Two months and a leap day in, 2016 has blessed us with some wonderful listens. And more than just The Life of Pablo.
Wet’s Don’t You is my most listened album of 2016. A combination of synth pop and alternative R&B satisfies my taste and mood this winter. It’s rare to find music that laments and sings of a heart in pain without an overwhelmingly depressing tone, thanks to the synth pop feel.
I fell in love with Rhye this summer, but you can only listen to one album (2013’s Woman) so many times. Wet feels like Rhye, but Kelly’s voice is more refreshingly full of sweet beauty than just longing and lust, as I often find in alternative R&B and the likes of the xx and How to Dress Well.
Pitchfork kinda blasted Wet for the album’s “wallowing,” but I disagree that we need to compare this to 90’s R&B’s “emotional peaks.” Most of the time, I find I can’t relate to lyrics’ emotional intensity, declaration of complete love or total hatred. I want the in between feeling, the soothing indifferent tone.
I've listened to Wet much more because of my mood and the universal mood that is Winter, but Anderson .Paak's Malibu will likely stick with me longest.
.Paak is riding the wave of Surf, neo-soul/funk and West Coast rap into 2016. .Paak was also featured throughout Dr. Dre's Compton, but learn more about him here, because he's going to be big. The vibes are mellow and the funk is heavy, layered with strong verses. "The Season/Carry Me" meditates on the season for a rise (Went from playing community ball to ballin' with the majors) with reflection on .Paaks roots (Why they had to take my ma?/(Momma can you carry me?)) and surroundings (fuck fame, that killed all my favorite entertainers).
Dance to "Am I Wrong," vibe to the Rapsody collaboration "Without You" that samples heavily from one of my favorite funky groups, Hiatus Kaiyote.
Rihanna graced 2016 with ANTI, and on my nth listen, I'm beginning to think I should have written about just this album for density of quality packed in. "Work" is dominating the charts but tbh I'm a little sick of Drake and too into her more meaningful tracks.
The clear and beautiful "Never Ending" tackles a loss of sense of self when falling in love, with all of the introspection and none of the Rihanna that says you better have her money (and listen to her do it again in "Close to You"). "Yeah I Said It" is sexy (I think I kinda like ya/Up against the wall), with variety, not just slow jamming; "Needed Me" feels similar. She goes old school and shows off the versatility of her voice for "Love on the Brain."
BJ The Chicago Kid hooked me at "Good Luv'n" and "Church" last year, wooed me for good with his D'Angelo tribute and presented material for longer meditation and a lot of sex jams with In My Mind. "Turnin' Me Up" is the Kid's best release of his own D'Angelo feel on the album.
I'm thinking of playing "Jeremiah/The World Needs More Love" for the contemporary music hater that is my R&B/soul-loving dad and asking him to guess the year of release. About three minutes in, we get our first taste of 2016.
P.S. If BJTCK is too emotional for you, just skip right down to EVOL in this list.
Kiiara brought us Gold last year, and the 20 year-old follows up with Feels. I like this much better for its darker, more mature feel.
Ray Lamontagne’s raspy voice and drawn-out tempo builds on folk rock guitar riff throughout “Hey, No Pressure,” which feels more like rock than folk in his other work, building from Supernova. Sounds of blues are toned down in electronic atmospheric reverberation throughout "In My Own Way," with the pace and nostalgic feel I remember from Gossip in the Grain. I do miss an emphasis on his folksy wailing in both tracks. Ouroboros, Lamontagne's next album, debuts March 4.
Fill the gap in your heart that Frank Ocean's absence has left and forget about Sam Smith in favor of Gallant. He has incredible vocal range, moody feels and features the wonderful Jhene Aiko.
Your probably already know you should listen to The1975. I'm skeptical of alternative indie rock, and avoided The 1975 until enjoying the more low-key "Somebody Else" with its straightforward lyrics, intensely '80s beat and synthetics with the mood and flavor of today's alternative. The guitar solo just after the three minute mark in "The Sound" reminds me of the kinda overly upbeat, simple sound that I hate, but I managed through.
I remember a time when I hated Future, or at least didn't take him seriously – a time before his recent burst of releases. EVOL's firey album artwork lets you know what you're getting into – a backwards spelling of "love" tells us how far Future is from warmth and emotion. I can add the following to my own playlists, but I find the album as a whole impossible to handle. Let's be clear: listening to and enjoying Future are two separate tasks.
What about Ye, you say?
My favorite tracks off The Life of Pablo take last place not for lack of merit, but for lack of sharing capability (#ThanksTidal). To fully understand the gospel that is TLOP, allow Ultralight Beam to move you. Jam to the Highlights – I love Young Thug on this and the unpredictable beat that launches the intro. I for one am not obssessed with the Chance verse, but Waves will hook you from the first second.