30 Best Albums Of 2016

bestof2016greenlandsmall

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:

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What I’m Into This Week (5/8 – 5/14)

Repo Man Emilio Estevez

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.

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Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

The impossible is now possible.

Radiohead have come back from a well-deserved but decade-long victory lap, making truly fascinating music again. This is vital stuff, the kind of work that will actually justify the coming weeks of breathless dissection. It’s more deserving of the clichéd descriptors that critics have reflexively thrown at the band  – haunting, gorgeous, unnerving, innovative – than anything they’ve ever recorded.

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Radiohead – Daydreaming

Radiohead - daydreaming snow

Radiohead dropped a song out of nowhere last Tuesday. It was good enough to fill me with hope for the first time in over a decade. Then they did the seemingly impossible: released a second pre-album single, three days later, that was better than the first.

As if fans wouldn’t have gone crazy enough with a simple, “we’ve got a new album” tweet, the band went for a full-blown now you have my attention moment:

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What I’m Into This Week (5/1 – 5/7)

Pacific Rim Gypsy Danger

This week was shot out of a cannon. I was out of town, spending the weekend in Chicago, visiting the aquarium and accidentally joining a political protest, but I returned to great news.

Radiohead was suddenly back and doing interesting things. I had new vinyl from Can and Andy Stott. Beyoncé was still riding high on the crest of a mighty art-pop wave, and her album was still lodged in my car stereo. Then, after the worst storm of the year, the sun came out to play.

Let’s get into it.

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Radiohead – Burn the Witch

Radiohead Burn the Witch

Radiohead just released a new single for the first time in years. It’s called Burn The Witch and it honestly gives me some hope for the forthcoming album.

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