Here’s our annual collaboration article that features our personal best of 2016 in music. As you’ll see, we all have a different take on things. Sometimes we agree, others we just shake our heads at. In this article, you’ll find reviews on the year as a whole, artists we lost, top ten/twenty lists, best concerts of the year and more. No matter what you think of our opinions, it’s something we look forward to doing each year and take very serious. These reviews and lists are not based on sales, popularity or sway. They are from the heart as we lived through and experienced them as the year took place. Take a look a see if you agree with any.
James Currie’s Top 20 Albums of 2016:
Here is my list of best albums of 2016. They are in no particular order and as you will see cover a pretty broad section of musical styles and genres.
For me, 2016 brought in a continuation of some of my favorites. Groups, artists and performers that I tend to like and follow throughout the years of their existence. There are of course a few new ones as my tune-starved brain takes in new tracks like a hungry sponge. I still feel like if I don’t learn about a new band, song or style at least once during any given week something is wrong. There is just way too much music out there.
How do I come to these conclusions? It’s not from record sales. It’s not the amount of likes or followers one gets. Not billboard charts or even iTunes numbers. There are my from the heart stand out records I listen to multiple times and haven’t got sick of. They are albums that I like more than half of the tracks on if not all of them, not just a single. Groups that I feel give it their all when they made them, not just threw something out to make a buck. Good writing, melody and hook always get me too. It’s about how it makes me feel. Does my toe tap? Do I recite or sing along with choruses? Hell, the production value doesn’t even matter as much as the content does to me.
It’s impossible for me to rank them in order. They are just too different and bring me different meanings and joy depending on many factors like mood, environment and just plain kick ass.
That said, here are what I feel are the best albums to come out of 2016. Here they are in no particular order. No need to go into to many details on each album as that the reason why they are here is pretty much outlined above.
1. David Bowie: Blackstar (Rock)
– Bowie’s last album released just days before his death. This one hit a deep chord. Not only is it one of his best albums in years, but the whole recording process makes it emotionally personal. The fact that he knew he was dying while making it is heart breaking. The tracks and album as a whole are a good bye. He’s coming to peace with his fate. It’s dark, but unbelievably necessary. This is one you must listen to from beginning to end and don’t be afraid to wipe a tear from your eye. The emotions pour through your speakers like liquid love.
2. Dandy Warhols: Distortland (Alernative Rock)
– The Dandy’s return with a 10 track album filled with grooves that will make you stand up and clap along. From the start with Search Pary through Pope Reverend Jim, STYGGO and The Grow Up Song. This album is fresh for the Warhols. Zia McCabe bring the keyboard and synth sounds front and center. There are a lot of electronic feels through this record. It’s still Dandy’s through and through, but a welcomed progression for a band that’s over 20 years in the making.
3. Anthrax: For All Kings (Metal)
– Anthrax unleashed a monster here with For All Kings. Fifteen tracks of punch in the face with a leather studded glove fist. It’s new, fresh and one of their best albums in several years. They seem to have a new outlook on music lately and it shows. Hearing these tracks live is even better.
4. Iggy Pop: Post Pop Depression (Pop Punk)
– Iggy has a new group of friends to play with on this record. He’s partnered with Josh Homme a couple others to produce a Iggy Pop / Queens of the Stone Age hybrid. A supergroup of sorts. On this one, we get nine brand new songs totally different than we’ve heard from before. It’s modern, hooky and fun. A collaboration that I hope continues in the future.
5. Gojira: Magma (Metal)
– This French Metal band has been producing music for the greater part of a decade. Magma is the best release to date. The tour from this summer combined with this gem has solidified them as a true steel force to be recommend with. It’s depth is complicated and rich. With this one we get 10 tracks to pound our head to.
6. Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool (Alternative)
– A Moon Shaped Pool is Radioheads 9th album. It features songs ranging from the dark and light of life adventures from Thom York and company. Following the formula of previous records, this one bring us more of the electronic rock we’ve come to love. Starting strong with the title track, Burn The Witch, then gliding through a more melodic 11 track record.
7. Chance The Rapper: Coloring Book (Hip Hop)
– Chance continues to amaze with Coloring Book. The Chicago rapper brings his friends in the music business to help with this one. There are collaborations from both local and national stars in the hip-hop community. Still unsigned to a major label, Chance pushes the boundaries of music with no one to say no. It’s a mix of tunes that range from children’s choirs to Timberland stomp about friends, faith and fun.
8. Die Antwoord: Suck on This (Electronic Zef Rap)
– Die Antwoord is just fun. They are a clever South African Zef Electronic Rap group who keep things real. Straight forward in your face danceable tracks that always move the dance floor and keep the crowds jumping. There are a a couple classics reworked here as well. Put this on, crank your speakers and I guarantee it will move you.
9. Cokegoat: Drugs and Animals (Doom Metal)
– Chicago’s own, Cokegoat bring hard and heavy doom metal to the masses with this one. Drugs and Animals just rocks. Listen and see why they are Chicago’s premier sludge metal band.
10. The Besnard Lakes: A Coliseum Complex Museum (Indie Rock)
– The Besnard Lakes return with another indie rock classic. Electronic synth sounds blend with angelic vocals and droning guitars. It’s transcends you into an other worldly mood that can only be described as complex.
11. The Cult: Hidden City (Rock)
– Another power house from Ian and Billy. The have the right formula for great modern Rock n Roll. This 12 tracks pays homage to rock life in 2016. Nothing hidden here. Just great rock n roll.
12. Korn: The Serenity of Suffering (New Metal)
– Korn progress into an even more heavy new metal sound here. Insane, starts the record off with a 3:50 melody that clearly shows the grows and advances them into 2016. Rotting In Vain really showcases the bands growth and the music video for it keeps them on the forefront of their genre.
13. Lera Lynn: Resister (Alternative Country)
– Resister brings Lera Lynn closer to a pop album than ever before. Shape Shifter could easily be a Lady Gaga song, if reworked more electronic of course. Catchy songs with memorable hooks and lyrics make this a fun album to listen to anytime. Don’t get me wrong, we still get the slight doom and gloom we’ve come to know and love, but there is just a little more uptempo here with rock and soul with that country undertones.
14. Megadeth: Dystopia (Metal)
– Dystopia has got to be the most metal Megadeth album and return to their true form in years. This has the classic dualing speed metal riffs, double bass pedal kicks and thumping bass since dare I say, Rust in Peace. It’s complex and true to old skool Megadeth roots.
15. Plague Vendor: Bloodsweat (Indie Punk)
– This album reminds me of Birthday Party meets Bauhaus meets a Jack White project. Seeing them live was like seeing Nick Cave back in 1980’s joined by Love and Rockets. High energy dark-wave twinged rock n roll.
16. School of Seven Bells: SVIIB (Alternative Electronic)
– This is the final release from the band that could have been so much more. Sadly cut way to short with the death of guitarist/songwriter Benjamin Curtis (formerly of Secret Machines), Alejandra Deheza was left with the works of a new album but no one to complete it with. That was until friends in the music community joined in to help complete it. A tribute to her fallen friend. The final result was this 9 track, modern masterpiece of dream-pop electronic shoegaze.
17. Surgical Meth Machine: SMM (Industrial / Speed Metal)
– Al Jourgensen returns with this high octane, speed industrial metal record. Produced along with collaborator, Sam D’Ambruso as a tribute to fallen friend, Mike Scaccia, this record is almost unclassifiable. It’s all over the place. It’s a no holds barred, relentless, insanity that Al has said he doesn’t give a fuck anymore to. There’s even a Devo cover.
18. Savages: Adore Life (Alternative Rock)
– This all female led group from the UK is a modern post-punk quintet whose energy can match that of any in their genre. This 10 track album is the bands second release. It’s fast, gritty and passionate.
19. Wild Nothing: Life of Pause (Indie)
– The dream pop band from Virginia release their third album and have received much acclaim from their piers. It’s an indie electronic record composed by Jack Tatum. It’s catchy and fun.
20. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard: Nonagon Infinity (Psychedelic Fuzz)
– Another dirty, fuzzy toned album from the band down under. 9 tracks that deal with robots, monsters and other mythical beings all laid to a psychedelic rock sound with wah wah pedals, Hammond organs and fuzzy vocals.
Late addition (Bonus): Nine in Nails: Not The Actual Events (Industrial Rock)
Trent Reznor is back with what he promised. A release in 2016. Almost didn’t make it, but here it is. This album is an EP because Trent said, “This is how this material needs to be presented. I said all that needed to be said in this album”. The record is a 5 song release with a very dark sound, but still unmistakably NIN. Filled with distortion, digital blips and beats, haunting soundscapes and Trent’s wispy breaths.
Christopher David’s Top Albums of 2016: (not ranked)
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Merchandise – A Corpse Wired for Sound
Ultimate Painting – Dusk
Adult Books – Running from the Blows
Autolux – Pussy’s Dead
Death Valley Girls – Glow in the Dark
Nada Surf – You Know Who You Are
Pete Yorn – Arrangingtime
David Bowie – Blackstar
Quilt – Plaza
Angel Olsen – My Woman
Morgan Delt – Phase Zero
The Kills – Ash & Ice
Haley Bonar – Impossible Dream
Beverly – The Blue Swell
Ex Norwegian – Pure Gold
Bleached – Welcome the Worms
Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
Sarah Jarosz – Undercurrent
The London Suede – Night Thoughts
Coma Girls – Dressed in Stripes
Cass McCombs – Mangy Love
Anthrax – For All Kings
Rogue Wave – Delusions of Grand Fur
Beastmaker – Lusus Naturae
Metallica – Hardwired…to Self-Destruct
Jamie Dull’s Top Album of 2016
Psychic Temple – III
2016 was, for just about every human except Donald Trump and The Chicago Cubs, a pretty rough year. We lost some phenomenal musicians and creators, and experienced global hardship. But music can still shine a beacon of hope within the darkest clouds of chaos. The newest release from Psychic Temple proves that. At least it did to me.
I was turned on to this album by a good friend. I still can’t remember how he said he came across them, but I’m glad he did. Led by Chris Schlarb, this album goes through sonic movements containing everything from bluegrass to avant garde jazz, soul, blues, rock, and pop. The performances by the album’s musicians are stellar. This album was recorded between sessions at Chris Schlarb’s home in Los Angeles and the well known FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It includes a monster list of musicians like Mike Watt (Minutemen, The Stooges), Spooner Oldham (Neil Young, Bob Dylan), David Hood (J.J. Cale, Aretha Franklin), Avi Buffalo, Nedelle Torrisi (Sufjan Stevens), Elliot Bergman (Wild Belle, NOMO), Dave Easley (Brian Blade Fellowship) and more. It was mixed by Ronan Chris Murphy (King Crimson).
I still believe in the concept of a full length album. I grew up listening to entire records from start to finish. It is an art form that requires unique skill, experience, and technique to master. And I do not think we as humans ever stop learning how to refine and improve upon the process. This is the most moving piece of music I came across in 2016. From start to finish I felt refreshed, comfortable and inspired by each song. This album is a full bodied piece of art. It is smooth, light, dark, content-heavy, and an absolute pleasure to hear. It keeps the concept of albums alive and well by showcasing how important each song can be to a much bigger piece of art. Please check out “III” by Psychic Temple on Asthmatic Kitty Records.
Amy Hughes’ Reflection of 2016
2016 has been a very different year for reviews. Could I say that David Bowie’s Blackstar is the best when its painfully obvious he can’t share in its accolades? The overwhelming consensus is that we’re saying goodbye to a lot of good people who inspired us, got us thru hard times and made us who we are now. When they leave, it reminds us that we’re still here and we’ll never forget what they accomplished. I believe the passing of Leonard Cohen also reminds us that a full complex life such as his should be celebrated and he proved his relevance right up until the end. And that is how we forge on with our memories of Prince, Glenn Frey, Maurice White and young Christina Grimmie. They will always be with us in song.
Harrison Christoph’s Best of 2016
For me, 2016 had a few hits and misses. There were some classic bands making OK records and new artists producing something wonderful. We lost what seems many legends and gained new groundlings. These are my favorites from 2016.
Bobby Talamine’s Top Albums and Concerts of 2016 (In no particular order)
Top Ten Albums of 2016:
1: Savages- “Adore Life” Brilliant. Galvanizing. Captures- and keeps your attention from beginning to end.
2: Leonard Cohen– “You Want It Darker” Yeah- darker indeed. from a master poet singer / songwriter.
3: A Tribe Called Quest- “We Got It From Here– Thank You 4 Your Service” Been gone like seems forever- and they haven’t missed a beat.
4. David Bowie- “Blackstar” Such brilliant singing. Such brilliant songwriting. With a top notch jazz band from New York no less. Amazing.
5. PJ Harvey- “Hope Six Demolition Project” Holy shit. I can’t think of a more politically charged singer / songwriter than PJ. Inspiring.
6: Nick Cave- “Skeleton Tree” Heartbreaking in scope, and in utter despair. Upon the tragic death of his son- and this is what comes to fruition.
7: Wovenhand- “Star Treatment” Magical and mystical. With fire and brimstone storytelling, expanded in scope with a band that’s unclassifiable-
between alt- country and metal. Worth repeated and repeated listens.
8: Avalanches- “Wildflower” Welcome back boys. What’s it been? Thirteen or fourteen years? Worth the wait for this.
9: Radiohead- “A Moon Shaped Pool” Unclassifiable. What is it? Chamber Rock? Rock n’ Roll with strings? Who cares. Great songs and songwriting.
10: Frank Ocean- “Blond” Whoa. this guy is way way ahead of the game in mystical and trance inducing storytelling.
Other albums of note: Kvelertak: “Nattesferd”, Opeth: “Sorceress”, Thee Oh Sees: “An Odd Entrances”, Lydia Loveless: “Real”, Astronoid: “Air”
Top Ten Concerts of 2016:
1: The Cure– 6/10-11/16- UIC Pavilion. Glorious to behold: all things the Cure.
2: Savages– 4/7/16- Metro Chicago. Whoa. One of the best live bands on the planet.
3: Cold Waves V- Metro Chicago. Not a bad performance, from Stabbing Westward at the Double Door to Revolting Cocks at Metro.
4: 25 Years of PIGFACE– 11/25/16- House of Blues. Martin Atkins and his class of all stars in PIGFACE: equals somewhat controlled chaos.
5: Rammstein and Meshuggah at Chicago’s first annual Open Air: 7/15 thru 17 /16- Holy shit. Rammstein couldn’t be topped all weekend long.
Meshuggah was breathtaking too.
6: Bryan Ferry– 8/6/16- Ravinia Festival – Still elegant as always. A sophisticated night of song and dance.
7: Behemoth – 4/29/16 – Thalia Hall. One of the tightest and nastiest metal band on the planet. They’ll put the scare in you. Times ten.
8: Iggy Pop– 4/6/17 – Chicago Theatre – Iggy with Josh Homme at the Chicago Theatre? Oh yeah baby. What a wild ride.
9: Soft Moon – 2/9/16 – Thalia Hall – Soft Moon’s Luis Vasquez can do no wrong. Think Nine Inch Nails with a little more swing. Now you’ve got it..
10: David Gimour– 4/4/16 – United Center. Out comes David’s Black Strat. Listen up young uns…get out your notepad and take notes. School’s in
Cesar Glanville, Show’s of the Year:
Of all of the great shows last year the Pigface reunion/last show/25th anniversary show November 25th at the House of Blues Chicago and RevCo’s reunion, of sorts, at the Metro as part of the Cold Waves festival stand out the most.
Pagface25: Start with a solid list of support acts including rare performances by project .44 and Dead Voices on Air; two bands offering solid looks at both sides of the industrial spectrum, great table setters for the chaos that is a Pigface show. 22-ish performers on stage doing songs from the entire Pigface catalogue and seeing the return of some of the ‘classic’ performers: Dirk Flanigan, Lesley Rankine, Mary Byker and even Fallon Bowman. The set was a rip roaring trip that took over 2 and half hours never yielding a down moment. Special guest like Jeff Scheel and Franke/Groovie Man allowed for covers from Gravity Kills and Thrill Kill Kult that added to the monumental evening. Kudos to Martin Atkins for taking on the logistical nightmare it must have been putting this together.
RevCo as the Cocks: Another thank you to Jason Novak is needed for taking on the logistics of getting the major players together to take on this reunion. Paul Parker, Richard 23, Luc VanAcker and Chris Connelly provided the original backbone for what is the first couple albums from this iconic industrial act. With Al Jourgensen, on what seems to be a hiatus with the band these gents, carried the torch with great vigor for a few U.S. shows. Providing the perfect ending to Cold Waves, The Cocks fired through the iconic album Big Sexyland and then ripped through some classics, this was an evening that showed classic industrial still sounds as relevant as anything being produced today and everyone in the sold out room felt that thunder.