Every year around this time, this page is filled with selections of CityBeat writers’ favorite music of the past year. This time around, however, I decided to claim the full page for myself, simply because I’ve listened to so many impressive records that it’d be hard to have to limit myself. And even in giving myself a nice round top 10 to work with, that still leaves out so many albums that I revisited over and over again. I’ve also compiled a list of my favorite local recordings this year, which can be found in this week’s Notes from the Smoking Patio section, but here’s my official list of 2016’s best albums.
10. Emma Ruth Rundle - Marked For Death
Emma Ruth Rundle isn’t the type of singer/songwriter that prefers a bare-bones approach. Her arrangements are vast and crushing, like a doom metal Bat for Lashes, each melancholy tune ascending into layers of effects and sprawling guitar riffs. This doesn’t mean it’s not an intimate album; it’s just that those hushed moments of a soul laid bare tend to explode into massive productions.
9. Solange - A Seat at the Table
Just a few notches down on my list you’d find Beyoncé’s Lemonade, certainly worthy of all the accolades it received. But I was even more floored by this moving and groove-heavy album by the younger Knowles sister. She’s been on a fascinating journey since her earlier pop releases, and with A Seat at the Table she delivers not just the best songs of her career, but heartfelt statements of black identity, including motivational interludes from Master P. Yes, that Master P.
8. Inter Arma - Paradise Gallows
When Inter Arma played Soda Bar earlier this year, they powered through about four tracks in 50 or so minutes. Yeah, they’re epic. But each of the sprawling, atmospheric metal tracks on Paradise Gallows is a universe unto itself, a beastly and awe-inspiring scene unfolding over each horizon.
7. Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition
In a year that will go down in modern history as one of the most bleak we’ve ever seen, Atrocity Exhibition is precisely the hip-hop horrorshow that seems like the best soundtrack. Brown’s lyrics are as clever and vivid as ever, while the album features a broad range of eerie and abrasive productions that drive it home. It’s grade-A nihilism.
6. Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Denial
Guitar-driven indie rock hasn’t been a style of music that’s wowed me much in recent years, but Car Seat Headrest is a notable exception. Will Toledo writes songs that go above and beyond where an indie rock song is expected to, wrapping intricate allusions around personal anxieties around really kickass rock riffs.
5. Baroness - Purple
This technically came out very late in 2015, but I didn’t have an opportunity to write about it then, so this is my chance to make up for that. Baroness is among my favorite bands performing today—this year I actually got a Baroness tattoo—so it says a lot about the other records this year that it Purple only made it to number five. Still, it’s a fantastic rock album, still carrying the metal heaviness of their earlier albums with an even stronger sense of melody.
4. Angel Olsen - My Woman
Angel Olsen evoked classic albums by Neil Young and David Bowie by splitting her third record into two distinct halves. The first is a series of fuzzy rock songs, while the second side comprises longer, more expansive ballads. Combined they create a unique listening experience that just so happens to feature her best songs to date. My Woman is sometimes witty, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes loud and sometimes hushed, but it’s all essential listening.
3. Oranssi Pazuzu - Värähtelijä
It’s probably for the best that I don’t speak Finnish, because not being able to understand the lyrics to this Finland-based psychedelic metal band’s head-trip of a new album only serves to enhance the surreal experience. Oranssi Pazuzu isn’t like many other bands, infusing a cosmic psychedelic rock sound with the guttural intensity of black metal and a sense of melody that often evades both. It’s a weird, wonderful thing of twisted beauty.
2. David Bowie - Blackstar
The week that David Bowie’s final album was released, it was hard to listen to. He died just two days after it hit shelves, and I’d be lying if I said his passing didn’t hit me especially hard considering the album was very much about his inevitable death. That being said, it’s one of the most powerful and intricately written meditations on mortality I’ve ever heard. Bowie’s one of my all-time favorite artists, so this is bittersweet, but he left us with one hell of a final album.
1. Savages - Adore Life
I could probably come up with an elaborate points system to mathematically determine some kind of formula for the best album of the year, but I find it’s best to go with my gut, and my gut tells me Savages made the best album of 2016. I’m admittedly a sucker for abrasive post-punk music, but Savages built upon an already strong foundation with alternately noisier and more spacious songs this time around, surpassing any next-coming-of-Joy-Division conceptions that once followed them. They’re an intense, heavy and physical band, evidenced by their fantastic live show, and no other album this year felt as immediate or as vital.