Staff List: Steven’s Top 20 Albums of 2016
Posted: by The Editor
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.
Staff writer Steven Lalonde lists his top 20 records of 2016.
I had never heard anything Clique had ever done, so I went into this record not really knowing what to expect. When I first played the whole 13-song album, I hadn’t realized that about a half hour later, it had restarted. And that’s what’s so great about it. It’s so simple, so quaint and unassuming that it just drifts by peacefully by means of raw but delicate guitar riffs and chords, blended with the occasional burst of energy that seems to hold everything together. The band provides heavy emotions, sung through well thought out vocal harmonies. Though some songs seem to contain incomplete structures, or sound as if they’re missing something, it’s enough to keep your curiosity afloat. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m glad I gave it a shot. What a nice surprise this album was.
Favourite tracks: “Saline”, “Mess”
In less than a year JANK released two stellar yet different sounding albums. Though Versace Summer is technically an EP, it sure doesn’t feel like it clocking in at the perfect length of eight songs. Some may assume that two releases in eight months is overdoing it, but JANK doesn’t really care what you think. Versace Summer is more melodic, faster in some instances and experimentally driven through and through. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed Awkward Pop Songs, personally, Versace Summer was just as great, if not better.
Favourite tracks: “Alligator”, “Grim Reefer”
I’m sure it’s been stated over and over again, but man what are the bands drinking these days in Portland? 2016 has been nothing short of a plethora of up-and-coming bands releasing outstanding records out of the Oregon city. Cool American’s You Can Win a Few is easily one of my favourites. In terms of indie rock, this band knows how to please. The LP swoons in and out of Car Seat Headrest vibes to Pavement-esque melodies, although, they probably don’t want you to compare them. Nathan Tucker fits the bill perfectly with vocals that complement the guitar/drums and bass better than gravy does with mashed potatoes. I can’t get enough of this record.
Favourite Tracks: “Lonely Cigarette”, “Consumes Itself”
Dikembe’s Mediumship was the first exposure I had to the band. I have to be honest; I wasn’t completely blown away when I had initially heard it. On the other hand, Hail Something seemed like a completely different approach. Chalk full of attitude and spunk, I loved this album through and through. The vocals sound almost as if they’re pleading to be heard, the guitar chords strike as though they’re being played at the back of a crusty old bar, and everything just seems to blend together perfectly. The album presents themes from many different aspects of life, socially and emotionally. If you sleep on Dikembe, you can be sure you’ll regret it.
Favourite Tracks: “Fix”, “Just Explode”
Even though the hype around this album almost turned me off of it completely, I consider myself fortunate to have vanquished those hype demons and gave Nothing’s sophomore full-length a deep listen. The first couple of go-abouts, it’s difficult not to notice the tracks that can be considered definite fillers—sort of airy and seemingly out of place. What made up for it however, was the vocal style that was almost purposefully drowned out by the wall-to-wall destructive guitar force that truly encapsulates the entire album. To say that this record was a shoegaze masterpiece might be a bit of stretch, all I know is that I’m all about the hype for their next full-length which can’t come soon enough.
Favourite Tracks: “Vertigo Flowers”, “ACD (Abcessive Compulsive Disorder)”
I was sorely disappointed when the news broke that vocalist Britty Drake was quitting the band. Especially after what was, in my opinion, a solid follow-up release. After their 2013 album, Feast of Love, Pity Sex wanted to craft a follow-up that was bigger, more energetic and overall a showcase in growth. Not only did Pity Sex manage to do that with White Hot Moon, with fuzzed out guitars blaring through the shimmering back and forth vocals of Drake and Brennan, the emo-alt-punk-shoegaze rockers really brought out the best of themselves. Even though the band has since announced an indefinite hiatus, I still get the impression that we haven’t heard the last of the Ann Arbor group.
Favourite Tracks: “Burden You”, “A Satisfactory World For Reasoable People”
Tancred is back and better than ever. It’s a record that was written based upon the experiences of Jess Abbott’s time working in a Minnesota liquor store in a rough part of town, and she holds nothing back as she sings about those situations. The 11-track, fast paced and catchy as hell album may seem sweet and innocent at first, but as Abbott put it, “I wanted these songs to sound sickly sweet, with a looming, gory shadow behind them,” which yields an album that’s not necessarily what it seems. Teetering on the edge of pop-punk and indie rock, Out of the Garden is sweet and nice if listened to inattentively, yet somewhat shocking and unsettling when closely examined.
Favourite Tracks: “Sell My Head”, “Pens”
Frameworks are here. They’ve arrived, and they want you to pay attention. Everything about this record just screams that they’re here to dominate the post-hardcore scene for a long while. Take everything they did on Loom, and make it tighter, heavier, and more emotional portrayed via a bounty of shredding guitar riffs. The energy put on display by the band is unreal—everything from the pulse-pounding vocals to the crushing choruses, Frameworks have produced a near impeccable post-hardcore record. What can be considered as an obvious growth for the band shouldn’t be mistaken for a new direction or abandonment of previous sounds. Instead, Frameworks are stretching themselves into a more diverse and well-rounded group of artists, and boy if you haven’t heard their music before; you better check them out now.
Favourite Tracks: “Fear of Missing Out”, “Purge”, “The New Narcissistic American Dream”
The self-proclaimed “Soul Punx” of Los Angeles always displayed a sense of spaziness to me. Throughout their first three releases, letlive. have expressed an honest, ‘fuck-what-you-say attitude,’ and without a doubt, an aura of craziness that borders brilliance. Themes such as community, rebelling and tackling social and sometimes political issues have always been prominent in their work, and their latest LP is no different in that regard. If I’m The Devil… has an enhanced sense of maturity embedded in it. Lead vocalist Jason Butler has basically claimed that much of the themes on the album represent a time of self-reflection and growth as a person. Overall, most of the letlive elements are still present—the wide variety of genres laced into each track, the occasional unexpected burst of chaos—and this time around it feels more personal.
Favourite Tracks: “A Weak Ago”, “Copper Colored Quiet”
This band is exciting. I was drawn in right from the get-go when the opening track began with a Rosenstock-PUP-esque howl and carried on into a catchy and melodic punk song. As the album moves on it’s filled with chugging guitar riffs, smashing drums and hooky guitar solos that are perpetual in their own right. The album weaves its way in and out of a love triangle of pop-punk, disheveled post-hardcore and classic, fuzzed-out garage punk rock. It is said love triangle that separates Prince Daddy from the rest of the bands in the genre. Not to mention the angsty, exciting vocals are almost near perfect and they shine throughout the entire record. All I can say is, job well done. Incredible in fact.
Favourite Tracks: “Bromeo/Always Good”, “I Forgot to take my Meds Again”
The Danish band has come a long way and this is evident on their debut full length A Youthful Dream. Known as the DIY kings of the Scandenavian basement-punk scene, Yung have created a punk record that is a sign of what’s to come from the European region. It’s not all punk rock and infectious guitar riffs however. Much of the record sees the band experiment and broaden their musical abilities, as certain tracks contain a diversity of instruments ranging from piano ballads and timely horn arrangements which add to the intrigue. At times it sounds as if the band is purposefully attempting to come off as disorganized or just having a jam session, which is probably why I fell in love with this band so quickly. It may sound awkward at first listen, but give it a chance. I’m sure it’ll grow on you.
Favourite Tracks: “Uncombed Hair”, “Pills”
What began as a duo has now blossomed into a trio. The Maryland act have proven that more of something can in fact be a good thing. A unique take on a post-hardcore influence combined with bouts of pop-punk, Personal Life is very good at halting and somewhat switching the mood relating to everyday, relatable struggles between tracks. It swings between preachy, emotional emo and a blistering Fugazi impression. Between the polished guitar riffs and concentrated vocals, the album ranges in musicality, with influences that span decades of rock n roll. On Personal Life Two Inch Astronaut have honed in on what they want their identity to be. They manage to keep you on your toes in anticipation throughout, shifting tempos and, as I mentioned before, an ever-changing mood. Heck, there’s even some cello arrangements on this album.
Favourite Tracks: “Personal Life”, “At Risk Student”
Preoccupations, the band formerly known as Viet Cong, released their follow-up to the critically acclaimed 2015 release Viet Cong, and they picked up exactly where they left off. The album is complex as much as it is beautiful. The theme of the record revolves mainly around the obsessiveness with death and has a dark sense of urgency that, though gloomy at times, comes off as almost crystalizing. The band pleads about internal struggles and the relentless darkness that surround them. As I mentioned in an earlier review about this album, the lead vocalist seems to have a pathological obsession with the music the band creates, which leads to the complexity of the arrangements. As dark and ominous as this album is, it certainly sent chills down my spine due to how well orchestrated and produced it actually is. If you’re into the Canadian post-punk quartet, definitely check out this album.
Favourite Tracks: “Memory”, “Stimulation”
What is there left to be said about Joyce Manor? I can sit here at my laptop and reiterate what many in the music review biz have already said. So I’ll just tell you how it made me feel personally. First of all, I absolutely loved their previous release Never Hungover Again. It was fast, catchy and overall just fucking enjoyable. However, I didn’t let my opinion of their last work cloud my opinion of Cody and therefore went into it with almost no expectations. And again, I still fucking love Cody. From the get go with “Fake ID” it starts with a catchy riff and that Joyce Manor spunk that we’re all accustomed to at this point. That driving guitar line in “Last You Heard of Me” is easily my favourite part of the entire album. Even though there are some slower tracks, I feel the album flows really smoothly and each song has its own little quirks. I don’t think I could have been happier with how this record turned out, even if some people will label it as “pop-punk,” to me, it’s just a solid punk rock record.
Favourite Tracks: “Fake ID”, “Last You Heard of Me”, “Reversing Machine”
Every Time I Die have done it again. They’ve manage to masterfully create a “holy shit” album and it’s no wonder they are behemoths of the genre. The band has been a staple in my life for almost 10 years now and is still one of the few hardcore/heavier bands I’ll consistently jam to. Album after album, I’m always so impressed with how this band can churn out banger after banger with basically little to know sign of slowing down. The album begins with an infectious guitar riff, which when I first heard, I immediately thought to myself “this is going to destroy”, and I was not disappointed. Lead vocalist Keith Buckely is as fierce as ever, the guitar riffs as prominent as they could be and of course the drums and bass just as, if not more, chaotic. This is Every Time I Die. Throughout the album they may surprise you, throw in arrangements they’re experimenting with, or just crush you with that signature sound that we’ve all loved for so long. Here’s to another amazing Every Time I Die album, and here’s to many more to come.
Favourite Tracks: “Fear and Trembling”, “Awful Lot”, “It Remembers”
Jeff Rosenstock is the type of guy who waits until October to drop what many believe to be the album of the year and maybe of the past five years. I’m serious, this album is that good. With 17 songs to digest, each with a strong connotation and meaning, this record is nothing short of monumental. It makes you wonder how Jeff Rosenstock hasn’t already gotten the attention of everyone in the industry. Not to mention the fact that I don’t think I heard a record this year that was this coherent and flowed as well through a 17 song punk rock opera as WORRY does. All throughout (honestly I don’t think the timing could be better) Jeff sings about issues such as being a twenty-something in a world where everything seems to be falling apart, gentrification and just the struggle of our generation as a whole. WORRY is a generational record. It showcases how much of a genius Jeff truly is, and how versatile he is. WORRY may not be my #1, but really, do yourself a favour if you haven’t already, and take in this masterpiece. You won’t regret it.
Favourite Tracks: “Wave Goodnight To Me”, “Perfect Sound Whatever”
16 songs. Over an hour long (72 minutes to be exact). And yep, this is their debut album. Another fun fact: this band is a trio, yet they’ve crafted a record that sounds as if they have an entire orchestra at their disposal. They’ve since changed their name to Strange Ranger, but nonetheless, this album is a monster and well worth the time. It’s crazy to think that 30-40 years ago bands were normally writing records that were well over an hour and a half long and now it’s so rare that an indie rock band has extends longer than 45 minutes. But I’m telling you, and I’m sure a few other contributors/editors at this site can back me up, but with this album, 72 minutes goes by fast.
It is so perfectly crafted. It is the perfect indie rock album. Did I mention they too, much like Cool American, are from Portland? Just another reason for us to get excited about what’s coming out of the west coast scene. The record oozes out hook-filled guitar riffs, simplistic percussion and the vocals that have just the perfect amount of nasal snarl, you probably again won’t believe that this is a debut from a Portland trio. Some songs are six minutes, some songs are one minute, but just to reiterate, this band fucking rocks and I don’t know how else I can stress to you that you should listen to this album. Don’t. Sleep. On. This. Band.
Favourite Tracks: “Past Tense”, “Dinosaur Dying”
On their debut full-length, the San Francisco band dare you to try and categorize them. The 10-song album manages to aggressively blend poppy melodies, hardcore punk grit and grungy garage rock. But again. Try and brand them with a genre. This record basically has it all you would want from a straight up punk record; keyboards, harmonicas and acoustic guitar, all of which made the album oh so intriguing. The ragged vocal style is reminiscent of bands such as the Ramones and or The Clash, but with that California skater/surfer punk edge. The band writes songs that are emotional yet straight to the point. Overall, this album is everything that my father ever tried to teach me about punk rock. That’s probably why I adored it this much. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a heavy punk rock album, all the influences, all attitude, all jammed into one compact yet worthwhile record. I can’t say enough how much I’m looking forward to this bands future.
Favourite Tracks: “Yuckies”, “Living in the City”
I am so proud to be Canadian. Mainly because our leader isn’t Donald Trump, but even more importantly, I can brag and say, “ya, well I’m from the same country as PUP, the greatest thing to come out of Canada since hockey”. Honestly didn’t know what to expect with this sophomore record. I loved their debut, but this…well this just takes the cake. It’s perfect in every way: musically, lyrically, thematically, and we can’t forget it easily boasts the best one-two punch to start a record this year with “If this tour doesn’t kill you…” into “DVP”. All the way through, it’s relatable, chaotic and emotional. The vocals are the fucking best. Heck, they even got the kid from Stranger Things to be in one of their music videos. It’s hard for me to comprehend why anyone would “hate” PUP, ironically or not. Throughout all the gang chants and “whooaaaasssss,” PUP showed that they’re here to stay, and I don’t think they could have followed up their debut any better. Thanks for making me a proud Canadian.
Favourite Tracks: “DVP”, “Sleep in The Heat”, “Familiar Patterns”
It’s Will Toledo’s world, and we’re just living in it. After releasing an AOTY contender only a year ago, Teens of Style, Car Seat Headrest did what many weren’t expecting; releasing an AOTY contender again.. Some artists just get it. Some artists just have it. Will Toledo is one of those artists. I’m baffled every time I listen to this record. It’s like an event with each listen, as if my life has gone through some sort of triumph. It’s a unique yet all but familiar sound of indie rock that sees Toledo sing about issues such as tragedy, and struggles with self-doubt. What gets me however is that he manages to take a somber issue, and give it a one of a kind spin. It’s unreal. Every song is entirely different from the last, and the listener has no choice but to listen and dive into each song as if it were a short story with a gratifying life lesson.Musically, what can I say? It’s amazing. It isn’t flashy or extravagant. It’s Car Seat Headrest. It is what it is, and it is what it should be. Take a bow Will Toledo.
Favourite Tracks: “Not What I Needed”, “Fill in The Blank”
Other albums I thoroughly enjoyed this year:
– Touche Amore – Stage Four
– For Everest – We Are At Home In the Body
– White Lung – Paradise
– Horror My Friend – Stay In, Do Nothing
– Balance & Composure – Light We Made
– Basement – Promise Everything
– Architects – All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us
– A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
– ROMP – Departure From Venus
Enjoy the same music as me? Disagree with my picks? Just want to talk music? Hit me up on twitter: @StevenLalonde