With the personal chaos that has defined 2016, so too has the soundtrack mirrored said chaos. I have gravitated towards both extreme ends – diving deep into my despair then doing a complete 180 and hoping that my life can spew even a gram of the happiness expressed in a pop song. Life, death, regrowth, anger, acceptance, and escape are all part of what defines the list below…
The best music of 2016… (so far)
10. Mogwai – “Atomic”
Technically a soundtrack to a documentary film, this album definitely reflects the unstable nature of atomic energy, while exuding the life-giving nature of atoms. Not fully chaotic, this controlled experiment still hits the highs and lows expected of the godfathers of post-rock.
Stand-out track: Ether
9. Radiohead – “A Moon Shaped Pool”
Admittedly, my opinion regarding Radiohead is one of confusion at best. They have always seemed a bit pretentious and overrated (at least in the last few albums). I liked a handful of songs coming into this LP, but upon hearing ‘True Love Waits’ I could no longer deny this group. The simplicity is perfect, the emotions real, and the execution spot on.
Stand-out track: True Love Waits
8. Tegan & Sara – “Love You To Death”
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Radiohead are Tegan & Sara – the soft spot in my heart for them will more than likely never harden. T&S 2.0 took a little getting used to, but I am now completely fine with the new pop musings from this Canadian duo. Plus, ‘100x’ really speaks to my personal chaos in my life now.
Stand-out track: 100x
7. Beyoncé – “Lemonade”
I gave pop a bad image in my head. I liked the fringe pop artists (Kate Nash, Lily Allen, etc.) and even the pop rappers (Kanye, Jay-Z, etc.), but almost no Top 40 stuff. But then Beyoncé had to release this gem. Again, the personal chaos and hurt in my life led me to this album and never did I imagine I would ever identify with the Queen herself… But here I am. ‘Hold Up’ and ‘Sorry’ are incredible. Period.
Stand-out track: Hold Up
6. Anohni – “Hopelessness”
I had one Antony and the Johnsons album before picking up this solo(-ish) release. Even though I have had that one previous album (“The Crying Light”), I never really dove into it. But my search for comfort and peace led me back to that album and then into the arms of her newest journey. Antony/Anohni has such a strong political voice on this album, and even though I couldn’t see her voice paired with poppy-electronic beats, it worked. I stand behind so much of what she has to say and what she believes in; the hopelessness in our current “democracy” is a mutual feeling.
Stand-out track: 4 Degrees
5. Nada Surf – “You Know Who You Are”
These guys just keep maturing in such a peaceful and sonically pleasing way. There isn’t much that is new in terms of innovation or sound, but there is something so pleasing and rewarding when you can listen to a pop-rock group in their 40s and identify in a mature way with their lyrics. Matthew Caws seems like he wrote an album not focused on the break-up, but that strange transition period right after – the one where you find yourself, make plans and goals, and look back to hopefully learn a thing or two for next time.
Stand-out track: Victory’s Yours
4. Conrad Keely – “Original Machines”
Though this first solo release is more of a collection of songs than a standard album, the flow and path seem to be well representative of Conrad himself. Being an artist with the pen/pencil/brush as well, this album seems like a glimpse into his sketch pad of sonic portraits/paintings. At two minutes a song, even if you dislike a track (which I don’t) you don’t have to skip much to see the next sketch. Many of the ideas on here are reflective and peaceful; a true help for my running mind.
Stand-out track: Warm Insurrection
3. Death Grips – “Bottomless Pit”
Again. They did it AGAIN! This band will never release a bad album. They just won’t. Stuck between The Money Store and No Love Deep Web, these songs revisit what “poppy” side Death Grips may have. Don’t get me wrong, these tracks still come in hard and at your face, but they are also some of the catchiest and straightforward that this group could possibly make. Need to unleash and let your energy/crazy side out? Just put on “Giving Bad People Good Ideas”; it’s like a workout in 3 minutes.
Stand-out track: Giving Bad People Good Ideas
2. Weezer – “Weezer” (aka: The White Album)
The fourth self-titled release reveals that maybe, just maybe, Weezer is back? I’m a bit snake-bitten to commit to that statement, but for this batch of 10 songs the case can be made. Think of a great summer pop-rock sound and add a heaping pile of California to it (beach, cool kids, mellow attitude, and reflective hippie mantras). Once you have those pieces add some lyrics with personal substance to the mix (Thanks, Rivers!) and you have a very strong Weezer album.
Stand-out track: King of the World
1. David Bowie – “Blackstar”
While true on some levels that every song and every album is a work of art, not many can even begin to compare to this definition of the word MASTERPIECE. This album had love from day one, but by day two the artist who created it left planet Earth. The lyrics, which were already dark and deep, carried an even heavier and clearer meaning. This was Bowie’s farewell gift, his performance art piece of the grandest of scales. The title track will be the best song I hear this year, and probably in the running for best of the decade. I also do not see how another album could displace this from the top of 2016’s list.
Stand-out track: Blackstar
I have also revisited or been introduced to some music that wasn’t released in 2016. For more of what I am listening to and what is stuck in my ears this year, check out the list below.
“New” artists/albums I’ve fallen in love with in 2016:
Grimes – This is the kind of “weird pop” I love.
Antony and the Johnsons – See #6 above.
Beyoncé – See #7 above.
David Bowie – I liked his singles, but after Blackstar I decided to dig deeper.
Low – Ones and Sixes just kept growing into 2016.
Radiohead – Maybe A Moon Shaped Pool will be a launching pad?
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain. Enough said.
Beach Boys – The 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds had me revisiting just how beautiful those vocal harmonies and performances are.
Suicidal Tendencies – Their self-titles release had me opening my eyes towards punk sounds. ‘Institutionalized’ is an amazingly awesome tune.
Godspeed You Black Emperor! – Exploring more of that pleasurable post-rock sound, I picked up “F♯ A♯ ∞” and took a cool western trip.
Noose – A vegan straightedge hardcore band from Chicago?! Count me in.
And of course, the day after I release this list, a new album drops that could have easly cracked the top ten…
#?. Krishna – “Ascend to Nothing”
The collaboration between Dead Neanderthals and Drvg Cvltvre has been brewing for quite some time. Almost a year ago they shared the stage and made an experimental trance unlike anything the majority of my readers will have heard in their lifetime. I do not exaggerate; it’s a style that few have ever heard. Dead Neanderthals are an experimental jazz/grind-core sax/drum combo and Drvg Cvltvre is a self-described blend of “doomy, dark house and techno”. Together they are Krishna – a force that sounds like a dark, angry lone wasp waiting to take out its revenge, but ultimately leads you into a blissful trance.
Stand-out track: Ascend to Nothing