Top Ten Albums of 2016

I’ve pretty much accepted that I will never complete this list before the end of January, let alone the end of the year. I’ve got no excuse for this aside from pure laziness (though I was in Peru for all of January, but that should be no reason why I didn’t get it done in December).

While 2016 had a number of releases from big name artists including Beyonce, Kanye, Chance, Frank Ocean, Bon Iver, James Blake, and Radiohead (just to rattle off a few), as a whole, I was slightly disappointed with the year when compared to 2015. While it is by no means as disappointing as 2014 was for me, many of these releases from these big artists didn’t really live up to their hype for me. All this being said, there were plenty of albums by artists new to me that really surprised me. Stuff like Helado Negro’s Private Energy, Injury Reserve’s Floss, or Laura Gibson’s Empire Builder really impressed me (along with several others, but I don’t want to spoil the list).

Anyway, I’ve done enough deliberating as it is; it’s time for my top ten favorite albums of 2016. As usual, I’ll leave a link to a Spotify playlist of my favorite tracks and singles of the year at the end of the article.

10. Telefone – Noname

jomqibggpecgkqeoben5This mixtape wins the award for the most warm, fuzzy feelings given to me this year. I can’t really explain it, but there’s just something about this tape that I absolutely adore. The jazzy instrumentals and beats immediately calm and soothe the listener, with the xylophone-like synths evoking images of childhood toys. Noname’s rapping has an air of optimism to it, even when discussing difficult topics like drug abuse, funerals, and abortion. She addresses the guilt of past sins she carries and how she’s learned and grown in the face of them.

FAVORITE TRACKS: Yesterday, Diddy Bop, Reality Check, Freedom, Bye Bye Baby


9. My Woman – Angel Olsen

a1136135788_5.jpgMy Woman is a record that shows many different sides of Angel Olsen, both sonically and thematically. The front half of the record features the more lavishly produced and immediately accessible tracks, while the back end is more quiet, sparse, and introspective.  Olsen herself ranges from being headstrong and sarcastic to vulnerable and longing through the various topics touched on in the lyrics. As usual, Olsen’s voice is one of the strongest points of the music; her performance on “Shut Up Kiss Me” is one of the strongest she’s ever had.

FAVORITE TRACKS: Never Be Mine, Shut Up Kiss Me, Not Gonna Kill You, Sister

LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: Pops (there are times when I really like this song and other times when I don’t care for it at all)

8. 22, A Million – Bon Iver

JV1-640x640.jpgWhen I wrote about this album back in October, I struggled to accurately convey what it was about this album that I liked. I knew that I liked it quite a bit, but the words to describe what about it I liked and why I liked it escaped me, and continue to escape me. Perhaps my favorite quality about the album is that it feels like a culmination of the work that Justin Vernon has released under the Bon Iver moniker. Traces of For EmmaWoods, and Bon Iver can all be found on this album, making it feel familiar yet completely alien at the same time (the effects on Vernon’s vocals also sound like transmissions from outer space, so there’s that too).

FAVORITE TRACKS: 33 _GOD_, 29 #Strafford APTS, 666 ʇ, 8 (circle), 00000 Million


7. Psychopomp – Japanese Breakfast

c857cae3I kept going back and forth on this album as I was making this list. In one moment, it was as high as number 4, and in another, it was just barely excluded from the list. It’s not that it’s not a good album; that couldn’t be further from the truth. It was more that while there are a lot of enjoyable tracks on here, it’s just a little too short and inconsistent to merit it being any higher on this list. Psychopomp is an extremely fun listen and packs a lot into 26 minutes (including 2 instrumental interludes), but the short run time definitely leaves a lot to be desired.

FAVORITE TRACKS: Heaven, The Woman That Loves You, Rugged Country, Jane Cum

LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: I don’t really care for the instrumental interludes on a 26-minute album.

6. Puberty 2 – Mitski

a0571397198_5Mitski Miyawaki’s newest album is a sequel of sorts to her 2014 release Bury Me at Makeout Creek. While her DIY punk/garage rock sound hasn’t changed much, Puberty 2 digs even deeper emotionally with Mitski searching for what happiness is to her at this point in her life. She isn’t sure if it’s to be found in relationships, what others think of her or somewhere else entirely. The songs on the album range from quiet slow burners like “Once More to See You” to the abrasive and in-your-face “My Body’s Made of Crushed Stars”. Lead single “Your Best American Girl” captures the feeling and sentiment of this album perfectly. It’s also my 2nd favorite song of the year.

FAVORITE TRACKS: Happy, Dan the Dancer, Your Best American Girl, Thursday Girl, Crack Baby


5. Preoccupations – Preoccupations

prePreoccupations follows up their fantastic 2015 release with another very strong album. The band continues to dole out tight, well-written post-punk tunes. Though the album does falter a bit in the middle with the shorter songs “Sense” and “Forbidden,” things pick back up for the last two tracks, with the finale “Fever” being one of the best album closers I heard last year.

FAVORITE TRACKS: Anxiety, Zodiac, Memory, Degraded, Stimulation, Fever


4. Marked For Death – Emma Ruth Rundle

emSoul crushing and brooding, endlessly murky and sludgy. There are hundreds of similar adjectives that could be used to describe Marked For Death. Songs are atmospheric and vast as if they could fill the sanctuary of a gothic cathedral, with Rundle lurking in the shadows, waiting to burst forth. Then the chorus hits–and the songs come to life, like some sort of reanimated corpse. Convoluted and potentially incoherent similes aside, Marked For Death is a dreary and visceral experience not to be missed.

FAVORITE TRACKS: Marked For Death, Protection, Heaven, Real Big Sky


3. Synthia – The Jezabels

jezIf I had to sum up this album in one word, it’d be “euphoric.” Each track has an undeniably catchy and exhilarating chorus and displays a ferocity unlike anything else I heard in the past year. The album is dynamic and expansive, completely filling whatever space you’re listening to it in. Though this is only number 3, it’s the one album on this list I’d strongly urge everyone to listen to. Synthia is maximalist pop music at its absolute finest.

FAVORITE TRACKS: Stand and Deliver, My Love is My Disease, Smile, Unnatural, Come Alive, Pleasure Drive, Flowers in the Attic, If Ya Want Me, Stamina


2. Wishlist EP – Lina Tullgren

linaThere’s a sense of longing embedded in each track on Wishlist. “I wish I didn’t have to grow up so fast,” Tullgren sings on “Older,” a sentiment that everyone has felt at some point. Tullgren’s music and lyrics are probably best described as raw, exploring why we love, why we hurt others, among many others. The music itself is sparse and lo-fi, as Tullgren experiments with different chord progressions and arpeggios. Her vocals are twangy at times but incredibly evocative and emotional at others. I’d highly recommend this EP.

FAVORITE TRACKS: Watchdog, Older, Wash, Grace, Home


1. Nostalgia For Infinity – Sound of Ceres

cersI first heard this album back in February, and it’s been on repeat ever since then. The singles are great as standalone tracks, but the album is at its strongest when taken as a whole. Many of the songs seamlessly flow into one another, smoothly gliding the listener around a dreamy, wintery soundscape. The synths shimmer, the melodies soothe, and the vocals feel weightless as if they’d get blown away by a stiff wind. Though it’s a fairly slow moving album, the music is hardly ever boring as the band is constantly exploring new ideas and themes in the music. The album closes with the outlier “Dagger Only Run,” which exhibits a relatively danceable, albeit sleepy, beat. I could envision hearing it in a dance hall–if that dance hall had breaks for nap time with cozy blankets and warm milk.

FAVORITE TRACKS: Pursuer, Ember Age, Hand of Winter, Kingfisher, Dagger Only Run


Honorable Mentions

Here’s a list of albums I enjoyed but not enough to merit getting on this list, or I didn’t listen to enough:

  • As If Apart – Chris Cohen
    • Chris Cohen continues to be one of my favorite songwriters out there. Wonderful follow-up record to his incredible Overgrown Path. Some songs have a very jazzy feel to them, including the incredible “As If Apart.” Easily one of my favorite songs of the year.
  • for young hearts – soccer mommy
    • soccer mommy is my mommy and she makes very good music.
  • Nothing’s Real – Shura
    • Shura’s debut is about as good of a debut as you can make. I was instantly hooked after hearing the first two tracks “Nothing’s Real” and “What’s It Gonna Be?”. The album brims with nods to her influences, Madonna and Janet Jackson, with the song “Tongue Tied” being an obvious homage to the latter of the two. Despite its long running time, the album never overstays its welcome. 
  • Splendor and Misery – clipping.
    • clipping. create a soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist (and that probably should exist). Very enjoyable album to listen to in one sitting, but it’s tough to listen to individual tracks from it otherwise.
  • EP – HOOPS
    • Infectious guitar leads, wonderful lo-fi production, and sticky-sweet grooves are all over this fantastic, albeit short, EP. The concise nature of the songs allows the boys of Hoops to focus on making tight, catchy pop songs. Recommended for fans of Tops, Real Estate, Porches or Ducktails.
  • Losing – spookyghostboy
    • Easily the most longing and aching records I listened to this past year. Really sad stuff, but beautifully sad.
  • Stage Four – Touché Amoré
    • Another emotionally hard hitting record. The instrumentation is loud and punchy, and the lyrics are thoughtful and moving. (Julien Baker’s vocals on the track “Skyscraper” were a pleasant surprise too)
  • Masterpiece – Big Thief
    • pleasecometoTaylorpleasecometoTaylorpleasecometoTaylor. Also, there’s a song called “Paul” on this album so it gets bonus points for that (even if this “Paul” character in the song is not a good guy).
  • Private Energy – Helado Negro
    • He came to Taylor this past Fall and played a great show. And then one week later he released a great album. Way to go Roberto!
  • Front Row Seat to Earth – Weyes Blood
    • This album reminds me of Natalie Prass’s debut last year. I liked Natalie Prass’s debut. I like this album.

Top Tracks/Singles of 2016


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