Monday, December 19, 2016

Favorite Albums of 2016

 By unpopular demand, here are my very favorite albums of this very trying and often heartbreaking year.  2016 will probably not be remembered fondly, but it did spawn some great music.  So much so, that it was kind of hard to narrow my list down to 25.  Some of my runners up, who did not make the final cut for whatever arbitrary reasons i concocted were new albums from the likes of Iggy Pop, Car Seat Headrest, Perturbator, Umberto, Jenny Hval, a gut wrenching effort from The Caretaker, and one hell of a debut from Zeal and Ardor.  In a perfect world, all of these wonderful records would have made the cut, but as 2016 has insisted upon showing us over and over again this year, we do not live in a perfect world.

Anyway, here's my list in alphabetical order...

1. ANOHNI - Hopelessness
The newly minted ANOHNI (fka Antony and the Johnsons) produced a work of heartbreaking fear, sorrow, and anger with wunderkinds Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never.  Climate change and the end of the life as we know it never sounded so beautiful.

2. Ashtray Navigations - To Make a Fool Ask, and You Are the First
The latest from Ashtray Navigations fuses elements of surf rock, krautrock, kosmiche, and synth wave into something akin to a soundtrack for an 80's film Michael Mann forgot to make.

3. Astronoid - Air
The duo behind metal band Astronoid somehow manage to simultaneously sound like every band you've ever loved and completely unique unto themselves.  They may wear their influences on their sleeves, but no one else sounds like them.

Toronto Jazz band BADBADNOTGOOD continue to sound years ahead of everybody else while traversing decades old sounds.  Everything these guys touch, be it hip-hop collaborations, remixes, or their own style of jazz is absolute gold.

5. The Body - No One Deserves Happiness
My favorite record of the year.  Dark.  Ominous.  Defeated.  If you needed a mantra to tie 2016 together, "No One Deserves Happiness" is so fitting, it hurts.

6. David Bowie - Blackstar
I love David Bowie and i still can't believe he's gone.  And on his final record, he manages to turn both his life and death into stunning works of art.

7. Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition
A Tribe Called Quest may have made the most important hip-hop album of the year, but Detroit's Danny Brown made the freakiest.  Combing sounds from all over the genre spectrum, i can't think of another rap album that sounds anything like this one.  Dark, icy, and ambitious, but also playful and bouncing at times, "Atrocity Exhibition" comes off like some kind of hip-hop/post-punk hybrid, in mood at least.

8. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree
I'm an ardent fan of anything Nick Cave gets his hands on (music, film, literature), but the somber experience that is "Skeleton Tree" still managed to hit me harder than i could have imagined.  While it's not necessarily about his son's passing, an air of grief hangs over everything, and it's impossible to separate that emotion from the record.  Make sure your heart is ready.

9. Cross Record - Wabi-Sabi
Dripping Springs representing with an absolutely wonderful dark folk (among other things) album from the duo of Cross Record.  Fans of Finders Keepers Records should definitely check this one out.

10. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein - Stranger Things OST
Having been a fan of Austin synth wave band S U R V I V E for several years, it's been awesome to finally see them break into the national consciousness with Kyle Dixon's and Michael Stein's Carpenter and Tangerine Dream inspired score for the sci-fi sensation "Stranger Things."  I was borderline obsessed with everything about this show over the summer, and the music was one of the main reasons.

11. Gonjasufi - Callus
I was not expecting to like the latest from Gonjasufi as much as i do.  "Callus" is actually kind of a difficult listen, but i just kept coming back, unable to get it off of my mind.  The whole thing plays like some kind of Lynchian soundtrack in a parallel universe.  Yeah.

12. Heimat - Heimat
And while we're on the subject of strange and difficult records, the self-titled release from French band Heimat.  Described by their record label as "John Carpenter, RZA, and The Slits making a record together," there was just no way i could ignore it.  And you shouldn't either.  It's challenging, but such an interesting listen as well.

13. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Nonagon Infinity
I should just go ahead and get used to including a record by this Australian fuzzball garage rock band on every year-end list for the foreseeable future.  They're prolific, and amazing, and have somehow become my go-to band for all things garage or psych, even above such luminaries as Thee Oh Sees or Ty Segall.  Get on the Lizard Wizard train now.  It does not slow down.

14. Kendrick Lamar - untitled unmastered
Some one-offs that either didn't make the cut on last year's "To Pimp a Butterfly" or were just recorded in different sessions still somehow sounds better than 90% of the other albums out there.  Amazing.

15. LUH - Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing
Former WU LYF member Ellery James Roberts, visual artist Ebony Hoorn, and producer Haxan Cloak created one of the most stunning albums of the year with "Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing."  I don't know how to really describe the record, a combination of post-punk, darkwave, and Americana, Roberts' gravelly, strained, and scratchy voice somehow pulling everything together in beautiful harmony.

16. MOONKNIGHT - Zhora
Crunchy, dramatic, sprawling, lo-fi black metal.  Give me this everyday.

17. Frank Ocean - Blonde
Frank Ocean's sophomore release was probably never going to live up to the hype (or the label shenanigans) that surrounded it, but i think it will stand the test of time.  Honestly, i think "Blonde" is going to be one of those records like "Kid A" or "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," a completely game changer that we can't possible understand until years of hindsight.

18. Angel Olsen - My Woman
Angel Olsen is a national treasure.  Her albums just keep getting better and better.

19. Preoccupations - Preoccupations
The latest from the band formerly known as Viet Cong continues the group's string of awesome post-punk records, a dark and leery echo chamber, shrouded in grays.

20. Psychic Ills - Inner Journey Out
If you're looking for the perfect companion and soundtrack for treks through middle America, rolling fields of grass waving along the side of the road, and moonlit, cricket-filled nights in dusty, old motels, have i got the album for you.  The latest from Psychic Ills combines Jesus and Mary Chain reverb with all the best parts of old Americana to delightful effect.

21. Pye Corner Audio - Stasis
A late entry onto my list (i just procured a copy a couple of weeks ago), Pye Corner Audio's brand of synth worship is always good for whatever imaginary film you have running through your head.

22. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
Arguably one of the best albums the long running British critical darlings have offered up, "A Moon Shaped Pool" is undoubtedly the most beautiful and heart wrenching.  Replacing abstract paranoia with more personal reflections on love and loss, as well as pushing Jonny Greenwood's string arrangements into the foreground created a Radiohead record like no other.

23. S U R V I V E - RR7349
As i mentioned earlier, it was a big year for the boys in S U R V I V E, and they certainly deserved it. Here's to many an amazing synth wave record in the future, as well as some more killer music on "Stranger Things."

24. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got it from Here...Thank You 4 Yours Service
Who would have thought that the first record in almost two decades from a group who lost one of their founding members earlier this year would be the most important album of 2016?  And that's no hyperbolic statement.  With everything that has been troubling this nation leading up to the unfortunate events of November, Tribe tap into it all with prescient accuracy and try to make sense of it all.  Everyone needs to listen to this right now.

25. Troller - Graphic
And finally we have the excellent sophomore album from Austin's gloomy darkwave act Troller. "Graphic" sounds like dark metal band threw out all their instruments, and then sat down with a bunch of synthesizers to make a pop record.  It's icy and awesome, a tonic for a long and often agonizing year.

And there you have it.  Is there anything particularly egregious that i left off?  Let me know.  And be back tomorrow for a list of my favorite songs of the year.

1 comment:

  1. Great list. I'm gonna check out Troller tonight based on this. Also, that Radiohead has been on a lot of lists but I haven't taken it seriously until I saw it on Your list. I have 3 records by them I love and pretty much disregard the rest. Hadn't even given MSP a chance. I will now.