2016 was a son of a bitch. Rest in peace Leonard Cohen, Prince, David Bowie, Phife Dawg, Sharon Jones, Merle Haggard, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, etc., not to mention all the social injustice and unrest, but I digress. One good thing is there was an abundance of great music released this year, and so there’s no way I could limit it to ten and feel okay about it. Here are my top 20 albums of the year.
20. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
What a comeback, and for great reason; Phife was the catalyst for this album ever happening. What a way to go out and what a tribute.
19. Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp
Not typically my type of thing, it wasn’t until I heard the live Audiotree versions of these songs that they really caught on. Great, light, feel-good music.
18. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – I Had A Dream That You Were Mine
Two great indie musicians came together and it didn’t disappoint. Great vocals and great production, as if anything else was possible with these two.
17. Nothing – Tired of Tomorrow
A great follow up to a debut album that I listened to like crazy back in 2014. No sophomore slump for Nothing, just more towering, enveloping shoegaze.
16. Woods – City Sun Eater in the River of Light
I knew I would like this one but I didn’t realize I’d like nearly as much as I did. Great, funky, bluesy riffs and along with all the other things that have made Woods one of the most consistently good indie bands of the millennium.
15. Conor Oberst – Ruminations
Stripped down music is what this man was made for, so those poignant vocals and clever, satiric lyrics can shine through.
14. The Amazing – Ambulance
Along the lines of the Nothing album I mentioned above, just a bit more dialed in, and industrial which is something I’ve always had an ear for. This album sets a mood and forces you into it.
13. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
This is probably the one album on here that I recognize as really good that I didn’t listen to as much as the others. It’s great, there’s no doubt about that, but it didn’t click with me completely, or it hasn’t yet. Sometimes these things take time, you should definitely listen to it.
12. The Body – No One Deserves Happiness
Loud, aggressive, in-your-face, punishing, world-destroying walls of sound. Delicious.
11. Operators – Blue Wave
Time to fuckin’ dance. “Cold Light” is my runner up for song of the year.
10. David Bowie – Blackstar
Only Bowie would release and album this good and die two days later. Unreal, just like everything he ever did.
09. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
Only Cohen would release and album this good and die three weeks later. Unreal, just like everything he ever did. Legends like these last two will live forever, and as well they should.
08. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
I seem to like each Bon Iver album ever so slightly less than the previous one, which is still leaps and bounds above most bands’ output. His voice is the golden ticket, and even here when he chops it up and distorts it, it’s something to behold.
07. DMA’S – Hills End
This was my album of the late spring/early summer. Great times were had at the pool with beers in hand while this thing was playing. Love the vocal melodies. The live Spotify sessions are great stripped down versions; “Step Up the Morphine”, “Blown Away”, “Delete”, “Lay Down”; this thing is packed.
06. Deftones – Gore
One of my favorite bands ever, this was a shoe in due to my bias. I think the experiments with different song structures and ideas paid off for them. It wasn’t as easily accessible as they’ve always been, but once I cracked the code I could’ve get enough. The title track is a blood curdling scream-fest, and how Chino still belts those things out after all this time is something that should not go unnoticed.
05. Russian Circles – Guidance
This is another of my favorites, but because of this band’s style and niche I think they’ll always succeed, and since they got ahold of me early on in their careers and my adulthood, I will always cherish them. “Afrika” is among their best songs ever.
04. Pinegrove – Cardinal
Of anything on this list, this is the album that grew on me the most. I nearly outright dismissed it, but over time it really started to resonate with me to the point that I think it’s probably the album I’ve listened to the most. It’s great front to back, something that will stay with me for a long time to come.
03. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Another of my favorite bands of all time (I’ve had a good year, at least music wise). I’d put this near the middle of Radiohead’s catalog; nothing generation defining like before but very accessible and immediately enjoyable. The excitement that came with finally hearing studio versions of “True Love Waits” and “Identikit” most assuredly gave my opinion of this one a boost.
02. Frank Ocean – Blonde
There is so much going on in this one; so many textures, shifts, changes, experiments. Mr. Ocean very well could’ve made another album full of pop songs with the catchiest of hooks and blow the fuck up, but he chose to be an artist instead. This left turn has been compared to what Radiohead did with Kid A after their massive success (and one of the best albums ever) with OK Computer, and I think that comparison is a good one. I like when artists don’t do what the mass public wants them to, because fuck what you think you want, it’s about the art. “Nights” is my song of the year.
01. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
I knew this was going to be my album of whatever year it came out in as soon as I heard about the passing of Cave’s son in July of 2015. All the beautiful and torturous stories he has told so elegantly throughout his career have shaped my life. Everything this man says, the simplest conversations, have the chance to be thought-provoking poetry. Words and conveying emotions are his gift, and so I knew this was going to be one of the heaviest pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It didn’t disappoint, and I wrote about it length here. The first two thirds will crush you, and the last third will give you a slight glimmer of hope. The title track closing it out the way it does gives me chills every time. 2016 was deathly year, and who else could possible take the throne and fill it like a king other than Nick Cave?
Marching Church – Telling It Like It Is
Emma Ruth Rundle – Marked For Death
Mind Spiders – Prosthesis
Wussy – Forever Sounds
Young Thug – No, My Name is JEFFERY
Kendrick Lamar – untitled.unmastered
Holy Esque – At Hope’s Ravine
Pinkshinyultrablast – Grandfeathered
Shearwater – Jet Plane and Oxbow
Vince Staples – Primma Donna EP
The Strokes – Future Present Past EP