STORY WRITTEN BY GARY GRAFF
firstname.lastname@example.org, @GraffonMusic on Twitter
Do albums still matter?
Song downloads and streaming may rule the music industry now, but we’re here to argue that there’s still nothing like the front-to-back experience of a fully realized long-player, carefully conceived and sequenced even if it seems like just a random set of songs. That doesn’t at all diminish the joys of a three-and-a-half minute pop hit, but it’s the difference between reading a tweet and a good book.
You may not believe it, but the book is better. And better for you.
With that in mind, here’s our pick for the 12 best albums of 2016, and a few more it would’ve killed us to leave off the list:
• A Tribe Called Quest, “We Got It From here … Thank You 4 Your Service” (Epic): The visionary hip-hop troupe’s first new album in 18 years is at once a memorial to member Phife Dawg, who died in March, and a contemporary call to arms, eerily anticipating a Trump America on tracks such as “We The People” and “The Donald.”
• Beyonce, “Lemonade” (Columbia): Queen Bey’s sixth solo album was ubiquitous for good reason this year. Her most varied set yet ranged from airy ambience to crunchy rock with Jack White and country and gospel swagger. A tasty drink, if not always smooth.
• David Bowie, “Blackstar” (Columbia): Even without the sobering context of Bowie’s death two days after its release in January, this was an ambitious, expansive testimony to his gleefully meandering muse.
• GRiZ, “Good Will Prevail” (All Good): More than just good prevails on the Southfield electro artist’s fifth album as Grant Kwiecinski flashes some of his most accomplished songwriting and instrumental chops — as well as a formidable guest list to help him realize his vision.
• Hiss Golden Messenger, “Heart Like A Levee” (Merge): North Carolina songwriter-historian MC Taylor continues to expand his particular realm of Americana with evocative storytelling and sonic scene-setting, along with sturdy melodies that, unlike levees, never break.
• Michael Kiwanuka, “Love & Hate” (Polydor): The British singer songwriter hails from London’s Muswell Hill but sounds like he’s straight from Memphis or, at times, Motown on this soulful gem partly produced by the always inventive Danger Mouse.
• The Monkees, “Good Times!” (Rhino): If you would have told us the Monkees would put out one of the year’s best albums in 2016 … But they did, resurrecting songs that never surfaced during the ‘60s and getting fresh song contributions from admirers such as Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, XTC’s Andy Partridge, Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo and others.
• Iggy Pop, “Post Pop Depression” (Loma Vista): The Ypsilanti-raised Stooges founder unleashes a late-career rock masterwork with help from an all-star cast led by Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, who produced. Pop sounds reflective — wistful, even — but gets his get-off-my-grass dander up on the album-closing “Paraguay.”
• Margo Price, “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” (Third Man): A down-home, organic debut that packs the purest country punch this side of Loretta Lynn (who had a new album of her own this year) and sounds more genuine than anything that came out of corporate Nashville this year.
• The Rolling Stones, “Blue & Lonesome” (Interscope): Turn ‘em loose in a studio for two and a half days playing blues and R&B covers and you get the Stones sounding like they’re 20 years old in the London clubs again — and simultaneously like grizzled veterans who have this stuff embedded in their DNA.
• St. Paul and the Broken Bones, “Sea Of Noise” (RECORDS): Do you like soul music, as the song says? This Alabama group has it in abundance on its sophomore album a real-deal delight delivered with both euphoric fan-boy exuberance and scholarly reverence.
• Umphrey’s McGee, “Zonkey” (Nothing Too Fancy): The Chicago/Michigan/Indiana jam band’s rollicking mash-up collection has plenty of kick — entertaining, inventive and even shocking in spots. A pure sonic thrill ride that reveals something new each time you listen.
• 10 More Albums That Can’t Be Ignored — or Denied: Chance The Rapper, “Coloring Book” (self-released); Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker” (Columbia); Green Day, “Revolution Radio” (Reprise); Maren Morris, “Hero” (Columbia Nashville); Radiohead, “A Moon Shaped Pool” (XL); Red Hot Chili Peppers, “The Getaway” (Warner Bros.); Paul Simon, “Stranger To Stranger” (Concord); Esperanza Spalding, “Emily’s D+Evolution” (Concord); Tedeschi Trucks Band, “Let Me Get By” (Fantasy); Wilco, “Schmilco” (dBpm).