Worst year ever? Not for music: Culture Shock’s Best Music of 2016

2016. What a year. Am I right? Yes, I’m right.

To commemorate the year that was, here, once again, is a Spotify playlist, lovingly curated by yours truly. It contains many, many excellent tracks from wonderful artists and bands, and there’s a good chance you’ll find something you like — if not many things you like — somewhere in its roughly three hours running time. I think listening to it in the order I put it in is best, but I won’t be offended if you put it on shuffle.

And now, here, below, are five opinions that I, Emily Burnham, have about the music that was released in 2016 that I, Emily Burnham, personally loved.

1. Hip hop and r&b are far and away the most vital and fascinating area of music currently. I mean, really, does anything even come close? There were some good albums from other genres and scenes, sure, but nothing, absolutely nothing, was as exciting to me as what came out from Danny Brown, Solange, Frank Ocean, the stunning new (and final) album from A Tribe Called Quest, and Kanye West, oh Kanye, dear Kanye, messy, off the rails Kanye. There’s even a new Run the Jewels album that came out a few days ago that I’ve hardly had time to listen to. I don’t have Beyonce’s “Lemonade” on this playlist because Bey is too good for Spotify, and I can’t argue with her. Honestly, if you are sleeping on hip hop in 2016, you are sleeping on a major, important movement in modern music. It’s a line of defense and method of offense in a time of massive uncertainty. It’s inspiring. It’s thrilling.

People use their mobile phones to photograph a mural of David Bowie in Brixton, south London, January 11, 2016. David Bowie, a music legend who used daringly androgynous displays of sexuality and glittering costumes to frame legendary rock hits "Ziggy Stardust" and "Space Oddity", has died of cancer.  REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

People use their mobile phones to photograph a mural of David Bowie in Brixton, south London, January 11, 2016. David Bowie, a music legend who used daringly androgynous displays of sexuality and glittering costumes to frame legendary rock hits “Ziggy Stardust” and “Space Oddity”, has died of cancer. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

2. David Bowie. If you read my blog, you know how I feel about him. You know that January 11 this year was a hard, hard day for me, the first of many hard days in 2016. “Blackstar” is his last album, of course, and it’s easily the best thing he’s put out since “Scary Monsters” in 1980. A light went out in the world when he died. He left us with an elegant, brave, heartbreaking and beautiful statement. I’ve found it hard to relisten to “Blackstar” as the year has stretched on (too sad), but as it ages and I age and we age, I think we’ll be able to look to it as a guidepost on how to live a life with integrity, dignity and deep, deep love.

3. Rock music was kind of boring this year! There were several albums that were spectacular — Parquet Courts, Savages, Car Seat Headrest, Angel Olsen, and Iggy Pop, of course, all of which I loved and listened to repeatedly — but overall, it just wasn’t what was exciting to me. It pales in comparison to hip hop. But, then again, the lines between rock and hip hop and electronic music and other genres continue to blur and warp and change (I hardly consider Radiohead’s new album a rock album, to be honest). Genres are less important than they’ve ever been. I still love a great Josh Homme riff or a clever turn of phrase from a super-smart indie band like Parquet Courts or the existential beauty of Jehnny Beth of Savages’ voice, but it’s no longer my default setting.

4. Let’s hear it for the albums that did not get as much widespread critical love! Esperanza Spaulding, for example, who put out a gorgeous and brilliant album that people totally forgot about it. Thao and the Get Down. Shearwater. I liked that Last Shadow Puppets album a lot. And even Wilco, who put out a sweet and low-key new album this year too.

5. I know I say this every year, but for serious this time: 2016 is the best year for music in years. I think maybe 2010 was the last time I remember there being a critical mass of great music. I think. In a year of constant upheaval and portents of heaviness and death and anger and insecurity, this is always my solace. Onward.

Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, UMaine graduate, proud Bangorian and a writer and editor for Bangor Metro Magazine, the Weekly and the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food to all the cool things going on in the Greater Bangor area. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra. She's interested in everything that happens in Maine. Albums for review are accepted digitally only; please no CDs.