2016 Albums of the Year; 30–21.

30. Tiny Moving Parts — Celebrate

Gave these boys a shot on one of their older records and wasn’t really blown away by the music. I didn’t really ‘get it’. In fact, I’d totally forgotten about it until this record was recommended to me and I went to the friend who I’d forgotten had told me to check the initial one. Glad we’d finally synced up on it all! This record feels a bit more focused and a bit more daring with the direction they’ve taken. At this stage in my life, it takes a lot for new pop-punk to really break into the calloused music snob skin that I’ve built up over the years and this one does a damn good job of mattering to me. Cool guitar parts that have ample heft in the dense pockets that they put together and that thin out beautifully when it’s time to take a pensive turn. Some of the moments here remind me of a lot of different influences ranging from The Early November to Sparta.

Check Out: Breathe Deep

29. Boyfrndz — Impulse

Heavy and riffy guitarscapes are a nice corridor to my heart. And this record does that incredibly well. But when married with reverby and powerful upper register vocals, you’ve got a whole different level of contender. There’s some nicely veiled elements of prog found within as well. You won’t get lost in deep trancy guitar solos, but you’ll have just enough time to float through the thick instrumental spaces that you’ll feel a little out of body. I remember there was a band named Brazil back in the prime of scene days that sort of dabbled in this heady realm, but these guys have it more corralled, more canonized. There’s a very nice haze in the production around it all that gives it an even bigger impression, something that enhances the smoke and mirrors and ages it a couple of decades as well.

Check Out: Ghosted

28. Rare Futures — This Is Your Brain On Love

Little bit of a story behind this record. I somehow stumbled onto a record by Happy Body Slow Brain earlier this year and it completely took over. If there was a way I could say that a record from 2010 was my album of the year for 2016, I would do that. (But that’s why there’s another list of albums from the past that really made an impact for me this year.) But in trying to sort of figure out if this band was still doing anything new or if they were broken up or touring, or WHAT, their wikipedia page brought me right to THIS band, apparently Matthew Fazzi’s next move from the previous build of the band. They still seem very grass roots, very DIY. But this record has an incredible groove to it. Lots of nice big synth beds to graze across, and the layered and embedded vocals from Fazzi that seem to sink right into my skin. You can really feel that these guys had a lot of fun writing these songs and jamming together. I think for one reason or another, this record really misses on a solid and strong personality, and overall feels like a ton of songs that have been aching to come out to the tapes, but I’m very happy to know that these guys are out there and active and hopefully working on more new tunes soon.

Check Out: Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done

27. Cliff Martinez — The Neon Demon OST

I’ve rewritten this album description several times because I keep talking about the film. Three words: I loved it. Let’s leave it there. That being said, there were a lot of moments that Cliff Martinez was able to orchestrate beautifully. He established the neon and razorwired world perfectly and did an incredible job reconstructing and reinforcing the ups and downs of a severe acid trip in a terrible culture. Martinez once again joined up with Nicholas Winding Refn after having collaborated with him on the Drive score, and so much of the same elements are there. You can feel the distinctive voices of the two of them working on the very deliberate and unique ensemble. Fat synths everywhere. The twinkle that gets revisited often throughout these songs reminds me of the shimmer that falls over dreams that are on the tipping point of dream and nightmare, that anything can turn bad at any point. Overall, a haunting score built of beautiful elements. The Sia track that closes it all out is solid as well. A coworker mentioned that he “just couldn’t get on board the Sia train,” and while I wholeheartedly agree (I have yet to really enjoy a full album of hers) she can write a DAMN good song.

Check Out: Get Her Out of Me

26. The Frigthnrs — Nothing More to Say

Found out about this album right as I was compiling the final pieces of my ‘Best of 2016’ albums. It floated in on a light recommendation and it really got a nice hold on me. And one thing that becomes ever more impactful about the record is that it will be the only of its kind as the lead singer of the band passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease before the record was able to release. A pretty devastating turn for the group, but one that makes this relic all the more special for all involved. This is a record that feels vintage from the moment you hit play, built of such cool and laid back reggae rhythms. From the way the keys bounce along with the high hat to the way the reverb doesn’t sound natural to the vocals at all, this recording betrays the youth that it embodies. All artists involved seem to be able to maintain that level of cool, respecting the process of the song and the genre and doing it an unbelievable justice. The authenticity here bleeds through the speakers. Instantly loved this.

Check Out: Nothing More to Say

25. Tegan and Sara — Love You to Death

It’s aggravating thinking about these sisters batting a thousand on their last two records. Just genius pop song after genius pop song. When their album was first announced and their first single ‘Boyfriend’ dropped, my only response was “GOD. DAMNIT. HOW?” as I followed link after text box to preorder this one on vinyl. The records are so fun to spin. So good to drive to. There are some places that bring the album back to Earth, like on ‘100x’ that turns the tone and tempo down, but still reads like a great pop song, but perhaps not one with as much distinction as those offered throughout. Again, still blown away at the last two records by these two being so supremely well written.

Check Out: U-Turn

24. Leonard Cohen — You Want It Darker

To be very clear, as much as I would love to have it on my “cred” to claim it, I don’t personally consider myself a Leonard Cohen fan. I respect the man, and I think his impact his undeniable. I think his unique voice is haunting and unforgettable. My introduction to his work and a song that has stuck with me forever is ‘Waiting For the Miracle’ from the Natural Born Killers soundtrack. That being said, I’m not including this record to be like “ahh yes, another FINE outing by MY BOY Leonard.” I read a quote shortly before this record dropped that Cohen said, expressly, that he was ready to die. And when this record dropped, the same sort of pallor and shroud played over the songs. The man’s rumbling and core-shaking vocals felt more grim, more climactic, more ultimate. Cohen’s voice on this record is intricate and incredibly human, analog like a finely tuned piano. It’s natural and wooden and ancient, as if broken free from the core of the Earth. And sad. So sad. Hands down, this is an album that I wouldn’t have been able to listen to 8 years ago. It would have utterly BURIED me.

Check Out: Treaty

23. My Iron Lung — Learn to Leave

This surprisingly is the band’s final record. It sounds like they’d sort of found a nice center for themselves, a sound that really worked for them and one that they had become masters of. It’s a sound that has somewhat fallen away from how many of the other bands of their ilk ring their songs out (see: Touche Amore, Pianos Become the Teeth, La Dispute). More real estate for them to dominate. But the songs found here are strong and emotionally taut. You can feel the desperation here, like shouting into empty rooms hoping that someone can hear you, can help you, can find you. The singing parts in here that differentiate themselves from the roars are placed smartly and are breaths of fresh air that break up the foul nature of the sadness (see: Damage). What’s great here is that in a genre that can be littered with a fury of aggression and overdriven musical throttle, the band knows when to hone it in and simply let the mood do the talking instead of the power chords and the breakdowns. They’ve mastered nuance and understood what it means to translate a sadness and a loss and a disassociation into musical form without shooting it at you point blank.

Check Out: The Same House

22. Drake — Views

Boy oh boy. We gonna talk about Drake now? What a polarizing figure. How do you simply open up a conversation about Drake, man. DRAKE. The dude that has been a meme since birth. And for the way the record is laid out, I really like that ‘Hotline Bling’ is at the very end. Because if it was track 4 or so, somewhere early on, I might only hit that point and not take the record seriously anymore. But listening to this record multiple times throughout the year, it slowly crept up the top 50 and even during the final listen to the whole spread really cemented that it belonged up here. A lot of the rap game flossing is here, from big time ego to ragging on other dudes… but I mean, as I mentioned earlier… it’s fucking Drake. And as big as the dude gets, as many records as he sells, I’m always at a level where I’m all, “awww, DRAKE!” And whether Hollywood/TMZ/Tabloid stuff is true or not, he’s been rumored to be together with Rihanna, and I sort of really love that. Applying all of his romantic/seductive “You”s to Rihanna feels grounded and I’m happy for them. There’s an added layer. He gets hooks. He gets delivery. His wordplay is above average. The only thing I feel real awkward about is his decision to suddenly adapt a patois in the middle of a record. That being said, I mean, again, “aw, Drake.” But there are moments that catch me off guard, like in ‘Redemption’ where Dreezy starts to break down personal situations in his life and you can sort of nod your head and throw him a “yeah, I totally get you man.” And the thing that works for Drake the most is that he is completely relatable. It’s not some superhuman standing in a studio. It’s real, because, I mean, it’s just Drake, right?

Check Out: Feel No Ways

21. Norma Jean — Polar Similar

This reference might not register with everyone, per say, but I remember when Norma Jean first came on the scene with Bless the Martyr, Kiss the Child, it was just as substantial as when Slipknot first manifested before the nu-metal kids. There was something terrifying there, something that went further than other bands had gone before them. And now, years later, these guys continue to put out incredibly aggressive think pieces with tons of innovation and new ways to break the mold. They’ve even gotten to the point where their recording of a phone robot and some beeps seem to make a song, ‘II. The People’ just make sense. There is a lot of exploration here, lots of ways to see how to bring little elements into their big picture to make sense within little songs. And eventually, we all know there’s a breakdown coming, so we’re just waiting them out and finding how they’re going to wind those moments in. And the payoff is always spectacular. But there’s more to this band than just some big builds and heavy payoffs. In one of the record’s final moments, during ‘IV. The Nexus’ at around 5:35, there’s a very distinct moment where I envisioned this band making a Tool album, from front to back, and having it actually stand up to its muse. There are lots of little gems like this throughout the album, but this one felt definitive and one of the strongest moments for a band’s career that has been sprawling across over a decade of work.

Check Out: IV. The Nexus