Lemonade – BEYONCE
I don’t think any album, since maybe Yeezus, checked this many boxes and left such a seismic cultural impact. The album was a blockbuster hit, the rollout (Bey’s second straight out of nowhere release) was genius and the accompanying visual album stunning. It was a concept album stuffed with social commentary you could dance to and seamlessly spanned seemingly every genre of music. It sparked controversy and acclaim, topped charts and the news cycle, yet if you disappear into it start to finish (especially the video), Lemonade still feels miraculously intimate and personal.
Just a couple years ago I would have balked at the idea of me topping a favorite albums of the year list with a pop album, but I like to think I’ve grown a bit less pretentious. Then again, Pitchfork named Lemonade the 3rd best album of the year, so maybe I’m still full of shit.
Blackstar – DAVID BOWIE
You already know David Bowie is the man. You already know why this album is so achingly poignant. For those that have not listened, for my money it would hold up as a masterpiece without the tragic context of his death.
My Woman – ANGEL OLSEN
I really loved Angel Olsen’s last album and this one only further cements the North Carolina-based songwriter as one of my absolute favorite artists. Here Olsen’s reliably edgy songwriting gets funneled through a more intricately produced sound that is big and brash, echoing the Americana of 50’s era rock & roll while still sounding fresh. What a beautiful vehicle for an unapologetically pissed off songwriter.
Seeing her live was one of the best shows of the year for me, partly because it wrapped just in time for my SEC lady friend and I to catch the thrilling end to the Georgia-Missouri football game in the Village Tavern across the street — an early bright spot in the Dawgs’ subsequently disappointing season (Side note: Olsen was born in Missouri .. awkward). We happened upon an exceedingly friendly, but awfully drunk, UGA alum who only found himself in the bar that night because he was forced to evacuate his apartment that night thanks to that pesky Manhattan dumpster bomb situation. He “didn’t give a fuck” about the bomb and just wanted to get in his bed.
I Had A Dream That You Were Mine – HAMILTON LEITHAUSER + ROSTAM
I was aware of Rostam’s career with Vampire Weekend before this album. I had never heard of Leithauser. The pairing is a match made in musical heaven. A little bit Edward Sharpe, a little bit Shakey Graves, a little bit Vampire Weekend (of course). Few albums in 2016 provided more songs I enjoy queuing up outside of the context of the album and just rocking out to.
Fool – FRANKIE COSMOS
Greta Kline, daughter of Kevin and better known as Frankie Cosmos, is only 22 years old. 22. She makes me feel fucking terrible about myself. Next Thing is already the DIY pop rock queen’s second wonderful album. And “I watch David Blaine, find myself believing in anything, in many thing” is my lyric of the year. I have to see her live again. The first time is a bit … hazy.
Pyschopomp – JAPANESE BREAKFAST
I came across Japanese Breakfast because they were opening for Mitski at a show I had tickets for at Music Hall of Williamsburg. I quickly became more excited to see them than the headliner, to the continued disgust of a girl named Stephanie. To me, this album had similar confessional, heartbroken themes to the more acclaimed Mitski, but on top of a more sonic, anthem-y sound that I just dug more. I mean, “Everybody Wants to Love You” is just a perfect song.
Down in Heaven – TWIN PEAKS
There are certainly bands I like more, but none has made me a more loyal ticket buyer over the past year and a half than Twin Peaks. I’ve seen them 4 times in that timespan. Their shows are endlessly fun, playfully rowdy, and so communal — almost every member of the band sings and their fans have a cult-like adoration for the young Chicagoans. Their albums do an admirable job of channeling that good time, all while merging some of my favorite sounds and influences: pop punk, Velvet Underground’s lazy cool, 60’s psychedelia. They also have the coolest merch in the game.
Teens of Denial – CAR SEAT HEADREST
A late addition to the list, I checked in on Teens of Denial just three weeks ago, inspired by end of the year roundups and a friend’s praise, only to discover I had starred (Spotify for life!) “Fill in the Blank” months before. I should have gone deeper earlier. Will Toledo’s songs are angsty, melodic and masterfully constructed to build up and crash again with a beautiful intensity. Give me another month and this will likely have been my true favorite album of 2016.
Blonde – FRANK OCEAN
Blonde‘s first song, Nikes, is a shot across the music world’s bough. For fans that waited, often impatiently, for years for the new release, they are at first greeted with a jarringly high pitched rendering of the R&B/rapper’s croon. When Ocean’s true voice finally drops, the verse of the year comes with it, taking aim at fans, critics and society alike, all set to a hypnotic drone of a beat. It’s brilliant Then comes the rest of the album. Also, brilliant.
Puberty 2 – MITSKI
Mitski perplexes me. I was late to the party and caught up fast before seeing her early this year at Music Hall of Williamsburg. I prefer, Bury Me at Makeout Creek, to the new album and while I really love much of the music, I admit I’m not as high on her as more than a few people in my life who swear by her with a sort of voice-of-our-generation fervor. But I find myself coming back to Puberty 2 again and again, fragments or lines from the album stuck in my head.
Mitski is great, in part, because of the uniqueness of her voice in the very-white alt music scene and the perspective she brings, one that for obvious penis-shaped reasons is sometimes foreign to me. All I can say is I get more out of this album with each listen and I’ve spent much of the year arguing with my girlfriend not about if it is great, but how great. She is usually right.
Honorable Mentions (In Order of Favoriteness, Kinda …Maybe?)
Marina – EDDI FRONT
Coloring Book – CHANCE THE RAPPER
We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service – A TRIBE CALLED QUEST
Hella Personal Film Festival – OPEN MIKE EAGLE, PAUL WHITE
Love & Hate – MICHAEL KIWANUKA
Dancing with Bad Grammar: The Directors Cut – L.A. SALAMI
Album – THE SUN DAYS
4 Your Eyez Only – J. COLE
Three – PHANTOGRAM
Bad Boys Club – THE KING KHAN & BBQ SHOW
Views – DRAKE
Anti – RIHANNA
A Moon Shaped Pool – RADIOHEAD
The Life of Pablo – KANYE WEST
Changes – CHARLES BRADLEY
Emotions and Math – MARGARET GLASPY