Top 10 of 2016 — Part Two

5. Trashcan Sinatras — Wild Pendulum
Trashcan Sinatras were never famous in the mainstream sense, but during their college radio heyday of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, they were continuously producing some of the best pop-rock of the era. They’ve managed to stay under the radar for the past 25 years, but not because their music wasn’t worthy of the attention. With this newest record, the Scottish band not only made their best yet, but one of the year’s best. Unfortunately, it once again went unheard by the masses, but it is worth every beautiful minute. From the instant singability of “Ain’t That Something,” to the lush string arrangements heard on “I’m Not The Fella,” or the sample heavy “All Night,” it’s got something to satisfy every bone in you.

4. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds — Skeleton Tree
This is a record of the purest, darkest heartache that can be felt. It’s a collection born from the moment no parent should ever have to face. These are the songs that Nick Cave wrote after his son died. Cave, a master of darkness, found a new, lower level as his muse. It’s painted in textures of blacks and grays, and yet it’s entirely beautiful. Starting with even the opening title, “Jesus Alone,” and the refrain “With my voice / I am calling you,” it doesn’t take long to realize the journey that you’re in for. It’s raw emotion. It’s also a landmark high for one of the greatest artists of our time.

3. Leonard Cohen — You Want It Darker
Much like Bowie (see below), we didn’t know what our artist knew upon release of his final album — that he was dying. But, all of the signs were there. From the now famous line, “I’m ready, my Lord,” in the title track to songs like “Leaving the Table” — yet, we still were surprised when the great poet did pass on. That may be because Cohen was known for writing about death and religion throughout the decades, but this set had something none of his others did, which was an actual goodbye. Beyond the lyrics, we were treated to monk chanting, slow bassline grooves, and piano and guitar that called back to his other hallmarks. And like any great album, I can get something new out of it with every listen, as well as a title that I’ve borrowed to define all of 2016.

2. Beyoncé — Lemonade
Lemonade isn’t just one of the year’s best LPs: It should go into the canon of greatest albums of all time. This is the record that took Beyoncé from musician to artist. At this point, it’s her Ziggy Stardust, her Purple Rain. It’s an album that speaks of societal pain as much as her own marital hardship. Most artists spend a lifetime trying to write something that is universal and personal at once and rarely succeed, but Lemonade does all of that and over incredible collaborative music and structures. On top of all of that, the accompanying visual album/mini-movie is its own work of art.

1. David Bowie — Blackstar
The title track was the first single. It’s a 10-minute avant-garde jazz piece that was different from anything Bowie had done before, which was saying something. Then he released “Lazarus,” which was instantly hailed as one of the best singles of his career, which was saying something. The Friday that the album dropped, I woke with a purpose, rushed out of the house to work, closed my office door and hit play. Five listens later, I was as spellbound as the first. The horns, time changes, amazing drumming and vocals are unlike anything I’d ever heard Bowie attempt. Where was all of this coming from? How was he able to conjure something like this so far into his career? Sure, this is David Bowie, a master of innovation, but even the truest believers didn’t expect this level of artistry. Two days later, he was dead. The album went from being a great piece of music to a puzzle, a game, one that we’re still playing nearly a year later. That opening cut sings “something happened on the day he died,” which couldn’t be truer. We now look back and see that The Death of David Bowie was the first pillar in a dark year for the arts. Dark as it might have been, its results were a mountain of masterpieces, art of the highest degree executed by the gods and masters themselves. By example, that’s a bright light leading us all forward. •