What a year it’s been. We’re taking our year end summaries in a bit of a different direction. Over the next couple of days, we’re going to have staff and friends talk about what 2016 meant to them through the music we all experienced. Each person has a different perspective, story, approach, etc. It’s the best way we could think of to celebrate, mourn, and ponder the events of this past year.

To start us off, Joey Smith offers his thoughts.

How in the world do I even being to summarize 2016? Let’s try…

Women ruled the music landscape

I hate splitting the arts across gender lines. The whole separation and comparison idea seems quite trite to me when it all boils down to what’s being created. But let’s be honest – women crushed it this year. Solo acts, bands, bands led by female vocalists… break it down to how many areas you have to, but the fact is simple: they dominated my listening habits from January until posting this (not even joking – currently listening to Gillian Welch’s Boots No. 1…).

Everyone knows about the big names and heavy hitters that fit this particular heading, but there was just so much to take in. For me, it started with Hinds’ Leave Me Alone then continued on to the point where I was starting to wonder when the dudes would show up to the party.

You had two alt-country/rock releases in Mount Moriah’s How to Dance and Big Thief’s Masterpiece that ripped your heart out but gave you a hug while it was still beating in your hands. White Lung, one of my favorite bands in recent years, created something in Paradise that can simply be labeled as the face of future post-rock/punk/garage.

With Rheia, Oathbreaker earned a very, very rare comparison to metal peers Deafheaven. And Esperanza Spaulding offered Emily’s D+Evolution, an album that is an enormous blanket covering multiple genres. It’s also probably the most slept on album of the year, in my not so humble opinion. All genres and bases were full covered.

If I’m looking at 2016, a year full of extremes and uncertainty, this is where you have to start and end.

Canada brought it

It seems like a lot of artists from one country captivate me every year. Usually it’s Sweden, but this year, my friendly neighbors to the north threw one heavy hit after another. The releases that struck me the most were a rich diversity of more established artists to up-and-coming artists that will be on my radar in 2017 and well beyond.

Living Hour’s self-titled outing left me covered in chills numerous times. As someone unfamiliar with much of their work prior to the release, this was an excellent surprise to be greeted with. From there, Wood Lake showed intriguing amounts of potential with Hell.

You know, speaking of potential, I can’t help but feel like you have to start the focus of artists bursting with potential by looking at the Medicine Hat and Emay. The Medicine Hat put out two of my favorite singles this year and have everything needed to burst out big-time. With Emay, his immensely powerful outputs have him positioned to be deemed the next big rapper out of Canada.

Finally, there’s PUP and the Dirty Nil – creators of two of the finest pieces of post-punk this year. Yep, you did well this year, Canada.

Veterans who are still making quality music

When you reach a point where your career hits the twenty year mark or so, the rule of thumb says a decline is inevitable, right? Not so much.

“Standing on the shoulders of giants” is, without a doubt, one of the most hackneyed phrases in entertainment. Yes, you can’t ignore what bands like the Rolling Stones have accomplished, but give me the Bob Moulds of the world. In fact, let’s start there.

I once said that everyone should strive to be the Bob Mould of whatever they do in life. The former Hüsker Dü member gave us Patch the Sky, an album that handles endings and mortality head-on, a theme addressed in multiple releases throughout the year.

One of the most notable and tragic examples of such is Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree. The album was being recorded when Cave’s son accidentally fell to his death, giving the album’s initial concept an unfortunate realness to the raw power of the final outcome.

Related to such tragedy, you get A Tribe Called Quest’s return to for one final album. Shadowed by the loss of Phife Dawg, whose words are immortalized in the album’s title, the album confronts the ideas of blackness in modern America. Designed to be a look at recent events, its content is more prescient than ever given recent events.

That leaves me with two more notables from veterans who can seemingly do no wrong – Radiohead and Dinosaur Jr. It’s rare for me to be on board with everything in an artist’s catalogue, but these two acts make it next to impossible to pick things apart.

Which goes back to what I was saying earlier – maybe it’s time to deconstruct the ideas of giants. Or create your own giants anyway.

Music that reminded me that the fight is just starting

To say that 2016 didn’t turn out the way many had hoped would probably be the understatement of the year. It’s a year that raised more questions than it answered. When several albums were released this year, they were viewed as reflections on the zeitgeist and how to move forward. By the end of the year, their messages had taken on a much more serious urgency.

MartyrLoserKing from Saul Williams might be the most poignant reflection on 2016. The album is a concept piece about civil rights and activism in the era of the internet. At its basic core, the album rides a new wave of modern R&B that many talents crossed this year. However, it’s so much more when you allow the poetry of Williams’ words to envelope you.

Heading towards a more punk direction, the So So Glos’ Kamikaze and Against Me!’s Shape Shift with Me offer old school sentiments to the troubles we face. The So So Glos take on willful ignorance and self-absorption in the age of information, while Against Me! dive headlong into a bigger sound centered around relationships and the struggles faced by people within the trans community. Again – two issues as tense as ever right now.

If you graduated from college during the recession of the 00s, it’s hard to find a more relatable album than Jeff Rosenstock’s Worry. Rosenstock’s words cover the umbrella term ‘life’. While running across various rock/punk influences and sounds he’s participated in, deal with life he does.

Finally, you have to take note of Sons of an Illustrious Father’s Revol. Looking back at it this late in the year adds to the profound impact it delivered when released earlier. Is it time to heed their advice and get up for Armageddon? Possbily.

My five favorite albums

These are my favorite albums of 2016, and I’m thankful they were there for us all this year.

  • A Giant Dog – Pile: This is the album that reminded me why I fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll so many years ago. In today’s overly image conscious world of music, A Giant Dog offer uninhibited authenticity on Pile. The album is raw, gritty, and unflinching. The band is who they are, and there’s no masquerading or pretense to be found – just an honest experience from a great band.
  • Anohni – Hopelessness: There are so many times throughout Hopelessness that I just kept thinking, “In the hands of anyone else, this album could completely veer off the tracks.” But with help from Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, Anohni delivers an inspired piece of work. Somehow both outwardly yet subtly political, Hopelessness reflects inwardly to examine the world.
  • David Bowie – Blackstar: I cannot offer anything on this album that hasn’t been said before. To call it moving or powerful seems too easy. To call it inspiring considering the circumstances under which it was created makes one feel small. This is Bowie being Bowie until the very end, and the music landscape and countless lives are all the better thanks to his contributions.
  • Kyle Craft – Dolls of Highland: This is more on the nontraditional side of things, but if you heard an album with more swagger and strut than Dolls of Highland, I’d like to know. The mix of glam rock, Southern bravado, and theatrics to the album drew me in, and I couldn’t help but enjoy it on a loop. If I had to try to summarize it as briefly as possible, I’d say it’s like an altar call during a service at the first church of rock ‘n’ roll. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
  • Savages – Adore Life: I can’t think of any other album this year that gripped me the way Adore Life The tension of the album is masterfully constructed. Savages see love and life as complicated entities, but they also see the beauty and refinement of these ordeals in even the darkest moments. Adore Life is an experience as much as it is an album – one that I couldn’t shake since its release in January.

So there you have it. I’d feel remiss if I didn’t mention the interviews we did. Getting to know artists on a deeper level meant a lot to us, so thanks to everyone who took the time to be a part of those when they happened. A final shout-out to Javon Johnson and Sahmbeau for going the extra distance in doing so.

 Finally, as a bonus, here’s a playlist of 100 songs from 100 artists that I enjoyed this year.