Monday, January 2, 2017

The Best of 2016

2016 was a rough year in the music world. It started in January when we lost David Bowie then Prince and Merle Haggard both passed away in April, Sharon Jones and Lenard Cohen in November and we just learned of George Michael's death right after Christmas. That's not even the full list. . .


These were visionary artists. They were creative, free spirits in their own right. They pushed the envelope, broke, bent and blended musical genres. Without these musicians, singers, song-writers some of today's "stars" would have never found their voice, they would have never been heard. They didn't just change music, they shaped it in a lot of ways.

Some people say that 2016 is the year that music died and it's hard not to agree, but life isn't fair and we gotta have faith.  As hard as it may be to see a silver lining, the last year did have some good stuff. 

I get excited when bands and/or artists announce new albums and I wait to buy physical copies of my favorites, which is an anomaly now for a couple different reasons. A lot of people don't listen to albums anymore and I'm not talking about vinyl. I mean pressing play and listening to an album from start to finish. It's a trend I've picked up on the last couple of years: asking people what their favorite albums of the year are so far more often than not the answer is "I don't know, I don't really listen to whole albums." People listen to songs and they don't buy physical copies of music.
Even services like Spotify make it hard to listen to an album as it's meant to be heard. Sure you can listen to all of the tracks but the only option you have is to play it on shuffle which just isn't the same.  Not only do I love full albums and listening to an album's tracks in the order the artist envision them to be heard but I love starting the new year, wondering what upcoming new releases will make it to my best of list. It's something to keep in mind all year long.
Here are my favorites from this year.


                                                                                     #1 M.I.A - A.I.M

After being shelved for months on end because the record label told her it wasn't controversial enough, M.I.A's 5th album, A.I.M, was finally released on September 9th! A.I.M isn't as world music sounding like we've heard on M.I.A's older albums, there's far less fog horns but like 2013's Matagni, M.I.A's lyrics could be considered controversial, you just have to listen and understand. She touches on topics of race, religion, refugees, Prejudices, acceptance and how the Western World has affected and continues to affect and influence all of that and everything in between. We've heard her sing these themes through out her career and I think this is her most beautiful piece of work: "Freedun" and "Survivor" being her prettiest songs.

I find it interesting that she recycles some of her old work, not by sampling but re-using lyrics from albums past or mentioning old lyrics and/or songs.  I love that the name of the album is her name backwards, it plays into how introspective her music can be: how well she's come to know herself inside and out as an artist, an activist, a mother, a person and how she inspires others not to be afraid to do the same. Or to go ahead and be afraid but to knowledge that fear, own it and then overcome it. The album features collaborations: pop-star Zyan (One Direction) on "Freedun" and version of "Bird Song" by Blaqqstar. There's another version of the same song remixed by he ex (boyfriend/producer) Diplo, which I think is a wonderful testament to how great M.I.A is. Hopefully the rumors about this being her last album are not true but unfortunately because of her re-occuring VISA issues and now our President Elect, who knows if and when we'll see M.I.A on stage in the states again.

#2 The Kills - Ash & Ice

It had been five years since hearing anything new from The Kills so I was beyond excited in March when The Kills announced they were releasing their 5th album, Ash & Ice on June 3rd! And they were going on tour in support of it! The dynamic garage rock duo really grew up on 2011's Blood Pressures refining their raw grit yet remaining true to their rock roots. The same is goes for Ash & Ice. I love the way their voices compliment each other's and the way they harmonize...I can't put my finger on's just a deep, pure sound that Alison and Jamie create. When you listen to The Kills there's a sense that they are meant to be, I can't explain can hear it, especially on "Echo Home."

If I had to pick a standout track it'd have to be "Doing It To Death" but track for track this a standup album. Feels good to have The Kills back! They'll  be back on the road again soon too, celebrating 15 years of rockin' and rollin'!

#3 Deap Vally - Femejism

Lindsey and Julie have always rocked and I dare say they rock harder on their sophomore album, Femejism.  They met in a knitting class, started playing music together and having been rocking the music scene since their 2011 debut. Last Year, the duo's drummer, Julie toured while pregnant with her first child and they were working on the new album! Now she has a baby and as of September 16th, we have their new album! Femejism is grittier with heavy garage rock influences and less greasy blues but that appeal is still there just not as prominent as it was on Sistrionix

With big, confident guitar riffs, plenty of fuzzy reverb, coarse vocals and galloping drums, this album will bring you back to "Doll Parts" by Hole days,  it has that sort of 1990's grunge feel.
"Baby Beauty Queen" and "Teenage Queen" are at the top of my favorite track list off this badass album from a couple of badass women.

                              #4 The Lumineers - Cleopatra

The Lumineers finally followed up their crazy successful self-titled debut four years later with "Cleopatra" on April 8th! It took a few listens for this album to really resonate: it has the acoustic friendly, indie-folk sound that The Lumineers do so well but it's missing that sparkling optimism we heard on the first album.Cleopatra is a bit sadder, like someone in the band went through a breakup, the album carries that sort  heaviness.  The first single "Ophelia" probably has the biggest optimistic spirit with a chorus that  invites you to sing along in the same way that the chorus of "Ho Hey" does. I love the melancholiness in the lyrics of title track, "Cleopatra" and Cleopatra as a whole ended up making it to my last after a little tender listening. 

Not all of these are necessarily my favorite songs or singles of 2016 but there's no denying that they were some of the hottest tracks of the year!

Bang Bang - Green Day = Green Day is back with a BANG in the best way! With whirling guitars and rolling drums this song is fast the way a good punk song should be! It's one to be listened to loud and that's exactly what I do every time it comes on the radio! It's great to have these local punks back in action! I love the Beastie Boy's, "Sabotage"- esque music video for it too!

GUCCI COOCHI - Die Antwoord = The weirdness of Die Antwoord that captured weirdo's hearts   has slowly been fading away but GUCCI COOCHI is dark, fuzzy, flirty and not as ravey as some of their other new stuff. And it features Dita VonTease so...that's awesome and hot!

Me Too - Megan Trainer = Learning  to love myself isn't easy but this song helps!
Totally my #1 guilty pleasure of the year and it's great for any workout playlist!

Can't Stop the Feeling - Justin Timberlake = The hot single from the Trolls soundtrack quickly became the song of Summer of 2016 and heck, it could easily be the song of the year! You can't help but smile, sing and shake your groove thang when you hear this song, am I right?! Forget the suit and tie, Justin Timberlake brought sexy back with this pop sensation!

We The People... - A Tribe Called Quest = EIGHTEEN YEARS. That's the last time A Tribe Called Quest released new music and their sixth studio album, We Got It From Here...Thank You For Your Service, couldn't have come at a better time. "We The People..." is the first song off the album to get air-play.

HandClap - Fitz and the Tantrums = I'm honestly so sick of this song. It has saturated the radio (alternative, contemporary, and top 40 stations alike), commercials and fitness studios since it's release but it is good to see this band getting to revel in success

Blood in the Cut - K-Flay = The Bay Area's K-Flay is finally getting regular airplay with the uniquely catchy "Blood in the Cut" off her 2016 EP Crush Me and I couldn't be happier for this Stanford grad! It's a totally solid girl-power anthem!

Work - Rhianna feat. Drake  = This song got a lot of flack when it hit the airwaves earlier this year for being hard to understand (fans and critics alike would later learn Rhi-Rhi derived lyrics from a an English-based creole language called Jamaican Patios). Like it or not, it is another hit single from Rhianna. Just like a job, sometimes I like this song and sometimes I don't.

Starboy - The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk = I don't really care for this song but a lot of people do! Like Fitz and The Tantrums' Handclap this song has been everywhere all year! I didn't really care for the last Daft Punk single,  "Get Lucky" either but regardless of what I like, the DJ duo know how to make a hit. Daft Punk's hand in this song played a role in making The Weeknd a (bigger) star.

(this one goes to 11)
 Needless to say this list was not easy to compile and just because the shows that didn't make the list doesn't mean they weren't great: CHVRCHES with Wolf Alice, Cage the Elephant opening for Metallica AND headlining at the Bill Graham Civic, How to Dress Well & Bishop Briggs at Mezzanine, The Heavy at The Independent, Young the Giant at The Fox Theater, Oakland, The Head and The Heart at The Greek...I'm talking' about you!

Sleigh Bells @ Mezzanine 11/16/2016
photo by Evan Andrews 

#1 Sleigh Bells at Mezzanine 11/16/2016
If you read my review of Sleigh Bells at Mezzanine in November you know how excited I was to cover that show! Alexis came down with laryngitis the night before their first of two scheduled shows at The Independent, however; instead of canceling both shows they merged both shows into one and moved it to Mezzanine on November 16th! How badass it that!?!
The front woman wasn't 100% but it didn't matter  because Sleigh Bells still blew the roof off the place with an  amazing, full throttle set!

The Lumineers @ Great American Music Hall 12/6/2016
photo by Nikki DeMartini

#2 The Lumineers at Great American Music Hall 12/6/2016
I caught their set at Bottle Rock Napa Valley but it doesn't get much better than getting to see The Lumineers in such an intimate setting. It may have been radio station show but they didn't phone it in!

Snoop Dogg @ The Fox Theater 12/12/2016
photo by Nikki DeMartini

#3 Snoop Dogg at The Fox Theater Oakland 12/12/2016
I saw the Dogg Father at a festival a few years ago but again, one off shows are always better and this was SNOOP DOGG at The Fox! He played all the hits and Warren G joined him on stage for a couple songs! Be still my hip-hop heart.
 If you would have told my high school self that I'd see these legends share a stage at a show I wouldn't have believed you. I'm thrilled to cross this one off my show bucket-list!

Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros @ The Independent 4/11/2016
photo by Nikki DeMartini

#4 Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros at The Independent 4/11/2016
The first big band I was approved to cover of 2016! Great, spirited set from this oddball group of gypsies at the sold-out show.

#5 At The Drive In at The Warfield
One of my friends, a lovely lady who I admire a lot, was in town and had an extra ticket for At The Drive In and asked me if I wanted to go. It was so cool to see At The Drive In on their come back tour with one of my favorite people from the side of the stage! Cedric had crazy energy and their die-hard fans ate it up at the sold-out show!

#6 Outside Lands at Golden Gate Park August 9th, 10th, 11th 
It doesn't matter who's playing, Outside Lands is always one of my favorites! I'm so grateful to be on the colorful team of vendor coordinators, working alongside Mitch this Summer in The Forrest learning how to put up fencing and scrim plus so much more.
Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, Third Eye Blind, Peaches, Big Freedia and Major Lazor were some of my favorite sets but being a vendor coordinator and working with that team is by far my favorite highlight of OSL.

#7 Green Day headlining Not So Silent Night at Oracle Arena 12/10/2016
Green Day's headlining set at LIVE105's Not So Silent night was amazing. The Bay Area proud band  were on fire, playing classics, hits from American Idiot and new stuff. Billie Joe made a touching tribute to the victims and survivors and everyone effected by the deadly Ghostship fire in Oakland, playing "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" in their honor. He brought a boy on stage to preform with them and the kid blew everyone away with his bass playing skills, including the front man himself who let the kid keep the bass guitar! It was a stellar set from some of the best punks around. It's like Green Day never left.

#8 WEEZER at The Shoreline 7/31/2016
I was giddy with excitement when I got invited to this show and I'm not even a huge WEEZER fan!  I'm not familiar with their new stuff but they played "My Name is Jonas" and "Say It Ain't So" and that's all I needed.

#9 The Kills at The Fox Theater Oakland
I love The Kills. I love The Fox. Ash & Ice is one of my favorite albums of the year so seeing The Kills  perform songs off their new album live at The Fox was awesome! 

Florence and The Machine @ Bottlerock Napa 5/28/2016
photo by Marc Fong 
#10 BottleRock Napa Valley 2016 & Treasure Island Music Festival Day 2
This was my first time at BottleRock: perfect weather + wine + Florence and the Machine + Red Hot Chili Peppers + The Lumineers + Deap Vally + K-Flay + Diego's Umbrella + with one of my best friends = great festival experience!
I'm sad to see Treasure Island Music Fest go but I am happy I was there for at least one of the days of it's 10th and final year. I had a fun time experiencing my first Fest in the rain and got to see the two bands I wanted to see: Sylvan Esso and Purity Ring!

Purity Ring @ T.I.M.F 10/16/2016
photo by Nikki DeMartini

#11 Metallica at AT&T Park 2/6/2016 & Metallica at The Fox Theater Oakland 12/17/2016
Book ending the year with seeing Metallica is reason enough to squeeze these shows on my Best Shows of 2016 list.

Metallica @ The Fox Theater 12/17/2016
photo by Nikki DeMartini

New albums rumored for release in 2017
HAIM (Summer)
Lorde (TBD)
The XX (January 13th)
Nine Inch Nails (TBD)
Run the Jewels (January 13th)
Iggy Azalea (TBD)
Icona Pop (May 31st, 2017)
The Shins (January 2017)
Nelly Furtado (March 31st)
The Chainsmokers (TBD)
St. Vincent (Spring)
Depeche Mode (Spring)
Paramore (TBD)
Suicide Silence (February)
Wavves (April)
Sylvan Esso (TBD)

Who else is excited to hear what new music the new year has in store?!

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