At the end of any given year, there is a period of time where we tend to reflect back on the whirlwind of events we’ve lived through in the past 365 days. This is a small slice of the music that accompanied 2016. For someone like me, it is typically difficult to cut things down to a top 10 when it comes to music. This year I started out with the intention of making regular playlists of all new music, and I found myself really engaging much more with a lot of new albums. Beyond this top 10, there are about 30-40 other artists and albums that were a significant part of my listening this year. There are 5-6 that I had a hard time not including. If I could include 16 in a top 10, then I would. The thing is that this would start to get really long… so 10 it is.
10. Bow Thayer – The Source and the Servant
This one might seem a bit unexpected given that it sort of snuck in without getting much airplay or making much of a splash. Bow Thayer is a blues/alt-country artist that I’ve followed for several years now. This new album is mostly covers of tunes originally by Dock Boggs or Mississippi Fred McDowell. Bow throws a couple originals in the middle, and in his gritty modern blues twists he made a record that really stood out for me.
9. Anomie Belle – Flux
Anomie Belle has the distinction of being my highest-ranked local album this year. I was surprised by this because it has been a great year for local music. Several might have made this list if I chose on a different day. That’s just how hard this was for me. This record stood out by being so unique. The drumlines, synths, sound-effects, a beautiful voice, and sometimes breaking through with violin, she created a beautiful album.
8. Steve Gunn – Eyes on the Lines
Steve Gunn loves playing guitar. You could give this album to any guitar player, play any song from it, and they will tell you the same. This album is full of intertwining guitar hooks, but the songs don’t sacrifice themselves to those indulgences. My favorite songs on the record are Ancient Jules and The Drop.
7. Junius Meyvant – Floating Harmonies
From the big, punchy blast of brass and strings at the start to the quieter moments like Pearl In Sandbox, this one has a lot to offer. This Icelandic Singer-songwriter has an engaging and varied sound that draws from a lot of different styles. It’s his first full-length record, and I’m excited to see where he goes from here.
6. Bombino – Azel
To me, discovering Bombino was discovering an entirely new type of music, and new way to play the guitar. I dove into his “Tuareg Blues”music this spring, and it was very rewarding. His last record, Nomad, was produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and carried a distinctly heavier modern blues sound similar to The Black Keys own music. This new record is produced by Dave Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors and has a lighter sound with even some reggae aspects to it.
5. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
In many ways, The Impossible Kid covers a dizzying amount of ground. Sometimes it’s fairly light and fun like psychoanalyzing the relationship with his cat in Kirby, or bewilderedly pondering kids these days in Lotta Years. Other times it is more poignant. He reflects on loss and grief in Get Out of the Car. With all the ground covered, it is impressive to bring it all to a cohesive end with Water Tower and Molecules closing out an excellent rap album.
4. Steve Mason – Meet the Humans
Bright and soft and warm. Singer-songwriter, Steve Mason, put out a great record. Strong vocal melodies and good lyrics make you want to sing along. The intertwining piano and guitar lines keep it interesting with repeated listening. Favorite songs here are Water Bored and Planet Sizes
3. Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos
This album was quick to rise for me. It’s certainly one that begs to be listened to all the way through. It’s a cohesive story told through 7 perspectives. The thoroughly constructed characters feel real; like people you’ve met. Overall, you get a sense of the struggles and setbacks of normal people. You can relate to some of them. This makes it for a very interesting and thought-provoking listen.
2. Shearwater – Jet Plane & Oxbow
This is one of those rare albums to come along that you can’t find a weak spot. Every song holds up well on its own, but also lends to the big picture of the album as a whole. Jonathan Meiburg’s vocals are beautiful, and the melody of the vocal line is instantly something you want to sing along with. This would easily have been an album of the year for me if not for…
1. The Tragically Hip – Man, Machine, Poem
Back in the spring there was new music just beginning to come out from the The Hip. A new single, and the rumors of a full album. Then on the day of the official announcement we got more than we bargained for. The new album was said to be their last as it was revealed that lead singer and main songwriter, Gord Downie, had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. The emotions surrounding this for the band and their fans swirled around this record. It was there in the songs. The Tragically Hip, together for over 30 years, released a beautiful, emotional record about human fragility, strength of will, dedication, and frustration.
Several records were difficult to leave out of this, and I think are worth mentioning.
David Bowie – Black Star
The Cave Singers – Banshee
Deep Sea Diver – Secrets
Fruit Bats – Absolute Loser
Drive-by Truckers – American Band
The Dandy Warhols – Distortland
Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals – Call It What It Is
Fly Moon Royalty – Delicious Trouble
Joseph Arthur – Family