Sorry this post is so late – I typically try to get it out sometime in late December… but between shopping, other holiday stuff, and being sick as a dog for a couple weeks, I just didn’t have it in me to write this until now.
So… I called 2014 a “down year for music”, then called 2015 “even worse”. Well, it seems like 2016 was a bit of a “recovery year”. While it wasn’t one for the ages, I actually did have trouble picking out just ten albums for this list. And, as always, there are Last.fm stats after the list.
My Top Albums of 2016
10) Xiu Xui – Xui Xui Plays the Music of Twin Peaks – When I was a teen, I went though a “noise music” phase. Current 93, Einstürzende Neubauten, Nurse With Wound… that sort of thing. Xui Xui is just as “challenging” as those bands. They’re certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, and I certainly wouldn’t blame you for any “WTF?” comments. But while Xui Xui is “just okay” in my book, I really liked this album. The constraints of having to cover Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks soundtrack not only kept them from going totally off the rails, it actually adds something to the music to hear Xui Xui cover it. This is almost like a David Lynch fever dream. Again, I won’t fault you for not liking it, but this is certainly one of the most “innovative” albums of the year.
9) David Bowie – Blackstar – Honesty time: I love Bowie’s 70s music. He was indeed an innovator and challenger of the status quo, not just in music, but also, in his own way, of culture itself. Yet, I just couldn’t get in to any of Bowie’s work after Let’s Dance. He’s just “not my thing”. I only include this album on the list: a) to pacify any of my friends who might read this list and go nuts at its omission; and b) as an overall tribute to all the great musicians who died in 2016.
8) Memoryhouse – Soft Hate – Memoryhouse is one of those bands I really should like. After all, they kinda sound like Beach House, and I like Beach House, right? Yet, despite several honest attempts to listen to their music, it just never “clicked” with me… that is, until this year’s Soft Hate. I can’t quite put my finger on why that is, though. This album is self-released, so maybe someone at SubPop tried pushing them in a direction they didn’t want to go. I dunno. All I know is, I like this.
7) Julianna Barwick – Will – Man, Julianna Barwick hits it out of the park.. again! I can’t be arsed to check, but I’m pretty certain that all three of her albums – The Magic Place, Nepenthe and now Will – have made it to my “best of” lists in their respective release years. I could try to come up with a million adjectives to describe her music – “dreamy”, “atmospheric”, “ethereal”, “unearthly”, “angelic”, “elegiac”… but if you’ve never heard her before all you need to know is this: ya know those beautiful (but tiny) snippets of music that you used to hear between This Mortal Coil songs? She has albums full of the stuff, and it’s fantastic.
6) Warpaint – Heads Up – The ladies from L.A. are back, and with a bang, too. Heads Up is a terrific album, but most of the hype on this disc comes from the lead-off single, “New Song” which is just… ON FIRE! The rest of the album holds its own, but nothing else even approaches the awesomeness of “New Song”. Not that it could. Still, it’s a solid effort all around, rather than one of those “one great song and 10 filler songs” albums. Good job, ladies! Can’t wait to hear what’s next!
5) Ladyhawke – Wild Things – New Zealand’s Pip Brown is back! And although she’s back to her synth-heavy sound after a brief detour with the somewhat guitar-heavy Anxiety, she still has the same problem: the singles off Wild Things are fantastic songs you can listen to over and over again… but the rest of the album is pretty weak. “A Love Song” and “Sweet Fascination” are easily two of my favorite songs of the year… yet “Let It Roll”, “Hillside Avenue”, “Wild Things” and the rest of the album is just… fine, I guess. Like a good dinner at Applebee’s.
4) Still Corners – Dead Blue – Man, where did these guys come from? I know, I know: the UK. But their music is almost… addictive. This is one of those albums you can listen to and think “yeah, this is OK”. But 20 minutes later, you’ve got this song or that song in your head. So you listen again. And the next thing you know, you’ve listened to the album 14 times in a row! While a song like “Down with Heaven and Hell” showcases what this band can do, there really isn’t a bad song on this disc. I’ve been a fan since 2013’s Strange Pleasures – and I’m STILL kicking myself for not paying $8 to see them at Snug Harbor because it was on a Tuesday and I’m lame. I won’t make that mistake again. This album is totally its own thing, yet I can hear echoes of the best of Cocteau Twins and other 4AD bands. It makes me happy and nostalgic at the same time.
3) Postiljonen – Reverie – I loved Postiljonen’s debut album, Skyer, so much so that it was #6 on my “best of 2013” list. But Skyer was a mix of upbeat synthpop tunes and slow, dreamy songs. I much preferred the former over the latter. Yet this Swedish band seemed to do the opposite on this disc. “Go!” is an almost-dancable tune, but the rest of the album – while eminently listenable and beautiful – is just a bit too sedate for my tastes. That’s not a knock, exactly. It just means that this disc is something you have to be in a chill-out mood for, instead of something you can do chores to.
2) Mint Julep – Broken Devotion – I’ve “been into” music for 30 years, and yet I’m still surprised how a band can appear out of nowhere and just wedge their way into the #2 spot on your “best of” list. I’d never even heard of this band, until that fateful night when Spotify recommended it to me. Wow! Thanks, Spotify! This disc is just… intricately-layered electronic nirvana with some lovely vocals thrown in to boot! It’s even one of those albums where a song starts and you think “oh, I’m not going to like this at all”… yet you do. The album has 9 lovely original songs, but I think their cover of When in Rome’s “The Promise” is the best introduction to the band one could possibly have:
1) Marsheaux – Ath.Lon – Surprise, surprise: my favorite band of the 2010s got their second #1 album of the year! Guys, I wish I could explain my love for this band to you, but the best analogy I’ve yet come up with is a teenage crush. Remember that? When your heart was so full you thought it was going to burst, and all you could think about in any given moment was her (or him)? I have that same exact feeling when I listen to this band. Hell, I even feel that way when talking about them: “yeah I never woulda thought The One would be a synthpop band from Greece, but… here we are”! And this album… well, it just might be their best one yet. I’m not 100% sold on the opening track – “Burning” – but I can listen to the rest of the album over and over and over again (and, according to Last.fm, I did just that this year). This band just has… that sound, man, that certain “it”. There are a ton of electronic bands out there that sound exactly like something from the 80s. Hell, many of them even go so far as to have 80s style cover art, complete with album names written in “laser beams” above computer-generated checkerboards. But somehow, Marsheaux manages to sound so much like those early 80s electronic bands, yet fully modern at the same time. How they manage to do it I’ll never know… I just hope they never stop doing it! This is a band I’m helplessly, hopelessly deeply in love with.
“Safe Tonight”, the first single off the album:
“Like a Movie”, a split-screen video with one band member in Athens, the other in London (hence the album’s name, Ath.Lon):
My favorite song on the album, the totally dreamy “Mediterranean”:
Chromatics – Just Like You EP
The Colorist & Emiliana Torrini – The Colorist & Emiliana Torrini
Montmartre – Hope
Nice as Fuck – Nice as Fuck
Nite Jewel – Liquid Cool
Pylon – Live
Shura – Nothing’s Real