Attempting to sum up 2016 in a word would be nearly impossible, but I think everyone can agree on one thing:
It was crazy.
Through all the chaos, this year cultivated a creative explosion in the music industry. It felt like every few weeks there was a revolutionary shift in the charts with crisp songwriting, innovative use of sound, and a reminiscent revival of past decades.
Undoubtedly, rounding up 15 albums was no easy feat, there were so many breakthrough albums this year. Some of these albums I just simply couldn’t put down.
Here are my favorites of 2016 (in no particular order):
1. Anderson Paak- Malibu: Anderson Paak is brimming with soulful sincerity. This album is incredibly fluid and laid back, in no hurry to rush through any music moment. It’s easy to rest in these humble and honest lyrics with the groovy undertones of R&B. Anderson Paak has rapidly established himself as the one to watch in the indie/R&B world.
2. Charles Bradely- Changes: The retro resurgence is here to stay, and no man has taken better advantage of it than Charles Bradley. This album destroys the underdog presumptions and maintains a straightforward approach to true soul music. The delicately placed political moments on this album create a simply fascinating feel and the chemistry between Charles Bradley, and his band is unmistakable.
3. Lake Street Dive- Side Pony: This record has taken over as the music industry’s new addiction. A masterful blend of soul, pop, rock, and Motown, this album is an all-encompassing, irresistible journey from start to finish. The airy harmonies and gleaming retro vibes make this album a staple to own on vinyl.
4. Margo Price- Midwest Farmer’s Daughter: Every music association and record label have cringed in missing the opportunity to work with Margo Price. Jack White, along with Third Man Records produced this modern-classic country album that is laced with punchy lyrics and raw emotion. Margo’s portrayal of the music industry and personal loss is transcendent and unshakably genuine.
5. Chance the Rapper- Coloring Book: Let the independent artists rejoice…there is hope of a successful music career. The sheer audacity of an independent, unsigned artist to release an album to this degree is extremely powerful. There are such spiritual moments in his songs, yet he does not once shy away from life’s harsh realities. This record is unexpected and brilliant.
6. Norah Jones- Day Breaks: It’s no surprise that this highly-awaited album has peaked in popularity. Norah Jones is no doubt a household name. This record shows a new side of Norah that her fan base has been craving. Each song navigates through a variety of music styles that has a refreshing perspective on social injustice. This album is simple in nature, yet leaves a significant impact.
7. St. Paul and the Broken Bones- Sea of Noise: The roots of soul are deeply embedded in each member of St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Few artists can portray an honest version of a widely-know genre, and everything from the vocals to the jazzy brass instruments give a modern nod to soul revivalists. This record is an open book of bar band groovy-ness with invigoratingly deep lyrics.
8. The 1975- I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It: Every moment of this record explodes with energy. These masters of pop have obliterated the pop charts with catchy hooks and 80’s synth beats. Each track seems to be more addictive than the last, and every minute is engulfed in pure glam-rock ecstasy.
9. Kaleo- A/B: The new era of rock-n-roll has arrived in the form of this highly anticipated album. The indie-rock world has been patiently waiting for this resurgence of muddy guitar sounds and raspy vocals. This band’s Icelandic roots create a unique perspective and shatters predictability. From complete grunge-rock to smoldering ballads, this album feels oddly nostalgic.
10. Bon Iver- 22, A Million: This might be the most elusive, cryptic, and creative album of the year. Instead of producing another quiet folk album, Justin Vernon shocked everyone by releasing this album of blended sound samples and looping sound effects. It’s impossible to listen to this album without being completely enthralled in every unique moment. This is proof that indie rock is the most fluid genre out there.
11. Birdtalker- Just This: This local Nashville band established themselves quickly with the release of this album. Their crystal-clear harmonies and clever choice of instruments set this album apart from the others and really defined their position in the “ones to watch” scene. Every song on this album is unique in sound, yet fluid in overall tone.
12. Solange- A Seat At The Table: Move over, Beyoncé…Solange is taking over. This record has a vintage feel, yet brings to life a contemporary indie-rock spirit. Solange’s powerful yet hollow vocals glide over the smooth, rhythmic beats effortlessly. This record is experimental and dreamy without trying to be too much of either.
13. Sturgill Simpson- A Sailor’s Guide To Earth: Sturgill Simpson has transcended the music scene with a strong country sound; somehow he has managed to appeal to more than just country. This album was straightforward and intentional and kept engulfing the listener with gritty, soulful songwriting. This was a defining album for Sturgill, and he certainly seized the moment to rebel against the music industry standards.
14. Wilco- Schmilco: Lead singer Jeff Tweedy is known for his lightly low-key voice, which the rest of the band matches with easy beats and simple guitars–this album has this classic Wilco mark all over. Every small moment in this album keeps the listener engaged…especially with the sweet, sing-along melodies to match. This is a testament to their longevity in the music scene.
15. Drake- Views: This album feels like a nod to not only Toronto but also ties in a free-flowing, diverse Caribbean sound. With the viral release of “One Dance,” the rest of the album was likely to match the popularity of the ones before. Each song has an infectious rhythm and clever lyrics that pulses through the speakers.