I have been posting my top 5 albums for nearly a decade on this blog and to you via email in years prior. In 2016, it was all I could do not to post my Top 20 favorite albums. Indeed, the year past may have been the best year in the History of Music!
Kate Tempest, Frank Ocean and Banks & Steelz released hip hop albums that in equal parts dwarfed the industry heavy hitters and simply expounded the craft.
Snowglobe, AJJ, LVL Up & Car Seat Headrest brought the Elephant 6 Collective into the new century.
Our old friends Nada Surf & Okkervil River returned with the best work of their storied musical histories.
Joyce Manor, Modern Baseball, Weezer and The Front Bottoms proved that emo / or pop-punk / or whatever you call it is... awesome!
Radiohead put out the best record of their career... and if they are the best band ever.... this could be the Greatest Record Of All Time!
We lost so many extraordinary legends of the craft in 2016 but I will not place them into an obligatory list simply to oblige tribute... because that would make them puke in their graves.
Here are the Top 5 Albums of 2016:
5. Cardinal by Pinegrove
"... My steps keep splitting my grief through these solipsistic moods... I should call my parents when I think of them... should tell my friends when I love them ... "
My friend Bob Boilen introduced me to Pinegrove while boarding a plane back home for a friend's funeral. This album captured the moment to perfection and stuck with me all year. As a man who seldom sees his high school friends, the sentiment of this entire album is a wonderful reminder if not a sorrowful aside. Most impressive is the maturity of these young men in their lyrical craft and sonic layering. New Jersey could very well be the future of Indie Rock!
4. Kindly Now by Keaton Henson
"Those who hate Los Angeles have never been in love"
This record melts from song to song, the emotion of each pouring into the next. Songs that evoke heartbreak while shining a glimmer of hope. Piano balladry foreshadowing the subtle evocation of Henson's story telling. This record finds a calm place amid all the chaos: a person in a crowded airport feeling completely alone, someone hiding in their headphones on a busy city street, a drive out to the country to get away from it all.
A revelation. A cleansing of the soul.
3. Ruminations by Conor Oberst
"When it came time to stand with him you scattered with the rats"
The vanguards of Indie Rock seem to be the victim of their own excellence. Bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Band of Horses, Built to Spill and The Decemberists are taken for granted. No one suffers the expectation of perfection more than the moon-faced boy from Omaha. Conor Oberst has been part of the scene in different machinations since his prepubescent years but has always found ways to evolve.
Ruminations is a collection of Piano laments that remind us of Conor Oberst's command of lyrical prose. A much needed reminder of the power of simplicity.
2. 22, A Million by Bon Iver
"I worried 'bout rain and I worried 'bout lightning but I watched them off to the light of the morning"
It was "Woods" off of the Blood Bank EP that would take us from the cabin crooning of Skinny Love to Kayne West sampling. Today, Justin Vernon has found a way to translate the world's most-annoying studio crutch into a catapult of emotion. This algorithm to the human soul brings sparse landscape highlighted by bold shimmering lightening off in the distance. The journey from the trail gate to meadow leaves the listener wanting more, searching, pleasantly lacking appeasement.
Raw emotion packaged in auto-tune to protect the heart of the innocent bystander in headphones.
1. Winter Wheat by John K. Samson
"Most of us probably not getting better, but not getting better... together"
Weakerthan frontman, John K. Samson has a way with words. He knows how to weave the complexity of technology through the simple landscapes of his dark, lonely Canadian home... all with a tip of the cap and a heart full of pride. His albums never seem to have a directly intended thread and his avoidance of chorus creation conveys open-road windshield provocation. Winter Wheat is a collection of short stories that touch every part of our day, week, month.... and everyone we meet in-between.
As an aside:
It was difficult not to lose faith in Humanity in 2016, amid the election and the social abuses ignited on both sides of the broken fence. Social & Popular Media were flooded with false information created to provoke hatred in an effort to divide us. It was impossible to ignore and harder not to get upset. Can it then be said that there has never been a more critical time for the influence of the arts(?)
The good news is that after all the machines are turned off and the talking heads eat themselves, we have the opportunity to vacate the grid for a short while. The according soundtrack listed above.
Thank You For Listening!