Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The best music of 2016: The ballots

Beyonce: Lemonade
Beyonce: Lemonade

Given that so many people contribute to our yearly best-of lists, it’s hard to get a glance at an individual’s favorites. But hey, that’s what ballots are for! After giving our top albums of 2016 a glance, dig into the individual lists our writers submitted. It includes their top 10 lists, honorable mentions, and plenty more.


David Anthony

Top 10 LPs
1. Pinegrove, Cardinal
Cardinal is the record I listened to most in 2016. After hearing “Old Friends” when it premiered on Stereogum, I listened to the song on repeat for a couple hours, and once I got my hands on the album I played it daily for months on end. Even now, after these songs have seeped into my brain, they still feel fresh, and that’s a really rare feat.

2. Mitski, Puberty 2
In many ways, it feels unfair to compare Mitski to anyone else. Her perspective is so firmly implanted in every note of her music and her voice so distinct, that even when a solid reference comes along it still doesn’t quite fit. While Bury Me At Makeout Creek may have some of Mitski’s best songs, Puberty 2 is an album that reflects her vision in an even grander way.

3. Jeff Rosenstock, Worry.
Though it was released in October, Worry. has been even more resonant in the wake of this year’s presidential election. Much of the album sees Rosenstock trying to find a balance between idealism and the countless factors (police brutality, gentrification, being broke all the time) working to quash his hope. It’s a record that searches for peace by acknowledging struggles, and by its end it seems Rosenstock finds that those two things will always be intertwined when he simply states “Love is worry.”

4. Modern Baseball, Holy Ghost
The first time I heard Holy Ghost, I knew it was an important record, and after spending a bit of time with the band this summer my appreciation grew all the more. This is Modern Baseball’s best collection of songs, each one reaching into your chest and tugging at all those emotions people often keep hidden.

5. Angel Olsen, My Woman
While I was incredibly taken with Angel Olsen’s last album, My Woman’s daring explorations kept me coming back to it. Gone are the hushed folks songs, replaced with Fleetwood Mac-styled rockers that bring Olsen’s swagger to the forefront. It’s bigger and flashier than anything she’s done before, and I’m hoping there’s plenty more where that came from.


6. LVL UP, Return To Love
Much like I was obsessed with Pinegrove’s Cardinal, I had a love affair with LVL UP. While I enjoyed the band’s lo-fi indie-pop before, Return To Love is something else entirely. Here the band breaks out of whatever box it was previously in, taking elements from psych rock and stoner-metal in order to create one of the best indie-rock LPs in recent memory.

7. Chance The Rapper, Coloring Book
There haven’t been many celebratory records to come out in 2016, but maybe it’s because Chance perfected that on Coloring Book. His joy is infectious, and when he raps about all the things that inspire him it doesn’t read as boastful, but an open invitation to join him in his magical, colorful world.


8. Yeesh, Confirmation Bias

Yeesh is my favorite Chicago band going. The trio taps into the post-hardcore sounds of San Diego in the early ’90s, with a dash of Bear Vs. Shark’s flights of fancy sprinkled in, which is tailored almost exactly to my taste. Confirmation Bias is the best batch of Yeesh songs yet, and it’s got an incredible force in a live setting, too. I can’t wait to see what the band does next.


9. Touché Amoré, Stage Four
Listening to Stage Four is a leveling experience. Jeremy Bolm works through his mother’s death on 11 songs that grapple with life, loss, and what comes after (if anything). It’s a record that can feel explosive in the way all great hardcore albums do, but its ability to remain delicate and nuanced is what puts it into a league all its own.

10. Solange, A Seat At The Table
Of all the surprise releases to come this year, one of the only ones I kept going back to was A Seat At The Table. Solange is often contextualized as being in the shadow of her older sister, but A Seat At The Table feels like her breakout. It’s an empowering, galvanizing record that rightly feels like a star-making venture for the younger Knowles sibling.


The next 10
11. The Hotelier, Goodness
When I reviewed this record I gave it an A-, and I stand by that. It pained me to not put Goodness in my top 10, but it’s just a testament to how moving I found the 10 records above.

12. Cymbals Eat Guitars, Pretty Years
Everything I said about The Hotelier goes for Cymbals Eat Guitars too.


13. The Repos, Poser

Easily my favorite hardcore record of the year. The Repos are a Chicago institution, and everything about Poser shows why this band has built a cult fan base. At its core, it’s classic ’80s hardcore, but it’s Aaron Aspinwall’s dark ruminations on suburban living that make this pop.


14. Greys, Outer Heaven
I went long on this one already, so you can read a more detailed version of my thoughts on it here.

15. Blowout, No Beer, No Dad
This Portland band is everything I want a pop-punk band to be. It’s loose, energetic, and rough around the edges. It’s like a less-emo version of Grown Ups, which is totally fine by me.


16. Kevin Devine, Instigator
For my money, Kevin Devine is one of the most underrated songwriters going. On his ninth record, he does what he always has, exploring how politics inform his daily existence and how he attempts to make peace with it all. “Talking Freddie Gray Blues” sees him offer up a damning indictment of police brutality while openly acknowledging that many of his closest family members are cops. It’s the kind of open, honest examination of white privilege that could so easily be self-aggrandizing but in Devine’s hands feels both human and incredibly necessary.

17. Noname, Telefone
After delivering incredible features for Chance The Rapper, Noname offers a debut that shows she’s a star in the making. These are 10 flawless tracks that show just how fertile and vital Chicago is right now.


18. Planes Mistaken For Stars, Prey
Reunion records are usually terrible, but that’s not the case with Prey. Planes jumps back to life sounding as energized as ever, putting together a record that matches the best material from its original run.

19. Alcest, Kodama
While Deafheaven is credited with popularizing that style of shoegaze-indebted black metal, Alcest has always been best at it. Kodama is no exception, as the French duo offer up some of their best work yet.


20. PUP, The Dream Is Over
This is the best batch of PUP songs yet. Not only that, they pop in a live setting like no other.

Song I can’t get enough of: Katie Ellen, “TV Dreams”


When I first heard Katie Ellen’s TV Dreams I was immediately smitten. These two songs from the new project of Anika Pyle (of Chumped) are less pop-punk and more, well, pop. Both songs are raw reflections on a relationship that fell apart, and “TV Dreams” perfectly encapsulates the awkward place of feeling miserable with a person and without them. The first time I heard the song and Pyle detailed calling her ex only to be choked up and not know what to say, I felt a lump in my throat. When she delivered the crushing final lines “I guess I called to say that you can call me,” I struggled to keep it together. I don’t know if there’s a song I’ve played on repeat as much as this one, easily playing it a dozen times in a row, letting it serve as a painful emotional cleanse.

LP honorable mentions
The Afterglows, The Afterglows
AJJ, The Bible 2
Animal Lover, Stay Alive
Astronautalis, Cut The Body Loose
Bad Heaven, Cool Hell
Bellows, Fist & Palm
Big Ups, Before A Million Universes
Blood Orange, Freetown Sound
Danny Brown, Atrocity Exhibition
Kweku Collins, Nat Love
Culture Abuse, Peach
Lucy Dacus, No Burden
Darkthrone, Arctic Thunder
Daughter, Not To Disappear
Descendents, Hypercaffium Spazzinate
Frankie Cosmos, Next Thing
Brian Fresco, Casanova
Holy Fever, The Wreckage
Hurry, Guided Meditation
Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows
Into It. Over It., Standards
Joyce Manor, Cody
Kvelertak, Nattesferd
Kendrick Lamar, Untitled Unmastered
Liquids, Hot Liqs
Lisa Prank, Adult Teen
Magrudergrind, II
Mal Devisa, Kiid
Martha, Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart
Martydöd, List
Mikey Erg, Tentative Decisions
Mind Spiders, Prosthesis
Mothers, When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired
Oshwa, I We You Me
Owen, The King Of Whys
Anderson Paak, Malibu
Porches, Pool
Joey Purp, iiiDrops
Rihanna, Anti
Rotten Sound, Abuse To Suffer
Russian Circles, Guidance
Saba, Bucket List Project
Sad13, Slugger
John K. Samson, Winter Wheat
Schoolboy Q, Blank Face
Shelf Life, Spirit Bear
Teen Suicide, It’s The Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir The Honeypot
TTNG, Disappointment Island
Waldgeflüster, Ruinen
Kanye West, The Life Of Pablo
Jamila Woods, Heavn
Young Thug, Jeffery


Favorite EPs, 7-inches, and demos of 2016
Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Arc
The Bug, Room 44 Sessions
Chew, Chew
The Ergs!, Goddamn Death Dedication
Eskimeaux, Year Of The Rabbit
Follin, Follin
Frameworks, Time Spent
Gland, Neurotica
G.L.O.S.S., Trans Day Of Revenge
Joanna Gruesome, Pretty Fucking Sick (Of It All)
Katie Ellen, TV Dreams
Liquids, Blindin Flash
No Joy, Drool Sucker
Plush, Please
Self Defense Family, Superior
Solids, Else
Small Circle, Melatonin
Swanning, Drawing Down The Moon
Tenement, Tenement
Triage, Power Beat
Wild At Heart, Tour Tape 2016
Yankee Bluff, I

Sean O’Neal

Top 10 LPs
1. Ital Tek, Hollowed

On his fifth album, dubstep veteran Alan Myson sets aside those increasingly muddled trappings to deliver a dramatically varied, atypically engaging, surprisingly emotional testament to the expressive capabilities of electronic music.


2. David Bowie, Blackstar
3. Car Seat Headrest, Teens Of Denial
4. Not Waving, Animals

Alessio Natalizia’s eighth Not Waving record is also his definitive achievement thus far, combining his usual acid-corroded rave and blasted-out club music with new textures borrowed from sinister giallo soundtracks, gothic industrial, hypnotic ragas à la This Heat, and dark ambient drone.


5. Huerco S., For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)

On his sophomore album, reformed techno producer Brian Leeds renounces beats for his first deep dive into ambient, crafting a beautiful, delicate, remarkably confident work that occupies the same meditative head spaces as artists like Oneohtrix Point Never, Boards Of Canada, and even Cluster, while also announcing Leeds as an idiosyncratic new voice within it.


6. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
7. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, The Skeleton Tree
8. Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker

9. 2814, Rain Temple

Two of vaporwave’s more celebrated artists leave behind its strict, sample-based aesthetics for this wholly original composition—an immersive trip inside a waking-dream, Blade Runner nightscape you’ll never want to leave.


10. Nicolas Jaar, Sirens

A collage of the Chilean-American wunderkind’s many stylistic tricks—grooving downtempo, Cumbian rhythm, spaced-out doo-wop, delicate noise—seamlessly blurred with Jaar’s own political, poetic, often mordantly funny lyrics, which he deploys across every track here for the first time.


The next 15
11. Andy Stott, Too Many Voices
12. Ricky Eat Acid, Talk To You Soon
13. James Blake, The Colour In Anything
14. Parquet Courts, Human Performance
15. Nonkeen, The Gamble/Oddments Of The Gamble
16. Umberto, Alienation
17. Loscil, Monument Builders
18. Pantha Du Prince, The Triad
19. Dust, Agony Planet
20. Long Arm, Drafts & Lost Tracks (2010-2014)
21. Autechre, Elseq 1-5
22. Julianna Barwick, Will
23. The Range, Potential
24. Mmoths, Luneworks
25. Biosphere, Departed Glories

Album I can’t decide whether I love or hate
I’ve listened to Bon Iver’s 22, A Million many, many times now—most of them closer listens than those first few spins where I kept fiddling with my speaker wire, convinced something had shorted out. But even long after accepting that, no, this is just what the album sounds like, I still can’t decide if all its staticky, just-dropped-my-iPhone-in-the-toilet distortion is a daring artistic expression or just a bunch of superfluous shit to mask the lack of anything Justin Vernon has to say clearly. (See also: the made-up words like “dedicoding” and “waundry”; the ugly-ass hieroglyphics of its cover; those goddamn song titles.) However, I also can’t stop trying to decide. 22, A Million is successful as an enigma, repeatedly prompting me to say “Maybe I should give it another go,” and then a song like “666 ʇ” will cut through the din and I’ll remember why I bother. I still hesitate to say I love it—or loathe it. All I know is, I don’t feel indifferently toward it, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it (which, admittedly, is even more than you can say about some of the records in my top 25).


Best single: DJ Shadow, “Nobody Speak”

There’s plenty to like about DJ Shadow’s The Mountain Will Fall, even as the concurrent, 20th anniversary of Endtroducing….. offers yet another reminder of the impossibility of his ever topping an album of that vitality. But damned if he didn’t come close with this track, a collaboration with Run The Jewels’ El-P and Killer Mike that pairs their old-fashioned gangster bluster to a spaghetti Western guitar riff for a song that’s guaranteed to put some swagger in your step, even at your most spiritually broken. It’s the defiant fuck-you that 2016 desperately needed.


Biggest disappointment: The Avalanches, Wildflower/Clams Casino, 32 Levels (tie)
After 16 years of waiting, there was simply no way The Avalanches could live up to Since I Left You. But even adjusting for hype, Wildflower feels like a letdown—overstuffed with ideas, yet oddly safe and inert, and too overwhelmed by its guest voices (including Danny Brown and Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue). And, most damning of all, fading from memory in a way its predecessor never did. Perhaps it was a problem of too much anticipation and too many cooks, which similarly beset Clams Casino’s official full-length debut, 32 Levels. After so many great instrumental EPs and mixtapes, the hip-hop producer whose hazy, immersive backdrops so often outshine his collaborators also bafflingly took a backseat to his own guest stars, again resulting in a mostly good yet surprisingly generic album that should have been a triumph. Hopefully, next time both artists will skip their contacts folders and go it alone.

Best reissues
The same year that saw Autechre release the monster, four-hour opus Elseq 1-5, an epic exploring the many wildly divergent shades of its software experimentalism, Warp also reissued the English electronic duo’s first three albums as a reminder of just how skilled (and often underrated) it’s been since the very beginning. Retracing Autechre’s path from the minimalist techno of 1993’s Incunabula to the ambient blurs of 1994’s Amber to the uncompromising digital shards of 1995’s groundbreaking Tri Repetae offers an illuminating look back at an artist who feels more relevant now than ever. Elsewhere, as Trump’s ascent showed, 2016 was also great for fans of the Germans: Wolfgang Voigt’s seminal, gorgeous ambient techno releases as Gas got a deluxe, 10-LP reissue, while Krautrock pioneers Cluster and Harmonia each got their own wallet-breaking box sets—each of them offering a mesmerizing, meditative experience in a year when we could sorely use it.


Josh Modell

1. Eric Bachmann, Eric Bachmann
2. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam, I Had A Dream That You Were Mine
3. Frightened Rabbit, Painting Of A Panic Attack
4. Frank Ocean, Blonde
5. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
6. Kanye West, The Life Of Pablo
7. Lucy Dacus, No Burden
8. Flock Of Dimes, If You See Me, Say Yes
9. Operators, Blue Wave
10. Future Of The Left, The Peace & Truce Of…


Alex McCown-Levy

1. Muncie Girls, From Caplan To Belsize
2. White Lung, Paradise
3. Underworld, Barbara, Barbara, We Face A Shining Future
4. Tegan And Sara, Love You To Death
5. Minor Victories, Minor Victories
6. Marissa Nadler, Strangers
7. De La Soul, And The Anonymous Nobody…
8. Communist Daughter, The Cracks That Built The Wall
9. Beyoncé, Lemonade
10. DJ Shadow, The Mountain Will Fall


Kelsey J. Waite

Top 10 LPs
1. David Bowie, Blackstar
2. Chance The Rapper, Coloring Book
3. Solange, A Seat At The Table
4. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith And Suzanne Ciani, Sunergy
5. Exploded View, Exploded View
6. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
7. Angel Olsen, My Woman
8. Blood Orange, Freetown Sound
9. Jamila Woods, Heavn
10. James Blake, The Colour In Anything


LP honorable mentions (in no particular order)
Kate Bush, Before The Dawn
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Ears
Roísín Murphy, Take Her Up To Monto
Mick Jenkins, The Healing Component
Martha Wainwright, Goodnight City
Katie Gately, Color
Kaytranada, 99.9%
PJ Harvey, The Hope Six Demolition Project
Savages, Adore Life
Shura, Nothing’s Real

Micachu, Taz And May Vids
Moses Sumney, Lamentations
Princess Nokia, 1992

Clayton Purdom

Top 10 LPs
1. Isaiah Rashad, The Sun’s Tirade
2. Solange, A Seat At The Table
3. Danny Brown, Atrocity Exhibition
4. Maxwell, Blacksummers’night
5. Ka, Honor Killed The Samurai
6. Kanye West, The Life Of Pablo
7. NxWorries, Yes Lawd!
8. Kamaiyah, A Good Night In The Ghetto
9. 21 Savage, Savage Mode
10. Jamila Woods, Heavn

Honorable mentions: To the great, messy, scrappy, and intermittently brilliant albums by A Tribe Called Quest, Chance The Rapper, Rihanna, Frank Ocean, and Drake. All (except Drake) received glowing critical receptions, but are looser, and lower key, in their delights: smatterings of great tracks interspersed with bright, loose, rambunctiously musical stuff. Kanye’s record fit into this mold, too. Taken in total, they paint a fascinating portrait of the intersection of pop and rap in 2016—but what exactly they’re saying, about that intersection or their creators or 2016 itself, is harder to determine.


Leonardo Adrian Garcia

Top 10 LPs
1. Joyce Manor, Cody
2. Wet, Don’t You
3. White Lung, Paradise
4. Modern Baseball, Holy Ghost
5. Pinegrove, Cardinal
6. John K. Samson, Winter Wheat
7. Martha, Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart
8. Chairlift, Moth
9. Touché Amoré, Stage Four
10. Mitski, Puberty 2


The next 10 (the honorable mentions)
11. Angel Olsen, My Woman
12. Car Seat Headrest, Teens Of Denial
13. Greys, Outer Heaven
14. Lucy Dacus, No Burden
15. Russian Circles, Guidance
16. The I Don’t Cares, Wild Stab
17. Jenny Hval, Blood Bitch
18. PUP, The Dream Is Over
19. Flock Of Dimes, If You See Me, Say Yes
20. LVL UP, Return To Love

Five standout EPs
Day Wave, Hard To Read
Colleen Green, Colleen Green
La Sera, Queens
Cheap Girls, God’s Ex-Wife
Beach Slang, Here, I Made This For You (Beach Slang Mixtape Vol. 1)

25 songs not on any of the above-listed records
Wye Oak, “Watching The Waiting”
The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, “Clark & Belmont”
Carly Rae Jepsen, “First Time” and/or “Cry”
Santigold, “Chasing Shadows”
Surf Rock Is Dead, “Anymore”
Solange, “Cranes In The Sky”
Sylvan Esso, “Radio”
Cloud Nothings, “Modern Act”
Jimmy Eat World, “Sure And Certain”
Ladyhawke, “A Love Song”
Mac McCaughan, “Lost Again”
Wax Tailor, “I Had A Woman”
Few Bits, “Summer Sun”
The Thermals, “Hey You”
Bob Moses, “Tearing Me Up (RAC Remix)”
Japandroids, “Near To The Wild Heart Of Life”
Jeff Rosenstock, “Wave Goodnight To Me”
Flume (Feat. Beck), “Tiny Cities”
Teenage Fanclub, “I’m In Love”
Ta-ku (Feat. Wafia), “Meet In The Middle”
Soldiers Of Fortune (Feat. Stephen Malkmus), “Campus Swagger”
James Blake (Feat. Bon Iver), “I Need A Forest Fire”
Day Wave, “Wasting Time”
The xx, “On Hold”
Daughter, “The End”


Annie Zaleski

Top 10 LPs
1. David Bowie, Blackstar
2. Lydia Loveless, Real
3. Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker
4. The Monkees, Good Times!
5. Cyndi Lauper, Detour
6. American Wrestlers, Goodbye Terrible Youth
7. Miranda Lambert, The Weight Of These Wings
8. Wye Oak, Tween
9. Tegan & Sara, Love You To Death
10. Grant Lee Phillips, The Narrows


Next eight albums (in no particular order)
Panic! At The Disco, Death Of A Bachelor
So Cow, Lisa Marie Airplane Tour
Lady Gaga, Joanne
Split Single, Metal Frames
Cheap Trick, Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello
Glen Phillips, Swallowed By The New
The 1975, I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It
Teenage Fanclub, Here

Singles (in no particular order)
The 1975, “Love Me”
The Monkees, “You Bring The Summer”
The Posies, “Squirrel Vs. Snake”
Rihanna, “Kiss It Better”
Warpaint, “New Song”
Peacock Affect, “Spaceship”
Cheap Trick, “When I Wake Up Tomorrow”
Beyoncé, “Formation”
Band Of Horses, “Casual Party”
Lady Gaga, “Diamond Heart”
Maren Morris, “80s Mercedes”


Best reissues: A three-way tie between Omnivore Recordings’ Game Theory campaign (which saw Lolita Nation and The Big Shot Chronicles receive lavish, extensive reissues in 2016); the deluxe, double-disc reissues of Crowded House’s entire catalog; and Rhino Records’ fan-friendly repackaging of Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage and Stevie Nicks’ Bella Donna and The Wild Heart.

Worst trend, part I: Vinyl pressings of new albums omitting songs from the track listing for space, without warning and in such a way that the sequencing is off-kilter.


Worst trend, part II: Massively overpriced vinyl reissues for records that weren’t great in the first place—or are still easy to find used for pennies.

Kevin Warwick

Top 10 LPs
1. Nails, You Will Never Be One Of Us

An enraged and more baleful record this year there is not. Clocking in at only 22 minutes, You Will Never Be One Of Us is painstakingly cut to the quick, yet it’s also Nails’ most prolific effort to date, with tracks that contain multiple verses, scorched guitar solos by frontman Todd Jones, and, hell, maybe even a chorus. A hellacious album of hardcore.


2. Parquet Courts, Human Performance

3. Touché Amoré, Stage Four
Frontman Jeremy Bolm’s remembrance of his mother—before, during, and after her battle with cancer—is an affecting and moving juggernaut of melodic hardcore, with a stark honesty that definitely reveals itself lyrically, but also via sparkling guitar melodies that skim from emo while staying forceful and urgent.


4. Horse Lords, Interventions
The admiration that these art-rock savants have for the German Krautrock vets in Faust shines through via knotty, staccatoed rhythms and swirling riffs but also in how vital they believe it is to challenge listeners. Interventions is a hypnotic trip at times, no foolin‘, but its sharp detours of noise and experimentation keep these guys on the cutting edge of an ever-creative Baltimore community.

5. Trap Them, Crown Feral

6. 75 Dollar Bill, Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock
Just look to the album’s title to get a sense of what multi-instrumentalists Che Chen and Rick Brown will repurpose to create a trance-like orbit of sound. The duo leaves no instrument—or discarded piece of trash—unturned, as they cut and paste together slivers of experimental noise to Arabic music to rock. And the ambition never trumps the groove.


7. William Tyler, Modern Country
In his weird exploration of what lies between ’70s country and Krautrock, William Tyler ended up with one of the most chill and breezy instrumental albums of 2016. The warm motoric rhythms wrapped by wisps of twangy guitar pair gracefully with the back roads and state routes Tyler devoted himself to following the onset of his crippling phobia of interstate travel.

8. Russian Circles, Guidance

From afar, the post-rock all-stars have essentially been reworking the same formula filled with mutating and crescendoing rhythms and shrieking guitar bombs since their inception, but the subtle maturation of their songwriting makes each new Russian Circles effort more realized. The tracks on Guidance blend one into the other to make it the trio’s most organic-sounding and seamless record to date.


9. The Repos, Poser
10. Nothing, Tired Of Tomorrow

Five very honorable mentions
Powell, Sport
Sumac, What One Becomes
Wild Beasts, Boy King
The Hecks, The Hecks
Ty Segall, Emotional Mugger


J.J. Anselmi

1. Sumac, What One Becomes
2. Vermin Womb, Decline
3. Muscle & Marrow, Love
4. The Body And Full Of Hell, One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache
5. Nails, You Will Never Be One Of Us
6. The Dillinger Escape Plan, Dissociation
7. Planes Mistaken For Stars, Prey
8. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires
9. Reproacher, Nature’s Bastard
10. Every Time I Die, Low Teens


Lily Moayeri

1. Saint Motel, saintmotelevision
2. The Radio Dept., Running Out Of Love
3. Miike Snow, iii
4. Michael Kiwanuka, Love & Hate
5. Jamie Lidell, Building A Beginning
6. Jagwar Ma, Every Now & Then
7. Boxed In, Melt
8. The Avalanches, Wildflower
9. Angela McLuskey, The Roxy Sessions
10. A-Trak, In The Loop


Randall Colburn

Top 10 LPs
1. Martha, Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart

These young, anarchist punks from northeastern England write sugary, infectious punk songs about being awkward, queer, and defiant. As uplifting as it is rebellious, this album has more shout-alongs than any record this year.


2. Mitski, Puberty 2
Bold, yearning rock songs with triumphant, soaring choruses evoke everything from Pixies and Weezer to St. Vincent and Jenny Lewis.

3. Whitney, Light Upon The Lake
Rookies of the year. Young, gifted musicians with old souls and the ability to write bright, rustic ditties you’d swear you heard someone sing over a campfire two decades ago.


4. The Hotelier, Goodness
I could do without the precious spoken-word piece at the beginning, but Goodness unravels to reveal a work of roaring, melancholic ingenuity. As bloodletting as any great emo album.

5. Julianna Barwick, Will
Julianna Barwick used to rely on vocal loops, but she’s since embraced instrumentation. On Will, her celestial vocals drift through symphonic strings, plinking piano, and even ’80s-era synthesizer runs.


6. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam, I Had A Dream That You Were Mine
Hamilton Leithauser has one of the best voices in modern music, but he was in dire need of a new collaborator to help highlight it. Enter Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, whose keys and percussion offer Leithauser’s songwriting a new, vibrant mode of expression.

7. Modern Baseball, Holy Ghost
The Philly punks brought the fire for their third LP, which loses some of the band’s playfulness but introduces a lyrical richness that dovetails nicely with the album’s sonic experimentation.


8. Jeff Rosenstock, Worry.

Anxious, all-over-the-place pop-punk/ska songwriting that’s perfect for anyone who just can’t fucking deal.


9. Infinity Crush, Warmth Equation
Maryland-based songwriter Caroline White has the voice of an angel and a knack for writing tiny songs that inevitably bloom into something bigger and brighter.

10. The Field, The Follower
Tension and release. Repeat. If you like any of The Field’s records, you’ll like this one. As consistently great as any musician alive.


LP honorable mentions
Head Wound City, A New Wave of Violence
Chance The Rapper, Coloring Book
Slaughter Beach, Dog, Welcome
You Won’t, Revolutionaries
John K. Samson, Winter Wheat
Eluvium, False Readings On
Tancred, Out Of The Garden
Mike Adams At His Honest Weight, Casio Drone

Top 10 songs
1. Mitski, “Your Best American Girl”
2. Modern Baseball, “Hiding”
3. Chance The Rapper, “All Night”
4. Martha, “Ice Cream And Sunscreen”
5. Head Wound City, “Scraper”
6. Sioux Falls, “Dinosaur Dying”
7. Weezer, “L.A. Girlz”
8. Tender Defender, “The Tender Defender”
9. Camp Cope, “Song For Charlie”
10. Slaughter Beach, Dog, “Monsters”


Kenneth Partridge

1. Anderson Paak, Malibu

The breakout star of Dr. Dre’s Compton comes correct with a colorful blend of West Coast funk, R&B, and hip-hop. Across 16 filler-free tracks, the singer/rapper/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist glides from love to heartache, familial struggles to professional triumphs. He saves the best for last: Grand finale “The Dreamer” is a gifted latchkey kid taking a victory lap, saluting his mom as he rolls the windows down and puts the system up.


2. Frank Ocean, Blonde
After years in the wilderness, the mystery man of new-school R&B returned with a fragmented, almost frustratingly oblique labyrinth of a record that keeps you searching for clues in every line. “Be yourself,” a woman playing Frank’s mom tells him at one point, as if the elusive superstar could be anyone else. On highlights like “White Ferrari,” “Nikes,” and “Nights,” Frank makes like an ADD Stevie Wonder, or Prince at his most pitch-shifted and punchy. And yet, amid all the elliptical autobiography, he’ll drop a line about Trayvon Martin, just to remind you he’s a citizen of this planet.

3. Kristin Kontrol, X-Communicate
Less a reinvention than a subtle evolution, X-Communicate lets Dum Dum Girls leader Kristin Welchez trade gothy ’80s college rock for dramatic synth-pop of a similar vintage. While she shows plenty of vulnerability on standouts like the would-be Brat Pack movie anthem “(Don’t) Wannabe” and the Euro-flavored club thumper “Skin Shed,” Kristin remains impossibly cool and, yes, 100 percent in control.


4. YG, Still Brazy
Classic G-funk gets a 2016 facelift from a Compton-born Blood who’s run out of people to trust. On his thrilling second album, YG takes on traitorous friends (“Who Shot Me?”), money grubbers (“Gimmie Got Shot”), stressful ladies (“I Got A Question”), and trigger-happy cops (“Police Get Away Wit Murder”). He saves his best shot for Donald Trump, the subject of “FDT,” a deceptively simple political anthem about blacks and Latinos uniting against a common foe. Even while fighting his multi-front war, YG takes four minutes to cuff his pants and do his dance on “Twist My Fingaz,” a celebration of L.A. gang culture that’ll soundtrack any party.

5. David Bowie, Blackstar
An elegant, inventive jazz-rock finale from a man who donned many disguises without losing the emotional core that turned his fans to zealots. Were it possible to listen without context, this icon’s death album would sound a lot like another rebirth.


6. Kanye West, The Life Of Pablo
Dicked with by Yeezy even after its release, this ambitious art-rap mess is lumpy, unevenly cooked, and covered with the highly visible fingerprints of its flawed creator. It was hammered into existence by a cast of seemingly hundreds, and yet it feels like Kanye unfiltered—especially “I Love Kanye,” that a cappella act of self-love, self-flagellation, and most surprisingly, self-awareness. By calling out his own faults, Kanye helps himself get away with audacious dick moves like “Famous.” Not that he needs permission. Not that Taylor Swift didn’t give it to him anyway.

7. Wild Nothing, Life Of Pause
The third LP from Virginia chillwave survivor Jack Tatum is a dreamy, sun-dappled swirl-up of late-aughts indie haze and Talk Talk-ish ’80s synth-pop. The excellent single “TV Queen” is about romantic dreams going head-to-head with harsh reality. In Tatum’s music, that’s never really a contest.


8. Danny Brown, Atrocity Exhibition

Named for a Joy Division song about the sick carnival that is modern life, the fourth LP from this wild-eyed Detroit rapper is anxious, aggressive, and filled with surprises. Brown rhymes like a spazzy cartoon character one second and a careful craftsman the next, while British producer Paul White brings industrial boom and clang. Brown’s best on the hyped-up horrorshow “Ain’t It Funny,” all about gobbling drugs and laughing in the devil’s face.


9. Japanese Breakfast, Psychopomp
In a year when classic indie rock didn’t exactly grab headlines, a handful of insightful guitar toters kept the faith in a big way. The token indie slot on this list could’ve gone to Car Seat Headrest or maybe Mitski, but in terms of sheer beauty—lyrical and musical—the prize goes to the debut from Japanese Breakfast. Written in the wake of mastermind Michelle Zauner’s mother’s death, Psychopomp is dreamy and delicate on first listen, devastating on closer inspection. It floats in like a cloudy sky ready to break.

10. Schoolboy Q, Blank Face LP
If Kendrick Lamar is the Superman of the Black Hippy stable, Schoolboy is Batman—a gruffer, shadier, less overtly virtuous figure who joined the Crips at 12 and spent his youth dealing Oxycontin and crack. Although he’s left gangbanging behind, Q rides these bleak, psychedelic gangsta beats like a hardened vet who’s not really angling for a White House invite or Imagine Dragons collab. “Blank Face, clear everything out the safe / Crack the pig bank, robbin‘ your kids too,” Q rhymes on “Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane,” creating his own ice-cold antihero character to make it through the day.


Zoe Camp

1. The Hotelier, Goodness
2. Joyce Manor, Cody
3. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
4. Angel Olsen, My Woman
5. White Lung, Paradise
6. Merchandise, A Corpse Wired For Sound
7. Mannequin Pussy, Romantic
8. Touché Amoré, Stage Four
9. Pinkshinyultrablast, Grandfeathered
10. Turnstile, Move Thru Me


Evan Rytlewski

Top 10 LPs
1. Rihanna, Anti
2. Pinegrove, Cardinal
3. Chance The Rapper, Coloring Book
4. A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
5. Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker
6. Maxwell, Blacksummers’night
7. The Hotelier, Goodness
8. Frank Ocean, Blonde
9. Angel Olsen, My Woman
10. Rae Sremmurd, SremmLife 2


So many more good ones:
11. Noname, Telefone
12. David Bowie, Blackstar
13. Solange, A Seat At The Table
14. Ian Sweet, Shapeshifter
15. Cymbals Eat Guitars, Pretty Years
16. Kendrick Lamar, Untitled Unmastered
17. A$AP Ferg, Always Strive And Prosper
18. Mannequin Pussy, Romantic
19. Big Thief, Masterpiece
20. Kodak Black, Lil Big Pac
21. Young Thug, Jeffery
22. Beyoncé, Lemonade
23. Crater, Talk To Me So I Can Fall Asleep
24. Soul Low, Nosebleeds
25. Whitney, Light Upon The Lake
26. Crying, Beyond The Fleeting Gales
27. Mount Moriah, How To Dance
28. Mitski, Puberty 2
29. Isaiah Rashad, The Sun’s Tirade
30. Warpaint, Heads Up

Eric Swedlund

Top 10 LPs
1. Okkervil River, Away
2. Eric Bachmann, Eric Bachmann
3. Lydia Loveless, Real
4. Car Seat Headrest, Teens Of Denial
5. Dr. Dog, The Psychedelic Swamp
6. The Sun Days, Album
7. Deep Sea Diver, Secrets
8. Sam Beam And Jesca Hoop, Love Letter For Fire
9. A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
10. Wilco, Schmilco


LP honorable mentions
Beach Slang, A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings
Orkesta Mendoza, ¡Vamos A Guarachar!
Mount Moriah, How To Dance
Whitney, Light On The Lake
Hiss Golden Messenger, Heart Like A Levee
American Monoxide, Web Content
Anderson Paak, Malibu
Billy Bragg & Joe Henry, Shine A Light
Eleanor Friedberger, New View
XIXA, Bloodline

Christopher Mincher

1. Doe, Some Things Last Longer Than You

The calamitous, crunchy debut of Doe captures the best of early ’90s crossover grunge—urgent, thundering percussion and power chords driving droll observations and expression of acerbic discontent. The record pounds its hooks and harmonies so deep in the eardrums they’re hard to get out.


2. The Dear Hunter, Act V: Hymns With The Devil In Confessional
For a decade, The Dear Hunter’s records have been installments in some convoluted multi-part narrative that will baffle newcomers, but no matter, Act V is a wonder to behold on its own. Huge arrangements ebb and flow across the indie-rock opus, sweeping the listener away in waves of grandiose drama.

3. Amos Lee, Spirit
Amos Lee has been a talent without a purpose, but on his first self-produced album, he foregoes choosing a direction and embraces the range of his interests. Soul, R&B, gospel, chamber pop, Latin music, hip-hop, and country are all comfortably glued together with easygoing melodies and satisfying hooks.


4. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
It’s hard to get accustomed to a Radiohead that isn’t soaked in cynicism, but A Moon Shaped Pool has no shrouded political, sociological, or cultural commentary. Instead, fans are (finally) invited to get to know the band as the fascinatingly fragile, anxious, romantic, and self-aware people they are.

5. Angel Olsen, My Woman
My Woman largely drops Olsen’s folksy pensiveness and asserts a bit of country-music confidence; the record rocks and rolls in grimy, coarse ways that convey an invigorated perspective to personal subject matters—she’s still emotionally exposed, but she’s clear-eyed and owning it.


6. Bon Iver, 22, A Million
Bon Iver’s music depicts his aching search for a place in stark, isolated worlds of ethereal beauty. With a collage of electronic glitches and samples, 22, A Million seems to extend this yearning quest for meaning far beyond the present, making it his most unnerving and entrancing record yet.

7. Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker
The skeletal You Want It Darker finds the 82-year-old Cohen adopting a nihilistic life philosophy in its waning moments. He transports listeners to their deathbeds and asks them to reexamine their belief systems; he’s reached bleak conclusions and is perfectly happy with them, but, for others, the experience is unsettling.


8. David Bowie, Blackstar
For his last record, Bowie uses jazz as a medium of foreboding and mystery to portray his lifelong sense of otherworldly wonder. A cryptic glimpse of an enigmatic future—understood through the mind-sets of various troubled characters—Blackstar’s puzzle is a ponderous and unnerving pleasure to unpack.

9. Junior Boys, Big Black Coat
Restrained and sonically austere, Big Black Coat presents a dizzying swirl of influences that recall early house and boogie experiments. Alternatively frosted with a celestial chill and warmed by an energetic R&B bounce, the record isn’t a retrospective as much as a cleansing reset of modern alt-dance music.


10. Drive-By Truckers, American Band
The perfect soundtrack to the 2016 election, American Band’s rollicking country-rockers ponder the complexities of identity politics and related hot-button subjects—including Black Lives Matter, gun control, illegal immigration, and many others. Each reflection, opinion, or critique describes a national frustration that’s bigger than any one issue or ideology.