2016 was a divisive year. If you’re reading this then I assume you saw the link on Facebook or Twitter and if you’ve been on one of those sites sometime within the last 366 days then you really don’t need me to tell you any more about that divisiveness. So…I’m not going to do that here.
There was a version of this intro that did though. A version that let out some of my frustrations by taking some shots at the other side while making some self-depreciating jokes about myself so that it would appear that I was being fair. But really it’s all been said at this point.
Also, the title of this thing is “Best of 2016” and my favorite things from this year weren’t the things that divided us, but rather they were the reminders of the deeper connection I feel to the rest of humanity.
These reminders were witnessed in the heartache and empathy felt in movies like Moonlight and Gleason, as well as in albums like Touche Amore’s Stage Four.
These reminders were in the hope found in Arrival and Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book.
These reminders were found in the ever-increasing anxiety mirrored in works like Jeff Rosenstock’s aptly titled album Worry and in the moments of somber reflection offered in Kevin Devine’s Instigator.
These reminders were experienced through the words of Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicola Yoon, Jeff Zentner, and Emma Cline.
These reminders were everywhere, but if you missed them, I don’t blame you one bit, because they were softer in volume when compared to the all-encompassing noise swirling around in the echo chambers of the Internet, where one voice may as well be ten million and ten million may as well be one.
So if you missed these reminders, please read on, because there were plenty this year.
Part One: Best Music
Top Albums of 2016
1. Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper
This isn’t a groundbreaking #1 pick by any means as I think I’ve seen this ranking near the top of most year-end lists. Still, I’m okay with being predictable since this album was one of my most listened to of the year. I remember when Major first played me this on a trip up to Chicago and I immediately asked him to start it from the beginning once we finished it. I did the same after we finished it for a second time. It’s been awhile since an album has made me want to do that. For that and for the joy that is apparent throughout these fourteen tracks, this is more than deserving of the #1 spot. This is the album we needed for 2016 and the one we can lean on in the coming years.
2. Stage Four by Touche Amore
The subject matter for this album of course hits home for me. There are moments in songs such as “New Halloween” and “Water Damage” that connect on such an emotional level that I still get chills even after repeated listens. Unlike track 2 on Benji or “What Sarah Said” there aren’t any songs that I skip over because they’re too hard to hear. Rather what I’ve found is that each song helps me find new ways to contextualize some of what my family experienced back then. Somehow it’s already been 8 years.
3. Blanco by David Bazan
All of the songs for Blanco were repurposed from Bazan’s 2015 monthly series. I loved those songs then and I love them even more now. I believe they’re some of the strongest of his illustrious career. Also, “Both Hands” is a good song for when I think about the political climate of 2016.
4. Cody by Joyce Manor
True, I miss some of the grit of Never Hungover Again, which is a near perfect record, and although Cody is a bit slicker in terms of polish and production, those hooks still go on for days. I don’t know how many times this year I woke up in the middle of the night with: “What do you think about Kanye West?/I think that he’s great/I think he’s the best” going through my head. Just as I’ve lost count of the number of times I changed my mind about the man who inspired those lines.
5. The Life of Pablo by Kanye West
Dang. I used to love Kanye/the straight from the dome Kanye/the “they don’t know Kanye”/ The let-me-explain-why-I-like-Kanye/But it’s getting harder, Kanye/the pics in the tower Kanye/ that turned my stomach sour, Kanye/So when people say/that they can’t stand Kanye/I can no longer explain/why they’re wrong, Kanye/for now I got to say/I’m still holding on, Kanye/to hear you finish what you started, some day.
6. Awaken, My Love by Childish Gambino
I was one of those people that missed his rapping the first time I listened through, but then I kept listening and started to wonder if maybe this was actually awesome, then (then!) I saw his performance on Jimmy Fallon and I no longer had to wonder if it was awesome.
7. Instigator by Kevin Devine
This album’s strongest moments (“No History”, “Freddie Gray Blues”, “Both Ways”, and “I Was Alive Back Then”) define this year as well as any others have and they are some of my favorites of KD’s entire catalog.
8. Camp Cope by Camp Cope
Georgia Maq is my favorite lyricist of the year. “I’ve been desensitized by the human body/I can look at you naked and all I see would be anatomy/you’re just bones and insecurity/flesh and electricity to me.” Maq worked in a hospital as she wrote the songs that make up Camp Cope’s excellent debut so it’s easy to see where these lyrics could be coming from, but as with all great lyricists there is more to gain from repeated listens, each trip back peels back another layer.
9. Holy Ghost by Modern Baseball
The track listing on Holy Ghost is split between Modern Baseball’s two lead singers, with Jake Ewald using the front half of the record to come to terms with the death of his grandfather and that latter half belonging to Brendan Lukens as he addresses his personal struggles with mental health issues. Both singers take on their subject matter with honesty and vulnerability, as a listener it is easy to relate.
10. Worry by Jeff Rosenstock
The doubt, anxieties, and brief triumphs presented throughout Worry helped me through this fall. In many ways, this album is a great bookend to Coloring Book. Where Coloring Book is headstrong in its themes of hope, joy, and thankfulness, Worry is only certain in its uncertainty, asking plenty of questions while providing few answers, like an old friend this album offers comfort in its reliability. Here, Rosenstock is more likely to tell you “Hey, we’re all fucked” than he is to say, “everything’s going to be fine.” And that is okay and, sometimes, needed.
Other Albums I loved from 2016 (listed in descending order)
Best Little Brother Outdoes Big Brother Album: Nobody Likes a Quitter- All Get Out
Best Subtweets in Album Form: Ruminations by Conor Oberst
Best Album with Naked Old People on the Cover (But also the songs are good): Goodness by The Hotelier
Best Holy-Crap-These-Songs-Are-Just-Leftovers?! Album: Untitled. Unmastered.- Kendrick Lamar
Best Example of A Band of Band Guys Being Great at Their Instruments, Guys: Standards by Into It. Over It.
Best Album Title: Puberty 2 by Mitski
Second Best Album/Artist Recommended to Me- Telefone – noname
Best Album to Get Me Singing in the Morning: Blonde by Frank Ocean
Best “Eh” to “Yeah!” Album: Cardinal by Pinegrove
Best “We’ve Got It From Here Now, Thanks” Album: We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest
Best Artist/Album from 2015 that I just got into in 2016: Sprained Ankle by Julien Baker
Best EP: Dumb Muscles by Baby Ocho
Three Favorite Local Bands: Hot Mouth, Backyards, Trophy Shop
Favorite Not-As-Local-Band: Euriah
Best Live Local Band: Bad Taste
Best Live Album- Live at St. Pancras Old Church by Kevin Devine
Favorite Song of 2016: “I Am a Nightmare” by Brand New
The Song of 2016: "FDT"- YG
Best Guest Spot- Kendrick Lamar on Beyonce’s “Freedom”
Overall Most Listened to Album of 2016- The Hamilton OST
Other Really Good Soundtracks: Swiss Army Man, La La Land
Best Guilty Pleasure, But Hey, It’s Nostalgic Album: Tidal Wave by Taking Back Sunday. Also see: California by Blink 182.
Favorite Live Shows I Witnessed in 2016
1. Brand New w/The Front Bottoms & Modern Baseball at the Eagle Ballroom in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 22.
2. Brand New/Modest Mouse in Nashville, TN on July 19th
3. Into It. Over It. W/TWIABP, Pinegrove, & The Sidekicks at The Firebird in STL on March 22.
4. Andy Hull w/ Nathan Hussey of All Get Out at Exit Inn in Nashville, TN on April 1.
5. Motion City Soundtrack at The Pageant in STL on June 3rd.
Favorite Shows I Played in 2016
1. 6/25- at the SkiHaus w/ Del Paxton, Euriah, and Treading Water
2. 11/12- at Hangar 9 w/ Alex & the X O s and Treading Water
3. 10/20- at The Taco Stand w/ Dowsing, Trophy Shop, Rat Boys, and Hello, Stranger
4. 5/7- at the SkiHaus w/ Euriah, Barren, Native Tongue, & Trophy Shop
5. 3/12- at the Trainwreck w/ Bad Taste & Black Tar Heroines
Favorite New Comic: Joe Pera
Favorite Improv: Trash Daddies/Revolver at Improv Olympics in Chicago.
Part Two: Best Movies
Man, this movie was a breath of fresh air following the election. Thank you, Amy Adams.
2. Manchester by the Sea
There is something meaningful to be found within grief, there is a longing there that is so innately human that it demands to be felt. I find hope in bearing witness to those moments, having experienced versions of them myself. Neither of these movies pull punches in order to reward the viewer with a nice little ending either, which I appreciate.
In the case of Gleason, I recommend reading up on it a bit before checking it out, because it can be a rough watch. I started crying at about the twenty-minute mark and then there were only brief breaks through out the rest. However, when it was over, I felt free and compelled to do more for others.
There are so many lives that I can only catch a slight glimmer of experiencing through art, this is one of those instances. Moonlight is a story of self-discovery through the eyes of Chiron, or Little, played by Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes as it is split into three stages of Chiron’s life. It is a story of compassion and being true to one’s self.
5. La La Land
There were moments in this movie where I found myself smiling and I wasn’t aware of how long I had been smiling before I noticed. This movie really deserves to be seen on a big screen so please go see it if it is playing around your area in the coming weeks. This movie is like the 73 win Warriors in that it is a joy to behold and each component strengthens the other parts: the acting, the direction, the colors, the music, the story, there isn’t a weak link amongst them. Though unlike the Warriors, this movie will surely go on to greater success and won’t blow a 3-1 lead to its contenders.
Updated: I was way wrong. This movie absolutely did go on to blow a 3-1 lead.
6. OJ: Made in America
This five-part documentary is a fascinating portrayal of maybe the biggest American cultural event of our generation. It’s sobering to see the parallels between the cultural environment of the 90s and the political landscape of today.
7. Swiss Army Man
8. The Lobster
I love any story about loneliness that helps me feel less alone, both of these movies do that. Plus, they’re two of the most original movies that I can remember seeing with their storytelling and their subject matter. If you want to have an interesting conversation then I recommend seeing either of these movies and then trying to explain to others what you just saw.
9. American Honey
I like Shia LaBeouf more than I care to admit. This movie had me hooked from the Katy Perry dance scene in K-Mart onward. Newcomer Sasha Lane pulled me in further, making me care about her character, Star, better than most any actor/actress can. I’m interested to see what Director Andrea Arnold does next.
10. Blue Jay
Sarah Paulson is a national treasure. Blue Jay is currently streaming on Netflix and at just about 84 minutes long, it’s better than whatever else you would spend that same amount of time watching.
Other Movies I Loved from 2016 (again, in descending order)
Best Cast Chemistry: Don't Think Twice
Best “Whew, It’s Better Than Cursed Child”: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Best Movie about Fatherhood: Midnight Special
Best “I Really Wanted This to be Better, But the Last Thirty Minutes Were Great. And Yeah, I Guess It Was Still Pretty Good”: Rogue One
Best Use of a Mangled Arm: Green Room
Best I Wish I Could Afford Hamilton Tickets: Hamilton’s America
Best Comedy/Best Comic Book Movie: Deadpool
Best Horror Movie: The Witch (or The VVitch)
Best Use of a Vat of Acid: 10 Cloverfield Lane
Best Sequel in a Year of Too Many Sequels: Conjuring 2
Best Chubby Russell Crowe/Better Iron Man 3: The Nice Guys
Best Let’s Find a Reason For the Good Guys to Fight Each Other: Captain America: Civil War
Best Netflix Doc: The 13th
Second Best Netflix Doc: Audrie & Daisy
Best Foreign Film/Best Use of a Dance Floor: Demon
Best “Man, Dane, This Movie Should Really be Rated Higher”: Hail, Caesar!
Best Silly Movie That Made Me Laugh A Lot: Popstar
Best Touche Amore Stage 4 Companion Movie: Other People
Best Special Effects: A Monster Calls
Best Movie I Rented But the DVD was Too Scratched and Stopped Working with an Hour Left In It But Then When I Tried to Take it Back the Video Store Told Me I Couldn't Exchange it Because it Was Already a Day Late: Hell or High Water
Movies I Haven't Seen from 2016, But Still Plan to Check Out: Hidden Figures, Captain Fantastic, 20th Century Women, Always Shine, Fences, Silence, Paterson, Certain Women, Jackie.
Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL(Demon, In the Valley of Violence)
Oriental Theatre, Milwaukee, WI (American Honey)
Hi-Pointe Theatre, St. Louis, MO (La La Land)
Worst Movies of the Year
I took the Night’s Shield kids to see this movie. I really wanted to see Moana, but they outvoted me and I had to see this, so maybe I’m just being bitter.
47. Magnificent 7
I actually slept through pretty much the whole movie, which is my fault. But the theater seats were really comfy and I was super tired, plus this movie was pretty boring so maybe it wasn’t my fault at all.
48. Zoolander 2
I wanted this to be good, because the first movie is so silly and it was one of my favorite comedies for a few years.
49. Batman VS. Superman: Dawn of Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
50. Suicide Squad
Oh, man, remember all that stuff I was writing about in the intro to this thing? All that stuff that drives me crazy that I was trying not to go on about? Those same things apply here to these two movies. I have no issue with looking someone straight in the face and telling them that these two movies represent all that is wrong with America, nay (!), they’re all that’s wrong with the world.
A Few Television Awards:
Best Show and It's Not Close: Atlanta
Best Miniseries: The Night Of
Best TV Actor of 2016: Riz Ahmed
Best TV Actress of 2016: the queen Sarah Paulson
Best Late Night Host: Seth Meyers
Part Three: Best Books (& Other Stuff)
1. Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
I often compare JSF to Brand New because he is by far my favorite author despite his limited amount of novels, which with Here I Am brings his total to just 3 in a fifteen year writing career. So if Everything is Illuminated is JSF’s The Devil and God are Raging Inside of Me and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is his Deja Entendu, where does Here I Am rank in comparison with Brand New’s catalog? I would, rather naturally, compare it with Daisy since it is darker and more mature than his previous work, yet it also balances different tones and stylistic shifts in ways that he didn’t attempt in his first two novels. However, where this comparison may end is that Daisy isn’t my favorite BN album, yet Here I Am could end up being my favorite JSF novel or just my favorite novel in general.
--When Taylor, Tyler, and I went to a reading of Foer’s in Nashville this summer, the author stated that when discussing his books, he hoped that people say that they’re about “life” rather than listing the various plot elements or story dynamics. This is how I feel about Here I Am, and it’s actually how I’ve been describing his books for years. I will usually ramble on saying that his books are sad, funny, happy, heartbreaking, joyful, and devastating then after a while I’ll just divert eye contact, and say, “They’re just like life…or something, man.”
2. But What If We’re Wrong by Chuck Klosterman
Spoiler: We probably are.
3. This Is How You Lose Her (published in 2012) by Junot Diaz
4. Boys Among Men by Jonathan Abrams
5. Just Kids (published in 2010) by Patti Smith
6. The Girls by Emma Cline
7. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (published in 2007) by Junot Diaz
8. Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers
9. The Rap Yearbook (published in 2015) by Shea Serrano
10. Zero K by Don Dellilo
Favorite Young Adult Books
1. The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
2. The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
3. The Sky is Everywhere (published in 2010) by Jandy Nelson
4. The Haters by Jesse Andrews
5. Kids of Appetite by David Arnold
Favorite Middle-Grade Novel: Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Favorite Collection of Short Stories I Read: Pastoralia (published in 2000) by George Saunders
Coolest Use of Narrative and Literary Devices: On a Winter’s Night, A Traveler (published in 1979) by Italo Calvino
Fourth Favorite Former Grantlander Book: Your Favorite Band is Killing Me by Steve Hyden
Favorite Not Quite a Graphic Novel But I Don’t Know What Else to Call It: Poorly Drawn Lines (published in 2015) by Reza Farazmand
Very Good Graphic Novel But Also Kind of Freaked Me Out A Bit: Black Hole (published in 2008) by Charles Burns
Best Monthly Comic Book: Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Graphic Novel That Was Better Than Stranger Things But Yeah, I Know Stranger Things Was Very Good Too: Paper Girls Vol. 1 & 2 by Brian K. Vaughan
Best Super Hero Graphic Novel: Vision vol. 1: Little Worse Than a Man by Tom King
Best Collection of American Poetry from 2015: Best American Poetry 2015
Best...Nope…that about does it.
This is my outro:
So there were a bunch of good things that happened this year, things that made me happier to be alive, things that made me feel further connected to other humans, things that gave me deeper understanding of what being alive truly means.
In 2016, I got to spend another year watching my boys grow up with Stacy. I travelled. I had a lot of great conversations with my friends. I released an EP with Sleeping Tapes that I'm very proud of. I wrote a lot. I got a literary agent. I started this website.
And yeah, there were some bad things too.
I hope that in 2017 that we don’t ignore those things. I hope that we call BS when we see it and do what we can to help others.
I hope that 2017 sees the best versions of us, the versions of us that can come together to do silly things like making Harambe memes and Kenneth Bone Internet sensations. As well as the versions of us that will stand up for others, the versions of us that will do all that we can to stop oppression wherever it is present.
So thank you if you read all this, including this self-righteous/self indulgent bit at the end. Thank you for supporting or encouraging me. Thank you for supporting/encouraging your friends, family, and loved ones.
 Which doesn’t mean that I am going to ignore those things elsewhere in my writing.
 Editor’s Note: Please be aware that while the author writes “Best” here, what he truly means is that the following items are his favorites.
 I really hate myself for using the word “illustrious” there, but man, there wasn’t a better word to use. Oh, wait, yeah, maybe distinguished would have been better, but now I’ve typed this whole thing so…I’m gonna leave it.
 This album is also the winner for best recommendation of the year, which is awarded as the ever coveted No Prize to Major.
 Music Journalist Steven Hyden made the same remark earlier this year on Twitter so any acknowledgement for cleverness here should be ultralight beamed to him.
 And a second No Prize goes to Romann.
 Again, this album was from 2015.
 Which isn’t a phrase I throw around.
 This doc aired on PBS. It was very good.
 Spoiler: they didn’t really find a good reason for it.
 “Seriously, below Captain America AND Deadpool? smh.”
 Which if you’re not a fan of JSF or if you find him particularly pretentious, then I’m sure that statement will only elicit an eye roll rather doing anything to change your mind. I’m sure Brand New detractors react the same way when Jesse Lacey sings a line like “this is how you wish your voice sounds: handsome and smart.”
 Oh, I know that Young Adult is a legit genre and these books could have just as easily been listed with my top ten books, but I wanted to get everything in here so I gave them their own list.
 This may sound like a put down to Hyden, but it isn’t at all, this book is really good, and I’m a big fan of his work, as you know, if you’ve been reading this footnotes then you’ve already seen me steal one of his jokes.