I talked in last year’s wrap-up about how 2015 was angsty and 2014 was sad. Who knew that 2016 would be a combination of both? As the deaths of so many greats proved this year, music is a central part of human existence. It can get us through the worst of times, expose our pain, celebrate our moments of joy. I know it will play a larger part in my life next year and I’m resolving to see more shows, listen to albums outside of my typical genres and encourage art of all kinds.
[That said, I will snarkily say that the Album that Caused Me to Break Up with a Band I Once Loved this year was Bon Iver – 22 A Million. This album is like when your $4 toast (which, fuck it, may be totally hipster, but it’s delicious) increases its price to $8 & then autotunes itself.]
Anyway, from the albums that did resonate with me this year, my top 20 are below. There’s a ton of great music that came out this year and a lot not on the list that I need to revisit or spend more time with. Hopefully some of these speak to you as well.
Honorable Mentions (11-20, alphabetical, unranked):
A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
Allah-Las – Calico Review
Beyoncé – Lemonade (this probably would’ve been way higher, but I am lazy and pretty much only listen to music in Spotify)
Big Eyes – Stake My Claim
Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker
Fruit Bats – Absolute Loser
Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math
Lucius – Good Grief (I probably listened to this album the most in 2016, until things just kept getting darker and angstier and it was too poppy to include in my top 10)
Solange – A Seat At The Table (I also need more time with this and suspect it’ll increase in adoration for me as time progresses)
Top 10 Albums 2016:
This album filled the void that opened up when Heliotropes reformed. It’s raw, dirty guitar rock and got me through a lot of the rage of 2016. Also, “Royal Jelly” is my new walk on music.
The renamed Viet Cong moved up a spot from their 2015 offering. This band’s consistent darkness and brooding was much needed for a rough year.
I wasn’t in a place where this album really spoke to me this year, but another fine showing from one of my favorite artists. Wonderful to see her evolving and growing a wider audience. Really enjoyed the poppier turn on songs like “Heaven“. Can definitely see her going the direction of fellow Ohioan Chrissie Hynde.
The most upbeat album on this list, I came to this late in the year, then couldn’t stop listening. It’s ethereal and beautiful and took the edge of 2016 off a little.
I stopped writing eulogies for dead rock stars after Bowie. Who knew there’d be so many this year? This album grew on me throughout the year and with the impossible despair of the last quarter, which including the death of my beloved grandmother and the horrifying election, took on evolving personal meanings of dealing with grief and hopelessness. We can all hope to depart this world leaving such a masterpiece behind.
Speaking of my grandma, I wish I’d exposed her to this album before she passed. It’s a perfect classic country album. The lyrics are smart, tragic and hilarious all at the same time (The line “Better than the taste of a boot in your face” on “About to Find Out” harkens back to “Fist City”, my favorite Loretta Lynn song). The story told in the album pulls you in from the first line of the album and carries you through to the end.
In a year of epic, sweeping albums, this one really struck a chord with me. It’s a social commentary soul album infused with distorted guitar and gospel choirs. At times it sounds like a Pink Floyd version of What’s Going On remixed by Spiritualized.
Wish me luck/This was a hard year/And I can’t see/No brighter future. Not only does this album encapsulate so much of the general rage I felt in 2016, but it’s pretty damn good at unpacking toxic relationships. I generally keep my private life, private, but songs like “I Need Something New” expose a lot of dark spots in my psyche. I moved the top 4 on this list around quite a bit and this album could’ve easily fallen into any of the spots depending on my mood. Also those bass lines, damn.
It’s too late to articulate it/That empty feeling/You share the same fate as the people you hate. Guitar goals and pure rock n’ roll. I really regret missing the two shows in SF this year, especially since they were at smaller venues. As all the year-end reviews will tell you, this is an instant classic in the tradition of Television, Neutral Milk Hotel and Pavement.
Just like her 2014 release, Angel Olsen’s album this year sang once again the inner depths of my soul. “Never Be Mine” and “Woman” wrecked me in this artist’s now signature style, while “Give It Up” sounded like a missing track from Exile In Guyville. I’m so looking forward to seeing her for the second time at The Fillmore in February.