2016 has been both a good and bad year for music. On one hand, we lost a good amount of musical pioneers such as David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and Prince, but we’ve also witnessed an outpouring of young artists making a name for themselves in the music scene with excellent debut albums. Before we get started, I’d just like to give a little disclaimer that this list of albums is in no way objective, but rather based on how much I personally enjoyed them. By putting this list together, I have hope that you, dear readers, can find enjoyment out of some of them too. Feel free to let me know what artists/albums stood out to you this year as well. Enough of my blabber, let’s get down to the list:
10) Tiny Moving Parts – Celebrate
Tiny Moving Parts is certainly a band with character. In the Minnesota emo group’s third album, they stay consistent with their signature twinkly guitar riffs, spastic drum fills, and shouted vocals of heartbreak and loneliness. Frontman Dylan Mattheisen’s nasally voice fills lines of utter despair in songs such as Headache, in which he sings, “I prefer this weight on my chest, there is nothing at all.” However, the band’s energetic persona brings stark contrast to their often dismal songs with goofy antics, cheesy mustaches, and high alcohol consumption. Celebrate continues to provide listeners with lively and introspective songs that can be shouted along with in youthful passion that Tiny Moving Parts never fails to invoke.
Recommended Tracks: Happy Birthday, Birdhouse, Headache
9) Kyle Craft – Dolls of Highland
The opening piano notes of Dolls of Highland place the listener in a smoky honky-tonk bar, where Kyle Craft’s charismatic tenor pierces through the sad saloon like a knife. In the Portland native’s debut under the famous Sup Pop label, he manages to create a musical persona, falling somewhere between glam rock and southern-Americana, that soars with flamboyant attitude through the duration of the album. Through Craft’s achingly emotive voice come tales and recollections that one can only imagine were written in the drunken haze of many heartbroken evenings. The theme of the songwriter being emotionally manipulated by a number of femme fatales carries through Dolls of Highland, with stories of women ranging from the mysterious Berlin, a siren-like burlesque dancer, to Black Mary, whose promiscuous attitude keeps boys scratching at her door through the night. Craft’s unique voice and songwriting talent demonstrate great promise in his early career, and Dolls of Highland has given him an excellent start at stardom.
Recommended Tracks: Eye of a Hurricane, Lady of the Ark, Pentecost
8) Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3
Killer Mike and El-P are two of the most notorious names in the world of Hip-Hop. Their last two albums stand testament to the duo’s defiant attitude, with both gaining critical acclaim and increasing the group’s loyal fanbase. As a sort of musical Robin Hood, the two men boast of doing what needs to be done (no matter how morally ambiguous) in the name of what’s right, with lines like, “One time for the freedom of speeches, two time for the right to hold heaters” and “obey no rules, I’m doing me.” In an unusual dichotomy, Run the Jewels are prophets of both social consciousness for the trodden-upon, and utter remorselessness in the face of law. In the song “Thieves” Killer Mike and El-P explain the importance of rioting and resistance against oppressive governments, bringing lines like “Can’t keep killin’ God’s children, mane, A pound of flesh is what you owe, Your debt is due, give up your ghost.” The heavy song ends with a snippet of a Martin Luther King speech, in which he explains, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Despite a number of these tracks that preach political and social awareness, Run the Jewels 3 also contains its fair share of braggadocious one-liners that the group is known for such as, “I do pushups nude on the edge of cliffs” on the song “Call Ticketron” and “I’m the Nelson Mandela of Atlanta dope sellers” in “Everybody Stay Calm.” Run the Jewels 3 is a return to theme for the legendary pair of rappers, but they still manage to bring new concepts and anecdotes to the table in a collection of tracks that will keep their fans shouting “RTJ!”
Recommended Tracks: Talk to Me, Thieves!, 2100
7) Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+ Evolution
The immensely talented jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding completely reshaped herself on this album of experimental song structure, soaring vocal melodies, and incredible musicianship. While listening to the album, I was struck by the singer’s ability to transition seamlessly between innocent tunes like “Unconditional Love,” demonstrating whimsical emotions, to complex jazz grooves like “Judas” which highlight her unique songwriting talents. Esperanza’s singing talent alone is a key to her songs, creating vast-ranging melodies with elegance. Spalding’s eccentricity is unleashed on Emily’s D+ Evolution in a work of wonderful and varied movements that prove her to be a master of her craft and a taker of our hearts
Recommended Tracks: Unconditional Love, Judas, One
6) Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Radiohead reigns as kings at the top of the wide-reaching genre that is alternative music. Expanding the boundaries of the alt-rock style at the turn of the century with albums like Kid A and Amnesiac, the group had proven their ability to variate between standard guitar-driven rock songs and ambient electronic music. Because of this, Radiohead’s successive releases maintained an air of unpredictability, keeping their fans on their toes. In A Moon Shaped Pool Radiohead has released one of their most subdued albums to date, demonstrating control and maturity within their element. With soft-spoken songs such as “Daydreaming” and “True Love Waits”, in which frontman Thom Yorke reflects over elemental soundscapes, Radiohead seems to require listeners to pay close attention to their minimalist yet polished style. The cathartic release that the album presents leaves the listener feeling cleansed at the albums close, but also brings each individual on an introspective journey into the enigmatic and often eerie nature of Radiohead.
Recommended Tracks: Burn the Witch, Decks Dark, Identikit
5) Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
I’ll admit, Atrocity Exhibition leaves me feeling kind of concerned over the well-being of Danny Brown. The album shows the hidden side of drug culture and how much of a toll it can take on a person. The Detroit rapper has never been secretive about his use of drugs, but now he has provided us with a work so schizophrenic and off-the-wall, that it allows us see what the world looks like through Danny Brown’s eyes, where uncertainty gives birth to impulsive actions. We start to see the real consequences of Danny’s downward-spiraling lifestyle although he shows no sign of slowing. Atrocity Exhibition also highlights Danny’s variance of beats and rhythmic styles, matching his voice and energy with the mood of each song. If you want, the album can provide you with some great bangers for a frenzied party lifestyle, but don’t dive in too deep, unless you want to discover the hell that comes along with it.
Recommended Tracks: Really Doe, Pneumonia, Get Hi
4) Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Will Toledo resembles the dweeby kid that sat in the back of your high school classes and avoided socialization at all costs. His voice is prone to squeaky interruptions and his lyrics often verge on self-deprecation. However, on his first major record release under his Car Seat Headrest moniker, Toledo presents us with more than an hour of musical material that absolutely kicks ass. The lo-fi production on Teens of Denial gives the album a distinct feel in a project that is undeniably his. He gives us a transparent view into his life experiences in songs like “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” and “Drugs with Friends,” in which he faces the dread of turning into someone he dislikes, with the lyrics “What happened to that chubby little kid who smiled so much and loved the Beach Boys?” and “Filled with loathing and religious fervor, I laid on my friend’s bedroom floor for an hour and tried not to piss my pants.” Lyrics like these follow along with the album’s theme of Toledo’s seemingly constant embarrassment and remind us that it’s okay to feel shame for our actions, and when this shame is channeled into driving guitar riffs and exasperated yelps, it can be turned into a pretty solid rock album.
Recommended Tracks: Destroyed by Hippie Powers, Drugs with Friends, Drunk Drivers
3) Solange – A Seat at the Table
Perhaps you’ve never heard of Solange, but maybe you’ve heard of her older sister Beyonce. Solange’s music isn’t necessarily dominated by sassy attitude like Beyonce’s is, but it certainly succeeds in giving us an expressive and poetic depiction of black womanhood in today’s America. Interjected with short interludes of her father and mother speaking of their individual experiences of expressing their culture, Solange creates subtle but effective songs of pride in not only herself, but also of people of black heritage. Songs like “Weary” and “Cranes in the Sky” explore themes of finding belonging in a hierarchical and racially biased culture. A Seat at the Table is an important album to understand, as it takes place in a time where empathy for others in the nation we share seems difficult for many. Solange teaches us through her wistful voice that everyone has the right to discover and express themselves by a way of their own choosing.
Recommended Tracks: Rise, Weary, Cranes in the Sky, F.U.B.U.
2) Pinegrove – Cardinal
How do you define the music created by Pinegrove? The music of this up and coming band hailing from the suburbs of New Jersey exists somewhere between the genres folk, emo, and indie rock. In Cardinal’s brief 30-minute run time, singer Evan Stephens Hall examines the daily worries and struggles of life into chilling poetry. Take for instance the opening song “Old Friends” in which Hall describes thoughts going through the head of someone walking alone, stating “My steps keep splitting my grief through these solipsistic moods, I should call my parents when I think of them, should tell my friends when I love them.” The album continues to meander through these reflections, like lack of expressing oneself, trying to remain optimistic in the face of uncertainty, and coming to terms with dwindling romantic feelings. Pinegrove backs these themes in rolling folk style, with group harmonies, slide guitar, and loose-tempo arrangements. Cardinal exceeds in its simplicity, and part of the beauty it expresses has to do with the album’s examination of something that a great deal of us experience throughout our lives: that sometimes simple truths are the hardest to come to terms with.
Recommended Tracks: All of them.
1) David Bowie – Blackstar
David Bowie surprised us by releasing Blackstar on January 8th, one of the earliest albums to come out of 2016. The album represented an important change in Bowie’s style, by incorporating heavy jazz influences into his songs, as well as creating dark and eerie atmospheres for his lyrics to exist in. The ten-minute long title track of Blackstar ventured into experimental realms, as Bowie murmured cryptic words about “the villa of Ormen” over a chaotic drum beat, only to open up into a climax consisting of Bowie’s exclamations of his “Blackstar” status. The rest of the album was executed perfectly and David Bowie seemed to have reached a new peak in his career. Two days after the album’s release date, I woke up to find that David Bowie had died of cancer. Suddenly, the significance of Blackstar had changed dramatically. This was not merely another addition to Bowie’s already extensive discography, but rather a final farewell to the strange world that he occupied for 69 years. I was met with chills when I revisited the song “Lazarus,” in which Bowie seemed to be speaking from beyond the grave with the lines, “Look up here, I’m in heaven, I’ve got scars that can’t be seen, I’ve got drama can’t be stolen, Everybody knows me now.” It was clear that this album was a eulogy for the late Starman, who shocked the music and fashion world alike with his songs of space travel, dystopian visions, and provocative outfits for decades. David Bowie continually sought ways to push the envelope of culture for the duration of his life, and with Blackstar he proved that he could even find art in his own death.
Recommended Tracks: Blackstar, Lazarus, I Can’t Give Everything Away
By Hayden Goodridge
How’d your 2016 go? Let me know what good releases I missed this year in the comments or email me at email@example.com. Thanks for the support.