Fifteen of LA Music Blog’s writers came together last month to vote on our favorite releases from the past year of music, and something happened that has never happened before: our collective favorite album didn’t actually score the #1 spot on any individual list.
Instead of a runaway favorite like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly in 2015 or St. Vincent’s self-titled release in 2014, the album atop this year’s collective ranking was a favorite of many, but the favorite of none. In fact, only one album on the list below was voted as the best of the year by more than one writer, a testament to just how many of the following LPs could very well earn your vote for best of 2016.
Check out LA Music Blog’s Top 50 Albums of 2016 list below, and be sure to let us know in the comments which albums you think should have been higher or lower on the list, how happy you are we included your favorite album from the past year, and why we’re crazy for leaving out one of your favorites.
#50: Oathbreaker – Rheia
Sometimes bands, even good bands, exceptional bands, bands you have believed in since the very beginning, will hit a plateau. They start churning out the same stuff, for better or worse, and six or seven records in, you forget what it was exactly you saw in them. Maybe you forget about them altogether. Oathbreaker will never have to worry about falling into that category.
Rheia is a monster of a record. Challenging and striving and yearning at every turn, it incorporates a vast new world of influences into the band’s crushing blackened hardcore. Everything from PJ Harvey to Grouper is mixed in with Wolves in the Throne Room and Bathory.
What you’re left with is an uncompromisingly personal, crushing megaton of a record that washes over you in the same way Deafheaven’s Sunbather did a couple years back. It shows a band pushing every limit they know and bringing every scrap of knowledge they collectively have to bear, and the result is staggering. – Lex Voight
Listen: “10:54/Second Son of R”
#49: Common – Black America Again
Prior to this year (if we’re really being honest, prior to a few weeks ago), it seemed as though Common could be safely placed in the category of “Rappers Who Were Once Dope Who Got Swallowed Up By Hollywood.” While the Chicago artist had definitely continued to put out albums in recent years, he seemed to have shifted more of his focus to acting in film and television. Then, out of nowhere, he triumphantly returned with his most nuanced and musically engaging album in over a decade: the excellent Black America Again.
Produced entirely by jazz drummer/beatmaker Karriem Riggins, Black America Again is a soulful manifesto that harkens back to the neo-soul heavy sounds of Common’s breakthrough record, 2000’s Like Water for Chocolate. Though America has long been plagued by the issues that the rapper addresses on songs like the title track and “The Day The Women Took Over,” the record admittedly takes on an even graver feel in the wake of the results of this year’s presidential election. Common keeps the guest list relatively tight, working solely with singers like BJ the Chicago Kid, Bilal, and Stevie Wonder, and he has never sounded so inspired and focused. – Sean Kramer
#48: Wild Nothing – Life of Pause
Life of Pause takes a while to bloom, but when it does, you’ll find it was completely worth the wait. This is an album that floats on the surface for a while before sinking into your head and your heart.
Unlike Wild Nothing’s last album, Nocturne, this record features more textures and off-tempo beats. It’s a little less poppy, but man — the feel is there. On “A Woman’s Wisdom,” the slide guitars carry you right into Jack Tatum’s dark voice. He takes a unique approach with this track, pairing very heavy lyrics with an ’80s feel, but it pays off, and I like that he ventured away from previous sounds. It’s expansion! We need it.
Unlike other Wild Nothing releases, the vocals are prominent on Life of Pause and the energy is relaxed and, at times, happy. Who needs drugs when you have music like this to enjoy? Then again, this hour-long album does go a lot of psychedelic places, and I doubt drugs would dampen the experience… – Anthony Marks
Listen: “Life of Pause ”
#47: Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
Dev Hynes, the subversive mastermind behind soul/funk/R&B project Blood Orange, has crafted a superbly personal album that explores political and identity issues within our culture. He boldly opens his third LP, Freetown Sound, with the soulful, jazzy track “By Ourselves,” which explicitly tackles feminism, specifically for Black woman, through a spoken-word poem halfway through the track. Poignantly laid over bluesy saxophone and trumpet arrangements, the song suggests that Hynes’ album will be anything but insipid.
The LP is as timely as ever, and it was released just around the time the Freddie Gray case was settled with a not guilty verdict for police officer Caesar Goodson Jr. Now, with the election results hanging over us, Hynes’ words are more relevant than ever. On tracks such as “Hands Up” and “With Him,” he explores Black identity in America and the burdens associated with it.
Ever the master of collaboration, Hynes enlists artists including Carly Rae Jepsen, Nelly Furtado, Empress Of, and even Debbie Harry to add a distinct voice to each track. The result is a beautiful and poignant album that speaks to not only Black America, but anyone struggling with the current state of America’s cultural divisiveness and regressive politics. – Jillian Goldfluss
#46: Thrice – To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere
Thrice has always been a band with a message. Since The Illusion of Safety and before, the band has used its musical prowess to decry the problems of the world, and these days, few things seem more vital than a group of supremely talented artists using their position to influence others and bring new points of view to their listeners.
Songs like “Death from Above,” “Whistleblower,” “Black Honey,” and “Blood on the Sand” are all classic Thrice jams that are intended to raise awareness about drone warfare, freedom of information, exploitation of the environment, and racism, respectively, and they all do so in quietly challenging ways. The complexity with which the band manages to address each subject in a three-minute-long post-hardcore song is incredible. Thrice is doing its part to actively create a better world — what are you doing? – Lex Voight
Listen: “Black Honey”
#45: Vektor – Terminal Redux
How did a sci-fi thrash metal concept album from a bunch of long-haired young guys from Arizona make this list? Let me count the ways… By reinvigorating a tired genre that seemed completely played out. By piling an impossible number of awesome riffs into its seventy-odd minute running time. By taking risks with detours, such as shoegazey interludes and soulful backing vocals, that completely paid off. By committing to the concept so completely that being cynical was impossible.
Terminal Redux’s energy and verve swept you up in music that, despite its heaviness, was so joyous and life-affirming that it made you want to punch the air in triumph, even as it left you exhausted by the time it was all over. The band’s decision to play Terminal Redux in its entirety on tour this year felt less like pompous hubris and more like supreme confidence that they had made a stone-cold genre classic. – Jay Chirinos
Listen: “Recharging The Void”
#44: The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It
Coming into 2016, it had been three years since The 1975 released their self-titled debut, so fans like me were dying for some new music. Along comes their sophomore release, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It, an album inspired by the best of ’80s pop and building upon the indie-rock foundation that launched the band’s career.
Perfectly packaged ear candy like “Love Me” and “UGH!” are filled with funky guitar riffs that make you want to get up and dance, while the band’s dreamy soundscapes in “Please Be Naked” and the album’s title track can lull you into a peaceful sleep. The hypnotizing ’80s ballad homage “Somebody Else” is my favorite track on the album, given that it could perfectly fit in the emotional peak of any John Hughes movie.
Listen: “Love Me”
#43: Griz – Good Will Prevail
It was 2015’s Say It Loud that really put saxaphone-totin’ GRiZ on the map, landing him a slew of bookings all around the world. Not one to rest on his laurels, the prolific artist — he’s more or less released an album a year since his 2011 debut — dove headfirst into his fifth album, Good Will Prevail. Like Say It Loud, Good Will Prevail is rife with collaborations, but it would be unfair to call the records carbon copies of one another.
Good Will Prevail can be best described as the big sister to any of GRiZ’s previous offerings — a more refined take on the future funk sound he has been cultivating over the last five years with more prominent R&B influences. It can also be described as really, really fun. A mishmash of dirty basslines, jazzy brass, and funky riffs, Good Will Prevail is the ultimate party soundtrack. – Lesley Park
Listen: “Good Times Roll (ft. Big Gigantic)”
#42: Phantogram – Three
When I first heard New York duo Phantogram, I was instantly transfixed. The way they manipulated electronic noises under entrancing melodies delivered like velvet by Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter had me mesmerized. When the pair released their third studio album, I was thrilled to find it contained the same epic crescendoes underscored by glitchy arrangements and poetic lyrics that I had come to know and love.
Phantogram has always danced around in dark themes, and they do so more than ever on this album, which was no doubt influenced by Barthel’s sister taking her own life this year, a fact that gives opener “Funeral Pyre” a more lasting effect and causes “Cruel World” to hit a little harder. The duo’s lyrics have consistently reflected a deep sadness, but they keep the album from feeling morose by expertly infusing it with energy along the way, such as in songs “Same Old Blues” and the radio-hit single “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore.” Meanwhile, their experimentation with electronica is highlighted on songs like “You’re Mine” and “Answer.”
While Three was born from tragedy, Phantogram has found solace in hypnotizing melodies, bold experimentation, and emotional lyrics. – Mary Bonney
Listen: “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore”
#41: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
A slew of records this year revolved around the idea of death, but no record was so quite literally about death as Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ latest. This isn’t particularly new territory for Nick Cave, who has quite extensively explored themes of personal loss and existential dread over 16 studio albums, but context is everything, and the sudden accidental death of Cave’s young son Arthur in the summer of 2015 adds an extra layer of gloom to the artist’s sullen voice and more minimalist, alternative approach recently explored on Push Away The Sky in 2013.
Nick Cave prepares us for something bleak with the album artwork, but ultimately, Skeleton Tree is unusually bittersweet, an LP that delicately balances Cave’s darker tendencies with instrumentation and production and improvisation that serves as a relieving eulogy to events no parent ever wants to experience. – David Fisch
Listen: “I Need You”