It is finally time to talk about my favorite albums of 2016. What’s that? It’s actually March of 2017 now? Look, man, I just moved across the country. Better late than never, right? As usual, I’m starting out with an alphabetical rundown of my honorable mentions from this past year. These albums aren’t ranked at all, and they don’t necessarily represent the first 10 albums off the list after I whittled the crop down to 20.
I chose these 10 albums as honorable mentions because a) they were quite close to achieving top 20 status, and b) they are interesting in some way and deserve to be talked about. That last part surely doesn’t matter, as no one visits this space with anything resembling frequency in the first place. That said, some people may have skipped one of these albums due to media reaction, singles that weren’t representative of the whole work, or an approach by the artist that isn’t 100% nailed down. Check these albums out as I continue to write about my top 20 of 2016 in preparation for a future post!
Bent Shapes: Wolves Of Want
Sunny, jangly, and just weird enough. That’s how I’d describe Wolves Of Want, a quick 10-song album that aims to please more than it aims to challenge. Only one song on the album cracks the four-minute mark, while the majority hang right around half that. Maybe some of the obnoxious lyrical and stylistic choices singer Ben Potrykus makes will rub listeners the wrong way, but the guy knows how to write an economical guitar pop song. “Third Coast” and “New Starts In Old Dominion” surge with purpose, while the start and stop dynamics of “Realization Hits” make the song immediately memorable. This is a band to watch if you’ve been craving a dependable indie pop act with just enough oddities to keep things interesting.
Dowsing deal in pop-punk, and that’s a tricky proposition. The band has been busy churning out material for several years now, but it’s Okay that shows the kind of refined approach to songwriting that can bring a band up to the next level. Opener “Wasted On Hate” is excellent and criminally catchy, while closer “Red Legs Kicking” takes aim at a bit more sprawl than the band usually bothers with. Time is treating this band well, and I hope that trend continues on the next album.
Honeyblood: Babes Never Die
The assured rock ‘n’ roll of Honeyblood grows more powerful by the day. Babes Never Die boasts the strongest melodies and vocal harmonies of the band’s career, and these were already strong points. Add in a refined approach to production and some seriously cool lyrical passages, and you have a recipe for success. The back half of “Gangs” and the calm cool of “Sister Wolf” show a depth to the band’s bag of tricks that should lead to even more development. This is an easy album to put on at virtually any time of day or during any activity.
Mitski: Puberty 2
Mitski Miyawaki has gained a great deal of traction recently thanks to Puberty 2, an album I really like even if it didn’t strike me as deeply as it did others. “Dan The Dancer” goes insane halfway through, “Fireworks” offers a rare kind of contemplative grace, and “Your Best American Girl” explodes with emotional release every time the chorus comes around. Even the junky guitar production in “My Body’s Made Of Crushed Little Stars” manages to work against Miyawaki’s desperate shrieks. Mitski is a powerful songwriter with ever-developing sonic range, and she pulls off the kind of ephemeral lyrics musicians twice her age would be thrilled to pen.
Muncie Girls: From Caplan To Belsize
From Caplan To Belsize is the first full-length from the British indie rock band Muncie Girls, and it’s simply easy to enjoy. You won’t find yourself challenged by this album, but you also won’t care. No song on Caplan hits the four-minute mark, and there isn’t a true flop to be found. The jaunty feel of “Learn In School” contributes to the song’s “go for it!” message, while “Gas Mark 4” has a nice even-handed recklessness to it. Polished out of the gate, Muncie Girls are the kind of band who might just have a great album in them now that they’ve made a very good one.
Emma Ruth Rundle: Marked For Death
Emma Ruth Rundle has been a brooding rock musician for a long time now, but it’s Marked For Death that cemented her as a household name to those in search of new iterations of metal. Downtempo, sludgy, and undercut by Rundle’s beautiful voice, the music on Marked For Death isn’t heavy in the traditional sense. It’s heavy because it is. Not long ago, it would have seemed impossible for an artist like Rundle to open for Deafheaven and This Will Destroy You, but we’re slowly starting to understand that genre boundaries are extremely useless.
For the last half-decade, Sadie Dupuis has been one of my favorite songwriters. She has reinvigorated the more idiosyncratic corner of indie rock in her day job as Speedy Ortiz’s singer and guitarist, and now her nods to accessible pop music have taken a turn toward the sunlight with her solo album Slugger. An open advocate for big, fun pop music even if many of her fans might not think it’s cool, Dupuis uses her fondness for the genre to great effect here. In some ways, Slugger is the mainstream pop/Speedy Ortiz mashup I assumed it might be, shooing away guitars in favor of electronic trimmings. That’s just fine, though. Dupuis has such a unique writing style and singing voice that she could probably breathe life into any genre she ever touched.
If you like your indie pop with a large helping of weirdo eccentricities, Weaves just might be the band for you! Armed with a lot of ideas, the band confidently tosses every little inclination into a blender on their self-titled debut. This approach makes for some thrilling moments even if the songcraft of the band has a little ways to go in order to level up. The pure joy of songs like “Tick” and “Coo Coo” is skewed enough to recall Deerhoof, while “Candy” and “One More” create memorable romps out of thin air. Weaves is absolutely flawed, but it definitely isn’t boring. I’m quite excited for what’s to come.
Kanye West: The Life Of Pablo
I’m not even sure I know what songs (and what versions of songs) make up The Life of Pablo. Okay, that’s not actually true at this point, but it sure was for a while. Kanye went full Kanye in 2016, tinkering with his latest album even after its official release. The end result is a wildly long composition that takes plenty of shots that don’t exactly connect. Thankfully, there are also plenty of excellent songs along the way and even the duds contain their share of intriguing moments. The advance songs from the album remain great, while the skits seem overly plentiful and contribute to the lack of cohesiveness that constitutes most of Pablo‘s problems. Kanye is still something of a luminary, able to create a powerful and catchy song on a dime. I just kind of miss the direct ferocity of Yeezus.
Wreck And Reference: Indifferent Rivers Romance End
A lot of what I wrote about Emma Ruth Rundle’s 2016 record applies here as well. Wreck and Reference toy with genre boundaries throughout their latest LP, tying weary guitars, desperate screams, and careful sampling together in a fascinating bundle. “Powders” sets the tone perfectly, and it’s probably my favorite thing the band has ever done. Indifferent Rivers proudly joins a number of other recent albums ready to make metal more inclusive, which will in turn make it more interesting going forward.