1. Showbread “Showbread is Showdead”
How couldn’t I include my favorite Raw Rock band on this list? It’s sad that this is the final Showbread album, but I don’t think they could have ended their legacy any better. I didn’t think very highly of the last two albums, but “Showbread is Showdead” had me reminiscing on the good days of “Nihilism”. Any album that includes a song with a Korg synthesizer, screaming, a booming bass guitar, and a chorus that sounds like a cheerleader squad is cool in my books (e.g. “Why Shouldn’t We Kill Ourselves?”).
2. deadmau5 “W:/2016ALBUM/”
His 2008 album “Random Album Title” was a pivotal work in my introduction to electronic music. Though repetitive, its hypnotic 4/4 beats and synth sounds made me an instant fan. deadmau5’s more recent work has been increasingly experimental, and this time around it made for a wonderful listen (not to mention the zany song titles, i.e. “Three Pound Chicken Wing”!). “Snowcone” is the show stopper here, a nostalgic trip-hop track that the most hard-nosed Boards of Canada fan would even like.
3. StoneLungs “August”
Mixing alternative hip-hop with chill electronica, StoneLungs released a plethora of music last year on his bandcamp page. I first gave “August” a listen back in September, and its phantasmagorical essence has certainly resonated with me. A song like “Bandages” contains the perfect recipe: introspective lyrics, smooth raps, and a synth which sounds like a rocket ship that’s ready for takeoff. StoneLungs creates deep music in every respect: visually, lyrically, and instrumentally; but depth and clarity are carefully balanced, which is successful in its own right.
4. DJ Shadow “The Mountain Will Fall”
If you’ve kept up to date with Shadow’s career, you’ll know that it’s been an evolution to say the least. His earlier work stayed within the realm of downtempo, but when “The Outsider” released in 2006, fans cried foul at its bizarre mixture of pop, spoken word, punk, and hyphy. This eclectic trend continued in 2011 with “The Less You Know, the Better”, though it was generally more well received. “The Mountain Will Fall” takes yet another turn and capitalizes on what everyone either loves or hate: trap. Unlike many of his counterparts, however, DJ Shadow refuses to be mediocre, as made evident by songs like “Three Ralphs”, “Mambo”, and “Suicide Pact”.
5. M83 “Junk”
M83 hasn’t shied away from retro sounds in the past, and “Junk” is no exception to that; in fact, such a style is accentuated on this album. This is a glittering dream pop adventure and the more I listen to it, the more I enjoy it. It might not have the massiveness of “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”, but it’s a listen that’s bound to make you smile, with songs like “Walkway Blues” and “For the Kids”.
6. NF “Therapy Session”
I have been pretty bored with contemporary hip-hop as a whole lately (which I suppose is somewhat ironic, given what I included on this list), but NF is one of those current artists who has surprised me. I loved his preceding album, “Mansion”, and the American rapper/singer returns to the style he does so well. Wearing his heart on his sleeve, NF once again brings his signature blend of aggressive and thoughtful hip-hop. For the former, check out “Statement” and for the latter, listen to “How Could You Leave Us”.
7. Datin “The Roar”
“The Roar” is a clarion call to love Jesus Christ with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. On “Hallelujah All Day”, for instance, Datin focuses on the Christian church as a worldwide network. He mentions how many of those apart from the Western context are persecuted for their faith, and that Westerners should be more brave in expressing their beliefs. The production on this album is stellar, courtesy of producers like Tee-Wyla, Daniel Steele, DJ Shok, Wit, and others. I should also mention how varied the beats are here; you have everything from trap, to underground, to EDM, to east coast, each of which compliment Datin’s grimy rhymes. It’s an encouraging and cohesive album with enough stylistic turns to keep it from sounding too monotonous.
8. Trip Lee “The Waiting Room”
I was surprised that I enjoyed this mixtape as much as I did. Trip Lee is a good rapper and lyricist, but the simple truth of the matter is that I generally enjoy underground hip-hop more than that of the radio friendly variety. However, Trip does the southern style of hip-hop well and his honest (check out “IDK”), Christ centered rhymes make this quality music even more worthwhile.
9. American Football “American Football (LP2)”
Though I do enjoy their first album more, I’m simply pleased that a proper emo album was released last year. I have this theory, albeit disputable, that the hipster music which has nearly replaced emo music entirely has opted for a more plain batch of aesthetics, including an attitude of boredom. American Football, on the other hand, sound sparkly and engaged through their odd guitar tuning and sincere vocals/lyrics. If you need a reason to believe me, I’d recommend listening to “My Instincts Are the Enemy”.
10. Move Merchants “Move Merchants II”
Manchild is both my favorite emcee and half of my favorite hip-hop group, Mars Ill (along with producer Dust). After all these years, the Atlanta based emcee still demands your attention with his inimitable cadence on the mic. DJ Sean P brings the sample-heavy beats, and the duo shine most on the neck breaking “Peddle Push” where Manchild says: “speak about my God without the need to set my beer down / here’s how to be yourself without a sense of fear now / walk a righteous path of real style, that’s the wheelhouse”.