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07.10.18 2018 1/212.25.17 2017: A Year in Review
12.19.16 2016: A Year in Review 12.15.16 2016 is...
10.03.16 2016 3/4 03.31.16 Sputnik PSA PART II
12.16.15 2015: A Year in Review 05.16.15 Ed's top 100 albums part 2
03.15.15 Ed's top 100 albums part 1 12.25.14 2014 A Year In Review
12.14.13 2013 A Radical Year

2016: A Year in Review

2016 has been a... let's say.... interesting year overall. But it's been another good year for music. So strap in for the obligatory End of the year list that is so long and talkative, you're never going to read through half of it. As always, the list is ranked, but the ranking is a bit fuzzy, particularly once you're past the top 10. Everything on here is at least a 3.5 in my book. Youtube or Bandcamp Link to the best song of the Album in the description. See all of you crazy fucks in 2017 and I hope sputnik will be a slightly more positive place then.
60Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation

Genre: Rock/Psych

Sneaking in at the “last” place in my list are Josefin Ohrn and the Liberation. Their second album (I think) “Mirage” is a fuzzy, slightly bluesy Psych-Rock album that is just a ton of fun if it catches me at the right time. The contrast between the pretty airy vocal performance and the earthy, fuzzy guitar and pounding rhythm section is pretty jarring at first listen, but actually works out in favor of the record in the end, because it sounds less generic, even though the song structures are pretty tried and true. The record works back when they embrace their more psychedelic side and experiment a little like on the standout moment “Rainbow Lollipop”.

Best Songs: Rainbow Lollipop, The State (I’m In)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKuDC296S90 (Rainbow Lillipop)
Wild Things

Genre: Synth-Pop/Indie-Pop

Another day in the Indie-Pop office for Phillipa Brown. Her third album “Wild Things” arrived in 2016, over 4 years after her sophomore LP “Anxiety” and while Ladyhawke has traded in organic instrumentation for a more synth-laden sound, things remain much the same for her. She’s still a very earnest lyricist with a knack for crafting infectious hooks and sing-along choruses. If you ask me, the organic instrumentation added slightly more meat to her previous albums, but you can’t really fault her for going with the times (also trying out a new direction is usually commendable) and the synth-work on here is actually done very well. I just wish that the more electronic sound was a bit more than a new dress for basically the same songs. Still, very enjoyable.

Best Songs: Love Song, Wild Things, Dangerous
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYjA1WtB88c (Wild Things)
Do What Thou Wilt.

Genre: Hip-Hop

Ab-Soul has arguably been the member of the Black-Hippy collective with the lowest profile lately. (Not that he did get 0 attention, but he’s definitely didn’t get as much as Kendrick or Schoolboy and I’d argue even Jay-Rock has been talked about more lately) But he definitely reminded us of his presence with the ambitious “Do What Thou Wilt”. Opener “Raw” is nothing less than a mission statement, Ab-Soul is back and he came to conquer. “Do What Thou Wilt” partially lives up to Ab-Soul’s ambition, it features some incredibly strong song with excellent bars and great production but is also a pretty uneven and bloated affair. Good enough to make the list, sure. But I think Ab-Soul was aiming a little higher than he managed to shot.

Best Songs: D.R.U.G.S., RAW (backwards)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uphiZ2tcTv0 (D.R.U.G.S.)
57Joe Bonamassa
Blues of Desperation

Genre: Blues Rock

Okay, I admit I had to get over somewhat of a cringe-curve for this one. Bonamassa is not one for subtlety and he hams it up to eleven on some of the more fist pumping songs. But the craftsmanship is so damn good, Bonamassa really knows what he’s doing at his instrument (he’s not a bad vocalist either) and his studio band is on point for the whole album. And if you can get past the first impression, you’ll realize that while the lyrics may be cringeworthy at times, Bonamassa also tells some decent stories on the tracks he didn’t design to be “as awesome as possible”. If I’m sounding to negative, don’t let that fool you, if I can get into a Blues-Rock album by a white guy in 2016 it’s gotta be pretty good.

Best Songs: Let’s Drive, Blues of Desperation, How Deep The River Runs
56A Dead Forest Index
In All That Drifts From Summit Down

Genre: Experimental/Indie-Folk.

The debut of A Dead Forest Index is hard to pin down. On the surface, one might peg them down as an emotive but slightly generic Indie-Folk/Indie-Rock band. But if you listen to more than the (excellent) single “No Paths”, things quickly unravel. While the warm guitar strumming remains a staple of most songs, the song structures become more adventurous (and darker) the farther you go down the tracklist. The abstract “Swims Out” sounds like Nils Frahm just dropped an interlude on their album, “Silver Thread of Sun” is a brooding, almost stagnant Slowcore-piece which turns out to be the best song on the album. While the album is definitely highly recommended it is kind of an exhausting listen and could do with slightly more cohesion.

Best Songs: No Paths, Myth Retracted, Silver Thread of Sun
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6io0Stz_W8 (Silver Thread of Sun)
55Huerco S
For Those of You Who Have Never...

Genre: Ambient/Experimental

A gentle, almost deceptively subtle ambient record, full of lovely moments, “For Those of You who have never” is definitely a recommended listen, even if you’re not hugely into Ambient. Huerco S has a penchant for weaving in a lot of neat little melodies into his synth-soundscapes that may lure in listeners who usually find themselves bored quickly by the more abstract albums in this genre. Opener “A Sea of Love” is the perfect example, sporting a drawn out synth in the forefront initially but then slowly giving way to the melody. What keeps this from an higher ranking it totally lacks a sense of cohesion, every song sounds like a different neat little experiment, but they never really come togeterh for me.

Best Songs: A Sea of Love, The Sacred Dance
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIEEqr5COEw (The Sacred Dance)
54Blood Orange
Freetown Sound

Genre: R&B

Oh, Blood Orange you bit off a wee bit more than you could chew with this album, no? I mean, don’t get me wrong bruh, I still love ya. Also the album is still very good and has some truly fantastic standout moments. (Best Too You is one of the top 10 songs of the year easily, Empress Of slays) I also love that you sound like Prince on some of these songs. (“But You”) But what are those spoken word interludes and snippets exactly contributing? I mean, other than breaking up the flow of the album? Also, why do some of the tracks sound so watered down, while others are crisp and on point? It seems to me like some of these are just on the album to give the impression that there is some overarching grand narrative being woven here, when that just isn’t really the case. (Despite what P4K will tell you)

Best Songs: But You, Best To You, Hands Up
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ci4d7yiRP-E (Best To You Live)
53Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto
The Revenant (soundtrack)

Genre: Soundtrack, Classical, Ambient

Ryiuchi Sakamato is the real deal man. 40 years in his career he’s still experimenting and still has got that ear for the right atmosphere. Safe to say he nailed the Soundtrack for “The Revenant”. (digital release for the soundtrack was in late 2015, but hard copy only released in 2016 so it counts) The Soundtrack is just as somber and bleak as the movie itself, lonely violins, echoing war-drums and foreboding synths don’t make for an upbeat listen. While the Soundtrack complemented the movie very nicely, it also works on its own, because even without the Movie (I’d wager even without ever having seen the movie) the soundtrack builds a strong atmosphere. Shoutout to Bryce Dessner and Alva Noto who also contributed to the OST.

Best Songs: Carrying Glass, Imagining Buffalo (by Bryce Dessner), Revenant Main Theme
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkRTaxYH_rE (Imagining Buffalo)

Genre: Well. Uhm. Yeah.

I dunno exactly what I like about this. But I do like it. A lot. 70 minutes of autotuned rambling over some soft synths and gentle guitars, with lyrics that don’t even make sense? (Not that you can understand what he’s “singing” half of the time) Sounds like your kind of album? Doesn’t sound like my kind of album either. But here we are. It’s really, really good.

Best Songs: JFK, In Care of 8675309, Writer
The Magic

Genre: Indie-Rock, Experimental

Deerhof bounce back from the entirely forgettable previous album “La Isla Bonita” with their 2016 outing “The Magic”. They went into a notably more rocky direction with this one and it paid off in spades, because “The Magic” is a great piece of anarcho-fun. The more straightforward songwriting and upped tempo of the songs mesh well with the “no holds barred” attitude the band (and especially vocalist Satomi Matzuaki) always sported. The album is a bit too long and can be a bit exhausting (especially the Songs were Satomi Matzuaki isn’t singing), but the good tracks heavily outweigh the slightly weaker ones and it’s good to see that Deerhoof have managed to recapture their swagger.

Best Songs: Life is Suffering, Kafe Mania!, Learning to Apologize Effectively
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-4inIoXNik (Kafe Mania!)
50Steve Hauschildt

Genre: Ambient, Electro

An excellent slice of Ambient from Steve Hauschildt. His brand of ambient is quite a bit livelier and busier than your Stars of the Lid or Brian Eno. On Strands Hauschildt uses a wide spectrum of spacey synths and textures and manages to weave some impressive songs together. As far as ambient albums go, I’d say this is pretty easy to get into and could be an excellent starting point to get into the genre. If you’re into a spacey-aesthetic, this is definitely a must-listen because Hauschildt does it better than anyone else in 2016.

Best Songs: Same Rivers Twice, Strands
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SqNxSncgJU (Strands)
Last Night On The Planet

Genre: Electro, House

The British producer duo delivers a pretty varied and enjoyable sophomore album and easily avoids the famous sophomore slump on “Last Night on the Planet”. Letherette pay an almost insane amount to detail on some of these tracks, “Rich and Dan” and the for example is a marvelous song, filled to the brim with neat electronic wizardry. The standout moments on the LP are definitely very good, but like some of the previously mentioned albums, “Last Night on the Planet” isn’t exactly a cohesive experience, the hip-hop tracks (“Momma”, “Last Night on the Planet”) are not necessarily bad, but don’t really sit right with the rest of the album and just break up the flow. Overall this album isn’t quite as strong as the sum of its songs, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

Best Songs: Rich and Dan, Shanel, Frugaloo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_b9GhIfQhwk (Shanel)
48Childish Gambino
"Awaken, My Love!"

Genre: Funk, Soul

2016, the year that Childish Gambino discovered his love for Parliament, Bootsy Collins and Funkadelic. I mean, talk about wearing your influences on your sleeve. I’m not complaining though, so far I’ve not really been a fan of his work and “Awaken my Love” has definitely won me over quite a bit. Donald has never struck me as a particularly good rapper, but to my surprise he’s definitely a good singer and pulls of a variety of different vocal stylings with style and grace. The instrumentals on here also feel like worthy and loving tribute to the legends of funk, which is another plus. Some pretty big misses (“Zombie”, “California”) notwithstanding, this is a big leap forward for Childish Gambino.

Best Songs: Me & Your Mama, Redbone, Stand Tall
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kp7eSUU9oy8 (Redbone)
47If These Trees Could Talk
The Bones of a Dying World

Genre: Post-Rock

So. Post-Rock in 2016. Um. Yeah. I guess I still occasionally like how it sounds or something. I dunno what to say to you guys, this is very standard, has shimmering tremolos, towering climaxes, the obligatory sparse ambient track (“The Here and Herafter”) and even some of the pretentious Song Titles (“The GIVIng Tree”). It should annoy me, (similar albums like the latest Russian Circles album sure do) but it doesn’t. The (very bleak) atmosphere that the band is weaving here just comes together very nicely in my opinion and it’s a great album to listen to when you’re commuting or taking a walk on your own. Not the most exciting choice, but this list is about personal fav’s.

Best Songs: The Here and Herafter, Swallowing Teeth, One Sky Above Us
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JhYwa50Jws (Swallowing Teeth)
46Bitchin' Bajas and Bonnie 'Prince
Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties

Genre: Dreamsomething, Ambient (maybe?)

This is similar to Flotus by Lambchop, because it also eludes description. What is there to say about “May life throw you a pleasant curve” which is just the same guitar loop over and over and a mumbling Bonnie Billy reading me a fortune cookie in a weirdly soothing tone of voice? I mean, aside from the fact that I love listening to this, I have no insightful commentary to offer. Definitely not for everyone, but then again what is?

Best Songs: May life throw you a pleasant curve, Nature makes us for ourselves, You are not Superman
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3I3CBZmwSo (First 2 songs, live)
45Frightened Rabbit
Painting of a Panic Attack

Genre: Indie Rock/Folk

Mh. I don’t rightly know what to say about this album either. (Pretty bad list, listmaker doesn’t know what to say about half of the LP’s yet rambles on incessantly) On the one hand I’m a fanboy. Scott Hutchinson’s lyrics just strike a chord with me (and they are as good as ever), some songs definitely profited from the work Bryce Dessner did behind the scenes, because they sound as layered and fine-tuned as a The National song would. On the other hand, a lot of the songs in the middle-section of the album sound the same and they all fall somewhat flat because they sound sooo generic. Somehow the added bells and whistles made them loose a bit of their Scottish-barfighter charm. I mean there are still some really good songs on here but this left a bit of a sour aftertaste

Best Songs: Death Dream, Die Like a Rich Boy, The Wreck
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYLZrCuhu_0 (Death Dream)
Alpe Lusia

Genre: House, Sputcore

I’m slightly less crazy about this than most of the people on the site who have listened to this. Read potsy’s review if you want some epic hype for this. It’s really, really well done. Stimming creates some absolutely stunning soundscapes on here and it’s hard to believe that he’s so unknown because his attention to detail and overall craftsmanship is just stunning. If I had to criticize the album a bit, I’d say that it feels very cold and mechanical at times. Maybe it’s just me but aside from the mind-blowing “Prepare” the songs sounds so immaculate and for a lack of a better word designed, that I sometimes find it hard to connect to them. Don’t let me ruin the fun tho, it’s on this list for a reason. I really enjoyed this and I think you may very well enjoy it more.

Best Song: Prepare (it’s just so good)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Kimj3pPScY (Prepare)

Genre: Jazz

BBNG return with their fourth (already!) album and it’s much the same as their last. They continue were the left off with III, and offer an album of original songs, gone are the days where they covered/reinterpreted Hip-Hop classics. Unfortunately they lost a little bit of the initial fire that made their first two albums so special. Still their original songs aren’t half bad either. They still flirt with some hip-hop stylings on a few of these tracks (“Hyssop of Love”, “Lavender”) but for the most part it’s more traditional jazz. The guys are obviously very, very good at their instrument and some solos are just fantastic (even though Colin Stetson really outclasses everyone on his guest appearance on Confessions Pt.2).

Best Songs: Confessions Pt.2 (feat. Colin Stetson), Time Moves Slow (feat. Sam Herring), And That, Too.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfRxeD34unQ (Confessions Pt.2)
Close Eyes To Exit

Genre: Indie-Rock/Dream-Pop

An atmospheric little gem from the Netherlands, provided by the newcomers Klangstof. “Close Eyes to Exit” is a little bit too obvious in its Radiohead-worship at times, but provides a lot of genuinely good moments nonetheless. The Band is talented (and wise) enough to sprinkle in just enough of their own flavor to make this a rewarding listen. While the hushed Tom Yorkesque vocals are a bit hit and miss, the actual musicianship is very good and some of these songs are really well written. I could see them going a lot further on a second LP, but for what it’s worth this is already very enjoyable if you’re into this kind of sound.

Best Songs: Sleaze, Ignore Me, Doohlhof
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ftg5fEcpNLg&t=1111s (Full album, first 2 songs are probably the best)
41James Blake
The Colour in Anything

Genre: Experimental, Electronic, R&B

Sadboy-Crooner James Blake made his return in 2016 and like his two previous albums “The Colour in Anything” is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the songs (“I Need A Forest Fire” “f.o.r.e.v.e.r”) are exquisitely arranged marvels of songwriting and just pull at my heartstrings like nobody’s business, some songs are self-indulgent, whiny, boring misfires though. (“Meet you in the Maze”) But to his credit, the ratio between duds and highpoints is better on this LP than on any of his previous outings. Also “I Need a Forest Fire” is a real forest fire.

Best Songs: I Need a Forest Fire, f.o.r.e.v.e.r., Two Men Down
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrCv20pk-os (Forest Fire)
40Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids
We Be All Africans

Genre: Jazz/Funk

I gotta out myself as somewhat of a pleb and confess that I’ve never heard of the Pyramids (Idris Ackamoor used to be a member, so I don’t even know why it’s called Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids now) but apparently they were a pretty respected Afro-Jazz collective that had a cult following in the 70s/80s. After a long hiatus, they dropped “We be all Africans” in 2016 and it’s quite the treat. They sure haven’t lost their ability to put together a decent groove and their Sax-heavy brand of jazz is always lively and fun enough to justify the hefty runtimes of some songs. The call and response vocals also add a nice touch. Really solid album all around, really hope that they stick around for another release or two, because I sense that they may have an even better one up their sleeves.

Best Songs: We be all Africans, Rhapsody in Berlin, Whispering Tenderness
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrkvgdtA8TE (Rhapsody in Berlin)

Genre: Downtempo/Electronic

Overall reception seems to be kinda mixed on Moderat’s third release. I still think it’s very good though, but the wear and tear of the project is definitely starting to show a bit. It’s the exact same bleak atmosphere as on the last two albums and the (over)dramatic whiny vox are getting a little bit grading. But it’s still solidly on the best of the year list for me, because they still know what they’re doing, some of the soundscapes here are just fantastic (“Intruder”) and while the atmosphere is the same as on the last albums, they still create that atmosphere masterfully. I just wish they would try to push the envelope a little.

Best Songs: Intruder, Eating Hooks, Finder
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qc2CTvJ3b_I (Intruder, really cool live version)
38Matt Elliott
The Calm Before

Genre: Folk/Sadcore

Read Johnnyonthestaff’s review of this album. I’ll only say that this sounds a bit like a stripped down version of a Tindersticks-LP, except that even the Tindersticks aren’t this brooding and depressing. Honestly I think I like this even more than the place on the list may indicate, but listening to it also crushes my soul, so I dunno. Matt Elliott has just the perfect sad-voice btw. Check this shit out.

Best Song: The Calm Before
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SWGyLwFqko (The Calm Before)
Honor Killed The Samurai

Genre: Hip-Hop/Grime

“Honor Killed the Samurai” by Rapper/Producer Ka is a hyper-stylized little gem. Ka is so committed to his concept and delivery, that it almost borders on self-parody at times, but he backs his hyper-minimalistic production and extremely self-serious rapping with more than enough clever lyrics and subtle hooks to avoid sounding ridiculous. Quite the contrary; “Honor Killed the Samurai” slays, even the super try-hard vocal snippets of an Asian Woman talking about Samurai always cleverly connect with the individual tracks and are not just a lazy way to set the scene. The album maybe suffers a bit from the songs are all very similar in mood and tempo (except maybe “Ours”), but then again it makes for a cohesive listen. Definitely a highly rec’d album.

Best Songs: Mourn At Night, Conflicted, Ours
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22qF6Drbihg (Mourn At Night)

Genre: Post-Rock/Ambient

See under If These Trees could talk, I guess? This I enjoyed even more than “Bones of a Dying World” because it reminded me a lot of “Solace” by Jakob. The focus is much less on epic climaxes and shimmering guitar lines, but much more on the rhythm section and spacious ambient-atmospheres.

Best Songs: Doom, Head Rush, Fingers
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QC7btSLF1F4 (Full-Album, Opener is the best song)
35Amanda Bergman

Genre: Indie-Pop

Amanda Bergman (previously married to The Tallest Man on Earth btw.) just has that singing voice I can’t get enough of. The songs on here are a bit understated, slightly folksy and very tastefully arranged and some (“Falcons”) even feature some nice atmospheric instrumental bits, but are overall nothing outstanding and never venture far from the path. But Amanda’s voice just elevates this from pleasant background music too one of the few pop albums that actually reward repeated listens. Not one of those albums you’ll remember forever, but definitely one of those I really loved coming back too.

Best Songs: Falcons, Golden, Flickering Lights
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cq5DKVwwFqY (Falcons)
34Nicolas Jaar

Genre: Experimental/Ambient

Tbh I wasn’t really the biggest fan of Nicolas Jaar’s stuff, but I think I’m finally coming around to his weirdness. Sirens is a very weird album. It dabbles in pretty different soundscapes, but still sounds kinda cohesive, but I couldn’t really tell why. From the sparse-downtrodden piano loops and minimalist atmosphering approach on opener “Killing Time” to the ridiculously catchy and groovy (almost poppy, but then again it’s 10 minutes long, doesn’t really have a solid structure) “Three Sides of Nazareth”, Jaar is pretty much throwing stuff at the wall and hoping that something sticks. Almost everything sticks.

Best Songs: Killing Time, Three Sides of Nazareth
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZX7nXaEM2c (Three Sides of Nazareth)
33William Tyler
Modern Country

Genre: Country/Americana

Who knew, Country is actually good if nobody is hamming it up like crazy on the microphone. Seriously guys, I’m really not into Country music and I don’t even know what got me to check this out, but I’m very glad I did. The album just oozes a certain kind of warmth, it’s really easy to get into and much more engaging than you’d expect from a 40-minute Country album without vocals or even particularly fancy instrumentals. Tyler just managed to capture the feeling of driving down a long and empty road as the sun is just starting to set and I’m kinda in love with it.

Best Songs: Highway Anxiety, Gone Clear, Kingdom of Jones
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdHJIh7ycT4 (Highway Anxiety)
32Leonard Cohen
You Want It Darker

Genre: Folk/Pop

Rip Leonard Cohen, what did you do 2016? Yada, Yada, etc. Seriously though, I don’t think people should be tooooo broken about Cohen dying, because he’s stated numerous times that he’s “ready to die” and “not really invested in life anymore”. It’s a statement to his greatness that even at this point in his career and life he easily chugs out an album of this quality. The lyricism is as moving and witty as ever, the instrumental-arrangements range from solid but not really special (“Leaving the Table”) to absolutely fantastic (“Keep it on the Level”, “Travelling Light”) and Cohens trademark raspy vocals are still great.

Best Songs: Travelling Light, Keep it on the Level, You Want it Darker, Steer Your Way
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0uq5cgd2So (Keep it on the Level)
31Little Simz
Stillness In Wonderland

Genre: Hip-Hop/R&B

It’s no secret that I was a huge fan of Little Simz debut “A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons” and after listening “Stillness in Wonderland” I remain convinced that she’s one of the most promising MC’s coming up. Her second album shows that she’s willing to take pretty big risks and change up her style in pretty big ways. The production is way more poppy and generally more polished, the confessional lyrics are still here but she traded in her fiery rapping for a more laid back style and even some singing on some songs. She’s also brought in a whole arrange of guest-rappers whose performances are pretty mixed to be honest. The resulting album is in my opinion still very good but definitely a step down when compared to her debut. This sounds like a transitional album to me, but I’m fine with being along for the ride.

Best Songs: Picture Perfect, Shotgun, No More Wonderland
30Shabaka and the Ancestors
Wisdom of Elders

Genre: Jazz/Experimental/Soul

I’m not going to lie, this is at times a challenging listen. Shabaka and the Ancestors debut is over 70 minutes long sounds at times pretty alien. The songs don’t really follow much of a structure, and it all feels like a (very well-orchestrated) jam-session. Shabaka is a wizard at the saxophone though and there are quite a few moment’s where the tribal rhythm section and Shabakas excellent sax really come together and create an almost magical atmosphere. (The occasional vocal’s are also very well done) While I do love these moments and overall definitely really like the album, there also some meandering and aimless tracks that didn’t really click with me.

Best Songs: Joyous, The Observer
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lkq_CZhLrII (The Observer)
29Gold Panda
Good Luck And Do Your Best

Genre: House

Much of what I said about the Stimming album applies here, but this LP doesn’t lack the “warmth” I missed on “Alpe Lusia”. Gold Panda just has this ability to make ridiculously textured, layered and detailed house tracks that don’t sound brainy or calculated at all, but instead sound more “human” than 99,9% of other music out there. The highs on this album are very, very high (“Metal Bird”, “I’m a Real Punk”, “Unthank”) and among my favorite moments of the year, but with all that praise out of the way I feel like this album doesn’t quite come together as one. It’s more a collection of excellent songs than an album and somehow “Lucky Shiner” didn’t really have that problem (at least for me). Still, a bunch of excellent songs isn’t too bad, no?

Best Songs: Metal Bird, I’m a Real Punk, Unthank, In my Car
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUcOvgqRVJU (Metal Bird)
Light Upon the Lake

Genre: Indie-Rock

Former members of the Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra come together as Whitney on this and it sounds about the way you’d expect. This is a very laid back indie-rock album that barely deserves to be called rock anymore. The vocalist falsetto voice may not be for everyone, but if you can get past that, there is something here, that distinguishes Light upon the Lake from your average Indie-Rock debut. The duo paid a lot of attention when it comes to instrumentation and added a lot of little touches to make the songs more interesting and more rewarding on repeated listen. (Someone in the band also has a really good ear for melodies) Basically liked this better than any of the output by Smith Westerns or Unknown Mortal Orchestra. (Track listing is way to top heavy though!)

Best Songs: No Woman, The Falls, Golden Days
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Op4HT0-W428 (Golden Days)

Genre: Ambient/Experimental

A really short (17 minute) outing from the french electronic-entrepreneur and certified weirdo Rone (Erwan Castex) really hit the sweet spot for me. This may be kind of meh and boring for most of you, but to me, there is just enough electronic-antics going to keep me interested for a quarter of an hour. Not really too much to say about this, it’s just a neat little collection of ambient-experimentation that really ended up working for me.

Best Song: ETC
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ywKRd5bj4o (ETC)

Genre: Math-Rock

It’s sad to see these guys breaking up, they kinda sound like Foals, if Foals would have decided to go into a more experimental direction after “Antidotes” (or even “Total Life Forever). For what it’s worth, I think that a lot of Math albums suffer from sounding to samey, and Enemies totally blow past that concern on this album, because the album is pretty varied, without ever sounding to disjointed or incohesive. Not every song is fantastic, but even the slightly weaker tracks are still good and further the overall atmosphere of the album.

Best Songs: Itsallwaves, Glow, Bonopi, Play Fire
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ywKRd5bj4o (Play Fire)
25Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Skeleton Tree

Genre: Post-Punk/Funeral

A lot has been written about this album already and I’m sure there’s even more to come. This arguably should be (even) higher on my list, but I admit I have trouble sitting through this. Just from an artistic standpoint, I think Nick Cave and company have managed to press raw emotion and crushing grief on a CD in one of the purest forms I’ve ever heard. The lyrics, the vocal performance (“I Need You”… fuck), the bleak instrumentation, everything just comes together as intended and it’s really awe-inspiring. But it’s not the record I can listen to very often and I can’t even say that I “enjoy” listening to it when I do. Still. This is an essential album.

Best Songs: Jesus Alone, I Need You, Distant Sky, Skeleton Tree
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAMZYpZi_M4 (I Need You)
Carnal Sense

Genre: Ambient-Techno

Shoutout to Sach, even though he sucks. (click for Review, review is really short and sums it up better than I would)

Best Songs: P is for Paramours, S is for Satiable
https://perfectaesthetics.bandcamp.com/album/carnal-sense (Stream/DL whole Album)
23Johann Johannsson

Genre: Experimental/Soundtrack

While Ryuchi Sakamato’s The Revenant Soundtrack was willing to experiment a little and add a decent chunk of ambient to the usual-orchestral OST-formula, Johannssons Arrival OST is just plain weird. Johannsson successfully creates a very alien soundscape on this LP, the classical instruments are used very sparingly, most notably some foreboding violins and horns (no, it’s not the blaring Inception horn again). Instead we have somber drones, warbled synth’s and very weird vocal interludes that will immediately remind the listener of the Akira Soundtrack. I really think this Soundtrack works even better on its own, because you really get to pay attention to all the stuff that is going on. Great stuff.

Best Songs: Heptapod B, Non Zero Sum Game
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0ahB25FJ6o (Heptapod B)
22Jeff Rosenstock

Genre: Pop-Punk

Eww. Pop-Punk on my list. So… I guess this is gud? Really gud? I guess I caught myself, shouting the lyrics of „We begged 2 Explode“on the very top of my lungs really often in the past 3-4 months. (It helps that I can sing about as well as Jeff Rosenstock, which is to say not at all) I guess even though the vox are not that great, the instrumentation is energetic but very simple (and totally standard for the gerne) and the lyrics retread a lot of the same themes that Pop-Punk acts always circle around, they still strike a chord with me (somehow). I guess I used to be cooler than this and I’m not anymore, so there it is. Next year I’ll be repping you guyz Weezer and buy myself a Sum-4 shirt.

Best Songs: We Begged 2 Explode, To be A Ghost, Festival Song, Blast Damage Days
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCdEWLlpOyg (We Begged 2 Explode)

Genre: Synth-Pop

Your enjoyment of this album will heavily depend on your tolerance for 80’s cheese. Atlas is a shameless celebration of the warm synth’s, shimmering keyboard lines and processed drum loops that made 80s-pop. Thing is, FM-84 isn’t just shamelessly reusing those sounds to score some cheap nostalgia points (Yes. I AM looking at you Tycho!), but actually puts in the effort and constructs some really good songs. The slick and elegant “Tears” is just so effortlessly lush, while opener “Everything” just builds and builds into a climax that almost remains me of a good post-rock song. The only negative I’d point out is that the vocal features are pretty spotty, because the vocalists all ham up the 80s cheese as well, but it hasn’t aged nearly as well as the snyths.

Best Songs: Everything, Tears, Arcade Summer
https://fm84.bandcamp.com/ (full stream/DL)
20David Bowie

Genre: Art-Rock/Experimental

2016 was a very weird year for being a huge Bowie fanboy. Obviously I was very sad that he died and a lot of great eulogies have been written for one of the most influential and artists of the 20th century. But with his death there also came a huge influx of additional attention to his last album “Blackstar” and it was really difficult for me to discern the praise for his life’s work from the praise for his last LP. If I’m honest, I really think Blackstar isn’t quite as good as everyone else is saying. I mean I do like it a lot, it’s pretty high on this list after all. But I’d choose “The Next Day” over “Blackstar” anyday. The experimentation is commendable and the overall themes are obviously challenging and interesting but I don’t think he had enough time to work every kink of this concept. Still. Great album. Love you David. Rest in peace.

Best Songs: Lazarus, Blackstar
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-JqH1M4Ya8 (Lazarus)
19Terrace Martin
Velvet Portraits

Genre: Jazz

Kendrick Lamar producer Terrace Martin steps into the limelight with his first solo-album that actually features some instrumentals that were used on To Pimp a Butterfly. The thing is I think I liked this better than TPAB. While it’s definitely way less ambitious and just aims to be an entertaining, laid back jazz album it is a thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable listen. Terrace and his crew (Kamasi Washington and Thundercat are some notable features) just don’t deliver any weak songs on this LP. Highly recommended if you’re into Jazz that’s a bit more accessible. (Also this is nomitated for best “R&B” album at the Grammy’s, lol)

Best Songs: Push, Curly Martin, Mortal Man
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hO10m-t0jNI (Curly Martin)
18Mutual Benefit
Skip A Sinking Stone

Genre: Folk

This flew very much under the radar in 2016, even though his (Mutual Benefit = Jordan Lee) debut was kind of a cult-hit and got reviewed very well. I guess (unlike his debut) it’s not sad and whiny enough for the usual Folk/Bon Iver crowd. But it’s beautiful as fuck. Lee is not content with just strumming three chords on his acoustic guitar and softly hushing some vocals into the mic, but actually added a lot of subtle electronic touches to his folk tunes and also uses background vocals to enhance his relatively fragile voice at times. I also like that the tone isn’t as sad as one would expect from a folk singer with a falsetto voice, while the songs are definitely not party anthems, they are actually pretty upbeat.

Best Songs: Lost Dreamers, Many Returns, Getting Gone
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y80VF06GPt8 (Lost Dreamers)
17Car Seat Headrest
Teens of Denial

Genre: Indie-Rock

Teens of Denial has all the makings of a cult-classic. The confessional lyrics, the top notch songwriting and the upped quality in both instrumentation and production all make for noticeable improvement over “Nervous Young Man” or even “Twin Fantasy”. Will Toledo has been one of the best frontmen in the Rock-scene from the moment he stepped up to the mic, but this album is the first time where he managed to stay on point for basically (“Destroyed by Hippie Powers” is kinda whack) the whole album. Many indie heroes falter when they switch to the major labels, but Will just traded in the lo-fi production for something a bit more professional, without compromising on his songwriting and the result is very satisfying.

Best Songs: Vincent, Drugs with Friends, Cosmic Hero, Ballad of the Costa Concordia
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEqBsH-cejA (Drugs with Friends)
16School Of Seven Bells

Genre: Dream-Pop/Synth-Pop

School of Seven Bells swan song SVIIB really snuck up on me. I wasn’t a huge fan of their previous works. And I didn’t necessarily expect them to deliver more than one or two decent indie-pop songs when I checked this out. But it didn’t turn out that way. While their final album isn’t a change in direction at all, it is easily their most fine-tuned and refined LP. (Which is really weird since Benjamin Curtis already died late in 2013 and can’t have done much of the polishing) This album is notable for just having absolutely no low points. Every song on here is great and the highpoints are fantastic.

Best Songs: On My Heart, Open Your Eyes, This is Our Time
15Young Magic
Still Life

Genre: Art-Pop/Dream-Pop

Most of the time I pretend to know why I like things, but the more I listen to this the more I’m confused. It’s kinda messy, with a whole host of different things going on in most of the songs, (Except for “Lucien” which shows remarkable restraint and is easily one of the best songs of the year) and I honestly don’t know how they make it work. But they sure make it work. The Album is pretty short and is just a really beautiful and emotional listen that I return to very often. Make sure to listen for yourselves.

Best Songs: Lucien (!), Valhalla, Iwy, Homage
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7WUmk2aLts (Lucien, oh Lucien)
A Moon Shaped Pool

Genre: Radiohead

This album pretty much is a mess. It doesn’t really work as an album. It has the weirdest, stunted flow I’ve ever witnessed on such a high profile release. (Is the tracklisting just alphabetical because fuck it?) Some of the songs also strive dangerously close to revisiting older material. But fuck me, there are some really fantastic moments on this LP as well. Some of the best moments in their entire discography for me. Some of the instrumental arrangements (“Daydreaming”, “Glass Eyes” “The Numbers”) could almost be by The National (which is definitely not a sound that they already explored), they’re densely layered and full of wonderful little moments. I can definitely sympathize if you think this isn’t one of their better albums, but in my opinion the outstanding moments are so numerous that the weird tracklist becomes almost irrelevant.

Best Songs: The Numbers, Ful Stop, Decks Dark
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3__KOf6xZE (Decks Dark, Paris, Zenith 2016)
13Julianna Barwick

Genre: Ambient/Dream-Pop

Julianna Barwick really occupies a niche of her own in the musical world. Her brand of ambient differs pretty heavily from the typical field recordings and somber synth marathons. On top of a wall of drenched and reverbed instruments floats Barwicks voice who deserves the descriptor “dreamy” more than just about everything in music. The songs here barely qualify as songs, because they are almost without any real structure and there doesn’t seem to be any logic behind their running time, themes and sounds get introduced and then gently float away at some point, but I couldn’t tell you why “Same” lasts for 5 minutes and “Wist” only for 2 and a half. Have I mentioned that I love this record? No? I do.

Best Song: Same
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGDSy5Z39o0 (Same)
12Kevin Morby
Singing Saw

Genre: Folk

Not your typical bro-folk album. Morby’s third album “Singing Saw” is deceptive, because at first glance (“Cut me Down”, also just look at the doofus.) you could think that it’s just another basic-bitch acoustic guitar wank-fest. But Morby actually has some real chops as a songwriter and isn’t afraid to mix things up a considerable bit. He takes stabs at Rock, (“I have been to the Mountain”, “Dorothy”) Jazz, (“Destroy”) and even a slow burning, melodramatic pop song (“Drunk on a Star”) and shows surprising mastery over all these styles. And somehow he manages to tie it all together with his (at best) average singing voice. I swear this is way better than it has any right to be, pretty much every track on here is a bullseye. (Read Sowing’s review as well)

Best Songs: Destroyer, Dorothy, I Have been to the Mountain
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWDvlekoPkg (Dorothy)
11Black Mountain

Genre: Psych/Rock

Black Mountain had to turn it around o this LP, since their much hyped 2nd LP In the Future (2008) they’ve only released one decidedly mediocre album (Wilderness Heart) and took almost 6 years to come out with their fourth Album. Another misfire would have probably condemned them to irrelevance. Listening to IV, one get the distinct feeling, that the band knew that too and decided to go all out, opener “Mothers of the Sun” is a (almost) 9 minute epic, complete with the best riff of 2016, over the top synth’s, overdramatic singing from both vocalists and a flute outro. And somehow they pull it off. (Mostly) Gone are the complacent middle of the road rock songs of Wilderness Heart and they are replaced by so much flavor it’s sometimes hard to believe that you’re to the same band. If you’re at all into the genre, this is an essential listen.

Best Songs: Mothers of the Sun, Cemetery Breeding, Crucify Me, Constellations
10The Hue

Genre: Hip-Hop/Neo-Soul

The first LP by Space-Hop collective The Hue is a remarkably accomplished work and it's also remarkably confident, especially for a debut work. 75 minute running time? A freewheeling approach to both songwriting and production? Multiple (male and female) Mc’s who constantly trade verses? Switching from rapping to soulful singing midsong multiple times? A vague spacey aesthetic to string it all together? Sounds like this could be a lot to chew on for a newly founded Hip-Hop collective comprised of relatively unknown members? The Hue obviously didn’t think so and they were (almost) completely correct, in the 2nd half there are a few moments where the album loses focus a bit, but overall it’s an impressive tour the force. The production on this thing is especially fantastic.

Best Songs: Tron, Magic City, Slick, Alt3R
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnlTFuLpCKg (Tron)
9Drive-By Truckers
American Band

Genre: Americana

Almost 20 years in their career, the Drive-by Truckers release their most politically-charged and cohesive album yet. They could have kept chugging along releasing the same middling southern-rock/Americana LP to their small but dedicated fanbase, but obviously decided they could do better. There is a new found grit to both their songwriting and their instrumentation and while the album is a pleasing listen, there is quite a bit of bitterness to be found in these songs (“Surrender under Protest”, “What it Means”). While the songs are not hugely varied in style, this makes for a cohesive listen and the album is just short enough (ca. 45 minutes) that their approach doesn’t get stale over time.

Best Songs: Ramon Casino, What it Means, Surrender under Protest, Baggage
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mY0qOCUy27Q (What it Means)
Everything and Nothing

Genre: Ambient/Post-Rock

Hammock does as Hammock does. I mean if you don’t know the drill by know, I don’t know what to tell you. The same twinkly-ass soft guitar tremolos, buttery smooth strings, hushed vocals and drawn out synth-scapes as usual. If you think that they are a complacent and ultimately boring band releases the same pretty cheesy album to their fans every two years, I wouldn’t know what to tell you. Except that I am one of those fans and I love every second of it. I don’t wanna sound too harsh, the do experiment a little within their twinkly post-rock universe and visit a few places I’ve not seen them tackle, but overall this is another Hammock album, for people who like hammock albums.
And I love Hammock albums.

Best Songs: Clarity, We Could Have Been Beautiful Again, Before You Float Away Into Nothing
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoLYhYfcHko (Clarity)
Jet Plane and Oxbow

Genre: Indie-Rock

Shearwater has been a band that’s been looking for their own sound for quite some time now and on Jetplane and Oxbow they finally found it. Many may bemoan the more quiet days before the joined Sub Pop, but Jonathan Meiburg’s dramatic baritone is just perfect for the more grandiose sound they’ve gone for on this LP. Some may mistake this album for a “more commercial” outing than their previous LP’s but I don’t think this is true. While the certainly took their first stab at writing an anthem (“Long time Away”), the songwriting is never on the nose or reliant on cheap tricks to sound emotional. An all-around confident and accomplished Rock album, peppered with some of Will Sheff’s best songwriting and lyrics to date. Can’t wait to see them develop this direction even more.

Best Songs: Backchannels, Prime, Filaments, Radio Silence, Pale Kings, Wildlife in America
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnZRI7FRbhM (Filaments)
6Christian Loeffler

Genre: House/Ambient

I’ve written a review for this (click on the Album if you’re interested) and won’t repeat myself here, because this is list is way, way too long already.

Best Songs: Myiami, Lid, The Great White Open, Pacific, Nil
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5yxe9UJU8k (Lid)
Ostalgia - Volume I

Genre: RadicalEdcore/Indie/Shoegaze

Same goes for this little EP, already wrote a review for it and I think the list is long enough already, so I won’t go into it again.

Best Songs: Ep is one long song
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QT8ltZ_T8vo (Whole EP)

Genre : Jazz

This is definitely a challenging listen at times. These guys don’t really take prisoners. I mean it’s fucking dark and abrasive at times. But it’s also one of the best experiences and most emotive instrumental albums I’ve heard this year. Their saxophonist just knows how to squeeze every bit of despair out of that instrument. Compared to their previous LP, it’s notable that they’ve gone for more of a cohesive album and reigned in the instrumental wizardry a little so they could focus on writing more structured songs and since they rely heavily on creating a certain atmosphere, I think this approach works very well for them.

Best Songs: Koniec, Atak, Krew, Rajza
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1L8ZoasYCk (Krew)

Genre: Post all the things

God I hate that stupid album title.
“ATGCLVLSSCAP is Godspeed by way of Pink Floyd by way of Sunn O))) by way of a jam band catapulting head first into the ineffable abyss that graces the cover art.” (Xenophanes, 2016)
What more can be said about this? This sentence mostly sums up the album. Ulver are painting in abstract, exploring their own cosmos of sounds and they don’t really care for your neat genre tags and descriptors anymore. From the swelling and majestic “England’s Hidden” to the destructive and raw “Cromagnosis” to the haunting “D-Day Drone” Ulver dabble in so many different sounds on this LP, it makes your head spin. And everything is held together by an almost spiritual atmosphere of introspection, absolutely essential.

Best Songs: England’s Hidden, Cromagnosis, D-Day Drone, Ecclesiates
https://ulver.bandcamp.com/track/englands-hidden (England’s Hidden)
2Okkervil River

Genre: Indie-Rock/Folk

These guy’s never really have been my kind of band and Will Sheff definitely hasn’t been my kind of vocalist. And now this is pretty much a solo-effort, because Will Sheff is the only remaining band-member who is literally burying his own band in the opener “Okkervil River R.I.P.”. If that doesn’t have potential CATASTROPHY spelled all over it, I don’t know what has. Then you actually listen to “Okkervil River R.I.P.” and it’s a real gut puncher. Then you listen to “Call Yourself Renee” and it’s pretty much the best song you’ve ever heard. The rest of the album doesn’t quite life up to the one-two punch opening that left my jaw on the floor, but it’s still amazingly good. Sheff has really found a new direction with those slightly jazzy, meandering, incredibly lush folk tunes.

Best Song: Call Yourself Renee (SoTY, all years), Judy on A Street, Days spent Floating, Okkervil River R.I.P
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dld2RhU2iCo (Call Yourself Renee)
1Uyama Hiroto
Freeform Jazz

Genre: Jazz/Electronic/Hip-Hop

So, the best album of 2016 is by japanese Saxophonist and frequent Nujabes collaborator Uyama Hiroto. “Freeform Jazz” sees him recapturing the glory of his debut with his unique blend of jazz and electronic and hip-hop that is still reminiscent of the work by his buddy Nujabes but arguably less than his previous works.“Freeform Jazz” shines particularly bright because Uyama is smart enough to not solely rely on his prowess as a saxophonist but instead dabbles in a variety of sounds and expands his range quite a bit. There are some hard hitting post-bop pieces on here that almost reminded me of Ryo Fukui and wouldn’t really have fit on his previous works, but are just marvelous on this LP. The most nujabesesque track is undoubtedly “South Side” (feat. Shing02) with its lush instrumentation and laid back performance at the mic.

Best Songs: Ying and Yang, South Side, Unconscious, Posse, Taiko, Skipper, Spin the Truth, Into the Freedom
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