Talk about an annus horribilis: 2016 started on an ominous note with the January passing of rock icon David Bowie, who, by releasing his final opus “Blackstar” two days earlier, seemed to have choreographed this final event like he did his truly adventurous career.
And the deaths kept coming: Prince. Glenn Frey. Guy Clark. Leon Russell, two-thirds of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Finally, as if things couldn’t get any worse, classy Canadian crooner Leonard Cohen, whose farewell album title of “You Want it Darker” pretty much said it all. No — no more darkness for us, thanks.
Yet there were moments of bright musical bliss out there; you just had to dig a little to find them.
Here are, in reverse order, 10 great records from this year that just might lighten your dour December mood.
10) The Struts, “Everybody Wants” (Interscope)
Led by flamboyant frontman Luke Spiller, this British outfit got everything right about Sweet/Slade-era glam rock.
9) Real Numbers, “Wordless Wonder” (Slumberland)
It’s hard to believe, but Eli Hansen’s alt-pop combo actually manages to capture the spirit of IRS-era R.E.M.
8) Let’s Eat Grandma, “I, Gemini” (Transgressive)
Kooky UK kittens (and childhood best buds) Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingsworth crafted a truly surreal — and altogether original — neo-psychedelic experience here.
7) Dorothy, “ROCKISDEAD” (Roc Nation)
Contrary to this debut’s title, feral frontvixen Dorothy Martin is one of the few female performers keeping said genre alive and kicking.
6) The Parrots, “Los Ninos Sin Miedo” (Heavenly)
Spain’s rampant unemployment has whelped a generation of angry young rockers like this trio, which looks to 1960s American garage for inspiration.
5) Blossoms, “Blossoms” (Virgin/EMI)
Englishman Tom Ogden and crew broke big overseas with the retro hit “Charlemagne,” wherein he sounds like the Bay City Rollers’ Les McKeown anchoring Blondie.
4) The Rolling Stones, “Blue & Lonesome” (Interscope)
Sometimes it’s just exhilarating to hear old pros, playing what suits them best. Like, say, Mick and Keith, jamming on a dozen obscure blues covers with trashy aplomb.
3) Sleigh Bells, “Jessica Rabbit” (Torn Clean)
This industrial-pop duo keeps digging deeper, getting more and more jigsaw complex from album to album. This fourth outing reveals its shimmering brilliance only on repeated listenings.
2) Leonard Cohen, “You Want it Darker” (Columbia)
Like Bowie, Cohen — in failing health as he recorded this — was quite comfortable discussing his own mortality on almost every skeletal track here, his best work since the definitive “I’m Your Man.”
1) Brian Fallon, “Painkillers” (Island)
This ebullient, Butch Walker-produced solo foray from Gaslight Anthem singer Fallon is the sound of a man completely in love with songwriting and all its possibilities. A guaranteed spirit lifter.