Monthly Spins: Best Albums of 2016

December is my favorite month for discovering great new music, mainly because so many Best of 2016 lists are published. I discover dozens of overlooked and previously unknown albums, and for me that is the real point of publishing lists like this; not to create a hierarchical ranking, but as a way of sharing great music that you might not have heard and will come to cherish and be inspired by in the months and years to come.

Whether it be cathartic noise, minimalist drone, electronica or experimental pop, you’ll probably find something on this list that you like and have never heard before. I’d love comments and feedback, especially if you were able to discover and enjoy something from this list and also I hope that you will send me recommendations to check out.

2016 has been one hellacious year in many ways both personally and for the country and world, but I have to say that it has been an extraordinary year for new music.

Angel Olsen: My Woman
Once in awhile it’s appropriate to use the word genius. After her last album I remember thinking, “How can you make a better record than that?” And sweet Jesus here it is. One of the best live performances of the year below.

Available from Bandcamp

Made last year’s best of list as Viet Cong. Changed their name to Preoccupations after some campus nonsense. Made an even better record this year.

Available from Bandcamp

Point Juncture, WA: Me or the Party
These days the mere mention of indie rock might produce an eye roll, but if the template being used is say, the vitality of a Yo La Tengo or American Analog Set, (rather than the twee preening of a Car Seat Headrest), then Point Juncture, Wa’s double album release is a slumbering, slow-mo revelation. And a thanks goes out to Henry Rollins for putting this 1# on his KCRW list.

Available from Tidal

Cross Record: Wabi Sabi
Certainly one of the most beautiful, haunting and through and through accomplished albums released this year, created by Emily Cross and her husband Dan Duszynski, who recorded the whole thing in their home town of Dripping Springs, TX. I’ve come back to it many times over the year.

Available from Bandcamp

Jenny Hval: Blood Bitch
A perfect counterpoint to the misogynistic howl that was 2016.

Available from Bandcamp

Katie Dey: Flood Network
A stylistic and innovative effort by one of our best composers of post-rock, experimental pop. See also her stunning first effort asdfasdf.

Available from Tidal

Moor Mother: Fetish Bones
It’s not that I disliked Lemonade, it’s just that Fetish Bones did not seem as slick, calculated or solipsistic, nor did it have 71 writers listed in the credits or billionaire marital woes—jus the shtreet an hardcore beats. Hailing from Philadelphia, Moor Mother describes her work as 'low fi/dark rap/chill step/ blk girl blues/witch rap/coffee shop riot gurl songs/southern girl dittys/black ghost songs.'

Available from Bandcamp

Boris: Pink
Technically a reissue from the Japanese band's genre shattering 2006 EP, there are nine previously unreleased tracks that turn this into what we critics like to call a "sprawling" double album-length chunk a chunka fest. At times a tour partner to Keiji Heino and Merzbow, recording partner to Sunn O))), Boris meander through shoe gaze, ambient, early metal, but essentially it's a long, extraordinary rock and roll, headphone happy dream.

Available from Bandcamp

Danny Brown: Atrocity Exhibition
Too Black, too strong, too fast, too loud, oh my goodness this is just too…ding dong Detroit phantabulous. Slipbeats, fractured rhymes, and missing teeth.

Available from Tidal

Public Speaking: Blanton Ravine
Listened to this a lot this year and coming back to it again and again I became ever more infatuated with the complexities and beauty to be found on Blanton Ravine, which is the soul creative work of Brooklyn composer/multi-instrumentalist Jason Anthony Harris. Think My Life in the Bush of Ghosts meets Shearwater.

Available from Bandcamp

King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard: Nanagon Infinity
Remember back on Nov 9th when so many people were saying wtf do we do now? I was stumped for days until I heard this album and the evil spell of 2016 seemed to lift. It's better than paying for therapy or deciding to get another cat. Quit wallowing in gloom and smile already. Anyone with a soft spot for Prog and the goof ball spirit of rock and roll will get it.

Available from Bandcamp

Jackie: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Mica Levi
Imagine if you are Mica Levi and you are asked to create the soundtrack for a film about the 24 hour period of time in the life of Jackie Kennedy on December 22nd 1963? I smell an Oscar nod for this one although it's once a decade that something great like Trent Reznor or Elliot Smith are nominated for soundtrack awards. Haunting, spectral and emblematic.

Available from Tidal

Knifeworld: Bottled Out of Eden
If the mere mention of the word—dare I say it—Prog makes you want to sneeze-a-gong then just skip to the next listing. This eight-piece UK outfit led by longtime musician Kavus Torabi (Gong, The Cardiacs) employs two altos and a baritone sax which swings a bit of a big band vibe. A twist on a well-documented genre that might surprise you with its recorded live aesthetic.

Available from Tidal

David Bowie: Blackstar
I resisted this because it always seems like whenever someone of this magnitude passes, whatever their most recent album—however bland and trite—gets on the best of lists. Then I gave it a good listen or two and when I got to the last song I wept. It’s akin to the Johnny Cash video of his cover of "Hurt," when you realize that he knew all along and was saying goodbye. He’d written an epitaph.

Available from HDtracks

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: EARS
You hear all sorts of influences and variations in this music from Terry Riley to Jon Hassell’s and Eno’s early work such as the jewel that is Fourth World Vol. I: Possible Musics. Using among other devices, the Buchla Music Easel, Smith goes all constant surprises and turns the worm.

Available from Bandcamp

Frank Ocean: Blonde
When living through catastrophic events, upheaval and personal tragedy, prayer and chanting are recommended to center the body and concentrate your breathing. On at least two occasions Ocean’s song "Pink + White" was the soundtrack to a spell of rapturous dreaming. Then I woke up. Try it.

Available from Tidal

FRANK OCEAN - Pink + White from Amaury on Vimeo.

Paul & The Tall Trees: Our Love in the Light
This one came out of nowhere and is a pure delight from a stalwart session and touring musician from NYC named Paul Schalda. With a generous nod to the late 60’s sounds of Van Dyke Parks and Harry Nilsson.

Available from Big Crown Records

Ital Tek: Hallowed
Alan Myson has been on a long journey through electronic music with five full albums over the last eight years, but Hallowed finds him casting aside some of his now moribund structures and lapsing into a very dark yet clarifying spatial environment.

Available from Bandcamp

Biosphere: Departed Glories
Norwegian ambient musician Geir Jenssen is Biosphere, an artist who has been investigating site specific musical textures and field recordings for 20 years. Departed Glories is no exception to the excellence we’ve come to expect from this pathfinder. Using samples from mostly Eastern European and Russian folk music, Jenssen ruminates on all of the WWII mass grave sites he stumbled upon while he visited Poland and wondered what sort of music these victims might have used to comfort themselves.

Available from Bandcamp

Jackie Lynn
Haley Fohr (aka Circuit de Yeux) has created a narrative album about a female cocaine cowboy searching for an old lover. This record has been described as alt-country, whatever that might mean, but songs like "Alien Love" are more like Suicide doing Merle Haggard. It’s short and really an EP but anything by this consummate artist has a way of sneaking under your skin.

Available from Boomkat

Kemper Norton: Toll
Sussex-based Kemper Norton has now given us several stunning electronic folk music releases over the last five years. Comic book writer Warren Ellis was an early and vocal admirer and helped propel the band into the public ear. In their own words: "Kemper Norton uses digital and analogue hardware and software, acoustic instruments, field recordings and traditional song to explore neglected…areas of landscape and folklore." Explains Norton, "The album explores themes of vengeance, destroyed communities, the perils of nostalgia and myth, and the idea of home. The concept of the land (and sea) turning toxic and threatening grew stronger during the creation of the album, partially as a result of wider social and political events."

Available from Tidal

I’m honored and grateful to be joining the gang at AudioStream, contributing a monthly round-up of new music discoveries that I think are worth a listen.

HBS9's picture

Some I'm familiar with, some I'm not. Which I suppose is the whole point. Thanks!

grantray's picture

That's a really nice list to start off with, and it looks like I've got some catching up to do. Firing up the DAC now...

Steven Plaskin's picture

Welcome Joe! I enjoyed reading your picks for 2016.

Looking forward to your future reviews.


torturegarden's picture

You had some good music on that list. Mine is over here if anyone cares. Short one this year as lists are getting out of hand.

DrJez's picture

For such a thoughtful and diverse list. Quite a number of artists new to me. I'd better get busy! Merry Christmas!

Ejlif's picture

Nice list. I will be checking out any of these I haven't yet heard. I would recommend to you Huerco S "for those of you who have never" I think it would be right up your alley based on some of these favorites. It's one of my top favorites of the year.

Joe Surdna's picture

I've seen Huerco S on a lot of lists and will check it out. Thanks. Also, I checked out torturegardens list and found a few gems as well. Keep the comments and recommendations coming. Hopefully 2017 will be as good a year for music as 2016 was. Cheers