2016: the year everyone died
David Bowie released Blackstar on a Friday in January (his birthday), and by Sunday he was gone. Creating his most adventurous music in decades, the starman delivered a eulogy for himself and a lament for the condition of justice in the world. Still, I’d trade in this album of the year in a heartbeat for a living Bowie.
Belle of the ball
Cinematic, full-throated, vulnerable, maybe a little crazy: Angel Olsen proved herself ready to assume the title of this generation’s Stevie Nicks with My Woman.
Debut of the year
On Masterpiece, the hungry, wiry Big Thief play forlorn campfire grunge with an idiosyncratic swing.
Cherish your elders while they’re still alive, pt. 1
Take note: after this inspired, cranky album, the world’s forgotten boy may be exiting the stage once and for all, leaving us all the poorer for it.
Cherish your elders while they’re still alive, pt. 2
On For Evelyn, Hannah Georgas’ affecting bedroom pop and fetching voice pitch an intimate story (the songwriter’s relationship with her aging grandmother) at a universal scale.
Metal album of the year
The headbanging lifers in Sumerlands shrugged off the customary modifiers (thrash, death, black, doom etc.) to release an utterly distinctive, stylistically classic heavy metal record.
Laurel Canyon in the ether
On Light Upon the Lake, one of the year’s easiest-on-the-ears albums, Whitney spun mellow 1971-era rock’n’soul with the wandering spirit of early Neil Young and Paul Simon. Set the dial on the wayback machine a few years earlier, and we arrive at the stunning Forever Changes-style orchestral balladry of The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo, a solo album by Corey Hanson of the freaky psychedelic band Wand.
The dream of the 90s is alive in Lexington, Kentucky
On this charming, goofy self-titled album, Idiot Glee hotwired his campy piano-man songwriting with vintage-Eno flights of fancy.
Maybe this year I’ll make it to Mountain Jam
Eyes on the Line is the fullest, best-sounding album yet from guitarist and reluctant jam-band iconoclast Steve Gunn. It could almost distract me from the fact that 2016 was a really bad year to not smoke pot.
Video of the year
As is often the case with Black Mountain albums, their fourth album IV (natch) diluted its impact by running a wide gamut of styles, including early 80s Jefferson Starship to Big Star Third esoterica. But “Mothers of the Sun” delivered the goods — Pink Floyd-infused stoner rock — while the video visualized the band’s leave-something-witchy vibe.
Musical Urbanism album of the year
With Denver, Neil Michael Hagerty & the Howling Hex made a puzzling, beguiling concept album set largely to Tex-Mex norteño rhythms about the mountaintop city that promises new beginnings and legal weed, no questions asked.
Reissue of the year
Omnivore Records has been releasing deluxe reissues of the Game Theory catalogue for a few years, but 2016 saw it move dead-center through the band’s essential four-album run with producer Mitch Easter. The remastering adds the missing kick from the top-heavy original mixes, and altogether the liner notes constitute the Game Theory book you were looking for.
Bandcamp album of the year
Two young Brooklyn journeymen came together as New Duo and mined a 70s-rocker-makes-moody-80s-album vein (think Robert Plant’s The Principle of Moments, Don Henley’s Building the Perfect Beast, Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love) that I didn’t realize I was missing.
Mix CD of the year
Detroit house producer Moodymann is known for spooky, oblique audio paeans to urban Black America that are practically literary in their emotional and referential density. His multiplicity and contradictions are more easily sussed when spread over the three hours of jazz, hip hop, funk and house on this DJ Kicks compilation.
Anthology of the year
How I miss this era of 1990s NYC house music. The inimitable swing and melancholy emotional palette of production team Mood II is well represented on Strictly Mood II Swing, featuring 4+ hours of classic remixes and original tracks.
Digital miscellany of the year
In their third decade, Montreal’s the Dears understandably move a little slower. To tide fans over, frontman Murray Lightburn just issued solo acoustic interpretations of favorites from the band’s massive catalogue. These carriveome in three separate volumes, but you should just buy the whole bundle and click “shuffle.” The warm saudade on these intimate recordings (not really captured by the echo in this old video) feel like a second bottle of red wine on a winter evening.
Concert of the year
In September I finally got to see the legendary Television at the BSP Lounge in Kingston, New York. Richard Lloyd’s no longer in the band, but they still have that magic, thanks to the improvisational kick and rimshot of drummer Billy Ficca.