LxL’s 10 Best Albums of 2016

I’m certainly not the first person to say 2016 was full of loss and turmoil, both with losing several music legends and the world experiencing all sorts of violence and tragedy. Some of our picks speak to that turmoil, whether it be speaking to police brutality and racism in our justice system, or the fear and xenophobia against immigrants that has spread throughout the U.S. and around the world. Other picks of ours were a comfort and escape from the madness. Others were just flat-out great albums.

  1. William Tyler – Modern Country

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Fitting firmly in the escape category, it’s rare that an instrumental album makes our list for 2016, but William Tyler’s country-guitar picking is breathtaking and cathartic. I probably listened to Modern Country more than anything else this year.

  1. A Tribe Called Quest – Thank You 4 Your Service

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A return almost 20 years in the making, influential rap trio returned just after the passing of the late Phife Dawg with an urgent, political album for Trump’s America. It’s warm and hopeful, but still cuts like a knife.

  1. David Bowie – Blackstar

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In truly prophetic fashion, David Bowie’s last album delivered 3 days before his passing speaks to death, mortality, and the afterlife like a man embracing it. With the help of Donnie McCaslin’s avant-jazz group, Blackstar was Bowie’s most experimental and best album in 35 years.

  1. Solange – A Seat at the Table

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Fair to say, it was a great year for the Knowles sisters…not so much for Jay-Z (see Beyonce’s Lemonade). We had a good conversation over which Knowles sister should make this list, so we sort of split the two, Beyonce on our songs list, and Solange on our albums list, for the more poetic album statement: about what it’s like being black in America and how to persevere when life gives you lemons.

  1. Drive By Truckers – American Band

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Not many people wrote better about Black Lives Matter, anti-immigrant sentiment, and our current political landscape than the old white Southern rockers Drive-By-Truckers. Seriously though, Patterson Hood and his Southern compatriots sound like a band on fire on American Band, almost like Crazy Horse in their peak.

  1. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

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A joyful and unique expression, Chance the Rapper released his 3rd mixtape Coloring Book, which is a celebration of growing up, becoming a father, and expressing faith in a child-like fashion. Few people exert more exuberance and joy about their city, their art, and their life as Chance, and the world is better for it.

  1. Angel Olsen – Woman

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Over her work with folk singer/songwriter Bonnie Prince Billy and her first three solo albums, Angel Olsen’s music has been expanding and becoming more of her own with each album. On Woman, Angel Olsen delivers song after song with her melodramatic voice and compelling arrangements for her best album to date.

  1. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.

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Even Kendrick Lamar’s scraps are better than other artist’s best feasts.  Kendrick surprisingly delivered untitled unmastered, the b-sides to our 2015 album of the year To Pimp a Butterfly, and even those made for our favorite rap album of the year. Suffice it to say, I’m not sure any musician is as exciting or talented as Kendrick Lamar right now.

  1. Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree

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The story behind Skeleton Tree is simply devastatling: Cave’s 15-year-old twin son Arthur tragically died after falling off a cliff near the family’s home. Cave, who has always dealt with death, God, and the afterlife in his music, now had to face it head on. On Skeleton Tree, the mourning and emotion is palpable in Cave’s voice, and the music is simply devastating. But there are moments of tremendous humanity and slivers of hope amidst the tragedy.

  1. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

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2016 isn’t exactly the golden age for rock music, but 24-year-old Will Toledo aka Car Seat Headrest delivered the most riveting album of the year, a concept album on adolescence that is sharply written, inventively composed, and full of good-old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll energy.

Honorable Mentions:

Beyonce – Lemonade

Mitski – Puberty 2

Anderson Paak – Malibu

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailors Guide to Earth

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

 

Just Missed:

Wes – Jamila Woods – HEAVN

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Chicago singer, rapper, and spoken-word artist Jamila Woods first became known on Chance the Rapper’s joyful “Sunday Candy”, but she showed what she’s made of in her debut album HEAVN, a beautiful, and personal expression about her life as a black woman in Chicago that also keys on musical influences from surprising places.

Austin – Lucy Dacus – No Burden

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Richmond’s Lucy Dacus debut No Burden was a true surprise: a well-written rock album fronted with Dacus’s classically beautiful voice.

Todd – Whitney – Light Upon the Lake

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Chicago duo Whitney is as soft and soothing as it gets, sort of a 70’s soft rock throwback, which makes this pick extra surprising for former wannabe-punk Todd. I guess he’s becoming a softy in his old age.

LxListening: Rocking and Rolling

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Rock music has really fallen far in the last two decades, being replaced by hip hop, pop, and then electronic music as the primary musical language of the day. While it once ruled the musical landscape for about 40 years (about 1955-1995), rock music is quickly becoming like jazz, a genre for a sub culture, rather than popular culture. So in some ways, liking rock music makes me (and maybe you) a bit of an old fogy. Whether it’s the predominant music of the day or just part of a subculture, either way, there will always be vibrant, exciting rock music just as there is always vibrant, exciting jazz music.

Early 2016 is no exception. Several of my favorite rock bands going released albums or singles as well as a few new bands I’m excited about. Here are six songs from bands that keep rocking and rolling even into 2016.

 

“Mother of the Sun” – Black Mountain

Quite simply, this is a mountain of a song. If you are a fan of 70’s hard rock and heavy metal like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple, there really probably is no better modern band for you to listen to. Trippy, heavy riffs that just serve as body blows. The perfect male/female rock vocal duo in Amber Webber and Stephen McBean as if they were transported straight out of 1970. Yet they have enough experimentation and songwriting craft to not just be a carbon copy of those 70’s rock bands.

 

“Dust” – Parquet Courts

“Dust” is the perfect anthem for cleaning your house. What a strange, funny, and surprisingly existential song it is from the fine Texas band, Parquet Courts. They have some of my favorite guitar/bass interplay since the Strokes. Now you have no excuse not to clean.

 

“Black Lipstick” – Chicano Batman

Receiving the blessing of Jack White, L.A. band Chicano Batman isn’t just one of the best named bands around – they are also one of the most interesting bands around. Combining psychedelic soul, Brazilian tropicalia, Latin blues, and soul into one amusing musical melting pot, I can’t wait to see these guys live.

 

“The Wheel” – PJ Harvey

In a year of political division, alt-rock great PJ Harvey is making political anthems for the people. Her new album releasing this week, The Hope Six Demolition Project, is filled with catchy yet piercing rebel anthems standing up for the people of England and those around the world, continuing her political bent started on her last album, 2011’s Let England Shake.

 

“Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” – Car Seat Headrest

Young guitar and singer/songwriting prodigies appear to be popping up left and right. Courtney Barnett was our obsession the last two years, and I think its safe to say, Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest might be ours this year. In addition to writing my favorite rock song so far this year, “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” is a stunning two-sided song starting tender and coyly before finishing with triumphant and biting guitar.

 

“The Answer” – Savages

Measured in pure riffage and intensity, it’s really hard to beat Savages. Jehnny Beth looks pretty much possessed on stage, and the rest of the band plays with the precision of Joy Division and the force of the Stooges. They are truly a sight to see.

LxListening: Sweet 2016

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It’s been a modest yet somewhat surprising first few months of music in 2016. We had a crazy sloppy album release from the former best rapper on the planet (Kanye West with Life of Pablo), and a quiet surprise release from the current best rapper on the planet (Kendrick Lamar with Untitled Unmastered). We’ve had a lot of old favorites come out with some solid releases (M. Ward, Mavis Staples, Santigold), and a few breakout artists catch me by surprise (Anna Meredith, TEEN, Anderson .Paak). Here are five of my favorite songs so far to come out in 2016.

Continue reading “LxListening: Sweet 2016”