My favorite albums of 2016

Not to be confused with “the best” albums of 2016. I didn’t hear everything that was released in 2016. Heck, over at Bandcamp, they said that something like 11,000 vaporwave albums were released in 2016 alone. Not that I listen to vaporwave. But the same could probably be said of any number of genres.

So the only claim I can make is that I probably listened to all or part of ~300 albums in 2016, and these are the ones that truly stuck with me:

A Giant Dog – Pile

No record had more spins in the car, or the office, or the headphones, than this one. My only theories about why this isn’t topping every list in America are that (a) critics apparently draw conclusions based on band name & album cover art without bothering to listen, or (b) America hates fun.

Horseback – Dead Ringers

What is Horseback, exactly? Occasionally black metal; nearly always a meditative examination of tone, texture, space, drone. Whatever you thought it was before, this album forces yet another expansion. The most beautiful album I heard this year.

Rebar – Rebar

This album was recorded ~20 years ago; I’ve had a CD-R copy of it for most of that time. But it was only in 2016 that the members of this greatest of all Greensboro bands finally got around to mastering & releasing it, in all of its woozy glory. Remarkable “indie-rock” played at all the wrong speeds.

https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/rebar1

Al Riggs – Breakdowner and the Hungry Months

Al released three full albums and a half-dozen singles in 2016, and they were all excellent. Why did I pick this one to highlight? Probably because the leadoff track, “Hungry Months,” still gives me chills every time I hear it.

Body Games – Damager+

Bandcamp is awash in electronic music, but there are precious few artists with this level of talent at melding beats, melodies, wrenching samples, and the human singing voice. I can’t understand why this isn’t huge. Maybe people are scared of how it makes them feel?

Mannequin Pussy – Romantic

Sophomore outing from this astonishingly great Philly band. Imagine everything good about 90s grunge (& post-grunge Alternative) but with all the tedious boring stuff (boy singers, guitar solos, multiple verses, instrumental bridges) stripped away. 11 songs, 18 minutes.

Davidians – City Trends

Three former members of the greatest NC hardcore band of all time (Double Negative) join forces with midwestern transplant Colin Swanson-White, whose mindblowing guitar playing is simultaneously not hardcore & yet totally hardcore. Big hollowbody guitar, judicious application of weird flanging & chorus effects, shitloads of whammy bar.

SubRosa – For This We Fought the Battle of Ages

This Salt Lake City doom band finally perfected their sound — centered around two stereo-panned violins & three majestic women’s voices — on this, their third album. It’s “metal,” unapologetically, but if you’re a casual music fan, it’s probably utterly unlike what you think “metal” sounds like.

Zeal and Ardor – Devil is Fine

A thought experiment — ersatz field recordings of [satanic-seeming] faux black spirituals & chain-gang songs, melded with black metal instrumentation — turns out to work so well that it becomes one of the great albums of 2016. Which has subsequently been mostly removed from Bandcamp, leaving just a couple of songs behind.

Flock of Dimes – If You See Me, Say Yes

Flock of Dimes is Jenn (Wye Oak) Wasner’s solo side-project; this is their debut album. Though Jenn’s rep is as a great guitarist, the instrumentation here is dominated by synths. But the featured sound throughout is Jenn’s glorious voice. Lyrically & metrically the vocal lines are pretty complex, even as they’re backed by synth tracks that are by turns lush-n-simple, blippy, and/or occasionally K-pop or Afropop influenced. It’s rare for the backing music to simply support her voice & mimic the vocal melody, which makes this a far more interesting & repeat-worthy album than it might initially appear to be. It’s pretty clear that Jenn has spent a lot of time with Joni Mitchell’s 70s and 80s catalog, in the best possible sense.

Bubbling under, as the chart ppl used to say:

Angel Olsen – My Woman
Radiant Beings of Light – Carnatio
Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows
Liquid Asset – Colony Denied
Holder’s Scar – Public Acid
Goat – Requiem
Howls of Ebb – Cursus Impasse
Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä
Ian William Craig – Zugzwang for Fostex
Sarah Louise – Solo Acoustic Vol. 12
Krallice – Prelapsarian
Year of the Cobra – In the Shadows Below
Chateau – Moons Over the Slaughter

This year I tried something new, compiling lists quarterly, and tweeting them out. I managed to remember to storify the first two quarters, but failed to do so for the third, so I’ll just post those lists here in one place. I don’t have easy answers as to why some things made a quarterly list but didn’t stick with me — taste is a fickle thing, and so is longevity. Looking back, I do think my final list skews towards the 2nd half of the year — an artifact of my always seeking out something new, I suppose.

First Quarter:

Savages – Adore Life
Al Riggs – Breakdowner & the Hungry Months
Professor Toon – Take Notes
Blursome – Age
The Astounds – The Astounds
Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä
Ian William Craig – Zugzwang for Fostex
Body Games – Damager
Naked Naps – The Middle

Second Quarter:

Jenks Miller & Rose Cross NC – Blues from WHAT
Colin Stetson – SORROW: a reimagining of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony
Dogs Eyes – Measure the Earth
Konvoi – S/T
A Giant Dog – Pile
Zeal and Ardor – Devil is Fine
Phatlynx – Loosen Yer Belt!
Rebar – Rebar
Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust
Liquid Asset – Colony Denied
Howls of Ebb – Cursus Impasse
Al Riggs – Blue Mornings

Third Quarter:

Al Riggs – Night Freedom
Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows
Horseback – Dead Ringers
Ryley Walker – Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
See Gulls – Curtain Call
SubRosa – For This We Fought The Battle of Ages
Magpie Feast – To Keep It All Spinning
Dex Romweber – Carrboro
Sylvan Esso – “Radio”
Angel Olsen – My Woman
Flock of Dimes – If You See Me, Say Yes

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to extrapolate what my fourth-quarter list would look like.

Finally, if you really like lists, I just posted the WXDU Top 101 NC Releases of 2016 over at that website. That list is compiled by adding up plays by all WXDU DJs, so it’s far more than just a reflection of my personal tastes, although I did review + add over 70% of the albums listed.

My favorite albums of 2016

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