Best of 2016 so far

The year is halfway over…already…and there’s been some really great records from some legacy artists as well as some fresh faces putting out some excellent records. It’s been a tough year with the loss of musical geniuses David Bowie and Prince, but luckily their records remain and their music will always have a place in our racks. It’s no surprise that Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, is at the top of our list and it’ll be hard to knock it off. This year also sees the return of Radiohead with their excellent new album A Moon Shaped Pool. Other strong records from Sturgill Simpson and Charles Bradley are worth noting…so here are our top 20 records of 2016…so far!

1.) 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.

2.) 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.

Release date: June 17 (We’re having a contest for this record! Read more here!)

3.) 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.

4.) 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.

5.) Kanye West The Life of Pablo

This is the only hip-hop record on our list and it’s 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. 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. This record didn’t see a physical release–except for that one thing you probably saw in the store 😉 

6.) 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 

7.) 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.

Release Date: June 3

8.) 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.

Release Date: June 3 (We’re hosting a record release party and free in-store show with William Tyler on Friday, June 3 at 5 p.m. Read more here.)

9.) Tim Hecker Love Streams

Love Streams washes over you–or sometimes floats by off in the horizon–due to its subtlety and complex, deliberate construction.” –The A.V. Club

10.) 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

11.) Seratones Get Gone

“This is still a young band; just last year, Seratones entered NPR Music’s first Tiny Desk Contest for unsigned, undiscovered talent. (The group didn’t win, but scored an invitation to the Tiny Desk earlier this year.) But for all of Seratones’ youth, Get Gone steers clear of rookie mistakes, meandering or filler. It’s varied in its pace while always on point in its pacing, and led by a singer with the strutting star power of the punk she is at heart.” –NPR

“Today they release a fine debut album, Get Gone, and it riffs thrillingly on the gutsy soul and distorted genius of the US’ vast and wonderful musical history. Referencing everything from old favourites like Curtis Mayfield, Prince and Donny Hathaway to Facebook, Bossa Nova and the Bible, singer AJ Haynes leads the pack. She has a bit of a Minnie Riperton vibe about her vocally (not forgetting that afro either), and as a performer for over a decade now, her voice is seriously impressive. She’s able to flit from a soothing coo into something altogether more raucous in an instant.” –NME

“Their first LP, Get Gone,brandishes playful guitar hooks that swing in at just the right moments, but Haynes is the band’s best asset, lighting these otherwise-conventional songs on fire.” –Pitchfork

12.) Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial

This one seems to be tied up in a legal battle but we’ve got a promo copy from before it was recalled due to a licensing fiasco, and it’s damn good. We can’t wait for it to drop later this year. Read more on this story here. 

13.) Richmond Fontaine You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To

This is the final record from Richmond Fontaine. Read “Bill’s Picks” review of it right here.

14.) Twin Peaks Down in Heaven

“The result is a casual, charmingly low-key set of kitchen-table blues, slow-dance serenades, and unplugged power pop.” –Pitchfork

15.) PJ Harvey The Hope Six Demolition Project

The Hope Six Demolition Project is yet another remarkable PJ Harvey effort.” –Magnet

“On this album, Harvey is again sweeping up sonic history and weaving it into a pattern of her own making, but it’s more relaxed and more raucous, its reference points less, appropriately, English. It’s a deeply melodic record.” –Record Collector

“Not all of Hope Six is mired in dissonance. Harvey frequently returns to the well of pop music, but the irony of wrapping a grim lyrical message in upbeat music is that those uncomfortable truths become that much harder to overlook.” –American Songwriter

The Hope Six Demolition Project is her most exhilarating rock album in years, yoking the siren-like catchiness of her last great America-influenced album, Stories From the City… to the swamp-tarnished filth of her classic first three records, Dry, Rid of Me, and To Bring You My Love. It’s leering, brash, and dissonant, but also not without its warmth.” –Pitchfork

16.) Weezer White Album

A return to the classic Weezer of the Blue Album and Pinkerton era with some polished, radio-friendly nuggets. This record is like going to Ya-Ya’s and getting a 3-pound frozen yogurt with chocolate all over it, then walking around the Square eating it.

17.) Margo Price Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

“While Price and her crack band revive an array of hard-edged country sounds from the ’60s and ’70s, leaning on robust guitar twang, her postures and performances occasionally echo a superstar of that era: Loretta Lynn.” -NPR

18.) Brian Eno The Ship

“His latest, The Ship, is a variation on the typical Eno theme, the next warm period in his glacial unthawing, and it’s one of his more interesting works. Where his last release, 2012’s Lux, seemed like a brighter distant cousin of Music for Airports, The Ship finds Eno combining ambience with his own voice for the first time. He’s billed it as a sort of “musical novel” – a loose story collage inspired by the Titanic sinking, World War I and random throwaway lines from emails and his own writing – but it’s not so much what he or his computer or his comedian friend and collaborator Peter Serafinowicz say on the record that matters as much as how it feels.” –RollingStone

19.) Sunflower Bean Human Ceremony

“Human Ceremony is an impressive debut from a band who seem positioned to make many more excellent albums if they can continue to do such a good job of mining the past for gold and revamping it in their own fashion like they do so well here.” –AllMusic

20.) Bonnie Prince Billy & Bitchin’ Bajas Epic Jammers

“In his long, unpredictable career, Will Oldham has never been scared of diving headfirst into new musical situations, whether it’s remaking old Palace tunes with Nashville session pros, or recording Bruce Springsteen covers with Tortoise. That sense of adventure has served him well (for the most part) and it hasn’t dimmed with age, as proven by Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties, his new collaboration with the Chicago minimalist/neo-New Age collective Bitchin Bajas. The soundscapes the Bajas create behind Oldham’s guitar and vocals are immersive and often positively gorgeous, without becoming mere sonic wallpaper. For lyrics, Oldham has turned to the koans found in Chinese fortune cookies — an approach that might seem like cutesy shtick in anyone else’s hands. But his righteous delivery and idiosyncratic phrasing fits the spiritual, questing vibe of the music. Tune in, bliss out.” –Other Music


Honorable Mentions: 

John Carpenter Lost Themes II 

Iggy Pop Post Pop Depression 

Bob Mould Patch the Sky

Bonnie Prince Billy Pond Scum

Prince Hit’n’Run Phaze II