Here it is, WUOG’s year end list for 2016 as voted on by DJs and staff members at the station with words from Frances Newton (outgoing Local Music Director and incoming General Manager), Isabella Ballew (outgoing Operations Director and incoming Local Music Director), Jonny Williams (outgoing Music Director), Camilla Grayson (Music Director) and Tori Benes (incoming Music Director). 10. David Bowie – Blackstar
Blackstar, released on David Bowie’s 69th birthday and just two days before his death, marks a fantastic farewell from one of the most treasured artists of the past four decades. With elaborate jazz textures courtesy of saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his band, Bowie incorporates elements of his career’s early work into his final album. The jazz work, combined with driving drum beats and spacey electronics, makes for a sonic labyrinth. Nothing is more enthralling about this album than the vocals though. Bowie creates an epic out of mortality on Blackstar, especially on “Lazarus” and “Dollar Days” as he rejects, ignores, and accepts death. While it is a painful task to say goodbye to such an icon, Blackstar is a reminder that even in the presence of sorrow, we must live on, and so will Bowie’s legacy.
– Tori Benes
9. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
Eighteen years after their previous album, A Tribe Called Quest re-enters the hip-hop scene with a fresh collection of layered sampled beats and politically-charged lyricism. We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service has the same grimy basslines and jazz structures from albums like 1991’s The Low End Theory or 1993’s Midnight Marauders, but Thank You 4 Your Service stands on its own as contemporary and organic. A handful of collaborators contribute more live instrumentation than any past record, and the emotion in each line is poignant and hard-hitting, especially after the death of Phife Dawg in March. Q-Tip proves to still be one of the industry’s best producers, weaving together echoes and sonic manipulations against timely meditations on racial injustice in America. The album closes with “The Donald,” an emotional tribute to Phife, and it serves as the final chapter to the group’s legendary career in music.
– Camilla Grayson
8. Mitski – Puberty 2
Puberty 2 is a painful album. It’s the kind that puts you in a specific mood as soon as it starts and doesn’t let you go until the conclusion. It’s also one that I appreciated so much more after experiencing it live. The passion in Mitski’s performance was breathtaking and devastating, and hearing “Your Best American Girl” live was probably the most powerful musical moment of 2016 for me. The next day, I listened to that song on repeat and every time I felt the same weight as when I heard it in concert. This album becomes something more every time I listen to it, and I don’t see that trend ending anytime soon.
– Jonny Williams
7. Solange – A Seat At The Table
Solange’s A Seat at the Table is as haunting as it is rhythmic and leaves any listener with an array of thoughts on what it means to be a black woman in America. Intertwining people’s personal experiences of racism through an alternating series of interludes between the songs with Solange’s honest and powerful vocals, A Seat at the Table is a heartfelt representation of the realities of being black in the United States of America, and most importantly, being a black woman. The album touches on everything from the minutia of injustices experienced by black women to larger topics such as segregation and the farce of reverse racism. Thematically, the focus of Solange’s album is blackness, what it means to be black and to love yourself for being black. As somebody who is not black, it is important to acknowledge narratives other than my own as often as possible, and I urge you to look up black female opinions and reviews on this album as they are more valid, relevant and important. As far as musicality is concerned, Solange’s album is very much a classic R&B album. There is little variance in the songs, simple piano is the background for Solange’s light and feathery ballads. The delivery is the only thing light about her songs as the message is deep, and I believe the simplicity of the delivery only further highlights the importance of the lyrics.
– Isabella Ballew
6. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Atrocity Exhibition is a compilation of the best Danny Brown has to offer. Combining the best elements from XXX and Old—his sharp wit and sense of humor, which were extremely prevalent in XXX, and his stark and honest portrayals of his life and childhood, which we were introduced to in Old—Atrocity Exhibition with the added political context to his lyrics, is the apex of Brown’s work so far. With the reality of being a black man who grew up in poverty, the tendency to remain generally apolitical in order to sell more music might be tempting, but Danny Brown shows no intentions of continuing that in Atrocity Exhibition, and I appreciate him more for it. The true star quality of this album is in the production quality as Atrocity Exhibition gives a perfect taste of Danny Brown’s versatility in his style. Tracks like “Really Doe” and “Rolling Stone” incorporate simple beats that allow Danny Brown to focus on his lyrical ability, while tracks like “Dance In The Water” sacrifice a little lyrically but are the real “bangers” on the album. Danny Brown has created extremely layered beats that progress rapidly and enthusiastically, making the listener want to dance uncontrollably one minute and then switch back to thoughtful in the course of a song. Danny Brown has come to the point in his career where he could pretty much create anything he wants, and his ability and drive to continually push himself to produce more complex and interesting rap has allowed him success in a point in his career where most rappers would begin to fall off. For fans of fast paced, sarcastic and dirty rap, this album is truly the best this year has to offer.
– Isabella Ballew
5. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
Freetown Sound intimately translates nation-wide racial issues into personal accounts detailing what it means to be a person of color in America amidst daily shootings and discrimination. Everything about this album feels like a grand statement, and the instrumentation mirrors that striking excellency. The diverse vocals mingle between echoing coos and spoken word poetry, and the synths widen the clear electronic drums, keyboard, and jazzy saxophone. Dev Hynes’s melodies are gorgeously tender and contain an honest sensuality to them that only his ethereal funk and groovy R&B can reach. Hynes admitted to structuring the album in a broad, dizzying collage of ideas woven together with spoken word interludes, but its abstract composition makes it feel larger than life. Hynes pushed himself musically and thematically to make a personal, but generation-defining piece of history.
– Camilla Grayson
4. Beyonce – Lemonade
Lemonade is a political and personal, sweet and sour revolutionary work of black feminism that guides its audience through the emotionally tumultuous and once very private relationship of Beyonce Knowles Carter and her husband, Jay Z. As primary artist, producer, vocal producer, and executive producer, Beyonce has been able to formulate her own meticulously made masterpiece with a team of hand picked coordinators like Diplo. She has features from and gives credit to some other amazing artists too: The Weeknd, Jack White, Kendrick Lamar, Ezra Koenig, James Blake. In “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” Beyonce sings about moving onto the next man, and her choice in featuring all male artists displays her ability to do just that, painlessly. On the other hand, her visual album tells the stories of black women without any traces of men—except a Malcolm X quote in the beginning, which describes how hard it is to be a black woman in America, and an intimate shot of her and her husband towards the end. She features the writings of Somali poet Warsan Shire, and includes some incredible well-known black women, including Ibeyi, Amandla Steinberg, Quvenzhane Wallis, Chloe x Halle, Zendaya, Serena Williams, and the mothers of recently deceased black men in incidents of police brutality—Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. This visual album tells their stories and their stories of closeness and support they have found in each other.
Musically, the album delves in and out of genres so abruptly that it’s challenging to assign just one. Beyonce does country. Beyonce does pop, blues, rock, electronic, gospel—she does it all. She demonstrates her musical ability and her rejection of genre confinements. Bey transitions from the tender, pained, soulful “Pray You Catch Me” at the start of the album to the angry, confused, explosion of “Hold Up” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” “Daddy Lessons,” her upbeat, rambunctious country song comes in in the middle of the album, and the brilliant story continues to unfold with finesse through the rest of Lemonade.
The album tells a story of the initial upset of a cheating partner, the denial, the pain, the back and forth of a pained lover’s mind, the romance, the possibility of healing and ends with “Formation,” a song where Bey celebrates blackness, womanhood, togetherness and “sings to those of us who grew up black in the American South,” according to Jesmyn Ward of NPR—something she says, “We needed to hear.” There has been a huge surge in the Black Lives Matter Movement this past year, and Beyonce has vocalized her support inside and outside this album as a major financial contributor to the movement.
Lemonade is an artistic staple of the 21st century, one for the history books.
– Frances Newton
3. Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN
Stella Adler once said, “Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one,” and the artistry of Angel Olsen’s MY WOMAN has achieved success by doing just that. Olsen’s crooning, echoing voice and hypersensitive lyrics move the soul to forgotten, possibly foreign, places. While her lyrics feel deeply personal, they are easy to assign subjective experiences to—experiences of loss, love, hurt, frustration: “…and though this blessing was a curse, before I opened up my heart, you learn to take it as it comes, you fall together, fall apart,” she sings in her folk rock ballad “Sister.”
Angel Olsen has always been the champion of creating albums with diversified feelings and sound. After Burn Your Fire For No Witness was released in 2014, Olsen gained recognition as an artist overly capable of expressing her own feelings and yours with heart-wrenching lyrics, lo-fi quality and songs so absorbed in brokenness and the loss of love. MY WOMAN was the follow-up so many of her fans needed—the album so over “him,” done with feelings of brokenness and ready to move onto the more challenging tasks of finding oneself. It opens with “Intern,” an atypical Angel Olsen track, a poppy and dreamy synth laden song infused with somewhat nonsensical and emotionally flat, stream-of-consciousness style lyrics: it’s a homogenous, non-individualized pop commentary, a Greek-chorus-like intro to the rest of the album. The remainder of the album dives in and out of deep emotional waters, splashing in your own soul’s content and enveloping it with catchy lyrics and matter-of-factness in songs like “Never Be Mine,” “Shut Up Kiss Me,” and “Heart Shaped Face.”
While lost in the poignant musicality of this album, one may find themselves asking who Angel Olsen’s “WOMAN” is exactly. Clearly, the twenty-nine year old artist is uncovering who she is, but to many of her fans’ dismay, she may not be the feminist icon we had hoped for.
In her August interview with Pitchfork, Olsen combats a comparison of herself to pop-sensation, Lana Del Rey by criticizing her fellow female artist’s sexuality: “Do you know that I write songs? I’ve always written songs. I’ve never been someone who poses naked on a men’s magazine,” she said. In the same interview, she makes insensitive, callous remarks about gentrification, of which she claims to be a part of and reaping the benefits of.
MY WOMAN continues to be my most listened to album of the year, but I find myself hoping Angel Olsen reveals herself to be a woman unlike the one illustrated in the Pitchfork review—one who is socially conscious and promotes the success of other female artists.
– Frances Newton
2. Frank Ocean – Blonde
After Frank Ocean rapidly rose to fame with the success of Channel Orange in 2012, he disappeared from the media with no hints of future projects. Just as quickly as he vanished, Frank Ocean blasted back into stardom after four years of near silence with the release of Blonde. This attention is beyond well-deserved. The lyrics loop around to create a series of vignettes mostly about everyday lives, especially those of romance, although some songs have quick mentions in the form of tired exhales about social issues. Like the quick glints of Frank Ocean’s poetic stories, the instrumentals constantly flash between simple piano parts, jangly guitars, woozy vocal modulation and organs. Frank Ocean’s psychedelic-laced R&B is sonically as pleasing as ever, but it is the intimate stories nestled deep within this album that will keep Blonde on rotation for time to come.
– Tori Benes
1. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Will Toledo turned his deepest, self-doubt ridden and angstiest diary entries into flowing tales on Car Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial. The album’s wordy musings straddle the line between intimate thoughts and relatable anthemic choruses, and his self-loathing morphing into self acceptance is playfully relatable. Toledo pulls from 90’s indie rock, using basic chords and building choruses, but his clear dynamic vocals propel each song into notoriety. I saw Car Seat Headrest twice this year, and each performance was carefully crafted. At the show in Atlanta, he anxiously left the stage to go to the bathroom during a instrumental break and came back like nothing ever happened. No one could tell whether it was planned or not, but I thought it showed how transparent and connected his personality is to his jittery lyricism. Will Toledo’s intimate honesty woven with humorous stories makes Teens of Denial stand out as the best album of the year.
– Camilla Grayson
I’m not going to lie, Teens Of Denial is an album I feel like I missed in 2016. As year end lists come out, there are a few albums that I know I’ll spend more time with in 2017, and this is certainly one of them. It can be an exhausting listen at over an hour long. But even in its length there are some striking moments that stick with you after the whole thing, like when “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia” casually jumps into the chorus of “White Flag” (yeah, Dido’s “White Flag”). On paper, I shouldn’t like this album because I’m not the biggest fan of 90s indie-rock. But when I listen to it, I’m pleasantly surprised. (Really though, it’s kind of long).
– Jonny Williams
While Car Seat Headrest’s Will Toledo had the privilege of spending five years at his parents home in Virginia to upload songs to Bandcamp and work on “getting discovered,” the rest of us went on with our daily lives. In fact, most of us paid no attention to Toledo until this year with the release of his thirteenth studio album. It’s certainly easy to get lost in some of Denial’s meandering tracks like “The Ballad of Costa Concordia” and “Connect the Dots,” with only one track on the album lasting under four minutes, however, it’s impossible to deny the album’s likeness to 1990’s artists like Weezer and Guided By Voices. Although not a CSH fan myself, I do enjoy the thought of Mr. Toledo practicing these songs—especially the ones with screaming—in his parent’s basement.
– Frances Newton
At first listen, Teens of Denial was nothing but a predictable indie-rock album. Will Toledo crafts catchy rock songs through a mix of tongue-in-cheek lyrics that toe the line between angst and clever. A few select songs are interesting enough to see what put this album at the top of so many year-end lists, like the careening intro for “Vincent.” Toledo never sacrifices catchiness for his more experimental elements, which is what held this album back from being one of my personal favorites. But what makes this album so likeable and accessible is that it is comprised entirely of angst ridden songs that are almost impossible to not bob your head to. The album is overtly relatable and enjoyable in a simple way. Content wise, the album fails to escape from the trappings of a college-age listenership; most of the lyrics rely heavily on relating to feeling aimless and isolated, nihilistic drug use and existential musings, but fails to touch on any of these subjects in a particularly innovative way. What Teens of Denial gains in being catchy and occasionally innovative in song construction, it loses by being little more than Toledo whining about his alienation and the lack of meaning in certain aspects of his life. Toledo is a little too into himself for my tastes, and it shows in his songwriting, but I think this album would be perfect listening for people who enjoy personal and introspective lyrical journeys. Teens of Denial is a very solid and listenable album that falls short of great due to its repetitiveness and predictability, but is nonetheless a great listen.
– Isabella Ballew
At the start of the opening track, “Fill in the Blank,” a confused announcer welcomes “uhhh… Car Seat Headrest” to a crowd. After the momentous year Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest had, I doubt the project will have any more stumbling introductions. The anthemic Teens of Denial, Will Toledo’s first proper record on Matador after an extensive bandcamp career, secured Car Seat Headrest a cult-like fan base. Will Toledo by no means reinvented indie rock, but the hook-heavy guitars and the mere intimacy of the lyrics make for a compelling album. Will Toledo articulates feelings of depression, anger and loss of innocence, and the reliance on alcohol and drugs that these sentiments result in. With lines like, “What happened to that chubby little kid who smiled so much and loved the Beach Boys? / What happened is I killed that f***** and I took his name and I got new glasses,” and, “I was given a mind that can’t control itself / And I was given a ship that can’t steer itself,“ Toledo captures the insecurities and demons associated with growing up in a manner that feels universal. Whether you relate to Toledo’s cathartic lyrics or not, screaming along to such sad lyrics has never felt so good.
– Tori Benes
- Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
- Frank Ocean – Blonde
- Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN
- Beyonce – Lemonade
- Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
- Danny Brown Atrocity Exhibition
- Solange – A Seat At The Table
- Mitski – Puberty 2
- Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
- David Bowie – Blackstar
- Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book
- Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo
- The Avalanches – Wildflower
- Kaytranada – 99.9%
- Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
- Kendrick Lamar – Untitled Unmastered
- Porches – Pool
- Lil Yachty – Lil Boat
- Bon Iver – 22, A Million
- Rihanna – Anti
- Anderson .Paak – Malibu
- Mothers – When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired
- Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp
- Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
- NxWorries – Yes Lawd!