2016 was a rough year. I don’t think I’m the only one who would be more than happy to bid it adieu. Between famous & beloved people dying and American democracy dying after a year long bloodbath that got everyone dirty in one way or another, this year can’t end fast enough.
Thankfully there’s been some things out there to help us get us through – whether it was movies, television, long walks on the beach in a drunken stupor or as is this point of this post, music. Yes we lost some music legends this year, but the music that was released this year was also incredibly helpful in getting us through. So with that in mind and also because I have a natural aversion to traditional “best of” lists, I put together a list of twenty albums that helped make this year tolerable. Implied is the fact that for all intents and purposes, these are, in my opinion of course, the twenty best albums of the year. I’m just not ordering them. I mean, can’t we all just agree that the best album of 2016 is either Lemonade by Beyoncé or The Life of Pablo by Kanye West? And then we all lock in Coloring Book by Chance in the third spot and move on with our lives.
So speaking of moving on, let’s move on to the list.
Why? Because it showed up one morning at the end of January, following the release of the first single “Work” and buoyed by songs like “Needed Me,” “Kiss It Better” and “Desperado” showed a more focused and driven RiRi. The brightness and pop sensibilities were apparently reserved for her side hustle sessions with Calvin Harris. Anti is Rihanna going all business.
Why? Because it might be the most important album of 2016. Also, because “Formation” is a GREAT song.
A Tribe Called Quest ‘We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service’
Why? Because in a year when all bets were off in the world of music in 2016, of course it’d be the year when A Tribe Called Quest would not just reunite, but release their first album in almost twenty years. The album isn’t an act of charity either, nor is a throw-away money grab. It’s a rock solid, old school hip hop album helmed by Q-Tip and featuring Tribe’s tribe of fellow emcee’s. “We the People” is a top five track of 2016, but man, I love “Ego,” a song sleeping in the album’s back nine.
Metallica ‘Hardwired…to Self-Destruct’
Why? Because in releasing their first album in nearly a decade, Metallica pulled off somewhat of a rarity. Metallica, an aging rock band, whose best days are behind them, released a relevant album that reminded fans of varying degrees of their glory days without being cheesy, cheeky or cheap about it. The album is heavy, thrashing and intense and it might the band’s best release since the so-called Black Album in 1991, which if you’re keeping track, was a little while ago.
Anderson .Paak ‘Malibu’
Why? Because breathes of fresh air are always welcome and Anderson .Paak is a rare bird, combining tropes of hip hop, funk and R&B into one delectable dish on Malibu, an album highlighted by the excellent jam “Come Down.” .Paak was one of my favorite new artists of the year and his NPR Tiny Desk concert is required viewing for anyone looking for a holiday pick-me-up or break from the toxic swamp on Twitter.
Sturgill Simpson ‘A Sailor’s Guide to Earth’
Why? Because his cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” is one of the rare instances where a cover…no, I’m going to stop myself there and just say that Simpson’s version of the Nirvana classic is exceptional and worthy of hyperbolic praise if that’s something you’re into.
Green Day ‘Revolution Radio’
Why? Because the album rocked and it rocked in a way that was almost admirable. Green Day aren’t young bucks or young punks anymore, but they’re still attacking their music with the piss and vinegar and assaulting swagger that they always have, especially when they were at their apex following the release of American Idiot. It’s kind of exciting to imagine what they could do next with Trump in office fueling their creative juices in a similar way as the Bush presidency elevated them from pop-punkers on fumes to experiential stadium act.
Childish Gambino ‘Awaken, My Love!’
Why? Because it only furthered the case that Donald Glover is one of our country’s most promising talents out there, whether it’s in music, television or film. The fact that he released both Awaken, My Love!, a reflective and honest hip hop record soaked in 70’s funkadelia, in the same year he produced one of the year’s best television shows (Atlanta) is one of those things we should all take the time to take stock of and appreciate as the year ends.
And now, a brief Intermission…
Drive By Truckers ‘American Band’
Frank Ocean ‘Blonde’
Chance the Rapper ‘Coloring Book’
Band of Horses ‘Casual Party’
Kendrick Lamar ‘untitled and unmastered’
The Olympians ‘The Olympians’
Rogue Wave ‘Delusions of Grand Fur’
Tedeschi Trucks Band ‘Let Me Get By’
The Weeknd ‘Starboy’
Young the Giant ‘Home of the Strange’
Stop Light Observations ‘Toogoodoo’
Thank you. And now, back to our scheduled programming.
Kanye West ‘The Life of Pablo’
Why? Because nothing will ever beat the run-up to this album’s release. Ever. Also, the album ended up being really good.
Eric Krasno ‘Blood From a Stone’
Why? Because Krasno, the guitarist for Lettuce and Soulive, stepped up to the mic to drop a powerful mix of rock, soul and R&B on an album that will probably fly under the radar in most circles, but deserves some widespread love, especially for songs like “Waiting On Your Love,” “Torture” and “On the Rise.”
Kings of Leon ‘Walls’
Why? Because it looked like Kings of Leon’s career might have been over, given the luke warm reception of their last album Mechanical Bull and troubling personal issues. Instead they rebounded with a strong and solid rock record, an album that could prove to be incredibly important to the future of rock music.
NxWorries ‘Yes Lawd!’
Why? Because Anderson .Paak and Knowledge teamed up for a wild album, driven by Paak’s unique sounding vocals and Knowledge’s production, which incorporated bits and pieces from everything from old school hip hop to gospel music.
Why? Because these New Jersey youngsters expertly fused lo-fi emo with Americana in a way that bellies a spirit well beyond their years. A band like Pinegrove is exciting – so young, but making music so interesting, honest and endearing.
The Record Company ‘Give It Back To You’
Why? Because they’re like a blues rock version of Morphine and the phrase “blues rock version of Morphine” should be enough to pique anyone’s interest. If that doesn’t work, just listen to “On the Move” or “Off the Ground” and you’ll get it.
Red Hot Chili Peppers ‘The Getaway’
Why? Because it might not have been a great album per say, but it was interesting enough to generate some worthwhile conversation about the band’s future and legacy. And it’s not like it’s a bad album by any means. The Chili Peppers are just stuck in that rut bands of their age find themselves in, where they have to either look to the past for inspiration & material or re-invent themselves. How does a band like the Chili Peppers, who are made up of such interesting and unique ingredients, reasonably expect to re-invent themselves? They are who they are. Their future depends on whether or not their fans want more of what that is or just rehashing of what they’ve already done.
The Shelters ‘The Shelters’
Why? Because the Shelters, aided by Tom Petty, released a fresh, but distinctly vintage-sounding album that was unique in it’s own special way. “Rebel Heart” is one of those songs that jumps out of your speakers and grabs you by the shoulders, begging to have your attention.
St. Paul & the Broken Bones ‘Sea of Noise’
Why? Because when an band comes out of the wilds of Alabama, peddling their own version of old school and the album they bring with them has songs like “Call Me” and “Half the City” on it and even David Letterman is a huge fan, you’re going to want to know how they follow that album up. St. Paul & the Broken Bones, unofficially my band of 2014, stayed true to their course with their sophomore album and if anything, only tightened up and honed their wonderful sound. I’m going to be honest, I love this band.
The Suffers ‘The Suffers’
Why? Because they’re like a southern version of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. They dip in and out of everything from funk to soul to country to reggae to rock on their self-titled album, which came out this year.
Why? Because it was course-correction time for Weezer. What does that mean? It means if you’re a fan of Weezer, but the kind of Weezer you expect from one of their self-titled albums, nicknamed after the color of album cover, and that is your reference point, you are generally turned off by their forays into different styles and the audio experimentations of Rivers Cuomo. So in 2016 we were lucky. It was a course-correction year and we got “the White Album,” yet another back-to-basics album for Weezer. I can’t wait to ignore their next two albums and then get pumped for “The Yellow Album” in 2024.
The Avalanches ‘Wildflower’
Why? Because it had been YEARS since the Avalanches, a group of Australian DJs, released an album, going all the way back to 2000 and Since I Left You. Of course they’d come back in 2016 and drop one of the weirdest summer jams out there in “Frankie Sinatra.”