10 Albums I want you to hear before 2016 ends
(Don’t tell me you’ll listen next year when we aren’t promised tomorrow)
A strange catch-22 in music writing is that you typically know your top albums of the year long before anyone is allowed to know about them. Your job is to inform people about the latest and greatest music, but due to deadlines and whatever algorithm is being used to determining the moment when a new feature will have the greatest potential to reach a wide audience doing so becomes an effort in restrain. Heck, I created this post to tell you about some of the records I loved from this year and even I am limited in what I can tell you because a portion of my selection — the most important in some people’s opinion — are being held until a date and time TBD by parties other than myself.
I’ve never been certain people really care all that much what any individual’s favorite album is unless that person is somehow close to them (friend, family, lover, etc), I can admit to scrolling through numerous lists every year from sites and writers I don’t even frequent simply because curiosity gets the best of me. I know most writers will have to write about most artists whether or not they actually enjoy their music (if they want to continue having any kind of steady employment), but I’ve always felt that it’s always good to know who they’re rooting for deep down because at the end of the day any music writer is just a music fan who somehow found a way to get paid for being a fan. They’re just like you or me, and we’re just like them — fans.
And let me tell you something. In 2016, I was a pretty big fan of music. Every genre had something to offer, and even the realm of top 40 radio found a way to offer more than a few surprises. I consumed more music this year than in any other 365-day period of my life, and it seems every week someone still manages to tell me about an exciting release I’ve yet to discover. When tasked with making a list for the end of the year I probably filled seven or eight pages of my notebook with drafts, each one slightly different than the last. While I’m still not sure their rank really matters all that much I feel compelled to tell you I had some serious battles with myself while working my album of the year list that mirrored that silly Inner Kermit meme that has been taking the internet by storm.
My top 10 albums of the year are being held by Substream Magazine until the publication of their December/January issue, but no one told me that #20–11 had to be kept under wraps. So instead of just posting the list here as I did on Twitter I thought I would share one of my favorite songs off each release, as well as a little insight into why these albums hold a special place in my heart.
In perfect world, these songs will change your life as they have mine, but I know this world is far from perfect. Still, I hope you enjoy this music and that you share your favorite tracks with me in the near future.
#20: Chris Farren — Can’t Die (SideOneDummy Records)
Chris Farren is a music chameleon masquerading online as Twitter’s favorite punk rock celebrity. He’s as deep as he is kind, and if you ask anyone who has ever spent more than a single second with him they’ll tell you the same. I’ve never met a person who doesn’t love Chris Farren, and most have their own personal story to share. That’s all well and good, but it’s worth pointing out he’s also one of most creative talents walking this planet today. Can’t Die dwells on death and the uncertainty of shaking off this mortal coil without giving into all the anxiety and existential crisis such consideration often brings. It’s a spine-tingling journey into the heart of what makes life so wonderful and precious told through anthems for the next generation of alternative music fans. If you need more explanation, check out this podcast I recorded with Chris in the days before his album’s release (if you prefer iTunes, click here and select episode #88)
#19: Maxo Kream — The Persona Tape
I spend more time browsing new releases on mixtape blogs than I care to admit. The amount of rap music being released on a weekly basis reached a fever pitch in 2016, so much so staying on top of everything known talents put out was next to impossible. Add the rise in unknown talents vying for attention and it’s quite easy to feel there is simply too much content for anything to stand out. That is, until you hear a voice and flow like Maxo Kream.
The Persona Project was one of those records I found during a late night blog binge and I was immediately hooked. The grittiness in Kream’s voice matches the dark and often violent world he creates through his lyrics. To hear him tell his truth is to walk a mile in his shoes, and the places he has been are depicted in great detail on this release. There are just as many party songs as there as murder songs, which is kind of like saying there is something for everyone as long as you go in expecting a certain kind of sound.
#18: Pup — The Dream is Over (SideOneDummy Records)
Recently I spent a weekend in Cleveland for work, and due to the weather I was confined to my hotel for the majority of my stay. During this same weekend Pup released the video seen above. I, being a fan who longs for anything new this band wishes to release, clicked without reading a single word about what was in store.
Now I’m not saying I regret that decision, but I do feel like the video above should come with some kind of emotional warning before dealing such a powerful dose of feels to the viewer. Then again, that kind of blunt emotional confrontation is what has made Pup stand out from others in the punk arena since they first began. There is an urgency to every line and each verse feels more relatable than the last. Pup understand the angst of the so-called millennial generation, and here they’ve provided their a record stack with anthems to help those stuck between youth and their idea of adulthood rage against the problems they face.
#17: Knocked Loose — Laugh Tracks (Pure Noise Records)
The first hardcore band I ever fell in love with was Have Heart, and ever since they parted ways near the end of the early aughts I felt there was a gaping hole in the music landscape no other talent could fill. This feeling lasted for years, with numerous young acts doing their best to be both aggressive and intelligent in equal measure, but none were up to snuff until Knocked Loose came screaming out of Kentucky (of all places) in the last few years. I wholeheartedly believe it is impossible for anyone to listen to a single song from this band and walk away thinking they are anything other than one of the most passionate acts working in music today.
Laugh Tracks, which made landfall in September, is a cacophony of rage, confusion, heartache, and hope that pummels you into submission with copious amounts of raw energy too powerful for anyone to deny. It might not change your life, but it will almost certainly help you to see things in a new light.
#16: Tiny Moving Parts — Celebrate (Triple Crown Records)
Minnesota natives Tiny Moving Parts have been carving their own path in the world of alternative music since formation, but the group seems poised for a crossover into the mainstream of music with the release of Celebrate. Both elaborately designed and undeniably infectious, the record speaks to pains of growing up and the double-edged sword that is chasing your dreams. Though still young in age, the members of TMP seems to recognize that every positive action often has a negative consequence and vice versa, which gives them a lyrical sense of wisdom well beyond their years. More importantly, they have found a way to convey a wealth of emotion through their music without jeopardizing the inherent sense of fun that has always existed within their songs.
I don’t mean to cast judgment on anyone, but those who have yet to hear Celebrate in full should not be allowed to claim they lived their 2016 to the fullest because they’re missing out on a truly exciting, not to mention wholly original, release.
#15: 21 Savage — Savage Mode
Just when I thought the age of artists who have the ability to strike fear into the heart of parents everywhere had come to an end the world gave me 21 Savage. In a time when the majority of hip-hop seems focused on celebrating life and objects Savage chooses instead to focus on the darker side of existence. He once described his sound as “murder music,” and honestly I don’t know if I could tell it any better.
There was a little hype for Savage online at the top of the year, but the young sensation more than proved himself capable of playing in the big leagues with the release of Savage Mode. This collection hits hard (thanks in no small part to Metro Boomin’s influence), and the lyrical content is likely to make your grandmother clutch her pearls. Put this on late at night and lose yourself. You can thank me later.
#14: Also Also Also — Stock Neon
There really is no one in the world making music like Eden Rohatensky. A native to Canada, the singer-songwriter has carved a career for themselves that defies definition. Also Also Also is just one of many projects from Rohatensky, but it has given us some of the their best work to date. Stock Neon is a lush and unabashed collection of synth-driven indie pop that makes for the perfect soundtrack to late night car rides and lonesome walks in the pouring rain. It’s the kind of album that makes you think as much as it makes you feel, and from my experience everyone who hears it walks away feeling at least one song was written about their own life. I don’t know if we will get another Also Also Also release in the new year, but I certainly hope we do.
#13: The Cadillac Three — Bury Me In My Boots (Big Machine Records)
I wouldn’t necessarily classify The Cadillac Three as a country act, but I can see why many feel that they are. Hailing from Nashville, the southern rock trio has been rising through the ranks of the music business for the better part of the last half-decade. The culmination of that work is Bury Me In My Boots, a seriously catchy collection of songs about life south of the Mason-Dixon line. Everything you need in a song that should be huge at country radio is here:
- Celebration of ‘The South’
- Pick-up trucks
- Hometown pride (“This is where I am from and this is where I’ll die”)
- Good Ol’ Boy references
- Constant promotion of binge-drinking
- Silly puns (let’s get “Ship Faced”)
The Cadillac Three are a reminder that great music and fun music do not have to be separate ideas. Bury Me In My Boots is not a perfect record, but it is one hell of a good time.
#12: Avion Roe — In Separation (Epitaph Records)
It is very possible that Avion Roe will be the biggest rock band in alternative music by the end 2017, and if so In Separation will be seen as proof it is a title they fully deserve. The Texas rock band has been grinding away in the underground music scene for several years now, but their decision to join Epitaph Records last year thrust them into the spotlight like never before. It would have been easy for the group to fall in line with the genre trends that are most easily marketable at the moment, but instead the group has chosen to do what they always have and forge a path entirely their own. In Separation is a haunting and brutally honest release that exists in a sonic landscape entirely its own. When I hear this album I wish so very much that I could be physically transported to the world within the record, but until that technology exists simply hitting repeat will have to suffice.
#11 Emarosa — 131 (Hopeless Records)
I wrote and talked about Emarosa so much this year that I am unsure what I have yet to say, but I do know 131 sounds as good today as it did the day I first heard it six or seven months back. Tackling the idea of accepting responsibility for one’s own fate as no other alternative rock album has done in years, this record features a collection of potential singles that take listeners on a journey through acceptance and recovery that is undeniably unique. There are moments when you want to leap from your seat and dance through the streets of your city with that someone special in your life, but just as soon as that feeling begins to wear out its welcome a song or three come along that make you want to curl up in the fetal position and have yourself a good cry. Whether you do one or both is up to you, but having gone through the experience myself several times I recommend both.
Therapy may be expensive, but music is relatively cheap. 131 is not a perfect replacement for a therapist and I think I have to say that clearly or else certain people online will get mad. Still, they have helped me process a whole lot of my own issues and I believe there is a good chance they could do the same for you (or someone you know, so you should probably tell them about this post — hint hint).