“When in the course of musical events, it becomes necessary for one Dan to dissolve the subjective bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of amateur criticism, the separate and biased station to which the Laws of Listmaking, and of Listmaking’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of Dankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
-The Danclaration of IndepenDance (2016 Edition)
(I made a top 50)
50. Drowners – On Desire
On Desire carries itself much more than anything as a product of the alternative explosion circa ten years ago. I was in middle school then, and bands like The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, The Hives, Franz Ferdinand were all the rage. Fast forward to now, and we still have countless “ripoff” bands surging up the Top 40 Alternative charts, shamelessly throwing their own bland spin on what was pretty typical indie rock to begin with. Maybe the band is British, maybe they’re not; it all just sort of blends in doesn’t it? Drowners is no exception, just without the popularity factor, and with a little more post-punk revival in their sound. It’s catchy, but not overbearing, and tracks like “Human Remains” and “Don’t Be Like That” are testament to that. The inclusion of countless riffs and thumping basslines are perfect fodder for radio hits were the band in the ring for that sort of stuff. Instead, I get to pretend it’s the most underground thing ever!
RIYL: Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
49. Muuy Biien – Age of Uncertainty
A morose post-punk band out of Athens, GA, Muuy Biien take the Bauhaus root on Age of Uncertainty. If the unsettling album art mish-mash of faces welded together wasn’t a great enough personification of sound, the haunting guitar riffs and monotone vocals are a dead giveaway of apparent idols and influences past. Muuy Biien invoke shadowy imagery, and in turn reinforce the notion that bands can still create “dark entries” in this 21st century if you will.
RIYL: Bauhaus – The Sky’s Gone Out
48. TOY – Clear Shot
Brighton boys TOY are back with a knack for psychedelic jams in the vein of old krautrock bands of the seventies. Many songs graze the 6 minute mark and up and make for some wonderful compositions of sound, progressing through a sonic palette of anything from bare bones indie-rock, to shoegaze. The diverse sound is only magnified by their musicianship. TOY is the mind melting magic, with a little more fleshing out of its parts. Tracks take on a very sweet psychedelic sound, yet pile on riffs and walls of sound to make an even greater outpouring.
RIYL: Deerhunter – Microcastle
47. Basement – Promise Everything
Run For Cover Records
It isn’t the most groundbreaking work, even by their own standards, but whether we say that Basement plays it safe or not on Promise Everything, they are making energetic jams at the least. It is breakneck grunge at its highs, and angst-ridden emo at its most sullen. Perfect CD or cassette to have on deck in your automobile!
RIYL: Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American
46. Soft Kill – Choke
Eight songs about depression and death, so describes Soft Kill on their new album Choke. It does sound like any millennial’s Twitter feed, be it running gag or cry for help, but above all, the Portland darkwave band have crafted some brilliant post-punk jams. Even calling on Mark Burgess (The Chameleons) for vocal duties on the track “On The Inside”, it calls to mind great bands of old able to encapsulate beauty in darkness and suffering.
RIYL: Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss
45. Savages – Adore Life (Review)
Welcome to the comedown machine. Savages are back in 2016 in an ever self-indulgent mystique, yet are found this time around with a new, refined maturity. The vortex of raw power and dark energy are halted in many regards to a slower paced, adroit execution of punk. On their debut, 2013’s Silence Yourself, waves of crashing intensity were carried by lead singer Jehnny Beth’s howling screams and abrasive gothic influence in climatic bursts. Now, Beth and the band find their muse in carefully guided appeals to discovering the purest of loves, her lyricism weighing deep reflections of empathy and self-doubt, and there arising out of the ashes a stronger being entirely. This course of action prominently favors an artful execution of punk rock, all the while maintaining the familiar post-punk flavor that garnered Savages praise in their early stages. Adore Life is brooding, sophisticated, and above all, an interesting step in a learned direction of artful influences.
RIYL: Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect
44. Kishi Bashi – Sonderlust
Joyful Noise Recordings
A little less violin and a little more synthesizer would be an apt way to describe Kishi Bashi’s third record, Sonderlust. Although fans know and love Mr. Ishibashi for his masterful talent for violin, mandolin, and all stringed things, he trades the sugary loops for a little more intellect in his songwriting. This works as an advantage, or a disadvantage, depending on how you look at it. On one hand, his words delve into a much more melancholy territory, fresh off of a divorce, yet his trademark falsetto still remains. Pop music is his artful craft, yet here we find a deeper meaning behind the message, versus the playful onslaught that reigned supreme on Lighght.
RIYL: Dr. Dog – Fate
43. Open Mike Eagle and Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival
Mello Music Group
If there’s one thing I find peculiar about Open Mike Eagle’s wordplay, it’s the almost incessant tales of introversion and his obsession with being glued to his cellphone. It’s not like a discourse from him on how people are technology addicted, but how he is. He pointed it out in concert both times I’ve seen him perform, 808 machine in hand. It’s that self-awareness that carries onto Hella Personal Film Festival as well, and with collaborator and producer Paul White (of Danny Brown fame), this record’s crisp production adds to the flavor and charm behind it. Of course, I’m sure anyone working with Paul White seems like a match made in heaven.
RIYL: Milo – So The Flies Don’t Come
42. The Jezabels – Synthia
Dine Alone Records
In the midst of a cancelled tour upon official announcement of keyboardist Heather Shannon’s diagnosis with ovarian cancer, The Jezabels are down, but certainly not out. Even in sporting such a strong display of records in their repertoire, each with their own fine tuned pop sensibilities, Synthia exists with melodious power and booming epics. As per usual, Hayley Mary’s sensual vocals crank the passionate levels of each song to their apex, boldly marking the beginning of the record with the massive “Stand and Deliver”. As evident by the album cover, the news of Shannon is a big roadblock to stomach, but optimistically, Synthia is a courageous and incredibly well crafted display of synths and just about every facet of modern art-pop influence. This is an already mature band reaching enlightenment, and the step up in songwriting reflects the Aussie veteran’s knack for tugging our collective heartstrings.
RIYL: Warpaint – Warpaint
41. Okkervil River – Away
The first song being titled “R.I.P. Okkervil River”, you can see that Will Sheff may intentionally be putting to rest any personal inhibition to try and recreate that Black Sheep Boy sound, and instead work as a songwriter and storyteller in this present day and age. He did the artwork too, which is incredible!
“I wrote the songs during a confusing time of transition in my personal and professional life and recorded them quickly with a brand new group of musicians. I got together the best New York players I could think of, people whose playing and personalities I was fans of and who came more out of a jazz or avant garde background, and we cut the songs live in one or two takes – trying to keep things as natural and immediate as possible“
Perhaps the immediacy too arises by way of longer compositions seemingly taking over Away, showing Sheff’s storytelling more as a stream-of-consciousness delivery than anything.
RIYL: The Decemberists – Picaresque
40. Jeff Rosenstock – WORRY.
The Bomb The Music Industry! mastermind returns again with his second solo record in two years, with the sequel to We Cool?. It’s your usual sad, angry, and slightly comical Jeff Rosenstock, complete with singalong anthems like “Festival Song” and “HELLLLHOOOOLE”, and even carries the caressing background voices to boot, an angst-ridden army. Even better, WORRY. ends on a very clear allusion to Abbey Road, climaxing in a flurry of sub-two minute declarations to carry out the record.
RIYL: Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy
39. Negative Thought Process – Methylene Butterfly
Negative Thought Process
Methylene Butterfly‘s appearance is deceptive. The two-piece grind band starts off the record with a robotic voice detailing what actually drives the record thematically, that of dark thoughts of self-harm and even suicide. Yet the chemistry lesson combined with a peaceful creature such as a butterfly leads you to believe otherwise. That is, at least until you’re treated with a 20 minute onslaught of fuzz, sludge, and Daniel Page’s surging vocals. Methylene Butterfly is powerful stuff.
RIYL: Nails – Abandon All Life
38. Merchandise – A Corpse Wired For Sound
Merchandise is a consistently great band, and my fear is that they don’t get quite the recognition they deserve, especially after their last record (and 4AD debut), After The End. A bit of a departure from their usual post-punk compositions, the dreaminess in sound and lead singer Carson Cox’s best Morrissey impression are sure-fire additions. A Corpse Wired For Sound is reminiscent of their jangle tendencies as a band, but more importantly, it showcases their knack for extended compositions formulated with characteristics straight out of pop’s playbook.
RIYL: Iceage – Plowing Into The Field Of Love
37. Lobby Boxer – Big Bucks
Emo pop-punk trio Lobby Boxer are back with Big Bucks, now with increased proggy guitar riffs and even more desperation in their adult angst. Look for killer shredding on “I Was Afraid of Tornadoes”, mixed tempo baggage on “Shine Like Fire”, but above all, enjoy the record as much as these gentlemen appear to enjoy life. I mean right? Live a little!
RIYL: The Wonder Years – Suburbia, I’ve Given You all and Now I’m Nothing
36. Touché Amoré – Stage Four
Hardcore records don’t always bring a whole lot to the table for me personally. I only own one strictly hardcore record myself, Defeater’s Travels. However, seeing Touché Amoré sign with Epitaph and get some mainstream press sparked my attention. Stage Four, as the name might suggest, is about cancer. Yep, combine something along the lines of Hospice, by The Antlers and throw in the screaming cries of Jeremy Bolm, and you have a pretty damn depressing record. That is by no means a deterrent though. As evidenced by mammoth roller coasters of emotion like “Skyscraper”, the journey is definitely worth hearing as Bolm exorcises his demons.
RIYL: Defeater – Travels
35. Big Ups – Before A Million Universes
Tough Love Records
There’s no shame in Before A Million Universes‘ influences, the most apparent being the in your face Slint references. Songs will halt to an eerie electric guitar picking followed by bombastic explosions of energy and angst. It’s like they’re one in the same, yet here Big Ups are apologetically blessing us with their own record 25 years later. It’s like an anniversary tribute in the form of new songs. I say that’s a good deal!
RIYL: Slint – Spiderland
34. John K. Samson – Winter Wheat
John K. Samson
I hope John K. Samson was the inspiration for mewithoutYou’s changeup folk-rock release It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright. Not only has Samson enraptured all and any feelings of angst and hope in former projects with The Weakerthans, but his diverse output as Propagandhi are also pretty telling of his musical ability. You can see where a voice like Aaron Weiss takes a hint or to from, but he’s also right up there with names like John Darnielle in terms of sheer heartbreaking poetry and lyricism. Winter Wheat alludes to the folky tunes being perfect for the colder months; take advantage of it, because that’s exactly right.
RIYL: Owen – Ghost Town
33. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo (TTT)
The Life of Pablo was hands down the most aggravating release campaign of any exclusive title (Tidal?) put out this year. That being said, I wasn’t getting my shorts in a knot over not listening to it for a few months afterward. Kanye is a master of theatrics, but it ain’t 4-D Chess, or whatever diehards want to call it. Heck, even loyal fans may think twice about representing his opinions and antics as Facts given his recent stint of public statements. Kanye is the ultimate celebrity. I think his overarching goal is to surround himself with other personalities, that is, larger than life figures of power and success. The Life of Pablo channels into the pleasures of the wealthy in that regard. It is huge, bombastic, head-scratchingly odd, and overall fun to listen to. It isn’t inventing new ground or breaking bridges like previous releases have in the past (no, not Yeezus), but it’s a testament to Kanye West’s peaks of one genius that is crazy!
RIYL: Young Thug – Jeffery
32. The Drones – Feelin’ Kinda Free
If you’re familiar with The Drones, you know how experimental and unique they can be. The steady, piercing drumbeats and creeping vocals are undeniably catchy, but even better is the band’s ability to meld so many seemingly differing genres into one product, blended to perfection. “Taman Shud” sounds like an Australian bastard child of some parent track off of Rain Dogs or something, and better yet, as each wave of rushing noise can apex at Feelin Kinda Free’s highest of highs, slow, brooding ballads take the record down a notch in a heartbeat. Just another day at the office for The Drones, who once again add to an already marvelous discography.
RIYL: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Let Love In
31. DIIV – Is The Is Are (Review)
Is The Is Are is really long. Even so, the extended album run time allows for many patterns of familiarity, that of what makes DIIV good, but the numerous amount of songs also possesses rehashing of material in the same time span. For a savvy listener in the movement, they can take the seventeen songs with a grain of salt. It can work as background music, but on a deeper level, the substance of tracks like “Take Your Time” exemplify a band capable of more than just three minute reverb-drenched medleys. The jangle-pop guitars are a consistent factor, yet Zachary Cole Smith’s vocals carry a sweet innocence in the melody, despite how dark the subject material may appear.
RIYL: Blank Realm – Illegals In Heaven
30. Programm – A Torrid Marriage of Logic and Emotion
The Hand Recordings
Fueled by a strong female presence brooding with serene grace amidst dark synths and grooving bass, Programm return with a short but powerful full length in A Torrid Marriage of Logic and Emotion. Take it for what it’s worth; as wordy as the album title is, the music is equally complex, presenting layers of sound and shoegaze undertones, yet an overarching beauty on tracks like “Everything at Once” with Jackie Game’s lush vocals providing intense beauty in the music.
RIYL: Pinkshinyultrablast – Everything Else Matters
29. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression (Review)
To listen to Post Pop Depression is to examine the players at work here, and revel at the meshing of worlds colliding, not that collaboration is difficult given the talent available. In this present time where true bred household name rock stars are a scarcity, the next best thing can be derived instead from those already solidified in our collective hearts. Josh Homme and Iggy Pop are generational talents that happen to be invading the newest uprising with fresh outlooks on life and their work. Tagging along are Homme’s fellow Queen of the Stone Age, Dean Fertita, as well as Arctic Monkeys drummer, Matt Helders. See, it ain’t your dad’s record collection, only those who create with heavily influential cues from his favorite artists growing up! Not only that, it rocks from start to finish, and shows that old wrinkly skin monster Iggy Pop still has it, though not as easy on the eyes.
RIYL: Lou Reed – New York
28. Rihanna – ANTI
“Let me cover your shit in glitter, I could make it gold”, boasts Rihanna in ANTI’s opening duet with fellow singer SZA. Rihanna has indeed struck gold this year, or double platinum if we’re being literal. Anyone who doesn’t live under a rock has undoubtedly heard many if not all of the tracks on this record at some point this year, not that Rihanna is any stranger to banging singles. What’s better here is that every song has something to write home about. As always, she is seductive yet cunning in each ensuing tale of sex, drugs and rock and roll. “Work” is not just a duet with Drake, but it further solidifies what we all knew to be true of Rihanna, that she doesn’t need him or any other silly boy *LINK DRAKE KISS*to be top dog in the music world, as she stated with SZA from the get go. Every single has been a chart-topper, she’s been above the greatest if not the best exclusive-type releases all year, and even threw in a spin on Tame Impala for the indie cred. She’s shown to be a jack of all trades, and ANTI deserves proper credit where its due.
RIYL: D∆WN – Blackheart
27. Midnight Faces – Heavenly Bodies
You know how dream pop is mind-numbingly boring for some people, and they won’t listen to anything in the genre because of that bias that follows? Tell them to try out Heavenly Bodies by Midnight Faces for a change of pace. Literally, it’s much faster dream pop than is normally considered the norm. You know what else? They even thrown in traces of shoegaze and post-punk in the mix, with reverb-heavy guitar solos, and spacy vocals. Sounds cool, right? Dream pop is cool.
RIYL: No Devotion – Permanence
26. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
I really missed the Bon Iver hype trains that surround each one of his releases. Maybe For Emma, Forever Ago was a little more of a posthumous gushing of indie-folk genius, but for Justin Vernon’s 2011 self-titled masterpiece, more of the acoustic falsetto ballads remained, just with more orchestration. Fast forward to now, as cryptic as the build up to 22, A Million was, what with murals and song titles comparable to me slapping my hands on the keyboard (here, let me try it right now… 9asduf*ko), the product to hopeful ears all over the world was even more surprising. As Vernon keeps in line with his soft coos, the music this time is accompanied by heavy use of vocoder, making for some of his glitchiest compositions yet. Evolution in his sound is a welcome addition, and he pulled it off quite nicely, I must say.
RIYL: James Blake – James Blake
25. Show Me The Body – Body War
Loma Vista Recordings/Universal
Show Me The Body is a hardcore band out of Queens, NY, and also a part of the Letter Racer collective (RATKING). Taking a queue out of Death Grips’ brash drum and beat infused punk rock (“Chrome Exposed”), and combining heavier riffs and drums, these tracks are as energetic as a Rage Against The Machine track, albeit a little more authentic. Body War definitely wins “going for a run and need pump up music” AOTY.
RIYL: Girl Band – Holding Hands With Jamie
24. Joyce Manor – Cody
I had the pleasure of seeing Joyce Manor in concert twice this year, once in lower Manhattan, NYC, and the second time in Portland, OR. Both times, the energy was equally captivating, though the former was as an opener. Even so, the spirit of punk and lust for youth reigned true, and Cody is a postscript to the magic they created live. Old formulas of lightning quick songs are still effervescent, but Joyce Manor also takes the next step in crafting actual full-length big boy tracks, such as lead single “Fake I.D.” and even the 3.5 minute marathon that is “Last You Heard Of Me”.
RIYL: Bomb the Music Industry! – Vacation
23. The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
The apparent taboo that seems to exist by any list maker putting The 1975 on it is COMPLETELY FABRICATED by the mainstream media. With a whopping 17 tracks tossing this thing well over an hour, there makes for plenty of time to showcase heartthrob Matty Healy’s diverse vocal chords, churning out pop-rock anthems on i love it when you sleep…’s first side, followed by some delicate interludes and first dance-type numbers. Don’t act like you’re above “Urban Outfitters” music trends, as if The Killers or any Matador Records staple isn’t on your vinyl shelf!
RIYL: Justin Bieber – Purpose
22. FEWS – MEANS
FEWS on the exciting and concise MEANS hits a nerve for any post-punk appetite, and the band is making waves with this release. Invoking the spirit of Editors-ish post-punk grooves with dreamier vocals, MEANS is a short burst of guitar magic in ten separate entries. The London-based Swedes are here, and they’re just getting started.
RIYL: The Cure – Seventeen Seconds
21. Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp
Yellow K Records
Psycopomp is so sweet and sugary in its sound, it’s hard to swallow that Michelle Zauner oft describes issues of heartbreak and frustration, but also of the death of her mother. It packs quite a punch clocking in just under half an hour, but there’s plenty of dreamy indie-pop to go around.
RIYL: Grimes – Visions
ISO/Colombia Records/Sony Music Entertainment
I reviewed Blackstar and posted the day before it was announced that David Bowie had passed on to the next life. In it, I said to lay claims of revolution aside, but as 2016 has shown, there isn’t really room for hyperbole in describing the record in context to all of Bowie’s personas, let alone the stage performance that was his entire life. It’s absolutely brilliant! People will contend to thrown together low budget mini-documentaries, television specials, maybe even budget feature length films. You couldn’t relish this kind of plot in your wildest imagination, and yet his finale entailed clues towards his ensuing death this whole time, from singles being released over a year ago, to his cancer announcement, to ensuing death. Bravo David Bowie! You were a living legend, now alive in our minds, and in the narrative fairy tale that was your life for ages to come.
RIYL: David Bowie – Outside
Atlantic Recording Corporation
For what it’s worth, White Album serves as Weezer’s first concept album since Pinkerton, and throughout the years, with all of the faults and failures, thank God such a feat was attempted after Weezer was ready for the challenge again. The direction that this record provides helps steer it in a concise timeline. An overarching beach concept in terms of relationships and the feelings evoked in the music channel Rivers Cuomo’s own personal Beach Boys epiphany, where the Weezer flair and power chords shine above all else, but he is also reaching for a former clarity. The way The White Album is crafted, you’d think of the record as Cuomo’s own personal SMiLE in that he is resurrecting old lyrics and feelings of angst which can only be pinned to early era outputs by the band. You know, the ones that cemented them as legends of their own time and place. “Thank God For Girls” actually cites Cuomo’s former entries of a 1990’s frame of mind, with old lyrics finally being put to use, citing a girl he can fantasize about even though she belongs to somebody else. The fact that she is alive is enough for him to gawk in bittersweet happiness.
RIYL: Weezer – Weezer (Blue Album)
18. All Human – Teenagers, You Don’t Have To Die
Taking cues from traditional pop and alternative rock melody, Adam Rupert Fisher (Fear Before/ORBS) releases another All Human record, pent with similar emotion as the last. Songs dive into a hodgepodge of different influences, and utilize piano and a female voice (Angela Jane Bachmann) careening throughout the wave of synths. Pick this one up too if you’re a fan of post-hardcore undertones, as Trophy Scars’ drummer Brian Ferrara joins the lineup to complete the sound.
RIYL: Circa Survive – Blue Sky Noise
17. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Bad Seeds Ltd
Veteran musicians are making huge waves this year, with many releasing their best output in years. From David Bowie, to Leonard Cohen, to A Tribe Called Quest, it’s easy to pinpoint greatness when it rears its head, and for these artists specifically, death seemed to overshadow the overarching hollowness of personas now left from this world. For Nick Cave, that presence of loss channeled on the receiving end of his still existent physical presence; he is the victim of his own loss. With that, Skeleton Tree contains some of the most tender, yet ominous moments of Cave’s storied, diverse career as an artist. Take it more as combination of The Boatman’s Call with somberness and minimalism, and the lyrical content more akin to Cave’s Murder Ballads. Through it all, Cave’s gloomy voice wreaks of emotive sadness, as if he is one moment from a complete collapse of grieving on record.
RIYL: Tom Waits – Alice
16. Pinegrove – Cardinal
Run For Cover Records
Cardinal as a whole feels like you’re sitting in the very room Evan Stephen Hall is singing in, like he’s spilling his heart out right in front of you, flesh and blood. Run For Cover is pretty much the staple emo revival record label, and Pinegrove is stereotypically awesome as a part of that roster. Even better, their songs are incredibly relatable from a downtrodden season of life perspective. Songs like “Old Friends” and “Cadmium” begin but a lush whisper of Hall’s muted vocals, but as is evidenced on a number of the track’s whirring guitar solos and crescendos, his voice can build to full on screams and cracking falsetto in just a flash.
RIYL: Sorority Noise – Joy, Departed
15. Nothing – Tired of Tomorrow
I probably like this more than it deserves. By shoegaze standards, Tired of Tomorrow is about as modern as it gets, with dreamy mental pictures in the fuzzy guitar, and multi-part harmonies. Beyond that, I can’t really describe what Nothing is doing here other than exhausting old adages about the genre itself. I guess it has a poppier sound than say Guilty of Everything from 2014, and that works to its advantage on my personal playlist. I played the hell out of this new one all year, and be it pretty standard as far as guitar rock goes, so be it.
RIYL: Whirr – Sway
14. Camp Cope – Camp Cope
As far as Australians are concerned, heavy hitters seem to have breached two extremes in the last couple of years. For the indie kids, Courtney Barnett’s apathetic yet whimsical anthems on last year’s sometimes i sit and think, and sometimes i just sit… struck a collective funny bone with deadpan humor. Now as evidenced a few spots above, veteran Aussie Nick Cave tugged every heartstring around the world with his latest. Then there’s Camp Cope’s self-titled debut. Georgia Maq and the band energetically floor listeners with powerful instrumentations and enthralling rock and roll. On the surface, every track glistens somewhere between shameful regret, and semi-charmed insecurity. It’s right in the band name and album title; desperation is wreaking through the cracks of each song, and above all else, release of chains being loosened show their true face. Sometimes conveying that freedom takes the form of a meme.
RIYL: Hop Along – Get Disowned
13. Oathbreaker – Rheia
Rheia has the pleasure of reaping in all the praise it deserves as a glorious blast of blackgaze without the hipster following. “Second Son of R.” raises goosebumps right from the start, and the record isn’t quick to let up, with careful, spooky passages of slowed down arpeggiating guitar leading a new wave of brutal energy and head on into more powerful, vicious screams courtesy of one Caro Tanghe. If you fancy an intense, captivating live performance, seek out Oathbreaker on their next stop through town.
RIYL: Deafheaven – Sunbather
12. Little Simz – Stillness In Wonderland
Little Simz has released full length LPs for three years running now, just getting in her latest Stillness In Wonderland before year end. “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Well according to Laurence Fishburne, Simbi is on a fast track to enlightenment, or rather, she enlightens us in the form of allusion and metaphor. Call her a modern day Lewis Carroll, or better yet, get her own visions of stillness, still as grimey and on beat as usual, and still proving everyone wrong, one bombtrack at a time.
RIYL: Kendrick Lamar – Section.80
11. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (TTT)
Releasing a track list in alphabetical order isn’t quite the cryptic “figure it out” kind of puzzle Radiohead normally leads on with in their music, but that didn’t stop fans from finding something out of nothing on the band’s newest record, A Moon Shaped Pool. In fact, there’s plenty to write home about, given the legend of each musician’s individual merit. While they took a dive into classical elements of composition in both lead singles “Burn The Witch” and “Daydreaming”, it was the beautiful reformations of older tracks like fan favorite “True Love Waits” that got people’s attention. Thom Yorke still crafts beautiful songs of love and heartbreak, and as evidenced by Radiohead’s precursor outtake of a James Bond theme, it’s clear that the band is still on top of their game by their combined forces, their own British version of Captain Planet and his Planeteers!
RIYL: Bjork – Vespertine
10. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Steel Wool/OBE/Art Club/EMPIRE
Hey look, it’s that guy that was on like every song on Dr. Dre’s album last year. That’s what I said when Anderson .Paak released Malibu at the very beginning of this year, but since then, it seems more suitable to say that he’s basically everywhere you look in music media now. Whether on NPR, MTV, or NBA on ESPN “about to go to commercial” bump music, .Paak is a certified superstar, and his stock only seems to be rising. With a blend of summery electronics (seriously, this should have been everyone’s Summer anthem record) and the staple alternative R&B voice that is dominating the charts today, Malibu is a tribute to the finer things in life, a celebration if you will. It is a fun listen, maybe out of season now, but the cliches of blunt sexual lyricism and cheesy rap-singing aren’t present here like many inadvertently do. Instead, a fresh take on soul and hip-hop collide, with Anderson .Paak taking control every step of the way, as a singer but also a drummer.
RIYL: Miguel – Wildheart
9. Frightened Rabbit – Painting of a Panic Attack
Given the cult status as sort of a “The National lite”, Frightened Rabbit surely have their own repertoire of indie-rock sadboy anthems. Thus, it only seems fitting that Aaron Dessner produced the newest output from the Scottish quintet, wrought with rocking numbers (“Get Out”) and slow burners (“Die Like A Rich Boy”) throughout. By all means, Scott Hutchinson’s music has always been rather depressing, and it’s been a long year for him. Dating back to around Painting of a Panic Attack’s release date, not soon after the start of their tour did he post a rant on his Twitter about how being in the band had taken an extreme toll on their personal sanity, and they were to immediately call it quits. In essence, Frightened Rabbit was no more. That’s putting it lightly, but needless to say, an apology was delivered to a confused fanbase, and here we are now. Sad, but it’s apparent his depression has caused an episode or too, and although the tour was cancelled for a time, the band remains intact. Frightened Rabbit is still going, the songs are still relatable sad, and Scott is still a Scottish madman capable of creating incredible indie-rock jams.
RIYL: The National – Trouble Will Find Me
8. Julianna Barwick – Will
Will is angelic, worthy of deserved acclaim amidst Julianna Barwick’s complex discography. Even as her falsetto rings in the record on “St. Apolonia”, most songs take a liking to the heavy use of loops, but also takes a unique approach to incorporating classical strings into the compositions as well, ala Julia Holter. The ominous beauty of “Nebula” immediately dragged me into my personal introduction to Barwick’s music. When it comes to contemporary ambient artists, many dominate the spotlight with lush textures and minimalistic styles, but Julianna Barwick was admittedly a gaping hole in my listening habits until now. Luckily, her back catalog spreads into the past now four releases deep, so there’s plenty of work to go around, and widespread acclaim to show for it. I’ll officially dub Will the “warm blanket and cup of coffee” album of the year, just because it’s so cozy and warm. Winter is here after all, so bundle up!
RIYL: Grouper – Ruins
7. SILENT – A Century of Abuse
Three One G Inc.
In a world of Nick Cave imitators, be a student of The Birthday Party I say! It’s always a welcome addition into the music world when bands can burst onto the scene with such blinding force, and California’s Silent have accomplished just that on their debut. A Century of Abuse is captivating track after track, it’s almost hard to find room to catch a breath. Gloomy guitars and punishing drums overlay a reverb-drenched vocal performance, taking nods from noise and punk influences to form one giant explosion in ten easy doses. It’s reminiscent of the way Savages burst onto the scene back in 2013 with Silence Yourself, and definitely deserved of the same attention and hype.
RIYL: Savages – Silence Yourself
6. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition (Review)
Danny Brown is trying so hard, but then again, lots of rappers pushing for “the next big thing” fall in the same boat. The difference is Danny Brown executes fusing genres together into his raps with ease. Sure, he wears the fact that he knows all of these obscure artists on his sleeve, but give him credit for actually making Atrocity Exhibition sound dark as hell, all the while combining his textbook self-loathing lyricism with drug fiend narratives. “Dance In The Water” and “Ain’t It Funny” are perhaps the most jumbled piles of sound, but Danny’s high pitch cracking in his voice provide the perfect touch to its ultimate goal. It’s a downward spiral of his life told through the lens of that part of his conscious hopefully seeking a way out of his darkest vices.
RIYL: El-P – Cancer 4 Cure
5. Body of Light – Let Me Go
I’ll be real. All you have to really do to get on a Danny top fifty list is sound like Depeche Mode. Body of Light saw my ad on Craigslist, traversed the inner machinations of my mind, and sought after perfectly recapturing the gothiness of Black Celebration mixed with the dark romance of Violator and voila, Let Me Go was born. Look at the cover art for Dave Gahan’s sake! There is a few ink blotches made up primarily of the color red, almost resembling a flower. If that isn’t any clue as to what this album sounds like, I’ll gladly explain. Choirs of “oohs” and “ahhs” pervade over spacey synths, all reinvigorated courtesy mysterious baritone croons. Arizona’s Body of Light have nailed the goth resurgence by way of niche pop songs, if there ever was a culture needing saving.
RIYL: Depeche Mode – Violator
4. Whitney – Light Upon The Lake
You’d think I work for Secretly Canadian as some sort of paid spokesperson given my next two choices on this list. Maybe I just appreciate a breathe of fresh air! That’s exactly what Light Upon The Lake has provided, particularly to one’s Summer playlist (conveniently releasing in June). Formed as a phoenix out of the ashes with Smith Westerns breakup a few years back, Whitney serves better as a supergroup of sorts, fully fledging out serene guitar slide and picking techniques courtesy of Max Kakacek and company. Better yet, what makes them unique is the sweet falsetto and simple drumming of Julian Ehrlich (formerly Unknown Mortal Orchestra) guiding each song ever so serenely. Attribute their talents large in part to pop and indie acts anywhere from Hall & Oates’ pop sensibilities, to more recent staples of country-infused indie acts like Wilco. Whatever their musical doppelganger, give Whitney credit for being infinitely listenable, and certifiably charming.
RIYL: Fleetwood Mac – Tusk
3. Suuns – Hold/Still
Hold/Still is an interesting listen. Songs tease the essence of a big buildup likely leading into an explosion of sound, yet the music never seems to get there, and that’s not the point in a loudness war generation used to gratification via explosion of sound. Rather, the blend of electronic noise and reverb-soaked guitars target a different kind of response, one of wavy uneasiness in the picking guitar of “Resistance”, or the brooding noisiness of “Translate”. Hold/Still is blatantly creepy. You could attribute that to many staples of post-punk classics, but that era of new artful developments in the genre’s pioneers don’t speak for the plethora of copycats in our present day. Suuns I can safely say are different. there is something new served here, most noticeably by the accompanying electronics, with slithering guitars and muddied bass. As our generation further disillusions itself in the romanticized musical world of yesteryear, there are still new creators, and bigger ambitions in mind. There is a ton of post-punk in my personal musical diet. Much of that invokes much of the past, and moreover becomes a product of its own influences. Hold/Still challenges the notion and leaves audiences to decide how they wish to label it. Just try.
RIYL: Women – Public Strain
2. The Hotelier – Goodness (Review)
“Emo Revival” as people tend to dub this kind of stuff is certainly revived in the sense that bands everywhere are trying to invoke the whole midwestern indie-rock thing. Sure, many of them can pull off the sound, but I can only think of a select few this decade that are great. On Goodness, Christian Holden’s lyricism blooms amidst this steady drumming of “Goodness, Pt. 2”, like a Lord of the Rings ultimatum that there is some good in this world that’s worth fighting for. This song like many carries a weight of hurt and destruction, now fully forming into the beauty that life brings, a chrysalis made and soon birthed as guitar and bass join Holden’s scarred voice, ready for life’s next challenge. Better yet, The Hotelier place straight up post-hardcore on the shelf entirely. Instead, we were greeted with leadup single “Goodness, Pt. 1”, which didn’t appear on record, but better serves as an acoustic guitar driven preface to a new beginning for the band. Songs are still tearjerkers, and Holden still stands out as a powerful vocalist, screaming his heart out on staples like “Soft Animal” and “Sun”. The Hotelier moreover showed a mature evolution in their sound; that’s what emo revival has on say pop-punk for example. They’re adults now, no need to shamelessly reinvent the wheel, as life doesn’t stop at eighteen.
RIYL: Brand New – Deja Entendu
1. The Black Queen – Fever Daydream
The Black Queen
Side projects, an indefinite vacation from the toils of everyday musicianship as profession, or the last pulse of a lineup of creative minds on respirator. Perhaps I’m being dramatic, but such is life for mathcore pioneers The Dillinger Escape Plan. Although they released their swansong record Dissociation to wide acclaim in preparation to call it quits, it was Greg Puciato’s work with fellow collaborators Steven Alexander and Joshua Eustis (Nine Inch Nails) that garnered attention late 2015 sliding into 2016, when their group released a match-made-in-heaven ode to synthesizer madness and 80’s nostalgia. Beyond the exterior of synth-pop melodies and jumpy 808 drum beats, Fever Daydream proves to be much more. Featuring Puciato fully dedicating himself to clean vocals aside from his hardcore past, songs like lead single “Ice To Never” show his diverse range of belting choruses, to the tender falsetto of “The End Where We Start”. Quite the stray from shocking audiences out of their element, but snapping back to this present reality, The Black Queen trade awe in the form of entertainment to that of beautiful soundscapes of warbly electronics and piercing bass and guitar. Fever Daydream is an homage of sorts, but above all, Puciato is his standard distinct voice, and The Black Queen set their own personal soundtrack, destined to bring the extra flavor to a budding resurgence in pop music.
RIYL: Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine
Other UJATS happenings from 2016…
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