December 27, 2016

Best of 2016

9/2/17 Update and edit: 
After 9 months to think about it, my opinion on many of these albums has changed much. As I discuss below, I struggled mightily to come up with a #1 album last year. Typically, that is a simple, clear-cut decision. Anyway, today I revised this list and made it more accurate to my current feelings. However, I expect to revise it again in the future because this is such a difficult year for me. 

Part of the difficult is that honestly 2016 is a weak year musically. Through the first 9 months of 2017, there are already 10 or more albums that have been released better than anything last year. That said, the thought of writing my 2017 list over the next few months is exhilarating.

What is the best album of 2016? A silly question, and different for everyone. What is my favorite album of 2016? Many years, an easy question. For most this year I had no idea though. A month ago, I tweeted:

My tweet got some responses and the consensus was that ranking is mostly unnecessary. It was suggested that I share my favorite albums, but not number them.

Impossible for my personality! If you read my blog, it is apparent I love lists, and not only with music. I rank everything: movies, food, cities... the list goes on and on. My lists change over time, but I love ranking and numbering things, especially albums.

NPR published "Album of the Year" (AOTY) lists for years with no ranking, but this year finally numbered. The terrific Scottish indie blog Gold Flake Paint had historically numbered, but this year didn't, and their Essential Albums of 2016 list is one of the best you'll read.

All that to say, I had to number my list even without knowing what #1 was. I was prepared to publish my list with #1 "TBA" and starting with #2. The rough draft existed like that until last week.

For each album, I provided a link to buy and listen on Bandcamp where possible. (It is honestly shocking to me in 2016 that an artist would not use Bandcamp, but looking over my list is appears that the artists who skip Bandcamp probably do so due to record label regulations.) I also mention the format I purchased each album on, which this year ran the full gamut of vinyl, CD, cassette, and digital. I decided to include hometown, because I was impressed with the international diversity of the artists represented. And then finally, continuing with what I began in 2014, I include a quote and a link to the best review for each album that helps express my thoughts.

Thanks to Rob Mitchum for his Google spreadsheet that compiles the statistics from major music publications' AOTY lists. As of December 16 it included data from 36 publications and a total of 602 (!) albums released this year. Sadly it does not include the Gold Flake Paint list, nor the Bandcamp top 100. When I say "Number of major music lists ranked on" I am referring to the Mitchum spreadsheet specifically. (The Album of the Year website ranks about 650 albums from 2016, but even it doesn't include all the albums in my list of 30). What I find most interesting about this statistic is comparing how different my music tastes are from the "mainstream". That is no surprise, but what is ironic is that outside of Radiohead, the most popular bands on my list are Thrice and Jimmy Eat World, and are not found in the 602 albums he analyzed.

Top 30 albums of 2016:
(No #1 for me this year as of September 2017)

2 (tie). Jimmy Eat World- Integrity Blues
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Mesa, Arizona, USA

Jimmy Eat World is on of my favorite bands of all time, so the inclusion of their newest LP near the top of my list shouldn't be a surprise. But, considering their last album was so poor, and my most disappointing album of 2013, it was a pleasant shock to have them back with a strong set of songs. Jimmy Eat World isn't really covering any new ground, they are just doing what they do very well. When typically Jimmy Eat World-bashers Pitchfork gives the band a 7.3, they must have done something right:

"Though Jimmy Eat World hasn’t had much part in the ongoing renaissance of emo—in fact, some of it may be a reaction to what Bleed American hath wrought—Integrity Blues finds itself sharing its dominant concern of using the genre’s inherent vulnerability and introspection to promote self-esteem rather than self-pity. Summarizing his view of integrity, Adkins sings, “It’s all what you do when no one cares,” on the title track, written during a brief solo tour where he played to small crowds in bars and churches in places like Billings, MT and Maquoketa, IA. It’s indicative of Integrity Blues’ diamond-cut polish that this is the rawest thing here—while Adkins is backed by tearful Sigur Rós strings, his vocals are completely unadorned, possibly even first-take. It just took some time, but we’re finally hearing what Adkins has to say for himself." ~Ian Cohen for Pitchfork



2 (tie). Thrice- To Be Everywhere is To Be Nowhere
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Irvine, California, USA

Like Jimmy Eat World, Thrice is one of my all-time favorite bands, so it is never a surprise when they have a highly ranked album from me. I call them my favorite post-2000 band, and they rarely have any misstep in my eyes. I considered both this and Integrity Blues as possible albums of the year at different points in 2016, and what prevented that from happening I think is familiarity. I know Thrice and Jimmy Eat World inside and out, and in 2016 I mostly found myself longing for new sounds and new bands.

Thrice was on hiatus for the most part of 5 years leading into this album, and it was unknown whether or not they would record again. So having a new Thrice album was a treat in and of itself. But this is a truly powerful, intense work and has them at the top of their game.

While I considered both Thrice and Jimmy Eat World at #1, neither album feels that outstanding, and part of the problem is that I am currently obsessed with music discovery. I want to hear new bands and sounds like never before. Because of that, more so than on most of my lists "new" is getting admittedly too much credit. About a 1/3 of the artists mentioned in this post I had never heard until 2016.

"...The key to this album's effectiveness extends beyond vocals and delivery. Everybody sounds great here, with a particularly forceful energy from Riley Breckenridge’s drums every bit as critical to the dynamic ups and downs as Kensrue’s vocal delivery. In the same way that the vastness of the guitars take center stage on "Hurricane" and "Blood on the Sand," the drums on "Whistleblower" drive that song from start to finish. Ditto for the bass on "The Window." Again, these are all remarkably cohesive offerings (and polished af), but "Death From Above" is probably the best example of where it all comes together on TBEITN. It’s got the energy, the melody, and the clarity. ("The Long Defeat," a close runner-up)." ~Justice for SputnikMusic



3. White Lung- Paradise
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 9)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

The first punk rock album I have loved since the 90's; and with female vocals no less.

"Seamlessly bringing together beauty and brutality, ‘Paradise’ is an album which proves that after four decades, punk isn’t just alive and well, but that it still has the power to take your breath away." ~Leonie Cooper for NME



4. Fox Wound- In Passing, You Too Faded
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Was pretty excited to find a couple of new bands from Georgia this year, and Fox Wound sounds like something I would have listened to about 15 years ago. Thrilled that they are being creative and unique in a style that seems so familiar and nostalgic to me.

"...the album glides effortlessly from infectious two-step to dreamy, poignant lulls without faltering or missing an opportunity to surprise and thrill along the way." ~ Tyler Findlay for Immersive Atlanta



5. Starflyer 59- Slow
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Tooth and Nail Records
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Seattle, Washington, USA

20+ years and 14 studio albums later, Starflyer 59 has released another essential part of their discography. As much as I love Jason Martin and his band, I never expected him to record another album so focused and profound. (The last two Starflyer 59 albums, from 2010 and 2013 were boring and far from what Martin is capable of). But here we are in 2016 and Martin has somehow put together an album that combines all the diverse styles the band has experimented in over two decades.

Lars Gotrich's June interview with Martin is essential for anyone interested in Starflyer or this album. Martin is reclusive and it is rare to get him to talk about his music. But in this NPR feature Martin explains each of Slow's 8 tracks in detail. Gotrich begins:

"In the 23 years that Starflyer 59 has been a band, the only constant has been Jason Martin. But in those same two decades, through many styles — from the heavy shoegaze of Silver and Gold to Americana's classic rock to the poppier run of The Fashion Focus through Leave Here A Stranger, and so on and so forth — you always know a song is a Jason Martin song. His workmanlike approach puts an emphasis on songs that make sense and are built to last. To him, a song is math, not art, so if a Starflyer 59 riff or a tone or a chord progression sounds familiar, it means the song's working. That's not meant to take the magic out of music, just base it on reality. More than ever, Martin is focused what it means to make music now."




6. Crying- Beyond the Fleeting Gales
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 2)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: New York, New York, USA

In a year in which the majority of the music I listened to was either serious, intense, depressing, or a combination of the three, this band is a breath of fresh air: they are pure FUN. I have only been aware of this band and this album for a couple of weeks, but it is so energetic and radically different than anything else I have heard this year, or in the last decade, I can't help but love it. It is really better than the rest of these albums? Probably not, but it is so unique and different than all the other music I heard this year that #1 seems like its current proper place. Will it have staying power? Who knows. But right now I am addicted. (My only complaint is that the album cover and art is horrifically bad, hopefully on purpose.)

"Whether it’s cloaked in darkness or attempting to elevate, cynicism is at the heart of our experimental music today, a criticism of our culture at large that, while vital, can sometimes end up adding to the relentless, oppressive state we exist within.

Fortunately, Crying have arrived to deliver us from our sorrows. What may have started as a fairly innocent chiptune project with the group’s 2014 double EP 'Get Olde / Second Wind' has already evolved levels beyond, into a force that both throttles our current cultural obsessions while being daring enough to simply and bracingly have fun with them. 'Beyond the Fleeting Gale's, Crying’s full-length debut, is a dramatic, life-affirming thrill ride that reinvents twee as a muscular, confident embodiment of youth, less the story of a sad kid on the bus than a trunk-rattling night out with all your friends. The trio of Elaiza Santos, Ryan Galloway, and Nick Corbo turbine a sumptuous bounty of gimmicky styles into a swirl of reckless abandon and enthusiasm, a mishmash of arena rock, 8-bit, emo, and prog that jettisons much of their cultural baggage in favor of making something both immediate and personal." ~Sam Goldner for Tiny Mix Tapes




7. Berwanger- Exorcism Rock
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Berwanger website
Format purchased: CD
Hometown: Lawrence, Kansas, USA

The Anniversary reunited for shows this year, their first in about 15 years. And from reading all the interviews and listening to the podcasts, the band is up for recording new music if they can "recapture the magic."

Meanwhile, Anniversary frontman Josh Berwanger has released the best music of his career. Tim Finn of the Kansas City Star interviewed Berwanger in October:

'“So I started to write that way, as well. I had this sort of creative boost. I wanted to spend time making a really good record, a rock ’n’ roll record.”

“Exorcism” is a full-throttle rock record, but it sustains some of the strengths and charms of its predecessors: bright, catchy melodies, plenty of vocal harmonies. But it draws its sounds from different inspirations.

“A lot of my favorite records are records that take you in different places, lyrically and musically,” Berwanger said. “Like ‘Appetite for Destruction’ and ‘London Calling’: You have songs that are diverse and, lyrically, deal with different things — social commentary, politics, being in love. I really wanted to make a record that was somewhat of a journey.”'



8. Radiohead- A Moon Shaped Pool
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 28)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England

My favorite Radiohead album since Hail to the Thief.

"Now moving slowly towards their fourth decade as a band, Thom Yorke and company have proven themselves to be rock’s true chameleons, shifting, adapting and moving forward with every subsequent release, and ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ continues this pattern. This is an emotionally brittle and dazzling collection that improves with each enthralling listen." ~Luke Winstanley for Clash



9. Explosions in the Sky- The Wilderness
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 2)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Austin, Texas, USA

Explosions in the Sky was the band that got in me into post-trock and led to a love for them, Mogwai, and Hammock. As much as I enjoy music from all these bands (and there is a lot to enjoy as all three have immense discographies), I am rarely surprised by any of them. Explosions in the Sky, as good as they are, haven't explored much musical ground over the last 15 years. Until now. This record is a departure in instrumentation, song-structure, in just about every way; a welcome shift in purpose.

"As with any Explosions in the Sky record, it’s difficult to arrive at the right words. The adjective palette feels curiously lacking, similes are out of reach. Facts we can do – the band’s sixth (non-soundtrack) album, the nine tracks present are a little in duration compared to what came before – yet beyond that, the post-rock descriptive framework sees the beatific auspices and sheer attention to detail behind The Wilderness undersold... A beautiful record; you just wish the vocabulary existed to do it justice." ~Duncan Harman for the Skinny



10. Sleigh Bells- Jessica Rabbit
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital (although I am dying to own the vinyl and hold that artwork at 12" x 12" size!)
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York, USA

Sleigh Bells is musical candy for me. It brings two of my favorite things together: female vocals with edgy guitars. However, that description doesn't come close to what this band sounds like as they incorporate such a wide array of experimentation. Probably my favorite Sleigh Bells album since their debut.

"...On the duo’s fourth album they stretch their sound so far it sometimes snaps: the blast-beat happy “As If” is more kvlt than anything on 'Reign of Terror', and the Annie Lennox arena-pop ballad “I Can Only Stare” has no guitar whatsoever. The closest aural cousin to “Crucible” is Girls’ Generation’s K-Pop classic “”I Got a Boy. But several songs act as palate-expanders, traipsing the uncanny valleys inherent in lurching tempo changes (“It’s Just Us Now”), prog-like suites (“Unlimited Dark Paths”) and miniatures bridging one stuffed setpiece to the next (“I Know Not to Count on You”)... the album can take a few listens for adjustment." ~Dan Weiss for Paste



11. David Bazan- Blanco
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Seattle, Washington, USA

In March of 2015 I wrote an essay about my relationship with Bazan's music. In short, Bazan's monthly series, in which he released 2 songs per month for 10 straight months, reignited my love for his music. I ranked his "Monthly Volume 2" in my top-20 albums of 2015. Blanco is best songs from the monthly series, and they have all been re-recorded and mostly improved. Blanco is Bazan's second full-length with primarily electronic instruments. (The first was 2005's Headphones, which is by far my least favorite Bazan release.) While I prefer his guitar-based tunes historically, his use of programming and keys works perfectly here. And I was fortunate to see him in July of 2016 and it was impressive how well all the songs translated to him playing them on simply an acoustic guitar.

"To hear his voice rumble deeper into the darkness has been a harrowing and cathartic experience. Blanco surprises by throwing this tattered voice over top synthesizer warbles and drum samples rather than brooding guitar...The problems Bazan deals with on his records have typically been massive. When he writes a breakup record, he’s breaking up with God. When he’s getting political, it’s a concept record like Control. On 'Blanco', however, Bazan pulls back the veil in a different way. It’d be incorrect to say that Bazan has ever held back his personal issues, but the way he presents his life on Blanco feels less on the grand scale of existential crisis and more akin to the burdens of being a husband, a songwriter, and a normal person." ~Dusty Henry for Consequence of Sound



12. Camp Cope- Camp Cope
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 2)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Melbourne, Australia

"The most powerful moments on Camp Cope come when Maq shows a willingness to take some kind of power back after being talked down to her entire life, by parents, by teachers, by partners (“Hey, I was looking for a reason to leave and it’s you”), friends and peers in the punk community. There are no revelatory epiphanies for Maq, just valuable growth spurts that feel like acceptance. In “West Side Story,” Maq gets closest to the “survive and advance” thesis statement of Camp Cope:  'It all comes down to the knowledge that we’re gonna die/find comfort in that or be scared for the rest of your life.'" ~Ian Cohen for Pitchfork



"'Lifes Rich " ~From the XX review

13. Milk Teeth- Vile Child
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Bristol, United Kingdom

"Powered by a stark honesty and an unfailing drive to be and achieve, 'Vile Child' kicks and screams it's way through the system. Brutal in some places and heart-rending in others, Milk Teeth's debut resonates through compelling emotions and ever-changing stylings." ~Jessica Goodman for the Line of Best Fit

14. Big Thief- Masterpiece
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 1)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York, USA

"When undertaking albums that deal with heavy subject matters such as romantic bitterness and accepting death, there’s a fine line between proceeding through these emotions constructively and wallowing in pity for an entire album. Thankfully, the latter does not happen here. What Lenker and guitarist Buck Meek offer up is an album that is genuine and insightful not only in lyrically, but in the manner this real-life romantic duo match together in vocal and guitar timbre." ~Cory Healy for Paste



15. Frightened Rabbit- Painting of a Panic Attack
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 2)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Selkirk, Scotland

"Credit Frightened Rabbit for trying its hand at harnessing a darker magic, moving musically in parallel with the lyrics to creating a more ornate and delicate beauty. But that subdued soundscape is ultimately a move that sacrifices a bit of the power that made the band so great to begin with. In contrast to Frightened Rabbit’s 2013 major-label debut 'Pedestrian Verse', which tiptoed to the edge of grandiosity, Painting Of A Panic Attack is a pensive, internally focused album." ~Eric Swedlund for A.V. Club



16. Band of Horses- Why are You OK?
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 1)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Charleston, South Carolina, USA

Had literally forgotten about Band of Horses for almost a decade, and as poor as I read their last two albums were, seems as if I didn't miss much. But they are back with a bang and this album is fun.

"Band of Horses have rediscovered the magic of old here; the textures are so often sumptuous, especially on ‘Hag’, with bursts of shimmering guitar melting into a sedate sonic landscape, or the fabulously atmospheric closer, ‘Even Still’. It’s not they’ve gone back on themselves or regressed; it’s just that Band of Horses have naturally, and happily, managed to wind their way back home." ~Joe Goggins for Drowned in Sound



17. Amber Arcades- Fading Lines
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Utrecht, Netherlands

"Amber Arcades—the thrilling and delectable project of Dutch artist Annelotte de Graaf-—revel in the ability to combine textures, sounds, and colors together to create dream-like sounds and sequences; but forever being driven along by a pop heartbeat. There are echoes of the likes of Stereolab, Broadcast, and even some frazzled Cocteau Twins sounds in there, but the truth is that the music never sits still enough for such comparisons to be truly made." ~David Edwards for Under the Radar 



18. Sad13- Slugger
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 1)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

"When a member of a band goes solo, it’s often assumed the artist in question is looking for a break from their normal routine. And while that’s partially true for Sadie Dupuis, the vocalist-guitarist in the indie-rock ascendants Speedy Ortiz, her first record under the Sad13 moniker doesn’t shy away from the sounds she’s been associated with. Instead, Slugger takes the scraps of ideas she’s had lying around and gives them the attention they weren’t previously afforded.

"While it’s true that Slugger boasts more electronic flourishes and modern pop conventions than any Speedy Ortiz record, Dupuis’ ability to make dense arrangements feel accessible is something both projects share. The songs on Slugger are delicately layered, often eschewing Dupuis’ intricate guitar lines for synths, keyboards, and danceable back beats." ~David Anthony for A.V. Club



19. Haley Bonar- Impossible Dream
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Rapid City, South Dakota

"Bonar’s voice becomes another instrument in the mix, swirling within music that feels natural, organic and fully formed...you know this is a songwriter who has, over the course of a 15 year, generally under-the-radar career, found her groove and between this and 2014’s 'Last War', might just now be peaking. Occasionally the sound can get a bit monochromatic. But co-producer/multi-instrumentalist Jacob Hanson keeps Bonar’s voice — similar to that of Britta Phillips — up front. And these songs are so powerfully melodic, it’s difficult not to get swept into the world of an artist who is more than ready for her time in the spotlight." ~Hal Horowitz for American Songwriter



20. Box and the Twins- Everywhere I Go is Silence
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Cologne, Germany

I did a ton of Bandcamp exploration this year, as their search tools are phenomenal and the sheer amount of music there is overwhelming. Searching by location is especially fun, and I was thrilled when I found an album from Germany that was good. I ordered the vinyl from one listen to support the band, and hopefully I'll get to see them play sometime in 2017.

"In 'Perfume Well' we hear male and female vocals dancing with each other. The vocals sound happy, allthough the song remains very dark. 'Hundred Flowers' is a lingering song. It feels as if the words are crawling. And the guitars create tension. And that same tension stays with us in 'Birds.' A lament of guitars screaming for help, as if it is the last sound they will produce. 'Guilty Red' has a higher pace. Beautiful guitars and vocals blend perfectly together. Ice cold synths are the prelude of 'Ice Machine.' Freezing cold shoegaze it is." ~Jurgen Braeckevelt for Peek-A-Boo



21. Enemies- Valuables
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Cassette
Hometown: Wicklow, Ireland

"It’s a curious role to take on, that of the listener to an album created cathartically. Bearing witness to the sound of those hearts and souls poured into a lengthy and tumultuous project being found and repaired is a unique experience. You’re all too aware that you needn’t be there, that the sounds would go on and the healing would be complete without you. Such is the case with 'Valuables' – the third and final album release from Irish math-rocksters Enemies – the result of 11 turbulent months of work during which the band was melted and re-cast by their own hands.

Knowing this, you’d expect the album to be a more jaded, jagged affair; with avant-garde stabs to the ear personifying the undercurrent of personal and professional heartbreaks the band experienced during its creation. Really, nothing could be further than the truth. This is quite possibly Enemies’ most placid release to date; the sense of lilting tranquility running throughout more indicative of a sort of final Valhalla reached by the band, where the music, in their own words, has “nothing to prove, no one to impress”." ~Lawrence Haywood for Echoes and Dust




22. Mitski- Puberty 2
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 23)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: New York, New York, USA

"...Even Puberty 2’s lulls have a new sense of clarity thanks to the cleaner—although far from slick—production. Producer Patrick Hyland foregrounds Mitski’s voice, letting it soar above the melee of her punk-rock numbers and giving it room to move around in the negative space of a ballad. As a result, Puberty 2 exposes new dimensions to Mitski’s voice, revealing its true richness and range. Mitski is an exceptionally keen observer of the human condition, and Puberty 2 marks a triumphant new step in her evolution." ~Katie Rife for A.V. Club



23. Sandra McCracken- God's Highway
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee, USA

"Of all the tens of thousands of independent singer/songwriters currently plying their trade in the USA few have received the critical plaudits of St Louis-born Sandra McCracken. Her soulful, folk-gospel-Americana sound has captivated a sizeable audience and her 11th full-length album, 'God's Highway' like its predecessor 'Psalms', was inspired by God-breathed biblical poetry." ~CrossRhythms



24. Hammock- Everything and Nothing
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: CD
Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee, USA

"So there it is, a difficult album, but one that feels crucial at the same time. Hammock have made their most immediate, most sonorous and beautiful album to date. One wonders as to the sacrifices that have been made in order that so much of themselves has been left open for public viewing. We should be grateful to Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson that they chose to let us be part of the beauty, and treat it with care and reverence." ~Haydon Spenceley for Drowned in Sound



25. For Everest- We Are At Home in the Body
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: New York, New York, USA

As Ian Cohen writes in 2016 summary for Spin, "The moment where pop-punk kids discover both Rainer Marias at the same time."


26. Field Mouse- Episodic
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

"Modern dream-pop is a versatile label, applied to the heady melodies of Beach House and the hooky sway of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart alike. Field Mouse once sounded more like the former — maybe never more so than on their 2012 cover of the Twin Peaks theme song. The band has made changes since then, growing from a duo to a five-piece and venturing into noisier territory on 2014’s Hold Still Life. Their third studio LP, Episodic, is underpinned more by rock than indie-pop, but its soft-hearted, world-weary attitude betrays the Brooklyn-and-Philadelphia quintet’s identity as lovers, not fighters." ~Anna Gaca for Spin



27. Mogwai- Atomic
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Glasgow, Scotland

"Mogwai’s latest album, and their third soundtrack, features reworkings of songs that they provided for Mark Cousins’ documentary 'Atomic: Living In Dread And Promise', a film that addresses the reality of the nuclear age. The documentary itself is both poignant and fascinating, and Mogwai’s contribution to it definitely lends a sense of fear, grandeur and elegance whilst simultaneously throwing the band’s collective political hat (or beanie) into the ring.

As a standalone work however, Mogwai have created an album that also functions perfectly well away from the material it was written to soundtrack. The slow build of 'Ether', with its delicate keyboards, mournful tones and triumphant French horns touch on the pastoral, and describe a beautiful unscarred landscape. It’s up there with some of their most emotionally charged work to date...At this point in Mogwai’s history, it’d be unreasonable to expect any kind of seismic shift in direction, but what they’ve done with Atomic is refine their methods to create something that could just possibly be the highlight of the career to date." ~Sam Shepherd for MusicOMH



28. Tegan and Sara- Love You to Death
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 5)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Tegan & Sara has gotten hugely popular, and as awesome as they are as musicians and people, this is easily my least favorite album from the twin sisters since discovering them in 2004. More catchy pop songs, but I miss the guitars. The last album they released was my #1 of 2013, so quite a drop for me.

Alex McLevy hits the nail on the head with his review of the album, titled "Tegan and Sara are hampered by the curse of being good":
"If you’re hoping for a return to the bold and thrilling musical adventurism of pre-Heartthrob Tegan And Sara, we’ve got bad news for you: The duo are remaining squarely in the mainstream pop arena, at least for the foreseeable future. You may long for the days of 'The Con', but the sisters have planted a flag in Taylor Swift’s territory, and they’re not leaving until it’s been conquered 10 ways from Sunday. 'Love You To Death' is an album that adheres rigorously to a formula, and while it’s hard to imagine anyone doing that formula much more effectively, it’s also ultimately a bit dispiriting to hear artists this talented force their formerly roaming muses into a single mold, albeit a glossy and appealing one."



29. Rob Crow's Gloomy Place- You're Doomed. Be Nice.
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: San Diego, California, USA

A few years ago Rob Crow went on a tweet rampage in which he stated, among other things, that he was done with music. So his return, while not necessarily surprising, is welcome. And while his solo work (or involvement in countless other bands) is never as good as Pinback (his primary musical vehicle), You're Doomed. Be Nice. is as close to a Pinback album as one can get without the involvement of musical partner Armistead Burwell Smith IV.

Dan Caffrey wrote outstanding reviews for both my #29 and #30 ranked albums, and his words for Consequence of Sound express my thoughts better than I could have:

From the Rob Crow review: "Even if the lyrics on the record were unabashedly sunny, there’s an angularity to the music that puts a tiny dam between the speakers and the reserve of endorphins in every listener’s head. That’s not to say Travis Nelson’s Escher staircase of a bass line on first single “Business Interruptus” isn’t hooky or that “Rest Your Soul” doesn’t have a power pop momentum perfect for soundtracking the races Crow has recently started running. It’s more that the math-lite musicality — the wiry guitars, constant key shifts, and helix formations of the synths should be familiar to any Pinback obsessive — creates an impenetrability that keeps true catharsis at bay for any casual fan."

The last paragraph of the Nada Surf review; more below: "Another record that came out this week, You’re Doomed. Be Nice. by Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place, is similarly transfixed by a cautious, somewhat vague optimism. But that album has a loaded context surrounding it, and even if it didn’t, the more upward-looking content is a departure from what we’ve come to expect from Crow. You Know Who You Are, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from Nada Surf. Unfortunately, sometimes being reliable just isn’t enough."



30. Nada Surf- You Know Who You Are and Peaceful Ghosts
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 1)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Both on vinyl
Hometown: New York, New York, USA

Nada Surf is one of my favorite bands, so the release of two albums in the same calendar year is a treat. The live album Peaceful Ghosts, accompanied by the German Babelsberg Film Orchestra, is phenomenal, and provides stunning versions of the best songs from the band's back catalog. However, the studio album, You Know Who You Are, is just too bland.

Last year a friend of mine tweeted that his favorite Nada Surf album was 2010's If I Had a Hi-Fi, which is a collection of covers. I had never even bought that album, as full-length covers records rarely interest me. However, the tweet had an impact, and I bought the CD for my first full listen. What If I Had a Hi-Fi offers that much of Nada Surf's originals don't is creative, diverse instrumentation. And sadly, You Know Who You Are, is the epitome of blandness from the instrumentation standpoint. Matthew Caws continues to write terrific songs, but the guitar-bass-drums mid-tempoed rock song model has gotten tiring. One would hope that being accompanied by an orchestra would open the minds of the Nada Surf members to incorporating some new tricks in their studio time, but it hasn't happened yet.

About Peaceful Ghosts: "...Overseen by Calexico’s Martin Wenk and composer Max Knuth, the project was recorded with the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra in Vienna and the Babelsberg Film Orchestra in Potsdam. Opening on “Comes A Time” from 2005’s The Weight Is A Gift, it’s immediately clear how well the orchestral fusion will work, replacing the dreamy opening vocals of the original with grand string passages, whilst a flute follows Caw’s vocal melodies in the verses with an appropriate innocence. 

The quality of the live recording is first rate, not letting the orchestra overbear in the mix but allow it to compliment the diverse selection of songs from the band’s back catalogue." ~John Bell for The Line of Best Fit

About You Know Who You Are: "Nada Surf’s eighth studio album...explores similar territory. That’s not necessarily a problem in itself — frontman Matthew Caws has been singing the same “Life is hard, but love it anyway” mantra for at least four records at this point — but unlike its predecessors, there’s not enough musical variation in place to keep things interesting. Where most of 'The Weight Is A Gift' had a welcome moodiness that undercut the sunny outlook and “When I Was Young” shifted from ballad to fist-pumper halfway through, everything on 'You Know Who You' Are stays at the same MOR clip." ~Dan Caffrey for Consequence of Sound



Top 5 EPs of 2016:


1. Steve Taylor and The Danielson Foil- Wow to the Deadness
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: CD through Kickstarter
Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Steve Taylor + Daniel Smith = weird and wonderful.

"Perhaps you're reading this review because you know who Steve Taylor is. If you do, you'll already more than likely have taken the opportunity to listen to this short, sharp blast of acerbic proto-punk goodness. Perhaps you're a longtime fan of Daniel Smith, the man behind Danielson and Danielson Familie, and you're intrigued to see what all this is about. Again though, I would wager, you're coming to this review having already formed your opinion about this EP. Perhaps, lastly, you're something of a Steve Albini completist, and you want to know what all the fuss is about, why he has been so effusive about the quality of this record in recent interviews he has given." ~Haydon Spenceley for Drowned in Sound



2. My Epic- Viscera
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on My Epic website
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

"'Viscera' is a great example of a good band evolving into a great one. My Epic have always trafficked in a type of ethereal yet marginally aggressive form of post-rock-meets-grunge-meets-metal. Much like their fellow Facedown artists in Hands and Everything In Slow Motion, My Epic’s music has always had a certain carefully crafted momentum in its music, and they ratchet that up quite a few notches with this excellent long-ish EP. Viscera sees the band merging their pasts quite well, with Yet‘s post-Thrice-style grunge building upon the graceful beauty of 'Behold'. Befitting an album titled after internal organs, 'Viscera' is very much about deeply held beliefs and struggles, and the band tackles them quite admirably throughout the four actual songs." ~Nicholas Senior for New Noise



3. Snail Mail- Habit
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland, USA

"Even in her most desperate moments, Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan sounds calm and collected. But this isn’t a one-note record. Throughout 'Habit', Jordan excels at self-reflection, interrogating herself before turning to others. Many of these songs are built on measured drumming and soft, hypnotic riffs. Jordan is a self-deprecating songwriter, often evoking the decay and sediment of the natural world to get at her reflexive feelings. As a whole, 'Habit' is the voice of a young woman in full control of her own nascent—and ascendant—narrative." ~Tess Duncan for Bandcamp



4. Mint Green- Growth
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts, USA

"Starting just a few months ago, Mint Green spent the summer hitting the road in their native Massachusetts before sitting down to record a dynamic debut EP. We called the band—made up of  frontwoman Ronnica, lead guitarist Frank Price, drummer Daniel Huang and bassist Brandon Geeslin—to learn all about them, Reddit, diversity and their unique sound, one that exists in the gray space between the harmonic immediacy of straightforward punk-pop and the matured sentimentality of modern day indie-leaning emo." ~Maria Sherman for Bandcamp



5. Sleeping at Last- Life
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on the Sleeping at Last website
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois, USA

Writing or finding review of any Sleeping at Last is nearly impossible because Ryan O'Neal, the lone member of the "band", has not released a proper LP since 2009. Despite that, he is one of the most prolific songwriters of the present and I can think of no one who releases quality music as frequently. How exactly? Projects and EPs.

I currently have 200 Sleeping at Last songs in my iTunes database. During Sleeping at Last's LP stage, 2000-2009, they released 55 songs over four full-lengths. From 2010 to the present he has released three times that amount of music. It is all great, but digging through it can be overwhelming. If you need a starting point, the Space album, composed of two EPs, I find to be his best work and it has been packaged in this gorgeous double-vinyl set.

The most current project is called Atlas: Life, and 13 of 25 songs have been released. The best way to buy Sleeping at Last is to subscribe, because you get the music cheaper and earlier through monthly emails. Lyrically and musically, this music is intricate and ornate.



Album I listened to most in 2016 which was not released in 2016:

Forget Cassettes- Salt
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: CD
Hometown: Nashville, USA

I have loved Forget Cassettes since I first heard them in 2003, but with only three albums over 13 years, I lost track of Beth Cameron and company for awhile. I renewed my love for the band with 2013's O Cursa, but somehow 2006's Salt I never fully listened to. Until this year. And it is amazing. Seriously go buy the full Forget Cassettes discography on Bandcamp for $20. I hope there is more to come!

"With such a tumultuous history it is not entirely surprising that 'Salt' is an emotional (as well as aural) rollercoaster. The nine tracks (plus one bonus) allow listeners to revel in an almost perverse sense of self-satisfaction – that someone else’s despair, angst, loneliness and loathing can somehow console is an odd, though far from new, human phenomenon. Vocally Cameron appears to be genuinely wringing the pain; and the cacophonous quiet to very, very loud musical backing acts to exacerbate the overwhelming sense of catharsis." ~Carl Dixon for Faster-Louder

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