My Top 10 Albums of 2016

Picture of Parquet Courts live at Webster Hall

Rob Bazaral

Picture of Parquet Courts live at Webster Hall

Rob Bazaral, Guest Writer

2016 was a depressing and tumultuous year for the world, and out of hard times often comes good art. While not every album on this list is depressing, all of them are representative of this year, and all of them had a profound effect on me as well as many others. Each of these records are unique and made an impact in each of their respective genres and on the music scene of the whole. While I unfortunately was only able to see one of these artists live (Parquet Courts) many are touring next year and if you enjoy any of these records I implore that you see them. A final note that while these are my top 10 albums of the year, they may not be yours, and if you don’t like them or felt others should have been in their place, I respect your opinion. That being said, a quick list of honorable mentions, as there were many records I loved this year:


Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

Young Thug – JEFFERY

James Blake – The Colour in Anything

Angel Olsen – My Woman

Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

Deakin – Sleep Cycle

Mitski – Puberty 2

Jeff Rosenstock – WORRY

Whitney – Light Upon the Lake

Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing


And finally, if you would like to know my top 50 songs of the year (with one song per artist), you can listen to it on Spotify at this link: (please note that “Freedom” by Beyonce would be the #7 song if it were on Spotify).

  1. Parquet Courts – Human Performance

The best kind of records are the ones that innovate and try new things for the genre and for the artist. Parquet Courts do this handedly on their latest LP, Human Performance, a fun and endearing record about life in New York City, struggles with life and love, and identity. It’s Andrew Savage’s love letter to the human condition, and it’s a bold record that dares to throw more than a few beautiful ballads on what many would assume to be a straightforward rock record. It’s Savage’s best lyricism, as well as his best songwriting, and the band comes together to create a fantastic wall of sound on each song. Songs like “Paraphrased” are some of their catchiest and songs like “Steady on my Mind” are some of their most beautiful. At times rambunctious and at times elegant, the band continues to surprise me with their sophistication and talent, going above and beyond what is expected on a rock record like this. Human Performance changes what a garage rock record can be and works on so many levels to tell the story of the broken state of the world and the performances we call our lives.

  1. Xiu Xiu – Plays the Music of Twin Peaks

Speaking of records trying something new, Xiu Xiu’s fantastic record took me by complete surprise to make what is essentially a cover album seem so fresh in amazing. The instrumentation is experimental and creative in sound, opting for non-traditional orchestration and sounds instead of the typical structure that the show stuck to. This album is investing, unique, at times beautiful, at times manic, and tells an amazing story simply through music and no words. And the craziest thing? I’ve never even seen Twin Peaks. The record is strong enough on its own that it tells much of the show’s story without context and is a breathtaking record without purely riding on the coattails of something else. This album was a bold risk and it payed off very well for Xiu Xiu, as I’ve never heard covers sound so different and unique.

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

If there is any hip-hop group that were the first to make rap music an art form, it would probably be A Tribe Called Quest. Their first 3 albums are so pivotal in shaping the future of a genre, by having some of the best flow, rhymes, and lyrics in their songs, as well as having great instrumentals, all strung together into a cohesive album. They are still lauded for their achievements in this period to this day and if that was all they offered the world, they’d still be legends. But, no, in a time of political upheaval much like the time they were writing their most important work, Tribe decided to reunite to make one final album. Released 3 days after the election, this politically charged record was just what the doctor ordered in a world so divided, dark, and confused. It’s angry, it’s passionate, and it’s rap mastery. Despite one of the members of the group (Phife Dawg) dying during production, every member is still on the top of their game, spitting the best rhymes, and having some of the most distinct flow of any group I’ve heard. It’s a swan song, and even if it wasn’t for long, I was more than happy to let them take the reigns of music again.

  1. Pinegrove – Cardinal

Easily the ‘sleeper hit’ of the year, when I was first forming my top 10 list I had not even heard of this album. But slowly, it creeped into more and more best of lists, and after much praise from the indie music community, I gave it a listen, and was blown away. Cardinal is the type of album that gets better with each listen, each time you hear a new lyric that speaks to you, or you hear Evan Stephens Hall crack at an emotional moment and it just adds another layer. It’s truly amazing how a band like Pinegrove can seemingly come out of nowhere with such a unique sound (I really didn’t think country/folk and emo would mesh in the slightest, but I guess I was wrong), and just tell the most relatable stories to today’s youth. If you’re an adolescent, this album is a must-listen, it’s a shoulder to cry on, and at times seems like a diary of everything you’ve done wrong and regret in life. There are so many brilliant moments on this record that I can’t even describe, but suffice it to say it’s the most surprising album to be so emotionally powerful and magnificent. I implore any reader to give it a listen, and then a couple more, just make sure it’s not on a day that you want to keep your emotional stability.

  1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Radiohead are in a league of their own when it comes to music. Easily my favorite band, I truly believe that they and The Beatles are the most important modern rock musicians to have ever lived and when one is that talented, good music never stops flowing. But I digress, Radiohead have done it yet again on their 9th full length release, 23 years after the release of their first. This is one of the more unique Radiohead albums I’ve heard, as all of it just seems so disjointed and mystical, and I mean that in the best way. The song “Glass Eyes” really sums up the feel of the album, it’s a view of the world from a perspective of someone who can see beauty but yet still feels confused, and has a lost purpose. This album was made in the wake of a tumultuous end of a relationship between lead singer Thom Yorke and his longtime partner, Rachel Owen, who, months after the release of this album would die of cancer. Thom is clearly lost on this album and yet the sound is not chaotic, there’s a brilliant clarity that echoes throughout it all, but the sound floats in the air only to linger, almost haunting the songs. It’s very indicative of how broken Thom must have felt making it, and all of it can be summed up in the final song: “True Love Waits.” Once a song of love, written 2 decades ago after getting together with Rachel, now it’s one of utter melancholy. The calls of “don’t leave” once sung playfully by a hopeless romantic, are now desperate cries by a middle-aged man who knows she’s already gone. The notes are unresolved, as that’s how his life feels now. It’s an utterly depressing piece, but through and through, it’s great art.

  1. David Bowie – Blackstar

David Bowie was a creative titan, and one of the most innovative musicians of the modern era. His death hit me very hard, as his albums were some of the first to make me love music, and really appreciate full-length albums as an art form. The day I found out he died, I spent my study hall with a friend just listening to all of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars just taking in all of its genius. However, at least he left us with this final piece, a tragically honest portrait of himself in the face of death. Incorporating a multitude of musical styles ranging from hip-hop to jazz, Bowie innovated one last time, and created the ultimate swan song. It’s beautiful in every sense of the word. He tells his final stories to wonderfully crafted melodies, using metaphors to talk of his pains and regrets, as well as the things he loved. The final song, “I Can’t Give Everything Away” is so heartbreaking, as it’s his final goodbye, and it’s not a particularly peaceful one, but rather one of regret and longing. However, I’m sure he must of knew how many people his music affected, and I will forever appreciate this final piece from the man that did it all. “If you’re ever sad, just remember that the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie” ~ Dean Podesta.

  1. Beyonce – Lemonade

There’s a reason Beyonce has maintained such longevity as a pop artist, she’s bold and unafraid. 2016 was a rough year, especially in a political manner, and Beyonce capitalizes over this with one of the most furious and passionate albums I’ve heard in a long while, and one I never saw coming. I don’t really even care if the narrative of Jay-Z cheating on her and her deciding to eventually forgive him is true, because she tells with such poise and uses the background of America’s political landscape to project her anger and betrayal to another degree. I am not going to pretend that I thought this album would have been as good as it is or would have had the impact that it’s had, but I don’t care because it is such a pleasant surprise. Beyonce works with the best of the best here, and just a song like “Hold Up,” taking ideas from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and featuring writing from Ezra Koenig and Father John Misty is able to blend so well into a unique and powerful song of its own that’s amazing in its own right. And to be frank, many moments on this album are straight-up badass. Her duet with Jack White on “Don’t Hurt Yourself” may be the most bombastic performance I’ve heard this year, and it blows me away on every listen. Songs like “Freedom” and “Formation” capture this year’s struggles in such an articulate way as well. This is a pop artist taking a political stance and it’s astounding how well it works, even if it’s not the best album of the year, I’d wager in the end it will be the most important.

  1. Anderson .Paak – Malibu

Despite coming out in January this was the real summer 2016 album, at least for me. Anderson .Paak is an absolutely wonderful musician, and on Malibu he blends funk and soul so well, it just becomes the most infectious album to listen to. He’s also incredibly dedicated, having released this, as well as another great album with Knxwledge under the name NxWorries called Yes Lawd!, as well as being featured on many great albums and touring consistently. However, Malibu really is his biggest achievement, it’s a surefire way to put a smile on my face, and it just has the perfect blend between loud and soft songs, enticing the listener with his charming stories. It’s just an overall very pleasant listen, and easily the best soul record that’s been put out in years. Additionally, it completely blows my mind how a song like “Come Down” or “Am I Wrong?” could not have been major hits, as they are the most infectiously catchy and fun songs that I don’t really understand how one could not love. Every musician playing is on top of their game, and Anderson is running the show, being a joyful and utterly perfect maestro through his musical dance down the shores of Malibu.

  1. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

Will Toledo is the portrait of a 2016 youth and fortunately for us, he articulates this with poise through brilliant lyricism and fantastic music. Toledo had been recording music under the Car Seat Headrest moniker on Bandcamp for many years before Teens of Denial, however this is his first full-length original studio LP, and it is just amazing. Teens of Denial may not be the best album that came out this year, but it’s one of the most important to me. Never before have I heard an album that so accurately reflected my adolescent struggles from a modern standpoint, and talked of these issues over such catchy instrumental melodies and sung them with perfect harmonies. Whether it’s drugs, breakups, depression or failure, Will makes it honest and interesting throughout. Will Toledo understands my generation like no other musician ever has, and instead of making a straightforward rock record, he challenged listeners to listen in-depth through his multitude of styles and lengths, to listen to his complexities and to understand how it’s possible to make rock music great and interesting in an age where so much of it sounds forgettable and same-y. His issues are real, his music is epic and powerful, and he did most of it all by himself, which is an amazing feat. He transcended from “that kid on Bandcamp” to a rockstar on Fallon, who has inspired me and I’m sure many others to rise above social constructs as well as to make some amazing rock music. After all, everybody’s just going along with the modern style.

  1. Frank Ocean – Blonde

Frank Ocean may be the first artist to ever live up to the hype that they created for themself. Because not only does Blonde make up for all of the wait, but it is a different, more mature, and better album than what gave him hype in the first place, Channel Orange. If you are an adolescent, you probably at least had one heartache in 2016, and Frank was right there to sing your woes. Blonde is probably one of the best heartache albums I’ve ever heard, and I also think it’s one of the best R&B albums I’ve ever heard. Frank could have very, very easily just made another Channel Orange and maybe it would have been great, but he proved himself as an artist by making something different, something elegant and simpler, an album that asks his large fanbase (many of whom probably are unaware of the types of music he’s experimenting with) to be patient and to go out of their comfort zone by creating a moody, sophisticated experience. Frank shows maturity in his music and his lyrics, knowing when to stop talking, and knowing when and how to build. He creates a world on this album, as all great albums do, and he completely sucks you in with it. Songs like “Self-Control” or “White Ferrari” are some of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard in years and they all are incredibly honest, yet relatable. They also add up to an amazing narrative, one that can be applied to anyone’s life, and one that you can put the pieces together to figure out what’s happened in Franks. I’ve spun it so many times, and it continues to blow my mind, and it really does cement Frank as not only a good, but a great musician, and one that is miles ahead of his peers. I don’t know what he’s going to do next, and I can only dream of his future.