State In The Real – Penn State Music Scene

Author - Eric Dowling

Top Albums of 2016

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So 2016 was a pretty jam packed year in music, and also we lost a lot of amazing artists (R.I.P.). No I am only one person so it is really hard for me to listen to everything that is out there, and remember this is a list of personal opinion, so I avoided albums and there were just some albums that I did not listen to. I am not counting anything released after Christmas as 2016, aka Run the Jewels 3, and I have amended my usual rule of anything less than 10 songs is not considered for “Album of the Year” but Vince Staples had one of the best albums of the year. In case you were wondering how I judge what the ranking is, the majority is relistenablility. For me, the ability to go back to an album more than once is a key factor in deciding how good an album is. So without further ado, here is my list of the “Best Albums of 2016″

 

25) Drake – VIEWS

 

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Not in recent memory has an album been so hyped up, but Drake’s Views is one of them. For the last three years or so the Canadian rapper has been teasing the album, originally thought to be called Views From the 6, but later shortened to VIEWS, Drake seems to have been all over the place with this one. There were some amazing standouts, but as a whole this album was boreville, broken up with some great songs. The album is more of Drake being Drake, it was good, but it did not live up to the hype.

24) The 1975 – I like it when sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

 

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Just when you thought they were out of the game, they came back. Seemingly done with music, The 1975 made a spectacular return to music. And this album is a great one. It was atmospheric at the right time, and it was poppy at others. The British group proved why they deserve your attention, with love ballads and some exceptional songs.

23) Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

 

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Danny Brown, a man whose legend is almost overshadowing his musical ability. But it seems that the Detroit rapper found his groove in this record. He seems to be coming out of a dark place and plays off of this sound. Every track has an underlying sound of brooding. Brown has the majority of the spotlight, but he is always at his best when he bounces off his peers. This album is the most polished of Brown’s career.

22) Parquet Courts – Human Performance

 

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For a band, that at one point released like four albums in one year, there was some time in between their last album and this one. Their sound hasn’t changed, which is a great thing, and it builds on what makes them great; angst. This album is everything that is great about nihilistic rock, they seem to not care, but really they care more than they let one.

21) Anderson .Paak – Malibu

 

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A breakout of 2016, this soulful man exploded on the scene with one of the most summery albums of the year. .Paak even made the XXL Freshman of the Year list, and this album shows his muscles. Paak’s unique voice carries over every track and makes you feel the vibes. It doesn’t fall in any typical genre, but it shows where music is heading, a blending of all genres to make everyone happy, and if you don’t smile once in this album, you have no soul.

20) A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here, Thank You 4 Your Service

 

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One of the legends that we lost in 2016 was the immortal Phife Dawg, and his lost impacted the rap world. So it seemed that A Tribe Called Quest would hang up their hats, and ride into the sunset. But unexpectedly they released this gem, a thank you to the late rapper, as well as a poignant commentary on the world currently.

19) Blood Orange – Freetown Sound

 

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When Blood Orange transitioned from producer to solo artist, the result was amazing, and unforgettable. With little heard from Dev Hynes in the meantime, we got something so heartbreaking and beautiful that it couldn’t be overlooked. Every track seems to have Hynes soul poured into it. The album shows why we might have missed Blood Orange and I can’t wait to hear what comes next.

18) Kaytranada – 99.9%

 

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Producer Kaytranada broke out in 2016, and his album flexed his muscles. The album is wavy, and I mean that in a great way. You hear the experience from a great producer and the guest tracks do not overshadow the beat at all. When you listen it fills your head with so many sounds, and blends it all together in a sonic richness that deserves attention.

17) James Blake – The Colour in Anything

 

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The great James Blake returns in a big way, not as big as what we thought, considering he promised a Kanye and Frank Ocean collaboration. Now we did get a song written by Ocean on this album, there was no Kanye colab. What we got instead was Blake showing why he is the music industry’s favorite musician. The electronic beats, the warm and cold at the same time sounds. It all comes together in one pretty album.

16) A$AP Ferg – Always Strive and Prosper

 

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To be honest, the member of the A$AP mob I like the most is not the former model, its the one that is flying more under the radar. Ferg showed his storytelling abilities in this album and also made some surefire hits. There are definitely standouts and it shows a true growth of an artist from his last album to his current one.

15) Bon Iver – 22, A Million

 

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It has been awhile since Justin Vernon returned to the thing that made him a household name. Bon Iver changed their sound dramatically, and it did not disappoint. This album was amazing, although overshadowed by a very under the radar surprise released on the same day, this album proves why Bon Iver is one of the best alternative group in the planet. The growth of the group showed how good they are.

14) ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face LP

 

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TDE is a rap collective / label that seems to be very confusing. Kendrick Lamar is obviously the standout, and the rest of the crew seem to be all over the place Isaiah Rashad is great, but can’t make it into the mainstream, and SZA has not had that song that has made people see her potential. But ScHoolboy Q is the reason TDE needs to be taken more seriously, Q has broken out more from his previous album and this one is even better. There are some great tracks that are so well produced, and some amazing lyrics.

13) Young Thug – No, My Name is JEFFREY

 

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Young Thug and Future seemed to be in a competition of who could release more albums in 2016, but Future seemed to get burned out by his DJ Esco tape, but Thug seemed to hit his stride after each album, and Young Thug showed why his weirdness is exactly what works well. This album, each track is dedicated to role models in the rapper’s life, and “Harambe” sums up the year of 2016 in pretty much the perfect way. Young Thug is not overshadowed by the guest stars on the record, instead he plays off them and shows why Thug is among the best in the game right now.

12) The Weeknd – Starboy

 

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I missed the old Weeknd, snort up the nose Weeknd, cry bout the soul Weeknd, just the drugs and hoes Weeknd, I miss the old Weeknd. His last album was something to just get radio play, but this one he seemed to be more about his old style, The Weeknd returned to form and this album is fantastic, it has the Weeknd exposing himself, and where is had some more features than it probably should have, but it really was a return to the old Weeknd, and I have never been more ok with that.

11) Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

 

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There was a ton of musical surprises in 2016, but Car Seat Headrest might top them all. The album is fantastic, and shows exactly why Indie artists need to be more noticed. The album showed off great lyrics and some amazing musicianship. An album that, like fine wine, gets better with age and the more you listen to it. It is a great example of modern rock music and really shows how we have gotten back to simple music that lets the talent speak for itself.

10) Frank Ocean – Endless

 

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There was a time where I legitimately thought Frank Ocean was never going to release an album. But in August, we got TWO. Two albums from Frank Ocean, and where the first one was a visual album, it showed us all why we missed Ocean so much. After the unforgettable channel ORANGE Ocean wanted to make an album (or two) that were perfect, with Endless he showed how visuals can help to accent an album and make it more than just a listening experience. Endless is atmospheric and haunting and real and Frank Ocean at his best. Where it is a very different feel from Blond it is something incredible in its own right.

9) Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

 

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Speaking of artists who I thought were never going to release an album again, where it hadn’t been as long as Frank Ocean, it had been awhile since we last heard from Donald Glover, and where this is a complete departure from his standard rap fair, this album is exactly what we needed at the end of the year. It is soulful and funky and raw, and Gambino really is a mastermind (see what I did there).

8) Mac Miller – The Divine Feminine

 

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Easy Mac, with the cheesy raps, for so long that was Mac Miller, but now he is a fantastic rapper. This album is amazing and it is Mac Miller flexing hard. With the collaborations with Anderson .Paak and Ariana Grande (aww) he shows how his flow has matured over the years. His lyrics are great and the production is subtle. I kept finding myself coming back to it and each time I got more and more impressed. Miller has matured leaps and bounds and I am truly excited for what he has next.

7) Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered

 

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We seem to be getting more into artists releasing material scrapped from albums, since B-Sides are pretty much dead. With Drake unearthing this concept last year, Lamar proved why he is the king right now in rap. untitled unmastered is an album that shows why Lamar is a lyric wordsmith and this album is a true showing of those skills. With each song showing when it was recorded and a lack of a title, the verses are relevant to this day, and remind us why Lamar is the best in the business. For most this would easily be considered one of their best albums in their discography, this album is just a throw away for Lamar.

6) Solange – A Seat at the Table

 

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Where I do say fairly ofter that Solange is the more talented Knowles sister, this album is a little reminder to her sister Queen B that one cannot rest on their laurels as the most talented in the family, A Seat at the Table is a statement of what it means to be a black woman living in 2016, now I have literally no room to talk from experience on that subject, I can say that Solange makes me feel for her. There is beauty in every song of hers, and also Sampha makes everything sound like it is coming from the soul. Standouts like “Cranes in the Sky” bring out the beauty in the mundane, and Solange’s voice…. is just wow.

5) Vince Staples – Prima Donna

 

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I usually refrain from placing EPs in my end of the year list, but this is just wow. Like Staples went from being a fringe rapper who I enjoyed listening to, to one of my favorite rappers right now. This short, and it is way too short for me, album is a flex on each song. Staples comes out shooting, with a literal gun shot ringing in the first official song on the record. Even though his biggest guest star is A$AP Rocky, Rocky is so muted here that Staples demands the track. Where Staples might have gone viral for the wrong reasons, and off a song from his previous album, Prima Donna is a great reminder of why he is one of the most exciting young rapper in the game right now.

4) Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

 

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So The Life of Pablo’s release was a tire fire, and that might be nice to tire fires. We were promised a return of G.O.O.D. Friday’s and more than 200 songs with Kendrick Lamar and Young Thug, West made an album that did not live up to the rappers high standards that he set for himself. I would not consider this to be “This generations Born in the U.S.A.” but I would easily consider this a “Best of” album for West. Each track brings in reminders of works from West’s past collections, and the tracks each has a sense of both freshness and nostalgia to them. It is been well documented that West kept fixing the album, even after it was officially released, the final product is definitely one to remember. To say that this isn’t one of West’s best albums, and yet finds its way easily in the top 10 of almost every list of the year is a true testament to how great West is as an artist.

3) Beyoncé – LEMONADE

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Beyoncé teased us with a very interesting and surprising video. What it turned out to be was an HBO special, and where the visual of the album was unforgettable the album was even better. Beyoncé made an album that solidified why she is the Queen. Beyoncé wanted to do country, so she made an incredible country song (DADDY LESSONS). She wanted to make a rock song, so she made one of the best rock songs of the year (DON’T HURT YOURSELF). Beyoncé wanted to make a banger, so she made a banger (FORMATION). LEMONADE might go down as another album that Beyoncé released that changed the music industry.

 

 

2) Frank Ocean – Blond(e)

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However you decide to spell it, Frank Ocean pulled a total surprise and released another classic. Where Blonde is a deviation from channel ORANGE it still proves how great Ocean is at making music. This album is so different, but each song is a story in itself, and each song proves how amazing Ocean is at story telling. The songs each flow in and out and create a subtle and demanding presence from Ocean. Where he controls the scene in the bulk of this record, the lack of guest features show how much of a craftsmen Ocean is.

 

 

1) Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

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No album in 2016 had me returning to it like Coloring Book did, we had been spoiled with Chance over the last few years, and Surf was a break from his solo mission, but it helped him hone his craft, it made Chance the Rapper even better. With Coloring Book Chance matured from his Acid Rap druggie image to that of “A Christian rapper” and wow, just wow was it unforgettable. Chance commands attention, and each song has a big name guest feature and they all play off of each other in a way that makes you feel like they just had a ton of fun in the studio. I think that you can hear how much Chance loves his friends and each song shows that off better than anything else that was released last year. Where we have heard the Gospel influence on this album, this put the cap on the year the re-energized the gospel movement in rap. I still get goosebumps hearing “Blessings” and “How Great” made Jay Electronica immortal. Justin Bieber has almost never sounded more smooth and even Lil Yachty proved his strength. This was the year of Chance the Rapper and Coloring Book might have been the biggest coming out party for someone that still has not charged a single penny for his albums.

Top 10 Albums that Changed My Life

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Before everyone gets up in arms about the albums that I have chosen, please remember that this list is of those albums that mean the most to me, the albums that I look to as old friends, as a comfort blanket. These are all albums that once I start listening to them, I have to listen to it all the way through. These are albums that I have purchased more than once, some of them more than twice (no shame), and it is because these albums mean so much to me. I remember where I was the first time I heard these records, or they remind me of a time in my life. Yes I know my life is far from a time to be looking back but these albums have, in one way or another, shaped me as a person. They have changed how I look at the world, and how I challenge the status quo, whatever cliche you want to use. So before you get on me for saying “Where is Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band?” or “How can you call this list what you do an not have Brand New on here?” Well its cause this is my list and this is my opinion, this is not a list of the “Best of…” So with that let me get down to it.

Honorable Mention:

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Gorillaz – Gorillaz (2001)

Kings of Leon – Only By the Night (2008)

Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory (2000)

The Killers – Sam’s Town (2006)

Shocking I know, but I had a hard time completely narrowing this list to 10. These three albums are ones that I look back at fondly, but just for whatever reason, I just don’t hold them in the same regard as the other 10. With Hybrid Theory it was mostly one song, I very rarely listened to it all the way through, but I still remember annoying the hell out of my parents with that CD in our car. I would always track right to “In the End” and then keep playing it for the majority of the car ride. One time, I had played the song at least five times, my dad had finally had enough and made me turn on the radio, but what song should come up but “In the End” it was at that time that my dad admitted defeat. For Only By the Night this was the last physical CD that I had bought for a really long time, “Sex On Fire” hooked me, but “Notion” and every track kept me coming back. This album was just something that I hadn’t heard in a really long time, and definitely not in the music I was listening to at the time. It was a throwback to the 70s, the lyrics were raw and the sound was tight. Finally, one album got me hooked on one of my favorite bands of all time. This is the album that made me stop and go, “Wow” The Killers are this generations Bruce Springsteen, drawing on the Boss for inspiration, and it can be felt in every track of Sam’s Town and it is just something so special.

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Album Review: Jeff Buckley, You and I

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Where you may not exactly know who Jeff Buckley is by name, you have almost definitely heard his music, or at least one of his songs. His cover of “Hallelujah” is one of the most famous versions of the song. With his “new” album, Buckley is bringing his raw sound back into our minds in nearly nine years. With You and I Buckley is showcasing unreleased music and the sound is something that resembles a good time with good friends.

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The album is simple, it has a very stripped back feel. Buckely keeps the sounds simple, the music even more simplicity. This is the strength of the album, it focuses on Buckley’s writing skills and the simple sound of the songs. Like I mentioned earlier, this is an album that can feel like time spent on Sunday mornings with your friends, just hanging around telling stories. It is something that is not too often felt from people that are not in the public light too often. His voice is raw and heart felt, and the guitar sounding like it crawled out of a smoke filled bar the night before. It is soothing and a good way to start your day or end your night.

 

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The issue with this album is that it can sort of start to feel like the same thing over and over again. But if you want an album to relax you and help you have that coffee house feel for about an hour, than this is the album for you.

 

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Jeff Buckley returns to the public spotlight with a raw and stripped down album that makes everyone feel like they are watching a live performance with great friends. It is warm and comforting. These are songs that I am surprised took so long to be released to the public, but the timing does not feel wrong, its perfect to play as you lay outside on these beautiful spring days.

Album Review: Ray LaMontagne Ouroboros

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Very few names can I generally relate to a sound or style of music; Jam Bands and Phish, Heavy Metal and Slayer and Coffee House and Ray LaMontagne. In his most recent album, the singer song writer is back with possibly his most ambitious album to date. With Ouroboros, LaMontagne breaks his album up into two different parts. Part one significantly more upbeat than part two, but that is a good thing, and a thing that I have come to expect from LaMontagne.

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This album does a lot of things right, and that is sticking to the sound that has made him the staple in coffee house music. The first half is more upbeat and has a sound closer to rock than acoustic coffee house. But that is ok it is a harder sound than I am used to, but when the second part comes on this is where the album shines and everything seems to flow together.

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The issue that I have with this album is the first half, it is too harsh, and the sound does not flow well. The chords are too simple and everything seems convoluted. It sounds like he just lazily threw together some songs and slapped it on half an album. It could have been a little better, the idea was there but the execution falls way short, making this album very forgettable.

 

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Outoboros shines in the back half, but you have to suffer through the first half to get to the coffee house sound that we have come to expect from Ray LaMontagne. It is a sold album to throw on when you want to sip your latte and write your screenplay.

Album Review: This is Acting

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Okay, at this point, we all know who Sia is and we have all heard at least one song from the vocal chameleon. 1000 Forms of Fear was a game changer for her, we were introduced to this new sound, this incredible showmanship and a vocal range that can shatter glass. But with This Is Acting we seem to get more of the same thing. Sia has become a huge star, and people now have expectations for her, she is no longer that girl with the powerful voice who is also a ghostwriter. Sia is a bonafide pop star now has a certain expectations to meet.

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With This Is Acting, it starts out strong, very strong, and peaks somewhere around track seven. But each song seems to start to sound exactly the same after that. Sia belts into the microphone, pause, and come back to the chorus. It is very repetitive, it drags out too much. There is too much similarity between songs. Sia, you can do better than this, you have, in my humble opinion one of the best voices in music. Let you vocal chords stretch, but you don’t have to do it on every song. Each one is as powerful and jarring as the last, but I just can’t help but shake the feeling like she is being complacent in her sound.

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I am not going to harp on the negatives of this album, because if you like Sia and are a fan of her style, this should be the album you have been waiting for. And who am I to complain she has, with this new album, brought us Jimmy Fallon AND Natalie Portman in Sia wigs. On top of which, I will always tune into a Sia performance, for they are always unforgettable.

Album Review: Matter

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It seems to be a recent trend in music to go back to an 80s style. With the new 1975 album, their sound is distinctively 80s. But one band that seems to have taken this to the next level is St. Lucia. In their follow up to When the Night St. Lucia takes the sound that made them break out and polished it off and made it shine brighter than any diamond that Rihanna was talking about. Every song seems to have been produced to perfection. But before we get into the album, it needs to be noted that St. Lucia are not just a one trick pony, their sound changes noticeably with each song.

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With each song seeming to build on the other, the band really makes it known that they are here to mean business. The album flows seamlessly into itself. St. Lucia encapsulate the 80s in each song, from Glam Pop to Pop Rock, they have it all covered. The most noticeable reference to the 80s being “Rescue Me” a clear homage to Duran Duran and “Stay” drawing heavily from Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” the album is fun, you want to get up and dance it all out.

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Find a dance-floor, and turn up the St. Lucia, Matter brings back the nostalgia and brings it into the future. Matter is a fun album and has some pretty awesome tributes to the best of the 80s.