Staff List: Hendo’s Top 20 Albums of 2016
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Over the next few weeks, The Alternative will be publishing numerous EOTY staff lists leading up to our site-wide ‘Top 50 Albums of the Year’ article. Why so many lists? Well, we believe in giving as many bands/artists exposure as possible, and with so many great releases in 2016, more lists will cover more ground. Our goal is to help you find something new. Thank you for reading.
These were my 20 favorite albums this year. Okay 30 if you count honorable mentions, but it was hard to cut down. 2016 was a bad year for pretty much everything except for music. All lists come down to personal taste, but if you haven’t heard any of these albums definitely give them a try. Hope you enjoy!
20 Hotelier – Goodness
The Hotelier are easily some of the most talented songwriters in all of music at the moment. With Goodness, they set out to do more than just the gut wrenching incredible emo/punk tracks in the first two near perfect albums. The same visceral lyrics and explosive rock instruments reappear on Goodness, but now the band toys with the listener’s perspective, through the mixing and format of the record. They insert poetry, bury lyrics in drum loops and generally push the boundaries of the medium. This speaks to their limitless potential. However, personally I feel like some of the bite was lost in the experimentation, and it left me wanting more.
There are still some great tracks, ‘Piano Player’ is a stand out, and this album will definitely add some jams to their live set list, but the real value of Goodness at least for me, is the endeavor to push to the absolute limits of what indie rock can offer. I feel like The Hotelier learned from this album and will be better for it in the future.
19 Tiny Moving Parts – Celebrate
Tiny Moving Parts are in my mind the current World Noodling Champs. Their rapid fire guitar parts have always left me stunned. However, their tracks have rarely had a lasting effect on me. This was not the case with this most recent album. I firmly believe the title track on this record is the finest song they have ever written, and it showed an ability to match their technical skills with catchier songwriting that keeps me coming back for more.
It’s Tiny Moving Parts, so the instrumentals are still the star. Winding guitars build into crescendos and stunning solos, supporting each tracks hook, but when the chorus comes it delivers. The lyrics are relatively straight forward, as opposed to some of the more poetic lyricists on this list, but it does not end up taking much away from the songs. On tracks like ‘Common Cold’ I feel even a Have Mercy emotional rock vibe that wasn’t apparent on their earlier releases, and I like what I hear.
18 Mom Jeans. – Best Buds
This is a fun record. I think their band is named after a Bob’s Burger reference (which is sampled on the record). It’s an indie/punk record in the style of bands like Modern Baseball, Marietta, or even PWR BTTM, but Mom Jeans. bring their own special feeling. There is an emotional openness to the lyrics and delivery. “So tell me how the fuck I’m supposed to deal with losing you.”
The band carries poppy melodies often alternating between the 2 vocalists, over a punk rock type base instrumental. It works well, but they aren’t afraid to mix it up. ‘movember’ is a warm acoustic track that really makes for a nice changeup before it morphs into a scream along halfway through.
This record has the rawness of a basement show and definitely make me encouraged for the future of this band. While this is essentially a breakup album, they take themselves just serious enough to make it work without being corny. However do not take any of this to mean that they are lacking in technical skills. The bass line and stop and start guitar work throughout ‘danger can’t‘ are some of the coolest moments in emo all this year, and some well-placed trumpet in ‘Scott Pilgrim vs my GPA’ hits the spot. This album is what it is and it is good.
17 Veery – S/T
You may not have heard of Veery yet, but no hardcore record came within a mile of this debut EP this year. Pounding raw emotion, instrumentals constantly pushing forward building mountains for the next verse to blow to pieces, anger, frustration, it’s all here. With vocals from Harris of Sundials, the songwriting skill is certainly here but the smooth harmonies only occasionally peek through the violent instrumentals, offering a brief breather before the Turnstile esque screams return. Often even in between verses the guitars offer no respite kicking through your speakers.
Every single tone on this thing is excellent: squealing guitars, pounding drums. Jesus Christ. And the lyrics fucking nail it. “You are alone in the dark. You are alone in your head. Speaking with the visions. What do I get. What do I fucking get?“ Screaming along while I head bang until my neck’s sore.
16 Clique – Burden Piece
Clique have perfected an emo slowcore sound that says so much lyrically with so little. Every word has meaning has the instrumentals trudge on through a cloud of smoke. It is incredibly hard to write songs that are slow and simple without being boring, and I feared that they wouldn’t be able to follow up their excellent debut. I was wrong.
Burden Piece returns the same charming guitar riffs and sing along slow motion vocals. The lyrical content is as tight as can be. Telling complete stories within a few words. Sometimes an entire song is a single line broken down. “Waking up so late / tending to the mess I made. / Life’s too short to hate. / Everything a big mistake / and it’s just as tough as I say / and we all just die. / We die anyway.” How do they pack this much punch? I’m unsure, but I do not think anyone does it better.
15 Tancred – Out of the Garden
This Tancred record kicks ass. A confident shredder that is right in your face with straight up rock lyrics and riffs. I got hooked on these catchy choruses and guitar parts. I love guitars, and I think this album loves guitars just as much as me. As songwriter Jess Abbott said about her inspiration while writing the album, “self-empowerment as a means of coping. Finding my own strength changed everything.” This is an album that isn’t afraid to fight back.
The lyrical content and instrumentals remind me of Speedy Ortiz’s last album. Bouncing between aggressive and loving from line to line, while the album seems to describe a relationships fluctuating between rocky hatred “Rabid like a dog, I could take you out / Don‘t test me.”, and calming love “When you sing to me, I fall asleep” in a knowing lack of stability, “I‘m insanely healthy in my head / It‘s crazy how stable I am”. This album is intentionally unsettling, an intimidating bark to prove she’s not fucking around. “I would kill for some goddamn noise / I would kill, but a girl’s got poise / I would kill to be one of the boys / I would kill, I would kill
The lyrics themselves aren’t sure where they stand. “Do I sink or swim? / I don’t really know. / Am I the witch you hunt? / Hang me, throw your stones.” Life and love is confusing and messy. This album grabs you and then lays that knowledge out for you.
14 Hurry – Guided Meditation
This album is exactly what it says that it is, a guided meditation. With the beachy guitars and smooth warm vocals drifting throughout, Hurry have an incredibly calming sound. Even as the lyrics bemoan the frustrations and anxieties of life, you feel as though you’ve been transported to some sunny island locale. Basking in the sunlight and musing on your life. Honestly, some of my favorite instrumentals in any record this year.
The lyrics vary between concerning over the speaker’s own sanity, and expressing their love for another. “I’m fascinated by you / I’m insane does that surprise you.” Love is a great feeling it also brings along with it its own bevy of anxieties. This is an album about that. “Love is elusive but that’s okay / I don’t know if I would be happy either way” Listening to this record is relaxing and introspective experience just like any good mediation.
13 Crime Lab – Headlock Season
I fell in love with Crime Lab’s last EP and Headlock Season delivers more of the same. 6 tracks that cut deep. This band has something about them that’s intriguing and beautiful, but hard to put your finger on. Their instrumentals fade in and out of the foreground with a Glocca Morra or even The Cribs type sound, warm guitar tones or cunning bass lines only occasionally peeking through the sound puddle. But the emotional and scattered vocals slice right through the haze when they want to.
The lyrics are personal, but usually only half serious, smiling through tears. On your first listen you will have no idea what the tracks are about, but you’ll be singing along anyway. By the 10th, you’ll have some theories. The 3rd track “Stabbies” is a highlight. As the lyrics mumble, “You say you don’t care either way / but you probably go and change your mind like you do all the damn time” the guitars cut in and you know exactly the feeling. Almost every single lyric is quotable and every listen crowns a new favorite. As of the time of this writing I am going with, “Don’t I make you mad all the time? / Don’t you think I’ll be funny one more time?”
12 LKFFCT – Flower Investment Pawn
Lkffct (pronounced Lake Effect) are veteran punks of the NJ basement scene. While their past releases have drifted between lo-fi and stoner rock, Flower Investment Pawn has much more of a firm indie rock feel. This tighter songwriting makes for catchier and more memorable tracks. As usual with these guys, the lyrics are slightly humorous but take on some serious subjects and do so thoughtfully.
“Howling Alarm” is a gem that discusses the monotony of everyday life and “Appleseed” takes on weak father figures. This is the sort of album that will hook you with its catchy choruses but then reel you in with the depth of it’s lyrics.
The band features two songwriters who take turns on vocals, Keith and Max, so that adds a Beatles esque diversity. Did I just compare Lkffct to the Beatles? You better believe it. The true value of this music comes with seeing them live however. Brian going nuts on the bass and Ryan hammering the drums, while Keith and Max taking turns stirring the crowd into a frenzy. Lkffct are something special and this album is their best record to date.
11 Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Let me start of by saying that this is not just another rap record. Danny Brown did something special here. In my opinion Old Dirty Bastard was one of the greatest rappers ever because he went out of his way to push the limits of what rap could be. What beats were appropriate, what lyrical topics, what flows. I feel Danny Brown has that same energy and ability. On this album he experiments with rock beats that are barely beats at all. He is straight up rapping over songs, and with his own unique style and unhinged energy. This album will lose a lot of people. It isn’t perfect. But it is an expedition into spaces rap music has rarely if ever explored. To take that risk in the prime of his career, Danny Brown should be rewarded.
‘Really Doe’ one of the more traditional rap tracks on the albums features a hook and verse from Kendrick, and verses from Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt. It is probably my favorite rap song that came out this year. It was his intentional track just to prove he could, as he said “it was all worth it you know because Hip-Hop needs that posse cut. We just wanna make the best possible song cause we know the hype on paper. I know it’s gonna satisfy, my feet is up.”
Danny Brown can write hits any which way you want them, club bangers, battle raps, he’s got them. But he isn’t here for you. He’s writing to express himself and push the boundaries right over.
10 Dikembe – Hail Something
Dikembe have established themselves as some of the most talented songwriters and lyricists in all of the indie/punk/emo world. If the Emo Revival was a real thing Dikembe would have signed its Declaration of Independence. However, after their last album Mediumship they made a ton of changes. They started their own label, Death Protector, had a lineup shakeup that left them a three-piece, and recently some of them have become parents. With all of that, how could you expect their music to remain unchanged. The band have stepped into a whole new era in their careers where they can do whatever they want, and they are going to do that.
While this album is still very much a Dikembe record, it is easily distinguishable from their other work; falling more in a grunge/garage rock direction. However, the emotional intensity is still there, and these are some of my favorite Dikembe tracks. This is an album about the struggles, both internal and external, that come with growing up and making your place in this reality. “I think the cure for aging is get out while you can.” There is sense of frustration and near despair as Steven cries out in the opening track “I’m going to try to hail something, it’s not looking good”. This guys may be in a great band, but most days they are just ordinary dudes struggling with the same stuff we all do. “Feeling great just not an option, I write songs but not that often”.
Not to say their previous releases were at all childish, but this album certainly has more of an adult theme. These songs are about trying to get your head together enough, to raise a child, and exist in this nightmare. “And wonder if I seem / Just well enough put together / To raise another me.” There are songs about love, but even they deal with needing your significant other to exist in the face of such diversity. “If you stick around. / I could stick around with you. Let’s just be real. I hope I die before you do.” Dikembe all grown up still packs a punch.
9 Touche Amore – Stage 4
This album probably should be much higher on my list, but I struggle to make it all the way through. Stage 4 is an album about losing someone you love. Specifically, the singer’s mother to cancer, but on a deeper level this is album about loss and the feeling of the world falling in on itself that comes with that.
This year I lost both a close friend and my grandfather, add that to my mother’s own struggle against cancer, and I am far too emotionally raw to handle the entire 40 minutes of this album in one sitting. My veins pulse with the hatred and bitterness while I listen. As is said within the album, “I skip over songs, because they’re too hard to hear /Like track two on Benji or “What Sarah Said” / They just hit too close when I’m already in my head.” This speaks to how perfectly the album conveys the experience.
Even the title Stage 4 sends shivers down my spine. Fuck cancer. Fuck the world. This is bullshit. It’s all unfair. This album is that exact feeling, captured, bottled and distilled to its purest elements. “You died at 69 \ With a body full of cancer \ I asked your god / “how could you” / But I never heard an answer.”
Art is an emergency exit for emotions. This album, more than any other I’ve heard, its able to pry open my chest and let some of the darkness out. The track ‘Skyscrapers’ is a focal point at the album’s conclusion. This album made me cry. That doesn’t happen often. Touche Amore are masters, and I applaud them for writing such a brave record. This is why art exists.
8 Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp
I absolutely cannot stop listening to this album this year. Japanese Breakfast instantly have become one of my favorite artists. This album has almost an indescribable smoothness to it, like a glistening star or a light shining through fog. I just listen and instantly feel good. Its layers and layers of calming textures while Michelle Zauner’s slice through. Easily some of the most beautiful vocal melodies of the entire year. Her voice is incredible. Tracks about romance and heartbreak hide below this sonic mist. Minimalist lyrics paint pictures of damaged relationships and dreary locales. “Cause I was lonely here / and it’s lonely still / In the rugged country where the weeds grow fierce. “
Each track is its own flavor of cloud music. You can make a case for a bunch of tracks, but I think ‘Everybody Wants To Love You’ is the standout. Call and refrain verses over a bouncy little guitar part. You can’t help but sing along. Instrumentally however nothing touches the little guitar solo in ‘Heft’, chirping in: the star of the entire track. These songs are full of hidden gems like these, but even a cursory listen will have you bopping along to the refreshing danceability of it all.
7 Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gales
This is an album that just makes me want to dance. Mid way through writing this review I ordered the record on vinyl. I couldn’t not own this brain candy. Crying were a “chiptunes” band on their last 2 EPs, but on this release they took the next step and broke down a wall at the edge of the genre. They recreated the energy and variety in their prior releases but instead of Gameboy effects, the band used mostly synth and juicy guitar cuts, forming a “post-chiptunes” sound that is completely their own.
Endeavoring to create a completely new sound is admirable on its own, but these songs are also catchy as hell. The lyrics flow over the bouncing instrumentals creating a smooth and fun vibe that I haven’t really heard since The Go! Team. Yet there is variance even within this new style, song of the slower tracks like ‘Children of The Wind’ song like indie ballads that almost evoke a Pink Floyd other-worldliness. Yet the quicker tracks sound like an 80’s dance track rewritten through an indie rock filter. I’m hooked.
6 Strange Ranger – Rot Forever
This is an album that totally caught me by surprise, and it continues to surprise me every single time I listen to it. It’s screamy and full of lo-fi messy production. It’s a debut album that’s over an hour long. It is disjointed and seems to poke at you from 100 different angles. Lyrically it is a stream of conscious that bounces around different topics from line to line. “you said one day i’m gonna face it / last night i saw the last episode / of true detective / i thought it was a cop out the way they left it”
While this does not seem to be the formula for an excellent record, in this case it is. From the first time I heard the bass line of the first track, driving under screams, mumbled lyrics, and falsetto, which then fade into a guitar solo I was hooked. Am I on track 4 yet? Nope still half way through track 1. Some tracks meander through, while others explode from the start and scream it out. This band is capable of literally anything. I am surprised from song to song, and line to line, but there is a strange coherence to the whole thing. Baffled yes, but I’m in love.
5 Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Car Seat Headrest wears their influences on their sleeve and those influences are mainly the early Strokes albums. But that is perfectly okay with me, because The Strokes are a favorite of mine, and I think this album is easily better than anything The Strokes have put together since their reunion. Shredding guitars and mumbled lyrics about confusion and drug use. Jamming guitar solos that you can’t help but to start air guitar shredding every listen.
It has become hip to hate on this album, for not being gruff or punk enough. It is neither of those things. That does not mean it isn’t great. The soft vocal delivery sways between talk-singing, harmonies, falsetto, and slight yells and whispers. Tracks go through multiple movements before settling on a final chorus, other tracks never seem to find their way to one at all. But throughout the album, the lyrics muse on life with some real smart one liners (and some corny ones). I was never a fan of their past work, but I do not see how anyone could deny that this is a great rock record.
4 Pup – The Dream Is Over
Pup are the best punk rock band in existence. Make no mistake, this is no hardcore screamfest. Pup have a perfectly digestible form of punk rock that comes at you with nonstop energy but with no shortage of anger yell along choruses. With The Dream Is Over they somehow recaptured the insane catchy energy of their first album, returning the constantly varying instrumentals that keep the tracks interesting and occasionally dancey, but this time with even better lyrics. Each line a dagger launched into the air.
These tracks discuss mainly the struggles of being in a band in our current environment that rewards them only with the shittiness of life on the road, relationships struggles and financial anxieties. The album’s title comes from the band’s vocalist being told that his vocal chords literally could not continue, yet they soldier on. The entire band do the same. Each song a release of all the pent up anger and anxiety that comes with life in 2016. “And when I finally faced the facts / I never felt so shitty before / I never felt so miserable.“
3 Pinegrove – Cardinal
Every single song that Pinegrove writes is a classic. Doesn’t it feel that way? Every single track is their own flavor of indie/post-country that you just cannot get from any other band. On their first real new record Pinegrove showed all of the promise that longtime fans heard in their EPs. This is a band boldly creating their own genre, and like it or hate it you have to applaud it. (I love it).
Pinegrove’s lyrics have such a poetic quality, and their addicting harmonies will leave you trying to imitate Evan’s unique vocal delivery, replaying songs again and again, digesting every note and inflection. I sit musing on each and every lyric, so relatable and warm even at their most emotionally fragile. “I saw your boyfriend at the port authority / that’s a sort of fucked up place / so I averted my stride on a quick one / He’s coming back from going over your place, huh?”
Only 6 of these songs were truly new (others had appeared on past releases), but I don’t think there is any way I could leave it out of my top 3. There is a reason so many people have fallen in love with Pinegrove in 2016. They are simply some of the best songwriters in all the world, and they are not afraid to do what they feel is right for them. I am nearly certain their next album will exceed even this one.
2 Jeff Rosenstock – Worry.
Jeff Rosenstock’s Worry. is his finest work. I thought We Cool? was the pinnacle but I was wrong. Worry. is the last album but better. Indie punk tracks that nail the feeling of being a young person by gentrified out of your home, while you are disgusted by your own government, music scene, and current situation. It’s an album with scream along tracks about love, life, and everything in between. In a year where everything seems to be going wrong, where our own government is not our ally, it is time for worry, and this album perfectly conveys this emotion.
This album also includes an eclectic mix of the “best of” Rosenstock. Mutating ska, and hardcore influences into an accessible record with layers that develop with each listen. This is truly a landmark record both in lyrical content and instrumental variety. It would be hard to believe that we will not still be listening to this record in 10 years.
1 Prince Daddy – I Thought You Didn’t Even Like Leaving
Prince Daddy won me over with their last EP Adult Summers, but with this debut album they have blown open the doors of my mind and entrenched themselves as one of my favorite bands. This Albany crew have a silly quality to their music like Rozwell Kid, but like Rozwell, this wackiness is just a veneer that protects and emotional message stored within. Don’t be fooled by the clouds of weed smoke and Jurassic Park references, these songs are about real life shit.
Each of their songs explode with angst and deep lyrical introspection about being in your 20’s dealing with anxiety and depression “I forgot to take my meds today / I can’t believe it’s only Tuesday.” hating your shitty job, “you can’t read the menu? / well I don’t give a fuck / I’ve been here since noon / and I’m not leaving soon” or getting high to escape it all, “I spent the past few months lifted away from everyone / I got high and thought everything was alright / I guess I forgot about every aspect of my life.”
Nestled between the shredding guitars, driving bass lines, and exploding drums, the lyrics scream out about the troubles of the day. Self-doubt, loneliness, debt, mental health struggles, but also the determined resilience to just keep on going. “Whenever I’m freaking out I keep the thought of the cast of FRIENDS real close to my head / It’s not absurd to say that 10 goddamn seasons would be the longest friendship I’d ever have / and if Ross and Rachel last than maybe this feeling too shall pass.”
The instrumentals are energetic, the vocals emotional, and the lyrics thoughtful. For my money, there was no better album in 2016.