Travis: Top 10 Albums of 2016
It's that time again when music sites around the globe whittle down 2016's best releases into a personal, end-of-year list. I had more trouble than anticipated when put to task with arranging my top 10 albums of the last 12 months, but here they are.
Woods have put out some of the more memorable music from the past few years, and their most recent offering, City Sun Eater in the River of Light, did not disappoint. Somehow, it seemed to come in under the radar, but it is the Brooklyn group's most adventurous album yet and the opening track, "Sun City Creeps", is one of my favorite songs of the year.
Glass Animals' debut, Zaba, was quite possibly my favorite LP of 2014 - needless to say, I had unreasonably high expectations for this one. Nobody sounds like the English quartet right now, so I was curious to see which path they were going to take. As the first singles were leaked, I heard that familiar sound I fell in love with on Zaba but with a definite twist, as they are more comfortable experimenting with new genres now. How to Be a Human Being has been a grower for me, but with every listen, it comes that much closer to living up to its amazing predecessor.
Australia has been exporting some fantastic psych-rock lately, and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are at the forefront of the charge, dropping eight albums in the past four years. Their only release in 2016, Nonagon Infinity, is an absolute ripper. Each fast-paced, exuberant song flows effortlessly into the next, all while staying surprisingly focused.
It's hard to comprehend that these Aussies plan to release five studio albums in 2017, beginning with Flying Microtonal Banana in February, so I wouldn't be surprised if they end up here again a year from now.
Alex Cameron's synth-pop debut is one of the most underappreciated albums of the year. Sonically, Jumping the Shark is very rewarding, and the honest, almost wounded lyrics bring it all together. The simplicity of the music somehow works to its advantage, and Cameron will no doubt have a bright future if he can build on his already honed, lo-fi sound.
Chilean producer, Nicolas Jaar, takes fans on an emotional journey with his sophomore effort, Sirens. Jaar uses repeating loops and unexpected samples to produce modern classical soundscapes that are grand in scale. This downtempo gem keeps listeners on their feet by drastically switching gears from one song to the next.
Whitney's duo, former members of Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Smith Westerns, came together to create something special in Light Upon the Lake. This was the soundtrack of my summer and is the most approachable music on this list, with instantly hummable tunes that nearly anybody can enjoy. The warmth and vintage sound flows effortlessly and creates a timeless sound.
Leonard Cohen is an artist I've always respected but for whatever reason could never fully embrace, so I was surprised by how much his farewell album hit home with me. I will go as far to say that the Canadian poet's 14th LP is possibly his magnum opus. It is haunting and devastatingly beautiful.
Will Toledo came from very humble Bandcamp beginnings, but with the backing of Matador, NYC-based independent label, he has taken off. Under his moniker, Car Seat Headrest, 90s indie rock lives through Toledo. Teens of Denial is more polished than his earlier material, but it contains the same witty, personal lyrics and catchy hooks.
Bon Iver's third LP will always be very polarizing, however, I'm confident that many fans who feel betrayed by 22, A Million will eventually come around. The layered complexity of each song requires multiple listens to fully digest what is going on. This project was almost abandoned altogether by Justin Vernon a few times over the five years it took to complete it, so you can only imagine how hard his choice was to simultaneously distance himself yet bring his fans closer than ever.
Leave it to The Thin White Duke to gift us one final, beautiful piece of himself before he departed Earth to return to the cosmos. Blackstar is truly a groundbreaking recording, and it's astonishing that Bowie still possesses the power, even after 27 studio albums, to create music that has us scratching our heads in awe. The jazz influence is unmistakable, but Blackstar is so much more than that - it's experimental, dark and pulls heavily from his Berlin trilogy days. Anchored by the title track and "Lazarus", Blackstar is an emotional ride from start to finish.