2016: This top 10 list goes to 11

January 21, 2017 09:00 AM
We have come to the end of an historic year in all things, including music. 2016 was a pretty amazing year for song, especially for breakout new acts. Here is my personal list of favorites — so strong; we turned it up to 11.

Car Seat Headrest
Teens of Denial

Ambitious songs that channel Replacements in tone and angst. Lyrics move from willfully self-destructive to attempts at redemption and maturation with a self-awareness that sees the end goal of growing up into a real adult, but a lack of tools or ambition to get there. A classic for years to come.



Margaret Glaspy
Emotions & Math

Glaspy is an exceptional but unassuming and understated guitar player. Chords are open, arpeggiated, and suspended, providing tension and dissonance in what are empowering hopeful indie-pop songs. Her voice weaves between sweet coffee-shop balladry to frustrated growls. Standout tracks include the title track and You and I, an incredible set of lyrics from a self-described “skinny mess” about not letting a lover fall in love with her, but rather being content with a fling. This is what feminism sounds like in 2016.


a Tribe Called Quest
we got it from here... thank you 4 your service

Conscious and timely lyrics from one of the most important rap bands that transitioned us from the 1980s to the 1990s.



Aubrie Sellers
New City Blues

New City Blues is a play on words, as the album is both a bluesy brand of country and laments the move to a new city.  Her band flushed out these wonderful country songs in her garage country sound – a grittier bare-knuckled and exposed brand of country than you will find on the radio. That is a shame because it is albums like this that have the opportunity to save country music from what it has become – a plastic pop machine devoid of feeling, relying on clichéd couplets turned inside out.


Head Carrier

If you long for Surfer Rosa or Doolittle era Pixies, you will be thrilled with the latest album. Another entry in “file under head banging, fist pumping, sing-along indie rock pioneer anthems.” Paz Lenchantin’s bass deserves a lot of the credit for the bouncing rhythmic quality found in many of the songs while her voice finds a perfect counterpoint to Black Francis.


Chance the Rapper
Coloring Book

Every song is fully formed, broad in scope and arranged adventurously with off-kilter beats that work to create an album that is greater than the sum of its parts. What right did this kid have to come in and just tear up and rebuild rap as a genre, borrowing from the past and creating the future? Apparently, he had every right to do so and did so with boldness and grace. Chance is a fierce proponent of helping others gain their footing in rap, introducing the world to many new talents.


Split Single
Metal Frames

Layered guitar-driven songs rock hard while remaining tuneful enough to sing along with. Creative bass lines from Wilco’s John Stirratt and backing vocals from Nora O’Connor Keen elevate the album. I have a feeling that if the Foo Fighters released almost any one of the tracks on this, Split Single’s second album, they would make it a hit. The music business is notoriously unfair, doubly so in this case since Foo front man, Dave Grohl credits, Split Single’s Jason Narducy with inspiring him to pursue a music career. See them live!


Lucy Dacus
No Burden

Every song on Dacus’ debut is a treat. Standouts include Dream State/Familiar Place, I Don’t Want to Be Funny Anymore and Strange Torpedo. Dacus’ strengths lie in her vocal melodies and self-deprecating, self-aware and insecure lyrics where she shies away from the spotlight and is comfortable living in the background – a minor character in other people’s lives striving for just a little bit more. Following this release, she is going to have to learn how to live in the spotlight a bit more and perhaps use that as fodder for her follow-up. 


Agnes Obel
Citizen of Glass

If you are stuck in the same musical rut, Agnes Obel will get you into a new groove. Cinematic and open, airy and soaring, bass lines are jazzy; vocals are wispy; and textures move from TV on the Radio-esque to Enya-like. This album defies easy classification, which is one of the main reasons it landed on this list. We all need to break out of the familiarity of what we know and this one does it musically.


Bob Mould
Patch the Sky

Bob Mould is on a bit of a late career tear. His past two albums have been as strong as anything he has put out since Workbook and Black Sheets of Rain. Songs are tight, personal and bold. This album would be loud even if you tried to mute it. Turn it up, roll down the windows and show the world you can still slam around your car.


Drive-by Truckers
American Band

A road-tested alt-country band produced a topical album of rock songs that express both a frustration with the country’s divide and a hope that we can mend our differences and be better to one another. What Does It Mean is a protest song worthy of anything that came out of the 1960s, taking a stance that is sure to be unpopular with many in their home state of Georgia.

As noted above, this is a subjective list. I love to hear what I missed. Let me know your thoughts at new Twitter @JVevanston with #MTtop10tunes.

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