1) A Tribe Called Quest - We Got it From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service: That this exists is impressive. That it's good is a minor miracle. Tip's lush production, always an underrated aspect of his game, is on point and he knows it, letting the beat in "Moebius" stretch out for DJs to use. As he's gotten older he's learned how to use his voice more, singing hooks and rapping double-time in addition to playing the abstract we know and love. Phife, rest in power, doesn't haunt this album like a specter; he's in it and of it, putting that Trinidadian patois to good use more so than in the past. Jarobi got more or less left off Tribe's top two, but he's back here, dropping gems. That vaunted Tribe chemistry extends to guest stars, as Tip and Andre 3000 trade off verses on "Kids" and folks who are basically members of the group like Consequence and Busta Rhymes know what to do. This isn't The Low End Theory or Midnite Marauders, but it might be their third-best, and since those other two are in the G.O.A.T. conversation, here we are.
2) Drive-By Truckers - American Band: Even before Trump became president-elect, artists were making protest music in 2016. There's nothing subtle about this record, but Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley's lyrics and riffs are spot on and I think it's DBT's best since Isbell left.
3) Shearwater - Jet Plane and Oxbow: This, forgive the reference, bird's eye view of America is lyrically powerful and understated, with Jonathan Meiburg embracing more electronic elements, integrating them into theatrical, operatic music that borrows from early 80s Bowie, prog, and Replacements-era American punk.
4) David Bowie - Blackstar: His parting gift to us is a searing, slow burn mediation on the end, full of his wry, sardonic wit. His best since either "Scary Monsters" or the Berlin trilogy, you choose. Regardless, what a way to go out.
The best of the rest, in alphabetical order:
Anderson .Paak - Malibu: He also dropped a mixtape with Knxwledge called "Nxworries." Get both.
Beach Slang - A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings: Never has an album title been more correct.
Charles Bradley - Once 2016 started claiming bodies I was worried Bradley wouldn't make it out of this year. Peep his cover of Black Sabbath's "Changes" and stay for some of the best soul music around.
Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition: Yes, he did name a record after a Joy Division song, what of it? Anyway, starting with "Lost" Brown begins to tear into some utterly bizarre beats and the results are spectacular.
Car Seat Headrest - Teen of Denial: That deliberately ramshackle punk-tinged indie rock we all know and love.
Daughter - Not to Disappear: From shoegazey coos to indie wails, with electronics integrated, yet somehow sounding consistently whole.
Jesu/Sun Kil Moon - Jesu/Sun Kil Moon: Yeah, it's Mark Kozelek basically talking over crunchy riffs from Justin Broadrick. Your new lazy, hazy weekend morning soundtrack.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree: Halfway through the making of this album's Cave's son died, completely changing the meaning of it. Try to listen without crying.
Savages - Adore Life: Less thrash subtext, more straight-up post-punk, still very good.
Swans - The Glowing Man: Eerier, and doomier, than in the past.
Vektor - Terminal Redux: A thrash-metal space-opera concept album with some left-field additions, like a choir. And somehow it works.
Yuck - Stranger Things: They dropped a lead singer and now I like them more even though they're still filtering 90s indie rock. Go figure.
Cheers: To the pure joy of Chance the Rapper. To "Identikit" appearing on an album. To R&B getting real weird thanks to Blood Orange, Frank Ocean, Bon Iver, ANOHNI, and yes, even Beyonce. To Iggy Pop and Bob Mould, long may they make records.
Jeers: To Radiohead putting "Daydreaming" as track 2, ensuring their album was a joyless slog. To Vinyl, because holy hell was that an awful TV show about music.
Radiohead - Burn the Witch; 21 Pilots - Heathens; DJ Shadow f. Run the Jewels - Nobody Speak; Chance the Rapper - No Problems; Beyonce - Daddy Lessons.
A word on orange juice/milkshake IPAs. Some of the worst beers I had this year were in this category. For example, I had multiple beers from Tired Hands that were clearly not finished fermenting. I won't be ordering any IPAs from that brewery any time soon, and it's incumbent on local bars to implement some quality control standards rather than chasing trends. I recognize that this style can be done well - see below, and locally we have Aslin - but it's also possible to make juice bombs that are less opaque and consequently pleasing to the eye.
But on to the good news. The cozy bar at Right Proper Brookland, 3 Stars cool Urban Farmhouse, that kick-ass train board at Atlas,... drinking on-premise is where it's at in 2016. To wit, while I still enjoy Churchkey, and The Sovereign was the best new beer bar of the year, the prices keep creeping up above a dollar an ounce on an awful lot of beer at bars. Meanwhile, brewery-slash-restaurant Bluejacket has excellent renditions of both an ESB and a dark mild, on cask, on a consistent basis, for $6 per pint. District Chophouse continues to be overlooked; you can get a real good nut brown or oatmeal stout for $3.50 during happy hour.
To go along with The Sov, Anxo gave DC something to brag about in terms of both space and cider selection; there are plenty of cities that don't have what we do.
Ocelot made a name for themselves with hops, but Mike McCarthy honed his chops at Capital City, and it showed this year with an excellent pilsner and bitter to go along with all those IPAs.
DC Brau turned 5 and threw a cool party with bands and one of the more inventive 6-packs out there. Their collaboration with Port City on a dark lager, Zehn von Zehn, was my favorite.
3 Stars got their sour program up and running and pretty much immediately started making good beer. There's a reason Ricky Rose sixtels kicked so quickly.
Pekko Beer is bringing some real good stuff, much of it at H Street's Craft Beer Cellar, clearly the best new bottle shop in the area.
On the grey market front, Melvin Brewing out of Wyoming brought some excellent IPAs to the area for about a month around SAVOR.
3 Stars and Other Half, Ricky Rose - American wild ale: The first offering from 3 Stars sour program is a winner, bursting with tart berries and finishing bone dry. There's a reason sixtels of this barely lasted an hour.
Atlas, Dance of Days - Hoppy wheat: The best beer they've made, IMO, and I really like their double black IPA, NSFW.
DC Brau, Belgian Space Reaper - Double IPA: I was skeptical that Mosaic hops would play well with this yeast, but the esters and the fruit are a winning combination.
DC Brau and Port City, Zen Vohn Zen - Dunkle: The best of the Brau collaborations, with a brewery that knows its way around a lager. Maybe with Brau's expansion we could get some more of this?
Devils Backbone, Smoked Porter: 5.5% and not too smokey, with just enough sweetness.
Jailbreak, Dusk 'Til Dawn - Imperial Stout: It doesn't hurt that I drank this surrounded by puppies, but I had a Dark Lord shortly thereafter and this is the better beer.
Manor Hill, Grisette: My favorite new canned beer.
Ocelot, Sunnyside Dweller - Pilsner: That this brewery took a medal for something other than an IPA is impressive.
Pen Druid, Earth - Saison: I need to drink more beer from Virginia. I bet this space has room for The Answer, Triple Crossing, and a host more.
Port City, Double Wit - Amaro barrel-aged witbier: The brainchild of ex-DCBeer-er Chris Van Orden, it's twice the Optimal Wit with oaky tannins and spice.
Port City and Schlafly, VaStly Mild: I drank two pints of this on cask in about 30 minutes.
Right Proper and Pizzeria Paradiso, Maslow - Farmhouse ale: As Pilsner-y as an ale is going to get, dry and crushable, too.
Victory and Bluejacket, Brett Dixon - Pale lager: Slightly overhopped and dry and just about perfect.
Anything hoppy from Ocelot.
National and/or new to market:
Allagash, Little T - Brett pale ale: We all knew Allagash would do a great job with this style. Morval!
Anchor, Our Special Ale - Winter warmer, I guess: I've been drinking versions of this for about 20 years and this one might be the best yet. If you like malt, this is the winter beer for you.
Foundation, Epiphany - IPA: It's a Heady Topper clone! And you might not have to wait in line for it! (But you do have to go to Maine.)
Deschutes and Hair of the Dog, Collage 2 - Strong Ale: Since this technique is all the rage, check out this well-integrated blend of barrel-aged versions of The Abyss, The Stoic, Fred, and Doggie Claws. Massively malty, with notes of prunes, raisins, cherries, jammy Cabernet, and great barrel character.
Great Raft, Come What Mayhaw - American wild ale: One of the first beers out of their foeders makes excellent use of Hawthorne berries.
Lodgson, Seizoen Bretta - Saison: Even brettier than Boulevard's Saison Brett. Welcome to DC, fellas.
Lost Abbey and Wicked Weed, Ad Idem - American wild ale: One of the better sours at SAVOR. Fruity, tart, but balanced.
Melvin, 2x4 - Double IPA: For a few weeks around SAVOR this beer was everywhere in DC and it was glorious.
Modern Times, Fortunate Islands - Hoppy wheat: So many of this brewery's recipes originated here - thanks, Mad Fermentationist! - that it's only fair that we get the finished product.
Sierra Nevada and Mahr's Brau, Oktoberfest: This collaboration isn't as good as last year's with Riegel, but it's still pretty darn good.
Stillwater and Other Half, Rockstar Farmer - Belgian IPA: Or maybe it's a farmhouse IPA. Regardless, that Stillwater yeast and Other Half hopping do good work.
Trillium, Double Dry Hopped Fort Point - IPA: I am still not a fan of the orange juice-milkshake Northeast IPA, but this has some bitterness to go with the hop juice and it's damn tasty.
Wicked Weed, Garcon de Ferme - American wild ale: Nice to have them in market, too. Blending a saison into a golden sour ale and adding peaches makes for a beer that's dry, but not overly tart. Now we wait for the inevitable sale to a macro.
Anything hoppy from Singlecut.