It was a year of triumph and tragedy for rock ‘n’ roll. While we lost legends in David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, who each gave us records that rank alongside their ’70s classics. Luckily, the genre’s future is looking bright as young outfits like Kaleo, DOROTHY and The Temperance Movement helped make 2016 a great year for rock.
David Bowie, Blackstar
Just two days before he left this mortal coil David Bowie released Blackstar, a stunning exploration of avant-garde rock. Inspired by the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Death Grips and Boards of Canada, the Thin White Duke leads listeners through maze-like compositions laced with touches of jazz and electronica. Quite honestly, this is some of the boldest music Bowie ever released.
The Temperance Movement, White Bear
White Bear is the kind of rock ‘n’ roll that the Brits excelled at in the ’70s. The choruses are crazy catchy, and the bluesy boogie is badass. But while the quartet certainly love their vintage Stones, they also possess a vibe that’s sleek and uniquely modern.
Ray LaMontagne, Ouroboros
Ouroboros is an immaculate achievement for Ray LaMontagne, a singer/songwriter who grows more ambitious with each new effort. Produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, the song cycle comes swathed in cosmic ether. A true sonic journey, LaMontagne makes detours through obsidian blues and Dark Side of the Moon-style atmosphere. Strap in and enjoy the ride.
The Pretty Reckless, Who You Selling For
A couple of years ago grungy hard rock was getting super stale and boring — but then came Taylor Momsen and The Pretty Reckless. Picking up where 2014’s Going to Hell left off, Who You Selling For takes lunging riffs and raw angst inspired by Nirvana and Alice in Chains and grafts them to cutting-edge pop hooks and sassy glitz. Best off all, the songwriting is agile and immersive.
Leonard Cohen, You Want it Darker
We lost the great Leonard Cohen in 2016 but not before giving us one of the best albums of his storied career. Smoky and seductive, You Want it Darker nestles itself between death and spirituality. Stripping the music to its barest essentials, Cohen lets his deep, hushed voice and cryptic poetry become the music’s defining qualities — as it should be.
A/B boasts the global hit, “Way Down We Go,” a moody slice of hymnal rock that rivals Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” in terms of hypnotic beauty. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. From beginning to end, this bluesy set will captivate listeners with its inimitable blend of tough rockers and tender meditations. Great stuff.
Deap Vally, Femejism
As with the L.A. duo’s previous two albums, Femejism proves that Deap Vally are one of rock’s best kept secrets. Falling somewhere between Royal Blood and The White Stripes, six-stringer Lindsey Troy and drummer Julie Edwards unload gobs of rude fuzz and funky, battering-ram beats. Most of the songs are soaked in bad attitude, and that’s totally awesome.
The Rolling Stones, Blue & Lonesome
The Stones’ best record since Steel Wheels is a tribute to the Chicago blues that inspired them to pick up instruments in the early ’60s. Blue & Lonesome is raw, youthful and fun. Keef’s guitar slashes all over the place, while Mick’s mouth harp sounds like an alley cat in heat. Who says you can’t go home again?
Rock most certainly isn’t dead for DOROTHY. On their foot-stomping debut the L.A. outfit come out swinging with jams that are hard, heavy and perfect for shout-along participation. Dorothy Martin is a take-charge screamer, and had she grown up in the ’70s she easily could’ve fronted Burn-era Deep Purple — a complement of the highest order.
Letlive, If I’m the Devil…
If I’m the Devil… finds the post-hardcore act fusing together modern rock, soul, post punk and hip-hop. It’s a unique record, one that doesn’t sound like anything else released this year. It’s also deeply political. Singer and lyricist Jason Aalon Butler’s ruminations on police brutality and authoritarianism are deeply relevant to an America that has taken a hard right in 2016.