“Wildflower” – The Avalanches
After nearly 16 years of silence, Australian group The Avalanches returned in 2016 with the long-awaited follow-up to their 2000 cult classic, “Since I Left You.” Like that album, “Wildflower” creatively flips obscure samples and repurposes them to create a colorful collage of sound, but adds a new twist with the appearance of guest vocalists like Toro y Moi and rapper Danny Brown, adding their distinctive styles. The resulting effect is an hour of pure, unadulterated joy. “Wildflower” is the rare comeback album that’s an absolute triumph.
“Teens of Denial” – Car Seat Headrest
Going from recording vocals in the back of a car and making albums all by himself to having a full-fledged band and a six-figure budget, prolific musician Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest has become something of an unlikely indie hero, and his latest project, “Teens of Denial”, shows that he can only get better from here. The record plays like a greatest hits album, with each song being as memorable and addictive as the last. Toledo’s lyrics are excellent as well, being simultaneously poignant, funny, and relatable, and they’re complemented perfectly by the music’s smartly written bursts of power pop with melodic guitar licks and the occasional keyboard. It doesn’t rely on any flashy production tricks to get by, but instead coasts all the way through on purely fantastic songwriting.
“Blackstar” – David Bowie
The Starman’s swan song showed that Bowie was innovating and trying new ideas until the very end. Compared to 2013’s decent-but-unremarkable “The Next Day,” which, though it had a few good songs, didn’t really explore any new territory, “Blackstar’s” experimentalism stands out almost immediately, especially in its opening track, the nearly 10-minute-long abstract jazz title track. It displays an energy unheard from most of 2016’s hyped albums and breakout artists, but in the context of Bowie’s death, can also be an emotionally-draining experience. Nevertheless, Blackstar is an incredibly rewarding experience that ranks up there with the best of Bowie’s work.
“22, A Million” – Bon Iver
On “22, A Million,” Justin Vernon of Bon Iver invents new words and instruments, fills his cryptic lyrics with references to the Bible and William Shakespeare to communicate themes of loneliness, and uses sped-up samples of long forgotten music to create an unflinchingly experimental album that also manages to be his most personal, intimate work to date. While tracks like opener “22 (Over Soon)” are more abstract, sparse compositions, others such as “8 (circle)” are as warm and inviting as anything else he’s done. It’s an album that takes a few listens to sink in, but once it does, it becomes one of the year’s most gripping listens.
“WORRY.” – Jeff Rosenstock
“WORRY.’s” title leads listeners to believe they’ll be hearing a sad, anxious album, and while that is true, it’s also the most upbeat album of the year. The first half consists of one addictively catchy pop-punk song after another, while the second delivers a medley of shorter tracks reminiscent of “Abbey Road.” At a brief 38 minutes, the album flies by, and proves that pop-punk can still be a genre worth exploring in 2016.