It’s that time of the year when we share with you our favorite records of 2016. This year has been rough. We’ve lost some truly amazing artists–Prince, Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Lemmy, Phife Dawg, Leon Russell, Alan Vega, Mose Allison, and others. The best thing to take from these losses is it gives us a chance to reflect on their art and immerse ourselves in their records again…sometimes for the first time. Luckily, since the resurgence of vinyl, these artists find new life in our shop bins with a constant array of reissues and vault releases. At least we have their records. Bowie left way too soon but he may have left us the best record of the year…maybe his career? Leonard Cohen knew his time was up and his records (including his last one) seem to make more sense now…maybe? Prince was gone in an instant but worked on new material right up ’til his death. Anyways, 2016 was tough and we’ll leave it at that.
Now for our list! As tough as the year got at times there were always great records coming out. This may be the strongest year for new music since we opened our doors in 2012. We saw the return of Radiohead, Bob Dylan winning a Nobel Prize, A Tribe Called Quest back in the spotlight, a political cry from Drive-by Truckers, new indie-rock classics from Car Seat Headrest and Parquet Courts, and lots more! We aren’t going to put these in any order because ranking them seems too hard and a waste of time. If you’d like to purchase any of these (we are a record store after all) you can go to our webstore or swing by the shop. So here we go…
Our favorite records of 2016
–David Bowie Blackstar
Bowie’s final record is a masterpiece from the cover artwork and record packaging to the experimental jazz backing band. Bowie set up the release of Blackstar in an unprecedented work of performance art as he passed away just days after the release leaving the songs bathed in mystery and new meaning. Bowie is one of the most important artists of all time and Blackstar is an excellent parting gift and ending to an amazing and groundbreaking career. If you haven’t already poured over this record, now is the time. This year also sees the vinyl reissues of Bowie’s early, crucial catalog.
–Kanye West Life of Pablo
Life of Pablo is probably the most traditional rap record Yeezy has made in years. The gospel-rap opener “Ultralight Beam” is one of Kanye’s best songs ever–thanks Chance the Rapper. Kanye is also pushing the boundary of what it means to release a record in 2016, or if it’s possible for a record to ever be creatively finished. He’s also pushing the boundaries of live performance. If you get the chance, GO SEE HIM LIVE! This record didn’t see a physical release–except for that one thing you probably saw in the store ?
–Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool
Radiohead’s first album in four years is one of their greatest achievements. King of Limbs left fans wanting more as the record clocked in at just over 30 minutes. A Moon Shaped Pool is lengthier and much more minimal at the same time–in a good way. This isn’t necessarily a rock record but more a collection of songs where Jonny Greenwood flexes his orchestral muscle while Thom Yorke performs some of his best lyrics to date. The record gives fans some excellent debatable talking points for discussions on where this record ranks in the Radiohead catalog…we think it should sit near the top with Kid A and OK Computer.
–Angel Olsen My Woman
Angel Olsen almost goes full on rock with this new record and we can’t get enough of it. We’ve been a fan of hers since her first record and she just keeps getting better and better. This is easily one of the best records of the year.
“If Burn Your Fire was Olsen’s poetic manifesto, then My Woman lives freely within its world. Together, the two albums remind me of something Patti Smith once said, in 1976, distinguishing the literary Horses from its follow-up, Radio Ethiopia, by calling the latter “total physical energy” and also more implicitly feminine. My Woman walks a tightrope of love to figure out what it is—how to find it, how to allow it in, how to feel it, how to fight for it, how to let it go—by a person who does not lose herself in the process.” -Pitchfork.com
–Charles Bradley Changes
Charles Bradley’s third album is his first to full on politicize and the timing is perfect. Bradley sings about the need for change and the even more stressing need for love to conquer all. His cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes” may be the song of the year. This is one of the best modern soul records to drop in recent years.
–Blood Orange Freetown Sound
PUT ON TURNTABLE. PLAY. FLIP. REPEAT. OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER. 2016 JAMMER ALERT!
“Dev Hynes’ work–populist, experimental, healing, agitating, straightforward, multi-layered–demonstrates this unfailingly. Prince’s radical pop spirit lives on in many artists. But none are channeling it more fully, or artfully.” -RollingStone
–Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree
“Whatever one makes of the songs presented here, at least we should all be able to agree that another addition to Cave’s legendary, beyond comparison catalogue is in itself enough of a reason to feel very satisfied.” -Drowned in Sound
“Skeleton Tree is an extraordinary piece of work, one that might impact upon you profoundly if you choose to bed-down in its dark corridors of hurt.” -MOJO
“It feels distasteful to rate so powerful, so raw an album in any aesthetic terms and yet it brilliantly, blackly, radiates life. Skeleton Tree is a work of mourning, yes; a work of reverie, yes; and also an immensely moving attempt to reach out of blackness towards life.” -The Wire
(COPIES AVAILABLE IN THE SHOP)
–Leonard Cohen You Want it Darker
Cohen’s final, and masterful, goodbye of a record. Like Bowie, this final act ranks right at the top of a beloved artist’s output. It’s bleak and sad, but it’s so damn good, and when it needs to be it’s the sweetest thing you ever heard.
“You Want It Darker could be addressed to fans pining for a return to Cohen’s bleakest songwriting; or a lover, or a higher power.” -The Observer (UK)
“This is one of his most intense albums. It feels personal too.” -MOJO
“It’s become a cliche to treat every latter-day Cohen album like a potential swansong but it’s hard to imagine a richer, finer or more satisfying finale than this.”
–William Tyler Modern Country
Primarily written while Tyler was on sabbatical in Oxford, Mississippi, where he stayed at the cabin of a family friend within a stone’s throw of William Faulkner’s house, Modern Country is a collection of songs about the vanishing America that still exists on back roads, in small towns, on AM radio stations. In an election year when so many certainties and assurances have vanished, Tyler doesn’t offer optimism or pessimism but rather a calm and measured commentary in our age of anxiety. 2016 would’ve been much tougher without this record.
–A Tribe Called Quest We Got It From Here…
“By and large, We got it from Here… has the classic Tribe sound: a warm and crisp confluence of East Coast hip-hop, jazz, and more, all mixed and mastered impeccably. While some aspects of the sound are dated, others feel fresh.” -Consequence of Sound
“Completed after Phife’s death, the record’s also an unabashed tribute to him. Q-Tip’s the handsome one, charismatic, the versatile one with pop appeal, and so it has always been easy to think of Phife as something of a foil—a little funnier and scrappier, maybe, but not the driving artistic force. But anyone who made a home inside these records over the past quarter century knows Phife’s the group’s beating heart: its source of joy; the wry, horny prankster; the life of the party. Q-Tip’s an optimist—he believes in people—but Phife is the reason why. We talk about rappers as poets, as journalists, as masters of ceremony. Phife is the rapper as guy you want to hang out with. Hearing him light up a track like “We the People” or the instant classic “Black Spasmodic” is at once chill-inducing and a reminder of how much life an emcee can pack into a couple bars.” -The A.V. Club
–Whitney Light Upon the Lake
Out on June 3rd, the Chicago group’s debut album is soulful and different from anything else we’ve heard this year in the world of indie rock. Formed from the core of guitarist Max Kakacek (ex-Smith Westerns) and singing drummer Julien Ehrlich (ex-Unknown Mortal Orchestra),the band itself is something bigger, something visionary.
“Bass, horns, strings, organ and choir provide the backbone, and when Whitney allow themselves to kick it up a gear and really let rip, as on ‘Golden Days’ (with its cathartic “Na na na” outro) or the George Harrison-meets-The Band magnificence of ‘Dave’s Song’, they’re untouchable.” -NME
–Parquet Courts Human Performance
“Parquet Courts may have just released their most realized, independent, and articulate album yet.” –Consequence of Sound
“These are tight, economical pop songs actually worthy of Pavement comparisons in terms of not just sound, but melody.” –Slant
–Kadhja Bonet The Visitor
We first heard this record a few months ago and immediately pegged it for one of the best records of the fall. Upon first listening it’s hard to pinpoint what genre Kadhja should be placed under and that’s a good thing. The record is free jazz, hip-hop, pop, r&b…all in one. Did you like the Kamasi Washington record? Do you dig Amy Winehouse? Do you listen to Grimes AND Nina Simone? This record is for you!
And on top of all that the vinyl comes pressed on GLOW-IN-THE-DARK WAX!
–Beach Slang A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings
“A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, like all Beach Slang releases, is made for the purpose of inclusivity. James Alex may be forty-two but Beach Slang, in sound and energy, remains ageless.” -Punknews.org
“By grounding their idealism in simple, anthemic rock and a vague mythology, they’ve created an angsty, mutable codex of sorts, an inclusive machine by which to punch all the hearts.” -SPIN
“While some of the lyrics may be a little too on the nose for some, regardless of age (“This crummy town is filled with wild boredom”), there is no age limit on angst or catharsis.” -Allmusic
–Adam Torres Pearls to Swine
“Gifted a falsetto reminiscent of famed Kentucky balladeer John Jacob Niles (1892-1980), his voice soars along rural Americana and across desolate plains (“Where I’m Calling From”). Through the tense, starry twilight of “Outlands,” tranquil, meandering rivers and sprawling juniper trees (“Juniper Arms”) outline a rocky terrain wherein “Some Beast Will Find You by Name.” To that topography, add Adam Torres.” -Austin Chronicle
“Some of the purest, restorative, most unburdened music imaginable.” -MOJO
–Durand Jones & The Indications
With a stellar background in gospel, Durand Jones got his start in the church, singing in the choir of his hometown in rural Louisiana. When his music career took him to Bloomington, Indiana, he was selected to join the legendary Indiana University Soul Revue, and it was through his involvement that he met writer/producer duo Aaron Frazer and Blake Rhein. The three began writing original soul music, recording themselves straight to tape in the basements of Bloomington, and now they’re releasing their debut album. For fans of Charles Bradley and Leon Bridges.
–Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial
“Indie rock may not be dying, but it’ll be hard for people to make it sound as alive as Toledo does on Teens of Denial. This is the sort of record where you wish like hell you could hear it again for the first time and that’ll keep rewarding return visits for years to come.” -Paste
“With or without artfully-cribbed melodies, the music is undeniable.” -RollingStone
–Sturgill Simpson A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Many folks thought Sturgill was just going to drop Metamodern Part 2, but he didn’t. He changed it all up and it’s just the move he needed to make. This isn’t a country record really. It’s more soulful than anything he’s ever done and there’s even a Nirvana cover. Sturgill fans were surprised by the production on this one but we think he’s heading in the right direction and this just may be his best record to date.
–Drive-by Truckers American Band
“They have both found, on their eleventh album (and best since the early 2000s), a renewed purpose and direction in this time of existential crisis for America.” -Exclaim
“A brave, provocative and thoughtful addition to the Tuckers’ canon.” -Magnet
“American Band is an op-ed column with guitars, and it presents a message well worth hearing, both as politics and as music.” -Allmusic
–Kevin Morby Singing Saw
“The match of songs and sounds on Singing Saw delivers on all the promise of his earlier records, while firmly establishing Morby as one of the best singer/songwriters going.” –allmusic
We capped our list at 20 titles but here are a few that probably should’ve been on there…all of these records are available in the shop and online:
–Seratones Get Gone
–Richmond Fontaine You Can’t Go Back
–JPKS Constant Stranger
–Sunflower Bean Human Ceremony
–Frank Ocean Blond
–Brian Eno The Ship
–Twin Peaks Down in Heaven
–Bonnie Prince Billy and Bitchin’ Bajas Epic Jammers
You can read up on our favorite records since we opened in 2012 RIGHT HERE.
You can also check out all the records we selected for our Record of the Month Club here.
We’ll be posting our favorite reissues in a few days…