Best of 2016: Pop / R&B / Hip-Hop / Soul

This might seem like a lot to roll together, and to that I say: yes, probably. I wish that there were at least two different groups here, but I barely got to 10 with this category as is. I’m not sure whether there’s an exposure problem, a grumpy Nate problem, or something else that keeps me from getting a lot of these records. And honestly some of these took a few listens before I was sure I liked them at all!   

10> Michael Kiwanuka - Love & Hate

This may be the most epic album I listened to all year. From the get-go, it is a lush psychedelic soul trip that has some amazing guitar licks in between the ballads and pop songs. Kiwanuka somehow takes traditional sounds and blows them out into proportions that make them as engaging than ever.

9> Xenia Rubinos - Black Terry Cat

This came out around the same time as many of the other albums on the list (~October) and it was an immediate joy. Having art pop influences is a great thing for Soul music and Rubinos (autocorrect: Rubbings) appears to either be well-listened to the lineage or very strange and lucky. This is a fun but meaty listen for your afternoon.

8> Chairlift - Moth

The recently defunct Chairlift’s swansong is a jubilant pop affair that will be stuck in your head for days. Caroline Polachek’s vocals are sugary sweet and fit perfectly in between Patrick Wemberly’s smart pop beats. Hopefully these two will do some great separate things, but together they were an indie pop force that will be missed.

7> Solange - Seat at the Table

70% of the music I try out I don’t immediately connect to and I end up removing it from my computer and “archiving” it. A few times a year I’ll go back and dig something out of archive that I really like. It’s rare for me to go back three times, but I think that’s how many times it took me to accept this album for what it is. But it’s a really great album. I greatly prefer it without the interludes.

6> Noname - Telefone

With all the overbearing, pompous, bloated hip hop out there, it’s so nice to listen to a lean album of tight beats, smart rhymes, and plenty of soul. This is a gem of a mixtape that shows great promise for Chicago’s hip hop scene and people in general.

5> Kadhja Bonet - The Visitor

This album is unclassifiable to an extent that I didn't get it on this list until late in the game. However, it is technically psychedelic soul, so here it is. And it's a great album! Bonet's voice is magical and the arrangements of these songs are otherworldly. This is a unique listen that is recommended to anyone and everyone.

4> Junior Boys - Big Black Coat

Enjoying an album at home more than a live set is a touchstone of electronic artists. In this case though, it might just be because the album is so crisp and hits all the right notes all the time, just like everything they’ve ever done. This might be their most consistent since So This is Goodbye 10(!) years back.

3> Jessy Lanza - Oh No

Speaking of Junior Boys, I love the visual I have of Jessy Lanza moving into Jeremy Greenspan’s house to work on this album together. It’s such a charmed Canadian Artists story and I wish that I could inhabit it somehow. Oh, wait, I can! I can listen to this album!!

2> Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition

I’ve been subtly anticipating this album since Brown’s guest spots on Piñata and DJ Spinn’s Dubby EP. When I heard about the range of influences, I was almost fully sold. When I actually heard it, I never put it down. It’s exactly the kind of album a smart, post-punk and album loving person would make. Easily the best hip hop of the year.

1> Nicolas Jaar - Sirens

Finally, Nicolas Jaar is good at making music again! I’ve been bored by his output for the last five years, but now I couldn’t be happier. He does it all on this album, and so much better than he’s ever done any of it. I hope he focuses up again soon and drops another masterpiece.