Top 10 Albums of 2016
10. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
I’ll admit that it took a bit for me to get used to Chance the Rapper’s voice – but once it stuck, it really stuck. He’s doing something really special with his music – a clever mix of hip hop and gospel music with some great lyrics and production – all done independent of a label. Coloring Book is a breath of fresh air in what I felt to be a pretty dull year for hip hop.
Listen to: Angels
9. Touché Amoré – Stage Four
Stage Four is the band’s fourth record and revolves around the death of frontman Jeremy Bolm’s mother from (stage four) cancer. You can hear the emotion in Jeremy’s voice when he sings lines like: “I couldn’t worship the god that let her fall apart” or “Everything feels new / Built from catastrophe / Just when I get a hold / It slips away from me.” In a really creative touch, early in the album there’s a line that says, “I haven’t found that courage to listen to your last message to me” and the final seconds of the album is a recording of the last voicemail Jeremy’s mother’s sent to him. The whole album is heavy – both musically and emotionally.
8. Wolves at the Gate – Types & Shadows
To me, this album is all about balance – between melodic vocals vs. harsh screaming, heavy, crunching guitars vs. slower, mellower sections and balancing religious lyrics and imagery with an overall accessible message. There are songs on here that wouldn’t sound out of place on Thrice’s Vheissu or The Alchemy Index, in both the music and the lyrics. Though Wolves at the Gate is an overtly Christian band, the themes running through this album of failure, guilt, redemption and grace can hit home for anyone, regardless of personal religious beliefs. It’s a dark but uplifting record that keeps me coming back for repeat listens.
Listen to: Chasing the Wind
7. Forevermore – Integral
I wasn’t expecting this much heavy music to end up my year-end list, but this is another great album. Forevermore have upped their game with both their musical skills, as well as their songwriting. Integral is a concept album based on the theory of spiral dynamics – that each stage of both human life and civilization undergo shifts as they evolve. It’s an interesting concept and the music and lyrics behind it are equally engaging.
Listen to: Noumina
6. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
At this point, Radiohead could put out an album of pure static and we’d all still listen to it – but luckily they didn’t, and their ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool, is one of their most creative yet. The band seems to have taken aspects from all their past records and melded them together. The result is a dark and engrossing listen with some beautiful string arrangements and haunting lyrics.
5. Architects – All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us
I’ve been a fan of Architects since their 2007 album Ruin and this seems like the perfect culmination of their sound throughout the years – heavy, epic metalcore with fierce and emotional vocals. This album hits especially hard, as just months after its release, lyricist and guitarist Tom Searle passed away from cancer. This cast the entire album – with lyrics about sickness, mortality and accepting death – in a whole new light. From Memento Mori, the final track: “Swan song: a declaration of endlessness / I swear I will not look back, as I return into the black / When the veil lifts, how will I know? Will I see God?”
Listen to: Gone With the Wind
4. Frank Ocean – Blond(e)
Frank Ocean’s much-delayed follow-up album to 2012’s Channel Orange was well worth the wait. It’s easy to hear all the time and effort that went into these songs, with a great mix of hip-hop, R&B and indie, with Frank Ocean’s amazing voice and some really creative production. The stripped-down, minimal sound is modern without being trendy and the lyrical themes – nostalgia, fame vs. loneliness, masculinity vs. femininity – reveal something new with each listen.
Listen to: Nikes
3. Silent Planet – Everything Was Sound
I’m not sure what else I can say about this album that I didn’t write about in my review. All I’ll add is that if you like heavy music with creative, meaningful lyrics dealing with very heavy topics, check this album out.
Listen to: Nervosa
2. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
Another long awaited release that didn’t disappoint. Justin Vernon and Bon Iver have taken their established indie-folk sound, chopped it up with electronic samples and glitches and produced an album that’s sometimes abrasive and awkward but always creative and fresh. The best description of this album I’ve heard was someone on Reddit describing it as “if Kanye West went camping”… which, needless to say, isn’t for everyone but it sure is for me.
Listen to: 33 “God”
1. Polyenso – Pure in the Plastic
Polyenso remains one of the most creative bands out there, always pushing the envelope of their music. I would have been happy with an album just like their 2013 classic One Big Particular Loop, but Pure in the Plastic is something completely new and completely amazing. It’s been in my recently played ever since it came out in April and every listen I notice something new – an electronic flourish here, a new vocal effect there. The genius of this album lies in the production, and the art and experimentation of the band really shows in every detail of every track.
Honorable mentions: My Woman – Angel Olsen, Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown, Care – How to Dress Well, The Altar – Banks