And yet again the brain-scrambling exercise of narrowing down our favourite albums released in 2016 has been successfully navigated. Much gnashing of teeth ensued, spreadsheet cells shifted frequently and the dust surrounding the shallow process of rating albums against one another has finally settled.
Over at Post To Wire, our Americana music site, we’ve already ranked our 40 favourite albums that fall under that wide stylistic umbrella but here is our all-encompassing master list of our 50 favourite albums across all genres. We’ve still got a list of 40 recommended albums to listen to, that on any day may also make this list, but the cutoff has to happen sometime. Over time some of these entries will also shift around and increase/decrease in our level of appraisal but to my ears the top 20 is pretty rock solid. Dive on in and we’ll see you in 2017.
1 Arbor Labor Union – I Hear You
This was an album that slowly but surely dug its way into my ears and heart with its churning blend of Velvet Underground jangle and drone, the freewheeling sensibilities of some of my favourite recent guitarists such as Steve Gunn and Chris Forsyth, post-punk angles and disdain for perfection, a voice that hurls and breaks like Protomartyr and Pissed Jeans and a dusty back-roads vibe on 90s Dinosaur Jr and Smashing Pumpkins that combined to make I Hear You an unhurried and endlessly absorbing album of guitar rock.
2 Tindersticks – The Waiting Room
The UK group made a splendid return to form in 2016 with The Waiting Room. By taking a less-is-more approach they’ve mastered a sense of graceful musical levitation where songs drift by and hang in the air on the back of Stuart Staples’ soulful, rich and austere voice and backed by the band’s blend of post-rock, soundtracks, late-night jazz stylings, uber-stoned echoes of dancehall and sophisticated funk. Nothing else sounded like it this year. In ‘Hey Lucinda’ they produced one of our favourite songs of 2016.
3 Witch Hats – Deliverance
The Melbourne quartet continue to refine their sound and they came closest to perfecting it on Deliverance. Their dark, lurching rock ‘n’ roll is awash with howling dirges and claustrophobic angst. The bass is deep and heavy, anchoring the songs as they stagger off into Stooges proto-punk, and nihilistic post-punk. The key is the melodies that still burn a hole in the gothic, swampy vibe. They’re firmly in the realm of The Clash, The Drones and The Gun Club yet they’ve dug their own hook-laden hole and decorated it with all manner of exceptional dark pop and bruised, gutter-punk blues.
4 Drive-By Truckers – American Band
Hood, Cooley and band have built an epic back catalogue of albums over the last two decades and American Band is right up there with their very best. It rocks, it soothes and it was the most poetically prescient album of the year. It touched on modern America and the cultural, economic, political and societal struggles it still wrestles with. The band balanced education, commentary and incisive critique with country rock ‘n’ roll and weary yet defiant melancholy.
5 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Cave returns with his most affecting and intimate sounding album, after his family was struck by tragedy when his son died after falling from a cliff. The album was already underway when that happened but the weight of it hangs across the songs like a heavy, ghostly mist as Cave sings of drug addicts in Tijuana hotel rooms and a myriad of other characters flirting with the netherworld. It’s a hard listen emotionally as the relentless soundscapes conjured up by The Bad Seeds navigate the ominous and darkened waters yet ultimately they allow slivers of light to relieve some of the sadness and tragedy. Skeleton Tree is essential and moving music par excellence.
6 Dinosaur Jr – Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not
7 David Bowie – Blackstar
8 Richmond Fontaine – You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To
9 The Felice Brothers – Life In The Dark
10 Case/Lang/Veirs – Case/Lang/Veirs
11 Kyle Craft – Dolls Of Highland
12 Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
13 The Drones – Feelin Kinda Free
14 Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
15 Jason Walker – All-Night Ghost Town
16 Davey Craddock – City West
17 Eleanor Friedberger – New View
18 Steve Gunn – Eyes On The Line
19 Ryley Walker – Golden Sings That Haven’t Been Sung
20 The Field – Follower
21 Lucinda Williams – The Ghosts Of Highway 20
22 William Crighton – William Crighton
23 Jonny Fritz – Sweet Creep
24 Big Smoke – Time Is Golden
25 Darren Cross – _Xantastic
26 Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis
27 The Goon Sax – Up To Anything
28 Karl Blau – Introducing Karl Blau
29 Okkervil River – Away
30 Cian Nugent – Night Fiction
31 Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Maths
32 William Tyler – Modern Country
33 Cass McCombs – Mangy Love
34 The Renderers – In The Sodium Light
35 Lambchop – FLOTUS
36 Oren Ambarchi – Hubris
37 Andy Stott – Too Many Voices
38 Lower Plenty – Sister Sister
39 Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – The Rarity Of Experience
40 A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
41 Will Wood – Magpie Brain & Other Stories
42 Underworld – Barbara Barbara, We Face An Uncertain Future
43 Luther Dickinson – Blues & Ballads
44 Chook Race – Around The House
45 Sonic Youth – Spinhead Sessions
46 The Men – Devil Music
47 Kevin Morby – Singing Saw
48 Parquet Courts – Human Performance
49 Ghost Wave – Radio Norfolk
50 Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial