1. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
What makes Bon Iver’s third record such a unique listen – and my favorite album of 2016 – is exactly what made Justin Vernon an indie icon in the first place: striking, unwavering progression. Though it would have been easy to make Bon Iver, Bon Iver Part 2, Vernon took a more experimental and turbulent approach on 22, A Million. With samples, synth, and autotune taking the place of the organic instrumentation of its predecessor, the half-hour electro-folk romp stands above everything else I heard year.
In 2013, Norma Jean blew away everything else in their catalogue with a ferocious release of metalcore mayhem in Wrongdoers. Three years later, they found a way to surpass it with Polar Similar, an album that turned their typical demeanor even darker while also adding more sludge and noise metal vibes to the mix. From the frenetic crash of “Everyone Talking Over Everyone Else” to the brute force of “1,000,000 Watts”, no other metal record in 2016 matched the pace of this hurling, furious mass.
3. Touché Amoré – Stage Four
A few years ago, I gave Touche Amore’s Is Survived By a 9.5 rating and declared it an effort that would be incredibly hard to surpass. In many regards, Stage Four accomplished such a task. Following themes of death once again, the album is a weighty heap of emotional hardcore penned from the experience of frontman Jeremy Bolm losing his mother. As a longtime fan, I knew the record would be full of grief-stricken, melancholic bursts, but what I didn’t know was how affecting it would end up being.
Going into 2016, The Hotelier neared the top of my list of most anticipated albums of the year. If there was any band that I hoped could deepen and mature their emo/punk sound, it was the Massachusetts natives. Goodness calmed things down from the desperate angst of Home, Like Noplace Is There, often drawing compositions out beyond five minutes and adding even more substance to their songwriting. Though not quite their magnum opus, Goodness is content and comforting – and beyond all that, infinitely likable.
5. Silent Planet – Everything Was Sound
Silent Planet continued their takeover of the metalcore scene this year with Everything Was Sound, a concept album that considers the implications of mental illness in a broken world. Adding more grit to their sound to counteract every morsel of ambience, the quintet produced quite the one-two punch on their sophomore release. With the philosophical muse of frontman Garrett Russell continuing to be displayed on all fronts, Everything Was Sound resonated with me not only sonically, but also spiritually.