, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell, Maurice White, Paul Kantner, and of course David Bowie) — not to mention a bunch of other shitty things — choosing the best farewell album of 2016 is no easy task. But in this case, the first might just be the best. “Blackstar,” David Bowie’s 25th and final studio album marks an end to one of the most brilliant and varied careers in modern music history. What’s more remarkable is that this album ranks among Bowie’s best works. It’s hard not to think of this album as a farewell, a Last Testament of sorts, in light of Bowie’s awareness of his death. But let’s not forget that, in addition to being a moving meditation on death, “Blackstar” is a fucking great album, even by Bowie’s absurdly high standards. Bringing in elements of jazz (influenced by Kamasi Washington’s stunning arrangements on Kendrick Lamar’s groundbreaking “To Pimp a Butterfly”), art rock, experimental rock, etc. In the end, it’s an album that transcends genre. From January on, “Blackstar”’s shadow seemed to hang over a truly shitty year, reminding us, naturally, of loss, but also of the fact that we have art, and that’s something.
Contact Tyler Dunston at tdunston ‘at’ stanford.edu