December 15, 2016
Okay, so I don’t have to tell anyone what a giant steaming pile of a year 2016 was, but the shining beacon in all the unpleasantness, some pretty great albums were released. This year gave us most notably the shocking deaths of genre benders, Bowie and Prince, and the personally earth-shattering void of a world without Leonard Cohen in it. My paltry list of Top Ten seems insignificant against the deaths of these greats, and it certainly won’t get rid of the most ridiculous plight of our year, electing the giant Cheeto into office, but good grief, it’s all I’ve got to take the edge off. And hey, at least those creepy clowns aren’t hanging around anymore.
10. Moby & The Void Pacific Choir – These Systems Are Failing
Moby has been on a tear this year and I love him so much for it. His Instagram account went from posting weekly photos of his piano room (gorgeous, btw) to critical political cartoons and dire animal rights photos. I’ve nearly forgotten what his piano room looks like. Moby’s channeled his mounting frustrations into a wonderfully cohesive voice that he’s using to call out bullshit. The album is cold, persistent and enraged. The songs plead, scoff and scream at greedy politicians, click-bait media, and lazy general populaces who don’t care one ounce about the state of the world because it isn’t yet in their own backyards. But it’s coming, and we all need to do better.
9. Fear of Men – Fall Forever
Fall Forever is the third album from Fear of Men, a dreamy three (sometimes four)-piece from Brighton, UK. I’m shocked that Fear of Men doesn’t get more attention, especially since the wonderful 2014 release of Loom. Their sound is sinister and dark with a sophistication and artful expression, most likely thanks to singer Jessica Weiss’ compelling, fragrant voice. It’s her delicately sweet voice that keeps the depth orchestrated and looming in such a magnificent way. I was lucky enough to see Fear of Men early this year when they opened for Mitski and it was easily one of the most pristine performances I have ever witnessed. Favorite songs off Fall Forever are “Island,” “Trauma,” and “Sane.”
8. Cass McCombs – Mangy Love
Anyone who knows me knows that whenever Cass McCombs touches anything I’m right there trying to figure out the importance of it all. Cass (we’re on a first name basis these days) is the type of musician that is so low-key and subtle that if you blink you’ll miss him and the slowpoke, settling genius of it all. Much like his previous albums, Mangy Love has that delightful Cass groove that makes him such a modern-day treasure, but this release employs a slightly softer, ‘70s traveling romanticism. Cass is a sensual musician not despite, but because of, the quirky additions and subdued lyrics in each song. Favorite songs are “Laughter Is The Best Medicine,” “Opposite House” (ft Angel Olsen), “Medusa’s Outhouse,” and “Run Sister Run.”
7. Weyes Blood – Front Row Seat To Earth
From start to finish, this album is seriously impressive and timeless. Upon first listen, I remarked that Weyes Blood (Natalie Mering) is the second-coming of Enya, except more accessible and saddened. Front Row Seat To Earth is immediately transcendental and the second track, “Used To Be,” is the track I’m deeming Song of the Year. The album is a simple, comfortable blue but heartbreaking and uniquely layered in a Cocteau Twins or Grouper way. The piano is patient against spacey crests while Mering’s voice is mournful and consoling. Favorite tracks are all of them, take a hot bath and let Weyes Blood nurture you.
6. William Tyler – Modern Country
I have no idea where William Tyler came from or how I first heard about this release (y’know what, it was probably NPR) but holy moly Modern Country is a gorgeous, sprawling instrumental masterpiece. It is seven songs of Western-tinged, guitar-moderated lucid dreaming. It is the shine off a pearlescent snap button. You know that happy feeling when you have this perfect day all to yourself and you lie on a lush green hill and get to smile into the sun for awhile, with nothing to do other than be there, laying there under the clouds? That’s a day that this album makes seem possible. It takes away all the pressing responsibilities and replaces them with a soft breeze on a sunny day.
5. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
Dev Hynes deserves some sort of medal for Freetown Sound. I feel like this album probably kept a lot of people going this year and I am in awe of the soft, soulful vocals against vibrantly colorful backbeats. The lonely saxophone on the track “With Him” is a prayer sent out, sweet and pleading, breaking up the smooth funk of the album with Marlon Riggs’ 1994 documentary, Black Is…Black Ain’t. Freetown Sound directly and intellectually addresses the Black Lives Matter movement by using a more atmospheric and quietly hopeful energy. Songs like “Hands Up” sample audio from one of the many BLM movements’ chants, “hands up/don’t shoot.” The result is far-reaching and powerful. Favorite songs are “St. Augustine,” “Best to You,” “E.V.P.,” and “Hands Up.”
4. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
I’m sure this album is on everyone’s Year End List, but there’s reason for it, I mean, it’s Tribe, and they released an entire album! I’d say it was most likely the best thing to happen in 2016, but even Tribe isn’t immune. In March of this year founding member Phife Dawg passed away from complications with diabetes. Fuck this year. Anyhow, the flow on this album proves they’re still Titans of hip hop and rhythm. The lyrics are packed tight, verbose with grievances and observances from this shit-show of a year pitted against the nostalgic stylings of traditional Tribe hip hop. Thank you, Tribe, for this album, and at least one thing that went right in 2016.
3. Whitney – Light Upon the Lake
I never really got into The Unkown Mortal Orchestra or Smith Westerns because it looks like I was just waiting for Julien Ehrlich to debut Whitney. When I first played it, it was like listening to the shimmer of gold and I still can’t get past the fact that it’s a debut album. Light Upon the Lake is melodious and wandering with just enough eccentricities to keep it bouncing. The album also evokes a ‘70s easy-going vibe, cruising quietly through the West Coast. Favorite songs are “No Woman,” “Golden Days,” “Dave’s Song,” and “Polly.”
2. Porches – Pool
This album is all my bedroom-pop loving ears ever wanted. The songs wink and glimmer, exactly the way pool water reflects the sun on a summer day. The beats are soft but deliberate and although it could be seen as kitschy, the lyrical content doesn’t shy away from the watery theme of the album. I think it’s a great aesthetic and I like to close my eyes and imagine the wavy blue and green of chlorine water keeping me afloat. Favorite songs are “Underwater,” “Be Apart,” “Mood,” “Glow,” and “Car.”
1. Tegan & Sara – Love You 2 Death
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for T&S. I am, after all, a 27-year-old girl who would’ve rather listened to sad girl songs than boy bands back in my youth. I never “stopped listening” to them, they just fell off my radar but with the release of LY2D they came barreling back into my view. From the gender fluidity of “Boyfriend,” to the fighting-for-what-matters “Faint of Heart” to the way they turn the patriarchy upside down in “BWU,” every song on this release is my new favorite. Not to mention they released AMAZING music videos for most of the songs, often with retro ‘90s aesthetics. This album is profoundly political by being a massive, supportive celebration of every single kind of love, an infectious party of synthesizers and blazing style in the face of constant hate.
A playlist of our favorite songs of 2016
In this article
- a tribe called quest
- blood orange
- Cass McCombs
- Fall Forever
- Fear of Men
- Freetown Sound
- Front Row Seat To Earth
- Light Upon the Lake
- Love You 2 Death
- Mangy Love
- Moby & The Void Pacific Choir
- Modern Country
- shirley griffith
- Tegan & Sara
- These Systems Are Failing
- top ten albums
- We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
- Weyes blood
- William Tyler