Saturday, January 28, 2017

My 40 favorite albums of an impressive 2016, plus odds and sods

Pity Sex
Updated May 3.

If this list doesn't prove what a typically exceptional year it was for music, then I don't know what could. That staple greats like Band of Horses, Wilco, and Parquet Courts got reduced several spots down in the top 10 by upstarts ought to be exhibit A.

Best Compilation: Whether you like The Grateful Dead or not, this expansive collection called Day of the Dead has something for everyone. Also, Say Yes! A Tribute to Elliot Smith, with likes of J Mascis and Juliana Hatfield, offers hard-to-compete great renditions.

Best Soundtrack: Sing Street is way deeper and funnier  that La La Land, and its songs blow them away. That's saying a lot too, because La La Land was pretty good.

Favorite Vinyl Purchase: Pure McCartney is great because I now have four albums worth of great post-Beatles tunes in one semi-quirky boxset.

Best Extras Release: R.E.M.'s 25th anniversary release of Out of Time has tons of great alternate versions of many of the band's most excellent songs.

Best Remaster: The Turtles are a criminally under-appreciated 1960s band, from their Monkees-like hits such as "Happy Together" to their weirdo tendencies fitting for a band that often backed Frank Zappa; "All the Singles" is a loving collection of great songs.

Most Unnecessary Release: The Rolling Stones are back with their first release, "Blue & Lonesome," in eons. And while it's not particularly bad, it is a huge bore and not nearly as good as the great blues records the Stones are trying to emulate.

Best EP: Snail Mail, which I know nothing about, released Habit, which is lo-fi but completely catchy and among the best overall releases of the year.

40. Iggy Pop: Post Pop Depression (not a huge Iggy fan, admittedly, but this weirdo collection is very compelling)
39. The Gotobeds: Blood // Sugar // Secs // Traffic (definitely the best album title of the year, and some pretty raucous Pittsburgh pop-punk to boot. Good recommendation from the Sound Opinions podcast)
Car Seat Headrest
38. Beach Slang: A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings (it's like the 80s college wave and 90s Archers of Loaf meet in this collage of soaring guitars)
37. The Strokes: Future Present Past (nothing as classic as the early Strokes, but it's still nice to have a little more in the collection from them, and they're still mighty NYC cool)
36. Drive-By Truckers: American Band (the new Lynyrd Skynyrd puts out another great collection, this one on the mellower side)
35. The Pooches: Heart Attack (the most pleasant chill-out pop EP of the year)
34. Lucius: Good Grief (a blend of songs you could have sworn you've already heard for years on the dance Top 40 radio stations, but this album is filled with earworms that are all brand new)
33. Lisa Prank: Adult Teen (Tacocat buddy Lisa Prank plays the kind of lo-fi tunes that fit right into a year when playing it low key sometimes is just that much more refreshing)
32. Santigold: 99 Cents (which features my favorite song of the year "Can't Get Enough of Myself")
31. Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book (this is such a spoil of riches of different beats and sounds that it took me halfway through 2017 to finally realize how brilliant it is)
30. Various: The Hamilton Mixtape (this is one musical whose songs I can't get enough of)
29. Lydia Loveless: Real (not as classic as her last release, but she's still making the best alt-country happening these days)
28. De La Soul: and the Anonymous Nobody ... (this is all over the place, kind of like the classic De La albums of old, and makes for fun repeated and deep listenings)
27. Sturgill Simpson: A Sailer's Guide to Earth (I wasn't really onboard the earlier craze, but this album is about a good as country pop gets right now)
26. Hudson Bell: Yerba Buena (indie rockers wait no more, go get this)
25. Ladyhawke: Wild Things (this is like the second disc if Tegan and Sara's album were a double album; can't get enough of this kind of not-dumb dance pop)
24. Drugdealer: The End of Comedy (this is a little like a lost George Harrison album if he had spent more time in Laurel Canyon in the 1970s)
23. The Jayhawks: Paging Mr. Proust (didn't think these Minneapolis 90s alt-country warriors could still have it in them, but this is great)
22. The Goon Sax: Up to Anything (falling somewhere between the mellow pleasures of Belle and Sebastian and the off-kilter Daniel Johnston, and what a name!)
21. A Tribe Called Quest: We Got It From Here (not much needs to be said, other than this was too long in waiting)
20. The Sandwich Police: Love Yourself (not quite sure where this obscure Evan Dando-involved EP came from, but it sure makes me happy)
19. Frankie Lee: American Dreamer (don't know much about this guy, but his album is officially the best country release of the year)
18. Twin Peaks: Down in Heaven (garage-rock Stones-like band that has been floating around awhile, they pull it all together with this release)
17. Alejandro Escovedo: Burn Something Beautiful (the Austin troubadour has always been really good on album and supposedly great in concert. He's great on this album)
16. The Lemon Twigs: On Hollywood (a weird little grower by some awkward kids who I somehow discovered on a network morning show, proving the concept of "popular sensation" makes no sense)
15. Childish Gambino: "Awaken, My Love!" (this is the best Funkadelic-like album since the 1970s and a major improvement from actor Donald Glover's earlier musical efforts)
14. ESP Ohio: Starting Point of the Royal Cyclopean + various EP releases (not even hardcore Guided By Voices fans necessarily even know these were released, but there are some early-2000s-like gems scattered throughout)
13. Teenage Fanclub: Here (has this band ever put out a bad song? Timeless power pop)
12. Parquet Courts: Human Performance (quickly becoming consistently my favorite contemporary band)
11. The Avalanches: Wildflower (this psychedelic mash-up of tons of popular tunes is insane and extremely catchy throughout, and a real surprise for the year)
10. Band of Horses: Why Are You OK (much like Parquet Courts, this band is just so consistently great, in a very gorgeous way with this one)
09. Ages and Ages: Something to Ruin (this may be the most upbeat thing I loved this year; as if Pavement merged with the Polyphonic Spree to create ridiculously happy slacker rock)
08. Free Cakes for Every Creature: Talking Quietly of Anything With You (this is almost painfully twee, but if you love their tune, "All You Gotta Be When You're 23," then you'll want all this album)
07. Wilco: Schmilco (mellow and gorgeous, it's almost unfair to everyone else who has to compare in the years that Wilco releases an album)
06. Tegan and Sara: Love You to Death (my kids' everyday addiction to "Boyfriend" may have destroyed that song forever, but there's no denying how perfect this album is)
05. Dinosaur Jr.: Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not (J Mascis just keeps doing his thing, and if you love his thing, this release was hard for much anything else to beat this year)
04: Against Me!: Shape Shift With Me (heavy metal hasn't much been my thing since I had a major crush in high school, but this is so amazingly catchy that I'll still be listening to it in my 80s)
03. Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial (we've waited a long time for someone to do Guided By Voices as well as GBV, and this young dude may finally be the rocking, rollicking answer)
02. Pity Sex: White Hot Moon (this band made this ultra-hooky shoegazey and rocky ode to the 90s and then promptly broke up)
01. Scott & Charlene's Wedding: Mid Thirties Single Scene (these tales of Australian Outback-ness might have been the best thing of the year if it had been released in 1986)

Honorable Mentions: 
  • Honeyblood: Babes Never Die
  • Dr. Dog: The Psychedelic Swamp
  • Dream Wife: EP01
  • Supermoon: Playland
  • The Growlers: City Club
  • Plastic Ants: Imperial Phase
  • Kings of Leon: Walls
  • Charles Bradley: Changes
  • Animal Collective: Painting With
  • Empire of the Sun: Two Vines
  • The Jazz Butcher: Last of the Gentleman Adventurers
  • Oscar: Cut and Paste
  • SWMRS: Drive North
  • Beverly: The Blue Swell
  • Close Lobsters: Design and Signs
  • Rogue Wave: Delusions of Grand Fur
  • Adam Olenius: Looking Forward to the New Me
  • Winterpills: Love Songs
  • Crying: Beyond the Fleeting Gales
  • Honeyblood: Babes Never Die
  • Field Mouse: Episodic
  • Lunch Duchess: My Mom Says I Have Rich Inner Life
  • Metallica: Hardwired ... To Self-Destruct
  • M.I.A.: AIM
  • Kanye West: The Life of Pablo
  • The Monkees: Good Times!
  • Pinegrove: Cardinal
  • Beach Slang: A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings
  • Frankie Cosmos: Next Thing
  • The Monochrome Set: Cosmonaut
  • Pete Yorn: Arranging Time
  • JEFF the Brotherhood: Zone
  • Weezer: White Album