The 25 Best Albums of 2016
The 25 Best Albums of 2016

20

Allen Toussaint, American Tunes

Rocking, roiling, and rhapsodizing with equal brilliance, the final album from the late Allen Toussaint is everything anyone who’s loved the New Orleans native’s music through the last few decades could want it to be. There are gorgeous, heart-expanding ballads (Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom” and the twinkling original “Southern Nights”) and virtuoso workouts (a full-band take on Fats Waller’s elliptical solo “Viper’s Drag” and Duke Ellington’s smoldering “Rocks in My Bed,” reimagined with Carolina Chocolate Drops’s Rhiannon Giddens). But as good as all the material here is, Toussaint’s take on Paul Simon’s “American Tune” is a special highlight: The piece becomes not only a personal meditation on mortality, but on the travails of the American spirit, at the time it’s most needed. Mac

The 25 Best Albums of 2016

19

Drive-By Truckers, American Band

Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley have been leveling bleeding-heart broadsides at the likes of George Wallace, Ronald Reagan, Lee Atwater, and other right-wing forces of oppression since even before they started Drive-By Truckers 20 years ago (it wasn’t the first band they were in together). But politics have never been a primary album-long thematic focus for them until American Band. In a uniquely heated election year, the potential for the album quickly dating itself was dangerously high. But Hood and Cooley have achieved something approaching timelessness the same way they always have: by telling uncommonly trenchant character-based stories and turning their guitars up loud. Cooley’s indignant missives “Ramon Casiano” and “Surrender Under Protest” indict American white nationalism as forcefully as Hood’s “Guns of Umpqua” and “Baggage” deftly and sensitively tie incidents of personal tragedy to 2016’s messy, terrifying political landscape. Winograd

The 25 Best Albums of 2016

18

Tove Lo, Lady Wood

The cover photo of Tove Lo’s sophomore effort is a close-up of the Swedish singer’s ringed fingers provocatively tugging on her denim shorts and exposing her navel, a clear homage to the front of Madonna’s Like a Prayer LP. Lady Wood’s gestures to ’80s music, however, are filtered through a patently contemporary lens a la Taylor Swift’s 1989. The album’s sleek minimalist pop is, like that of Lorde or Banks, less stylistically varied and more interested in creating a mood than Lo’s debut. This results in music that, like lyrics about the perils of fame, keeps its audience at somewhat of a remove, but Lady Wood is admirably lean and tightly focused, making it ripe for repeat spins. In short, Lady Wood is a grower. Cinquemani

The 25 Best Albums of 2016

17

Margo Price, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

Opener “Hands of Time” is a masterful country composition—as if Margo Price just wants to prove herself capable of that standard. That the rest of Midwest Farmer’s Daughter avoids living up to it shows that Price is less concerned with making a respectable album for cross-genre tastemakers than one enjoyable to the already initiated. You won’t find straight-up shit-kickers like “About to Find Out,” “This Town Gets Around,” or “Hurtin’ (on the Bottle)” on a Kacey Musgraves album; their concise hooks hinge on classically economical phrasing, as well as Outlaw Country’s flare for rhythm n’ blues. The second best song here? Sexy kiss-off “Four Years of Chances,” as much about the mistreatments of a no-good man as those of the patriarchal country establishment. Price’s feminist, formalist music acts, finally, as indie’s own rejoinder to the similar insurgency that Miranda Lambert’s led in the genre’s mainstream. Mac

The 25 Best Albums of 2016

16

Julianna Barwick, Will

Scaling back the polish of previous work ever so slightly, experimental artist Julianna Barwick relies more heavily on her voice as a primary instrument throughout her self-produced third album, Will, looping and multi-tracking her vocals over simple synth tones or snippets of piano melodies to create a majestic and sprawling sound, one that’s otherworldly and ethereal but also more accessible than her past work. Barwick’s haunting, reverbed voice comes as close to articulating the ineffable as one is likely to find, as though these were long-forgotten fables plucked from a unified field of consciousness. Goller

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