Before, during or after looking at my lists, check out What’s Good In 2016. Last year, I said I’d do a better this year with listening to new music. Instead, I listened to (almost all of) my record collection and a handful of really great new albums. I spent more time listening to podcasts and watching the world fall apart. With that said, that handful of really great albums is really great. Be sure to share what you liked or anything I might’ve missed in the comments!
1. Pinegrove – Cardinal
Full of twangy magic and visceral lyricism, this record came out of nowhere and was more or less a yearlong favorite. Though it’s only eight songs long, it reaches a full spectrum of thought and emotion sincerely and masterfully. Pingrove pushes the same buttons all of my favorite bands do. If you’ve ever drifted away from friends, moved away from home, or really thought about death, Cardinal should resonate with you. There’s certainly no other album this year that hits me in quite the same way.
The 1975 did more than avoid a sophomore slump; this record almost makes their debut sound like a bunch of demos at this point. This album almost feels effortless, but albums this well-written and well-produced are decidedly not effortless. The biggest knock is that it’s just too long, so it’s hard to listen to casually. I’d love to hear the more cinematic instrumental work this band is capable of, but maybe not in the middle of all these perfect pop songs. It works, but it’d also work separately.
This album has all the right vibes. Joey Vannucchi’s use of repetition and mastery of rhythmic hooks allow for these songs to dig deep into your brain and live there. While many of the songs have strong atmospheric element, the record never loses its urgency or your attention. Everything Feels Better Now caps off a four-album run that’s more or less unassailable, and it might be the best of them all. If you haven’t checked this one out, put on some headphones and this album and take a long walk. You won’t regret it.
4. Bayside – Vacancy
While Cult was the culmination of Bayside’s sound, Vacancy takes that sound and pushes it to the next stage of the band’s career. Anthony Raneri’s lyrics are as vulnerable as ever, and his songwriting has only become more refined over the years. While it’s clear that he’s genuinely struggling with many of the topics discussed on this album, he hasn’t lost the sharpness in his delivery. Tracks like “Not Fair” display how tight the band is, and “Mary” finds the band expanding into new, more Springsteeny sonic territory. I couldn’t ask for much more than that.
Every Time I Die is the best heavy band, and it was easy enough to make that statement before Low Teens. The album somehow makes it even easier to say. The band has perfected everything exciting about metal and hardcore music; that they have one of the best lyricists in music is just icing. Low Teens goes beyond Keith Buckley’s usual wittiness and wordplay to a more emotional and personal level, and it pays off in spades. I love the albums below, but this and the four records above were more than a few notches above everything else in 2016.
6. Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo
7. Conor Oberst – Ruminations
8. Moose Blood – Blush
9. The Hotelier – Goodness
10. Pierce The Veil – Misadventures
11. Panic! At The Disco – Death Of A Bachelor
12. Touché Amoré – Stage Four
13. James Vincent McMorrow – We Move
14. Frank Ocean – Blonde
15. Weezer – Weezer (White Album)
16. The Summer Set – Stories For Monday
17. Bad Suns – Disappear Here
18. Dance Gavin Dance – Mothership
19. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
20. Emarosa – 131
Top 5 EPs:
1. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion: Side B
2. Aaron West And The Roaring Twenties – Bittersweet
3. Bonfires – A Reason To Get Home
4. From Indian Lakes – Wanderer
5. The Japanese House – Swim Against The Tide
Top 10 Songs:
1. “I’ve Been Dead All Day” – Bayside, from Vacancy
2. “The Monster” – From Indian Lakes, from Everything Feels Better Now
3. “Real Friends” – Kanye West (Ft. Ty Dolla $ign), from The Life Of Pablo
4. “Somebody Else” – The 1975, from I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It
5. “New Friends” – Pinegrove, from Cardinal
6. “’67, Cherry Red” – Aaron West And The Roaring Twenties, from Bittersweet
7. “Glitches” – Every Time I Die, from Low Teens
8. “Knuckles” – Moose Blood, from Blush
9. “Gossamer Thin” – Conor Oberst, from Ruminations
10. “Store” – Carly Rae Jepsen, from Emotion: Side B
I listened to something like 2,000 songs this year. Here are my top 25 in a convenient Spotify playlist:
Best Album Art: From Indian Lakes – Everything Feels Better Now
It’s beautiful, and it looks like what the album sounds like. Doesn’t get much better.
Favorite Live Show: Bayside and Hawthorne Heights Holiday Acoustic Tour at The Chance in Poughkeepsie, NY, 12/17/16
It’s hard to argue with a full-band acoustic set from one of your favorite bands. Adding another band you grew up with is just icing (though I definitely would’ve loved to hear “Silver Bullet” somewhere in that Hawthorne Heights set). While I might have a few quibbles with Bayside’s setlist for this tour (I saw the Baltimore date, too), the introduction of songs like “Howard” and “Don’t Come Easy” to a live setting easily made up for it. “I Can’t Go On” might be my least favorite song in Bayside’s catalog, but even it sounded great. Anthony sounded like a produced recording, Jack played lots of his crazy riffs on an acoustic guitar, and the whole band seemed to be having the best time. The stage banter was hilarious. In any setting, Bayside is the best live band around.
Biggest Surprise: Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo
While the release of The Life Of Pablo was certainly anticipated, the same cannot be said for almost anything else about the album (save maybe the genre). From the notepad sign-in sheet and near-constant edits and changing tracklist to the fact that all of the changes happened in public, this was a truly unprecedented release. It was premiered live at a fashion show, was Tidal-exclusive until it wasn’t, and still feels like it’s happening in real time, even though it’s been months since the last change. Other artists changed styles or put out records surpassing their previous work, but Kanye did something completely out of left field. I probably shouldn’t be surprised.
Biggest Disappointment: A Day To Remember – Bad Vibrations
Although I’m excited that the band is finally free from Victory Records, I can’t say that this record drew me in anywhere as much as any of their previous releases. While the band consistently strives to get poppier and heavier with each album, it’s hard to say that anything on Bad Vibrations hits quite as hard as “2nd Sucks” or gets stuck in your head the way “Right Back At It Again” does. Here’s to hoping that court-approved freedom lets the band get back to form on the next album.
Best New Discoveries:
2. Boston Manor
3. Jack Garratt
4. The Narrative
1. John Mayer
2. Elder Brother
5. Speak Low If You Speak Love
7. The American Scene
8. Pianos Become The Teeth
9. La Dispute
Oh, and if you’ve ever got fourteen or so hours to kill, here’s almost everything I liked this year, all in one handy playlist: