I started working on the music section of this site of this site on January 1, 2016, and I’m so glad I did, because 2016 was an incredible year of music. For many music lovers, this year’s musical offerings kept us sane during some turbulent times. Some of these albums the were acutely indicative of the times, and many offered new sounds that brought us to mysteriously delicate places.
At first, I was only going to list full albums here, but some of these EPs cannot be ignored. Yes, it may seem like a pared down list, too, but this year I opted to list 20 essentials for the albums of 2016. I decided to delve into each one a bit and share two songs so you can get a feel for some different sounds on them. For these artists that have appeared on Uteki already this year, I decided to share a different song than I had shared in the individual posts where possible, so you can hear something new from the albums and also have a listen to some of the deserving tracks that haven’t been highlighted so much this year.
It’s been a truly magical year for music, and here’s to even more new music in 2017.
20 Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp
Japanese Breakfast brought us some of the most dance-able, upbeat tunes this year with tracks like these from Psychopomp – “In Heaven”
19 Hinds – Leave Me Alone
It’s refreshing to see and hear the girls from Hinds have such a good time with their music, especially in “Bamboo” and “Chili Town” from Leave Me Alone:
18 Kaytranada – 99.9%
Here are “You’re the One” and “Bus Ride” from 99.9%
“You’re the One”
17 Nicolas Jaar – Sirens
Nicolas Jaar has been busy these past two years, releasing Pomegranates, Nymphs II, Nymphs III, Fight (Nymphs IV), and making amazing mixes. He says that his new album, Sirens, is part of a trilogy that includes the Nymphs EPs and Pomegranates.
16 Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – I Had A Dream That You Were Mine
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam’s I Had A Dream That You Were Mine offers solid rock songs alongside songs with wintry depth, and in doing so, they got their fair share of reviews and airplay this year.
“A 1000 Times”
15 The Midnight – Endless Summer
What might be the most deserving, yet overlooked albums of 2016, The Midnight’s 80’s-esque, sublime synths made Endless Summer a must for my list of this year’s best albums.
Here’s the title track available on their BandCamp:
14 Jamila Woods – HEAVN
With her debut album, HEAVN, Jamila Woods brings us fresh, vibrant protest music with esteemed collaborators Chance the Rapper, Saba, and Kweku Collins. Jamila Woods is currently giving this album away for free on her Soundcloud page with this message:
HEAVN is about black girlhood, about Chicago, about the people we miss who have gone on to prepare a place for us somewhere else, about the city/world we aspire to live in. I hope this album encourages listeners to love themselves and love each other. For black and brown people, caring for ourselves and each other is not a neutral act. It is a necessary and radical part of the struggle to create a more just society. Our healing and survival are essential to the fight.
In May I shared the title track here, which is still on heavy rotation in my listening playlist. Here are a couple more tracks from the album that demonstrate the calm beauty that eminates from her music. “Emerald” immediately transports me to a relaxed, sunnier place.
13 A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
I’d call “We the People…” our presidential anthem of 2016. Definitely timely, A Tribe Called Quest released the album on November 11th, just three days after the election, and this video followed, being released during the election riots, which brought some extra attention to We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service from those who hadn’t had a listen to the new album yet. I’m also guessing that this will make it into Pitchfork’s top five albums of 2016.
12 Burial – Young Death / Nightmarket
Last month we introduced this new EP from Burial, noting that “you can look forward to the same introspective dark beauty that Burial has become known and loved for.”
11 Maria Usbeck – Amparo
In April I shared Maria Usbeck’s meditative track “Uno De Tus Ojos” and the video for “Moai Y Yo” in June; here are a couple more songs from the album. With Usbeck’s light vocals over playful xylophones and keyboards sprinkled with sounds from nature, “Jungla Inquieta” and much of Amparo feels like floating on a dreamboat of whimsy.
10 Kelsey Lu – Church
Kelsey Lu was one of the most exciting finds of the year for me, bringing incredibly rich and genuine songs with her debut, Church, an EP that was recorded in a church in Brooklyn. In July I posted her video for “Dreams” and “Morning After Coffee” in January, both from her debut, Church. Here are two more highlights from the album:
09 Porches – Pool
During our swim party this summer, we shared a fantastic song from Aaron Maine’s Porches project, “Underwater” from the album Pool. Maine recorded the album in his New York City apartment, and it was released in February this year via Domino Records. Here are two more great tracks from Pool:
08 Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Stranger Things Vol. 1 + 2
Stranger Things was the most captivating television I’ve seen all year, and I mentioned earlier this year that “the main theme of the show, created by Kyle Dixon + Michael Stein of Austin band S U R V I V E, is as delightfully eerie as the show itself.”
Here is the main theme from Stranger Things:
07 Marissa Nadler – Strangers
May had to be the most exciting month of the year for new releases, because along with so many other of the most interesting songs of 2016 mentioned here, “Katie I Know” from Strangers was released, here’s more of what you can expect from the album:
“All the Colors of the Dark”
06 Mitski – Puberty 2
Mitski was another female artist who grabbed my attention in a more profound way than before with the release of her new album, Puberty 2, which was both inventive and musically solid.
In an NPR interview earlier this year, Mitski had this to say about “Your Best American Girl”:
It’s just a feeling of loving someone so much, and yet being from completely different backgrounds and not being able to do anything about it. You watch movies where the couple loves each other so much but can’t be together because of their fate or whatever, and when I was younger I thought that was so stupid. I just thought, “They love each other, why can’t they be together? This is ridiculous.” But then as I got older, it’s like, “Oh, I see.” Sometimes life or your backgrounds just kind of get in the way, and there’s nothing you can really do about it.
05 Angel Olsen – My Woman
Angel Olsen released another impressive album this year, only two years after releasing Burn Your Fire For No Witness. In July I posted one of my favorite summer jams, “Shut Up Kiss Me” from her newest album. These tracks are also from the album My Woman, which was released on September 2, 2016 through Jagjaguwar.
04 Animal Collective – Painting With
In January I posted “FloriDada,” which sort of flung the group into the alt-rock spotlight for a while. But the group has still maintained their psych-pop style, as seen in “Golden Gal” and “Hocus Pocus”:
03 Kedr Livanskiy – January Sun
I hadn’t heard Kedr Livanskiy before January Sun was released this year, but I am so grateful that I did, because this Russian artist was one of the most exciting discoveries of the year for me. The EP January Sun was inspired by a harsh Russian winter, where the landscape becomes suspended in its frozen state. Earlier this year I shared her sunny video for “No More Summer Rain,” and here a couple more highlights from the album:
The dreamy electronic pulses in “April” made this one of my favorite songs of the year:
02 Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
In May I posted my favorite track from the album, “Daydreaming,” but “Burn the Witch,” with its intricate stop motion animation in the video set to a sense of urgency that the timely song conveys, was an incredible highlight of the album, too.
“Burn The Witch”
01 James Blake – The Colour In Anything
The beautiful piano, the haunting echos, and James Blake’s vocals came together to make so many of the songs from The Colour In Anything beautifully sweeping and romantic (in a good way).
I shared three incredible tracks from the album during the whirlwind of amazing new releases in May, and here are two more samples from the album that James Blake provided on his YouTube for your listening pleasure.
“Meet You in the Maze”