Though 2016 had it’s fair share of downer moments, passings of icons, and more generally bad things that have happened, one thing that has kept us sane, questioning, and comforted was a LOT of great music that came out this year. To highlight all the amazing tunes that came out this year, we asked our Music Director’s panel for some of their favorite music to be released in 2016.
10. HOOPS – “Cool 2” (from the HOOPS EP)
Few guitar riffs have gotten ingrained into my memory as fast as the first 10 seconds to the opening track on Bloomington-based HOOPS’ debut EP on Fat Possum Records. The woozy chorus effect comes through as clear and as hazy as a late summer’s night spent on my balcony, but still remains danceable jam and still my favorite HOOPS track to date. After such a huge year for this group in 2016, I’m very very excited to see what’s in store for them in 2017.
9. Drake feat. The Throne – “Pop Style”
While I honestly still think Views was a long, undeserving, frankly boring album, this single released this May captures one of the highlights off the entire album. In my head, this song acts as almost a sequel to Nothing Was the Same‘s “Worst Behavior”, but this time enlists the talent of “The Throne”, aka Jay-Z and Kanye West. Jay is (thankfully) only featured for a whopping total of two lines, while the rest of this feature is dominated by the omnipresent Kanye West. Honestly, this is probably Kanye’s best feature in a number of years, and also may be a better verse than many of his lyrics featured on this year’s The Life of Pablo. The way Drake and Kanye’s vocals complimented each other in this track leaves me eternally excited for the elusive collaborative album between the two of them that hopefully should actually come out next year ! Maybe! Who Knows!
8. Rae Sremmurd feat. Gucci Mane – “Black Beatles” (from Sremmlife2)
I think the moment this solidified in my mind the iconic status of this party anthem from Rae Sremmurd’s second album when Kanye West Collaborator, Wings frontman, and the only important Beatle left Paul McCartney did the Mannequin Challenge next to a white baby grand piano inside his residence. Through this mannequin challenge, this song not only placed itself in an iconic moment for pop music, but for popular culture in general. Additionally, Gucci’s feature on this track was another solid performance in one of the Atlanta rapper’s biggest years in career. Both Rae Sremmurd and Gucci were able to get theirhis long awaited and much deserved first Billboard Hot 100 #1 hit with this track, cementing them as true party legends in the 2010s.
7. Beck – “Wow”
After a surprise Grammy win for album of the year in 2015 and the commercially successful single “Dreams”, Beck returned this year for another one off single which may be some of his best songs in close to 10 years. Capturing much of the energy he had on some of his classic albums of the 90’s, this combination pop and hip hop sensibilities for a punk frame of mind made me feel like this was the “Where it’s at” for the DJ Mustard generation. Hopefully whenever Beck finishes another album it will feature more tracks in this vein.
6. D.R.A.M. feat. Lil Yachty – “Broccoli”
Two of the most positive forces in hip hop in 2016 came together to make a feel-good party songs of the year. It’s major, high pitched piano chords paired with distorted 808 bass on the beat provide the framework for allow the two rappers to sing on one of the most catchy, fun rap songs of the year. A year after D.R.A.M.’s “Cha Cha” essentially got ripped off into Drake’s “Hotline Bling”, he’s come back stronger than ever with easily his best track yet.
5. The Avalanches – “Subways” (from Wildflower)
I once remember reading producer Skylar Spence say over twitter over the summer that this track was a perfect example on how a bass line can make an entire track, and I certainly agree. Like many, the first time I heard this song was in a very short loop over the phone when I called the one toll-free number the Avalanches set up in anticipation of their first album in 16 years. From that moment, the song’s samples featuring kids choirs, disco drums, and that infectious bassline because ingrained in my soul as one of my absolute favorite songs of the year.
4. Porter Robinson and Madeon – “Shelter”
Two of the strongest young faces in electronic music came together for one of the most powerful collaborations in recent memory. It’s also incredible that these two producers were able to go on tour to promote one singular song, without even a full collaborative album out yet. The tour saw them covering and performing each other’s songs and overall showed the energy that these two shared when creating music together. The single’s accompanying music video was a beautiful 6 minute anime written by Porter himself perfectly kind of creates a mythology for this song much like how Interstellar 5555 for Daft Punk’s Discovery. The similarities don’t really end there, though – I feel a little bit that this song might be the SoundCloud generation’s first glimpse into a dance music project as grand as Discovery. Only time will tell to see if more will come from this collaboration, and I anxiously wait to hear more from the pair of them.
3. David Bowie – “Lazarus” (from Blackstar)
“Look up here, I’m in Heaven”. The opening lyrics to this powerful track off of David Bowie’s final album ominously pointed to the struggles of dealing with terminal liver cancer and staring into the face of death. The music video for the song, which was released only 3 days before his death captures his process of dealing with and accepting his impending death. Posthumously, this song is a powerful highlight on the album that has become the epitaph for Bowie’s Career.
2. Mitski – Your Best American Girl (from Puberty 2)
Every time I listen to this song, I can’t help but get goosebumps. From its delicate beginnings of talking about intimate feelings of love, to its bombastic, grand ending, its huge grand guitars mixed with Mitski’s voice pay homage while seeming to subvert some of the 90’s alt rock riffs and attitudes to create something bigger. The mixing on this song, starting at such a tender quiet level and building to a truly epic conclusion makes my music-tech filled heart swoon with the theatrics filled in these 4 minutes. It’s beautiful and easily my favorite track off this album!
1. Kanye West – “Ultralight Beam” (from The Life of Pablo)
Very few times in popular music do artists try to talk about and deal with spirituality in their music. Kanye West is no stranger to this, having first made waves in 2004 with his single “Jesus Walks.” This intro track to 2016’s Life of Pablo wasn’t even originally planned to be on the album, but instead was a planned G.O.O.D. Fridays single release. However, once producer Fonzworth Bentley got R&B singer Kelly Price and Gospel artist Kirk Franklin involved, it was taken to a whole new level. Hearing this song for the first time on SNL inside of One Main Café at Capital was a truly inspiring moment, and when I got back to my room to open up Tidal on my computer and listen to the whole album, I was blown away. Hearing this song reminded me a bit when Brian Wilson said that the unfinished Beach Boys album Smile was supposed to be a “Teenage symphony to God”. Also featured in this song is fellow Chicago native Chance the Rapper give one of his best and most spiritual verses ever, topped off at the end with a benediction from none other than Kirk Franklin. When I saw Kanye in Columbus in September, his set closed out with this song, the powerful, almost overwhelming choir singing “FAITH. MORE. SAFE. WAR.” as Kanye descended off his mobile stage, almost ascending to another level of divinity. After a rigorous touring year, rants about Trump, a hospitalization due to psychosis induced by exhaustion, Kanye is really at another turning point in his career, and it is going to be very interesting to see what he will accomplish in the upcoming year.
-WXCU Music Director Matt McCroskey
10. HELLYEAH – Unden!able
This is one of the first albums that I received at the start of this semester and it is an incredible album. Every track was amazing, and my favorites include “Leap of Faith” and their cover of “I Don’t Care Anymore”
9. Exumer – The Raging Tides
This album is the latest from the veteran thrash band Exumer. Once I heard the first song, I was hooked. If you like Slayer, you’ll definitely like this album by Exumer, and be sure to check out tracks like “Sinister Souls” and “Sacred Defense”
8. Artillery – Penalty by Perception
This one is another thrash album with a little bit of progressive metal thrown in for good measure. If you’re looking to do some head banging then look no further. Definitely check out the opening track “In Defiance of Conformity” and “Sin of Innocence”
7. Necromancing the Stone – Jewel of the Vile
Definitely check out the opening track “Crusher” to hear yet another primo example of the new wave thrash. This album is perfect for anyone looking for that classic thrash sound.
6. Pantera – The Great Southern Trendkill (20th Anniversary Edition)
This is by far my favorite Pantera Album (with “Cowboys from Hell” in a very close second) and the 20th anniversary somehow managed to get better! Check out the entire second disk for some sweet bonus tracks, live recordings, and demo songs.
5. Heaven Below – Good Morning Apocalypse
This post-apocalyptic concept album will have you hooked all the way through. The opening track, “Nefarious Angels”, sets up the story line, as well as boasts some major thrash and classic metal influences. Patrick Kennison’s vocals will make your jaw drop, especially in the a cappella section of ““Nefarious Angels”.
4. Serpentine Dominion – Serpentine Dominion
This album is as metal as it gets, and not much more can be said. This super group is made up of Adam DutkiewiczAdam Dutkiewicz, of Killswitch Engage, on guitar, bass, and backing vocals; Shannon Lucas, of The Black Dahlia Murder, on drums; and the legendary George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher, of Cannibal Corpse, on vocals. Every track on the album is amazing, but I highly recommend the first single, “The Vengeance In Me”, to get a taste, but we both know you won’t be able to quit!
3. Suicidal Tendencies – World Gone Mad
This album is classic Suicidal if I’ve ever heard it. The title track is by far my favorite followed closely by “Damage Control”. If you’re looking to mosh like it’s still the glory days of thrash metal, then look no further!
2. The Charred Walls of the Damned – Creatures Watching Over the Dead
Until I got this promo from Metal Blade Records, I had never heard of The Charred Walls of the Damned, but I was immediately infatuated with their singer. My first thoughts were “Wow! This dude sounds just like Dio!” After a little digging, I found out that the singer is actually Tim “The Ripper” Owens, who fronts The Dio Disciples, so it makes sense that they sound similar. Every song on this album is incredible, but if you’re looking for a place to start, I recommend “My Eyes” and “The Soulless”.
1. Korn – The Serenity of Suffering
If you’ve never really been a fan of Korn, but you’ve heard this album, you’re a fan now. This album is mind blowing, and every track seems to get better and better. This album cuts back to old school Korn, yet retains a much more modern sound. Check out my tracks “Insane”, “Rotting in Vain”, and “Take Me”. You can thank me later!
–WXCU Metal Music Director AJ Ford
Here’s a list of some other really good albums WXCU Music Director really liked but didn’t want to put on our main lists since we didn’t play too much of these on WXCU! Check ’em out though if you like!!!
Young Thug – Jeffery
From the moment you lay eyes on the iconic cover photo of Atlanta rapper Young Thug draped in a beautiful blue dress, you know this mixtape has a sense of significance. With each track being named after one of Jeffery’s Idols, it’s some of Thug’s best work in awhile. Standout tracks include “Harambe”, “Wyclef Jean”, and “Kanye West” (which features Wyclef Jean). As one of the most innovative and boundary-pushing rappers today, it will be very exciting to see what Jeffery has to bring in 2017.
Preoccupations – Preoccupations
This Brooding debut from the band formerly known as Viet Cong, creates a dark post-punk sonic portrait. From the opening track “Anxiety” to the 11 minute long “Memory”, this record is a powerful reintroduction to one of the coolest post-punk bands today.
Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
Outside of music, Donald Glover has had one of the most successful years of his career. His show Atlanta premiered on FX and became one of the most interesting, refreshing, and hilarious new shows in 2016. He also accepted the role of a lifetime, portraying a young Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Star Wars prequel surrounding the life of Han Solo. Beyond all this, he completed one of the most surprising and funky albums to be released this year. Stand out tracks like the incredible opener “Me and your Mama”, and endlessly funky “Redbone” offer an incredibly well-crafted showing of emotion through a layer of groovy funk. It should be exciting to see how in the coming years this will inspire more to bring funk back into the mainstream.
Spit Take – Frog Rock
Before Spit Take played in Columbus over the summer inside a house that also hosted the Ramones in the 70s, I’ve never heard much about this Conneticut-based three piece. After this show, their new album Frog Rock became one of my favorites of the year. Their sound oozes of 90s indie rock archetypal sounds without being nostalgic. Its emotional, cathartic, catchy, and overall flat-out fun.
Yung Skrrt – A Feeling EP
I was fortunate to have LA-based rapper and producer Yung Skrrt as a guest on my radio show XX2 on WXCU. This EP, which pretty much was conceived out of a twitter request for beats dawned a very powerful collaboration between Skrrt and producers Drainpuppet and Holly. His perpetually auto tuned vocals over a barrage of emotional and futuristic sounding beats solidify Skrrt’s best project to date. It should be exciting to see what he has in store for 2017!
v1984 – becoming (n)one
One of Cleveland’s Finest, v1984 made such a beautiful, dark, scary, yet futuristic ambient project that is best enjoyed in the pitch black blasted out of a club Soundsystem. Some standouts on this release include “Synchronized Joy and Sorrow” and “Birth of Venus”.
Weezer – the White Album
One of the few high points of 2016 was when Weezer actually put out a good album!!!!! Inspired through indie rockers La Sera, conversations with people on Tinder, growing old, and more, Rivers Cuomo wrote some of his most acceptable albums since Green Album! I’m not sure why the self titled Weezer albums end up being my favorites, but this definitely stands well next to the Red, Green, and of course, Blue albums.
10. Negative Gemini – Body Work
Brooklyn-based producer Lindsey French beautifully crafted one of the best electronic albums of the year. Ever since hearing the single “You Never Knew” that she initally released in 2015, I was eagerly anticipating the full album’s release in September. Before its release, I have an incredibly powerful memory of blasting title track “Body Work” on I-70 driving with my windows down, speeding into the night. This track, which combines both French’s vocals and samples of Britney Spears’ “Everytime”, deeper cuts like “Rollercoaster” and “No Rum” give a 2k10’s take on 90s rave tracks.
9. PUP – The Dream is Over
I never really understood much of the buzz around PUP until this fall, when I finally got a chance to dig into this album. But I guess better late than never, right? It’s a rabble-rousing good time featuring lyrics by vocalist Stefan Babcock combine both outrageous tongue in cheek moments, with touching emotional moments as well. Standouts for me on this album are “Doubts”, “Sleep in the Heat” (which is about the death of Stefan’s old chameleon), and “Pine Point”. With sonic textures and tempo changes that remind me a bit of peak Pinkerton era Weezer, but a bit more raucous and ready for the party than emotional. It’s hard, charming, and one of the bright points of this year.
8. Hoops – Hoops EP
If you’ve gotten this far in this list or seen anything else on this WXCU Website, you’ve probably seen that I’m in love with Bloomington-based band HOOPS. Their Fat Possum Records debut features the ever catchy “Cool 2”, as well as other new deeper tracks like “Going Strong” and “Yeah”. The band’s sonic palate sounds like a chorusy, lo-fi summer’s night hanging out at some artsy kid’s party for a bonfire. Mixtures of guitars, old synths, drums, and lead singer Drew Auscherman’s deep-ish vocals provides the perfect sonic template for a great summer night. I’m really excited to see what these kids have up their sleeves in the year to come!
7. Slothrust – Everyone Else
We here at WXCU are big fans of Slothrust. Since the first moment I heard “Horseshoe Crab” I knew this band was special. Starting as some jazzy kids in Brooklyn, they eventually started this project to come together to be a mix between blues, grunge, and just really good indie rock. Sonic styles on this album range from the instrumental intro, “Surf Goth”‘s aggressive punk, to poppy indie rock, to blues inspired shuffles, to some really tender moments like on “Horseshoe Crab”. Vocalist and guitarist Leah Wellbaum’s nonchalant vocals really help cement this whole album together. It’s super good!!
6. Frank Ocean – Blonde
What can I say about Frank? This album, much like Channel Orange was highly anticipated, and a surprise release to many. Just hours after releasing a visual album entitled Endless that fufilled his contract with Def Jam records, Frank ocean released Blonde. This album has many more quiet moments than Channel Orange had, but still managed to fill it with memorable emotional moments. From the opening production and Frank’s pitched up vocals on “Nikes”, this album goes on a journey and features countless memorable guest spots from André 3000, Bon Iver, Yung Lean, and more. Some of my other absolute favorites on this album include “Self Control”, “Solo (reprise)”, and “White Ferrari”. Wow!
5. Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gales
Though this album is at Number 5 this year on list, it’s #1 on the list in my heart of “Albums I’ve pronounced and spelled wrong too many dang times to remember and I am so sorry everybody for that”. Despite this, the New York based indie rock band traded in their chiptune sonic palate for a pleasantly unexpected prog rock, power pop, and stadium rock inspired sound. It feels like Rush decided to listen to a bunch of bands on Run for Cover and then got inspired to make an album about being in your twenties! Tracks like “Wool in the Wash” and “There was a Door” combine Elizia Santos’ nonchalant vocals and lyrics of growing older with an earnest homage to some of the bands and video games the three of them grew up with. Though this is probably the most cliché thing to say about this album by this point, Crying really “Leveled Up” on this album! It’ll be exciting to see what this band does in the future!
4. Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost
After listening to Modern Baseball’s newest album, it immediately makes all of their previous work look incredibly immature compared to this release’s pure emotion that goes beyond feeling anxious about missing your classes after spending the night with a girl you had a crush on for since the last time you went to a party at this house. With the tracklist on this album splitting the songwriting in two, featuring Jake Ewald’s songs on the first half and Brendan Luken’s song on the second. Ewald’s songs talk about losing his Grandfather, dealing with indie rock fame and love on the road, and with the existentialism of growing older. Luken’s songs deal with loss, anxiety, depression, and life after being in rehab before the recording of this album. It’s a powerful look into their lives, and a turning point in the band’s sound and their own lives as they all begin to mature and grow older.
3. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
For however much of a mess the rollout of this album was, It was definitely still an event to listen to this. Days after premiering the album during NYFW in February at Madison Square Garden, he released the album almost on a whim on Valentines’ day, just after his appearance on Saturday Night Live. This album was long, confusing, and didn’t necessarily have many strong verses from Kanye. However, it still somehow was able to create a peek into the life of Kanye – dealing with trying to be faith-filled, faithful to his family, and trying to combat depression and mental health issues. With an army of features and guest spots from everyone from Kid Cudi, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Christian rapper and Gospel artist Kirk Franklin, Vine samples, to even a telephone call from an imprisoned Max B and beyond, Kanye’s collaborative effort to be a creative director for an innovative, changing product succeeded. This record has much room for improvement, but still stands as one of Kanye’s most powerful albums to date.
2. David Bowie – Blackstar
Out of all the musicians that we lost in 2016, not many hit as hard as the loss of David Bowie. One of my personal heroes, Bowie was able to stay fresh, challenge himself and ourselves to grow, progress, and innovate. His final album was no different to this. Literally giving his entire life into this record, he created one of the most interesting, experimental, powerful, and beautiful records of the year. Working once again with longtime producer Tony Visconti, they were able to combine experimental jazz, rock, and indie sensibilities into a contemporary and powerful release. This record is a fantastic capstone on one of the most important lives in popular music in the past 100 years.
1. Avalanches – Wildflower
This album is close to 16 years in the making, and this beautiful record did not disappoint. Through the darkest of times this year, this record oozed positivity, and had me feel like I was listening to a perpetual Olympic Opening Ceremony that took place at Disney World. This record is a celebration of life, love, and happiness told through some of the most perfectly placed samples, guitars, drums, and vocals. Beyond the Australian plunderphonic production team’s own chops and instrumentals, this album features guest vocals from everyone from Danny Brown, Toro y Moi, MF Doom, Ariel Pink, and more to create a scene transferring from a Party, to a sunny psychedelic open field, into the arms of the one you love. The album cover of a waving flag and a butterfly really capture the pride, happiness, and love put into this record to share with the world.
-WXCU Music Director Matt McCroskey
Thanks for reading and listening to WXCU in 2016! We’re super excited for what’s to come in the new year!!!