My Top Ten Albums of the Year 3-1



davidbowieblackstarI bet some of you didn’t think I could possibly stretch ten albums into three articles. I was originally planning on only doing one (or at the most, two), but I just kept finding things to say. These are complex, layered pieces of art, and I need the extended format to do them each justice. Don’t I? Sure I do.

3. David Bowie – Blackstar

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Though 2016 claimed its share of memorable artists, the only one that still really stings happened at the very beginning of this year. Remember it, Rocknuts reader? This utterly garbage year was so full of promise. We’ve had more celebrity deaths since then, as well as perhaps the most thoroughly disgusting general election in United States history, but Bowie’s death somehow still remains the most important thing to happen in 2016. I approached Blackstar with some hesitation. After all, are any of us really capable of reviewing this album objectively, on its own merits? When we listen to it, are we really hearing “Life on Mars?” or “Rebel Rebel”? In other words, is Blackstar assuming a burden that no single record should have to bear? Is it up to this album to wrap up Bowie’s career in a way that all of his fans will find satisfying? This is a tall order for even the most memorable piece of music, so it’s probably a good thing that Blackstar turned out to be a masterpiece. The title track is a multi-part statement of purpose. Bowie acknowledges his legendary status with perhaps the greatest lyric of 2016. I’m the Great I Am.This is a man reflecting on his status in popular music; this is a man who seems as surprised as anyone that he is susceptible to “human diseases.”  Bowie explores every facet of illness and death in a more oblique way than fellow departed legend Leonard Cohen (who also put a fine coda on his career earlier this year/elsewhere on this list). The titular “whore” of “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” is Bowie’s disease, his cancer. Disease is the great equalizer. It doesn’t care who you are or how many great songs you’ve written. It takes everyone the same. By the heartbreaking closing track “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” David Bowie is prepared for the next stage in his metamorphosis. And that’s really what death is. It’s a state change. For a performer so prone to frequent reinvention, it seems oddly fitting that Bowie hurtles headfirst in to the afterlife, seeing it as yet another world to conquer.

2. Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop – Love Letter for Fire

There are few things on Earth more gorgeous than the harmonious voices of Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop. This is only something I discovered recently, as Love Letter For Fire is their first official collaboration. Beam is probably better known as the man behind Iron and Wine, and Hoop is a Tom Waits protege (and former nanny to his children) with a some interesting solo work of her own. Together, they might be greater than the sum of their parts. The vocals are consistently wonderful, and Hoop in particular can range from sultry and mystic on “The Lamb You Lost” to girlish and innocent on “Every Songbird Says.” There’s just so much to like on this record, and just when the country-influenced ballads in the middle section threaten to lose the listener’s interest, the duo delivers the foreboding “Midas Tongue” or the cabaret-esque “Chalk it Up to Chi.” Truly a delight from start to finish, and one of the strongest albums, song-for-song, of the year.

1. The Hotelier –Goodness

The Hotelier’s Goodness is the best album of 2016. Quite simply, it works on all possible levels that can reasonably be required of a rock record; it succeeds thematically and works as a cohesive piece of art while simultaneously remaining a collection of great songs that don’t require any specific context to enjoy. The group’s ode to man’s reinvention through nature is so vivid and true that it’s making me consider getting a cabin on Walden Pond, and I will do almost anything to avoid going outdoors. I’ll warn the uninitiated if I must. This album is emo as fuck. There’s just no way around it. Goodness opens with a spoken-word poem, written by lyricist and singer Christian Holden. That being said, it’s a by-no-means embarrassing poem that lays out the thesis statement for the record: By sacrificing the comforts of home and allowing themselves to experience their humanity in new surroundings and lights (namely, the wilderness) a broken person can find that missing piece of themselves, that unknown factor that will allow them to heal. That theme is reflected throughout the piece. “Soft Animal, for example, turns a simple encounter with a wild deer into bridge between two worlds.  “Opening Mail for My Grandmother” finds an elderly woman accepting her imminent death and by extension her place in the universe. While tackling these concepts, Hotelier manages to craft hummable songs that do plenty of “rocking” in the conventional sense. Tracks like “Goodness, Pt.2″ and “Piano Player” stir up plenty of sound and fury. Conversely, the late-in-the-game highlight “Fear of Good” is subtle and chilling. Goodness is layered, intricate, and loaded with the simple joy of existence. It’s my number one album of 2016, and it wasn’t even a difficult decision. Though this was a year filled with excellent musical moments, nothing else came close. Go listen to this album right now.

 

There we have it, folks! See you next year! By which I mean January. We’ll start the whole process again!

 

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