Remember in school when it was a new year, and in each class you had to introduce yourself? The teacher would usually ask you, “what kind of music do you like?” Usually you’d get pretty blanketed, generic answers like, “rock, country, or rap.”
But mostly, you’d get, “I like everything!” Most of the time, that person would be full of it. But, I truly wanted to mean it when I said it. I love music, I try to step outside of my comfort zone as I often as I can to find the next thing that will grab my attention. If you know me, you probably know that I have been into music since as long as I can remember, and that hasn’t stopped in my 30th year on this planet. I made this list as my favorite albums of this year. I want to hear what you think, I want to hear why you think I’m crazy, or if I left something crucial off. Music should never stop being discussed and learned. Most of all, I want you to step outside of your comfort zone, and maybe check out something new, or maybe something you just missed during this… well let’s just call it a tough year. Enjoy!
10) Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Country music is one of those genres that, just never grabbed me. I never thought it possessed any creativity, any dynamic aspects to its sound. It wasn’t until I heard a Zac Brown Band album several years ago, that I finally heard what country could be. It hasn’t been easy, but I have carved out my little niche collection of country music, and it grew quite a bit this year. My number 10 album of the year is, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth by artist, Sturgill Simpson. This is his first album on a major label (Atlantic). Now don’t let that scare you. This album is quality from start to finish. I have shown this album to several people who don’t enjoy country music, and they have thoroughly enjoyed what this artist brings to the table. He perfectly is able to blend the old school sound that fans of the genre will love, but he isn’t afraid to step out of that twangy comfort zone to offer some truly progressive dynamics that brings an earnest feel to this record. At times you even get a sense of soul within this record, something a lot of country albums don’t even experiment with. This album layers funky beats, swelling strings, and sexy horn sections, like it’s a staple to the genre. Trust me on this, you will not be disappointed.
9) Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
In October of 2015, multi-instrumentalist, Will Toledo released his Matador Records debut, Teens of Style fairly positive reviews, even managing to catch a spot in the top 50 albums of the year for Stereogum as well as Rolling Stone. In my eyes, that album was good, but it seemed rushed, and unfinished, which apparently is exactly what happened. Those songs were meant for later releases that ended up what you heard last year. Less than a year later we have the vastly superior Teens of Denial. I’m not sure if this is meant to conceptually be a sister album to, Style or whether it would be related on a musical standpoint. So far, the word Teens seems to be the only similarity I can find between the albums. Denial brings forth a real wit, as if, Toledo finally was able to reign in all of his influences, and his emotions, and frankly his genius, and finally use this album as a catalyst that Toledo is a force to be reckoned with for many years to come. He’s able to do all of this, while maintaining that signature, lo-fi sound you’ve heard from previous Car Seat Headrest albums, but he’s able to do it with a more ambitious bite to it. You may notice that the tracks and overall album itself is much more longer than that of previous releases. This is not a problem. The inclusion of piano, and strings really add elements to these songs that do not feel like filler, the way some artists comprise these longer albums. In fact when I got through my first listen I had to make sure I hadn’t lost a connection, because the dynamics of this album really do take you on a journey.
8) Conor Oberst – Ruminations
If you’re my age (30), and you were in any way shape or form into the alternative scene of anything in high school, odds are you were a fan of Bright Eyes, or at least was aware of them. I was a little too busy re-listening to, Slayer records and not broadening my horizons musically like I should have, so I missed the Bright Eyes bandwagon. Since I have gotten older, I have given several of their albums a listen and they mostly just don’t do it for me. I enjoyed, Lifted, and Digital Ash, and that was really it. Cassadaga is unbearable in my opinion, and they lost me there. I’ve never really paid attention to Conor Oberst’s solo material before and so I don’t really know why I decided to give 2016’s Ruminations a listen, but I am so happy that I did. What you get on this album is a very stripped back approach on songwriting. If you look at the album cover, what you see is pretty much what you get. Piano, acoustic guitar, harmonica, and vocals. That’s it. And I can’t be certain, but it sounds like most of these songs were recorded in one take with absolutely no overdubbing. The album is not instrumentally perfect, you’re going to hear mistakes, and chair squeaks. However, what you get is one of the most honest and endearing pieces of music you will listen to this year. From past drug addictions, and bohemian lifestyles, to current health scares this album takes you to the depths of Conor’s soul where he holds nothing back.
7) White Lung – Paradise
I’ve had a hard time with, punk rock music. Did I lose some of you? Just stay with me. It just seems as though, most punk bands have no desire to get better, for fear of selling out (one of the most ridiculous phrases of all time). I absolutely believe that you can better not only your ability as a musician, but also your songwriting abilities without compromising your punk rock capabilities, which is exactly what Canadian punk rockers, White Lung has done with, Paradise. In 2014, WHite Lung releases a very good, very thrashy punk album titled, Deep Fantasy, and on the tour to support that album, frontwoman, Mish Barber-Way destroyed her voice, which in a way, may have been the best thing to happen to this band. She now approaches the music with a lower, more gothicy style of vocals which makes for not only a better story centric song, but also breathes a new life into the band’s older material when she performs them live. The lyrical rawness is still there but with a much better progressive journey. Barber-Way conveys her brand of ant-singular feminism in a way that is not only in your face in a, Perfect Pussy (that’s a band calm down guys) but a little more coherently than she has before, making this album not only important to this particular band, not only the punk rock genre, but to an ever dividing society that tends to forget honesty when portraying art in this day in age. Whether you believe in the message or not, one can appreciate the earnest honesty this band presents to a very bleak and unnerving 2016.
6) Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
Two country albums in a Jim Keel top ten list?!?! Absolutely! And rightfully so! If you haven’t heard this record, or the artist, especially if you consider yourself a fan of real country music, where have you been?! Why so many exclamation points? This album makes me excited, not only for what it is but for what is to come. This is Margo’s first full length album, and she came out the gates, rode her 8 seconds and then some, like she is a veteran to the game. No flash, no polish, just absolutely amazing, and personal songwriting, and some great backing instrumentals. Americana is a hard genre to improve upon since it is fairly linear in its approach, but Margo and her Memphis sound bends it to its breaking point, but still makes you want to buy a pair of Wranglers, while making fun of somebody taking a selfie. This album, is honest, heart wrenching, and fun.
5) A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
It’s been 18 years since we have had new music from Tribe. That’s an entire adolescents. An entire generation of people not knowing the magic that came to be when, Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Jarobi White, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad laid it all out for us. Sadly, this year, the world lost Phife Dawg due to complications from diabetes, but he left behind not only several amazing works of art in the past, but we now know he had a lot left to give on, We Got it from Here. If you know me you know that I am a huge fan of jazz music, and even though a jazz record didn’t make my top ten this year, the jazzy style of hip hop that Tribe helped cultivate in the 90’s is more relevant than ever, with artists like, Kendrick Lamar, and Chance the Rapper (both who have amazing albums this year, please go check them out) really bringing that style back. This album was needed, especially during this extremely tumultuous political climate, you need smart voices in music giving at least their perspective on the matter (yes, I don’t mind artists getting political, relax peeps). The features list is also impressive with the likes of; Busta Rhymes, Jack White, Andre 3000, Talib Kweli, Anderson Paak, Kendrick Lamar, and Elton freakin’ John! But at its core it is what it is, an amazing hip hop album from veterans of the game which should not be looked upon as a comeback album, especially since this will be their last album, because it is better than that. They pull no punches and sound better than ever on this double LP.
4) Marissa Nadler – Strangers
Women ruled music in 2016, you’ll see what I mean in the next few records from the list. Singer songwriter, Marissa Nadler is back, and this time she brought more instruments. I’ve always liked Nadler’s music, but for some reason, it never seemed to go anywhere. That’s not to say I love music with the atypical structure you hear on the radio, but a little more dynamic arrangement could really take her to the next level. She did just that, and then some on Strangers. You’ve got her normal, dreamy, ethereal voice that makes me think of my absolute favorite time of year, the colder months of winter (yeah, I live in Texas, it’s still winter to me dammit), but she adds in layers of strings, and bass, and drums, and electric guitar that all culminates into a subtle punch of gorgeous dream pop. Surfacely, this album might just seem like a very pretty pop album, but Marissa brings her special blend of gothic, and chilling yet versatile lyrics. I’ve heard this album compared to Jewel, as well as the avant-garde “country” band, Earth, and if you know your music, you know that spectrum is very wide. Please don’t sleep on this record. If you want that perfect afternoon tea next to the fire soundtrack, this is should be your go to.
3) Angel Olsen – My Woman
If you’ve ever listened to, Angel Olsen’s music before, and you found that it wasn’t your thing, stop what you are doing and please consider listening to this album. That is what I did, and I was very glad to be re-introduced to this singer songwriter, who brings out the passion, and the edge that is lacking in so many indie, folky albums that are coming out these days. This is a great companion piece to the year 2016. This album very eloquently fuses massively improved instrumentals with lyrics that represent the sadness, and despair that life throws out you, but also shines through with a gleam of hope that is strong enough to even bring out the optimism of even the hardest of discouraged individuals. In 2010, when she emerged onto the scene, she took folk into a strange place, almost approached recording an album in the way a black metal band would. Recording vocals inside of a car, or perhaps micing instruments through screen doors. You can tell something magical was there, but you just didn’t know what was keeping it from greatness. In 2016, she found what was missing. On My Woman she is able to almost astrally project herself out of this world with her music. Not only does each song tell a tale, but she seems to be able to transform you to another place, another feeling, which each note of her voice. If this world was looking for a voice of a generation, if we we’re looking for a our Dylan, or Joplin, we may have her right in front of us.
2) Beyonce´ – Lemonade
I don’t come from a world of R&B, or pop music. I generally come from a heavy metal world where me talking about how great this album is, would be considered an atrocity. But let’s examine it and maybe you’ll at least understand where I’m coming from. Now, if you’re a fan of Beyonce´, I don’t need to justify any of this to you. You know how great this album is. This album, is risky to say the least. Obviously she is a hotbed of criticism from the far right for a bevy of issues, but not only that, this album is risky because she has completely abandoned any form of standard pop or R&B song structure or identity, and complete went into a new direction. Now don’t get me wrong, Lemonade still has the occasional banger, the occasional piece of trap music that usually completely turns me off of an album, but she has found a way to complete differentiate herself from her peers in that she turns them into dynamic pieces of music. This album is also insanely personal, I remember seeing quite a few people absolutely obsessed with monitoring the state of her and Jay-Z’s marriage to the point that I feel like outside of this year’s election, it may have been the news item that trended the most. I do believe that people bought into some esoteric lyrics that were meant to further the direction of this album. Yes, I absolutely believe a lot of this album is very confessional at times, but the way I look at any album, is I look at it as a performance, which brings me to the songwriting. I see a lot of criticism for her and other pop stars for having a team of writers for a song. Sure, it’s great when we have singer songwriters out there who can do it all, but not everyone is a lyricist. Some people have ideas for songs and have no idea how to put them to paper. Not saying that is how I see Beyonce´because I do believe she is a very talented songwriter, all I’m saying is when you go to watch a movie, you aren’t criticizing the main actor for not writing and directing the movie themselves, you know it is a team effort, which is what Lemonade is, and it is a masterful team effort as well, featuring input from the likes of; Jack White, James Blake, The Weeknd, and Diplo. If anything, I ask you to set aside an hour to listen to Lemonade. Let go of any cynicism you may have toward Beyonce´, or even the genre itself, and listen to it for what it is. A spacious, funky, hard hitting, heart breaking soulful, and diverse record of just damn good music.
1) David Bowie – Blackstar
2016 has been rough. There is no denying that, I see it in my own life with health scares, and job losses, to the massive losses we have seen this year in the entertainment world. And it seemed as though musical icon David Bowie, was holding the fabric of our world because when he passed in very early 2016, the year just kept on trucking with these tragic deaths, as well as other difficult entities we face as a society. I don’t mean to make light of the man’s death, but with his passing, it adds an entirely different layer to this very experimental (experimental, even for Bowie) out of left field record. I first listened to Blackstar before Mr. Bowie passed away, and I enjoyed it, quite a bit actually, I thought it was a very subdued new approach we were getting from Bowie, the very next day he passed away, and I listened to it again, and what I heard this time was music being gifted to us by a man that undoubtedly knew he was not long for this earth. Blackstar is a love letter to each and every one of us, who have ever been deemed, strange, or weird, or different, not just to Bowie fans, or those close to him. The first line of the quintessential track, Lazarus is, “Look up here, I’m in Heaven.” And if you have ever seen the music video for the track, he is basically saying goodbye. Well, I’ll just end with saying, thank you, and goodbye to you.