FLOOD’s Best Records of 2016 (So Far)

It's been six months already?

Not that we’re pessimists around here, but 2016 has been a terrible year. Mass shootings have continued unabated. We’ve lost mega-watt stars. The strangely biohazardous Olympics are looming—looming! The Olympics!—in August. And, oh yeah—we’re about to head into the home stretch of the most depressing election cycle in recent memory.

“Music,” Kanye West sings on Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, “is all we’ve got.” And while it’s hard to imagine even the warmth of Chance’s smile being able to melt the cold heart of Donald Trump, it is true that the best music of 2016 has helped us to cope with the world around us. It’s a world that ANOHNI depicts with intermixed ferocity and sadness on HOPELESSNESS, her collaboration with Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, and its imminent destruction forms the backdrop of A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead’s strongest record since 2007’s In Rainbows. Anderson .Paak and Chance himself both put out records built on high-blast, soulful joy that refuses to let itself be cowed by the outside world. Algerian guitar group Imarhan are spinning a cosmopolitan take on Tuareg guitar music, itself born out of great suffering.

Music isn’t all we’ve got, but this rough year has at least given us some great music. Presenting below, in alphabetical order, the best records of 2016’s first half.

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On HOPELESSNESS, the artist formerly known for her work with Antony & The Johnsons creates electronic protest music as sensual and lush as her messages are urgent and pointed. She never puts herself above the strife, assuming the first person on the bombastic “Four Degrees” and the horrifying “Drone Bomb Me,” but her visions of exploded “crystal guts” and ruined seas are unnervingly vivid and sung beautifully over synthetic modern pop. — Jason P. Woodbury



Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids — We Be All Africans

The Pyramids were one of the great lost spiritual jazz combos of the ’70s. In 2012, bandleader Idris Ackamoor relaunched the band, but to say a masterpiece like We Be All Africans picks up where they left off decades ago isn’t fair; it’s even better than that, a pulsing blend of cosmic jazz and world music unified by Ackamoor’s loving spirit and funky restlessness. — JPW



Beyoncé — Lemonade

The greatest of our bona fide pop stars, Beyoncé’s greatest gift is how she can leverage the state-of-the-art for something that’s not at all run-of-the mill: The productions here are exquisitely great, but her voice is a greater decadence still, and the album’s arc encompasses the personal and the political as only she could see them. — Josh Hurst



Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Bitchin’ Bajas — Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties

Who knew that Will Oldham is best served in fortune cookie–sized lyrical snippets and backed by the cosmic Bitchin’ Bajas? This is a stunningly next-level mellow release—just repeated phrases from one of the great wounded voices of our time coupled with droning and bubbling landscapes. — Jon Pruett



David Bowie — 

Not merely a capstone to his legacy but an expansion of it, finds David Bowie reconnecting with his discoverer’s zeal for an audacious and ambitious masterwork—a bit of sleight-of-hand from a born showman, his final trick a kind of séance. — JH



Car Seat Headrest — Teens of Denial

With Teens of Denial, songwriter Will Toledo establishes Car Seat Headrest as a real-life rock band. Primarily a solo project before, Teens brims with gigantic rock hooks and band interplay—see the massive fuzz anthem “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” designed for impassioned singalongs and headbanging—but Toledo’s lyrics about getting high, feeling dumb, and being lost remain as reflective as when he recorded them all by himself. — JPW



case/lang/veirs — case/lang/veirs

Part-time New Pornographer Neko Case has now been a member of two supergroups whose musical fruits far exceed expectation. The triforce formed by Case, k. d. lang, and Laura Veirs makes vocal dexterity and harmonic complexity sound effortless. — Marty Sartini Garner



Chance the Rapper — Coloring Book

Coloring Book has been out for a solid month, and it’s still impossible to go outside in Chicago without hearing it playing from a passing car. At least in the Windy City, the monoculture still lives. — MSG



Deerhoof — The Magic

At this point, it seems like Deerhoof’s John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez can simply hold their guitars aloft and draw shards of riffage in via magnetic force. Their ferocity is countered by Satomi Matsuzaki’s beep-toned voice, resulting in one of the strongest—and most accessible—entries in the band’s deep catalog. — MSG



Frankie Cosmos — Next Thing

There’s a lot to get distracted by in the second official release from Frankie Cosmos—namely, the ways in which Greta Kline will make you want to cry—but it’s all a ruse to distract you from the fact that Next Thing is actually one of the catchiest records of the year. Also, as far as songs inspired by David Blaine go (at least, ones that weren’t written by Fiona Apple, anyway), “On the Lips” has got to be up there among the best. — Nate Rogers



Gallant — Ology

If R&B singer Gallant’s entire output this year were his cover of Sufjan Stevens’ “Blue Bucket of Gold,” he still would have made this list. But Ology reveals that the range of his creativity matches that of his dextrous voice. — MSG



Steve Gunn — Eyes on the Lines

Every guitarist worth their plectrum pack records an album of “songs about the road.” Luckily for us, Gunn is a top-level craftsman and finds that the horizon line is more on point with Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop and less like “Life is a Highway.” — JP



King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard — Nonagon Infinity

If you thought King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard were over the top last time, ooh boy, you’re really in for a doozy on this one. Basically one extended track, Nonagon Infinity is, like its name implies, a trip into another dimension—a dimension not only of sound, but of mind. Rod Serling would probably hate it, but you’ll love it. — NR


Kendrick Lamar — untitled unmastered.

More than welcome to ride the coattails of To Pimp a Butterfly for as long as he damn well pleased, Kendrick Lamar instead decided instead to brush the praise off his back and give us something new. And not only something new: something different. Whatever the hell untitled unmastered. is—demos, outtakes, or a wholly conceived new “studio” album—it is stunning, and like nothing else ever heard from a mainstream hip-hop artist. — NR



Imarhan — Imarhan

With Tinariwen having established themselves as a festival mainstay, the spiraling, ghostly line of Tuareg guitar music is quietly having a moment. Algeria’s Imarhan share family lineage with the elder band, but their self-titled debut is a faster, sharper, and more angular take on the desert blues. — MSG



Cate Le Bon — Crab Day

Cate Le Bon doubles down on the weirdness on Crab Day, invoking post-punk ghosts of the past—equally hypnotic and befuddling. She’s a great guitarist and peppers her songs with raw slashes of sound and electric mantras. The stuttering “What’s Not Mine” is the standout for me. — JP


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Mitski — Puberty 2

Watching people react to the existence of a new Mitski record is almost as much a joy as listening to a new Mitski record. The New Yorker’s fourth album is sweet abrasion, pride swelling on a tide of heartbreak.— MSG



Kevin Morby — Singing Saw

From his time with The Babies and Woods, it seems like everyone already knew that Kevin Morby was talented—but it wasn’t until his third LP, Singing Saw, that it became apparent just how talented he really is. It’s Nashville Skyline for Gen Y, Laurel Canyon via Mount Washington. — NR



Anderson .Paak — Malibu

The calendar doesn’t quite line up to suggest that Malibu was conceived the night D’Angelo dropped Black Messiah, but it may as well be the case. Despite—or perhaps because of—its heavy jazz and gospel inflections—Anderson .Paak’s debut feels like a pitch-perfect sample of the cultural moment. — MSG



Jerry Paper — Toon Time Raw!

Like all great contemporaries, Jerry Paper is Proustly aware of his quotidian neuroses— the ones that occupy the imperceptible, surd-like space between a city-issued parking ticket and The Eleventh Dimension. But he’s still dancing, and you should too, you toon! — Annie Vainshtein



Parquet Courts — Human Performance

Could there be a more “2016” expression of identity than “you can’t crop yourself out of the picture,” a lyric from Parquet Courts’ Modern Lovers-gone-twangy jam “Berlin Got Blurry”? In the past, the band’s detached attitude just barely masked its genuine, empathic sentiments, but Human Performance makes it clear these dudes are just as shaky on the whole thing as you or I. — JPW



Iggy Pop — Post Pop Depression

It’s been six months since we lost Bowie—and almost three years since we lost Lou Reed—but Iggy Pop remains. He’s suntanned, wiry, and pissed off, and with the help of Josh Homme, he made his best album in decades in Post Pop Depression. A bit unexpected, yes, but never more welcome. Glad you’re here with us, Iggy. — NR



Margo PriceMidwest Farmer’s Daughter

Johnny Cash is purported to have once quipped that Merle Haggard actually lived the life most people thought he himself had lived. Margo Price has seen enough hardship to make both men whistle in admiration, and if that wouldn’t have done it, the crackling hardcore country on her Beach Boys–referencing debut surely would have. — MSG



Radiohead — A Moon Shaped Pool

The idea of anything living up to the hype that was “LP9” was pretty laughable, and considering how The King of Limbs was unfairly maligned simply because it wasn’t the immediate masterpiece people wanted, it was reasonable to expect A Moon Shaped Pool to have a bumpy landing. But then Radiohead hit us with the one-two punch that is “Burn the Witch” and “Daydreaming,” and, like a light from above, we all turned into Nelson watching Andy Williams perform “Moon River.” In the face of impossible expectations, this is everything we could’ve ever wanted. Now about that LP10, guys… — NR



Xenia Rubinos — Black Terry Cat

If Neneh Cherry had grown up double-dutching in New York City, she’d be twirling the ropes with Rubinos. Sure, the clatter and percussion are great, but dig how gracefully she can pin a high note to the wall. — MSG



Andy Shauf — The Party

Andy Shauf has got to be the most soft-spoken new act to make some waves this year, so it was only appropriate, then, that his arrival on ANTI- comes in the form of something that you wouldn’t necessarily expect him to gravitate toward: a house party. And though the album itself isn’t what you would call a “party record,” you could instead consider it more of a “party substitute.” Don’t feel like going out? Put this on instead. — NR



Paul Simon — Stranger to Stranger

No guitar-toting singer/songwriter has done more to explore the strange vagaries of rhythm itself, and on Stranger to Stranger Simon chases his muse through knotty samples and dense beats—cling and clatter worthy of his haunted reflections on everything that’s unsure and elusive about love and creativity. — JH



Twin Peaks — Down in Heaven

For the first few years of their existence, the narrative for Twin Peaks seemed to be solely focused on one thing: their age. But hey, if there’s one narrative that can be escaped, it’s that one, and at this point, they truly deserve to be able to do just that. Down in Heaven is still the sort of wild and rambunctious affair that you’d expect from these dudes, but it’s also an immensely mature album in its own right. — NR



Kanye West — The Life of Pablo

Though it’s admittedly a pretty entertaining thing to do, continuously being distracted by Kanye the person is exhausting. More so, it’s a disservice to Kanye the musician, who has managed to transcend the near–Royal Family level of gossip with an album that is immensely entertaining on a songwriting level and nothing short of genius on a production level. An Arthur Russell sample on a hip-hop song? Are you kidding me, Yeezy? Long live the King. — NR



Whitney — Light Upon the Lake

In a number of ways, Light Upon the Lake isn’t really a debut—Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich are veterans of the band Smith Westerns—but it certainly sounds like a fresh start, not just for its members, but also for the indie rock scene in general. “Honest” would probably be the best word to describe what the album sounds like, with the ambitious six-piece arrangements sitting as unadorned as the emotions of the music itself. — NR



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