What a year, what a year of music. There were drone attacks, midnight surprise drops, the 1990s, earthquakes, tsunamis, low-flying panic attacks. Although I have to say, and this may be apparent by the fact that it's going up on December 30, this year has been among the least prepared I’ve felt going into a best of music list. There was a lot of music I liked a ton for sure, but there was also a lot out there I feel like I didn’t get to. Maybe a sign of busyness, or the slow-motion trainwreck that the year was. I felt more distracted from art in musical form than in other years. (I swear I'm going to get back to my podcast)
And there’s the usual lag factor of 2015 music that I had in heavy rotation this year, which is always kind of frustrating when making such a list. Releases from Downtown Boys, Floating Points, eskimeaux, Lightning Bolt I listened to constantly. Not to mention that in terms of pure listens, Cliff Martinez’s soundtrack from The Knick dominated my 2016.
kicking things off with a television show soundtrack from 2014!
There were runners up that I just didn’t have enough time with to properly put on the list: Nick Cave, Solange, Tribe Called Quest, Nicolas Jarr, Jenny Hval, Alejandro Escovedo. Other runners up that just fell short like La Femme and De La Soul.
But none of that is to undermine all of this amazing music that follows. And, since there wasn’t a ton of dominance from 2016 albums, I’m doing a top 15. These lists get a lot more interesting beyond the top 10 anyway. Let's music it up.
15. Gold Panda, Good Luck and Do Your Best
This is almost like when they give the Oscar to directors who have somehow been slighted in the past. Many, many hours have I spent listening to Gold Panda, including this latest.
14. Mitski, Puberty 2
Of all the indie darlings of the year, Mitski is one I definitely did love right away. Just a half hour long, but a lot of sound and emotion packed in there.
13. Late Night Tales presents Sasha: Scene Delete
I’ve been pretty obsessed with this series for a while, but the release by Sasha (which I have about zero 90s nostalgic connection to) is the one I’ve played the most. It really hit my sweet spot between ambience and beats.
12. Ornassi Pazuzu, Värähtelijä
This is one I did come to quite late in the year, but it still made the list as my recurring metal pick of the year. There was a lot of great metal this year, actually, from Nails, Destroyer 666, Arabrot. But it’s the 17-minute track that ends with the sound of raging fire that secured its spot.
11. Beyonce, Lemonade
What do you even say about Lemonade? It was a culture-shaping event as much as a record. But it also happened to be an extremely good record.
remember when you first watched that shit? come on
10. Ryley Walker, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
He was my favorite from the weird folk releases of the year. It takes a lot for a folk record to rise above white noise for me, and this one is a great mix of hooks, menace, and unexpected instrumentation.
9. Handsome Family, Unseen
This is the first I had ever listened to Handsome Family, except for the True Detective opening credits without knowing it. The duo owes a lot to its references, but still feels fresh mostly due to the lyrics that grab your attention and then keep delivering with lots of little plot twists.
A team up so perfect that you can’t often tell who is singing, which is funny considering all three have amazing, distinct singing voices. More than anything though, it’s a tight collection of exquisite songcraft.
7. Orkestra Mendoza, ¡Vamos A Guarachar!
In a gloomy ass year, this one pumped me up every time. Sergio Mendoza is probably best known for his spot in Calexico, but he’s been a Latin music mad scientist for a while now, making peyote-tinted, big band mambo.
pause. drink tequila. OK now play.
6. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
I’ve loved just about everything Radiohead has put out, even the later stuff, and the Thom Yorke side projects. But this was particularly good. What other band has had such a consistent, evolving, challenging artistic presence?
5. Blood Orange, Freetown Sound
Of all the amazing genre-mixing R&B happening right now, this one really got me, more than Frank Ocean, Alicia Keys, Emeli Sande, all of which were fantastic. There was something about Blood Orange, whether the retro drum machines or dreamy reverb. Such an unusual blend of sounds and vocals.
4. Angel Olsen, My Woman
Throw trite comparisons at Angel Olsen, and she’ll only slip free of their grasp and make something completely fresh like My Woman. Where does a song like Sister come from, with that haunting pivot halfway through? Can’t wait to see where she goes next.
David Lynch movie in 8 minutes
3. Wilco, Schmilco
Man I feel like a real old timer putting both Radiohead and Wilco in my top 10, but what can I say? Fifteen years since Kid A and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and they made some more of my favorite music. Tweedy’s songwriting seems to be getting more vulnerable over the years, which keeps it from becoming trite after all these years. Bonus points for album art by pitch black cartoonist Joan Cornella.
2. Tacocat, Lost Time
I’d say I had a Tacocat song stuck in my head for a good third of 2016. Funny, angry, all over the place in terms of subject matter, I adore every single song on this record and played it front to back all the time.
1. Anohni, Hopelessness
I hadn't heard much Antony and the Johnsons, but Hopelessness nailed so many of the elements of music I love, that usually live across a bunch of different genres. This record came out in May, and it hits me every time I hear it. Pounding beats, deep bass, synth and orchestral hooks, melodies, heart-wrenching lyrics somewhere between political punk and confessional poetry. And those vocals. It’s uplifting and inspiring, but all the while stinging and burning the whole way down. A totally unique listening experience.