This was a year that I was really impressed with lyrics. I think that given the current social situation music can play an important part in the lyrics that it presents, much like the Hippie or the Punk eras. There was a time when Rap did that, even if you could tolerate it, but that time is largely long gone with its and Hip Hop’s lyrics having been little more than fluff for quite a while now. However, there’s been a bounce and maybe 2017 will see better in this area.
- David Bowie – Black Star : I’m not placing this here out of respect or pity or anything other than the fact that I think it is a terrific album. Lyrics, melody and production all come together to make Bowie’s obvious “good-bye” a masterful piece of music. It’s original, deep and full of emotion.
- Strumbellas – Hope : I know this is an odd one to put in second place with so many other great albums further down the list, but this is an album that I found myself constantly going back to, impressed with the strength and likeability of almost every song on it.
- Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker : And he certainly gave it to you. The melodies have the usual Cohen angst, but it is the lyrics that really captured my attention here. Like Bowie, this may have been a conscious ‘good-bye’. Song lyrics are just dripping with dark emotion.
- Colour of Bubbles – She is the Darkness : Again, a relatively unheard of choice. I’m always impressed by new bands that successfully experiment with new sounds and which just ring out freshly original. I loved their first album and this one does it even a bit better.
- Conor Oberst – Ruminations : Catchy ballads and more great lyrics. I’ve been an Oberst fan since the Bright Eyes days. Personally I found his last solo album much better and diverse, but apparently that opinion was not shared by the critics that found this stripped down Oberst much better. Either way, all good. The concert was amazing as well.
- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree : So you can probably see that the downer tone of the year has influenced my choices. Here’s another really deep and moody selection. Nick Cave is always a class act.
- The Kills – Ice and Ash : A lot of Alt Rock stuff sounds the same. I listened to I don’t know how many New Wave type groups this year and many of them seem interchangeable. So it’s nice when one stands out as more fresh and original.
- Wild Beasts – Boy King : An excellently produced album with strong songs.
- Drive By Truckers – American Band : I’m not much of a country music fan, but this one is more R&R. What makes it stand out though are the socially relevant lyrics. I’m hoping this will be the beginning of a trend. We need more stuff like this from younger bands to galvanize the fight for social justice issues. (Neil Young’s latest album does that, but I don’t think he has the weight with listeners under 40 that is needed.)
- Radiohead – Moon Shaped Pool : Took a long time to get into this album. Didn’t appreciate if fully until one time when I ended up listening to it sitting back and half asleep. I guess that says something about it.
- Agnes Obel – Great voice and well crafted songs.
- Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial : Another one in the ‘Alt-Rock that rises above mediocrity’ category.
- Anohni – Hoopelessness : Kind of a slow, experimental, trip hop album with really depression lyrics. Aside from the title track you’ve got some song titles like, “Drone Bomb Me” and “Execution”. Very clearly preoccupied with social justice issues and stands out from the crowd for that reason and others. Definately an acquired taste, though.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Air Traffic Controllers; Bat For Lashes; Dylan LeBlanc; Kongos; Mogwai; Neil Young; Pretenders; Ray LaMontagne; Teenage Fanclub, The Lumineers; and Wilco.