These lists always start out with a big statement about how the author's year has been, which has made me reluctant to follow that format in some recent years. But truthfully, 2016 was a year where my life took a ton of positive steps forward. As weird as this year was politically and as terrible as everyone will have you believe it was because of celebrity deaths, 2016 was selfishly positive for me. So here goes my big statement or whatever.
I'll start with the positives, to get them on paper and out of the way of an inevitable rant. I did a lot of cool stuff in 2016, and a lot of this stuff was spurred by a conscious effort to better myself. I finished paying off all my student loans; I quit smoking cigarettes; I lost about 30 pounds, and although my weight still fluctuates and although I still eat ice cream, I feel a lot better than I did when this year started and I'm eating much healthier on an overall basis; I got a promotion at my job, where I'll stay for the foreseeable future; I started saving money for real; I became a monthly donor to both Planned Parenthood and RAINN; I'm living in the same apartment that I lived in for the previous year, which makes this apartment the only place I've lived in for more than 12 consecutive months since I lived in my parents' house in high school; I went on a cruise for the first time, which was more fun than expected, cruises are secretly just fine; I went to San Francisco for the second time, work brought me to Seattle for the first time, and I went back to Florida many times; I continued to love my girlfriend, and we've been together for three and a half years now, and we'll become engaged in 2017, which is cool IMO; I made efforts to become more aware about large issues our society is facing and acknowledged that my bubbles of Twitter and Brooklyn are not as diverse as I need them to be to remain mindful of these issues; I also started reading comic books with great zest.
These were all high points, more or less, which isn't to say I didn't have any personal lows. I know what those are and I know they count as much as the good stuff does. But I'm proud of myself for setting goals and keeping them, so I focused on the positives in my review of the year: I aspired to do a bunch of stuff in 2016 and, largely, I did the stuff. I was constantly inspired by my friends and my girlfriend and my peers to continue striving toward these goals, and surrounding myself with positive influences will continue to be a point of focus. A surprisingly great part about the end of this year -- about writing this blog -- is the realization that while I did a lot of useful and good stuff, but I could have done better. I have plenty of room to grow and I look forward to doing so in 2017. Now, the second part of this essay is about to begin without any real transition so watch out!
If you're somewhere between 20ish and 40ish years old, the people you have looked up to for long periods of time might probably be somewhere between 40ish and 70ish years old. Every year following 2016 will be filled with celebrity deaths, and they will increasingly be celebrities that you care about more than, perhaps, your parents care about. This is the age we are reaching. If you blame the rising cacophony of celebrity deaths on the year, of all things, you may find yourself reaching out for a positive consecutive 365 days that will never come.
As a huge Star Wars fan for most of my waking life, it really saddened me that Carrie Fisher passed away at 60 years old toward the end of the year. Sixty is young to die; it's young to have a heart attack. People grieving over her death have good reasons to, as she was an accomplished entertainer, a smart and badass lady, an inspirational writer (especially in regards to her work as a script editor, in the largely male-run universe of Hollywood screenwriting) and a huge proponent in an important fight to raise awareness about mental health and addiction. But she had well-documented struggles with substance abuse, and that isn't the type of thing that's going to extend your expected lifespan. Her death was not out of the realm of possibility, unfortunately, and *2016* didn't take her away from the world as much as her troubled health did. I hope that in 2017, "we" -- a collective "we" -- take the time to mourn a person's death on a more meaningful level than, "Ugh, when will this year end already?!" or, "Stop it 2017!!"
While reading Twitter on the day of Fisher's passing, my favorite tweet (buried amongst a LOT of "2016 sucks" submissions) was one that simply read something along the lines of, "I was a huge fan of Carrie Fisher's work and her commitment to raising awareness for mental health. #RIP" -- as short and succinct as that is, it's infinitely more meaningful and says much more than a devolution into a meme about how shitty a year this has been. It doesn't even use all 140 characters, but it does a lot of work in comparison to its company. Of course there are thoughtful bloggers and writers who will pen essays or even books on the importance of a person like Fisher, on the importance of their work. But those insightful entries (not just for Fisher's death, but for the death of many respected persons) were increasingly drowned out by a tide of negativity on social media as the year progressed; it became a bad and boring and toxic meme to blame something bad on the year 2016. Maybe in 2017 we can stem that tide a bit.
One last thing. This was also the year that our country elected a businessman / reality TV star to the highest office in our government instead of a career politician. My comment on this is pretty short and simple: If you're a person who is angered or worried by the election, you can take certain actions to help yourself and to help many marginalized groups of people who may be adversely affected by the new administration's policies before the next presidential election. You can vote in Senate and House races, if your locality has any coming up; you can donate to groups that will need your help, like Planned Parenthood, or whatever non-profits support a cause you believe in; you can recycle, because our environment might start taking a heavy beating soon. You don't have to wait for an opportunity to get this person out of the Oval Office to start making a difference. Here comes the last part of this essay! Watch out!
Music is a medium that can take your mind off negative real-world issues; it's a medium that can help you understand some of those real-world issues better, or give you some perspective. In 2016, music continued to play less of a role in my Cosumption Of Stuff than it has in recent years. I listened to about as much music this year and I did in 2015, which isn't a ton of music. I still listened to quite a few podcasts, but I also expanded into reading way more -- focusing on books and comics.
Here are lists of stuff that I liked. If you're interested in hearing more about my music picks, specifically, I talked about them on the most recent episode of Encore with Jason Tate; that's the last episode of the podcast that I'll be a permanent co-host on. I wrote about some of these albums earlier in the year, and in those cases I usually linked out to those posts.
1. Kevin Devine - Instigator
When it came down to pick my favorite album of the year, it really became a debate between Instigator, Holy Ghost and Cardinal. And although Cardinal wound up all the way at No. 5, to me that only goes to show how much I love the first five albums on this list. Instigator takes the crown for me because I believe it's a great songwriter's most holistically impressive album. Working with Kevin Devine via Bad Timing Records' Devinyl Splits series and several re-releases of his past output made me appreciate his music more than ever, but this choice doesn't come from a place of any label-related bias as much as it does a place of raw emotion. Instigator blew me away the first time I heard it and continues to have a profound effect on me. Getting a Kevin Devine album during a shitty election year felt like fortuitous timing, and although this album doesn't really remove any of the sting surrounding said election's final result, it does serve simultaneously as a distraction from the real world and as an important reminder of some of the issues our country is facing and will continue to face for the next four years. (You can find a more in-depth blog on my thoughts on this album in my AOTY Contender Series piece on it.) Kevin's voice is an important one in this music community, and it's a voice I'll be honored to continue to propel via future BTR collaborations. More than that, it's a voice I think I'll be listening to for a long time into the future. Instigator is already my favorite album in the remarkable discography of an artist who's turned into one of my favorites over the past two years, so it takes pole position on my 2016 AOTY list.
2. Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost
As much as I love Instigator, it wasn't a runaway No. 1 for me. I've treasured Holy Ghost since it came out in May: It was my mid-year AOTY and up through Thanksgiving I figured it would hold onto that spot on my final list as well. Its position here isn't indicative of Holy Ghost fading for me late in the year as much as it is representative of my growing appreciation for Instigator. Modern Baseball's third album is peppered with great songs, and I'm still so excited about the progression and growth this band has shown. They've really hit a good stride and have developed into an ace live act as well. The split nature of this LP, and how well that works, also leads me to think that both Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens will be able to have musical careers outside of Modern Baseball for as long as they please. Drummer Sean Huber also already has a side project, so we're all just waiting for Ian Farmer's QOTSA/Killers-inspired arena rock act.
3. Every Time I Die - Low Teens
I started listening to more heavy music toward the end of the year, but Low Teens latched onto me right when it came out. It's the second straight Every Time I Die album that I've been in love with -- From Parts Unknown was third on my 2014 AOTY list -- as this band continues to do this sound better than anyone, for my money. This album is full of completely gut-wrenching lyrics and Keith Buckley continues to improve his craft.
Side note: That recent run on heavy music has led me to listening to loads of instrumental metal / post-rock at work. My current favorites in that realm are Russian Circles, Bossk and Red Sparowes.
4. Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book
The only hip-hop album in my top 10 also might have been my most-played album of the year. Coloring Book was a huge part of my listening rotation throughout the summer after it came out in May. What made this album even more fun to listen to was how 2016 really felt like Chance The Rapper's year on a larger level, with his stellar showing on Kanye West's "Ultralight Beam" and the wave of support behind the Grammys making streaming-only releases eligible for their awards, a change that is at least somewhat due to Chance's push. Coloring Book balances hip-hop with R&B and pop in an enjoyable mix and delivers some of my favorite lyricism of the year. I don't think I can listen to "Summer Friends" enough.
5. Pinegrove – Cardinal
This might seem like poor placement in a few months, but I really love all of the first five albums on this list. Cardinal seemed like my album of the year many times throughout the spring, summer and fall, as it withstood the test of seasons and remained a large part of my listening rotation all through 2016. Seeing Pinegrove perform for the first time, opening for Into It. Over It. at Irving Plaza in April, left me buzzing the way few bands have managed to do on first impression. And by the time I saw them open for Kevin Devine at the same venue in December, it felt like they'd grown quite a bit in the intervening months. Those first few big tours supporting that first big release will do that for any band, but the interesting thing now will be to see how this New Jersey act follows up on their first taste of success. Cardinal is awesome to me as a standalone entity, but part of its charm at the moment is that it feels like the beginning of something greater. A worthwhile follow-up effort would probably increase my appreciation for this introduction.
6. All Get Out - Nobody Likes A Quitter
Nobody Likes A Quitter is the only album on my 2016 list that I worked on directly. It came out via my record label, Bad Timing Records, with help from Manchester Orchestra's Favorite Gentlemen Recordings. Usually in these cases, I'm worried about people perceiving a bias and assuming that an album like this is showing up on my list because I worked on it, or that I might be enjoying an album more than I normally would because of my connection to it. I've found the opposite to be true in recent years: working on a record makes me overcompensate by underrating it on lists like these. All Get Out is one of my favorite bands and Nobody Likes A Quitter is a thoroughly impressive effort, with Nate Hussey writing better songs than ever before. Songs like "Whatever" and "Wait List" feel like work he could have only done now, after going through a bunch of stuff and not writing music for quite a bit of time. I wrote a bit about this album, this band and what this release means to me when it came out, via the Bad Timing Records newsletter. That's not my standard outlet for writing about music, obviously, but it felt like the right place to put that, and I feel that newsletter still best summarizes my attachment to this album.
7. PUP - The Dream Is Over
PUP is very good. I have written about PUP twice this year; once in my AOTY Contender Series post about The Dream Is Over and once when this album was released back in May. Rather than keeping up the insane length of this post, I'll let those speak for themselves.
8. Against Me! - Shape Shift With Me
Listening to Shape Shift With Me continues to give me the impression that the album will become more and more meaningful to me as time passes. Although I don't fully understand it yet, I know there is a lot of thoughtfulness to be gleaned from Against Me! this time in regards to relationships and perspective. This band, and really Laura Jane Grace's work on a larger scale, will be can't-miss stuff for years to come.
9. Bon Iver - 22, A Million
This year was the year I started to like Bon Iver! What a time for me. A lot of the discourse around 22, A Million, at least from what I could gather, is that it wasn't as good as the self-titled effort. But if Bon Iver, Bon Iver was the once-in-a-generation type of release that many people consider it to be, that shouldn't be a huge surprise. This album has some really beautiful moments peppering its tracklisting. It hit me just as the year was ending, so I don't have too much to say about it yet, but it hit me hard enough to wind up here.
10. Direct Hit! - Wasted Mind
If AOTY lists were made during the middle of the summer, Wasted Mind might have been No. 1 ... or it may have been the only album on the list at all. Coloring Book would have been there too, I guess. I listened to Direct Hit! almost exclusively throughout the hottest weeks of the year, a time I spent exercising more than I ever had and doing tons of walking around the city. So this album has already entrenched itself in some particular memories for me, and they're all positive. Wasted Mind is the best pop-punk album I heard this year -- if I'm being totally honest, it might be the only good pop-punk album I heard this year -- and it's the most fun record I listened to in 2016 as well. It's a heck of a trip (literally ... it's all about drug experimentation and the mental places that'll take you) and it will remain a constant in warm-weather rotations for years to come.
Special Mention: Bossk - Audio Noir
It didn't feel right to rank Bossk's Audio Noir in my top ten, but it also didn't feel right to leave it blurbless. This album only entered my field of vision in December, but once it did I started listening to it on repeat. Over the past three weeks I've barely listened to anything else, until I panned out into Russian Circles, Red Sparowes and other instrumental metal / post-rock through the recommendations of my friend Pat. The album is only 7 songs, but it's 46 minutes, and it's almost completely instrumental. It's classified as a heavy metal album, I imagine, but aside from the pounding "Atom Smasher," there are almost no vocals throughout its runtime. That doesn't make Audio Noir any less heavy, but it does make it quite a bit more accessible for people who might be easing into heavier music. This album is beautiful at times and provides a great groove for anyone hunting down a new listen-while-you-work LP. I don't mean to confine this album to that use case, though -- Audio Noir has, to date, been my soundtrack for everything from working to cooking dinner at home, lifting at the gym, or simply sitting on the couch and vegging out. It's a holistically impressive piece of music that deserves to be listened to as a single piece on first impression.
Nine More Notables
These round out my top 20 albums, and they're sorted alphabetically. Here's a piece about The Hotelier that is probably worthy of inclusion.
- The Hotelier - Goodness
- Kvelertak - Nattesferd
- LVL UP - Return To Love
- Mitski - Puberty 2
- Conor Oberst - Ruminations
- Emma Ruth Rundle - Marked for Death
- John K. Samson - Winter Wheat
- Touche Amore - Stage Four
- Young Thug - JEFFERY
Rather than ranking these or making a long list, I just picked ten songs to highlight. They're presented here with links to stream them on YouTube, in alphabetical order according to the artist whose album they appeared on.
- All Get Out - "Whatever"
- Bruno Mars - "Versace on the Floor" ... this probably deserves a thorough explanation at some point
- Chance The Rapper - "Summer Friends"
- Kevin Devine - "No One Says You Have To" and also "I Was Alive Back Then" ... I still only counted this as one
- Every Time I Die - "Petal"
- Kanye West - "Ultralight Beam" ... I've yet to listen to Chance's verse without replaying it instantly
- Kvelertak - "1985"
- The Menzingers - "Lookers" ... this one would have been first if I ranked them
- Modern Baseball - "Note To Self"
- Pinegrove - "Size of the Moon"
2015 Top Ten, Revisited
Each year, I take a look back at my previous year's AOTY list and re-do it. I try to come in with an open mind, which means that there are always records that drop out of my previous year's top ten and records that make big leaps into it.
My 2015 top ten didn't see a change at No. 1, but my late discovery of Future's DS2 moved it from being completely unmentioned in my list from last year to being No. 2 in the re-do. A quality addition, IMO.
Here's the re-done version of my 2015 top ten, and here's my full post from last year, for reference. In parenthesis is last year's ranking.
- The Wonder Years - No Closer To Heaven (1)
- Future - DS2 (unmentioned)
- Sorority Noise - Joy, Departed (7)
- Julien Baker - Sprained Ankle (honorable mention)
- Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell (2)
- Knuckle Puck - Copacetic (10)
- Frank Turner - Positive Songs for Negative People (9)
- Turnover - Peripheral Vision (4)
- The World Is A Beautiful Place - Harmlessness (5)
- Pentimento - I, No Longer (8)
Dropped out: Adele's 25 (6th last year) and Foxing's Dealer (which would have been 11th, and was 3rd last year). Dealer dropping out doesn't mean I don't like it as much -- I just don't think I listened to it more than five times in 2016.
I listened to a lot of podcasts this year, though less than I did in 2015. Cutting some out of my rotation made me appreciate the ones that I stuck with even more. Here were my eight favorite programs from this year, in order.
- Reply All - I've never missed an episode, and I don't think I ever will as long as they keep this up. This show makes me laugh and cry. They're great reporters reporting great human stories.
- Heavyweight - Gimlet Media has had a notably good year. They've launched several new shows, and this is the best of the bunch. It's emotional and it's told well. I'm hungry for more after one short season.
- Podcast Ain't Played Nobody - My favorite sports show. It's all about college football, naturally, and it presents a deep dive into statistics and narratives. I do wish they'd buy better microphones.
- Start-Up - The Gimlet Media podcast that's at least partially about Gimlet Media focused on ex-American Apparel CEO Dov Charney for their latest season. Charney is insane / ridiculous / at least partially an asshole, and a super interesting subject for that group to take on.
- Reconcilable Differences - A big part of my cutback on podcasts was getting rid of shows that have really long episodes. Even when they only come out every other week, it's tough to clear your "podcast inbox" when you've got shows in there that run 2+ hours. So I dispatched with Hello Internet (even though they kinda inspired the name of my blog), Accidental Tech Podcast (with the exception of Apple announcement analysis), and Cortex, but Reconcilable Differences stayed. John and Merlin are my favorite host duo.
- Bodega Boys - I stopped listening to this late in the year when I made another cutdown, but it's one of the funniest podcasts I've ever listened to. I specifically had to avoid listening at the gym because of how much it made my laugh.
- Homecoming - Another Gimlet property, this one is a scripted drama features voice acting my Catherine Keener, David Schwimmer, Oscar Isaac and more names you know. It's gripping.
- Off Camera with Sam Jones - I started at the beginning and I'm listening to every episode that features a guest whose work I enjoy. Jones is a good interviewer and he makes a good conversation in every episode.
I don't watch a ton of movies every year or anything, but these were the ones that I liked the most. This order is mostly / completely dependent on how much fun I had in the movie theater watching these. Also even though the headline says five movies I actually wound up with ten.
- La La Land
- The Jungle Book
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
- Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them
- Captain America: Civil War
- Don't Think Twice
- Everybody Wants Some!
- 10 Cloverfield Lane
Here's a list of everything I read in 2016, divided into books and comic book trade paperbacks. My favorite book out of the bunch was Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance, which I wrote more about here; my favorite comic book was Marvel's new run on Darth Vader. I specifically chose not to pick an old Batman trade in favor of a current run.
Those are all of the lists that I made. I hope you enjoyed them! In 2017 I'm looking forward to only one new release, and that's Brand New's fifth studio album. This specific album has been my most anticipated release of the year for 7 years straight! What a streak. I hope it never ends. Also, I'm very excited for albums from The Menzingers, Sorority Noise, The Wonder Years and more.