Guerrilla Candy’s 10 favorite albums of 2016

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Deep Sea Diver

Deep Sea Diver

Hi there. Is my audience still here? I think so? Maybe?
Really, I don’t know and I sort of doubt it. But that’s what happens when you take a lengthy sabbatical, change careers, have a kid, don’t write much and don’t contribute to the conversation surrounding the local music community for a very long time.
How long exactly? Two years, 10 months and three days to be exact, but who’s counting?
But that’s beside the point. I’m not here to reintroduce myself or announce my return to the online music journalism space. Sorry, a return just isn’t in the cards at the moment so don’t hold you breath waiting. I know, you’re crushed. But I’m sure you’ll get over it.
And I’m not really here to write for an audience. I’m just here to write, and since it’s the end of the year I want to use my small platform to share my 10 favorite albums of the year. So hooray for the end of 2016; a year that introduced me to lots of great music.
When I thought about the albums I enjoyed the most this year I got some interesting (to me) insights into what I listened to in 2016. One of those insights is that surprisingly a lot of my favorite records dealt with death and loss. This, of course, falls in line with part of the national narrative about the year in music.
I say surprisingly because I’m not much of a lyrics person. Sure good and catchy lyrics are fun to sing along to and make for a good song. But as a music fan, I don’t tend to read into the meaning of a song based off its lyrics unless the artist specifically says “the lyrics in this song mean x and x is what the song is about.”
I enjoy a great song structure and catchy chorus more than I do deep lyrcial meanings. So seeing a trend of lyrics covering death and loss pop up in multiple places amongst my favorite records of the year was a surprise. Also, I’m not a morbid person and death isn’t something I ponder often so that made the death trend a surprise too.
Of course, death is a common songwriting muse so maybe it’s just a coincidence, not a theme, and the guy who doesn’t pay much attention to lyrics is just now starting to pay attention to the words in the songs that he likes.
Shovels & Rope at Sasquatch! 2013. Photo by Matt Lamb

Shovels & Rope at Sasquatch! 2013. Photo by Matt Lamb

Death shows up on husband-wife duo Shovels & Rope’s fifth full-length record “Little Seeds,” one of my favorite albums of the year. The record is a heartfelt album of rocking Americana that ends with a beautiful gut punch in “Eric’s Birthday” and “This Ride.”  The former is the story of the birth of their late friend Eric, narrated by his mother, and the latter is dedicated to his memory and the rocky ride that is life. There are more upbeat, and better, songs on “Little Seeds” — “Botched Execution,” “Invisible Man,” and rocking opener “I Know” come to mind — but “Eric’s Birthday” and “This Ride” are the tracks I’ll think of whenever I queue up “Little Seeds.”
Death pops up elsewhere on my list of favorite records on Bob Mould’s 11th solo record “Patch The Sky.” It’s a lyrically dark album but doesn’t sound that way thanks to Mould’s loud and shiny guitar. However, the record was written shortly after the death of Mould’s mother so death plays a role here too.
And then there are more recognizable losses, which are felt on A Tribe Called Quest‘s phenomenal “We’ve Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service” and The Posies’ pleasantly non-guitar-driven “Solid States.” Death loomed heavily on those albums with the losses of ATCQ’s Phife Dawg and The Posies Darius Minwalla and Joe Skyward. Both groups were able to take difficult and painful situations and create impactful, meaninful art.
But my listening for the year wasn’t exclusively doom and gloom. Another small theme that popped up in my list was that a lot of the albums featured songs that addressed the current political climate and are quite topical for 2016. The Drive-By Truckers released the most important (and my favorite) rock record of the year. They’ve always been a political band and they definitely didn’t hold back with “American Band.” “What It Means,” “Surrender Under Protest” and “Once They banned Imagine” are some of the group’s most poignant and direct political statements. Oh, and they are good songs too.
The Posies at Capitol Hill Block Party 2011. Photo by Jason Tang

The Posies at Capitol Hill Block Party 2011. Photo by Jason Tang

The Posies and ATCQ also didn’t shy away from addressing politics by making their own statements with “We R Power” and “We The People…” respectively. I’m not a lyrics person like I mentioned earlier, so I am sure there are other songs I am missing (Shovels & Rope’s “BWYR” comes to mind), but I did notice topical and political songs were prevalent in my musical favorites of the year.
Psychedelia made a small appearance as a theme on my list too. Specifically, Black Mountain’s “IV,” which is the best thing the Canadian group has released and that’s saying a lot because their catalog is pretty great, and Ray Lamontagne’s “Ouroboros.” In general, I’m not a big fan of Lamontagne but his new record piqued my curiosity when I read it was produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and that MMJ acted as his backing band. The resulting album is a pretty fantastic slab of singer-songwriter lite rock-ish fare sprinkled with psychedelic leanings. It’s the perfect headphones record.
I didn’t pay as much attention to the local scene as much as I did in my past life as a music journalist but I feel like I can proclaim with confidence that Deep Sea Diver’s sophomore album “Secrets” was one of the best records to come out of Seattle in 2016. It perfectly straddles the all too delicate line between pop and rock with ridiculous guitar tones and some wickedly great song craftsmanship.
Lastly, two of my favorite bands, Radiohead and Metallica, released albums this year and both turned out to be some of their best music in years. Like most Metallica fans I was extremely apprehensive of “Hardwired… To Self-Destruct” but it truly is a return to form for the band. It’s easily their fifth best album. And it took me a long time to appreciate “A Moon Shaped Pool” but when I did it really stayed with me. I spent the past few months listening to it periodically and it’s safe to say that it is easily Radiohead’s fifth best album too.
Radiohead at Coachella in 2004. Photo by Travis Hay

Radiohead at Coachella in 2004. Photo by Travis Hay

So what does this all mean in regards to my current musical tastes? I don’t think it means much. One could draw the conclusion that I am wanting more substance out of the music I spend time with, or that mortality is top of mind. But neither of those things are true. Really, I just happened to like records that touched on a few common themes, that’s all.
If you’ve read this much then you probably want to hear some music. So here is the list of my 10 favorite records of the year in the order that I submitted them on my annual Village Voice Pazz & Jop ballot along with a song from each for you to enjoy.
Drive-By Truckers “American Band”

A Tribe Called Quest “We’ve Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service”

Black Mountain “IV”
Ray Lamontagne “Ouroboros”

Deep Sea Diver “Secrets”

Shovels & Rope “Little Seeds”

Metallica “Hardwired… To Self-Destruct”

The Posies “Solid States”

Radiohead “A Moon Shaped Pool”

Bob Mould “Patch The Sky”

And because it was really difficult to narrow down my list to just 10 records, here are 10 more albums from 2016 that I also really enjoyed: David Bowie “Blackstar,” Smokey Brights “Hot Candy,” Childish Gambino “Awaken, My Love!,” Band of Skulls “By Default,” Iggy Pop “Post Pop Depression,” De La Soul “and the Anonymous Nobody,” The Weeknd “Starboy,” Kaytranada “99.9%,” Phantogram “Three,” Anderson .Paak “Malibu”
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.