2016 was an amazing year in music. Choosing our favorite 20 albums was hard! Here is our ongoing list of honorable mentions for 2016.
Nigel Chapman teamed up with a band in 2016 to produce his second studio album. “Thought Rock Fish Scale.” Still reminiscent of Lou Reed vocally, he shows hints of influence from Reed’s “Transformer” on the new record through 70’s pop-reminiscent melodies and intriguing lyrics. Thought Rock Fish Scale is easy listening, philosophical and catchy. The album itself seems like it passes fast when listening to it’s 8 tracks, however there is much detail to be heard and is easy to listen to a second time. – Jake Keisler
Yellow K/Dead Oceans
Japanese Breakfast burst onto the scene this year with her debut record, “Psychopomp”. The album utilizes sounds from dream pop, shoegaze, and traditional indie rock to create a sound that is entirely unique. Although the album has a light, dream-like atmosphere, some of the songs still carry a big punch. ‘Everybody wants to love you’, one of my favorite tracks of the year, is a 2-minute burst of energy that is undeniably catchy. Singer Michelle Zauner brings her airy voice throughout the project without ever becoming uninteresting. Technical aspects aside, the crux of this album is the emotional impact. Songs like ‘In Heaven’ grab the listeners attention with the heartfelt piano and crooning by Zauner. The album feels like a gradual journey into her own grief and she never leaves the audience behind. Clocking in at a brief but brisk 30 minutes, this record is easily one of the best of the year. – David Scheckel
Recommended if you like: Cocteau Twins, Mitski, Eskimeaux
Listen to: “Everybody Wants to Love You”
2016 has been a tough for all of us, there’s no doubt. But Lucy Dacus has had a better year than most, coming off of the 2015 release of No Burden’s lead single, “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore.” The track was immediately picked up by various publications, generating excitement for her debut album, which was released on Richmond, VA based Egghunt Records. From there, the excitement only grew, culminating in offers from 20 record labels before ultimately signing for Matador.
It’s not hard to see why Dacus has drawn such attention. Her music moves in waves, shifting between loud guitar riffs like “Troublemaker Doppelgänger” and softer moments like “Trust.” Dacus has the voice to back both of these environments up. It is more full than most indie singers you’ll see on lists this year, filling the quiet spaces and the loud spaces with ease. The quiet spaces are where she shines, though. It’s here where her most profound observations and insecurities come to light. That’s what makes this album one of the best of the year – Dacus’ ability to take pieces of her life and make them part of ours. Her meditations jump from personal to universal effortlessly.
Dacus is an avid journal writer and it shows here. No Burden is a door to her mind and soul – do yourself a favor and open it up. – Patrick Larsen
Recommended if you like: Angel Olsen, Mitski, Pinegrove
Listen to: “Dream State…”
Two and a Half Days is the first album released by Kiwi band “Gromz,” based in New Zealand. I had a chance to see the band live and the energy they bring to their music is inspiring.
WSOE was lucky enough to get an interview with Gromz’s Max Gunn (bass and keys).
ZZ: How would you describe Two and a Half Days?
MG: A collection of songs that were practiced very little, but described my time in Dunners*.
(*Dunners = Dunedin, New Zealand)
ZZ: What was your favorite song on the album to work on?
MG: Probably “Johnny.” I just love the synth solo in the middle.
ZZ: What would you like listeners to know before playing the album?
MG: Don’t listen if you’re not into grom pop!
ZZ: If you were stuck on a desert island with only one song (from your album or not) what would it be?
MG: Probably that “Baby Blue” live session by King Krule.
ZZ: What can we look forward to from Gromz in the future?
MG: Heaps more music and heaps more vibes WooOO!
Recommended if you like: Cage the Elephant, Jake Bugg
This year we were blessed by another full studio album by the London duo, AlunaGeorge. The excitement I feel when I hear Aluna Francis’ voice on a track I haven’t heard before is always an experience. When you hear her perfect melodies, you just know the track has to be great. Her mesmerizing lyrics matched with George’s spectacular production is never anything less than impeccable. This album, in particular, adds a kind of R&B vocal to back the always danceable tune that AG always provides. This year has been a marvel for this group – not only dropping one of my favorite albums, but also releasing three absolutely fire singles – ‘I’m in Control’, ‘Blow You Up’ and ‘Mean What I Mean.’ I recommend checking all three out, as well as the entirety of the album, ‘I Remember.’ They are a spectacular duo that never lets me down and a group that I can only hope is planning on coming to the North Carolina area soon. – Myra Johnson
Recommended if you like: MØ, Marian Hill, Mausi
Listen to: “Mean What I Mean”
Remixes: Though their original tracks are all superb, AlunaGeorge also has a plethora of amazing remixes that have flipped their tracks to make them, dare I say, better? Just as good? Call it what you want but this group just cannot go wrong.
Below are some favorites:
“Superstar (Cosmos Midnight x Lido Remix)”, “To Ü (feat. AlunaGeorge) (Oliver Remix)”, “Best Be Believing (Shadow Child Remix)”, “You Know You Like It (Tchami Remix)”
Snarky Puppy’s newest album, Culcha Vulcha, took the jazz world by storm this past year. This band has the ability to impeccably interweave classic instrumental jazz with Brazilian melodies and South Asian percussion The term “jazz fusion” does not even begin to cut it for this group. Starting with ‘Tarova’ this album has a slower groove start that builds up to my favorite track of the mix – ‘Semente.’ With the undeniable Brazilian influences, this song is danceable and fantastic. While staying true to their instrumental roots, this band brings in every instrument imaginable, even having recorded an entire album with the Metropole Orkest [Orchestra] of the Netherlands, the largest full time ensemble of it’s kind in the world. Pick 10 regional sounds, a marimba, two drum kits, and sprinkle some synths on top and you have: Culcha Vulcha. With no guest appearances, this album is pure and true, Snarky Puppy. – Myra Johnson
Recommended if you like: Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea
Listen to: “Semente”
“Puberty 2” by Mitski is some of the most affecting and cathartic music of the past year. The album gracefully weaves themes of love, identity, acceptance throughout its runtime. Everything about “Puberty 2” feels like a natural evolution from her last album “Bury Me At Makeout Creek” with the opener “Happy” almost feeling like a direct transition between the two as the song shifts in sound when the saxophone kicks in. What also makes “Happy” such an incredible opening track is how it introduces so much of what’s to come on the album, both sonically and lyrically. No matter how many times I listen, I still get a crushing feeling from its description of how happiness and the desire for it can wreck you and leave you to pick up the pieces. The track “Your Best American Girl” is in the running for the best chorus this year as it is so beautifully set up and executed. I am enamored by how thunderous this album can be. That same quality is what makes the closer “A Burning Hill” so much more satisfying. It’s starkly quiet and chilling in comparison to the rest of the tracklist, and it powerfully wraps up all of the record’s swirling emotions. “Puberty 2” is not only one of the best collections of songs from 2016, it’s also the best collection of lyrics this year. – Thomas Coogan
Recommended if you like: St. Vincent, Japanese Breakfast, Pixies
Listen to: “A Burning Hill”
Ba Da Bing!
“Wabi-Sabi” by Cross Record is a fantastic amalgamation of folk, rock, and psychedelic music. It beautifully incorporates loud and soft dynamics and readily switches between them without ever feeling awkward or forced. The irregular choice of instrumentation by Thor Harris of Swans and Shearwater fame adds a distinct flavor to the record. The marimba on “Two Rings” is a complex and driving force because of how it layers multiple rhythms. Then, on tracks like “Something Unseen Touches a Flower to My Forehead,” the stomping percussion adds vigor to the chorus which, makes it even more climactic. Emily Cross’ vocals are mesmerizing throughout the album. They often start wispy like on “Wasp in a Jar” which draws the listener in. However, once the instrumental becomes more forceful so do her vocals, culminating into an emotionally potent and thrilling song. On “Wabi-Sabi,” Cross Record delivered some of the year’s most beautiful and enticing experimental music. – Thomas Coogan
Recommended if you like: Memoryhouse, Julianna Barwick, Wilsen
Listen to: “Steady Waves”