Mike's Top 20 Albums of 2016


2016 was a strange year, folks. Thankfully there were some good records to take your mind off of the barrage of divisive politics, disappointing blockbuster films, and poop diapers…OK, the poop diapers might have just been for me. Regardless, if you’re a fan of good rock n’ roll or melodic pop tunes like me, you might find some decent recommendations on the list below. 

Also, don't get mad if you think one album is better than the other - this is just how I felt on the day. It changes pretty much every week. I'll probably agree with you in a month....or you're wrong. And, let's face it, you're probably wrong....

1.)    Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

If you would have asked me a week ago what my Album of the Year for 2016 was, I don’t know if this would have even been in my top 10. I’ve wrestled with it since its release – loving some of it and struggling with other parts. Finally, a week or two ago, I decided to throw it on again and BLAM! Like a punch in the face, it hit me just how great this record is.

I think it took time to embrace Teens of Denial as a whole due to the grand length and scope of the record. Despite being just 12 songs, it feels like 20 at times due to the unpredictable twists and turns of Will Toledo’s song writing. Toledo seems to love to turn the audience’s expectations on their heads – starting a song in one style and finishing in something completely different.

It may take some time, but, if you’re willing to roll & wrestle with it, this record is insanely rewarding and always interesting.  

SOUNDS LIKE: Lo-Fi grungy rock meets The Strokes meets Modest Mouse meets somethin’ funky.

2.)    The Lemon Twigs – Do Hollywood

Imagine if The Beatles, Harry Nilsson, Big Star, Queen, The Who, & The Beach Boys had a musical baby – Got it? Not quite sure what that would sound like. Well, listen to Do Hollywood and you most certainly will understand. Every song on Do Hollywood screams retro in the best of ways.

Great stuff!

SOUNDS LIKE: Read the above, ya dingus.

3.)    Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math

The wife and I caught Margaret Glaspy opening for The Milk Carton Kids this past spring and we both instantly loved her music – and that was when it was just her and a telecaster on stage. Hearing her music fleshed out with a full band after that was mind-blowing. The whole album showcases her undeniable mix of bluesy authenticity and gifted/honest lyricism from front to back.

SOUNDS LIKE: If Elliott Smith was a girl, loved electric guitar and the blues.

4.)    Nick Waterhouse – Never Twice

I first heard of Nick through a musical brother of mine about four or five years ago. I remember thinking the production sounded great, but his songwriting wasn’t quite there. Cut to my first listen to Never Twice earlier this year -  I was hoping the songwriting had improved, and, HOT DAMN, was I not let down. The man seems to have acquired a doctorate in 50s/60s production and songwriting.

If you’re as big of a throwback 50’s/60’s Rock N’ Roll/Rhythm & Blues fan as I am, this album is a must listen. Every song is a winner.

SOUNDS LIKE – Sam Cooke meets Van Morrison meets Wilson Pickett

5.)    Sam Means – 10 Songs

I was a HUGE fan of Sam’s old band The Format (featuring FUN.’s Nate Reuss). Especially, their last album, Dog Problems. The arrangements were so lush and interesting, yet the songwriting was distinctively accessible pop rock.

10 Songs is about as close to the musical sibling to Dog Problems as Format fans are going to get. This time, Sam alone is front and center, with far less pomp and vocal range than Nate, but every bit as much accessibility. I find myself consistently putting it on Sunday mornings, as it has the perfect relaxing, yet sunny vibe to it.

SOUNDS LIKE – The Format-lite

6.)    Weezer – The White Album

I’m a big Weezer fan – more so with every year that goes by. I dig the albums that everyone likes (The Blue Album, Pinkerton), but I also love The Green Album, Maladroit, Everything Will Be Alright in the End, and bits/pieces of the ones everyone seems to despise.

Their previous record (the aforementioned Everything Will Be Alright in the End) was a real return to the straight-forward garage rock roots that the band started with. The White Album very much continues that trend, but sprinkles in the weird here and there to create something of an amalgamation of everything they’ve released up to that point – and in the best of ways. The more I spin it, the more it plays like a best of without being a best of.

Bottom line, if you ever liked Weezer, you’ll likely find something enjoyable on The White Album.

SOUNDS LIKE – Friggin’ Weezer, man…

7.)    Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger

At 75 years old, Paul Simon has nothing to prove to anyone about his ability to write amazing and incredibly complex, yet universal music. Usually when other artists release an album at this stage of their career, it’s a little sad. You can hear the artist’s age on the recording in multiple ways – from the frail voice to the uninspired/rehashed songwriting.

On Stranger to Stranger, Paul Simon shows no sign of regression. His gentle vocals still sounds great and he continues to search for new sounds and techniques to add to his already vast songwriting repertoire. Stranger to Stranger isn’t just a reminder of his better albums, it stands right up there with them.

Plus, there’s a shout out to Milwaukee – so, there’s that…

SOUNDS LIKE – New and Old Paul Simon.

8.)    Dawes – We’re All Gonna Die

Since 2009, Dawes has released an album every other year like clockwork – each album better than the last, bringing something new to the already solid and dependable melodic folk-rock sound that the band makes so well.

2015’s All Your Favorite Bands was the groups most accessible and highest charting record in the band’s history. I honestly thought they might take a breather to figure out how to follow it up with something stronger. Instead, they kicked things into gear and wrote & recorded We’re All Gonna Die right on the heels of this success, releasing just a year after the aforementioned 2015 record.  The resulting album is surprisingly even more catchy and quite possibly filled with their best songwriting yet.

I can see some fans of the folksier days being disappointed, but I love them more and more as they lean into a more classic rock oriented sound. Let’s hope they’re able to keep raising the bar from here on out.

SOUNDS LIKE: The Band meets My Morning Jacket

9.)    Miles Nielsen – Heavy Metal

I heard Rockford, IL native Miles Nielsen’s name come up quite a bit in the Midwest music scene, but never checked out his records until I heard Heavy Metal (the song) on a local Milwaukee radio station and loved it. Heavy Metal (the album) was just as solid – seamlessly blending the sounds of modern roots rock, a pinch of alt-country, and classic rock.

I’ve since devoured everything that I can come across, loving every minute of it. If you’re feeling like trying something new, Heavy Metal acts as a great jumping off point for new fans, as it’s probably their most accessible and singular record.

SOUNDS LIKE: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers meets Dr. Dog

10.) CRX – New Skin

How I didn’t hear about CRX before their album dropped is beyond me. I love The Strokes and Queens of the Stone Age – this album combines the two, as it’s fronted by The Strokes’ guitarist Nick Valensi and produced by QOTSA’s Josh Homme. The resulting album sounds exactly like you’d think it would – The Strokes by way of Queens of the Stone Age or vice versa.

Any fans of guitar driven modern alt-rock should find this album STAT! I think I can safely say at this point that I love it more than The Strokes most recent albums.

SOUNDS LIKE: The Strokes meets Arctic Monkeys (AM era) meets Queens of the Stone Age

11.) Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues

Jimmy Eat World follows up their least satisfying album (2013’s Damage) with a record that combines the band’s storied rock history into one cohesive record – and one of their best in some time.

SOUNDS LIKE: Clarity era Jimmy Eat World and Futures era Jimmy Eat World all at once.

12.) Tuns – Self-Titled

Mike O'Neill of The Inbreds, Chris Murphy of Sloan, and Matt Murphy of The Super Friendz come together to make a power-pop record that’s catchier and more easily digestible than all of their other works combined.

SOUNDS LIKE: Peter, Bjorn, & John meets 80’s era Marshall Crenshaw

13.) Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Radiohead releases another lush and intricate, yet gentle rock record that requires multiple diligent listens to peel away the many layers of musical genius. So, basically, it’s another solid Radiohead album.

SOUNDS LIKE: Does Radiohead sound like anything but Radiohead?

14.) White Denim – Stiff

Straight forward, catchy, guitar-driven, no B.S. Rock N’ Roll. Done.

SOUNDS LIKE: The Black Keys meets Wolfmother? Sure, let’s go with that.

15.) Third Eye Blind – We Are Drugs

3EB follow up their so-so 2015 release, Dopamine, with a quickly compiled/released and infinitely more catchy 7-song EP that’s likely their best work since their early 2000’s heyday.  

SOUNDS LIKE: Late 90’s/early 00’s rock radio

16.) Justice – Woman

The ever-underrated French electronic rock duo returns with more catchy, electronic, funky beauties for your pop-loving ear holes.

SOUNDS LIKE: Daft Punk meets Chromeo meets Kavinsky

 17.) Bruno Mars – 24K Magic

I can’t resist a well-made pop record – and 24K Magic is one hell of a masterfully performed, produced, and presented pop record that is as much a tribute to 80’s/90’s hip hop & R&B as it is an ode to Bruno’s unquenchable, ever-growing libido.

SOUNDS LIKE: The other Bruno Mars records, but with more overtly retro hip hop, funk, and R&B roots. Funky.

18.) The Shelters – Self-Titled

Three credited studio musicians from Tom Petty’s Hypnotic Eye sessions form a group with friends that owes as much to 70’s era Rolling Stones & Kinks records as Tom Petty’s modern sound. The result is a retro sounding Rock N Roll record with catchy song after catchy song.

SOUNDS LIKE: The Stones, The Kinks, & Petty meet Oasis.

19.) St. Lucia – Matter

St Lucia follow-up their quirky and extremely catchy 90’s pop/modern South African dance record (2013’s When the Night) with an album that keeps the world music meets 90’s dance vibe and updates the sound with modern synths and top-notch pop production. So many of the albums soaring choruses get stuck in my head for days at a time.

SOUNDS LIKE: Go West’s King of Wishful Thinking by way of M83

20.) Blink-182 – California

OK, OK – does this really deserve to be mentioned in any top albums lists this year? Probably not, but it really touched the nostalgic bone for me this summer. Singer/Guitarist Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio tries to fill the missing Tom DeLonge’s shoes, to surprisingly better results than expected. I still wish Tom’s distinctive vocals were there to compliment Mark Hoppus’ baritone. Either way, California sounds more like Blink-182 than 2011’s universally panned Neighborhoods.

SOUNDS LIKE: Alkaline Trio meets Blink-182 – surprise, surprise! 

Feel free to check out a Spotify playlist of the artists listed above by clicking below: