Here it is, as always, my Best of Music 2016 post. You knew it was coming. I am by no means an expert in music, in any genre, in composition or technique. Most music nerds probably think I have terrible taste in music, if I’m honest with myself. I love pop, I love Broadway, I love 90’s punk/rock/emo. But I do this every year anyway, because it’s a wonderful chance to reflect on how music has helped to shape my year and wherever I find myself now.
First of all, I must say a goodbye. I could write for days about how much the losses of Prince & David Bowie affected me, but no musical loss (probably in my lifetime) has hit me harder than that of Leonard Cohen. I had the unbelievable privilege of seeing him live at the Wang Theater in December of 2012, and four years later I still have a hard time believing it. His death hit me viscerally, as if I suddenly had to say goodbye to a loved one. I will never forget the first time I heard “Famous Blue Raincoat” and to this day I am transported back to that heartbreaking, inspiring, soaring moment every single time I hear it. I could write essays on the loss of Prince and Bowie, but I can scarcely touch Cohen with words.
And now, on to the best of the best (in my humble, totally distasteful opinion; in no particular order)…
Of course, first and foremost, You Want it Darker, by Mr. Cohen. In my opinion the most important song writer of the modern era (yes, I place him higher than Dylan, no matter what the Nobel committee says). The last of his work to be released just before his death, I feel it was a fitting capstone. The acoustic album nearly feels like a conversation between Cohen & god – it’s intimate, sparse, rugged in tone, and it’s… breathtakingly beautiful, as so much of his work always was. We have lost one of the best there ever was, but he left behind so much art, including this, his last.
Hamilton: An American Musical & The Hamilton Mixtape by Lin-Manuel Miranda. THERE ARE NO WORDS FOR MY LOVE FOR LINA-MANUEL MIRANDA AND EVERYTHING MUSICAL THAT HE TOUCHES. Ok, now that’s out of the way. It’s true that the Original Broadcast Recording was released in 2015, but it has been the single most listened record of my entire 2016 by a landslide, and so I’m including it here. Not only are the production and performance flawless, but the musical invokes something bigger than Broadway. It’s the larger than life story of our Founding Fathers & Mothers (not just Alexander Hamilton!) and gives personality and a modernity to topics like legacy, revolution, work ethic, diplomacy, race, decorum, slavery, party lines, family, duty… It is by far the best thing to come out of Broadway in the last 20 years (seeing as 20 years ago Rent debuted). The Mixtape is the perfect combination of all of this and chart topping artists like Usher, Kelly Clarkson, The Roots, and Alicia Keys. It also seems to rediscover incredible talents like Busta Rhymes (!!!), Ben Folds, Nas, Queen Latifah, and Ashanti & Ja Rule. As actress Nina Dobrev said when it was released, “If you haven’t listened to the Hamilton Mixtape yet, I don’t know what you’ve been doing with your life.”
Lukas Graham – (Blue Album) – I wasn’t expecting such an emotional gut punch when I first picked up this album. Yes, “7 Years” was an emotional ballad, but I figured it was the one big ballad single, and that was that. Instead, this Danish band created (nearly) an entire album about growing up, loss, family, and really all the things life and death are made up of. It also has a couple of really fun tracks (like “Strip No More”) that remind you Lukas Graham is a pop act with a lot more up their sleeves. Favorite tracks: “7 Years” | “Mama Said” | “Funeral” | “You’re Not Here”.
Blake Shelton – If I’m Honest – I’ve always been a fan of Blake Shelton’s straightforward pop-country. It’s got true southern routes in rock and pop and bluegrass, but with his own modern take. If I’m Honest, I feel, is his best album to date. Slightly genre bending with tracks like “Go Ahead and Break My Heart” – a duet with current girlfriend Gwen Stefani of ska and rock fame, he steps outside of his comfort zone and nails it. Popular singles like “Came Here to Forget” and “She’s Got a Way with Words” are familiar and yet honest in a way that tells the story of the album. Favorite tracks: “Go Ahead and Break My Heart” | “Came Here to Forget” | “A Guy With A Girl”.
Favorite singles of the year: “Cold Water” by Major Lazer (feat. Justin Bieber); “T-Shirt” by Thomas Rhett; “Closer” by The Chainsmokers (I also love the cover by Conor Maynard and Alexa Goddard); “H.O.L.Y.” by Florida Georgia Line; “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” by Meghan Trainor (feat. John Legend); “My Way” by Calvin Harris; “Love Make the World Go Round” by Lin-Manuel Miranda & Jennifer Lopez; “No More Drama” by Wé McDonald.
Older Music I can’t get enough of: Rent the Original Broadway Cast Recording & Motion Picture Soundtrack; Next’s “Wifey”; The Last Five Years Motion Picture Soundtrack featuring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordon; Next to Normal the Original Broadway Cast Recording; Usher’s My way.