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.

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A Break from the Election Blues: LxListening

This election season couldn’t be over soon enough. This fall’s music has offered both a respite from the political ugliness and also has spoken straight to the urgency of it like the David Egger’s led 30 days for 30 songs now 40 songs in 40 days for a Trump-free America. Whether you are feeling righteous anger towards this election cycle, feeling existential and maybe a little hopeless, or just seeking some peace and quiet, this fall has delivered good music for all three. Here are a few of my favorites.

 

Amber Coffman – “All To Myself”

The eclectic Dirty Projectors have been one of my favorite bands in the last 10 years, and I’ve always thought their guitarist and co-vocalist Amber Coffman should split off for a solo career. She finally has here in 2016, with a solo album to come soon, but led by “All To Myself” a lovely mid-tempo ballad which isn’t a far cry from her sound in Dirty Projectors. The Dirty Projectors themselves are coming out with an album soon, and it appears based on their lead single, frontman Dave Longstreth doesn’t seem too pleased about Coffman going solo.

Moses Sumney – “Worth It”

LA’s Moses Sumney is one of the more refreshing up-and-coming artists today, mixing soul and folk in creative ways. A Sufjan Stevens touring mate and disciple, Sumney’s songwriting is similarly informed by his faith, with his debut EP Lamentations finding him wrestling with God, and lead single “Worth It” sort of being an open-hearted, auto-tuned confessional.

Jim James – “Same Old Lie”

My Morning Jacket’s Jim James’ musical heroes (Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, Roger Waters) have a knack for writing politically urgent yet timeless lyrics to fit their time and to last beyond. James strikes that balance well on his first single “Same Old Lie” for his upcoming second solo album Eternally Even, singing a Mayfield-esque protest against the hatred and violence that perpetrates our world.

Swet Shop Boys – “T5”

One of the most surprising new duos in music is Swet Shop Boys, which combines world-class British actor Rez Ahmed aka Rez MC (hot off starring in HBO’s stellar Night Of and soon to be star in Star Wars Rogue One) with Himanshu Kumar Suri aka Heems 1/3rd of goofball rap troupe Das Racist. What the two have in common is being of South Asian descent, with Heems being an Indian-American from Queens and Rez being a Pakistani-Brit from London. On “T5”, the two furiously and humorously break down what it’s like to be brown post 9/11, facing Islamophobia, xenophobia, government surveillance, racial profiling at the airport, and much more.

Nick Cave – “Skeleton Tree”

For those feeling straight-up existential and depressed this election, maybe wait to listen to Nick Cave’s latest Skeleton Tree until November 9th. While Skeleton Tree is certainly the saddest listen of 2016, it is also the most moving and human. In the summer of 2015, Cave experienced unbearable tragedy with the loss of his 15 year old son Arthur who fell of a cliff to his death while on LSD. This happened in the middle of the recording of Skeleton Tree, and was captured in Andrew Domenik’s black-and-white documentary One More Time With Feeling. Over spare piano ballads, Cave pours out his soul, the sort of primal scream album like John Lennon’s therapeutic Plastic Ono Band. It’s certainly not for everyone, but music was made for healing, and hearing Cave work out his tragedy can help someone else going through hardship to know they aren’t alone.

For more of my favorites from the fall, check out my Spotify playlist.

Aussie Takeover: 10 Best Australian Music Acts

australian music
With Courtney Barnett and Tame Impala quickly sweeping over the music scene like a non-violent version of a tornado, we thought we would give a shout out to our favorite music from the land down under. And yes, obviously Men at Work made the list. Enjoy, and give us your qualms:

10. Dirty Three
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Pure Aussie instrumental rock. Warren Ellis is like if the devil stole the boy’s fiddle in “Devil Went Down to Georgia”.

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Top Ten Thursday: Duets to Die For

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We decided it was finally time to make a list concerning the combination of kindred vocals.  Duets that is.  A guy and a girl is the most popular concoction, but there is certainly room to wiggle with that formula on this list.  For frame of reference, we attempted to stay away from two very specific types tracks that may be considered duets.  The first area is hip hop tracks.  R&B tracks are fine, as long as they don’t interfere with the next criteria, but it seems every hip-hop song has multiple rappers, or at the least one rapper and someone else for the hook.  Just seemed a little too muddled.  The second criteria we aimed to stay away from were artists that have two vocalists, where almost every one of their tracks might be able to be considered duets.  Sorry, but we were looking for duets where the source recording is at most part of a one-off album.  As always, I think we crafted a solid list, but am certain we missed something along the way.  Feel free to offer suggestions, and enjoy.

10.  The Postal Service & Jenny Lewis – “Nothing Better”

jenny lewis, postal service, nothing bettter

Ben Gibbard & Jenny Lewis combine for an electonic-infused back and forth on The Postal Service’s 2003 track “Nothing Better”.  The conversational tone of Gibbard and Lewis vocals is about as fun as it gets, and makes us thirst for more than just a Postal Service tour reunion.  Record a new album!
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LxListening: Odds and Ends 2.0

Odds and Ends 2.0 playlist

Around this time last year, I did an odds and ends playlist of just random music I was listening to, and this year you get the same. It seems this time early in the year, there usually isn’t a ton of releases and because of this, I try to use this time of year to explore some older artists I haven’t had a chance to. So without further ado, here are five songs that have really struck me this past month.
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Divine Fits Review

Divine Fits

A Thing Called Divine Fits

Spoon and Wolf Parade supergroup Divine Fits album cover art

Supergroups can often by surprisingly disappointing affairs, with the sum of their parts rarely if ever equaling their whole (only happening maybe twice with Cream and CSNY). We recently explored the best supergroups with our recent Top Ten Thursday list, and found that great super groups are truly in short supply.  The ones that seemingly work the best is when there is one clear alpha dog (i.e. Jack White’s projects, A Perfect Circle, Wild Flag) or if each of the musicians have a history of collaborating (i.e. Eric Clapton’s projects, CSNY, Monsters of Folk). Divine Fits, the latest indie supergroup trio consisting of Britt Daniel of Spoon, Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs, and Sam Brown from New Bomb Turks, somewhat fits the alpha dog category with Britt Daniel of Spoon, but as seen on their debut, A Thing Called Divine Fits, Boeckner and Daniel pretty equally split lead duties for what is a tight well-produced 40 minute hybrid of new wave and rock ‘n’ roll; something both Spoon and Wolf Parade have explored masterfully.
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