Monday, December 19, 2016

The Best of 2016: The Best New Albums I Heard

2016 will undoubtedly go down as one of the saddest years in pop music history.

This is principally due to the passing of many legendary, groundbreaking artists across various genres, including David Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, Glenn Frey (of the Eagles), Maurice White (of Earth, Wind & Fire), Paul Kantner (of Jefferson Airplane), Sharon Jones, Buckwheat Zydeco and Leon Russell, among several others.

In a recent post, I listed many of these losses, only for the rock world to soon suffer another with the recent death of Greg Lake, sadly following his Emerson, Lake & Palmer bandmate, Keith Emerson, earlier in the year.

And at least per my purview, it's also been a rather distressing year in regards to new music in a pop/rock realm. (I did however see several great concerts, the subject of an upcoming Best of 2017 post.)

Certainly, there has been some good music recorded and released, as I'll cite below, but not only did there not seem to be any galvanizing, zeitgeist-achieving albums--even beyond those I might have favored--according to Billboard nobody sold more CDs in 2016 than...

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Certainly, the way music is heard, distributed and purchased has vastly changed, with streaming on services such as Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal combining with paid downloads via iTunes, Amazon, etc., to generate more revenues for record companies than physical CDs.

But although I do quite a bit of listening through Spotify--roughly an hour a day, on average--for which I pay $120/yr. for their Premium service, I am old school enough to only consider those albums I purchase on CD as those I actually "own."

And in 2016, I only bought three CDs of new music.

One was David Bowie's Blackstar, which was released on his 69th birthday, January 10, which wound up being just two days before he died. Bowie is one of my all-time favorite artists, and the album is a rather astonishing last testament. (Another stellar new album by an iconic artist, Leonard Cohen's You Want It Darker, preceded Cohen's death by just a couple weeks.)

Although I'd say I admire Beyoncé's artistry and voice (on multiple levels) beyond my personal fandom, I was intrigued enough by her lyrically-candid Lemonade album--which was accompanied by a video album--to purchase it, especially as it isn't on Spotify.

And I bought Eric Clapton's I Still Do, which I quickly lent to a friend and am not sure I ever saw again.

So although I listened to a good number of new albums, including recently, primarily they were the latest releases of artists I've long enjoyed (and typically well short of their career best).

Hence, I can't really suggest this list is all that holistically exploratory or revelatory, but for whatever it's worth, here are:

My Favorite New Rock (Mostly) Albums of 2016

1. David Bowie - Blackstar (Spotify link)

2. Bob Mould - Patch the Sky (Spotify link)

3. The Rolling Stones - Blue & Lonesome (Spotify link)

4. Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker (Spotify link)

5. Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression (Spotify link)

6. Dinosaur Jr. - Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not (Spotify link)

7. Beyoncé - Lemonade (not on Spotify)

8. Metallica - Hardwired...To Self-Destruct  (Spotify link)

9. Elton John - Wonderful Crazy Night (Spotify link)

10. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool (Spotify link) 

11. Twin Peaks - Down in Heaven (Spotify link)

Honorable Mention

Eric Clapton - I Still Do (Spotify link)
Paul Simon - Stranger to Stranger (Spotify link)
Savages - Adore Life (Spotify link)
Drive-By Truckers - American Band (Spotify link)
Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book (Spotify link)
The Hamilton Mixtape (Spotify link)

Special Mention

Truth be told, the new "albums" I listened to and liked the most this year aren't represented on the above list. I am a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, and while the Boss didn't release any new music in 2016--save for the Chapter & Verse companion to his Born to Run autobiography, which includes five early, unreleased songs from before he was known, along with several familiar tunes--he did put out official recordings of every concert he performed with the E Street Band this year.

These shows can be purchased and downloaded at (CDs are also available). I got several and loved them all, including:

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
● Chicago 1/19/16*
● Milwaukee 3/3/16*
● Columbus 4/12/16*
● Brooklyn 4/23/16
● Milan 7/5/16
● East Rutherford 8/23/16
● Chicago 8/28/16*
● Washington, DC 9/1/16*
* = shows I attended

Pearl Jam has also long released official bootlegs of their concerts--which can be found here--but for whatever reason have not issued the two shows I saw at Wrigley Field this year. I imagine several of their other 2016 gigs were quite stellar, but I haven't downloaded any.

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