TEN FAVORITE ALBUMS:
Contrary to every other list covering country music, Shine On Rainy Day is the best record out of Nashville. Probably the most under-appreciated this year. There’s absolutely no reason Brent Cobb isn’t being lifted up like Stugrill, Kacey, Stapleton, and Margo. This is the warmest of records, and small in the biggest of ways. Stunning songs, like a redneck Paul Simon.
A celebratory and hopeful record spinning in 2016, against all odds: Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book. The season-closing SNL performances capped it off with an unfuckwithable exclimation point. Music forward, confident as hell, serious as hell, and fun as hell!
The Growlers record City Club is a Strokes album you wish existed, soaked in Southern California. This time, they’re produced by Julian Casablancas, which turns out to be a huge win, but the songs are goddamn strong on their own. Hooky as can be, with swagger like few rock and rollers can muster just now. This made me go back and check out albums I’ve missed from the The G’s over the years, and they’re all totally good right back to the debut! These guys seem to exist on an island their own, full of happy boys and girls!
Rihanna is an artist I’ve paid attention to 0% of the time over the past 10 years, but Anti grabbed onto me toward the end of the year, and I’ve been on it constantly for the past several weeks. I had not heard, seen, or understood anything about the release of this record, the delays, her back catalog, etc. I had heard a few singles over the years and that’s it, so zero context. I was/am shocked that this is pop music. “Kiss It Better”, “Never Ending”, and “Love on the Brain” are racking up endless plays, but I love the whole thing (save that track with Drake, which I think blows). Without a doubt the most sexually charged music in my life now, and maybe ever. The artwork for the LP is also insanely good.
Hiss Golden Messenger: Duh, of course, perfect record, got two Hiss tattoos this year, blah blah blah, Heart Like A Levee, best live rock band going, just getting started, etc etc etc. Most anyone who knows me has heard me ramble on about this album, but lots of people still to convert. I recommend the title track as your starting point, and then lucky you: It’s five or so more full-lengths with several singles and EPs for you to dig into, all great!
Car Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial feels like an internet-kid version of Modest Mouse, or maybe someone else’s Pavement or GBV. Is this kid under 27? “Destroyed By Hippie Powers”, “1937 Skatepark”, “Drugs With Friends”, and fucking “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” have all ripped my guts out countless times alone in my kitchen. Alone in my kitchen with guitars!
Catfish and the Bottlemen made 11 songs all about girls, and thinking/doing almost all the wrong shit. Everything this dude sings is tripped up and backward from a rational, adult perspective. Perfect for teenagers and 20-somethings, and apparently me, too. The Ride sits in that big-radio rock slot on my list; touchstones for me are of the Killers and Oasis variety.
Kevin Morby’s Singing Saw reminds me of Europe. Like his previous album, this one soundtracked overseas travel: airplanes crossing oceans, long walks thru empty late-night streets in London, sad times mostly. Kevin nailed his thing here perfectly, another weighty entry in the catalog under his own name.
The brainiest of my picks this year is a record Nap Eyes named Thought Rock Fish Scale. This was the first great album of 2016 for me, and I’ve come back to it over and over throughout the year. The story is that this one, like their last debut, was recorded live with no over-dubs, punch-ins, or trickery. It’s alive, dark, confessional, and weird. Love it.
Bon Iver’s 22, A Million has to be the record I listened to most this year. In particular, “Creeks” and “Million” played back-to-back loud as fuck worked like mantras for me at various points along the way. This record is a very specific moment in time. Curious to see how it’s gonna age; the emotional content and production might burn too bright to hold on in terms of forever and ever. But for right now, it’s perfect.
ALSO REALLY LIKED THESE TEN LPs:
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam Lennon vibes rise to the top for me. Rostam did well in giving Ham’s voice an open lane in these arrangements and mixes, which are both vibrant and shadowy, classy and risky. I’m sure it’s not the way they’d want me to feel it, but I Had A Dream That You Were Mine sounds like a great Walkmen record never made, or maybe the one Rostam imagined back in the Columbia dorm when Vampire Weekend was just getting going and Walkmen were NYC cool.
Amanda Bergman is the best singer America has hardly heard. I love her debut full-length Docks, truly can’t complain a bit, but will note I also miss the rougher edges of her stuff recorded under the Idiot Wind band name. Amanda seemingly has songs and melodies for days, and you should most definitely tune in.
Drive-By Truckers American Band: “What it meeeeaaaannnnss.” DBT have been a blind spot for me all along, even with constant recommendations from tons of people whose tastes I love and line up with. This new record, with a title I can’t ignore and artwork I want to keep looking at, has a few songs that should not be ignored.
Conor Oberst’s Ruminations makes me worry for him. Sparse, dark, and sadder than hell. The second half of his catalog stands very fucking steady with real tunes and performances showing up again and again. A friend said something specific to this album: “Yeah it’s good, but the harmonica can fuck off, I probably don’t need to hear anyone play the harmonica again unless it’s Neil Young or Dylan.” He’s probably right, it kicks me out often through this one. But, another very real mid-career (hopefully) album.
The Dead Tongues Montana is a gorgeous record I’m almost certain you didn’t hear. The band might be like Hiss Golden Messenger 5 or so years ago; maybe just record store nerds for now, but one to watch grow.
Noname Telefone is most certainly only going to creep further. I dug in on this one late in the year, and am very comfortable in the singular space she’s created. Can’t wait to keep going with this.
Explosions in the Sky is a band I’ve always assumed I like, but don’t listen to. However, The Wilderness served me well so many times while in transit this year, and I have to include a nod. It’s meditative, pretty, committed, and subtle. I’m mostly not one for instrumental music, but this is beautiful shit.
Frightened Rabbit’s Painting of a Panic Attack is probably the record that suffers the most from being a great, clever indie rock record. The classification is heavy, restrictive, and horrible these days!
Angel Olsen is a badass. My Woman has to be the most consistently high-praised record of the year, and I’ve got zero problem with that! My favorite music industry tweet of the year comes from her manager & boyfriend (another badass) Mark Capon: “Annoyed for a minute that Angel didn’t get a Grammy nom, then realized that’s something people like Grizzly Bear complain about. We DGAF!”
Lambchop’s discovery and complete personalization of auto-tune on FLOTUS means I’m 100% cool with 10-15 minute songs. I found myself around this dude a few times this year in Nashville. Picked up good vibes, but also complicated thoughts! What if you’re him, here in Nashville forever in almost-obscurity, and now “New Nashville” is all around you… yuck!
TRIED TO GET INTO, BUT HAVEN’T. NOT GIVING UP THOUGH:
LOVED SINGLES AND EPs FROM:
TEN FAVORITE BOOKS I READ (not necessarily published this year):
My Struggle - Books 1, 2, 3, and 4 by Knausgaard are my favorite books, maybe ever. 2000 pages in and only barely bored a tiny little bit during Book 4. I'm hitting pause until Book 5's English translation is available with jacket art matching the rest of my collection.
I read far fewer music-related books than usual this year, but two of them fucking ruled: Girl In a Band by Kim Gordon, and Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein! Both very clear and readable, packed with great stories and vibe.
Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana is a roadmap, actual clear instructions, but I’ve yet to actually incorporate much of it. This book is almost not-religious, which is best for me and probably you, too, but it is direct and pointed. I found it almost confrontational toward the end, which is a new take on practice to this beginner mind.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen Fucking King and The Art of the Memoir by Mary Karr better stay with me, my god please keep some of this stuff with me this year as I try to get more into writing a book and less into thinking about writing a book.
Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar is sad and heavy and everyone should read it.
The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer is a candidate for my favorite novel of all time. Reads like a Catcher in the Rye without being referential or nostalgic. It’s UK-setting was pertinent to me, but I think it would have sunk it’s teeth in just as hard regardless. I can’t recommend this enough.
I’m very self-consciously and kinda embarrassingly putting Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love on this list. I didn’t read all of it, but the first section came at a good time for me this year by recommendation.
I loved The Lonely City by Olivia Laing, but I definitely didn’t come out of it appreciating being alone.
VARIOUS OTHER FAVORITE THINGS TO NOTE:
Night Market in Nashville, the first week of October. Indiana Dunes trip with Mary Lynn, Amelia and Rye. Dustin Yellen’s artwork (look at this stuff!) at Pioneer Works which is my favorite modern art I’ve ever seen up close and in person. Morning business calls with Brad Cook, writing and remembering this story about Pedro the Lion for Fidelity High, a visit to my childhood home with my sister, Warren the merch guy for Hiss Golden Messenger (“This dude came to buy a copy of Heart Like a Levee and he ended up leaving with six.”), New Orleans bike tour / Jeep tour with Dan, Michael Stipe showing up seemingly steady and real, Bumper the Cat who is cross-eyed as fuck and pretty good company, London, for fuck’s sake (Geffrye Museum of the Home, March for Europe protest, Ragnar Kjartansson exhibit at the Barbican, backward-ass coffee shop in Shoreditch, Nando’s), Bon Iver with Patti Smith and Hiss Golden Messenger at Hollywood Bowl (one for all time for me personally and seemingly every other human in the audience), Bon Iver at Pioneer Works on December 7 (one of the most inspired and alive Bon Iver shows I’ve seen to date), watching my nephew C. Ray become a dad, discovery of the Bullet Journaling system (as lame and blog-y as it could possibly be), dormroom-style Airbnb hang in Brooklyn with Brad and Stella, Hamilton on Broadway, the days before Christmas in Durham, the discovery of Burton luggage.