Camiele’s 50 Favorite Albums of 2016
50. Neon Bunny – Stay Gold
When I interviewed Neon Bunny last March, she promised fans that she would be bringing “fun” with the New Year. She did not disappoint with her latest full-length. Stay Gold is certainly an album that lives up to her promise—fun, bright, and gorgeously creative. Making use of her absolutely stunning second soprano, she creates an album that’s both bright with her electronic leanings and a love note to her earlier jazz influences. I’ll always fawn over Forest of Skyscrapers and Romance in Seoul, the two tracks having such a powerful connection to certain memories for me. But songs like It’s You and Room 314 showcase her versatility with absolute perfection.
49. Room306 – At Doors
I found this band while looking through the artists for last year’s Zandari Festa. In all honesty when I first heard them I was shocked that anyone in the indie scene managed to blend traditional jazz compositions with as much nuance as these brilliant musicians. Upon listening to Room306’s debut album, however, I was blown away with just how wide the band’s range was. Not only delving into jazz, but it’s much younger sister nu-jazz, as well as bringing a bit of depth to the quiet hum of lo-fi. At Doors was truly a marvelous piece of music and one that clued me in that I was missing so much in Korean music’s underground—a fact I intend to remedy in 2017.
48. Majid Jordan – Majid Jordan
It’s always fun going back to my parents’ house with the bomb-ass cable package. It was while surfing through the myriad music stations that I happened across this artist. I was captured by the music video for Every Step Every Way from the moment the first neon blue scene poured onto the screen. Then I was mystified with the track’s composition—deep house with a dreamy backbone. When I saw his name, I’ll admit I was surprised, but that’s just further evidence of how little music I know in this world. Another wake-up call, but I’m learning… HaHa.
47. Lee Hi – SEOULITE
Oh, my blessed angel, Lee Hi. An artist that I believe has in the past been truly underutilized and underrated. Though she makes her home at one of Korea’s “Big 3,” there was a large gap between her debut and her latest album. Thank God veteran Tablo saw her for the powerhouse vocalist she is and took her under his wing at his sister label HIGHGRND. As a result, fans of the big singer were gifted with her absolutely magnanimous voice. Seoulite came in two tiers—part 1 being a bit brighter than it’s gritty sibling. Tracks like Blues and MISSING U highlighted just how brilliant a singer Lee Hi actually is. She has such depth and power behind that small frame, it’s astonishing. Then tracks like OFFICIAL and FXXK WIT US give us a peek inside her more R&B-rooted inclinations. Truly one of the most underrated albums to come out of last year’s onslaught of pop. A true gem. Please, please let’s not sleep on Lee Hi in the New Year. She deserves so much more for the power she blesses us with.
46. Bruno Mars – 24K Magic
Honestly, I wasn’t even sure where to put 24K Magic. On the one hand, here we have an album that makes brilliant use of classic ’90s R&B tropes, slow jamz and heavy doses of New Jack Swing. On the other, any song beyond that is an exact replica of everything Morris Day and The Time released in the ’80s, down to the intonations and breakdowns. Every single track tickled me beyond reason. This is probably the most fun album from 2016. However, it was wrought with clichés and lacked lyrical substance. That being said, it was just a fun album, hilarious and so tongue-in-cheek I couldn’t help but be impressed. Can’t really fault an artist who doesn’t take himself too serious, certainly can take the piss enough to create an album that’s just full-on chintz and oil-slick it’s so greasy at times.
45. Luna – Free Somebody
When we talk about underrated it doesn’t get much better (or worse depending on perspective) than Luna. Free Somebody was one of those albums that went so under the radar, it almost didn’t even register. Despite being part of Korea’s “Big 3,” it’s safe to say Luna (and her sisters in f(x)) don’t exactly get their due when it comes to album promotion or even creation. Which is a shame, because the group and Luna herself bring out the nuance and creativity in K-pop that oftentimes falls to the wayside in lieu of cranking out subpar (but fast-selling) singles with little variation. The title track alone was enough to put Luna’s debut mini on my favorite albums list. But strolling down the tracklist, there’s more variety, range, and depth than much of what K-pop managed to push out last year. It’s a shame more people didn’t pick up on just how brilliant this EP was.
44. Dumbfoundead – We Might Die
Honestly, Dummy is one of those artists who always manages to surprise me. From his days on URL (Underground Rap League) I’ve always had a soft spot for Dumbfoundead. So when he released Safe, I honestly wasn’t surprised at its depth and honesty. That’s a trait of Dumbfoundead that hasn’t changed—his tight control over storytelling and his ability to squeeze every last drop of truth out of every verse penned. While not 100% fond of his beat or feature choices, there’s no denying that when he gets on the mic, everything sort of just disappears and all one can do is focus on the words. And one can do worse than absorb the message and meaning behind one of underground hip-hop’s most versatile wordsmiths.
43. Cakes da Killa – Hedonism
But speaking of wordsmiths, want to talk about being shocked? Cakes da Killa’s Hedonism was like being prodded with an electric wire for half an hour. From the title track I was completely unprepared for how much of a lyrical technician Cakes really is. And while all the lyrics definitely stayed true to the album’s theme, he manages to effortlessly meld that impeccable flow with Detroit go-go…! I couldn’t handle the might and ferocity of this LP. One of the hypest albums to come out of 2016.
42. Sinead Harnett – Sinead Harnett
What a piece of soul-soothing music this was. Sinead Harnett’s been around for a few years now, but her self-titled EP was fifteen minutes of absolute magic. Opening track If You Let Me was a sensual coil around my soul, such heartache seeping through the vocal I couldn’t help but burn from the heat in each word. However, as the EP continues, we get a taste of her house leanings, music that’s bright and full of melodic nuance. Though only four tracks long, each song did a great job in defining Harnett’s vocal and musical color for those new to her sound.
41. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Chance. He’s honestly such a brilliant songwriter, his lyrics always deceptively chaotic (when in reality every word he pens is meticulously laid and has a layer of depth that could go unnoticed if one’s not paying attention), one can forgive some of the less-than-inspired features. Though Coloring Book didn’t quite hit the creative highs for me as Acid Rap, really this was an album all about discovery, intense introspection, and just giving thanks to the universe for the gifts he’s been blessed with the past few years—including his wife giving birth to their gorgeous daughter. Despite not as head-over-heels for Coloring Book, it’s still a beautiful album and one that at times really pulled at something deep in my soul and only augmented my adoration for the Chicago native.