As we head into 2017, there is a lot to reflect on. Throughout 2016, we saw the passing of many talented, iconic and unique musicians. David Bowie, Merle Haggard, Glen Frey (The Eagles), Prince and Leonard Cohen were just a few of the wonderful voices we lost. We also saw a large collection of new records from new artists and experienced musicians. Before going into my top 10 for the year, I’d like to highlight a few artists who released an album this year that are worth checking out: ‘Heatherfield’ by Silver Torches; ‘Hey Marseilles’ by Hey Marseilles; ‘Home of the Brave’ by Young the Giant; ‘City Club’ by The Growlers; and ‘Do Hollywood’ by The Lemon Twigs.
Now, on to the top 10.
10. ‘Skeleton Tree’ by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: I can’t express enough how raw this album is. Nick Cave takes the pain of losing his son in a freak accident and turns it into something tangible and relatable. While the band had already started working on the album before the death of Cave’s son, ‘Skeleton Tree’ grew into a completely different entity after the tragic event. In the album, the lyrics hang over a somber melody like spoken word set to new live. Cave seems to submit to his intense emotions, and his often cryptic lyrics are given more meaning.
Essential Tracks: “Skeleton Tree” and “Rings of Saturn”
9. ‘Darkness and Light’ by John Legend: This album was nearly a homerun for John Legend. His mix of Gospel, Jazz and R&B sets him apart from other similar musicians, and the inclusion of guest singers such as Brittney Howard (Alabama Shakes) takes his music to new heights. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the dynamic between him and Howard on the title track, and the rest of the album marks a pivotal turn in Legend’s career. It’s not groundbreaking per say, but it’s damn good.
Essential Tracks: “Darkness and Light” and “Surefire”
8. ‘Good Grief’ by Lucius: This album came out in early March, and at the time I absolutely loved it. I still do. While it at first didn’t seem to compare to other albums that were technically better, I can’t deny the energy and special feeling I get when I listen to this album. It’s both everything and nothing at the same time and can jump from intense moments to calm reflections. The band itself wasn’t even on my radar until a love interest at the time made me a playlist with them on it. While that particular love interest fizzled, Lucius’ music stayed. Lead singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig have powerful vocals that intertwine and challenge each other in a beautiful way.
Essential Tracks: “Gone Insane” and “Dusty Trails”
7. ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ by The Last Shadow Puppets: The more I listen to this album the more I love it. Each listen brings new layers and new things to fawn over. The B-sides released over the past few months have made the album even more enjoyable. Alex Turner and Miles Kane don’t take themselves too seriously with this album, especially when performing it live, but the cool and collective feeling you get when you listen to ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ is undeniable.
Essential Tracks: “Sweet Dreams, TN” and “Aviation”
6. ‘Post Pop Depression’ by Iggy Pop: When your front man is legendary rock star Iggy Pop and you’re backed by three outstanding musicians from the last decade, you’re sure to hit gold. Pop, Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) and Matt Helders (Arctic Monkeys) deliver a youthful and high energy album that is undeniably great. The band melts into a hot, liquid substance that oozes into your soul and takes over your mind. The results of which are pure bliss for the listener.
Essential Tracks: “Gardenia” and “Chocolate Drops”
5. ‘Freetown Sound’ by Blood Orange: It’s a little risky to make a long album, but artists are doing it more and more with great reception. Blood Orange’s ‘Freetown Sound’ is a 17-track album that doesn’t feel long at all. That is in part due to lead singer Dev Hynes’ social commentary in the album. ‘Freetown Sound’ is a record with purpose, a record with layers and a record that incorporates Hip Hop, Jazz, Blues and spoken word poetry. All elements came together in an organic way.
Essential Tracks: “By Ourselves” and “Best to You”
4. ‘You Want It Darker’ by Leonard Cohen: Leonard Cohen was just one of many artists who passed away this year. The 82-year-old singer/songwriter always had a knack for poetry and lyrics. His enigmatic personality was almost stifled by his stage fright, but Cohen was able to pull from his love of words to create a beautiful and long lasting career. ‘You Want it Darker’ is a swan song of an album that completes Cohen’s mountain of work. It’s honest, as Cohen always was, and isn’t a last attempt to create something great. Rather, it’s the final breath of a man who had so much to say.
Essential Tracks: “You Want it Darker” and “If I Didn’t Have Your Love”
3. ‘We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service’ by A Tribe Called Quest: After the death of member Phife Dawg, A Tribe Called Quest pulled through their loss to release an album that was truly sensational. The band retained all the uniqueness it had when it first started, and added to it contemporary commentary. ‘We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service’ is an outstanding piece of work that meshes together Hip Hop, Rap and some unlikely guests and samples.
Essential Tracks: “Solid Wall of Sound” and “We The People….”
2. ‘A Sailor’s Guide to Earth’ by Sturgill Simpson: Psychedelia and country aren’t two genres I would usually use to describe the same band, but Sturgill Simpson isn’t an ordinary musical collaboration. Simpson’s twist on country adds a psychedelic layer to the classic country storytelling of Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings – the latter of which he is often compared to. He does so in an effortless way, and uses personal experiences as the inspiration for his new album, which also includes a cover song of 90s Grunge band Nirvana. Simpson’s music is eclectic for sure, but it’s not inaccessible. ‘A Sailor’s Guide to Earth’ is witty, heartfelt and breathtaking.
Essential Tracks: “Sea Stories” and “Brace for Impact”
1. ‘Case/Lang/Veirs’ by Neko Case, k.d. Lang and Laura Veirs: In November I took a road trip to Oregon. As my partner and I were driving down Interstate Five through Oregon, the song “I-5” came on. I immediately knew that stretch of highway was what Neko Case, k.d. Lang and Laura Veirs were singing about. It was beautiful and complex, breathtaking and mysterious, much like ‘Case/Lang/Veirs.’ When I first heard this album, I was astounded by how pristine it sounded. The vocals of three talented female artists melted together into something rich, warm and inviting. Lang’s crooning voice hung over the chipper and spritely voices of Case and Veirs, and the lyrics were a work of art. It is a subtle album, but it’s powerful and breathtaking.
Essential Tracks: “Honey and Smoke” and “Song for Judee”