2016 was a terrible year in many ways, but it was a great year of music. Here is my list of the best albums of 2016.
1. Skeleton Tree, by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. This album was started before Nick’s son Arthur died in 2015. Understandably, that tragedy weighed heavily on Nick as he wrote the songs for this album. The album is sad in a beautiful way. If you haven’t seen the movie, One More Time with Feeling, that played in cinemas around the globe on the eve of the release of this album, you should.
All week during KEXP’s pledge drive, they have been playing the top albums of the past 40 years as voted on by their supporters to celebrate their 40th Anniversary. The list is 650 albums long. Like me, you probably liked a lot of it, and didn’t like some of it.
You can read the whole list of 650 albums on the KEXP Top 40 of the Last 40 years here.
Here is their top 40:
The Joshua Tree
The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust
Dark Side Of The Moon
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Blood On The Tracks
Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols
The Rolling Stones
Exile On Mainstreet
Prince and the Revolution
Neutral Milk Hotel
In the Aeroplane Over The Sea
Stop Making Sense
Houses Of The Holy
Automatic For The People
Power, Corruption and Lies
The Queen Is Dead
The Flaming Lips
Yoshimi vs. The Pink Robots
Licensed To Ill
And now you may be asking yourself why this list of the top 40 goes to number 41. Well let me tell you: In my opinion, Sufjan Stevens’ album is not worthy of being on this list and R.E.M.’s Murmur is.
Sufjan bores the hell out of me.
Placement matters. Fore example, when KEXP did their top 903 albums of all time back in 2008. Sufjan placed 15th of all time, and Patti Smith placed 104th. (Anyone that tells me that Illinoise is better than Horses I immediately dismiss as a fool). So as I am glad to see that enough people have come to their senses to drop Sufjan’s album 26 places since 2008 and move Patti Smith’s Horses up 52 spots from 104th to 52nd, I still cannot accept that Illinoise is in KEXP’s top-40 list. Again I must ask who the hell are my fellow KEXP supporters and why do they like such boring music? And I won’t go too far out on a limb to predict that, in the next multi-generational poll, the fools will all have forgotten Illinoise, and Horses will prevail.
Enough of that…
What’s most interesting about these lists besides who made it to the top ten (Congratulations to Nirvana for taking the Number One spot over Radiohead, who usually places Number One in these polls, and yes I have come to appreciate Radiohead more since the last multigenerational poll [more about that here, although I prefer The Bends over OK Computer, but nevermind]) are the albums missing from the list.
Scott H. Biram – Something’s Wrong/Lost Forever
Capsula – In the Land of Silver Souls
The Duke Spirit – Cuts Across the Land
Jim White – Wrong Eyed Jesus
Nick Cave – every album except Let Love In that placed 591st.
Richard Hawley – True Love’s Gutter
Lydia Loveless – Indestructible Machine
Alejandro Escovedo – Gravity
Just to name a few…
I can’t blame KEXP for these omissions, because they play and promote all of the above artists who are missing, so all I’m left with is their listeners.
Wake up KEXP listeners! There are way better artists than many of the 650 listed, but you just aren’t paying attention. Maybe some of the ones I’ve pointed out are not in your wheelhouse. I get that, and I also get that expanding your horizons is why KEXP is so loved around the world.
So next time you hear Capsula, Jim White, The Duke Spirit, Scott H. (the “H” stands for “FUCK YOU”) Biram, Alejandro Escovedo, or Lydia Loveless – pay attention and expand your horizons. You might really like some of this stuff. You might even like it more than you think you like Sufjan Stevens!
Okay so I am a couple weeks late getting this list posted for several reasons, but mainly because it’s so difficult to choose which twenty of the fifty-six 2011 albums I purchased belong on the list.
The top five are the albums I’ve listened to the most during the year, and two of the top five are by groups that don’t get anywhere near the attention they deserve, especially in the United States.
1. Capsula – In the Land of Silver Souls. This is the album I’ve listened to probably a hundred times, and I never tire of it. Their sound is part seventies Bowie, part Stooges, part Sonic Youth, a pinch of Link Wray, and a whole lot of “it.” Martin Guevara on guitar and vocals, Coni Duchess on bass and vocals, and Ignacio Villarejo on drums take all of their influences an blend them into one of the best sounding sonic stews I’ve ever heard. Top tracks are “Wild Fascination,” “Communication,” and “Hit ‘n’ Miss.”
Now that you’ve watched that video, you’ll probably want to go buy the CD. Good luck. Right here in Seattle where’ve they’ve been in heavy rotation on KEXP and have played two shows in the past six months (The Comet and the KEXP BBQ), you can’t find their music at Sonic Boom, Easy Street Records, Silver Platters, or any other store I’ve wandered into. The album is on the BCore Disc label, which must have very poor distribution in the U.S. Amazon sometimes has it, and you can buy it from the band for $10 if you go to a show. So what I guess I am saying is go to a show, see the band, buy their music, spread the word. (I guess you pod people can download it too.)
2. P.J. Harvey – Let England Shake. When I read that P.J. was working on an album of songs she plays on an autoharp, I thought that’s gonna be pretty weird. What it is, is a masterpiece – an incredibly focused, forceful collection of passionate and sometimes angry songs about war. Here’s one of the twelve films by Seamus Murphy that are available on YouTube and on a DVD now available in the UK that hasn’t yet made it across the pond.
3. Tom Waits – Bad as Me. It’s been a long time since Tom Waits put out an album of all new songs, and it was worth the wait. Tom uses all his voices in this album. He delivers the rockers “Bad as Me” and “Satisfied” in a howling gravelly voice with a nice shout-out to Mick and Keith, and “Back in the Crowd” and “Last Leaf” in deep, slightly raspy melodious voice.
4. The Decemberists – The King is Dead. I had heard the Decemberists on the radio quite a few times, but I never paid much attention to them until this album came out. This is a pop album that the band says was influenced by Siouxsie and the Banshees, XTC, and R.E.M. (Peter Buck plays guitar on three songs.) Top tracks are “Calamity Song,” “Down by the Water” and “This is Why We Fight.”
Be sure and watch the video for “Calamity Song” too. It was inspired by the David Foster Walace novel, Infinite Jest.
5. The Duke Spirit – Bruiser. This album was released in Europe in September and has not yet been released in the U.S. where they don’t get near the attention they deserve. KEXP has recently started playing a couple of tracks, so maybe the band will get a little traction and release their album in the U.S. soon. Liela Moss has one of the sexiest voices in rock ‘n roll today, and the band backs her up brilliantly. Key tracks are “Don’t Wait,” and “Surrender.”
7. The Low Anthem – Smart Flesh. This album will grow on you. With lyrics like, “Then she left me here reeling with that time-release feeling/Like a long wisp of hunger, I swung from the ceiling” how could it not?
9. Viva Voce – The Future Will Destroy You. The album was released on the first day of summer and this guitar-heavy, retro-psychedelic-pop record instantly became the soundtrack to my summer. It’s a great one to listen to while driving through the city on the way home.
10. Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi. She’s got pipes, she can play guitar, and she’s got impeccable taste. Here’s a list of her influential albums from the November 2011 issue of Uncut Magazine: Aladdin Sane – David Bowie, Death of a Ladies’ Man – Leonard Cohen, Heaven or Las Vegas – Cocteau Twins, Gris-Gris – Dr. John, Grace – Jeff Buckley, The Ecstasy of Gold – Ennio Morricone, Quartet for the End of Time – Olivier Messiaen, Let Love In – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Wild is the Wind – Nina Simone, and Limehouse Blues – Django Reinhardt. ‘Nuff said.
19. John Doe – Keeper. It’s John’s “happy” record. No, really. Listen to “Little Tiger” and “Lucky Penny.”
20.Wild Flag – Wild Flag. Carrie Brownstein’s new band: “What is the sound of an avalanche taking out a dolphin? What do get when you cross a hamburger with a hot dog? The answer is: WILD FLAG.”
Honorable mentions to: Dave Alvin, The Cave Singers, Danger Mouse and Daniel Luppi, Ry Cooder, Drive By Truckers, Jason Isbell, The Kills, The Pimps of Joytime, The Roots, Sons and Daughters, Tinariwen, Trombone Shorty, and Thurston Moore.
I have been a KEXP supporter since 1987 so I have a pretty good idea of what they are about. That said, it was no surprise to me that a Radiohead album was chosen as the best album of all time. I say that because I think that every year Radiohead has put out an album, they’ve been number one on the list for those years. I’ve never been a big fan of them, but thousands of the stations listeners are.
Here are the top 40 albums on the list:
1 Radiohead – OK Computer 2 The Clash – London Calling 3 The Arcade Fire – Funeral 4 Nirvana – Nevermind 5 Pixies – Doolittle 6 Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea 7 The Beatles – The White Album 8 U2 – The Joshua Tree 9 Radiohead – The Bends 10 Pixies – Surfer Rosa 11 Radiohead – Kid A 12 The Beatles – Abbey Road 13 Jeff Buckley – Grace 14 The Beatles – Revolver 15 Sufjan Stevens – Come on Feel the Illinois 16 The Smiths – The Queen is Dead 17 Pearl Jam – Ten 18 David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust 19 The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 20 Radiohead – In Rainbows 21 The Cure – Disintegration 22 Elliott Smith – Either/Or 23 Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon 24 The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots 25 Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique 26 Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks 27 Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted 28 Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street 29 My Bloody Valentine – Loveless 30 The Postal Service – Give Up 31 Modest Mouse – The Moon and Antarctica 32 Built to Spill – Perfect from Now On 33 Death Cab for Cutie – The New Year 34 Weezer – Weezer 35 The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds 36 The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin 37 Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde 38 The Replacements – Let it Be 39 The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground and Nico 40 Belle & Sebastian – If You’r Feeling Sinister
Yesterday when I was listening to the top 25, I kept waiting for one of the all-time greatest albums ever to be played, and it never was. I was shocked to find that Patti Smith’s Horses was not in the top 25, not in the top 50, not even in the top 100! It placed number 104 and was played at 5:34 a.m. Friday. I began to wonder who the hell I was sharing this radio station with. Seriously. What’s up with you guys?
Take a look at the top 40 again. Those of you who know Horses inside-out would probably agree with me when I say that it is far superior to at least 30 albums on that list, and it’s fifty times better than the album that came in at number 15. So again, what’s up? Is it a generation gap that I’m dealing with? Probably not… There are other albums from the seventies and earlier on the list. Did people just forget?
So, Patti, if you happen to come across this blog post, I just want you to know that in spite of a disrespectful placing of Horses on this list, we in Seattle love your work and can’t wait for you to come visit us again.
And if any of you KEXP DJs read this, well all I can say is please play more Patti Smith and play it often. Your listeners are in need of some schooling.
Enough about that. Here are some brief notes about some of the artists that placed several times:
Tom Waits had ten albums listed; his highest was #63, Rain Dogs. REM had ten albums listed; their highest was #67, Murmur. Talking Heads had eight albums listed; their highest was #54, Stop Making Sense. Beck had eight albums listed; his highest was #43, Odelay. David Bowie had eight albums listed, his highest was #18, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. Neil Young had seven albums listed; his highest was #65, Harvest. Bob Dylan had seven albums listed; his highest was #26, Blood on the Tracks. Radiohead had six albums listed; their highest was #1, OK Computer.
And the greatest living composer of music today, Nick Cave, had six albums listed (including the GRINDERMAN album); his highest was #333, The Boatman’s Call.
One last note: Today I went out and bought my first Radiohead album. I picked up OK Computer and I am listening to it as I write this. I’m trying to figure out what all the fuss is about. While I’m doing that, you all should be listening to Patti Smith and Nick Cave.