The Free Weekly’s Favorite Albums from 2016

The Free Weekly’s Favorite Albums from 2016

What may have been one of the craziest years of the 21st century in America, 2016 also brought about numerous emerging artists and album releases that not only reflected the times, but pushed into exciting new territory.

While this list lacks the critic favorites from Béyonce, Solange, A Tribe Called Quest, Frank Ocean or Radiohead, us music nerds at The Free Weekly decided to compile our own personal favorites from 2016. The albums mentioned here were on heavy rotation and continuously echoed around in our own head space for the majority of the year.

Nick’s Picks


10. Who Will Be Next? — Joe Purdy; Best Song: “New Years Eve”

A simple record of Americana-folk music with a consistent, rousing, truth-to-power message of protest. I don’t think it’s far-fetched to say this is in line with Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing.” Fayetteville’s own Joe Purdy excellently puts to music and words the grief, anxiety, frustration and fear of our current tumultuous American era many struggle to express.



9. Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not — Dinosaur Jr.; Best Song: “Tiny”

As similar as Dinosaur Jr. records sound, the band’s latest is proof enough it ain’t getting old. Some of the band’s catchiest and most dynamic tracks in their 30-year career are here. Personally, listening to J. Mascis shred on guitar is like listening to a Miles Davis sound odyssey. He lives inside those righteous, frantic solos.



8. Human Ceremony — Sunflower Bean; Best Song: “Come On”

Sunflower Bean are a brand new band with a debut album that’s worth everyone’s attention. The record sounds like it could be one of the best psych-rock-pop albums of the 1980s. It’s full of hammerhead riffs, dynamic jams and song structures as well as angelic singing from the two lead singers, Julia Cumming and Nick Kivlen.


Courtesy Photo Okey Dokey, by Natural Child, was released Sept. 16 on Natural Child Records.

7. Okey Dokey — Natural Child; Best Song: “Juanita”

(David Schieffler also picked Okey Dokey for his No. 7)

This is Natural Child’s best album. The country hippie blues band’s latest is trippy, playful, groovy and bad ass. There’s several jam tracks that will take you to space, and plenty of down-home country-rock that pokes fun at the NSA and “Self-Centered Blues.” Sometimes they sound like the Stones, then it goes full Allman Brothers and cranks to 10.

DS: While some bands wear their musical influences on their sleeves, the Nashville rockers of Natural Child proudly sport theirs on the front of their shirts. “Now and Then” could be an Exile on Main Street outtake, while “Juanita” sounds like a headier, jammier reinterpretation of the Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man.” One of the grooviest records of 2016, Okey Dokey demands that its listeners dance.


Changes by Charles Bradley

6. Changes — Charles Bradley; Best Song: “Nobody but You”

This record is full of love and irresistible grooves, and Charles Bradley — who’s 67 — and his Extraordinaires made one of the best soul records of the decade here. Maybe that’s hyperbole, but I don’t care because nothing hit me in the sweet spot of my heart quite like this record did this year. All hail the “Screamin’ Eagle of Soul.”


Masterpiece, by Big Thief

5. Masterpiece — Big Thief; Best Song: “Masterpiece”

Brand new to the indie rock scene, Big Thief sits on the shoulders of Pavement and contemporaries like Julien Baker and Mothers. Songwriter Adrianne Lenker’s ghostly, fragile voice delivers an album of cathartic, evocative lyrics. This is a band that might make you wonder why you enjoy songs about heartbreak so much, but it’s absolutely a dynamic rocker throughout.



4. Malibu — Anderson .Paak; Best Song: “Without You ft. Rapsody”

Hands down one of the best R&B/hip hop records out this year, I’m still blown away by how seamless Malibu is. From start to finish, the record overflows with lush, almost jazzy west coast arrangements, fiery bars of witty lyrics and downright funky bass lines and break beats. Put this on at a party and you need not change it.



3. Wake Up Laughing — Music Band; Best Song: “Scarab Music Pt. 2”

Fresh out of the Nashville garage rock scene, this cheeky trio has a giant, kick-ass sound. It’s high-energy, catchy and it’s as fun as any great rock n’ roll record I’ve listened to — even if singer/guitarist Harry Kagan’s lyrics tackle depression, loss and anxiety. Every song is rad, but the album’s two ending medleys “Raag” and “Scarab Music” are killer.



2. Down In Heaven — Twin Peaks; Best Song: “Butterfly”

All I can say about this record is “hell yes.” The young four-songwriter band channels a timeless rock n’ roll sound that’s full of retro swagger and the bursting energy of 2010s garage rock. There’s definitely some Rolling Stones and Velvet Underground influences abound in my favorites “Butterfly,” and “Walk to The One You Love,” and I embrace it all with a wide, toothy grin and open arms.



1. Singing Saw — Kevin Morby; Best Song: “Dorothy”

A mystical, beautifully produced record from head to toe, “Singing Saw” is vibrant with choral singing, horns, buzzy guitars, cavernous pianos and Kevin Morby’s Dylan-esque voice. The music exists in a cosmic-American place that’s neither clear nor elusive, but immediately heartfelt. One of my favorite songs of the year, “Dorothy,” rollicks through a story about Morby’s guitar and the people and places they’ve been amid lovely instrumental breaks.

David’s Picks


10. Jet Plane and Oxbow – Shearwater; Best Song: “Radio Silence”

For those still mourning the untimely passing of David Bowie, Shearwater — who skillfully (and brazenly) covered all of Bowie’s 1979 Lodger record in its 2016 encores — this record might help ease the pain. Jet Plane and Oxbow, which codedly critiques American militarism, dumbed-down religion, material culture, and Islamophobia to the sounds of synthesizers, dulcimers, driving percussion, and epic choruses, is one of the year’s best protest albums.



9. Constant Stranger – Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster; Best Song: “Laid Low”

Fayettevillians should be proud that Pete Kinkel-Schuster, one of the finest songwriters in the business today, now calls this town home. Constant Stranger packs all the emotional punch of Kinkel-Schuster’s previous work with Water Liars but in softer, more introspective form.



8. Waiting for the World to Turn – Palace Winter; Best Song: “Soft Machine”

2016 saw the release of a number of quality psych/synth/krautrock gems by bands like Day Wave, Cosmonaut on Vacation, and Wild Nothing. None, however, matched the dynamic rhythms, jangly guitars, and penetrating synth solos of Waiting for the World to Turn, the debut album of Aussie-Danish duo Palace Winter.


7. Okey Dokey – Natural Child; Best Song: “Juanita”


You Know Who You Are, Nada Surf

6. You Know Who You Are – Nada Surf; Best Song: “Cold to See Clear”

It’s been twenty years since Nada Surf’s teen-angst anthem “Popular” hit alternative airwaves, and this veteran power pop outfit has never been stronger. Buttressed by the tasteful texture of guitarist Doug Gillard (Guided by Voices), You Know Who You Are is Nada Surf’s best top-to-bottom record since 2005’s The Weight is a Gift.



5. Is the Is Are – DIIV; Best Song: “Dopamine”

Is the Is Are is the ambitious, drug-induced, highly-anticipated follow-up to Brooklyn-based DIIV’s critically acclaimed Oshin (2012). Sprawling, bass-driven, discordant, dark, and at times downright difficult, it is tailor-made for fans of Sonic Youth, Real Estate, New Order, and The Cure.



4. Real – Lydia Loveless; Best Song: “Real” queen Lydia Loveless’s fourth LP is only a few degrees more alternative than the music of Maren Morris, Miranda Lambert, and Kacey Musgraves. I wasn’t even a fan until last year, when I saw her deliver one of the rawest, most emotionally honest performances I’ve ever witnessed. At the beginning of every song she looked totally tortured, and as each song progressed fans could see, hear, and feel her therapeutic release. Real, in spite of its pop frills, encapsulates the rock ‘n roll ethos.



3. American Band – Drive By Truckers; Best Song: “Ever South”

Calling the Truckers’ 11th album a “return to a form” or “the band’s best record since 2004’s The Dirty South,” as some critics have, isn’t inaccurate but still fails to do it justice. American Band angrily denounces racism, xenophobia, senseless violence, the gun lobby, and general American decadence with the band’s signature snarling guitars and massive rhythm section. Simply put, this is the record we needed in 2016.


Goodness, by Hotelier

2. Goodness – The Hotelier; Best Song: “Sun”

“Emo revival” outfit The Hotelier’s third LP explores such heady themes as death, rebirth, self-examination, redemption, and the interconnectedness of nature (lead singer Christian Holden has described it as a “Taoist love record”). With poetic lyrics, big guitars, heavy kick drum, and hooks galore, Goodness rocks with an urgency and intensity unlike anything else I heard this year.



1. Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest; Best Song: “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”

On Teens of Denial, Will Toledo renounces self-centered, party-hearty Teens of Style (the title of his previous record, itself a compilation of 11 albums previously released on Bandcamp). He also candidly describes his own painful struggles with depression, at one point comparing his spiraling life to that of the maligned captain of the Costa Concordia, the Italian cruise ship that sank in 2012. Teens of Denial is painful proof that the best art is often produced by people in anguish. It also establishes Toledo as one of the premier rockers (and spokesmen) of the millennial generation.

Best 3 Songs of 2016


1. “Freedom” – Béyonce ft. Kendrick Lamar, Lemonade

2. “Cold Little Heart” – Michael Kiwanuka, Love & Hate

3. “Ultralight Beam” – Kanye West ft. Chance The Rapper, The Life of Pablo


1. “Ancient Jules” — Steve Gunn, Eyes on the Lines

2. “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” — Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life single

3. “The Best Part” — Young Mister, Young Mister

Categories: Cover Story