Metal GF’s Top Eleven Non-Metal Albums of 2016
I too subscribe to The MetalSucks Manifesto. This is no time to be silent, and many musicians on my list know this to be true. Art and politics are inseparable. This has been the weirdest year and, in many ways, the worst year, and the best part of my world right now is probably watching our one-and-a-half-year-old little boy dance. It is SO funny and so cute. His delightful little moves are something that make me feel better about everything each and every time, even if for just a few moments.
Music has healing properties, and we need it now more than ever. Dancing your heart out and screaming along with lyrics in your car, head banging or moshing in a room of many or alone at home — this is how we know we are still alive; getting everything that is stuck inside you out into the world with your favorite songs and albums as your vehicle is what this whole thing is about. I take this all very seriously and Lord help us all, here is my list.
11. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic Records)
Tribe came back just in time. The morning after Trump was elected, I saw three women weeping openly on the subway. The entire city was quiet and depressed, puffy eyed and exhausted, truly defeated. By the time Saturday night rolled around, the reality of the next four years was sinking in, and in that moment of widespread despair, Dave Chapelle and A Tribe Called Quest appeared on our televisions. I find Tribe deeply comforting, as many people my age who grew up on the East Coast do. They came out with five albums in the 1990s, all of them excellent, and to me, they are the soundtrack of high school, of doing things for the first time, and of the excitement of being young. So to hear them again during that horrible week, with new material, missing one of their own now — but still strong and familiar — felt so good and gave me a glimmer of hope. We need them now more than ever! This album is a tribute to their lost partner as much as it is an anxious, honest, and topical view of the country we live in, for better or worse.
10. Maren Morris – Hero (Sony Music Nashville)
You guys know I hit that country music hard. Sometimes it’s challenging to feel like a “true American” when that has come to mean such a twisted, fucked-up thing, and sometimes it’s hard to not equate country music with Trump supporters and longing for a racist, misogynist past. But there is a certain kind of liberal country music gal that gets me every time. I’m not such a fan of the genre that I watch the CMAs, but Beyoncé was on this year so I kind of had no choice? They really tricked the hive into watching a pretty cheesy award show complete with white people singing on a pile of hay (this actually happened). There were a lot of painful moments that I don’t care to relive here, but I did enjoy this woman I’d never heard of named Maren Morris. I thought she was great, and have been listening to her album ever since. I like country music a lot because of the lyrics and the stories they tell, and this one tells a good story. Her hit, “My Church,” is about worshiping at the altar of country music rather than traditional religion. Anyone who has ever sang at the top of their lungs while driving knows it is worthy of a faith. This gal writes her songs, sings them, and produces them all herself. I am always trying to find the next big country thing, and I have a feeling it’s her.
9. Leon Bridges – Coming Home (Columbia)
Do President Obama and I have the same taste in music? I can’t say for sure, but Leon Bridges WAS featured on Obama’s summer playlist. Let’s just take a minute to appreciate this moment in time, our last month with this guy as our fearless leader. OUR PRESIDENT MADE A PLAY LIST. And it was good and it was on Spotify and it’s just ridiculous. WTF is even going on.
Leon Bridges is a native Texan, and this is his first album. I am confident he will have a long career (he’s only 28) because of his undeniably timeless sound. He reminds me a lot of Sam Cooke and seems to be channeling another era. His music is often romantic and good for slow dancing, or fun and festive, the kind of thing that could easily be listened to around the tree or menorah or the kitchen counter. It’s just an instant classic and feels good to listen to— easy and classic, old but new.
Check out this adorable ditty:
8. Francis and the Lights – Farewell, Starlite (KTTF)
My friend Jake was in Francis and the Lights for a while, and so I saw them live in New York a lot in my 20s. Francis is nothing short of ELECTRIC on stage. He is a true performer, and I remember feeling strongly that he reminded me of Prince. On this album, he reminds me more of Phil Collins in his heyday… but no complaints there! This guy has got IT, and Starlite is another great album from a band that Francis describes as having no members: “It is me and whomever else is involved. Including you.” Bro has been working hard and hustling since 2007, and I am psyched for him on this debut studio album. This album is chill and creative and fun and good.
Give “Friends” (featuring Bon Iver and Kanye) a try and you can see how Francis takes up space in an unusual, captivating way:
7. Lucius – Good Grief (Mom + Pop Music)
Good Grief, I love this band!! Surprising no one, Lucius is an indie pop band from the Mecca of indie pop itself, Brooklyn. It’s three dudes and two gals. I fell in love with Lucius through the 2013 album Wildewoman, and this song especially I could just not stop listening to. I can’t recommend that album enough, but since it came out in 2013, I actually came here to recommend their 2016, album Good Grief, which is also great (but maybe slightly less so). They remind me of previous favorites like First Aid Kit and Haim, but they are also their own thing. This second album is more ’80s synthy, and how different it is from Wildewoman shows that they don’t just do one thing. I think these five have a long career ahead of them, and I’m definitely along for the ride.
6. Raffi – Owl Singalong (Rounder)
Isn’t it funny that I can PROMISE you the album Vince has listened to the most this year is this one? Don’t let that guy fool you, he loves “The Lion Pokey” as much as any two-year-old. I put this album on the list for two reasons: 1) it’s really and truly one of my favorite albums of the year, and 2) some of you probably have kids/babies and need music for them in the living room, car, etc., that everyone can enjoy together. I missed Raffi as a child somehow, but his liberal, sweet music really speaks to me now, and it is not too late. He sings in Spanish and French, he sings about growing your own food, he sings about how singing together will make us happier, and whistles about not being small. Our little broseph gets DOWN TO THIS SHIT. He dances and bops his head and immediately stops crying if he was previously. This album is a miracle and I adore it. Music for kids is still music, and I have really gone to the next level exploring it this year. Contact me for more recs.
Give this hippie shit a try:
5. Dolly Parton – Pure and Simple (RCA Nashville)
The worst Dolly Parton album is still SO GOOD and so much better than so much new, needlessly nostalgic, formulaic country shit. This lady truly has the voice of an angel, and just hearing her sing those first few notes is comforting. She just keeps churning out instantly-classic songs like “Head Over High Heels” and “I’m Sixteen.” These are timeless ideas, timeless concepts of womanhood and growing up and romance, and they are timeless songs, sung earnestly by a woman who has seen and done so much. In a time where our country feels so deeply divided, I think we can all agree that Dolly is gold. Dolly is a national treasure. DOLLY FOR PREZ. This is her SEVENTH number one country album. Like Prince and David Bowie, you never know when you will lose the otherworldly best of the best. Let’s not take her for granted.
4. Frank Ocean – Blonde (Boys Don’t Cry)
Another shocker I am sure. Frank Ocean is my jammy jam. I just relate to his laid back style and I find it relaxing. I want to be in a field in the sun, high, listening to this album forever. To be an openly gay man in hip-hop is revolutionary, and as is singing this:
Said if I was in New York I should look you up
I, first time I done saw you
You text nothing like you look
Here’s to the gay bar you took me to
It’s when I realized you talk too much, more than I do
I, it’s highlights when I was convinced
That it isn’t much more it’s so not you
I know you don’t need me right now
And to you it’s just a late night out
Ocean is a modern man speaking about the modern world, the dating scene, social media, the texting, the madness. He is trying to navigate it all like the rest of us, and he tells his tale with the best lyrics around. One track is just a full voicemail from his mom. GET THIS GUY A PILE OF AWARDS. On “Futura Free,” he tells that same mom some honest things softly, like:
If I was being honest
I’d say long as I could fuck three times a day and not skip a meal I’m good
I used to work on my feet for 7 dollars a hour
Call my momma like momma
I ain’t making minimum wage momma
I’m on momma
Now I’m making 400, 600, 800K momma
To stand on my feet momma
Play these songs, it’s therapy momma
They paying me momma
I should be paying them
It feels like there is a microphone to his heart with no filter. I just love Frankie. He’s got something special, and he comes from such an authentic, truth-seeking place. Can’t wait to watch him grow up and keep making great music. Go Frank go!
3. Solange – A Seat at the Table (Columbia Records)
Solange finally got her first number one album with this gem, and it is well deserved. She is so innovative and colorful, and this album brings up so much important shit. The talking intermissions painstakingly explain black lives matter, black pride, and white privilege. This song, this whole album is so beautiful and deep and touching and real, and it’s not just poetry, it’s also just good music. She sings:
I tried to drink it away
I tried to put one in the air
I tried to dance it away
I tried to change it with my hair
I ran my credit card bill up
Thought a new dress would make it better
I tried to work it away
But that just made me even sadder
I tried to keep myself busy
I ran around in circles
Think I made myself dizzy
I slept it away, I sexed it away
I read it away
We have all been there my friend! But as we all know, you can’t run away or move away from what’s in your own mind, your own pain. Solange isn’t shy about telling you what is up, both macro and micro, the personal and the public. And in addition to the larger profound message, it’s just a great album. I love putting it on and chilling, making dinner or lying around and staring into space. I find her voice mellow. Solange is something special, and we need her now and for many moons to come.
2. Kanye West – Life of Pablo (Def Jam)
Anyone who knows me knows I love Kanye extremely and madly. Axl once called me a “Kanye apologist,” and he’s not wrong. I do not agree with everything he says, TRUE, but I cannot get enough of his music and do believe he is a genius. Geniuses are crazy! Goes with the territory. His first album is probably my favorite of all time; College Dropout is a dissertation about social capital and being a minority in higher education, and at the same time it will make you dance and scream along the words! And as someone who works at a university, it truly spoke to me in a way nothing has since. When Life of Pablo came out, I knew Kanye had struck gold again. This album is the fucking bomb. He samples Nina Simone and my heart swells; he says “no more parties in LA” and I laugh and believe him; he mourns his late mother in so many ways, in so many songs, and lets you in on his suffering, and he wins me over yet again. Life of Pablo is another labor of love from the most creative guy in the game, and I can listen to it over and over and get something new out of it each time. So many levels and layers. God gave us Kanye. God is good. Kanye ten years ago, Kanye now. Kanye forever.
1. Beyoncé – Lemonade (Parkwood Entertainment)
The night Lemonade came out, Vince was supposed to go out. I thought I would just turn it on for a few minutes and kind of watch it, but as soon as it started, we were hooked. Our mouths gaping open at the imagery, the rawness, the story, the music and the dance moves. HOW ARE THERE STILL NEW DANCE MOVES? Vince stayed home and we watched the whole thing start to finish, barely moving with only the occasional gasps of awe. It is reggae, country, hip-hop, rap. Beyoncé can do it all, and she does. Lemonade is art. Lemonade changed me! It is a feminist anthem about not saying sorry (hi SERENA WILLIAMS holy shit), it is a lady in couture smashing car windows, it is a business woman poised to be the next Bill Gates, and it is a southern daughter singing about her dad. I tried to listen to it on the subway, but it was too emotional, and I didn’t want to be weeping openly on the F train. Driving to Lemonade isn’t safe, either — I got a speeding ticket because I was jamming out WAY too hard to “Freedom” (featuring Kendrick Lamar). “Formation” made me feel things I didn’t even know were inside me.
Among all these other things, Lemonade is an ode to black women. With the insane rate of black men that are incarcerated, murdered in the streets by police and others, it answers the question of who is left to raise the children, pay the bills, pick up the pieces, and keep moving forward day by day by day. Lemonade featured Trayvon Martin and Michael’s Brown’s moms; their faces seared into our minds as Beyoncé sings and dances her heart out. This is no time to be neutral, and Beyoncé knows that and uses her great power for good. I always felt Beyoncé played it too safe and acted like things were too perfect, but Lemonade was so extremely raw and honest, from revealing her marital problems to her politics, that it secured her position for real and once again as America’s artist in residence, our mighty laureate.
Best of luck not dancing/crying to “Formation”: