Matthew Martin's Top Albums of 2016
11- Young Thug- Jeffery: I know what you're thinking; this is not an album that would typically get love from this website. But, honestly, this album is wonderful. Sure, Young Thug employs some of the same mumbling rap techniques that can get tiresome, but YT's mastery of that along with the superb production on this album make it one of my favorites of this year, and one of my favorite Hip Hop albums in the last few years not named Run The Jewels. Also, YT is one of Hip Hop's most intriguing artists right now, pushing the envelope on so many things including gender identity- the dude wears a dress on the cover of the album. "Wyclef Jean" is a perfect example of musical perfection with YT's emotional sing-songy delivery.
10- Two Cow Garage- Brand New Flag: Man, TCG had no idea (I think) that this album would hold the weight that it does when they recorded it. I am sure they assumed it would be a footnote in the year of 2016 when things were getting weird. But, things got even weirder and this album got so much more important. TCG are no strangers to heavy, important tunes and on this album prove that they've honed those skills terrifically. "Let The Boys Be Girls" is absolutely one of the best songs of the year.
9- Cody Jinks- I'm Not The Devil: As far as Cody Jinks goes, I'd never really listened to him much, but had heard lots of good things about this album and everyone was absolutely right. This album is an emotional heavyweight with every song containing some heartbreaking moment dealing with either personal or relationship failures. I don't think, in my mind, there's been such a gut-punching true Country album since Dwight Yoakam's Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room. Honestly, if you're looking for a Country album full of hard-driving, honky-tonk, good-timin' tunes, maybe this isn't for you. But, if you're looking for a hell of a Country album that is perfect in just about every way that gets better with every listen and maybe that much better when you're a little down and out, get this right now. "I'm Not The Devil" is the song that got me hooked on this album. Killer song, killer chorus.
8- Paul Cauthen- My Gospel: WHEW! Now, this guy caught me by surprise this year and damn he killed it. This album, unbelievably, is the 2nd best debut album of the year. Every song on this album is perfectly catchy. If there was a just world, THIS would be Pop Country. This is what Roy Orbison would have sounded like if he made an album in 2016. I hope Paul Cauthen continues making music for years to come. He's created a perfect throwback album that is already completely timeless. I dare you to try and listen to "I'll Be The One" without dancing.
7- Natural Child- Okey Dokey: On this throwback album, I think Natural Child has finally figured out how to turn their Punk, Blues, and Country hippie sound into a force to be reckoned with. While they released a similar style album in 2014, they hadn't quite gotten the formula down. Okey Dokey sees all the pieces fall into place and Natural Child create their best album. "Now And Then" is probably the theme song of Natural Child and easily one of their best songs.
6- BJ Barham- Rockingham: For a dude that has been fronting the fairly prolific, constantly touring American Aquarium, I was surprised that BJ Barham had enough extra songs to create a solo album. But, after being overseas when the Paris attacks occurred, Barham felt the need to write a set of songs to deal with the emotions of this ever-changing world and those needless attacks. The result of those songwriting sessions are some of Barham's most affecting songs and an album that is as good as it is heart-wrenching. Try to listen to "The Unfortunate Kind" without tearing up, I dare you.
5- Diarrhea Planet- Turn to Gold: Alright, I won't lie, I'm a DP fanboy. They can do no wrong. BUT, that doesn't mean that I'm wrong! Starting out as a full-on sub-2 minute Punk band, DP began writing more serious, personal songs on their previous album, I'm Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams. On Turn To Gold, DP have mastered the sonic nature of their tunes and created a master album. How any band can have 4 guitars and know how to play quietly at times is beyond me. How DP can do that and then turn the guitars up to 11 and not sound overbearing is a Herculean feat. But, they do it and do it well. This is the mature album that the band with fecal matter in their name probably never thought they'd make. "Bob Dylan's Grandma" is a perfect example of the soft/loud dynamics that DP have mastered.
4- Luke Bell- S/T: This was the best debut of year and one of my most listened-to albums of the year. Every song on this album is perfect cowboy Country. Dwight Yoakam is one of my favorite artists of all time and the influence of Buck Owens on him is not lost on many, if any, people. Luke Bell is the natural progression through the years from Buck to Dwight, and now to Luke. If Paul Cauthen and Luke Bell are the future of Country, then we are going to be A-OK, y'all! "Bullfighter" is a perfect example of Luke Bell's mastery of capturing every day moments in his songs.
3- Sturgill Simpson- A Sailor's Guide to Earth: I was prepared to go into this album with an open mind after hearing that we shouldn't expect a full-on country album. And, thank god. Because, it's not a typical Country album, no, but it's still a wonderful album. It's an album that is so good from start to beginning that I can't imagine any other way of listening to it. If you were turned off by this album's not completely inherent country-ness, I highly suggest you revisit this one with an open mind. This may not be Sturgill's best album, but it's damn close. Every song from start to finish is a homerun, making the album as a whole quite the emotional powerhouse. And, of course knowing the context of the album- written as a love note to his son- only helps the listening experience. "Call To Arms" is probably now my favorite Sturgill song and by the time I got to this song on the album, I couldn't sit down. Such a barn-burner, such a wonderful way to end a wonderful album.
2- Arliss Nancy- Greater Divides: I wrote about this album on this site earlier this year, and my feelings on this album have done nothing but gotten stronger. This is without a doubt Arliss Nancy's best album. There is not one weak song, not one weak moment. The songs on this album are the kinds you need to hear- songs to make you feel happy for being alive and resilient through those times that are less than perfect. Again, in a world that makes sense, this band and this album would be popular. The band and songs have never sounded better or tighter. The growth over their last 3 albums is incredible. I can't wait to hear where they go next. "Finches" is a great example of Arliss Nancy's ability to take a normal moment and feel all the weight in that moment through past failures/triumphs.
1- Drive-By Truckers- American Band: There is not a more important album in Drive-By Truckers' repertoire. I say that fully aware of the importance of Southern Rock Opera and even The Dirty South. However, this is important in a very different manner. This is an album written by deep-red-state Southern men about issues that many in this region turn away from. This is DBT taking their implicitly political music and making it as explicit as possible. And, in the process, they made a few fans turn away from them. But, the band didn't back down and, to my way of thinking, we're much better for it. This is the album we needed in 2016, and will continue to need as we move forward. It's ok for us to have differing opinions and as Cooley says, "if the victims and oppressors, just remain each other's others," then where will we be over the next few years. So, this album is an impressive call to arms for everyone to look ourselves and those who differ from us in the eye and figure out how to find some common ground, while also calling bullshit on those who wish to divide us. "What It Means" is already in my top 5 favorite DBT songs and to me, this is the best song of the year. The best song of the year on the best album of the year by one of the most important Southern bands of our time.