This month I’m reviewing the Best Of 2016. Everyone loves lists come year’s end and although 2016 as been a fucking nightmare, there were some great works that came out this year. I’ll be doing a Best Of TV, Best Of Movies, Best Of Books, and today’s Best Of Music. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts so feel free to comment here or harangue me over on Twitter or on my Facebook page.
It’s impossible to create a definitive list of the best albums of the year, because there is too much variety and richness. However, we all love year end lists. There are big name stars and long time artists who’ve released great work this year. But they’re not going to be lacking in year end coverage, so what I want to present here is a kind of indie list. Well, as much as one can…
So here are the twelve plus one albums I consider to be the best of 2016, in no particular order.
1. David Bowie, Black Star
The loss of Bowie hurt me. I’ve never felt a celebrity death matter to me but death of David Bowie emotionally crippled me for several weeks (and it seems, set the tone for this dumpster fire of a year). I’ve wrote about this album and can’t say there are favorite tracks, I tend to listen to it as a complete whole.
2. Childish Gambino, “Awaken, My Love!”
This is the most recent release on my list. I can’t get enough of Donald Glover & you’ll probably see his show Atlanta on my Best Of TV list coming soon. This new album is a new direction for Glover, a kind of Stevie Wonder meets Prince filtered through hiphop, and the whole album is tender, fun while being serious, and gives me a positive feeling.
Favorite tracks: “Boogieman,” “Riot,” “Redbone” & “Stand Tall”
3. Savages, Adore Life
The sharpness of Savages cuts deep. The vocals remind me of Siouxsie Sioux in her punk youth. Unlike most indie or alt rock bands, Savages composes songs that are urgent and serious rather than being muddied by the folk/emo posturing that has whitewashed rock music over the last ten years.
Favorite tracks: “Evil” & “Surrender”
4. The Jezabels, Synthia
“Stand & Deliver” is this album’s seven and half minute opener successfully setting the tone for this brilliant album combining momentary pop sentiment with operatic surge swirling around sophisticated lyrics and vocals that cut to the bone. I am in awe of this group and am convinced they’d be amazing to see live.
Favorite tracks: “Love Is My Disease,” “Smile,” & “Pleasure Drive”
5. Eliot Sumner, Information
This year I discovered Eliot Sumner’s Information, an album that hit all my Peter Gabriel buttons. There is a profound prog rock vibe in this album and a kind of 80s throwback to TheThe, Kate Bush, and the aforementioned Gabriel (his first four albums). But make no mistake, Sumner hasn’t made a retro album.
Favorite tracks: “Dead Arms & Dead Legs,” “Halfway to Hell,”
6. Tacocat, Lost Time
I’ve written about this band before, but let me say that as a 40 year old I have RiotGrrl & grunge as part of my foundational aesthetic. But what I love the most about this album is how it does Liz Phair better than she did. Quick, heavy, and playful with biting in its lyrics, Lost Time is the fantastically fun album.
Favorite tracks: “You Can’t Fire Me, I Quit,” “The Internet,” & “Talk,” “Leisure Bees”
7. Swet Shop Boys, Cashmere
After the election, this album found its way into my rotation. Heavy rotation because I was angry–I’m still depressed. This duo’s beats get into your blood and their lyrics seduce. It’s been a long time since a hiphop album was militant.
Favorite tracks: “T5,” “Aaja-Ali Sethi,” & “Half Moghul Half Mowgli”
8. Greg Laswell, Everyone Thinks I Dodged a Bullet
Another post-election salve, Laswell’s title track has become my theme song for the passed two months and won’t be leaving anytime soon. The entire album makes me feel like this is a sort of male version of Lana Del Rey, which is needed, sultry compositions that darken and lighten in tandem at once melodramatic love longs but also existential crises.
Favorite tracks: “Everyone Thinks I Dodged a Bullet,” “Lifetime Ago,” & “Take It Easy”
9. Madame Gandhi, Voices EP
& Vince Staples, Prima Donna
I’m putting these two together because they aren’t really full albums. Yet both are too damn good to ignore or not include. Madame Gandhi (Kiran Gandhi) has a syrupy voice making the wonderful stuttering percussion of her tracks leaving you to revel and get lost in your mind. Prima Donna from Vince Staples is a great album because it is both raw and polished in every track. Staples has not just a gift for lyricism but a style that is deceptively casual and intense.
Madame Gandhi–“Yellow Sky” & “Her”
Vince Staples–“War Ready,” “Loco,” & “Pimp Hand”
10. Tobacco, Sweatbox Dynasty
Instrumental, ambient, tech, or orchestrated works are rarely represented on Best Of lists. I’ve done a poor job here of celebrating groups and musicians who are actually making purely or nearly so compositions. We just can’t escape songs. Tobacco’s album is not a difficult one to listen to, one that pushes you to refine your ear (although, I would argue the album does do this subtly which is why it’s a success). Rather, Sweatbox Dynasty lures you into thinking you’re just listening to some fun tech with experimental moments.
Favorite tracks: “Gods in Heat,” “Warlock Mary,” & “Fantasy Trash Wave”
11. The KVB, Of Desire
I can’t apologize for my love of this style of music. The KVB have captured and improved upon the new wave of Echo & the Bunnymen and Jesus and Mary Chain as well as the quasi-goth of the late 80/early 90s. I’m a sucker for it. Of Desire is a great album of guitar swirls, synth walls, and echoing drums guided by grumbled lyrics.
Favorite tracks: “Night Games,” “Silent Wave,” “In Deep,” & “Mirrors”
12. The Coathangers, Nosebleed Weekend
Like Tacocat, The Coathangers are a superb rock band. But unlike Tacocat, The Coathangers are less playful and more aggressive. This album is an all the windows in the car turned down, volume on the stereo turned up kind of album. You blare this to let folks know your coming and what kind of mood you’re in.
Favorite tracks: “Down Down”
What if Taylor Swift didn’t fucking suck & was a grown ass woman? The answer is Ladyhawke’s Wild Things.
Speaking of grown ass women, Betty Black’s Valley Low will cut you.
Imagine if Courtney Barnett was seen for the fraud she is and replaced with a genuine talent? That talent would be Eleanor Friedberger and her album New View.
Kedr Livanskiy’s January Sun is an album that listens like a novel, a beautiful, soaring, and difficult stream of consciousness novel.
Any Fool Can Regret Yesterday from Baulta should be one of your go-to instrumental albums.
The Pack a.d., a killer duo, has a new album worth more than a casual listen, Positive Thinking.
Nice As Fuck‘s self titled debut is a promising album with the track “Door” being one of most uplifting rock tunes I’ve yet heard.
If you’re into 80s post-punk and 90s lad music, then Teleman’s Brilliant Sanity is too fun.
Similarly, if the 4AD record label decided to have a kid with Lilith Fair you’d get You Say Party, whose self titled debut is well worth listening to.
What if Billy Idol had been Vince Clarke’s best friend and then joined Duran Duran? Welcome to Body of Light’s Let Me Go.
Escondido’s Walking With a Stranger is what every musician in Nashville who’s not trying to do country-pop ought to aspire to.
If you liked this article, then consider supporting me via my Patreon site. Even a small pledge helps.
This article was made possible thanks to support from my patrons:
Nathaniel E. Baker