Best of lists are subjective. There are numerous reasons for choosing your top albums. This year, with the ease of playlisting, I decided to forgo my tradition of top albums to share songs that kept me rocking and reflecting throughout 2016.
The sheer amount of incredible music being released is astounding. This set opens in Africa, with one of my favorite Baaba Maal tracks of all time; his career has gone in so many interesting directions, and I applaud his openness on trying new sounds, producers, collaborations, and approaches. Tuareg music is close to my soul, so the following three tracks are by Saharan desert rockers.
Family Atlantica hails from Hackney, combining Caribbean, Latin, and African grooves; this steel pan flavored track had a touch of Afrobeat I couldn’t ignore. And the sound of Haiti’s Lakou Mizik made for a nice complement to that horn-driven track. From there we head to Brazil for two of my favorite singers, Luisa Maita and Ceu, both of whom released solid records this year.
Jain is blowing my head open right. The young French woman with Malagasy roots has created an Afro-inspired Euro-pop record unlike anything I’ve heard all year. This extended version of her single, ‘Come,’ features another Afrobeat-inspired groove as the song develops. Speaking of awesome women, the trio A-Wa nailed Middle Eastern dance pop with ‘Habib Galbi.’
From there we go to one of the most influential production teams on my own EarthRise SoundSystem project, Thievery Corporation. Their new single hints at what is sure to be a killer new record. Plus, it’s about marijuana, always an easy way to make my favorites list.
2016 has been a kind year for hip-hop and soul. Anderon.Paak has been killing it all year in my earbuds, and the new Tribe album, released on what was the most disastrous week of the year (and potentially dangerous election in modern American politics) served as a balm for my tired head. Roots Manuva went deep on his latest, while Childish Gambino created an album like nothing else I’ve heard. I’m still reeling from that one.
Speaking of roots music, Sturgill Simpson is just so damn good. Nice to see a nice guy picking up so many accolades. From there a string of more well-known names on the American landscape: Norah sounds great on her latest; this is undoubtedly my favorite David Bowie song in his catalog; Alabama Shakes came strong early this year; and Radiohead continues to produce timeless music.
Closing out my list, Michael Kiwanuka has been in my playlists for years, but ‘Love & Hate’ is an epic, beautiful song. Anoushka Shankar continues to impress me with a range of collaborations—her latest album goes Celtic at times—and gorgeous melodies. Finally, Andrew McPherson put aside his Eccodek sound for his own music for airports (and spaceships) with his new Peppermouth project. I could think of no other way to close than with his fine record.