Monday, December 12, 2016

Top 30 Records of 2016: 10-1

The final portion of this year's list went through a number of different iterations.  The top five of the list had been settled for months but then there were more and more records that I would keep going back to, records that struct various nerves and touch me in a lot of different ways.  Each record in this top 10 is stellar and more than worth the price of admission.

What really struck me about music in 2016 was how deeply I connected with my favorite records.  Music has always been important to my life, but the records that came out this year had an especially profound affect on me emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.  Some years there are great records that are released but when you look back, only one or two of those records really stay with you.  That's not going to be the case with the music of 2016.  Looking strictly at the 10 records below, I can tell that these releases and these bands are going to stay with me for years to come.  And those records at the top of this list have already become some of my all-time favorites.    

2016 was a hard year.  There were tragedies, there was loss, there were scandals, there was a mess of a presidential election, and a general loss of civility but the one thing this year had in spades was great music.  Some of the best music in history was born out of desperate and, as the late great Dusty Rhodes once said, hard times.  2016 certainly falls into both categories so it is no wonder that the fire of the human spirit is alive and well in rock 'n' roll.  And thank the heavens for it because without rock 'n' roll, without these records, my life, heart, and spirit would be a complete mess.  To all of the great bands and artists out there grinding away, making the music that matters, this music, I can't thank you enough.

30-21, 20-11, Honorable Mentions

10.  Misery + Disaster by Shit Present
Specialist Subject Records, BandCamp, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
From my review --
The six-song EP is another fantastic blast of indie punk power pop perfection that drips of early '90s influence and modern punk energy.  Singer/guitarist Iona Cairns' (formerly of Great Cynics) songs are crisp and timeless with their hooks and poignant and personal lyrics that strike a powerful chord, cutting straight to the heart.  [...]  Misery + Disaster is the perfect sophomore release in that it picks up where the debut left off and takes things to the next level.

9.  Simplicity by The Bouncing Souls
Rise Records, MerchNOW, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, Interpunk
From my review --
Here's a simple fact:  no one does the punk rock anthem like The Bouncing Souls.  For nearly three decades, New Jersey's favorite sons have knocked out consistently powerful, energetic, and hopeful records that mix the best elements of classic hardcore punk, oi, and pop punk and Simplicity is no different. From the opening onslaught of "Driving All Night" to the mid-tempo crescendo of the "Satellite" to the rousing and empowering conclusion of "Up To Us" this record is classic Bouncing Souls and a shining example of everything great about punk rock.

8.  I Wanna Die in Los Angeles by Dead To Me
BandCamp, Fat Wreck Chords, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, Interpunk
From my review --
Dead To Me's I Wanna Die in Los Angeles feels like a homecoming.  The EP marks the return of founding member Jack Darlymple on guitar/vocals and honestly it sounds like he never left.  Darlymple appeared on the band's first two and absolutely brilliant releases, the album Cuban Ballerina and the follow-up EP Little Brother before departing to concentrate on fatherhood.  [...]  Fast forward to 2016 and the release of I Wanna Die in Los Angeles.  First lets just get this out of the way; this EP is spectacular.  I Wanna Die... has everything I could ever want, hope, or ask for in a Dead To Me record.  Songs that are urgent, melodic, and catchy?  Check.  Poignant and powerful lyrics?  Check.  Excellent dueling vocals?  Super check!  Darlymple and bassist/vocalist Tyson “Chicken” Annicharico were born to play music together.  They are like the punk rock Bay Area Lennon and McCarthy and I Wanna Die in Los Angeles is their mighty return.

7.  See/Sea by Restorations
This is one of those records that I love more and more with each listen.
From my review --
The best word to describe Restorations' latest EP See/Sea is epic.  The two-song release is stirring and uplifting while also poignant and stoic evoking a wide array of emotions from not only the lyrics but the sheer sound of the music.  Restorations has always been a band that has defied categorization.  What does one call music that enlists elements of post hardcore, punk, progressive classic rock, arena classic rock, college rock, Americana, indie rock, and emo?  Other than awesome, I have no clue.  Well you can now add cinematic post rock to that list of elements.  [...]  In a lot of ways, Restorations goes against a lot of things that I like in music--a lot of songs that are over the four to five minute mark, obvious prog. rock elements, complex and exuberant musical moments--yet somehow it works and I love it.  Sometimes, especially with this release, I liken their music to the truly epic moments from bands like INXS and U2 (think "The Stairs" and "Bad") because these songs truly are epic in every sense of the word.  Restorations have really outdone themselves this time around.  See/Sea is a perfect EP and an excellent release to hold fans over until their next full-length, which can't come soon enough.

6.  From Caplan to Belsize by Muncie Girls
BandCamp, Big Cartel, Animal Style Records, Specialist Subject Records, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
From Caplan to Belsize was the first record of 2016 that really grabbed me.  I first heard the record in February and I knew immediately that it and this band was something very special.    
From my review --
Muncie Girls' full-length debut From Caplan to Belisize is a fierce, poignant, and bitingly social conscious indie punk record.  [...]  In a lot of ways From Caplan to Belisize is kind of a hard record to review.  There's a part of me that simply wants to say "this record is fucking great, one of the best of 2016, go buy it" and leave it at that because it really is that freaking good but I know that it deserves more praise and explanation than that.  I've been listening to the record pretty constantly for the last month and each time I do, I sit back, bop along, and think damn, these kids really get it.  Not only does this band shred musically, their lyrics are incredibly spot on.  It's that perfect mix of excellent hooks and intelligent lyrics.  And man are the lyrics good.  Bassist/vocalist Lande Hekt's take on the world is devastatingly passionate, hauntingly purposeful, and extremely profound.  Driven by anxiety, discontent, and a genuine and purposeful rebellious nature, Herkt tackles everything from social norms to objectification to loneliness to stereotypes of Millennials to the government and does so beautifully.

5.  Brand New Flag by Two Cow Garage
Last Chance Records, BandCamp, Amazon, iTunesSpotify
THIS is the perfect modern protest record.
From my review --
Two Cow Garage's seventh album Brand New Flag is a tour de force and a testament to the power and possibility of rock 'n' roll.  The 12 song record is personal and poignant, angry yet hopeful, existential and insightful, driven and thoughtful, purposeful and powerful.  This album grabs you by the heart and smashes your soul with songs that should be seen as psalms that will lead you to salvation.  People often talk about how rock 'n' roll can save souls, tell stories about how specific records or songs saved their lives; make no mistake, Brand New Flag is one of those records.  This is a battle-cry for the disenfranchised, disaffected, and those that feel like they have no voice.  [...]  For those that pray on the alters of greats like Springsteen and Westerberg, find solace in modern prophets like John Moreland and Beach Slang, appreciate troubadours like Frank Turner and Dave Hause, or rock out to the likes of Lucero, Dramarama, and Nothington, then Two Cow Garage is the band for your and Brand New Flag is your scripture.

4.  The Cross and The Switchblade by Wolves & Wolves & Wolves & Wolves
Wiretap Records, Gunner Records, BandCamp [Wiretap], BandCamp [Wolvesx4], iTunesSpotify
From my review --
Wolves & Wolves & Wolves & Wolves' sophomore full-length The Cross and The Switchblade is nothing short of sensational.  The Winston-Salem, NC quartet have perfected their sound precisely mixing elements of melodic and post hardcore, classic rock, alt country, and straight up punk with undeniable heart, driving energy, honesty, and purposefully poignant lyrics.  From the opening snarl of "Give Me Conviction" to the final crescendo of "Cathedral" The Cross and The Switchblade shreds and hits home with 10 anthems that challenge you to not sing along with all your heart.  [...]  This is pretty much a flawless and certainly a timeless record.  Some records you hear and love but over the years you lose touch with those songs, only occasionally returning to them out of feelings of nostalgia.  This is not one of those records.  With each listen, you find new dynamics, new folds and twists, new lyrics that grab your heart, making you realize that you may never find all the layers but can't wait to keep trying.

3.  A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings by Beach Slang
BandCamp, Limited Run, Polyvinyl Records, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Spotify
I honestly cannot express how important this band is to me.  I have been in love with their music and screaming their praises from the second I heard their first release.  Then I had the great fortune to see them live and meet James Alex and company.  Not only was the Quiet Slang set monumentally amazing (seriously it was a religious experience), Alex was incredibly gracious and humble, talking to me like a longtime friend.  Never in a million years could I have imagined meeting someone I admire so much and being immediately treated like family.  That night was so special on so many different levels that I will never forget it.    
From my review --
From the moment I first heard Beach Slang's debut EP Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?, I knew that I'd found something special.  This was the kind of band that spoke so straight to my heart that I felt an immediate and intense personal connection with not only their music but with them.  They mixed the best elements of '80s college rock, '90s indie rock, and punk throughout the ages, creating a sound that was magical, powerful, and timeless.  Oh and did I mention the lyrics?  Those cathartic poetic moments that perfectly gave voice to the rage and heartache of the kids that never fit in and the adults that they became.  This was my band.  [...]  From start to finish A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings is a spectacular record from a band that can truly do no wrong.  In three short years, Beach Slang has become one of the most important bands in rock 'n' roll.  The band's music (and its members) is earnest, brutally honest, self aware, and humble, creating an atmosphere that is welcoming and nurturing to all those who have ever felt unwanted, slighted, left out, or unloved.  This sound, these records, this band is something truly special and timeless.  You know an artist's music and story has connected with you when you find yourself brought to tears from reading an interview with the band.  So Beach Slang, I'm in.  Whatever you guys do, wherever you go, I'm all in.

2.  Tender Defender by Tender Defender
Dead Broke Rekerds, BandCamp, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
For much of 2016 this was my go-to record.  From start to finish it sucks me in and has me dancing and pounding my chest as I sing along to some of the most griping and powerful songs I've ever heard.  There is so much raw energy and emotion in these songs that simply listening to them is a religious experience.  Words cannot do this record justice; it is simply, gloriously perfect.
From my review --
Tender Defender soars with cathartic crescendos, mighty choruses, melody, and hooks that defy you to not dance and shout along with gleeful abandon.  On top of all that, the lyrics masterfully capture the frustrations, anxieties, and desperations of the grownup teenage outcast and misfit.  Simply put, listening to Tender Defender is a visceral, if not religious, experience.  [...]  I really can't say enough good things about Tender Defender and truth be told 2016 is going to be hard pressed to produce anything that comes close to its intensity, power, and quality.  This is the record of the year.

1.  Death Ride by Don't Make Ghosts
BandCamp, Death to False Hope Records, Spotify
Tender Defender's EP was a shoo-in to be my record of the year...then I heard Death Ride.  I first heard Don't Make Ghosts when they opened for the Hudson Falcons in February and I was immediately hooked.  Sure it didn't hurt that two of the guys in the band were previously in my favorite band to ever come from the Sooner State, the Roustabouts, and sure it didn't hurt that they are also longtime friends but none of that mattered.  They took the stage, owned it, and delivered a performance that made those in attendance realize they were seeing something special.  Fast forward a few months to the brutal heat of summer and the band dropped their un-fucking-believable debut.  From the opening chords of "Upside of Sorrow" I was hooked and I knew that this was not only special but exceptional.  Then in early October the band held a CD release show that was truly magical.  Their performance was riveting and powerful and the band came off as total rock stars.  This was the beginning of what is sure to be an epic journey for an phenomenal band.    
From my review --
Oklahoma City's Don't Make Ghosts debut EP Death Ride is nothing short of spectacular.  The five-song EP beautifully mixes elements of melodic post hardcore, classic rock, and anthematic punk resulting in a sound that is heartfelt, energetic, uplifting, poignant, fresh, and familiar all at the same time.  [...]  Death Ride is the perfect record to introduce the world to Don't Make Ghosts.  The performances are perfectly spot on, the lyrics and vocals are passionate, thoughtful, and intelligent, and the energy levels are off the charts.  The EP moves from rousing anthems to a ballad to mid-tempo rockers, seamlessly pulling influence from a number of disparate places creating a unique and definitive sound.  Recently a number of bands have taken influence from a variety of different genres and sub-genres creating a hybrid sound (see Iron Chic, Worship This!, Wolves & Wolves & Wolves & Wolves, Timeshares, Red City Radio) but few have done it this well.  Don't Make Ghosts have created something extremely special in Death Ride, something I know that I will be enjoying for many years to come.

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