This past year I’ve opened up my ears to a lot of new music, enough in fact that I introduced myself to at lease one new artist every month. Sometimes it was hit or miss, but for the most part I’ve really found value in trying out new music all the time. Now, keep in mind, when I say “trying out” new music, I don’t mean I’m checking these artists out on Spotify. I prefer the old school method of actually purchasing my music (gasp!). I may use Pandora as a testing grounds but for the most part, my selections have come from word-of-mouth recommendations and simply taking a gamble on that artist I heard about. Anyway, just remember this as I continue, because every selection I talk about was purchased by yours truly this year.
Anyway, because I experienced so much, I decided for this retrospective that I’m going to have to break down my favorites by category, much like an awards show! In fact, you can think of this as my very own personal 2016 Music Awards Show. I’ll give a brief overview of each “nominee” before then deciding my personal winner.
There was a lot of great stuff I experienced that came out in 2016, but I discovered even more music that I only just found out about now, and it may actually be as old as 10 years! So while I’m going for diversity in my selections, I’ll break down my blogs into “Best Music of 2016” as well as “Best new-to-me Music.” Watch for that blog to drop next week 😉
2016 BEST ARTIST
Starting out with one of my first new music exposures of the year, I was introduced to The 1975 about a month before their sophomore album was released. A friend of mine posted their hit song “The Sound” on his Facebook page, claiming it was the catchiest pop song he had heard in a long time. And boy, he wasn’t kidding. But it wasn’t just The Sound that had caught my attention, it was nearly everything. A few months later I went back and bought The 1975’s eponymous album and loved it just the same. These gents from the UK are doing something really special with their musical style, and it’s something I haven’t quite seen (or heard) before. Cheers to them and many more albums to come.
It’s amazing that this veteran band has been around since circa 2006 and still making incredible music. Paper Route is one of those few bands that never compromised their artistic merit and unique sound for corporate record label interests; they’ve been shuffled around from label to label but they’re very keen on protecting their own vision first and foremost. And while they’ve garnered only a small fanbase, their true-to-self style has rewarded them with a fiercely loyal following. And after their release of their third LP, Real Emotion, this past Autumn, they continue to be real artists.
Fresh on the scene dropping their debut album Young Narrator in the Breakers, Pavo Pavo is completely new and doing something very different from what I have previously been accustomed to hearing. Harkening back to the 1970s, this new band has woven an airy pop style with snappy synthesizers, all combined with some beautiful harmonizing voices. I look forward to hearing more from this band, as their first effort was impressive to say the least.
WINNER – THE 1975
2016 BEST ALBUM
Changes – MuteMath
After their incredible Vitals release in 2015, I was excited to see what MuteMath had in store for us next. I heard rumors that they would be releasing a B-sides album, but then along came Changes, an even more synth-heavy take on their already synth-heavy forebear. It’s catchy and fun to listen to, but not quite as punchy as the original album that inspired it. Still, that being said, it’s a great remix album, and I highly recommend both Changes and Vitals for your listening pleasure.
Stand-outs: Changes, Light Up (yachtclub. Remix), Vitals (Alt Mix feat. Flint Eastwood), Joy Rides (Alt Mix)
Real Emotion – Paper Route
I only just discovered Paper Route earlier in the year, but I’ll darned if I don’t already feel like I’ve been their fan for years. Real Emotion is the culmination of all the heart and soul they put into their first two albums, but this time giving it a slightly more raw tone. Going as far as to actually mix down some of the instrument tracks of each song through VHS tapes to give the music a different sound, these guys seem to know all the tricks of the trade. Real Emotion is an incredible experience from start to finish, and that’s exactly what Paper Route set out to create with this album. Not one song is filler or meant to be forgotten; you really have to listen to this album all the way through in order to get the most out of it. And that is exactly what distinguishes great albums from the good ones.
Stand-outs: Pretend, Chariots, Second Place, Balconies
Awakened to the Sound – Future of Forestry
Another veteran artist that I’ve followed for over 5 years, Eric Owyoung’s latest outing is the most culturally diverse album yet. From the very start, Awakened to the Sound makes you feel like you’re traveling the world. From India to France to Italy to China, this really is a special album. And Owyoung knew what he was doing; when the album was released he also included an option to download a completely uncompressed, high-fidelity version of the album. The mixing of Awakened to the Sound is without measure, and I still don’t think I’ve been able to hear it exactly how Owyoung envisioned it. Still, his latest work is classic Future of Forestry through and through; an evolutionary progression of music that is becoming more and more complex with each outing. His inclusion of the unique instruments that personify each “region” I specified earlier make this his most ambitious album yet. He continues to be my favorite Christian artist simply because he pushes the boundaries for what is “allowed” in Christian music.
Stand-outs: On Giant’s Shoulders, Homeward, Horses, Life Begins Today
WINNER: REAL EMOTION – PAPER ROUTE
2016 BEST SONG
“Just Tell Me” – Nico Yaryan
Although I wasn’t particularly impressed with the rest Nico’s debut album, What a Tease, this single was the exception. I actually heard this song well before the rest of the album was released thanks to a mix tape Urban Outfitters was giving away for free back in January. And being that this was the first song on said cassette, “Just Tell Me” was probably the first new music I heard in 2016. I wish the rest of his album was as good as this song because it is oozing with style. Mellow blues, classic parlor-style rock and raw vocals have made this one of the few songs I’ve gone back to over and over this year. I sincerely hope Nico Yaryan isn’t destined to become a one-hit wonder, but “Just Tell Me” is certainly a hit in my books.
“The Sound” – The 1975
If it wasn’t for the fact that I am going for diversity with my selections this year, The 1975 would almost certainly win every category. “The Sound” is a tour de force. It is by far the shining gem of their latest album, which is a shame because the rest of the album is pretty good too. There’s something intangible I can’t quite explain about what this song does to me when I listen. It can instantly make me want to dance no matter what mood I’m in. It’s infectious, catchy, and tons of fun. I wish more music was like this.
“Division” – Tycho
“Division” was my solo introduction to Tycho back in July this year, and I immediately bought every other album they had released at the time. I read someone say, “If you just want good music, you will enjoy Tycho.” And I couldn’t agree more. The off-kilter beat and dramatic tonal shifts throughout “Division” set up the perfect introduction for what I was to expect with the rest of their music. It is all so good, but this song stood out to me as the one that left the deepest impression.
WINNER: “JUST TELL ME” – NICO YARYAN
And that concludes my “best of” selections for 2016! Tune in next week where I dive into the backlog of all the music I’ve been missing out on these past years.