Top 35 Albums of 2016

2016 was a crapfest of a year for many people, but it was an exceptional year of music. The year saw many new artists release awesome debuts and many already experienced artists create records that seem like potential classics. Hip hop was especially fantastic this year, with Kendrick, Beyoncé, Kanye, Chance, and others deliver some of their best work. While we prepare for a potentially dreadful 2017 (hopefully it won’t be), here’s my top 35 albums of this year:

35. 

The Divine Feminine – Mac Miller

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Continuing his ascent from a middling Internet-based rapper to a soulful hip-hop artist, Mac Miller gives us more reasons to like him on his third studio record The Divine Feminine. Filled with loose instrumentals, electric samples, leaner lyrics, and a sense of giddy buoyancy, Miller sounds happier, wiser, and more romantic than he’s ever been, straying away from the goofy bravado of last year’s GO:OD AM and the spacey existentialism of 2013’s Watching Movies with the Sound Off. He gets some help from Anderson .Paak, Ariana Grande, and Kendrick Lamar, all of whom contribute solid guest verses. But it’s Miller’s signature stoner delivery and witty lyrics about relationships and love that strengthen The Divine Feminine and mark it as yet another improvement in the rapper’s career.   

Best tracks: “Dang!”, “Congratulations,” “Soulmate”

34. 

Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown

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As one of Detroit’s — and perhaps the country’s — most eccentric and engaging rappers, Danny Brown is an unstoppable force. With a slew critically acclaimed mixtapes and albums under his belt, Brown continues to make his name known with his fourth record Atrocity Exhibition. Named after a Joy Division song, the album captures the bleakness of Brown’s internal conflicts with queasy, experimental production, as well as Brown’s own squealing vocals and hard-hitting lyrics about death, loneliness, and drug use. It’s not as finely tuned as 2013’s Old or as gleefully care-free as his 2011 breakthrough XXX, but Atrocity Exhibition is equipped with enough of Brown’s panache that it’s almost hard not to listen to the rapper speak his mind.

Best tracks: “Ain’t It Funny,” “Really Doe,” “Pneumonia”

33. 

Sirens – Nicolas Jaar

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Last year was a busy year for Chilean-American instrumentalist Nicolas Jaar. After breaking off from his side project Darkside, Jaar composed the score of 2015 Palme D’Or winner Dheepan, all while managing to craft an unofficial 20-track soundtrack to the 1969 film The Colour of Pomegranates. However, it seems all his hard work has paid off with his stunning third album Sirens this year. Incorporating psychedelic ambiance, noisy synths, intense drum machines, bilingual lyrics, and even a tinge of postmodern doo-wop, Sirens is a fun and simultaneously disquieting experience, switching back and forth between eerie quietness and brash loudness. That may not sound appealing, but Jaar crafts it in such a way that makes Sirens so.

Best tracks: “History Lesson,” “No,” “Killing Time”

32. 

Human Performance – Parquet Courts

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Parquet Courts are relatively new in the music scene, but they’ve found underground success rather quickly. Having churned out 6 albums in the past 6 years, including this year’s Human Performance, the New York-based rock group have become one of the most prolific and most interesting bands in recent memory. With a sound that blends the intoxicating modern rock ‘n’ roll of the White Stripes and the punk rock nihilism of the Clash, Parquet Courts make incendiary music required for the most angsty of teenagers. While their previous efforts Sunbathing Animal and Content Nausea were more striking and immediate in their brash sound and thought-provoking social commentary, Human Performance finds Parquet Courts much more relaxed yet still energetic, filled with rage, and ready to take on the world.

Best tracks: “Outside,” “Captive of the Sun,” “Two Dead Cops”

31.

Blank Face LP – Schoolboy Q

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Schoolboy Q seems to wrestle with inner demons on a daily basis. On almost every one of his albums, the TDE-signed artist and Black Hippy member shields his feelings with a pseudo-glorified lifestyle of excessive partying, rough sex, and murder. This juxtaposition between this lifestyle and Q’s real-life persona become even more realized on his third Ghostface Killah-influenced studio record Blank Face LP. With tighter production and a plethora of featured artists, Schoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP is the rapper’s most adventurous record to date, but also his emotionally potent. Here, Q uses the “blank face” motif as a literal and figurative mask, symbolizing the fear he often enforces in his music. But digging deeper, we also get a chance to learn about the man behind the mask and his journey into finding redemption from a higher power.

Best tracks: “Lord Have Mercy,” “Ride Out,” “JoHn Muir”

30.

You Want it Darker – Leonard Cohen

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“I’m ready, my Lord,” whispers Leonard Cohen on the title track of his 14th and final record You Want it Darker. Among the many talented musicians we lost this year, Cohen was probably the one most ready to pass on to the next life, even though his death at 82 years old was still a resounding emotional gut punch. But thankfully, he left us with a piece of his art that is powerful not only for its post-mortem symbolism, but also for simply being a lyrically wonderful, sonically sparse album. Similar to David Bowie’s Blackstar (#10 on this list), You Want it Darker is a haunting, ethereal farewell, mixed to perfection by the late singer’s son Adam. Underlining the album’s darkly humorous takes on death and wistfully somber rumination on lost loves and regrets are a collection of beautiful, eclectic instruments: orchestral strings, Latin acoustics, electronic bleeps, soft piano melodies, gospel backing choirs and Cohen’s baritone vocals. It’s a bittersweet masterpiece, one that reaffirms a soundbite Cohen made a few weeks before his death: “I intend to live forever.”

Best tracks: “You Want it Darker,” “Traveling Light,” “Treaty”

29.

Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest

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Teenage rebellion and angst have never sounded so sweet. At the age of 24, Will Toledo, lead member of the lo-fi indie punk rock project Car Seat Headrest, understands the trials and tribulations of feeling lost and aimless at a young age. But for someone who has released 12 albums on Bandcamp in the last five years, Toledo has become extremely skilled in the art of making sense of today’s youth and his own experiences. His most recent effort, Teens of Denial, is technically his first proper studio record. But even as a major label debut, the record showcases the transcendent maturity of the Virginian singer/producer through his witty, refreshing songwriting and crowd-pleasing sound. I mean, who comes up with a lyric as devastating and hilarious as “Friends are better with drugs/Drugs are better with friends”? Toledo’s auteur approach makes Teens of Denial sound utterly effortless, just as his earnest, relatable personality makes being a teenager/young adult sound less daunting.

Best tracks: “Destroyed by Hippie Power,” “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” “Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An)”

28.

Prima Donna – Vince Staples

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Long Beach rapper and ex-Odd Future associate Vince Staples has become one of hip hop’s strongest voices, discussing everything from police brutality to marginalization of Black communities in America. Though his newest work, Prima Donna, is an EP, not a full-length album, it might as well be. Following up from his incredible debut, last year’s Summertime ’06, Prima Donna transforms a collection of 7 tracks into a dense display of Staples’ bold artistic vision. In just a mere 21 minutes, Staples crafts funnier, headier no-bullshit lyrics, darker themes of unrequited love, and experimental instrumentals — “War Ready” features a head-spinning Outkast sample and a production credit from James Blake. With Prima Donna, Staples shows that he’s still able to make music that is surprising, thought-provoking, and in the moment.

Best tracks: “War Ready,” “Smile” “Prima Donna”

27.

The Sun’s Tirade – Isaiah Rashad

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Isaiah Rashad has already hit a rough patch in his barely-started career. In between the release of his acclaimed 2014 EP Cilvia Demo and promotion for his recent debut record The Sun’s Tirade, the 25-year-old Kendrick Lamar protegé suffered from depression, anxiety and isolation, exacerbated by a bad habit of frequently consuming a mix of Xanax and alcohol while touring with Schoolboy Q. Luckily, Rashad didn’t fall too far down into the deep end and managed to pull together The Sun’s Tirade, a dense yet loosely structured album elevated by hard-hitting lyrics and emotionally resonant themes of substance abuse and self-discovery. In addition to featuring strong guest verses from SZA, Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock, the 17-track album also contains excellent production work from Mike Will Made It, D. Sanders, Cam O’bi, J. LBS, The Antydote, Chris Calor.

Best tracks: “4r Da Squaw,” “Free Lunch,” “Wat’s Wrong”

26.

No, My Name is Jeffrey – Young Thug

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Only Young Thug would name almost every song on his album after a famous person/figure (with the exception of “Future Swag”). The polarizing, always captivating Atlanta-based rap mumbler is known for being one of the most confounding artists to hit the hip-hop scene, first making waves with his incomprehensible verse on Rich Gang’s 2014 hit “Lifestyle.” But since then, Thugger has paved the way for himself, cultivating mixtape after mixtape and capturing the attention of dumbfounded critics and fans everywhere. On No, My Name is Jeffrey (alternatively titled Jeffrey), Young Thug is at his most idiosyncratic since his breakthrough Barter 6; the verses are funnier and the production is sharper. The rapper attracts controversy for both the wrong and right reasons, and he will definitely not appeal to a certain crowd. But regardless, No, My Name is Jeffrey reaffirms Young Thug’s ability to completely be his own artist and not care about anyone who might not understand his enigmatic persona.

Best tracks: “Wyclef Jean,” “Harambe,” “Kanye West”

25.

Wildflower – The Avalanches

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The Avalanches could have been like a musical Harper Lee and only made one major hit record, which they did in 2000 with Since I Left You. Alas, 16 years later, they returned and created Wildflower, their magnificent second album that shows the Australian electronic group still has some magic within their music. Similar to their debut, Wildflower is built on a melting pot of samples, some ambient and some from actual songs from musicians ranging from the Bee Gees to Queens of the Stone Age. Melding one sample after another with their own production and vocal contributions from Danny Brown and MF Doom, the Avalanches turn classic R&B and ’60s psychedelia into a mix of head-bopping electro-pop and hip hop, making for a mesmerizing, colorful listening experience. Will they return 16 years later with their third record? Hopefully not. But perhaps the Avalanches’ comeback with Wildflower will be enough for the next album to come much sooner.

Best tracks: “Because I’m Me,” “Frankie Sinatra,” “Colours,” “Harmony”

24.

There’s Alot Going On – Vic Mensa

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One of 2016’s most underrated albums/EPs also comes from one of hip hop’s most underrated artists: Vic Mensa. Mostly known as that guy who performed “Wolves” with Kanye West at the SNL 40th Anniversary Special, Mensa is more than just one of Ye’s protegés. A Chicago native, Mensa has been trying to make it into the mainstream hip-hop scene for a while now, becoming mildly successful after his lush 2014 debut single “Down on My Luck.” But even after he collaborated with growing artists like Kaytranada and Flume and even a major one like Skrillex, the Illinois-based rapper has been struggling to make himself shine as an individual artist — he’s been trying to make his studio debut, allegedly titled Traffic, for a few years now. By venting much of his frustration with his blocked artistic ambitions and societal issues like police brutality and the Flint water crisis, Mensa shows that he has plenty to prove on his remarkable 6-track debut There’s Alot Going On. The EP is dark and heavy, and while it’s not the happiest of hip hop records, there’s still a slim bit of hope resting beneath Mensa’s rage.

Best tracks: “Dynasty,” “16 Shots,” “Shades of Blue”

23.

I Had A Dream That You Were Mine – Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam

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Rostam Batmanglij played a crucial role as the keyboardist, backing vocalist, and producer of Vampire Weekend, infusing Ezra Koenig’s lilting vocals and intensely poetic lyrics with his reverbed piano melodies, ghostly harmonies, and warm synths. Though his recent departure from the band is rather abrupt, Rostam sounds just as good on his own and even working with others, particularly musician Hamilton Leithauser, who is also taking a break from his band The Walkmen. The two together seemed unlikely in the vast landscape of indie rock/pop music, but fortunately, the duo worked well together on their charming collaborative debut album I Had A Dream That You Were Mine. With Rostam’s dreamlike instrumentation and Leithauser’s croaking vocals, I Had A Dream That You Were Mine is an unexpectedly poignant record that delivers simple, undemanding, and catchy music from two fantastic artists.

Best tracks: “A 1000 Times,” “When the Truth Is…,” “1959”

22.

Singing Saw – Kevin Morby

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If you’ve ever watched Netflix’s amazing animated TV series “Bojack Horseman,” you’ve probably heard Kevin Morby’s “Parade.” The song, from his 2014 record Still Life, plays towards the end of an episode, where the shlubby titular protagonist finds himself in a state of crisis after having broken up with his girlfriend and decides to visit an old flame. While “Parade” itself might not be about unrequited love or relationships, it does conjure up a strange feeling of despondency and loneliness that could only be provoked by the profound beauty and sadness in Morby’s rumbling vocals, as he sings about self-identity over a guitar-driven beat. This is what makes Kevin Morby one of the best, most overlooked singer-songwriters of our generation, especially with his third record Singing Saw. Only 9 songs long, Singing Saw elicits an emotional response from any listener, grounding backing harmonies and mellow folk-rock production underneath Morby’s Bob Dylan-like voice. As Singing Saw ebbs and flows between spiritual and soulful statements, Morby succeeds in once again creating an overall chilling effect through his music.

Best tracks: “I Have Been to the Mountain,” “Destroyer,” “Drunk and On a Star”

21.

Light Upon The Lake – Whitney

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Feeling down about life? Need some music that not only sounds good, but “feels” good too? Whitney’s got you covered. Formed by guitarist Max Kakacek and drummer Julien Ehrlich shortly after their split from their pop-rock band Smith Westerns in 2014, Whitney is a breath of fresh air when it comes to modern indie rock. With their wonderful, charming debut, Light Upon the Lake, Whitney energizes each of their 10 songs with genuine warmth with the help of Ehrlich’s pleasant falsetto and funky drumming, Kakacek’s smooth guitar playing, and the blending of folk, country, and soul. With each stroke of a guitar, pitter-pat of a drum, a note from a saxophone, and soft utterance about nostalgia or rejection, Whitney vibrates with youthful and romantic bliss. There isn’t a single track on the album that doesn’t feel like it could be refined more than it already is. And considering that it’s only their first album together, Whitney is definitely on the right path in terms of making their music better and better.

Best tracks: “No Woman,” “The Falls,” “Golden Days”

20.

HopelessnessAnohni

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In the past few years, Anohni has gone through a drastic personal and musical transformation. In addition to venturing away from her avant-garde pop band Antony & The Johnsons, Anohni gradually came out as a transgender woman and pursued a more electronic sound for her remarkable debut Hopelessness. While her angelic vocals remain intact, Hopelessness indicates a completely different Anohni from the one who used to just sing beautiful, sorrowful love ballads. With this record, co-produced by Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, the British singer tackles the formidable task of integrating political and environmental issues with catchy and provocative tunes. Fortunately, she does so with poise, her voice quivering with passion about drone strikes, the refugee crisis, and even Barack Obama over glittery, dizzying synths. All of Anonhi’s anger, frustration, and sadness gives the listener an idea of what it’s like living as a person under constant societal pressure; it’s one giant protest song and acts as a voice for the voiceless. Hopelessness isn’t all a downer; it is, believe or not, somewhat hopeful for how talented, socially minded artists can channel their identity and thoughts through their own work.

Best tracks: “4 Degrees,” “Drone Bomb Me,” “Crisis”

19.

Puberty 2Mitski

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It would be impossible to talk about great indie rock in 2016 without mentioning Mitski, the brilliant New York-based artist whose fourth studio album, Puberty 2, is one of the most triumphant and heartbreaking records of the year. On the album, Mitski sings with spunk and melancholy about a variety of complex themes — unrequited love, loneliness, social alienation, the American dream, and racial identity — over raucous instrumentation. It may all sound like the same old stuff, but the 26-year-old singer/songwriter proves she has a lot to offer. As the daughter of an interracial couple who spent much of her childhood traveling to different countries, Mitski understands the difficulty of belonging. After making other acclaimed EPs and albums, Mitski uses her frustration with the world to fuel Puberty 2, a passionate sonic self-portrait that personalizes the experience of struggling to fit into a world that barely accepts you. With darkly funny yet somewhat harrowing anecdotes about lost loves and unnerving sexual experiences, Mitski gives her audience a chance to see the beauty buried beneath the darkness of her sound.

Best tracks: “Happy,” “Your Best American Girl,” “I Bet On Losing Dogs”

18.

Next Thing – Frankie Cosmos

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One of the greatest qualities of 22-year-old Greta Kline (aka Frankie Cosmos) is her concision. In her swift second studio album Next Thing, almost every song is 1 to 2 minutes long, the longest being 2 minutes and 44 seconds. But with each track, Kline excels at matching her DIY, anti-folk sound with her lyrical eloquence, revealing a funny or dreary memory and a quirky tidbit about herself with such charismatic appeal. Like Car Seat Headrest, Kline found success with posting demos and full-length albums on Bandcamp. But in her last record Zentropy, Kline grew even more as an artist by finding the solace in the death of her dog, as well as the end of her adolescence. In Next Thing, as the title suggests, she focuses on the excitement of the present and the scariness of what the future will entail. In addition to singing about magician David Blaine, coffee habits, romantic rejection, and kissing boys, Kline keeps her vivid imagery alive with instrumentation that speaks volumes to the talent, effort, and nimble energy created by Kline and her production team. Despite its short 28-minute length, Next Thing provides listeners with a guide to living a beautiful, funny, and authentic young adulthood.

Best tracks: “If I Had a Dog,” “On the Lips,” “Sinister,” “Is It Possible/Sleep Song”

17.

We’ll Take It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest

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A Tribe Called Quest, one of hip hop’s most recognizable groups, made headlines twice this year: once to commemorate the untimely death of one of its members, Phife Dawg, and a second time to announce the release of their first album in 18 years, as well as their final album as a band. Both messages are bittersweet, but Q-Tip, Jarobi White, and Ali Shaheed Muhammed persevered and the results of their newest work are unexpectedly outstanding. Sampling everything from Elton John to “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” and featuring contributions from André 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West and Busta Rhymes, We’ll Take it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service is a remarkable double album and swan song that’s nostalgic enough for longtime fans to enjoy and fresh enough for newcomers to relish in. The trio, along with the now-deceased Phife Dawg, revisits their socially conscious roots in a post-Trump era, discussing racial divides and other topical issues in American’s current political climate. Despite the lengthy hiatus since their last album, A Tribe Called Quest have just as much fire as they did back in the ’90s and We’ll Take it From Here… tells a message as relevant as the mantra Dawg repeatedly asserts on the album opener: “Let’s make something happen.”

Best tracks: “The Space Program,” “We the People…,” “Dis Generation,” “The Killing Season”

16.

The Colour in Anything – James Blake

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James Blake is a known minimalist. His first two records, 2011’s chilling James Blake and 2013’s more emotionally involved Overgrown, relied on Blake’s taste for haunting harmonic acapella, vocoders, and electro-R&B to create an overall quiet and spine-tingling experience. Conversely, his flawed yet astonishing third record The Colour in Anything finds Blake experimenting with maximalism, layering each of his 17 tracks with as much of Blake’s scintillating vocals and post-dubstep beats as possible. And while it’s not as strong as his debut, the London-based producer is the most vulnerable he’s ever been, creating some of his most enchanting music that’s perfect for a rainy day or any other gloomy event. Within 76 minutes, Blake breaks down any barriers he put up before and bares his soul as he sings passionately and mournfully about basic existential topics (love, death) and more complicated issues (the reign of technology and its interference in relationships). In addition to being his most ambitious album yet, The Colour in Anything is also Blake’s most collaborative record, featuring production work from legendary mogul Rick Rubin and writing credits from Frank Ocean and Bon Iver, who guests on “I Need a Forest Fire.” But Blake is the main driving force here, showing that the artist can work well on both small and big levels.

Best tracks: “Radio Silence,” “Timeless,” “F.O.R.E.V.E.R.,” “Modern Soul”

15.

99.9% – Kaytranada

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Haitian-Canadian DJ/producer Louis Celestin (known by his stage name Kaytranada) has been in the electronic scene for a while now, releasing remixes of pop songs and EPs under the name Kaytradamus since 2012. But it wasn’t until 2016 that Kaytranada debuted 99.9%, a jubilant culmination of all his hard work mastered into one spectacular package. Clocking in at almost one hour, 99.9% puts all of Kaytranada’s musical talents out on display, distributing his knack for R&B electronica and ’90s inspired club music by chopping up samples and creating his own colorful sound. The album features an illustrious cast of guests, including Anderson .Paak, Syd the Kid, Vic Mensa, AlunaGeorge, and Little Dragon, who help give the album enough edge to make the sound last forever. Cohesive and funky, 99.9% reinforces the notion that party music is not just a genre that solely includes EDM and pop but something in between. Kaytranada also stands out not only for his artistic integrity, but for his personal identity as well, being one of the few openly queer instrumentalists in the music industry.

Best tracks: “Together,” “Drive Me Crazy,” “Glowed Up,” “Lite Spots”

14.

Skeleton Tree – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

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If there’s one theme that has connected music in 2016, it would be death, whether in an album or through the actual death of an artist. One of the biggest and perhaps saddest examples of this comes from Skeleton Tree, the riveting sixteenth album from Australian post-punk band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. As a record that confronts death and mortality with poetic elegance and poignancy, Skeleton Tree is also filled to the brim with mourning, as the lead singer experienced a huge loss when his 15-year-old son died in a tragic accident while the album was being recorded. The death, while incredibly unfortunate, gave Nick Cave all the more reason to re-create Skeleton Tree into a collection of songs that dealt with grief and tragedy. Ultimately, it spawned one of the most touching and heartbreaking pieces of art in 2016. The 8-song, 39-minute album explores feelings of dissonance, despair, and despondency and how to deal with those emotions. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have always played with the concept of death in their previous efforts, but Skeleton Tree symbolizes their breaking point. With Cave’s allegorical, improvised lyrics and the band’s use of ambient electronica, Skeleton Tree is an album for anyone who needs help when they’re going through a tough time.

Best tracks: “Rings of Saturn,” “Girl in Amber,” “I Need You,” “Distant Sky”

13.

Still Brazy – YG

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Gangsta rap has always been an integral part of West Coast hip hop. From N.W.A. to 2pac to Kendrick Lamar, the genre has seen a rapidly progressive shift, but its roots are still reflected in a telling-it-like-it-is style through the glamorization (but not necessarily celebration) of violence, drugs, and gang life. Unlike Lamar, whose lyrics and music are critical of Compton gangs, rapper YG flips the narrative and speaks from inside the streets, talking openly about his affiliation with the Bloods. With his DJ Mustard-produced debut My Krazy Life, YG established immediately that not only was he a rapper not to be fucked with, but an artist worth listening to. On his fantastic follow-up Still Brazy, YG switches up the production and yields for G-funk laced beats that hearken back to early Dr. Dre. Instead of simply giving audiences a trivialized version of living a dangerous lifestyle in his hometown, YG discusses having paranoia over getting shot by an unknown source, as well as other personal anecdotes layered over groovy beats that can spark up a party instantly. While YG speaks boldly about the harrowing experiences of living in Compton, he also manages to sneak in some social commentary about police brutality, a major overarching theme that has pervaded many hip-hop records since Lamar’s masterful To Pimp a Butterfly last year. YG’s brutal take on the President-elect in “FDT” is this generation’s “Fuck the Police,” a rebellious anthem that takes a strong, deliberate stance against the pervasive racism seen in the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. YG may not be the most political of rappers, but the rapper is certainly well-rounded when it comes to making music that breaks through the public consciousness.

Best tracks: “Don’t Come to LA,” “Who Shot Me?,” “I Got a Question,” “FDT”

12.

MalibuAnderson .Paak

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Anderson .Paak has had a fucking fantastic year — and his acclaimed breakthrough Malibu is probably at the bottom of his list of wonderful things that have happened to the Oxnard native. In addition to getting signed by Dr. Dre, Paak gave a rousing live performance on “The Ellen Show,” killed it in several guest features on other 2016 albums, and released an incredible collaborative album Yes Lawd! with electro-R&B producer Knxwledge under their joint group, NxWorries. Paak has become the unofficial saint of this godforsaken year, gifting us with his distinctively multicultural music, his powerful singing voice, his wonderful rapping skills, his stylish attire, and his adeptness with instruments (he plays guitar, piano, and drums). With all that in mind, Malibu is the peak of Paak’s artistic creativity, being a fusion of afro-funk, hip-hop, R&B, jazz, and electronic. It’s soaked in summery optimism, propelled by Paak’s infectious sound and lyrics about romance, religion, and living in California. But Malibu is not just a triumphant artistic achievement; it’s on the verge of being something revolutionary, a beacon of what music could sound like 10 years from now.

Best tracks: “The Bird,” “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance,” “Am I Wrong,” “Come Down”

11.

Anti – Rihanna

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On first listen, Rihanna’s Anti sounds totally jarring. For years now, the famous Barbadian singer has created hit pop record after record, sticking with a formula and still managing to allure her diehard fans. But as its title suggests, Anti is a pop record that doesn’t sound at all like mainstream pop; it’s the anti-pop, a composite of every other possible genre that manages to create something totally original. It’s certainly a risk, especially in today’s crowded landscape of pop stars trying to make it big. But given Rihanna’s high-ranking status as one of pop music’s most successful artists, Anti work-work-work-work-works. With an unconventional sound and release — the record dropped on Tidal by surprise in January — Anti is a compilation of Rihanna’s best songs to date, incorporating R&B, hip-hop, electronic, ’50s doo-wop, dancehall, soul, and even a Tame Impala cover. And the sound throughout Anti changes just as unexpectedly as the themes and lyrics themselves. In one instance, Rihanna is singing with reflective longing over a hazy vaporwave beat (“James Joint”); in the next instance, she’s boasting with unapologetic swagger about her sex life (“Sex with Me”). As the beats shift from groovy to somber, Rihanna explores the range of her effervescent vocals in ways no other female artist (except for maybe Beyoncé) can. But out of everything, Anti‘s greatest strength is not just in its immensely talented artist or production team, but in its ability to subvert the homogeny that pervades the modern pop atmosphere. It’s a record for the ages and as Rihanna hoped, Anti is a pop classic magnum opus.

Best tracks: “Kiss It Better,” “Needed Me,” “Love on the Brain,” “Sex with Me”

10.

Blackstar – David Bowie

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The Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, neoclassicist Bowie, electronic Bowie. David Robert Jones has gone through several phases throughout his whole life, but the most profound identity that the British singer possessed was himself. Blackstar, Bowie’s unbelievably compelling 25th (!) and final album, finds the shapeshifting artist taking his last bow before he passes on to the next life. Coincidently, the album was released on his 69th birthday and a mere two days before Bowie passed away unexpectedly after a long battle with liver cancer, making the experience of listening to Blackstar all the more eerie. Bowie’s death was not just a signal, but a reminder of how brilliant and eternal his work was as a pop/rock star who transformed the music industry on almost every level. In his music and in his onstage persona, Bowie subverted gender and sexual standards with his androgyny and his queerness, experimented with different identities and genres, and didn’t give a single fuck while doing it. While Blackstar is primarily an album about death and the afterlife, it evokes a feeling of being alive, which is perhaps Bowie’s intent. Just like Leonard Cohen, Bowie proved that art, particularly music, can make anything last forever, even after the artist is long gone. Even before Bowie passed away, Blackstar was astounding, notably for its unconventional instrumentation, operatic overtones, and Bowie’s chillingly poetic lyrics. Rich with symbolism and sound, Blackstar has Bowie playing the performance of a lifetime, stringing out every song to more than 4 minutes and incorporating elements of jazz, art rock, and even hip-hop. The artistic experimentation doesn’t stop there; apparently, Blackstar was inspired by Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Death Grips and Boards of Canada. While Blackstar marks the end of David Bowie as a musician, it marks the beginning of David Bowie as a spirit.

Best tracks: “Blackstar,” “‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore,” “Lazarus,” “Dollar Days”

9.

22, A Million – Bon Iver

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Sometimes, the best instrument a musician can use is their own voice. Justin Vernon, the lead vocalist for his Canadian indie rock band Bon Iver, is a master of not only using his voice to sing, but also manipulating it in a way that feels both alien and human. On Bon Iver’s 2007 debut For Emma, Forever Ago and their fantastic 2011 self-titled sophomore record, Vernon fluttered hearts with his impossibly high falsetto, which he occasionally Auto-Tuned for dramatic effect. Vernon’s voice plays a particularly pivotal role within the structure of Bon Iver’s third record 22, A Million, where his vocals, pitched and processed at various ranges, permeate the emotional dissonance in each of his strangely titled songs. As he croons about past mistakes, old lovers, and the uncertainty of tomorrow, Vernon elevates 22, A Million to an unimaginable level. By channeling a more electronic sound, Bon Iver has once again found an opening into the human heart and filled it with the sadness, joy, and anger Vernon provokes with his voice. Straying away from the lovelorn acoustics of their debut and the lush avant-garde rock instrumentation of Bon Iver22, A Million is unlike anything Bon Iver or practically any other indie rock band has done before. It is a record that is incomparable, both because of Vernon’s unmatched voice and his band’s adventurous dive into experimentation. Through weaving a fabric of electronic glitches, 22, A Million understands its audience as much as Vernon does, articulating some of Vernon’s most difficult songwriting into words that convey clarity, emotion, and genuine depth. As far as albums go, Bon Iver’s 22, A Million sounds like the future, an uncertain one at worst and a beautiful one at best. 

Best tracks: “21 (Over Soon),” “715 (Creeks),” “33 ‘GOD’,” “29 #Strafford APTS”

8. 

untitled unmastered – Kendrick Lamar

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To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar’s magnum opus, was undoubtedly the best album of last year, and perhaps of the past several years. The Compton rapper’s ambitious third studio album introduced fans and new listeners to Lamar’s political side, which harshly critiqued almost every flawed aspect of American life: the criminal justice system, institutional racism, the concept of the “American dream,” police brutality, and poverty. Lamar’s honesty, flow, aesthetic choices, and lyrics blew away almost everyone, as the record itself marked a turning point not just in hip hop music, but in America. What would follow, however, was even more social and political unrest, with there being several more police shootings targeting young Black men, notably Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Laquan McDonald and many more. Music can only do so much as to provide people with a message and a motivation to speak truth to power, but for Lamar, it can also transform an entire consciousness. Fortunately, despite the never-ending hellhole that is 2016, Lamar graced us with a B-sides collection aptly titled untitled, unmastered. On this 8-track album, exclusively filled with demos and outtakes from To Pimp a Butterfly sessions, Lamar reveals a little bit more about himself, both in terms of his personal demons and tireless work ethic. He still makes some compelling political points, but Lamar also delves into newer, unfamiliar, and riskier territory, advocating for a more jazz-heavy sound. Even in the unfinished tracks, Lamar’s artistry is still mesmerizing, as we get a peek into the rapper’s process with seaming various sounds and lyrics together. Maybe Kendrick was worried that these songs, as wildly creative as they are, were too much for 2016 audiences. But like with To Pimp a Butterflyuntitled unmastered. is an album worth listening to and may require several listens before we get some sense of the mastermind of Kendrick Lamar.

Best tracks: “untitled 02 l 06.23.2014.,” “untitled 03 l 05.28.2013.,” “untitled 05 l 09.21.2014.,” “untitled 07 l 2014 – 2016”

7. 

Lemonade – Beyoncé

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As one of pop’s biggest and most talented superstars, Beyoncé Knowles knows how to get a crowd engaged, whether she’s performing at the Super Bowl Halftime show, singing the National Anthem, or dropping a feature-length HBO special along with a brand new album by surprise. With Lemonade, her sixth album in her extremely successful career, Beyoncé continues to break every single aesthetic boundary imaginable. It seems like everything she has to offer is something of extremely precious value, especially for her scarily devoted fans. But considering the bubbling boiling pot of our society’s socio-political tension, Beyoncé also acts as an ideal prism of progressive values, portraying the Black experience and the female experience in America in an exciting, powerful, and thought-provoking way. While her previous self-titled record saw Beyoncé making great strides in pop experimentation, Lemonade tracks Beyoncé’s progression as an artist, lyricist, and social activist. Like Kendrick and other Black artists in 2016, Beyoncé is not taking issues of police brutality and marginalization of Black people lightly at all. Instead, she’s using her voice (literal and figurative) to project the rage and frustration of the Black community against a system that often represses or villainizes those kinds of feelings. On Lemonade, she exhibits a variety of personas — the unapologetic diva, the appreciative daughter, the hard-working mother, the neglected wife — and with these roles, she effectively and effortlessly channels the collective energy and spirit of the Black female community at large. At the heart of everything, though, Beyoncé is an artist, a collaborative one at that; she expertly samples Soulja Boy, Animal Collective, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Led Zeppelin with the help from producers Diplo, Boots, Hit-Boy, James Blake, Jack White, and Mike Will Made It. Like with BeyoncéLemonade is a musical mosaic, incorporating multiple genres, from country to reggae to rock to electronic. However, the only flaw within the nearly flawless Lemonade is a bit ironic. The album encompasses feminism and female empowerment as recurring themes and yet, there isn’t a single female artist or producer listed on the album; there is only one female songwriter credited for “Love Drought.” No disrespect to the Queen, but it’s an important point to bring up, especially when something as relevant as gender equality and discrimination is preached throughout the album. Nevertheless, Lemonade remains another step-up for Beyoncé, in terms of pushing mainstream pop to places no else can.

Best tracks: “Hold Up,” “Sorry,” “Freedom,” “Formation”

6.

A Seat at the Table – Solange

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It’s a shame to think that Beyoncé’s Black Panther get-up at the Super Bowl provoked so much ire that conservative pundits thought she was being “anti-police,” which is just as infuriating as people thinking Black people who write, sing, or speak about oppression and injustice are being “anti-white.” As Solange, Beyoncé’s younger sister, remarks in an interlude from her stunning A Seat at the Table, that isn’t the intended message at all. Technically, Tina Knowles, the mother of the two, makes that comment about being “pro-Black” instead of “anti-white,” but Solange’s inclusion of the anecdote on her album nevertheless acts as an example of the kind of subtle and overt racial discrimination that continues to pervade modern society. Though not as well known as her older sibling, Solange is just as talented in terms of her sound and her angelic voice. Her last effort, True, was an ode to 1980s pop and electronica, produced by Devonté Hynes (aka Blood Orange), and though it wasn’t as political as her newest album, it still showcased Solange’s knack for exploring different realms of music. With A Seat at the Table, Solange has completely done a 180 and transformed her new wave sound into a more R&B-oriented ambiance, thanks to the help of executive producer Raphael Saadiq. Like LemonadeA Seat at the Table grabs listeners by the ears and makes them listen to a compelling, poetic, and immensely satisfying record about pain, grief, and prejudice experienced by Black women in America. But unlike LemonadeA Seat at the Table is much more direct and involved in tackling those topics, spending each and every one of its 51 minutes focusing on the Black female experience and giving it the attention it deserves. Interspersed in between the songs are spoken word interludes that dictate the difficulties of racism and alienation often faced by Black people in America, but some interludes also share the beauty within Black culture. In addition to delivering some of the most beautifully sung tracks in music from 2016, Solange receives help from other special guests, including Q-Tip, Sampha, The-Dream, and Lil Wayne (who gives perhaps the best guest verse of his career). A Seat at the Table is an album that both challenges and enlightens the listener about the subject matter. It’s a wonderful listening experience, but one that encourages and inspires having these difficult but necessary conversations and how we can move forward.

Best tracks: “Weary,” “Cranes in the Sky,” “Mad,” “Don’t Touch My Hair”

5.

A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead

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Radiohead has led a long career of making positively received and/or critically acclaimed albums. With each record they make, the British rock quintet experiment with a new sound and still retain their own identity as a band. Thanks to Thom Yorke’s enchanting lead vocals, Johnny Greenwood’s immaculate production, and the groups’s skilled songwriting, Radiohead works well as a cohesive unit, with everyone’s individual roles building together to form one spectacular team. And while most ’90s bands tend to lose steam and momentum after a while, Radiohead is a rare exception. After a brief hiccup with their last big record, 2011’s The King of Limbs, Radiohead found its footing again with this year’s A Moon Shaped Pool, which juggles between the electronica of their earlier albums (OK ComputerKid AAmnesiac) with the more nuanced alternative rock of their most recent ones (Hail to the ThiefIn Rainbows). The result is utterly chilling and inspiring, as Thom Yorke and his bandmates continue to delve deep into the complexity of the human condition with songs that are as emotionally potent as they are politically conscious. Every arrangement, every lyric, and every use of Yorke’s voice are made essential on A Moon Shaped Pool, with not a single element falling out of place. The contrast between the new and the old become a present theme throughout the album, both in terms of the sound and content. Percussive beats and strings on the opener “Burn the Witch” begin the album with a raucous, thrilling start, while “True Love Waits,” an old favorite from many of Radiohead’s live performances, closes the record with a haunting, reverbed piano melody. Authoritarianism, anti-establishment politics, governmental surveillance, and unrequited love are integrated into the album’s themes, becoming more and more scarily relevant with each second. Radiohead itself has always been about making a postmodern sound, incorporating past and present as their forefront goal, and A Moon Shaped Pool is an excellent example in showing how they do it. Will Radiohead continue to make great music? At this rate, all signs point to yes.

Best tracks: “Burn the Witch,” “Daydreaming,” “Present Tense,” “True Love Waits”

4.

Blonde – Frank Ocean

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The album everyone was craving finally came this year. Frank Ocean had us all on our toes for what seemed like four endless years since his outstanding 2012 studio debut Channel Orange. Since then, the world changed dramatically and so did Ocean, as is the case with most pensive, sheltered artists who are also undisputed geniuses. Would he make another classic? Would his next record be just as good or even better than Channel Orange? No one knew the answer, probably not even Ocean himself. But after several false starts, fake news headlines, aggravating teases, intense hype, and the release of Endless, his middling “visual album,” Ocean graced audiences with what they asked for: Blonde. With 17 tracks, a long list of collaborators, and a picturesque album cover, Blonde was meant to the dream album that people had envisioned for Ocean. But it was much better than that: it was a real, gritty, flawed, and beautiful sophomore record that saw Ocean go bigger and bolder than he did on Channel Orange. While it may not reach the classic status of that album, Blonde is good enough that perhaps it doesn’t need to held to any standard; it’s Ocean’s blood, sweat, and tears layered over vocoded harmonies, dreamy guitars, and electronic strokes. The unrequited love and dejected loneliness Ocean sung about on Channel Orange is still here on Blonde, except it’s much wiser, more thoughtful, and more affecting. Ocean puts himself under a microscope, as he seeks to understand his purpose as a man struggling with self-doubt. Additionally, the production is much stronger, lighter, and hazier, thanks to the help of Jamie xx, Rostam Batmanglij, James Blake, Pharrell Williams, Tyler the Creator, Jon Brion, and Malay. Like other great pop records this year, Ocean’s Blonde is a rainbow blend of genres, sounding like a mix between psychedelic indie rock and electro-R&B. The sequencing of Blonde goes on some surprising detours, with Ocean playing a helium-heavy love ballad in one moment and André 3000 rapidly rapping over an anxious beat in the next. Despite its lengthiness, the ambition Ocean strived for with this album certainly pays off. Let’s hope Ocean’s next project not only comes sooner, but also gets even stronger.

Best tracks: “Nikes,” “Ivy,” “Pink + White,” “Self Control”

3.

Freetown Sound – Blood Orange

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From its opening notes alone, Freetown Sound is already a powerful work of art. As Devonté Hynes, known professionally as Blood Orange, and backing vocalists sing with breathless abandon over a beat bathed in saxophones and pianos, we hear the commanding voice of slam poet Ashlee Haze speak about having better and more representation of Black women in the media. It’s definitely head-spinning to hear as a first track, but it confidently displays Hynes’ vision of the album, which is primarily about identity, specifically racial, sexual, and gender identity. As a queer London-born artist living in New York City with roots in Sierra Leone, Hynes understands the difficulty of finding a place to call home, even in a multicultural melting pot like America, and thus yearns to make sense of it through his own artistic endeavors. That kind of immediacy is established throughout Freetown Sound, the follow-up to Hynes’ amazing 2013 sophomore record Cupid Deluxe. The album, approximating at one hour, delivers incredible track after incredible track. With glimmers of calypso, R&B, funk, soul, jazz, and hip-hop, Freetown Sound is bereft of any single definition. It could be classified as a journey into self-discovery and self-pride, an examination of racial politics in the U.S. and worldwide, a wonderful whirlpool of melancholic and joyful music, or all the above. Being experienced in various parts of the world has lent Hynes an incredible gift of storytelling, as he incorporates a myriad of sounds to create one giant masterwork. Even when you’d think there’s no way Freetown Sound couldn’t sound any better than it already does, Hynes takes it a step further by utilizing other people’s voices through various samples (including two interviews with Ta-Neheisi Coates and Vince Staples) and female singers (namely, Nelly Furtado, Carly Rae Jepsen, Empress Of, and Debbie Harry). By building his collaborations with other artists, Hynes shows that music doesn’t just sound great coming from only one person, but rather from a group of people. Freetown Sound perhaps didn’t get the recognition it deserved the year and understandably so; Hynes is pretty grounded in the indie scene. However, the album got its message across and still made a strong impression on those who listened to it.

Best tracks: “Augustine,” “Best to You,” “Desirée,” “E.V.P.”

2.

The Life of Pablo – Kanye West

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It’s hard to talk about Kanye West without first recognizing his flaws. In 2016 alone, Kanye has managed to anger, vex, and annoy almost every sane person in America. With his egocentric personality, aggressive behavior, arrogant narcissism, casual misogyny, spotlight stealing at award shows, social media shenanigans, stubborn bravado, and questionable relationships, Kanye is a pretty hateable person. Now, there’s no denying he is also a remarkable artist and rapper, creating some of the most influential hip-hop music of the millennium. Kanye himself is probably aware of being classified as this “mad genius” and it is tough to keep rewarding him by praising his music and still recognize that he is a genuinely controversial individual who people will continue to worship no matter what he does. But perhaps with every album Kanye delivers, we get a chance to understand why Kanye acts the way he does, what his deepest fears are, and why he’s so stuck with being perceived as an asshole. On The Life of Pablo, his sprawling eighth album, Kanye puts all these issues at the forefront, channeling his dark energy into a record that is essentially a hip-hop version of a gospel record (at least, that’s how Kanye puts it). The Life of Pablo is Kanye lyrically and sonically unfiltered, with the rapper talking about having sex with Taylor Swift and Kim on a “motherfucking dinner table” at a Vogue party one minute and asking for forgiveness God and questioning his own decisions in the next. It’s a truly troubling thing to hear, but it’s the realest version of Kanye that we’ve seen since 2013’s abrasive Yeezus. With eclectic samples and A-plus producers (Swizz Beatz, Mike Dean, Metro Boomin, Rick Rubin) and guest artists (Rihanna, The Weeknd, Chance the Rapper, Ty Dolla $ign, Young Thug), The Life of Pablo is an audacious work of art that makes the “separate the art from the artist” conflict all the more difficult. Kanye’s creative process sounds hectic and in-the-moment, which makes it all the more impressive when everything pieces together, especially after Kanye made last minute changes before and after the album’s release. The Life of Pablo is another mini Kanye masterpiece, but it’s also a perfect representation of Kanye as a person: flawed yet ingenious.

Best tracks: “Ultralight Beam,” “Highlights,” “Waves,” “Real Friends”

1.

Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper

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Kanye West tweeted The Life of Pablo was “the album of LIFE,” but I’d like to think he meant Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book. That mixtape, along with the artist behind it, is something of a miracle. In the midst of the incredibly downbeat 2016 (seriously, can this year end already?), Chancelor Bennett dropped the best hip-hop album, and album in general, of the year, transcending his previous status as an up-and-coming Chicago rapper to a fully-fledged pop icon. Coloring Book compiles every one of Chance’s greatest qualities as a person and artist: it’s energetic, sweet, catchy, soulful, collaborative, and relentlessly happy. With his quirky ad-libs, gorgeous croon, and peppy flow, the young rapper can make any God-denier feel like there’s someone up there watching them. In addition to heavenly production work from his backing band the Social Experiment, Chance also brings along other artists, some pitch-perfect (Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, D.R.A.M.) and some unexpected but still great (Lil Yachty, Young Thug, Justin Bieber). Like with The Life of Pablo, Chance’s Coloring Book is a gospel record disguised as a hip hop album, but offers a much more optimistic, heartfelt message about sanctification, love, and freedom (both in religious and creative expression). Since his last mixtape, 2013’s Acid Rap, Chance has grown immensely as an artist, making good time by using his voice on several amazing guest verses and other projects, including Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment’s wildly creative Surf and a collaborative mixtape with Lil B. In some ways, Coloring Book is almost an antithesis to The Life of Pablo, trading in that album’s dreary imagery and bleak themes with vivid wonder and giddy child-like innocence. It embraces the idea of love and togetherness as the key to happiness, which sounds slightly cliché when taken out of context. But to deny the fact that Chance the Rapper is capable of making music that brings people together is totally wrong. Coloring Book is simply a blessing.

Best tracks: “No Problem,” “Juke Jam,” “All Night,” “How Great,” “Smoke Break”

Top 10 Albums of 2014

10. Atlas – Real Estate

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As mellow and dreamy as ever, Real Estate’s third record Atlas continues to strengthen the New Jersey band’s repertoire in effervescent alternative rock and jazz pop. It’s the perfect album for almost any laid-back occasion: a nice drive on the highway, a picnic date at the park, a day at the beach, or a night of stargazing. Though Atlas borrows the slow-jam vibes from their previous album, 2011’s Days, Real Estate manages to keep their musical energy fresh and exciting with psychedelic guitar plucks and pitter-patter drums. Lead singer Martin Courtney’s gentle coo reverberates throughout Atlas, especially on the sweet-sounding opener “Had to Hear” and tuneful alt-pop track “Talking Backwards.” Even on the instrumental-only “April’s Song,” Real Estate’s rich, rosy-colored riffs and smooth tempo keep the album in a steady pace. The enchanting “Crime,” one of Real Estate’s best tracks to date, shines on Atlas, with its soft rock rhythm and its reflective lyrics on mortality and love (“I don’t want to die/Lonely and uptight/Stay with me”). Atlas is one of those albums that you’ll want to listen to over and over again and will still maintain its warm, intoxicating sound.

9. You’re Dead! – Flying Lotus

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Experimental producer Steve Ellison took an unusual step in his career this year when he used death as the core theme on his most recent record You’re Dead!. Known by his stage name Flying Lotus, Ellison is one of music’s most radical thinkers and instrumentalists. By fusing the genres of jazz, electronica, R&B, and hip-hop into his music, Ellison creates an authentic and surreal experience for listeners. In his past records, the 32-year-old Angeleno utilized his broad musical taste to embody universal ideas. 2010’s Cosmogrammaexplored the romance between the planets and the cosmos and 2012’s Until the Quiet Comes dealt with dreams and the inner psyche. Now, with You’re Dead!, Ellison has masterfully crafted a 40-minute-long record filled with soulful, contemplative tunes, such as the sublime “Never Catch Me,” which features an animated Kendrick Lamar spitting rhymes about the afterlife. Though mostly instrumental, You’re Dead! feels very much alive, using every single second to the fullest without deviating into tedious territory.

8. LP1 – FKA Twigs

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One of 2014’s biggest breakouts came from 26-year-old Tahliah Barnett, a British singer-songwriter known professionally as the enigmatic FKA twigs. In previous years, Barnett worked as a music video backup dancer for pop superstars Ed Sheeran, Taio Cruz, and Jessie J. Although she won over indie critics with her underrated EP2 last year, Barnett still needed an extra push to make her voice heard. Now, in her mesmerizing studio debut LP1, Barnett takes center stage with confidence and nails it completely. Combining sultry electronica with breathy R&B, LP1 is next-level, otherworldly material. The help from acclaimed producers Clams Casino, Devonté Hynes of Blood Orange, and Arca come especially in handy for Barnett. Some might be turned off by the album’s strange sound and Barnett’s sexually overt lyrics. But after a few listens, LP1 becomes unnaturally addicting. Barnett undertakes a seemingly impossible task by making her tender falsetto stand out against the record’s raucous beats, such as on the sensuous, adult-friendly “Lights On” and the trippy “Two Weeks.” She gets scary on the surreal “Numbers,” romantic on the provocative “Pendulum,” and jealous on the gripping “Video Girl.” In addition to her various talents and range of emotions, Barnett transforms her musical efforts into visual aesthetics. Watch her American TV debut performance on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and her concept video “#throughglass” and you’ll see what I mean. FKA twigs might be one of this year’s most bizarre, inventive, and fascinating artists, and there’s no doubt about that when listening to LP1.

7. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

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Speaking of bizarre, inventive, and fascinating female artists, Tulsa native Annie Clark (known under the pseudonym St. Vincent) made headlines this year as well. Although Clark previously released three albums, all of which received critical acclaim from indie critics, her self-titled breakthrough record has become the 32-year-old singer/songwriter’s most exciting and personal record to date. Bolstered by stinging social commentary and energetic tunes, St. Vincent reaffirms Clark’s undeniable talent as a singer, lyricist, and performer. The record manages to captivate, awe, and even inspire listeners to perceive society through her eyes and ears. Beginning with the strong minimalist opener “Rattlesnake,” St. Vincent takes us on a journey through the themes of enlightenment, chaos, connection, and love in the post-modern world. The exquisitely odd “Birth in Reverse” presents some of Clark’s cheeky dark humor with nauseating screeching guitars; “Prince Johnny”’s operatic undertones and lighthearted pace propel Clark’s angelic vocals into another sonic dimension; “Digital Witness” balances groovy synths and horns with some thought-provoking analysis on the digital age. Clark once described St. Vincent as a “a party record you could play at a funeral.” If that’s to say that the album demonstrates how life illuminates death, then Clark is clearly spot on. But otherwise, I would suggest playing this album anywhere but a funeral.

6. Too Bright – Perfume Genius

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With his first two albums, 2010’s Learning and 2012’s Put Your Back N 2 It, singer Mike Hadreas, known by his stage name Perfume Genius, was categorized by many as a “sad, soulful pop musician.” Indeed, his quivering tenor does make his music sound lugubrious when juxtaposed with his dark thematic material and tearjerker instrumentals. But at the same time, these aspects made Hadreas’ music sound more unique and distinct among a large crowd of singer/songwriters. Fortunately, Hadreas expanded his artistic realm while maintaining his roots with Too Bright, his most realized record yet. Though relatively shy in person, Hadreas is extroverted and confident on Too Bright, proving that he’s a musical force to be reckoned with. On the riveting anthem “Queen,” Too Bright’s best track, Hadreas discusses his frustration towards gay panic, an issue that shouldn’t be taken lightly according to the Seattle-based artist, who is openly gay. With tracks like the haunting “Fool,” the terrifying, trance-like “Grid,” and the dizzying “Longpig,” Hadreas doesn’t show a hint of self-consciousness or self-loathing. Instead of lamenting about his insecurities and unrequited love, Hadreas wails with anger, passion, and intensity about his repressed feelings. Even on Too Bright’s sad, lonely-sounding songs like the dramatic opener “I Decline,” the beautifully sung “No Good,” and the muffled “I’m a Mother,” you can tell that Hadreas is tired of being pigeonholed by critics as a downer. Too Brightproves that Hadreas can be an uplifting spirit too.

5. Syro – Aphex Twin

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One of electronic music’s most influential and well-renowned artists surprisingly does not chase celebrity. He lives in secrecy and hides in the crevasses of underground music using fake names like AFX and Caustic Window. Of course, I am talking about Richard D. James, known professionally as the mastermind Aphex Twin. Since the early 1990s, James has pulled a remarkable amount of success with his distinctive ambient and glitchy EDM sound. He played a major role in the onset of current popular artists, such as Daft Punk, Radiohead, and Linkin Park. But despite all the acclaim throughout his lengthy career, James remained isolated from the radio charts and eventually disappeared on the music radar after 2001’s middling Drukqs. However, as fate would have it, James emerged from the darkness this year and presented us with Syro, one of 2014’s best electronic albums. Retaining James’ chillwave, techno style with finesse, Syro redefines the often stigmatized genre of EDM by transcending its every stereotype. The album is refreshing, funky, and stimulating, all without a single bass drop or dubstep rattle. The titles of every song on Syro are cryptic and almost incomprehensible (“syro u473t8+e [141.98] (piezoluminescence mix)” to give an example). But underlying the unintelligible diction is a vast world of wiggling beat patterns, acid jazz, and synths like onSyro opener “”minipops 67 [120.2]” (source field mix).” As chaotic and fascinating as the album can get, Syrocloses on a soft note with “aisatsana [102],” an ambient, stripped down piano melody. James is not a producer; rather, he is a composer. He conducts the various symphonies of software music and analog systems in spectacular fashion, almost as if they were real instruments.

4. They Want My Soul – Spoon

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You may not have heard of the Austin-based group Spoon before, but you might have heard their music. Despite their lack of mainstream recognition, Spoon has showcased their catchy rock jams in movie trailers and popular TV shows, such as Veronica Mars, The O.C., How I Met Your Mother, and House. Though their presence is low-key, Spoon remains one of the biggest driving forces in modern indie rock music. They’ve written beautiful songs, performed passionately onstage, and kept up with the latest rhythms of the unpredictable music medium. Now, after four endless years of hiatus, Spoon continues their hot streak of critically esteemed records with their eighth excellent album They Want My Soul. Spoon whisks through 40 minutes of utter bliss with 10 remarkably catchy tunes of glittering 70s art pop and luminous 90s psychedelic rock. The record starts off with three strong openers: the fierce headbanger “Rent I Pay,” the gorgeously ethereal “Inside Out,” and the finger-snapping “Rainy Taxi.” However, They Want My Soul shifts into full throttle with “Do You,” an earth-shattering rock anthem for the ages. Accompanied with lead vocalist Britt Daniel’s signature howl, “Do You” feels both classic and brand new like a mint-condition record player. Spoon accentuates this balance of They Want My Soul’s past-and-presenting-sounds with grittiness and panache. It’s no doubt that Spoon’s adept musical flair will persist in the coming years.

3. Pom Pom – Ariel Pink

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On the outside, 36-year-old certified eccentric Ariel Pink seems like another weirdo you would see drifting in the streets of Hollywood or Beverly Hills. But on the inside, the Cal Arts alum is a creative and artistic genius. After rising to fame in 2010 with his backing band Haunted Graffiti and their indie breakout Before Today, Ariel Pink became known to many as a zeitgeist of contemporary indie pop music. However, with his DIY-style, aptly pink wig, metrosexual fashion, and provocative comments on social media, Pink exhibits much more than the characteristics of a pop icon. This can especially be heard and seen on his latest solo effort,Pom Pom. Like Pink himself, Pom Pom is messy but inventive, unconventional, and even profound at times. The 70-minute-long Pom Pom spans over past eras of pop music, from 50’s surf pop (“Nude Beach a Go-Go”) to 60s psychedelica (“Plastic Raincoats in the Pink Parade”) to 70’s lo-fi rock (“White Freckles,” “Goth Bomb”) to 80s New Wave (“Lipstick,” “One Summer Night”). It’s almost as if Pink is going through a time machine and experiencing new aspects of his personality in different time periods. Pom Pom also succeeds  in transcending the norm of pop by generating pop music for the future. The whimsical “Put Your Number in My Phone” and the reflective “Picture Me Gone” both offer glimpses of love and relationships in a world ruled by machines. The freaky, Middle-Eastern-sounding “Dinosaur Carebears” sounds like a demented mashup between American Horror Story and Barney. Ariel Pink puts all his thoughts, feelings, and emotions onto Pom Pom and it’s one heck of a rollercoaster ride, but one that you would want to go on again and again until you spew chunks of stomach acid.

2. Salad Days – Mac DeMarco

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Montreal indie rocker Mac DeMarco embodies two different personas: the goofy, extroverted guy who likes parties and laughs at poop jokes, and the introspective crooner who reflects on existentialism and personal fears in his music. Though both disparate personalities may seem incongruous, they work well together with DeMarco. Behind the 24-year-old’s gap-toothed smile and carefree demeanor is a gentle, serious, emotional songwriter whose lyrics and warble echo the works of Bob Dylan. Initially performing under the moniker Makeout Videotape, DeMarco first transpired in the music world with his self-produced 2010 debut Ying Yang. Although he gave up the Makeout Videotape alias, DeMarco continued to utilize his signature blue wave, slacker rock in 2012, when he released Rock and Roll Nightclub and 2, an EP and full-length LP, respectively. The latter album, 2, eventually caught the attention of indie critics, who lauded DeMarco’s psychedelic, glam-inspired sound. With his newest record Salad Days, DeMarco goes even deeper into his soul and consequently conjures up a compelling, heartfelt album. Throughout the 35-minute Salad Days, DeMarco wistfully reminiscences about the romance with his current girlfriend (“Let My Baby Stay”) and the inner turmoil of his self-loathing (“Blue Boy”). DeMarco’s soft croak brings light into the album’s thematic darkness, such as on the mind-bending “Chamber of Reflection” and the trippy, hypnotic, horn-infused slow jam “Passing Out Pieces,” which might as well be his best song yet. DeMarco may look like a slacker, but he sure doesn’t write and perform like one.

1. Run the Jewels 2 – Run the Jewels

Run-The-Jewels

In a turbulent year such as 2014, one can only hope that something would shine amidst of all the commotion and chaos happening around the world. Luckily, this miracle manifested into Run the Jewels 2, the gravity-defying sophomore effort of rapper Killer Mike and hip hop producer El-P. As I mentioned in myprevious review of RTJ2, these guys have had a ton of experience in music. However, their initial rise to prominence as Run the Jewels came last year with a self-titled debut that piqued the interest of music critics. Even after a decade’s worth of albums, both Mike and El-P are still undoubtedly astute at taking on heavy, complex subjects and twisting them into impeccable, dynamic anthems. On the showstopping RTJ2opener “Jeopardy,” Mike and El-P trample over the haters with swaggering rhymes that tower one after the other. The unstoppable hip hop duo continue to exchange more gleeful expletives on the schizophrenic “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry.” Their alliterations on the bass heavy “Blockbuster Part 1” extend poetry to another realm of linguistic art. The political commentary on our country’s justice system unravels into an aggressive rant on the thought-provoking “Early.” Essentially, Run the Jewels 2 is the Godfather Part II of hip hop records. It highlights all the great parts of its predecessor, but is somehow even more original and vibrant. Though Mike and El-P have already announced Run the Jewels 3, it will definitely not end up like the misfire that wasGodfather Part III.

Top 50 Songs of 2013

An incredible year for the music industry, 2013 has brought forth some of the biggest and most influential songs in current music. For one, several great comebacks were made from artists that ranged from David Bowie to Justin Timberlake to Daft Punk. In addition, music in 2013 expanded, mixing various genres, as well as exploring different themes and stories that either broke your heart or gave you a reason to get up in the morning. Certain songs have embodied these musical trends and to give you some examples, here is a list of my 50 top songs:

50. “EntertainmentPhoenix

A charming, upbeat opener on Phoenix’s fifth album Bankrupt!, “Entertainment” is a wondrous spectacle of music that’s bound to be one of the band’s best singles.
49. “RoyalsLorde

17-year-old New Zealand vocalist Lorde most likely had no idea that she would become a huge breakout in 2013. In fact, she probably didn’t expect her ubiquitous pop-synth jam “Royals” to be one of the biggest and most commercially successful pop songs of the new decade. Regardless of Lorde’s newfound fame, “Royals” by itself is a catchy jingle that incorporates memorable lyrics and graceful vocals.   
   
48. “Play by PlayAutre Ne Veut

Twinkling with Autre Ne Veut’s magnetic falsetto and a diverse set of bright sounds, “Play by Play” is a huge highlight off of the American singer’s acclaimed record Anxiety
47. “Song for ZulaPhosphorescent

Despite being little-known, indie rock artist Matthew Houck (under the moniker Phosphorescent) has been making music since 2003. Now, 10 years later, he’s released what is most likely his best album, Muchacho, accompanied with the heart-achy, string-oriented single “Song for Zula.”  
46. “Sail to the SunWavves

Punk rock group Wavves returned to music this year with “Sail to the Sun,” a brash and bold headbanger that mixes dark lyrics with a fun vibe.  
45. “AcrylicsTNGHT

Although “Acrylics” is a much darker and louder addition to TNGHT’s bouncy canon of music, its dynamic, energy-driven beat and boisterous resonance proves that the trap duo are continuing to expand on their hip-hop-electronic sound.           
44. “Control (HOF) [ft. Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica]Big Sean

To be honest, “Control” is one of hip-hop’s most overrated songs, particularly due to Kendrick Lamar’s attention-grabbing verse and its powerful effect on fans and other rappers. But considering that it garnered worldwide attention without having any actual presence on the radio or on Big Sean’s album (due to a sampling issue), it’s one of the most influential songs of 2013.  
43. “Your Life is a LieMGMT

“Your Life is a Lie” is a positive outlier off MGMT’s middling self-titled album, with its short but sweet length, evocative lyrics, and lively rock rhythm.   
42. “RecoverChvrches

41. “Attracting FliesAlunaGeorge

40. “Chain SmokerChance the Rapper

39. “MuteYouth Lagoon

38. “UsMovement

37. “Golden WakeMutual Benefit

36. “This LifeEdward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

35. “Love is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix by James Murphy)David Bowie

34. “So Good at Being in TroubleUnknown Mortal Orchestra

33. “Golden ArrowDarkside

32. “NirvanaSam Smith

31. “SacrilegeYeah Yeah Yeahs

30. “Nosetalgia [ft. Kendrick Lamar]Pusha T

29. “Bugs Don’t BuzzMajical Cloudz

28. “You’re Not the OneSky Ferreira

27. “Step” – Vampire Weekend

26. “ElectricThe Men

25. “Wakin on a Pretty DayKurt Vile

24. “I Can Hardly Make You MineCults

23. “Say ThatToro y Moi

22. “WeightMikal Cronin

21. “Suit & Tie [ft. Jay Z]Justin Timberlake

20. “God Made the WorldCold Cave

19. “ComradeVolcano Choir

18. “OpenRhye

17. “The Way [ft. Mac Miller]Ariana Grande

16. “Black SkinheadKanye West

15. “Body PartyCiara

14. “AfterlifeArcade Fire

13. “When a Fire Starts to BurnDisclosure

12. “Ya HeyVampire Weekend

11. “Do I Wanna Know?Arctic Monkeys

10. “Hold On, We’re Going HomeDrake

We all know this one. Canadian rapper/vocalist Drake introduced music listeners in August to one of 2013’s most influential and ubiquitous singles. The memorable lyrics, the sultry beat, Drake’s lush falsetto — almost everything about “Hold On, We’re Going Home” emulates the sound of a great R&B love song. It’s moments like these that help us remember Drake not just as a clever rhymer, but as a deeply vulnerable and authentic musician. Though “Hold On, We’re Going Home’s” omnipresence on the radio might have marked the song as slightly annoying, it’ll still be one of Drake’s best and one that will be remembered for a long time.
9. “MirrorsJustin Timberlake

After actor/singer Justin Timberlake hinted about a new album in early January, many thought he would return to his old, mainstream-pop roots — and, for the most part, we were half-right. Subsequent to the announcement of his fantastic third record The 20/20 Experience, Timberlake released “Suit & Tie,” a catchy, albeit old-fashioned, groove that mixed pop, hip hop, R&B, and jazz. Although the song might have caught some Timberlake fans off-guard, it ultimately led to a much more gratifying second single in February, titled “Mirrors.” Like its funky, pop-oriented predecessor, “Mirrors” not only maintains an impeccable vibrancy throughout its epic eight minutes, but it also displays Timberlake at his most ambitious.
8. “RetrogradeJames Blake

London-based electronic instrumentalist James Blake returned to the music scene this year with the same vitality that made his 2011 debut a critical success. Blake continued to display his soulful tenor and luxuriant beats on his most recent album Overgrown, a thematically dark yet sonically dynamic record. One of the album’s many highlights,“Retrograde,” fuses Blake’s cynicism and unrequited love with buzzy synths, handclaps, dramatic hums and an overall bleak tone. Regardless of the song’s melancholic vibe, it makes for an idiosyncratic James Blake masterpiece.
7. “Diane YoungVampire Weekend

Shifting from their recognizable indie rock noise to a more multi-faceted and gutsier sound, Columbian-grad quartet Vampire Weekend has arrived at the best stage in their career. Their brilliant third album, Modern Vampires of the City is filled with an inexhaustible amount of catchy and memorable songs, including the hyperactive toe tapper “Diane Young.” Similar to other up-tempo Vampire Weekend tunes (Vampire Weekend‘s “A-Punk” and Contra’s “Cousins”), “Diane Young” is an immensely likable song about being young and having fun. It colorfully displays Ezra Koenig’s charming vocals and a raucous and rapid electronic beat. Its tenacity and bold production continue to support the notion that Vampire Weekend can always perform well, no matter how unconventional their sound may be.
6. “Latch [ft. Sam Smith]Disclosure

The UK was lucky enough to popularize one of this year’s noteworthy new groups. Brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, known as the house duo Disclosure, began their journey as up-and-coming artists with their marvelous debut Settle. During promotion of the album in October 2012, Disclosure released “Latch,” a dazzling single that makes for a great love ballad, as well as a bubbly club jam. One of “Latch”‘s major strengths comes especially from rising British vocalist Sam Smith, whose intoxicating croon and poignant lyrics not only match perfectly with Disclosure’s neo-pop sound, but also sound just as fantastic without the instrumental (see Smith’s chilling acoustic rendition of “Latch”).
5. “The Mother We ShareChvrches

Scottish synthpop trio Chvrches (pronounced “churches”) have slowly emerged from being hardly recognized to one of 2013’s promising new talents. Prior to the release of their sparkling debut The Bones of What You Believe, Chvrches unleashed the album’s opener, “The Mother We Share,” late last year. The song not only comprises of Lauren Mayberry’s cheerful vocals and enchanting keyboards, but also evokes a strong sense of hopefulness, despite the song’s somewhat depressing subject matter. However, what makes “The Mother We Share” an instantly powerful track off Chvrches’ debut is that it successfully blends both an optimistic sound with moody lyrics into a pleasant tune that’s hard not to like.
4. “New SlavesKanye West

Who knew that Kanye West’s first song of 2013 would be about political issues (or that it would be released visually on the sides of apartment buildings across the world)? Most would have assumed that zeitgeist rapper West would continue to rap about love, wealth, or pop culture. But contrary to popular belief, the 36-year-old hip hop artist released “New Slaves,” an unexpectedly brash attack on modern racism and materialism. “New Slaves” was the closest thing West has to a promotional single for West’s sixth studio album, Yeezus, which did not advertise any songs commercially prior to its release. However, with that in mind, “New Slaves” helped distinguish West’s vociferous lyricism and operatic production as two of the rapper’s greatest artistic strengths, making it an iconic track off Yeezus.
3. “The WireHaim

One of the most unexpected successes in music this year came from the Californian rock group Haim. Though Haim’s sister trio have been active as far back as 2005, they skyrocketed into mainstream music last August with the announcement of their groovy debut Days are Gone. The album itself flourishes through its noise-pop and folk influences, especially on the melodious third track, “The Wire.” On the instantly memorable tune, sisters Este, Danielle, and Alana, jam about the struggles of ending a relationship, providing both a hilarious yet thought-provoking message. It’s surprising to think that it took seven times for Haim to tweak “The Wire” to the right sound, having recorded and re-recorded the song several times during the album’s production. Nevertheless, it shows that the Haim sisters possess both a respectable work ethic and a unique quality, marking the triad as one of the coolest and hippest new bands of 2013.
2. “ReflektorArcade Fire

When Canadian avant-garde band Arcade Fire released the title track to their fourth album, Reflektor, in September, it brought a new type of sound and range of themes that listeners had not heard before. Accompanied by two music videos (one of them being interactive), the 7-minute “Reflektor” gave Arcade Fire fans what they needed, even if it wasn’t what they had expected. Bolstered by a commendable production from LCD Soundsystem’s ex-leading man James Murphy, “Reflektor” touched on psychedelic and tribal beats, as well as philosophical lyrics that explored religion, existentialism, and the human connection. The lyrics were also partly influenced by lead vocalist Win Butler’s trip to Haiti, where he juxtaposed the difficult lifestyle of being in a third-world country to the digital age in America and how each mirrored a different way of living. Although the rest of Arcade Fire’s new record didn’t live up to my expectations, “Reflektor” thankfully did, as it became one of the band’s greatest anthems.
1. “Get Lucky [ft. Pharrell Williams & Nile Rodgers]Daft Punk

No one would have guessed that electronic house duo Daft Punk would make such a huge comeback. After years of hiding from the public image, Daft Punk transpired back into the music scene early this year with a catchy 10-second snippet of music that got people’s attention. Was it new material? Was there going to be a new album? What was Daft Punk doing exactly? Luckily, our questions (and prayers) were answered when the French duo presented the full version of that snippet as “Get Lucky,” which featured an unexpected pair of artists: R&B singer Pharrell Williams and Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers. Surprisingly, “Get Lucky” was able to harmoniously blend Pharrell’s flawless vocals and Rodgers’ stylish guitar riffs with Daft Punk’s electronic-infused beats, making it one of the hottest songs of the year and, possibly, of the decade. Unsurprisingly, Daft Punk is pretty good at establishing their club-friendly jams as cultural phenomenons (2002’s “One More Time” and 2005’s “Technologic”). But nevertheless, Daft Punk garnered an intrigue from listeners and critics, in terms of how they approached the promotion of “Get Lucky,” as well as their innovative fourth record, Random Access Memories. It also showed us that Daft Punk is not only great at making timeless music, but at making old-fashioned instrumentals sound brand new.

Hope you enjoyed this year’s list of Top 50 Songs! Here’s to another great year in music in 2014! Below is the Spotify playlist that contains the Top 50 songs (except for “Control,” “Chain Smoker,” “Suit & Tie,” and “The Way”). But you’ll most likely be able to find each song off Spotify, YouTube, iTunes, and other websites.  

Top 50 Albums of 2013

50. The Wack Album – The Lonely Island
Listen to this album if you like: Saturday Night Live, Bo Burnham, frap (“fake rap”), Garfunkel & Oates 
Best tracks: “Dramatic Intro,” “Go Kindergarten,” “3-Way (The Golden Rule),” “YOLO”
49. Volume 3 – She & Him
Listen to this album if you like: The Smiths, The Pipettes, Best Coast, Kate Nash, Camera Obscura, Regina Spektor
Best tracks: “I’ve Got Your Number, Son,” “Never Wanted Your Love,” “I Could’ve Been Your Girl,” “Turn to White”

48. Anything in Return – Toro y Moi
Listen to this album if you like: Washed Out, Neon Indian, Wild Nothing, Flying Lotus, Mac DeMarco
Best tracks: “Harm in Change,” “Say That,” “Cola,” “Cake”

47. Yours Truly – Ariana Grande
Listen to this album if you like: Mariah Carey, Ciara, Selena Gomez
Best tracks: “Honeymoon Avenue,” “Baby I,” “Piano,” “The Way” 

46. New Moon – The Men
Listen to this album if you like: Parquet Courts, Iceage, Merchandise, Metz, No Age, Titus Andronicus
Best tracks: “Half Angel Half Light,” “High and Lonesome,” “Electric,” “I See No One”

45. Long Live A$AP – A$AP Rocky
Listen to this album if you like: Schoolboy Q, Drake, 2 Chainz, Kendrick Lamar, ASAP Ferg
Best tracks: “Long Live A$AP,” “Goldie,” “PMW,” “Wild for the Night”

44. Static – Cults
Listen to this album if you like: Sleigh Bells, Chvrches, Best Coast, Phantogram, Haim
Best tracks: “I Know,” “I Can Hardly Make You Mine,” “Keep Your Head Up,” “No Hope”

43. Wolf – Tyler, The Creator
Listen to this album if you like: Odd Future, Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt, A$AP Rocky, Captain Murphy
Best tracks: “Awkward,” “48,” “Colossus,” “IFHY”

42. …Like Clockwork – Queens of the Stone Age

Listen to this album if you like: Them Crooked Vultures, Nine Inch Nails, Foo Fighters, the Dead Weather
Best tracks: “I Sat by the Ocean,” “My God is the Sun,” “Fairweather Friends,” “I Appear Missing”

41. Afraid of Heights – Wavves
Listen to this album if you like: Best Coast, FIDLAR, Surfer Blood, Ty Segall, Black Lips
Best tracks: “Sail to the Sun,” “Demon to Lean On,” “Afraid of Heights,” “Hippies is Punks”

40. Cupid Deluxe – Blood Orange
Listen to this album if you like: FKA twigs, Darkside, Sampha, Mutual Benefit, Solange
Best tracks: “Chamakay,” “You’re Not Good Enough, “Chosen, “On the Line”

39. My Name is My Name – Pusha T
Listen to this album if you like: Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Rick Ross, Clipse, Big Sean
Best tracks: “King Push,” “Numbers on the Boards,” “Hold On,” “Nosetalgia”

38. Muchacho – Phosphorescent

Listen to this album if you like: My Morning Jacket, Father John Misty, Fleet Foxes, Foxygen
Best tracks: “Sun, Arise!,” “Song for Zula, “A Charm/A Blade,” “A New Anhedonia”

37. Mbv – My Blood Valentine

Listen to this album if you like: Sonic Youth, Deerhunter, Smashing Pumpkins, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Best tracks: “Only Tomorrow,” “If I Am,” “New You,” “Nothing Is”

36. Repave – Volcano Choir

Listen to this album if you like: Bon Iver, Gayngs, Darkside, Mutual Benefit, The Head and the Heart
Best tracks: “Tiderays,” “Acetate,” “Comrade,” “Alaskans”

35. The Terror – The Flaming Lips

Listen to this album if you like: Animal Collective, of Montreal, Deerhunter, Spiritualized, Yo La Tengo
Best tracks: “Be Free, A Way,” “You Lust,” “The Terror,” “You are Alone”

34. Fade – Yo La Tengo

Listen to this album if you like: Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr.
Best tracks: “Ohm,” “Well You Better,” “Cornelia and Jane,” “The Point of It”

33. Obsidian – Baths

Listen to this album if you like: Gold Panda, Shlomo, Blue Hawaii, Majical Cloudz
Best tracks: “Worsening,” “Miasma Sky,” “Ironworks,” “No Past Lives”

32. Wondrous Bughouse – Youth Lagoon

Listen to this album if you like: Wild Nothing, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Local Natives
Best tracks: “Through Mind and Back,” “Mute,” “Dropla,” “Daisyphobia”

31. Overgrown – James Blake
Listen to this album if you like: Flying Lotus, Jai Paul, Bon Iver, The xx
Best tracks: “Overgrown,” “Life Round Here,” “Retrograde,” “To the Last”

30. Walkin on a Pretty Daze – Kurt Vile

Listen to this album if you like: Mac DeMarco, Real Estate, Deerhunter, Mikal Cronin, Cass McCombs
Best tracks: “Wakin on a Pretty Day,” “Girl Called Alex,” “Never Run Away,” “Shame Chamber”

29. Reflektor – Arcade Fire

Listen to this album if you like: The Talking Heads, Radiohead, Franz Ferdinand, Vampire Weekend, the National
Best tracks: “Reflektor,” “We Exist,” “Here Comes the Night Time,” “Afterlife”

28. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels
Listen to this album if you like: Killer Mike, El-P, Danny Brown, Big Boi
Best tracks: “Run the Jewels,” “Banana Clipper,” “36” Chain,” “Get It”

27. Government Plates – Death Grips

Listen to this album if you like: Danny Brown, Madvillain, Deafheaven, punk rap music
Best tracks: “You Might Think He Loves You For Your Money…,” “Anne Bonny,” “Birds,” “Whatever I Want (F**k Who’s Watching)”

26. Hummingbird – Local Natives

Listen to this album if you like: The National, Ra Ra Riot, Youth Lagoon, Fleet Foxes, Volcano Choir
Best tracks: “You & I,” “Heavy Feet,” “Breakers,” “Wooly Mammoth”

25. Old – Danny Brown

Listen to this album if you like: Freddie Gibbs, Purity Ring, A$AP Rocky, Pusha T, Run the Jewels
Best tracks: “25 Bucks,” “Dubstep,” “Dip,” “Kush Coma”

24. Trouble Will Find Me – The National

Listen to this album if you like: Local Natives, Arcade Fire, The Antlers, Interpol
Best tracks: “I Should Live in Salt,” “Fireproof, “Sea of Love,” “Pink Rabbits”

23. This is….Icona Pop – Icona Pop
Listen to this album if you like: Charli XCX, Lorde, AlunaGeorge
Best tracks: “I Love It,” “We Got the World,” “Ready for the Weekend,” “All Night”

22. Doris – Earl Sweatshirt

Listen to this album if you like: Odd Future, Tyler, the Creator, Frank Ocean, Danny Brown
Best tracks: “Burgundy,” “Sunday,” “Hive,” “Chum”

21. Slow Focus – Fuck Buttons

Listen to this album if you like: Darkside, Factory Floor, Gesaffelstein, The Field
Best tracks: “Brainfreeze,” “The Red Wing,” “Prince’s Prize,” “Hidden X’s”

20. The Electric Lady – Janelle Monae

Listen to this album if you like: Solange, Outkast, Prince, Erykah Badu 
Best tracks: “Q.U.E.E.N.,” “Electric Lady, “Primetime,” “Dance Apocalyptic”

19. Woman – Rhye

Listen to this album if you like: Autre Ne Veut, Jessie Ware, James Blake
Best tracks: “Open,” “The Fall,” “One of Those Summer Days,” “Woman”

18. Night Time, My Time – Sky Ferreira

Listen to this album if you like: Charli XCX, Lorde, Icona Pop, Haim
Best tracks: “Boys,” “24 Hours,” “I Blame Myself,” “You’re Not the One”

17. True Romance – Charli XCX
Listen to this album if you like: Marina & The Diamonds, Icona Pop, Sky Ferreira
Best tracks: “Nuclear Seasons,” “You (Ha Ha Ha),” “Take My Hand, “You’re the One”

16. Twelve Reasons to Die – Ghostface Killah

Listen to this album if you like: Wu-Tang Clan, Raekwon, RZA, Nas, Method Man
Best tracks: “Beware of the Stare,” “Rise of the Black Suits,” “Blood on the Cobblestones,” “I Declare War”

15. The 20/20 Experience – Justin Timberlake
Listen to this album if you like: Timbaland, Drake, Jay-Z
Best tracks: “Pusher Love Girl,” “Suit & Tie, “Tunnel Vision,” “Mirrors”

14. Acid Rap – Chance the Rapper

Listen to this album if you like: Joey Bada$$, Earl Sweatshirt, Action Bronson, Childish Gambino
Best tracks: “Good Ass Intro,” “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” “Everybody’s Something,” “Chain Smoker”

13. Anxiety – Autre Ne Veut

Listen to this album if you like: Rhye, How to Dress Well, Majical Cloudz
Best tracks: “Play by Play,” “Counting,” “Promises,” “A Lie”


12. The Next Day – David Bowie

Listen to this album if you like: Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, The Velvet Underground
Best tracks: “Dirty Boys,” “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” “Valentine’s Day,” “If You Can See Me”

11. Psychic – Darkside

Listen to this album if you like: Nicolas Jaar, King Krule, James Blake
Best tracks: “Golden Arrow,” “Sitra,” “Paper Trails,” “The Only Shrine I’ve Seen”

10. MCII – Mikal Cronin

Despite his obscurity and lack of presence in music today, rock artist Mikal Cronin has released one of this year’s liveliest records. His bubbly sophomore album, MCII, takes Cronin to new heights, as he delivers a fantastic arrangement of endlessly catchy tunes. As a whole, the album maintains a relentless amount of energy, thanks to Cronin’s vivacious vocals and passionate guitar playing. Coming back from his praiseworthy self-titled debut in 2011, Cronin’s excellent work ethic continues to show, especially on the album’s loud and lurid opener “Weight.” Throughout the rest of MCII, Cronin displays powerful themes of heartbreak and existentialism through his evocative lyrics. Though most of his songs are consistently up-tempo jams, Cronin isn’t afraid to show his softer side, especially on the album closer “Piano Mantra.” After listening to MCII, it’s clear why Cronin has become (or, really, should become) an integral part of popular rock music currently.      

Best tracks: “Weight,” “Shout It Out,” “Peace of Mind,” “Piano Mantra”
Listen to this album if you like: The National, Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, Kurt Vile

9. Bankrupt! – Phoenix

Phoenix has had quite the breakout after winning a Grammy Award, producing two #1 smash hits, venturing on four world tours, and headlining the Coachella Music Festival. Since their 2009 breakthrough Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the Versailles quartet has accumulated critical acclaim for their synth-heavy sound and hypnotic lyrics, especially from their most popular successes “Lisztomania” and “1901.” Next to Daft Punk, Phoenix is one of the very few French music groups that have assimilated with American culture and thus redefined the foundation of American music as a result. Four years since their last album, Phoenix’s equally anxious and excited feelings about fame, glamour, and celebrity culture manifested into Bankrupt!, a record that’s far different from its predecessor but exceptional on its own. Though it’s more style over substance, Bankrupt! offers a more ecstatic and jovial tone than previous Phoenix albums.

Best tracks: “Entertainment,” “The Real Thing,” “SOS in Bel Air,” “Trying to Be Cool”
Listen to this album if you like: Passion Pit, The Strokes, Vampire Weekend, Two Door Cinema Club

8. AM – Arctic Monkeys

British rock group Arctic Monkeys have experienced a series of genre shifts throughout their eleven-year career. From post-punk to electronic to alternative pop to grunge rock, Arctic Monkeys have had a lot of time to experiment with music, but not a lot of time to focus on one central sound. But as luck would have it, they released their most consistent (as well as most commercially successful) record to date. On AM, Arctic Monkey’s fifth album, the English foursome seamlessly bring forth a stronger and bolder sound that highlight each member’s musical abilities. Lead vocalist Alex Turner’s infectious warble benefits each song greatly, especially on slow jams “No. 1 Party Anthem,” and “I Wanna Be Yours.” On AM’s more energetic tunes, Arctic Monkeys pulsate their addictive indie rock sound with snappy drums and compelling guitar riffs, particularly on album highlights “R U Mine?” and “Fireside.” Ultimately, though, I can say that Arctic Monkeys should continue to be rendered as one of the decade’s most influential rock bands.
Best tracks: “Do I Wanna Know?,” “R U Mine?,” “No. 1 Party Anthem,” “Fireside”
Listen to this album if you like: The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, The Vaccines

7. Nothing was the Same – Drake
Unlike Drake’s previous star-studded and musically diverse records, this year’s Nothing Was The Same conveys a much more personal and introspective palette of music. On Drake’s fourth record, the 27 year-old Canadian rapper provided his audience with much darker themes and sharper beats, such as on the aggressive “The Language,” the aptly titled “Worst Behavior,” the slick “All Me,” and the steamy love ballad “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” Based on Drake’s lyrical and musical strengths on Nothing Was The Same, the rapper continues to show himself as a leading man in hip hop music today.
Best tracks: “Tuscan Leather,” “Worst Behavior,” “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” “All Me”
Listen to this album if you like: Jay-Z, The Weeknd, Jhene Aiko, Big Sean, Pusha T

6. Days are Gone – Haim

Surprisingly, 2013 has also been a big year for new female bands and musicians. Whether it’s Charli XCX and her stylish debut True Romance or Icona Pop and their dance-infused record This is…Icona Pop, one female band that seems to lead the pack is LA-based trio Haim. Although the Haim sisters have had some unsuccessful setbacks in their career, they caught their big break with their masterful debut Days are Gone. Filled with magnetic hooks and an audacious sound, Days are Gone proves not only to be a huge feat in modern folk-rock music, but that Haim’s gifted talent is one to be reckoned with.
Best tracks: “Falling,” “Forever,” “The Wire,” “Days are Gone”
Listen to this album if you like: Fleetwood Mac, Sleater-Kinney, Wild Flag, Speedy Ortiz

5. The Bones of What You Believe – Chvrches

Swedish synthpop band Chvrches (pronounced “churches”) unknowingly entered 2013 with what would become one of this year’s more groundbreaking and colorful debuts. Pulsating with a peppy electronic sound, resonant vocals, and bold lyrics, Chvrches’ The Bones of What You Believe provides listeners with an authentic and rich listening experience.
Best tracks: “The Mother We Share,” “Gun,” “Lies,” “Recover”
Listen to this album if you like: AlunaGeorge, Purity Ring, Cults, Lorde

4. Settle – Disclosure

After slowly surfacing online in 2011 with their first EP The Carnival, British electro-duo Disclosure easily became one of this year’s hottest bands with their breakthrough studio debutSettle. Using elements of trance, pop, electronic, and dance, Disclosure brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence have masterfully molded Settle into an hour-long set of breathtaking jams, which includes the snappy opener “When a Fire Starts to Burn,” the remarkable “Latch,” the slinky “White Noise,” and the bouncy “You & Me.” As Settle’s prominence garnered much more attention for Disclosure, it also prompted the duo to venture on a worldwide tour, occupy a spot on the Coachella lineup, and receive a nomination for Best Dance Album for the 2014 Grammy Awards.
Best tracks: “When a Fire Starts to Burn,” “Latch,” “White Noise,” “You & Me”
Listen to this album if you like: Chvrches, Daft Punk, Jessie Ware, Flume

3. Random Access Memories – Daft Punk
Ever since Daft Punk’s small beginnings in the early 90s, the French electronic duo have been adept to creating arresting visuals for their elaborate live performances, donning stylish robot costumes, and collaborating with some of the industry’s best musicians. Returning to music from out of the blue this year made for one of the biggest comebacks for Daft Punk, especially after the release of their last album, 2005’s disappointing Human After All. Though their new record, the imaginative Random Access Memories, is a slight departure from the duo’s club-friendly sound, Daft Punk’s top-notch craft is nevertheless commendable. Melding the themes of human connection and love with a multi-faceted assortment of funk, disco, pop, and rock, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories reminds us that there is still magic in music.
Best tracks: “Giorgio by Moroder,” “Instant Crush,” “Get Lucky,” “Doin’ it Right”
Listen to this album if you like: Chic, Pharrell Williams, Animal Collective, The Strokes, Disclosure

2. Yeezus – Kanye West
Last May, Kanye West made one of the most bizarre and possibly the most ingenious moves of his entire career: he promoted an album without any initial commercial advertisment. In this case, West unleashed the song “New Slaves” to the public, displaying it visually on the sides of apartment buildings in different areas around the world. This event marked a radically different chapter in West’s discography, prompting both excitement and anxiety from Kanye fans. After Kanye performed “New Slaves” and new track “Black Skinhead” on Saturday Night Live, the 36-year-old hip hop artist released Yeezus a month later. Although Yeezus has received mixed reactions from fans for its overly aggressive and unconventional style, it’s nevertheless a monumental artistic achievement for West, especially after collaborating with mogul music producer Rick Rubin. Moody, abrasive, and unrelentingly provocative, Yeezus is not only some of Kanye West’s best work to date, but also a distinguished paradigm of modern issues, such as racism, materialism, sexuality, pop culture, and the perils of fame. Musically, Yeezus incorporates a rawer sound, using acid house synthesizers, industrial music, Jamaican dancehall, and experimental post-punk. Though Yeezus only lasts for about 40 minutes, each song enforces a timeless and lasting effect that continues to rank West as one of the most powerful zeitgeists in music and in social media currently.
Best tracks: “Black Skinhead,” “New Slaves,” “Bound 2,” “Blood on the Leaves”
Listen to this album if you like: Kanye West (because why not?)

1. Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend

After making two records, it seemed as though Vampire Weekend were inevitably stuck with their pigeonholed indie rock sound, despite receiving critical acclaim and a massive following of fans. However, this year, all four band members took the extra mile to produce the group’s most unique and daring album to date, Modern Vampires of the City. In this new album, Vampire Weekend enhanced their foreseeable sound by experimenting with different genres and production techniques. With bewitching lyrics written by lead singer Ezra Koneig and a flawless production, Modern Vampires of the City is an unpredictably insightful, heartwarming, and mesmerizing album that incorporates diverse sounds without losing sight of some of the band’s old practical rhythms. The record encompasses much more complex storytelling, darker themes, and unusual recording assets than from the group’s self-titled debut and sophomore effort Contra. Vampire Weekend has come a long way from being soft-spoken Columbia University undergrads to a musically acclaimed band, proving that their sensibility shouldn’t be underestimated by their youth.
Best tracks: “Obvious Bicycle,” “Unbelievers,” “Diane Young,” “Ya Hey”
Listen to this album if you like: The Vaccines, Discovery, Arcade Fire, Haim, Radiohead


Top 40 Films of 2012

Here are the list of the best and most fantastic films released over the past year, ranging from comedies,, action-adventures, thrillers, and dramas:

40. Think Like a Man
Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, some crude humor, and brief drug use
Director: Tim Story (“Barbershop”)
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Hart, Gabrielle Union
Synopsis: A feel-good romantic comedy about a group of young twentysomethings finding love in odd and hilarious ways.

Consensus: Although it contains a formulaic plot, Think Like a Man is a likable, sympathetic look at modern romance, led by an attractive and emotionally satisfying cast.  

39. Prometheus

RatedR for sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language
Director: Ridley Scott (“American Gangster,” “Blade Runner,” “Alien”)
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassenbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce
Synopsis: In the distant future, a group of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind, leading them to a frightening and eerie venture into the dark depths of the universe. 

Consensus: Despite its attempt to recreate a similar feel to Alien and its anticipated sci-fi ambiguity, Prometheus displays some incredible elements: heart-pounding intensity, chaotic violence, fast-paced direction, and an engaging albeit complex plot.    


38. Ted

Rated: Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use
Director: Seth MacFarlane (creator of “Family Guy”) 
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane, Joel McHale
Synopsis: A stoner comedy about the adventures of a young guy living with his trash-talking teddy bear, Ted, whom he had magically wished could talk one Christmas morning as a kid. 

Consensus: Yes, we know, it’s Seth MacFarlane’s debut film and it’s pretty predictable, but give credit to the fact that he actually does a pretty good job of providing irreverent and pervasive comedy with surprising heart and mellow sentimentality.


37. The Amazing Spider-Man

RatedPG-13 for sequences of action and violence
Director: Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”)
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Dennis Leary, Martin Sheen
Synopsis: A young Peter Parker receives radioactive powers, produced by a mutated spider, causing him to shoot webs and detect danger. His newly discovered abilities transform into the superhero Spider-Man.

Consensus: Although The Amazing Spider-Man contains similar material to its predecessors and some undone plot points, it succeeds with a grabbing script, stylized direction, and an acceptable lead performance from Garfield as the everyday neighborhood Spider-Man.

36. We Need to Talk About Kevin

Rated: R for disturbing violence and behavior, some sexuality and language
Director: Lynne Ramsay (“Movern Callar”)
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller
Synopsis: A psychological thriller about a depressed mother who struggles to connect with her estranged, teenage son, only to realize that he might be plotting against her.

Consensus: Dark, frightening, and almost too intense, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a scarier yet engaging take on the mother-son relationship, providing audacious performances from Swinton and Miller, who plays the troubled Kevin.

35. Celeste & Jesse Forever

Rated: R for language, sexual content and drug use
Director: Lee Toland Kreiger (“The Vicious Kind”)
Starring: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood
Synopsis: A feel-good rom-com about a young divorce couple, who try to maintain a steady friendship while pursuing other people.

Consensus: Celeste & Jesse Forever triumphs from its outstanding lead performances from both Jones and Samberg, as well as their undeniably compatible chemistry. 


34. Men in Black 3

RatedPG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and brief suggestive content
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld (“Get Shorty”)
Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin
Synposis: The third sequel to the sci-fi comedy, Men in Black III revolves around Agent J (Smith), who travels back in time on a mission to protect his friend and mentor, Agent K (Jones and Brolin), from being murdered by an alien. 

Consensus: Much improved from its predecessor, Men in Black III is a delightfully entertaining and refreshingly funny sequel, providing a unbelievably well-suited Brolin performing as a younger Jones. 

33. Chronicle

RatedPG-13 for intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking
Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jorda
SynposisWhilst attending a party, three high school friends gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery underground. Soon, though, they find their lives spinning out of control and their bond tested as they embrace their darker sides.

Consensus: Although some may think that the found-footage filmmaking is amateur, Chronicle is nevertheless an enthralling and thought-provoking sci-fi drama, brought on by a clever script and a young cast.

32. Pitch Perfect

Rated: PG-13 for sexual material, language and drug references
Director: Jason Moore (“Dawson’s Creek”)
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson
SynposisBeca (Kendrick), a freshman at Barden University, is reluctantly persuaded into joining The Bellas, her school’s all-girls singing group. Injecting some much needed energy into their repertoire, The Bellas take on their male rivals in a campus competition.

Consensus: Coming off as one of 2012’s funniest, brightest, and spunkiest musical comedies, Pitch Perfect is a charming rom-com, succeeded by its wonderful cast, engaging performances, and a surprisingly hilarious breakthrough for newcomer Rebel Wilson. 


31. Rust and Bone

RatedR for strong sexual content, brief graphic nudity, some violence and language
Director: Jacques Audiard (“A Prophet”)
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts
SynposisPut in charge of his young son, a trouble street fighter leaves Belgium for Antibes to live with his sister and her husband as a family. His bond with Stephanie, a killer whale trainer, grows deeper after Stephanie suffers a horrible accident.

Consensus: Deep, sensual, and engrossing, Rust and Bone is a classic and beautifully told love story about troubled and conflicting romance.


30. Flight

RatedR for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence
Director: Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump”)
Starring: Denzel Washington, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman
SynposisAn airline pilot saves a flight from crashing, but an investigation into the malfunctions reveals something troubling.

Consensus: Flight is both a tense action thriller and an intriguing character study, triumphed by Denzel Washington’s dedicated acting.


29. Frankenweenie

RatedPG for thematic elements, scary images and action
DirectorTim Burton (“Alice in Wonderland,” “Corpse Bride”) 
Starring: Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Landau
SynposisYoung Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.

Consensus: Although it’s not as refreshing as Corpse Bride, Frankenweenie is another delightful animation by Burton, through its creative storytelling, dark characters, and charm. 

28. The Sessions

RatedR for strong sexuality including graphic nudity and frank dialogue
Director: Ben Lewin
Starring: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy
SynposisA man in an iron lung, who wishes to lose his virginity, contacts a professional sex surrogate with the help of his therapist and priest.

Consensus: Although The Sessions is rather unusual thematically, it never wavers with its appealing cast, kinky humor, and emotional depth. 
27. Compliance

RatedR for language and sexual content/nudity
Director: Craig Zobel
Starring: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy
SynposisWhen a prank caller convinces a fast food restaurant manager to interrogate an innocent young employee, no-one is left unharmed.

Consensus: Both groundbreaking and perceptive, Compliance delivers a fascinating and disturbing outlook on strip search prank call scams, as well as suspenseful dialogue and committed acting.

26. Brave

RatedPG for some scary action and rude humor
Director: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Starring: Kelly MacDonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson 
SynposisDetermined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.

Consensus: Although it’s not the best Pixar movie and its material is similar to How to Train Your DragonBrave still delivers beautiful animation, a touching story, and plenty of excitement to entertain kids.

25. ParaNorman

RatedPG for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language
Director: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
SynposisA misunderstood boy takes on ghosts, zombies and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse.

Consensus: Paranorman can be compared to other stop-motion flicks, such as Monster House, but still brings forth fantastic animation, a solid script, and genuine scares for both younger and older kids.

24. Wreck-It Ralph

RatedPG for some rude humor and mild action/violence
Director: Rich Moore
Starring: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch
SynposisA video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.

Consensus: Colorful and charming, Wreck It Ralph is filled with fantastic animation, nostalgic references, and cute humor that both parents and children will love. 


23. Your Sister’s Sister

RatedR for language and some sexual content
Director: Lynn Shelton
Starring: Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt
SynposisIris (Blunt) invites her friend Jack (Duplass) to stay at her family’s island getaway after the death of his brother. At their remote cabin, Jack’s drunken encounter with Hannah (DeWitt), Iris’ sister, kicks off a revealing stretch of days.

Consensus: One of this year’s most underrated indie films, Your Sister’s Sister subverts cliché romantic melodramas with an interesting plot, delightful acting, and a loving sentiment. 

22. Amour

RatedPG-13 for mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language
Director: Michael Haneke
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert
SynposisGeorges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are in their eighties. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter (Isabelle Huppert), who is also a musician, lives abroad with her family. One day, Anne has an attack. The couple’s bond of love is severely tested.

Consensus: Amour is an elegant and beautiful portrait of love, struggle, and passion that is embodied by its riveting leads, lovely script, and endearing message.


21. Smashed

RatedR for alcohol abuse, language, some sexual content and brief drug use
Director: James Ponsoldt
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer 
SynposisA married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of alcohol gets their relationship put to the test when the wife decides to get sober.

Consensus: Smashed delivers vivid authenticity, powerful performances from Paul and Winstead, and an insightful disclosure about the troubles with alcohol.

20. Beasts of the Southern Wild

RatedPG-13 for thematic material including child imperilment, some disturbing images, language and brief sensuality
Director: Benh Zeitlin
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, and Levy Easterly
SynposisFaced with both her hot-tempered father’s fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.

Consensus: Imaginative and wondrous, Beasts of the Southern Wild is both a poetic, visual masterpiece and an insightful story, from the view of a child, played magnificently by newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis

19. The Master

RatedRated R for sexual content, graphic nudity and language
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” “There Will Be Blood”)
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
SynposisReturning from Navy service in World War II, a drifter enters into several breakdowns. Finally he stumbles upon a cult which engages in exercises to clear the emotions. He becomes deeply involved with them, but becomes concerned when it changes everything fundamental in his life.

Consensus: Enigmatic, beautifully directed, and superbly acted, The Master is a psychological drama that mixes dark humor with unwavering melodrama, which is achieved through both insight and absurdity. 

18. The Cabin in the Woods

RatedR for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language, drug use and some sexuality/nudity
Director: Drew Goddard
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Richard Jenkins, Sigourney Weaver
SynposisFive friends go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods, where they get more than they bargained for. Together, they must discover the truth behind the cabin in the woods.

Consensus: Providing all the elements to a classic horror tale, The Cabin in the Woods is a sadistically funny and frightening monster flick. 

17. The Dark Knight Rises


Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language
Director: Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight series, “Inception”)
Starring: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Morgan Freeman
SynposisDespite his tarnished reputation after the events of “The Dark Knight”, in which he took the rap for the crimes of hero-turned-villain Harvey Dent, Batman is once again compelled to avenge Gotham and its police force which is struggling to cope with madman Bane’s plans to destroy the city.

Consensus: Although it doesn’t live up to the standard of its predecessor, The Dark Knight Rises is a triumphant, ambitious, and intense conclusion to the Batman thrillogy.

16. The Hunger Games

RatedPG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images – all involving teens
Director: Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit,” “Pleasantville”)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Huctherson, Liam Hemsworth
Synposis: In a futuristic America, young Katniss Everdeen voluntarily takes her younger sister’s place in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death in which two teenagers from each of the twelve Districts of Panem are chosen at random to compete.

Consensus: Aside from its controversial thematic material, The Hunger Games provides action-packed sequences (albeit slightly disturbing), an engaging story, and an earnest performance from Lawrence as the endangered Katniss Everdeen.

15. Looper

RatedR for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content
Director: Rian Johnson (“Brick,” “The Brothers Bloom”)
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels
SynposisIn 2074, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gun awaits, the targets called loopers. A looper named Joe one day learns the mob wants to ‘close the loop’ by transporting back Joe’s future self.

Consensus: Despite its complex plot, Looper offers stylish violence, stern dialogue, and a great, although unlikely, duo, comprised of Willis and Gordon-Levitt.

14. Safety Not Guaranteed

RatedR for language including some sexual references
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson
SynposisThree magazine employees head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel.

Consensus: Another undervalued indie rom-com, Safety Not Guaranteed brings forth a refreshing script, heartfelt story, and charm from both Plaza and Duplass.

13. Lincoln

RatedPG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language
Director: Steven Spielberg (“War Horse,” “Munich,” “Jaws”)
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones
SynposisAs the Civil War continues to rage, America’s president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield and as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.

Consensus: While Lincoln is overlong and slightly flawed, Daniel Day-Lewis’ effervescent performance strikes an uncanny resemblance to the 16th president. In addition, Lincoln‘s meaningful essence and relevance towards slavery and freedom, as well as its committed cast and thorough script,  is undoubtedly bold and captivating.

12. Les Miserables

Rated: PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence, and thematic elements
Director: Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Russell Crowe
SynposisIn 19th-century France, Jean Valjean, who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert after he breaks parole, agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s daughter, Cosette. The fateful decision changes their lives forever.

Consensus: Despite its endless length and occasional bombastic material, Les Miserables is a heart-wrenching visual masterpiece, as well as a riveting adapted musical brought on by wonderful performances, dramatic vibe, and captivating direction.  

11. 21 Jump Street

RatedR for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug material, teen drinking and some violence 
Director: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube
SynposisA pair of underachieving cops are sent back to a local high school to blend in and bring down a synthetic drug ring.

Consensus: One of this year’s funniest buddy-cop films, 21 Jump Street is a hilarious modern spin on the famous 80s crime show, with plenty of nostalgic themes, intriguing characters, an impeccable script, and uproarious performances from Hill and Tatum. 

10. Life of Pi

RatedPG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril
Director: Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”)
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan
SynposisA young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with a fearsome Bengal tiger.

Consensus: Beautifully filmed, visually enchanting, and almost too good to be true, Life of Pi is a sincere adaptation from the supposedly “unfilmable” hit survival novel. 

9. Seven Psychopaths

RatedR for strong violence, bloody images, pervasive language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use
Director: Martin McDonaugh (“In Bruges”)
Starring: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken
SynposisA struggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu.

Consensus: Seven Psychopaths is a darkly funny, sadistic crime comedy that dispatches plenty of crazy violence, clever dialogue, and character development.  

8. Django Unchained

RatedR for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity
Director: Quentin Tarintino (“Inglorious Basterds,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Kill Bill”)
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson
SynposisWith the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.

Consensus: Another entry into Quentin Tarintino’s genius yet controversial collection of ultra-violent films, Django Unchained is gritty, brutal, and sometimes cringing to watch, but it’s nevertheless impeccably acted, solidly scripted, artistic, and bold.

7. Zero Dark Thirty

RatedR for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language
Director: Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”)
Starring: Jessica Chastian, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt
SynposisA chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May, 2011.

Consensus: Daring, fervent, and culturally relevant, Zero Dark Thirty is a bona fide action thriller that brings the Osama bin Laden manhunt to light with gripping sequences and open-minded perception. 

6. Silver Linings Playbook

RatedR for language and some sexual content/nudity
Director: David O. Russell (“The Fighter”)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker
SynposisAfter a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano (Cooper) moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany (Lawrence), a mysterious girl with problems of her own.

Consensus: It’s not exactly the most effective rom-com, but Silver Linings Playbook‘s best moments are insightful, endearing, and filled with passionate acting, careful direction, and a well-written screenplay. 

5. The Avengers

RatedPG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johanson, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans
SynposisNick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of super humans to form The Avengers to help save the Earth from Loki and his army.

Consensus: The Avengers might just be the ultimate superhero film of modern cinema, but it also displays heart and depth from each character, as well as satisfying action sequences, a meticulously put-together plot, and even some humor.

4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

RatedPG-13 for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references, and a fight – all involving teens
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller
SynposisBased on the novel written by Stephen Chbosky, 15-year-old Charlie (Lerman), an endearing and naive outsider, copes with first love, the suicide of his best friend, and his own mental illness while struggling to find a group of people with whom he belongs. The introvert freshman is taken under the wings of two seniors, Sam (Watson) and Patrick (Miller), who welcome him to the real world. 

Consensus: An instant coming-of-age classic, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a sincere adaptation from the teenage novel reinforced by its astonishing leads, humorous script, sentimentality, and sensitive direction from writer-director Stephen Chbosky. 

3. Moonrise Kingdom

RatedPG-13 for sexual content and smoking
Director: Wes Anderson (“Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Rushmore,” “The Darjeeling Limited”)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton
SynposisA pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.

Consensus: Aside from its over-quirkiness, Moonrise Kingdom is not only a poignant and aesthetic portrait of young love, given its colorful feel, intricate detail, whimsy, and devoted acting, but possibly director Wes Anderson’s best and most distinctive out of his unconventional films.

2. Skyfall

RatedPG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking 
Director: Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Revolutionary Road”)
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Naomi Harris, Judi Dench
SynposisBond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her, bringing MI6 under attack.

Consensus: Perhaps the best Bond film and much improved from its forerunner, Skyfall is a fantastic spy drama, an insightful and intimate look at the esteemed 007, and an overall emotionally satisfying motion picture.

1. Argo


Rated: R for strong violence and language
Director: Ben Affleck (“The Town,” “Gone Baby Gone”)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman
SynposisA dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran.

Consensus: Compelling, enthralling, bold, and unwavering, Argo is brought on by an outstanding star-studded cast, breathtaking intensity, and an immaculate script. It possibly Ben Affleck at his best, directing wise, and should be taking all the Oscar glory this coming year.

Note: Although I’ve seen most of the movies listed, I have not seen all of them. For the ones that I have not seen yet, I hope to see soon. My critiques on them are based off of movie trailers, rottentomatoes.com, and imdb.com.