Top 10 Albums of 2016


Photo Courtesy of Stereogum.

It has been a hard year for any music fan, as we have lost Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, George Martin, Leon Russell, Glenn Frey, Sharon Jones, Prince, and Alan Vega. The list is remarkably long this year. And however sad this year has been, there was still a surfeit of incredible music, some of them being a swansong of the departed. Rest assured, as we lost many legends, there are plenty legends in the making.

  1. Teens of Denial, Car Seat Headrest: Like Weezer with an eye for big concepts, Will Toledo has broken out as one of the true geniuses of the indie world, right up there with James Mercer and Jeff Mangum. He has made an uncompromised labor of love. These songs are riff-heavy with keyboards that sound like they’re straight from a Cars album, but they will soon go into a coda, turning a garage rock workout into a cosmic epic. Toledo is doing something new, transforming high-concept pop songs stretching to more than ten minutes, and a rising artist with true innovation doesn’t come around too often.
  2. Skeleton Tree, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Made in the wake of his fifteen year-old son’s death, Nick Cave has released a deeply raw, painful album. He puts his guard down and doesn’t even think about picking it back up. He sounds like he’s barely getting through those dirges. The songs are brutal and produced by a man in grief who is doubting everything he’s built a life on. Like Lou Reed’s Berlin or John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, this is a phenomenal album, but not one you might be able to listen to too often.  
  3. You Want It Darker, Leonard Cohen: Leonard Cohen’s final album is a testament to everything he’s released in his career. Ever the seeker, he still looks to find answers in love, life, and death. It’s not a peaceful farewell to the Earth, but then, Cohen was never a peaceful guy. Both devastating and spiritual, this is a fitting bookend to a brilliant career.
  4. Love & Hate, Michael Kiwanuka: Michael Kiwanuka made a splash a few years back with his debut, a modest album of slick production, reminiscent of Van Morrison. Now, he is getting heaving, with plenty fury to counter the bliss on the first record. Curtis Mayfield and Sly Stone are big inspirations here and this time, every song is an epic, no quick and light tunes. Kiwanuka has really developed into something special, testing the boundaries of his smooth voice.
  5. My Woman, Angel Olsen: Angel Olsen keeps some of the wild rock found on her previous album, but has certainly developed a taste for the slow burner. These new tracks let the anger bottle up, so when the cap is off, the burn is scorching. The Sleater-Kinney admiration is still there, but Olsen is evolving into something different.
  6. I Had A Dream That You Were Mine, Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam: Former members of The Walkmen and Vampire Weekend have joined forces to create an acoustic Wall of Sound. Like the Fleet Foxes, this new project brings Leonard Cohen’s dark passion and Brian Wilson’s impeccable ear to mind. The result is a series of rich modern folk supporting heavy lyrics.
  7. American Band, Drive-By Truckers: The best Southern rock group around, Drive-By Truckers are ready to take responsibility for the past of the South and to halt the present. On their most political LP yet, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley take on the racism and corruption rampant in America. The songs are razor sharp and unforgiving with the heavenly guitars we’ve come to expect.
  8. Here, Teenage Fanclub: Teenage Fanclub are starting to move away from the infusion of the Byrds and garage rock that launched them. Now, they’re taking a note from their Glasgow peers Belle and Sebastian, with jangly ballads and pure pop. Their latest effort is grand and the new direction is promising. They are headed to new territory, but without scrapping all of their charm from the Bandwagonesque days.
  9. Ruminations, Conor Oberst: The Bright Eyes frontman made a sparse acoustic solo record this year. Just piano, guitar, and harmonica accompany tender and intense songs about mortality, disillusion, and love. Like The Blue Mask by Lou Reed, this is a very personal album, recounting memories from his adolescence and adulthood. Oberst has written in anger and misery, but these are more along the lines of quiet reflection about erstwhile lives.
  10. Blackstar, David Bowie: On his final album, Bowie ponders what’s next with more unrest than ever before. He knew he didn’t have much time left, so this was a statement to those listening, about how a hero, even a god, to many, was scared about dying just like everyone else. He sings about his doubts with an edge and admitted to having Kendrick Lamar as inspiration for the production. It really is different than anything else he released, proving he had no interest in recreating the past. There’s absolutely a braveness to Bowie’s exit and for all the worry, it’s an empowering listen.