Around this time last year, I opened my 2015 “Best Of” music article by saying, “All I want out of 2016 is a president who will get us on the metric system and a new album from Grandaddy.” Things did not go as planned. The only presidential candidate with a platform position to convert the United States to the metric system was former Rhode Island senator and Whose Line Is It Anyway? star Lincoln Chafee. For those of you who don’t follow politics, his campaign did not go so well. And even worse, the new Grandaddy album isn’t going to be released until March 2017. Nostradamus I am not.
But no matter what’s happening in the world around us, at least we can always count on music to get us through the day. In fact, it could be argued that musical ingenuity is at its best when times are tough. Where adversity exists, art flourishes. And if that’s true, we could be in for an explosion of creativity in the near future.
Without further ado, here are my favorite albums of 2016. I love reading all the year-end music lists. The best part is the diversity. Nothing highlights how different people can be than the varying styles of music they enjoy. I look at some people’s lists and wonder if we are even the same species. Just as some of you will read my list and wonder how I somehow manage to stumble through life without forgetting to breath (Answer: “Keep Breathing” rubber bracelet). But the way I figure, if you can find just one new band you appreciate on someone’s list, it’s all worth it.
The Avalanches – “Wildflower”
Let’s start with something fun. A Tribe Called Quest received tons of publicity, and rightfully so, for releasing their critically acclaimed album “We Got It From Here…Thank You For Your Service” after an 18-year hiatus. While it didn’t receive nearly as much hoopla, “Wildflower” was an equally impressive, long awaited album from Australian DJ troupe The Avalanches. It was the group’s first album since releasing the masterful “Since I Left You” way back in the year 2000. This is feel good happy music, full of diverse samples that integrate seamlessly into a complete album. Go ahead, get your groove on.
If you like this, you might also dig: Massive Attack – “Ritual Spirit” / A Tribe Called Quest –” We Got It From Here…Thank You For Your Service” / DJ Shadow – “The Mountain Will Fall”
The Body – “No One Deserves Happiness”
If there is an opposite of feel good happy music, it’s The Body. “No One Deserves Happiness” is another step in the band’s long and weaving progression toward whatever the heck it is they have become. Their sound is now some sort of deconstructed doomsday noise rock. The album is unapologetically dark and droning. Much like a good Chuck Palahniuk book, don’t go looking here for a silver lining or happy ending. You’re not going to find it. Still, there’s something comforting in the resignation. It’s not someplace I want to live, but I think it’s an important palace to visit.
If you like this, you might also dig: Troller – “Graphic” / Youth Code – “Commitment to Complications” / Suuns – “Hold/Still” / Sumac – “What One Becomes”
Mitski – “Puberty 2”
I listen to a stupid amount of new music. Seriously, it’s a problem. But I guess there are worse addictions. Most albums only get a few minutes of play before I know it’s not for me. Other times an album needs to be put away and revisited later to get a true feel. I found myself going back to “Puberty 2” over and over again this year. In the end, I simply had to admit that I really like the album. “Puberty 2” is raw, exposed emotion. Mitski has a way of pulling, almost teasing, the audience into thinking this is an “easy listening” album. Just when you get too comfortable, you hear the lyrics “I pick an age when I’m gonna disappear, until then I can try again” and realize there is nothing light about the content. But don’t be alarmed. Mitski has a warmth that shines through even in the darkest of places.
If you like this, you might also dig: Ages and Ages – “Something to Ruin” / Tacocat – “Lost Time” / Anna Meredith – “Varmints” / Haley Bonar – “Impossible Dream” / Emma Pollock – “In Search of Harperfield” / Lucy Dacus – “No Burden”
clipping. – “Splendor & Misery”
If you like your hip hop on the experimental side, “Splendor & Misery” by clipping. might be for you. The band describes the recording as “an Afrofuturist, dystopian concept album.” The story revolves around the sole survivor of a slave uprising in space and his corresponding journey to find his own significance (or maybe lack thereof) in the universe. It’s noisy. It’s weird. And it’s great! I was just becoming a fan of clipping. when I caught their live show at the inaugural Sound On Sound festival in Austin. There I was blown away by their imagination and stage presence. Is this the future? I certainly hope so.
If you like this, you might also dig: Saul Williams – “MartyrLoserKing” / Danny Brown – “Atrocity Exhibition” / Kendrick Lamar – “untitled unmastered.” / 21 Savage/Metro Boomin – “Savage Mode”
Khemmis – “Hunted”
It’s supposed to take a long time for metal bands to reach the pinnacle of their craft. You have to put in the time to strike the necessary balance between brutality and listenability. The guys in Khemmis don’t seem to give a crap about putting in their time. On just their second album, the Denver, Colorado doom metal band is laying waste to the scene and blowing past their peers. The sound conjures memories of classic metal icons Motorhead, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden, while still managing to push the envelope with the likes of contemporary bands Mastodon and Pallbearer. These guys bring big, soaring guitars and switch seamlessly between scream, growl, & melodic vocals similar to the early days of Opeth (Make Opeth growl again!). These are not comparisons to be doled out lightly. Khemmis is that good.
If you like this, you might also dig: Gojira – “Magma” / Textures – “Phenotype” / Sumerlands – “self titled” / Vektor – “Terminal Redux”
Ghost – “Popestar”
You might say, “But, George, you already highlighted a metal album. Why do you need another?” First of all, hypothetical reader, you can never have too much metal. And second, Ghost isn’t your traditional metal band. With their faux-pope lead singer and Scooby Doo music videos, some metal purists find Ghost (cough) kitschy. And I get it. The band likes to say they’re death metal, but if I had to assign them a made up genre it would probably be pop metal. And their controversial themes have made it difficult for the band to gain traction in the U.S. market. As one Nameless Ghoul sarcastically put it, “Mainstream America is absolutely welcoming us with open legs.” But whatever you label them, one thing cannot be denied….These guys can jam! I am fully on board, shtick and all.
If you like this, you might also dig: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – “Nonagon Infinity” / Black Mountain – “IV” / Savages – “Adore Life” / Motorpsycho – “Here Be Monsters”
Car Seat Headrest – “Teens of Denial”
This year’s release by Car Seat Headrest was the youth angst indie rock album that I didn’t know I needed. It seems like such a simple formula: catchy songs + heavy guitar riffs = profit. But if it’s that easy, why isn’t everyone else doing it? Maybe it’s the way lead singer Will Toledo delivers honestly revealing lyrics in a deadpan manner that would make Pavement proud. We can all relate when he admits he “should not have had that last beer” or when he feels like “a walking piece of shit in a stupid looking jacket.” It’s so refreshing. Don’t tell me how awesome you are. Tell me why you suck, and I will love you.
If you like this, you might also dig: American Trappist – “self titled” / Haley Bonar – “Impossible Dream” / Corbu – “Crayon Soul” / James Supercave – “Better Strange”
Bon Iver – “22, A Million”
I’ve always been a casual fan of Bon Iver, but not a super fan. Justin Vernon’s side project, Volcano Choir, is more my style. So I didn’t expect much from “22, A Million,” an experimental effort of synthesized sounds and auto-tuned vocals. Man was I wrong. This is one of my favorite albums of the year. It’s a challenging listen. Don’t expect to love it on the first spin, especially if you’re an enthusiast of Bon Iver’s previous work. The album is a slow build. It’s choppy and disjointed. It seems as though Vernon wanted to handicap himself by not relying on his vocal range that has carried the band in the past. Or maybe he just wanted to push the envelope in the face of success, similar to what the Beastie Boys did with Paul’s Boutique or Radiohead with Kid A. Whatever the motivation, this is a fantastic album that is sure to have a permanent place in the soundtrack of my life.
If you like this, you might also dig: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Skeleton Tree” / Lampchop – “FLOTUS” / David Bowie – “Blackstar” / Radiohead – “A Moon Shaped Pool”