My 5 favorite albums of 2016 (so far)

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The first quarter of 2016 is in the books and so much has happened in the world of music it’s tough to keep up.

The constant flow of music news and the inundation of new music that comes along with it is one of the main reasons why I don’t write regularly and consider myself a semi-retired music journalist. Of course there is another bigger and better reason I have been radio silent for a long time, but trying to keep up with a speedy news cycle doesn’t help stoke my creative writing fire much.

So what have I missed this year? Kendrick Lamar sneakily dropped a new album. Most of the original Guns N’ Roses lineup reunited and will be playing stadiums later this summer. LCD Soundsystem ended their hiatus to the delight of whatever the trendy slang is for hipsters nowadays. And Kanye West, well, he just kept on being Kanye West and botched the release of his new album and still managed to score a No. 1 record without moving any physical units.

But those things aren’t what inspired me to put digital pen to digital paper after a seven-month hiatus. Along with the overload of music happenings, there’s been an abundance of great music released so far this year and that’s something I’ve happily been keeping up with.

The music has been so great that I’ve been inspired to share five of the records from this year that are currently in heavy rotation in the Hay household. Because what’s fun about enjoying new music if you can’t share it with others?

Deep Sea Diver “Secrets”

If any album is going to get my vote for dark horse record of the year, it’s “Secrets.” Released in February, this gem is an awesome example of a breakthrough record by a band that, if there’s any justice in the music world, will eventually become so much bigger than regional favorite status. Jessica Dobson, who is a former touring member of The Shins, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Beck’s band, perfectly straddles the all too delicate line between pop and rock with ridiculous guitar tones and wickedly great song craftsmanship. The fact that she’s backed by an equally talented band that perfectly accentuate her guitar wizardry make all 10 tracks on this record pure fire. Don’t believe me? Check out the video above (stay for the 3:00 mark for the cameo) and then go stream the entire album.

Deep Sea Diver’s next Seattle performance is at KEXP’s free grand opening event April 16. They are also performing July 14-16 at the Timber! Festival.

Bob Mould “Patch the Sky”

As a teenager I had never heard of Husker Du, but I loved Sugar. The power pop perfection of “Copper Blue” and its follow-up “File Under Easy Listening” were perfect for teenage Travis. In my twenties I listened to Husker Du on occasion but they couldn’t pull me in like Sugar did despite every band I adored at the time citing them as a major influence. Fast-forward to 2012 and mid-30s me gives Bob Mould’s “Silver Age” a spin and once again I fall for Mould’s power pop. “Patch the Sky” is Mould’s second post-“Silver Age” album (“Beauty & Ruin” is the other and it was critically acclaimed, but I couldn’t get into it) and while its lyrical content is dark, the songs are refreshingly crisp and irresistible. It’s a great record to crank on a warm, sunny spring day.

Bob Mould’s next Seattle concert is at KEXP’s grand opening celebration on April 16 (which is FREE btw). He will also perform at Showbox at the Market on May 10.

Ray LaMontagne “Ouroboros”

I’m not a big fan of Ray LaMontagne and I’ve never paid much attention to his music, but I am borderline obsessed with this album. I got curious about “Ouroboros”  when I found out it was produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and that it features the rest of MMJ as his backing band. I became even more curious when I learned that the record is split into two 20-minute sides with each side consisting of one track (that’s the vinyl version, digitally it’s broken into eight tracks). That was enough to convince me to give it a shot and man am I so glad I did. It’s the perfect length with not a minute wasted and there’s so much warmth, depth and unexpected psychedelia on this album I can’t stop listening. It’s got a great Fleet Foxes-meets-MMJ-meets-Pink Floyd sound that’s made it one of my favorite albums of the year. Meant to be experienced as a whole album, LaMontagne ends “Ouroboros” by singing “You’re never going to hear this song on the radio. Wouldn’t it make a lovely photograph?” That sentiment isn’t just true for the record’s closing track, it’s true for the entire album.

Ray LaMontagne’s next Seattle area concert is at Chateau Ste Michelle Sept. 5.

Black Mountain “IV”

Okay, so this album came out a few days ago so there hasn’t been a lot of time for it to take the top spot in my listening rotation. But it’s so damn good I know I’ll be enjoying this not just this year but for many years to come. It’s a healthy dose of trippy, psychedelic space rock that’s sometimes heavy, sometimes folksy and always excellent. And as an added bonus, like all good classic psychedelic rock records, if you play the album backwards there are special messages hidden in the grooves.  If you enjoyed Black Mountain’s 2006 sophomore record “In The Future” then you’re gonna love this.

Black Mountain’s next Seattle performance is April 22 at the Tractor Tavern.

White Denim “Stiff”

Do you like rock & roll that makes you dance? Well then you need to listen to “Stiff.” It’s a classic Texas boogie album with splashes of old school soul and R&B thrown in to get your butt moving. The tunes on “Stiff” are so tailor-made for gettin’ on down with your bad self that me, Mrs. Guerrilla Candy and Junior GC had a bit of an impromptu dance party in front of the turntable yesterday when I put this album on the stereo. I’ve never listened to a Nathaniel Rateliffe and the Night Sweats album (but I did see them live last year) so I really have no basis for this comparison, but in my mind I imagine this album sounds like a leaner, spunkier version of that band.

White Denim doesn’t have any upcoming Seattle concerts because they just played Neumos March 28. Hopefully they’ll come back around to the Northwest later this summer.

Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut.com and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.