2016 in Review: Closing Statements

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You’ve seen our big album and song lists; here is a selection of personal takes from PMA’s ridiculously good-looking contributors.

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Austin Reed

Let it be noted in the official minutes that 2016 marked the unspooling of collective consciousness. For a minute there—and it was a super-brief minute—I actually thought I had a top-line understanding of America’s best interests. I thought the people around me—even those who disagreed—represented the general consensus per the country’s more divisive issues. There were moments where I considered unfriending people on social media, but I just figured everyone was doing that for their own reasons. 

Instead, 2016 became the year when practical questions about the future were replaced by existential questions about the present. “How can we fix this?” quickly transformed into, “Are we even sure what the problem is?” The presumptions that collective-thought-America set into motion slowed to a stop. The pulse had disappeared, and the division was more palpable than ever before. 

At this point, nationwide disagreement is a foregone conclusion. While the victorious half of America revels in their glory, the surprised half of America now desperately clings to something they can assure themselves is real. They want to be certain of something—anything, really. That’s why, at the very least, 2016’s music offering is so indelibly necessary. Maybe more than ever before, America needs Frank’s austerity, Chance’s levity and Kanye’s eccentricity. It needs a groovy scapegoat a la the oft-overlooked Flamingosis. Or a battle hymn for the ignored via Lemonade. Or the lovelier notes from Light Upon the Lake. Or literally anything Anderson .Paak wants to show up with. 

Was it a volatile year? Yes. A borderline-unbearable one? Sure. But to paraphrase “White Ferrari”, I’m kinda over stating the plain. We’ve spent an absurd amount of time itemizing all our woes. Let’s talk about the music. Let’s talk about how the artists of 2016 nailed the sentiment in myriad ways. Let’s talk about how the music of 2016 was the only way some of us felt consoled. We should talk about the music of the year, because it was brilliant. It was effervescent, and it was real beyond imagination. 2016 was awful, but the year in music was electric.  

(Listen a Spotify playlist of Austin’s favorite songs of the year here.)

01 Blonde by Frank Ocean
02 The Life of Pablo by Kanye West
03 22, A Million by Bon Iver
04 Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper
05 A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead
06 Malibu by Anderson Paak
07 Blackstar by David Bowie
08 Lemonade by Beyonce
09 We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest
10 A Seat at the Table by Solange
11 Freetown Sound by Blood Orange
12 The Colour in Anything by James Blake
13 Light Upon the Lake by Whitney
14 99.9% by Kaytranada
15 I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It by The 1975
16 Untitled Unmastered by Kendrick Lamar
17 Bright Moments by Flamingosis
18 Sept. 5th by Dvsn
19 A Sailor’s Guide to Earth by Sturgill Simpson
20 Cardinal by Pinegrove

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Brendan Frank

I don't think it’s too controversial to say that 2016 wasn't a particularly good year for the world. I think it’s even less controversial to say that 2016 was an excellent year for music, qualitatively and quantitatively; certainly one of the best of the 2010s so far. Depending on who you ask, we’re either 60 or 70% of the way into the decade, enough to see it taking shape. The internet's powers of fragmentation have noticeably begun to bleed from the arts and pop culture into politics and society at large. It’s a mixed bag, to say the least.

2016, with a few notable exceptions, was all about the individual. It takes a village to craft an album, but this year's biggest and best releases had one name on their covers: Beyoncé, Kanye, Chance, Solange, Angel, Rihanna, Mitski, Anohni, Ocean, Anderson, Bowie. Even the group releases are mostly synonymous with one person. Bands may or may not be on the way out, but if they are, 2016 may well be looked upon as a turning point.

As you'll see below, Teens of Denial is my album of the year. Although I’ve kept it at the number one position, I’m not entirely happy with the choice. It was the album I enjoyed most, but it’s very inward-looking in a year where looking outward was desperately needed. With that caveat, I offer my 20 favorite albums of the spectacular 2016. 

01 Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest
02 My Woman by Angel Olsen
03 A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead
04 Malibu by Anderson .Paak
05 Blackstar by David Bowie
06 Hopelessness by Anohni
07 Human Performance by Parquet Courts
08 22, A Million by Bon Iver
09 Blonde by Frank Ocean
10 99.9% by Kaytranada
11 Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper
12 Nonagon Infinity by King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard
13 Potential by The Range
14 Puberty 2 by Mitski
15 We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest
16 A Seat at the Table by Solange
17 Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
18 Goodness by The Hotelier
19 IV by Badbadnotgood
20 Heart Like a Levee by Hiss Golden Messenger

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Zach Bernstein

Let’s be honest — 2016 left a lot to be desired in the whole “optimism" department. Fortunately, the realms of popular and independent music offered a welcome respite from the headlines — from individual moments to transcendent album experiences. Among my favorites: Beyonce’s incendiary Super Bowl performance and the pitch-perfect pop album that it presaged; that organ-swelling climax on Frank Ocean’s “Solo”, a beautifully beguiling moment on a record filled with them; the ample blessings and funk bestowed upon us from on high by Chance the Rapper and Anderson .Paak; the sleepy, promising debut of falsetto’d wunderkind Gallant; the welcome return of old friends Japandroids and the xx, who roared and purred, respectively, back into my life with some of the best songs of their careers; the kaleidoscopic earworms of Kaytranada; the concentrated joy of the Avalanches’ “Because I’m Me”; the fact that Kanye lost his damn mind and still made something as viscerally thrilling as “Father Stretch My Hands” (also, “Panda”!); the sensitive and politically-minded musings of Solange and Blood Orange; the cheese-tactic and wonderfully melodious bridge on the 1975’s “She’s American”; the sloppy, booze- and sun-soaked riffs of Hinds; Rihanna’s first truly great front-to-back album; Francis Farewell Starlite and Bon Iver’s synthy, auto-tuned ode to camaraderie in a year filled with contention; and the list goes on…

Who knows what 2017 will bring? In the meantime, we have the wonderful music of 2016 to keep us warm. My favorite songs of 2016, along with a number of others that received heavy rotation, can be checked out on this playlist (alas, no Beyonce - get on it, Spotify!).

01 Lemonade by Beyonce
02 Malibu by  Anderson Paak
03 Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper
04 Ology by Gallant
05 Blonde by Frank Ocean
06 22, A Million by Bon Iver
07 99.9% by Kaytranada
08 Leave Me Alone by Hinds
09 Anti by Rihanna
10 I Like It When You Sleep… by The 1975
11 A Seat at the Table by Solange
12 Farewell, Starlite! by Francis + the Lights
13 Yes Lawd! by Nx Worries
14 I Had A Dream That You Were Mine by Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam
15 The Life of Pablo by Kanye West
16 Junk by M83
17 Emotion: Side B by Carly Rae Jepsen
18 Freetown Sound by Blood Orange
19 The Colour in Anything by James Blake
20 Telefone by Noname


Luke Fowler

There’s a great bit in HBO’s Westworld where Anthony Hopkins tells a crowd that “Bowie, Prince, and Cohen never died. They simply became music.” Well, actually, it was Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin, but you see where I’m going with this. It seems like the music community got the brunt of the perceived barrage of celebrity deaths in 2016, with both industry heavyweights and unsung pioneers kicking a disproportionate amount of buckets, but the bodies of work they left behind soften the collective blow. The obvious talking point here is Blackstar. There was a notable uptick in praise for the album after David Bowie’s sudden and shocking death in January, but while some of that undoubtedly came from a desire to respect his memory, most was because of the way that Blackstar becomes a completely different work when contextualized as a dying man’s final artistic statement. Bowie knew full well that he was close to “becoming music,” so he became the best music he could. What a way to go.

Elsewhere, Radiohead graced us with a multilayered and surprising album that I suspect will go down as one of their very best, Beyoncé slayed and raised the bar for music videos and pop music in general, the least prolific member of Animal Collective made a beautiful album out of nowhere, Frank Ocean gave us one hell of a W (two hells of a W, actually!), Chance the Rapper managed to convert everyone who somehow didn’t already love him, Kendrick Lamar dropped one of the year’s best albums despite it barely deserving the label, Kanye West went insane and we all loved it (the first few times, at least), The Avalanches returned and didn’t suck, Death Grips finally shrugged off the shackles of their meme status, and Danny Brown proved once and for all that bangers and experimentation don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And that’s just scratching the surface. 2016 may not have had quite the musical highs of 2015 (To Pimp a Butterfly and Carrie and Lowell might be my two favorite albums of the 2010s), but what it lacked in depth, it more than made up for in breadth. It’s been a good year when I wish I could fit twice as many releases onto my top 10 list.

But the album that stuck with me most through this tumultuous year was one that hit me totally out of the blue. I first heard of Car Seat Headrest back in 2012, when Twin Fantasy was making the rounds on the Internet, but if I had known that they would one day release an album as good as Teens of Denial, you can bet I would’ve followed them way more closely. It’s the type of album that continually reminds me why I listen to indie rock in the first place. I saw them live a couple months back, and after the show I hesitantly approached Will Toledo outside. I felt the need to tell him how much his record meant to me, how much “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” and “Fill In the Blank” had gotten me through the summer, how absolutely brilliant he was as a songwriter. What came out was, “Your album, it just…it helped me so much, and…ugh. I fucking love you guys.”

I think he got the gist.

01 Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest
02 A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead
03 Lemonade by Beyoncé
04 The Glowing Man by Swans
05 Blackstar by David Bowie
06 Sleep Cycle by Deakin
07 Atrocity Exhibition by Danny Brown
08 Bottomless Pit by Death Grips
09 Malibu by Anderson .Paak
10 Untitled Unmastered by Kendrick Lamar


Landon MacDonald

Views wasn’t as bad as everyone says, but Lemonade was that good. Twenty sixteen was the year of legendary arrivals and departures. It felt like living at a music hospital and graveyard at the same time. Legends born — Whitney. Legends gone — the obvious two and a few more. And legends continued. There likely won’t be a year again when we get so many long awaited records — Radiohead, Avalanches, Frank, Bon Iver, M83. And those were just the ones we waited five years or more for. We got records that were somehow better than their already-near-perfect predecessors — Lemonade and Teens of Denial. And records that didn’t live up to their predecessors but who cares. We also got a lot of records from established artists that were stellar and (mostly) ignored — Please Be Honest, The Magic, Requiem, Fallen Angels, The Follower. And my pick for underrated record of the year — The White Album by Weezer.

We lost some legends this year. What else can you say? Goodbye to Ziggy Stardust and I wish my keyboard had the Prince symbol. For half of the year I thought it would be a terrible idea to get on a plane with Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Roger Waters or Brian Wilson. But the year is almost over and we still have them. It’s a crushing blow for all music fans, but everyone’s day comes sometime I guess.

Artists represented faith in the mainstream in a way it hasn’t been since “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys. Kanye and Frank put their faith and depravity on the SNL and streaming main stages. Expressions of Biblicism and outrage over racism, filtered through some of the years biggest records. 2016 was a year for the African American artist. Beyonce, Kanye, Frank and Solange owned the year as if to say — art triumphs over politics. Every year as a music fan is awesome, but I can honestly say that 2016 is the best since 2007 and in some ways the best of the young millennium.

01 Lemonade by Beyoncé
02 A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead
03 22, A Million by Bon Iver
04 Wildflower by Avalanches
05 Light Upon the Lake by Whitney
06 Blonde by Frank Ocean
07 Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest
08 Junk by M83
09 Please Be Honest by Guided by Voices
10 Skip A Sinking Stone by Mutual Benefit
11 The Life of Pablo by Kanye West
12 The White Album by Weezer
13 Coloring Book by Chance
14 Cheetah by Aphex Twin
15 Preoccupations by Preoccupations
16 The Follower by The Field
17 Views by Drake
18 Thirty by Irezumi
19 Malibu by Anderson .Paak
20 Fallen Angels by Bob Dylan

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Marshall Gu

2016. Discovering that Obama likes Charles Mingus. Discovering that Trump knows who Steve Reich is. Discovering how bad-ass Esperanza Spalding was based on her interview with Pitchfork. Discovering that Sturgill Simpson could out-sing a great singer like Kurt Cobain on his own song. Discovering that Young Thug still had it in JEFFREY after the disappointing Slime Season "trilogy" and I’m Up. Discovering some of the greatest indie rock songs — ever — in Margaret Glaspy’s raw voice, Mitski’s vulnerability, Parquet Courts’ grooves and Car Seat Headrest’s fill in the blank. Discovering that a lot of people had a lot to say about Kanye West’s album despite not having heard it. Discovering that a lot of people had a lot to say about Kanye West’s health despite not having psychology degrees. Discovering that some musicians — De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Jack DeJohnette, Paul Simon — got better with age. Discovering Sun Ra all over again with an archival live album and an expansive collection of singles. Discovering that J. Cole releasing another album with no features, whatever that means. Discovering a good year for music, all in all.

01 Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest
02 The Life of Pablo by Kanye West
03 Malibu by Anderson .Paak
04 Atrocity Exhibition by Danny Brown
05 Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper
06 Blank Face by ScHoolboy Q
07 In Movement by Jack DeJohnette / Ravi Coltrane / Matthew Garrison
08 Bucket List Project by Saba
09 Tempo by Olga Bell
10 Cayamo Sessions at Sea by Buddy Miller


Mick Jacobs

At the beginning of 2016, a member of House Jenner made the assertion that this was to be the year of “realizing things.” Now, one can take such a statement and twist it any which way, but a time as tumultuous as 2016 has certainly provided sudden and unique perspectives for us to consider.

The ubiquitous nature of the election provided a perfect climate for politically charged and reflective pieces from all types of acts. Amid the rampant Islamophobia promoted by our president-elect, the Swet Shop Boys’ Cashmere stands all the more proudly of its culture and beliefs, spitting in the face of bigotry using a global palate of influences. A work of activism and art, it dismantles systems as it flows through your speakers. Coming in at year’s end, Little Simz’s Stillness In Wonderland similarly harnessed the year’s chaos into a vibrant display of defiance and awareness.

Artists are also realizing you don’t actually have to speak English for fans to care about your music in the West. Kero Kero Bonito infused J-pop into their music for original results, while Rihanna entranced us all using patois. But Baauer’s bilingual “Temple” felt like the future, pitting MIA and K-pop idol, G-Dragon, against each other over an eastern beat. The use of multilingual expression is allowing acts to explore new ways of actually creating music, and I can only hope the rise of acts like CL fuels the fire.

Seated at 2016’s musical summit is Ralph’s “Cold to the Touch”, a theoretical lovechild of Emma Frost and Carly Rae Jepsen. Like a snowflake in the sun, Ralph is brilliant but cold, not so much trampling as skating over her partner’s heart. “Just trying to be honest/I’m not what you wanted” is not an apology but an assertion, perhaps the most important realization of 2016, that your expectations do not dictate her existence. Women have always bared the brunt of absurd patriarchal standards, and “Cold to the Touch” undoes these standards by simply stating cold, hard facts. And even if facts hold less sway than they used to, the perfect synth-pop production always will. That’s something else to realize.

01 Cashmere by Swet Shop Boys
02 Uninvited by Mallrat
03 Konnichiwa by Skepta
04 Emotion: Side B by Carly Rae Jepsen
05 Stillness In Wonderland by Little Simz
06 Mystere by La Femme
07 We Are KING by King
08 99.9% by Kaytranada
09 Sport by Powell
10 Vroom Vroom by Charli XCX