2016, man, I don’t even know where to start. We lost a ton of celebrities, drank poison water, watched an election that looked like an episode of Jerry Springer and argued with each other for countless hours on Facebook. Here in Cleveland, we finally won a championship and camesingle game, extra inning rain delay away from winning a second, all while watching our lovable Browns come oh so close to a perfect 0-16 season. Yes, there were fires, floods, droughts, mass shootings, pipeline standoffs, Brexits and trucks driving through crowds. But through it all there was music. This year offered both sweet sonic escape from the madness and for me, a rediscovered love for rock music.
Musically we lost some legends in 2016. We lost Bowie, Prince, Phife Dog, Leonard Cohen, George Michael and we finally, fully, lost Kanye to his ego/insanity/brilliance/sleep deprivation/whatever. Honestly there were some HUGE let downs for me in music this year. Even though they are on lots of best of lists, I just didn’t connect with the ne offerings from Kanye, Childish Gambino or Frank Ocean. Maybe they will just take me more time to warm up to or maybe I’m just too old and I don’t get it. On the flip side, there were a couple GREAT albums this year from artists I wrote off a long time ago and some new acts I discovered this year.
So, let’s do what absolutely no art requires, let’s rank it! Please note: this is not a best-of list from a critic. This is a list of my favorite albums of the year. I don’t listen to country or metal. I mostly like indie rock, punk, emo, hip hop, pop and acoustic music. So, like any list, this is super subjective.
20. The Hotelier – Goodness
This album pushes The Hotelier away from the emo genre and more towards Modern Rock. The opening track poem and the second track repetitive drums and discordant guitars almost stopped this album in it’s tracks for me on the first listen, but I do really dig the band and the album.
19. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.
This is a nice companion piece to Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Plus it seemed like Lebron James’ public persuading forced him to release it. Pimp pimp hooray!
18. Pinegrove – Cardinal
I first heard about this album as it was being pushed by the hype train from online magazine’s I really don’t like. I expected it to be an nu-listenable, horribly produced hipster fest that I could listen to once and dispose of. I was very pleasantly surprised. The songs grew on me, the lyrics are honest and refreshing, and I found myself going back to this album over and over this year.
17. John K Samson – Winter Wheat
Full disclosure, John Samson’s now defunct band, The Weakerthans, are my favorite band of all time. I was pretty excited about this album before it came out and picked it up on day one. I heard John say in an interview (and I think it’s even on the Google Play description) that this feels to him like it would have been the next Weakerthans album. As a Weakerthans album, this would have been a disappointment. As a solo album from a middle aged man, it’s a good listen and growing on me.
16. Bayside – Vacancy
This album surprised me. I wasn’t that into the last Bayside album even though it seems they have spent the last 10 years getting bigger and bigger. Every time I’ve seen them the past few years I’m surprised by the massive crowd of younger people really into the music. They seem to have a staying power. This album is a lot about break ups and the vocal lines are catchy as ever.
15. Angel Olsen – My Woman
I first heard of Angel on an NPR interview. One of my favorite genres is female indie pop like Lana Del Rey, Bat for Lashes etc. So this album is pretty perfect for me. Great recording techniques make the songs feel like they are from another time. Angel has a unique textured voice that fits perfectly. No one will ever be the next Amy, but Angel Olsen feel’s way more authentic in her nostalgic indie than the majority of the also-rans.
14. Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book
This was a dismal year for hip-hop. It’s one of my favorite genres. It’s a weird time for me, seeing all the rappers that got me into to hip hop start to lose their edge and give way to the new guard. I grew up arguing Jay-z or Nas, Eminem, or DMX. Then I watched Jay give rise to Kanye. I was 100% on the Jay and Kanye train. I watched Kanye single-handedly change hip-hop by taking down 50 Cent. The era of gangsta rap was over. Even Jay’s rhymes about flipping bricks and shooting ruegers felt outdated suddenly. Chance is a byproduct of Kanye changing rap for the better. And now that Kanye has completely flamed out/retreated into his head, I am looking at Chance, along with Kendrick and Cole, to help usher in the next gen of hip hop. Let’s just get past this mumble rap bullshit please.
13. Taking Back Sunday – Tidal Wave
This list is starting to look like a Throwback Thursday post, The reason tv shows like Heroes Reborn don’t work is they lean too hard on nostalgia and don’t push things forward. After a disappointing last album, this is the comeback album we’ve been waiting for from Taking Back Sunday. This is a blueprint on how older bands can stop reaching back for their “sound” and progress forward. Even if you squint, it’s sometimes hard to recognize TBS on some of these songs. But damn, they are good songs
12. Run The Jewels – RTJ3
Boy am I glad I procrastinated on this list! What a Christmas present! I’ve only listened twice so I can’t say too much except go listen! Just what the world needed, a feel good hip-hop record full of great music beds, brags, wordplay and political messages. I can’t wait to digest this some more.
11. Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost
Modern Baseball’s last album, 2014’s You’re Gonna Miss It All, is a classic. I absolutely love that album. Since then the band has gone through a ton of well documented growing pains that come along with becoming famous, including a stint in rehab and cancelled tours. With the exception of Alkaline Trio, I’m not a fan of bands with two singers. So far in their career, Modern Baseball has been another exemption to the rule. Their voices blend well and they seem to be similar songwriters. However, Holy Ghost is basically two solo eps presented as a split album, which for me makes the first half of the album much more enjoyable than the second half. Hopefully life gets better for the guys in Modern Baseball and their next album is just as good but a little more cohesive.
10. Moose Blood – Blush
Moose Blood is another band I found out about in 2016. Although they had been recommended to me a couple of times, I assumed with a name as bad as Moose Blood, they for sure wouldn’t be worth checking out. But the band kept popping up in my timeline, and from pretty reputable sources, so I gave their album Blush a listen. And once again, I am super late to an awesome party. The album is undeniably fourth wave emo but remains pretty poppy and accessible. It’s their sophmore release and it’s a lot less intense as their first album I’ll Keep You in Mind From Time to Time. But what they lost in heaviness, they have gained in pop sensibilities.
9. J. Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only
I love this record. I’m bummed I haven’t seen it on more top 10 lists this year. It’s my favorite hip-hop album of the year. Cole just seems so….real. From folding his girlfriend’s laundry to telling a story of being mistaken for a drug dealer in his new suburban home, I feel like I know J Cole now. I liked his last record as well but this one to me takes an even more refined look at his life. The music is great and his delivery is on point.
8. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
I’m not even sure what to type with this one. Everything Justin Vernon touches is gold. He’s a phenomenal songwriter with a great voice. I love his chest voice and his head voice. I love the atmosphere he weaves in his productions. The album is instrumented very differently than his debute album. Much more electronic. Lots of beeps and boops. More Radiohead than Bright Eyes. But while it is different, it feels very familiar. Because I tend to listen to music while I’m doing other things, this album has tended to fade into gorgeous background music while I’m working so I honestly had to go do a re-listen to make sure it wasn’t just enjoyable, but actually good. Upon the relisten I really fell in love with Justin’s lyrics. He hasn’t made a misstep yet in his career and this album is another solid entry.
7. Against Me! – Shape Shift With Me
When Against Me! started releasing the singles prior to the release of this album, I was concerned. “Boyfriend” had an uninspired chorus and no teeth musically and their second single “333”, while being an overall better song, had the same tempo and drum beat as “Boyfriend” and was equally non-urgent. While Against Me! Is one of my favorite bands, I feel they have a history of following up a great album with a so-so album. For the first 6 songs of the album, this holds pretty true. Six songs stuck pretty firmly in pretty safe rock mode. The album seems to do a 180 startiong with track 7, “Haunting, Haunted, Haunts”. We hit our stride through tracks 8, 9 and 10. Overall, a very good, if not classic AM! Album.
6. Conor Oberst – Ruminations
Just like the John Samson album, I’ve got start with a disclaimer. If The Weakerthans are my favorite band, Bright Eyes is probably my second favorite. Listening to The Weakerthans and early Brights Eyes really motivated me to start my band. I wasn’t a fan of Conor’s first solo album. It was too polished and too safe. Then Bright Eyes started sounding like that. His voice started sounding less insecure, love sick teen and more Bob Dylan-esque. Conor’s second solo album was actually a full band album with the touring band he put together in Mexico for the first solo album tour. I liked it even less than the first. Conor’s new album, Ruminations was recorded alone in Omaha last winter over one weekend. It sounds so much more like the Conor Oberst I fell in love with years ago. The wobble to his voice is back, the tracks aren’t overproduced, the lyrics are honest, introspective and much more coherent. This is a great album for a cold winter night alone with some wine.
5. Joyce Manor – Cody
If half of this list has been a Throwback Thursday, then the other theme is “Lance got into 4th wave emo this year.” I’ve always dug Joyce Manor, but they were always a little too….Blink 182…for me. A little juvenile, a little whiny. Cody is the grown up album I never really knew I wanted from them until I heard it.
4. Weezer – White Album
Before Weezer released 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End, there was a buzz. The same buzz that had been with the last several Weezer albums. You know the one: This is their comeback album, this will be the album to make you forget how they spent a decade wandering hopeless in the Top 40 crossover, superproducer wilderness, with songs like “Beverly Hills” and that Magic song to show for it. Before EWBAITE, Weezer dropped the single “Back to the Shack” and it was good. A little on the nose, maybe, but it rocked and sounded like early Weezer. I bought the album day one, hoping against hope to hear Pinkerton 2. Underwhelming is an understatement. The album had a couple of good songs but just more late career half baked songs to pile on the heap. When they announced their (I think) fourth self-titled album, I wasn’t expecting much. Blue was a classic, Green very good, and Red a disaster (except one of my favorite Weezer songs “Miss Sweeny,” tucked away towards the end). Plus this one was The White Album. And another little band already put out a pretty decent White Album once upon a time. But man, this album is great. I really enjoy nine out of the ten songs. Great Beach Boys inspired melodies make this the best Weezer album of the past decade and in my mind places it alongside the Green album just behind Blue and (of course) Pinkerton.
3. Touche Amore – Stage Four
Where to start? My band was on tour once when my voice went out. Rather than cancel shows, I just yelped through the last few shows. One of our show was pretty chaotic and sloppy. At the merch table a girl said we reminded her of Touche Amore, I had never heard them so I checked them out. We all had a good laugh when we heard their music, we obviously sound nothing like them on record. But I did start listening to them after that. And while their music is a little heavier than I tend to like, there was an undeniable talent with this band. Stage Four is a record that never let’s up. An album written after their singer’s mother died of cancer. Touche Amore spend an entire album detailing and chronically the imagery of death and grieving. This is both literally and thematically the heaviest album on the list. I still haven’t made it through the album with a dry eye.
2. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
This album is a masterpiece. It’s gorgeous and unsettling at the same time. I waited years to hear this album and even with all the build up, it doesn’t disappoint. “Burn The Witch” is in my top ten Radiohead songs of all time. I had heard a live version of it a couple of years ago but this is simply amazing. Also, hardcore fans will know the happiness I felt when seeing “True Love Waits” at the end of the tracklist. I’ve literally been waiting for a studio version of this song since the 90s. Another pleasant surprise is Thom York’s ennunciation on this album. For the first time in years, I can actually make out what he’s singing! The only thing that brings my enjoyment of this album down is how much this feels like goodbye. After years of waiting, Radiohead did a very un-radiohead thing and gave us the exact album we were waiting for. Full of songs they’ve been teasing for years, this album comes across as their final collection of music, a clearing of the cupboards before they turn off the lights. I hope I’m wrong, but if not, what a great note to go out on.
1. Tiny Moving Parts – Celebrate
Emo angst meets math rock. Celebrate, my favorite album of the year, seamlessly blends technical music and sad pop punk. These guys have been around for a while but I didn’t discover them until 2016. This album didn’t leave my headphones for a week. Musically, it reminds me of their first album Further Seems Forever. I’m a big fan of mixing technical music with complex time signatures layered under honest, earnest vocals and lyrics.
Lance Waste is a husband and father, the lead singer/songwriter of Darling Waste (darlingwaste.bandcamp.com) and the founder of Heart Riot (heartriot.com). He is a music producer and artist/brand manager by day, and a club dj, radio show host and podcaster by night. He is a pop culture apologist, a political progressive, and a guilt ridden consumer who loves comics and toys more than any adult should. You can connect with Lance on Twitter @lancewaste.