2016 Albums of The Year: 75 – 51

Tyler continues his Albums of the Year 2016 countdown with appearances by another Knowles, Against Me!, and a pair of reunited, legendary hip-hop groups.

Trying to understand what makes something the 64th best record of the year versus the 63rd or 65th in an Albums of the Year list is a crazy idea. Perhaps it’s delusion that propels me (us, I hope) toward overanalyzing music, film, et al, in such a way. But equally hopefully there’s a purpose to all of it, a reason for quantifying the art.

In my mind, I’ve always viewed these lists as living documents of exactly what I love listening to from a specific year. I criminally underrated Joyce Manor’s Never Hungover Again, which is now one of my favorite records of the decade. Just so, as enormous as CHVRCHES has become, their debut has aged into some relative staleness. So this lists are a starting point for establishing the future of my listening… because perhaps coming back to that 63rd record will be more rewarding than the 64th or 65th.

75. Haif Waif – Probable Depths

One of the more wrong predictions I’ve made over the last few years (and I’ve made a lot… once said Free Energy would soon be opening for The Rolling Stones) was that electro-pop duo Sylvan Esso were going to absolutely blow up. This was off of the smooth, danceable sensibility of their first single “Coffee.” Turns out it didn’t totally happen. So, in light of my lack of prognostication abilities, I will merely say that Haif Waif’s debut, Probable Depths, is loaded with Sylvan Esso-y electro-pop potential. From the funky syncopation and brief atmospheric breaks of “Turn Me Around,” the majestic and lilting “Stutter Stop” to the balladeering of “Know Your Body,” Half Waif capably flex their muscles and prove they have something to say in the electro-pop world that has been dominated and reformed by the giant that is CHVRCHES.

 

74. You Blew It! – Abendrot

Bleary and experimental in a way You Blew It! never indicated they would be, Abendrot improves on the somewhat pacifist emo framework indicated toward by out there bands like Foxing and later period Somos. The typical introspective lens the band has taken over its three LP history more organically unfolds over the darker strain of sonics – dissonant songs like “Authotheology” cleverly deals with crises of religion with angular, slicing bit of mis-tuned guitars. The band have a lot of catching up to do to catch up to some of the emo frontrunners of this genre resurgence, but Abendrot is a welcome and unfamiliar step forward for a band that might’ve easily been pigeonholed before.

73. Sheer Mag – iii EP

Clocking in at less than fifteen minutes, it’s a wonder Philadelphia’s Sheer Mag are able to accomplish anything, let alone establishing themselves as rock revivalist icons and torch bearers of bare bones classic riffage. Yet here we are, talking about a record that’s shorter than one song on Car Seat Headrest’s album. iii, as an EP, works as well as it does due to two magnificent instruments used to unbelievable effect – Christina Halladay’s scratched virtuoso wail and the furious lead guitar work that backs her up. Meanwhile, as the rock revivalism worms its way into your consciousness, Sheer Mag are busy infecting you with powerful narratives on female empowerment, most clearly on “Can’t Stop Fighting,” chronicling the struggle of women in Mexico. For a giveaway EP to be this catchy and well put together is near criminal, and sets Sheer Mag up as underground punk icons for the future generation. All in less than fifteen minutes. Damn.

72. Trust Fund – We have always lived in The Harolds

As Sam Cooke-Parrot of Radiator Hospital somehow single-handedly wills lo-fi emo-punk into existence, a bevy of his compatriots are already shuttling around the fringes, trying to pick up what they can from the proceedings. Trust Fund fall into that compatriot category, wandering around the baroque pop area of lo-fi (the cutesiness of “Would that be an adventure?” is almost deafening) as well as turning up the barre chords at moments (“Together”). They combine the literate gentile curtsey of Belle & Sebastian with brash, spitting youth punk emotions, resulting in romantic spurts of belles and punk on “Crab Line.”

71. Solange – A Seat At the Tabl

Just like its album cover, A Seat at the Table is a portrait of Solange Knowles, minor key alternative to her sister Beyonce and once a minor celebrity gossip subject, letting her hair down and seizing control of her personality and her powerful artistic voice. The trumpeting, off-kilter anthem “F.U.B.U.” pushes everyone away (including yours truly) in the name of establishing a space in which African Americans can operate without feeling prone to being judged. The rest of A Seat At the Table is similarly withholding and derisive – “don’t touch my crown” on “Down Touch My Hair” serves as a metaphor for persona as an individual, all layered on top of 808 plinks and harpsichord. The singular delight of A Seat At the Table is the way in which it steadfastly doesn’t give a shit about you in an immediately endearing and earworm-y way. No other record had the guts to be so powerfully itself, and yet still have the hooks to lure you in.

70. Mikey Erg – Tentative Decisions

It’s relatively gobsmacking that Mike Yannich hasn’t released a solo album by now. Having been the pioneering force behind the seminal Aughts punk band The Ergs!, as well as at least a dozen other projects (including being the house band for the Chris Gethard Show), Yannich is just now getting around to releasing his first solo album, the propulsive punk of Tentative Decisions. Building from the stopping point Yannich left The Ergs! with on 2009s Hindsight is 20/20, My Friend, Tentative Decisions is a buttoned up affair, eleven tracks pacing between two and four minutes, all rooted in mostly verse-chorus structure. It’s a startling change from Yannich, who can get seriously weird at points; here the brattiness is turned down to a passably zeitgeisty level (“Comme Si About Me), even trending toward some very bar room indie rock (“Waiting Out the Winter”). Tentative Decisions takes the place of almost a Mike Yannich starter pack, an easily digestible bit of snotty punk, flecked with bits of other genres for good measure.

69. Slingshot Dakota – Break

There’s a sweetness and authenticity apparent to Slingshot Dakota that’s been well robbed from compatriots like Matt & Kim. Perhaps it’s the band’s lo-fi aesthetic; there are myriad moments on their fourth album, Break, where Carly Comando’s voice gets lost below a bevy of cymbal and synth rushes. There’s also the steadfast commitment to pop-punk forms when the band is clearly operating in a pop sphere; many moments (the chorus on “Monocacy”) feature the synths taking on both bass, lead and rhythm guitar at the same time. It’s an endearing constraint that the band has been all to happy to roll around in and cultivate something interesting. Break is their best record yet, further helping to define their niche in the weirdo pop-punk sphere and project a strong future.

68. Joyride! – Half Moon Bay

San Fransisco garage power-pop trio Joyride! trade in the kind of peppy sonics that’ve been popping up all over the place these days. Bands like The Julie Ruin, Tacocat, Mikey Erg and others have made tight, two to four minute rock songs an art form, and Joyride!’s brand is frequently one of the most pleasing. Jenna Marx’s nasally delivery lends the songs a bratty edge, delivering nostalgia tinged lines about navigating the troubled world of relationships. For those that make it all the way through the breezy first nine tracks, the last track “how to tell her,” is a bit of left turn excellence.

67. American Football – American Football

It feels only right to have American Football back. As much scrawl as there is to write about the emo revival, American Football would be the band to come back and Neutral Milk Hotel the shit out of this moment. The Kinsellas have made their living over the last few years trading on the cred of American Football version 1.0, and now, at the precise moment when American Football is the most appropriately an ancestor, the band returns with the same stately emo it laid down nearly two decades ago. To be sure, Version 2.0 is not as revelatory, inventive or special as the first, but it still has its unique charms. The self-deprecating humor of “I Need a Drink (Or Two Or Three)” is reminiscent of Owen at its best, yet the lyrical flavors sometimes draw attention to the fact that Version 1.0 had a lot fewer lyrics. Pulsing earnestness, a somewhat unfortunate lack of catharsis, and the mathiest of math-emo… it must be American Football.

66. The Exquisites – home

A raspy bit of folk-punk fervor, Seattle’s The Exquisites are a soulful bit of longing in the range of self-expression that punk has seen take over. Songwriter Jason Clackley has a gruff as shit voice, and his repeated verses serve to reinforce the blistering emotion he’s scrawling out across the punk tracks. The record really takes off, however, when Clackley merges the punk with the folk – “Coming Down at the End of the Day” is an aching number, bolstered by a softly strummed punk melody, layered on top of which is a looping folk guitar line and, to cap things off, a gorgeous closing horn part. The record is far more ferocious than “Coming Down,” but The Exquisites keep their energy up throughout.

65. Soccer Mommy – For Young Hearts

For Young Hearts darts into your life and then rushes out, content to leave as little mark as possible. Appearing mostly as a set of guitar melodies shadowed by bedroom vocals, recording at night after a particularly melancholy inducing party, Sophie Allison’s debut record is mostly a dark trinket that briefly flashes outward with bursts of light. The spindly, winding “Grown” blooms into a brief, bright chorus of the title. “3am at a party” most clearly draws this line, the comely Allison cooing at a lover who isn’t hers. Her confidence is evident, yet her leering gaze continues to wander towards things that she knows will hurt her. That she’s getting out such raw emotionality on a publicly available record is laudable. For Young Hearts is a keepsake for those too shy to express their 3am feelings to others; Sophie Allison’s got you covered.

64. Wussy – Forever Sounds

Alt-rock, as its own genre and not as a catch-all for anything that isn’t U2 or Kings of Leon, has seen better days. The deification of Muse in the last decade did much to burn down the notion that alt-rock had anything interesting to say, leading some to the emo revival and others to the earnest rock n’ roll sound propped up by The Hold Steady, The Gaslight Anthem and Japandroids. Yet Wussy, decadeish into their career, are still trading in the alt-rock sphere, to powerful results on Forever Sounds. Taking much from an OK Computer-era Radiohead, Wussy combine a reverb, power chord heavy wall of sound alt-rock sound with Americana flavors, crafting something wholly unique from genres that aren’t being mined a lot these days. “Majestic-12” is a calmer number in this fold, trading more on Americana than anything, and first single “Gone” is as close to Americana Spiritualized as we’re going to get. Not many are doing what Wussy are doing, and they’re all the better for it.

63. Cool American – You Can Win A Few

One of the more (least?) interesting movements of indie rock in response to the stilted, Williamsburg worshipping bourgeois era that was Real Estate, Animal Collective and (to a lesser extent) The National is the pendulum swinging back to bands like Jawbreaker, Weezer and Guided By Voices. Cool American is perhaps the clearest example of this; the band might be classified “emo” if they had release You Can Win A Few six years ago. Yet in this cultural climate, while emo (rightly) rules the roost and it’s spaces are being more fleshed out, Cool American sounds more like 90s retrofitting. Which isn’t to say it’s not interesting, tight or affecting – songs like “Odds” lead to huge, anthemic finales, while “Struggling for Motivation” keeps the tempo from getting too stultifying. So if some of the more adventurous emo isn’t your thing, perhaps the 90s is?

62. Kevin Devine – Instigator

Somewhat remarkably, Instigator is Kevin Devine’s tenth album. In between touring and incubating a scene of Weezer-referencing rock bands with his friends Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra and Jesse Lacey of Brand New, Devine has managed to carve a prolific niche for himself, establishing his punkish nihilism and lapsed Catholic guilt as a repeatable trope across, now, decades. Instigator, however, is one of the most active and fun releases Devine has spat out in recent years – opening with the garage raver “No Why,” Devine is as acerbic and ready to fuck the man as ever, his guitar is just a little more charged up this time. He gets nuanced and of the moment on “Freddie Grey Blues,” yet his best moments are self-deprecating and self-effacing, like “No History,” “Daydrunk” and the title track.

61. Posture & The Grizzly – I Am Satan

For one brief moment at the beginning of “I Am Not A Real Doctor,” the anthemic, excellent opening to Posture & The Grizzly’s sophomore record I Am Satan, you’d be forgiven if you believed Tom Delonge circa 2005 was front an emo revival band. The comparison’s to the pop-punk crazy uncle end there (except for “Kill Me,” which is essentially a depressed Angels & Airwaves song), as Posture push forward in establishing their own sound within an increasingly crowded genre. The lyrical flavor is a familiar one – earnest evocations of trying to get better for friends, loved ones or lovers. There’s a third wave emo shine to I Am Satan that gives Posture the feeling of a light grade The Hotelier, which is decidedly something the band can build from. The band’s pop sensibility is undeniable; before the song becomes a bit of a screamo mess, “Acid Bomb” is begging to be a single. Still, Posture & The Grizzly have crafted a manic, earnest sophomore album that places them squarely in the world of “incredibly strong opening act who you’re sure is gonna have a breakthrough pretty soon.”

60. Nathan Bowles – Whole & Cloven

Whole & Cloven is weird. And not in the way that instrumental albums are weird. Plenty of artists are going the way of instrumental guitar/banjo virtuosity (one will be featured later on this list). Yet Whole & Cloven is an interesting synthesis of virtuoso banjo picking, a genre that can lend itself to easy cliche, and grand piano smoothness. It’s an odd mix, one that doesn’t always work, especially when Nathan Bowles decides to craft songs wholly out of one next to songs wholly crafted from the other. Yet the moments of deep symbiosis, like on “Blank Range / Hog Jank II” are enough to believe that Bowles has stumbled upon something he can make entirely his own, a novelty in the instrumental sphere.

59. Isaiah Rashad – The Sun’s Tirade

Isaiah Rashad appeared on the scene unproven, as most hip-hoppers do. His first release, 2014s Cilvia Demo, was literally titled as a test case, a moment of emergence not intended to be judged as the final product. The Sun’s Tirade, Rashad’s first release not referred to as a demo, is evidence that we didn’t really know what we were getting into with the woozy, syncopated rapper. From the jump on “4r Da Squaw” orbits around a wobbly beat and a chorus name-dropping India.Arie, making very clear that Tirade is Rashad’s effort at growing up. From there, Rashad trades on a version of distilled Kendrick Lamar, all groovy funk beats and character-based voices surrounding them. The album is a calm repose from the insistency of other rappers, and only reinforces the dreamy musicianship of Southern California rap. When the THC-haze of “Stuck in the Mud” fades, it’s tough to imagine wandering out of the vibe Rashad has built into something more energetic. Rashad’s voice is finally on the forefront, and his mood holds court over the course of a strong hour long album.

58. Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gates

I’ll be honest. This is the last one of these I have to write, because I have no fucking idea what to say about this confounding, unbelievable record. Crying’s “related artists” on Spotify lists Jeff Rosenstock, The Hotelier, Pity Sex, the normal emo touchstones… as well as Hillary Duff and Zendaya. I mean, c’mon! What am I supposed to do with that?! Seriously though, you are unlikely to hear anything so idiosyncratic or singularly itself than Crying’s sophomore effort Beyond the Fleeting Gates. Rooted in simultaneously bubble gum synths played at frantic speeds and chugging emo-punk guitars, with Elaiza Santos’ calm, rarely strained voice gliding over all. It’s a form of chiptune rock that hasn’t been seen since the heyday of Anamanaguchi, and it’s frequently one of the most enjoyable listens of the year. Trying listening to opening track “Premonitory Dream” and not completely removing yourself from anything in your life but that. Crying have crafted a difficult, confounding and remarkable album, a great sign for their future prospects as aggressive emo-rock shit-stirrers.

57. Signals Midwest – at this age

Of a piece with midwest emo-punk compatriots like Spraynard, The Sidekicks and Cheap Girls, Signals Midwest and their third record, At This Age, are riding a wave that can only mean increased critical attention for their sound. This is unwarranted, At This Age is one of the best examples of meat and potatoes indie-rock as indie-rock finds itself today; anthemic, based around pop-punk hooks and trading on lyrical earnestness that draws its subject as close as possible. The title track drives this home, the dissatisfaction of still being a band struggling for cred when “at this age” something should be different; it’s not an uncommon refrain, yet Signals Midwest are doing it the best of anybody else out there this year.

56. Diarrhea Planet – Turn To Gold

The boys with the best band name in the business stumble after a collection of great EPs and their fantastic sophomore effort, I am Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams. A collection of perhaps one too many lead singers and an unwelcome slowing down of their pace rob the planet of some of their four guitar punk verve. Still, second half of the record kind of rules.

55. Against Me! – Shape Shift With Me

Unlike Taking Back Sunday, who put out a sexist, flaccid version of this record on the same day, Laura Jane Grace returns with a fitting follow-up to 2014s enraged, powerful Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Focusing on inward romantic feelings this time, Grace keeps her pen filled with bilious ink, and some of the tracks are particularly incisive (“Delicate, Pretty & Other Things I’ll Never Be” feels particularly amazing). There’s nothing to compare toTDB’s incediary, unbelievable title track, yet “333,” “Crash,” and “Rebecca” to a damned good job.

54. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

The world needs Tribe. The resurgence of politically and socially active hip-hop taking over the airwaves has been seemingly undone by miscreants and idiots like Drake and Young Thug, leading to the fall of Kendrick Lamar, Vince Staples, or even Anderson .Paak from the charts. The world needs Tribe, because the world needs to feel connected to something from beyond this present moment. From the moment the dissonant voices flood in from “The Space Program” to the final call out to Phife on “The Donald,” Tribe’s ostensible mission with their one full comeback effort is to unite the disparate elements of protest, to bring together those who might’ve been lost. Consequence and Busta Rhymes show up prolifically, Busta most often feeling like he’s actually trying instead of just spitting his personality. Kanye West gets relegated to being a hook man on a song that reunited Consequence, West and Talib Kweli under the Tribe banner. “Bennie and the Jets” gets sampled. The funk never really stops, sometimes ascending into space (“the Space Program”) and sometimes seeming rooted firmly in the ground of the African American neighborhood’s Tribe inhabit (“We the People…”). Tribe Called Quest never stopped being essential, they just disappeared for a little while, as most do. Te world needs Tribe. In a final bit of tragedy, this fantastic return is probably the last time the world will ever really get Tribe again.

53. Descendents – Hypercaffium Spazzinate

Milo returns! The seminal punk band return with their best record in two decades (not saying too much, they put out a record about once a decade). Combining the flowery high production values of their later work with the caustic, temporary elation of their earlier blasts, Descendents prove the old guys can still do it just as good (if not sometimes better) than the people they have influenced. Don’t miss “Without Love.”

52. Connections – Midnight Run

Retro-fitting classic punk-rock into the modern sphere is a tried and true method of garnering some cultural favor, if not always coming off as something interesting. Connections, and their fourth record Midnight Run, thankfully, have quite a few interesting curve balls to throw in the way of that formula. Combining the sometimes metaphysical and impressionistic verses of Guided by Voices with The Replacements style guitars, Midnight Run is a breezy half hour of crunchy guitars, reverb laden vocals and pulsing baselines. 

51. Slothrust – Everyone Else

Burst into fame for being the insanely infectious theme song to FX’s tragicomedy You’re the Worst, Slothrust combine some of the nastiest bits of bluesy rock riffage with punk’s righteous furor. Lead singer Leah Wellbaum has the deep voiced howl to match compatriots like Bully and White Lung, and her sardonic nihilism in the face of abusive and meritless relationships is icy cold and clever (album highlight “Trial & Error” is everything of Slothrust pushed into under 90 seconds). A more metered, bizarre and cowpokey middle portion gives way to an absolutely titanic closing three tracks on a record that expands and explodes Slothrust’s sound and potential.

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