Top 5 Albums of 2016
Ah, 2016. Like a wayward puck at a hockey game, you caught us totally unaware and left us feeling battered, bruised, and more than a little violated. While 2016 might have been the year we collectively decided that mourning a gorilla was the height of comedy, it wasn’t all bad. Case in point: The music! The radical, game changing, awe inspiring, joy inducing music. And what is a year of music without a smarmy look back at the year that was, formatted for your reading pleasure in an easy to understand top 10 list? I’m Evan with Unique Squared! Join me as I make totally unqualified judgements against a year of albums and use a lifetime of musical snobbery to compile my top 5 albums of 2016.
5. John Carpenter- “Lost Themes II”
If the car from Knight Rider had a baby with a white business suit with shoulder pads, it still wouldn’t be as 80’s as legendary director turned musical magician John Carpenter’s latest album, Lost Themes II. Sure, 80’s revivalism is all the rage these day. Hell, your grandma probably has the Stranger Things soundtrack on vinyl. But John Carpenter, mad mastermind behind legendary movies such as Halloween and They Live, shows all these 80’s aping acts how it’s done.
Appropriately sounding like the soundtrack to a long lost 80’s slasher flick, Lost Themes II is a dark, brooding cacophony of synth and drum machines. But this is more than mere “Hey, remember the 80’s?” cash-in: These are dense, well built songs that wouldn’t sound out of place in the scene where the final girl has a showdown with a masker murderer. Fans of horror flicks and chugging synth grooves must check this album out. Wearing a Michael Myers mask is not required, but it does help.
4. AJJ- The Bible 2
Do you like your songs catchy and crushingly depressing? Then AJJ (or Andrew Jackson Jihad if you aren’t into the whole brevity thing) would be right up your alley. Combining punk folk aesthetics with reflective lyrics that wryly touch on themes of addiction, loneliness, and finding the courage to face tomorrow, all wrapped up in the band’s trademark flippant humor, AJJ has been carving out a niche for themselves in the world of indie rock. But the band’s latest release, The Bible 2, sees the band breaking free of their standard “punk, but with an acoustic guitar” bent, and expanding their sound, all while keeping their soul.
Incorporating fuzzed out guitars, tinkling pianos, and driving synth, The Bible 2 does not sound like your typical AJJ album. But with a fleshed out sound, the band manages to keep the sneering wit that made them famous (On “Terrifyer,” lead singer Sean Bonnette waxes poetic on being “Some days you’re Emilio Estevez/Other days, you’re Charlie Sheen”) while blazing a new trail sonically. If you like your darkly humorous storytelling indie rock with a pinch of pessimism and foot stomping, voice raising sing along hooks, The Bible 2 is not to be missed.
3. Yung Bae- Skyscraper Anonymous
The internet is a wacky place. After the rise of the pseudo-ironic music genre vaporwave, which was built around taking older songs and making them like super slow and adding some drum machines (don’t question it, just go with it), a branch-off genre sprung up. Called “Future Funk,” the genre was built around sampling funk and disco from the 70’s and 80’s, and using these samples to build lush, groovy tracks. In this niche genre, one of the preeminent talents was the California based Yung Bae. But with his first ever album, Skyscraper Anonymous, Yung Bae breaks free of this niche genre of a genre and manages to construct one of the most danceable albums of the year.
With 6 EP’s to his name, Yung Bae has had plenty of time to refine his distinct “80’s elevator music meets boom bap rap” sound. Skyscraper Anonymous sees the talented producer constructing feet tapping, head nodding bumpers that wouldn’t sound out of place blaring from a cherry red corvette as it speeds down a palm tree lined road. The album is filled to bursting with thumping bass, blaring horns, snappy drums, and rhythms that compel you to get out of your seat and get on down. Now free of the shackles of Bandcamp, the future looks bright for Yung Bae.
2. Vulfpeck- The Beautiful Game
Vulfpeck constructs grooves so buttery and smooth, you could smear them on toast. Following a string of EP’s, Vulfpeck returns with their special brand of infectious, jam band-inspired funk on their second album, The Beautiful Game. With a small army of squealing horns, groovy bass licks, and soaring guitars, this is an album designed to get you up and dancing.
With their offbeat sense of humor in tow (an entire song is themed around a heavily accented German woman discussing a mystical nightclub the band plays at), the band keeps things light and funky, churning out 12 tracks of foot tapping, head bobbing, shoulder shimmying happiness. It doesn’t rewrite the book, but what The Beautiful Game does, it does so well.
1. Bon Iver- 22, A Million
At the risk of sounding dramatic, listening to 22, A Million for the first time is like ordering onion rings and accidently being given both onion rings and french fries. It’s like the best feeling ever, is what I’m getting at. Indie wunderkind Bon Iver have made their name churning out quiet, guitar plucking indie folk that wouldn’t sound out of place in a quiet coffeehouse, but 22, A Million sees the band take a hard turn into sample based electronica, all while holding onto their folk roots.
Sure, on paper, that might sound like combining peanut butter and mustard, but it is a mix that works oh so well. Over jittery beats featuring samples pulled from the likes of Paolo Nutini and Fionn Regan, lead singer Justin Vernon’s soaring falsetto is twisted and pulled by machines, leading to an album that sounds simultaneously lush and warm, and totally alien. Songs feature snappy titles like “10 d E A T h b R E a s T” and “__45__”, and the album jumps like a caffeniated jackrabbit between quite and roaring noise. There’s no way to sugar coat it: This is a weird album. But while fans of the classic For Emma, Forever Ago might be turned off by the weird new sound Bon Iver has summoned, but ignoring this album is a grave mistake. 22, A Million is an album that simply must be experienced.