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Staff Picks: Zo’s 16 Best Albums of 2016

Staff Picks: Zo’s 16 Best Albums of 2016

Staff Picks: Zo's 16 Best Albums of 2016

4. Francis and The Lights – Farewell, Starlite!

If you’d never heard of Francis Starlite before 2016, we couldn’t possibly hold you accountable. The man is a question wrapped in a lux choir of his own electrified vocal clones. The years since his aptly-titled debut EP, Striking, have seen him collaborate with Drake, support MGMT and Mark Ronson on tour, score a critically-acclaimed sci-fi comedy and join Chance The Rapper‘s Social Experiment, contributing to Chano’s deceptively dark in memoriam. He’s found fans and friends in Benny BlancoJustin Vernon and Kanye West, all of which contributed to his stellar 2016 project, Farewell, Starlite! The guest list is impressive, no doubt, but the record’s so much more than Starlite warming his hands by the homies’ fire. It’s the cumulative product of nearly a decade’s labor (of love,) a contortion of pop’s rigid structures, bending them to the will of 90s r&b licks and sprawled-out synth beds on ballads that mourn time’s ruthlessness and lovelorn funk frolics, equally ripe for that top-down cruise into the sunset. The type of record scores your most head-over-heals moments. It also happens to hold one of the year’s most uplifting hymns within (“Friends.”) You may not have known his name going into 2016, but you’ll have a tough time forgetting it coming out.

5. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

Presuming that many of you have lost your faith in Yeezus by now. Perfectly fine, reasonable even. But if the album as we know it is no more, Kanye’s to blame. And it maybe his biggest creative feet to date. Pablo is pure, unhinged, probably-off-his-meds madness. And despite the god complex, it’s deeply human. Slightly off-kilter, but a new kind of long-form musical body that lives and breathes with its helmer, offering a rare glance into the gears that grind inside of a mind you can’t stand to love so much. Another case of having to distance art from artist, and observe them as respective forces; a common symptom of history’s most revered works. Oddly enough, with its crutching of gospel and church-tuned musicians, Pablo almost feels like a confessional, an attempt to absolve himself of fame’s ills. Maybe he his is still mourning. But Ye’s most penetrating work has always been the product of sorrowful alchemy, the pursuit of benediction. Throw in rare collaborations with some of Stones Throw’s finest, and you’ve got the best of both Kanye’s, new and old, treating the album as a freshly-unholy thing.

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6. Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!

Let the record show that “Awaken, My Love!” was the year’s toughest sell from one of its most charming and versatile entertainers. A polarizing record for anyone with reverence for its source material, the success of Bino’s third studio album, like those that came before it, will not be determined by a critic’s keyboard. It bends and shifts into its borrowed sonic era like The Mothership in a turbulent turn towards the wormhole faking the funk at no point in its 49-minute runtime of Parliament flag flying, garnering the blessing of Starchild himself. My Love acknowledges the greats and builds around the altar, finding new spaces to slip into; an album that forces even the most stone-set snobs to take their heroes off the pedestal and just enjoy what’s before them.

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