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20 records from 2016 picked by Lightning Pill (a.k.a. Chris Bynes) – Renaissance man, frequent IHN contributor and the author of Revenge of the Persona Non Grata blog

Back when I used to read reviews, one of the things I would always look for are the best and worst albums of the year. Actually, I’d only look for the best albums of the year that included by favorite genres, and also look at what they called the worst of that time. It filled me with glee to see people praise and rip certain albums in equal measure! Nowadays, I just don’t feel that same love anymore.
I truly believe that best and worst albums of the year lists are pretty passé, since people are unlikely to want to listen to your opinions anyway. After all, the idea of which album is the best and worst is wholly subjective nowadays, right? So, for my list, I compiled what I call the most interesting albums of the year. These are the albums that managed to catch my attention due to the concepts, the execution, or just the sheer awesomeness of it all. If I don’t mention your name, trust when I say your album is interesting. These are just ones SO interesting that I could actually remember it as I’m writing this list.


Bedbug – if i got smaller grew wings and flew away for good
2016: the year that I had discovered Z Tapes, a cassette label from Slovakia that takes on bedroom pop and bedroom producers such as Candy, Skating, Laptop Funeral and In Love With a Ghost. Bedbug, a local musician, has handed in an album that stands out because of such homegrown display of emotional delicacy. Each plink of keyboard and hushed singing gives way to a shyness, a romance, a dream evoked from song to song. Simply put, the album is an artist shyly cracking a smile with hopes of there being no one to swipe it clean.

So Nice Yesterday – Best Party Ever
Berko Lover and Thom Castles get together for what seems like the ultimate party album. In each room, they both crush on the nearest and most willing woman in the room, drink too much tequila that costs way too much, and is all too happy to sing out of key with joy. The genius that lies in this album has been that Best Party Ever was not content on merely being an album that you can play at a party somewhere, the album is the party. It’s an imaginary party where nothing can possibly go wrong, and if it did, it didn’t involve them, and be it someone introverted or extroverted, you are invited to it!

Imani Coppola – Hypocrites
I meant to write a blog about this for Afropunk, but one doesn’t just write an Imani Coppola album without further emphasizing her ability to write the most biting songs about not only her life but the people around her. If Hypocrites prove anything, it’s that Imani Coppola is pop music’s Wanda Sykes. Tackling topics from her horrible experiences with Tinder, American obsession with cats and cat memes, the ins and outs of living in New York and uncertainty over her future as an artist, Hypocrites may as well be both an answer to her last album The Glass Wall, and a conversational answer to Tim Fite’s iBEENHacked, for with this album Imani still has the ability to write catchy pop songs, make us laugh, and so much more. Now…if only more people were to get some eyes upon her work…that would be great.

True Neutral Crew – Soft Rules

Let me tell you why I am such a big fan of Deathbomb Arc these days: DBA has a roster and a catalog that is filled with nothing more than the most interesting records that you have ever heard in your life. If you were to stand in a room that was surrounded by nothing but Deathbomb Arc records with a rock, and you covered your eyes and threw a rock anywhere, you are bound to hit one of the most interesting, if not fresh, records that you will ever hear, regardless of whether or not you like it.
This being said, True Neutral Crew’s soft rules fits right underneath this. Soft Rules is a hip-hop record that sees everyone’s ability to push the genre forward in their own way, and do it one better. It has They Hate Change rapping into the spacious ether, for crying out loud! On it they take on things from the idea of God (“God is Bored”) and rejecting kings altogether (“When the Song is Done”). Just in case you missed it the first time, the CD also comes with an anthology of everything previously True Neutral.

JPEGMAFIA – Black Ben Carson
I have written this many times, but this bears repeating. When I interviewed JPEGMAFIA, one of the lines REALLY stuck with me. And that line was that JPEGMAFIA was a part of the military, went all around the world, and he found out that the thread in all of the places he went to was that people were happy that they weren’t black. It’s not just an American thing; it’s worldwide. So, I can only imagine that this everything kept Peggy’s fire burning bright during the recording of this album.
Like The 2nd Amendment after it, JPEGMAFIA happily plays the intelligent ratchet that will debate you on black rights, and shoot you if you were to EVER use being a Trump supporter as a means to trigger his emotions. In the same album, he tackles sexual superiority (“Cuckold”), white superiority, when it comes to wrongdoing (“Black Steve Austin”), and he is probably one of the few rappers looking to unseat Drake by calling him out by name (“Drake Era”. This isn’t the last time he does it, BTW.). Oh, and he takes time to serve Death Grips (“I Smell Crack”). Separate by two sides (“NIGGER” and “PEGGY”), what makes this album work is Peggy’s awareness that being a dark skinned male, he is simultaneously one of the most feared and the most desired people in America. That’s being black in a nutshell: your parents tell you to stay away from them because they are dangerous and ghetto, but there is always something that attracts you to ghetto people. So, Black Ben Carson finds him using that role to scare any racist that dare spraypaint his place with a swastika.

Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
You know one of those albums that make you worry about someone’s health, physically, mentally, emotionally and whatnot? That’s Atrocity Exhibition. Named after a Joy Division song, Danny Brown uses this album to perfectly follow up Old, an album that shows his street side and his party side, leading the way for Atrocity Exhibition to be the aftermath album.
“Downward Spiral” details a surreal night out where Danny’s paranoia kicks in, his lack of sleep triggers it, and his ability to keep it up falters. “Downward Spiral” is the sound of Danny at a low, and the rest of the album is the sound of him dealing, be it through recounting tales of murder (“Tell Me What I Don’t Know”), smoking for a sense of calm (“Get Hi”), and his inability to ever face his demons without laughing at it (“Ain’t it Funny”). The album is so Danny Brown that Passion of the Weiss once quipped that Atrocity Exhibition is the best “Post-Punk album of the 21st Century”. It’s certainly one of Danny’s most vulnerable and most forward-thinking albums.

Dijah SB – Manic Luxury
Dijah SB is one of the two artists on here whose two projects released within the year unintentionally tell a story. With the focus being on Dijah’s anxiety and depression, DijahSB released Blue to further open up about her problems, but Manic Luxury not only further opens up emotionally and colors in what it is like to have her mentality, but the album uses the two closing tracks to ensure that she’s on her way to recovery. Whether or not she makes it permanently has yet to be seen, but Manic Luxury and Blue tell a story so naked that it outshines all other vulnerable albums with even three times the attention that she gets.

Moor Mother – Fetish Bones
Uneasy times call for uneasy art. Moor Mother’s first album with Don Giovanni uses electronica, hip-hop and noise as a means to look back at past injustices, so they can bring it directly back to the injustices of now, which includes cultural appropriation, the demonization of black women being compared to the same act of before, and many other topics. If black people had their own chance at a postmodern punk album, Moor Mother has created it.

Ed Balloon – Yellow 20-Somethings
Ever since artists like Miguel, The Weeknd and FKA twigs crashed onto the scene, everybody on the scene of Alternative R&B are trying to find creative ways to give R&B a fresh coat of paint. Some even try to figure out a way to mix R&B and indie pop. Meanwhile, while some stay content with cheating off of all three aforementioned artist’s homework, artists like Ed Balloon manages to create a mixture of indie pop and R&B so effortless, it’s almost like on the surface, you are merely listening to life. A good example of this is the funky celebration of his blackness “Bounce Back” and the moody “Power”.

Chino Amobi – Airport Music for Black Folk
With this album, Chino Amobi managed to answer the question that I never thought we would ever get the answers to: what would noise/industrial sound like, if it came from a hood perspective? We all know noise is simply the sound of an internal scream, a discomfort that even punk can’t touch. But Airport Music for Black Folk smirks with the title and sneers with the composition. This album is nihilism from a black standpoint. Guns shoot, what soun ds calming to most is dread to others (“London II”) and mantras are repeated out of the need to rescue one’s sanity (“Rotterdam”). Chino Amobi managed to create an electronic album that is more about memories, experience and true discomfort than it is about the need to move anything in a club.

Lana Del Rabies – In the End I Am a Beast
The interesting part about this album is definitely both the message and the execution, as every scream of static tries it’s hardest to drown out Lana. And throughout the album, it’s almost as if the only time she gets to be clear is with a song that sounds like defeat. I Am a Beast is this year’s most feminist record because it highlights one’s anger and inability to fight against a tide looking to roll her over and other types.

Clipping – Splendor and Misery 
When people saw the storyline before they heard the record, the idea of an afrofuturist rap opera about escaping a slave revival into the great unknown with a spaceship falling in love with the refugee would be…farfetched. But somehow, clipping is able to pull off not only that, but also do it less than 40 minutes. Regardless of their ability to use space noises, they can still craft an intriguing space opera.

Treehouse Arcade – Under Grandma’s Orange Tree
It seems one of the growing trends I noticed in hip-hop is mostly minute-long freestyles and ten-minute mixtapes, and the best thing about Under Grandma’s Orange Tree is that him collaborating with local producer Treehouse Arcade makes for a really intriguing mixtape. With jazz chords and memories turned into rhymes, UGOT is built like a childhood memory that you never knew you had, and ends with the promise to protect the orange tree he has always grew up loving. It may only be a few seconds shy of ten minutes long, but the mixtape is all you need for the time being.

Devilgod – Snuff Films
Originally an indigo rapper, the best things that may have happened to Devilgod was the moment he lost his confidence, and gained a new persona in the process. The LSD-addled, heavily-tatted goth-rapper uses Snuff Films as one of the albums where he faces all of his feelings, his demons and his dissatisfaction with the mainstream obsession over stupid things, such as earthly pleasures. If Snuff Films proves anything, it’s that even when Devilgod has lost all hope, it isn’t so barren that he isn’t willing to vomit his message, in his moment of anonymity.

Tachyon Ghetto Blaster – Heaven on Earth
It was only a matter of time before afrofuturist rapper Orko Eloheim (fka Orko the Sykotic Alien) makes his way back to the public eye to spit his loogie into the eyes of Corporate America. With his comrade Kaigen (headhoncho of Fake Four Japan), they take on fututristic soundscapes (some of which border on dubstep to go from cursing out Obama to metaphysical concepts. Though, if you have trouble understanding Kaigen’s Japanese, you’ll have to cop the physical copy for the lyrics.

Hareld – New Age Baby Faced Wisdom
Another Deathbomb Arc album, Hareld’s debut album is one made up of concepts as cloudy as the album. Listening to the album is almost like surfing through hareld’s psyche, where nothing is ever really quite straight and the whole album is him looking to make the best he can of his thoughts and find some kind of clarity within the beautifully—orchestrated clutter.

VRGO – Thoughts / Filth
This is being placed as a twofer only because ofhow well one follows the narrative of the others. Thoughts is basically an album about VRGO processing a nasty breakup, while dealing with other outside inconvenience. It seemed only natural that after such a thing, the need to simply want to fuck around and cuff would follow, right? Enter Filth, where he has openly said that he no longer falls for the love shit. The loose concept of both comes directly near the end, which I will not give away. But let’s just say that if you are knowledgeable about post-relationship unhappiness at all, the need to sleep away a breakup doesn’t always last for too long.

AJ Suede – Dark of the Covenant
For those who have been following AJ Suede since the beginning, you’ll understand he is a cantankerous dude with an avid appreciation for quality hip-hop, reading and spirituality. Since the weeded out yet depressed Name Brand Water, it seemed like Suede has been cycling his way through hell, be it of the making of the world he was in or of his own. After all that, Dark of the Covenant feels like a victory for him. You find him giving thanks, walking on air, yet he is still not above hitting you with the “Hyper Beam”. The only thing that has happened with Dark of the Covenant is merely that Suede is celebrating his hard-won victory.

Abdu Ali – Mongo
Those who have been on Abdu Ali’s twitter knows that Abdu is not with the fuckshit. As an openly queer black male, he wholly embraces his African roots, embraces his femininity, and seeks to confront the system that seeks to think that his kind can’t do anything for America. That’s Mongo in a nutshell, as he comes out of depression from not being recognized by the larger media, he does it with the intent to uplift all of those downtrodden and pushed to the side like he was.

Wrapped around the concept of K1NG ELJAY trying to see a therapist that has never quite made his way to see him, CLVRFLD is ELJAY tackling all of his inner anxieties over some really interesting beats. CLVERFLD is what he calls his inner demon that tries to stop him from believing in himself, and the album is dope, as far as the production goes.

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