My Best Albums of 2016: The Gold Medals: 10-1
The "On Pirate Satellite" Best Albums List
started my musical journey into alternative music with The Clash's self-titled album when I was in Junior High School. Now that I am 49, I find that my hunger for listening to new music has barely changed. I still listen to new music virtually every day.
The cover of the Clash album is here because they are the band whose ethos is at the heart of everything I do.
I listened to over 400 albums this year, that I whittled that list down to 150 albums, and that in the last few weeks I listened to all 150 of those albums again.
This list is something I work on all year long, hopefully, my digging will bring you some new music that you can fall in love with!
My Bronze medals list (#45-21) drew responses from multiple record labels and the artists Powell, Deerhoof, Vomitface, and several others. You can find that list HERE and the companion Spotify playlist is HERE.
My Silver medals list (#20-11) drew responses from multiple record labels and from the artists The Avalanches, Kino Kimino, Hallelujah The Hills and Violent Soho. You can find that list Here and the companion Spotify playlist HERE.
I hope you Explore, Enjoy, and Share this amazing Music!
And now (drumroll please) The Top Ten Albums of 2016!
Special Recognition Award: David Bowie - Blackstar (Columbia Records)
First, and most important, this is an amazing album, it could have placed anywhere in my top ten. It is absolutely astounding that Bowie was in such amazing form considering what he was facing down. I wanted to separate it from the "list" because it is transcendent for me. David Bowie influenced virtually every band and genre of music that I love.
David Bowie is not one of the best of 2016, he is one of the best of eternity.
This has been a terrible year for loss in the music industry, I also want to use this moment to say goodbye to the artists that passed this year that authentically had at least some influence on my musical experiences and tastes. So, with a heavy heart, I say goodbye to:
Pete Fountain, Maurice White, Ruby Wilson, Paul Kanter, James Wooley, Glen Frey, Bobby Hutchinson, George Martin, Sharon Jones, Donald Buchla, Otis Clay, Buckwheat Zydeco, Nicholas Caldwell, Phil Chess, Dale Griffin, Leon Russel, Signe Anderson, Billy Miller, David Mancuso, Vanity, Mose Allison, Andrew Loomis, Merle Haggard, John Stabb, John Berry, Marshall Jones, Thomas Fekete, Roy Wasserman, Duchess DeSade, and Nigel Gray.
There are a few people passed this year who I had a more lifelong connection musically (and sometimes personally). These are the people had a direct and everyday influence on the way I look at and consume music:
Prince Buster (Ska is always in my heart)
Pete Burns (A very shy and nice person)
John Bradbury (Grew up on The Specials)
Bernie Worrell (Keyboard of the Funk)
Scotty Moore (The Guitar of Elvis)
Alan Vega (Sparked my interest in Electronic Music)
Leonard Cohen (So much soul)
Malik Isaac Taylor AKA Phife Dawg (Hip-Hop to the core)
Prince Rogers Nelson (Saved My Life In High School)
David Bowie (Patron Saint of all Introverts, Visionaries, and Weirdos)
You will all be deeply missed by me! Thank you, and Rest In Peace!
The Gold Medals #10 - 1
#10 - Fury - Paramount (Triple B Records)
This is the best hardcore punk album that I heard this year and the best Orange County hardcore album that I have heard in years. (I am sure someone out there will respond that "I need to get out more"). Jokes aside, listening to this album is a powerful and aggressive catharsis for the listener. It is not just that the music is right on time for the genre, Jeremy Stith's lyrics are thoughtful and even at times introspective not always a given in an anger and aggression genre.
Need to work some anger out? Put paramount on and wreck your place!
#9 - Camp Cope - Camp Cope (Poison City)
This is the kind of 90's throwback indie album that makes you think about that Throwing Muses and Veruca Salt, and Juliana Hatfield period which for me has always been a very nice place to be (and I mean that in the very best possible way).
Anyway, I am certainly not suggesting that this album is derivative at all, it is full of passion and deep and painful personal screams and sobs into the darkness of the studio microphone. One friend of mine tells me how strong the emotional effects of this album were for him and I would have to agree that Georgia MacDonald's lyrics have a real power ("I have become desensitized to the human body, that I could look at you naked and all I would see would be anatomy, that just borders on insecurity").
Plus, they are from Australia, and if this year's list says anything it seems to be that I love Australian Alternative Rock Music in 2016.
Jeff Rosenstock was in the punk/ska band "The Arrogant Sons of Bitches," which (if you read my Mr. Robot haters) should be right down my alley...And, guess what, it was.
Anyway, now Mr. Rosenstock is a producer and a solo artist and a damn good one. To be honest, I would have never guessed that he had this kind of crowd-pleasing foot-stomping fun music at his core.
I know it is the usual job of an internet critic to start making references to all of the bands and artist is like, I don't necessarily agree with this approach but it does give people a place to find common cause with an album they have not yet heard in a world where everything is competing for our time.
I could certainly rattle off a ton of references, but instead, I will just say that this album has the goofy infectious fun feeling that I remember from the very first time I heard Weezer's Blue Album (Think The Sweater Song). That feeling that no matter how bad thing get there is still music that makes us smile (A good message for 2016). Sure there is irony, and sarcasm, and barbs here but I think the final message is to stop worrying and love the bomb.
#7 - Mitski - Puberty 2 (Dead Oceans)
This is one really pleasant ride, of an album but it is Mitski Miyawaki (Should it bother me that my spellchecker insists her name isn't Mitski) thinks too much happiness is a trap. Something to be wary of as much as embrace.
I am not sure what that means for my continued enjoyment of this amazing album that I have been listening to since at least August. I love her observational style of singing, her crafty song constructions, and the moments of pure pop genius (Your Best American Girl, IMHO, if a pop masterpiece).
But it is also a fascinating interpretive lyrical adventure, My Best American Girl, for example, seems to be both about a former relationship and also about Mitski's clear desire to be a player in the same American Rock and Roll music that is steeped in so many macho tropes and so much phallic swagger:
Your Mother wouldn't approve of how my Mother raised me
but I do, but I finally do.
And you're an All-American Boy
I guess I couldn't help trying to be the best American girl.
Anyway, Mitski's album is overflowing with beauty, thoughtfulness, craft, and packs a powerful emotional punch. And, if the emergence of artists like Mitski and St. Vincent represent evolutionary or transformative impact destined to shape the future of Rock (and to make it relevent again), the world could only become a better place.
If you want to see how long I have been touting this as a great record, go back to my blog the week that "No Burden" was released (at the time, on EggHunt Records).
From the very first time I heard this album, I was totally blown away. Since that time, so many people have taken notice of the 21-year-old Ms. Dacus that Matador records swept in and re-released No Burden for an even wider distribution (how many albums are so good that they get released twice in the same year by different labels?).
The music is great, Dacus writes thought-provoking and insightful lyrics at a very young age and seems to have a natural gift for phrasing when using her powerful voice molasses-drenched in a wisdom that appeared out of some magical ether in Richmond VA. She is also clever with lyrics (like a more folk Courtney Barnett).
I don't have much else today, been on this bandwagon since week one, please feel free to join "Team 'No Burden'" (much better late than never in this case).
#5 - King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Nonagon Infinity (ATO)
In just the last few entries, I have mentioned Courtney Barnett and how much this whole list is starting to tilt towards lovely Australia (I will have to go back and count but it might be as high as 10 out of my top 45 albums that originated down-under in 2016).
Okay, well, here is another amazing Australian band, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. This is my pick for the best rock or psychedelic album of 2016 and it is one hell of a wild ride.
I usually hate songs that clock in at over three minutes but will usually tolerate one or two long songs per album, and this album has ONE song under 3 minutes long. What can I say, the songs on this album are so much fun I just couldn't stop tapping my feet. I finally just had to surrender.
From the spaced-out guitar lines to the incredibly precise drumming....Hell, I even liked the harmonica. I hear everything from Talking Heads to DEVO buried in the KGATLW mix somewhere. It is like they are a band that decided to radically deconstruct psychedelia and then rebuild it into something punk douchebags like me could appreciate.
I would just suggest you strap in, turn on the Christmas lights, turn out the regular lights, and go on a crazy Australian journey through Nonagon Infinity (whatever the Hell that is).
#4 - Preoccupations - Preoccupations (Flemish Eye, Jagjaguwar)
I have been talking up this band for a long time. I loved them before they changed names, I wrote fairly extensively about their name change from VIet Cong to Preoccupations, and I posted something about almost everything that they have done since.
Suffice to say, this band's music speaks to me at a core level (which sadly might be alienation).
I believe, and if you read me regularly you know that this is a pretty big thing for me to say, that this is the band that musically is best carrying Joy Division's torch right now. I am not sure that is something they would care about, it is just my own personal observation. Preoccupations give musical voice to the darkness surrounding modernity (us).
Preoccupation's sound is so alienated and cold that it makes you think that they have been exiled to some ice covered wasteland but have started to bond with the icicles and crystalline structures surrounding them (in other words, they have some warmth but not as much as you would find in a bad pair of gloves).
But the world is full of alienation right now, Preoccupations is, IMHO, the real soundtrack to a planet where Trump can be king and where most people believe that Black Mirror is talking about a dystopian future. Life is often nasty, brutish, and short these days and my balance happens somewhere between Jeff Rosenstock's partying and Preoccupations intense navel-gazing (and I mean that in a good way).
This is also my favorite pure post-punk album of the year (yup, I am saying it is great because it is both cold and sparse).
Maybe this doesn't seem like the greatest endorsement, but it is. Even a cold understanding voice is a comfort in a storm and there can be beauty in the cold (listen to "Memory" if you want to know what I mean).
#3 Savages - Adore Life (Matador)
I am not going to lie, it pisses me off that so many publications have this album at like #30. What the F*&k? I think saying Adore Life is the 30th Best album of the year is the Best Album's equivalent of liking (but not RT) a Tweet, it is like a condescending pat on the head.
Maybe it is because it came out last January and has been around literally the entire year. Maybe reviewers just chase the bright shiny objects (I am certainly guilty of this at times too). Not here, not today, this is one of the top three albums of 2016. Heck, I will freely admit it could have been number one (I spent two weeks going back and forth on the final three).
Normally, I would talk about how this was one of my favorite post-punk albums of the year (and in a sense that is true) but this is one of the best ROCK albums of the year, made by one of the best bands in the world. who just happen to also be all women.
As I write this, I am listening again, and it is powerful now as I remember it being when I first heard it eleven long months ago. How many times do you listen to the same album for nearly a full year and still love it? Not that often. I get it, people love the 1975...fine music, but sorry, just not as good or important an album (and yes, NME I see Life of Pablo at #2 are you FKM? Are you a troll posing as a serious music publication?).
Okay, enough of my rant, "Adore Life" is a truly great record, I highly recommend it.
#2 - Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition (Warp Records)
Dear NME, if you were going to choose a Hip-Hop album in your Top 5, could you please explain how you picked Kanye's worst album instead of Danny Brown's best?
Yes, Danny Brown had me at hello for naming the album after a Joy Division song. But, I can't tell you how happy this album made me on its release. Earlier in the year, The LA Weekly posted a ridiculous troll job on punk where they insinuated that Punk and Hip-Hop had nothing in common when, as any old school punk knows, they were co-productive.
This blog started with my love of The Clash, and The Clash knew - it is ALL One Music.
Anyway, Danny Brown has managed to take the best elements of alternative hip-hop and combined them with the best elements from the alternative end of rock music, and that is something worth celebrating. There are old school moments, R&B moments, and new school moments but they are all supported by production that suggests you are experiencing the dark surrealism Kanye was hoping for with his Dark Twisted Fantasy album (which I liked).
His delivery might rub some folks the wrong way, but his flow and lyrics are Jedi Knight strong.
By experimenting with so many different genres, Brown created something entirely unique.
Atrocity Exhibition is without prefix, suffix, or apology my number 2 album of 2016. It embraced everything this blog stands for musically.
#1 - Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Denial (Matador)
Will Toledo is like 24 years old.
His lyrics are incredibly reflexive and deep.
His music is moving and even deeply affecting at times.
I am someone who has been diagnosed with depression and an addict in recovery (6.5 years sober) who has written a book on the subject of addiction and some of the things he says about addiction and depression on this album really impressed me.
Did I mention Will Toledo is 24 years old?
In some ways, his music sounds like normal but good lo-fi..but then some hook or lyric will grab me and I will start thinking about it and next thing you know I find myself listening to it again...and again...and again.
I honestly can't count how many times I listened to this album this year.
And at the end of the say (or year), this is really about deciding which album you just could not stop listening to all year long. Last year, for me, that album was "Depression Cherry" and this year it is "Teens of Denial."
Congratulations to Will Toledo and All Hail The New King!
Thanks to everyone for reading, I need a few weeks to get back into listening to new albums. The Top Ten playlist will be out this weekend and the best songs of 2016 playlist will be out next week.
What albums did you like or hate?
What was your top album of the year?
What artist's passing affected you the most?
Let me know what you think, leave a comment!