The 10 Best Albums of 2016 (probably)

Listen to “Ozarks at Large”

Listen to Fayetteville Flyer contributor Kevin Kinder discuss these albums and hear clips from many of them courtesy of a discussion with Kyle Kellams of KUAF 91.3 FM. The segment can be heard during the Dec. 29 edition of “Ozarks at Large,” which airs at noon and again at 7 p.m. You can also listen online.

I have used many mental metrics to determine my favorite albums of a year in the past. Which one will have the biggest impact on me? Can I call this a true “best of” list if I don’t make it through every “important” album released this year? Which releases will I continue to listen to three months from now? Which one says something to me, or captures the spirit of the year? This kind of internal debate can go on forever. For several reasons, I simplified my approach this year. The list, in descending order and moving toward the best, summarizes the albums I listened to the most in 2016, and in the process, serves as a “best of” along the way. This is my list. What’s on yours?

10. The Jayhawks – “Paging Mr. Proust”

Chief songwriter Gary Louris admitted to reading a lot prior to the assembly of The Jayhawks’ newest album, their ninth studio effort (and, yes, that reading included some Marcel Proust). But the Minnesota band has always been literally gifted, and they simultaneously pick up the pace a bit thanks to production help from Peter Buck of R.E.M. But they don’t lose their essence, either, and the first pass through is familiar and warm for long-time Jayhawks fans (like me).

9. A Tribe Called Quest – “We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service”

I after my first run through of “We Got It From Here…” I couldn’t stop listening to A Tribe Called Quest’s new album, their first in more than 15 years. It’s full of big ideas and samples and hooks. Goodness, the hooks. Listen to “Solid Wall of Sound” and tell me you’re not entranced, too.
[Warning – Explicit lyrics]

8. The Cactus Blossoms – “You’re Dreaming”

To call the brother duo The Cactus Blossoms an Everly Brothers clone sells them short. But they do sound a lot like the Everly Brothers, and that’s nothing to complain about. The duo’s first proper studio recording dives into the sounds of the 1950s, sure, but they are helping to revive the two guitars and two voices art form for contemporary times alongside acts such as The Milk Carton Kids. With The Cactus Blossoms, the harmonies are what stay with you, such as with the song “Stoplight Kisses.”

7. Angel Olsen – “My Woman”

Angel Olsen has said her third album explores the complexities of womanhood. Indeed, “My Woman” is a complex record, veering between synth pop, indie folk and elsewhere. It’s also solid start to finish. This album comes as a departure from her more indie rock oriented second album, the fantastic “Burn Your Fire for No Witness.” But her keen ear for melody and story remain, and she remains one of our most talented young songwriters.

6. Drive-By Truckers – “American Band”

The Drive-By Truckers have the pedigree of many classic American band, including deep ties to Alabama’s Muscle Shoals sound. But “American Band” is no “rah rah, go America!” kind of album. This is angry, purposeful, driven Southern rock about gun violence and Americana. It’s the band’s most focused, complete album in many years.

5. Car Seat Headrest – “Teens of Denial”

Sprawling is a good word for “Teens of Denial,” the second album on Matador Records for Car Seat Headrest after a series of more than a half dozen others released independently online. Here are a few other good words: charming, driving, angsty and raw. The brainchild of songwriter Will Toledo, the Virginia-based group crafts indie power pop with big ideas and a touch of nerdery – Toledo covered one of the songs on “Teens of Denial” in the made up Simlish language for a Sims video game(link: Car Seat Headrest exploded onto the scene this year, garnering national television appearances and repeat listens.

4. Margo Price – “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter”

Margo Price has all of the endorsements, including a release on Jack White’s Third Man Records and an appearance on “Saturday Night Live” despite “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” being her solo debut. But the other thing she possesses in bulk is talent as a songwriter and storyteller. Songs such as “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)” are throwbacks to the better days of country music radio, and Price’s twisting lyrics fit the part.

3. Michael Kiwanuka – “Love & Hate”

“Love and Hate” is an album that covers many dichotomies, and not just the classic one of the album’s title. This is soul music with doses of hope and sadness, and the critical moment of the album comes in the album’s second track, “Black Man in a White World.” Kiwanuka’s lyrics and vocals are arresting, but so too his guitar work, and you can tell he spent many years as hired studio musician. He’s the total package.

2. Sturgill Simpson – “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth”

This letter to a newborn son is also one of the more soulful pieces of music released in 2016. The outlaw country musician Sturgill Simpson did not pull the reigns for his major label debut, instead going bigger and bolder by adding horns (courtesy of all-star backing band The Dap-Kings) and covering Nirvana. It all comes together in a misfit package that’s at times rambunctious, tender and inspiring.

1. Radiohead – “A Moon Shaped Pool”

I joined the cult of Radiohead many years ago, but briefly found other music to listen to after disliking their previous album “The King of Limbs.” I fell again, and fell hard, for “A Moon Shaped Pool,” the British band’s ninth studio album. Where “TKoL” felt cold and mechanical, “AMSP” felt more personal, more urgent and more tense. Songs such as “The Numbers” and the long-awaited “True Love Waits” only further prove the band’s shapeshifting styles and versatility. I will listen to this album over and over again.

Honorable Mentions: Parquet Courts – “Human Performance,” Damien Jurado – “Visions of Us on the Land,” Lucy Dacus – “No Burden,” Pinegrove – “Cardinal”