Staff Lists: Steven Hyden’s 50 Favorite Albums of 2016

What is it about year-end albums lists that drives people to actually loathe music? Is it the numbing sameness of the lists? Is it the arrogance of declaring something “best” in a field as vast and impossible to traverse as popular music? Is it the reduction of art to sport or (worse) math?

The answers, of course, are “yes,” “yes,” and “yes.”

For my own list, I’d like to preface with some context: The only redeeming aspect of music list-making season is spotlighting albums that people might have missed earlier in the year. On my list, you’ll surely see albums that you’re familiar with, but hopefully you’ll also make a discovery or two that will brighten your day in these dark times.

Also: I don’t claim that these are the best albums, only my favorite albums of 2016. Perhaps this distinction will strike some as “nitpicky” or “purely semantic” or “flat-out weaselly.” But trust me: I’ve been doing this for a while, and I know that approximately one minute after this list posts, I’ll find five records that I like more than anything I’ve included here. And, while that’s always bad for my lists, it’s great for me, because I like discovering good stuff that I didn’t already know about, no matter the calendar year or my professional deadlines.

My point is, every list is just a snapshot of whatever the list-maker was able to put in his ears during the assigned period. Anyone claiming to be more definitive than that is either kidding themselves or a liar.

If you truly expect any list to accurately sum up the totality of the art produced in a calendar year, you are setting yourself up for outrage. If, however, you approach a list in the spirit it was created — as a celebration of good art — then the exercise suddenly becomes way more fun than looking at a list of records ought to be.

Anyway, here’s what I liked.

When you make a list, sometimes the albums in the lower reaches end up sounding better a year later, because you haven’t worn them out as much. So, it’s possible that my favorite album of 2016 five years from now could very well be one of these albums. (My bet is on Sat. Nite Duets’ Air Guitar, a slacker’s survey of indie-rock history that didn’t get nearly enough attention this year, or The Dirty Nil’s “Higher Power,” which spawned one of my favorite songs of 2016, “Zombie Eyed,” which reminds me a little of Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy.”)