Gazette reviewer Kirsten Ferguson and I list our top albums of 2016 below; a prelude to the best of the year lists of shows we compiled along with David Singer. Check that out on Sunday.
Top 10 Local Albums
First, Kirsten’s picks:
— “Many Battles” Great Mutations. For their second album, the masterfully melodic indie-rock trio led by singer-songwriter Matthew Thouin returned to Troy’s Swordpaw Studios and the fertile ground of their 2014 release “Cheap Stuff” with more astute lyrics and supremely well-crafted songs.
— “Power Animal System Methods” Jason Martin. Troy multi-instrumentalist Martin is the mastermind behind this otherworldly release from Peterwalkee Records that melds futuristic keyboards, a lo-fi aesthetic and intriguing tales of animal-human hybrids into intoxicating garage rock.
— “Have Hearse Will Travel” 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Cacophone Records reissued the rarely heard debut from one of the area’s best ’90s bands, who never quite got their due. Better late than never for this blast of horror-movie-themed, organ-fueled rock that stands alongside the best garage-punk of the era.
— “Birdfire” Hospital Corners. On this feverish EP, the Albany dream-pop collective (featuring Craig Dutra, Laura Carrozza, Caroline Corrigan, Eric Margan and others) conjures sparkling synth-pop and lavish vocals into a swanky, dramatic potion.
— “On the Slide” The Figgs. It’s hard to believe, but the well-loved and prolific rock band hailing from Saratoga Springs has been together nearly 30 years. This cohesive album, their lucky 13th, ranks up there with their best, offering the nostalgic melodies and cerebral rock riffs that fans have come to know and love.
— “I Feel Fantastic” Candy Ambulance. The Glens Falls/Saratoga Springs quartet (including new member MaryLeigh Roohan) burned up the local scene this year with ecstatic, ’90s-inspired grunge-rock and sweaty, chaotic shows played in their skivvies. This EP captures them at their caterwauling, attitudinal best.
— “Swirldoggin’ with Kimono Dragons” Kimono Dragons. This supercharged, stellar-sounding platter from the Albany surf-rock band — featuring members of Charmboy, The Pistolwhips and other combos — has a sense of humor, from the mariachi horns on “Surfin’ Burro” to the German shepherd hanging 10 on the cover.
— “Dust Bowl Faeries” Dust Bowl Faeries. With a star-studded lineup of special guests, including bassist Tommy Stinson of the Replacements and cellist Melora Creager of Rasputina, the debut album/song-cycle from this gothic-folk ensemble transports listeners into the group’s ethereal Gypsy-steam-punk world.
— “Bar Hotel Music” The Lazy Suns. Sadly, pedal-steel guitarist Rick Morse passed away just a few months ago, but his twangy touches are all over this top-shelf release from these seasoned local country rockers. This album recalls the fluid, melodic roots-rock of the Golden Smog and Flying Burrito Brothers.
— "Hold that Thought Forever” Last Conspirators. The fourth album by the local punk rockers marks a slight departure from their usual politically charged fare, instead exploring love and passionate desire but losing none of the bristling energy and dark vibes.
Top 10 national albums
Now, my top picks:
— Leonard Cohen “You Want it Darker.” Rock’s best poet signs off, knowing his end was near. A farewell as compelling as David Bowie’s brilliant “Black Star” — a bonus pick here.
— Drive-By Truckers “American Band.” A hard-rocking, harrowing snapshot of an anxious, divided America torn by racism, violence and fear.
— Alejandro Escovedo “Burn Something Beautiful.” Forceful, gleefully loud guitar rock, old-school, with unparalleled conviction.
— Norah Jones “Day Breaks.” Jazzier than her multi-Grammy debut, it also rocks harder than anything she’s done before and even visits country.
— Maxwell “blackSUMMERSnight.” Powerful R&B, sung wonderfully and played with uncommon unity and purpose.
— NRBQ “High Noon – A 50-Year Retrospective.” A five-CD, 106-song romp through every flavor and every phrase of perhaps our greatest band.
— Sturgill Simpson “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.” A Nashville record that breaks all the rules: a hillbilly voice, psychedelic big-band rock and super-witty, evocative songs.
— Allen Toussaint “American Tunes.” Swan song of an American great; a brilliant pianist and architect of sounds.
— Trixie Whitley “Porta Bohemica.” A detailed and compelling vision; an arresting sound framing a persuasive, bone-deep voice.
— Nels Kline “Lovers.” The Wilco ax-man explores non-rock sounds; guitar melodies emerge from abstract clouds, fade, mutate and reassemble in new shapes.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at [email protected].