The moment you’ve all been waiting for…our favorite albums of 2016. We’ve compiled a list of the 50 best albums of the year and highlighted a track from each of our top 20 albums below. 2016 was a wild ride and we’re looking forward to even more incredible new music in 2017. Check out our top 20 below and make sure to subscribe to the full Spotify playlist of this year’s top albums.
Full Spotify Playlist
20. Tall Heights – “Neptune”
19. Andrew Bird- Are You Serious
18.Car Seat Headrest- Teens of Denial
17. David Bowie- Blackstar
16. Miike Snow- iii
15. Big Thief- Masterpiece
14. Alpenglow- Callisto
13. Weezer- Weezer (White Album)
12. Kanye West- The Life of Pablo
11. The Avalanches- Wildflower
10. Pinegrove- Cardinal
Blending genres doesn’t necessitate greatness, but in this case, the two are inextricably linked. Just like M&T patron saints Wilco and My Morning Jacket, applying a label like “alt-country” or “rootsy” to Pinegrove feels absurd and even offensive. Yep, there are slide guitars and lead singer Evan Stephens Hall’s twang. But there’s are also emo-inspired yelps (“Cadmium”), punk-rock confidence (“New Friends”), and honest discussion of the challenges of adult relationships – all of which evade genre and definitely merit celebration.
Essential Tracks: “Size of the Moon”, “Old Friends”, “Cadmium”, “New Friends”
9. Mitski- Puberty 2
Mitski does more than one thing exceptionally on Puberty 2. She normalizes the rat’s nest of rage, sorrow, and stubbornness that make up depression and mental illness. She distills these emotions into cutting vignettes, thanks to her acute, raw lyrics. And she somehow trademarks her sound while writing songs that range from seething, almost-spoken-word punk (“My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars”) to an almost-pop epic with the best build-up of the year (“Your Best American Girl”).
Essential Tracks: “Your Best American Girl”, “I Bet On Losing Dogs”, “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars”
8. LVL UP- Return to Love
LVL UP is a band who have paid their dues playing grimy bars, DIY spots, and tiny rock clubs over the past five years and are more than deserving of the breakout status they’ve achieved with Return to Love. They’re not reinventing the wheel by any means here, but I think everyone needed (and appreciated) a little extra angst and overdrive in 2016.
Essential Tracks: “Spirit Was”, “Pain”
7. Deep Sea Diver- Secrets
After years of playing guitar for acts like The Shins and Beck, Jessica Dobson is finally getting the praise and credit she deserves for her own project. Released back in February, Deep Sea Diver’s Secrets was the first record I fell in love with this year and couldn’t stop listening to it for the following 11 months. If you weren’t already privy to Dobson’s talents then throw this record on and you’ll quickly realize that she’s the new indie queen you never knew you needed.
Essential Tracks: “See These Eyes”, “Secrets”, “Notice Me”, “Always Waiting”
6. The Low Anthem- eyeland
In their expansive comeback effort, The Low Anthem have proved once again that they’re not afraid to take bold steps with their songwriting and production. In a departure from some of the more folk-centric material of their past, Ben Miller and Jeff Prystowsky create a sonic landscape on eyeland that has you finding new sounds and layers with every listen.
Essential Tracks: “am i the dream or am i the dreamer”, “ozzie”, “the pepsi moon”, “in the air hockey fire”
5. Fort Frances- Alio
There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of these Chicago indie rockers, but put on Fort Frances’ Alio and you’ll feel right at home. Their songs sound familiar, not because they’re unoriginal, but because they so easily get stuck in your head and stay there for a long, long time. Alio isn’t all just catchy hooks either, from the first track to the last, this record could stand up against nearly everything else released in 2016.
Essential Tracks: “These Are The Mountains Moving”, “Days Get Heavy”, “Building A Wall”
4. Hiss Golden Messenger- Heart Like a Levee
MC Taylor strikes again. In the follow up to 2014’s Lateness of Dancers, Taylor and the rest of Hiss Golden Messenger have created an album that you want to have on repeat all of the time. From the delectable riffs and perfect guitar tones, to the subtle beauty of the lyrics, and everything else in between, Heart Like a Levee is one of those albums that checks all the boxes.
Essential Tracks: “Biloxi”, “Heart Like a Levee”, “All of Me Wants All of You”, “As the Crow Flies”
3. Japanese Breakfast- Psychopomp
Right in the thick of the shitstorm that was 2016, Japanese Breakfast (aka Michelle Zauner) burst onto the scene with her debut album, Psychopomp, which she created in the wake of her mother’s passing. Despite its inspiration, Psychopomp is bright and open — the opposite of the sonic fetal position that you might expect from a woman in grief. Psychopomp has bottled that triumphant feeling of finding beauty and joy despite whatever bullshit that life might be throwing at you. And for that reason alone — not to mention the album’s spirited melodies, surging vocals, and dense compositions — Psychopomp should be on your short list.
Essential Tracks: “Everybody Wants To Love You”, “The Woman That Loves You”
2. Band of Horses- Why Are You OK
If we chose to rank our albums by sheer amount of spins from front to back then Why Are You OK would take the cake. Songs like “Solemn Oath” and “Casual Party” immediately shot into the upper echelon of BOH’s catalogue, right beside classics like “Is There A Ghost” and “The Funeral.” But when you hear J Mascis’ turn on “In A Drawer” or the two-part epic that is “Dull Times/The Moon,” you quickly realize that Ben Bridwell and co. were going for so much more than a couple of radio singles. I don’t have much more space here to reinforce that point, but if you have 15 minutes then do yourself a favor and listen to Bridwell break down “Solemn Oath” on Song Exploder. You won’t be disappointed.
Essential Tracks: “Dull Times/The Moon”, “Solemn Oath”, “Casual Party”, “In A Drawer”
1. Local Natives- Sunlit Youth
Even though we may have listened to Band of Horses more this year, in the end Local Natives lands firmly in our top spot with Sunlit Youth. As a selfish fan I might argue that this is the record that should have followed 2010’s Gorilla Manor, but understandably the band had some very deep and dense personal adversity to work through on Hummingbird. Not to say that we should just gloss over the band’s second release, but it’s clear to hear that they’ve arrived at a very exciting place with Sunlit Youth. Not only have Local Natives taken a giant leap forward with their recorded material, but to hear Sunlit Youth cuts like “Past Lives”, “Fountains of Youth” and “Villainy” performed live it’s easy to see that the band is turning into quite the formidable force on stage as well. If they keep on this course I wouldn’t be surprised to see their next release at the top of this list again and their name at the top of festival lineups.
Essential Tracks: “Past Lives”, “Masters” “Coins”