SPECIAL: Feed The Dog’s Top Albums of 2016

Well, here we are. Publishing these lists very late every year, as I always do, sucks for a lot of reasons. People care less about this stuff in January. It puts me in the position of, in the case of this year for example, having that shitty feeling of missing a deadline drag  on for 25 DAYS. HOWEVER! I always get about an extra month of hindsight that the major music publishers don’t get.

Case in point: isn’t it cute that every 2016 wrap-up list you read in December tried to contextualize itself around the universally-agreed-upon prognosis that 2016 was the “worst ever”? Only about a week into Trump’s administration, I feel pretty confident the the future’s historians will agree it got a lot worse from there.

On the other hand, the prevailing themes that A) 2016 was an incredible year for music and B) great art is born from dark times couldn’t be more accurate. A few years ago on this blog, I made a big deal about pop artists like Britney Spears making great albums that weren’t just a handful of radio hits plus filler, which for most of my lifetime was the only expectation. In 2016, every pop star is an album artist, and we saw some of the most artistically ambitious projects from the biggest names in the game, from Beyonce to Rihanna to Chance the Rapper. In a campaign year, we got brilliant, politically-charged efforts from the most unlikely candidates (Ty Dolla $ign, YG) to the most woke (A Tribe Called Quest, Run the Jewels). Groundbreaking, innovative music has become the status quo in hip hop, with weirdos like Lil Yachty and Young Thug operating as household names.

There’s a lot about the future of our country and our planet that fills me with fear and dread, but if I can pull a silver lining here, it’s that we have some phenomenal artists who will continue to lift us and inspire us as we’re gearing up to fight the biggest fights of our lives. Look no further than the phenomenal output of black artists in 2016 – it is clear to me that in the light of police killings, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and false narratives being pushed by conservative media to villianize that community, we are seeing artists inspired to communicate their cultural experiences and their truth through their art. This is the most valuable art, that which seeks to express and preserve culture and our shared humanity. The more we see politicians attempt to challenge the humanity of various marginalized groups of people, the more I expect we will see art being created to reaffirm it.

On that note, in the words of the poet YG, FUCK DONALD TRUMP. When he is dead and nothing more than brittle bones and decaying Cheeto dust, these records will live on. Let’s keep making art, let’s keep reaffirming our humanity, and let there be a new generation of fight songs to soundtrack the takedown of fascism in America. BOOM BAP.

As always, this entire list can be streamed from Spotify here. Two amazing records from Beyonce and LIZ are the only exceptions, as they are not on Spotify. You can find Beyonce on iTunes and Tidal, and LIZ’s mixtape can be streamed here.

RIP Phife Dawg, this one’s for you.

1. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service

2. Solange – A Seat at the Table

3. Rihanna – ANTI

4. Beyonce – Lemonade

5. Whitney – Light Upon the Lake

6. Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo

7. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – A Man Alive

8. Hinds – Leave Me Alone

9. Travis Scott – Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight

10. Young Thug – I’m Up / Slime Season 3

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SPECIAL: Feed The Dog’s Top Songs of 2016

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I’ll save most of my thoughts for the albums post – but it’s been a pretty great year for songs. Pop, hip hop and dance music are all peaking right now. My top two songs this year are top songs of the decade as far as I’m concerned.

My rules: one song per release (not artist). You can stream the whole list on Spotify here. Typically, this is where I’d mention that there are a number of songs that aren’t on Spotify and therefore not on the list, but I haven’t really been keeping up with my soundcloud artists this year, and all my favorite rappers released real albums this year (even though mixtapes all end up on Spotify now anyway)… so only two tracks on the top list are left out (Beyonce and LIZ).

 

1. Young Thug & Travis Scott feat. Quavo – pick up the phone


2. Rihanna feat. Drake – Work


3. Kanye West – Ultralight Beam


4. AlunaGeorge – I Remember


5. Post Malone feat. Justin Bieber – Deja Vu

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SPECIAL: What I Missed in 2015

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Hi everyone! Happy late list release moment. I hope you’re all as excited as I am to be finished with 2016. 2017 is already off to a terrible start. Let’s get started.

For the uninitiated, every year I attempt to rank my top albums and songs, a process that I put an extremely unreasonable amount of effort into for unfathomable motivations, with the final product serving as little more than a slowly-growing time capsule of my personal taste. Nobody likes time capsules. Nobody reads these lists, either, this blog isn’t real, for years these have been the only types of posts I made. I don’t even write blurbs for the songs and albums any more because I’m tired and I’m finished.

So why do I do it? A sick compulsion, perhaps. But for better or for worse, this is how I digest music now, and I rely on my yearly review to confirm I’m digging through all the garbage and pulling out the greatest songs and albums of the year. As much as it can feel like an endless timesuck, I always end up falling in love with a handful of records I likely wouldn’t have ever listened to, and this year is no different.

Before we get to all that great stuff though, I like to acknowledge what I missed in 2015. Here are the notable 2015 releases that I didn’t discover until this year.

Basenji – Trackpad EP

I got pretty obsessed with this EP this year. Minimalist, bouncy, & extremely catchy “future bass”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Clanton – 100% Electronica

Image result for george clanton 100 electronica

Weird, goth dance pop from a Skylar Spence contemporary. The kids call it “vaporwave”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SPECIAL: Feed The Dog’s Top Albums of 2015

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So these lists are always late, but this is the latest they’ve ever been posted. I have my share of excuses – major life events (good and bad) occurred one after the other during the months of November-January when I am usually focused on getting these ready. I debated taking a page from Matthew Berry and writing several paragraphs about those life events before getting to anything music-related – and while that may have even been a good idea, as usual, I find myself completely exhausted at the end of this thing, so I can only half ass it. I’ll just say that if I took the time to explain it, you’d say something like, “Oh, well, no, of course you couldn’t possibly have completed your lists sooner if you were dealing with all of that.”

The very few people who read these posts know what I go through to create these lists each year, but I’m not sure I’ve ever written it out on the actual blog, so here goes: the first time I ever attempted to name my own Top Ten albums of the year, I quickly realized how stupid it was. When I would compare the list to those on popular music sites, I would realize how little of the music being lauded I had even heard. My list could never be presented as the best albums of the year, it could only be the handful of albums one person listened to the most, partially because those albums were great, maybe, but also partially because those happened to be the records that found their way into that person’s life. A few months later, I’d find five albums I forgot to put on my list, and five more that I was only just discovering halfway through the following year, and my original list was at once meaningless.

In my own twisted mind, this meant if I wanted to make a list, any list at all, it would have to be as back-breakingly thorough as humanly possible. I would have to listen to everything. All releases, big and small, across all genres. And over the course of the next several years, I honed in on a process that now has me listening to playlists of every single new release of every week of every year and putting them into other playlists that slowly get whittled down into a list of about 200-300 albums that I will sit down and go through, track by track, and drop into a ranking, one by one. At the end of the year, I’ll also add from other people’s top lists, and I’ll sort through all the music outside of Spotify that I’ve been putting off putting on. Repeat all of this for songs, too. And I still miss stuff, and it still makes me upset, but all I can do is tell myself that I’m covering as much ground as I can reasonably expect from myself.

This, of course, is insane. It takes literal months to complete. I will refuse invitations to go out and spend much of the holiday season ignoring my girlfriend, my friends and family, to work on this list. When I’m done, I post them on a blog that was never widely-read and at this point exists for no point beyond containing these lists. I’ll get something like 30 views per article. Less than 10 Facebook friends will actually be interested in the result, and some of them won’t even catch it appearing in their feeds. Sometimes it elicits a handful of five-minute conversations with a few of these friends. I get some sense of relief that it’s done, but then I have to immediately start getting into gear for the following year. I mean, it’s 2016, I have a new Kanye record to listen to.

Consider also what this means for my listening habits. I never listen to music more than a year old. Keeping on top of all new music means never getting nostalgic, never diving into a moment in music history decades past, never even continuing to enjoy an album that came out only a couple years ago. Once an album is posted on this list, I may never listen to it again.

The problem is… when I debated not going through this exhaustive process this year, I realized I was trapped. My whole way of listening to music now revolves around this process. I was letting records by some of my favorite artists pile up without playing them because I knew I would eventually listen to them when I did my rankings. I’ve gotten addicted to being up on everything, so I know if I take a break or say, listen to music more casually, I’ll be back to missing things. That shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it scares me. I know deep down this somehow has something to do with my fear of death – that I know there’s more hours of music to listen to than I have hours left to live, and every day there’s even more being released, and for some reason, even though I know it’s actually impossible to ever keep up, I believe that if I don’t try as hard as possible to hear it all anyway, I might as well be dead.

At least 2015 was a pretty great year for music. In all honesty, it was one of the best years for music ever, especially if you were me. I don’t know that hip hop has ever been braver, more creative, more diversely talented (hip hop makes up more than 1/3 of this list, including eight in the top 20). My favorite rapper released the best record of his career, three times. My favorite DJ released the two best albums of his career within a span of a few months. I’m once again overjoyed and excited by the direction of dance music, propelled by nightcore and future bass. Pop music’s golden era of the 10s is plowing forever forward. The genre-singularity is practically upon us. Grimes. Psychedelic rock. So many amazing records.

My number 1 is bound to be met with some eye-rolls, but unquestionably, my most controversial ranking this year is putting Kendrick Lamar at #51. And allow me to say this – yes, Kendrick Lamar is one of the most talented, creative, intelligent rappers making music today. Yes, To Pimp a Butterfly is an ambitious masterpiece of art and black culture. It is thoughtfully conceived and a true accomplishment of purpose, a powerful, cohesive statement, in ways few albums ever are. But here’s the other thing – this album is chock full of a few of the worst traditions of American music of all time, namely slam poetry, spoken word, and free jazz. In the contextual web that Kendrick weaves, their inclusion makes sense – they are signifiers to black musical history and culture and are part of the story he tells. So as much as I can admire the decision to put these elements onto his record, I do. But I still have to listen to it. I can’t rank an album in my Top 10 if I can’t resist skipping through large sections of it.

If I were a real music critic, maybe I’d feel like it would be “important” for me to recognize the brilliant work of art that To Pimp a Butterfly is. But as a regular old music listener, wanting to actually listen to your record comes first. None of these critics riding Kendrick’s jock would ever even think about putting on an album of any of these styles of music Butterfly pays tribute to. Nobody fucking likes slam poetry, and nobody likes free jazz. They are entire genres of garbage music, and I can’t stand for it.

Onto the list. As always, you can stream (almost) the whole thing on Spotify. Not included on Spotify are a few great records from Young Thug, Migos, Towkio, Lil Wayne, T-Pain, Tory Lanez, and iLoveMakonnen.

 

1. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion

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2. Young Thug – Barter 6

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3. Grimes – Art Angels

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4. Jack Ü – Skrillex and Diplo present Jack Ü

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5. Major Lazer – Peace Is The Mission

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SPECIAL: Feed The Dog’s Top Songs of 2015

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I’m saving my wrap-up thoughts on 2015 in the albums post, so I’ll keep it brief here.

List is limited to one-song-per-release, but I cheated in a few places where I let two songs tie for a spot. You can find (almost) the whole thing on Spotify right here. As we mention every year, there are a number of great tracks in this year’s rankings that you can’t find on Spotify, including awesome songs from Young Thug, Migos, Towkio, ABSRDST, Lil Wayne, Tory Lanez, and some lovely K-Pop.

1. Young Thug, Birdman – “Constantly Hating”

2. Jack Ü, Justin Bieber – “Where Are Ü Now”

3. Tory Lanez – “Say It”


4. Fetty Wap – “Trap Queen”


5. ABSRDST, Diveo – “We’re Beautiful”

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SPECIAL: Feed The Dog’s Top 10 Young Thug Songs of 2015

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Image cred: Chad Batka, NYT

2015 was the year of Young Thug. I’ve been following the young man’s career since I heard him on Gucci Mane’s 2013 banger “Chasen Paper” with Rich Gang cohort Rich Homie Quan. He broke onto the scene last year with Birdman’s Rich Gang project, showing off his unpredictability and versatility moving from harder trap beats to the poppier piano melodies of favorite producer LondonOnDaTrack on tracks like “Lifestyle“. In 2015 the evolution was complete, with Thugger diving further into his own weirdness in his major label debut, Barter 6, as well as two stellar mixtapes, Slime Season 1 & 2. Thug gets plenty of Future comparisons, which are apt, given a penchant for similar melodic trap beats and indescernible Auto-Tuned mumbling. But I would argue Future is a formula while Thug is chaos. Future is a great artist, but Thug is a movement.

I have two favorite explanations of Young Thug – the first, from a Pitchfork review of Barter 6: “everything here is a hook, from the ad-libs … to the individual bars to the empty spaces.” When you listen to a Young Thug song, rarely do you get verse-chorus. You get several different pieces with unique rhyming patterns and melodies that could each stand to be the hook of a great rap song. As an artist, you’re lucky if you have five or six great ideas across an album – Young Thug crams that many great ideas into a single 3-minute track.

My other favorite Young Thug explanation is this story from producer and collaborator Dun Deal:

Deal: “…and the way he [Young Thug] used to write his music was pretty crazy. He would just draw what he wanted to do on paper. That’s how he used to record; he would draw, like, a picture.”

Interviewer: “What kind of picture?”

Deal: “Weird signs and shapes. He’d be in the booth looking at the paper, and one day I went in there and looked at it and said, ‘You didn’t write any words down.’ He [Thug] looked at me and said: ‘I don’t need no words.'”

Reimagine this scene playing out in the studio when listening to any of these incredible songs from Thugger, Feed The Dog’s Top Ten favorites.

 

  1. Young Thug ft. Birdman – Constantly Hating
  2. Young Thug – Dream
  3. Jamie XX ft. Young Thug & Popcaan – I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)
  4. Young Thug – No Way
  5. Young Thug ft. Jacquees – Amazing
  6. Young Thug – Halftime
  7. Young Thug – Mine
  8. Young Thug ft. Young Ralph – Rarri
  9. Young Thug – Check
  10. Young Thug ft. Shad Da God – Don’t Know
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SPECIAL: Feed The Dog’s Top Ten Nightcore Versions of 2015

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For the uninitiated, I highly recommend Nest HQ’s Guide to Nightcore which defines the genre while going into its history and phases… but here’s the short version: nightcore is basically sped-up dance and pop music that sounds sort of like happy hardcore (which, for the unitiated, is an old genre of house music which sounds exactly like you’d think it sounds). Typically, the songs being remixed are upbeat, bouncy, climactic tracks, which when sped up take on a kind of trance-y vibe. There are a number of artists who are writing their own original songs in the nightcore style, but a majority of the tracks you’ll find online are edits of existing pop songs. These days you can find a nightcore version of almost any song. Just google the name of the song and the word “nightcore” and you’ll almost always find something on YouTube.

About half of this list is songs I got directly from Nest HQ’s playlist. The other half are songs that, after hearing the original version, I hoped there would be a nightcore version, googled it, and there it was. If you’re like me and believe every song would be better at 160 BPM, I highly recommend doing the same thing whenever you’re enjoying a banger but wish it were faster.

The rankings below reflect not only how great these remixes are, but also how elevated they are from their original versions.

1. Syron – All I Need (Nightcore version by babeisland)

2. JoJo – When Love Hurts (Nightcore version by Nightcore Universe)

3. Major Lazer – Lean On (Nightcore version by tacoemoji)

4. Megurine Luka – Just Be Friends (Nightcore remix by JACK GUY of JAPANET)

5. Park Kyung – Ordinary Love (Nightcore version by raddisson x)

6. The Veronicas – Cruel (Nightcore version by Red Nightcore of NightcoreReborn ß)

7. Grimes – Kill V. Maim (Nightcore version by XP Nightcore)

8. Zedd ft. Selena Gomez – I Want You To Know (Nightcore version by FAN FICTION)

9. Marina and the Diamonds – Froot (Nightcore remix by wet lil squish)

10. Jamie Foxx ft. Chris Brown – You Changed Me (Nightcore version by Nightcore Akihora)

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