Row Three Favorite Albums of 2016

You came here for movie opinion. Well, the movies wouldn’t be the movies without music (most of them). Believe it or not, a lot of us around here are bigger music nuts than we are about the flickers. In that regard 2016 was a pretty solid year. Of course with a damn near infinite ocean of tuneage our there, it’s hard to keep track of it all; even for the most obstinate of fans. There are one-off singles on Sound Cloud from all over the world. Extremely talented musicians trying to make their way on YouTube and even in 2016, the full studio album continues to sell and inspire like gangbusters.

Just as in the world of film, it was a particularly difficult year for celebrity deaths. Prince, Bowie and Cohen all left us this year, though not without leaving one last token of awesome for all of us to enjoy – the Bowie album in particular is seeing huge critical and fan praise. George Michael was unable to finish the big Wham! reunion that was in the works but we’ve still got a metric ton of material to pore over.

So while there were some definite low-lights this year, it is with much pleasure that Row Three presents all of our favorite music from the year. There was so much it was difficult to keep it to just ten albums in many cases. If you’re looking for something new to whet your ear’s appetite for resonance, I can all but guarantee you’ll find something great in the list of artists below…

Enjoy!


Scott Olson
Andrew James
Corey Pierce
Jim Laczkowski
Bob Turnbull

 



SCOTT OLSON

15. Hotelier – “Goodness”
I don’t usually fall this hard for an “emo” record, but there’s really no other way to classify this one. Emo with great songwriting.
Highlight “Soft Animal”
(Google Play | Amazon)

14. Lumineers – “Cleopatra”
I might catch some shit for this one, but I really don’t understand the sneering this band receives. Simple melodies, earnestness, and catchy songwriting are out of style I guess, but these guys do it best.
Highlight “Angela”
(Google Play | Amazon)

13. Band of Horses – “Why Are You OK? “
They’ve recaptured their sound after a somewhat lackluster effort last time out.
Highlight “In A Drawer”
(Google Play | Amazon)
HM:

12. Metallica – “Hardwired…to Self Destruct”
Stop rolling your eyes. It’s a great, kick ass, take names, hard rock release.
Highlight “Now That We’re Dead”
(Google Play | Amazon)

11. Rhianna – “Anti”
In past years, I would have ignored this as popstar garbage and never given it the time of the day. Glad I dismissed my ignorance this year and gave this a chance. Wild pop album taking many chances. The Tame Impala collaboration is great as are most of the other tracks.
Highlight “Needed Me”
(Google Play | Amazon)

10. Childish Gambino – “Awaken My Love”
Donald Glover is on a creative tear in two different mediums, (seriously, watch Atlanta if you haven’t). Pulling from funk, jazz, and R&B, he creates something as adventurous as what he’s doing on television, maybe more so.
Highlight “Redbone”
(Google Play | Amazon)

9. Shearwater – “Jetplane and Oxbow”
Eight years later, they make an album that can stand alongside their best album “Rook”.
Highlight “A Long Time Away”
(Google Play | Amazon)

8. Parker Millsap – “The Very Last Day”
Starting to think Americana is just country music that can’t be found on mainstream radio, for a multitude of reasons, but it’s a tragedy that you can’t find “Heaven Sent” on your local country station.
(Google Play | Amazon)

7. Radiohead – “A Moon Shaped Pool”
Good to see Radiohead reclaim their place on many year end lists. This one is deserving of the acclaim.
Highlight “Ful Stop”
(Google Play | Amazon)

6. Chance the Rapper – “Coloring Book “
Not easy to release a positive and forward looking record, especially in 2016, but Chance does it. Essentially, a gospel album for all practical purposes. Not exactly my wheelhouse, but this thing is excellent.
Highlight “No Problem”
(Google Play | Amazon)

5. Jayhawks – “Paging Mr Proust”
I used to get disappointed when Mark Olson wasn’t involved in a Jayhawks project. That’s no longer the case. The Jayhawks are a better and more adventurous band with Gary Louris leading the charge. Compare this to “Mockingbird Time” and it’s clear. The Byrds-ish stylistic flourishes are still there, but Louris does not hesitate to widen the scope of their sound. This isn’t Hollywood Town Hall and it’s better for it.
Highlight “Leaving the Monsters Behind”
(Google Play | Amazon)

4. The Kills – “Ash & Ice”
Another great release from an underrated and consistently great twosome.
Highlight “Doing it to Death”
(Google Play | Amazon)

3. Sturgill Simpson – “A Sailors Guide to Earth”
Refusing to be typecast as Americana, this has him trying on all kinds of different influences and wearing them all well.
Highlight “Keep It Between the Lines”
(Google Play | Amazon)

2. Run the Jewels – “3”
Third classic in a row. El-P and Killer Mike are great separately, but they become a true supergroup together.
Highlight “Panther like a Panther”
(Google Play | Amazon)

1. A Tribe Called Quest – “We Got it From Here”
Not many rap groups could release an album this many years later and have the tracks sound this consistently great. From the NY Times write up on the new album… “It was thrilling to the guys to watch stars like Jack White, Mr. Lamar and André 3000 come through and record. It was even more exciting to have their brother Phife around all the time. But now some of the group members think that all that traveling may have contributed to grinding him down, physically. ‘Doing this album killed him,’ Jarobi White said simply. ‘And he was very happy to go out like that’.” Rest in Peace Phife Dawg. Thank you for this.
Highlight “Whateva Will Be”
(Google Play | Amazon)



ANDREW JAMES

10. Underworld – “Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future”
While I’m not too into clubthumping, I am most definitely into melodies and layers of sound. Underworld has been around for a while now and partly thanks to their collaborations with one my favorite film makers, Danny Boyle, I was introduced to them and my life is that much richer for it.
(Google Play | Amazon)

9. William Tyler – “Modern Country”
While it might not end up standing the test of time, the fact that this is basically Explosions in the Sky courtesy of The Grand Ole Opry hits me right here: *gazes at shoes*
(Google Play | Amazon)

8. Band of Horses – “Why Are You OK”
I more or less wrote off this particular herd a few years ago as their output just felt repetive and increasingly lazy. I feel they’ve made a real attempt to further themselves; or perhaps they’ve just matured a bit since their last couple of efforts. I’m getting a 70s Pink Floyd vibe here along with some Smashing Pumpkins, Silversun Pickups, Keane and other influences that tickle my special bone. Yet they’re still very much themselves. A great listen from start to finish.
(Google Play | Amazon)

7. Radiohead – “A Moon Shaped Pool”
“Possibly the most overrated band of the last 30 years,” he said as he placed them at no. 7 on his favorite album of 2016 list.
(Google Play | Amazon)

6. Posture & The Grizzly – “I am Satan”
One night on a luxury cruise through hell, Green Day got pretty tipsy by the pool and ran into Band of Horses. After some talking about their inspirations aspirations (and after several more Pabst Blue Ribbons), they retired to Green Day’s cabin and the make-out session started. “Just the tip,” said Band of Horses. 9 months later, Posture & the Grizzly arrived – and I think my favorite album cover art this year.
(Google Play | Amazon)

5. Kamaiyah – “A Good Night in the Ghetto”
I think I started listening to this 90s rap throwback ironically. But soon I found myself getting looks as I sang it through the hallways at work. I sip it out da bottow.
(Google Play | Amazon)

4. Blood Orange – “Freetown Sound”
A couple/three years ago, Blood Orange handily topped my favorite albums of the year list. While they don’t quite escalate to the same level of transcendence in 2016 as they did for me then, this is still a deeply soulful experience that makes me wanna dance, sleep, meditate, fuck, punch the wall, scratch my dog’s belly, eat breakfast, watch Silence of the Lambs and paint the ceiling all in the same 58 minutes and 30 seconds – not necessarily in that order though.
(Google Play | Amazon)

3. Kevin Morby – “Singing Saw”
Log cabin rock.
(Google Play | Amazon)

2. The Avalanches – “Wildflower”
Brings me back to a simpler time of black and white television, big band swing, disco and singing into a can. Wait, was all of that a thing at the same time?
(Google Play | Amazon)

1. Shearwater – “Jet Plane and Oxbow”
Kind of a last minute entry as I didn’t realize it existed until another author in this post pointed it out. Yet after only a handful of listens is solidified as one of the best of the year. It’s maybe not the most musically progressive or advanced as other albums this year, but “Jet Plane and Oxbow” gives me the feels; every song FEELS.
(Google Play | Amazon)

HM:
Close Encounters – “All Too Human (EP)”



COREY PIERCE

15. Deftones – “Gore”
(Google Play | Amazon | YouTube)

14. Mike Doughty – “The Heart Watches While the Brain Burns”
(Google Play | Amazon | YouTube)

13. Miike Snow – “iii”
(Google Play | Amazon | YouTube)

12. Dillinger Escape Plan – “Dissociation”
(Google Play | Amazon | YouTube)

11. Beyoncé – “Lemonade”
(Google Play | Amazon | YouTube)

10. Panik Attack – “Start:Decline”
(Google Play | Amazon | YouTube)

9. Birdy – “Beautiful Lies”
(Google Play | Amazon | YouTube)

8. Marty Topps – “LIVE! from Ricoh Coliseum”
(Google Play | Amazon | YouTube)

7. Radiohead – “A Moon Shaped Pool”
(Google Play | Amazon | YouTube)

6. Devin Townsend Project – “Transcendence”
(Google Play | Amazon | YouTube)

5. Biffy Clyro – “Ellipsis”
(Google Play | Amazon | YouTube)

4. Gojira – “Magma”
(Google Play | Amazon | YouTube)

3. Ingrid Michaelson – “It Doesn’t Have To Make Sense”
(Google Play | Amazon | YouTube)

2. The Black Queen – “Fever Daydream”
(Google Play | Amazon | YouTube)

1. Haken – “Affinity”
(Google Play | Amazon | YouTube)


JIM LACZKOWSKI
(The Director’s Club Podcast)

2016 was an exemplary year for music. For me personally, it was a year of discovery. I broke beyond indie pop rock into God-knows-what with my choices for #1 and #10 especially. I’ve never listened to noise jazz or heard much by Scott Walker, but when I did, it felt akin to a child making a discovery all on his own that would later refine his tastes and interests. Both the work of Scott Walker and Mary Halvorson are challenging, unrelenting, and difficult. There is no adherence to the verse/chorus/verse structure and they actively create dissonance to the point of migraine. My cats had to leave the room. But there was something about both discoveries that year, which bookend my list, that I find great comfort in. The fact remains, I can still discover new sounds and genres that are exciting and abrasive, somehow tapping into a love of music from a completely different place. It’s akin to watching foreign cinema after being an ignorant American for so long, but jazz is its own bizarre anomaly that never appealed to me in the past.

The virtuoso jazz guitar-playing of Mary Halvorson somehow gave me goosebumps, made me shake my head in disbelief, and allowed me to be enthralled with something that most people (outside of maybe Frank Zappa) would probably run away screaming from. With that said, if you choose to seek out my choices for #1, prepare yourself for something jarring and truly groundbreaking. But again, it is propulsive instrumental jazz rock only with the noise factor of Sonic Youth. To close the list of favorites, Scott Walker created one of the most intense movie scores this side of Johnny Greenwood’s work for There Will Be Blood. Seek out the track “Opening” from The Childhood Of A Leader soundtrack and prepare to be blown away by an orchestra that was likely conducted by the ghost of Stanley Kubrick. The rest of the list is far more accessible beginning with the indie rock record of the year by Big Thief, and you’ve probably heard of some of the bigger names on here to know if they are your cup of tea or not. Happy listening and may you have a rocking 2017.

10. Scott Walker – “The Childhood Of A Leader” (soundtrack)
(Google Play | Amazon)

9. Lucy Dacus – “No Burden”
(Google Play | Amazon | BandCamp)

8. Radiohead – “A Moon-Shaped Pool”
(Google Play | Amazon)

7. Frank Ocean – “Blonde”
(Google Play | Amazon)

6. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – “The Skeleton Tree”
(Google Play | Amazon)

5. A Tribe Called Quest – “We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service”
(Google Play | Amazon)

4. John K. Samson – “Winter Wheat”
(Google Play | Amazon)

3. Beyoncé – “Lemonade”
(Google Play | Amazon | YouTube)

2. Big Thief – “Masterpiece”
(Google Play | Amazon)

1. Thumbscrew – “Convallaria”
(BandCamp)
~ and ~
1. Mary Halvorson Octet – “Away From You”
(BandCamp)


BOB TURNBULL

10. Valley Of The Sun – “Volume Rock”
How apt an album name is that? Very! Not a ballad or even a ballad-y moment anywhere to be seen. Just a true stomping RAWK record front to back.
(Google Play | Amazon)

9. Meniscus – “Refractions”
Though I loved the post-rock records released by several bands this year (pg.lost and 52 Commercial Road almost made this list), this long-awaited (at least for me) album by Meniscus made my top ten about half way through my first listen. Chock full of slow builds, gradually shifting repeated phrases and fantastic drumming, the band creates a real sense of atmosphere throughout while also hitting several raucous crescendos per song.
(Google Play | Amazon)

8. Causa Sui – “Return To Sky”
Heavy instrumental proggish post-rock. At times chugging and shuffling through head-bopping riffs, these 5 long tracks also ebb and flow through quieter patches that help the songs slowly pull the listener in until it’s too late to escape.
(Google Play | Amazon)

7. Cool Ghouls – “Animal Races”
A lovely album filled with power pop filtered through 60s psychedelic Byrds-like chiming guitars. The title track is one of the catchiest damn earworms of recent memory – you’ll be happy you can’t shake it from playing on repeat in your head
(Google Play | Amazon)

6. Comet Control – “Center Of The Maze”
The metal lineage of Toronto band Comet Control is undeniable, but their second album reinforces their embrace of melodic psych pop. Great production layers 60s harmonies and additional instrumentation on top of fuzz guitar and thundering bass & drums.
(Google Play | Amazon)

5. Bob Mould – “Patch The Sky”
Likely my favourite Bob Mould solo record since 1990’s “Black Sheets Of Rain” and equal in the consistency of that early 90s great one-two melodic guitar punch of “Copper Blue” and “File Under: Easy Listening” (from his band Sugar). Mould sounds absolutely fresh both vocally and lyrically throughout and his band kicks butt. Play it loud and often.
(Google Play | Amazon)

4. Bombino – “Azel”
Irresistible grooves, riffs and rhythms pour from this record for its entire duration. Mixing some great afro-pop guitar playing with some of the energy of Algerian rai music (along the lines of Rachid Taha), the whole album is a superb bright syncopated mix that keeps you bopping and bouncing.
(Google Play | Amazon)

3. Fernando – “Leave The Radio On”
Singer songwriter Fernando gives a wall of sound feel to his mid-tempo beautiful melodies. The songs open up from simple tunes that feel somewhat sleepy into grand powerful sweeping music for swaying back and forth to. “Save Me” is a contender for song of the year.
(Google Play | Amazon)

2. Mondo Drag – “The Occultation Of Light”
Leaning more towards the prog-rock side of the psychedelic spectrum than Comet Control, the third album by Mondo Drag is a headphone listeners multicoloured dream. Mondo riffs, trippy effects, touches of Krautrock and some superior keyboard/guitar work throughout make this a perfect distillation of some of the best aspects of 70s rock.
(Google Play | Amazon)

1. The Record Company – “Give It Back To You”
My overall record of the year with my fave and most played track of the year (“Off The Ground”), this is a rollicking blues based set that retains all the war wounds of playing the seediest bars while showing the cockiness required to be able to walk out their front doors. The music even smells like stale beer.
(Google Play | Amazon)

 

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Sean Kelly
Guest

I actually didn’t buy that many full albums this year (with me doing a lot more listening on Spotify). As such, I’ll just list off all the albums I actually threw down money for (roughly ranked).

1. David Bowie – Blackstar
In timing that was both excellent and horrible, Blackstar came out a mere two days before David Bowie’s death. As such, it was a very difficult album to actually (physically) acquire for me. However, when I finally did (after ordering it off Amazon), I can say that the wait was worth it.

2. Sing Street – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Featuring both the original songs and the 1980s hits that inspired them, I love the soundtrack for SING STREET almost as much as the movie.

3. Metallica – Hardwired… to Self-Destruct
I bought this album (my first time getting a Metallica album) based both on strong reviews and the fact that it was on sale on Boxing Day. I’ve only listened to the first disc so far, but it does indeed rock hard.

4. Moby & The Void Pacific Choir – These Systems Are Failing
It has been more than 17 years since Moby hit it big with 1999’s “Play.” These days Moby seems a lot more involved with his political activism than music, though this mindset has spread to this first album from his new musical project The Void Pacific Choir.

Not unlike his 1996 album “Animal Rights,” “These Systems Are Failing” is a much more rock-based album than Moby is typically known for. The end result is very enjoyable (and politically charged) protest album.

5. Amy Lee – Recover, Vol. 1
Before releasing her children’s album last fall (you read that right), the Evanescence lead singer released an EP featuring covers of songs by Portishead, U2, Led Zeppelin, and Chris Isaak. Her cover of Zeppelin’s “Going to California” is particularly good.

6. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
I have to admit that despite instantly liking songs like “Burn the Witch,” the other songs on this album takes a few listens to get into.

David Brook
Guest

I finally caved and signed on to a music streaming service this year, so I’ve been getting carried away with never-ending playlists. Due to this and my incredibly anal listening ‘rules’, I haven’t listened to many recent albums more than once or twice, so I found it hard to formulate a true list. Here are some that I did get to a few times though and a handful that impressed me after only one or two listens:

Listened to a few times and loved:
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Melt Yourselves Down – Last Evenings on Earth
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Aparat – Aparat
Animal Collective – Painting With
ANOHNI – Hopelessness
Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger
Joachim Kühn New Trio with Chris Jennings & Eric Schaefer – Beauty & Truth
Aki Rissanen – Amorandom
The Comet is Coming – Channel the Spirits
David Bowie – Blackstar

Only one listen, but they sounded great:
Black Mountain – IV
Ryley Walker – Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution
Christine And the Queens – Chaleur Humaine
Daniel Romano – Mosey
Marissa Nadler – Strangers

James
Guest

RtJ3 is amazing. Not sure it’s of the year material but it’s certainly the only thing I’ve been spinning lately. Also, i love this article/tradition.

Sam
Guest

I don’t have a ranked list, but my favorite albums of the year would definitely include, in alphabetical order:
Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Glass Animals – How To Be a Human Being
Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam – I Had a Dream That You Were a Mine
Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3
A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
White Lung – Paradise
Whitney – Light Upon the Lake

Though I also do agree with the Kamaiyah, Blood Orange, Bowie and The Avalanches albums as being great as well.

Also, way too many albums that I didn’t get to listen to as well.

Craig
Guest

In the last few years, music has taken a backseat to films so I can’t justify doing do a top 10. I mostly listen to the stuff I grew up which is basically stuff from 1999-2009. However a few records I’ve enjoyed this year:

Ignite- A War Against You
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXHjAS-QwLs

Gost- Non Paradisi
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1KNzcSflLE

Fury- Paramount (great live too)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQOC8pP1RnY&t=46s

Witchthroat Serpent- Sang Dragon (Pure Electric Wizard/Sabbath worship)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYbyyDhdnUE&t=213s

Death By Stereo- Just Like You’d Leave Us, We’ve Left You For Dead EP
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70dqNNPldgI

Katatonia- The Fall Of Hearts
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrcxyehySJc&t=86s

True Love- Heaven’s Too Good For Us
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adIL9IG5PS4

Merchant- Suzerain (crushing Sludge/Doom to give you nightmares)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5pOv59CTOM&t=510s

Knuckledust- Songs Of Sacrifice
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2wzlT9qaYU

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