Here is my annual countdown of top albums. I actually kept up on it throughout the year, and things are much better researched as a result. I tried to listen to all the big name artists and my favorite artists as they came out in 2016. And if I had extra time, I listened to genres I like or names I thought sounded cool, or whatever Spotify suggested. This might be my best work yet! From last 2016 album that made the cut, to my top choice for 2016’s album of the year:
26. Melissa Etheridge: I was pretty surprised myself at how far down the list her album felt. The main problem? Trying too hard, and it’s a pretty grave error. I gave leniency to artists who tried something different (and fell a little short), who only came away with 1 or 2 songs I liked, or who just kinda did the same thing they’ve always done and sounded boring as a result. But Etheridge, is lower, because it’s like she feels a little washed up and is insecure. I liked “Born Under a Bad Sign” but it’s a cover and let’s face it, Homer Simpson sings that like a boss. Melissa needs to regain confidence, have a message again, and regain some passion.
25. Alicia Keys: I wanted to like it. I like the stripped down, no makeup cover. I like the message of empowered women. I did not, however, and unfortunately, really like the album. I wanted it to be more piano-driven. I wanted more range in the singing. I wanted it to be a little softer. What I got was a LOT of 1990’s throw-back, complete with pseudo telephone call interlude and everything. I got a toughness. I got disappointed. I didn’t hate “Blended Family” and I thought “Pawn It All” with it’s soul/blues vibe was the stand-out song.
24. Bon Iver- Experimental and jarring. I liked the last albums because it was calming and relaxing. This one is definitively-NOT. I can see he was trying to do some avant-garrd electronic, but the music lost it’s dreamy, meditative quality in the process.
23. Bruce Springstean: I like this album better than I like his other stuff (not at all). It sounds like a blue-collar worker that just got off a double shift and stepped up on the kariokee stage–a beer in hand, of course. It’s gritty and rugged.
–>>We’re entering the neutral zone. Nothing really BAD, but not super-interesting either<<——-
22. Gavin DeGraw: I can hear influences of Maroon 5 and Bruno Mars. It’s OK, but DeGraw needs to find his own voice.
21. The Head and the Heart: I saw these guys open for Dave Matthews Band at the Gorge one year. And I don’t remember a thing about them. This album is much the same. There is nothing wrong with the music. It’s pleasing, it’s plesant enough, it’s fine. It’s just hardly worth mention.
20. Hank Williams: This bawdy tavern album should precede this fictional evening of frightened rabbits. It’s amped up, energetic, and rowdy–as it should be. Nothing new here though. One Trick Pony.
19. Frightened Rabbits: It’s Irish music after the party. When everyone has passed their drinking limit, and the raucous singing and jigging is done, and people are passing out or crying. Still an integral part of the scene, but certainly not the upbeat story of the beginning of the night.
18. Brittany Spears: Is ever the perky, dancy pop star in this new (and every previous) album. This time she seems to have more command. The lyrics indicate she’s taking control and will not be pushed around. The tracks are intentional.
17. Dawes- Easy-listening. It’s good background with nothing wrong about it. The reason it doesn’t rank higher, is that it also has nothing particularly interesting about it either.
16. Elton John: I have always liked Ser John, from the crazy-saucy 1970’s-1980’s sing-alongs to the quieter, more reserved “Peachtree Road” and “The Diving Board” CD’s. This album falls in with the more subdued fare, and that’s fine. But compared to the previous 2 albums, it’s a little. . . Dare I say, boring.
15. Kings of Leon- Hipster rock. It’s a staple. It’s good in the car. It reminds me of Seattle. This album is a good effort-though there’s not a “Sex on Fire” stunner ready for radio. “Around the World” does come closest to main-stream appeal.
14. James Vincent McMorrow: This music is chill. Good for background. It’s the type of album you would play for a quiet dinner party or to relax in the tub. It’s the vibe Bon Iver used to be–before all that experimental SOUND intruded.
13. Sum 41: What a surprise entry! I did not expect much from this band-a decade past its peak. I was happily pleased to hear a still punkish, but more mature set. “The Fall and the Rise” rivals anything by Green Day. It’s throbbing beat and rebel lyrics really open up the album and made me want to hear more. “War” is another winner.
12. Lady Gaga: I can’t decide if I’m inspired or annoyed by Lady Gaga’s career directory. She ripped off the Club Kid dress code, introducing it to the mainstream as if it were her own. And now she’s shamelessly stealing Madonna’s singing arc, going from pop hits, to more serious fare. It’s a good recipe for longevity, but I’m not so sure I’m ready to hear her more serious side (and see her business acumen in action). And I stand by my opinion that the Superbowl’s national anthem was awful–even if I’m the only one alive who thinks that. But it did help to contribute to the new image of maturity this album is going for. The standout track on Joanne is most certainly “Million Reasons” which shows Lady Gaga isn’t just photo-worthy, but has inspiring lyrics and a good voice. Bottom line-once you get used to the fact the party-phase is over, this album is a sturdy offering.
11. OneRepublic- They used to be one of my new favorite bands. I thought the songs were catchy and I liked the Native American flair of the last album. Except this album is SO electro-pop. A total copy-cat of Daft Punk–who I don’t think are that great. Yeah, I said it. I think Daft Punk is over-hyped. And ‘Oh My My’ is is rip off of that. Still, this review isn’t a dislike–it’s just relative to previous works and other music on this list. Despite my harsh criticisms, I do like several of the songs. “Lift Me Up,” NbHD,” “Wherever I Go,” are catchy, and “Better” a Twenty-One Pilots-eske electro-pap (that’s the word I coined for pop-rap) gets stuck in my head every time I hear it.
10. Green Day- It’s a little wrote. Maybe they’re past their prime. And certainly if the band is still considered (sell-out) punk, it’s barely. But they were one of the first bands I liked, they are one of the most continuously good producers of music, and there are a few stand out tracks. “Bang Bang” is saucy and hard-core, probably the most punk on the album, and maybe for the last few albums. My favorite track, and the best political statement is, “We Live in Troubled Times,” which in light of this Trump victory is a spotlight to current events, and a prophecy of the future. “Revolution Radio” and “Still Breathing” are catchy. The rest are a little tired, but in a dearth of (main-stream) punk artists–still relevant.
9. The Avett Brothers: This album feels more. . . Communal. It’s a sort of folksy, around-the-campfire sound. “Satin Pulls the Strings” has the rock that I look for with The Avvett Brother’s material, but the rest of the tracks were a little lighter fare. Like they have mellowed a little–or are trying to break into that Americana Grammy category. “Divorce Seperation Blues” with the yodelling, harkens a Dude Ranch weekend–whimsical, yet relevant to today. I think this is one of theose albums, that you grow an appreciation for the more you listen. And the nature of this list is sort of listen once and rate. I think I’ll like it more and more when I’m not judging for a countdown.
8. The Lumineers: I’ll be honest–I expected more. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Cleopatra’ is listed toward the top of this list for a reason. I just really, really liked the acoustic partially-bluegrass sounds of their last album. But all that’s gone. The bluegrass portion of the music, anyway. It has that stripped down feel, and unpolished sound that has been secretly perfected. But the foot tapping aspects are no more. Still, “Ophelia” and “Cleopatra” are catchy, radio-worthy high points of the record.
–> getting good<–
7. Michael Buble: We all know Buble is my boyfriend. And I think his business plan of jumping into an empty genre, and pandering to the middle-aged women is a genius. But I was torn this year. I couldn’t decide if the album was–too much pandering and disengenuine, or the result of a true passion for the almost forgotten swing genre. It goes pretty far to the Sinatra crooning sound. I had to take some points off his ranking because the answer to that question wasn’t quite clear to me. But if he does MEAN it, the album is another great work. But certainly intent matters, here. My favorite song, is “I Wanna be Around,” which I could not tell at first if it was a love song or a break up song. Another strong song is the “Nobody But Me, alternate version with trumpet.”
6. Panic! At the Disco: High energy! This album is certainly a rejuvenation for the band. I don’t follow the band members, but the sound leads me to believe a major life obstacle has just been surmounted. Everything feels new and hopeful and exciting. I originally heard one of the tracks in Lake Tahoe, and I felt like I was behind the times. Because it seemed like the song had already broken out ages ago–which was not the case. It just FELT like I missed the boat, because this is one of those albums, then when you listen to it, makes you cooler than you actually are. Also, with original ideas over sampled tunes, this is the newest album, that seems like a familiar, old friend. Each song could be a single. This is a party album, a running mix, and a car-trip standby.
5. Adele: Everything you expect from Adele: The soulful sound, pitch-prefect singing, that longing voice conveying heart ache. It’s a solid effort, and yes, even though “Hello” has been parodied to death–I still think it’s the stand-out track. “River Lea” is also really nice
4. Lukas Graham: A new artist, but so good that the album made my best albums of 2016 list. The first weekend I heard this self-titled album, by this Denmark native, I was ready to make it the number 1 album of 2016. It’s good. I love it. It’s different–piano, rap, R&B, blues, rock and soul can all be heard. The singing holds up, and can almost feel gospel. The lyrics tell a story, and it feels spiritual. My only negative is that the music doesn’t stand up to the test of time for one reason only. I guess America isn’t as family-oriented as many countries, because after a bit, the common mention of family got a little distracting and. . . Tiresome? It isn’t like close family ties are boring or annoying to hear about, but Graham mentions his family in nearly every song–and it IS just this side of too much. But that’s a small complaint.
3. Regina Spektor: I usually have to be in a certain mood to listen to Specktor. And who doesn’t hate that damned, SUPER-long “Orange is the new Black” intro that goes on and on and on while showing creepy pieces of weird faces?! I can’t STAND that, and after like a full 5 minutes it sucks the life right out of me. Especially during a binge-watching marathon–which, P.S. there is no other way to watch the series. We have the fast-forwarding down to a science, and I implore Netflix to only show the intro on the first episode of a season. Because HATE! Anyway, Specktor, or re-GINA (rhymes with female anatomy) as I call her can get too wail-ey and spoken word poetry for me. Normally. I really thought her newest album overcomes all that and is female music without being too much. “Bleeding Heart” could even be a radio single.
2. Beats Antique- A coworker played this, introducing me to the world music, circus, jazz electronic, that I believe has technically been around for years and years already. And as I’ve listened more and more in 2016, I feel like I’ve already been a fan for years and years. The music just attaches in your psyche and resonates. I saw them in concert, and thought their stage show was severely lacking–especially for such an experienced and well traveled band. While the music calls for tigers jumping through hoops, cobras in baskets, and belly dancers, the best they did was stand holding a golden hoop. At any rate, I hope they go mainstream. This album is worldly and electronic, and experimental as ever–like you’d hope. But it also harkens back to Jazz and Blues and makes you feel like you’re sitting in a dark corner of Louisiana enjoying a hurricane.
1. Kaleo: Technically, should be listed under best new artist, but was so great they made it to my best overall album of the year list. Well-rounded and singable, but also seriously substantial. I love “Way Down We Go” with such obvious gospel influence is the leading single. The band is fun to listen to, but by no means lighthearted fare. It inspires thought. Take “Broken Bones” with its folksy, chain-gang feel. It makes me look to history, and acknowledge the fact that music is one of the few places where black people have carved out a platform to talk about their lives, challenges, and political concerns. Rap music didn’t just stem from nowhere. “Automobile” hearkens back to that 1970s story-telling song vibe. And it’s got a catchy hook also. “All the Pretty Girls” sounds like Bon Iver and James Vincent McMorrow, in that it’s quiet and sweet. But I think it’s more catchy than those artists with it’s get-it-stuck-in-your-head ‘won’t you lay me down’ chorus.