Words by WASTER Staff
Merriam Webster just summed it all up for us by delcaring their official word of the year: surreal. Luckily we had some great tunes to carry us through all the turmoil.
In no particular order, here are some of our favorite records of 2016…
[April 1st, 2016]
With a year that’s had more than its share of strife and tragedies, Charles Bradley’s cathartic and grippingly raw Changes was the record that the world needed the most in 2016.
Every second of the album drips with sympathy and passion blended with agony and despair. One can hear the many years of struggle and emotional hardships that Bradley must have lived through in his potent and often pained vocals. This is especially evident on the title track, which is also probably the greatest, most heartfelt Black Sabbath cover ever to be recorded.
During the albums lighter moments, it grooves and sways with a sensual funk that is not unlike prime-era James Brown or Otis Redding. His band and backup singers help make the emotion of each song swell and boil over, being the perfect accompaniment to Bradley’s powerhouse voice. This is the kind of music you take a date to go see live, make you start dancing and feel alive.
Smooth as velvet, arrestingly beautiful and touting the message of love from start to finish, Changes is the album to turn to when the world is feeling especially cold.
– Keith Hadad
[September 2nd, 2016]
As if more proof was necessary that Angel Olsen is one of the best songwriters going today, My Woman snugly fits into the singer-guitarist’s discography as another testament to her brilliance for the written word. These ten tracks find Olsen navigating hopelessness, pain, and desire with totally bare transparency. Her fearlessness in sharing herself is especially profound on “Woman” where Olsen recalls her crumbled relationship with an ex-lover, and how foolish she feels to continue having feelings for that person. This collection of songs continues Olsen’s brand of garage-pop tracks, but what sets My Woman apart from her past releases is the hooks. Tracks like “Shut Up Kiss Me” and “Never Be Mine” offer singalong choruses that allow Olsen to expand her appeal beyond listeners searching for just great lyrics. My Woman’s arrangements are simple and bubbly, which offers a nice juxtaposition to the lyrics’ deeply personal undertone. The tracks are consistent in structure and sound, but offer enough flashes of new instruments or tempo shifts to make for an album with a wide enough dynamic range. This is Angel Olsen’s best release of her career so far and showcases a brilliant lyricist on the verge of becoming an excellent songwriter as well.
– TJ Kliebhan
“I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it”
[February 26th, 2016]
Meeting the word requirement for a college essay, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it has officially cemented The 1975 in the scene, and is most deserving of its spot on the “best albums of 2016”.
The band’s latest LP flaunts a psychedelic, electronic sort of vibe, while also remaining true to the band’s alternative roots. The sounds are sleek, thanks in part to some incredible vocals by none other than the man, myth and legend, Matt Healy. Stand-out tracks like “She’s American”, “The Sound” and “UGH!” employ playful lyrics, catchy choruses and synth beats that match the spirit of the neon sign that emblazons the album’s cover art.
All in all, this album appeals to most musical interests while keeping loyal to their frisky and light-hearted sound. If you’re ready for 2017 and can’t wait to leave 2016 behind, take this album with you, you wont regret it.
– Lauren Sorce
“A Moon Shaped Pool”
[May 8th, 2016]
A major shining light to come out of 2016 was the news of a new Radiohead album, and like always, the band did not disappoint with A Moon Shaped Pool. Their first single and first track on the album, “Burn The Witch”, still knocks me into another realm when I hear Thom Yorke’s lyrics and soaring vocals over the mesmerizing drums and string accompaniment throughout the song. Tracks like “Deck’s Dark” beg to be set on repeat, with dark and eerie lyrics that are still so moving to me with every listen.
The album feels like a soundtrack, and really serves as one for me. While Radiohead have introduced some of the songs to the world live in concert, until this album they didn’t think they fit anywhere. But the songs fit so perfectly together on A Moon Shaped Pool that you would think they were all created together for the sole purpose of this album. Thank goddess for that, as these songs are some of Radiohead’s best on record. The tracks fit gorgeously into their live show and as a soundtrack to any trip or journey, in the mind or out. The glorious album ends with a stripped back and powerful “True Love Waits”, fittingly as I will forever be waiting for Radiohead to release more new music: my true love.
– Cher Dunn
“Post Pop Depression”
Loma Vista Recordings
[March 18th, 2016]
Shortly after the death of his longtime friend and collaborator David Bowie, Iggy Pop decided it was time to pen his last will and testament. Following the release of Bowie’s finale, Blackstar, the 69-year-old born James Newell Osterberg Jr. traversed the California desert to cement his legendary status as punk’s undisputed king. It’s not that he had to, of course, but death comes for us all eventually. Bowie, who recorded Blackstar during his secretive 18-month battle with liver cancer, was prepared for it. Iggy made sure he would be, too. Recording at Joshua Tree and in Burbank with Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Iggy finds himself peering into oblivion and giving it the finger. The resulting LP, Post Pop Depression, is a wistful but haunting final descent into the weird underbelly of society that Iggy and Bowie called home. The former Stooges leader croons his last epitaphs over Homme’s distinct desert rock arrangements while accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age, the Dead Weather) and drummer Matt Helders (Arctic Monkeys), who provide an ethereal space for Iggy to deliver one final, relentless “Fuck you” before riding off into the sunset.
– Bill San Antonio
[April 8th, 2016]
The American folk rock band who gained fame from their self-titled release waited four years to produce another album, and it was definitely worth it. Though, The Lumineers earned Grammy nods, the trio of Wesley Keith Schultz, Jeremiah Caleb Fraites, and Neyla Pekarek released their debut at the peak of “modern Americana” in 2012, likening them to Mumford and Sons and and Edward Sharpe. “Hey –Ho” was to become the hipster mating call, and since then, they have quite matured, carving out their own niche in the folk rock scene with Cleopatra.
Citing a diverse range of influences from the Cars and Leonard Cohen, to a more true comparison in Bob Dylan, their music remains a cinematic, strange, romantic haunt. The band’s artistic freedom in writing and recording the album pushed the envelope on experimental tracks like the stream-of-consciousness, lo-fi “Sick in the Head,” the yearning, piano chord build-up of “In the Light,” or the closing orchestral instrumental, the aptly titled, “Patience.” More similar to previous works with the heavy dose of tambourine, strong keys, shuffle stops and kick-drum accompanies the reverbed vocals of “Ophelia” and the title track, “Cleopatra.” “Angela” offers a slower acoustic guitar croon that in an album that assures from start to finish that no track is the same and exhibits the methodical work of a more measured group of musicians who broke free from the “Sophomore Slump” cliché to release one of 2016’s best folk rock albums.
– Brittany Norvell
“Down in Heaven”
[May 13th, 2016]
Did Twin Peaks write the sleeper hit of 2016? Their third studio album, Down in Heaven, is suspiciously absent from most year-end lists, but sometimes you just gotta root for the underdog. Sure, they didn’t reinvent the wheel or make any profound lyrical declarations with this record, but you can’t deny the genuine sensory impact of these thirteen tracks.
The Chicago based twenty-somethings seem to be natural descendants of the 60’s rock sound, channeling the grit and swagger of the era with a catchy combination of jangling guitars, jumpy keys, and sweet/sour vocal exchanges. Songs like “Walk To The One You Love”, “Wanted You”, and “Have You Ever?” evoke the familiar fervor of Donovan, The Rolling Stones, and The Kinks, but without coming off as thieving copycats. Down in Heaven is as breezy as it is brash, and it gets better and better with each spin.
Because rock n roll isn’t a formula, it’s a feeling. And Twin Peaks totally nailed it.
– Audra Tracy
[November 4th, 2016]
With such a massive output of music being thrust into various technologies and destinations, it can be hard to find something to connect with on a deeper musical level. Luckily, Jim James, aims to strike a better balance with his sophomore solo release, Eternally Even. The album shows a different side of the songwriter known for his more traditional approaches with My Morning Jacket. Taking on psychedelic tones and remnants of soul, you just can’t help, but move a body part as the songs progress. There’s a certain slowness in this album that comes off as very mellow and relaxing. Some of the must listen tracks are, “Here in Spirit,” “Hide in Plain Sight,” and “The World’s Smiling Now.” This release is a more notable turn following 2013’s Regions of Light And Sound of God. It’s as though he was testing new waters with his first release, and decided to go for a bigger swim as a follow-up. Eternally Even is well worth the listen, or even another thirty, give or take.
– Steve Melone
A Tribe Called Quest
“We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service”
[November 18th, 2016]
Groundbreaking alternative hip-hop legends, A Tribe Called Quest pulled off a seemingly impossible feat in 2016. Instead of relying on flash, nostalgia and overproduction, Tribe used their unparallelled mastery of form to deliver their first and (final) album in 18 years. A swan song worthy of the group’s illustrious career, We Got It From Here … Thank You For Your Service, is both modern and timeless, highlighting the artists at their peak. MCs Q-Tip, the late Phife and Jarobi, pass the mic with intention, effortlessly feeding off each other’s energy to powerfully pick up where they left off. Throughout their career Tribe has been known for their insightful ruminations on society. On the new album, they not only paid homage to these roots but dug deep to create a progressive stance on a variety of hot topics, including racism in ‘We the People,’ gentrification on ‘The Space Program,’ and politics with ‘The Donald.’ Complimentary guests added their talents seamlessly and organically, never detracting from its unfettered majesty. Perfected to a polished radiance, the album ultimately defies explanation. In the end, it is pure Tribe; beats, rhythm and the circle of life.
– Corinne Casella
[January 8th, 2016]
David Bowie’s Blackstar wasn’t one of 2016’s best albums because he passed away shortly after its release—to assume so would be insulting to the artist. Even if the public were still blessed with Bowie’s presence, Blackstar is such an excellent album that it would have been a creative rejuvenation following the low profile he kept since 2013’s The Next Day.
Artists at Bowie’s age when he recorded Blackstar are usually content to lazily churn out their greatest hits to passive audiences that don’t expect much more. Instead of taking the easy route, Bowie (as always) earnestly combed the contemporary musical landscape for inspiration in artists like Kendrick Lamar, Death Grips, and Boards of Canada. Rather than mimic these artists, Bowie ingested their methods, then processed them into his own.
On Blackstar, saxophone and guitar solos sear to emotional locales that only music can reach: The transition from the end of “Dollar Days” to “I Can’t Give Everything Away” elicits emotions in the same way as when clouds part and allow the sun to emerge after a storm. The raggedness of Bowie’s voice on Blackstar is not a sign of weakness, but, like a beautifully faded decades-old tattoo or worn pages on an ancient scroll, it’s the natural evolution of his most powerful instrument.
Blackstar is daring, original, and challenging. Although we may never hear the music Bowie intended to follow it up with, its intriguing post-listen afterglow leaves one’s mind in such a place that the imagination can take over from there. And that’s more than enough.
– Russell Carstens
Need more lists? Check out Our 50 Favorite Songs of 2016…