Alex's Top 100 Albums Of 2016

Even before becoming a contributor to Tomorrow’s Verse, I’ve held a tradition of creating a (potentially excessive) list of my favorite albums of the year, spending November and December re-listening to everything I enjoyed throughout the previous 12 months. Though we began celebrating the new year by posting a “Staff Poll” of our favorite records from 2016, another list can’t hurt, right?

To me, 2016 was an exciting year for music, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it felt like a year for the younger artists and underdogs. Sure, Radiohead, David Bowie and Wilco released undeniably excellent music, but none affected me as strongly as a 24-year-old Car Seat Headrest, 22-year-old Twin Peaks, 23-year-old Chance The Rapper or Ryley Walker, still new to the music scene. Beyond that, Twin Peaks, Wilco, Chance The Rapper, Ryley Walker and Andrew Bird are all Chicago natives releasing excellent music in our city, amongst others.

Below you’ll find my favorite 100 albums of 2016, and hopefully you can find something new to check out while you’re at it.

-Alex Wood


1. Car Seat Headrest- Teens Of Denial

Few albums in 2016 managed to be as powerful musically or lyrically as Teens Of Denial, Car Seat Headrest’s major label debut. Written by 23-year-old Will Toledo, the amazingly mature record captures the emotional stress of post-teenage youth in a brutally honest nature, using specific events in the songwriter’s past as a loosely conceptual guide throughout. Toledo explores concepts too familiar to today’s youth, from using drugs in search of enlightenment, looking for answers to life’s big questions, struggling to maintain a satisfying social life, and run-ins with police. Yet his exploration of these concepts lands him on a larger conclusion, discovering and capturing in words the ensuing depression from this seemingly hopeless search for more.

The lyrics capture this unease and frustrating discontent in a gorgeously poetic manner, the words growing more meaningful with repeated listens. The music is just as bold, primarily a barrage of guitars using little more than an amplifier and distortion pedal. Keyboards and horns seep in occasionally, primarily to transition between songs. With bold dynamic shifts and audacious guitar riffs, their deceptively simple sound is everything one could want rock ‘n roll to be, and nothing short of epic. Combined with some of the best lyrics written in a decade, this puts Teens Of Denial at the top of 2016.

2. White Denim- Stiff

Stiff isn’t even White Denim’s best record by a long shot, but deserves a place near the top of the year-end list if solely to commend the band’s adaptability. After losing their longtime lead guitarist and drummer to other projects, singer-songwriter James Petralli and bassist Steve Terebecki rebounded with force, altering their sound to not only make up for their missing bandmates, but to reach new heights in entirely new ways.

Overall, Stiff simplifies the band’s sound without losing its powerful nature. Still characterized by technical proficiency and a never-ending arsenal of guitar riffs, the songs hold the same swagger as the previous line-up’s best work, but with especially infectious vocal melodies, an aspect sometimes lacking in their past. White Denim also explores new directions by incorporating keyboards, auxiliary percussion and samples, as well as a slower, sexy R&B and funk vibe toward the middle. Stiff is a massive success for the band, and should keep longtime fans excited for whatever may come next.

3. Andrew Bird- Are You Serious

With Are You Serious, Andrew Bird reinvented his sound entirely, abandoning his recent folk and country influences for something far more unique. Clearly recorded with a smaller band, the album features little beyond Bird’s violin, drums, bass and guitar, though the focus remains primarily on the melodic vocals. Bird’s songwriting is his best in years, and his most personal to date. And while the record features the densely layered violin parts and enormous vocabulary fans expect from the songwriter, the surprise comes in the production and style, with Are You Serious being the closest thing to a “pop” record that Bird has ever created. Drums and bass are pushed to the forefront of the mix, and drive the upbeat tempos throughout. Gone are the spacious, ambient sections, replaced instead with sing-along choruses. Perhaps most surprising is how well this fits Bird’s songs, the artist still finding ways to reinvent himself 20 years into his solo career.

4. Twin Peaks- Down In Heaven

Bands like Twin Peaks give music fans something to look forward to. The Chicago-based group consists of five members ranging from 21 to 22 years old, and fully embracing the rock ‘n roll lifestyle. Initially establishing themselves through self-released music, house parties and local shows, the world is finally catching up with Down In Heaven, a surprisingly mature record that boasts a clear understanding of how to write a rock song. Trading vocals and songwriting duties, the band rips through the record’s 13 tracks with an undying intensity, a perfect blend of deliberate songwriting and sloppy attitude, coming off as a timeless blend of early Rolling Stones and the modern garage-rock scene. Consistent in its nostalgic style but varied enough to never grow repetitive, if Down In Heaven isn’t on your radar, it certainly should be.

5. Chance The Rapper- Coloring Book

The undeniable champion of hip-hop this year, Coloring Book again finds Chance The Rapper filling the role of a savior in an often-stale scene. Released for free, the album is Chance’s most cohesive and innovative yet, blending an acid-drenched musical style with the songwriter’s best lyrics to date. The beats are massive, featuring layers of gospel vocals, horns, strings and experimental production techniques atop the more typical drum-and-bass beats. Dramatic production uses hard panning and dynamics to give life and definition to the dense music. Yet the music isn’t even half of what makes Coloring Book amongst this year’s best records. Chance’s lyrics find the rapper hardly short of enlightenment, focusing both on his changing personal life and spiritual pursuits. The songs purvey appreciation toward his success, his family, his fans, and his life as a whole, while maintaining confidence and pride toward how he landed in this position. Chance’s search for transcendence and knack for honesty finds him writing some of the most captivating and creative hip-hop ever made, and Coloring Book is an album practically any music fan could get on board with.

6. St. Paul & The Broken Bones- Sea Of Noise

St. Paul & The Broken Bones may have perfected their soul sound with Sea Of Noise, an extremely mature sophomore release from the Birmingham, Alabama based six-piece. Paul Janeway’s vocals are unparalleled, endlessly expressive with a dynamic range that thrives in the falsetto range and a deep understanding of his influences. The rhythm section keeps things funky throughout, with groovy bass lines, upbeat and simplistic drums, and guitar and organ taking a primarily auxiliary position in the songwriting. These parts help the songs grow without getting in the way of the horn section and vocals, which take the spotlight through their bright, conscious arrangements. Lyrics packed with imagery and emotion mirror soul singers of the 70s while taking inventive new paths that outshine the band’s past effort. Sea Of Noise is exactly how soul music is supposed to sound, powerful and moving yet fresh and unpredictable.

7. Radiohead- A Moon Shaped Pool

As one would expect from Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool again finds the band exploring entirely new creative avenues, landing on a sound that not only doesn’t mimic anything in the band’s catalog, but anything ever recorded. The record is somber and dark, a purveying sadness existent even in songs rehashed from the past. Yet the focal point is less on Thom Yorke and his lyrics and more on Jonny Greenwood’s extravagant arrangements, the guitarist using members of the London Contemporary Orchestra to create a dazzling density of oddball harmonies and textures to create an extremely specific mood. Atonal noises, samples and strings exist alongside even the simplest ballads, with Nigel Godrich’s production as important a contribution as any single band member. A Moon Shaped Pool is a curiously gorgeous recording, deeply personal and poignant, the likes of which only Radiohead could create.

8. Ryley Walker- Golden Sings That Have Been Sung

Though Chicago guitarist Ryley Walker has been performing in the city for over five years, it wasn’t until recently that the songwriter truly hit his stride. Golden Sings That Have Been Sung features some of his most stunning work yet, arguably perfecting his style through its endlessly shifting, exploratory arrangements. Though Walker’s masterful acoustic-guitar picking remains a primary focus throughout, a backing band consisting of other members of Chicago’s music scene truly bring out the best in the songs. Light jazz drumming and upright bass flesh out a warm, tight rhythm section while an electric guitarist offers counter-melodies to Walker’s already ambitious acoustic instrumentals. Organs, melodica, and keyboards add further texture and diversity without interfering with the spacious folk songwriting, Walker’s vocals falling atop in a laid-back drawl, the lyrics fitting the rambling arrangements. Like a strange blend between the Grateful Dead and Pentangle, Golden Sings offers a truly unique sound that finds Walker and his band still at the top of their game.

9. Parquet Courts- Human Performance

For more than half of a decade, prolific Brooklyn four-piece Parquet Courts have always stuck to a nostalgic post-punk sound, with influences like The Minutemen or The Fall easy to pinpoint. Despite this, the band has managed to evolve with every record, chasing new directions and ideas with each release instead of repeating themselves. Human Performance finds the band’s songwriting amongst their best, utilizing infectious, sing-along lyrics in short, easily-digestible songs. The lyrics are wordy but packed with imagery that pinpoints the feelings of modern life in a big city. Musically, the band uses clean, electric guitars and an upbeat rhythm section, each song chugging forward simply but effectively. Sharp, jagged melodies and occasional noisy effects offer the perfect amount of weirdness to balance the eccentric lyrics. Human Performance is a record that sounds simpler than it is, and Parquet Courts’ most fully realized release to date.

10. Sturgill Simpson- A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

Sturgill Simpson’s third full-length, A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, is little short of a masterpiece, and is exactly what the country scene needs. Written conceptually as a letter to a newborn son, the lyrics delve into what it means to grow up and become a man. They’re full of emotional longing and sincerity, offering a heartfelt authenticity that only the best country artists are capable of. The musical arrangements take the masterful songwriting to the next level, Simpson’s tendency toward excess giving the record a kaleidoscopic feel without interrupting its cohesive sound. Strings are featured heavily throughout, alongside horns, slide-guitar, organs, pianos and heavily affected electric guitars. Whether spacious, soft and heartfelt or a bombastic, climactic revelry, each song is touching and captivating, taking Simpson’s work to new heights and making the songwriting amongst this year’s best.


Read the full list below.


Albums of the Year:

1. Car Seat Headrest- Teens Of Denial

2. White Denim- Stiff

3. Andrew Bird- Are You Serious

4. Twin Peaks- Down In Heaven

5. Chance The Rapper- Coloring Book

6. St. Paul & The Broken Bones- Sea Of Noise

7. Radiohead- A Moon Shaped Pool

8. Ryley Walker- Golden Sings That Have Been Sung

9. Parquet Courts- Human Performance

10. Sturgill Simpson- A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

11. David Bowie- Blackstar

12. Bon Iver- 22, A Million

13. M. Ward- More Rain

14. The Avalanches- Wildflower

15. Jim James- Eternally Even

16. Dinosaur Jr.- Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not

17. Childish Gambino- Awaken, My Love

18. Pinegrove- Cardinal

19. Wilco- Schmilco

20. Kishi Bashi- Sonderlust

21. Various Artists- Day Of The Dead

22. A Tribe Called Quest- We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

23. Shovels & Rope- Little Seeds

24. Mitski- Puberty 2

25. Bob Weir- Blue Mountain

26. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds- Skeleton Tree

27. Nice As Fuck- Nice As Fuck

28. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard- Nonagon Infinity

29. Greensky Bluegrass- Shouted, Written Down And Quoted

30. The Record Company- Give It Back To You

31. Angel Olsen- My Woman

32. Steve Gunn- Eyes On The Lines

33. Japanese Breakfast- In Heaven

34. Drive-By Truckers- American Band

35. William Tyler- Modern Country

36. Whitney- Light Upon The Lake

37. Run The Jewels- Run The Jewels 3

38. Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam- I Had A Dream That You Were Mine

39. Dr. Dog- Abandoned Mansion

40. Sound Tribe Sector 9- The Universe Inside

41. Fruit Bats- Absolute Loser

42. Mothers- When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired

43. Luke Winslow-King- I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always

44. Woods- City Sun Eater In The River Of Light

45. Catfish And The Bottlemen- The Ride

46. Michael Kiwanuka- Love & Hate

47. Kendrick Lamar- untitled unmastered.

48. Charles Bradley- Changes

49. Conor Oberst- Ruminations

50. Iggy Pop- Post Pop Depression

51. Kaytranada- 99.9%

52. Hiss Golden Messenger- Heart Like A Levee

53. Cass McCombs- Mangy Love

54. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down- A Man Alive

55. The New Mastersounds- The Nashville Session

56. Anderson .Paak- Malibu

57. Causa Sui- Return To Sky

58. Kevin Morby- Singing Saw

59. Thee Oh Sees- A Weird Exits

60. Quilt- Plaza

61. Leonard Cohen- You Want It Darker

62. Ray LaMontagne- Ouroboros

63. Savages- Adore Life

64. Ty Segall- Emotional Mugger

65. Tortoise- The Catastrophist

66. Claypool Lennon Delirium- Monolith Of Phobos

67. Diarrhea Planet- Turn To Gold

68. Bob Mould- Patch The Sky

69. Lambchop- Flotus

70. Todd Snider- Eastside Bulldog

71- The Rolling Stones- Blue And Lonesome

72. The Thermals- We Disappear

73. Glass Animals- How To Be Human

74. James Blake- The Colour In Anything

75. Paul Simon- Stranger To Stranger

76. JEFF The Brotherhood- Zone

77. Blue Rodeo- 1000 Arms

78. Common- Black America Again

79. Hard Working Americans- Rest In Chaos

80. De La Soul- And The Anonymous Nobody…

81. Mudcrutch- Mudcrutch 2

82. The Growlers- City Club

83. Del McCoury Band- Del And Woody

84. Norah Jones- Day Breaks

85. Steve Mason- Meet The Humans

86. Band Of Skulls- By Default

87. Thee Oh Sees- A Weird Entrances

88. Morgan Delt- Phase Zero

89. Frankie Cosmos- Next Thing

90. Marco Benevento- The Story Of Fred Short

91. Sunflower Bean- Human Ceremony


93. STRFKR- Being No One, Going Nowhere

94. The Handsome Family- Unseen

95. The Avett Brothers- True Sadness

96. Mount Moriah- How To Dance

97. Russian Circles- Guidance

98. Sara Watkins- Young In All The Wrong Ways

99. Colvin & Earle- Colvin & Earle

100. Mavis Staples- Livin’ On A High Note


Honorable Mentions:

101. Town Mountain- Southern Crescent

102. Of Montreal- Innocence Reaches

103. Damien Jurado- Visions Of Us On The Land

104. Dawes- We’re All Gonna Die

105. Floating Action- Hold Your Fire

106. They Might Be Giants- Phone Power

107. Moby & The Void Pacific Choir- These Systems Are Failing

108. Black Mountain- IV

109. Allah-Las- Calico Review

110. Future Of The Left- The Peace And Truce Of Future Of The Left

111. Jagwar Ma- Every Now & Then

112. Garbage- Strange Little Birds

113. The Head And The Heart- Signs Of Light

114. Warpaint- Heads Up

115. Gringo Star- The Sides And In Between

116. Animal Collective- Painting With

117. Devendra Banhart- Ape In Pink Marble

118. July Talk- Touch

119. Into It. Over It.- Standards

120. Green Day- Revolution Radio

121. Mutual Benefit- Skip A Sinking Stone

122. Tycho- Epoch

123. Robert Pollard- Of Course You Are

124. Pixies- Head Carrier

125. Lucius- Good Grief


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