Favorite Music of 2016

Favorite albums

David Bowie – Blackstar

There’s almost nothing I can say that hasn’t been said by every critic this year. It’s an impressive album by any standard, even Bowie’s, and the context makes it only more resonant. The title track and “Lazarus” are especially haunting — thank goodness the song in between includes the line, “She punched me like a dude.”

Bob Mould – Patch the Sky

With his third album in four years, Mould gives us melody wrapped up in noise to the usual great effect. It also shows how much of a guitar virtuoso he is in fills like the one in the chorus of “You Say You.”

Split Single – Metal Frames

Jason Narducy writes great, melodic songs that land in the sweet spots among Bob Mould, The Who, and Cheap Trick. Then he recruits talented people to play with him (and sometimes star in videos about his elbows). This time it’s John Stirratt and Jon Wurster, and the results are predictably awesome. Also, I can’t get “Untry Love” out of my head.

Pinegrove – Cardinal

Earnest and literate, this album is full of earworms that sound world-weary but live in a far more emotional space. Going from a rocker like “Then Again” right to the slower “Aphasia” shows where this band can go.

School of Seven Bells – SVIIB

Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis wrote this album before Curtis’ death in 2013, and the results are in turns mournful and celebratory. Lead single “Ablaze” embodies both at the same time.

Nada Surf – You Know Who You Are

Leave “Popular” behind. Nada Surf has been turning out good to great rock albums for twenty years. This one is a joyful one, partially influenced by Matthew Caws’ recent wedding. Doug Gillard’s guitar adds muscle and texture to serve the songs.

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

Much was made of their use of a riff from the Cars, but this album shows Car Seat Headrest is the next generation of Guided by Voices. There’s even a song that sounds like “Motor Away.” Plus Will Toledo is 24 and has recorded ten albums since 2010, emulating Pollard and company. Guitar rock isn’t revolutionary at all, and yet somehow Toledo’s music makes you feel like it’s all new again.

Wussy – Forever Sounds

This album is dark and gothic, with more than a touch of absurdity to balance the music (see “She’s Killed Hundreds”). “Donny’s Death Scene” especially stands out to me with its cinematic lyrics and music to fit the mood.

Radiohead – A Moon-Shaped Pool

Hey, look – a Radiohead album out of nowhere! As usual, it’s especially rewarding through headphones, where you can pick up all the barely-there flourishes and textures. I like how organic it feels, though I’m sure it was meticulously constructed.

Fitz and the Tantrums – Fitz and the Tantrums

This year’s guilty pleasure. “Hand Clap” was one of the songs of the summer, and the whole album basically follows from that song. It’s not especially complex, but when you’re having so much fun maybe it shouldn’t be.

Concerts and events

  • Bob Mould at Metro (I even got to go on the nostalgia trip of walking to the box office and buying tickets)
  • The Smart Studios Story premiere at Music Box Theatre, featuring Wendy Schneider, Steve Marker, and Butch Vig
  • Growlers at Thalia Hall
  • Split Single with The Kickback at SPACE Evanston
  • Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs at the Oriental Theater

Other notable albums

  • Allah-Las – Calico Review
  • American Football – American Football (2016)
  • American Wrestlers – Goodbye Terrible Youth
  • Black Marble – It’s Immaterial
  • James Blake – The Colour in Anything
  • Burnt Palms – Back On My Wall
  • Hayes Carll – Lovers and Leavers
  • case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs
  • Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
  • Chook Race – Around the House
  • Cool Ghouls – Animal Races
  • Crododiles – Dreamless
  • Cymbals Eat Guitars – Pretty Years
  • Dead Gaze – Easy Travels
  • Deerhoof – The Magic
  • Diarrhea Planet – Turn to Gold
  • DIIV – Is the Is Are
  • Dinosaur Jr. – Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not
  • Dirty Nil – Higher Power
  • Eagulls – Ullages
  • Field Music – commontime
  • Flyying Colours – Mindfullness
  • Fog – For Good
  • Eleanor Friedberger – New View
  • Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing
  • Garbage – Strange Little Birds
  • Ghost Wave – Radio Norfolk
  • The Good – Concessions
  • PJ Harvey – The Hope 6 Demolition Project
  • Hinds – Leave Me Alone
  • Holy Balm – Activity
  • Holy Ghost! – Crime Cutz
  • Hurry – Guided Meditation
  • Into it. Over it. – Standards
  • The Julie Ruin – Hit Reset
  • LVL UP – Return to Love
  • Steve Mason – Meet the Humans
  • Merchandise – A Corpse Wired for Sound
  • Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost
  • The Monochrome Set – Cosmonaut
  • Nap Eyes – Thought Rock Fish Scale
  • Frank Ocean – Blond
  • Of Montreal – Innocence Reaches
  • Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN
  • Operators – Blue Wave
  • Parquet Courts – Human Performance
  • Paws – No Grace
  • Pity Sex – White Hot Moon
  • The Real Numbers – Wordless Wonder
  • Robert Pollard – Of Course You Are
  • Porches – Pool
  • Preoccupations – Preoccupations
  • PUP – The Dream is Over
  • Real Numbers – Wordless Wonder
  • Abi Reimold – Wriggling
  • Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Talk Tight
  • Savages – Adore Life
  • Savoir Adore – The Love That Remains
  • Andy Shauf – The Party
  • Sioux Falls – Rot Forever
  • Sonic Avenues – Disconnector
  • So So Glos – Kamikaze
  • Tacocat – Lost Time
  • Teenage Fanclub – Here
  • Tegan and Sara – Love You to Death
  • Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – A Man Alive
  • Thee Oh Sees – A Weird Exits
  • The Thermals – We Disappear
  • Underworld- Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future
  • Viola Beach – s/t
  • White Lung – Paradise
  • Wilco – Schmilco
  • Woods – City Sun Eater in the River of Light

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