Let’s face it, 2016 was a hard year to be a music fan with so many of our heroes passing on. David Bowie, Sir George Martin, Phife Dawg, Merle Haggard, Prince, Bernie Worrell, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones and George Michael along with many others passed away and left their immense legacies behind. It was almost as if we were seeing the pillars of popular music crumble before our eyes. This year has been a heartbreaking one indeed.
There has also been a lot of positivity happening in music in 2016, however, believe it or not. We’ve seen reunions that we thought would never happen, acts putting out their first albums in decades and a bunch of new faces releasing brilliant material. If you look around, you might discover the next Bowie or Cohen or Haggard. The unpredictability of the future is a scary thing, but this year proves that no matter what, we will still have the music for our personal soundtrack. With all of this being said, here are my Top 20 Albums of 2016 because 10 wasn’t enough.
Manchester, New Hampshire, singer-songwriter Tristan Omand put out a stellar stripped-down album with his fourth full-length release, The Lesser-Known Tristan Omand, which came out in April. The rawness and the clear production quality of the album is captivating. Omand also impresses with his poignant lyrics and the variety he brings with his songwriting. There’s no backing band, just a guy strumming an acoustic six-string and singing his heart out. A few prime tracks to check out are “Welcome To Lonely Lanes,” “Devil Don’t Want Me Blues” and “Old Straight Six.”
Sounding like a mix of the Pixies, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Queen Of The Stone Age, Tall Teenagers gave the Providence music scene a breath of fresh air in 2016. When their self-titled debut came out in April, local music fans were immediately hooked and with good reason. Dark tones and borderline macabre lyrics are the anchor for an album that’s simply electrifying. It’s going to be exciting to see what Chelsea Paulhus, Shaun Chevalier and Damian & Shannon Puerini have in store for the follow up. “Anniversary,” “Feel Us Out” and “I Get Awake” shine through a consistently great record.
When old school metalheads Worshipper won the legendary Rock & Roll Rumble in Boston in April, they turned the music scene there on its head. In a competition that’s usually filled with alt-rock, indie rock and punk acts, this quartet roared through to win it and had everyone in The Hub talking about them. In fact, many of them still do and the band’s debut LP, Shadow Hymns, proves that with riffs that echo the greatness of ’70s acts Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy. Dive into heavy and glorious amplification while giving tracks like “Step Behind,” “Place Beyond the Light” and “Black Corridor” a listen.
I’m not going to lie, when I got hold of Journalism’s Faces in March I chuckled at the irony. A journalist checking out a band that shares the same name as his profession is a tad funny, don’t you think? Then I gave it a listen and my mind was blown, I’ve been cranking this album all year. This band from Brooklyn has a unique take on indie rock that’s rhythmic and emphatic. “Faces I,” “Denim Jesus” and “Naked” are excellent examples of the shredding that takes place.
Megafauna prove that when it comes to how many innovations and advances have been made within the rock genre, there’s still a band that can musically whoop the genre’s ass. The Austin, Texas, act fuses psychedelic and progressive rock together with that early ‘90s era alt-rock edge for a spellbinding sound. Their fourth album, Welcome Home, which was released in May, shows how versatile this band is. The talents exhibited within the album seem limitless. To dive into the diverse and pristine skills of this band, let “Desire,” “Panspsychist” and “Gaia” invade your eardrums.
One reason to get amped about the future of music has to do with the Shreveport, Louisiana, garage soul act Seratones and their debut Get Gone, which was released in May. AJ Haynes is the frontwoman of the future with a booming voice that would have Aretha Franklin rejoicing. The rest of the band, with guitarist Connor Davis, bassist Adam Davis and drummer Jesse Gabriel, provide a groovy rock ‘n’ roll vibe that melds with Haynes’ vibrato perfectly. The power and vigor behind this album really makes it stand out. Get alive and electrified with “Sun,” “Chandelier” and “Choking On Your Spit.”
After the success of their 2013 debut, Last American Band, a lot of people in both Providence and Boston were craving the next album from The Silks like an addict looking for a fix. Back in July, Tyler-James Kelly, Jonas Parmalee and Sam Jodrey delivered with the follow-up Turn Me On. There’s a tiny amount of polish with the album versus the band’s debut, but there’s still that groove that’ll make people move. The Silks have been making their presence felt in New England for quite a while now. Songs like “Let It Ride,” “Get Up and Get Free” and “All Day” are a few reasons why.
The album took 16 years to make and The Avalanches came back with their brilliance with Wildflower when it was released in July. The duo of Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi used a crap ton of samples with a handful of songs having a disco vibe while others dabbled in the music of numerous ethnic cultures. A diverse cast of collaborators joined in with Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, Danny Brown, Biz Markie, MF Doom and Father John Misty being just a few artists who contributed to the album. Wildflower has this constant flow that makes it one entire listening experience. If you’re looking to break things up, “Because I’m Me,” “Subways” and “Harmony” are a few you should start off with.
When you have punk icon Iggy Pop teaming up with Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme on an album, it’s bound to be amazing. When Post Pop Depression was released in March it lived up to the billing by tapping into Pop’s ‘70s art rock era and also paying tribute to the late Bowie’s Berlin years. Joined by Dean Fertita and Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders, Pop and Homme formed a creative nucleus that fed off of Pop’s artistic charisma. The album shows that despite pushing 70, Iggy Pop can still bring it better than musicians who are a third of his age. “Gardenia,” “In The Lobby” and “Vulture” are three tracks that’ll get the blood running.
You never know what you’re going to get these days with Radiohead. They’ve come a long way from being the guitar-driven alternative rock darlings of Britain during the mid-90s. The band has dabbled in psychedelia, electronica and art rock over the past two decades. Their latest, A Moon Shaped Pool, which came out in May, touches upon a bit of baroque pop while also remaining in both the art rock and electronica realms. There’s a plethora of dimensions introduced, and “Burn The Witch,” “Decks Dark” and “Identikit” exemplify that notion.
Coming out of a burgeoning music scene in Richmond, Virginia, prog rock act Night Idea put out a stunning album with Breathing Cold in March. There are times when the band’s sound is rigid and raw, while at other times it’s jazzy and pleasant. They also have an eclectic structure that keeps the ears in tune to what’s going on. They aren’t the only act from The River City on this year, and I’m personally very much looking forward to seeing what Carter Burton, Ethan Johnstone, Reid LaPierre and Joey Anderson do next. While you’re dealing with the anticipation, check out “At The Wheel,” “Silver Understanding” and “Easy To Lie.”
Starting from an orchestral pop aesthetic, Providence’s Arc Iris got a little glam with Moon Saloon, the follow-up to their 2014 self-titled debut. There’s still the presence of string instruments, but this album can take you to another place with each track. They make their music into a pure artform that comes full circle in both presentation and sound. Jocie Adams, Zachary Tenorio Miller and Ray Belli take things to new heights and that’s why it’s the best album to come out of The Creative Capital this year. “Kaleidoscope,” “Paint With The Sun” and “Johnny” highlight the album in spectacular ways.
It was bittersweet and it happened a lot sooner than any of his fans expected. Two days before David Bowie passed away from cancer on January 10, his 25th and final album, Blackstar, was his parting gift to the world. The swan song deals with Bowie coping with his inevitable death, and musically, there’s a mix of art rock and jazz. At this point in his career Bowie could have done anything he wanted, but he did what he’d always done. He grew artistically and Blackstar is excellent because of it. Listen to “Lazarus,” “Dollar Days” and “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)” and hear the proof.
When it comes to New England music in 2016, Julie Rhodes takes the crown. Her debut, Bound To Meet The Devil, lit up the regional music scene like wildfire back in February and no one has bothered to put out the flames since. Can you blame them? Rhodes has a magnificently soulful and bluesy voice, and the record has her band, consisting of guitarists Jonah Tolchin and Danny Roaman, drummer Michael Bosco and bassist Matt Murphy, resonating genuine blues. It’s also pretty cool that harmonica legend ‘Sonny Jim’ Clifford is one of the many special guests on the album. If “In Your Garden,” “Hurricane” and “Grinnin’ In Your Face” don’t amaze you, then nothing will.
Another swan song and another heartbreak came with Leonard Cohen’s 14th and final album, You Want It Darker, which was released only a couple weeks before his death on November 7. Much like Bowie, Cohen knew that his time was coming up due to his battle with cancer and he wanted to leave one more album. There are somber tones to go with a gospel-laden sound that walks the fine line between Cohen’s folk roots and his landmark 1988 synthpop album I’m Your Man. It’s an honest work showing a man facing his own mortality head-on. For further examination, I suggest “On The Level,” “Treaty” and “It Seemed The Better Way.”
One of the sensations of 2016 has to be Richmond, Virginia, artist Lucy Dacus and her debut album No Burden, which came out in February. This girl in her early 20s brings her particular brand of rock that runs a straight line through numerous styles. At some points, it’s garage rock and then she’ll become this bluesy soul badass in an instant. Her honest lyrics bring everything down to Earth and keep things honest as well. The future looks bright for Dacus, and with songs like “I Don’t Want To Be Funny Anymore,” “Troublemaker Doppleganger” and “Strange Torpedo” it’s easy to understand why.
There has been a pattern in the past few years where an act will drop an album right before the end of the year and it rearranges everyone’s best-of list. This year, El-P and Killer Mike decided to change the game in 2016 a bit and release Run The Jewels 3 on Christmas. It could very well be their best release yet with a bunch of intensity, sick samples and righteous beats. There are also some cool collaborations with TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adembimpe and jazz artist Kamasi Washington on the album. Adembimpe is on “Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost)” and Washington is on “Thursday In The Danger Room” while “Talk To Me” is one of the top tracks off of the album.
For future reference, you can probably expect at least one album from Ty Segall to be on my end-of-the-year list in the years to come until he stops putting out music. He’s so prolific and so brilliant that I can’t help but hold his brand garage rock in high regard. His last solo release, Emotional Mugger, which came out in January, could be his weirdest release yet; it’s a mix Frank Zappa and The Stooges that’s insanely great. Segall pushes the artistic envelope in a variety of ways in the album. Tracks like “Squealer,” “Diversion” and “Candy Sam” expand the musical imagination.
Think of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon; now think of it being made in a similar vein but as a country record. Now think about it being written by a guy who has written country songs about aliens. Okay, that seems a bit far-fetched, but Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor Guide To Earth is an incredible album that puts a positive spin on a genre that gets a bad rap in certain circles. Simpson has a horn section, a few rock riffs and this Motown big band vibe going on. “Welcome To Earth (Pollywog)” is the best opening track on an album so far this decade, and “Brace For Impact (Live A Little)” and “Keep It Between The Lines” are absolutely stellar.
With all the turmoil happening in 2016 due to police brutality, growing economic inequality and an orange turd who became the President-elect, just to name a few, we needed a group to come out and put out an album relevant to the struggle of many. Thankfully, A Tribe Called Quest put out their first album in 18 years with the release of We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service in November. Along with it being a musical tribute to the late Phife Dawg who passed away in March, the album examines the xenophobia and dividing of American society with tracks “The Space Program,” “We The People…” and “Dis Generation.” It’s an album that’s making us look at ourselves as a people and seeing what exactly we’re doing to ourselves. That’s why it’s the best album of 2016.