Top 20 Albums of 2016 (10-01)

#10 Thee Oh Sees: A Weird Exits
In a litany of recent albums A Weird Exits is tops. John Dwyer is quite possibly one of the most interesting figures in rock and roll that nobody knows. His distinctive guitar playing and instrument rich compositions give way to melodic and maniacal stylings on this truly remarkable and noteworthy album from 2016. Greg Scranton

#9 Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial

The majority of Will Toledo’s fans can point to Twin Fantasy as the album that sucked them in –I can still remember as I first heard the young maestro scream through my speakers, “I don’t want to go insane/I don’t want to have schizophrenia.” It was a hell of a moment; a musician with the moniker Car Seat Headrest did more introspective justice to a generation obsessed with malaise than any other artist had managed to do yet. Like a less insufferable Tao Lin, Will Toledo captures the post modern atmosphere in the most sincere and eloquent ways possible – confessing his anxious thoughts, and wrapping them around haunting melodies. Car Seat Headrest’s 2016 release, Teens of Denial, was monumental, serving as Toledo’s matured retake on familiar feelings. With the same frankness that went into his past lyrics, Toledo paints a refreshing image of emotional toil –“You have no right to be depressed! You haven’t tried hard enough to like it,” he cries out in, “Fill In The Blank.” At the same time, he admits his own will to give in, and later on in the album, presents the conundrum – “Hangovers feel good when I know it’s the last one, Then I feel so good I have another one.” It’s an honest espousing that caps itself off with, “Drugs are better with friends/Friends are better with drugs.” Furthermore, Toledo stuck to his musical guns and kept the instrumentals special. Often times, the songs are cinematic, creating scenes rather than clearly defined verse/chorus. Toledo is arguably one of the most creative and genuine artists today –it’s no wonder that Teens of Denial came in at number nine.. – John Naessig

#8 Florist: The Birds Outside Sang

By pairing gently contemplative instrumentation with a heartbreakingly fragile voice delivering deeply personal lyrics about mortality, Brooklyn’s Florist created one of the most intimate albums of the year. The Birds Outside Sang successfully manages to immerse the listener in singer Emily Sprague’s world by marrying her surreal dreams and emotionally charged interpretations of nature and religion with a patient, traditional soundtrack lovingly decorated with sporadic, illusory synth effects. During the song “A Hospital + Crucifix Made of Plastic” Sprague repeats the words, “It’s painful, but I don’t feel pain at all.” This line may best sum up the entire experience, as although Sprague’s anecdotes occasionally deal with physical hindrances and bodily limitations, all of the tracks on The Birds Outside Sang are tempered with a healthy dose of optimism and Emily’s quirky sense of humor. A message from the singer on Florist’s Bandcamp page reads, “My one and only goal is that someone can listen to this album and feel/see something, and take it with them as a thought.” Florist is undeniably successful in achieving this selfless objective, as the band’s music and lyrics will most definitely leave listeners with plenty of imagery and ideas to ruminate on long after the album’s end. – Andy Mascola

#7 Leonard Cohen: You Want It Darker

Leonard Cohen‘s career faded from the public consciousness between 1971-2001 save for the blip that was “Hallelujah” in 1984. His late career resurgence was an anomaly. It is something only artists like Johnny Cash have enjoyed. Like Johnny Cash’ American IV: The Man Comes Around whose cover of “Hurt” seemed so poignant in the wake of his death, Leonard Cohen You Want It Darker is sparse beauty and lyrical mastery at its finest. The 82-year-old Cohen packed the album with same aplomb and insouciance that he had his entire career. His takes on God, death, and love will be missed but he left us this one last gift – Adam Morgan

#6 Deakin: Sleep Cycle

Josh Dibb (Deakin), one of the members of Animal Collective, released his debut solo album this year. After a long awaited completion of the project (about 7 years), he dropped Sleep Cycle. Physical copies were only released to the top backers on his Kickstarter project, all of the funds going to TEMEDT, and the rest were through digital copy only. It is a masterpiece of moderately psychedelic, electro-acoustic, experimental material packed to the brim with emotion.

It is a mellow and mild short album, spanning only a half an hour long, but it is fully capable of leaving the listener feeling satisfied, confident, and in good spirits. From beginning to end, the lyrics resemble a bildungsroman of the artist himself, growing into a strong and blissful state as the album progresses. The field recordings he uses emphasize a certain ambience of a friendly outside world, chaotic but utopian; like looking at the stars as if they were humanity’s roof, and the world was a cozy home to everything on it. Whirling riffs, mesmerizing vocals, and soothing rhythms: Sleep Cycle is a journey comparable to Hesse’s Siddhartha.

If you haven’t been “moved” by something in a while, try this out. – Jay Gostynski

#5 The Avalanches: Wildflower

Fans waited 15 years for Guns N RosesChinese Democracy and needless to say when it was released it was considered a disappointment by most. The Avalanches did their fans one better and had them wait 16 years for the follow up to their debut Since I Left You. When Wildflower finally dropped it was easy to look at it in the ways it was not like Since I Left You with its guest vocalists and sparser sample list but it turned out to be more reassuring to see it as how quintessentially Avalanches it is. An album filled with laughter and psychedelic imagery with a smattering of hip hop and disco, Wildflower tells the tale of heading from inner city Australia out to the wild while getting high and laughing all the way. It is a freeing album. While it might not be Since I Left You, if you look at it as its own stand alone product, its one hell of a trip – Adam Morgan

#4 Animal Collective: Painting With…

2016 was an interesting year for music –frankly, it seems as if everyone was experimenting –whether it was avant-this or noisy-that, band’s branching outside their comfort zone became the norm. Animal Collective swung the pendulum in the other direction –transmuting their music from ‘experiment’ to ‘formula’. AnCo’s 2016 release, Painting With was remarkable and refined –marking itself as a concentrated dose of AnCo tricks and treasures. While more careful listeners will remember the synth-laden, hocketing-laden, sound effect driven bulk of the album, the majority of the world is still entranced by hits like “Floridada” and “Golden Gal.” Catchy, poppy melodies drove the more popular songs, creating recognizable lines that became cheerful anthems for a period of time. Whether you were in it for the ‘AnCo SFX – The Album’ or the singles that still linger as some of the best music the band has produced in ages, it seemed almost universally agreed –Animal Collective’s Painting With is everything we love about AnCo, intensified, amplified, and pushed to its limits –conclusively leaving Painting With at number four on our list of the best albums of 2016. – John Naessig

#3 David Bowie: Blackstar

Struggling through pain and the disconnected feeling that goes along with pain medication, David Bowie forced out his final gasp with Blackstar. Filled with opaque imagery, the album experimented with elements of rock, free jazz, hip hop inspiration, and the avant garde. There was no commercial reason for the album to be Bowie’s first US #1 album but the power of his name propelled it there. But make no mistake, Blackstar deserved the number one spot. It is the best album in decades from a man who truly changed the world. – Adam Morgan

#2 Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool

Each Radiohead full-length record released since the group’s groundbreaking 2001 album Kid A has created ever-increasing listener anticipation for new and interesting sounds that push the rock genre into previously uncharted sonic territory. Because of this, Radiohead has continued to set the bar high for themselves in terms of quality and innovation. Fortunately, Radiohead’s ninth record, A Moon Shaped Pool, doesn’t disappoint. Consisting of song lyrics that deal with subject matter on topics as varied as xenophobia and crumbling relationships to UFOs and climate change, the eleven tracks meticulously assembled here in some cases have been a part of the band’s live repertoire going back as far as 1995. The music is at times appropriately paranoid and eerie. At other times it’s technically intricate and gloriously majestic. At no time, however, is it boring. Good things take time. Great things take even longer. While the years in between each of the band’s studio albums has increased with age (the time between The King of Limbs and A Moon Shaped Pool was the band’s longest at just over five years), Radiohead has proved that in the new millennium they care more than ever about pushing boundaries without sacrificing the unique qualities that make their music both exciting and accessible. – Andy Mascola

#1 Kanye West: The Life of Pablo

In a year where the music was as tumultuous as the times, Kanye West‘s The Life of Pablo is our number one album almost by default. It was the only album that the majority of our writers said deserved to be on the albums of the year countdown. Everyone had their own reasons. Some people were enthralled by its production, an almost complete 180 from Yeezus. Others saw the new more self-aware lyrics as an almost return to form for Kanye as he raps about mental healthy issues, religion, and of course himself.

Whatever the reason, The Life of Pablo is a marker in time. It is when Kanye abandoned physical releases. It is when an artist released his album for public consumption and then continued to edit it and present new versions of it. It is when an album was presented exclusively on Jay-Z’s Tidal and then was sued when he started streaming it on other services. It is Kanye’s seventh consecutive Billboard #1 album and the first album to reach that position primarily through streaming. It seems with every Kanye release it feels like a turning point and the same is true about The Life of Pablo. – Adam Morgan

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