Top 20 Albums of 2016 (20-11)

#20 Carly Rae Jepsen: E•MO•TION Side B

It might be hard to believe that one of the best albums of 2016 was a collection of B-sides but Carly Rae Jepsen‘s E•MO•TION Side B delivered the most satisfying pop of the year. With retro synths and lyrics about heartbreak or wanting, the album could have easily been released by Paula Abdul or Tiffany in the late 80s. Unlike those artists, Jepsen has achieved a status very few know: to be both a commercial and critical success. The real difference, is Jepsen’s ability to connect to her audience. Her lyrics are personal while the feelings expressed are universal. She sings of the anxieties everyone feels but with the intimacy of details that very few pop artists engage in. B-sides or not, Carly Rae Jepsen again released a gem. – Adam Morgan

#19 Rosary Guild: Rosary Guild

Rosary Guild, a three-piece hailing from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, releases their debut self-titled album reeking with nostalgia and good feels. If one can recall the beautiful blip in the music industry that happened between the early 2000’s up until around 2010, when artists were dumping out vast amounts of heart-ridden dreamy psych-pop jams, and enjoyed it, then Rosary Guild will replenish those dried up wells. This affectionate string of songs sounds like the artists’ hearts and minds are being broadcasted from the moon, and all neatly packed into an explosive tape reel to buried before it becomes too much to contain. The album parallels a super-group that would consist of Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, and If These Trees Could Talk. Some high-stakes to be held, but Rosary Guild upholds to those levels of intimacy and intensity from beginning to end. It has soaring vocals from the back-end of a cave, blistering instrumentation blossoming from the Big Bang, and an ambience that wraps its arms around you. It simulates sitting around a campfire attempting to get in contact with the cosmos, and explain to the universe what it is to be human. Give into the desires of yourself from 10+ years ago, and give this a listen. You’ll receive sounds stretching from lovely whispers, up to emotional releases of astronomic proportion. – Jay Gostynski

#18 Parquet Courts: Human Performance

After last year’s disastrous Monastic Living, Parquet Courts have returned to form with Human Performance. Mixing influences like Pavement and the Velvet Underground, the band’s nervous energy mixed with their slack rock attitude to create an album that is less abrasive than previous efforts. Human Performance is so aptly named because the album deals with anxiety in a much more personal way. The band is still genius but finally relatable. – Adam Morgan

#17 Heron Oblivion: Heron Oblivion

#16 Mark Kozelek: Sings Favorites

Sun Kil Moon singer and guitarist Mark Kozelek sits down at a piano, and with little else for accompaniment (other than an occasional background vocalist) performs twelve of his favorite songs on this intimate collection. Whether taking on well-known standards such as “Moon River” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or contemporary favorites like Bob Seger’s “Mainstreet” and Modest Mouse’s “Float On”, Kozelek imparts a sense of care and passion in every chord and vocal flourish. The inclusion of 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love”, a track which has recently enjoyed a resurgence in interest due to its inclusion in the 2014 film Guardians of the Galaxy, and “Win”, a deep David Bowie cut from his Young Americans album, both help to bring a feeling of timeliness to the set. Not to be outdone, Kozelek’s cover of the American folk song “Cindy” (presented here as “Get Along Home Cindy”) is surprisingly inspired and upbeat and turns out to be one of the album’s finest moments. Overall, Kozelek’s choices are eclectic and thoughtful, and though his trademark vocal delivery is often interpreted as somber and melancholic, there’s no denying the pleasure he takes in recreating these endearing musical moments. – Andy Mascola

#15 Cold Pumas: The Hanging Valley

#14 Esperanza Spalding: Emily’s D+Evolution

Esperanza Spalding is one of those names that you just don’t say lightly –you’ve gotta’ say it with gusto, sternness, importance –as if we’re in the wild west and the soulful singer is about to shoot you down with a bassy lick. It seems as if Spalding’s name is closely tied to her winning a Grammy over a certain other young and popular musician. Unsurprisingly, Esperanza Spalding brought some massive sound to the table and shook 2016 up with her new release, Emily’s D+Evolution. The album carries itself out through the guise of ‘Emily’ –a musical manifestation of Spalding’s pro-independence social commentary. ‘Emily’ delivers her message with a number of visages; at times the album is theatrical a la Kate Bush; tracks like “Earth To Heaven” stand out with absolutely wild vocals that emphasize Spalding’s husky sound and agile range. In contrast, Spalding keeps things sharp with a half spoken word, half hypnotizing prog rock jam –“Ebony and Ivy.” Esperanza Spalding’s Emily’s D+Evolution is prolific –delivering a massive variety of songs that start with Spalding’s soulful style and builds into so much more. While Spalding may have gained an immense notoriety by snatching up a Grammy, she is continuing to pave the way in a fierce, creative, and fresh manner –making her latest one of 2016’s very albums. – John Naessig

#13 Brian Jonestown Massacre: Third World Pyramid

#12 Eric Copeland: Black Bubblegum

Black Bubblegum is Eric Copeland’s most “pop” album yet. Compared to his works with Black Dice and his other massive amounts of material, this album could be considered his most widely absorbable release. Although it dances away from his abrasive noisy style of bent-out circuit collages, he still lays heavy his use of off-beat experimental styles. In other words, it is not a push for a hit pop album to be loved unconditionally: he stays true to his form of art, and gives the listener something to be uncomfortably captivated by. There may not be much melody, or at least none that lasts long enough to be mindlessly swooned by, but Copeland is capable of stripping his music of traditional attributes while completing the task of fully encapsulating the audience.

Black Bubblegum is riddled with a certain approach of experimental noise where the chaos borders order, and in each moment the battle can be heard. Copeland never teeters too far on either side with these songs, an accomplishment that seems to be no challenge for this seasoned natural. Too much pop, and the art goes straight to the trash radio hit-list. Too much noise, and the art is lost in the experimental sand-storm. This album never drifts to either wasteland; a prefect balance of mind-boggling discord and brain-bubbling noise-pop. – Jay Gostynski

#11 Solange: A Seat at the Table

In a year when race, religion, sex, and sexual identity divided the nation more than seemed possible at this point in history, Solange delivered the perfect album of disappointment and triumph. A Seat at the Table is just that, taking a seat at the table to presents her own version of black womanhood. While sister Beyonce does that in a roar on Lemonade, Solange’s version is full of sighs and groans. It’s a personal record with graceful candor and a stylized flow that makes it one of the most cohesive and beautiful albums of the year – Adam Morgan

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