Favourite albums of 2016
2016... maybe not that bad after all?
When one thinks of music and 2016, it’s difficult to not think of all the artists we lost. But, 2016 was a really great year for music as well. I can’t think of a year where I enjoyed so many new albums. I like all kinds of music, which I suppose gives me a lot to pick through, so, a few things often slip through the cracks. Probably why this article is coming well into January; I had a lot of catching up to do. I admit I’m not a huge EDM fan and have a relatively limited knowledge of hiphop, so while I did enjoy some of that this year (RTJ 3), I don’t listen to enough to really weigh in there. So, I’ll stick to what I know.
I’ve broken this up into a few sections rather than try to definitively rank these. Although I know how much people like lists, I’d just be splitting hairs.
Oh, and if you're on Spotify, bonus playlist at the bottom (or just click here).
Black Mountain - IV
Black Mountain already sounded like an evolution of the classic late 70s early 80s rock sound, but IV is the sum of all of their previous efforts coming together perfectly. Everything that made them great (heavy riffs with pop sense, Stephen McBean and Amber Webber’s vocal trade-offs) is still here, but with more keyboard and variety. Loved this album from start to finish, but, especially the start. Mothers of the Sun is a glorious track.
Messa - Belfry
I had no clue who Messa was before hearing this one but, wow. There were a lot of good slow, heavy releases this year but this one stands out for me. I know, sounding like Pentagram with a female singer isn’t exactly groundbreaking anymore, but, Messa does enough on Belfry to keep things interesting, being bluesy on some tracks and more drone-ish and atmospheric on others. Sometimes Stevie Nicks, sometimes Chelsea Wolfe. Anyway, much like Crypt Sermon did last year, Messa came out of nowhere and made an instant fan out of me.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree
When I hear words like “minimalist” “atmospheric” “dark” and “raw emotion” describing an album, I’m definitely checking it out. That’s my bag. Admittedly, this was actually my first exposure to Nick Cave. I’ve heard nothing but good things over the years, but, you can’t find time to listen to everyone. Although, now I might have to, because Skeleton Tree is excellent. Poetic, haunting, atmospheric rock with a ton of depth (Cave and Nick Ellis get bonus points for the excellent production work), this album’s emotional weight is more of a long, drawn-out goodbye than a punch in the gut. It hurts so good.
White Lung - Paradise
White Lung made the most accessible album of their career with Paradise, but, that’s not a strike against them. It’s certainly melodic, but hardly simplistic (Kenneth William is a guitar wizard). Lars Stalfors’ production, while glossy, fits the bigger choruses well and still retains some edge (if you have heard HEALTH’s Death Magic, you know what to expect). Mish Way’s vocals are a little too processed for my liking, but that would be my only real complaint.
Darkher - Realms
Realms is definitely more accessible than Messa’s Belfry (see above), but they’re certainly in the same vein and it does have its heavy moments as well. Realms is the less-varied of the two, but that’s not necessarily bad, as it does feel more cohesive. Chelsea Wolfe fans will appreciate Jayn Wissenberg’s ethereal vocals and the mire of heavy synth and guitar that lies underneath.
Get Dead - Honesty Lives Elsewhere
Honesty Lives Elsewhere is just a good, solid, aggressive punk album. I love the energy here; you can really feel Sam King putting himself into the vocals. The couple acoustic tracks add some nice variety, and the album is really carried by the strong bass lines and surprisingly hooky choruses. Nice work.
Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch
Definitely my favorite album about periods and vampires. Ever. Jokes aside, Blood Bitch is moody, atmospheric, and still quite melodic. Hval has married her past influences with the sound she has developed over her last few albums quite nicely. While Female Vampire works as a single, this is definitely an album best-experienced as a whole. It’s an experience, to be sure.
O’Brother - Endless Light
A late addition to this list, but, I’m glad I found this album. O’Brother brings to mind a mix of post-rock and alternative metal acts, ranging from Deftones to Isis to Torche, but, they certainly sound like their own beast. Heavy, atmospheric, but still quite accessible, Endless Light is a compelling listen from start to finish. If I found this earlier in the year, it probably would’ve worked its way into the upper tier of this list.
PJ Harvey - The Hope Six Demolition Project
Ms. Harvey hasn’t made a bad album in her career and this one is no exception. Some folks have criticized it for highlighting a real-world problem without offering a solution, but, that’s silly. It’s art, not politics. Politics aside, HSDP picks up where Let England Shake left off: sometimes-jazzy, sometimes-psychedelic indie rock.
Silver Snakes - Saboteur
Saboteur is a great rock album with an industrial and hardcore edge that’s still pretty accessible. Dare I say ALMOST radio-friendly, but, I don't really know what makes things radio-worth these days either. With all the atmospheric and effect-laden albums I’ve been enjoying lately, I appreciated Silver Snakes’ simpler sound and energy quite a bit. That said, there’s still a lot to chew on here here, but, I’m kinda too busy rocking out to spend a ton of time analyzing.
Dark Tranquility - Atoma (melodic death metal)
Fantastic Negrito - The Last Days of Oakland (blues/soul rock)
The Kills - Ash and Ice (indie rock)
Mickey Rickshaw - Behind the Eight Ball (celtic punk)
Night Verses - Into the Vanishing Light (post-hardcore)
Bonus: Spotify playlist!
Hurrah, playlist! Here's a sample of everything; two songs from each album on the list (including the honourable mentions). Enjoy :)