#CrossTheLine: The sonically extraordinary and off-center releases of 2016


 // Dec 14, 2016

Asmar Bouie // REVOLT

REVOLT's Year End Review kicked off this week, as we explored the #FirstTake debut projects that knocked it out of the park and the #RestUp albums that were unexpected and underrated. But today, we honor the ones that were sonically out of this world.

Through sound, newer artists made fearless moves to make a name for themselves, and more established artists shed their signatures to explore and experiment. All in all, the were the ones to see a constraining boundary and #CrossTheLine. Here are REVOLT's picks for the artists (and albums) that pushed and pulled to make sure things were slightly off-center.

Childish Gambino, 'Awaken, My Love!'

Childish Gambino, 'Awaken, My Love!"

Much like Bruno Mars’ recent LP, 24K Magic, Gambino’s album exists inside a multitude of genres. Unlike the eighties and nineties eras that Mars surfed through for his project, Gambino opts for the vibrations of the 60s and 70s. After bouncing around in psych rock and funk, “Riot” distinctly sounds like a Blaxploitation jam that you might catch Fred Williamson walking to on Malcolm X Boulevard. Meanwhile, “Stand Tall” sprinkles a selection of samples that are easy to miss: a thumping bassline, borrowed from René & Angela’s “Imaginary Playmates” (famously sampled by Jay Z) appears with recurring splashes of “Strawberry Letter 23” layered throughout. When all the elements are added together, it’s obvious there’s a magnetic kinship holding Awaken together and the energy built throughout the eleven tracks help keep the navigation of the album intact and is beautiful in execution. — Rob Hansen

Anderson .Paak, 'Malibu'

Anderson .Paak, Malibu

It would be easy to dismiss Anderson .Paak as an overnight success or even a heart-warming rags-to-riches story. Yes, .Paak's fame, prosperity, and musical profile have grown extraordinarily this past year, but he's anything but a short-lived sensation. While his third album, Malibu, is a sonically-pleasing, beautiful work of brilliance, it's also a vivid delineation of the many tribulations he's endured. His childhood was marred by his father’s routine abuse of his mother and subsequent incarceration. As an adult, .Paak suffered through a divorce, lost his job, and lost his home. He went from being broke and homeless to getting Grammy nods and world tours. Yet, .Paak's most successful project—much like the artist himself—is more complex than the cliched narrative we'd like it to be. Malibu is a remarkable reflection of pain, love, and hope. And if it must fit in any of our simplistic and overused storylines, let it be the endearing tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve greatness. Art imitates life. — Morgan McDaniel

Danny Brown, 'Atrocity Exhibition'

Danny Brown, Atrocity Exhibition

For his fourth studio album, Danny Brown took things a step further from his star-making 2013 album Old, creating what can arguably be considered the sole definition of his category. On Atrocity Exhibition, Brown warps, bends, pulls, and pushes the boundaries for what is undoubtedly his most fully realized (and best) project to date. Like the sonic composite to "Mad Max," Brown dives into an engrossing musical map that is hued by post-punk silt and chards of electronic elements, which all in all finds the one-man show leading the trip through his signature outré style and raw emotion. And the award for this year’s most thrilling release goes to…— Ralph Bristout

Bon Iver, '22, A Million'

Bon Iver, 22, A Million

Back in 2012, Bon Iver beat out the likes of Nicki Minaj, J. Cole and Skrillex for Best New Artist at the Grammys and, upon frontman Justin Vernon taking the stage to accept the award, spawned the #WhoIsBonIver trending topic and many a furrowed brow of confusion. He was a folk-rock indie darling the mainstream masses hadn't yet been introduced to. But then we heard him on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy's "Monster" and "Lost In the World," and on Yeezus' "Hold My Liquor" and "I'm In It" and, well, the world got familiar. But on 22, A Million, gone is the pained acoustic guitar that made him so popular and in its place are experimental electronics; doctored and distorted vocals; synths and samples that are all somehow still deeply steeped in soul. It sounded at once exploratory and accessible. And it completely gave reason to why just earlier this year Kanye West called Vernon his "favorite living artist." — Danielle Cheesman

Duckwrth, 'I'm Uugly'

Duckwrth, I’m Uugly

From his aesthetic to his auditory offerings, Duckwrth is defiantly individual. Therefore, I’m Uugly lives in a genre all its own, one the artist has labeled “funkwave.” Duckwrth explained to REVOLT that he “hears in color.” I'm Uugly, with its groove and R&B-tinged melodies, starts along the spectrum of baby blue and pink, then segues into red and splashes of purple, as the funk and rock vibrations start to rage. If that doesn’t make sense to you, it’s because his music isn’t built for easy categorization. It's aural color therapy, as Duckwrth sees himself as not rapper or artist, but designer, using all the tools of expression at his disposal. — Driadonna Roland

Blood Orange, 'Freetown Sound'

Blood Orange, Freetown Sound

Dev Hynes himself likened his third effort as Blood Orange to that of a “long mixtape” but, more than that, it played out like a borderless collage, a hodge-podge of sounds, stories, and ideas--the kind you’d easily encounter within a day in a big city: jazzy horns fit for a busking street performer; snippets of poetry slams, street chatter, TaNehisi Coates speeches, and Black Lives Matter protests; and homages to his parents hometowns of Sierra Leone and Guyana. All this, within a sonic landscape where no two consecutive songs sounded the same, where 80s pop and R&B, trip-hop, disco funk, tropical grooves, ballads, synths, and soul all lived equally, even if disjointedly. —DC

Young Thug, 'Jeffery'

Young Thug, Jeffery

After putting the rap world in a frenzy over a rumored name change (No, my name is Jeffrey) and splaying his skills via a slew of release (I’m Up, Slime Season 3, and Bankroll Mafia with T.I.), including a leaked drive of unreleased music hitting the net, Thugger wowed rap fanatics and critics with Jeffrey, arguably his most cohesive (and coherent) effort to date. Over the course of 10 tracks, Thugger delivers an undeniable highlight. From the brooding "Floyd Mayweather" to the infectious earworm that is "RiRi" and the indisputable hit "Pick Up the Phone" with Quavo and Travis Scott, the ATLien makes an ingenious transition from oddball "mumble rap" exemplar to master craftsman — with a "future swag". —RB

REVOLT's 2016 Year-End Review: #FirstTake | #RestUp | #CrossTheLine | #NoRules | #SimplyTheBest | #BreakingGround | We Need To Talk About Drake's 'Views' | Best Music Videos

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