2016 was the year where I thought I was out but they pulled me back in. “They” being my lifelong urges toward consuming records and movies and then thinking about them, talking about them and maybe sometimes even writing about them. Early in the year, my primary professional responsibility morphed from “arts and entertainment editor” to “new kind of general city columnist” and between daily deadlines and a couple of kids, I drifted away from full engagement with new culture more than at any point since probably before college.
The urge to revisit and explore birthed this blog as a landing point for old lists and new lists of old things, but a muscle-memory sense of duty toward filing ballots in film and music polls shifted my attention back toward the present over the past couple of months, and, man, did I miss it. So I’ll keep better track next year, even if I’m still not writing as much, and probably in some capacity in this space. As for now, I’m putting a bow on 2016 with my favorite albums, singles, films and (a bow to the times) television of the past year. If my consumption of the former (and superior) three was a little skimpier this year than in the past, so it goes. Next month, I’ll return to this blog’s occasional but primary pursuit, with revisits of 1996 and 2004 next on deck. But first, on to 2016:
I wrote a little bit about some of these albums and a few of the singles below it here. This list probably has even more of a country tilt than most recent years because, in addition to inclination, even as my overall listening was scaled back, I still vote in the Nashville Scene country music critics poll, so I kept up a little better there than in other core (to me) genres. If this was a good year for indie rock, I missed most of it, as even albums from bands I know I like (Parquet Courts, Coathangers, Julie Ruin) didn’t stick with me quite as much as some of their past stuff. Maybe it was me, and maybe I’ll get reacquainted with guitar rock in 2017. As for Hamilton, as I note in the linked piece above, it was a late(ish) 2015 record, but one I didn’t fully absorb until 2016.
These numbered lists can sometimes be a little misleading. One thing I’ve always liked about the Village Voice’s annual Pazz and Jop poll (renamed for 2016, but forever Pazz and Jop here) is the points system that gives you 100 points to distribute over 10 albums, max of 30, minimum of 5 per title. On my PnJ ballot, I gave 20 points to Chance and 12 each to McKenna, Rihanna, and the Truckers. The rest were in single digits, so this list features a strong #1 and a three-album second-tier.
- Coloring Book — Chance the Rapper
- The Bird & The Rifle — Lori McKenna
- Anti – Rihanna
- American Band – The Drive-By Truckers
- Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording – Various Artists (2015)
- We Got it From Here .. Thank You 4 Your Service — A Tribe Called Quest
- Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest
- Upland Stories – Robbie Fulks
- The Weight of These Wings – Miranda Lambert
- Eastside Bulldog – Todd Snider
- AIM – M.I.A.
- A Sailor’s Guide to Earth — Sturgill Simpson
- Big Day in a Small Town — Brandy Clark
- The Life of Pablo – Kanye West
- Midwest Farmer’s Daughter — Margo Price
Most places (the Nashville Scene poll is an exception) have dispensed with the “singles” designation in favor of just “songs.” I tend to stick to some notion of “singles” as songs experienced outside an album context even though as a matter of commerce it’s mostly a distinction without a difference these days.
“Humble & Kind” was a huge hit for Tim McGraw. I’m not sure if it was really a “single” for McKenna, who wrote it, though she did release a video for it (as with “The Bird & the Rifle”). But when McGraw sings it, he sounds like a country singer who’s been handed a good song. When McKenna sings it, she sounds like a mother singing her own words to her own children.
- “Love on the Brain” – Rihanna
- “We the People” — A Tribe Called Quest
- “Humble & Kind” – Lori McKenna
- “Cranes in the Sky” – Solange
- “Record Year” – Eric Church
- “Work” – Rihanna with Drake
- “Formation” — Beyonce
- “No Problem” — Chance the Rapper
- “Hold Up” – Beyonce
- “FDT”- YG
- “Ultralight Beam” – Kanye West
- “Better Man” – Little Big Town
- “Daddy Lessons” — Beyonce with Dixie Chicks
- “Vice” — Miranda Lambert
- “Three Packs a Day” – Courtney Barnett
Five Favored Non-Singles:
- “Blessings” – Chance the Rapper
- “Ever South” – Drive-By Truckers
- “Halfway Home” – Lori McKenna
- “Needed” – Robbie Fulks (close runner-up: “Alabama at Night”)
- “Three Kids, No Husband” — Brandy Clark
As good as Moonlight is — and there’s nothing else quite like it, even as it nods (rather heavily in its final third) to my beloved Wong Kar-Wai — I doubt it would have topped my film list in many other of the past 20 years. A year full of good films, as most are, but short on great ones.
- Everybody Wants Some!!
- Manchester By the Sea
- I Am Not Your Negro
- Hell or High Water
- Green Room
- La La Land
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
- Little Men
- The Witch
- Edge of Seventeen
- The Fits
Unlike the album, single/song and film lists, this isn’t a list of favorites, it’s a list of everything. I still privilege music and film over television and the majority of my TV diet is basketball and politics. So this is all of the 2016 television I watched in full form. A few notes:
I might be more of a music/movies person, but I think my favorite cultural thing of 2016 was probably Atlanta, and especially its first episode, which had a tone and rhythm not quite like anything else I’d seen. There was some of the absurdity of high-end modern sitcoms (30 Rock, Arrested Development), but paired with a sense of place and feel for incident more associated with the being-born period of American indie film (there’s maybe some Jarmusch, some Linklater, some Spike Lee). And that talk-show episode suggests there are some Hollywood Shuffle fans involved. But it was its own thing, and no place in 2016 I more enjoyed hanging out.
People vs. O.J. and Made in America are companion pieces, of course, and pretty much ties here. The latter is the more gargantuan achievement, and it probably seems a little disreputable to put its pulpier, fictionalized companion piece one place higher, but if Atlanta was my favorite thing of 2016, the Marcia Clark showcase episode of People vs. O.J. might have been my second favorite, Sarah Paulson in full flight and Otis Redding on the soundtrack.
Stranger Things at the bottom of this list isn’t totally an insult — I didn’t stick it out with anything I didn’t like — but something about it did rub me the wrong way. Yes, it’s better than the Gilmore Girls encore, which is a transparent piece of fan service (and I’m a fan), but as a white guy who grew up in the 1980s reading Stephen King novels and watching John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg movies, I didn’t thrill at being so microtargeted. The kids were charming and the masonry of the bricolage immaculate, but I felt just little bit too pandered to.
- American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson
- O.J.: Made in America
- Game of Thrones
- Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
- Stranger Things