I think we can all agree that 2016 was not a great year. From terrorist attacks to deaths of beloved celebrities to the tumultuous presidential election, it’s easy to compile a list of 2016’s lowlights. What has been lost in this sea of let-downs and despair is the amount of great music that was released this past year. Once again, I’ve compiled a list of some incredible albums that hail from a wide range of genres. Give the final 20 a read through and a listen. I’m sure you’ll find something you also enjoy, and maybe you’ll discover something that strayed beyond your listening peripheral in 2016.
2016 has been a comeback year for “the album” with artists like Beyonce, Chance the Rapper, Radiohead, Drake, and Kanye West dominating news cycles with the surprising arrivals of their new full-length albums. I see this as both a blessing and a curse. As a fan of the long-form listening experience, I love that albums as a whole are getting love in the age of Spotify playlists and Pandora radio. On the other hand, many of these albums do not deserve the hype that surrounds them (i.e: Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book pales in comparison to his last effort, Acid Rap, and Drake’s VIEWS might be the most uninspiring, uninteresting albums of 2016). Lost amidst all of this album release hoopla is a lot of the great music not getting the attention it deserves. That’s where we here at BDWPS come. Below you will find 20 original, rousing, and memorable albums that you should have been listening to instead of wasting your time with the latest Rihanna album.
(All of the albums on this list were released before June 1st. I set this cut-off date to ensure I’ve had ample time to listen and connect with albums before placing them on the list.)
City Sun Eater in the River of Light
As I watched Woods put on a stellar show at the Turf Club in St. Paul, Minnesota on Tuesday night, I had a strange image cross my mind during the performance of one of their latest tracks, “Can’t See It All”. As the song’s brooding bass line slink into my psyche, an image of a snake entered my mind. It seemed like a random vision, and I chuckled to myself at the weird places my brain can take me during a concert. But as I watched the band continue to play a set composed largely of material off of their latest, City Sun Eater in the River of Light, I began to think about how this band has been able to slither its way through the past decade, shedding skin with each album and returning with a fresh new take on psychedelic folk rock.
A few days ago I posted the first 20 in my “Top 40 Albums of 2014” list (check it out here). Below you will find this year’s edition of what I consider the top 20 albums of the year. You’ll find albums from varying genres and possibly a few albums that are new to you. I think it’s important to note what I define as a top caliber album. Great songs are always a plus, but more important to me is the ability of an artist to create a series of songs that tell a story, that convey an overall theme, that complement each other, and that make the listener think differently about the human experience. We are moving into an age where most consumers are more concerned with hit songs, which is why I feel compelled to highlight those musicians that have stayed honest to the age-old art of The Album and created something that’s about the whole and not a couple catchy songs.
While reading No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan several months ago, the fact that Bob Dylan grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota struck a nerve with me. Not that I didn’t already know Robert Zimmerman’s hometown; what caught me off guard was the way author Robert Shelton described Dylan’s disdain for small town life. Being a fellow small town Midwest boy who couldn’t wait to escape, I felt a spiritual connection to Bob, like maybe that internal yearning for bigger things is what has always drawn me to his music. On the first page of the biography, Shelton encapsulates the mining town: “Hibbing had dug its own grave with sixty years of mining shovels, now only good for burying miners.” This description reminded me of my hometown that imploded when the Morrell’s meat packing plant left town three decades ago. As the book went on to describe the very familiar scene of empty storefronts and prevalent backwater conservatism, I decided I had to visit Bob Dylan’s hometown, a seven hour drive north from where I grew up.
On this month’s episode we jump between new music from Woods, Hamilton Leithauser, Spoon, and Open Mike Eagle to classic tracks from Soundgarden, Aimee Mann, Wugazi, and Bob Dylan. Check out the new episode HERE or suscribe on iTunes (search keyword: BDWPS).
Woods “Moving to the Left”
Hamilton Leithauser “11 o’ clock Friday Night”
Soundgarden “Girl U Want”
Spoon “You Do”
Aimee Mann “Save Me”
Open Mike Eagle “Golden Age Raps”
Wugazi “Another Chessboxin’ Argument”
Bob Dylan “Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind”