Tracy Ross, host of Sounds Good and Beyond The Edge lists his top album picks for 2016.
1. Kevin Morby – Singing Saw
Last year, I knew what my album of the year was in May when I listened to Courtney Barnett’s opus Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit on repeat during a family vacation. This year’s top pick is another spring album, but one whose charms took longing to seep in. Kevin Morby is a former member of a couple of pretty good bands (Woods, the Babies) but I really think his solo work is where he shines. His third album Singing Saw sounds like some improbable mix of Leonard Cohen and Neutral Milk Hotel. Song titles like “Cut Me Down”, “Destroyer”, and “Black Flowers” are indicative of the album’s overall feeling of resigned melancholy which is surprisingly tinged with genuine hope.
2. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Radiohead has reached the point where every album is an event. This band feels like the anti-Rolling Stones, just as likely to disappear into the ether as to be touring into their seventies. A Moon Shaped Pool is one of the band’s finest releases, with layers that reveal themselves with repeated listens.
3. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Although this record will forever be linked with the accidental death of Cave’s son, most of the lyrics and music were completed before the tragedy. Thus it is through Warren Ellis’ meticulous production and especially Cave’s tortured vocals that the full weight of that pain shines through. The first five tracks are a journey through unspeakable darkness. The last three are among the most beautiful of Cave’s storied career.
4. Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam - I Had A Dream That You Were Mine
It’s not really surprising that the team-up of former front men for two of my favorite bands of the last decade or so (The Walkmen, Vampire Weekend) would be one of my favorite records of the year. What is so wonderfully surprising is how different the music on this record is than that of the two bands that birthed it.
5. Steve Gunn – Eyes On The Lines
It takes about 45 seconds for the vocals to kick in on album opener “Ancient Jules”, and by that point most listeners would be happy if this were an instrumental album. Gunn is a guitar prodigy who can produce hook upon hook like it’s nothing. This album is an exercise in restraint, as Gunn gives his lyrics room to shine through his obvious talents on the guitar.
6. David Bowie – Blackstar
Bowie’s parting gift is forward-thinking with the master experimenting with spacey jazz and unique rhythms. Released on the singer’s 69th birthday and created with the full awareness that the end of his life was near, this record serves as a fitting and sometimes literally eulogy for arguably the most important musician since the Beatles.
7. Andrew Bird – Are You Serious
I usually tell people that Bird is an “album artist” who is skilled in creating a cohesive group of songs, but isn’t exactly known for his radio friendly hooks. Bird blows that assertion out of the water on album opener “Capsized” which is as catchy a song as he’s ever written. Fiona Apple duet “Left Handed Kisses” isn’t far behind.
8. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
It seems that the only person who didn’t see Sturgill Simpson as the next Waylon Jennings was the artist himself. Simpson had Nashville at his feet after the 2014 release of his sophomore album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. However, instead of going for the big bucks as a genuine country music star Simpson released this meandering gem of record which includes the best Nirvana cover ever.
9. Parquet Courts – Human Performance
I saw this band play here in Murray in a friend’s kitchen a few years ago. Three days later Pitchfork named one of their tracks as a “best new song” and the rest is history. Lead man Andrew Savage formerly fronted the great Texas band Teenage Cool Kids, but this Pavement worshipping New York quartet will be what he is remembered for.
10. Angel Olsen – My Woman
Even better than her excellent 2014 release Burn Your Fire for No Witness, this is Olsen’s career achievement to date. This is almost like two separate albums, with the first half filled with crunchy indie rock, and the second half occupied by slower ethereal songs, especially the near eight minute long “Sister”.