Hello all, and welcome to our first almost-late day of Listmas! Wouldn’t be this time of year without one. Anyway, today we’re trying something new with the 4 most overrated and underrated albums of the year. I’m not saying the overrated albums are bad, but that maybe the music-list machine has been a little too nice to them. Conversely, the underrated ones are ones that I thought deserved more of a chance, and so I wrote a little thing for them. Here are those things.
4. Beach Slang – A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings
I saw Beach Slang live this year at one of the more singular live shows I’ve been to. Their second guitarist was fired the day the tour started, and frontman James Alex resolved to do the tour as a solo acoustic act, instead. Somewhere, that plan got nixed, and on the night I saw them, Alex walked out alone but with his white Epiphone 335, and jumped right into “Atom Bomb.” For the next two and a half hours, he played and sang Beach Slang’s loud as shit guitar rock like the fact that the rest of the band wasn’t there did not matter. He headbanged, he jumped and stomped, he did Pete Townshend windmills, all despite the fact that if you were close enough up front, you could hear his unamplified guitar strums. A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings has that same do-or-die mentality, and while Beach Slang probably won’t evolve past their earnest, scrappy, punk with a wide pop streak, they’re hard to top at it. So long as Alex keeps turning in the songs, he’ll be able to keep the dream alive on tour, whether it’s just him or the full band.
3. Isaiah Rashad – The Sun’s Tirade
31 months isn’t so long to go without a release in most music circles, but rap actively punishes artists for not being prolific. No one more than TDE member Isaiah Rashad is aware of how long the gap was between his debt Cilvia Demo and September’s The Sun’s Tirade (well, aside from TDE manager Dave Free), and Rashad spends most of the album reflecting on and overcoming the substance abuse and depression that interfered with his creativity. For an album coming from a low place, it’s never dour: the production is a smooth mix of boom-bap and soul-tinged southern rap, and even at his grimmest, Rashad sounds like a guy who considers himself thoughtful. It’s a good, moody record, even if it got overshadowed in the rap canon of 2016.
2. Green Day – Revolution Radio
Where are Green Day supposed to exist in 2016? Even after Billie Joe Armstrong’s 2012 meltdown and the UnoDosTriology, they’ve always felt more creatively stable and ambitious than their still-going Alternative Nation compatriots Red Hot Chili Peppers and blink-182, and less likely to give into classic rockization. At the same time, there isn’t a way forward for them on the radio, which was more or less finished with Rock bands by 2011. So, Green Day spend Revolution Radio convincing fans they’re still good at being Green Day; that they can still fire off three chord riffs, verse-chorus-verse songs, and junior year poetry-as-commentary lyrics without derailing it with tons of filler or heady concepts. They’ve also let the sentimental streak live on RevRad with “Outlaws,” “Still Breathing,” and “Young Bloods” all acting as homages to old friends, the fresh out of rehab new lease on life, and Armstrong’s wife respectively. Green Day are still as uncool as they’ve always been, but this is the best they’ve sounded in 12 years.
1. Tegan and Sara – Love You To Death
If it’s hard for Green Day to exist in 2016, it’s even harder to say where a veteran indie act that doesn’t act like a veteran indie act like Tegan and Sara fits in. Love You To Death doesn’t get to re-up on the “they went synthpop” narrative critics got to attach to Closer, despite this album picking up where Closer’s gleaming synths left off, nor are any of these songs especially likely to cross over onto unadventurous radio stations. But pound for pound, it’s one of the best, purest pop records of the year. The synth arrangements here are more intricate than Closer, and the writing here is ridiculously sharp in how it looks at the ways a relationship is often at odds with what we want for ourselves (“U-Turn” might be the single smartest pop song you hear all year). It’s weird that a compact, intelligent album full of unabashedly queer synthpop went by almost unremarked all year, but you’ve still got time to cue this one up. You may even love it to death (sorry, I had to).
4. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Anderson .Paak’s 2016 might be the best thing that came from Dr. Dre’s Compton last year. On top of Malibu, he also released the collaborative Yes Lawd! with Knxledge, and had great feature spots with Kaytranda, ScHoolboy Q, and A Tribe Called Quest. That said, the EOY praise for Malibu (which is a good and undeniably fun record!) feels like it’s for his year as a whole than on its merits as a record. It’s a solid G-funk meets R&B record, but one that loses its flavor somewhere past “Room in Here.” It’s a good start to what’s hopefully a long career on the up-shoot.
3. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
Does Justin Vernon know that the point of numerology and symbolism is that you go somewhere with it? 22, A Million gleefully clubs you over the head with its hieroglyphs and coded numbers, but you never get the sense that it actually means anything under it all, which goes for the album’s wonky, non-Euclidean take on studio folk, as well. Vernon is talented at making songs that sound very something, but any deeper meaning behind “#29 Strafford Apts” or “715 (Creeks)” is covered in too many layers for anyone who isn’t a Bon-Hiver to discern. This record got compared to Kid A a bunch, which has never sat right with me because Kid A is loaded with “Look Brian Eno, no hands” moments, sure, but its songs believed in being actual songs. Instead, with the way it uses unconventional sound and obfuscation to hide its own intertia, 22, A Million reminds me of The King of Limbs.
2. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
In a Songs of the Year match-up, Pablo is the six shot revolver you brought to a knife fight loaded with “Ultra Light Beam,” both “Father Stretch My Hands” numbers, “Real Friends,” “No More Parties in LA,” and “Fade.” And TLOP is a fascinating album to turn over mentally from the living document angle and as a prelude into the hectic year in store for its creator. It’s too bad it’s so lopsided as an album with underdeveloped sections and pacing issues. As compelling a thought experiment it is, The Life of Pablo cannot be an album of the year if the least compelling thing about it is hitting play.
1. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Is it reductive to write-off all of indie rock-dom as “sad white dude sings about his disaffection?” Maybe. Is it unfair to hold that reputation against Will Toledo’s Car Seat Headrest? Almost definitely. Toledo knows his way around a song–”Destroyed By Hippie Powers” is the keeper here, and “Fill in the Blank,” “Vincent,” and “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” are great, too–but Teens of Denial is too self-satisfied and (so) overlong as a whole to be anything beyond okay. There’s only so much mileage you can wring out of presenting the ennui of a guy living his mid ‘20s in a city as plainly as this, and somewhere after the second or third song about the emptiness of drinking at parties, but before the eleven minute long one that uses the sinking of a cruise liner as a metaphor for how life is just so hard, it’s like “Jesus Christ, Will, I know.”
The economics of time might something to do with why Teens of Denial is a turn off. At 70 minutes, not only is it unwieldy, but I could fit in Mitski’s Puberty 2, Mannequin Pussy’s Romantic, and most of Cody by Joyce Manor in the same time and get more bang for my angsty 20s-something buck. I don’t know. I think of Teens of Denial, I think of seeing James Alex front Beach Slang alone, and I try to imagine Toledo trying the same gig. I don’t see it happening. Toledo’s music doesn’t have that desperate edge, that guilelessness necessary to take the leap. Without that, Teens of Denial sounds cool at first, but gets indulgent and empty in a hurry. It becomes the sort of record that makes you look at indie rock and ask “Is this it?”
The Gibby Fifty
Anyway, now that we’ve got that out of the way, here’s my favorite 50 songs of the year. The only real rules for this one are one per primary artist, and songs from the best list don’t count because we already accounted for them, and songs from the worst list are (natch) DQ’d. It’s alphabetical with the “the” artists in the T’s. Check it out, we finish tomorrow!
|A Tribe Called Quest||We the People….|
|AJJ||Goodbye, Oh Goodbye|
|Anderson .Paak feat ScHoolboy Q||Am I Wrong?|
|Beach Slang||Atom Bomb|
|Beyonce||Don’t Hurt Yourself|
|Blood Orange||Best to You|
|Bruno Mars||Too Good To Say Goodbye|
|Calvin Harris feat. Rihanna||This Is What You Came For|
|Car Seat Headrest||Destroyed By Hippie Powers|
|Chris Farren||Say U Want Me|
|D.R.A.M. feat. Lil Yachty||Broccoli|
|Danny Brown feat Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt)||Really Doe|
|Drake||Feel No Ways|
|Esperanza Spalding||Unconditional Love|
|Green Day||Bang, Bang|
|Gwen Stefani||Make Me Like You|
|Isaiah Rashad feat. Syd||Silkk Da Shock|
|Jeff Rosenstock||Blast Damage Days|
|Joyce Manor||Last You Heard Of Me|
|Kanye West feat. Kendrick Lamar||No More Parties in LA|
|Kendrick Lamar||untitled 05 | 09.21.2014|
|Lady Gaga feat. Florence Welch||Hey Girl|
|Mitski||Your Best American Girl|
|Modern Baseball||Just Another Face|
|PUP||If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will|
|Rae Sremmurd||Take It or Leave It|
|Rihanna||Kiss It Better|
|Santigold||Can’t Get Enough of Myself|
|Sia feat. Big Sean||Cheap Thrills|
|Solange||Cranes in the Sky|
|teen suicide||It’s Just a Pop Song|
|Tegan and Sara||U-Turn|
|The 1975||Somebody Else|
|The Hotelier||Two Deliverances|
|The Menzingers||Bad Catholics|
|The Weeknd||Stargirl (Interlude)|
|Thin Lips||Never Again|
12/14: Favorite Albums
12/15: Worst Hits of the Year (10-6)
12/16: Worst Hits of the Year (5-1)
12/17: Best Hits of the Year (10-6)
12/18: Best Hits of the Year (5-1)
12/19: The Gibby 50 and Over/Underrated Albums
12/20: The Year in Rant: Odds and Ends