The elapsing year was a momentous period for music: Bon Iver had its first Asian tour which included the Philippines; Chance the Rapper was the first musician to chart on the Billboard 200 relying on streams alone; and, lest we forget the passing of some of contemporary music’s legends, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and Prince.
2016 was also the year for many of the most awaited releases, both follow-ups and full album debuts. Here are some of the year’s best records and under the radar gems.
Daughter Not To Disappear
Three years after Daughter’s fantastic debut, If You Leave, the band came out with the follow-up Not To Disappear. The album features a more complex and ecclectic instrumentation, thick basslines, and dark ambient sounds with bits of shoegaze, post-punk, trip-hop and a few nods to Trent Reznor’s gentler side.
Elena Tonra’s songwriting has also shown a lot of growing up, veering away from the saccharine melodrama of Youth and moving towards darker and deeper lyrics more akin to Smother.
While not as outright neo-folk as the band’s first major effort, the album leaves a good amount of recognition for old fans not to feel too uncomfortable and unfamiliar.
Gateway tracks: Doing the Right Thing | How | No Care | Made of Stone
Band of Horses Why Are You OK
Coming from 2012’s polarizing Mirage Rock, Band of Horses came back to the sound that their fans fell in love with all those years ago whle showing a bit more sophistication in their arrangements coupled with endearingly sweet and simple lyrics that describe those profound moments tucked in the mundane, echoing Cease to Begin‘s atmosphere.
Why Are You OK is an enjoyable record from start to finish: brings back fond memories of when drinking PBR was more of a cultural statement than a financial choice. The band has grown up and so has their music, and for them that does not mean letting go of their sophomore charm.
Gateway tracks: Solemn Oath | Hag | Casual Party | Whatever, Wherever
Frankie Cosmos Next Thing
The 28-minute-long, 15-track album is the Greta Kline-led indie pop project’s second dabble into short musical bursts of simple honesty. And that lyrical sincerity reveals the same deep existential contemplation one might have in the middle of the blandest of life’s moments packed into bite-sized twee tunes. Good stuff.
Gateway tracks: Floated In | Fool | Embody | On the Lips | Sinister
Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool
Speaking of long-awaited follow-ups, this may be the greatest one this year; and Radiohead rewarded the world’s patience with one of the band’s best albums to date.
The record, from start to finish, is a masterpiece of composition—mixing organic musical elements in with stringed instruments, pianos, synthesizers, pads and effects—taking listeners to a near-slumber where dreams are most fruitful and surreal.
The album takes everything we’ve loved about Radiohead and elevating the sound and lyricism to greater heights. And if that isn’t enough of a draw, the band have finally released a studio version of their most beloved bootleg, True Love Waits.
Gateway tracks: Burn the Witch | Daydreaming | Every song, to be honest
Frightened Rabbit Painting of a Panic Attack
Frightened Rabbit went the gentler route in the band’s latest portraiture of sadness and heartache with Painting of a Panic Attack, though that does not necessarily make it any less painful.
Mixing Scott Hutchison’s witty lyricism with the band’s now more refined sound, the album has become one of the year’s best indie folk releases.
Gateway tracks: Death Dream | I Wish I Was Sober | Blood Under the Bridge | Die Like a Rich Boy
Travis Everything at Once
Travis has been a constant in British music sporadically coming out with underappreciated gems while seemingly unable to achieve the recognition that bands in its stylistic vein have achieved.
The band does not seem to mind, however, with the release of Everything at Once, sounding as fresh as ever and giving we happy few more catchy songs to put us in either a smiley or a wonderfully gloomy mood.
Gateway tracks: What Will Come | Animals | All of the Places | Strangers on a Train
Sophie Ellis-Bextor Familia
Sophie Ellis-Bextor has a knack of consistently sounding fresh. The unofficial queen of nu-disco added a few different elements into her latest effort, inspired by her recent journey to Mexico.
Her elegant voice paired with Ed Harcourt’s excellent production make for a nice record that doubles as your weekend soundtrack.
Gateway tracks: Wild Forever | Come With Us | My Puppet Heart | Don’t Shy Away
Bon Iver 22, A Million
When the world asked for a new Bon Iver record, no one expected a tracklist that looks like an excerpt from a millennial’s 1337 meme page. But Justin Vernon’s current penchant for numerology and special characters is justified by the quality of his songwriting.
While the album is perhaps not the band’s best effort, but it is certainly the most thematically consistent among their releases. Anyway, Bon Iver’s discography is like the 1992 Dream Tream, second best in the lineup is still pretty darn great.
Vernon’s ever-cryptic yet captivating lyricism is complemented by the subtle switches between erratic highs and melancholy lows—seismography to an inner turmoil.
Gateway tracks: 22 (OVER S∞∞N) | 715 – CRΣΣKS | 33 “GOD” | 29 #Strafford APTS