Ten Best Albums of 2016 by Kelli Raulerson (Sleeper Picks)

ly0gebttBy Kelli Raulerson

December 26, 2016

10. The Growlers – City Club

City Club is the fifth studio album by the Southern California rock band and their most unapologetically confident one yet. Produced by Julian Casablancas of The Strokes this album ushers in an unfamiliar bravado for the band. Whether this wear and tear and related darkness comes with age or experience (accompanied by a life spent on the road) it leaves listeners longing for days spent sleeping and nights spent living out loud.

9. Jagged Jaw – Tonight Is

Referred to as a ‘utility player’ in Chicago’s local music scene, it makes sense that Bobby Lords’ self-released debut Tonight Is was overlooked. That’s unfortunate given it’s his best work to date. Using his experience as a producer, the album is a masterful collection of synths and carefree melodies all perfectly balanced start to finish. Not bad for a ‘sideman.’

8. St Howard – St Howard

The Atlanta based songwriter Matthew Thomas mixes storytelling and personal experience to expertly craft folk songs. A relatively unknown – don’t expect him to be a secret for long.

7. DIIV – Is the Is Are

While Is the Is Are might not be the album lead singer Zachary Cole Smith promised it certainly offers a candid frankness as to what happened in the mean time. With the addition of Colin Caufield on keyboards, guitar and backing vocals along with Ben Newman (from Charlotte, NC) on drums the band ‘dives’ right back into where they left off with Oshin. Without the requisite ‘silver lining’ fans were hoping for, Is the Is Are instead offers an honest depiction of inherent hope that exists he battle of addition. And while the sophomore album doesn’t offer a happy ending just yet – DIIV’s grime and determination are more obvious than ever before.

6. Daughter – Not To Disappear

Working with Nicolas Vernhes (Deerhunter, War on Drugs, Animal Collective) the indie folk trio return with a confident acceptance of the sadness that accompanies the human condition. What emerges is a bare and often frenzied depiction of simply pushing forward through the brutality of life.

5. River Whyless – We All the Light

With imaginative arrangements and deep lyrics the collective’s sophomore album is a testament to the idea that some bands just refuse to be pigeon-holed into one particular genre. We All the Light layers in unexpected global elements and captivating harmonies to solidify the band’s sound referred to as ‘singular’ by NPR’s Bob Boilen.

4. Mandolin Orange – Blindfaller

In their fourth studio album, Andrew Marlin & Emily Frantz continue to take an authentically renewed approach to traditional music. Recorded live with a full five-piece band including Clint Mullican on bass, Kyle Keegan on drums, and Josh Oliver on guitar, keys and vocals it’s the first album from the pair to capture the energy of their live shows. Blindfaller builds upon the duo’s laid-back delivery of traditional harmonies to explore the complex topics of today.

3. Chad Lawson – Dark Conclusions: The Lore Variations

As a Steinway artist and composer Chad Lawson has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered and his release The Chopin Variations reached #1 on Billboard’s classical charts in 2015. His most recent release Dark Conclusions was written as an episode soundtrack for the Lore podcast series. And as the series it illustrates musically, Dark Conclusions captures the essence of truth being more frightening than fiction. Each track is expertly arranged and for a year plagued by scary truths – it certainly hits uncomfortably close to home.

2. Blind Pilot – And Then Like Lions

Grappling with death and loss of love, And Then Like Lions is filled with warm, rich instrumentation, heavy acoustic guitar accented by strings and horns. The stark contrast between uplifting melodies and lamenting harmonies is what makes lead songwriter Israel Nebeker worth notice.

1. Whitney – Light Upon the Lake

The debut release from the band that includes Smith Westerns’ Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich celebrates the simplicity of life and makes it okay to smile again. The pop-folk duo provides some much needed levity in a genre too long weighed down by the perils of addiction and depression. And in a year filled with too many low moments to count – Whitney arrived right on que.

Listen to our favorite songs of 2016:


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