The Talkies: What Were Your Favorite Talkhouse Contributors’ Favorite Records of 2016?

Year-end lists from Colin Meloy (the Decemberists), Greta Kline (Frankie Cosmos), Julien Baker, Robyn Hitchcock and more.

Welcome to the 2016 Talkies, Talkhouse Music’s year-end writers poll. We reached out to our amazing stable of contributors  all of them are, of course, musicians — and asked them to rank their ten favorite records of 2016. The results of the poll are here — and, should you need any musician-approved music suggestions going into 2017, each Talkhouse contributor’s ballot is below.
— Brenna Ehrlich, The Talkhouse Music Editor-in-Chief

 Zohra Atash (Azar Swan)

Ancient Methods, A Collection of Ancient Airs
Lydia Lunch and Marc Hurtado, My Lover the Killer
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree
Okkervil River, Away
Head Wound City, A New Wave of Violence
Vain Warr, Deadline Season
Psychic TV, Fishscales Falling: A Smorgasbord ov Delights Mixtape Vol. 1
Goes Cube, Shadows Swallowed the Flood
Primitive Weapons, The Future of Death
Carla dal Forno, You Know What It’s Like

The below aren’t really honorable mentions as much as I decided I get a top twenty because I’m a woman who may be registered and relocated to a remote location where the desert island discs idea is no longer theoretical but reality — so I’m hoping you’ll be cool:

David Bowie, Blackstar
JG Thirlwell, Venture Brothers Soundtrack Volume Two
Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker
Kristin Kontrol, X-Communicate
Dalhous, The Composite Moods Collection Vol.1: House Number 44
Kate Bush, Before the Dawn
White Lung, Paradise
Oranssi Pazuzu, Varahtelija
PJ Harvey, The Hope Six Demolition Project
Faten Kanaan, The Botanist & The Archaeologist 

Julien Baker

Keaton Henson, Kindly Now
Savages, Adore Life
Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, Constant Stranger
Lucy Dacus, No Burden
Daughter, Not to Disappear
Mitski, Puberty 2
Kevin Devine, Instigator
Touché Amoré, Stage Four
Modern Baseball, Holy Ghost
Every Time I Die, Low Teens

Kishi Bashi

Instead of starting my list with Beyoncé and Bon Iver, I present to you ten incredible albums that friends of mine have made this year. Each of these albums has an extra warmth to me because I know each artist personally and I know how hard they work and how undeniably talented they are. These are people that I’ve stumbled around with on tour, cried with and conversed with in our common language that is musicianship. These are all fantastic albums from equally fantastic souls. I hope you get to know them a bit if you don’t already.

Pavo Pavo, Young Narrators in the Breakers: Formerly Plume Giant, they enchanted us nightly when they opened up for my Lighght tour. This album marks their transformation into a lush and dreamy indie popsicle.

Mothers, When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired: I was completely blown away when I heard singer Kristine Leschper play solo at a small venue near where I live in Athens, Georgia. Next thing I know, my buddy and frequent collaborator Drew Vandenberg is producing her beautiful debut album. So proud to be a fellow local band.

Yeasayer, Amen & Goodbye: I had to Shazam “Dead Sea Scrolls” when I heard it on the radio because it was unique. I was tickled when I found out it was Yeasayer. I was so excited to hear a powerful and experimental album from these guys. I met them first when I played Planeta Terra festival in Brazil with of Montreal.

Regina Spektor, Remember Us to Life: I used to tour with Regina in her band, and I definitely count her as a major influence on my songwriting and performance aesthetic. Such a great new work of heartfelt intimacy.

Laura Gibson, Empire Builder: I met Laura at the NPR All Songs Considered Sweet 16 Party. I was enchanted by her incredible voice and charm. I got her to open up for a leg of our last tour so I could listen to her amazing voice every night.

Busman’s Holiday, Popular Cycles: These brothers are a delightful twin blossom in the world of sweet indie pop. Their uplifting personalities are so well captured in this beautiful album.

Arc Iris, Moon Saloon: We danced and partied so hard in Providence, Rhode Island, one night that Jocie, the singer, broke her ankle or something. They sent this album over soon after as a “Can you pass this on to your label?” kind of thing, and it completely blew my mind. Kind of a Joni Mitchell from Neptune kind of presentation.

of Montreal, Innocence Reaches: Kevin is my friend and neighbor, and I am constantly inspired by his work ethic and musical and lyrical trailblazing. This album is yet another sumptuous evolution of a creative genius.

Eliza Hardy Jones, Because Become: Formerly a member of Buried Beds, who opened up a tour for me, Eliza is a powerhouse of musicianship. Allergic to virtually every food, she is the toughest touring woman that I know! Now she tours with the fabulous Grace Potter.

Surface to Air Missive, A V: A recent transplant to Athens, Georgia, Taylor Ross’ magnificent indie-prog debut album (that he made completely by himself) is a frequent visitor to my turntable. He takes a surprisingly baroque turn in this very interesting album.

Jonah Bayer (United Nations)

Frightened Rabbit, Painting of a Panic Attack: Frightened Rabbit have a way distilling sadness and isolation into some of the most expertly arranged and enduring songs in music today. “I Wish I Was Sober” is probably my favorite song of the year, and one that I’d imagine any of us could relate to.

The Falcon, Gather up the Chaps: I probably listened to this album more than anything else in 2016. Brendan Kelly may not get as much credit as some of his punk peers, but the second album from this all-star act shows them sharpening their edges to create an album that can’t be relegated to side-project status.

Conor Oberst, Ruminations: For reasons why I like this album, please refer to the article I wrote for The Talkhouse.

Touché Amoré, Stage Four: Stage Four isn’t an easy album to listen to, as it centers on the passing of front man Jeremy Bolm’s mother. However, visceral passion and vulnerability are present in every note here, and the band’s ability to avoid hardcore’s clichés keeps the music positively progressive.

Against Me!, Shape Shift with Me: Against Me! seems to be having a moment right now — and it’s well-deserved. The band has figured out how to write songs that embody the punk spirit that can still appeal to anyone who loves solid melodies and stellar musicianship. They haven’t made a dud yet.

David Bazan, Blanco: Bazan is another guy who seems to be terminally underrated — at least in my mind — and Blanco sees him revisiting the synth-dominated vibe of his project Headphones with stellar results. “Trouble with Boys” is one of the standout tracks of the year for me as well.

Frameworks, Smother: Full disclosure: my band United Nations has toured with Frameworks a lot, and we view them as our little brother band. I couldn’t be more proud of their latest album. If you like your hardcore as emotional as it is explosive, this is a good place to start.

NOFX, First Ditch Effort: NOFX probably don’t make it onto a lot of “best of” lists by rock critics. That’s a shame, because this album is solid from beginning to end, and the rhythmic pattern on “California Drought” proves that they’re still pushing their technical and creative limits.

Brian Fallon, Painkillers: The Gaslight Anthem’s front man has always had a knack for writing timeless songs. He fully exposes himself on songs such as “Long Drives,” and bonus points for dropping a Rites of Spring reference in an Americana song.

Culture Abuse, Peach: There’s nothing contrived about Culture Abuse, and that’s what makes Peach so refreshing. Less frenzied than the band’s live performances, the album shows that there are some serious songwriting chops beneath all of the fuzz.

Jessica Boudreaux (Summer Cannibals)

Tegan and Sara, Love You to Death: I’ve been a huge T&S fan since I was fifteen, and this is by far my favorite record that they’ve done. Clean, ’80s-inspired pop with so much heart. They have two of the most unique voices in music. Love them forever.

Angel Olsen, My Woman: I cried in the van while on tour on multiple occasions this year listening to this record in my headphones.

G.L.O.S.S., Trans Day of Revenge

The Coathangers, Nosebleed Weekend: I feel much cooler than I actually am when I listen to this record.

Lady Gaga, Joanne: An honest, heartfelt, catchy and beautiful pop record. I was stoked that this is the direction she took.

The Thermals, We Disappear: Disclaimer: this is definitely a conflict of interest since I toured playing guitar for them on this record, and also because Hutch is producing my band’s new record. That being said, I played these songs every night for two months and still find myself wanting to listen to them in my car. Some of the best songs in their catalog are on here, in my opinion.

Mitski, Puberty 2

Sunflower Bean, Human Ceremony

Ariana Grande, Dangerous Woman: This is nowhere near as good as My Everything, but it grew on me. Her voice is fucking incredible. Can’t get enough of it.

White Lung, Paradise 

Rachel Browne (Field Mouse)

Deerhoof, The Magic
Cymbals Eat Guitars, Pretty Years
Sad13, Slugger
A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service 
Sammus, Pieces in Space
Mannequin Pussy, Romantic
Pinegrove, Cardinal
Swanning, Drawing Down the Moon
Kendrick Lamar, untitled unmastered. 
The Avalanches, Wildflower  

Brian Chase (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beech Creeps)

John Zorn, Flaga: Book of Angels Volume 27: The jazz lineage gets an addition to its legacy with Flaga. The album features an all-star piano trio lineup of Craig Taborn on keys, Christian McBride on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums playing compositions from John Zorn’s Book of Angels songbook. The playing is superbly virtuosic and passionate, the band is tight and focused, and the music is brought to unforeseen heights.

John Zorn, The Classic Guide to Strategy-Vol. 4: This is the fourth installment of Zorn’s Classic Guide to Strategy series of solo recordings. Previous installments are from ’83, ’86 and ’03. Zorn’s versatility and command of the saxophone here is unparalleled: he pulls sounds out of the instrument that bring wonder and astonishment. The expressive tone can often take on a somewhat sadistic character, but what has it transcending itself is the complete fascination that ensues with the sounds Zorn creates. Each motif is a captivating tonal world in itself and draws the listener further in with its mystery.

Beyoncé, Lemonade: So many things here are immediately striking in this collection of songs and videos: the sound, the look, the attitude. All three stand in equal measure, although what is, of course, most powerful are the message and heart existing at the core. In the face of adversity, both individual and societal, there needs to be some kind of beacon to help guide through the confusion, doubt and pain that often accompany such situations. Beyoncé puts forth such a beacon, a perspective that holds up for us as a voice to lead us, speaking from a place of truth, justice and empowerment. Too often we don’t allow ourselves the strength and confidence to access such a strong inner voice, but Beyoncé insists that we can and must do it for ourselves.

John Zorn, The Mockingbird: The Mockingbird is Zorn’s sixth record with his Gnostic Trio ensemble featuring Bill Frisell on guitar, Kenny Wollesen on vibraphone and chimes and Carol Emanuel on harp. To quote the album’s insert, the recording here “presents gorgeous and intimate chamber music touching upon themes of innocence, adventure, childhood, and longing that unfold like an exotic flower… [the music] spins a hypnotic web of melodic beauty to soothe the restless spirit.” Agreed, and seconded by my very young son.

Jessica Pavone, Silent Spills: The outstanding composer and violist/violinist Jessica Pavone presents her latest solo album featuring the beauty and elegance of simplicity, repetition, and folk-like melody. It’s easy to be absorbed into the focus and naturalness of Jessica’s compositions for strings and electronics. They are deliberate and clear in their structure, and walk the line of passion/dispassion in her performing of them. Spending time with this album brings about a sustained mood of contemplative quietude tinged with a bittersweet stillness.

Lesley Flanigan, Hedera: Sound artist and instrument builder Lesley Flanigan branches into a new direction with this latest CD and its twenty-minute title track. The track is built off of a very hypnotic pulse taken from a “malfunctioning tape deck” that serves as the foundation for layers upon layers of angelic voice. This “voice-cloud” consists of beautifully held sustained tones of minimalist-interlaced harmony. About halfway through the track, the mood shifts, the tone darkens and the piece builds again to a heavy and wide fullness. Hedera brings about a feeling of a floating “nowhere-ness” that vacillates between sensuality and detachment.

Tristan Perich, Noise Patterns: This is the sound of circuitry, here presented as an object of investigation, exposing a multifaceted surface to its monochromatic texture. Quoting the Physical Editions website: “Noise Patterns comes as a minimalist matte-black circuit board with a headphone jack in the side. Plug in and switch it on to listen to Perich’s music unfold. The six-track album explores how digital noise can be shaped and stressed, from glittering static into the mesmerizing electronic thump of a nightclub. On a technical level, the sonic raw material in Noise Patterns is digital 1-bit noise: a probabilistic density of random oscillations that Perich sequences into rhythmic patterns and layers into textures, pulses, rumbles and beats.”

Jeremiah Cymerman, Badlands: Jeremiah Cymerman’s trio Pale Horse presents its second album, Badlands, featuring a further elaboration on the group’s musical ethos: intensely dark and eerie sonic landscapes that provoke a mood of sustained nerve-racking suspense, like being alone in the dark and waiting for something to jump out at you at any second.

Catherine Sikora, Jersey: Tenor saxophonist Catherine Sikora presents her first solo release with Jersey. Her lyrical, stately improvisations weave thoughtful threads of melodic exploration. Her impressive control of multiphonics on her instrument greatly expands the range of harmonic color found in her sonic palette. The tracks are relatively short, averaging around two and half or three minutes, which gives the album the feel of a collection of assorted thematic ruminations.

Beech Creeps, “Creeps Can’t Swim” b/w “Deep in the Dive”: Brooklyn’s Beech Creeps froth up this follow-up 7″ to their first album featuring two tracks that rise from the murky depths of sand and surf. The two frontline guitars swim in reverb and salty cold distortion that comes at you like waves crashing. The A-side is a driving punk charmer that has you standing at the tip of the ship’s bow as you charge forward against the wind. The B-side is a dirty dirge of cranky teenager Goth righteousness. 

Dave Depper (Death Cab for Cutie)

David Bowie, Blackstar
Karl Blau, Introducing Karl Blau
Whitney, Light upon the Lake
Fruit Bats, Absolute Loser
Bibio, A Mineral Love
Andy Shauf, The Party
Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
Flock of Dimes, If You See Me, Say Yes
Bon Iver, 22, A Million
A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service 

Michael Doshier (Johnny Darlin’)

Rihanna, ANTI: Who knew the year’s preeminent meditation on feeling misunderstood, under-appreciated, and downright incorrectly seen would come from Rihanna, a woman who succeeds so naturally at making us feel the utter ecstasy of life? In a year during which all of us were isolated at one point or another, Rihanna expressed this feeling best, and released her opus months before the 2016 shit-storm even started popping off (all hail those Illuminati fortune-telling skills).

No wonder so many year-end lists describe this thing as a grower: as the year grew more sinister, ANTI gained meatiness and nuance. This is the Rihanna album so many of us have been waiting for, the one we’ve known was in her, and have been promising detractors was coming since Rated R. Assured in the power of her vocal chords, and unrestrained by the desire to break Top 40, she’s created something sonically diverse, complicated yet cohesive. It tells the three-act story of the world’s most fascinating person’s fractured psyche through the tastiest and darkest jams of the year.

Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial: The night before starting a new job, I couldn’t sleep, so I listened to this album all night, over and over, track one through twelve with the occasional repeat. It did not help me sleep. But I felt understood, and that I’d survive the coming twenty-four hours — and that I may find something worth saying about them one day. The next day was rough, but aided by those delightful “it doesn’t have to be like this” harmonies.

Kanye West, The Life of Pablo: A deep, five-minute-twenty-second spiritual calm, followed immediately by an exhilarating fifteen-track adrenaline rush. Kanye racing us through the contradictions of his soul, his relationship with us, his relationship with God, his relationship with the best producers working right now (himself included) — and it all stays profoundly engaging and challenging the whole way through, like sprinting a marathon.

Beyoncé, Lemonade: Hands down my favorite film of the year, and an album whose mightiness grows stronger and pierces the earth’s core deeper with each listen, each mind-bending awards show performance and each Citi Field takeover. Beyoncé was ready to be superwoman again and did a damn good job (again).

Ariana Grande, Dangerous Woman: I do not think I’m shocking anyone when I reveal I am a sucker for a huge, expensive pop album chock full of fucking HITS. Fire-burning, face-slapping, Young-Money-one-two-punch-featuring, Max Martin-produced, vocal-slaying, lovelorn-pop-princess lyric-having HITS. And this was THE that of 2016.

Frank Ocean, Blonde: Frank sounds more gorgeous than ever — a voice unafraid to be manipulated (in sometimes aurally shocking ways). He sounds about ten times more confident than the genius behind Channel Orange. I’ll never forget the release of what was deemed his “coming out letter” (but seemed more of a “pre-album-release meditation”) and what it meant to all my brand-newly out queer friends and me. There are pictures documenting us reading it for the first time upon release, holding each other, wondering which line the other one was on and when they’d start crying. I’m so happy this artist is continuing his legacy so consistently, and making me into a downright smarter person with each release.

The Fantastic Plastics, Invasion/Moses Sumney, Lamentations: I recognize I may be cheating by placing two bodies of work in one slot, but both EPs are only five songs, I liked them equally and even together they make only ten tracks. They’re two artists going for exactly opposite things, who also happen to be the best live acts I saw in 2016. Sumney has made the loop pedal his bitch and may be the living master of it — using it to create glorious, intricate soundscapes. The Fantastic Plastics used 2016 to take the crown as the funnest (yes, funnest) multimedia act in Brooklyn with a new EP of colorful ragers. 

Drake, Views: To deny one of my favorite artists while he’s at the height of his powers seems a dick move of betrayal I’m unable to commit at the close of this difficult year, a year to which Drake brought much joy. No one’s favorite Drake record is still a great one, containing perhaps his best song (a tie between “Controlla” and “One Dance,” anyone?). In fact, revisiting the track list, the entire second half of Views is a master class in deejaying any prom, a flawless mix of danceable romance and tough swagger.

Maren Morris, Hero: When they go low, we go high: And when the Nashville boys go bro, the Nashville girls go equal parts woke and sharp. Very little thrilled me more than predicting the feminism of a track called “Drunk Girls Don’t Cry” only to listen and experience an entirely different, way cleverer take (that bit much harder at the patriarchy). As the queen of inclusive and enlightened country (love you, Ms. Musgraves) only released a Christmas album last year, I’m deeply thankful for Maren Morris for showing up and holding me over just fine.

Britney Spears, Glory: The first Britney album that lets you breathe (and pant and coo and “ooh”) since In the Zone (each Britney record since 2004 has been, in one way or another, claustrophobic — which is rarely a bad thing). Glory exists in the clouds from point A to Z. My excitement for this new body of Britney work started at an eleven upon release, then waned, until one day “Love Me Down” came on shuffle while I was walking home and I remembered there are moments on this that place it up there with the Queen’s three masterpieces (In the Zone, Blackout, Femme Fatale). Cohesive, gorgeous and musically full, this is the emotional landscape we’ve been hoping for Britney to sing within for years.

Morgan Enos (Hollow Sunshine, Other Houses, Medium Mystic)

David Crosby, Lighthouse: This album is so slept on, but I’m obsessed with it. Writers keep comparing it to his 1971 debut album, If I Could Only Remember My Name, but it doesn’t really sound like that album at all. It’s deeply wise, dreamy, and only a seventy-five-year-old who’s made a lifetime of mistakes could have made it. It makes me want to quit my entire life and purchase a sailboat.

Okkervil River, Away: A song cycle wherein a brainy, wordy, extreme songwriter seems to walk barefoot into the woods, alone. It’s vulnerable, autumnal and it could have been written in 1968. Rock if Astral Weeks makes you cry at the bar.

Neil Young, Peace Trail: With due respect to Trans, I submit Peace Trail as the most deeply weird record in Shakey’s discography. Putting his most recent backing band, Promise of the Real, on pause, Trail is mostly a weird, long-winded collaboration with drummer Jim Keltner. Recorded nearly immediately and in first takes, the players’ extreme looseness crosses over into abstraction, into jazz. This is taken even further by Neil’s baffling fondness for recording two simultaneous lead vocals, one auto-tuned. The songs — mostly cranky missives against the Dakota Access Pipeline — are nearly beside the point. Peace Trail mostly leaves the listener with the image of Neil being followed through Standing Rock by a cyborg.

Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker: Much ado has been made after Cohen’s passing about You Want It Darker being an invitation to a funeral service, a final testament. But the fact is, Cohen was planning two new albums beyond this. I love the title, which feels like a thumbed nose at simpletons painting him only as a “godfather of gloom.” Cohen was a witty, graceful soul. I feel like he had so much more to say, but he knew his time had come. I miss him.

Guided by Voices, Please Be Honest: Robert Pollard recorded every instrument and vocal on Guided by Voices’ latest post-reunion album. The result sounds brittle, strange, like it was recorded below the earth with hand tools and construction equipment. Pollard sings of insects and nightmares and sad baby eyes. When the odd hook finally appears, as in “Kid on a Ladder” and “Eye Shop Heaven,” the effect is like encountering a Hollies concert while spelunking. This record could never be made twice.

Brad Mehldau Trio, Blues and Ballads: I’ve heard pianist Mehldau’s renditions of these tunes (by Paul McCartney, Jon Brion, Cole Porter, etc) elsewhere, but they’re at their most polished and refined in this trio setting. The mood is sparse and melancholic, but Mehldau’s right-hand flights of fancy add sparkle to even the greyest tunes. File under my 2016 “anytime” music.

The Jayhawks, Paging Mr. Proust: The Jayhawks completely transcended their alt-country beginnings just as much as more celebrated bands such as Wilco. Proust is a little uneven as it swings from AM pop to fuzzy rock to hypnotic Krautrock, but it’s still written and performed expertly. I’m so jealous of this record. Jangle for days.

Wilco, Schmilco: The brilliance of Schmilco is that it completely uproots the trope of the “acoustic album” while almost entirely using acoustic instruments. Nels Cline’s brilliantly wrong lead guitar in “Normal American Kids” underscores Jeff Tweedy’s yarn of his disaffected, stoned teen years, and “Common Sense” is the ugliest, most atonal song in the band’s entire catalogue.

Marissa Nadler, Strangers: Marissa Nadler’s songs tend to operate in one mode: swooning. Hence, her very prolific last couple of years have left me a bit lost. But this is her best album, where the tunes catch up to her always-gorgeous sonics. A terrifically calming album by a great singer and writer.

Van Morrison, Keep Me Singing: Old age really suits Van Morrison. He’s no longer the fiery bandleader in “Caravan” or the tortured young poet of Astral Weeks, but his rankled, unmistakable phrasing can still elicit a smile. “Tell everyone to go to hell,” he sings in the very first verse. Van’s done the “back-to-basics” thing a bit better before, but along with Schmilco, this is the grouchiest album of 2016.

Hutch Harris (the Thermals)

Tegan and Sara, Love You to Death: My favorite T&S LP so far, and my favorite record of the year. Pure pop bliss.

David Bowie, Blackstar: Beyond bittersweet. The perfect end to a perfect career.

Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, A Man Alive: Serious and seriously fun. Far greater than the sum of its intricate parts.

A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service: An amazing comeback. Easily as good as their classic ’90s albums.

Summer Cannibals, Full of It: Lean, mean and loud. Their best record until their next record.

Eskimeaux, Year of the Rabbit: Simply beautiful. Embodies all the grace and lightness.

Iggy Pop, Post Pop Depression: As fully alive as it’s close to death. The aural equivalent of No Country for Old Men.

Flock of Dimes, If You See Me, Say Yes: Surprising and soothing. The sleeper of the year.

Frankie Cosmos, Next Thing: Catchy and captivating. Equal amounts simple questions and complicated answers.

Prince, 4Ever: 2016 was undoubtedly the worst year of all time.

David J.” Haskins (M.C. Nightshade, Bauhaus, Love and Rockets)

Well, for what it’s worth, here’s my top ten — but obviously and as ever and increasingly more so, it is only representative of the very small slice of music to which I have been privy this year. There is so much out there these days! Hard to keep track, so I just let those sounds drift through the ether and the airwaves and Internet and my antenna picks up whatever it picks up.

2016 has been such a crushingly dark year, but at least music is still the unifying, healing, redemptive force that it has always been.

Vive La Resistance!

David Bowie, Blackstar
Warhaus, We Fucked a Flame into Being
Okkervil River, Away
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree
Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker
A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
St. Germain, St. Germain
Lucinda Williams, The Ghosts of Highway 20

Robyn Hitchcock

William Tyler, Modern Country
The Claypool Lennon Delirium, Monolith of Phobos
Shirley Collins, Lodestar
David Bowie, Blackstar
Lucinda Williams, The Ghosts of Highway 20
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Nonagon Infinity
Anne Lise Frøkedal, Hold on Dreamer
Grant-Lee Phillips, The Narrows
The Rolling Stones, Blue & Lonesome
Cass McCombs, Mangy Love

Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers)

David Bowie, Blackstar
Solange, A Seat at the Table
Angel Olsen, My Woman
Hiss Golden Messenger, Heart Like a Levee
Beyoncé, Lemonade
Cass McCombs, Mangy Love
Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
Frank Ocean, Blonde
Richmond Fontaine, You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing to Go Back To
John Paul White, Beulah
A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
J. Cole, 4 Your Eyez Only

Rjyan Kidwell (Cex)

Lorenzo Masotto, Rule & Case
David Bowie, Blackstar
The Caretaker, Everywhere at the End of Time
Purl & Sinius, Oceans of Sound
Porya Hatami & Arovane, Kaziwa
Jeff Mills, Free Fall Galaxy
Andy Stott, Too Many Voices
Yello, Toy
Aesop Rock, The Impossible Kid

Derek Kiesgen (Bear vs. Shark)

Westworld soundtrack: Gestalt Ramin Djawadi’s theme, Maeve’s upstairs walk, the Radioheads — and you get my favorite musical experience of the year. Also, I am legally changing my name to Bernarnold Ed Harris Ford.

Pinkwash, Collective Sigh: Powerful radass riffs; the drums sound like Iron Man suits. Makes me weird dance in my car.

Child Bite, Negative Noise: If Albert Fish had a band. If the movie Ex Drummer were songs. Brilliant. 

Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth: Dude’s voice ain’t human; makes me want to have problems that I have to listen to him and think about.

Portugal. The Man, “Noise Pollution” video: No, not an album, so kick me off the list. I love this song, and video, and river push-ups.

Wolf Parade, EP 4: I am glad they are making songs again.

John Carpenter, Lost Themes II: You don’t really dance to it, or rock out. I cover my car in tin foil and drive around Detroit pretending it’s 2247. That’s what you do to it.

Bong Mountain, You’re Doin’ Great! (For the Record): Played with these guys, thought they would have names like Pinner and Dank Vadar. They don’t. But they do make you want to drink forties in the woods with yer sensitive friends and pine.

David Bowie, Blackstar: Mostly cause he’s gone; actually I heard he recorded this after he died. R.I.P Goblin King!

Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool: Have you heard of these guys? They jam.

Greta Kline (Frankie Cosmos)

Kero Kero Bonito, Bonito Generation
Nice Try, Nice Try
Warehouse, Super Low
Angel Olsen, My Woman
iji, Bubble
Blood Orange, Freetown Sound
Whitney, Light upon the Lake
Eskimeaux, Year of the Rabbit
Big Thief, Masterpiece
LVL UP, Return to Love

Jesse Leach (Killswitch Engage)

Nada Surf, You Know Who You Are: Flawless record in my eyes. Great songwriting, lyrics and feel. This band continues to put out quality music. Poetic alternative done right. Can’t stop listening to this record!

A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service: This album is abstract and creative hip-hop at its best. Been a Tribe fan since 1992! Lyrically it is very relevant to where we are in society. These are also the last verses recorded by the legend Phife Dawg. The production is amazing; it will get your head nodding and will stimulate your mind.

Solange, A Seat at the Table: This is a beautiful and emotive record mixing R&B, pop and soul. Solange has captured the Black American struggle and made it into art. This is a powerful record and needs to be heard by the masses that deny there is racial tension here in the United States. That being said, this record can be listened to for pleasure, and it doesn’t beat you over the head with its socio-political undertones. Solange has a beautiful and earnest voice that works really well with the minimal production.

Serpentine Dominion, Serpentine Dominion: I may be biased, as this is my friend’s record and I wrote all of the lyrics, but this is a blistering, brutal, intense and powerful death metal record. My man Adam D (Killswitch Engage, Times of Grace) on guitar and bass, Shannon Lucas on (blisteringly fast) drums and George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher (with the monster of a voice) on vocals. This is an incredible record!

Gojira, Magma: Gojira has made a work of art with this album. “Desperate” and “epic” are the best words I can find for this one. It delivers Gojira’s signature riffs and style, but is a bit more stripped down. There is a great deal of melody in the vocals on this release and it feels like a natural progression.

Dustin Tebbutt, First Light: This is another one of those records I can listen to on repeat. While I’m on tour, this is one of my soundtracks. It’s essentially a record about finding love and dealing with the distance of life on the road. Perfect record for being on tour. It’s mellow, catchy and poetic.

The Orb, COW/Chill Out, World!: The title says it all. Been a massive fan of the Orb since I was a teenager. This is pure sonic ambient bliss. A perfect record to calm your soul and anxieties.

Blood Orange, Freetown Sound: My man is the new breed of Prince and Michael Jackson! Yeah, he’s that good! Dance, funk, R&B. Beautiful, warm production; every song hits and will leave you humming and tapping your feet. He is a phenomenal live performer as well as dancer. The man is a legend.

Amon Amarth, Jomsviking: Viking metal anthems! All hail, Amon Amarth! One of the best metal bands on the planet.

Puppy, Vol. II: Found out about these guys from a friend and was immediately hooked! They blend ’80s heavy metal and ’90s alternative with their own style! Think Skate Rock, Dinosaur Jr. and Weezer filtered through Iron Maiden. Great songwriting and hooks for days! Their videos are hysterical and their sense of humor is amazing. This band needs to be huge!

Zachary Lipez (Publicist UK)

I conducted a Twitter poll (as I do) about whether or not my end-of-the-year list should disclose every aspect of nepotism that may or may not have influenced my taste/decision. The overwhelming response was, “Why do you think we would possibly care about who you do or do not know and the utter preciousness of your performative agonizing over said connections?” Or maybe they were saying they didn’t care about the list in general. BOTH FAIR.

I liked a mess load of albums this year. Some by friends and some by strangers. I also just got an iTunes gift card for Christmas so I am only now really diving into the Virus, Bolzer, 75 Dollar Bill and Suede albums. (“I buy records,” I said smugly, ignoring the number I get for free from PR companies). Also, my handsome and talented band mates all put out terrific albums this year. I can’t include the new Goes Cube, Brain Tentacles and Revocation albums, but trust that I’m in awe of their talent and grateful they let me hang out with them, chewing on my hair.

ANYWAY. My end-of-the-year Top Ten (with an ten extra at the end because I’m a rebel, Dottie).

ONE MORE THING. Zohra (of Azar Swan) and I listen to music together. There’s some overlap, but our lists can also be taken as a single monolithic, in the words of ELO, livin’ thing.

I omitted some great records (Mitski, Cohen, Bowie) that are well-represented elsewhere/everywhere.

These are the ten (*cough* twenty) records I listened to the most this year. Buy them all and be transformed.

Noura Mint Seymali, Arbina: Best psych-rock band in the world. I will never shut up about them.

A Giant Dog, Pile: This has been a hard year for my petty indie one-sided grudges. Ezra Koenig turned out to be a mensch and now the dude from Spoon, my other go-to “Let’s make jokes about indie” band, is the producer of this masterpiece of messy living. Guess I’ll have to put my “Joe Jackson verses in search of a chorus” label on some other chumps. What’s Whitney like? Sorry, I digress. I ignored this album when it came out. but Mike Wiebe told me I was being an idiot and he was right. This album will be remembered as one of the great downer party records. Or it’s going to be like The Neckbones’ The Lights Are Getting Dim or the Lazy Cowgirls’ discography and only ten dead drunks will give a shit. Whatever. It’s perfect and I love it. If this album had come out when I was twenty-two, I either would have hated it out of pure jealousy or taken to it to such an extent it’s unlikely I would have seen 23.

Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows

Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, Thulth: I play this album at the bar all the time and people love it. A lady asked if it was Mars Volta, which is both completely insane and pretty accurate.

Morrow, Covenant of Teeth: No better time for epic, string-drenched apocalyptic crust and this one’s the best in years.

Okkervil River, Away: Will Sheff is a friend and Zohra played on the album and neither fact influences me in the slightest when I have this gorgeous record on my headphones, on repeat, and am staring out the window just, you know, thinking about stuff. Time, man, it’s crazy.

Dälek, Asphalt for Eden

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree

Alsarah & the Nubatones, Manara: Another bar favorite that works both for groovy light-dimmed socializing and for solitary chain smoking while missing various longtime gone people.

Head Wound City, A New Wave of Violence: OK, I love all the members of this band and I wrote the bio. But dammit, I stand by every word of that bio. I would have done it for free. (I’m not giving the money back tho.) Great, great band. Wildly slept-on record.


(Elucid, Save Yourself; Plague Vendor, Bloodsweat; Heron Oblivion, Heron Oblivion, Teen, Love Yes; Teen Suicide, It’s the Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir the Honeypot; Rakta, III; Imarhan, Imarhan; Seratones, Get Gone; Drakulas, Raw Wave; Primitive Weapons, The Future of Death)

Amy Fleisher Madden (Fiddler Records)

Thrice, To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere
Waterparks, Double Dare
Pinegrove, Cardinal
Jimmy Eat World, Integrity Blues
Bad Suns, Disappear Here
Sleigh Bells, Jessica Rabbit
Architects, All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us
Helado Negro, Private Energy
Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
Good Charlotte, Youth Authority 

Colin Meloy (the Decemberists)

Angel Olsen, My Woman
Cass McCombs, Mangy Love
Shirley Collins, Lodestar
Hiss Golden Messenger, Heart Like a Levee
Bon Iver, 22, a Million
Case/Lang/Veirs, Case/Lang/Veirs
Lucius, Good Grief
Leonard Cohen, You Want it Darker
Y La Bamba, Ojos Del Sol
Karl Blau, Introducing Karl Blau 

Greta Morgan (Springtime Carnivore)

Kevin Morby, Singing Saw
Jim James, Eternally Even
Mitski, Puberty 2
BRONCHO, Double Vanity
Porches, Pool
Cass McCombs, Mangy Love
Karl Blau, Introducing Karl Blau
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam, I Had a Dream That You Were Mine

Caleb Nichols (Grand Lake, Port O’Brien)

A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
David Bowie, Blackstar
Solange, A Seat at the Table
Kendrick Lamar, untitled unmastered.
Deerhoof, The Magic
Parquet Courts, Human Performance
Wilco, Schmilco
Angel Olsen, My Woman
Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker

Anika Pyle (Katie Ellen)

Rihanna, ANTI: Varied, soulful and highly listenable without being overly pop, except of course for “Work,” which became my (and many other hardworking or hard-dancing people’s) anthem of early 2016. I was a fan before, but I decided that I am now a constituent of Rihanna, since I feel she represents my desires and feelings more accurately than any of my elected officials. #Rihanna2020

Solange, A Seat at the Table: This record is the most important of 2016. Solange poetically and intricately weaves together a narrative of Black womanhood for her listeners, inviting them to reflect with her on experiences of empowerment, grief, anger and healing. It is poetry. It is activism. It is diary. It is family portrait. It is a chilling and moving example of an artist making her unknown known and speaking her truth.

Princess Nokia, 1992: When I first heard “Tomboy,” the second track on Princess Nokia’s 1992, I could not stop listening to it. I listened to it on repeat on my subway commute (to and from work). I listened to it in the shower. At the gym. During breakfast. I listened to it literally everywhere, anytime that I could. This record is powerful and encouraging and feminine and energetic and youthful and wise all at the same time. 1992 is full of observations, thoughts and anthemic refrains, references to Bart Simpson, witchcraft, video games and city life — and proves Princess Nokia to be a poetic badass and important voice in independent hip-hop. 

Big Thief, Masterpiece: Big Thief showed up in my world like a letter from an anonymous sender shows up in your mailbox. Masterpiece piqued my curiosity, surprised me, made me feel loved. They seemed to have come completely out of nowhere and wrote a powerful yet soft record so thick with tender songwriting that I think it is actually, well, a masterpiece.

Thin Lips, Riff Hard: Thin Lips wins the award for best pop-punk record of 2016. Riff Hard has magnificent riffage (as to be expected), energy and urgency, concise yet grippingly emotional lyricism, and fun. Yes, fun! Riff Hard is a feelings-heavy record of sad songs that you relate to that you can actually have a great time listening to. I wrote all about it earlier in the year here.

Jeff Rosenstock, Worry.: I truly think Jeff Rosenstock is one of the most talented geniuses in modern-day indie rock music. He delved deep into an internalized anxiety experienced by him and shared by many and then sonically constructed it with such accuracy and perfection that listening to Worry. actually gives you anxiety (in a good way). It incites feeling. It carries the erratic rhythm of worrying, bringing you up, down, up, down and back around with impeccable precision.

Beyoncé, Lemonade: Honestly, no explanation needed. Not a copout. Just the truth.

Mikey Erg, Tentative Decisions: People love Mikey Erg. We have been waiting forever for a full-length solo record from Mikey. We have pleaded and begged. For years he refused to deliver, keeping us holding our tongues and crossing our fingers. In 2016, he finally gave us Tentative Decisions, which showcases his fierce penchant for writing a perfect pop song. I got to hear most of the songs on this record in demo/voice memo form before anyone on the planet heard them, so I might be biased, but I think this is the best alternative rock record of the year and, of greater importance, satisfies my thirst yet keeps me wanting more.

Sammus, Pieces in Space: I had the extreme honor of performing with Sammus in the basement of a college dining hall. Her set was the most inspiring of 2016 for me. I was playing my first solo show in a very long time. The first out-of-town show I ever traveled to alone. I felt timid and anxious, riddled by self-doubt and grasping for my bearings. After watching Sammus that night, I felt inspired. I felt empowered. I felt like I wanted to stop singing stupid sad songs and start singing songs that make you feel like you can do anything with courage and conviction. Her stage presence is magnetic, her ability to evoke emotion in her performance is incredible, her lyrical delivery is impeccable. Seeing Sammus was like practicing self-care, and listening to Pieces in Space is no different. Sammus weaves a flow like a boss and Pieces in Space challenges stereotypes surrounding Blackness, academia and all forms of nerdery — and articulates her incredible musical and all-around actual genius.

Angel Olsen, My Woman: Angel Olsen sounds timeless; My Woman continues to embody her “What era is this from?” trademark sound, but with a delicate glaze of modern pop mastery. She could sing anything – the description on the back of a Wheaties box, the manual for my coffee grinder, the entirety of Donald Trump’s Twitter account – and it would melt me. Let’s say I am now sufficiently a puddle. Thank you Angel.

Johnny Solomon (Communist Daughter)

I’ve never made a year-end list; I had to spend a while even figuring out how to do that. Mostly I find my way to albums in my own time, so I never know when things came out, and I usually don’t really get to an album until after it’s out of the whole buzzy press cycle. Also, I can tell I’m getting older because I spent a lot of time this year going down a rabbit hole based on an NPR story about African High Life music.

Here are albums I’ve been listening to a lot that also came out this year!  I tried to put them in some sort of order, but its pretty general…

Angel Olsen, My Woman: When I grow up I want to be Angel Olsen.

Big Thief, Masterpiece: A friend of mine I haven’t talked to in like two years saw this band a few months before their record was even announced and he emailed me to tell me I need to check them out because he knew this would be my thing. He still gets me.

Carey, Carey: I know it’s an EP, but it’s so good it takes up the same place in my heart as a full album. I don’t know them at all, so I have no idea what their story is; I just listen to this thing and pretend I am seventeen and I want to skip school.

Haley Bonar, Impossible Dream: Haley is from the other side of the river from us (Minneapolis, Minnesota, to our Saint Paul). She does everything I want to do a little bit cooler than me and she does it first. A lot like Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Beyoncé, Lemonade: Because I’m not a monster and I know what good music is.

Jenny O., WORK EP: This is the music I dance to, at home, alone, with my dog, in the afternoon.

Joseph, White Flag: My band mate and wife Molly’s younger brother knows Meegan from the band, so I had him convince her I was worth a guest list spot for their sold-out show in town way before this record came out. A tiny room with three amazing voices and an acoustic guitar.  Makes me want to write music and stop writing music all at once.

Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam, I Had a Dream That You Were Mine: When I daydream that this isn’t real life, and I’m just a character in a movie, this is the music that is playing whenever I’m on screen.

Band of Horses, Why Are You OK

Lucius, Good Grief 

BRONCHO, Double Vanity

Eric Slick (Dr. Dog, Lithuania)

Andy Shauf, The Party
David Bowie, Blackstar
Hellier Ulysses, Prime Example
A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
Anderson .Paak, Malibu
Shane Parish, Undertaker Please Drive Slow
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, EARS
Jenny Hval, Blood Bitch
Chris Cohen, As If Apart
Scott Walker, The Childhood of a Leader

Josh Strawn (Vaura, Azar Swan)

All I can say about my list is that it communicates which records from 2016 I listened to the most in 2016. So it doesn’t cover, for instance, how much I listened to Deutsch Nepal or Tangerine Dream. The Bowie record was an incredible event, even if it was a sad one. For a moment, my newsfeed was full of love and agreement, old friends re-connecting, mourning together. Considering that by the end of the year we’d discover just how awful social media can be, the passing of David Bowie started things out by showing just how great it can be. Blackstar didn’t inspire my creative reunion with former band mate Jeremy Kolosine, but it almost definitely lent an extra bit of fuel to the process (and I can’t wait for the world to hear the record we made together this past summer).

Seeing John Carpenter, who has been a gigantic creative influence on me since I was a child, was a highlight of the year. The apocalyptic feeling of 2016 had already resulted in a lot of heavy Leonard Cohen rotation, so the arrival of You Want It Darker felt preordained. His death did not. Brian Eno and my friend Kelly Moran kept me calm when the panic set in. Carla dal Forno and Street Sects seemed to come out of nowhere. Dominick Fernow delivered the year’s best album title.

If I got twelve slots instead of ten, I’d add the new records by Soft Kill and Alcest to this list. If I had thirteen, Kanye West might jump on. And of course there’s probably tons of stuff I missed. I don’t say I’m offended often, but I find it offensive the way writers, musicians and listeners alike now expect each other to listen to and have an opinion about everything. Sometimes I don’t get into something until a year or three after its big moment, and I like it that way. Like Drab Majesty — I listened to Careless a lot this year, but it totally passed me by when it came out last year. I didn’t listen to a note of Frank Ocean’s new record this year even though I like him. I’ll get to it when I get to it.

In the end, I had the most intense musical experiences with close, old friends making records of our own. Jeremy and Zohra (Atash from Azar Swan) both saw me have the first panic attacks of my adult life. I can’t help but attribute them to having been a bit too engaged with global political turmoils. But then we made songs. I’m thankful this year for lots of great music, but I’m more grateful that I’ve had these friends for so many years that I get to create with. I’ll be heading into 2017 with that as one of my biggest reasons to avoid future panic.

David Bowie, Blackstar
Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker
Brian Eno, The Ship
Kelly Moran, Optimist
Carla Dal Forno, You Know What It’s Like
Kayo Dot, Plastic House on Base of Sky
Street Sects, End Position
John Carpenter, Lost Themes II
Vatican Shadow, Media in Service of Terror
Julianna Barwick, Will


Rihanna, ANTI: This is an anti-pop album in the best way. Certain rules and structures were thrown out and risks were taken. It paid off.

Beyoncé, Lemonade: The artistry of this entire release was next level and ridiculously impressive.

Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book: Chance has this positivity that radiates from him and his music. The orchestration and gospel choirs are really dope.

Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool: This is partially obligatory, but the lyrics to “Present Tense” are brilliantly beautiful.

Phantogram, Three: Phantogram makes dynamic, interesting music, and Three is no different.

Lewis Del Mar, Lewis Del Mar: I love the spacey beach-rock vibe mixed with fuzzy, distorted bass. It’s just a smart album.

Vince Staples, Prima Donna: His flow is insane and he’s brutally honest. He draws you in and smacks you in the face.

Mitski, Puberty 2: Mitski is a beautiful songwriter whose writing over this gritty soundscape creates an amazing dissonance.

Daughter, Not to Disappear: This album makes me feel things. It seems so simple and sad. The writing and production are perfectly intricate.

Jack Garratt, Phase: This album just pushes sonic boundaries in both the production and writing. It sounded new to me, which is exciting.

Brian Viglione (Dresden Dolls, Violent Femmes, Nine Inch Nails, Scarlet Sails)

A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
Kendrick Lamar, untitled unmastered.
David Bowie, Blackstar
Alicia Keys, Here
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree
Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
SWANS, The Glowing Man
Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker
Dinosaur Jr., Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not
Savages, Adore Life 

Ben Watt (Everything but the Girl)

Michael Nau, Mowing: Fans of unsung, lazy, faded gems such as Assateague’s Good Morning Blues or Gold Leaves’ The Ornament will surely be spinning Michael Nau’s Mowing as I write this. I love this album. The effect on me was as if a good friend had sent me a bunch of unexpected demos and they turned out to be amazing: touching, accomplished, wise and knowing, yet also admirably loose and off the cuff.

Brigid Mae Power, Brigid Mae Power: I saw Brigid Mae Power in December playing solo at a small cafe in London in front of fifty people. The effect of her performance was the same as on the record I have been playing all year: droning, woozy, unresolved piano and open-tuned guitar chords hung like a mist, the pace solemn — almost ceremonial — while above it all her voice climbed and swooped through the scales as if slightly time-sped down a few notches. The lyrics are often startling and affecting, moments from a dream, insights into people close to her, articulations of her own hopes and desires. Part unsettling, part transcendent. To me, great.

Anderson .Paak, Malibu: An effortless, confident kaleidoscope of freshly turned soul, funk and hip-hop. This is a seriously impressive album, as if Dr. Dre, Stevie Wonder and Prince had dreamed up a potential heir. Aside from the funk, there is a tenderness and sincerity to many of the lyrics that is very winning: stark reflections on growing up, the struggle to resist peer pressure and expectations, open-hearted declamations of love. The uplift of the closing track “The Dreamer” makes you want to go back to the beginning and start again.

Choir Boy, Passive with Desire: Shot through with the melancholic ’80s synth pop tropes of, say, “African and White” by China Crisis or “Almost”-era Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, there is a shimmering, Gothic quality to this album that unashamedly takes me back thirty-five years. Adam Klopp’s starlit vocals are gorgeous: romantic yet resilient; bringing to mind such great alt-crooners of the past as David Sylvian or modern incarnations like ANOHNI or Gem Club’s Christopher Barnes.

Karl Blau, Introducing Karl Blau: Hats off to producer Tucker Martine and Karl Blau for this high-concept project of alt-country covers of songs from the ’60s and ’70s. Martine — best known for his modern productions for bands including the Decemberists and My Morning Jacket — is the son of Grammy-nominated country songwriter, Layng Martine, Jr. and comes with a notebook full of overlooked country classics he heard growing up that he has always wanted to record. Blau is a prolific lo-fi experimentalist from the Pacific Northwest with a previously barely noticed baritone voice of great beauty and warmth. The result is a win-win. Their ten-minute version of Link Wray’s “Fallin’ Rain” is hands-down my fave recording of the year.

Little Scream, Cult Following: It is a testimony to Laurel Sprengelmeyer, a.k.a. Little Scream, that she can invite guests of the caliber of Sufjan Stevens, Sharon Van Etten and Mary Margaret O’Hara onto her second album and still make it so clearly her own. Confidently produced with Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, it moves from impudent pushy art-pop to affecting translucent gems including “Wishing Well” and “Wreckage” without missing a stroke. First class.

Solange, A Seat at the Table: Much has been made of the politics on show, but it is still easy to be swept away by the lush, sweet R&B beauty of this record. Solange’s light, unshowy voice does not assert itself; rather it floats, chiffony and sheer, over the bone-hard beats — either alone or in impressive stacked harmony. The arrangements are the definition of future-retro: both killingly familiar in their echoes of the jazz-soul innovations of the ’70s, yet modern in their sparse density. (It is not a surprise to see Questlove and Raphael Saadiq in the production credits.) Yet, as if from a dream, you are constantly jolted awake by the sharp, bittersweet political commentary and personal, female-centric feeling in the lyrics and interludes. And as Solange’s vocal lists the ways and ways she tried to makes things better in “Cranes in the Sky,” you can’t help but be moved. Killing us softly with her song.

Danny Paul Grody, Sketch for Winter VI: Other States: It is the unadorned beauty of “On Leaving” and “Western Skies” that is the front door to this instrumental album by San Francisco experimental guitarist Danny Paul Grody. Coming across like a blend of Trainsong-era Michael Chapman and Elmer Bernstein’s score for Hud, they roll at you like tumbleweed, dusty and beautiful. The album is book-ended by two long, glacial synthesized tracks, the opener intercut with Grody’s guitar as if forcing a human presence into the album, the closer left to simply drift with no sign of Grody at all. Try this record on an early morning walk.

Hiss Golden Messenger, Heart Like a Levee: I have followed MC Taylor’s Hiss Golden Messenger project since his vinyl-only second album in 2010, Bad Debt — a stark acoustic session recorded onto cassette at his kitchen table. Drawn by the reedy yearning in his voice and the spiritual unease in his lyrics, I finally asked him, as a fan, to sing with me last year when I was making my own recent album, Fever Dream. Like me, he has journeyed some distance as a musician, and in various guises, which helped develop a great kinship as we put together the vocals for the title track and exchanged emails. Recently I saw him and his band play in London to a full room as part of the tour for their excellent Heart Like a Levee album. The low-slung boogie of their Southern country-rock had been finely honed by weeks on the road into a night of irresistible mid-tempo grooves. The sound is something of a throwback, but in Taylor’s hands it also feels alive and evergreen, soulful and totally sincere.

Moomin, A Minor Thought: Smallville Records began as a small independent record store in 2005, a hangout for fans of electronic music in Hamburg. Releasing its own stuff seemed the next natural step. There is an engaging primitivism to the way they often approach their house music, and yet it is always underpinned by super-deep grooves. This album by Moomin seems so perfect for the label: knowingly retro, modest unaffected arrangements, cute jazz samples, sparse, warm and twinkling. A captivating listen.

Liam Wilson (the Dillinger Escape Plan)

David Bowie, Blackstar
Plebeian Grandstand, False Highs, True Lows
Deathspell Omega, The Synarchy of Molten Bones
Yussef Kamaal, Black Focus
Tribulation, Melancholia
Anderson .Paak, Malibu
Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree
Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker

Joshua Winstead (Metric)

While 2016 was one of the strangest and most painful years in recent history, it also produced some great music. Several mainstream artists released extremely personal albums that clearly widened their sphere. But while they deserve accolades for these “brave” releases, the fact still remains that lesser-known artists continually break real ground and give us all something truly special to connect with as listeners.

This list reflects both those mainstream artists and those still rolling on the outside.  There were many other albums that I could have included from this wonderful year of music, but these are the ones that I connected with the most. I also included a shameless plug for my own album. It’s an album that I deeply believe in and that truly changed my life as well.

Rihanna, ANTI
Michael Kiwanuka, Love and Hate
Frank Ocean, Blonde
Beyoncé, Lemonade
A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
Thee Oh Sees, A Weird Exits
David Bowie, Blackstar
Dr. Dog, The Psychedelic Swamp
Joshua Winstead, MMXX