Class of 2016: The Overachievers


2016 was a shit year. Seriously. We experienced one of the ugliest elections in recent history. Social progress not only came to a halt, but there are elements within our country that would be happy to see us rewind the past half century. And everybody died. Well, not everybody, but you know what I mean. We lost Prince, David Bowie, and Leonard Cohen. We lost Merle Haggard, Leon Russell, and Phife Dawg. Everything sucked. But political upheaval, loss, and dark times always result in great art. Bowie channeled his own death into one last masterpiece. Phife used his last days to breathe new life into A Tribe Called Quest. Leonard Cohen’s last album is the farewell letter we all needed. The heated racial tensions have been sickening to see in the 21st century, but at least the new voices have been able to give voice to the anger and frustration, thus creating an incredible resurgence in the rock, rap, and r&b. Top 40 artists broke from major labels to make personal music, while bands got extremely political at the risk of losing fans. Country musicians rebelled against Nashville in unprecedented ways. It didn’t matter if you were looking to validate your political point of view, mourn everything lost, or just escape the cruel cruel reality of the world, the albums released in 2016 were there for you. Here’s to a better 2017, but in the meantime, let’s just reflect on how music made the past 12 months bearable.

What follows is a list of the 50 albums that defined my year. They are organized and ranked by genre. They might not be the “best” albums of the year, but they were my favorites. They are ranked by my tastes during the process of making this list. They are not necessarily ranked by musical excellence or artistic merit. The order might have been different if I had done this a week earlier, or a week later. The rankings are not set in stone, but that’s true with any year-end list, right? They’re all subjective. Not only are the lists based on people’s tastes, those tastes can change depending on people’s mood from day-to-day and minute-to-minute. This list is no exception.

This list is flawed, as they all are, but I seriously believe that although I might regret the order as time passes, I will stand by my picks. There isn’t anyone out there who will agree with this list in its entirety, but that’s not really the point. This is my list. Mine alone. These are the albums I spent the most time with in 2016. These are the albums I spent (or will spend) my money on. I just hope you take the time to browse through it. I hope you take the time to find something you didn’t know about. I hope you agree with some of my picks. I hope you make fun of some of my picks. Let’s start a conversation…only then will we both get something out of it. But if not, no worries, this will just serve as my personal document of another year listening…so others don’t have to.


alt-country, americana, contemporary country, country, country pop, country soul, outlaw country, southern rock


#10. Various Artists – Southern Family
(Low Country Sounds)

with every passing day I find a way, but I’m still getting old



#9. Justin Wells – Dawn in the Distance

you can hate me lord for all my sinnin’, but I swear to God I’m going down grinnin’

Going Down Grinnin’


#8. Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town
(Warner Bros.)

hate you had to leave us, but glad you didn’t live to see this

Since You’ve Gone to Heaven


#7. Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
(Third Man)

ain’t got the breath to say another bad word

Hands of Time


#6. Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings

neon singer with a jukebox title full of heartbreak



#5. Caleb Caudle – Carolina Ghost
(This Is American Music)

and the leaves weren’t the only thing falling

Carolina Ghost


#4. Drive-By Truckers – American Band

just two sides calling names; out of anger out of fear

What It Means


#3. Lori McKenna  – The Bird & The Rifle

haven’t smoked in years and years, but lately I’ve been craving

Wreck You


#2. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

some bid the world goodbye, and welcome to die

Brace For Impact (Live A Little)


#1. Cody Jinks – I’m not the Devil

it ain’t no excuse, but I’m just a man

I’m not the Devil


americana, blues, folk


#1. Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day
(Thirty Tigers)

I’m not afraid of empty, I’m afraid of all alone

Morning Blues


chamber folk, contemporary folk, folk rock, indie folk


#5. Marissa Nadler – Strangers
(Sacred Bones)

must have made years of surrender

All the Colors of the Dark


#4. Okkervil River – Away

out of cocaine and codeine all alone

Okkervil River R.I.P.


#3. case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs

break like waves across the ceiling



#2. Mothers – When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired
(Grand Jury)

when i died i had the time to notice

It Hurts Until It Doesn’t


#1. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

vilified, crucified, in the human frame

You Want It Darker


art rock, experimental rock, indie rock


#6. Moonface & Siinai – My Best Human Face

say there’s nothing punk about that

Them Call Themselves Old Punks


#5. Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN

you could feed me all of your fears

Shut Up Kiss Me


#4. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

in the back of a medicine cabinet, you can find your life story



#3. Mitski – Puberty 2
(Dead Oceans)

your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me

Your Best American Girl


#2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
(Bad Seed LTD.)

miss you when you’re gone away forever

I Need You


#1. David Bowie – ★ (Blackstar)
(Columbia / RCA)

Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen



ambient pop, art pop, chamber pop, dream pop, glitch pop


#5. Bat for Lashes – The Bride

can’t see just what my heart can hold

Joe’s Dream


#4. Daughter – Not to Disappear
(4AD / Glassnote)

and they’re making children

Doing The Right Thing


#3. Nicolas Jaar – Sirens
(Other People)

just building his own sense of time

Killing Time


#2. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

we are just happy to serve



#1. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

you’ve buried all your alimony butterflies

29 #Strafford APTS

R&B / TOP 40

alternative r&b, contemporary r&b, electropop, neo-soul, pop, synth funk


#6. Sia – This Is Acting

don’t need dollar bills to have fun tonight

Cheap Thrills


#5. Solange – A Seat at the Table

sometimes I don’t wanna feel those metal clouds

Cranes in the Sky


#4. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound

why choose love when hate comes first

Better Than Me


#3. Frank Ocean – Blonde

I thought that I was dreaming
When you said you loved me



#2. Beyoncé – Lemonade

better call Becky with the good hair



#1. Rihanna – ANTI
(Roc Nation/Westbury Road)

man, fuck yo pride

Kiss It Better


abstract hip hop, conscious hip hop, east coast hip hop, experimental hip hop, gangsta rap, hardcore hip hop, hip hop, industrial hip hop, jazz rap, pop rap, southern hip hop, trap rap, west coast hip hop


#8. Young Thug – JEFFERY
(Atlantic/300 Entertainment)

they politickin’ ’bout these cases



#7. Death Grips – Bottomless Pit

see you coming I’m teeth sucking like, eh



#6. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

doomed from the time we emerged from the womb

When It Rain


#5. ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face LP
(Top Dawg/Interscope)

me no conversate with the fake, that part

THat Part


#4. Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book

wear your halo like a hat, that’s like the latest fashion



#3. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

in case of rough waters, I want to put one up for my brothers

Blood Sandwich


#2. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
(Def Jam/G.O.O.D. Music)

don’t blame you much for wanting to be free



#1. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service

guilty pleasures take the edge off reality

We The People…


future garage, plunderphonics, uk bass


#2. The Range – Potential

everything was still the same

Copper Wire


#1. The Avalanches – Wildflower

9th grade had the jingles of the swinging rainbow jacket

Because I’m Me


emo, indie rock, midwest emo, post-hardcore, screamo


#2. Touché Amoré – Stage Four

like going 65 on the 5 at 5

Palm Dreams


#1. Pinegrove – Cardinal
(Run for Cover)

should call my parents when I think of them

Old Friends


atmospheric black metal, atmospheric sludge metal, blackgaze, black metal, doom metal, heavy metal, post-rock, progressive metal, thrash metal


#6. Metallica – Hardwired…to Self-Destruct

disappear like man was never here

Spit Out the Bone


#5. Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake
(Nuclear Blast)

falling, traveling throughout this world

The Pale King


#4. SubRosa – For this We Fought the Battle of Ages
(Profound Lore)

the sweet drug of anesthesia

Troubled Cells


#3. Cult of Luna / Julie Christmas – Mariner

sacrifice for the benefit of all

A Greater Call


#2. Oathbreaker – Rheia

what remains of those childhood dreams

10:56  / Second Son of R.


#1. Cobalt – Slow Forever
(Profound Lore)

pity for the hardened screaming end of life

Beast Whip

Favorite Albums of 2016:
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN
The Avalanches – Wildflower
Bat For Lashes – The Bride
Beyoncé – Lemonade
Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
Bon Iver – 22, A Million
Brandy Clark – Big Dig in a Small Town
Caleb Caudle – Carolina Ghost
Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial
Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book
Cobalt – Slow Forever
Cody Jinks – I’m Not the Devil
Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas – Mariner
Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Daughter – Not To Disappear
David Bowie – ★ (Blackstar)
Death Grips – Bottomless Pit
Drive-By Truckers – American Band
Frank Ocean – Blonde
Justin Wells – Dawn in the Distance
Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
Lori McKenna – The Bird & The Rifle
Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
Marissa Nadler – Strangers
Metallica – Hardwired…To Self-Destruct
Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings
Mitski – Puberty 2
Moonface and Siinai – My Best Human Face
Mothers – When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired
Neko Case/k.d. lang/Laura Veirs – case/lang/veirs
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Nicolas Jaar – Sirens
Oathbreaker – Rheia
Okkervil River – Away
Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day
Pinegrove – Cardinal
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
The Range – Potential
Rihanna – ANTI
ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face LP
Sia – This Is Acting
Solange – A Seat at the Table
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
SubRosa – For This WE Fought the Battle of Ages
Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake
Touché Amoré – Stage Four
A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
Various Artists – Southern Family
Young Thug – Jeffery

Class of 2016: The Soundtrack
Class of 2016: The Performers


Favorite Albums 2016