90 FM’s Top 15 Albums of 2016
Here’s a comprehensive list of our favorite albums of 2016. We got a group of music heads together and poured our hearts out on this one. Consider it representative of indie and college radio scenes, but also of Stevens Point and the world at large. To all of the artists, labels, listeners, and volunteers, thanks for a great year. 2017 won’t know what hit it!
1. Amnesty (I) – Crystal Castles:
Some thought that Crystal Castles would die after frontwoman Alice Glass left in 2014, but things started to look up in early 2015 with the release of singles “Frail” and “Decide”. They featured a new voice to the band, one of Edith Frances. With many tentative fans, they released Amnesty (I) and it was very well received, showing that producer Ethan Kath and Edith could maintain the classic Crystal Castles feel while cultivating a new, just as harsh electronic sound.
2. Freetown Sound – Blood Orange:
Singer, songwriter, composer, producer, and author Dev Hynes released Blood Orange’s third album Freetown Sound in June. Hynes achieves vulnerability through themes of race, religion, and sex in this wonderful combination of synthpop and R&B. We love this album because Hynes proved that his vision has no boundaries with genre and that albums are capable of becoming a piece of theater, rather than a sequence of songs.
3. A Seat at The Table – Solange:
A Seat at the Table is nothing short of a proclamation of self-love, of healing, and of resilience. Solange encapsulates the modern struggle of black women, for black women, in order to allocate a place of repose and fearless identity. This purpose makes A Seat at the Table untouchable for many; of those, they may only gaze wide-eyed in awe of their strength and celestial glory.
4. My Woman – Angel Olsen:
MY WOMAN is proof that Angel Olsen continues to uncover and convey the unknown, yet somehow understood truths of lonesomeness and romance; with the same ethereal voice that is both fervent and introverted. She lifts some of the lo-fi folk haze that characterized previous releases, but not too much, keeping enough to sustain her sense of nostalgia.
5. Puberty 2 – Mitski:
After four years (and three albums) of laying low in the indie music realm, singer/songwriter Mitski Miyawaki exploded the scene with her June release, Puberty 2. The album centers on the theme of anxiety and depression locked in a battle with her internal happiness, resulting in highs and lows in both lyrical content and instrumentation. Her single “Your Best American Girl” charted high across the board, even making it to the second spot on NPR’s list of the Best 100 Songs of 2016.
6. Pool – Porches:
Aaron Maine’s sophomore album as Porches offers a type of synesthesia, creating sounds that reflect how we see and experience water; the shadowed waves in a crystalline pool, or the muffled pressurization underwater. Integrates longing and subsequent withdrawal by exploring the qualities of synth.
7. 22, A Million – Bon Iver:
Justin Vernon blew many out of the water with the degree of stylistic change and masterful production in 22, A Million. From lyrics to song titles to album art, the essence of this release is cryptic but tactile in many ways. What is not understood can either be felt or simply admired for its ambiguity.
8. Schmilco – Wilco:
A lane change from the fuzzy “dad-rock” vibes previously recorded in 2015’s Star Wars, Wilco returns with the nostalgic and folky Schmilco. These kings of the slow jam manage to draw listeners in with honest lyrics picturing Sunday mornings and awkward suburban teenage life.
9. We Got It From Here, Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest:
This album is the first released in 18 years from the legendary hip-hop group, and it was certainly worth the wait. Q-Tip and the gang deliver some of their funkiest and jazziest beats to date while playing in honor to the late Phife Dawg.
10. A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead:
Lead man Thom Yorke keeps Radiohead progressing in the right direction with A Moon Shaped Pool. Unfortunately this 11-track album alludes to Yorke’s separation from long-term partner of 23 years Rachel Owen. The lyrics in “Daydreaming” specifically are an honest reflection of relationship troubles and have shifted away from cynical undertones, which is refreshing from this band.
11. Anti – Rihanna:
After three years of postponement and delays, Anti arrived in 2016, and certainly did not disappoint. It’s tastefully subdued and with a slower tempo and a low-key mood, but still provides dance-hall bangers like “Work” and “Needed Me.” Anti is a never-before-seen view into Rihanna’s inner-narrative and she’s made sure her fans are along for the ride.
12. Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest:
Frontman Will Toledo tells us what it’s like to be a lame, whiny deadbeat, but also that these dull moments are best remedied by growing the hell up. You will not find romanticized pain but rather an honest account of being unhappy or defiant, without pity or wallowing. On another note, these moments of honesty and criticism are not portrayed as a means for self-destruction, but rather a point at which to change and persist in seeing what life has to offer.
13. Psychopomp – Japanese Breakfast:
A veteran of the Emo Revival scene, Michelle Zauner reworked some of her older material under the name Japanese Breakfast. Previously released as singles and splits with bands such as Foxing, the project came to fruition earlier this year with the full length release, Psychopomp. Soft vocals drenched in reverb provide an infectious poppy sound that is irresistible, and 100% worth the listen.
14. Return to Love – Level Up:
Previously a hidden gem of the DIY low-fi music scene, LVL UP dropped their album Return to Love with Sub Pop this fall. Being signed to the indie label heavyweight gave them the recognition that they finally deserve, without making them sacrifice that warm, fuzzy sound which people grew to love. While the release is absolutely packed with great tunes, a must listen before the end of the year is the first track: “Hidden Driver”.
15. Trans Day of Revenge – G.L.O.S.S.:
With their premier into the hardcore punk scene being released just last year, G.L.O.S.S. gained a large base of fans in a short amount of time. Focusing primarily on issues of inequality, particularly based on transgender discrimination and misogyny, their 2016 release Trans Day of Revenge was a heavyweight. Loud, fast, and harshly poignant, it grew to be a favorite within DIY punk communities and LGBT+ communities. Unfortunately, in September, the band decided it was time to split and work on different projects. Their short lived career is best remembered with this release, and will become a standard for anyone with a taste for something heavy.