The Top 25 Albums of 2016

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The disclaimer – I’ve never sat through a Drake song. But if you’re into stuff influenced by ‘60s, ‘70s or ‘80s rock/pop/punk/soul/disco, then, great: I liked these and possibly you might, too.

25. CHARLIE HILTON – Palana (Typical Captured Tracks wannabe-new wave, but boosted by smart lyrics with icy chanteuse delivery of same. Sort of if Nico or Daredevil’s Elektra went to one of Jarvis Cocker’s St. Martin’s College parties in 1983 and made a record about it.)

24. ICE CHOIR – Designs In Rhythm (Sort of if Prefab Sprout, China Crisis and Curt Smith took pictures of their teeth after a 1985 afternoon at the dental hygienist’s and transferred the result into music…)

23. STILL CORNERS – Dead Blue (Glossy, late-night, girl-singer-boy-keyboard-boffin synthpop, not a mile from what Yazoo or Eurythmics might make if they’d started out in 2011 and the label told the singer to sound like Daredevil’s Elektra after getting stuck in an elevator for an hour with New Girl’s Schmidt.)

22. WILD NOTHING – Life Of Pause (Latest development in Virginia-bred twentysomething’s trawl through the Factory and Rough Trade label discographies.)

21. WHITNEY – Light Upon The Lake (Spoils from the unfortunate Smith Westerns divorce: still beholden to the ‘70s, but trading the gauzy, twinkling glam for close-miked, Sunday afternoon AOR, gorgeously recorded.)

20. ORIGINAL CAST RECORDING – Lazarus (A celebratory romp through the tears: Bowie’s NYC play cast members singing 17 canonicals the day after his death. Bonus: three fresh Bowie originals to deepen the sense of loss.)

19. M83 – Junk (Whomping synth-rock. Best parts interchangeable with his earlier hits, including the one that went all Play-era Moby [soooo many T.V. ads] about five years ago.)

18. ROOSEVELT – Roosevelt (“File under M83,” basically. It’s 1986 and you’re on holiday in Europe, listening to a two-year-old tape of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 while wearing Jams shorts.)

17. KRISTIN KONTROL – X-Communicate (Dum Dum Girl consolidates Siouxsie/Motels/Branigan fetish, and if they ever remake all those John Hughes flicks, here’s yer soundtrack.)

16. THE MONKEES – Good Times! (All the king’s horses and all the king’s men stitch the Prefabs together – even Davy’s back from the grave [or from 1967, at least] – into a programme of summery ‘60s pop/rock. Fan-fiction at its purest [Weller, Gallagher, Partridge, Cuomo, Gibbard and Schlesinger all submitted tunes].)

15. DOUG TUTTLE – It Calls On Me (If you’re tired of all my ‘80s references above, consider this hit of groovy ‘60s folk-tinged rock. Lovely one-man-band harmonies and mid-volume freakouts, sort of like 1967 Byrds if Crosby wasn’t such a dick.)

14. QUILT – Plaza (Boston four-piece ups rhythm quotient [slightly!] whilst maintaining multi-part girl-plus-boys harmonies and hazy Laurel Canyon vibe. Could’ve played house band in a Mod Squad episode, I bet.)

13. JAY ARNER – Jay II (Vancouverite sets time machine to early new wave but sands edges down to better highlight quietly caustic lyrical introspection. The sunniest earworm is a chorus chant about “a world of suffering,” so I think he’s winking at us.)

12. TEENAGE FANCLUB – Here (Scottish vets still sticking their landings. Some chugging psyche passages adds gristle to the motorik pop-folk, the sort of adult-alternative record that nestles within that wheelhouse all masters-of-their-domain eventually locate.)

11. MITSKI – Puberty 2 (College alt.-rock from a quarter-century ago reborn here – some of the squalling anger echoes Sleater-Kinney, PJ Harvey and others – with modern-day profundity: whisper-to-a-shout ‘Your Best American Girl,’ about a parent’s institutionalized racism toward her white boyfriend, is one of the best songs of ‘16.)

10. XENO & OAKLANDER – Topiary (Austere coldwave duo makes adjustments: turns all vocs over to the girl, adds roaming piano lines and cinematic brushstrokes for eerie warmth. Sort of if Chris & Cosey remade Kraftwerk’s The Man Machine with OMD’s gear.)

9. EAGULLS – Ullages (Brawny Brit post-punk, especially recommended if you think the Bunnymen have gone soft, Killing Joke have gone hard and The Cure have gone missing.)

8. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS – Skeleton Tree (Side two floored me first time through; thus prepared, subsequent plays engendered more admiration than awe – loss isn’t easy to make into sing-song and this doesn’t even try to. It does help one believe in the concept of recovery, though.)

7. OPERATORS – Blue Wave (Once I thought “Wolf Parade had to die for all these side-projects to live?” Now I fret about the reverse. In my dreams, Operators earn all of Images In Vogue’s, Darkroom’s and Blue Peter’s support slots for Simple Minds, Ultravox and Depeche.)

6. LEONARD COHEN – You Want It Darker (He hardly sings a syllable and the backing’s sombrous to the brink of severity, but of course it’s positively riveting. A wise old rake’s dissertation on ghosting.)

5. PREOCCUPATIONS – Preoccupations (Canada’s [Calgary’s!] answer to The Horrors absent the dance groove, but chock-a-block with the noise and steel so prevalent in the no-makeup/no-haircut wing of UK post-punk. The 11-minute epic’s a bruising treat and the closing Magazine soundalike is even better.)

4. IGGY POP – Post Pop Depression (Wherein Josh Homme plays the Bowie instigator role as Ig finally finishes that brawling, come-at-me-bro Lust For Life followup.)

3. DANIEL ROMANO – Mosey (Soundscapes turned me onto this one; this is why record stores must never perish. Someone knew I liked Lee Hazlewood, kitchen sinks, Rachel McAdams and Nuggets-and-AM-radio mashups and found it all wrapped up in this 49-minute reification.)

2. SUEDE – Night Thoughts (Good enough to make me reconsider whether Pulp wasn’t the best Britpop band after all. The older/wiser brother to 1996’s Coming Up, aging gracefully within expected boundaries while actively pushing against same.)

1. DAVID BOWIE – ★ (I’ve long since escaped that OMG-this-was-his-awesome-goodbye-note? phase to enjoy ★ strictly on a musicological level, but year-end lists and nostalgic summations have a way of re-engaging sociological considerations, and to see Bowie easily topping 2016’s worldwide year-end aggregator lists gives me fierce pride [Beyonce and Frank Ocean nabbed silver and bronze, respectively]. The death narrative was inescapable for most list-makers: rightly so, because pop music’s never seen this particular measure of artistic achievement before. Musically, ★ is grandly admirable in every damn sense of the word, the spine-tingling sound of deeply intelligent accomplishment come late in the game for post-war pop’s greatest long-and-winding career. Every rock fan’s a little cowed by avant jazz in the way people are upon meeting brain surgeons, but Bowie’s look-Ma-no-hands fusion of the avant to pop melody, daringly wild singing and adroit wordplay ticked accessible-coolness boxes in every neighbourhood. Highly lauded-but-“difficult” art-rock records from newer artists abound this millennium [Radiohead, Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors], but the old master painters are presumably incapable of capturing the youth vote with current work, which makes ★’s initial pre-death reviews all the more admirable. The mood swing between January 8th and 11th last year was the sharpest for any fanbase since John Lennon’s in 1980. We’ve all a few “biggest fan of ‘x’ that I know”-type friends and I’m probably the Bowie guy to a number of acquaintances. I’ll never forget the dreadful dawn of realization, the viral detonation of shock and grief, the communal swell of admiration and story-sharing…or the seven weeks I couldn’t bring myself to play the record, like some cry of denial, before I remembered that music is made to be played and enjoyed no matter the circumstances behind its creation, delivery and reception. 2016 was the year of David Bowie and ★ was the record of my year.

(Honourable mentions: Wild Beasts, Trashcan Sinatras, Night Beats, The Lemon Twigs, The Radio Dept.)

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