A Song A Day’s 22 Favorite Albums of 2016

I know, I know — another end of year list. ugh. sigh. eye roll. But I promise this one is special. Sure, I’m biased but just trust me, ok?

Every week, A Song A Day curators hand-pick five tracks they think their subscribers will love and send them to their inboxes, Mon-Fri. Each curator has their own set of criteria driving what songs they choose.

Some make sure the play count for each track is below what would be considered “mainstream.” Others are more focused on making sure their tracks span global, gender, culture, race diversity. Others are obsessed with the newness of a track or artist, or the story behind it.

No matter their focus, they’re digging deep into the depths of the internet and record bins of their local shops to find the best of the emerging and obscure artists so you don’t have to. Ok, and because they really love it.

At the end of each week, I go through most of the songs they’ve sent and am always blown away by the quality and diversity of what they find. That’s why we asked them to share their favorite albums of 2016.

Now, full disclosure: not all of these are from emerging artists. You’ve most definitely heard of a few of these artists (uhh like this James Blake guy, perhaps?). But I think it’s important to give these artists a virtual high five when they’ve managed to do something new, fresh, and/or important. And if our curators think it’s good, there’s a reason. Anyway, dig in and enjoy!

Also, although we embedded our favorite tracks, we linked the album name to either the artist’s or label’s site where you can purchase it because supporting your favorite artists is more important now than ever.

Although, I really want you to read what our curators said about their top albums (so good), we did put together a playlist of our fav tracks (well, those available on Spotify) from each for the lazy reader. :)

1. Bill Jerpe, Bill Jerpe

Curated by: Bo Clay, Forgotten Oldies
Favorite track: “Lily Lay Down”
Record label: Soft Estate

“Soft Estate’s reissue of “Bill Jerpe” is a brilliant remaster of a relatively unknown record, expressing great dedication towards representing the artist’s vision. As the “Forgotten Oldies” curator, I am sometimes concerned that we will one day mine the genre dry, but the release of this record has assured me otherwise. There is still a trove of brilliant gems to be found and it turns out Soft Estate Records has dug up a diamond.”

“If you like electric Bob Dylan, you’ll love “Lily Lay Down.”

2. Uranium Club, All of Them Naturals

Curated by: Jesse Madsen, Punk
Favorite track: “Who Made The Man?”
Record label: Static Shock Records

“With a mid-December release, Uranium Club really leaves it late. Thankfully though, one can make this judgment because a few songs were available earlier this year via singles. “

“Uranium Club does two things very well that escapes almost all punk bands these days: 1) they’re an enigma, and 2) but it doesn’t come across as post-punk schtick. Two comparable bands come to mind — The Fall and Parquet Courts. The former, while truly great, can be likewise utterly incomprehensible and self-indulgent. The latter checks a lot indie post-punk rock boxes but has become too ‘of the industry’ (What would get the most Pitchfork clicks? I’ve got it! A collaboration with Bun B!). Uranium Club splits the difference.”

“It would be easy to blame the fact they’re from Minneapolis on their lack of wide play. One of their easily must accessible (read: pop) singles this year-’Small Fry’-was available only via Maximum Rock N Roll’s Sh*tworker cassette compilation and as a b-side to a Lumpy Records single. Their enigmatic mundane, yet dark and bitingly funny, idiosyncratic midwest take on punk and hardcore is the best thing going right now.”

“Danceable, moshable, sarcastic, disturbed. “Who Made The Man” is hardcore sensibility with post-punk rhythms that devolves into an extended jam with whining synths. Just sick.”

From the album art: “Its air-tight absorbent reusable non-toxic flexible tube molds and adjust to the corners of any human orifice.”

3. Andrew Bird, Are You Serious

Curated by: Julia Maehner, Eclectic Folk
Favorite track: “Left Handed Kisses” (feat. Fiona Apple)
Record label: Loma Vista Recordings

“This is the album I couldn’t stop listening to, the one album that fits my every mood.”

“It’s really hard to decide on one favorite album, so I’m giving honorable mentions to: Beth Orton, Andrew Butler, Lucius, David Bowie, Frightened Rabbit, Moderat, Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, Michael Kiwanuka, Nick Waterhouse, The Kills, Lisa Hannigan, The Monkees, Margaret Glaspy, Glass Animals, and so many more that I can’t think of now. You should absolutely listen to all their latest records.”

“Because of Fiona Apple.”

4. Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

Curated by: Colby Black, Country
Favorite track: “In Bloom” (Nirvana cover) 
Record label: Atlantic Records

“I wish Shannon had requested our favorite albums a week earlier so my nomination of this album wouldn’t be seen as echoing it’s wild surprise Grammy Album of the Year Nomination it got yesterday. It’s easily the album I played the most this year. Both because the songs are great and because the ordering of them is so (nearly) essential to them.”

“For deep background, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is Sturgill’s opus to his newborn son. The opening lines for the album are, “Hello, my son. Welcome to Earth.” The album goes on from there to offer pearls of wisdom from Sturgill’s elders and all sorts of honest talk to a kid about growing up. In interviews, Sturgill has said he felt like there was a hole in the album when it came to talking to a teenager. His wife told him to try recording what he was listening to when he was a teen, and that’s where this track came from.”

“While “In Bloom” is the most accessible track, I really prefer “Brace for Impact” and “Call to Arms.” I tried hard not to just gush all over the place about this album and think I managed to only select one or two songs from it to share with my group. But my year has kind of been broken into Pre-A Sailor’s Guide to Earth and Post. I also caught Sturgill in October at King’s Theatre. It’s the best concert I’ve ever seen in my life. Full stop.”

5. Kaytranada, 99.9%

Curated by: Amber Robertson, Rock 
Favorite track: “Together”
Record label: XL Recordings

“Because it’s sooo eclectic. Here’s this Haitian-Canadian dude that releases this hip hop-electronic-r&B-alternative mix of songs that had me playing ’em all on repeat. I went back to this album many times this year.”

“It’s very catchy, upbeat and gets you dancing.”

Bass — ElectroPop — House curator, Mallory Johns, also picked this one. She said, “Kaytranada first came on my radar a few years ago when he started releasing epic remixes to R&B hits (like Janet Jackson’s “If I Was Your Girl”), and my ears couldn’t get enough.”

“And after years of patience, he finally dropped his debut album, featuring 15 brand new tracks. For me, the majority of 2016 was spent flying between America’s coasts, and this album’s intoxicating blend of House, Trap and Hip-Hop gave me the confidence boost I needed to conquer any flight, meeting or situation I encountered along the way.”

Favorite track: “Leave Me Alone”

“Whenever I listen to this track I instantly feel so badass. Something about the way Kaytranada mixes abrasive bass, with organ synths and trap beats just makes me swoon.”

6. True Widow, AVVOLGERE

Curated by: Matt Ström, Dream Pop
Favorite track: “F.W.T.S.L.T.M.”
Record label: Relapse Records

“The cathartic, angry drone rock sums up my feelings about this year in general.”

“It has the right combination of pretty chords and grinding distortion.”

7. Katie Gately, Color

Curated by: Daniele Fleischman, Singer-Songwriter 
Favorite track: “Tuck”
Record label: Tri-Angle Records

“Gately takes experimental electronic music to the next level in this poppy and always surprising album.”

“Sexy, earnest and catchy. This song has it all.”

8. Noname, Telefone

Curated by: Tyler Barstow, Swamp Folk
Favorite track: “Casket Pretty”
Record label: self

“Noname is one of the best up and coming rappers and her talent level is incredible. This album is soaked in grief, and her struggles, and her love for herself, her family, and her city. This album taught me more about what it means to talk about, and love, life and the world we live in as it actually is while still hoping for better things.”

“I love this album for the same reasons I loved early Kanye and Chance the Rapper and talent wise, she one hundred percent belongs in their league. I can’t wait to listen to her music for another 40 years.”

“This song is the definition of real talk. I’m stunned by it every time I hear it.”

9. Bon Iver, 22, a million

Curated by: Hannah Clark, Folk Rock
Favorite track: “8 (circle)” 
Record label: Jagjaguwar

“I’ve been waiting for years for this album, and while it’s totally different than previous Bon Iver sound, you can not only tell how he is growing and changing as an artist but also how music in general has been evolving in the past decade.”

“It just resonates with me.”

10. Lucy Dacus, No Burden

Curated by: Becky Welch, Indie Rock
Favorite track: “Strange Torpedo” 
Record label: EggHunt Records

“Lucy Dacus’ debut album blew me away. She writes songs that you can’t help but relate to, and she sings them with a confiding quality so that, by the end of the album, you feel like she’s your new best friend. The vocals are warm and arresting, and the guitar and drums are simple but solid.”

“Her outlook on life and willingness to admit to awkwardness is refreshing. She seems to assure you, “you’re not alone in your insecurities and fears, and we’re going to be OK.”

“I alternate between several songs on this album being my favorite, by I think my current favorite is Strange Torpedo because it’s so catchy.”

11. Suuns, Hold/Still

Curated by: Laura Gluhanich, Modern Eclectic
Favorite track: “Paralyzer”
Record label: Secretly Canadian

“I tried to buy this album at least two times on vinyl. I wasn’t sure if I’d gotten it, so added it to my cart for a second month at Vinyl Me, Please. In reality I’d ordered it twice on accident already and their crack support team helped get it down to a reasonable one. Not sure about impact but it’s clear I needed this record in my life. Make sure you listen to this with good speakers/headphones. Your laptop doesn’t cut it.”

“Runners up? ANOHNI, Michael Kiwanuka, The Jezabels, D.D Dumbo.”

“It is incredibly sexy.”

12. Nails, You Will Never Be One Of Us

Curated by: Arya Rinaldo, Metal
Favorite track: “Into Quietus”
Record label: Nuclear Blast

“Arguably, it’s one of the more mainstream releases in heavy music this year (soz for not ticking the obscure box, guys). But it kind of reminds me of Slayer’s ‘Reign In Blood’. It packs a fuck ton of punches in such a short duration and when I get to the end of it, I wanna go back to track 1 and experience the onslaught all over again. I don’t think I’ve done that with many other albums released this year.”

“In terms of its impact on the world, well, in a year of polarizing politics what better way to declare your stance than shout — fist clenched and from the top of your lungs — ‘YOU WILL NEVER BE ONE OF US!’”

“It’s rare nowadays to hear a breakdown so brutal yet so catchy.”

13. Kornél Kovács, The Bells

Curated by: Jessie Wood, Underground Electronic
Favorite track: “The Bells”
Record label: Studio Barnhus

“Kovács is a stellar producer on the rise in the underground house scene, and I’ve been waiting for a full-length release to dig my teeth into/get down to. I say “house” but his music draws from every corner of the electronic music playground, resulting in a sound that’s both nostalgic and comforting, but also so damn fresh, so wholly right here, right now, with a self-awareness and subtle grace that pulls all these disparate influences together. Bravo.”

“‘BB’ is on a lot of Best Of lists, but my personal favorite is “The Bells.” Melodic and moody, glitched out and endlessly dancey — everything I love in a dance track.”

“Honorable mentions: Radiohead — A Moon Shaped Pool, Chance The Rapper — Coloring Book, Rüfüs — Bloom, Dusky — Outer.”

14. Charisma.com, Aidoro C

Curated by: Bryan Strang, Alternative Rock
Favorite track: “Otsubone Rock"
Record label: Atlantic Records

“I lost my hard drive in January 2016, so my lifetime of music was gone in an instant. This hurt me a lot more than losing David Bowie. It’s taken me all year to rebuild and I still don’t feel whole, but all along I made sure I had the files for this Spotify-less album on every device that could play them.”

“This song was released in December 2015, so I don’t even want to pick it in a round up of 2016, but there’s no way around it. This will probably be my favorite song of 3016 too.”

15. Shura, Nothing’s Real

Curated by: Becki Lee, Upbeat Indie Pop & Synthpop
Favorite track: “Nothing’s Real”
Record label: KIDinaKORNER/Interscope Records

Nothing’s Real by Shura was my favorite album of 2016. The whole thing is a whirling, swirling, ‘80s-tinged indie pop delight. There are uptempo anthems (“What’s It Gonna Be?,” “Indecision”), anxiously tender ballads (“Touch,” “Kidz ’N’ Stuff,” “2Shy”), and a dab of eccentricity (“The Space Tapes”). Her lyrics nail the awkwardness of love and friendship in your 20s — “I sat next to you at lunch/You had your back turned/Reading your magazine/I didn’t want to interrupt/You looked so peaceful/In your own company.” I can’t stop listening to this album.”

“‘Nothing’s Real,’ the title track, is a song about a panic attack Shura had when her song “Touch” became popular on YouTube and major labels started courting her. “I see my heart beat inside/A television screen/My heart is not connected, no/They’re telling me that I’m fine.” The pounding beat of the synths, the zigzagging strings, and even the cowbell and well-placed samples come together to form a perfect portrayal of anxiety, but in a relentlessly catchy format. Quite the feat, if you ask me.”

16. Japanese Breakfast, Psychopomp

Curated by: Caroline Fay, Indie Pop
Favorite track: “In Heaven”
Record label: Dead Oceans

“Before Trump’s presidency became a reality, 2016 was already in flames for your girl. My mom got cancer, and I got depressed. As the Donald would say — sad! …But for real though. Right in the thick of the shitstorm, Japanese Breakfast (aka Michelle Zauner) burst onto the scene with her debut album, Psychopomp, which she created in the wake of her mother’s own passing.

“Despite its inspiration, Psychopomp is bright and open — the opposite of the sonic fetal position that you might expect from a woman in grief. Psychopomp has bottled that triumphant feeling of finding beauty and joy despite whatever bullshit that life might be throwing at you. And for that reason alone — not to mention the album’s spirited melodies, surging vocals, and dense compositions — Psychopomp should be on your short list.”

“‘In Heaven’ best exhibits Michelle Zauner’s innate ability to blend grief and joy (and also to make a kick-ass pop song).”

17. ANOHNI, Hopelessness

Curated by: Matt Federighi, Blues Rock & Soul
Favorite track: “Drone Bomb Me”
Record label: Secretly Canadian

“I’m not sure I would call this my favorite album of 2016. However, I’ve chosen this album because it truly left an impact on me. The lyrics, the creativity, the intensity…”

“ANOHNI used her musical talent not to entertain millions of people, but to express her feelings about real world issues and attempt to give a voice to the voiceless. This is an absolutely beautiful album.”

“‘Drone Bomb Me’ is written in the perspective of a young, Afghani girl who lost her family by a drone bomb. Although this is an extremely heart-wrenching song, it’s been so perfectly written and performed.”

“I know my album choice probably isn’t the most fun, but it’s definitely an album that everyone needs to listen to.”

18. The Notwist, Superheroes, Ghostvillains + Stuff

Curated by: Markus Rom, Cross-Genre Soundscapes
Favorite track: “They Follow Me”
Record label: Sub Pop

“It seemed impossible to do but: they finally did a live album!!”

“I’ve been to that show. This was the first song and it already had me in tears.”

19. Mal Devisa, Kiid

Curated by: Janet Choi, Classical and Indie Smash
Favorite track: “In My Neighborhood"
Record label: self

“I don’t think Deja Carr has even graduated college yet and she’s made a such a fierce album. Her music is profound and alive and her voice makes you sit up and listen.”

“It’s the first track off the Kiid album I heard and I felt like listening to it woke me up. And these days, it’s a good time to be woken up.”

20. Margaret Glaspy, Emotions & Math

Curated by: Jessica Shamma, Singer-Songwriter Rock
Favorite Track: “Memory Street”
Record label: ATO Records

“This album accompanied on almost every one of my 2016 adventures, my favorite of which was driving through Olympic National Park in August.”

“It may seem like just another slow song at the start but once it kicks in, every melody, and lyric is so full of intention and purpose. I could listen to this 4,534 times a day.”

“Honorable Mentions to Cody by Joyce Manor, Impossible Dream by Haley Bonar, Are You Serious by Andrew Bird, and The Party by the one and only Andy Shauf.”

21. James Blake, The Colour in Anything

Curated by: Maria Bhim, Eclectic Indie
Favorite Track: “Choose Me” 
Record label: Polydor Records

“While admittedly this year was filled with more sorrow than triumph, the wins we did manage were landslide victories. Which brings me to my favorite album of 2016: The Colour In Anything. I think it’s important to note, I was neither a self-proclaimed James Blake fan prior, nor am I generally a fan of the electronic genre. But somehow, this album changed the former and made an excellent case for the latter.”

“This album is a beautiful storm where classic and modern fronts collide. Blake’s melodious voice and haunting piano somehow cuts deeper when juxtaposed with stark rhythm, white noise, and robotic autotune. Blake is one of the few exceptions where autotune is interesting because he uses it creatively rather than cosmetically. Let’s put it like this, Blake gets it right in every place where Bon Iver got it wrong. This album is gorgeous from top to bottom and is a fantastic gateway to the electronic genre. This is a made for winter album, so I highly recommend putting on a pair of headphones and gloves, and taking a long walk down to meet me in the maze.”

“Other favorite tracks: “I Need a Forest Fire” and “Two Men Down.”

22. Kevin Morby, Singing Saw

Curated by: Me (Shannon Byrne), Lo-Fi — Psych — Garage Rock
Favorite track: “Black Flowers” 
Record label: Dead Oceans

I had a few favorite albums this year but this was by far my most-listened to. The lyrics are sad but comforting, and everything about it is beautiful. I traveled through the west this summer and this album was the perfect partner in crime. It has a way of making me feel nostalgic and curious about the future at the same time — perfect for train travel.

Kevin Morby is also one of those artists who’s not afraid to do something different with each project, and each keeps getting better. Many people draw similarities between him and Dylan and I don’t disagree but he definitely has his own vibe. Catch them live if you can — it’s a different sound and it’s an experience. Lead guitarist, Meg Duffy is pretty incredible to hear and watch.

Listen to this live version of “Black Flowers” too. This song makes me think of my weird childhood; how rough 2015 was for me; how rough 2016 was for the entire world but a great year for me personally; and how I feel guilty about that. It makes me feel concerned but hopeful for the future.

My honorable mention albums: Sam Evian, Premium; Ty Segall and the Muggers, Emotional Mugger; Luke Temple, A Hand Through The Cellar Door; Alex Cameron, Jumping the Shark; Whitney, Light Upon The Lake; Wilco, Schmilco; Part Friend; Layers of Laughter; Parquet Courts, Human Performance; Nap Eyes, Thought Rock Fish Scale; Mothers, When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired; Kendrick Lamar, Untitled.

Ok, I totally cheated on that honorable mention thing. ;)

If you made it down this far (good for you!), what’s your favorite album this year? We’d love to hear it!

Here’s that playlist again too.

If you love music and like humans, check out A Song A Day. We’re a passionate collective of curators who are obsessed with finding the best music from the most interesting emerging artists. And we like chatting about it too!