I thought it was a pretty great year for music releases this year, but 2016 will probably be remember most for what the music industry lost. The deaths of a few iconic musicians in the last 12 months were hard to grapple with. David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen and Sharon Jones were some of the all time greats and they will be fondly remembered through their wonderful music.
Anyway, here is part 1 of my top 25 albums of the year! Check back soon for the top ten!
25. Citizens & Saints – Through a Mirror Dimly
This electro-pop worship band has never disappointed me with their energy and creativity while also imbibing their songs with good theology. This album dials back the energy a bit and leans into the more somber tone. The members of this band were involved with Mars Hill Church in Seattle, which sadly imploded a couple years ago. These songs reflect some of the lament and doubt that grew out of that sad situation, but always turn towards Christ and the hope the gospel brings.
24. Lisa Hannigan – At Swim
Lisa started out as an integral part of Damien Rice’s music before spinning herself off into a solo act. Her voice is extremely lovely and her folk arrangements, while not as raw as Rice’s, are well crafted and satisfying. At Swim is another nice entry in her growing discography.
23. Gungor – One Wild Life: Body // Spirit
Michael and Lisa Gungor dreamed big with this project: effectively a triple album released over the course of about 1 year. They brought some politics, some liturgy and some struggles to the table and created a sprawling piece of art. Not every song is a winner, but when they hit they hit hard.
22. Conor Oberst – Ruminations
The Bright Eyes moniker has been dead for 5 years now, but Conor Oberst has been releasing music steadily since then under his own name and as part of some other bands. Ruminations was recorded live in the span of only 48 hours as Oberst was wintering in Omaha following a health crisis. It’s raw, somewhat bleak and very personal.
21. Weezer – The White Album
It’s crazy to think that this is Weezer’s 10th album! It’s also their 4th self-titled LP. They’ve been experiencing a creative renaissance of sorts over the last few years and this album continues that trend. It’s “good Weezer” and it was a great summer album this year.
20. Cloud Cult – The Seeker
Minneapolis-based Cloud Cult joined the crowd-funded album trend this year, raising support to release The Seeker, their 10th album. Fans obliged and the album dropped in February accompanied by a feature film starring Josh Radnor of How I Met Your Mother fame. I haven’t seen the film yet, but the album has a lot to like and doesn’t deviate too much from the established Cloud Cult sound. Which is a good thing.
19. Thrice – To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere
Thrice is back. After breaking up in 2012, the band members kicked around other projects to varying success. Frontman Dustin Kensrue had a gig as the worship pastor at Mars Hill in Seattle. When that church imploded, Kensrue decided to reform Thrice and they recorded this album in short order. You’ll find themes of faith and culture, but also politics here as the band comments on the state of the union.
18. Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues
I love Jimmy Eat World, but I haven’t been blown away by an album of theirs in ten years (not since Futures). And frankly, their last two albums were big disappointments. With Integrity Blues, they seem to have gotten back to basics a bit and recaptured some of the magic of their early catalog. I like this album more every time I listen to it.
17. Polica – United Crushers
When a great Minneapolis band releases an album that references semi-famous Minneapolis graffiti, I like before I even hear it. Fortunately, Polica’s album is easy on the ears too. With a protest song bent to it, the album still oozes cool with the dark arrangements and the vocal work of Channy Leaneagh.
16. All Sons and Daughters – Poets & Saints
This Christian band decided to take a trip to inspire their new album. They visited various European cities and read the works of the various Christian writers who called those cities home. Working off those manuscripts, they wrote an album that is full of history and theology, but also the singable choruses they are known for. Worship leaders, like me, appreciate the effort.
15. James Blake – The Colour in Anything
Blake’s music is perfect for autumn, sparse and minimal melodies with piano and electronic elements beneath his wavering vocals. With guest appearances by Justin Vernon and Frank Ocean, this might be his best album to date.
14. S U R V I V E – RR7349
Stranger Things arrested the cultural moment this summer and it launched a formerly-unknown band to internet fame. SURVIVE is a synth-wave band and some members contributed the score to that show. Their band work is similar, but more propulsive and crunchy. Listening to it stoked up my interest in this genre and I spent plenty of time searching around for me!
13. Amiina – Fantomas
We haven’t had new music for Amiina since 2010! Originally a string quartet, they’ve expanded their sound (and roster) into a diverse collection of unique instruments over the years. Their music is a wonderful collage of textures and melodies. This album just continues to prove that they are very, very talented.
12. Phantogram – Three
It’s kind of amazing that Phantogram’s sound is produced by only two people! Their music is a mutation of trip-hop that has a lot of energy and pop to it. Their single from this album, “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore”, was a great radio play this year.
11. M83 – Junk
M83 is coming off their most successful album to date with 2011’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. There’s a sense that Anthony Gonzalez wanted to deviate from that pillar a little bit with this year’s album Junk. It’s not as radio-friendly, for sure, but there are some real jams here and I appreciate that they didn’t just clone their hits.