Happy New Year! It's been a tumultuous year for me and for many of us of a certain age. I lost a brother. The world lost a slew of pop culture -- Carrie Fisher, Alan Richman, Craig Sager, John Glenn -- and music icons -- Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, et al. One comfort for me was music and my rediscovery of vinyl. The warm, comforting sound of analog became my daily meditative fix. Quite literarily. Seeking out vinyl "nuggets" became a quest to help me deal with my own pain and depression. Chasing down albums that I owned thirty years, abadonded at the advent of those shiny new things called compact discs. Restorative analog power reigned o'er me. One of my chief caveats: I would not purchase anything on vinyl that I already owned on compact disc. Well, that rule didn't last long as I found comfort in such ancient vinyl relics as The Who's Quadrophenia, Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsies, Neil Young's After the Goldrush, Joni Mitchell's Hissing of Summer Lawns, The Beatles' Yesterday and Today, and plenty more.
In no order other than it was chicken soup for my soul, I present my favorite music of 2016. Yes, some of it is old, some of it new, but all of these albums I now play on my turntable.
Temple of the Dog - Temple of the Dog (A&M) "Say Hello 2 Heaven"... Back in 1991, a Seattle superband recorded one of hard rock's finest albums as an homage to Mother Love Bone's deceased lead singer, Andrew Wood. (Some might say that it was a bridge to Pearl Jam.) And now twenty-five years later, it was finally released on vinyl. Featuring members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, this rockin' double album is amazing, start to finish; not one lame song. I happened to catch them live at Madison Square Garden last month. The ever-charismatic Chris Cornell's vocals were extraordinary live, uncaged by the time away from this material. And Pearl Jam's Mike McCready is a beast on the lead guitar, one of the finest touring guitarists on the planet. While it was announced that the band would only perform five dates, one hopes they launch a major tour in 2017.
Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again (Interscope) This British-based singer-songwriter's new album, Love & Hate, is fantastic, and the single "Black Man in a White World" should be nominated for a "single of the year" on somebody's year-end awards show, but his timeless vibe on his 2012 debut album really struck a very deep chord in me. A latter-day Bill Withers/Terry Callier filtered through a modern music prism; throwback but thrown forward. Soulful folk and blues all stirred together. A timeless classic that was probably too sophisticated for most American radio stations, when it was first released.
Frank Zappa - Joe's Garage, Acts 1-3 & Hot Rats (Zappa) Reissued on vinyl and pressed from their original mixes; the genius of Mr. Zappa must be heard on vinyl to truly be appreciated. The jazz-rock fusion-fury of Hot Rats is a lesson in band communion. The sprawling insantiy of the rock opera Joe's Garage offers all that Zappa does so well -- satire, scatalogical humor, various musical genres, and exceptional musicianship. [Steve wishes to add that Zappa's solo on "Watermelon in Easter Hay" is proof that he made room for beauty in his often-confrontational art.] And while it does sag ever so slightly, taken in its entirity it is stunning nonetheless.
Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here (Harvest) I actually didn't buy my favorite Pink Floyd album on vinyl until I finally caught guitarist David Gilmour at Radio City Music Hall on a Sunday night in April. It was hands-down my favorite live show of 2016. Yes, I have a serious man-crush on his lead-guitar heroics. And yes, the songs ain't too shabby either. But this album is the pinnacle of their storied career. The seeming simplicity of the songs reveal so much on every listen. And then there is David's four notes on his Fender Stratocaster on "Welcome to the Machine" that have become one of the most memorable musical mantras ever.
Syd Arthur - Apricity (Harvest) - This young Canterbury-based prog band enlisted the aid of uber-producer Jason Faulkner for its third album. I saw the group open for Jake Bugg at Terminal 5 in New York. Very impressive chops and catchy tunes. Don't let the prog genre turn you off -- they are quite melodic and catchy.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - No More Shall We Part (Mute) Yes, the new album Skeleton Key is a haunting and accolade-worthy effort, his answer to losing his teenage son, but this album released in 2001 is his masterpiece. Top to bottom, his best songs played by his best band ever. Tragic, and even more haunting than his new album, this album exposes Cave's pathos like never before. Listen to the emotive majesty of "God Is in the House" and try not to be moved. An album I played when I needed to sit and reflect on my life.
New Order - Lost Sirens (Warner Bros.) Released in 2013, this compilation grabbed leftover tracks from the Waiting for the Sirens' Call album and the last sessions of this Manchester quartet to feature their original bassist, Peter Hook, This quickly became one of my go-to albums this fall. I rank it right up there with Power, Corruption & LIes. I always preferred Bernard Sumner's guitar-forward tracks.
Crowded House - Temple of Low Men & Woodface (Capitol) Reissued on vinyl, all the titles are fantastic, but the two mentioned are essential. Guitars and melodic alt-pop rock never sounded better (except for perhaps their U.K.-based rivals XTC). Woodface might be the Brother's Finn crowning achievement. So many memorable songs, beautiful harmonies, smart lyrics, and sumptuous melodies. Some may prefer the darker tone and textures of Temple of Low Men; "Into Temptation" is still my favorite track by this New Zealand outfit. But I say, pick up both. You're certain to spend quality time with each of them.
And so I shall ring in the new year, having had the courage to sit through Kenneth Lonergan's brilliant and Oscar-worthy film Manchester By The Sea and contemplate my own place in my life's little rollercoaster ride. And I am not ashamed that I let the music soothe me. And I know that it will continue to soothe me as my life unfolds in 2017.