As done last year, DFC has gathered a few friends of the blog to share their personal favorite albums of the year. 2016 has been anything but a typical year, with an abundant amount of musician deaths that nobody asked for, as well as some surprise releases, and politically-charged music from all sides of the spectrum. Read below what some had to say about their top picks.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – “Nonagon Infinity”
by Jeremy Nifras
Imagine you’re on a train, but one that’s really, really fast. The sheer intensity of the moving vehicle chugging beneath your feet fills your ears. You instantly feel the exhilaration of the train’s immense force, but then the train seems to slow down. Just as you think you’re about to get off, the train door instantly slams shut and goes full throttle, sending you flying to the back of the cabin, as you prepare yourself for another long thrill ride. This, in essence, is what Nonagon Infinity is like.
The Australian six-piece have come through with an absolutely no-holds barred, insane piece of garage rock nirvana. Each song on the album (including the last and first tracks) seamlessly fade into the other, creating an endlessly hypnotic effect. Nonagon Infinity is truly unlike most rock records released in recent years, because it almost perfectly encapsulates what I look for in an album in this style. It’s tightly performed, unrelenting, and, holy hell, it’s loads of fun.
Wild Nothing – “Life of Pause”
by Richard J. Guereca
With many amazing releases this year such as American Football, Sulk, STRFKR, and DIIV, it was rather difficult to pick my favorite album of 2016. Although I admire each album greatly, my pick for 2016 would have to be Life Of Pause by Wild Nothing. Since his last full LP Nocturne in 2012 which was his most successful record to date, he returned in 2016 to bring a brand new sounding and bold record. With new influences and moods this easily became my favorite record of the year. Such a great genuine musician.
Charles Bradley – “Changes”
by AJ Rangel
Following the sudden passing of his Mother, Charles Bradley took his sadness & his art as a soul-singer & utilized it to create his 3rd album, Changes. Changes captures what true Soul material sounds like in the year of 2016. Not only did Bradley incorporate cover of a Black Sabbath tune as the title track for the album, but also he managed to manifest the once piano-ballad into a soulful, heart-aching tune that had me saying, “Bill Ward may have been born to write the song, but Charles Bradley was born to sing this song.”
From there, Charles Bradley utilizes his backing bands, The Menahan Street Band & The Budos Band to where it sounds as though James Brown came together with the Wailers, circa pre-Island records, to create a tribute to lost loved one. The bands vocal-harmonies are what make this album. Along with another reference to music outside the soul genre in which Charles Bradley samples “Summer Breeze”, a Seals & Crofts tune, on one of my favorite cuts from the album, a track entitled “Nobody But You.”
Up until this album, I felt Bradley had yet to make his true work of art, which did his voice justice, but Changes gave me that hope – it is short & sweet. An album that I found myself going back to throughout the year after it’s April 1st release date, no matter what mood I was in – I returned to this album to make it all better or simply just help me realize the good. That is what makes a good album of the year for me. Longevity. Thank you Charles Bradley, stay strong & best of luck with the battle you face known as Cancer, the world needs you for much longer.
Swans – “The Glowing Man”
by Alex Weeks
More often than not, reunions don’t bode well for bands. We often find bands long passed their prime reaching for a quick buck (That godawful Pixies album Indie Cindy), but I can’t name many bands that sound as good as Swans do now, even bands in said prime. The Glowing Man is a testament to the hard work Michael Gira has put into this group since reuniting with with former guitarist Norman Westberg and drummer Phil Puleo. Here we have two discs filled with truly epic compositions, and some great folk pieces to boot.
Those who have listened to their last album To Be Kind will definitely hear some similarities, but this is far from a rehash. This is closure. This is the end of something beautiful. From top to bottom, The Glowing Man excels. It’s chaotic, it’s abrasive, its angry, yet when the albums over, finally, peace. And that I mean very kindly.
David Bowie – “Blackstar”
by James Laubhan
Blackstar is the 25th studio album and a fantastic project from the British icon that started the year of 2016 off with a real bang. While Bowie might have not gone as far into the dark side, like fellow avant-garde pop artist Scott Walker, he simply didn’t have to. Blackstar is a treat with lush production, great songwriting and a fantastic performance from an artist who clearly understood at the time of making this album it would likely be his final work.
From challenging, in-your-face exploration, to beautifully light-as-air soulful ballads, there’s a constant idea that there’s no clue as to where the next track will swerve. There’s also an overwhelming feeling throughout this record that Bowie is still having fun, and still the obvious master craftsmen of music. This album is a great way to say goodbye and make history again. Bowie gives us his last flame with this ambitious album; it’s dark and meaningful, jazzy and rock’n’roll. Released just two days prior to his unexpected death in January, Blackstar will go down as one of the greatest rock swan songs of all time.
Efterklang, Fundal & The Happy Hopeless Orchestra – “Leaves: The Colour of Falling”
by Ryan Dye
I think I can speak for everyone when I say that our musical expectations were almost completely subverted this year. Personally, I was surprised by the sheer amount of risk and experimentation we witnessed from big name artists. Bon Iver went electric. Radiohead went acoustic. Beyoncé and Solange left their accessible commercial pop behind to unapologetically address black womanhood. Frank Ocean and Chance the Rapper succeeded in bucking the control of major labels while, simultaneously, making some of the most vital music of the decade. And Kanye made a messy record that was as brilliant and fragmented as he is. Yes, risk seemed to be the defining aspect of the year, but I wanted to take this opportunity to endorse a band who endeavored to take what I feel was the greatest risk this year: writing an opera.
Commissioned by the Copenhagen Opera Festival in 2015, Danish group Efterklang teamed up with longtime composer/collaborator Karsten Fundal and set about composing music for a modern operatic experience. With electronic elements complementing the orchestral instrumentation, and English lyrics written by Danish poet Ursula Andkjær Olsen, the end result was a bleak tale of a cult that seeks refuge from an apocalyptic event in an underground bunker. A suitable venue for the opera was found in an old Cold War-era bunker beneath the Copenhagen Municipal Hospital. Each performance was held in an intimate manner, similar to a haunted house attraction, with attendees escorted through the dark halls during each new act; with no barrier between them and the performers.
Clearly taking cues from composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass, Efterklang have managed to temper their lively orchestrations with cyclical structure and sublime choral beauty. But they haven’t just succeeded as musicians. They’ve succeeded as storytellers. Even without attending the show, the aural experience is still stunning. Somehow, they’ve managed to make a gothic tale, in an ancient format, feel just as compelling as anything else we’ve received this year. I can think of no greater triumph.