Top 10 ALBUMS of 2016
Here are my favourites from the year...
- 1.David Bowie - BlackstarI've honestly never gotten into Bowie... although I've certainly liked a lot of artists influenced by him. This album appealed to me though: it was described as jazzy, and that Bowie was tired of rock music. (Something I can agree with as of late.) The videos of the singles were suitably intriguing and scary too. So I bought this on vinyl for my birthday... and he died that day. Suddenly, an album that was already a late masterpiece became his own eulogy. An amazing album on both counts.
- 2.Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide To EarthI'm not a fan of country music as a genre, but I am a fan of artists who push the boundaries of whatever genre they're "assigned" to. This album includes Stax horn arrangements, southern rock, lush orchestrations and even a Nirvana cover. Lyrically this album was written to his son, offering advice and life lessons he learned the hard way. As a father of a son the same age as Simpson's, I feel like this great record was written for us, as well as for him.
- 3.Bon Iver - 22, A MillionI really tried to like Bon Iver's previous albums, but I found them a little pretentious (made-up words, made-up place names, etc.). So why do I love this album so much? Instead of creating geography, he's creating numerology and religion. He's still making up ridiculous words. Somehow... it works this time! Instruments and vocals are chopped up and mixed to the point where it's impossible to tell where man ends and machine begins. But isn't all recorded music a mechanical reproduction anyway?
- 4.Wilco - SchmilcoJeff Tweedy (and Wilco) are on a roll. His last three albums in my opinion are a creative peak not reached since "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" and "A Ghost Is Born." Last year's "Star Wars" was loud and raucous. This album — recorded at the same time — is the acoustic counterpart.
- 5.Slow Dakota - The Ascension Of Slow DakotaThis is an album that pushes the boundaries of what that can be. In many ways Slow Dakota — the solo project of PJ Sauerteig — is similar to Sufjan Stevens: the folky instrumentation, the Biblical allusions. However, Slow Dakota takes this style further, incorporating spoken poetry to create something more akin to an anthology than to a collection of songs. Very impressive stuff.
- 6.Shearwater - Jet Plane And OxbowWhy make another album that sounds like the mid-80's? Well, I think that Shearwater are attempting to reference that time politically as well as musically. This album draws from the sounds of "Reagan's America" to describe life in "Trump's America." The big pop sounds of acts like Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins are here. Admittedly, sometimes they go from referencing these acts to sounding like a tribute band — "Pale Kings" is U2 in all but name — but the overall album is a winner.
- 7.Swans - The Glowing ManSwans creates songs that are simple lyrically and melodically but lengthy in execution. They alternate between moments of quiet beauty and shocking catharsis. Songs can last up to half an hour and include many different movements and sections. I've said this before, but Swans to me could soundtrack the ultimate battle between good and evil on a universal scale. Dense, rewarding, epic music.
- 8.Lambchop - FLOTUSI had never heard of Lambchop before this album. They're a band that has drawn from alt-country, alternative, soul and lounge sounds over their long career. This album uses the vocoder as its primary inspiration, as kind of a low-key counterbalance to Bon Iver's latest. (See above.) A great album to chill out to... although I do that with most of my music anyway.
- 9.Yeasayer - Amen & GoodbyeI like bands that take a kitchen-sink approach to recording: no ideas or sounds are off-limits. Yeasayer is one of those bands: creating songs with a variety of electronic and acoustic instruments that still manage to be catchy pop/rock songs.
- 10.Suuns - Hold/StillAn album by a standard combo (guitar, bass, drums, vocals) that sounds like anything but. Falling somewhere between psychedelia and ambient, industrial and concrete musique, rock and dance, this is an album that pushes boundaries and creates a new space. It's claustrophobic, yet very little happens. It's quiet, but filled with noise. A late discovery in the year, but it may end up moving up my list over time!