Here it is, the one single end-of-year list you’ve all been waiting for. At least I hope so. 2016 had its highs and lows, and the year’s music reflected that. But now, we end the year focusing on the highlights and looking forward to 2017.
Everything about this list is my personal opinion, so please @ me. The list isn’t meant to reflect what the most innovative albums of the year were, or which albums were the highest of art (whatever that means). These are just the 25 albums released between Jan. 1, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2016 that I enjoyed listening to most.
Truth be told, calling this an albums list is a little deceiving. EP’s and mixtapes were definitely considered as well. Really any collection of multiple original songs by an artist that I listened to from start to finished was considered.
All considered releases are listed at the end. If you don’t see your favorite on this list, there’s a good chance I didn’t listen to it.
Before we get to the list, there are a few releases that I want to acknowledge, because they were very important regardless of whether I loved their music or not.
I firmly believe that the most important release of the year was Forever Beautiful: a collection of love for Orlando. The compilation features 49 songs from 49 different artists in memory of the 49 victims of Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub shooting. It’s pay your own price to download, and all of the money is donated to the OneOrlando Fund. The cause is vital and the music is wonderful selection of today’s punk scene. I hope everyone checks it out.
The number of public figures that died in 2016 was shocking. Prince, Carrie Fisher, Muhammad Ali, and so so so so so many more. But perhaps none went out in a more spectacular fashion than David Bowie. The Starman lost his silent fight with cancer, but he lost on his own terms. Blackstar was released on Jan. 8, just two days before Bowie’s death. He lived his whole life as carefully planned art, and he made sure that his death was no exception.
Gord Downie is not dead yet, and hopefully he stays alive for years to come. In May, the lead singer of The Tragically Hip announced that he had been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. The same kind of cancer that killed Beau Biden. The news rocked Canadian pop culture, but it weighed heavily on me too. I’ve been listening to The Hip since high school, thanks to my dad, and Downie is a musician that I truly look up to. On June 17 the band released Man Machine Poem. It may not be their best album, but the timing of the release amplifies its value. Long live Gord; his talent is needed in this world.
At points, 2016’s music was an exercise in nostalgia. Blink-182’s California (which was too long), Green Day’s Revolution Radio and Metallica’s Hardwired…To Self-Destruct were each far from groundbreaking. But the trio was solid, and each sent me back to the glory days of Pinecrest High.
Here’s a sentence I wasn’t expecting to write: this was a fantastic year for country music. I don’t mean the music you’ll hear on the pop country stations; I mean real down-home country. Loretta Lynn’s Full Circle featured a beautiful Leadbelly cover. Margo Price signed to Jack White’s label and gave the world the gift of Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. BJ Barham’s Rockingham was one of the best North Carolina releases this year (fall back, J Cole). In a year that took Merle Haggard, this return to roots was more than welcome.
Likewise, the soul had a big year that deserves to be recognized. Legends Charles Bradley and Mavis Staples gave us Changes and Livin’ On A High Note, respectively. Childish Gambino totally stepped away rapping with Awaken, My Love!, instead creating a phenomenal funk record.
And now, my top 25 albums of 2016.
1. WORRY., Jeff Rosenstock
Release: October 14, 2016
New York, New York. SideOneDummy Records/Quote Unquote Records
2016 sucked. There were some bright spots here and there, but for the most part this past year was a drag. WORRY. by itself is a fantastic punk album, but what really sets it apart is the relatable anxiety and dread that fills every song. Jeff Rosenstock captured the spirit of the year, and for that this is my favorite album of 2016.
Favorite track: “Festival Song”
2. The Dream Is Over, PUP
Release: May 27, 2016
Toronto, Canada. SideOneDummy Records
PUP’s self-titled debut was my favorite album of 2014, so I had high hopes for the follow-up.The Dream Is Over definitely delivered. The raw energy and self-deprecating lyrics that defined the debut album are found in full force here, literally amplified by a chorus of gang vocals.
Favorite track: “Familiar Patterns”
3. No Beer, No Dad, Blowout
Release: August 5, 2016
Portland, Oregon. Independent
The punks of Portland, Oregon had themselves quite the year, and leading the charge was Blowout. Floating between atmospheric and in-your-face throughout the album, often within a single song, No Beer, No Dad is a breath of fresh air and hopefully a glimpse of things to come.
Favorite track: “Thrashy”
4. A Seat at the Table, Solange
Release: September 30, 2016
Houston, Texas. Columbia Records
Solange stepped out of her sister’s shadow to deliver the best pop album of the year, and I don’t think it’s close. A Seat at the Table is incredibly delicate but remains catchy. The music brings you in and comforts you, then Solange’s lyrics seep in and the messages of black excellence and valuing yourself ring clear. This is a powerful album.
Favorite track: “F.U.B.U.”
5. Holy Ghost, Modern Baseball
Release: May 13, 2016
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Run For Cover Records
Modern Baseball knows who they are. Holy Ghost is an example of a band perfecting the sound they’ve built a career upon. The halfway split of the album allows both songwriters, Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens, to shine. This is good; both are great, but both are different.
Favorite track: “Just Another Face”
6. Rot Forever, Sioux Falls (Strange Ranger)
Release: February 19, 2016
Portland, Oregon. Broken World Media
This album is an absolute epic, unlike anything I’d heard before. It blew my mind on first listen. Consider this the punk-rock-jam-band release you never knew you needed.
Side-note: I profiled Sioux Falls (now Strange Ranger) in June for New Noise Magazine. When I told frontman Isaac Eiger how I described his band, he laughed and joked “well I really only listen to Minor Threat and Phish, so that makes sense”.
Favorite track: “San Francisco Earthquake”
7. topiary, Jouska
Release: September 6, 2016
Albany, New York. Tiny Engines
I’m sure it’s clear by this list, but I find a lot of new music by following Ian Cohen. Finding Jouska took one click on a Cohen tweet; I think this album is the best one he recommended all year. Airy emo that will reach out and grab you.
Favorite track: “kissing through yr teeth”
8. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson
Release: April 15, 2016
Jackson, Kentucky. Atlantic Records
Remember the paragraph I wrote earlier about country music’s phenomenal year? Sturgill Simpson was the absolute highlight of that year. I was hooked by his cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” (which is the best music video I watched this year), and I still haven’t gotten enough of this album. Stick to your folk roots, country music, and get creative like Simpson did. It’s much better than what you’ve become.
Favorite track: “All Around You”
9. Empire Records EP and Sponge State EP, Sløtface
Release: November 18, 2016 (Empire Records EP); April 1, 2016 (Sponge State EP)
Stavanger, Norway. Propeller Recordings
I can’t separate these EPs, so I’m counting them as one. Slotface doesn’t necessarily do anything innovative in their songwriting; they’re just really really good at doing whats already been established to work. More punk with a purpose. I’m very much looking forward to the band’s debut album in 2017.
Favorite track: “Sponge State”
10. Malibu, Anderson .Paak
Release: January 15, 2016
Oxnard, California. Steel Wool/OBE/Art Club/EMPIRE
Anderson .Paak took the world by storm this year, and his streak to the top was launched by the release of Malibu. The album is truly unique, a blend of funk, jazz, hip hop and surf culture that just floats through your ears.
Favorite track: “Parking Lot”
11. Cardinal, Pinegrove
Release: February 12, 2016
Montclair, New Jersey. Run For Cover Records
A little country, a little punky and all the way homesick. An album to listen to while thinking about the friends, family and hometown you haven’t heard from in way too long.
Favorite track: “Old Friends”
12. Cody, Joyce Manor
Release: October 7, 2016
Torrance, California. Epitaph Records
Joyce Manor has been at the forefront of pop-punk for years now, but with Cody the band has taken steps to be much more pop than punk. It’s not my favorite album by the band, but it is still very good and very catchy, and I’ll still listen to in on repeat.
Favorite track: “Last You Heard of Me”
13. The Sun’s Tirade, Isaiah Rashad
Release: September 2, 2016
Chattanooga, Tennessee. Top Dawg Entertainment
Isaiah Rashad has grown up since 2014’s Cilvia Demo, and that new maturity is woven throughout The Sun’s Tirade. The sound is different, but it’s still fantastic. This is an album to play when you just want to sit down and get lost in your own thoughts.
Favorite track: “4r da Squaw”
14. Stage Four, Touche Amore
Release: September 16, 2016
Los Angeles, California. Epitaph Records
No band will ever be as sad as Touche Amore, and that is a good thing. Music is at its best when it helps us through the tough times. Stage Four is about dealing with the death of a loved one. Is this case it’s about frontman Jeremy Bolm’s emotional struggle after losing his mother to cancer, but the message rings true for anyone dealing with grief.
Favorite track: “Eight Seconds”
15. Camp Cope, Camp Cope
Release: April 22, 2016
Melbourne, Australia. Poison City Records
The most important thing out of Australia this year. Camp Cope sets out to challenge societies flaws, and the band does so earnestly behind some very solid pop punk. Calling them the Australian Cayetana may be a cop out, but it the two bands are very similar so I’d say it’s fair. (Heads up to keep an eye out for the Camp Cope/Cayetana split being released in 2017).
Favorite track: “Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams”
16. We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, A Tribe Called Quest
Release: November 11, 2016
Queens, New York. Epic Records
First off, rest in peace Phife Dawg. It’s awesome to hear his voice on this album, and it’s awesome to hear a new Tribe album in general. The group’s sound, while modernized, remains true to their roots. And the timing of the release, just after the election, added weight to the album’s messages.
Favorite track: “Movin Backwards”
17. Versace Summer, JANK
Release: July 27, 2016
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Independent
Enjoy what JANK has given us, because the band is now broken up due to some sketchy circumstances. Math punk that’s in it for the fun, man.
Favorite track: “Versace Summer”
18. Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper
Release: May 13, 2016
Chicago, Illinois. Independent
This is a solid album. I enjoy this very much. But, I enjoy Chance’s other stuff more. There are points where Coloring Book just drags, which takes away from the highlights. But, man, those highlights are incredible.
Favorite track: “Same Drugs”
19. Vile Child, Milk Teeth
Release: January 29, 2016
Bristol, England. Hopeless Records
This album is the grungiest thing I listened to in 2016, and that is a very good thing. Put it on repeat; Milk Teeth will take you back to the 90s.
Favorite track: “Swear Jar (again)”
20. Lost Time, Tacocat
Release: April 1, 2016
Seattle, Washington. Hardly Art
An excellent piece of Riot grrrl music, Lost Time sucks you in with its hooky songs and teaches you a little something about not being a dick along the way.
Favorite track: “You Can’t Fire Me, I Quit”
21. Goodness, The Hotelier
Release: May 27, 2016
Worcester, Massachusetts. Tiny Engines
It took me a while to really click with Goodness, and I still don’t like it as much as Home, Like No Place There Is, but this is a very very good emo album.
Favorite track: “Piano Player”
22. Celebration, Tiny Moving Parts
Release: May 20, 2016
Benson, Minnesota. Triple Crown Records
Tiny Moving Parts might be the happiest collection of human beings I’ve ever seen in person. They take that attitude into song writing, and you can tell. Every song is upbeat, even the sad ones.
Favorite track: “Common Cold”
23. Genesis, Domo Genesis
Release: March 24, 2016
Inglewood, California. Odd Future Records
Thanks to Domo Genesis for keep the Odd Future sound strong in 2016. Always a fun album to listen to.
Favorite track: “My Own”
24. MONDA, Cousin Stizz
Release: July 14, 2016
Boston, Massachusetts. Independent
Shea Serrano described Cousin Stizz’s music in the most perfect way, so you should really read what he wrote about it.
Favorite track: “Where I Came From”
25. Standards, Into It. Over It.
Release: March 11, 2016
Chicago, Illinois. Triple Crown Records
An incredibly solid punk album in an incredibly solid year for punk albums. Worth listening to, even if its overshadowed by the year’s other releases.
Favorite track: “Vis Major”
Other Considered Albums
The Impossible Kid, Aesop Rock
The Bible 2, AJJ
The Party, Andy Shauf
Painting With, Animal Collective
ALWAYS STRIVE AND PROSPER, A$AP Ferg
True Sadness, The Avett Brothers
Why Are You OK?, Band of Horses
Just Keep Moving, Big Little Lions
Before A Million Universes, Big Ups
Statues, Black Peaks
Changes, Charles Bradley
Nine Track Mind, Charlie Puth
Awaken, My Love!, Childish Gambino
The Flame In The Flood, Chuck Ragan
32 Levels, Clams Casino
The Stranger, Creeper
Headlock Season, Crime Lab
Blackstar, David Bowie
Hypercaffium Spazzinate, Descendents
Is The Is Are, DIIV
Dirty Heads, The Dirty Heads
Higher Power, The Dirty Nil
Maybe It Just Gets Worse, Dog Years
No Damage, Echo Courts
New View, Eleanor Friedberger
Wonderful Crazy Life, Elton John
OK, The Fall of Troy
Purple Reign, Future
This Is What The Truth Feels Like, Gwen Stefani
A New Wave of Violence, Head Wound City
Congratulations, Holy Pinto
Hotel Paranoia, Jazz Cartier
Oh No, Jessy Lanza
Big Black Coat, Junior Boys
The Life of Pablo, Kanye West
untitled unmastered., Kendrick Lamar
A Place to Sleep Among the Creeps, Light Beam Rider
Cult Following, Little Scream
Bobby Tarantino, Logic
Full Circle, Loretta Lynn
This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Majid Jordan, Majid Jordan
Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, Margo Price
Livin’ On A High Note, Mavis Staples
Puberty 2, Mitski
Northland, My Land, Morley Loon
When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired, Mothers
From Caplan to Belsize, Muncie Girls
Eight Lines, Neomi Hashmonay
Tired of Tomorrow, Nothing
The Odd Tape, Oddisee
White Hot Moon, Pity Sex
The Hope Six Demolition Project, PJ Harvey
Tired Eyes, Pretend Happy
The Getaway, Red Hot Chili Peppers
Ghost Riding, RNDM
Sawdust & Shavings, Rocky Votolato
Down in the Dark, Safe to Say
Adore Life, Savages
Blank Face LP, ScHoolboy Q
This Is Acting, Sia
Stay Lost, Sianvar
Human Ceremony, Sunflower Bean
Soul Run, Tanika Charles
Love You To Death, Tegan and Sara
Love Streams, Tim Hecker
The Catastrophist, Tortoise
Man, Machine, Poem, The Tragically Hip
Prima Donna, Vince Staples
WACO, Violent Soho
Paradise, White Lung
Life of Pause, Wild Nothing
Romance Dawn, Will Wildfire
Strange Light, Young Rival
I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It, The 1975