2016 Music Year in Review

Photo courtesy of Roc Beyonce

As 2016 draws to a close, the year leaves many with a bad taste lingering in their mouths. We’ve all lost icons, heroes, friends and family in the wake of mindless violence, unfortunate events and injustice; it feels like it will be quite some time before good times are here again. While the year may have a distinctly sinister quality in hindsight, people are comforted by the fact that good music consistently upholds the responsibility of alleviating the noxious impact of bad news. Though music in 2016 often acted as a personal escape from the current social climate, many artists masterfully wove 2016’s misgivings into music that blurred the lines between personal and political.

Escapism is often the best means of coping with what one cannot control. This is especially true with the younger generation, as they attempt to maneuver a world completely different than what they’ve been prepared for.

This is personified in the astute insight and raw anxiety of Mitski’s sophomore album, “Puberty 2.” The Japanese-born Mitski Miyawaki stands her ground, deciphering cultural boundaries and personal limits in an effort to defeat them on anthems such as “Your Best American Girl” and “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars,” combining freak-folk and punk poetry with profound, incisive honesty. This confused depression is further exemplified in loss and and longing on the debut album of Japanese Breakfast, “Psychopomp,” which recalls bitter ‘90s indie rock with lush elegance.

2016 also saw the role of the singer-songwriter redefined from the humble folk styles of the ‘70s to fully fleshed out rock bands playing deeply personal music. Richmond, Virginia based guitarist Lucy Dacus surprised many with the churning southern garage rock style of her debut album “No Burden.” Songs like “I Don’t Want to Be Funny Anymore” and “Troublemaker Doppelganger” are loaded with humbly wry lyrics that veer towards clever self-deprecation offset with smooth, plucking guitar lines and class-A wit. This modern brand of singer-songwriters is also seen in the raw angst of Car Seat Headrest’s “Teens of Denial” and Angel Olsen’s confident “My Woman,” as well as in the twee-pop influenced naive acuity of “Next Thing” by Frankie Cosmos.

Given the social and political climate of 2016, punk came out in a big way fueled by vigor and youthful rebellion. The Seattle feminist band Tacocat’s playfully sardonic nuggets of punk-pop on “Lost Time” best exemplified on the pro-menstruation anthem “FDM” and the sarcastic “Men Explain Things to Me.” Riot Grrrl icon Kathleen Hanna resurfaced with her most personal lyrics ever on The Julie Ruin’s electropunk effort “Hit Reset,” and an old-fashion rock ‘n roll spirit was embodied on the anti-capitalist and unpretentious Philadelphia punk band Sheer Mag’s III EP.

Even outside of the underground, pop music became highly politicized with the release of Beyonce’s visual opus “Lemonade,” a collection of the pop icon’s most personal and most dynamic songs that stand unapologetically pro-Black in a world of post-racial ideology. Similar sentiments were furthered on the younger Knowles sister Solange’s quietly uncompromising “A Seat at the Table” and the comprehensive cultural narrative on Blood Orange’s diverse yet seamless “Freetown Sound.”   

The best music releases of 2016 all exemplify a common sense of courage in today’s unpredictable times. Although 2016 has left many feeling powerless, the best albums of 2016 all act as beacons of strength in trying times. If the past year has taught us anything, recent events and the music it has influenced have proven to many of us that we are all a bit stronger than we give ourselves credit for.