Best Albums of 2016, Final Version

Best Albums of 2016
Final Version
(click here for the mid-year draft)
For previous years see

LPs

  1. ShearwaterJet Plane and Oxbow
    • I have liked a lot of Shearwater albums, and loved some tracks, but I have never gone completely gaga over them until now. On first listen I wasn’t sure of what to make of this album. It was full of sounds I hadn’t heard from them yet (with the exception of their Fellow Travelers cover album where they seemed to toy with similar styles) – driving beats, 80s inflected instrumentation and electronics, etc. After a few listens, however, the soaring vocals, poignant lyrics, and complex wall-of-sound(s) hooked me. I found myself playing it over and over again. Best listened to loud in the car, or on nice headphones. Listen to it in full and let it wash over you a few times before making a verdict.
  2. American Football – American Football (LP2)
    • I have been waiting for 17 years for this album. Mike Kinsella’s “Owen” band (see below!) has been great but not a perfect replacement for AF. I was nervous when I heard they were reuniting. With such an iconic album, it is hard to match expectations. However, within a minute of the first song I knew they had hit the sweet spot. It sounds current but familiar. It doesn’t sound like a imitation of its previous LP – much in the same way that Braid’s No Coast was a perfectly executed true-to-form update and reunion.
  3. RadioheadA Moon Shaped Pool
    • Yes, yes, yes. I didn’t hate King of Limbs, but I didn’t love it. This album, I loved. Johnny Greenwood’s lush orchestral arrangements just give me goosebumps. “Burn the Witch” is one of the best tracks Radiohead has ever done – simultaneously beautiful and deeply unsettling/disturbing. So good.
  4. Okkervil RiverAway
    • On first listen, I shelved this album. Borrrring. Then, I put it on my headphones while out for a run where I had no distractions and it sunk in. Many songs run over 6-7 minutes, the lyrics tumble fast and are hard to catch at times, but the songs don’t get old. Strings simmer and bubble in the background, swelling at the perfect moments to give you goosebumps, woodwinds and brass – a freaking flute! I would have imagined I would ever type the sentence, “The flute really makes this song,” but there it is. Again and again songs that might otherwise fall flat are elevated by beautiful orchestrations – not overdone, often subtle, but so effective.
  5. Chance the RapperColoring Book [mixtape]
    • I LOVE most of this album. Take out “D.R.A.M. Sings Special,” “Mixtape,” “Juke Jam,” and “Smoke Break,” and this might have been my Nr. 1 album of the year. I have had the remainder of the album on heavy rotation. Amazing rap skills, gospel choirs and vibes, positivity coming out the wazoo, so much charisma. Not sold? Dig up his live performances of “Blessings” on Fallon in early 2016, “Blessings Reprise” this fall, “Summer Friends” on Good Morning America, “Finish Line, Drown” and “Same Drugs on SNL, and “No Problem” on Ellen. Dang. Dang. Dang.
  6. Fruit BatsAbsolute Loser
    • I was really saddened to hear that the Fruit Bats had broken up a couple years ago so excited when I heard they were back. On each of their previous albums I have loved a few songs, but forgotten most of the rest. This album, may well be my favorite yet – all the songs are great.
  7. OwenThe King of Whys
    • Each Mike Kinsella “Owen” album is great. This was the first produced by someone else, S. Carey (who really need to put out another LP himself!). The results are great. I still pine for some long looping acoustic songs with crunchy distorted guitar solo wandering through long outros…but this is still a great album.
  8. John K. SamsonWinter Wheat
    • Apparently, The Weakerthans are no more. Bummer. Thankfully, frontman John K. Samson put out another solo LP. What makes the Weakerthans SO great was Samson’s lyrics and storytelling. That strength returns here and it is a stronger outing than his previous solo LP.
  9. PinegroveCardinal
    • This was a late find for me (about a month ago) and the album hooked me. It is loose and poppy – reminds me some early 2000s Ben Kweller. Check this out.
  10. Bon Iver22, a Million
    • I’m still conflicted on this album. Sometime electronic experimentations fall flat for me – like Sufjan Stevens’ Age of Adz. Meh. On first listen, I was worried this might be the same. And, at moments Justin Vernon almost loses me…but for all of the electronic chopping and sampling his layered vocals bring me back…then they veer to heavily into the autotuning….but then they’re just so good they pull me back. I don’t know. This one may have a short shelf life but for now I’ll give it a spot in the top 10.
  11. Local NativesSunlit Youth
    • WAY better than Hummingbird but no where near the catchiness of Gorilla Manor.
  12. WilcoSchmilco
    • Good. Better than Star Wars. I’m a bit bored though. Am I done with Wilco?!
  13. Band of HorsesWhy Are You OK
    • Wowzers – so much better than Mirage Rock. SO MUCH better. This could have ranked higher but some of it failed to really grab me. The tracks that hit, however, really hit.
  14. Damien JuradoVisions of Us on the Land
    • I’m done with falsetto, warbly guitars, psychadelic Damien Jurado. Can we go back to ANY of the previous styles he has done?
  15. Dinosaur Jr.Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not
    • Solid.
  16. Dr. DogAbandoned Mansion
    • Good. Not standout.
  17. Jim JamesEternally Even
    • The production and instrumentation choices on this one lost me.
  18. Rob Crow’s Gloomy PlaceYou’re Doomed. Be Nice
    • First track is killer, the rest, ok.
  19. Conor OberstRuminations
    • Good, not great.
  20. MogwaiAtomic [soundtrack]
    • Great, but Mogwai never tops my lists.
  21. Explosions in the SkyThe Wilderness
  22. Like, Listen ToEast of the Sun and West of the Moon
  23. Matt Pond PAWinter Lives
  24. Andrew BirdAre You Serious
  25. David BazanBlanco
  26. St. Paul & the Broken BonesSea of Noise
  27. DowsingOkay
  28. Dr. DogThe Psychedelic Swamp (re-recorded 2016 version)
  29. Mike DoughtyThe Heart Watches While the Brain Burns
  30. The AvalanchesWildflower
  31. Jimmy Eat WorldIntegrity Blues
  32. Rogue WaveDelusions of Grand Fur
  33. They Might be GiantsPhone Power
  34. Hotel LightsGet Your Hand in My Hand
  35. General ElektriksTo Be a Stranger

EPs

  1. Kendrick Lamaruntitled. unmastered
    • So these are the tracks that landed on the cutting room floor during the making of To Pimp a Butterfly?! Dang.
  2. The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to DieFormlessness (re-recorded 2016 version)
    • Great re-recorded update to an early EP of their’s.
  3. RA ScionMore Power to You
    • No longer (as) disillusioned as earlier this year (see Death of a Precedent below), RA Scion brings back some classic “Common Market” feel and style. Great stuff. Hopeful.
  4. Lifted BellsOverreactor
    • Bob Nanna? Check. Math Rock Noodling? Check.
  5. RA Scion & QreepzBlinking Sphinxx
    • Amazing lyrcism as always, but the electronic production isn’t my favorite.
  6. The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to DieLong Live Happy Birthday

Singles/B-sides/Miscellaneous Tracks

  1. BeckWOW
    • This track. Ear worm of the century!
  2. The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die – Body Without Organs
  3. The Mountain GoatsGoing Back to California
  4. RA Scion & Taane Jr.Death of a Precedent

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