It's challenging to come into a band on an album that's very different than their past work- hard to have context for how they got here, or say anything meaningful about it when you know that's the case. Ignoring the past 20 years of Lambchop's storied history, I can only speak to the album I heard, which is a truly transcendent collection of smooth indie rock that gets experimental in only good ways. Bookended by two 10+ minute songs (highlights of the album), the instrumentation on this is reminiscent of the more pleasant side of Yo La Tengo, with vocal effects that complement the whole aesthetic. It's at once bombastic and unassuming, and a really intriguing listen.
Best of 2016: 10-1
-10: Lambchop - FLOTUS
-9: Whitney - Light Upon The Lake
A breezy summertime gem of an album, with all of the lo-fi warmth that one of those should have, but a hidden depth in its production. Arguably the most genre-agnostic (and therefore most broadly listenable?) in my top 10. Soulful indie folk.
-8: Karl Blau - Introducing Karl Blau
"Introducing Karl Blau" is an interesting choice of title for this album for a man who has been around forever releasing an album of songs he didn't write. Maybe its tongue-in-cheek- maybe after decades of genre-bending self-releases he's just ready to show off who he really is. In either case, this is an absolutely stunning collection of soulful 70's country covers.
-7: Bon Iver - 22, A Million
I imagine the first Bon Iver album created a lot of imitators. Good luck to anyone who tries to follow this one. At once so obviously Bon Iver and so out of this world, 22, A Million is a masterpiece that doesn't feel like one at first. First listen, first thought was that it was weird, and short. It remains those two things, but it's also beautiful and I think the more I listen to it the harder it is for me to wrap my head around exactly what is going on. How can something so unpredictable still be warm and comforting? How do you write songs like this? Where do you go from here?
-6: RLYR - Delayer
Despite not being something I own on vinyl / ever really listened to at home, I think this was quite possibly my most listened to album of 2016. Countless work days with my headphones turned up as this album blasted through pitch perfect instrumental rock songs, occasionally just starting it again when it was over. It may only be 4 tracks long, but that counts the slow building album highlight "Descent of the Night Bison", which clocks in just over 23 minutes. RLYR is a "supergroup" of sorts, featuring members of other metal-ish post-rock-ish bands coming together in perfect union to create this masterpiece of an album.
-5: Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book
2016 doesn't deserve to be called Chance The Rapper's year, but it's hard to think of another way to say it. To me, he seems literally unstoppable. You know how you hear a sad country song and even though you didn't have your heart broken you feel what the singer is going through? Listening to Coloring Book, you can genuinely get a feel for the religious awe that infects and drives these songs. Chance is a prophet of the highest caliber - using his belief to defy the man, and praise the lord. He brings together rappers, singers, and musicians of all stripes and backgrounds and puts them in front of glorious music, which he releases for free, for the people. I don't know, I'm out of platitudes, but lets just say I'm a believer and I can't wait to see where this goes next.
-4: Fruit Bats - Absolute Loser
This album will forever be 1am on the Starlight Stage at Pickathon, with a few good friends, a pregnant wife, the stars out overhead, and the future out ahead of us all. These are folk songs, maybe slightly weird folk songs, but they are made of the same stuff that all great folk songs are. They're sentimental, pretty, and humble. Of all of the great albums this year, when I have nostalgia for this summer in the years to come, this is the album that will play in my head.
-3: Hiss Golden Messenger - Heart Like A Levee
Over the years, M.C. Taylor has built his sound and band into a force to be reckoned with. Or, if not reckoned with, sat down and listened to. This (and its accompanying bonus disc "Vestapol") were my rainy fall companion both in the lead up and aftermath of the birth of my daughter. These are songs of sorrow, longing, and humility that can cut deep if you let them sink in. Or you can let them wash over you and get enveloped in their beauty.
-2: William Tyler - Modern Country
William Tyler is at my favorite type of breaking point for an artist- after years of essentially solo work building reputation and style, he's finally assembled the right accompanying artists to skyrocket his creation to the next level. For someone who has always been a little experimental, these songs are shockingly brief, catchy encapsulations of what he's always been capable of. They derive a lot of power from this fact- the mind doesn't have time to wander like some of the more drone-based songs of his past. His technique and expertise are still present, but a little more comfortable slipping into the background to let the whole be what it needs to be.
-1: Kevin Morby- Singing Saw
All three of Kevin Morby's solo albums have been in my countdowns, slowly sneaking their way up as he gets better and better and closer to where he's going, wherever that is. This one just feels like the one I've been waiting for. This cosmic folk hits me on a subconscious level, or at least I can use that as an attempt to get out of having to describe just what it is that calls to me about this. This album is meditation and clarity to me. I don't know if it's true, but if I could write songs, I'd try and write these ones.