Considering the depth of quality albums released in 2016, it’s no surprise that the year produced a healthy number of releases that went unheard or under-appreciated by the vast majority of music fans. Here’s my list of 10 such albums, with a caveat: These selections reflect my musical tastes, and decidedly lean toward rock, pop and Americana.
1. Margo Price: “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” – This newcomer sounds far more seasoned than her brief discography would suggest. The song “Hands of Time” spins a well-rounded story about battling hard times while recalling the classic country-pop of Dusty Springfield. Other songs, like the frisky two-step “About To Find Out,” paint smart (and frequently funny) character portraits on what’s arguably the year’s best country album.
2. Death By Unga Bunga: “Pineapple Pizza” – This band’s fourth album in five years, “Pineapple Pizza” comes roaring out of the gate with “I Can’t Believe That We’re Together,” a riffy rocker in the glorious tradition of the Who’s “I Can’t Explain.” The rest of the album is just as good and boasts nice variety – not to mention an unending stream of undeniable hooks. Put it all together and “Pineapple Pizza” stands as one of the best power pop albums of 2016.
3. Paranoid Style: “Rolling Disclosures” – Elizabeth Nelson (who essentially is the Paranoid Style) sounds a bit like Jenny Lewis as a vocalist and shares her talent for pithy, knowing and frequently humorous lyrics. But where Lewis leans toward alt-country, Nelson is a power-pop ace, rocking through caffeinated guitar-rich tunes like “Certain Lists,” “Daniel In The Basement” and “The Thrill Is Back!”
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4. LVL Up: “Return To Love” – The rumbling, fuzzed out sound of “Return To Love” is invigorating in its own right, but the sonics never overshadow the hooks or energy of the material. This balance between noise and melody, and between structure and experimentation, makes “Return To Love” a compelling listen. And the buzz this album has started to generate may soon translate into the wider attention the band deserves.
5. Margaret Glaspy: “Emotions and Math” – Glaspy writes jagged and ear-grabbing songs that range from rocking (“Emotions And Math”) to just plain ragged (“Parental Guidance”). That’s a perfect setting for her lyrics, which suggest someone who has been around the block enough times to see things for what they really are.
6. The Wild Feathers: “Lonely is a Lifetime” – This consistently enjoyable album ranges from the epic Beatles/Oasis-esque pop on early track “Sleepers” to the Black Crows-esque ringing guitar rock of “Happy Again” to the Birds-esque folk of “Goodbye Song.” It’s accessible stuff that makes one wonder why the Wild Feathers remain a relatively undiscovered treasure.
7. The Hotelier: “Goodness” – There’s nothing particularly unique or groundbreaking about “Goodness,” the Hotelier’s third album. But with melodic guitar rock songs as solid as “Settle the Scar” and “End of Reel” (which have a bit of jangle) – and amped-up tunes with a little punk edge like “Piano Player,” “Soft Animal” and “Two Deliverances” – that’s not an issue. There’s plenty to like in the no-frills guitar rock of “Goodness.”
8. Blood Orange: “Freetown Sound” – The third album from Dev Hynes (formerly known as Lightspeed Champion) as Blood Orange takes on weighty issues including race, homophobia, self-worth and feminism. But the subject matter doesn’t weigh down “Freetown Sound” because ballads like “I Know” and “Thank You” and the occasional uptempo track (the poppy “Augustine” and “Best to You” and the Prince-ish banger “E.V.P.”) are melodically rich and appealing on a purely musical level.
9. The Lemon Twigs: “Do Hollywood” – This inventive duo can sound baroque (the Rufus Wainwright-ish “I Wanna Prove to You”) one minute, new wave-y the next (“Baby, Baby”) and theatrical the next. (“These Words” and “Frank”). Fortunately, the songwriting is strong enough to keep “Do Hollywood” from crossing the line into novelty territory.
10. White Lung: “Paradise” – For fans of high-energy rock that splits the difference between punk and metal, “Paradise” is a pretty blissful experience, thanks to the attention-grabbing riffs and potent vocal melodies in songs like “Vegas,” “Kiss Me When I Bleed” and “Demented.” Think of the Pretty Reckless with a bit more of a pop bent.
Top 10 high-profile releases of 2016
- Beyoncé: “Lemonade”
- David Bowie: “Black Star”
- Car Seat Headrest: “Teens of Denial”
- Chance The Rapper: “Coloring Book”
- Drive-By Truckers: “American Band”
- Dawes: “We’re All Gonna Die”
- Kanye West: “The Life of Pablo”
- Radiohead: “A Moon Shaped Pool”
- Rolling Stones: “Blue & Lonesome”
- Leonard Cohen: “You Want It Darker”