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Music 2016

I decided today that I did want to put some effort into more 2016 wrap-up posts after all. My music thoughts will be in two parts - this list of my 20 favorite albums and a post that accompanies my best-of playlist that will go up on Spotify. I normally do just a top ten list, but I've listened to so much good music this year that I wanted to expand the list. I love music and I want to share that love; hopefully, my few words on each might encourage you to check some of them out...

1. Drive-By Truckers/American Band - I've been a fan of the DBTs for over a decade, so a new album is a no-brainer. This one, however, is their strongest since Brighter Than Creation's Dark in 2008. I think they were energized by the political writing they did for this album, responding to the seemingly endless shootings of African Americans and other gun violence with some powerful songs like "What It Means" and "Ramon Casiano." Not every song is political; Mike Cooley gives us one of his classic story songs in "Filthy and Fried" and Patterson Hood looks at depression on closer "Baggage." The music matches the message, with great rock and strong playing from Jay Gonzalez (who plays more lead guitar than you might think), Matt Patton, and the always sturdy drumming from Brad Morgan. I always like when a favorite band delivers a good record, but I was thrilled that we got a great one.

2. Teenage Fanclub/Here - It's been 6 years since we got a new album from the Fannies and I became an even bigger fan of the band during that time period. Therefore, I was anxious for a new album, hoping it could stand up to my anticipation. Luckily, my anticipation was met and exceeded. All you need to do is listen to the first three songs to get a good idea of the strengths of the band's three songwriters - Norman Blake's "I'm in Love" is romantic power pop, Gerard Love's "Thin Air" is bouncy with a driving lead guitar, and Raymond McGinley's "Hold On" is strummy and contemplative in a way that sneaks up on you after half a dozen spins. The rest of the songs retain the promise of those first three and the result is a great album that rewards repeated listens. Their breakthrough was Bandwagonesque back in 1991; how amazing to get another great album 25 years later.

3. Car Seat Headrest/Teens of Denial - Everything I wrote about this album back in Heavy Rotation #29 still stands. It's really really good.

4. The Jayhawks/Paging Mr. Proust - I can't believe I never wrote about this during the year, because it's been a constant companion since it was released at the end of April. The band put out a reunion album with Mark Olson back in 2011's not my favorite. This album brings back the late 90s/early 2000s lineup, which was responsible for some great material (like 1997's Sound of Lies). They totally live up to that legacy on this album. We get some of that classic Jayhawks sound on "Quiet Corners and Empty Spaces" and "The Devil is in Her Eyes," plus some newer flavors like the angular, synthy "Comeback Kids" and the loopy, Krautrock stylings of "Ace." Three-part harmonies from Gary Louris, Tim O'Reagan, and Karen Grotberg abound, along with some great guitar soloing by Louris. I also have a fond memory of playing it for my brother during one of our many airport trips this year and then getting a text from him showing me he'd bought the vinyl a couple days later. The last line I wrote about the DBTs applies here as well.

5. Martha/Blisters in the Pit of My Heart - I wrote a lengthy entry about this back in Heavy Rotation #29 and I stand by it. How awesome is it to go into a year not knowing a band even exists and then fall completely in love with them? Answer: So awesome.

6. Lydia Loveless/Real - Here's another one I wrote about in Heavy Rotation #29 (I'm not going to bother linking to this anymore, cool?). If anything, I like the album even more now than I did at the time of writing. The songs take a little time to truly give up their secrets. I don't think it's as poppy as I made it out to be either. I also might not have said enough about her voice, which is powerful but also malleable enough for her to not just wail. Good stuff.

7. Big Thief/Masterpiece - Hmm, Heavy Rotation #29 was full of albums I loved, wasn't it?

8. Deep Sea Diver/Secrets - I'll confess that I skipped over this entry as I was typing this up and even now, I'm not quite sure what to write about this album. The songs are all great, but they don't necessarily fit into a category. It's not that they're all dissimilar from each other; they definitely belong together on an album. I love Jessica Dobson's voice and her guitar playing. I love the interplay between the drums and bass. I love the synths that sometimes accent the music and sometimes dominate. However you want to classify it, it's a step up from their good debut History Speaks from 2012. I listened to it throughout 2016 and never got tired of it. That's what you want from an album, right?

9. Modern Baseball/Holy Ghost - Yup, another one from Heavy Rotation #29!

10. case/lang/veirs//case/lang veirs - And another! Look, I don't know why they went for the lowercase thing here, but that doesn't change the fact they wrote some great songs and sang the hell of them.

11. Shearwater/Jet Plane and Oxbow - Hey, I actually wrote about this one way back in Heavy Rotation #28! The good news is that it still holds up. I bought it on vinyl for my cousin when we were at The Sound Garden in Baltimore for another cousin's wedding in April and he loved it too; I'd bought him The Both's self-titled debut when we were there in 2014. This year my brother was with us - I bought him a copy of Elvis Costello's King of America. Also, I wrote only two Heavy Rotations this year...I'd like to try and do 3 or 4 this year, but we'll see. Anyway, I think this is my favorite Shearwater record. Might be time to do a deep dive on the band...

12. Nada Surf/You Know Who You Are - I hadn't spun this album enough when I wrote HR #28 and I'd already spun it a ton and tapered off by the time I wrote HR #29. It's too bad, because this album was a consistent favorite throughout the year and I'm not quite sure how it ended up at #12 instead of higher, but that just goes to show what great music there was. Anyway, Nada Surf delivers more of their melodic power pop here, with lyrics about aging and friendship and more. We get some horns this time around ("Out of the Dark") and a great guitar solo from Doug Gillard ("Friend Hospital), as well as the rambling "Animal" and the great kick of "New Bird." I fell in love with the band and Matthew Caws' songwriting back in 2002 with Let Go and they haven't disappointed since.

13. Fruit Bats/Absolute Loser - I knew of Fruit Bats before this year, but I didn't really know them. I heard "From a Soon-to-Be Ghost Town" on KEXP and liked it, then discovered that my brother's former roommate was the drummer for the album. I listened, loved it, and ended up seeing them perform a couple weeks later. It was awesome. The lyrics are smart and the music is great indie pop/rock. Listen to Eric Johnson croon on "Baby Bluebird" and get hooked.

14. Wilco/Schmilco - Here's another example of how strong a year it was - there was a new Wilco album that I really really like and it's only at #14. This is a quieter album than Star Wars, but there is so much going on. I liked how prominent John Stirratt's bass is throughout and Jeff Tweedy continues his great songwriting run that started on the 2014 Tweedy record. I've listened to this quite a bit, but also feel like I might love it more after another 10 to 20 spins. We'll see.

15. Angel Olsen/My Woman - I'd heard Olsen's music before this year and even gave her last album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness, a couple spins, but My Woman captivated me more than anything else I'd heard from her. The come on is "Shut Up Kiss Me," one of my favorite songs of the year. It's pleading and yearning and rocking and fantastic. The album's music is more varied than that, from the torch song-esque "Intern" to the epic builds of "Sister" and "Woman." Olsen's voice is the glue that holds it all together, powerful and intimate by turns. I've needed to go back to that earlier album, but haven't been able to stop listening to this one.

16. Alejandro Escovedo/Burn Something Beautiful - I've only been into this album for the last month or so and I can't stop playing it. I bought a copy of his A Man Under The Influence when it came out in 2001 and liked it, but haven't listened to anything of his in the intervening 15 years. This album was produced by Peter Buck (who also produced the Jayhawks record) and Scott McCaughey and all three of them wrote the songs. The result is a set of 13 great rock songs, from the glammy "Shave the Cat" to the more languid "Beauty and the Buzz" to the driving "Heartbeat Smile" and the Monster-era R.E.M. clang of "Horizontal." Another positive is that the great Kelly Hogan sings backup throughout, but gets to shine as a co-lead on the excellent "Suit of Lights." If I'd been listening for another month, this might be higher, but I'm just glad it came into my life.

17. Margaret Glaspy/Emotions and Math - This album came out in June and I first gave it a listen at some point after that, but it's only the last month or so that it really clicked with me. The thump and direct lyrics of "You and I" ("Aw, tonight I'm a little too turned on to talk about us/And tomorrow I'll be too turned off and won't give a fuck/About you and I") are a good entry point. The album is full of honesty and guitar and smarts and it burrows its way into your ears as you keep listening. I still don't think I've uncovered all of its secrets and I'm looking forward to listening more and trying to find them.

18. Dinosaur Jr./Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not - Hey, look, it's an album from Heavy Rotation #29! Imagine that. I will quickly say that I love the sludge and guitar shredding of "I Walk For Miles" even more now than I did back when I wrote that. Also, my brother saw them twice this year and I am quite jealous.

19. Black Mountain/IV - This album has three songs that are 8:30 and longer and they are all great. Opener "Mothers of the Sun" is one of those and the song that hooked me; it has a great mixture of synth and guitar and wailing vocals that just gets lodged in your head. The second song is "Florian Saucer Attack" and has some of the same elements, but packs them into a much shorter and punchier shape. I'd bought In The Future back in 2008 and liked it, but this album seems like a different band. I like it when bands do that.

20. Suede/Night Thoughts - Finally, here's another one I wrote about in Heavy Rotation #28. Scroll up for the link and then stay for the dramatic rock music.

Before I close out this post, I also wanted to mention that I had a great year of seeing live music as well. I made it to 5 concerts (Bob Mould, Fruit Bats, Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, and Sloan), which is by far the most I've been to in one year. Each show was great and I had fun, whether going with my wife, friends, or by myself.


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