2016 was a Bad Movie with a Great Soundtrack

Jesse Nussman and Stephanie Trefzger discuss the best albums of the year

| December 29, 2016

We can all pretty much agree that 2016 has been the absolute worst.  From politics to the deaths of many of our beloved celebrities, a lot has seemed to go wrong this year.  However, one of the things we can say went right was music; it has been one of the best years for music in recent memory.  Below, two writers of the A&E section give their opinions on what were the best albums of the year and what made them so great.  Jesse Nussman’s comments will be preceded by his name in blue and Stephanie Trefzger’s in green.

Best Surprise Release

"Blonde" album art courtesy of Boys Don't Cry.

“Blonde” album art courtesy of Boys Don’t Cry.

Jesse – This is a hard pick for me. The release of Kanye’s “The Life of Pablo” wound up being a whole weekend long experience, with bits dropping at his fashion show, SNL  and eventually the whole thing on Tidal. However, looking back it was probably Beyoncé had the best surprise release. Kanye’s was exciting but felt a tad disorganized. Beyoncé knew exactly what she was doing. She seemed to redefine what an album means in today’s world by releasing the whole thing essentially as a giant movie on HBO. By the way, any part of the “Lemonade” visual experience would be the best music video of the year. For little over an hour, she had you hooked, you were hers. It all helped add to the cohesive nature of the album instead of just a collection of songs you could pick or choose.

Stephanie – Giving the public a head’s up about your album seems to be a thing of the past.  Beyoncé seemed to start the trend with the release of her self-titled album, and it took off from there.  Every artist seems to have copied this format; Bey even copied (and outdid) herself by surprise releasing “Lemonade” this year.  However, the person I think did it best was Frank Ocean when he released not only “Blonde” but also “Endless.”  The man had us watching a live stream of himself building a staircase for two weeks before anything happened at all.  Only when he knew that everyone was disheartened and disenchanted over it, did he drop the bomb on us: pop-up shops, a magazine, and not one, but two incredible albums.  We waited four years after the first album; after this astronomical release we might never hear from him again.

Best final album 

"Blackstar" album art courtesy of ISO/RCA/Columbia/Sony

“Blackstar” album art courtesy of ISO/RCA/Columbia/Sony

Jesse – “Blackstar” definitely has to take this spot for me. I’m a huge Bowie fan and the album acts as his cryptic goodbye to the world before he left, which is saying something considering he was usually such a private individual when it came to his personal life. However, I also have to mention the A Tribe Called Quest record. The legendary hip-hop group has stated that this is their final record, which makes sense considering the tragic death of Phife Dawg earlier this year. What strikes me so much about the record is both how great it sounds (rap artists have not always been known to remain as daring in their older ages) and how relevant it feels following the Trump election. Like many people, I heard the track “We the People” on the SNL episode following the election, and it just seemed too perfect for the time. The album feels important as a piece of protest art, which makes me kind of mellow to think these guys are calling it quits now. We need them now more than ever.

Stephanie – Jesse and I are on the same page for this one.  Aside from Prince, David Bowie was the most tragic loss to me this year.  When I first heard “Blackstar” I had no idea what was to come so soon after its release, but Bowie sure seemed to.  The album was full of clues hinting at the singer’s death in the coming weeks.  The album also incorporates a blend of jazz, codes, brutality, drama and alienation, and while this is not without precedent in his work, these classic Bowie elements were revitalized into something brand new.

"A Sailor's Guide to Earth" album art courtesy of Atlantic Records

“A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” album art courtesy of Atlantic Records

Album you didn’t think you’d like but did

Jesse – I’ll be honest, I’m not big on country music. I don’t know what it is, but it largely sounds like nails against a chalkboard to my ears. Earlier this year I read about an artist named Sturgill Simpson and how he was one of the most groundbreaking and under-appreciated artists in the genre at the moment. This year Simpson released his album “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” and, much to my surprise, I really liked it. The album is so musically rich, taking influences from other genres as well. The opening track starts as a soft country ballad but ends in a catchy R&B swing that James Brown would use. He also does a pretty awesome rendition of Nirvana’s “In Bloom.”

Stephanie – I don’t really like Mac Miller that much.  It’s not even that I dislike him; for me, it’s just more of a disinterest.  He just seems…boring to me.  That being said, I wasn’t very excited to review his latest album, “The Divine Feminine,” in September.  However, upon listening to it, it was not what I expecting at all.  On the album he thinks about the universe, the distance between people and figuring out love on an ideological level. He’s mentioned playing the record for a couple and slowly observing them coming closer together in a room as it progresses.  There’s a real connection to these ideas of space and intimacy. It’s about contact and togetherness, closing the gap between people; about being in unison and growing apart and all the stages in between. It pares and exposes the many layers of love—romantic, sensual, carnal, wilting. It’s easily his most exhilarating album yet, a journey of soulful songs cutting back his large and diverse soundboard from the last couple of years into something more cozy and pleasant.

Album that grew on you the most over the year

"Joanne" album art courtesy of Streamline/Interscope

“Joanne” album art courtesy of Streamline/Interscope

Jesse – As I mentioned earlier, I’m a big Bowie fan, but it took me a while to warm-up to “Blackstar.”  I think with artists that have as an iconic a catalog as Bowie, we often have a hard time adjusting to them changing things up. However, after his death, I realized that was one of the things that made Bowie a legend; he was always changing his sound and taking influences from other musicians around him. “Blackstar” is the most groundbreaking and creative work Bowie has had in quite some time. He was taking influence from people like D’Angelo and Kendrick Lamar, avoiding the conventions of their respected genres and incorporating elements of jazz onto the record. I think I also began to see the record as his last message to the world. There are a lot of cryptic elements to the record that, when put into the context of his death from cancer, begin to make themselves clear.

Stephanie – This was more of an end-of-the-year album, but since its release in October, Lady Gaga’s “Joanne” has grown on me a considerable amount.  I, like many people, was not very excited about lead single, “Perfect Illusion,” and I was equally unenthusiastic about the album the first time I heard it.  However, I listened to it again on Thanksgiving and found myself liking it more.  I have listened to it in full four times now and have loved it more each time.  “Joanne” invokes many emotions: sadness, happiness and anger; it is youthful and carefree but old and wise at the same time.  It also showcases Gaga’s incredible, powerful voice more than in any of her previous work.  I didn’t like this album because it was so different to what I was used to from her.  Then I remembered that different doesn’t necessarily mean bad.

"Coloring Book" album art courtesy of Chance the Rapper

“Coloring Book” album art courtesy of Chance the Rapper

Most listened to

Jesse – I probably listened to “The Life of Pablo” and “Coloring Book” the most the year. “Pablo” kept getting tweaked and changing so I was constantly going back to it. I also noticed that the tracks I was drawn to changed from listen to listen. At the beginning of the year “Father Stretch My Hands pt.1” was easily may favorite, thanks to that wondrous bass drop, but now I find “Ultralight Beam” to be easily the records finest track. As for “Coloring Book,” the answer is simple…it’s just so much fun. Chance creates music that is uplifting and awe inspiring. Some tracks make you want to dance, others make you moved to tears by just how deep his faith is. I’m not a religious person but this is the first album I’ve listened to that makes religion and the importance it has in people’s lives so accessible. He’s not preaching to the choir, he’s just excited to share his feelings and beliefs with the world. In a year where a lot of horrible things were happening in the world, it’s wonderful to have a record that can just make you happy and bring people together.

Stephanie – There were two albums I kept coming back to this year: Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” and Chance the Rapper’s “Coloring Book.”  The first I love because of how powerful it is.  Beyoncé was absolutely unapologetic in every aspect of her latest album, and I lived for it.  It’s also just plain fun to listen to because of its enormous amount of variety.  Every song brought something different to the table.  The same goes for Chance’s “Coloring Book.”  While every song was centered around his faith –either lyrically or instrumentally– they were all different from one another.  Like Jesse said, it was really nice to hear how excited Chance was to share his views with his audience.

Best Album of 2016…

"Lemonade" album art courtesy of Columbia Records

“Lemonade” album art courtesy of Columbia Records

Jesse – As much as I love “Coloring Book,” which, believe me is a whole lot, I have to go with “Lemonade” on this one. The record may be partially about her own heartbreak but it really ended up representing a mindset that a lot of people around the world felt about the year. “Coloring Book” was a fun, positive piece of escapism, but “Lemonade” was a cathartic scream. Beyoncé also managed to weave so many different genres of music into one cohesive record, which is no small feat. Most pop-stars of her caliber would not dare deliver something so wonderfully weird, rigged, and layered. Instead, she managed to use her star power as a platform to deliver something wild, wonderful and unique.

Stephanie – I have to agree with “Lemonade.”  I have so many fun memories with that particular album, most notably the night it came out.  I was in complete shock when I realized what the album was about and was completely euphoric when I wrote my review at three in the morning.  I also fondly remember enlightening my friends to the glory of the album when they didn’t have their own Tidal accounts.  For me, an album is truly great if I can’t decide which song I like best because they’re all so good.  This is definitely the case with “Lemonade.”  Each song makes me feel differently, and it’s so beautiful when they all come together.  Needless to say I was a wreck when I heard it all the way through the first time.

Individual top 10s

Jesse – 

  1. “Lemonade” by Beyoncé
  2. “Coloring Book” by Chance the Rapper
  3. “Blonde” by Frank Ocean
  4. “Blackstar” by David Bowie
  5. “A Seat at the Table” by Solange
  6. “A Moon Shaped Pool” by Radiohead
  7. “The Life of Pablo” by Kanye West
  8. “We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service” by A Tribe Called Quest
  9. “Teens of Denial” by Car Seat Headrest
  10. “Anti” by Rihanna, “A Sailors Guide to Earth” by Sturgill Simpson, “Freetown Sound” by Blood Orange, “JEFFERY” by Young Thug  (Sorry I cheated)

Stephanie – These are in no particular order because that’s too hard.

  1. “Death of a Bachelor” by Panic! at the Disco
  2. “Untitled and Unmastered” by Kendrick Lamar
  3. “Lemonade” by Beyoncé
  4. “Dangerous Woman” by Ariana Grande
  5. “Blonde” by Frank Ocean
  6. “A Seat at the Table” by Solange
  7. “Revolution Radio” by Green Day
  8. “Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin'” by Kid Cudi
  9. “We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service” by A Tribe Called Quest
  10. “Coloring Book” by Chance the Rapper, “4 Your Eyez Only” by J. Cole, “Anti” by Rihanna, “Here” by Alicia Keys (If Jesse can cheat, so can I)

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Music

Stephanie Trefzger

Stephanie started as a staff writer for the Niner Times in October 2015 and was promoted to assistant editor of arts and entertainment in October 2016. Her writing has focused mainly on album reviews and other musical topics, but she continues to expand her horizons. She is a senior and is double majoring in English literature and culture and German. When she is not writing articles, she is either people watching, reading, cooking, or updating her many social media profiles. If you’re not sure of anything else, be sure that Stephanie is listening to music at any given time.

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Stephanie Trefzger

Stephanie started as a staff writer for the Niner Times in October 2015 and was promoted to assistant editor of arts and entertainment in October 2016. Her writing has focused mainly on album reviews and other musical topics, but she continues to expand her horizons. She is a senior and is double majoring in English literature and culture and German. When she is not writing articles, she is either people watching, reading, cooking, or updating her many social media profiles. If you’re not sure of anything else, be sure that Stephanie is listening to music at any given time.