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Under the Radar’s Top 100 Albums of 2016

Dec 16, 2016
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Everybody knows the dice were loaded in 2016. Everybody knows the election was fixed, everybody knows the good gal lost. Everybody knows, that’s how it goes, in 2016. Everybody’s got this broken feeling, like too many legends just died and we got a future president who lied and lied. Everybody knows Brexit caused woes. The poor stay poor, the rich get rich, that’s just how it goes.

Ashes to ashes, funk to funky, David Bowie went to heaven, joined by Prince, Leonard Cohen, and Ms. Sharon Jones. We lost some great ones in 2016, and not just musicians, there was the dad from Growing Pains and the mom from The Brady Bunch, the first American to orbit the Earth, and the most inspiring boxer of all time. Maybe we lost a bit of democracy too. The most divisive and toxic U.S. election in recent memory culminated with a result few in the artistic community wanted to accept, foreshadowing an uncertain 2017. The popular vote meant little, perhaps thanks to the meddling of state sponsored foreign hackers. You wanted it darker baby, well 2016 left us all black and blue, but as usual, there was a plethora of worthy music to distract us from the doom and gloom.

In this day and age there seems to be more and more music fighting for our attention at the click of a mouse or smart-phone screen. Music fans are often living on fast food sound snacks, quickly disposed of in favor of the next nibble. But there were many musical main courses worth considering in 2016. We’ve narrowed it down to 100. They include aforementioned musical icons issuing their final albums at death’s door, a sophomore album 16 years in the making, a concept record about a grieving bride, and even one EP, by reunited shoegazing legends who broke up again soon after its release.

So how did we arrive at such a menu? Twenty-one of our writers and editors (including myself and my co-publisher/wife Wendy) each submitted their personal Top 45 albums of 2016 lists and then those were all combined and calculated together to form this master list. For an album to make the list it had to be picked by at least three writers, but most were picked by more than that. Our #1 album was the runaway winner, with all but two of those who voted having it on their list somewhere. Each of the rest of Top 10 were picked by anywhere from 11 to 16 of our writers, so it was a true consensus. There are tens of thousands of albums released each year and there are some good ones that almost made our list, check out our forthcoming honorable mentions list for some of those.

So everybody may know that 2016 wasn’t the greatest year for many (but there have been worse). Leonard Cohen may have called it back in 1988, the dice are loaded in many ways. But dearly beloved, in 2017 let’s roll them anyway, and let’s dance and let’s go crazy, despite the rough times the next four to eight years may bring. It’s what David, Prince, Leonard, and Sharon would’ve wanted. By Mark Redfern


David Bowie



Mere days before he left us, David Bowie released Blackstar, and for one long weekend it played endlessly on loops, throngs of Bowie fanatics scratching their heads at the album’s mystical lyrics and otherworldly themes. His death pulled back the curtains and the symbols became clear; Bowie, diagnosed with cancer, intended Blackstar to be his final statement, a meditation on mortality, a dark and poignant work that rivals the best of his entire career. It is symbolically significant, but also features Bowie at his absolute finest—a long, spooky rock epic in the title track, the gorgeously sung ballad “Dollar Days,” the haunting video for “Lazarus.” Not only was it a final great Bowie album, but Blackstar set the tone for 2016 early on, echoing the gloomy shadow that his death left hanging over the rest of the year. By Cody Ray Shafer



A Moon Shaped Pool


After The King of Limbs’ relatively minimal reception, it seemed that Radiohead would be on the decline, band members splitting off into increasingly time-consuming side projects. So when Radiohead released the urgent, strings-laden “Burn the Witch” in early May, quickly followed by the sorrowful, gorgeous “Daydreaming,” hope began to soar for LP9. That A Moon Shaped Pool is not only warmer and more organic than Thom Yorke and co. have sounded in years, but also one of their best releases to date, is 2016’s most pleasant surprise. Even better is that we finally get to hear studio versions of live favorites “Identikit” and “Ful Stop,” not to mention the already-legendary ballad “True Love Waits.” Moody and desolate as always, Radiohead in 2016 finally showed their human side again. By Scott Dransfield


Angel Olsen



Around midway through 2014’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness, Angel Olsen sneeringly warns “If only I had nothing more to say.” In retrospect, you can almost hear her crosshairs lock onto indie rock mediocrity. MY WOMAN is an impossibly admirable feat: It’s a record that exists on its own terms. It’s the result of a deeply-manifesting sound at the mercy of one of today’s most vital creatives, and it’ll do as she pleases. It’ll roar when she roars, and mourn when she mourns. It bites (“Shut Up Kiss Me”) as naturally as it tranquilizes (“Woman”). Olsen is in equal parts a poet and a pop star, and her third outing will surely help to eradicate the myth that the two are mutually exclusive. MY WOMAN will capture hearts and imaginations in a single cast of the net. In a year that needed it most, it’s a record that you can be immersed indefinitely in. By Marty Hill





Junk comes dripping in nostalgia, from its cover—with the title in colorful kid font and two creatures seemingly escaped from McDonaldland—to the music therein. Anthony Gonzalez eschews the hipper poise of his breakthrough Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming to indulge in the guiltier pleasures of his youth, and to great results. Hair metal ballad guitar solos, ’80s dance music synth lines, thickly-produced vocals, and bits that sound like cheesy TV sitcom theme songs all find a home on his latest, but it blends together into an LP that works not only as one of the year’s best pop concept records, but as a fuzzy trip down memory lane. Junk is grandiose, it’s catchy, and, hell, it’s even a bit nerdy, but we’ll be cranking up the volume and setting it to repeat all the same. By Austin Trunick


Blood Orange

Freetown Sound


In the wake of Prince’s passing, records like Freetown Sound are an affirmation that all is not lost in the musical world. Dev Hynes’ second full-length as Blood Orange flaunts an extraordinary blend of musicianship and artistry of which you’d have to imagine the recently-departed musical icon would have approved. A brilliant singer, writer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, Hynes’ R&B/funk/soul fusion comes entwined with lyrics that explore topics like race, sexuality, and spirituality with an invigorating fearlessness. And, like the late rock star, he probably could do it all himself, but he’s got a talent for bringing great things out of his hand-picked collaborators, which here include Debbie Harry, Nelly Furtado, Ashlee Haze, and Carly Rae Jepsen. Prince may be gone, but thankfully the bravery and ingenuity that he embodied lives on in artists like Hynes. By Austin Trunick


Parquet Courts

Human Performance

Rough Trade

The irresistible, swinging twang of “Berlin Got Blurry” was reason enough to keep Human Performance handy this year. But highlights are everywhere, from the friendly thump of the opening “Dust” and its motivating action statement (“Dust is everywhere. Sweep!”) to the title track’s pounding, wordless ride-out that you never want to end. By Hays Davis


Car Seat Headrest

Teens of Denial


As Teens of Denial presents Car Seat Headrest (aka Will Toledo) in a full-band setting following a string of Bandcamp albums, it’s hardly the sound of bending to convention. “Fill in the Blank” is rock-out joy over lyrics that contradict the buzz, and the best relief for the unreleased tension of “Vincent” is to repeat it. Where next, Mr. Toledo? By Hays Davis


Leonard Cohen

You Want It Darker


For those of us who couldn’t have said it better, Leonard Cohen gave us a voice for decades. On his final album, Cohen sings, “If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game,” but the haunting You Want It Darker is one more vital statement from an artist who never folded. By Hays Davis


Weyes Blood

Front Row Seat to Earth

Mexican Summer

Weyes Blood, aka Natalie Mering, swings for the fences on her third LP, Front Row Seat to Earth, and strikes gold. It’s the record in which Mering comes closest to capturing the divine alchemy akin to outsider songwriters Linda Perhacs, Vashti Bunyan, and Bridget St. John. She succeeds gloriously. By John Everhart


Jim James

Eternally Even


The My Morning Jacket frontman’s latest solo release is a deep dive into dark, soulful psychedelia. Eternally Even is instrumentally rich and seductive, and James expands his lyrical ambitions into a more honest space, with grim political undertones. Eternally Even is worthwhile from beginning to end, and arguably James’ most interesting work to date. By Cody Ray Shafer


Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Skeleton Tree

Bad Seed Ltd.

This year gave us no shortage of bleak yet confrontational music, so of course it is the same year Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds released Skeleton Tree, a hauntingly beautiful record about loss and death. The album was recorded following the death of Cave’s teenage son, adding another layer of grief to songs already defined by despair. If you’re feeling brave, listen to Cave’s moving performance on “I Need You.” By Cody Ray Shafer



Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future


The classic British electronic group returns with its ninth full-length, and they’re not showing any signs of slowing down creatively. Hypnotic and danceable, yet thoughtful and meditative, tracks like “Low Burn” and “Nylon Strung” further cement Underworld’s legacy in the genre, and the album is cohesive beginning to end. By Scott Dransfield


Wye Oak



Wye Oak is such a consistently impressive band that even a record like Tween, pieced together from cuts that didn’t make their previous two albums, is one of the most blissfully enjoyable records of the year. Highlights include the gorgeous “No Dreaming,” and the folksy closing track, “Watching the Waiting.” By Cody Ray Shafer


Bat For Lashes

The Bride


Those who RSVP’d to The Bride heard the best wedding band ever. Natasha Khan pared back her sound to minimalist electro-pop for this 12-track concept album. The lament “In God’s House” describes how a bride waiting at the altar learns that the groom has been killed in a car crash. It’s the catalyst for “Honeymooning Alone,” the character’s decision to embark on a voyage of self-discovery. The album’s singles are all taken from the first half of the record. On “Joe’s Dream,” propelled by dreamy Rhodes keyboard and a strummed Stratocaster, Khan’s vocal teeters between the thrill of falling in love and a foreboding disquiet about the couple’s future. A steady Krautrock groove propels “Sunday Love,” one of Khan’s best pop songs. The songwriter leaves the best song until last. Khan, blessed with one of the most emotionally expressive voices in popular music, gives her lovelorn character a happily-ever-after during “In Your Bed.” On The Bride, Khan lifts the veil on the meaning of love and completeness. By Stephen Humphries



Blind Spot EP


After a 20-year absence from recording, shoegazing icons Lush returned in 2016 with a brilliant 4-song EP that made it sound like they never left. Eschewing the heavier sounds of 1994’s Split and 1996’s Britpop-inspired Lovelife, the sound here is somewhere between their early EPs and their debut album Spooky. Lyrically, though, Miki Berenyi explores more adult themes like parenthood in “Out of Control” while paying tribute to deceased drummer Chris Acland in “Lost Boy.” Now that they’ve announced their breakup again, let’s be glad that they left behind this parting gift. By Matthew Berlyant


A Tribe Called Quest

We Got it From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service


When most fans think of A Tribe Called Quest, one of the first things that springs to mind is smooth jazz instrumentals and the playful vocals of MCs Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Jarobi White. Those expectations are brazenly defied on “We the People….” one of the standout tracks from the group’s “final album,” We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, which features bleak percussion as a backdrop as Tip makes a chilling refrain out of the bigoted screed that have come to the fore in today’s social media and political discourses. It’s one of many thrilling moments from one of the year’s very best rap albums, which will also satisfy longtime fans with Tribe’s jazzier bread and butter on songs like “The Space Program” and “The Killing Season.” Guest contributors include Kanye West, Andre 3000, Talib Kweli, and Kendrick Lamar, while posthumous bars from sadly deceased founding member Phife Dawg also abound, making the LP a multigenerational, baton passing affair. The pride in those younger MC’s vocals is palpable as they partake in a project that will long be a standout in the rap pantheon. By Kyle Mullin


The Radio Dept.

Running Out of Love


For their fourth album, The Radio Dept. leads us into the darker corners of Swedish life with lyrics that turn toward troubling political and intellectual trends. The music sometimes reflects that unrest, though there’s never less than just enough hope in these notes to balance the picture and suggest a way forward. By Hays Davis


Bon Iver

22, A Million


The treated vocals, odd tweaks, and instrumentation that often matched the unusual songs titles may have chased away a few Bon Iver purists, but 22, A Million is the sound of an artist finding fascinating ways to demonstrate how exploring one’s strengths hardly equates to working in a box. By Hays Davis



Is The Is Are

Captured Tracks

DIIV’s sophomore release is, despite its inscrutable title, a compulsive, cohesive, and listenable album from beginning to end. It sounds just like the band’s name suggests; a blend of indie rock and post-punk, with the reverb all the way up and sounding like you’re submerged underwater. By Scott Dransfield


The Avalanches



Wildflower, The Avalanches’ long anticipated follow up to their 2000 debut Since I Left You, delivers a cascade of feel-good grooves layered with eclectic samples and pulsing with hypnotic energy. Tracks like “Frankie Sinatra” and “Subways” are impossible not to love, and prove Wildflower was worth the wait. By Cody Ray Shafer



Amen & Goodbye


A leaking roof destroyed much of what would’ve been Yeasayer’s fourth record. They salvaged what tape they could, and fragments of those lost songs were sampled to build their most cohesive collection thus far. With ruminations on birth, death, and religion throughout, Yeasayer are artists who continue to mature with each release. By Austin Trunick



A Seat at the Table


Although the world was blown away by Beyoncé’s political and poetic Lemonade this year, her 30-year-old younger sister, Solange, delivered an incredible album addressing grief, racism, empowerment, and healing. Throughout her 21-song opus, she offers a spiritual message for white America. It’s an album that is meant to educate more than entertain. Standout tracks like “Don’t Touch My Hair” and “Mad” show Solange truly stepping into her own; she remains unapologetic, and she should. Alongside guests like Sampha, Lil Wayne, Kelela, and Master P, Solange reveals a new, more mature self with A Seat at the Table. By Ilana Kaplan


Charlie Hilton


Captured Tracks

Plush guitar plucks pepper the breathtaking pant of Charlie Hilton and we are legitimately spooked within the first two minutes of Palana. Hilton’s powdery but pure monotonic Nico-meets-The-Shangri-Las shadow drops like feathers on water. Just as a feverish dream sets in, her words and the wit therein, leaven her phantom. On Palana, Hilton teaches softly, “Get off my back, I’m not your pony,” with a smirky eye. Just as readily she observes, “I know that you’re non-fictional, you’re as true as the line that lies on the horizon,” bestowing a tender meaning to something we often associate with a bored librarian. Hilton’s voice is a booming fog, and her voice conveying these words is all it takes. Certainly, the magnificent ’60s-cured electro-pop landscape doesn’t hurt. The production scales back at times, almost seemingly as an act of respect. It’s as if the instruments, even those of Mac DeMarco, who contributes on “100 Million,” are bowing to a voice that is so cleanly impressive on its own. Palana sucks the breath straight out of the room, and puts it back together through song, proving substance can be found even when it cannot be translated with a straight dot to the ‘i.’ By Lauren Hardy


Wild Beasts

Boy King


Five albums in eight years without a dud is impressive, particularly when a band continue to expand their artistic breadth. These groove-driven numbers are a departure, but still eminently recognizable as Wild Beasts, inflected with the band’s signature androgynous Roxy Music-esque sound. After all this time, they’re still “hooting and howling,” and we’re still utterly captivated. By John Everhart


Glass Animals

How to Be a Human Being


Glass Animals follow up their excellent debut with How to Be a Human Being. The songs are lush and catchy, and tell stories inspired by secret recordings made by the band while on tour. The focus on character and drama rewards repeated listens, but the hypnotic production and instrumentation on tracks like “Life Itself” and “Youth” will keep you hitting repeat. By Cody Ray Shafer



Puberty 2

Dead Oceans

There’s a moment on Mitski’s fourth LP that stands out as her most piercing yet. “You’re all I ever wanted/I think I’ll regret this” she croons on “Your Best American Girl” before a myriad of swirling, distorted guitars are hurled forwards, in equal parts deafening and life-affirming. As is often the case with Puberty 2, it’s utterly elevating. Quite simply, 2016 needed Mitski. By Marty Hill


Britta Phillips

Luck or Magic

Double Feature

The first solo LP by Britta Phillips (Luna, Dean & Britta) is bifurcated into half covers and half originals, and it’s hard to distinguish them, as she makes the covers completely her own via her kaleidoscopic yet distinctly idiosyncratic vision. There’s little luck at work here, but plenty of magic. By John Everhart


Cass McCombs

Mangy Love


Cass McCombs’ eighth album is a political lightning bolt, showcasing some of his most vitriolic lyrics to date. Sadly, McCombs is still a “musicians’ musician,” which is short-hand for “respected but not popular.” That likely won’t change with Mangy Love, but those who do listen will be rewarded with McCombs’ crown jewel. By John Everhart


School of Seven Bells



Like David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, Benjamin Curtis grappled with the prospect of his looming death on the fourth and final album by the duo School of Seven Bells. The result is a synth-pop album that traces the arc of the relationship between Curtis and singer Alejandra Deheza. “When he died, I fell apart,” she sings on “Ablaze.” But this is no maudlin exercise. These hooky melodies celebrate Curtis’ life. By Stephen Humphries





Beyoncé has nothing to prove in 2016, but she still has plenty to say. On Lemonade, the world’s most fabled pop star locks horns with systematic oppression and prejudice, and invites everybody else to do so too. With such an inherent knack for melody, you wonder how anybody could ignore her. By Marty Hill



Otero War

Cinematic Music Group

Those of us who’ve followed Caveman from the very beginning were among those most surprised by their third album. Gone are the ramshackle rhythms and Beach Boy-like harmonies of the first two LPs, and in their place is this far-out rock epic with dreamy synths, a spacey soundscape, and science fiction overtones. This change in sound came out of nowhere, but it’s amounted to the band’s best album yet. By Austin Trunick


Frankie Cosmos

Next Thing


Coming in at under half an hour, Next Thing is an exhibition in making every second count. As are the chiming, un-threatening guitars around her, Greta Kline’s warm stream of consciousness songwriting is omnipresent. Few records require such little attention to enjoy, but if you lean in closer, there’s plenty to fall in love with. By Marty Hill


Danny Brown

Atrocity Exhibition


Danny Brown’s latest release is less an LP than a musical welcoming into his manic mind state. The album is full of skull splittingly aggressive beats and cerebral stream of conscious rhymes about drug binging, melancholy wallowing, and worries about police brutality. Those instrumentals are mostly deftly delivered by producer Paul White (aside from a couple of tracks helmed by the likes of Black Milk, Petite Noir, and The Alchemist). Those eclectic musical choices (rattling chimes on “Really Doe,” haunting cabaret vocal samples on “Lost,” hornet’s nest-esque feedback on “From the Ground,” and more) complement Brown’s delivery perfectly, which ranges from ambling and downtrodden to frantic and flailing. Never have mania and depression been so vividly conveyed, and genius and madness have never been so thrillingly blurred. By Kyle Mullin


Sunflower Bean

Human Ceremony

Fat Possum

Yeah, Sunflower Bean have been hyped to death, but the praise is obviously deserved when you listen to their splendid debut, Human Ceremony. They vividly capture the imagination of youth on these taut, jangly numbers, which are imbued with heart-wrenching vulnerability in Julia Cumming’s lyrics. Where they go from here no one knows, but they’ve delivered a debut for the ages. By John Everhart


Frank Ocean



Channel Orange, Frank Ocean’s landmark 2012 debut, was loaded with musically ambitious yet instantly catchy hits like “Pyramids,” “Lost,” and “Monks.” However Blonde, his eagerly awaited follow up, features far subtler numbers that demand greater patience and more careful listening from fans. Those tunes are worth closer listens, however. “Pink + White,”—from its brief, dramatic string laden intro and midway conga breakdowns to the melancholy piano lines throughout—careens from one thrilling, unpredictable musical moment to the next as Ocean gently equates love with “glory from above,” in his gentle croon. The equally brilliant “Solo,” lacks such exciting musical left turns, but instead showcases Ocean’s voice, as soft organ notes and faint synth lines underscore the singer’s rafter rattling vocals about “bulls and matadors dueling in the sky.” On “Skyline To,” he speak-sings the verses about time speeding by over ethereal electrical guitar warbles and dream like vocal snippets. “White Ferrari” uses only a few acoustic strums behind ear engulfing waves of vocal overdubs “Nikes” has tinny percussion and vocals rendered helium high by Auto Tune. “Nights,” meanwhile, features staccato electric guitar notes and static electric-esque crackling 808 beats. None of it is accessible as Channel Orange’s more conventional fare. But by pushing the musical boundaries of R&B and pushing his listeners past their expectations, Ocean broke through any and all conventions to release one of the most fearlessly creative LP’s of the year. By Kyle Mullin


C Duncan

The Midnight Sun


Scottish artist C Duncan follows up his promising debut Architect with an even more assured follow-up, delivering even more excellently constructed dream pop on an album inspired by the classic science fiction TV show The Twilight Zone. Every sound and layer is confident and deliberate, adding up to a beautiful album pillowy enough to sleep on, yet interesting enough to study. By Scott Dransfield


Wild Nothing

Life of Pause

Captured Tracks

You need to stop and give pause while listening to Wild Nothing’s third LP. It’s easily their most ambitious to date, but it takes an attention span and a willingness to give it multiple listens to fully realize its brilliance. Frontman Jack Tatum should be commended for his pristine, elegiac arrangements, and the sheer audacity he exhibits while, to paraphrase One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, attempting to tear the damn sink out, and giving it hell. One day, this album will be recognized for its greatness, but 2016 isn’t the time. Give it five years and it’ll be heralded as Wild Nothing’s magnum opus. By John Everhart


Flock of Dimes

If You See Me, Say Yes


Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner delivers a collection of gorgeous bedroom pop songs on her debut solo full-length as Flock of Dimes. It exhibits what an accomplished musician Wasner is in just how different this album is from Wye Oak (who also released the excellent Tween this year). While that band has a visceral kick, Flock of Dimes are content to gently prod with wistful, meditative sounds that cohere into a complete, utterly captivating whole. Where Wasner goes from here no one knows, but she shows on If You See Me, Say Yes that all bets are off for what stylistic direction she may take next. By John Everhart


The Veils

Total Depravity


Indie pop, hip-hop, gothic, and the avant-garde all converge on “Axolotl,” the grippingly eclectic opening track from The Veils’ latest LP, Total Depravity. Co-produced by topnotch hip-hop star El-P (of Run the Jewels fame), the haunting track finds frontman Finn Andrews singing about amphibians, rotten souls, giddy Gideons, maudlin nightmares, overpriced salvation, and “elemental chemicals” that have him growing “tentacles.” That Nick Cave-esque spookiness of his lyrics and delivery are taken further on tracks like “A Bit on the Side,” which also has hip-hop and dance musical elements courtesy of El-P. And while those genre blending songs are laudably ambitious, Total Depravity’s most enjoyably catchy tracks are more musically conventional, especially the sparsely scored and blatantly gothy “King of Chrome,” or, better still, the ruggedly bluesy “Low Lays the Devil.” Indeed, whether they’re striving for experimentalism or more conventional homage, The Veils are never less than grippingly listenable and devilishly fun on Total Depravity. By Kyle Mullin


Primal Scream


Ignition/First International

Bobby Gillespie is in a riotous mood throughout Chaosmosis. He hopscotches stylistically, leaving footprints of blue-eyed soul, Motown, and scorching electro rave-ups. He also recruits some big name guests in Sky Ferreira and HAIM, who never detract from the songs with their contributions, but complement them tastefully. Primal Scream have come a long way since their C86 contribution, the pastel “Velocity Girl,” consistently challenging their sizable audience with radical pivots, while ultimately rewarding them with unexpectedly excellent albums such as Chaosmosis. By John Everhart



Adore Life


Savages are a band in a classic sense. They’re four parts of a whole that’s greater than its individual parts. The charismatic and confrontational Jehnny Beth is certainly their leader, but Ayse Hassan’s thunderous cacophonous bass lines, Faye Milton’s dynamic drum work, and Gemma Thompson’s caustic guitar figures are all essential. And on Adore Life, an album worked out live via numerous concerts in which the arrangements were fleshed out, Savages come into their own, cultivating a sound rooted in influences such as PJ Harvey and Swans, but transcending them. This is a band that’s largely insular, and that ethos is in full view throughout the push/pull fireworks display of Adore Life. Traditional bands are rare in 2016, but Savages make a very good case as to why they can be so exhilarating, and essential. By John Everhart


Chance the Rapper

Coloring Book


Chance the Rapper’s had a good year, capped off by his recent performance at the White House Christmas tree lighting ceremony. At the center of it all is his 2016 mixtape, Coloring Book. Chance infused the album with gospel music, producing his most spiritually lighthearted work yet. Highlights include “All We Got” and “Same Drugs.” By Cody Ray Shafer


Katy Goodman and Greta Morgan

Take It, It’s Yours


Katy Goodman (La Sera) and Greta Morgan (Springtime Carnivore) have collaborated extensively in the recent past, but not quite like this. They’ve never been ones to rest on their laurels, so in 2016 instead of just one great album each (La Sera’s Music for Listening to Music To and Springtime Carnivore’s Midnight Room), they also released this great covers album. They reimagine a list of punk and New Wave classics (the title comes from a barely audible line in The Replacements’ “Bastards of Young,” one of the songs covered here) as soft, sad, slow laments and the effect is not unlike what Mark Kozelek has done for years with punk and metal songs by the likes of Descendents, AC/DC, and others. Stripped to their cores, the songs are proven to be great compositions amenable to any style and Goodman and Morgan prove to be great interpreters of others’ material as well as great songwriters. By Matthew Berlyant


Kevin Morby

Singing Saw

Dead Oceans

Ex-Babies frontman pulls cock-eyed wool through a needled eye, creating the gentlest of razor sharp attestations on his third solo album, Singing Saw. Like frequently and rapidly departing geese, Morby moves through recollections via instrumentation lush and forlorn, his fastidiousness sweetly betrayed by his plentiful old-soul pout. Singing Saw feels like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen are in the room—Morby’s voice and cadence uncannily suggestive of their forces, but still implicating his fast and shaggy, street-running youth of yesteryear. The warmly pulsing production sites influences ranging from Gil Scott-Heron to Elvis Costello, and touches of vocal echoes, horn pumps, and bright piano encircle rich lullaby-laced song schemes both jangly and complex and stunningly simply. Morby’s grown up and he’s gotten on, and despite his efforts, he’s not getting rid of that “song book in [his] head.” Rather, he’s suddenly cemented his doom to bear such a pronounced gift. Morby’s fruit is ripening before our eyes, and Singing Saw cuts it all the right ways. By Lauren Hardy


Jamie Lidell

Building a Beginning


Jamie Lidell caramelizes one’s soul on Building a Beginning with a vibrant vocal immediacy that stirs an undeniable comparison to Stevie Wonder. The Brit, who lives in Nashville, quakes and devours us in a jubilant 49 minutes as he preaches behind a genuine pulpit of modern soul, funk, and gospel, his cascading voice like a levy of notes spilling over gorgeously one after one. From the gospel-tinged mountain-mover in “Motionless” to the straining confessional beauty of “Believe In Me,” Lidell empowers his listener by the continued promise of a new era of brazen songmakers. Welcome to the new Nashville, y’all. By Lauren Hardy


Minor Victories

Minor Victories

Fat Possum

The outcome of long distance collaboration between its members, never together during its recording, Minor Victories self-titled debut is praiseworthy just on the basis of commitment. Justin Lockey of Editors recruited his brother James Lockey, Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite, and Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell to find harmonic balance of orchestrally laced shoegaze on top of the iron and steel of it’s post-punk underpinnings. By Charles Steinberg


Amber Arcades

Fading Lines


Fading Lines, the debut album by Amber Arcades (aka Dutch musician Annelotte de Graaf), sounds like being caught between sleep and consciousness, and not necessarily having to pick a side. It’s indecipherable, mesmeric, and surprisingly melodic. It acts as proof that hazy psych-pop aesthetics don’t have to be formulaic and dull, and stands out as one of the strongest debut records of the year. By Marty Hill


Lucy Dacus

No Burden


Hailing from Richmond, Virginia, Lucy Dacus is the latest singer/songwriter to be accurately hyped out of the city. Her debut album No Burden comes together as a guitar-heavy confessional that shows her vocals oscillating from husky to airy throughout—something that calls to mind the likes of Sharon Van Etten and Julien Baker. Dacus shows she can truly hold her own on the LP, opening with “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” a track that has her fighting against the patriarchy (“I’ve got a too-short skirt, maybe I can be the cute one/Is there room in the band?/I don’t need to be the frontman/If not, then I’ll be the biggest fan”). After listening to the cohesively crafted album, it’s hard to believe that it was made in one day. It’s that seamless, lo-fi perfection that makes No Burden one of the best albums of the year. By Ilana Kaplan


Boxed In



Boxed In (the moniker for British beat smith, songwriter, singer, and record producer Oli Bayston) crafted numerous catchy dance tracks for his sophomore album, Melt. Highlights include the anything but forgettable grooving song “Forget,” “Jist,” which features a galvanizing mix of punchy percussion and warbling synths that seem precisely engineered to leave toes tapping and hips shaking, and “Oxbow,” which has a thwacking backbeat with gentle keyboard punctuations that coincide neatly with his swooning singing of lyrics like, “When you look at me so helplessly.” Melt’s title track pulls off an even trickier juxtaposition, as its sunny synths and happy go lucky jangling percussion contrast with lyrics about a lover fading away, along with hopeful closing bars about distance melting away, just as yearning guitars chime in for the climax. These enthralling elements, and more, make Melt a white hot album that will leave listeners soaking up every note. By Kyle Mullin


The Lemon Twigs

Do Hollywood


The Lemon Twigs (aka brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario) are looking poignantly backwards while moving gracefully forward on their debut record: a love letter to the past and a signpost towards the future. Produced by Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado, Do Hollywood is a unique and kaleidoscopic trip through sound and melody with a profound nostalgia, yet somehow fractionally distilled into something quite startling. Much is made of the D’Addario brothers’ precocious ages (19 and 17) but we’ve had musicians with youth and startling talent before—that is not new. What is new is the way that as composers, they have a quite astonishing and highly-tuned pop ear for channeling the likes of Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney, Scott Walker, Jeff Lynne, and Ray Davies into a world of color, exploration, and barnstorming joy. Aside from The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt and The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, it’s difficult to think of anyone making music like this these days; certainly not two kids barely out of school. By David Edwards


King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Nonagon Infinity



NZCA Lines

Infinite Summer

Memphis Industries


James Blake

The Colour In Anything



PJ Harvey

The Hope Six Demolition Project



Cymbals Eat Guitars

Pretty Years



Luke Temple

A Hand Through the Cellar Door

Secretly Canadian


Anderson .Paak


Empire/Obe/Steel Wool/Art Club


Springtime Carnivore

Midnight Room

Autumn Tone


Jagwar Ma

Every Now & Then

Mom + Pop



Light Upon the Lake

Secretly Canadian






Mass Gothic

Mass Gothic

Sub Pop






Soft Hair

Soft Hair

Weird World


The Divine Comedy


Divine Comedy Records


Xiu Xiu

Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks



Jenny Hval

Blood Bitch

Sacred Bones



Love Yes





Secretly Canadian



Jet Plane and Oxbow

Sub Pop



Heads Up

Rough Trade


Psychic Twin




Still Corners

Dead Blue

Wrecking Light


Thomas Cohen

Bloom Forever








A Corpse Wired for Sound



Teenage Fanclub





City Sun Eater in the River of Light




Summer 08

Because Music


Black Mountain




Marlon Williams

Marlon Williams

Dead Oceans


Tim Hecker

Love Streams







Field Music


Memphis Industries


Frightened Rabbit

Painting of a Panic Attack

Canvasback Music/Atlantic



Brilliant Sanity

Moshi Moshi


Yann Tiersen




Iggy Pop

Post Pop Depression

Loma Vista




Mexican Summer


The Invisible


Ninja Tune


of Montreal

Innocence Reaches




Night Thoughts

Suede Ltd.


Weird Dreams

Luxury Alone

Tough Love


Fear of Men

Fall Forever



Slow Club

One Day All of This Won\'t Matter Anymore

Moshi Moshi


Julianna Barwick


Dead Oceans


Steve Gunn

Eyes on the Lines



Tegan and Sara

Love You to Death

Warner Bros.


Plants and Animals

Waltzed in from the Rumbling

Secret City


Cat\'s Eyes

Treasure House

RAF/Kobalt Label Services


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December 16th 2016

So may lists this year and none of them, this one included with Band of Horses “Why Are You OK” or The Boxer Rebellion’s “Ocean by Ocean”, two really strong albums from start to finish

December 22nd 2016

I know it was fixed but I don’t know if Bernie identifies as a gal. Great list though. Favorite album so far is Angel Olsen…cuts to my core in a deeply deep way.

Kenneth Kamann
August 13th 2018

Great playlist, IMAO. 10/10. For Psychkier, personally, I think Band of Horses “Why Are You OK” is overrated.

Lloyd Levison
October 2nd 2018

Ok, I agree with first and second, but Angel Olsen and M83? Are you kidding? Who listens to that kind of music. It doesn’t belong even to TOP 10.

Jacob Prednis
November 15th 2018

Ok, it’s a pretty good list. Can’t wait to see what’s in TOP of 2018

Bill Jeffers
November 26th 2018

Great list! Of course, I would make a couple of corrections in it, but still, this is a great job.

December 28th 2018

i found your article very intresting. really nice post. keep posting this type of important post. lots of love from rajasthan
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January 1st 2019

Where is Carrie of Europe? Is the best Rock song!! ;)

raj Sharma
January 10th 2019

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May 18th 2019

Great list! We love it :)

June 9th 2019


June 10th 2019


July 31st 2019

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October 24th 2019

Very good Playlist. I keep it in favorites to consult it from time to time. Thank you for sharing it with us. :)

November 16th 2019

wow nice post

Copa Menstrual
December 8th 2019

Amazing Playlist! Thanks for it

February 29th 2020

Gran lista! Gran trabajo!

July 22nd 2020

BlackStar of Bowie its number one without a doubt

Diario del Sur
January 25th 2021

A great list to bookmark!!!