About a million music albums were released in 2016. I heard maybe a couple hundred of those. Out of that, here are my favorite nine, in an attempted briefer fashion than previous years.
9. The Algorithm -- Brute Force
After three albums, I'm ready to say it: Rémi Gallego is a genius. His unique instrumental blend of metal and electronic music grows more sophisticated and beautiful with each new release. On Brute Force, Gallego adds touches of lovely, soaring electric guitar, which take his compositions to the next level. It's time for this Frenchman to get some international recognition.
8. FM-84 -- Atlas
I know that movies like Garden State and Elizabethtown feature girls who are not realistic, but one summer in the 80's, I met this girl named Autumn at the beach in Grand Isle, and we made friends, and she always called me "Honey" instead of "The Nicsperiment," and she had this awesome clubhouse where we ate watermelon, and she had an NES and a ton of awesome games, but the best thing is, this guy named Col Bennett, under the moniker FM-84, recorded a whole album about it.
7. Michael Giacchino -- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
I saw Michael Giacchino speak live earlier this year at an event for which I really need to do a write-up. During a Q&A, a crowd-member asked how Giacchino felt to be "this generation's John Williams." "I think John Williams is this generation's John Williams," Giacchino replied sheepishly. Now, Giacchino has been tasked with writing the first score for a live action Star Wars film not sound-tracked by the maestro. Giacchino does not falter. While I won't even pretend like the Oscar-winning Giacchino is Williams' equal, his score for Rogue One features a wonderfully heroic theme for the heroes, a great dastardly theme for the villians, and a seemingly endless amount of motifs for others. He does a great job of incorporating Williams' previous Star Wars work at just the right moments, creating work that gives Williams his due, and expressing his own personality as well. Giacchino's action music is the best since Williams' score for The Force Awakens last year, and he gives hope that a soon-to-be post-Williams soundscape has a bright future.
6. Pure in the Plastic -- Polyenso
This album in one sentence: What I wish Justin Timberlake would sound like. Somebody sign these guys.
5. Childish Gambino -- Awaken, My Love
If Donald Glover has a better year then this one, someone needs to check to see if his DNA is shaped like four-leaf clovers. Coming fresh off the birth of his first child, and the incredible success of his creative work on FX's Atlanta, Glover's musical project drops rap completely in favor of an old-school 70's funk and R&B attack. The diversity of the sounds on this album is almost as big a surprise as Glover's lively voice. Consider me on-board.
4. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds --Skeleton Tree
Formless, shapeless; Cave, grieving the loss of his son, calling out across the water, hearing no response, trying to live regardless.
3. Radiohead -- A Moon Shaped Pool
Experimental rock music should have run out of ideas years ago, but these Brits just keep uncovering new ones, and everything on this haunting lullaby of an album sticks, from the odd rhythms, to the nervous, seemingly sentient sounds wandering around each corner.
2. Norma Jean -- Polar Similar
With Polar Similar, Norma Jean have not only transcended whatever they once were, but whatever genre or scene could have every claimed them. This is huge, deep, relentlessly heavy--and I mean heavy on a metaphysical level as much as a musical level--restlessly progressing to some black summit, yet not bleak, not depressing, just heavy, heavy and massive. This is an astounding work by a band without peer.
1. Solange -- A Seat at the Table
I've always had an antagonistic relationship with Beyoncé's music, solely based upon the fact that when Destiny's Child's broke out, their album was the display CD at the local Wal-Mart where I worked. After hearing the umpteenth tween belt out, "Can you pay my bills, can you pay my telephone bills...," I decided I never wanted to hear the lovely Ms. Knowles voice ever again. If someone would have only told me that she had a cooler sister who sat in the back of the class, always wore black, and never smiled, maybe I would have thought better of the Knowles family. A Seat at the Table presents a sort of minimalist R&B unlike anything I've heard, with live instruments and excellent songwriting. This is an album of ideas and deep metaphors, with Solange repeating the coda "away," near the beginning and end of A Seat at the Table in a fashion that gifts the word a thousand meanings. This is a great work, my favorite album of the year...and she wrote it right down the highway from here!