Tag Archives: 2016 best music

Plenty to enjoy: 2016’s top 20 albums

We lost plenty of great musical talent in 2016, but the show must go on. And thankfully, plenty of good music came to our ears this year. Here’s my take on a fine year for albums, a celebration of the 20 best:

  1. David Bowie, Blackstar: 2016 was a year of loss, and the Thin White Duke was one of the biggest. By the time many of us bought this, it was as if Bowie was singing a self-elegy from beyond the grave, but the man was an artist and perhaps that’s the most appropriate way to view this farewell.
  1. Lindsey Stirling, Brave Enough: Stirling’s stirring violin work is a constant on this album, but the wide variety of effectiveness for her vocal partners makes this unfortunately inconsistent. Still, it also means many different folks can find a few tracks to especially like.
  1. Radiohead, A Man-Shaped Pool. Radiohead is always difficult to rank because they’re on a different plane than most bands … it’s not whether their albums are brilliant (they always are) but how accessible and memorable they become.
  1. Sara Watkins, Young in All the Wrong Ways: The former Nickel Creek fiddler makes a coming-of-age tale, yet doesn’t. It’s easy to forget she was just 8 when she co-founded that band and had worldwide fame as a teen, so this intrigues yet remains universal enough to please.
  1. BJ Barham, Rockingham: The frontman for American Aquarium has always worn his heart on his sleeve, and this semi-autobiographical album takes us even further down the road. Barham’s great writing, unshakable honesty and heartfelt vocals make it a journey worth taking.
  1. Bob Mould, Patch the Sky: The ageless Mould continues to craft intelligent and rocking collections full of heft and heart. Sometimes he grows serious, sometimes he waxes amusing, but he always has something worth listening to.
  1. Pete Yorn, Arranging Time: While I’m a big fan of Yorn, the strange thing about his albums are that they are all solid and full of great songcraft, yet fail to leave much of a lasting impression. But in the moment, this is an enjoyable record.
  1. KT Tunstall, KIN: The Scottish songstress returns and in fine form. The record feels like social commentary, a notable journey and yet like an intimate tale told by a friend over a pint. Worth savoring.
  1. Ashley MacIsaac, Helter’s Celtic: MacIsaac continues his reputation as an ace fiddler with an interest in extending the instrument’s footprint through explorations of sampling and hip-hop. He generally succeeds here, although the material isn’t as memorable as one would expect with such an exciting concept.
  1. Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob: First, the small kvetch: This is yet another T+S record that is unnecessarily overproduced. The Quin twins’ songwriting and singing are powerful enough on their own, and the overall more rocking feel helps. Even their flawed albums are better than so much else you can find.
  1. Rachael Yamagata, Tightrope Walker. Through many twists and turns of this project, Yamagata assured fans the result would be worth it. It is. The album’s heartfelt lyrics, sultry vocals and overall ambiance were worth the wait.
  1. Drive-By Truckers, American Band: Powered by perhaps the most dead-on topical single of the year, “What It Means,” the latest by the Athens Southern rock powerhouse finds them continuing to evolve and take on new topics many avoid. Listen to this album and you’ll be glad they do.
  1. Alex Dezen, Alex Dezen: The lead singer of The Damnwells continues to excel in his solo efforts. This one is alternately funny and poignant, silly and deep, owing to Dezen’s superb songwriting skills.
  1. Blue Rodeo, 1000 Arms: Probably one of the more rocking albums from the Canadian folk-rock-country outfits, and also one of its best. Guess they’re not mellowing with age but instead trying to capture more vitality.
  1. Lydia Loveless, Real: Loveless has long been due the acclaim that finally came with this album. The unusually piercing honesty and unquestionable sexiness of her material brings to mind the best of Liz Phair, yet with a bit of twang that makes it all quite remarkable.
  1. The I Don’t Cares, Wild Stab: This duo of Paul Westerberg and Julianna Hatfield produces music about as awesome as you would expect. Here’s hoping they care enough to produce more material.
  1. Tokyo Police Club, Melon Collie and the Infinite Radness, Pts. I and II: The Canadian band put out two EPs under a title riffing on the classic Smashing Pumpkins track, and combined they are some fantastic, jagged, exceedingly catchy rock-pop.
  1. Okee Dokee Brothers, Saddle Up: A Western Adventure Album: OK, it’s technically a children’s album, but it’s some very well-written, arranged and performed Americana that can appeal to music lovers of any age.
  1. The Tragically Hip, Man Machine Poem: It’s hard not to get sentimental over the thought of this potentially being the band’s swan song because of frontman Gord Downie’s terminal cancer. That probably made me treasure it more. But Gord and Co. still kick it and even plow some new acreage in a record that more than stands on its own merits.
Kaleo with a white unicorn

Courtesy of Kaleo’s Instagram: The group with a white unicorn … and the year’s best record.

1. Kaleo, A/B: If somebody told you last year that 2016’s best album come from an Icelandic rock band, would you have bought it? Believe it. The blues-influenced “Way Down We Go,” Soundgardenesque “No Good” and mega-melodic “All the Pretty Girls” are three of the best songs of the year and the rest of the album is more than solid. Small wonder you’ll hear it pop up all over your favorite TV shows … the success is well deserved.

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