2016 was an odd year for music. But at least Bowie left us a masterpiece on his way out the door.
If I were doing my year-end ratings and reviews the way I used to I have no idea what I’d make of 2016. It started horribly, with David Bowie, one of the most influential geniuses in rock history, releasing Blackstar and then dying almost immediately. He was followed, in short order, by a lot of other people, including Prince, Paul Kantner, Glenn Frey, Sharon Jones and 2/3 of ELP.
So it seemed like every good new release was tempered, to a degree, by the fact that the Reaper was taking more than his share. Which meant, I think, that I never got into my usual new music groove.
Regardless, 2016 did present us with some wonderful sounds across a range of genres. I have compiled a couple playlists for you, if you’d like to explore what I listened to this year in more depth. First, there’s the great big 2016 list which has all the full CDs, plus a few one-offs. Then there’s the Best of 2016 sampler, which will give you a quicker feel for these artists, some of whom you may not know.
Here’s the executive briefing.
- Blackstar is, honestly, hard to listen to. It’s Bowie working a creative vein that isn’t in line with my favorite work of his, but moreso it’s a constant reminder that one of my heroes is dead. I will never be able to listen to it fairly, I’m afraid.
- Green Day’s American Idiot was, I thought (still do) the most important CD of the decade of the 2000s. The Bush administration asked dire questions of our culture and AI gave voice to our rage and resistance. If we needed Green Day back then, just imagine how badly they’re needed now.
- The new CD from Leisure McCorkle is the best thing he has ever done, period. He’s been an exceptional practitioner of NC jangle guitar pop for a long time, but on this disc we find other influences working their way in – a little Steely Dan here, a little Smiths there, moments that jack you straight back into Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque, and here and there harmonies that make me wonder if he’s been listening to America lately. (I detest America, but this works really well.)
- 2016 gave us one from Baron Bane and another from lead singer Ida Long, which as always is a bit more avant, while the BB is lusher and more tuneful. In all cases, though, you can’t help being moved by their sense for romantic drama, which manages to engage and compel without ever manipulating. Wonderful stuff.
- Bob Mould is his usual noisepop self, but this time he’s got a little more to say.
- As you’d expect, I love the sophomore effort from The Lovely Intangibles, although I begin to fear that The Lost Patrol might be no more. TLI was conceived as a side project for TLP’s Stephen Masucci and Michael Williams as singer Mollie Israel stepped away to have a baby and pursue a stand-up career. I don’t know if she’s coming back, though. If not, and if TLI becomes Masucci’s and Williams’ full-time focus, then the good news is the two of them plus Mary Ognibene (formerly of Dotsun Moon) are their own kind of cinematic surf-inflected Americana-noir wonderful.
- Speaking of Dotsun Moon, Rich Flierl gave us A Swan’s Song this year, and hopefully that’s him bidding farewell to a phase in his musical history and not to the project itself, which has been consistently wonderful. As I noted back in July, the disc is a tad schizophrenic, containing as it does tracks from earlier sessions with Ognibene as well as newer material. There’s a continuity, though – talented artists evolve and transition without losing touch with their creative core – and I can’t help anticipating the next chapter in the career of a very talented musician.
- Lush, one of the landmark bands of the English Shoegaze movement, broke up after their drummer committed suicide in 1996. This year, though, they returned, albeit briefly, with a four-track EP. For a moment it was as though they never left.
- Speaking of brief returns, Space Team Electra, one of my two or three favorite bands in history, regrouped for a one-show reunion 13 years or so after calling it quits. It was among the most wonderful nights of my music-listening life. They finally officially released Kill Apollo, which they originally recorded more than a decade ago, in the spring. So this isn’t really a new disc, but it’s technically new, and that’s all I need to include it here.
- Matthew Grimm continues to be a nagging voice for justice and progress, whether the masses are hearing it or not. Grimm Reality vol 1 is something we need more of.
- I’ve always sort of thought of Fitz & the Tantrums and Mayer Hawthorne in the same terms – white boys working the neo-Soul movement in their own ways, great songwriters, great performers. But they have wandered in different directions these last couple outings, with Fitz pursuing a more contemporary pop audience while MH explored the possibilities of an updated Detroit-Philly Sound axis. The new one from F&tT is very good at what it sets out to do, and if what I hear listening to commercials and noting what’s on the music services in restaurants and retailers is any indication it’s paying handsome dividends. But I feel like he’s getting further away from what was best about him. Hawthorne, on the other hand, just gets more and more interesting.
- While we’re on the subject of neo-Soul, St. Paul & the Broken Bones can do no wrong. This year’s Sea of Noise, is meditative, melodic, soulful as hell, and driven by a more mature sense of theme and songcraft than their superb debut. And they’re just what, in their mid-20s?
- I’ll say it again: The Raveonettes have been the best band in the world over the past decade. It isn’t just that their music is so innovative and brilliantly executed, it’s that they seem to jack out another CD every damned year. How they can combine quality and quantity the way they do is a wonder. This year, instead of releasing a conventional disc, they did a track a month for the year. Which, in the end, adds up to – guess what? – another freakin’ awesome record. Check their spin on an updated Neverland.
Here’s artists and CDs on this year’s list.
|Ashbury Heights||The Looking Glass Society|
|Bat For Lashes||The Bride|
|Bob Mould||Patch The Sky|
|DREAMERS||This Album Does Not Exist|
|Fitz and The Tantrums||Fitz and The Tantrums|
|Garbage||Strange Little Birds|
|Ida Long||Rainbows & Tears|
|Julien-K||California Noir – Chapter Two: Nightlife in Neon|
|Leisure McCorkle||5000 Light Years Beyond the Speed of Sound|
|The Lovely Intangibles||Air & Numbers|
|M83 w/ Mai Lan||Junk|
|Matthew Grimm||Grimm Reality, Vol. 1|
|Mayer Hawthorne||Man About Town|
|On Dead Waves||onDeadWaves|
|Rick Springfield||Rocket Science|
|Space Team Electra||Kill Apollo|
|St. Paul & The Broken Bones||Sea of Noise|
|The Shelters||The Shelters|
|The Slants||Something Slanted This Way Comes|
|The Struts||Everybody Wants|
|Weezer||Weezer (White Album)|
For your listening enjoyment, here’s the Best of 2016 sampler playlist mentioned above.
Here’s the full playlist, with the complete albums.