Time again for my annual best-of music review! Each year, I pick my ten favorite “new” albums of the year, where “new” means new to me, but not necessarily released in 2016. Any albums I bought in the calendar year are eligible for the list, regardless of when they were released.
Here are my 2016 selections, in alphabetical order by artist (I pick the top 10, but I don’t order them further than that). A playlist of all these albums (minus Beyoncé) is on Spotify.
Lemonade, Beyoncé – I’ve never been a big Beyoncé fan (don’t tell The Beygency), but there was so much acclaim for this album that I had to check it out. If nothing else, I wanted to know what a “visual album” was. As you see from its inclusion here, I wasn’t disappointed. The songs are really good, but mainly I’m a sucker for prog-rock type thematic story arc albums, so the powerful hour-long video that ties them together is what really made this for me.
Imani Vol. 1, Blackalicious – Blackalicious is another act that I haven’t listened to much before. I think it was the Fantastic Mr. Fox video for the great song The Blowup that first turned me on to this album, but there aren’t many low points to be found here. Good, driving beats add a welcome dose of hip-hop variation to my library.
Over Easy (plus), Diet Cig – For the second year in a row, an opening band at a Front Bottoms lands on my top ten. These two, the singer/guitar player especially, gave such an amazingly energetic performance that I went to another concert later in the year that they were opening for, just to see them. Their quirky, offbeat lyrics, which remind me of Los Campesinos and the Front Bottoms, are a big part of their appeal. A new album is coming soon, but they only have an EP and a couple of singles out now, so I include all of those here. If you ever have a chance to see Diet Cig live, take it. (concert pic)
If You See Me, Say Yes, Flock of Dimes – this is the solo project of Jenn Wasner, who is half of longtime favorite Wye Oak (tracks from their most recent two albums are on the Best of the Rest mix, below). This is a more electronic sound, which has grown on me. Her lyrics and voice are both among my favorites. (concert pic)
Up.Rooted, Gina Chavez – A popular, local, bilingual (English & Spanish) performer that had somehow escaped my notice until this year, Gina Chavez was one of the few (of the continually diminishing number of) bands I was looking forward to seeing at ACL Fest this year. She gave a great show, accompanied by a big party ensemble that included horns, bongos, keyboards, stringed instruments, you name it.
Ash & Ice, The Kills – This isn’t the best Kills album ever, but it’s a solid addition to their catalog. I finally saw them in a standalone concert in a dark concert hall late at night, where they belong (the previous time I’d seen them was on a very hot, very sunny mid-afternoon ACL Fest stage some years ago; both of them seemed about to melt the whole time). (concert pic)
In Loving Memory of When I Gave a Shit, LOLO – I’ll admit it: I would never have listened to this if I hadn’t noticed the funny and provocative title in Spotify one day. Even then, I didn’t have much hope for it, but I figured, why not? What luck, because even though the music style isn’t what I usually listen to, she has a real ability to turn a clever, evocative phrase in her lyrics, and her smoky voice is fantastic.
Adore Life, Savages – This is the second album by this powerful post-punk revivalist group, and their tour in support of it was my first chance to see them live; both great. They’re as intense as ever, in all the best ways. (concert pic)
Rose Mountain, Screaming Females – I guess this band is an acquired taste – I’d given them a listen once or twice before, but hadn’t gotten into them much until this year. This is their newest, released last year; a track from their previous album, Ugly, is on the Best of the Rest list, below. I didn’t really appreciate what heavy-metal guitar virtuosos they are until I saw their amazing live show. (concert pic)
Full of It, Summer Cannibals – This band debuted on the top ten album list last year with Show Us Your Mind, and their new release holds up every bit as well. (Their debut album is good, too; there’s a track from that in the Best of the Rest, below). They’re not super well-known, if the tiny concert I saw is any indication, and that’s a shame. They play great rock & roll; if you have a chance to see them, do yourself a favor. (concert pic)
That’s it for my ten favorite “new” albums of 2016.
And then there are all the rest of the albums. To complete my annual time capsule, I also make a playlist of favorite single tracks from all of the year’s albums that didn’t make the best-album cut, ordered not alphabetically, but in the best mixtape order I can manage. This “Best of the Rest” is also a playlist on Spotify.
- It’s Started – The Joy Formidable, Hitch† ‡
- Call It Off – Shamir, Ratchet
- New Song – Warpaint, Heads Up† ‡
- Logic of Color – Wye Oak, Shriek† ‡
- Astronaut – Amanda Palmer, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?
- Undertow – Warpaint, The Fool†
- Dropping Houses – Wussy, Forever Sounds† ‡
- Long Division – Chumped, Teenage Retirement
- Wear Me Out – Summer Cannibals, No Makeup†
- It All Means Nothing – Screaming Females, Ugly†
- Trying to Lose Myself Again – Bleached, Welcome the Worms
- Crucible – Sleigh Bells, Jessica Rabbit
- Welcome to the Renaissance – Michael James Scott & Rotten Ensemble, Something Rotten! Original Cast Recording†
- Rebirth – Nina Diaz, The Beat Is Dead†
- My Mama Said It – Anya Marina, Paper Plane
- Truth Hits Everybody – The Police, Outlandos d’Amour
- Radio of Lips (acoustic) – The Joy Formidable, Sleep Is Day†
- New Skin – TORRES, Sprinter†
- I’m So Confused – Goldensuns, Give It Up†
- Watching the Waiting – Wye Oak, Tween†
- Supermoon – case/lang/veirs, case/lang/veirs
- The Black Death – Rotten Ensemble, Something Rotten! Original Cast Recording†
† – saw band live this year
‡ – link to concert pic