Much like the 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 entries: Here it is – my Top Ten of ’16, starting with 10 and working up to the top spot. I’ll also list my favorite and second favorite track from the album, that way you can try to get a glimpse into what sounds I truly like.
WARNING: I did more than the typical 10; I chose 16 because it is a nice square number (best for photos) and because it matched the year… oh, and maybe because there were a bunch of good releases.
16. 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
15. 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
14. Sims – “More Than Ever”
Not a bad way to follow up a masterpiece of an EP (Field Notes). Sims still throws his fair share of barbs at the establishment, status quo, and all of the things that oppress/bring stagnation, but the top-notch production and music make the message stand back just a tad – plus, maybe that’s maturity and his take at being a bit more subliminal.
Stand-out track: OneHundred
13. Zao – “The Well-Intentioned Virus”
They’re back! After a few years in hibernation, the band delivered on their promise to return with that brutal force that Zao is known for. This LP is much closer in sound and style to The Funeral Of God, but do not fear, they do not rest of a pile of rehashed ideas and sounds.
Stand-out track: Jinba Ittai
12. 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
11. 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
10. Brain Tentacles – “Brain Tentacles”
Metal is not exactly known for the two things that make this album so wickedly lovable; saxophone and a sense of humor. Let’s start with the sense of humor; this is not a comedy album or one written with only jokes and cliches, but rather a serious album that knows when to take itself seriously and when to use meta-like jokes to not get too heady. Then there is the saxophone, which replaces the staple shredding metal guitar. I’d describe more, but I’d never do it justice. Just take a listen.
Stand-out track: Hand of God
9. You Blew It! – “Abendrot”
I didn’t expect to fall so hard for an “emo” album, but here I am and having this in heavy rotation, as it soundtracks the closure of this shitty year. But the thing is, this emo album isn’t your stereotypical emo – it gives hope and is sonically beautiful and dynamic. The days of whiny pop-punk emo have passed, and if this second wave takes after this album, a more refined emo, based off of Pinkerton and modern-day indie-rock, is the new path.
Stand-out track: Sundial Song
8. 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
7. Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
You wanted rap? You’ll be disappointed, and probably the only person who could be disappointed with a record like this. Donald Glover’s metamorphosis into legit funk and soul singer is more than complete on this album. I am so glad I got into Maggot Brain so deeply this year, because this thing oozes with influence from that album, among other funk and soul sounds of that era.
Stand-out track: Me And Your Mama
6. 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
5. 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
4. Frankie Cosmos – “Next Thing”
Looking for the best indie-pop record of 2016 (and maybe this decade)? Look no further. Frankie Cosmos (aka Greta Kline) writes Beatles-like songs for the modern day. At around 2 minutes a track (15 songs totaling 28+ minutes), her infectious hooks and great storytelling combine to make the prettiest and most naive-feeling, “warm and fuzzy” record. This album will make you feel good and transport you to that childlike state of wonder and naivety.
Stand-out track: Embody
3. 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
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
And If You’d Like To Listen To Some Of My Favorites…