2016 was a rough year in more ways than one. From celebrity deaths, widespread violence, racism, ignorance, misogyny, and the encroaching apocalypse in the form of a hideous comic book villain being elected President, 2016 was a banner year for a race of idiots. Still, there were albums released. More albums than I had the time or the mental ability to fully absorb, but the reality of living in a social media-saturated age where something like Pokemon Go could capture the rapt attention of millions only to disappear just as quickly means that music held a special place in terms of coping. This list of 25 favorites runs the gambit; deceased legends orchestrating swan songs, hip-hop artists wrestling with mental instability, shrieking metal bands clearing out the din of apathy through blown-out speakers, the sounds of noise musicians articulating their angst through experimentation. Above all else, every single record represented here helped me get through the anger, frustration, and disbelief of being alive and coherent in 2016. Here's to the music. May it never die.
It Only Gets Worse
Alabama-based spoken word artist Matt Finney uses macabre prose alongside Dutch musician Maurice de Jong's ominous keyboards and ambient electronics; resulting in a work of incredible beauty marked by the horror of feeling utterly alone.
Shabaka and The Ancestors
Wisdom of Elders
Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings uses the narrative of slavery in order to craft nine compositions of free jazz, Caribbean jams, and folk-inflected rhythms. A miraculous distillation of America's most shameful period of history into something beautiful.
You Want It Darker
Through strummed guitar, soaring background harmonies, haunting organ swells, and that crackling baritone, Leonard Cohen delivers his final will and testament with humility and a heavy heart.
Erratic drumming, schizo synths, and goofy riffs coalesce into one unifying package on this loopy slice of instrumental pop from Fiery Furnaces' Matthew Friedberger and Sebadoh's Bob D'Amico.
A love for hip-hop grooves, electronic beats, percussive lounge, and sultry R & B are front and center on Canadian outfit BBNG's latest; a beguiling synthesis of formal jazz and forward-thinking instrumentation.
This Finnish seven-piece rip through krautrock riffs and Sonic Youth-influenced shoegaze on this barnstorming collection of tunes which often go from simple chord progressions into all-out fuzz rock anthems. Anarchic intensity from start to finish.
Black Terry Cat
Xenia Rubinos channels some Erykah Badu magic along with her usual off-kilter weirdness for a lesson in being a dark skinned woman in America. Funk, neo-soul, and art rock collide with political and gender-based lyrics in stunning fashion.
A blistering statement of reconciling one's destructive lifestyle with their art, rapper Danny Brown's magnum opus of sex, drugs, and self-immolation is the year's most forward thinking hip-hop album. An absolute gut-punch.
Jenny Hval's avant garde electronic pop masterwork is a bold feminist vision; with lyrics about birth control, menstruation, and supernatural ennui coiling around jagged horns, meditative synths, and gasping vocals. Obsessive, vampiric, and utterly brilliant.
"Something happened on the day he died. Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside..."
A tightly controlled exercise in avant-jazz pop and electronica, David Bowie's extraordinary swan song was the sound of a man grappling with his mortality and bowing out gracefully. A disorienting, deeply personal record which stands with some of the legendary icon's best work.