Monday, January 2, 2017

Top 10 albums of 2016

Here we go once more - as always, pulled strictly from things I purchased and listened to over the year and NOT an extensive or entire-catalog-of-everything-this-year level list.  Also, as always, rated with an ear for replayability and overall being a great listen.



10.Broods - Conscious

This plucky duo from New Zealand rose to prominence in the shadow of other far more successful artists who are also from that part of the globe (Lorde, anyone?)  This is no criticism, however, just a matter of where they came from.  Where it gets better is in their follow up.  Here they show they were no 1-trick pony.  They take the best of what made their debut album great, and double down on the best musical techniques.  Where the debut "Evergreen" might have sounded overly sparse or seemingly incomplete in places, here the proceedings are much more rich, dynamic, and compelling.  Not an overabundance of sounds just for the sake of having them there, but a "just right" electro pop mix that makes this a worthy step forward and a fine listen.


9.Sting - 57th and 9th

Sting finally returns, after a 13 year gap from releasing new material (if you exclude, of course, his lute excursions, the soundtrack to The Last Ship, and his symphonicities project, among other off the beaten path discs.)  His return to pure straight up un-varnished pop rock is a welcome return, but doesn't always seem to get to the finish line.  This album was recorded with many of his long time players including Dominic Miller [guitars] Vinnie Colaiuta [drums] and many more that are undeniably talented.  It opens with a stomper that seems time warped straight out of his Police days, but gets a bit lost in the latter half with ballads that seem half-baked and not quite fully realized.  And when he tries to tackle climate change on "One Fine Day" it comes off like Sting trying to be Bono in U2 shaking his polemic fist and not quite pulling it off.  It's a welcome return, but it could have been so much better.


8.Onerepublic - Oh My My

On their 4th, Tedder & co. work to step outside their safe zone.  This album was recorded all over the world off and on as the band toured around “Native” and it shows.  It is at once all over the place and firmly grounded with a distinct beginning, middle, and end.  Sometimes the stepping outside the safe zone yields gems (the sparse, minimal “Born”) and sometimes doesn’t quite work.  The shuffling, wander-heavy "Fingertips" feels like a demo version that never got quite fully worked out into a full song.  Such odd touches and bizarre diversions are to be expected, though, when stepping outside the safe zone.  If this is the test phase that leads toward an amazing album number 5 years down the road, it's still an interesting test phase to listen to before album 5 comes along.


7.Garbage - Strange Little Birds

Garbage have always done the human soul torn wide open in its most vulnerable moments, but even within the vulnerability on full display, there was always a slight bit of caution involved.  Manson and co. have always known how to blend human pathos and distorted electro rock to create compelling music, but their first quartet of albums always gave the impression that the group was writing songs that were smart, cutting, and deep, but didn't quite have the personal touch.  There's nothing wrong with that kind of song, mind you, but after a while, there are only so many songs like that one band can come up with before they have to dig deeper.  And dig they did.  Garbage in the 1990's could NEVER - and I repeat - NEVER have cooked up a song as naked, haunting, and beautiful as this album's second to last track, the ghostly ballad "Teaching little fingers to play."  This album is an adjustment - some of the fury that they poured into song before has been washed away in favor of a lighter touch all across the board.  Still a worthy listen for fans old and new alike.


6.Aesop Rock - The Impossible Kid

I discovered this artist too late.  I actually first heard his name mentioned in a Macklemore song.  Intrigued, I searched on google, and after a few listens, was hooked, and as of writing this, own this, and 2 of his previous albums, and find all 3 fantastic.  His style is a tweaked-out barrage of non sequiturs that seem at first inscrutable and un-reachable, but when you take the time to pay attention, reveal a keen mind at work spinning tales of his life and experience.  The best hip hop has always been, no matter the artist, the type of person who can spin life experiences into lyrical montages spread atop a catchy beat.  From the uncut nostalgia ode to his brothers of “Blood Sandwich” to the midlife crisis-leaning “Lotta Years” or the clever ode to his cat “Kirby” - this artist certainly does manage, as other reviewers have quipped, to come down from the mountain “Tuff with 2 F’s”


5.Pet Shop Boys - Super

The second album to come out since they have linked up with Stuart Price, and they continue a hot streak that most would never expect possible from a band 3 decades in, but the ‘Boys do it with flair and style.  The album suffers a bit from a mid-section that packs in not one, but two mostly lyric-less filler tracks, but this is part of why the PSB remain so strong to this day - even their filler tracks sound great.  Not many bands can say that with a straight face.

Choice cuts:
“The Pop Kids”
“Into Thin Air”


4.Steven Page - Heal Thyself Part 1 - Instinct

Steven Page and Ed Robertson each brought an equal amount of fine talent to the show during their time as co-lead singers of Barenaked Ladies.  Since Page split from the group, his output has been scarce at best, so just to see even a new album at all is vaguely worth celebrating.  It's even more worth celebrating when it's this bloody good.  Lead teaser track released to the internet "Surprise Surprise" is only the delightfully tasty center at the middle of a solid, well rounded album.  This is definitely an album that only Steven Page circa now could have made.  The nervous, talented dork who made music with his school buddies in the late 80's and early 90's and later turned that into a career is gone.  In its place is the same talented dork, but with a world weary, lived-in quality infusing the music.  It's all on display here, all the way from the dashed-hopes-and-dreams lament of "Hole in the moonlight." to the languid, sardonic lament on a personal crisis of spirituality in "I can see my house from here."  These are the songs of someone who has experience, but feels all the more confused even having gained that experience.  To the point - someone who wants to share that journey with his audience in song, still, and does a damn good job doing so.

Choice Cuts:
"If That's Your Way"
"Here's What It Takes"


3.Robbie Williams - The Heavy Entertainment Show

This album proves that sometimes the artist and collaborator of choice make the best work.  His previous album had the insufferably sweet but still great "Candy" but seemed a bit lacking in places.  For The Heavy Entertainment Show, Williams linked back up once again with songwriting partner Guy Chambers.  Is it Chambers being there as the filter to keep Williams' own bad ideas in check?  Is it them working better as a team?  Hard to say, really.  But they really do knock it out of the park here.  The opening title track teases a bit with a light piano intro, then stomps into very much "Heavy" territory and this only lets up a handful of times.  Even when it lets up, it doesn't really let up.  "David's Song" is heavy in another way - coming as it does as a lament on the death of Williams' longtime manager David Enthoven.  Other publications have derided this disc for being an album that lurches from place to place, with no cohesion.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  This is a solid reminder that Williams can do just about anything you could want to hear from him, with just enough of each to whet the appetite, but never giving too much of any one thing.  Lead single "Party like a russian" is amusing enough to make the listener want to find a copy of the original lyrics (this song was reportedly toned down a bit for the version that ended up on the album vs the more scathing rip on Putin that Williams had [reportedly] come up with originally.)  Even so, it is still an amazing piece of work.

Choice cuts:
"Pretty Woman"
"When You Know"


2.Empire Of The Sun - 2 Vines

This was way better than it had any right to be.  Empire Of The Sun had a hit with “Walking on a dream” which could have been called a fluke, then “Alive” from their second album proved they were no 1 trick pony - but the well they draw from was one that was bound to run dry all too quick.  Or so one might have thought after listening to their previous effort “Ice on the dune” one too many times.  With “2 Vines” - they have proven they have plenty more to draw from that well.  If the last album was the delirious celebration and party, “2 Vines” is the serenity-drenched after party.  All tripped-out peaceful-flow vibes and relaxed melodies - melodies that quietly slip into your head and make you want to listen to them over and over again.

Choice Cuts
“Way To Go”
“To Her Door”


1.Red Hot Chili Peppers - The Getaway

After much agonizing, this one wins the top spot for sheer replayability.  I had hit the pause button on listening to this one for a while as I had purchased new music recently, but coming back to it as I collected this list, and considered which album should go where, this one was the obvious pick for the top slot.  Not only is it a rock solid effort from front to back, it pulls off a few seemingly impossible hat tricks.  First, it shows that they are NOT dependent on John Frusciante to make amazing music - Josh Klinghoffer blends in delightfully with their style on this disc.  Second - it shows they know how to age gracefully while still remembering how to make the kind of music that made people want to listen to them in the first place.  Like a fine wine, these peppers have only gotten better with age.

Choice cuts:
“Encore”
“Feasting On The Flowers”




Honorable Mentions:

The following 3 ended up here because - while appealing on initial listen, I almost forgot to include them on the list - showing that they lack seriously in repeat play value, but do have some value even so.

Meghan Trainor - Thank You
Lady Gaga - Joanne
Zayn - Mind of Mine

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