Top 10 of 2016, pt. 1

When Leonard Cohen sang “You want it darker,” he was probably referring to his own music and mortality, but I’ve come to believe that those four words are the ultimate representation of music, culture and politics in 2016. My article from two weeks ago really gives the full intro to this year’s top 10, but if you just want the nutshell: darkness, depression, loss and defeat, but hopeful, because why not?

10. Garbage — Strange Little Birds
Twenty years on and Garbage has made one of their best records. Yes, it’s unfair to compare anyone’s recent work to something they did two decades ago, but we all do, and that’s how the game is played. Just the same, this new LP gives me a lot of the same emotions I got when I first heard “I Think I’m Paranoid” or “Only Happy When It Rains” or even “#1 Crush,” which will always be an all-time favorite. But, I’ll stack any of those classics against “Empty” or “If I Lost You” any day. Shirley, Butch and those other guys have found a groove that’s deep with melody and raw emotion, one of the few of their class still able to grab onto it.

9. Iggy Pop — Post Pop Depression
Having Josh Homme produce this album from the godfather of punk has turned out to be one of rock’s greatest collaborations. The two gave us everything we’ve ever loved about Iggy — that drunk-and-sexy swagger in his vocals, lyrics that are as confrontational as they are flippant and music that can be hard driving and then immediately gentle. It’s a fun record, and it’s a scary record, which is basically the life and legend of James Osterberg Jr.

8. Bon Iver — 22, A Million
Admittedly, I was skeptical on first listen. Had Justin Vernon become so full of himself that he was starting to turn from artist to artiste? From beat to beatnik? But that wasn’t the case. With time comes realization, and that’s when these songs really start to make sense. Bon Iver had actually accomplished the near-impossible, and that was to offer something new in a day and age when we usually celebrate when someone just rediscovers something that hasn’t been done to death. 22, A Million takes old tricks, flips them upside down, and then filters them back again. You can hear those still-surprising ‘80s influences like The Outfield and Bruce Hornsby, but the way he pushes them out sounds as if they had been blessed by George Carlin’s Rufus character in a far-off future.

7. De La Soul — And The Anonymous Nobody
There were some great comebacks in 2016, but none took the opportunity to create something entirely different from their legend as De La Soul. There’s no flower power and very few samples and sometimes there’s not even rapping for most of the song. Using a studio band with freedom to jam, the trio found their favorite grooves to bed their verses. What we got were multiple genres, out-of-the-box pivots and surprising guests. The result was something that put ego aside for the bigger picture, a work of art entirely.

6. Lucius — Good Grief
There’s so much melody in every song, and it feels like there is a hook every other line. Yet, it’s not overloaded, bloated or vanilla, which would usually happen with this level of pop songwriting. Luckily, they keep it weird when it needs to be, angry when it had to be and playful when you wanted it. I think we played more songs in regular rotation off of this album on WFPK than any other record this year, and I could have played several more just as much. And, as far as concert moments went for me, the feeling I got watching Jess and Holly growl through the ending of “Gone Insane” with such heightened fury is not a moment I’ll forget anytime soon.

And that’s part one. I’ll roll out my top five in two weeks, which is long enough for me to change my mind another dozen times… as long as D’Angelo doesn’t pull another last-minute surprise. As always, there were more that I would have liked to have jammed in here, but alas, since it’s only a top 10, a shout out to honorable mentions Parquet Courts, Knox Brown, House Ghost, Quilt and Regina Spektor. I loved all of your albums, but when push comes to shove, I guess I liked these a little bit better. Can we still be friends?

To be continued….