Dan’s Top Albums of 2016

Much like its predecessor, 2016 went by in a flash; a humbling reminder of how quickly life goes by.

If nothing else, music helps preserve the memories. Here are a few of the albums that accompanied my thoughts, feelings and experiences from the past year.

10. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

I’ll admit, I don’t think I got around to giving 2011’s Lotus Flower a solid listen, but with the familiar Radiohead entrancement of early A Moon Shaped Poolsingles “Burn the Witch” and “Daydreaming,” it was hard not to fully embrace the ninth album from the alternative rock legends. And though I still prefer the vulnerability of its I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings take, it was still exciting to see “True Love Waits” finally receive its formal studio release.

9. Okkervil River – Away

In Okkervil River’s 20 years of existence just about everything has changed in the band with exception to Will Sheff’s masterful songwriting. Following 2013’ Silver Gymnasium, a focused reflection into Sheff’s small-town upbringing, Away returns to the heartbreaking unrest and despair that is familiar to so many beloved Okkervil River songs. Begin with the beautifully defeated opener “Okkervil River R.I.P” and rousing epic “Frontman in Heaven.”

8. Frightened Rabbit – Painting Of A Panic Attack

2013’s Pedestrian Verse was a tough act to follow, but the hardworking Scottish band put out an admirable fifth album. There’s no departure from Frightened Rabbit’s trademark gloomy retrospect, but there is, as always, rousing and uplifting hooks and melodies that endure through the pain. “400 Bones” and “Lump Street” still stand out as favorites from the the past year.

7. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

I was at the Eaux Claires Festival when Justin Vernon debuted 22, A Million. It had rained most of that day, and just about everyone had to be wet and cold when Vernon stepped out for his closing set. But from the opening mix of “22 (Over Soon)” I was surprised at how engaged I was in songs I had never heard before. And though I don’t love some of the electronic explorations in 22, A million, I’ll take them in stride with the more harmonious delights (“8 (circle),” “33 “God”).

6. Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo

I ached for the new Kanye record. And the delays, website malfunctions and exclusive Tidal stream only added to the allure. When I finally did get a chance to listen to The Life of Pablo, I was not disappointed. Though not as comprehensive as My Dark Twisted Fantasy or Yeezus, Kanye and company constructed more than enough irresistible tunes on Pablo, undoubtedly igniting heavily repeated listens (“Waves,” “Wolves,” Ultralight Beam,” “FML” “Famous”).

5. Taking Back Sunday – Tidal Wave

Taking Back Sunday was one of my favorite bands in my late teens and early twenties, but since 2006’s Louder Now, I haven’t picked up on much of the newer material. Tidal Wave changed that. Since being one of the former champions of the emo era, Adam Lazzara and company have grown and matured their sound. The raw talent and emotion are still there, just now channeled through engaging and memorable American rock. 90s-hued “You Can’t Look Back” and unforgettably stirring “Holy Water” aren’t just album highlights, but some of the best Taking Back Sunday has ever put out. 

4. Mitski – Puberty 2

I don’t know how I came upon Mitski’s “Thursday Girl,” but it was a “Desperado” moment when I did. Hooked by its haunting and simple elegance, I delved further into Puberty 2. Not sure if it was the album title, or the “Teenage Dirtbag” vibe of single “Your Best American Girl,” but something took me back to those teenage years of hopeful daydreaming. A surprising feat from an album released in 2016.

3. Matthew Logan Vasquez – Solicitor Returns

Such a damn good album. On his debut solo effort, The Delta Spirit frontman channels his Texas roots along with early Neil Young guitar work, to create a gritty, powerful collection of rock tunes. From the the frantically catchy single “Personal” to the forever-burning “Stand Up,” to the raw and unpurified “Maria,” Solicitor Returns is an impressive play all the way through.

2. Cullen Omori – New Misery

Rising from the post-Smith Westerns breakup, Cullen Omori’s New Misery is maybe my most played album of the year. If ever I wanted to throw something on without thinking about it too much, it was New Misery. And despite the title, it features mostly easy-listening pop songs, including the infectious lead single “Cinnamon.” Start with “Cinnamon,” “Sour Silk,” and “No Big Deal.”

1. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – I Had A Dream That You Were Mine

The Walkmen have soundtracked a number of chapters in my life thus far, so to have the powerful croonings of lead singer Hamilton Leithauser still as prominent as ever despite the band’s indefinite hiatus, is exciting, and somehow reassuring. Teaming up with ever-talented Rostam, I Had A Dream That You Were Mine awakens a lot of reflection that I haven’t absorbed from music in a while. As a whole, it’s beautifully on-point, genuine and honest. Much of the album’s somber and impassioned emotion can be captured in the poignant bridge of “You Ain’t That Young Kid”: “But there’s no one to hurt me/ And there’s no one to hurt/ Cuz there’s ash in my heart/ Where I used to burn.” 

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