Saturday, December 31, 2016

Best of 2016

Here is the list of my favorite music in 2016. In no particular order.

David Bowie   BlackStar
A brilliant coda to an amazing career. Given Bowie’s shape-shifting career, it’s fitting that his last album is totally different than anything he recorded before and yet unmistakably Bowie.

Blood Orange   Freetown Sound
After the election, I rediscovered this album and played it incessantly. All of the strong female voices—sometimes lead, sometimes half a duet, sometimes choir; sometimes earthy, sometimes ethereal—seemed the best balm for the sorry state of things.   

Explosions in the Sky  The Wilderness
Their best since The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place. The drive, the sense of grandeur and space are still here, but the aural textures are richer and more nuanced.

Chairlift   Moth
Desperate times need perfect pop records.  Chairlift delivers big time.

Angel Olsen  My Woman
My Woman is a huge step forward in songcraft and production. Angel Olsen’s vocals
have never been stronger or more evocative. Highlight: the slow- burning ‘Sister’ with its refrain “All my life I thought I’d change” repeated as the guitar lines grows more frantic.

Mitski  Puberty 2
Japanese-born Mitski (Miyawaki) uses a cool, almost distant, vocal style--a stark contrast to all the agitation and anxiety in the lyrics--showing how a person’s mid-twenties can seem like a reprise of the awkwardness and the sexual/personal confusion occurring with puberty. Standout: “Your Best American Girl” a slow-building orchestral pop that posits love as a type of assimilation.

Car Seat Headrest  Teens of Denial
At times, Teens sounds like combination of Television and Pavement--all in all, not bad choices of bands to emulate. But lead man Will Toledo plays and writes his way out from under these influences to a sound that is all his own, creating an album with urgency, wry humor, shrewd observations, unpredictable transitions and great crunchy rock moments.

Mavis Staple   Livin’ on a High Note
After two acclaimed albums produced by Jeff Tweedy, Mavis Staples tapped M. Ward as producer and asked a slew of songwriters to contribute “joyful” songs for Livin’ on a High Note. The songs gathered here—written by Neko Case, Nick Cave, Valerie June Justin Vernon and other elite songwriters—are a restrained kind of joyful: more a reflective appreciation of the love of family and friends than any lighthearted larks. Mavis’s voice retains the warmth, moral fervor and emotive power of her youth.

Anderson .Paak    Malibu
Effortlessly moving from hip hop to Stax-like soul to R&B to dance grooves, Anderson Paak put out one of the year’s most multifaceted albums. A joy from start to finish.

Frank Ocean   Blonde
Following the release of 2012’s Channel Orange, Frank Ocean had a yearlong bout of writer’s block. He broke through only after he decided he needed to revisit some of the events of his youth.  The biographical elements are present in Blonde but more as hints and fragments than fleshed out narratives. He uses a myriad of voice distortions to indicate points of view from different phases in his life. Still, Ocean remains elusive but the music is mesmerizing.

Honorable Mentions:

Eleanor Friedberger, New View
The Range, Potential
Savages, Adore Life
Lydia Loveless, Real
Bombino, Azel