Thursday, November 24, 2016

Nominees: 2016 Album of the Year

Happy Turkey Time! If all goes to plan, this should auto-post while I am happily enjoying a trip to Iceland with the family. (I am, however, writing it more than a month in advance, on a sleepless night -- so *fingers crossed*.)

Anyway ... say it with me: It's been an awesome year for music. Three former winners are up for the award this year, and many of the honorable mentions might have been nominees in past years. I have so much to choose from, they're all so different, and -- though no one ever believes me when I say it -- I have no idea which one I'm gonna pick.

So let's get right to it. Here (with admittedly brief descriptions; I said it was a sleepless night, but now all of a sudden I'm getting kinda drowsy) are my 2016 Album of the Year nominees -- in the usual iTunes alphabetical order:



There's that cliche about books and their covers, but I saw the cover of this record -- a black cloud descending down a flight of stairs (see right) -- and I was sold. (Technically, I finished the glowing review I was reading before I downloaded it, but you get the idea.)

The Amazing is a Swedish band I had never heard of before I stumbled upon this album. I tweeted that the band is a sort of Mark Kozelek-meets-The War On Drugs, which of course is a physics puzzle because those two very much have met -- and were repulsed by each other. Which I guess is too bad, because The Amazing sound ... well ... amazing.



Canadian Basia Bulat was one of my annual Newport Folk Festival discoveries, but like one notable previous folk-fest find, Tift Merritt, I actually missed her performance -- hearing a bit of it on the radio in the car as we parked, and then listening to the very end of her set wafting over the walls of The Fort as we walked toward the front gate.

Unlike Tift Merritt, I didn't find myself hanging out with her briefly outside the Museum Stage. But I hope that, like Tift Merritt, I get to see her several times at folk festivals of the future and otherwise.



I really didn't think I needed another Bon Iver record. And then I heard this one.

Look, the album titles are weird. And with my limited listening time these days, there is so much more to unpack that I haven't yet (but plan to). But the way Justin Vernon mixes in his little electronica dabbling with his soulful voice -- and even a saxophone -- is entrancing. Listen to the song below, and you might understand why I keep hitting repeat.


case/lang/veirs -- case/lang/veirs

Unlike Basia Bulat, I got to see case/lang/veirs perform at the Newport Folk Festival -- and it was awesome. k.d lang's voice filled the summer air as Neko Case and 2010 Album of the Year winner Laura Veirs dropped to her knees on stage with her guitar in mock rock-goddess pose.

The record is a perfect mix of the three songwriters and voices. Veirs is my favorite of the three, but some of the best songs on here are from the others, like Case's Delirium and lang's Honey and Smoke and Why Do We Fight -- although they all are served by the harmonies they make together. Of course, I love me some Laura, which makes the song below one of the ones I keep returning to the most.



I have no idea how the version I have differs from the final version, or if there is a final version, but this record really didn't need any tinkering IMO (but what do I know -- the video below is different from what I've been listening to, and it's awesome).

All of the many sides of Kanye can be found on this record -- musical prodigy, asshole, salesman, showman, sincere, insincere, dark, vulgar, you name it. It all works together to paint the picture of a complicated, thrilling, frustrating and confounding genius.



She may never get a Nobel Prize for Literature (go Bob!), but Laura Gibson is a poet who happens to set her words to music.

Just listen to the song below. Listen to the lyrics with your eyes closed as she sings, or read them as the video plays. Nothing I could write in this space could approach them.



(Late-breaking edit on this one.) We lost Leonard Cohen the same week America lost an election. The video below -- though not a song from his last album, or even his own performance of it -- shows how much we still need letters from L. Cohen.

And we do have one last missive in You Want It Darker.

From Treaty, an instant Cohen classic: "I heard the snake was baffled by his sin/He shed his scales to find the snake within/But born again is born without a skin/The poison enters into everything."

He was a giant. Good thing he'll never really leave us.



Radiohead has already won Album of the Year twice -- a win this year would separate it from fellow two-time winners R.E.M., Wilco and Animal Collective. Is Radiohead better than those other bands? Obviously, I'll likely never put any band past R.E.M., but Radiohead is a notch above the other two.

If Radiohead does win, I'll have to come up with some new things to say about the band, and this particular record, but for now I feel like I've said most of what needs to be said right here.



It's time to finally stop asking where Thor and Kimberly are; this band is basically unrecognizable -- except for lead singer Jonathan Meiburg, who in recent years has taken Shearwater from mysterious and beautiful to poppy and political.

It works. This album rocks; it's catchy and fun but still smart; and it has perhaps the most uplifting song of the year -- the song of the spring, at any rate -- Pale Kings. But if you haven't heard Jet Plane and Oxbow yet, start with the first single, embedded below.



I've been madly in love with this band from the moment I first saw the video for Elephants while randomly flipping channels one day seven years ago.

Their last album, which was self-titled, narrowly missed out on Album of the Year. I'm not sure if the band will ever quite reach those heights again, but I'm digging this new joint at the moment. Don't forget -- it's still October for me. I have to live with this one a bit longer, but it's on heavy rotation at the moment, as the days get shorter and Halloween approaches.



Also in iTunes alphabetical order:

Andrew Bird -- Are You Serious

Angel Olsen -- MY WOMAN

Animal Collective -- Painting With

Anna Meredith -- Varmints

Cross Record -- Wabi-Sabi

Daughter -- Not To Disappear

David Bowie -- Blackstar

Gillian Welch -- Boots No. 1: The Official Revival Bootleg

Ingrid Michaelson -- It Doesn't Have To Make Sense

John Prine -- For Better, or Worse

Mike Mills -- Concerto for Violin, Rock Band, and String Orchestra

Mogwai -- Atomic

Okkervil River -- Away

Savages -- Adore Life

Violent Femmes -- We Can Do Anything