Zach’s Favorite Albums of 2016

I thought this would be the year I gave up on music, but I was wrong. I depended on music more than ever this year. For all the shit life throws at you there’s always a song to make you feel better. I want to thank the 13 artists listed below for getting me through this tumultuous year.

And now an open letter to 2016:

2016,

You can go do something to yourself that I can’t write on here because my parents might read this.

Even though you sucked, you put out some of the best rock n roll albums that I can remember in a very long time. You also gave me the most beautiful follow up to Channel Orange that I could have imagined. Oh! and Chance The Rapper; you gave us more of that guy. We all need more Chance in our life.

Sincerely,

Zach Gibson

  1. Blonde – Frank Ocean
  2. Ruminations – Conor Oberst
  3. The Life of Pablo – Kanye West
  4. Cardinal – Pinegrove
  5. A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead
  6. Goodness – The Hotelier
  7. 22, A Million – Bon Iver
  8. Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest
  9. Coloring Book – Chance The Rapper
  10. A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings – Beach Slang
  11. Schmilco – Wilco
  12. The White Album – Weezer
  13. Introducing Karl Blau – Karl Blau
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A Playlist from Zach

You would think that in your thirty-second year of life the you would have things figured out, right? Instead I feel as confused as I’ve ever felt. We live in a messed up world and I’m not sure what to think about it sometimes. I do know that music makes me feel better.

I made a playlist about being confused and sad. It’s not the most upbeat playlist but it’s a pretty good representation of how I’m feeling  right now. It’s not all sad. I tried to put some optimistic stuff on there too.

Pinegrove – Cardinal

I’ve read lots of reviews that have tried to categorize this album as alt-country and emo, which are two genres that don’t seem to go together at first thought. But if you go back to Omaha, Nebraska in the early two thousands Saddle Creek was doing just that. Bands like Bright Eyes and Rilo Kiley were emo(ish) bands that had very distinct country influences. Pinegrove fits that narrative perfectly. It’s rock music that makes you feel mixed with a few banjo riffs and a country draw. I can even hear early Wilco and Heartbreaker era Ryan Adams.

“Every outcome’s such a comedown” is the refrain of Pinegrove’s Evan Stephens Hall on the opening track, “Old Friends”, off their excellent new album Cardinal. With lines like that one and “I should call my parents when I think of them; I should tell my friends when I love them” this song had me hooked from the beginning. It’s a sad and sentimental song; two of my favorite themes wrapped up into one song.

Other stand out tracks on the album include, “Size of The Moon”, “Aphasia”, and the bookend to “Old Friends”, “New Friends”. Next to “Old Friends”, “Size of The Moon” is the other stand out track. It’s a break up song that starts soft and builds to fuzzy guitars.

If I were to pick an early favorite for album of the year this would top my list. It sounds like all my favorite records, but at the same time feels fresh and inventive.

 

 

Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book (A.K.A. Chance 3)

As far as hip releases in 2016 go they don’t get much better than Chance the Rapper’s third album, Coloring Book (4th, if you count Surf). I’ve heard lots of critics call it a hip hop gospel album and I’ll echo that critique. I’ve never felt so spiritually up lifted listening to a rap album. There’s gospel choirs throughout but it’s much more than a gospel album; it’s an album about friendship, love, family, and staying true to yourself. Chance is only 23 but his words are wise beyond his age. He’s preaching and I’m affirming his words from the congregation with a strong, AMEN!

The album starts with “All We Got” (my personal favorite song on the album) a bombastic ode to family and most importantly music. The chorus (sung by Kanye) chants the refrain, “Music is all we got, so we might as well give it all we got”. For music lovers (I’m not talking about your casual music appreciator; I mean people who live and breathe music) this mantra will send chills through your entire body.

Each song is a carefully crafted ride through the south side of Chicago. “Summer Friends” in an ode to summer relationships that come and go, hard work, and family ties. “Same Drugs” which seems to also be a parallel of the movie Hook  is about growing up and changing. On “Angels” Chance raps about cleaning up the streets and how hopeful he is about violence ending in his city.

Chance The Rapper, along with rappers like Kendrick Lamar, is the voice of a generation who wants peace and change for their race and for their communities. This is an album about hope for a better future and it’s damn fun to listen to as well.

Car Seat Headrest – Just What I Needed

 

I first heard Car Seat Headrest on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. Will Toledo (lead singer and band leader) caught my attention because he looked like a young Conor Oberst and he was surrounded by what seemed like a bunch of homeless teenagers and one out of place high school football player who was playing the tiniest drum set in the world. As they started playing and Toledo’s voice cracked in and out of falsetto I was captivated. The three songs were all acoustic so I was pleasantly surprised when I searched for their their album Teens of Style and it was a fuzzy lo-fi rock n roll album that sounded like something I might have listened to in High School. It’s a collection of songs re-recorded from Toledo’s vast collection of self recorded Bandcamp albums. But it was just a glimpse into his potential as a songwriter and musician.

In June they released their second album Teens of Denial. It’s more polished than Teens of Style, but that doesn’t mean the band has lost it’s edge or that the songs of lost their angst. Lyrically Toledo is at his best. Besides Courtney Barnett he’s the best wordsmith in rock n roll right now. Listen to “Drugs With Friends” and you’ll know exactly what I mean. He combines humor and despair as he documents his struggle with depression, drinking, and drug use. It’s a little self loathing but that’s what makes it so great. It’s honest.

It’s not hard to hear Toledo’s rock influences in these songs. The opening guitar riff of “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” sounds like it could have opened on In Utero. Throughout the album you can hear echos of Pavement and Pinkerton’s best songs. Sadly The Cars sample had to to be taken out of “Not What I Needed” (originally titled Just What I Needed/Not What I needed), but it’s just an internet search away and necessary to listen to.

This is the best album of the year so far not put out by Chance The Rapper or Radiohead. It rocks, it’s smart, it’s funny, and it’s just the beginning and of what is hopefully a great career for Car Seat Headrest.

 

Tell all the truth but tell it slant (Xtina’s band of the day)

Chances are good that if you name your band after a poem, especially an Emily Dickinson poem, I will like your band. At the very least, I will try. New York band Told Slant makes it easy. They remind me of early Modest Mouse and/or Built to Spill except the lyrics are more sad than sardonic, tired, or funny. Their whole album is up on Spotify. Check it out, dudes.

Valley Clouds (Xtina’s Song of the Day)

Oh, hello, there. I thought I would come out of my baby/school/work-induced hiatus to share this amazing song I can’t stop listening to.

It’s called “Valley Clouds” and it’s by Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) and Jesca Hoop. They have an album coming out April 15th called Love Letters for Fire and, if it is anything like this song, I need it to come out now. Enjoy, and see you all in another 5,000 weeks.

Xtina’s Favorite Albums of 2015

2015 brought me some of my favorite albums of all time. The majority of these came out earlier in the year, which is great because I didn’t do much music-listening after the baby was born. Too much stress. My favorite albums don’t conveniently fit into the top ten formula, so  it’s a good thing I’m not writing for Rolling Stone or Pitchfork, I guess.

Anyway, it’s naptime, so I’ll stop rambling

Carrie and Lowell– Sufjan Stevens

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I expected this to be my favorite album of 2015, and I was right. I should play the lottery. This is Stevens’ most personal album to date. It addresses his largely absent mother, a woman who suffered from addiction and mental illness, and the three consecutive summers he spent with her and his stepfather. Prominent themes include regret, death, love, fear, failure, and forgiveness. You know, just a few lighthearted topics. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment (name that obscure movie reference) because I love this album. I can’t stop listening to it, and it hurts just as much (in a good way) each time.

I Love You, Honeybear– Father John Misty

I loved FJM’s first album. It was sardonic, funny, and generally entertaining. His sophomore release provided all that and more. He drops the persona somewhat, choosing to sing about love, fear, failure, marriage, and the level at which some people (including himself) suck. I’m sensing a theme here. There are some songs on this album that I related to so well it was eerie. On “The Ideal Husband,” he runs through a litany of his failures, and then asks, “Wouldn’t I make the ideal husband?” almost threatening his wife to run while she still can. He repeatedly addresses the irony of being cynical and in love, two states of being that typically do not go together. As an added bonus, it is hilarious and a perfect album to sing along to in the car.

To Pimp a Butterfly– Kendrick Lamar

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I’m not even going to feign a knowledge of hip hop. I’m an emo purist through and through, and “branching out” for me looks like adding some Americana to my playlist. And yet… Kendrick Lamar’s album hit me HARD. I don’t say this as a boast, but I have never been so affected by this type of music. I get chills every time I listen to it. To Pimp a Butterfly is so important on both a personal level and as a mouthpiece for a movement. Like Father John Misty, Kendrick Lamar addresses personal and larger failures, but he also finds a way to convey hope. And the music is so varied; he calls to mind everything from funk to early 90s hip hop, arguably providing the most varied album on my list.

Coming Home– Leon Bridges

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This debut album by a young Bridges (I can say that because I’m a month older than he is) straight up feels like someone dug it up out of a 1965 time machine. I wasn’t alive then, obviously, so what do I know, but it feels like authentic ’60s soul music. The songs don’t stray too far from typical soul music themes (scorned love; a reverence for God, woman, and home; a desire for self-improvement) but it feels so fresh. Coming Home is the perfect sing-a-long album, and Bridges is just SO. damn. cool. And it’s like he doesn’t even know it!

1989- Ryan Adams

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Adams got some flack for covering this album. People said he was trying to show how serious he was and Taylor Swift wasn’t, but I don’t think that was the intent at all. In fact, he has said that he recorded these songs as a type of therapy, and he did not intend to release them. It wasn’t until Swift herself heard them and encouraged him did he do so (free publicity?!). Anyway, this album is beautiful. I liked 1989; it’s fun, fresh, and lyrically pretty good. But Adams’ version feels like an entirely different album. It feels sarather than invigorated, hearkening back to perfect sad albums like Springsteen’s Nebraska and anything by the Smiths, really.

Kinstugi- Death Cab for Cutie

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This isn’t my favorite Death Cab album of all time, but it’s pretty damn good. Also, it’s the breakup album we all wanted when we heard he and ol’ what’s her name divorced. It includes the best of the last album– perfect vocals– with the layered, intricate music it lacked. Also, I love a little snark. (Aaaalso, I hate the word “snark.” I feel like Gossip Girl.)

 

You know you love me. XOXO, Christina

 

(Honorable mentions include My Morning Jacket’s The Waterfall, Beach House’s Depression Cherry, and Desaparecidos Payola.)