2016 saw such an absurd amount of good music releases. I feel like I listened to a new project every day and yet I feel as though I barely scratched the surface. I still need to listen to about 50 more projects before this list can be properly definitive, but until then, here are my 50 favorite projects (as it currently stands) of 2016.
01. Whitney – Light Upon the Lake
If you read my list of 25 Best Chicago Projects of 2016, then this album at the top should come as no surprise. Whitney's debut album is not only my most played album of the year, but it's also the only album of 2016 that I can sing, lyric for lyric, front to back.
02. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Anderson .Paak was a true MVP of 2016. His January album Malibu received steady rotation throughout the calendar year, and tracks like "The Bird" and "The Season/Carry Me" are some of the year's best singles.
03. ALEX – Sleepy Head EP // Claustrophobia ep
Alex aka Alicks is a prolific producer. As part of his more lofi beat account (@worsethanthis) he released two EPs known as Sleepy Head and Claustrophobia. I haven't stopped listening.
04. Eastghost – A Light at the End ep
Sure, this stripped down project was released at the end of 2015, but I didn't get into it until this year. Front to back it is golden, full of tracks that were all crafted in one sitting. Eastghost, more like Eastgoat.
05. Iris Temple – Duality ep
Chicago duo Iris Temple released one of the strongest projects of the year. Five songs of concise and forward-thinking cohesion, with lyricism and production reaching a top-notch level.
06. Frank Ocean - Blond(e)
I really expected Frank Ocean's anticipated album, Blond(e), to be at the top of my list this year. While countless great songs are found on this project, it didn't achieve the same level of entertainment as I found on channel ORANGE. That being said, No. 6 of the year is still a nice ranking. "Nights" is a perfect song.
07. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
Oh, this album. It sounds even better now that it's freezing in Chicago. A Moon Shaped Pool feels like a return to In Rainbows, where sad pianos come and go whenever they please. Even the artwork and videos were on point here. "Identikit" is perfect.
08. Noname - Telefone
The Chicago rap album of the year. No contest. Noname's anticipated and delayed debut did not disappoint, as it impressed with lyrics worthy of status updates and production worthy of an instrumental release.
09. James Blake - The Colour in Anything
James Blake's third LP didn't do much for me when it was first released back in May. Then it got cold in Chicago and I haven't stopped listening. This will hold me over until springtime.
10. Electric Wire Hustle – 11th Sky
11th Sky by Electric Wire Hustle was self-described as 'David Lynch meets Motown'. I couldn't describe it better if I tried. This is a rollercoaster ride at cloud level.
11. Bliss & alice – Mama Tried
bliss & alice came correct with his sophomore project, Mama Tried, which picks up where Poetry Vol. 1 left off. The project is packed with dense lyricism over some deeply moving instrumentation.
12. Alicks – A MESS
Alicks, who was featured earlier on this list as Alex, released a 50+ zip file of loose tracks and scrapped ideas. To sift through this folder is to explore a gold mine of moving instrumentals and melancholy whispers.
13. Charlotte Day Wilson – CDW
After hearing the stripped down R&B number "Work", I knew Charlotte Day Wilson wasn't your typical artist. Her self-produced EP is perfect for a night of homework or a relaxing evening with a fireplace and some wine.
14. Weird Inside – As We Know
Musical auteur Weird Inside crafted a forward-thinking EP that falls into a category of music talents who handle it all, including artwork. See also: Froyo Ma, J'Von, Mr. Yote. The loose single "Little Angels" made my end of the year song list, and this EP was necessary to include here.
15. Bianca Casady – Oscar Hocks
Bianca Casady of CocoRosie released her debut solo album at the beginning of this year. Featuring a backup band known as The CIA, this album is in the realm of CocoRosie, while feeling more like an open dream journal full of dark watercolors.
16. False Vacancy – Haitus EP
Two mysterious producers (and an Alicks cameo) linked to drop a four song project that sounds like a VHS in Japan. If that makes any sense.
17. Kweku Collins - Nat Love
Kweku is one of the more consistent artists in the Windy City, and he spent most of 2016 as a teenager. Now at 20, he has a plethora of strong releases, including Nat Love, his Closed Sessions full-length and personal creation, one that flows so damn nicely.
18. Jon Bap - What Now?
Nomadic multi-instrumentalist (and painter) Jon Bap released a bounty of releases this calendar year, appearing out of thin air with a batch of heat. One of his proper releases was What Now? To press play is to be involved in an out of body experience. For example, the project begins with ten minutes of 'Guided Meditation'.
19. Hot Sugar – Seductive Nightmares 3
What a treat this 'mixtape' truly is. Acting as the third part of a trilogy, Hot Sugar initially released a 45 minute SoundCloud upload, full of impressive instrumentals and intriguing vocal samples. Thankfully, he released the tracks separately via Bandcamp (for free) so I can listen to the Labi Siffre reworking any time I please.
20. Moby – Long Ambients 1: Calm.Sleep.
Over the summer, Moby released four hours of ambient music. For free. What else needs to be said? These are 20 minute 'sequences' of soothing tones meant to enhance your slumber. Moby is the man.
21. Leslie Marie - Merci EP
Chicago singer/songwriter Leslie Marie impressed with her three song Merci EP, which features production from Derrick Phoenix, as well as ukulele from Ms. Marie. It comes complete with French lyrics and the lovestruck ballad "Tranquility".
22. Elijah Blake - Blueberry Vapors
Blueberry Vapors was released near the beginning of 2016 and I kept the CD in my car all year long. Elijah Blake linked with numerous producers and recorded a terrific project, complete with documentation and photos to accompany. Shout-out to production duo Two Fresh for putting me on to this.
23. su na - Surface EP
Minnesota hip-hop is most definitely on the map. While su na isn't necessarily within the confines of 'hip-hop', his Surface EP featured Ravyn Lenae, Dizzy Fae, and others, and was jam packed with lush instrumentation that helped his name spread to the masses. I'm already anticipating his 2017 release (which will apparently feature his vocals as well).
24. theMIND - Summer Camp
theMIND crafted a cinematic experience with Summer Camp, complete with interludes and thick THEMpeople production. Featuring plenty of well known Chicago names (Noname, Towkio, Sean Deaux), the project maintains cohesion throughout, thanks to theMIND's continued strong and wise narrative.
25. The fin. – Through the Deep EP
Kobe, Japan. A city I know nothing about. Other than the fact that dream pop band The fin. are residents. The group released Through the Deep earlier this year and it sounds like Beach House covering The Bee Gees.
26. Soft Glas - Late Bloom
A crisp and pretty offering from motivated visionary Soft Glas. Perfect for dreaming or kissing.
27. NxWorries – Yes Lawd!
A collaborative release between Anderson .Paak and producer Knxwledge. This is like Gibbs and Madlib with Pinata if it took place during sexy time.
28. San Soma - Desaturation
Chicago musician San Soma takes the heavy seas for a hurricane of a debut album. I can't recommend this one enough.
29. Kaytranada – 99.9%
Kaytranada let the world know how to release a producer album this year: feature Craig David. "Glowed Up" is such a great song and music video.
30. Celadon City - Earth OST // Summeryoung EP
Artist Celadon City linked with both Hush Hush Records and Secret Songs to release two stellar 2016 EPs. These ambient beauts compliment each other nicely.
31. Alexis Taylor – Piano
Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip unplugs his electronics and gets intimate in front of 88 keys. This album is much better than the artwork.
32. Solange – A Seat at the Table
I'm aware that Beyonce released an album this year, but it's sister Solange that truly shined. Her album is a cohesive masterpiece, complete with help from Sampha as well as Lil' Wayne's best verse in years.
33. DRAMA - Bellows
Singer Via Rosa and producer Na'el Shehade released their debut offering, Bellows, as their duo DRAMA. The project is a heartbroken, lovesick affair, one perfect for a bottle of wine and a teary-eyed dance floor.
34. Televangel - We Dream of Drones
Televangel is Young God aka Ian Taggart aka 1/2 of Blue Sky Black Death. He released an ambient project known as We Dream of Drones, complete with technicolor visuals for every song.
35. Trapo – She EP // Shade Trees
Madison, Wisconsin rapper Trapo remained consistent throughout 2016. With his SHE EP back in March and his Shade Trees full-length in November, all eyes and ears were on the talented teenage rapper this year.
36. Isaiah Rashad – The Sun’s Tirade
Confession: I didn't listen to Isaiah Rashad's Cilvia Demo until this year. I was instantly hooked. Shortly after, he released The Sun's Tirade, a great follow-up companion piece.
37. Sirius Blvck – Nxghtcrawlr
Indianapolis rapper Sirius Blvck and L.A.-based producer Bones of Ghosts work so well together. For their fourth album, which released on Halloween, the two took it to the next level, crafting a chilling and unique body of work.
38. A TRIP TO SODA ISLAND
The only compilation to be found on this list, internet collective Soda Island handled this right. From the original art to contributions from artists like Izzard, Ramzoid, Spire, and Merival, the whole project flows so well.
39. Phoelix – Ingenu EP
Phoelix crafted an EP in his bedroom in one night. The lofi R&B project is something you might have missed from the talented Chicago artist, who has plenty in store for him come 2017.
40. Rhoda – Songs to Sleep to EP
Respect to Swill from OakCellarDoor for putting me on to this project. Minimal and ambient, it is the perfect project for nighttime dreams (hence the title).
41. The Walters - Young Men EP
The Walters had a great year. From a tour to sold out Chicago shows to Riot Fest and more, it all started when they released Young Men at the very end of 2015. It sounds brand new now that snow is on the ground.
42. Allan Kingdom – Northern Lights
It's easy to forget that Northern Lights is a 2016 release because it came out on January 6, but the project still holds strong twelve months later. "No Fables" is the jam.
43. Jaro – La Rouge // La Bleue EP
Chicago producer released a pair of complimentary EPs this year, featuring plenty of features and collaborations. A bunch of my favorite Windy City talents stop by to assist with these two strong drops.
44. Shrimpnose - Don't I? EP
Mr. Shrimpnose from Minnesota impressed me with this EP, my first look into this producer's world. Since this release, he's dropped an absurd amount of music (including 25 tracks leading up to....Shrimpus), allowing you plenty to sift through during the holiday season.
45. BoatHouse – Hibernation EP
The Boat! This four song EP is a nice package of BoatHouse's production capabilities. Expect much more from this Chicago talent once 2017 arrives.
46. Harris Cole - Pause
Every song on Harris Cole's debut album was crafted once the sun went down. As a result, the ambient project sounds great after midnight, perfect for winding down at the end of a long day.
47. ZenZan – Island Life EP
iPad producer ZenZan took us all on an auditory vacation to Hawaii with his incredible Island Life EP. Look out for more from him in 2017, as he is allegedly working with a very fast rapping rapper. I've said too much.
48. Wilted Petals – I’m Happy
Terre Haute, Indiana artist Atlas has an acoustic side project called Wilted Petals. I blasted it a bunch this fall as the leaves changed. Now that there's snow outside, it sounds even more magical.
49. Curren$y & Alchemist – Carrollton Heist
Spitta released twelve projects this year. I've only heard half of them. In the midst of it all, the prolific weed rapper collaborated with producer Alchemist for a follow up to Covert Coup.
50. Merival – Lovers EP
Closing out this list is Merival's relaxing and refreshing Lovers EP, which I discovered after finding her work alongside Swim Good and Izzard. This EP is very touching.