My Favorite 25 Albums of 2016

I tell this story every year, the story of how this list came to be something I do every year. Why? Well, why not.

It started when I was only 12. I had these notebooks that I would fill up with notes and thoughts and other stupid pre-teenager shit that I would keep under my bed. The notebooks were never anything special but when I came to the end of the year, I realized that I had a road map to look back on. More often than not, I could look back and see the albums that I had enjoyed during the previous 12 months. Making a list of my favorite ones seemed only natural.

However, my love of music started even earlier. I was only 9 years old in 1986 when I bought my first two tapes … yes, kids – tapes. Those 2 were pretty good selections to start a life-long love of music: License to Ill by the Beastie Boys and Slippery When Wet by Bon Jovi. That’s also the year I discovered soft core porn and the Red Sox being a team that would break your heart.

Oh to be young and know nothing of the world yet to come.

Anyways, when I hit puberty, I wanted to start to act like I knew a little bit. I started writing down my favorite players, my favorite songs and eventually, my favorite albums. I didn’t write them down every year but I always made sure I had a favorite album or two that I would talk about with friends and family. Eventually, it grew into a full blown yearly list.

So here we are, some 30 years later, and guess what I’m still doing … I’m still ranking my favorite albums. In 2017, I will do my favorite “40” things … I’ll turn 40 (gulp) and I’ll have multiple lists for albums, artists, songs, movies … just enough to really piss you off and make you want to argue with me about them. But for now … here are my 25 favorite albums of 2016. You know the drill – if you disagree – good. That’s the point.

25. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis This Unruly Mess I’ve Made  

Macklemore is a polarizing artist that some hate, some love. I’ve been a fan ever since “Same Love” came out and made everyone talk about the rights of those who weren’t allowed to get equal protection under our previous laws. While I will admit there are some really sloppy tracks on Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ latest album, songs like Drug Dealer and White Privilege II, with their powerful messages about what ills society, make this album something I would recommend listening to.

24. The 1975 I Like It When You Sleep …. 

Welcome back to 1986 boys and girls. If you are a kid who grew up in the 1980’s and liked bands like Til’ Tuesday and Genesis, then you are going to love this album. It’s really fun to hear this sound become so popular again. My wife, on the other hand, hates it. I’ve always really liked keyboard driven songs, especially from Brit bands, and The 1975 have really matured.

Tie 23.  J Cole 4 Your Eyez Only + Miranda Lambert The Weight of These Wings

Both of these albums came out LATE in the year but after spending time with both of them, I knew I had to put them on the list somehow. So, I just put them as a tie. Amazingly – the track above is NOT on the J. Cole album, even though it came out just a week before 4 Your dropped. It’s clearly a shot track at Kayne but it’s SO strong that I had to use it here. Recently, J Cole has been baring his soul and saying some amazing things about life, fame, and riches.

As we all know, heartbreak is the best fuel for creativity, and Miranda’s had a rough run in that department. This double-album is really, really good. Highly recommend it.

22. Sara Hartman Satellite

Being a music fan in 2016 is so fun because you just stumble into amazing artists all the time on the internet. I don’t remember how I learned of this American female musician who lives in Berlin, but I’m so glad that I did. I mean – Germany? Pretty wild to move there for your music career but it’s worked so far for her. It’s also rare that an EP makes my end-of-year list but Sara Hartman’s debut release is really good. I can’t wait to hear what the full length album will sound like because I really love her voice.

21. Chance The Rapper Coloring Book

So, this dude is a little outside my normal comfort zone for music but he’s so damn fun to listen to that I took a chance on this mixtape and it grew on me. I will admit that this style of rap is not my first choice but it seems like some of best rap these days is coming out of Chicago. (Maybe it’s the Cubs?) Chance is a well-educated young man with some power family members in the Chicago area. It’s a really great story to see him make it so big. His fight against gun violence in his home city is really important. Nominated for best rap album by the Grammy’s.

20. Profits of Rage The Party’s Over

Are you serious? Do you need me to explain why I love this? Well, in case you don’t know … my favorite rap group of all-time: Public Enemy. Best music to get high to: Cypress Hill. Favorite angry rock band of all-time: Rage Against The Machine. We need MORE antagonist bands to go on the attack and to rally those who want to resist what is happening in this country right now. I don’t care if this one band isn’t as good as the three bands were individually. Give me more action in the pit. More anger from lyrics. More resistance. More Prophets of Rage.

19. Savages Adore Life 

Ok, who remembers these guys from my 2013 list? Their song “shut up” was amazing and I really loved this band’s debut album. Well, they are back again and it’s maybe the best Brit Rock album of the year. There is something so 90’s grunge about this band. It’s a sound and a feeling that I miss a lot in today’s music. When I listen to the album, I’m often made to feel uncomfortable, in a good way, by the power in which the songs are sung.

18. Bon Iver 22, A Million 

I’m a huge Bon Iver fan … songs like “Holocene”, “Skinny Love”, “Wash”, “For Emma”, “Beth/Rest” and “Perth” are some of my favorite songs of the last 10 years. However, 22, A Million doesn’t have a memorable track like those were. As far as it’s strengths, it’s experimental and relaxing. It sounds like a Bon Iver album but it doesn’t have the same impact that the previous two albums did.

17. Bastille Wild World

First, this is a kick ass video. Maybe my favorite of the year. This track, “Send Them Off”, is my favorite on the second release from a band that hit it big with their debut album. If you know me, you know love bands that sing about fighting to be released from the controls of society. This video is sending a pretty loud message about tolerance and looking for the light. Some think that light is God. As an atheist, I don’t relate to that, but the pursuit of something bigger than oneself while trying to avoid the dangers of life is one I totally agree with. Some call those dangers – sin. These guys are great.

16. Lucy Dacus No Burden

So Tim Kaine referenced Lucy during the campaign because she is from Virginia and left VCU to pursue music. I’m not saying that is pandering but I’m going to guess he isn’t rocking “No Burden” right now in his car. However, that doesn’t diminish this record. Lucy has a sound that is familiar to a lot of people but also lyrics that a lot young girls can relate to.

15. Fitz and The Tantrums Self Titled

This band from LA has been making fun music for nearly a decade now. Their sound is pretty unique and a good mix of different genres. Soul, rock, indie, pop spun together and it works. I’m not going to knock them for selling their music for advertisements. That’s an act we used to blast as “selling out”. However, in 2016, that’s it’s just smart business. Artists need to make money in any way they can because of the lack of album sales. Touring, marketing, appearances … it doesn’t matter to me. Make your money.

14. Metallica Hardwired … To Self Destruct

This just SOUNDS like a Metallica record. I know that might be a little strange to say but it’s true. When is the last time you listed to Metallica and were like “Fuck, this is violent music!” I love this album. Just testosterone-driven, male metal. Play your instruments fast. Play them loud and scream into a mic. It’s like metal might actually be coming back. This video is something straight out of 1998. I feel like Metallica just decided to put out an album for their real fans and not care if it sold big or not.

13. Kanye West The Life of Pablo 

Oh, what to make of Kanye? Is he going mad? Is he faking? Is his wife cheating on him? Is he really brawling with Taylor Swift or is that all for pub? There are so many questions around him that it covers up the fact that he put out a really good album in 2016. If I was depicted in this video, I don’t think I’d be too cool with it but it accomplished what he was after … it shocked the shit out of us this summer. As an artist, you have to respect Kanye cause he makes you think, which is the goal IMO.

12. Kings of Leon Walls 

Here’s what I recommend with this album …. listen to a few times and then get away from it for a few days. Then come back to it with an open mind. That’s what I did and found myself understanding what these guys are doing with their latest release. They had to alter their sound a little to stay fresh after all the success with songs like “Sex on Fire” brought to them. They needed to reset the direction that they wanted to go musically and “Walls” really did that.

11. Rihanna Anti  

What I love about Rihanna is that she doesn’t give a shit about you or your opinion of her. She is the power female in music and she knows it. While everyone falls all over Beyonce’, give me Rihanna all day long. Queen B might be more attractive and have a better voice, but from a identity standpoint, there is no comparison. Rihanna doesn’t want all the endorsements or appearances … she just wants to do her thing. She has no problem making adults uncomfortable and she wants the world to be forced to pay attention. This album does all of those things.

10. Phatogram Three

Here’s another band my wife and I completely disagree on. She won’t allow me to play these guys when we are in the car together because she says they sound too much like Pvris or Chvrches lol. Well, I found this band because they were on tour with Chvrches, so it would make sense that their sound is similar.  As I’ve said for a long time … my tastes in music and women really aline with the UK more than America in a lot of areas.

9. The Lumineers Cleopatra 

One of my favorite art developments of the last ten years is that there is an audience and a market for Americana music. This Denver-based band first came onto the scene in 2012 has stuck around by producing some really ear-pleasing tracks. Sure, Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers set the table for bands like this but that shouldn’t take away from what The Lumineers have become in the industry.

8. Lucius Good Grief 

I have to thank the show, (which Showtime wrongly cancelled) Roadies for this band. Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig met while they were attending The Berkeley School of Music in Boston and then moved to Brooklyn where they formed Lucius. The band was a featured act on an episode of Roadies and I quickly went diving through their first two albums with joy. I decided to put a live track up above so you can listen to their voices. They aren’t studio produced. They aren’t fake. Rolling Stone called this band “the best band you’ve never heard of” … if you haven’t, (and I didn’t until their appearance on Showtime) I would agree.

7. Banta Dark Charms 

As far as debut albums go, this one is the strongest of the year in my opinion. The voice of Sharaya Mikael is the driving force of this band and elevated this song to one of my favorite of the year. We need more indie-rock bands like Banta.

6. Bear’s Den Red, Earth and Pouring Rain

If you haven’t seen the documentary – Austin to Boston. You have to. It’s how I found out about these guys in 2014 and I f’ing love this band. These guys have 2 albums out and 2 EPs and ALL of them are awesome. I hope they get more attention because they are getting better and better with each album. They are on my list of must see bands in 2017. Again, this is a Brit-band who has a sound that I can’t get enough of.

5. The Avett Brothers True Sadness

I’m not going to write a lot about this album. Look – these guys are simply amazing. When they put an album out, they will be on my list of my favorite albums of the year guaranteed. It’s that simple. If you haven’t seen them live yet – do it in 2017. This video by the way is so awesome. Looks like something I would have done if I made music videos.

4. Tegan and Sarah Love You To Death 

How about the latest release from these twins? This is such a fun album and frankly, we need more openly different, supremely talented pop song writing artists in music right now. This Canadian duo has been doing this for a long time and have a huge fan base in the gay community. This duo has opened for everyone it seems including Katy Perry, The Killers, Lady Gaga, Neil Young and more. This is their 8th album and may be their best.

3. Head and The Heart All We Ever Knew 

Quick story … When U2’s “Actung Baby” first came out, I hated it. I really battled with the change of direction the band took. Now? It’s my favorite U2 album. I tell that story in reference to the latest release from H+TH. I STRUGGLED with this album when it first came out. I had to literally get away from it for over a month after I first spent time with it. However, much like Actung, “All We Ever Knew” grew and grew on me as I came back to it. It’s not as good as the first two albums that this band produced, that I will admit, but it’s really good in it’s own right. (To be fair too, this bands first two albums will be HIGH on my list of favorite records of my first 40 years of life.)

2. Against The Current In Your Bones

2016 listening was split in half between the number one album of my year and the number 2 album. The second half of the year was dominated by this full length debut album. Like Pvris before them who was my favorite album last year, I spent hours with this record. I just really, really like a female lead vocal with rock beats while leaning on an electronic background. This upstate New York trio has a similar look, sound, and success-level as Pvris but that doesn’t bother me one bit. As you will see with my number 1 band, if I like a sound … I like a sound. I’ve liked Paramore, Flyleaf and other bands in the same musical category for years. ATC put out a great record in 2016.

1. Kaleo A/B 

My favorite album of 2016 comes from a band from Iceland. Does Kaleo sound like The Black Keys? Yes. Do I care? No. Good music is good music and if you take a sound and make it better… then yes – I love what you are doing. “Hot Blood” is an amazing track and so is “Way Down We Go”. Some of the slower songs on this album are really strong and even the non-english tracks are moving. If you haven’t spent a long drive listening to this album start-to-finish, I highly recommend you do so soon.

And there you have it. Another year of happy listening … let me know what you think and what bands I missed. I will try to get to them for the list next time they put out an album. Happy Holidays.