My Favorite Albums of 2016
I've been making these year-end lists for a few years now, and they seem to grow each time I make one. 2016 was an incredible year for great music, and I've found myself with the longest list I've ever comprised of this past year's soundtrack. The following albums (listed alphabetically) are ones I enjoyed immensely, rather than a definitive "best of" list.
Bon Iver - 22, A Million
Despite the pretentious song titles, this album really struck me. I've been a Justin Vernon fan a long time, and the new direction he took 22, A Million felt refreshing and appropriate as a next step. Listening to 715 - CR∑∑KS while wearing my AKG 550s is a real treat.
Luke Temple - A Hand Through the Cellar Door
I learned of Luke Temple from an Instagram post by Robin Pecknold, and I feel better for it. Temple primarily uses long story formats for his songs, and A Hand Through The Cellar Door is full of tales of loss and personal growth. Most of the songs begin tragically, but end up with the subjects growing stronger or more human through their trials. Standout tracks include Ordinary Feeling and Maryanne Was Quiet.
Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
I'm a relatively new Radiohead fan (beyond listening to OK Computer for years) and have been appreciating Thom Yorke more over the years. I fell in love with A Moon Shaped Pool instantly, and it was the only album I listened to for weeks. Some critics have called it a boring album, but I find the writing and production compelling. The emotion communicated in Daydreaming hits home every time, and the guitar work in Desert Island Disk is a favorite of mine.
Solange - A Seat At The Table
This album is tremendous and challenging. I loved the songwriting and the intense personal and social commentary that is communicated throughout every aspect of the album. A lot happened this year that made it important for me to actively engage with perspectives I would never personally experience. A Seat At The Table challenged my assumptions, increased my empathy, and was a pleasure to experience.
David Bazan - Blanco
David Bazan is hands down one of my favorite living songwriters. His work is honest and heartwrenching, and I have never listened to one of his records and thought "This was a miss." Even though he's been consistent, Blanco is a standout of his post-Pedro catalogue. The synth focus throughout makes it reminiscent of his (also excellent) Headphones project of 2005, but includes touches that make it entirely fresh.
Pinegrove - Cardinal
This album was a really puzzling one for me; on first listen I thought it mediocre, without a ton of hooks for me to follow along to. But after listening, many lines and melodies from the record were stuck in my head, so I revisited it several days later. It sounded much better, and I found myself obsessing over it. I also have a belief that Pinegrove is a bluegrass band in denial, but there's no time to go into that here.
Amanda Bergman - Docks
This was another album I learned about from an Instagram post, this time from The Staves. Docks is terrific from start to finish. Bergman's voice is smoky and confident, and the production compliments her songwriting well. She also has a few moments where it almost feels like a Feist album, but Docks is definitely it's own.
Tycho - Epoch
As a designer who works arranging type, shape, and color all day, I'm bound by an unwritten code to love every Tycho release. Epoch is no exception, and I loved working along to this album. It's not groundbreaking or earth shattering, but when I listen to it while designing, it makes me feel like my work is that much better.
Blood Orange - Freetown Sound
I've been a fan of Dev Hynes work since Lightspeed Champion, and most of my context had been the indie/scene Dev writing angsty songs about relationships. Blood Orange has taken Dev to a new level of narrative, and this album was another refreshing release that challenged my thinking and perspective on race.
Chris Staples - Golden Age
Staples' American Soft was a favorite of mine two years ago, and his newest release has once again made the cut. The album has a breezy, summer feel while talking of days gone by and the dangers of chasing nostalgia. Staples is always good for a catchy guitar hook or nonchalantly delivered line, and this album is no exception.
Wesley Randolph Eader - Highway Winds
I have had the pleasure of getting to know Wesley and his folk songs as part of the same church family here in Portland, Oregon, so I knew we were in for a treat when he announced this album. Highway Winds is full of warm storytelling and heartfelt songs that uplift you and move you the whole way through. From jokes about Walmart to the tale of Eliza, the saint of Flower Mountain, this album never lapses in thoughtfulness or character.
Sunflower Bean - Human Ceremony
Sunflower Bean: A group of youngsters getting together and writing some great rock music in one of my favorite rock records of the year. Easier Said is by far the best track, but the whole thing stands up listen after listen, and their personality and musicality are worth at least one listen thru.
Disasterpeace - Hyper Light Drifter Soundtrack
This soundtrack comes from one of my favorite games of 2016, and brings some moody synth tunes that sprawl a 2 hour plus sonic odyssey. It's another one that accompanied a lot of my working days as a designer, and it gives a lot of great variety for folks interested in the genre.
Black Marble - It's Immaterial
Black Marble brings some stark synth pop to the table, and it really hit the sweet spot for me this fall. The sounds created in this album feel very... designed, and It's Immaterial feels similar to Tycho in that regard. Everything feels intentional and aligns into a very "branded" music experience, and I loved it.
The Weather Station - Loyalty
This one's breaking the rules because it was released in 2015, but I discovered it this year and absolutely fell in love. Tamara Lindeman's voice is everything the singer-songwriter genre should be, and the songs paint and absolutely beautiful landscape of imagery at every point. To say I was captivated by these songs would be a huge understatement.
American Football - LP2
Yes, this album would more accurately be described as an Owen album, but that's not a bad thing. Mike Kinsella has written more under the moniker of Owen than he ever has for American Football, so it makes sense that the last 17 years affected the sound of LP2. Kinsella sounds like a truly miserable and sad person, but this album was a really great release that I kept returning to.
Angel Olsen - MY WOMAN
Wow, this album came out of nowhere for me. For whatever reason I've missed Olsen's previous releases, and it was a joy to discover this album and her previous work. Her voice is stunning, the songwriting is top-notch, and I was just enraptured by the release in general.
Into It. Over It. - Standards
I'm hard pressed to truly pick one "best album of the year," but Standards might take the crown in 2016. Evan's songwriting has only gotten stronger over the years, and PROPER, his 2011 release, was my most played album as an Rdio user (RIP). Standards continues Weiss' signature emo writing with tight guitar licks, precise and engaging drums and some truly clever writing. If you're at all a fan of emo, you need to listen to this album. Preferably now.
Andy Shauf - The Party
Another fantastic Canadian artist makes the list. Shauf's concept album about a party really caught my attention earlier in the year, and after more listening in recent weeks it has stood the test of a few months break. His phrasing, storytelling and writing style are refreshing and engaging. The Party is a treat, from start to finish.
Nap Eyes - Thought Rock Fish Scale
Is it just a millennial take on Velvet Underground? Yea, probably. Does that make it any less awesome? Definitely not. Nap Eyes put out a great record with a terrific vibe, and it was one of the overplayed albums of my summer.
Thrice - To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere
After a 5 year break, Thrice announced they were releasing a new album in early 2016. I loved Major/Minor, and I've been a fan ever since my early days of fronting bands that wanted to be Thrice or Brand New. This new one is such a refreshing and powerful album, and I think it stands out as one of Thrice's best works to date. A+ rock album.