I love doing top albums of the year lists, why are they all so early though? Well, 2016 is officially over so I’m proud to unveil my list now. Here are the lists from the last few years if you are interested in further reading:
The new list will have the greatest American rock band of all-time on top of it. Wilco’s Schmilco is my 2016 album of the year.
Thank you – Clint at VocalsOnTop (vocalsontop at gmail.com)
1.Wilco – Schmilco
What do you say about the best living band and greatest American band of all-time at this point? On their 10th record they once again operate at near perfect levels. The experimental “Locator” and “Common Sense” are contrasted with the direct americana numbers “Normal American Kids” and “Someone To Lose.” They just do everything so well it seems like in the year 2016 they have very few comparable peers.
Key Track: “Someone To Lose”
2. Jason Collett – Song and Dance Man
Collett continues to be one of the most criminally underrated songwriters with his latest album. The Canadian doesn’t get much attention from the States but has consistently churned out gems of records and songs for years now. Look no further than the simplicity of “Love You Babe” and “Provincial Blues” to see why. With a gift for melody and songwriting he should be getting much more attention than he does.
Key Track: “Love You Babe”
3. Drive-By Truckers – American Band
The Drive-By Truckers are no newbies to year end lists and creating albums that outlive their release schedules. This politically charged album was a real surprise. DBT had become a band that had leveled off and held few surprises it seemed. They stepped outside of their own shadow on “American Band” and recorded something very new for them. There are anthems like “Surrender Under Protest” alongside tender sweetness like “Sun Don’t Shine,” all together they really nailed this one when perhaps most people thought they had seen the band at their best.
Key Track: “Surrender Under Protest”
4. Lydia Loveless – Real
Country music is coming back. It’s not Kenny Chesney and other pop-country crap, it’s Lydia Loveless, Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell. Loveless puts together a real gem with her record “Real.” It’s got the sentiment you’d expect from a country siren. On “Longer” she pines for an ex-lover and on “Same To You” she threatens to leave. The balance of country twang and pop sensibilities is dead on here. Expect many more big things from her in the future.
Key Track: “Longer”
5. Nada Surf – You Know Who You Are
Big Star has a lot of bands carrying the torch they lit so many decades ago, it turns out it’s possible that nobody is doing this better than Nada Surf. Yes, they had that semi-obnoxious hit in the 90s but are nothing like that song, they are way better. They craft crunchy guitar riffs and surround them with Matthew Caw’s sweet and gentle vocals and songwriting and it appears they are going to be making extremely solid records forever.
Key Track: “Friend Hospital”
6. Austin Miller – Engine
Austin Miller is one of thousands of singer-songwriters trying to capture your eardrums but there is something special about him. It’s probably his natural gift for melody and his great vocal performances. On his latest release “Engine” he proves he is a great writer and consistently creates hooky choruses that become ear-bugs and keep you coming back.
Key Track: “Bags at the Door”
7. Mike Doughty – The Heart Watches While the Brain Burns
It’s hard to explain why the ex-Soul Coughing lead singer’s music is so appealing. It’s probably in the way he sings and creates rhythms. His off-kilter delivery and songwriting methods are extremely interesting and build layers of music for a listener to dig in to. On “I Can’t Believe I Found You In That Town” he writes a straight forward, catchy rock song. It is surrounded by wonderful weirdness here as he proves he’s in charge and is going to make the kind of music he wants to make.
Key Track: “I Can’t Believe I Found You In That Town”
8. Under The Big Oak Tree – Local Honey
This midwest bluegrass trio is smart and eclectic. Kids can sing along and you can tap your toes or you can dig deep into the lyrical content and find hidden treasures. Sometimes driven and focused and other times light and playful you can feel the diversity of their music. The band may be local to St. Joseph but their talents are among all the big swingers, it holds up to any release you’ll hear from 2016.
Key Track: “Tracks of the Train”
9. Conor Oberst – Ruminations
This Oberst record came out of left field, it is very quiet and adult. It is his most personal work since the heyday of Bright Eyes and it is reflected in how good this album is. It grows on you slowly and has a major impact. Dealing with real life, heavy-hitting issues and delivered in such a vulnerable and honest way makes for a great mixture.
Key Track: “A Little Uncanny”
10. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
Outlaw country is finally getting the attention it deserves. Simpson’s “Sailor’s Guide” is the poster child for this. While it hardly seems worthy of the Grammy nod for album of the year it got, this is still and excellent album. It’s funky acid-rock country and very unique. Much like Shooter Jennings’ “Countach” it is a beacon of how stimulating the real new country music can be.
Key Track: “Keep It Between The Lines”
Every Year a few albums just barely miss the cut. This year those albums for Vocals On Top were Ashley Raines – King of Nothin’, David Bowie – Blackstar, Okkervil River – Away, Hard Working Americans – Rest in Chaos, Shooter Jennings – Countach, Pixies – Head Carrier, Joey Kneiser(technically 2015 but deserves a mention somewhere, it would be top 3 on this list if released in 2016.)