Staff List: Delaney’s Top Albums
Posted: by The Editor
I’m really bad at putting the things I love in a numbered order, especially when it comes to music. That being said, I have omit numbers from my top 2o albums of 2016. In no particular order, my favorite full length releases of this year are as follows-
In the interest of complete and total transparency – I’ll tell you that being from Portland myself, I’ve seen Strange Ranger live more times than I can count. Yet every single goddamn time they captivate me. There was a lot of hype and build up in our local community surrounding the release of Rot Forever. I remember listening to “Dom” for the first time in November of 2015 and quite honestly losing my shit. I put that track on repeat for days on end. When Rot Forever finally did release I was dumbfounded at it’s pure and unadulterated breathtaking beauty. It’s about 72 minutes long, touts 16 tracks- and not a single second of it is boring. Somehow, I still want more Strange Ranger. (Lucky for us Sunbeams Through Your Head provided a new quick fix to hold us over.)
Peter Katz has mastered the art of modern day poetic songwriting. Too many poetic type songwriters these days leave me feeling like I just had brunch date with a man bun wearing NYU graduate off of Tinder. He isn’t whining, he isn’t complaining, he’s pairing (haha pun not intended) gorgeous groovy catchy riffs with beautiful and thoughtful lyrics. Perfectly blending the darker mathier pieces like “I.H.S.Y.A” and “Cliff Song” with the fun and borderline cute tracks like “Pink Spit” and “For the Rest of Your Life”, Peaer’s debut album shows us the vast range of what Katz is capable of.
My self proclaimed affinity for dreamy, sleepy, somewhat ambient sounding music is surely what lead to my instantaneous love of this band and album. Sunless is haze of sound without becoming a muddled mess. Tracks “Bed” and “Warm Death” feel distant while “Sad God” and “Dead Weight” wash over and whisk around you, feeling like you’re in the center of a storm. Hailing from the land of overcast, Floating Room embodies a distinctly Portland-esq sound without defining themselves as an exclusively Portland appeal band. This record takes components of 90’s shoegaze that we all love, without regurgitating it and coming off as cliche or overdone. The production and lyrical themes alike are intimate, fervent, and haunting.
When it comes down to it, I just don’t think there’s a single thing wrong with this album. It shreds, it’s catchy, it’s loud, it’s relatable, and it’s just sheer fun. The opening riff to “I Want To Ctrl-Alt-Del My Life” is one for the books, and “Really” is without a doubt one of the top tracks of 2016, simply put: that shit rips. What makes this album so satisfying to me, is knowing the lovely individuals who make up this band, and seeing how this album is just so fitting. It’s true to who they are all collectively, and I think that genuineness can really clearly be felt throughout the record. This band perfectly vocalizes the feelings of anxiety I personally know all too well, but they manage to do it in a way that doesn’t depress the hell out of me. It’s like a “HELL YEAH I’M ANXIOUS AND DEPRESSED AS HELL LET’S JAM THE BLUES AWAY.”
Classic me, being late to the game on one of my now favorite artists; I hadn’t heard of Diners until this summer when they toured with Dowsing and Winter Break. But on that magical summer night in Southern California when I saw Tyler Broderick singing along karaoke style on stage with their whimsical and bubbly music, I immediately knew that three would be one of my favorite albums of the year. Each track telling a story of Broderick’s life, and in such a manner that we as listeners feel like we’re right there with them. So much of the music that circulates in the DIY “scene” is about heartbreak, loss, depression, etc. and all of that is completely and totally valid and I truly believe those emotions and experiences make some of the best art. But sometimes you just need an album that makes you… happy. This is that album. Positivity and reminders of all the good in the world and in yourself fill every line of every song. After being fortunate enough to meet and get to know Broderick, it’s hard to expect anything but that in anything they would write. Broderick’s passion and love for the world around them is honest and pure and I think that really shows in this album, making just about anyone who listens to it want to be a happier and better person.
Quite frankly, I think Matt Berry could shit out a R&B record and it’d still be phenomenal. The man doesn’t know how to write a bad song. Electric Soul Unity perfectly describes the feeling of this album. So charged with energy and emotion, this is the album I put on when I need to get shit done. It’s catchy, it’s fuzzy, it’s simple without being formulaic, and it’s downright jammy. That being said, two of my favorite tracks off of the album “Head Spell” and “Pain Country” showcase Berry’s diverse talents, and ability to make even the softest of sounding tracks rock like hell.
This record stood out to me immediately, and after listening to it for almost 6 months now, it continues to stand out to me for one primary reason; its immense vulnerability. Writer and vocalist Beau Brynes writes with an honesty of emotion that I feel I haven’t seen or heard in a long time. I mean, I doubt any artist is lying with their lyrics. But Brynes has a knack for conveying the raw nature of his emotions and goes about doing so in a rather gorgeous way. This raw emotion comes at no expense to the music as well, as the album strikes the perfect balance; knowing when to remain collected and composed, and knowing just when to release the frantic feelings that accompany Brynes’ lyrics. This album is intimate and intricate, and I’ve found myself needing just that many times this year.
This is the energetic punchy album we all need in our lives. Guitarist Brennan Faccino’s opening riff and vocalist Laken Wright demand your attention immediately with “Cents Cents Money Money” and while there are brief moments for you to take a breath and collect yourself, this record is a rocket and it isn’t stopping for anyone. This powerhouse of an album takes the traditional energy and writing styles of punk and marries it with catchy and well articulated pop-esq sounds and vocals. If I had to define the album in a single word, that word would be “empowering.” No Beer, No Dad’s take no shit attitude and “I do what I want” themes inspire something that is deeply liberating.
If Language is probably one of the most underrated releases of this year, and I’m actually kind of upset I hadn’t heard of Hypoluxo sooner, and that there isn’t more discussion about them. Everything about this record is smooth, silky, and seductive. While taking a more lighthearted take on shoegaze, this record is spacy and fanciful in a way that I had not yet experienced. A cohesive blur, not a single track on this album feels like it doesn’t belong. That isn’t to say that every song sounds the same, but rather, that this album clearly demonstrates a maturity and skill level not always seen in this “scene.” Vocalist Samuel Cogen’s voice is spellbinding to say the least, and pairs with the enchanting sounds of the album seamlessly. How this band was able to release an album that cleanly articulates a foggy feeling, I don’t know, but they sure as hell did it.
Undoubtedly one of the most widely loved albums of this year, Cardinal surely has universal appeal. I will admit that while they’re not doing anything that’s absolutely new or revolutionary, critics have to admit that Pinegrove has taken the long detested sound of “country” and made it palatable to emo kids everywhere. It wasn’t just luck or fate that made this possible though, it was pure talent and skill. Pinegrove knows what they’re doing and they do it well. With poetic and well thought out lyrics, and a phenomenal voice to match, Cardinal is the soundtrack to growing up and all that comes with it. Growing apart from those you once loved, having no idea what you’re doing with your life, and pretty much every other feeling those aged 17-35 feel.
Full disclosure: I have the hand from this album artwork tattooed on my forearm. Yup, that’s how much I loved this album, that’s how much I adore Dowsing. This album serves as a reminder; that we’re going be “okay”, that you’re going to be “okay”. Featuring some of the band’s most energetic tracks to date, Okay displays a new and passionate side of Dowsing. While faster and fuzzier than previous releases, vocalist and writer Erik Czaja’s signature vulnerability and borderline self loathing themes don’t waiver. What makes Czaja’s writing stand out to me, is that while it’s incredibly personal, it isn’t whiny and it lacks the typical “call-out”-esq features that I’ve long grown tired of. It isn’t angry or spiteful, but it’s realistic and frank and that is surely a byproduct of the immense maturity both lyrically and musically, that defines the band. This record keeps things short and sweet, without sacrificing anything. Every song wastes no time, says what it needs to say and concludes before it can run the risk of growing boring or annoying.
I first heard this record in the back of the Just Friends tour van a little over a week ago, and it was breathtaking enough to make it on this list today. Amidst the ironic and rather cringe inducing late 2000’s hardcore-boy spoken word, Spongebob’s “Campfire Song”, and other various musical treasures that graced that van, I was also shown Sustains. The unsung gem of southern California, Sustains strikes the 90’s grunge revival chord while maintaining an air of individuality. The lofi-fuzzy sound is familiar, but comes without compromise to lyrical or musical integrity. This record epitomizes the “basement band” sound, and fulfils a deep yearning I rather continuously have for femme fronted grunge.
I think one of my biggest musical revelations this year is that the term “bedroom pop” can be applied to so many different sounds, and isn’t synonymous with unpolished or unrefined. You Can Win A Few was a major factor in my revelation. Its raw and bedroom-esq production quality closes the gap between artist and audience. Vocalist Nathan Tucker has a distinct voice that will echo in your head for days on end, and the “twinkly” guitar elegantly graces this album without a single moment being cliche. The multiple references to universal DIY show-goer experiences and general millennial existential themes make this album the anthem for a community.
I’ve heard just about every sort of opinion imaginable in regards to this album. There are lovers, haters, and even those who are entirely indifferent. That being said, I will inevitably receive my fair share of flack for saying this, but I really enjoyed this album. Like a lot. I will say, a lot of my favorite tracks from Joyce Manor’s previous catalog of releases have been their poppier songs. So naturally, this album- being much more on the pop side of things, appealed to me. I’ve heard numerous people admit to their love for “Last You Heard of Me” despite their previous and otherwise still standing distaste for Joyce Manor. If you ask me though, while the album surely does have tracks that are much stronger and a few that just fall flat, the album as a whole satisfies something inside of me I didn’t even realize I needed to be satisfied by a pop-punk album.
This record is beautiful. Plain and simple. It’s graceful and classic. Tracks like “Monsters” and “Forever” whisk you away while “Best Fest” feels like a lazy day spent in bed with the person you love. Welcome has a familiar whimsical quality to it that makes it feel like a children’s book, innocent and magical. The feelings and experiences this album conveys are all encompassing; the nostalgia for our past, the current existential state so many of us find ourselves in, and the longing for a future where everything has worked itself out.
Following their recent signing with Counter Intuitive Records and resulting blow up, I’d just like to say – I told ya so. All the way back in March I had their first three singles on repeat, had those same three tracks stuck in my head for weeks, and I knew this band was onto something. After being sent this album in May, two months prior to its official release I knew that Mom Jeans. wouldn’t be just another one of my best friend’s bands for much longer. And by surprise at all to me, they’ve picked up speed and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Voicing the somewhat universal thoughts of many 16-25 year olds, Best Buds disguises lyrics of heartbreak and anxiety with catchy and lively music. Who ever said sobbing couldn’t be fun?
After falling so deeply in love with Michelle Zauner’s idiosyncratic voice during her time in Little Big League, I was quick to fall affectionately for her work under the name Japanese Breakfast. This dreamy daze of an album takes the listener to an alternate universe where everything is pastel, it’s always spring, and you live forever laying in the middle of a giant wide open field. I’m a big fan of albums that I can strongly associate with a particular color pallet or aesthetic, and this is one of those albums that you can just see happening in your head. An elegant and introspective exploration, this record displays Zauner’s tremendous talent, and brings down the walls that so many of us find ourselves building around us.
This album fills the funk void I had been feeling for so long. Admittedly, to no fault but my own, but none the less- this album is funky as all get out. With bass lines that I feel I’ve been waiting to hear my whole life, pristine and crisp guitar, unique and delicate vocals that set them apart from the herd; Little Star has a maturity to their sound that has been much needed around here. The conversational tone and second person point of view give the lyrics a cozy homey feeling. This is the perfect album for a rainy day spent curled up in bed.
Amidst all the 90’s grunge, emo, and shoegaze revival comes Crying with Beyond the Fleeting Gates, the modern-day-80’s-revival-synth-driven-power-pop album I’ve been waiting for. Who else can incorporate chiptune in such a tasteful manner, that lacks the cheesy and formulaic components that leave me personally, so often cringing. I’ll confess, I was slow at first to hop on the Crying train. Maybe it’s my gawky ex who makes bad chiptune that put a bitter taste in my mouth for the genre and all associated with it, but I finally wised up and I don’t regret it to say the least.
Blonde – Frank Ocean
I’ll be the first to admit that I used to be one of those angsty middle school wannabe scene kids who constantly ragged on popular music simply because I wanted to be “edgy”; or what the hell ever I thought I was accomplishing at age 13. It really wasn’t until relatively recently– like in the past 2 years or so, that I’ve come to realize that sometimes popular music is popular not because it’s mindless, but because it’s just good. Right after Blonde was released I spent a week road tripping through California, and this album was on repeat for much of that time. I came to love and appreciate every single track. The production quality is absolutely astounding and I of course have a soft spot for the album, given Alex G’s involvement. A smooth talking verse here and a tasteful Bon Iver feature there make this album the showstopper that it is.
Top 5 Non-LP Releases of 2016
Pinegrove – Audiotree Live
Cassingle – Snooze
I’ve linked every single album (with the exception of Blonde) for your listening pleasure, so if you haven’t already – dive in and find a new favorite. Here’s looking forward to what 2017 has in store.