9. Bat for Lashes, “The Bride”

8. Kyle Craft, “Dolls of Highland”

Conceived in response to the breakup of an eight-year relationship, Kyle Craft’s debut is stunning and, hopefully, only a hint of what is to be a long, interesting career.

Craft has crafted a larger than life persona that delivers a mix of Southern rock, alt-country, glam/glitter rock. In theory, it sounds like a mess of sounds that in no way should work. In execution, Craft pulls it off beautiful providing one of 2016’s most original sounding albums.

Often compared with Bob Dylan’s songwriting, Craft’s lyrics are smart, without being a smart ass. Unlike Dylan, Craft has a strong, controlled voice that can rage as well as show compassion. Hyperbole doesn’t do it justice; this is a case of hearing is believing.

7. Conor Oberst, “Ruminations”

This one is quite simple. It is Conor Oberst. Either you like him or not. You’ll think “Ruminations” great or it is precocious, hipster shit.

“Ruminations” would have made the list for the brilliant “A Little Uncanny.” IT is a song that brilliantly takes on the cult of celebrity personality. 

“Next of Kin” is an equally smart take on Oberst’s own dealings with fame. “Ruminations” is just that one man taking stock of his life. While that may sound boring, there is keen insight delivered by Oberst that other artists of his generation simply are not capable of emulating or discovering for themselves.      

6. Mystery Jets, “Curve of the Earth”

It really is amazing how this album was not on more best-of lists.

Maybe, it is that the kick-off track “Telomere” may force some people to Google the word to see exactly what a telomere is; It is an essential component of human cells that affect how said cells age. A heady concept in rock 2016, who’d have thought? It is maybe asking too much, especially for a US audience that put Trump on course for the White House.

If Diarrhea Planet is one of the better American rock bands, Mystery Jets are one of England’s. While “Curve of the Earth” might not be as cohesive as 2012’s “Radlands,” it is far superior to a lot of the past year’s straight-up rock releases.

While “Telomere” deals with the science of the body human, fear not, the rest of the album tackles everything from taking a bad trip down memory lane to the excellent closer, “The End Up,” which ponders how and why people end up with the partners that they do.

5. Bobby Rush, “Porcupine Meat”

Bobby Rush at 82 years old delivered one of, if not the, best albums of his 60-plus year career.

The Swerve Magazine talked with Bobby Rush last year about the making of “Porcupine Meat.” You can check out what he had to say here

“The Bride” is a concept album about a, well, a bride whose fiancé is killed in a car accident on the way to their wedding. The rest of the album deals with the bride going on her planned honeymoon solo in search of convalescence.

Some might think the premise is pretentious. It is anything but. as it is easy to lose oneself in the flow and storytelling of the album. That said, don’t go looking for rainbows, sunshine, and unicorns. “The Bride” is an uncompromisingly elaborate album that dares to challenge those listeners willing to be a bit more proactive with their choice in entertainment.

4. Opeth, “Sorceress”

Listening to the magical “Sorceress,” it is hard to believe that the Swedish Opeth started out in 1989 as a death metal band.

In 28 years, Mikael Åkerfeldt, the driving force behind Opeth, has led the band to evolve constantly. Sometimes those changes were voluntary, other times forced by personnel changes. While the band may have started out and spent the early part of its career as a black metal outfit, Opeth is now firmly rooted in prog-rock. The change started with 2011’s “Heritage” continuing through with 2013’s “Pale Communion.” It blossomed with “Sorceress.”

3. I Don’t Cares, “Wild Stab”

It’s Paul Westerberg and Juliana Hatfield. Let’s do that one more time; it is Paul Westerberg and Juliana Hatfield as The I Don’t Cares.

If that doesn’t immediately grab you by the ears, you obviously don't listen to music in the heyday of college rock. If you don’t know who Westerberg or Hatfield is, how I envy you as you have a ton of great music to get through. If you do know the legacy of both, then “Wild Stab” is the album you’ve alway wanted, even if you didn’t know it until now.

1. Blind Pilot, “And Then Like Lions”

2. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “Skeleton Tree”

Death hangs over the top two choices on this list. “Skeleton Tree” was in the midst of being recorded when Cave’s 15-year-old son accidentally fell off of a cliff to his death. The album was then amended in parts to reflect on the tragedy.

The album deals with themes of loss, grief, and mourning. Cave, ever the wordsmith, deals with these topics constantly, but on “Skeleton Tree,” they are more immediate and haunt even the spaces of the album where a little light is able to shine. Also, gone for the album are the storytelling songs that have become a trademark of Cave. These songs are ruminations

dealing with the aftermath of a loss. The album has been called a ‘stripped-down’ version of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and that is an on-the-nose assessment. It is no frills, nor should it be. To release an ornate, elaborate album would take away from the power of the topics being handled with deft care.

It is a demanding album and one that will not be for everyone. Those that decide to tackle it, will find it as one of the finer albums in Cave’s canon.

Give a listen to: “I Do,” In God’s House,” If I Knew”

Give a listen to: “Berlin,” Lady of the Ark,” Three Candles”

Give a listen to: “A Little Uncanny,” Next of Kin,” You All Loved Him Once”

Give a listen to: “Telomere,” Bubblegum,” The End Up”

Give a listen to: “Porcupine Meat,” Me, Myself and I,” I Think Your Dress is Too Short”

Give a listen to: “Sorceress,” Strange Brew,” A Fleeting Glance”

Give a listen to: “Sorry for Tomorrow Night,” King of America,” Hands Together”

Give a listen to: “Amber Girl,” I Need You,” Distant Sky”

Give a listen to: “Umpqua Rising,” Don’t Doubt,” Which Side I’m On”

10. Sara Watkins, “Young in All The Wrong Ways”

Give a listen to: “Young in All The Wrong Ways,” Move Me,” Tenderhearted”

Death and loss affect everyone differently. This is perfectly illustrated in the yin and yang of these top two picks. Nick Cave’s “Skeleton Tree” is a somber take on loss. Blind Pilot’s is more of a celebration, and celebration might be too strong of a word, upbeat take on the same topic.

Israel Nebeker lost his father, saw a long-term relationship end and lost a circle of friends, between 2011’s “We are the Tide” and 2016 “And Then Like Lions.” While this would cripple most people and have them in therapy for years on end, Nebeker took the weight and produced one of the best and most underrated albums of last year.

The Swerve Magazine talked with Nebeker last year about the making of “And Then Like Lions.” You can check out what he had to say here

The growth of an artist, it is a concept that should not be challenged as much as it is by music listeners. Evolution is a natural, healthy thing. While a lot of listeners revel in the evolution of an artist, others would pay for a variation of the same album that they came to love ad infinitum.

Sara Watkins’ “Young in All The Wrong Ways” is a stirring album in that Watkins is evolving. The Nickel Creek fiddle players, puts said fiddle away for most of her third solo album.

The album leads with the title track, and it is a smart move as it introduces a ‘heavier,’ dare it be said rock, sound. Gone are the fiddle, replaced by licks of the electric guitar. The guitar is not the only thing that has a punch to it; Watkins lyrics are sharp and incisive.

This is what it sounds like when an artist is leaving the shadows of what was comfortable and dares to challenge themselves as well as their audience.

(Don’t worry, Watkins doesn’t leave all things behind tracks like “Without a Word” and “Invisible” harken back to earlier works.)