Josh Antonuccio is a lecturer in the Music Production and Recording Industry program at the Ohio University School of Media Arts and Studies and a music producer and owner of 3 Elliott Studio. Josh also hosts and produces the Nelsonville Music Festival Gladden House Sessions with WOUB Public Media. You can purchase these albums at Haffa’s Records in Athens or listen to Josh’s 2016 Favorite Albums on his 2016 Spotify playlist.This is another installment of a year end series that examines what Athens-centric tune heads have been jamming to all year long. Keep tabs on the series here.
Comeback albums, career breakouts, and newcomers, 2016 provided an incredible tour-de-force of new music, much to the delight of critics and music lovers alike. Here are 26 albums (listed alphabetically) that found their way into my listening rotation throughout the year.
The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful, yet so unaware of it
I saw The 1975 in 2013 when they were just beginning to permeate into the mainstream. This album was a bit of slow burner for me, but inevitably the synth-driven pop and melodic grooves become more of a soundtrack to my year. A great sophomore effort.
Adam Torres – Pearls to Swine
With roots in Athens, OH and a breakout in Austin, TX, Torres’ debut on Fat Possum is a refreshing combination of vocal purity, haunting melodies, and a landscape of testimonial songwriting. I found myself frequenting this album on a near-daily basis after its release, reveling in the gorgeous emotional depth that Torres excavates with the aid of a phenomenal band.
Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Anderson .Paak seemed to be ubiquitous at SXSW this year, one of the artists that everyone was clamoring to get a glimpse of. Malibu combines a hypnotic mix of funk, hip hop, R&B, and psychedelia. Paak touted his impressive production and writing chops and, coupled along with his raw vocal power, became one of the breakout artists of the year.
Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN
With more refined production since 2013’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness, Olsen returned with her trademark songwriting prowess and delivered a wallop. Replete with Olsen’s trademark sultry and sneering vocals, MY WOMAN was another triumph for one of my favorite artists, delivering devastating odes to love and loss.
Beyoncé – Lemonade
Another groundbreaking move by one of the biggest artists around, yielding a “visual album” that was breathtaking in its musical and emotional depth. The tracks on Lemonade are brutal in their honesty and fearless in their humanity, traversing the agonizing arc of betrayal to redemption with pop-polished soul.
Bon Iver – 22, A Million
Anyone expecting a return to the sparseness of For Emma, Forever Ago was greeted instead with an idiosyncratic and heavily processed album. 22, A Million revealed an artist expanding their production vocabulary, intertwining broken and bit-crushed grooves and heavily layered auto-tuned vocals amongst pianos and acoustic guitars.
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Replete with guitar-driven, fist-raising indy-rock anthems, Teens of Denial spirals poignantly through angst and indifference. Songwriter Will Toledo and company captured both the spirit and sound of a genre, returning to a familiar sound for Matador Records. The opening track “Fill In The Blank” is a standout.
Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
One of the most discussed stories of the year was how this Chicago rapper eschewed label deals to release one of the biggest albums of 2016. A bold and inventive hip hop album, marrying together rich gospel influences and soulful arrangements.
Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
In the steps of D’Angelo, Glover released a December surprise that found the star detouring from the familiar hip hop sounds of Because The Internet to delve into an album drawing heavily on ’70s funk and R&B. Terrific songwriting and a masterful stroke from this multi-faceted artist.
David Bowie – Blackstar
Under the direction of long-time collaborator Tony Visconti, Bowie penned his own epitaph to a breath-taking degree. Hemmed in with assistance from a local NYC jazz combo, Bowie’s final album was a fitting coda to a true original.
Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution
Speaking of Tony Visconti, he also teamed up with jazz artist Esperenza Spalding to produce an album that traversed multiple genres, showcasing Spalding’s vocal agility.
Frank Ocean – Blonde
Ocean caused headlines for this exclusive with Apple Music, but the real story was the eloquence of Blonde’s stripped-down and poignant soul, showcasing Ocean’s heart-wrenching vocals.
Hiss Golden Messenger – Heart Like a Levee
A superb follow-up to 2014’s Lateness of Dancers, drawing inspiration from the raw sounds of The Band’s first few albums. Although it flew under the radar, there is some phenomenal songwriting here.
Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.
After the release of the exquisite To Pimp a Butterfly, this collection of additional material began to surface on a handful of late night performances. While not as cohesive as the aforementioned album, there a number of brilliant standout tracks to be found here.
Mitski – Puberty 2
A ferocious tour-de-force debut with her new label home Dead Oceans. With reflections of a turbulent and multi-continent youth, Mitski veers between propulsive and pensive songs, penning testimonial lyrics amidst shadowy and gorgeous vocals.
Mothers – When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired
Delectable and tender indie-pop on the debut album from this Athens, GA outfit. Lead singer Kristine Leschper delivers with a delicate yearning on their first full-length album.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Recorded amidst the tragedy of losing a child, Nick Cave and co. returned with this haunting album. Desolate and sparse in its production, Cave provides his trademark vocals with shades of revelation and mourning.
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Another album in heavy rotation for me this year and one of my favorites from this NYC indie rock/punk quartet. Songs like “Dust” and “Berlin Got Blurry” are near-perfect garage rock.
Pinegrove – Cardinal
This NJ-based band had a breakout year with their second album. A terrific release of jubilant indie rock with shimmering guitar hooks and delectable choruses.
Ray LaMontagne – Ouroboros
Ray LaMontagne teamed with Jim James to create an expansive and atmospheric album that reflected the concept albums of previous eras. Lush and moody, LaMontagne delves into introspective lyricism and sprawling guitar work.
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
After the experimental digression of 2011’s King of Limbs, Radiohead came back with an album that substantiated their reputation as one of the great bands of our time.
Savages – Adore Life
Dark and explosive post-punk, with incendiary performances by lead singer Jehnny Beth. Savages provided an impressive and uncompromising follow-up to their 2012 debut.
Solange – A Seat at the Table
Beyoncé’s younger sister has been percolating in recent memory with substantial and critically-received releases. On A Seat at the Table, that culminated in 2016 with this bold and imaginative album that defied traditional hip hop/R&B boundaries.
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
A Grammy nod, an SNL debut, and accolades from multiple genres, this was Sturgill Simpson’s year, due in large part to this masterful album that pushed the boundaries of country music.
A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
Perhaps of the biggest comebacks of the year, A Tribe Called Quest put forth a brilliant hip-hop album that captured the angst and zeitgeist of 2016.
William Tyler – Modern Country
One of my favorite modern guitar instrumentalists, William Tyler flourished again with ambient and Americana-tinged guitar melodies.
Josh Antonuccio is a lecturer in the Music Production and Recording Industry program at the Ohio University School of Media Arts and Studies and a music producer and owner of 3 Elliott Studio. Josh also hosts and produces the Nelsonville Music Festival Gladden House Sessions with WOUB Public Media. You can purchase these albums at Haffa’s Records in Athens or listen to Josh’s 2016 Favorite Albums on his 2016 Spotify playlist.