#8: Weezer - Weezer (The White Album)
Since the beginning of the decade, Weezer have been on a slowly inclining redemption arc. 2010’s Hurley, when compared to the abomination of an album that preceded it, was a surprisingly decent effort, and Everything Will Be Alright In The End was fittingly titled and featured some of the band’s best songs in years. But even that record had its noticeably weaker cuts. That is not the case with The White Album. Within the 34 minutes of runtime, Rivers Cuomo and friends are able to jam in pop rock gem after pop rock gem and make one of the most consistently entertaining records of the year and their best record in nearly two decades. How do they do it? By just being themselves. There’s no crazy left hooks the band throws, nor are there any massive stylistic changes. Weezer just started being Weezer again, after so long of doing everything but.
#7: The Jezabels - Synthia
Whenever an artist purposefully tries to make a record that feels huge, the results are hit or miss.Try too hard and you’ll get a record that will fail to connect with the listener on an emotional or intimate level and come off as soulless. Don’t reach high enough and you get a record that comes off as underwhelming and in the shadows of its own ambitions. The Jezabels manage to find the perfect middle ground with Synthia. Songs like “My Love Is My Disease” with choruses that aim sky-high could easily come across as overblown. But the Sydney quartet manage to make it work with a batch of grade-A instrumentals that marry the synthetic and organically to a tee. Building onto the already impassioned instrumentals are the soaring vocals and personal lyrics of Hayley Mary The ambition of Synthia was bound to result in an underwhelming product, but The Jezabels manage to win the uphill battle and come out with a grasp that matches their massive reach.
#6: Esperanza Spalding - Emily’s D+Evolution
Esperanza Spalding has always been a great talent. Her prodigious skill as a bassist is nothing to sneeze at. However, it’s with Emily’s D+Evolution where we see her take the leap from simply being a skilled musician to an adventurous and eccentric composer and songwriter. Gathering elements of funk, folk, soul, experimental rock, and musical theatre under one record seems like an experiment meant for disaster, but Spalding manages to pull it off in spades. Everything from the oddball harder cuts to the soulful and graceful ballads, she makes it all work. Best New Artist fluke she isn’t.
#5: David Bowie - Blackstar
Before Bowie’s death, Blackstar was still an important album in the man’s discography. Opposite to The Next Day’s throwback aesthetic, Blackstar was an incredibly forward-thinking record for Bowie, even moreso with him nearing 70 years old. The experimental cuts on Blackstar, such as the title track and “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” make great use of saxophones and horns, as well as Bowie’s withering voice to pull off some eerie and head-scratching vocal performances. After his death, the album’s themes were simply highlighted for all of its listeners. Songs like “Lazarus” that were once slightly macabre pieces turned into heart-destroying farewell letters from the man himself. Every beautiful, haunting word Bowie lays down to record was given so much more power once the context came into play.
#4: Stimming - Alpe Lusia
For the duration of the creation of Alpe Lusia, Martin Stimmin had isolated himself to a small hut in the Italian Alps, for which the album is named after. After listening to the record, the circumstances of the record’s formation makes sense. Stimmin takes advantage of the hypnotic, repetitive nature of house music and makes of of the most meditative, moving electronic records of the decade. Stellar grooves are matched with heart-stirring, melodic movements perfectly: the visceral is married to the sentimental. These two elements are only built upon with the ways these tracks, ones that reach to the lengths of nine minutes, wind, veer, and evolve into musical movements that rival the quality of the ones preceding.
#3: Ty Segall - Emotional Mugger
Ty Segall had worked hard enough to deserve his position of being one of the greatest acts in modern garage rock. Through his own solo work, collaborative albums, and contributions to other bands, Segall has had a big hand in more albums since his solo debut in 2008 than other artists have in their lifetimes. However, Emotional Mugger still stands as one of the most pummeling, rough, and raw releases in the Ty’s massive discography. All over this record, the guitars are scorching, the distortion and fuzz on said guitars is relentless, and the solos manage to break through all of the noise and cut and sear into the listener’s ears in the most fiery, rewarding way possible. But Emotional Mugger is not only one of Segall’s best sonic accomplishments, but it’s also one of his best songwriting-wise. Overall, Emotional Mugger ranks as one of Ty Segall’s finest works, as well as one of the greatest garage rock record of the ‘10s.
#2: James Blake - The Colour In Anything
The first thing that may come up when discussing the criticisms of The Colour In Anything is the length. With 17 tracks and and 76 minutes of material overall, fans of Blake’s previously succinct releases, and even newcomers to his work, will most likely feel overwhelmed by a tracklist of this caliber. That’s where the atmosphere comes into play. The icy, melancholy mood The Colour In Anything gives off is so vivid the album’s length eventually fades away and is replaced by total immersion into Blake’s beautiful vocals and melodies and his minimalistic production that feels so much more vast than any of his other works.
#1: Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Denial
The move from an entirely independent project to being signed to one of the biggest labels in alternative music could have been a bad thing for Car Seat Headrest; the major label transition has done more harm than good for more than a few bands. However, the band’s first album of new material for Matador Records has proven to be an outlier, as Teens of Denial is the band’s greatest achievement. The production is the greatest to ever grace the once lo-fi group’s music, the instrumentals are as direct and dynamic as ever, and the hooks have never been stronger. But, most importantly, the move has not affected Toledo’s songwriting chops one bit. The ambitious song structures of previous Car Seat projects are alive and well. In fact, lyrically, Toledo has found the sweet spot between relatability and personal struggle that makes for one of the most moving indie records in a long time.Will’s fusion of self-deprecation, self-analysis, and wit make for a record that will affect anyone who is struggling through the transitionary, confusing stage of life of teen-late ‘20s, or anyone who has strived for understanding of adulthood and ultimately failed, more than any other album in 2016.