While 2016 was a whirlwind of a year, most would agree that its music was a high point. Unlike most music lovers, however, I never compiled an “albums of the year” list. This may sound like a cop-out, but there was simply too much rad-ness to choose from in 2016. I knew I’d just end up forgetting something, and then the list would be a failure.
So, I’m not going to bother with my own personal favorites. Who wants to read a boring list anyway? Instead, let’s take a look back at some of 2016’s highlights before seeing what’s to come in 2017.
First we had Blackstar, David Bowie’s 25th album. Blackstar was released mere days following the prolific artist’s death, until which fans were left in the dark about Bowie’s worsening health condition. Blackstar’s lyrics tragically imply Bowie knew his time was running out though. The theatrical and iconic video to the album’s single “Lazarus” seems almost like a farewell message to fans. While the world grieved the loss of an incredible talent, Blackstar set the bar for new music incredibly high in just the first few weeks of the year.
The theatrical A Moon-Shaped Pool, Radiohead’s ninth full-length record, was met with overwhelming critical acclaim in spring 2016. Fellow indie group Animal Collective made their stamp on the year with their notably poppier album Painting With. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds released the haunting Skeleton Tree, accompanied by a heartfelt film based on the untimely death of Cave’s son. Devendra Banhart, Nothing and Dinosaur Jr. also drew praise for releasing some of the best rock and indie albums of 2016.
You can’t talk about 2016’s rap releases without touching on Kanye’s The Life of Pablo. While the album received mixed reactions, the controversy surrounding “Famous” (the song and video) certainly made it a standout release. Childish Gambino made a comeback with Awaken My Love!, taking a more soulful approach than his previous albums. I was most impressed with the newest studio album from my favorite rapper Danny Brown, Atrocity Exhibition. Featuring just a few guests like Kendrick Lamar, who also released a new full length this past year, Atrocity Exhibition relies almost solely on Brown’s lyrical ability. Safe to say, he kills it. Finally, A Tribe Called Quest released their final album, aptly named We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service. The legendary Queens hip-hop group went out with a bang and no shortage of guest appearances.
Pop, however, probably saw the most contributions in 2016. Most noteworthy is Lemonade, where Beyonce demonstrates skill in nearly every major genre. Additionally, she strives to convey a not-so-subtle message about the current social climate. Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound was not only a personal favorite of mine, but mentioned in nearly all other “Best of 2016” lists I’ve read. Similar to Lemonade, Blood Orange’s politically-driven lyrics show us that catchy pop music doesn’t have to be shallow. Carly Rae Jepsen, who is featured on Freetown Sound, also released an ’80s-party-perfect follow-up to 2015’s Emotion, titled Emotion Side B. Lastly, Lady Gaga made her return to music with the heavily vocal-focused tracks of Joanne.
So, now that we’ve reminisced on last year’s essentials, what can we expect from 2017? Let’s take a look at what’s in store for the next couple of months.
- The Flaming Lips – Ozcy Mlody (1/13)
- The xx – I See You (1/13)
- AFI – AFI (The Blood Album) (1/20)
- Foxygen – Hang (1/20)
- Menace Beach – Lemon Memory (1/20)
- Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound (1/27)
- Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life (1/27)
- Lupe Fiasco – DROGAS Light (2/10)
- Marilyn Manson – SAY10 (2/14)
- The Orwells – Terrible Human Beings (2/17)
2017’s looking pretty good already! Plus, those aren’t even a fraction of this year’s planned releases. Arcade Fire, Gorillaz, Bad Religion, LCD Soundsystem, Goldfrapp, The Shins and Depeche Mode are just a few of the bands who have yet to publish a release date. No matter how awesome or not-awesome 2017 ends up being in general (but let’s be honest, after the disaster that was 2016, the bar is so low), it appears that music might be one of the year’s highlights yet again.