“Everyday I know that this might hurt, but I don’t care. This is heaven, yeah!”
I wish I could tell you what it is exactly that makes a great album, well, you know…great. I don’t have the recipe on hand. In fact, one of my biggest regrets in life is never properly learning an instrument. I think I would have liked that. But one thing I know for certain, music moves me. No, I may not know the best instrumentation, and audiophiles might consider my choices a bit mainstream, but I know when a song sings to me, as some sing to you. I have thoroughly enjoyed especially (the last 4 years or so) listening to an album that just flows. An album in which you can see that a certain story, vibe, and destination was sought to be met, and the artist in question makes it all work pristinely. While I still love catchy singles, I have come to appreciate the craft of making a cohesive CD far more.
One thing though I must admit, this year in music (for me anyway), didn’t quite compare to 2015. As you will come to see that while I have MANY album choices I have come to love, I do tend to feel that last year’s top 3 fascinating and innovative album choices would have all made the #1 slot this year. But that’s alright, because what 2016 had to offer were MANY solid albums that meet right in my ballpark of musical preferences (soft rock/alternative/pop, with a touch of class and indie). But since there were a good many albums I thoroughly enjoyed, it has been near impossible for me to choose merely 5 (which I cheated on last year), let alone rank them properly. So, what I have decided to do this year is just give you my 6 favorite albums of the year, in alphabetical order (which, if you know my love of “ranking” things, means you’ll know how sacrificial this was for me). But before I do so, please note the many honorable mentions that nearly made it…
As I said, 2016 had many solid tracks. Including the sleek and appropriately titled Songs For The Late Night Home by Anchor and Braille (the pet project by Anberlin’s own Stephen Christian), the rather refreshing Air for Free by Reliant K, the soulful return to form Something Worth Saving by Gavin Degraw, and the welcome back White Album by Weezer. On top of that, I would like to mention that there were a number of albums that I have massive respect for in the art/music department, but the negative/harsh content was just far too steep to add to my list. A few in question were, Beyoncé’s Lemonade, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it by The 1975, Blonde by Frank Ocean, and if ever just slightly, the beautiful and ambitious Joanne by Lady Gaga. And while the albums I will mention still have content you ought to be mindful of, I believe the positive far outweighs the negative. Without further ado…
Wild World – Bastille (8.5 / 10)
A late bloomer in the year for me, mostly due to the fact that I thought my interest in the British band Bastille had diminished, boy was I wrong! What I found instead was an album that develops on every sound and aspect of their already impressive debut album Bad Blood. In short, it sounds like a carbon-copy sequel to the previous record, but in the best and most captivating way possible. It is a fascinating, energetic, and socially relevant album that just seems to get the sound of this modern generation. With a few content issues aside (including a handful of words scattered throughout The Currents and Blame, as well as a negative message in the engrossing Glory), this alternative and indie-rock sounding album seems to attempt identifying our deficits in society, while still motivating an overall sense of unity and change we can all aspire to.
Favorite Song: Send Them Off! is one heck of a catchy arena anthem, and I’ve been particularly addicted to Two Evils as of late.
Least Favorite Song: Lethargy, as of right now, isn’t among my favorite.
I’m Alone, No You’re Not – Joseph (9.5 / 10)
By far, 2016’s biggest and most rewarding discovery for me. While one might tread with caution due to these 3 sisters almost Celtic Women meets Sarah McLachlan vocal vibe going on here. But rest assured, these women are masters at creating beautiful, deep, ambitious, and near flawless tracks that make for an incredible experience. Also, keep in mind that this inspiring album features no negative elements, and features an overall message of confidence and identity to boot. But don’t think that’s all this album has going for it, from the fun rock inspired ballad of White Flag to the magical and haunting lullaby of Sweet Dreams, this folksy/Civil Wars-esque record keeps you engaged and astonished at every turn. Give it a listen, you won’t regret this talented trio’s voices and melodies.
Favorite Song: While the focus is more the album itself rather than a bunch of singles, Hundred Miles sticks out for me.
Least Favorite Song: Hmm, I think it all fits rather nicely.
Cleopatra – The Lumineers (8 / 10)
By a full mile and a half, this takes the trophy as the most somber album of 2016. But that label can be held with massive pride when it is worn with this much humanity. I’ve previously praised this album for the fact that it paints the difficulties and raw tragedy that we might/can/hopefully never must endure in life, but I’ve come to appreciate it far more for it’s very personal story-telling from lead man Wesley Schultz. The entire album, while usually slow and subtle, seeps of a perfect atmospheric picture of tragedy. While I still feel it might have been better paced, and there are still moments of overt negativity (check out my review here), I have come to find the positive elements (including the heart-wrenching) still outweigh the difficult.
Favorite Song: Cleopatra is by far the most humane and intriguing song, but it requires a lot of discretion. Ophelia is great too…
Least Favorite Song: Probably Sick in the Head for its content issues.
Oh My My – OneRepublic (7.5 / 10)
As I previously mentioned, my 2016 selections are a lot less experimental in genre (for me anyways) than 2015 was. Case and point, my next selection; OneRepublic (AKA, my favorite band). You might be asking, “but I thought Andrew had several problems with Oh My My?” and you’d be correct. I still find that the pacing and length is big time against it. But there is still one thing OneRepublic (almost) always has up its sleeves; catchy and infectious songs. Being a die-hard of theirs, it is easy for me, I suppose, to give them the benefit of the doubt. But I found this highly experimental, pop-centered, and global focused album to give forth some of the catchiest and most exciting tunes of the year. Give it another listen! It’s far from perfect, but it’ll transport you on a world-wide journey, which is exactly what Tedder and Co were aiming for (here’s my review for it)…
Favorite Song: The last three tracks are money!
Least Favorite Song: Human and NbHD (while still OK-Decent songs) really let the album drag. If you eliminate those two, the whole album goes up a full score.
Real Emotion – Paper Route (9.5 / 10)
The last two selections, while still alphabetically ranked, were appropriately placed. For they most likely would have taken the #1 and #2 spot, respectively. And to be perfectly honest, I feel as though Real Emotion just might be my personal favorite of the year. For those new to Paper Route, they are in a sense a typical alternative/indie-pop trio, but with a heavy emphasis on 80’s synthesizers, incredible falsettos by lead man JT Daley (who was phenomenal live, even when he had the flu), and a special attention to positive themes. Not much is different with their 3rd studio album, all except for the fact that it is their most mature, creative, and ear-pleasing record to date. Admittedly, I suppose it is possible to listen to Paper Route and pass them by due to disinterest, but for my personal preferences, they happen to be my definitive pop-writers on the market. I don’t know what it is, but their sounds, lyrics, and music just perfectly speak to me. This album branches out toward new heights for the guys, thanks to an overall theme of love lost (which covers the hurt, cynicism, anger, and even closure involved) as well as a well-paced and cohesive direction. Check’em out, you may just discover a new favorite!
Favorite Song: The title-track Real Emotion is very powerful and, well…emotional.
Least Favorite: Chariots, for a standalone single anyways, didn’t do much for me. But as a piece of the puzzle, I have no problem (also, the beautifully subdued Vanisher happens to have a Lord’s name in vain).
Home of the Strange – Young the Giant (9 / 10)
For our final entry, might I put forward (for your consideration), quite possibly the most well thought out and imaginative album of 2016. What I particularly liked about YTG’s new album was that they didn’t feel the need to come out with an over-bolstered 15+ track-list to feel effective. With their 11 quick tracks, you can sense they had a particular story, tone, and destination in mind, and they met it with glorious precision. They also showed just how a modern-day group can branch out into new expanses, all the while still staying true to themselves (with Sameer Gadhia’s lead vocals shining as possibly the years very best). From the moving Art Exhibit, to the Rock-Anthem Something to Believe In, and finally to the personal Titus was Born, Young the Giant branched out into new spectrums, and did so with class and innovative finesse (check out my review of it here).
Favorite Song: Something to Believe In, but it is one of many killer choices…
Least Favorite Song: I was originally not keen on the titled Home of the Strange, but I’ve come to enjoy it (plus the fun Mr. Know-It-All has the sole profanity on the album, and it’s a harsh one).
2016 really was a lot of fun. While it’s easy to get pessimistic over all the unoriginal, negative, and dull Top 40 chart toppers in the world, it’s nice to know there are still plenty of options on the table. Here are a few of mine I hope you benefit from, but what were some of yours? Were there any great selections I let slip through the cracks? I’d love to here in the comments section. But till then, I can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store…