It struck me this year that my music listening habits have really changed over time. I’m still not interested in streaming services, because although I understand that they give access to broad swaths of music, I still prefer to own and not rent. And I’ve gradually moved away from buying CDs (although I still buy some) to downloads. I rarely listen to albums all the way through anymore, something which I had done regularly since high school. Back when I was commuting, I had my stuffed iPod Classic set on random, and listened on both legs of the trip to and from the office, but now, the iPod is mostly used to distract me from how much I don’t enjoy going to the gym. The other thing, interesting to me, at least, is that when I worked for other people, I pretty much always had music playing in my office, usually WFUV. Now, even though I work for myself, I don’t often feel the need to play music while I sit at my desk.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that I write about music here, there and elsewhere, I find that increasingly I’ve never heard of most of the albums that make year-end “best ofs.” I’m at the point in my life that what is popular doesn’t interest me, what interests me isn’t popular, and there is just too much music, and too little time (and money), for me to search out every great album. I’m not happy about that, because I know that it limits my exposure to good music, but it is reality.
Which is why this article is titled “My Favorite Music of 2016” and not the “Best Music of 2016.” It is a list of what I liked, based on what I have heard, and frankly it gnaws at me a bit that I know that there is a ton of great stuff out there that I’ve completely missed. So, here we go:
My Favorite Albums of 2016:
The rest of the albums that I liked, in alphabetical order:
case/lang/veirs, case/lang/veirs: Consistently good songs from three great singer-songwriters;
Alejandro Escovedo, Burn Something Beautiful: Switching from co-writing with Chuck Prophet to co-writing with Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey gives this album a rougher edge than its immediate predecessors;
The Jayhawks, Paging Mr. Proust: A strong album from the Jayhawks (which also features contributions from Buck, McCaughey along with Mike Mills) is always a pleasure, even if it is a little less twangy than usual;
Bob Mould, Patch The Sky: Mould continues to write intense, angry punk songs that are also intelligent and catchy;
The Record Company, Give It Back To You: Strong debut album from a blues-rock trio;
The Rolling Stones, Blue & Lonesome: Returning to the music they played as kids rejuvenated The World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band–Mick’s harmonica playing might steal the show;
Amanda Shires, My Piece of Land: Shires, a prodigious talent as a musician, singer and songwriter, wrote most of these songs while pregnant with her and Jason Isbell’s daughter, Mercy Rose, who immediately became a favorite for Americana artist of the year down the road.
Mavis Staples, Livin’ on a High Note: Moving from collaborating with Jeff Tweedy to M. Ward, who brought American treasure Staples a group of songs from diverse songwriters, many of which were written explicitly for the project, resulted in another solid collection;
Tedeschi Trucks Band, Let Me Get By: More great bluesy rock from this husband & wife led band;
Various Artists, God Don’t Never Change: The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson: Wonderful collection of covers from artists such as Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, Sinead O’Connor and others;
Ryley Walker, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung: Throwback folk from this Chicago guitarist whose influences include both American and British traditional music with a side of psychedelia.
Well-Reviewed Albums I Haven’t Quite Gotten Around to Listening To:
Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial: People I respect are raving about this, so I have to check it out;
Dawes, We’re All Gonna Die: The couple of songs that I’ve heard so far haven’t grabbed me like their earlier work–a bit too much studio effects–but they have grown on me with repeated listening, so we will see.
The Lemon Twigs, Do Hollywood: Complex pop created by teenage brothers from Long Island;
Conor Oberst, Ruminations: As the title indicates, a stripped down set of thoughtful, personal songs.
Difficult, Well-Reviewed Albums That I Need More Time With:
David Bowie, Blackstar
Lucinda Williams, The Ghosts of Highway 20
Great Songs Not On My Favorite Albums
Charles Bradley, “Ain’t It A Sin” Powerful track from the Screaming Eagle of Soul;
Dinosaur Jr, “Tiny” Everything good about Dinosaur Jr. is here;
Hiss Golden Messenger, “Biloxi” I keep thinking that this is a Dan Bern song, which means it is good;
Declan McKenna, “Brazil” Catchy pop tune about the beautiful game, and its ugly, off-the-field side;
The Pixies, “Classic Masher” Classic Pixies;
St. Paul and the Broken Bones, “All I Ever Wonder” I didn’t like the new album as much as last year’s debut, but this is a great song displaying the band’s horn heavy retro-soul sound (and we know that every song is better with horns);
Seratones, “Don’t Need It” Soulful rockers, whose lead singer sounds like a cross between Grace Slick, Brittany Howard, Etta James and Nancy Wilson;
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, “I’m Still Here” Autobiographical song from the soundtrack to the documentary Miss Sharon Jones! which chronicled her career, illness and comeback which, unfortunately, ended with her death earlier this year.
Paul Simon, “Wristband” A funny song that turns into a serious rumination on inequality;
Sting, “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” Return to rock form from Sting;
Sunflower Bean, “Easier Said” Dreamy pop from a young Brooklyn-based trio;
Teenage Fanclub, “I’m In Love” Power pop from one of the legendary power pop bands
The cancellation of the Clearwater Festival–I missed my two days of great music and random weather at Croton Point Park. Although the benefit concert at the Tarrytown Music Hall was enjoyable, it didn’t fill the gap (And I’m happy that it will be back in 2017);
Wilco, Schmilco: Very quiet and a bit dull. Not a bad album, but just disappointing. Strangely, as the band becomes more stable and tight, as Tweedy becomes less angsty, and as the musicianship becomes stronger, I’m finding myself liking their music less.
Birds of Chicago: Thanks, John Platt, for introducing me to this rootsy group;
The Record Company: See above;
Seratones: See above.