The year is coming to a close and a lot of the media outlets I pay attention to are chatting about how terrible of a year 2016 was, highlighting how much we’re all looking forward to saying au revoir forever to the year of electing Trump, Brexit, the very pressing refugee crisis and deaths of some of our the western world’s favorite famous people.
I agree. 2016 sucked globally. As I reflect on this year though, I have many fond memories that all have the same theme – music. My favorite 2016 memories revolve around music. From music festivals to awaited albums dropped, my choice of rounding up 2016 is to do so through my favorite songs and albums.In today’s music world, there is way too much to consume. My main music avenue is Spotify, a platform where I have too many options I could sort through by myself and yet one that serves as a great launching pad into many genres of music. I don’t think my classic rock-lovng father will ever understand the very different music scape that exists now versus what music-listening was like when your only option was the Ed Sullivan show and radio.
Yet even with the plethora of artists and albums I could discover, I was able to hone in on a select few favorites of 2016. If music fuels your world as much as it does mine, I hope you also feel compelled to share you favorite jams of 2016, because in the current age of seemingly infinite streaming options, it’s hard for me to find greatness in the sea of sound. Here are my own picks (songs and albums) of 2016.
1. Glass Animals – How to Be a Human Being (entire album)
The Glass Animals released their sophomore album in August. It was very different from their first album, Zaba, but the entire album is a good listen from start to finish. The concept of the album is enough to draw you in – based on conversations from various walks of life, their lyrics bring to life the sundry way our narratives play out. My favorite song on this album is the final track, ‘Agnes‘. The fact that they have been my favorite live performances for the past two years certainly contributes to why they’re at the top of my list.
2. Beyonce – Lemonade (entire video album)
After initially writing this list, I almost forgot about this album. Not because it’s not memorable, but mainly because this album transcends what one may think of as your average album. Lemonade is Beyonce’s artistic vision brought to sound, color, and feeling. Indeed, I would be remiss to not recognize Beyonce’s second video album as one of the most magical, indescribable musical feats of the year. Lemonade is everything the first Beyonce video album, Beyonce, was, as well as everything it wanted to be. As a woman, there is nothing more empowering than listening to a very influential female voice sing about her feelings without shame. Cue Beyonce spitting the first line of the album’s third track, ‘Don’t hurt yourself (feat Jack White)’ where she tells, presumably, Jay-Z and any other guy thinking themselves worthy of a woman’s affection, “Who the fuck do’ya think I am? You Ain’t married to no average bitch boy. You can watch my fat ass twist boy. As I bounce to the next dick boy.’ While the rest of the album doesn’t come off that edgy, its lyrics flawlessly (pun intended) present rhetoric usually characteristic of male artists’ tracks. The poetry and visuals of this album are enough to make it a highlight of 2016.
In fact, Beyonce for president 2020.
3. Polica – United Crushers (entire album)
Very much in tune with the current trend of mixing and using recordings to loop and layer instrumental, vocal, and other sounds into full blown songs, Polica’s album this year was heightened and prolonged for me by seeing them live. Their show was simply a female vocal, a male musician, and a light show that was ever so enticingly synched up with their tracks. Everything about their show brought to life the electricity of their recorded album. On this album, I particularly loved ‘Lose You’, ‘Kind’, and ‘Lately’, but listening to the album from start to finish offers an elegant transition from one soundscape to another for a good 40 minutes. Polica’s approach can be likened to the Chainsmokers, Flume, Odesza, etc.’s work that has transformed house music into a somewhat nameless genre with attempted descriptions of ‘atmospheric dance music’, ‘indie dance pop’, and ‘indie electronica’. Regardless, this ever-morphing genre can translate across the board into one common descriptor of ‘great stage sound for live shows’.
Banks also came out with a sophomore album, The Alter, this year that rocked my world. Banks joins the ranks of song writers and female lyricists that say things normally equated with lyrics written by men. Her fearless endeavor into music takes us into a woman’s mind that portrays a reality just as lustful and selfish as those portrayed by male artists. I can’t help but feeling anything other than a vendetta to be my own empowered, badass single self after listening to ‘Gemini Feed’. Banks has been an artist most her life but by waiting until 2012 to release her own music means that listeners experience a clear artistic vision, which really pans out in these songs on The Alter.
5. Manatee Commune – ‘What We’ve Got‘
My dear musical friend Melanie introduced to me this song and group via Cymbal, a go-to music-sharing phone app. This song creates for me an environment consisting of the perfect balance of reggae, vocals, and complex mixes to create a world I want to live in. They (he?) are a gig I’d jump at the opportunity to see live if they ever toured beyond the Pacific northwest. Manatee Commune‘s entire debut album is worth a listen if you want to step into an ethereal alternate reality.
6. Leon Bridges – ‘River’
Leon Bridges revived for me a genre that was left quite vacant in my generation since…? Well perhaps since the 60s. You can liken his sound to Sam Cooke’s or Ray Charles’. And despite his vintage sound in the world of the Chainsmokers (the two-guy-whatever-the-hell-they-are gig that swept ALL the radio waves in 2016), Leon Bridges connected me more deeply with the R&B sound than I ever could have known by simply listening to the passe tunes of Ray or Ottis Redding. His entire 2016 Coming Home album is worth a listen. ‘River‘ was one of my favorites when listening to the album but solidified itself as Coming Home‘s top track after seeing him perform it live. Nothing I write can truly deliver justice to how great of an artist Leon Bridges is, so I will simply implore you to listen to ‘River’ and/or his album Coming Home.
These songs were also on the same album as Sia’s more well-known hits of the year, ‘Alive’ and ‘Cheap Thrills’, yet these three songs drew me into this album well before the singles drew the rest of the world onto the dance floor. Sia has such a strong female voice (see Beyonce and Banks above) that it’s hard not to dive headfirst into her world where women set their own goals, make their own decisions, and dwell, not on their beau’s, but, their own desires.
6. Panic! at the Disco – Hallelujah!
Panic! at the Disco haven’t been on my radar since 2005, when belting to I Write Sins Not Tragedies. But frontman Bendon Urie preforming ‘Halleluhah!‘ live was enough to convert me to a modern day Panic! fan. I had never heard this song from their 2016 album, Death of a Bachelor, before I heard it live, but Urie’s performance and the seemingly timeless talent of this band made it one of my favorite tracks of the year. If you’re looking for any iota of motivation in your day today, this is the track to get you going. The album it exists on is great listen from start to finish as well.
8. Lady Gaga – Joanne (entire album)
This album is everything I thought I hated about country music yet still embodies the rock-ballad-style Gaga is so good at. What I mean is, it’s a damn good album. From start to finish Joanne offers a political-pop narrative to this fucked-up year that was 2016. My favorite track of this album is ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ but all the tracks are indisputably good.
9. Rihanna -‘Consideration’
This is the first track of her most current album, ANTI. I saw a lot of Rihanna on others’ best of 2016 music, but this is the track that did it for me. While it’s worth listening to all of ANTI at least one time through, I particularly love ‘Consideration‘ because it embodies not only Rihanna’s badass female disposition but also that of SZA, the fearless female vocal featured on the track. SZA is actually an artist who helped embody my 2014 with her debut album Z. SZA is an alternative R&B artist worth checking out and the fact that she’s featured on the first track of ANTI is the main reason Rihanna’s 2016 album caught my attention in the first place.
Highlights beyond this list:
Solange’s A Seat at the Table,
James Blake’s The Colour in Anything,
Frank Ocean’s Blonde,
Yuna’s single ‘Pulang feat. SonaOne’,
RHCP’s The Getaway,
The xx’s single ‘On Hold’,
Tame Impala’s ‘Cause I’m a Man (HAIM remix)‘
Laura Marling’s single ‘Soothing’,
James Vincent McMarrow’s We Move