2016 may have been a real shit year for, well, damn near everything else, but it managed to be a great year for new music. And with the year finally over, who are we at Type In Stereo to resist the siren song of another “best albums of the year” list? Buckle up, kids. Let’s do this.
5. Letters to Lost Loves by Tyson Motsenbocker. There were a handful of albums contending for this final spot, from PUP’s rambunctious The Dream Is Over to Panic! At the Disco’s surprisingly enjoyable Death of A Bachelor but I’m going to go with a more subdued choice in Letters to Lost Loves. Motsenbocker’s debut full-length is slow and thoughtful with the kind of earnest, singer-songwriter melancholia that I thought had faded into history. For some, the album’s lack of high-octane punch will undoubtedly create a barrier to entry, but they’ll be missing out on some truly great songs like the windswept ‘House in the Hills’ and ‘In Your Name,’ an elegiac crisis of faith written in the wake of Motsenbocker’s mother’s death. Relative to the other albums on this list, Letters to Lost Loves feels simple but that simplicity can be misleading; there’s something special here, something powerful.
4. Passengers by Artifex Pereo. Over the course of their three-album career, Artifex Pereo have managed to seamlessly blend a wide variety of stylistic genre elements into practically each of their songs. Case in point: after I introduced the band to one of my friends with Passengers, he suggested that the album sounded like a cross between Deas Vail and The Fall of Troy. Which it kind of does. And which is completely ridiculous (and awesome) because those are extremely disparate bands. That ability to be all over the sonic map without ever feeling out of place may be Artifex’s greatest gift and it’s in full force on Passengers. Songs move from violent, screaming breakdowns to delicate falsetto to frenetic, noodly riffing in a few moments and none of it ever feels forced or hackneyed. The strong song construction continues beyond the music as there are solid lyrical ideas here as well, even if they’re often buried in a poetic style (‘Enterprise of Empire,’ for instance, condemns the violence and destruction of American imperialism). With so much going on, this is a record best served by active listening; there’s plenty of material to hold your attention as you sit with your headphones on tight.
3. dear me by Owel. Do you like pretty things? I like pretty things and my god if this album isn’t just gorgeous. dear me might be the prettiest album I’ve heard in a long time. Owel exists in this small sonic space at the edge of post rock where they continue to do their own thing in the most beautiful way. Jay Sakong’s otherworldly vocals and his preternatural feel for melody are truly phenomenal but everyone in this band is killing it on this record, from Ryan Vargas’s diverse beats to Jane Park’s emotive string arrangements. dear me is definitely Owel’s most cohesive and continuous release to date and it offers a damn near perfect introduction to one of the scene’s brightest young bands.
2. To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere by Thrice. I’ll admit, I was skeptical. While there are exceptions, reunion albums rarely go well and when I heard that Thrice was ending their four year hiatus with a new album, I worried that we’d be getting something that fell short of the high standard that the band had set with their previous work. Instead it turns out I was stupid to doubt Thrice, a band that’s been remarkably committed to the integrity of their craft since I was fucking up Spanish verb conjugations in middle school. From the opening acoustic chords of ‘Hurricane,’ which brilliantly presage the thunderous wall of sound that follows, through the final disconsolate lament of our digital lives in ‘Salt and Shadow,’ To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere is fantastic. In fact, it makes a strong case for inclusion on the short list of Thrice’s greatest releases. It is really, truly good to have these guys back. (And cheers to them for taking Gates on tour and giving us this incredible moment.)
1. Parallel Lives by Gates. When I wrote about Parallel Lives earlier this year I looked at the album with a grand, sweeping approach. Let’s flip that perspective today and focus on one song: album opener ‘Forget’ which happens to be one of the single most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. I’ve had the good fortune to, as either a listener or a performer, be a part of some truly beautiful music. I’ve seen Sigur Rós perform ‘Untitled 1,’ I’ve reviewed albums built around beauty, and in college I was fortunate enough to sing Biebl’s ‘Ave Maria’ in the world’s largest effing cathedral. This not-so-humble bragging is all to say: I know a thing or two about beautiful music. And there are few songs whose beauty more consistently moves me than ‘Forget,’ a track that still gives me goosebumps every single time I listen to it, despite that count now reaching into the hundreds. It’s a magnificent song; it breaks me with its soft, strong serenity only to swell up and reaffirm that this breaking is not only okay, but exceptional, a sign that there is beauty and meaning in the world, and in my life. If that kind of emotional response doesn’t convince you of a song’s greatness, then I don’t know what will.
5. Redneck Shit by Wheeler Walker Jr. This was one I struggled to put so high but in the end the songs were just too good and I ended up listening to it more than any other album this year, probably. For those not in the know, Wheeler Walker Jr. is the alter-ego of comedian Ben Hoffman and his shtick is playing “real” country music that hearkens back to the greats like Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. Oh, and the lyrics are all dirty and funny as shit. Some of my favorites are ‘Eatin’ Pussy/Kickin’ Ass’ and ‘Sit on My Face,’ so you can kind of get the idea. What makes this album so great though is that not only are all the songs actually really good and super catchy, but his backing band is absolutely phenomenal. Add in production by the great Dave Cobb and you have a bonafide hit on your hands. Even for those who claim to not like country, I challenge you to listen to this album and not at least laugh your ass off.
4. To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere by Thrice. I assumed that Thrice’s new album would be my top album of the year before I had even heard a note of it and, after its May release, it managed to keep that spot up until a couple weeks ago. Thrice’s return was my most anticipated moment of all 2016 and they did not disappoint. ‘Hurricane’ is one of the best songs they have ever written and ‘Salt and Shadow’ marked a long awaited return to the much loved ambient sound of The Alchemy Index, Vol. II: Water. The entire album was absolutely fantastic and delivered the Thrice album I had been waiting for since the final installment of The Alchemy Index. It’s heavy, it’s melodic, it’s everything Beggars and Major/Minor weren’t. That being said, after listening to it nonstop for three or four months my interest eventually waned. It is still a phenomenal album – one of the stronger efforts in their rich catalog, no less – but 2016 was an incredibly strong year for music and, at this point, I can’t help but view the next three albums as just slightly better for one reason or another.
3. A War Against You by Ignite. After a ten year wait since their last album, Our Darkest Days, Ignite is finally back with an album that absolutely blew away my already high expectations. Between Our Darkest Days and A War Against You, vocalist Zoli Téglás put out a very good album with the boys in Pennywise which helped tide over eager fans such as myself, but even that was nothing compared to A War Against You. While still having roots in hardcore, Ignite has become more of a melodic punk-rock band akin to the better years of Rise Against. They have always been able to create some amazing songs that act as a backdrop for Zoli’s voice which I consider one of the best ever in rock or any of its sub-genres. That’s a bold claim, I know, but that is how good is voice is. A War Against You is no different as his vocals absolutely soar. The songs have more edge than they did on Our Darkest Days but in the end, what sets this album apart from other Ignite records – and the other albums of 2016 – is it’s repeatability. I can listen to this album over and over again (and I have); it hits in all the right spots and has very few misfires.
2. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth by Sturgill Simpson. Another “country” album for ya’ll. I swear, Texas has turned me. Yet, country is in quotes back there because if you’ve heard this album then you know it’s much more than just a country album. Sturgill Simpson takes the outlaw style of his first two albums and has added in a hint of blues, a splash of funk, and even a pinch of doo-wop to create one of the most intriguing albums in recent memory. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is a concept album in a way, with Simpson singing to his son with lessons about life, trying to leave a piece of himself behind in case anything should happen to him. Like I said, this is a country album at its core but there is much more going on. Even more amazing is that Sturgill chose to ditch longtime producer and friend Dave Cobb in order to produce the album by himself. That is quite the undertaking for someone who is also putting out his major label debut but I think it’s safe to say that his endeavor was successful as A Sailor’s Guide to Earth was nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year alongside heavy hitters Beyonce, Adele, Drake and Justin Bieber. Oh yeah, and there is a great cover of Nirvana’s ‘In Bloom’ too!
1. Parallel Lives by Gates. Anyone that knows me will not be surprised that Gates is on my list but they may be surprised that they ended up at the top. When Parallel Lives first dropped on June 3rd (my birthday!) I was honestly confused. Their previous album, Bloom & Breathe, was not only my album of the year in 2014, but also one of my favorites of the past decade. Parallel Lives is not Bloom & Breathe. While the band didn’t completely change their sound, as Parallel Lives is very much a Gates album, they did change the tone and delivery quite a bit. My little ears were not ready at first for that change, so while I liked a handful of things about the new record I knew I needed more time with it to truly form my opinion. After summer ended and the weather started to change a bit I picked up the album again and have not really put it down since. This is an album that can be listened to over and over again while still discovering new things; the replayability of this album, for lack of a better term, is off the charts. There are of course the songs that jump right out at you, instant stand outs such as ‘Eyes’ (my personal favorite song of the year), ‘Shiver,’ and ‘Penny,’ but the album’s true greatness is in its deeper cuts. Case in point: I had the pleasure of seeing them close a show with ‘Left Behind’ and the band’s performance completely solidified that song’s greatness for me. ‘House & Home,’ ‘Color Worn’ and ‘Fade’ are other great examples of the album’s depth. My favorite album of all time is Vheissu by Thrice because I can listen to it a million times and it still sounds fresh; Parallel Lives has that same quality and I look forward to spending the next 10 years listening to it just as much as I have listened to Vheissu.
5. Turn to Gold by Diarrhea Planet. This album came out at the right time for me. I was ending a brutal school year teaching, and along came DP to shred my face off with non-stop rock and some of the best guitar solos I’ve heard in a while. For some reason I love the fact that everything about this band is excessive (the name, four guitars, songs about riding a motorcycle in heaven with baby Jesus, etc.) and yet nothing feels forced in any way. This album could be summed up in two words for me: incredibly fun. And at the end of that school year, I needed some fun.
4. To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere by Thrice. If you would have asked me in June what my No.1 record would have been this would have been it. It hit hard from the get go with one of the best riffs/songs I’ve ever heard from Thrice, and didn’t let up. Also throw into the mix is the revelation that Dustin decided to write an entirely political record. It was a true return to form from the boys from Irvine, and man is it good to have them back. ‘Black Honey’ might also be one of the best metaphors I’ve ever heard in a song. I got to see them live twice this year and each show was great. The fact that they are not my top album this year is just a testament to how much good freaking music there was this year.
3. Parallel Lives by Gates. I should note that Gates is pretty much my favorite current band. And this album for me was pure gravy. Let me explain. Back in 2012 I was talking with Gates’ vocalist Kevin Dye and he said that the band was contemplating either hanging it up after their two EPs or really going for it and giving absolutely everything to the band. I said a silent prayer right then and there to the patron saint of great-bands-who-perpetually-deserve-to-be-bigger (Saint Treos?) that if I could just get one full length from Gates and have the chance to see them live at least once, I would be eternally grateful. They went on to release Bloom & Breathe (an all-time top five record for me and my No.1 for 2014), and I’ve since seen them live four times. Praise be. So like I said, anything extra is gravy to me. When Parallel Lives was released, I really liked it but like all great albums, it took a few months for me to realize just how good it was. It could easily be at the top of my list. At first songs like ‘Eyes,’ ‘Shiver,’ and ‘Left Behind’ grabbed me because of their ability to rock, but the real growers were the mellow numbers ‘House & Home’ and ‘Fade.’ I’ll always love a band that is not afraid to go in new directions and Gates does so with vigor. They have truly begun to master their craft. I never expected to get so many songs from these guys, and I’m so glad I have. But seriously, just one more LP….please.
2. Low Teens by Every Time I Die. How often is it that a band releases one of their best records – maybe even their best record – as their eighth album? Well ETID has done it. I will admit that I liked Ex-Lives but didn’t totally love From Parts Unknown. They were great, but their move towards way-faster drumming wasn’t a shift that I particularly loved. It wasn’t bad, it just made a few of the songs sound a bit similar. I liked the more mid-tempo, varied stuff from the trio of albums (Gutter Phenomenon, The Big Dirty, New Junk Aesthetic) that came before. But the addition of new drummer Daniel Davison has brought them back to that slightly slowed down sweet spot. There is tremendous variety on this record and yet it doesn’t sound disjointed at all. The riffs are insane, the bass pounding, the screaming/singing perfectly desperate and angry. Every song has a place. The sound is as brutal as ever and the band feels like it has new life. Also worth mentioning: like with Stage Four, the lyrical content is incredibly heavy-hitting, having to do with Keith Buckley’s near loss of his wife and newborn daughter in childbirth. Lines like “I can’t survive knowing love is not enough,” and “what I need is a cigarette, not more prayer” hit hard and hit home. Had this been released earlier in the year, it may have even edged out my top album of the year.
1. The Dream Is Over by PUP. This record is a combination of pure punk genius and perfect timing. Like I said earlier, I was having a rough school year, and on top of that a rough year in general, and right in the middle of all that this album dropped. Listening to The Dream Is Over whilst in those depths was one of the most cathartic musical experiences I’ve had. I frequently changed the line, “If this tour doesnt kill you, I will” to “If this year doesn’t kill you” and grafted all manner of people into the song to fit my mood. Also, the music is bar none fantastic; there is some influence in the guitar playing that I can’t identify that separates PUP from the proverbial pack. Add into that the slightly bratty lyrics that combine the perfect amounts of self deprecation, profanity and some real piss-and-vinegar and you get an album that I listened to more than any other this year. Plus they were fantastic live and seemed like some genuine dudes.
If you want to hear more about this awesome year in music, check out Casey’s extended year-in-review here.