Overall, 2016 has been a great, but tragic year for music. While we had incredible releases all across the board, we also suffered the loss of some of music’s most incredible influencers; ranging from David Bowie to Prince to Beatles producer George Martin.
However, instead of focusing entirely on tragedy, I want to talk about some of my favorite albums of the year so far, ranking them all into different categories.
This album came out on May 6, 2016, during one of the last days of school last semester. It was an album I had been heavily anticipating for nearly 3 years and when it came out, it was like a giant weight was lifted off my shoulders.
I had been struggling with a breakup from a few months before and this album made me feel like I wasn’t alone. But let’s discuss the actual music though.
The album was produced by Blake himself with some help from legendary producer Rick Rubin and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, who help him create a unique atmosphere that’s hard to explain but needs to be heard.
His lyrical ability has improved since his first two albums, as he’s able to tell these simple but emotionally affecting stories that get me every single time. And as a singer? He’s one of the best working today on the pure emotion he’s able to evoke.
While it does go a little long and there’s a filler track here and there, it doesn’t bother me that much considering how much this album helped me. “The Colour In Anything” is a wonderful piece of art I’ll probably be returning to for years to come.
I never said I wasn’t going to focus on tragedy a little. Anyways, “Blackstar” was the final album released by David Bowie, coming out 2 days before his death to liver cancer at the age of 69.
When it first came out, a lot of this album was fairly cryptic and hard to dig through. However, the music was so good and Bowie sounded so inspired it didn’t quite matter that much.
If anything, it was a positive of the album. However, when Bowie died, a lot about the album started to, sadly, make sense.
The music here is frantic, as Bowie hired on a local New York jazz combo led by Donny McCaslin for the sessions. Thanks to the experimental jazz instrumentation and Bowie’s voice, which had seen its fair share of damage and use over the years, the album is incredibly haunting.
However, it does end on a hopeful note with “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” which will probably go down as the best “last song” any artist will ever make.
It is a song about a man who still has so much to offer the world, but realizes that’s not how life works.
When this album initially came out, I thought to myself that Bowie still had a lot in him if he was making something this experimental so late into his career. And Bowie did have a lot in him, he was just taken from us way too soon.
I’ll just go straight out of the gate and say this: “Teens of Denial” is my album of the year. No album has been able to fully represent my feelings of frustration, anxiety, and fear as a young adult than this album has.
A quick recap for those who don’t know about Car Seat Headrest: Car Seat Headrest is the project led by Virginia singer/songwriter Will Toledo who for years on Bandcamp was the sole recording member of the band until 2015 when he formed a full band and signed to Matador Records, releasing this album and last year’s Teens of Style, a compilation of re-recordings of some of his older material.
Back to “Teens of Denial” though, it is an extremely versatile record. Rarely am I ever in a mood not to listen to this album.
Songs like “Fill In The Blank” and “Destroyed By Hippie Powers” are catchy anthems for when you’re feeling frustrated, “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” and “Cosmic Hero” work well when you feel that you are at your lowest, and “Vincent” and “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia” are there to try to pick you back up.
Toledo is able to perfectly translate his initial lo-fi sound to something more cleaner and hi-fi without sacrificing what made him great in the first place thanks to the chemistry of the band (Ethan Ives and Andrew Katz) and producer Steve Fisk.
With another album on the way in 2017, we’re going to be seeing a lot from Car Seat Headrest in the near future, and his fame and praise will only go up from here. Meet the new boss of indie rock, same as the old boss.
“Blonde” is a slow burner. It’s a record at first you’re gonna have some questions about, especially if you were a big fan of his previous album, “Channel Orange.” The songwriting isn’t as immediate as that album, the instrumentation is more minimal, and something doesn’t just feel right.
However, at some point, it clicks. For me, it was driving home from St. Louis after a concert in August that finally made the album click. Aimlessly driving down a dark highway occasionally passing other cars is kind of the perfect way to describe this album and Frank Ocean’s life.
Ocean delves into his life before and after “Channel Orange,” revealing tales of relationships that didn’t quite pan out, poverty, blind dates, and his journey to success. By far, “Blonde” is the most rewarding listen of 2016, as almost every time I listen, I find something new to gush about.
In looking within more than ever before, Frank Ocean has put out his most personal album yet, and possibly his best.
One of my favorite discoveries this year definitely has to be Jeff Rosenstock. After coming upon his previous album “We Cool?” randomly this fall and the singles for this album, I became insanely excited for “WORRY.” And my excitement was well worth it as this album seems to be his magnum opus that best represents his, and many others, thoughts on world.
Everything from pop punk, power pop, indie rock, emo, and even ska is covered throughout the album, as Rosenstock is coming to terms with his career that’s perfectly represented in the opening lines to “Pash Rash,” seen below:
“I’ve been doing this for half my years;
I’ve been mouthing off in bars, trading shame for self-respect”
Rosenstock has been in bands since 1998 and now at the tender age of 34, he has to finally deal with adulthood and be apart of the system he so desperately tried to fight for so many years. Once again, perfectly represented in another song on the album, “Wave Goodnight To Me”:
Yeah, ignorance is bliss until the day
The things you ignored all come into focus
And those conveniences and cavities
That can’t get filled ’cause you didn’t notice
I’m having a hard time talking about the themes and subject matter of the album as it’s really just best to listen yourself as Rosenstock is a very open songwriter, letting everything out there in his lyrics and music as his humility is almost kinda frightening.
But on the real, please listen to this album, especially the back half which takes the album on a completely unexpected but fantastic detour. “WORRY.” is the album 2016 didn’t know it wanted, but now so desperately needs.