2016: My Annual Favorites List

by Ken DiTomaso

It’s been a tumultuous year to say the least. But if you ask me, 2016 has been a pretty great time to be a music fan. I found a ton of records to love, so many in fact that ranking my favorites was much harder for me this time around than in any previous year (it seems like I say that every year, but it's true!) I found something to enjoy at almost every turn, and there were even a solid number of really good records that could have easily made my list in previous years that I had to leave off this time.

First, my 10 runner-ups...


20. The I.L.Y's – Scum With Boundaries

An aggressively weird side-project from Zach Hill and Andy Morin. These songs don’t stick with me as much as their work in Death Grips does, but it’s ever so slightly easier on the ears. Plus, in comparison to their main band, this album is even more unique and unconventional than usual. It wasn't an easy album to get my head around, but it made for a pretty cool listen.


19. Animal Collective – Painting With


Painting With is Animal Collective’s most lightweight album ever. But while it may be lacking in gravitas, it still retains the band’s playful psychedelic persona. The interlocking vocal parts are a blast, and a lot of the loopy tunes have lodged themselves in my brain. If anything, it’s maybe a bit too cloying for its own good. It probably won't be anyone's favorite Animal Collective album, but it's still a pretty interesting one.


18. Look Park – Look Park

Fountains Of Wayne seem to be defunct, at least for the time being, but vocalist and guitarist Chris Collingwood has struck out on his own, forming this new band. Look Park’s music bears a strong resemblance to Fountains Of Wayne and will more than satisfy any of that band’s fans. But the music is a bit more serious and ornate than what Fountains Of Wayne offered, which is a nice change of pace. If we can’t have another Fountains Of Wayne album, I’m glad we've at least got Look Park instead.


17. Kendrick Lamar – Untitled Unmastered

This is just a bunch of leftovers from To Pimp A Butterfly, but I’m not complaining. An album that brilliant is bound to have some pretty great outtakes, and this record proves it. Keep on doing your thing, Kendrick.


16. Death Grips – Bottomless Pit

Bottomless Pit
is a great album, but its biggest flaw is that basically everything the band does here I’ve heard before from them. None of these songs are worse than their older stuff; in fact, there are some brilliant highlights that rank alongside the band’s best material. But at the same time, I’ve heard so much Death Grips by now that the urge to play this record hasn’t been quite as strong as it was with their previous work. There are still some totally killer tracks on this thing, though.


15. Pink Floyd – The Early Years 1965-1972

Pink Floyd has finally given their fans what they’ve long demanded with this huge box set, dumping massive amounts of rare and unreleased early material all in one big treasure trove, from every non-album track they could find, to fantastic live sets, to unreleased soundtrack material and crazy experiments. This set has everything a Pink Floyd fan could ever want. Floyd was tremendous both in the studio and in concert long before Dark Side Of The Moon was even a glint in their eyes, and this set proves it. It’s not perfect; the sound quality of some of the material is limited by what they had available to them, and some of the experiments aren’t worth more than a cursory curiosity listen, but there’s enough fantastic stuff here to last a fan quite a long time.


14. The Avalanches – Wildflower

It might have taken them 16 years, but The Avalanches finally came through with a follow-up to their cult-classic debut Since I Left You. This fits so seamlessly into their discography, it’s like they were never even gone. If I’m being honest, I like a good portion of this album even more than their original record. The hip-hop elements and guests that the album makes use of are great assets. It’s hour-long runtime does hit a few lulls and my attention begins to drift after a certain point, but I’m still glad to finally have another Avalanches record in my collection.


13. Beyoncé – Lemonade

I’ve never had anything against Beyoncé. The R&B and pop she put out was usually better than what most other mainstream acts tended to release, but I've never felt any strong feelings about her music either. I was quite surprised, however, to find myself really enjoying Lemonade. Embracing soul, rock, and country elements in addition to a more experimental R&B approach gives the album some great diversity. The songwriting is more developed and detailed than anything I’ve heard from her before, and the arrangements are appealingly stripped-back and playful. I love it when mainstream artists try their hand at getting artsy, and this is a great example.


12. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

An oddly subdued album from Radiohead, this is nonetheless a return to form after the middling King Of Limbs. The songs don’t quite succeed at being all that memorable, but the detailed textures this album provides are completely enthralling.


11. Deakin – Sleep Cycle

It was a long time coming, but Animal Collective’s on-again/off-again guitarist finally put together a solo record. At barely more than 30 minutes long, it’s all too brief, but Deakin really comes through here, even besting his own band’s 2016 offering. With it's pleasantly laidback freak-folk acoustic atmosphere, the Animal Collective album this resembles the most is Sung Tongs –  which is odd, considering that's one of the albums he wasn’t involved with. But you won’t hear me complaining. That's a great album, and so is this.

And now my top 10...


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10. The Monkees – Good Times!

Rather than trying to awkwardly keep up with the times, Good Times sees The Monkees simply focusing on doing what they do best:making great pop music. A quarter of the album finds the band delving into their vaults to complete songs from the late ‘60s, which are every bit as good as the material the band released back in the day. The rest of the album features contributions from current songwriters who count The Monkees among their biggest influences. If anyone knows how to write great Monkees songs, it’s folks who’ve internalized the band's numerous classic records into their own idiosyncratic writing styles, like Andy Partridge and Rivers Cuomo. Add in production from power-pop master Adam Schlesinger and you’ve got an album that's so good it can rank with the best of their ‘60s work.

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9. ABC – The Lexicon Of Love II

This album had no right to be good. But count me surprised, because The Lexicon Of Love II manages to recapture the magic of the original better than I think anyone could have expected. Album sequels have become a low-key trend among ageing musicians in recent years, and this has got to rank among the very best of these. Some of the more retro-minded modern pop acts have been aping ABC for years, but sometimes it takes the real deal to show everyone how its done.

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8. The Dean Ween Group – The Deaner Album

It’s been nearly a decade since the last Ween album and I’d begun to forget what it was like to hear new Dean Ween guitar solos for the first time. But man, does this album deliver on that front. It’s an all out guitar-rock extravaganza. Deaner picks songs that are more tailored to his gruff voice, which means that the tracks here are more frequently loud and raucous than you’re likely to get on a Ween record, and Deaner shines with this approach. But there are plenty of awesome Ween-like left turns into different styles, too. I particularly dig the Allman Brothers and Funkadelic-inspired tracks.

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7. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

Exuberant Americana packed with lively arrangements and a healthy hit of brass, which is a great touch that you don’t often hear in country music. It’s a breath of fresh air in a genre that’s long since grown stale. Honesty and integrity pour out of Simpson’s songwriting, making this record a delightful listen.

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6. David Bowie – Blackstar

A legend in death as much as he was in life. David Bowie left us with one of the best records in his already stellar discography. All artists wish that they could end their careers with this much dignity and integrity. It’s a dark and moody album that challenges you to face your own mortality as boldly as Bowie faced his. The experimental jazz-influenced approach that he takes on most of this record is different from anything he ever did before and helps make this a fantastic, yet mysterious, listen.

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5. King Crimson – Radical Action To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind

A nearly all-encompassing showcase of the incredible skills and music of one of the greatest progressive rock bands ever. The tracklist is incredible. The band’s three most legendary albums (In The Court Of The Crimson King, Larks Tongues In Aspic, and Red) are performed nearly in their entireties alongside highlights from most of their other albums, plus some great new songs, too. The material from In The Wake Of Poseidon and Islands is particularly revelatory. Most notably, this is the best place to hear King Crimson’s jaw-dropping seven-member line-up which features *three* virtuoso drummers bouncing off one another. This version of King Crimson is a drummer’s paradise.

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4. Kero Kero Bonito – Bonito Generation

A bizarre yet delightful mix of synth-pop, hip-hop, and J-pop, this band has a particular blend of influences that would never have occurred to me to combine, but I’ve had a blast with it all the same. Vocalist Sarah Perry has an adorable English accent and sings in Japanese from time to time. Add in a bunch of memorable hooks and bright and quirky arrangements and you’ve got something that might not be for everybody, but it falls right in my strike zone. I’ve been downright addicted to this record ever since I first heard it.

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3. Weezer – Weezer (White Album)

I don’t know how they managed it, but after years of coasting off their former glories, Weezer has truly come back. It’s not completely without precedent; 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End was a significant improvement on the awful records that preceded it, but this new self-titled release suggests that might not have been a fluke but a genuine return to form. It’s not that the sound of the band has changed significantly; their crunchy pop-rock style is still here in full force. But the attitude has shifted. What used to be juvenile kitsch now feels like childlike wonder. What were once lame sing-alongs are now killer pop hooks. There isn’t a single cringe-worthy moment here, and the songs are catchy and fun without dumbing themselves down in the process. Great power-pop can make even the darkest days feel like summer, and this record totally hits that sweet spot. This ranks right up there with The Blue Album and Pinkerton. Good on you, Weezer.

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2. King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity

I love it when bands outdo themselves. King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard first came to my attention last year, and I really enjoyed exploring their output at the time. But they’ve seriously stepped it up a notch with this record. It has a fascinating structure. Built to loop perfectly on repeat, the songs blend into each other and various musical fragments recur throughout the album. It’s a great concept, and they back it with a fantastic batch of psychedelic and prog-rock influenced tunes. Nonagon Infinity is a non-stop psych-rock juggernaut with a krautrock-influenced drive that grabs on and doesn’t let go.

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1. Lemon Demon – Spirit Phone

After priming us with his loopy mash-up records in 2014, Internet wizard Neil Cicierega brings out a fully original mind-expanding pop record absolutely bursting at the seams with inventive ideas. This isn’t the most exquisitely produced album of the year (it’s clearly a one-man-endeavour, for the most part), but I really don’t mind when the songs are as strong as these. The album is relentless, piling on one brilliant new idea after another for over an hour. It’s almost overwhelming how creative it all is. There are more great ideas in five minutes of Spirit Phone than some bands have in their entire discographies. And that’s not even acknowledging the brilliant lyrics, which almost exclusively address topics that have never occurred to me to even think of before in the context of a song (Reaganomics, arcade cabinets, candified corpses? Why not?) Record labels, please sign this guy and give him a real studio to record in; he deserves it. But if not, I don’t really care; this album rules either way.



Thanks for the music, 2016. See you 'round next year.




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