Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Playing along at home with Pitchfork's top 50 albums of 2016


Attempting to rank this year’s selections for Pitchfork’s top 50 albums of the year will be a tough one in 2016: They did away with the listing of their 20 albums' “Honorable Mentions” which otherwise would have made a solid asteroid belt of the implicit #70-51 spots on the top 50; it’s always been surprising to find what made it into this purgatory. 

Another Conde Nast-era first was the publishing of 5 lists of 20 albums selected from broader genre tracks in “the year in [genre]” format. So, one might assume that all 50 albums would fit into these 100 picks; at least one high-profile, highly-ranked entry (ANOHNI) has not shown up in these lists. It could be an oversight, but it could also be some kind of weird statement; we’ll see what ends up happening with that. My money’s on ANOHNI still making it into this list. That said, Pitchfork blew it on FDT, so I shouldn’t be surprised either way.


OK, so after far too much time spent gathering and ordering these albums, here’s my best attempt to predict what the Pitchfork Best Albums list will look like this year.

50. Cass McCombs – Mangy Love 8.1 NM
49. Noname – Telefone 8.0 NM
48. Sheer Mag – III EP 8.3
47. Vince Staples – Prima Donna 8.0 NM
46. Ariana Grande – Dangerous Woman 7.6 NM
45. dvsn – Sept. 5th 8.3
44. Weyes Blood – Front Row Seat to Earth 8.3
43. NxWorries – Yes Lawd! 8.2
42. White Lung – Paradise 8.4
41. Anna Meredith – Varmints 8.4
40. YG – Still Brazy 8.0 NM
39. Schoolboy Q – Blank Face LP 8.3
38. Kevin Morby – Singing Saw 8.3
37. Parquet Courts – Human Performance 8.4
36. Joey Purp – iiiDrops 8.2
35. Kaytranada – 99.9% 8.0 NM
34. James Blake – The Colour in Anything 8.2
33. Hamilton Leithauser / Rostam – I Had a Dream That You Were Mine 8.3
32. The Avalanches – Wildflower 8.5
31. G.L.O.S.S. – Trans Day of Revenge 8.5
30. Whitney – Light Upon the Lake 8.3
29. Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution 8.6
28. Porches – Pool 8.3
27. Jamila Woods – HEAVN 8.4
26. Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch 8.3
25. Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing 8.5
24. Kamaiyah – A Good Night in the Ghetto 8.2
23. Mitski – Puberty 2 8.5
22. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered. 8.6
21. Young Thug – JEFFERY 8.5
19. Kevin Gates – Islah 8.5
18. Rihanna – ANTI 7.7 NM
17. Nicolas Jaar – Sirens 8.7
16. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree 9.0
15. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition 8.5
14. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial 8.5
13. Anderson .Paak – Malibu 8.6
12. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound 8.8
11. Angel Olsen – My Woman 8.8
10. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker 8.5
9. Bon Iver – 22, A Million 9.0
8. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool 9.1
7. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo 9.0
6. David Bowie – Blackstar 8.5
5. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service 9.0
4. Frank Ocean – Blonde 9.0
3. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book 9.1
2. Solange – A Seat at the Table 8.7
1. Beyonce – Lemonade 8.5

It’s worth noting that the top 10 here (especially the top 3) are unusually flexible. It’s tough to anticipate what weighting they’ll give to their highest ranked, the most successful, the most important records on this list. One metric I sometimes use is the number of songs from each album which found their way into the Best 100 tracks list, though one question mark here were the songs list’s many inclusions from TLoP potentially belying the haphazard quality of the album they came from. Each of the top handful of records in this rundown accomplish such great things in different ways.

It’s also worth noting that it’s currently 11:20 AM on the morning of this list’s release and nothing’s been spoiled for me yet. Phew! Here we go:


50. 21 Savage / Metro Boomin – Savage Mode
Just as always, I do like to intentionally begin with a 0% correct guess rate so I can shoot for “most improved.” (not listed)

49. Porches – Pool
Ouch!!!! OK, so to explain the notation going further, this one was a whopping 21 points lower [not numerically, but further from the ‘top’] than I’d guessed (#28) so I’m going to end this by writing ‘-21’. For reference, this is very bad. (-21)

48. Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing
Oh, very cute, Pitchfork!! Groan (-23)

47. Kamaiyah – A Good Night in the Ghetto
Geez. Well, maybe I’m just not calibrated right—I did guess that this and “Next Thing” would be in direct succession, for what it’s worth. (-23)

46. Pinegrove – Cardinal
Oh god, I’m so out of touch with this publication! How did this happen? (perhaps: redesign, rebranding, refocus. I mean, BRAND NEW got a Best New Track this year. Am I the establishment now?) How could I have known this would make the cut while The Hotelier [probably?] didn’t? (not listed)

45. William Tyler – Modern Country
A great album! But a surprising inclusion since this site has paid him such sparing attention.  (not listed)

44. Kevin Gates – Islah
Platinum, 25 points off, and with no features! How did he do it? And where did I go so wrong? (-25)

43. Weyes Blood – Front Row Seat to Earth
Over the years, this list does seem to have a sweet spot in the #50-36 range for quality songwriters that didn’t fill up newsfeeds with promo and antics. At least this one wasn’t an upset to that tradition. (+1)

42. Vince Staples – Prima Donna
Another sort of release that tends to populate the first 15 or 20 blocks: smart, concise EP releases. (+5)

41. Huerco S. – For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)
AS IS THE CASE for one or two ambient albums (excluding whichever Tim Hecker/Grouper/OPN-style crossover lp ‘made it’ that year). I wasn’t sure which albums in this category to include because they can be tricky to predict and pull from the true wealth of great ambient/understated lps that are released every year to little fanfare on this site. (not listed)

40. Vijay Iyer / Wadada Leo Smith – A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke
And the streak continues!! To be clear, I am not saying these albums aren’t deserving, but I just always have to groan a bit when Pitchfork throws inclusions from genres they don’t cover into their year-end list to display the breadth not present in their website’s coverage. (not listed)

39. Moodymann – DJ-Kicks
Bury me!! (not listed)

38. Schoolboy Q – Blank Face LP
*pokes head out from shallow grave* “Is the coast clear?” (+1)

37. KING – We Are KING
“Nope!!” [this one was my fault, though. This albums slaps] (not listed)

36. Jamila Woods – HEAVN
Blame the 9 point gap on my Chicago-centric optimism. (-9)

35. Hamilton Mixtape / Rostam – I Had a Dream That You Were Mine
In which I giddily read aloud as “Lei-tha-au-ser Ham-il-ton” distract myself from addressing the fact that the writeup for this album’s inclusion references the Byrne+Eno albums (-2)

34. Kevin Morby – Singing Saw
Wow, nice! I am happy to see this here. I was sort of expecting this to be dropped to a lower rank, but it really is a fantastic album. (+4)

33. Maxweell – blackSUMMERS’night
I have to be honest, I took this off my list of predictions because I haven’t listened to it. I’ll have to listen to it. That said, in the vein of the Hamilton/Rostam writeup, the writer chooses “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” as a reference point and hyperlinks to the Pitchfork artist page for Erik Satie (lol). Could he have picked anything more imposing? (not listed)

32. Elza Soares – A Mulher do Fim do Mundo
Bury me pt. 2 (This album slaps though, so great.) I do feel vindicated by the wealth of surprises in this list, which is clearly more a distinct entity from their regular reporting than it’s been in years past. (not listed)

31. Whitney – Light Upon the Lake
I’m so bewildered by this list I can hardly even be excited about my near-perfect guesses (-1).

30. Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution
Hey, another pair of albums that ended up next to each other (this and Whitney), but this time only one spot off their actual slot! (-1)

29. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – EARS
Wow! As I wrote in yesterday’s track writeup, I haven’t heard this yet, but I’m really excited based on the song that I heard yesterday. (not listed)

28. NxWorries – Yes Lawd!
Ooh, a fifteen-point bump-up. I wonder if there will be many more of those in the next ten songs to balance out all of the early-listed tracks I’d thought would be between 27 and 18. (+15)

27. Noname – Telefone
Yooooo. Very interesting that this occupies the same slot I thought Jamila Woods would be in. So much for Chicago optimism. (+22)

26. Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Seriously??? (+11)

25. Kaytranada – 99.9%
At this point I’m very curious if I lost my touch or if the list became harder to predict.

24. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
And at this point! For reference, Kaytranada’s album had an 8.0 rating and no BNM and Car Seat Headrest had an 8.5, BNM, and much more coverage throughout the year. I enjoyed Kaytranada’s album more, but don’t tell anyone. (-10)

23. Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch
Not bad! I did bump this up to #26 in my rankings because the songs list had Jenny Hval in the #22 spot. (+3)

22. YG – Still Brazy
Wow, another upset (by a deserving album!) Here’s another lp that didn’t get a Best New Music, which should prove to the remaining holdouts that the title doesn’t mean anything [anymore?] (+18)

21. Young Thug – JEFFERY
Phew, eeking out another perfect placement.


So, were my attempts to pick #50-21 much better than random picking? I’d maintain that they were, despite the frustrating number of picks that I had that were ~20 points off and the number of picks which didn’t appear anywhere on my list of predictions. Still, it was tough to pick between the sort of extraordinary wealth of great full-length releases.

In an also-noteworthy point in the “better than random picking” column, I do want to assert that only 2 of the albums I anticipated for slots #20-1 appeared in the #50-21 listing; these were clearly the ‘critical faves’ insofar as they were, in the context of Pitchfork’s coverage, contenders for the top ranked records of the year. Time will tell whether my rankings within these 20 slots were haphazard or informed by any sort of intentional placement.


20. Nicolas Jaar – Sirens
Jilted in the song rankings, this was still a good contender for the top albums due to its fantastic immersive qualities—despite the confusion that ensues after pressing play on the album and hearing silence for a bit too long. (-3)

19. Rihanna – ANTI
I was happy to even remember this in the rankings, but I just remembered that I forgot to include Views in my ranking. I would be surprised if it didn’t make it, but could I get in trouble by having pitched an album for a top 20 spot without it even making the list? Looking at the items just out of my top 20 guesses, I already see two notable entries I’d be shocked to not see included: Mitski and Kendrick. Hmm. (-1)

18. Mitski – Puberty 2
Whooooa! I just looked around the room and see no ghosts who could have looked over my shoulder and rearranged the list to send me a cosmic message, and that is a relief. That means we’re down to just Kendrick and the remaining 16 of my top-20 picks, which is encouraging—but if there’s even one surprise inclusion, that means one of these 17 didn’t make the list at all. Shudder (+5)

17. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
Ok, fair. This album is fairly remarkable, though. (-7)

16. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.
WOOw we’re getting into it!! The bases, as they say, are loaded. Please, no surprises!! (+6)

15. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
This is actually getting pretty exciting. And to think I’d given up on trying to do this! (+1)

14. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
God, this album is so good. (-2)

13. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
NO WHAMMIES!!! It was good to be Anderson .Paak this year. (0)

12. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
This was a great listen, but there were so many deeply meaningful full-length releases this yeah that there was never much of a chance for abstraction. (-3)

11. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
This solidifies ANOHNI in a >=10 point bump up, which I’m very happy with. Thanks for taking one for the team, Danny Brown (this is to say that I’d love a Anohni+Brown collab. It almost feels possible. (+4)


With ten albums left on this list, here’s a reiteration of the albums I’m leaving in contention for these spots. I’m pretty firm on them, though obviously the key omission is this album’s #1-selling contemporary release, Drake’s “Views”. In lieu of doing a ‘re-rack’, I’ll keep the listing positions I initially selected for these albums:

Yet-Unchosen Selections that likely won’t make it:
50. Cass McCombs – Mangy Love 8.1 NM
48. Sheer Mag – III EP 8.3
46. Ariana Grande – Dangerous Woman 7.6 NM
45. dvsn – Sept. 5th 8.3
42. White Lung – Paradise 8.4
41. Anna Meredith – Varmints 8.4
36. Joey Purp – iiiDrops 8.2
34. James Blake – The Colour in Anything 8.2
32. The Avalanches – Wildflower 8.5
31. G.L.O.S.S. – Trans Day of Revenge 8.5

Here are the likely top ten in Pitchfork’s album list:
11. Angel Olsen – My Woman 8.8
8. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool 9.1
7. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo 9.0
6. David Bowie – Blackstar 8.5
5. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service 9.0
4. Frank Ocean – Blonde 9.0
3. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book 9.1
2. Solange – A Seat at the Table 8.7
1. Beyonce – Lemonade 8.5


10. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
See the note under Bon Iver’s spot for a rationalization for this low ranking for one of the two albums to receive the highest point rating of 2016, 9.1/10. No one is here to listen to your sadness, Thom! (-2)

9. Angel Olsen – My Woman
Woosh! God, I hope ANOHNI is next so I’ll have gotten the top 7 right. (+2)

I APPRECIATE THIS ALBUM’S USE OF ALL CAPS BECAUSE IT REFLECTS MY EXCITEMENT. I’m relieved to see it in a much higher placement than I anticipated; I was thrown off due to Pitchfork’s bizarre exclusion of this album from any of their genre-based ‘Top 20s’ lists. Come on Pitchfork, it’s time to start using more than 14% of your brain.


Note: This is probably where everything will fall apart. Let’s see.


7. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service
I love it. I also love typing the album title because it feels like I’m commenting on someone’s Instagram post. (-2)

6. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
I initially thought this might end up in the top slot; instead, it fits well in this slot—though TLoP was the great smash-hit-that-could-have-been with some more restructuring, Coloring Book also had a solid ten minutes it would’ve done better without. I think the selfish thing (from my listener’s perspective) I feel is that concept-heavy artists sometimes seem to deign to acknowledge that when one, say, includes a 5.5 minute arrangement of “How Great Is Our God,” their listeners have to listen to it every time they play the album. (-3)

5. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
See the above take on fat-trimming, but replace “How Great is Our God” with “Silver Surfer Intro”, “Facts”. That said, as with Chance’s mixtape, this is a tremendous album full of tremendous songs. It’s weeeeeeell worth the skip-through moments. (+2)


OK, here we go. Four albums left, and I am unsure as ever that I picked the right order for them.


4. David Bowie – Blackstar
It’s easy to make “Blackstar” into something most albums here are not: a marker of a distinct point in history rather than the foundation for a future legacy. This makes a strange puzzle of the task of comparing it to other releases; how objectively can we compare the capstone of an oeuvre to the pinnacle of another? What can we learn about a publication from their end-of-year ranking of this album amongst 2016 releases by more of-the-moment musicians? (+2)

3. Beyonce – Lemonade
Oh god!!! And as much as I want to say that this minor upset makes clear that Solange will take home #1, I’m increasingly unsure what even to BELIEVE anymore (-2)


Very dramatic pause


2. Frank Ocean – Blonde
Aaaahhh!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ahhhh!!!!! It should be noted that the last time I incorrectly guessed Pitchfork’s album of the year was 2012, when I thought Channel Orange would narrowly beat out Good Kid M.A.A.D City before finding those rankings would be reversed. (+2)

1. Solange – A Seat at the Table
So good, so 2016. While Beyonce’s album was an incredible step forward for her output, A Seat at the Table was perhaps a more constructive document of its environment; though it had a focus on the self, it was perhaps more outward in its approach than Lemonade. Also, I dunno, the songs and the overall album were amazing. (+1)

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