2016 in Review

Boy, that was a shit year, huh?
Kent broke up. Majical Cloudz broke up. David Bowie died. As did Leonard Cohen, Prince,  Merle Haggard, Alan Vega, Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, George Martin, Dennis Davis, Maurice White, Olle Ljungström, Freddie Wadling, George Michael, and I'm sure I'm forgetting a few more. And those are just the musicians. And let's not even talk about all the other reasons this was the worst year of my lifetime.
I'm about ready to move on from 2016. And since I'm already quite late to the punch, I'm combining the song and album lists into one post. Expect a lot of half-arsed, lazy and shitty writing.
The 25 best songs of 2016
25. Danny Brown, 'Rolling Stone'
24. Massive Attack, 'Take It There' (featuring Tricky)
23. Kevin Morby, 'I Have Been to the Mountain'
22. Run the Jewels, 'Legend Has It'
21. Iggy Pop, 'Break Into Your Heart'
20. Animal Collective, 'FloriDada'
19. Savages, 'Adore'
18. Håkan Hellström, 'Elefanten & sparven'
17. Ghost, 'Square Hammer'
16. Jeff Rosenstock, 'Wave Goodnight to Me'
15. Kanye West, 'No More Parties in L.A.' (featuring Kendrick Lamar)
14. Leonard Cohen, 'You Want It Darker'
13. PJ Harvey, 'The Wheel'
12. Marching Church, 'Lion's Den'
11. Xiu Xiu, 'Falling'
10. Car Seat Headrest, 'Fill in the Blank'
Just a great rock song. Well-structured, catchy, and the best guitar riff of the year.
9. Anohni, '4 Degrees'
Anohni's voice is the very definition of vulnerable, which makes it all the more striking how forceful she's being on '4 Degrees'. It's a booming, gorgeous, terrifying song. And it's about climate change denial. So, fun times all around.
8. Radiohead, 'True Love Waits'
This song existed only in live recordings for well over 20 years before being recorded. It took me a while to wrap my head around this very off-kilter piano arrangement, but it finally clicked. What Thom Yorke used to belt out, he now sings with a cracked, dusty falsetto that sells the song's tired vulnerability that much more. True Love Waits is one of Radiohead's best songs, and now it has the studio quality to prove it.
7. Angel Olsen, 'Shut Up Kiss Me'
A fantastic, rockabilly-ish song that demands, and deserves, all your love and attention.
6. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, 'Magneto'
One of the most hypnotic songs of Nick Cave's career. Like a lot of the songs from Skeleton Tree, the instruments are barely in time and barely there, giving it a circling-the-drain kind of atmosphere. The lyrics are remarkable. During the choruses, I find myself holding my breath.
5. Moses Sumney, 'Lonely World'
It starts out small and jazzy. Before long, the vocal hook kicks in, bass and drums join it, and the song shoots into the fucking stratosphere.
4. The Drones, 'To Think That I Once Loved You'
A song so good I kind-of-but-not-really stole it. It has a creeping build that finally unlocks with the second chorus, when Gareth Liddiard's massive voice hits against the eerie harmonies like a sledgehammer. It's nice, is what I'm saying.
3. Bon Iver, '8 (circle)'
Justin Vernon wrote such a great verse melody he barely leaves it for the entire song. I'm not complaining. And as much as I love his falsetto, he has never sounded as good as he does here, stretching out his lower, earthier register to gorgeous effect.
2. Kent, 'Förlåtelsen'
The synth line that functions as the beating heart of this song sounds like it should have existed for decades. The vocal is perfectly phrased, every word and intonation a thing of wonder. The outro is almost overwhelming. The fact that this isn't even Kent's best song is a good indicator of why they are my favourite band of all time.
1. David Bowie, 'Blackstar'
I've loved David Bowie's music for years, but it was only after he died that I went through his entire discography, start to finish. With that in mind, I can say in no uncertain terms that 'Blackstar' is one of his greatest songs, meaning it's one of the greatest songs of all time. It goes from being terrifying to beautiful to kind of funny and campy and back to terrifying over 10 minutes. It has a saxophone solo so breathtakingly perfect that the song could've ended after three minutes and it would still be my favourite song of the year. 'Blackstar' is made up of familiar enough parts, but the whole is unlike anything I have ever heard. Best song of the year.
The 10 best albums of 2016
10. Angel Olsen, My Woman
In 2016, Angel Olsen finally became great. My Woman splits itself down the middle, with bouncy rock songs in the front end and wailing ballads in the back, and she really nails both versions of herself.
Essential tracks: Intern, Shut Up Kiss Me, Heart Shaped Face, Sister
9. Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial
A sprawling, ambitious indie rock record. Will Toledo is a wordy, intellectual and very clever lyricist, but more than that he's a very skilled songwriter who will drag songs out for 7, 8 or 11 minutes without becoming tedious. Plus, it kind of fucking rocks.
Essential tracks: Fill in the Blank, Vincent, Destroyed by Hippy Powers, Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales
8. Jeff Rosenstock, WORRY.
One genre of music I felt pretty sure in thinking I had no interest in whatsoever was pop-punk. Then I heard Jeff Rosenstock, so I guess pop-punk is okay (but Green Day can still go fuck themselves). The songs on WORRY. are loud, fun and catchy from start to finish, and Jeff seems to blow out his voice on just about every single song. Also, he - somehow - ends the album with an Abbey Road-style medley, and it is - somehow - amazing.
Essential tracks: We Begged 2 Explode, Pash Rash, Wave Goodnight to Me, I Did Something Weird Last Night, HELLLLHOOOLLE, The Fuzz
7. The Drones, Feelin' Kinda Free
The Drones are Australian, and make quite a bit of social commentary about Australia in their lyrics. Most of it is over my head, but there's no mistaking their harsh, cynical attitude. Singer Gareth Liddiard sounds like if Glen Hansard grew up listening to a lot of Nick Cave. The music is fuzzy, creeping and all over the place. There's also a great song about the Taman Shud case, one of the weirdest unsolved murder cases ever. So it's educational, too.
Essential tracks: Private Execution, Taman Shud, Then They Came for Me, To Think That I Once Loved You
6. Xiu Xiu, Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks
Few artists who cover songs manage to fully capture the spirit of the original while making it their own. Xiu Xiu manages this for an entire album. Xiu Xiu make weird, creepy, broken music, which is a perfect fit for the Twin Peaks soundtrack. The instrumentals are louder and more menacing, and the songs that do have vocals are even moodier and more theatrical. Then there's 'Josie's Past', which is either unlistenable or a stroke of genius.
Essential tracks: Laura Palmer's Theme, Into the Night, Blue Frank/Pink Room, Sycamore Tree, Dance of the Dream Man, Falling
5. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
A Moon Shaped Pool is one of the least strange albums Radiohead has released, but it may also be one of their most beautiful. It's certainly their quietest, and saddest. The songs are soaked in gorgeous string arrangements. Thom Yorke allows his voice to crack and falter. It's all very human, but weirdly very detached. I love this album, but I'm not sure what to think about it.
Essential tracks: Burn the Witch, Daydreaming, Decks Dark, Desert Island Disk, Identikit, The Numbers, True Love Waits
4. Bon Iver, 22, a Million
I've loved a lot of Bon Iver songs, but this is the first time I've found myself loving them for an entire album. While their last album was polished almost to a fault, 22, a Million sounds unfinished. You can hear the insides of the songs, all the cracks and blown out speakers. For whatever reason, this really works for me. The titles are absolutely ridiculous, though.
Essential tracks: 22 (OVER S∞∞N), 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄, 715 - CR∑∑KS, 33 "GOD", 29 #Strafford APTS, 8 (circle)
3. Kent, Då som nu för alltid
Kent's last album is not their best, nor did it need to be. It's a big, bright, nostalgic collection of great songs that are kind of all over the place, and it works. They basically go hard rock for the first and only time in their career on 'Gigi', they go more explicitly political than ever on 'Falska profeter', they literally call the last song 'the last song', and it's got a children's choir on it. I got to see them two more times before they quit, and most of the songs were even bigger, brighter and more nostalgic live. Då som nu för alltid is not the Kent album I'll return to the most in years to come, but I'll always be happy they ended on such a strong note.
Essential tracks: Andromeda, Vi är för alltid, Den vänstra stranden, Vi är inte längre där, Förlåtelsen, Gigi, Falska profeter, Den sista sången
2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree
"I think I'm losing my voice", Nick Cave says in One More Time with Feeling, the film that was released together with this album. He didn't, but it has never sounded as tired as it does on Skeleton Tree. The songs float around in open space, the vocals barely in sync with the music half the time. Nick Cave lost his son. Most of the lyrics were already written before, most of the music was arranged and recorded after. This is an album about grief, but it also isn't. Either way, it's powerful, beautiful music.
Essential tracks: Jesus Alone, Girl in Amber, Magneto, Anthrocene, I Need You, Distant Sky
1. David Bowie, Blackstar
Blackstar is not the best album of 2016 because David Bowie died. Blackstar is the best album of 2016 because the music is flawless. Because, again, nothing else really sounds like this. Because Bowie was singing as well as he ever had. And yes, because he was dealing with the fact that he was dying, and he made it into a peerless, remarkable work of art. There aren't enough superlatives I can throw at this album. It's Bowie's greatest album since 1977. Sorry to be repetitive, but that means that it's one of the greatest albums of all time.
Essential tracks: Blackstar, 'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore, Lazarus, Sue (Or in a Season of Crime), Girl Loves Me, Dollar Days, I Can't Give Everything Away

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