Looking back at what a shit year 2016 has been, it’s no wonder I published more music writing than ever before. As the months wore on I found myself swiping away more and more real news in my feed and just getting lost in Bandcamp and other music sources. I wasn’t really trying to bury my head; I was looking for a better way of thinking.
The world is what it is, but I can frame it and focus on it however I choose. Immersing in the toxicity of bad news and worse reactions changed my perception one way, so I aimed to change it another way. Art has been a life sustaining tonic all my life, a refuge sought in times of stress, loneliness, and most of all, deep frustration. If I’ve hit a brick wall, I know that obsessing about the problem won’t help. I need to detach, breathe, and follow something made to surprise. A good story or song is something to be lost in, sure, but it grants perspective. It can bend the light just so, showing me a new way to see.
Perspective also comes from travel. The simple but profound act of experiencing other parts of the world can never be overestimated. This is where the image at the top of this list comes in. It’s Greenland, as seen from my plane back home to the United States from Ireland a month ago. I happened to open the window shade during the brief window when we were passing over the very tip of the continent-sized island. It felt like magic.
I’m entering 2017 with hope that good news can happen and that we can press on, even when our heroes are gone. I look around and I wonder who the future heroes are going to be. Those people will be standing against the dark tide and risking everything. They’ve got new ideas to replace the scary old ones that never quite die.
Looking back on the past year of music, I see a lot of new ideas and new perspectives on old ones. The best kind of music always elicits surprise, even if it’s made in a familiar way. There’s a flash of feeling, a rush of blood, and it clicks. Everything on this list mattered to me and I hope some of it can matter to you.
Let’s begin the countdown. These are the 30 best albums of 2016:
This week saw a small explosion in surprise music releases, with both Radiohead and James Blake dropping new albums mere hours after announcing them. It also brought one of the best politically charged albums I’ve heard in a very long time, from Anohni, formerly known as Antony Hegarty. This trio of releases opened a bold new chapter for gorgeous British vocals in 2016.
As someone who listens mostly to instrumental music, it was a refreshing change of pace. Let’s get into it.
The Colour In Anything sounds like that exact moment when you witness a loved one realizing their full potential. So don’t call it a comeback; this is the sound of eventual self-discovery.
I was never a Beyoncé fan. Not really. Sure, I enjoyed some of the big singles, recognized her A-level game, but never actually enjoyed a full album. I’d honestly tried with Sasha Fierce, but her energy always felt constrained and compromised across the length of an album, only fully erupting on a song or two. I was never completely blown away by her artistry and passion.
In 2011, like every year since I’ve discovered how to harness the power of the internet (and a handful of discerning friends) to expand my horizons and unveil whole dimensions of music, has been an incredible year for listening: another slab in my monument to Why You Should Pay Attention. I held crushes on a number of albums and fell deeply in love with a select few. All deserve acknowledgement but only the most striking motivate me to gush at length. With a little luck, I can turn people on to something which will enrich their lives and change perceptions in small or significant ways. Or maybe even sell an album for one of these deserving artists!
My first album of 2011. So infectious, I’m giddy with the prospect of holding its vinyl in my hands on release day – still a month off. James Blake set the blog frontier ablaze last year with two progressive leaps beyond the dubstep fray – the CMYK and Klavierwork EPs – but never gripped my attention, making my ears perk up, my spine tingle, quite like this. This self titled debut is easily this year’s (first) benchmark.