It’s that time of the year again. I’ve cast my mind back over the last twelve or so months and picked what I consider to be my favourite records of the year, ranking them as such. I’m late with this list (as I always am), and having compared it to those from publications which had their shit together, it seems that I’m not quite on their level in terms of scope and preference. As has been the case since I started this yearly fixture, this list is the list of a guy who likes sad songs more than happy songs, who likes punk more than pop, heavy stuff over hip-hop. I’m still okay with that, and this list is still highly representative of my tastes this year. Maybe they’re tastes I need to broaden, maybe not. Regardless, here it is:
101) Arrows In Her – It Tired Me All The Same (Bandcamp DL)
100) Peaer – Peaer (Bandcamp DL)
99) Vinnie Caruana – Survivor’s Guilt (Bandcamp DL)
98) Microwave – Much Love (Bandcamp DL)
97) John K. Samson – Winter Wheat (Bandcamp DL)
96) Flower Face – Fever Dreams (Bandamp DL)
95) Dowsing – Okay (Bandcamp DL)
94) From Indian Lakes – Everything Feels Better Now (Bandcamp DL)
93) Chris Farren – Can’t Die (Bandcamp DL)
92) Anthony Jay Sanders – I Will Be The One Who Goes (Bandcamp DL)
91) Henrietta – Paper Wings
90) Norma Jean – Polar Similar
89) Ruby The RabitFoot – Divorce Party
88) Real Friends – The Home Inside My Head
87) Young and Heartless – Stay Away (Review)
86) Muncie Girls – From Caplan To Belsize (Bandcamp DL)
85) If These Trees Could Talk – The Bones Of A Dying World (Bandcamp DL)
84) Emily Jane White – They Moved In Shadow All Together (Bandcamp DL)
83) Diarrhea Planet – Turn To Gold
82) Deftones – Gore
81) Brightside – Good Enough
80) Casey – Love Is Not Enough
79) Billy Talent – Afraid of Heights
78) Balance & Composure – Light We Made (Bandcamp DL)
77) Anthony Green – Pixie Queen (Bandcamp DL)
76) Crying – Beyond The Fleeting Gales (Bandcamp DL)
75) The Dear Hunter – Act V: Hymns With The Devil In Confessional
74) Empty Houses – Daydream (Bandcamp DL)
73) Giants – Break The Cycle
72) JANK – Versace Summer (Bandcamp DL)
71) How To Dress Well – Care
70) Kevin Devine – Instigator (Bandcamp DL)
69) Charles Bradley – Changes
68) Mothers – When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired (Bandcamp DL)
67) Orbs – Past Life Regression
66) Radical Face – The Family Tree: The Leaves
65) Slingshot Dakota – Break (Bandcamp DL)
64) Weekend Nachos – Apology
63) Tancred – Out of the Garden (Bandcamp DL)
62) Museum Mouth – Popcorn Fish Guinea Pig (Bandcamp DL)
61) Adia Victoria – Beyond The Bloodhounds
60) Lonely The Brave – Things Will Matter
59) James Blake – The Colour In Anything
58) Gates – Parallel Lives (Bandcamp DL)
57) Frightened Rabbit – Painting Of A Panic Attack
56) Fatherson – Open Book
55) Explosions in the Sky – The Wilderness (Bandcamp DL)
54) Departures – Death Touches Us, From The Moment We Begin To Live (Bandcamp DL)
53) Bury Tomorrow – Earthbound
52) TTNG – Disappointment Island (Bandcamp DL)
51) Saosin – Along the Shadow
50) Prince Daddy & The Hyena – I Thought You Didn’t Even Like Leaving (Bandcamp DL)
49) Teen Suicide – It’s The Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir The Honeypot (Bandcamp DL)
48) Nails – You Will Never Be One Of Us
47) Joyce Manor – Cody (Bandcamp DL)
46) Emarosa – 131
45) Dikembe – Hail Something (Bandcamp DL)
44) Boston Manor – Be Nothing. (Bandcamp DL)
43) Beach Slang – A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings (Bandcamp DL)
42) Biffy Clyro – Ellipsis
41) Hesitation Wounds – Awake For Everything (Bandcamp DL)
40) Foy Vance – The Wild Sawn
39) Jeff Rosenstock – Worry. (Bandcamp DL)
38) letlive. – If I’m The Devil
37) Posture and the Grizzly – I Am Satan (Bandcamp DL)
36) Sleep Weather – Lake Joy / Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
35) The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociation
34) Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo
33) Jamie T – Trick
32) Daughter – Not To Disappear
31) Bon Iver – 22, A Million
30) Frameworks – Smother (Bandcamp DL)
29) PUP – The Dream Is Over (Bandcamp DL)
28) Matt Corby – Telluric
27) Mitski – Puberty 2 (Bandcamp DL)
26) Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial (Bandcamp DL)
25) Angel Olsen – My Woman (Bandcamp DL)
24) Taking Back Sunday – Tidal Wave
23) Into It. Over It. – Standards (Bandcamp DL)
22) Tiny Moving Parts – Celebrate (Bandcamp DL)
21) For Everest – We Are At Home In The Body (Bandcamp DL)
20) American Football – (II) American Football have aged well, bringing their exquisite sad-jams into the twenty first century, after their first self-titled record closed out the twentieth. Melancholic, introspective and impeccably put together, LP2 is excellent – polished and contemplative. A triumphant, emotionally turbulent return. (Bandcamp DL)
19) Thrice – To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere As anthemic as rock music gets, Thrice’s ninth studio LP was suitably huge, packing punch after punch. A thunderous rollercoaster of a record, which remains pleasingly reluctant to let up.
18) Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool For a record which remains relatively mid-tempo throughout, A Moon Shaped Pool sounds like Radiohead’s largest record. It’s shimmering and unsettling; a meditative masterpiece as deep as the Pacific, Thom Yorke and co. treading water alongside the constant fear of drowning.
17) Deer Leap – Impermanence Following on from their excellent debut LP Here. Home. and an equally excellent split with The World Is A Beautiful Place…. Deer Leap then delivered with one of the best emo records of 2016. Instrumentally focused, Impermanence unfolds gloriously, the vocals and lyrics serving to supplement the overall product. It’s an absorbing listen, as well as one which seems to have been ultimately overlooked this year. Shame, given how great it is. (Bandcamp DL)
16) Yndi Halda – Under Summer Boldly clocking in at 58 minutes across only four tracks, Under Summer seems the definition of expansive, the double LP featuring one track per side. It gives plenty of time for songs to unfurl and blossom, to recede and then crash into life. It goes through the motions, seasons spanning songs, post-rock and wintry with dashes of summer. It’s immensely rewarding to pay attention to the way in which songs unfold, and when the band hit their crescendo peaks they touch upon post-rock perfection. I saw these guys open for mewithoutYou in Brighton, and I doubt that there was anybody in the audience who wasn’t enthralled by the time they finished their three-song set. Under Summer is bliss, at its best without vocals, vocals and lyrics which unfortunately prevent it from placing higher up this list. Still, sixteenth isn’t a bad effort at all. (Bandcamp DL)
15) Architects – All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us, It’s been a difficult year for Architects, but 2016 was also the year which saw them release their strongest record to date. All Our Gods... was a brutal, essential release which saw the Brighton band push themselves further than ever before -technically, lyrically and sonically.
14) Brian Fallon – Painkillers The Gaslight Anthem frontman’s first solo LP cemented Brian Fallon as one of the best songwriters of his generation, taking the American influences of his youth and building upon them. It makes for a record which feels familiar to long-time fans, but offers far more than Fallon was able to when with The Gaslight Anthem or The Horrible Crowes. A gorgeous record with a great deal of heart and soul behind it, spinning stories well-worth listening to. Honey Magnolia and Nobody Wins sit near the top of my most-played songs for the year. I played the record into its entirety for my parents during a cross-country drive, and they gave it their approval. That alone seems to suggest that Painkillers is something quite special. Long live Brian Fallon.
13) Moose Blood – Blush No sophomore slump, and certainly a candidate for comeback of the year. More polished and pop than the bands 2014 debut I’ll Keep You In Mind From Time To Time, Blush was cathartic and radio-friendly, a ray of sunshine to close out the summer. Moose Blood can currently do no wrong, and their second LP is excellent, establishing them as the shining hope for emo-tinged British rock music. (Review)
12) Oathbreaker – Rheia Released as the days began to darken early in September, Rheia remains absolutely devastating in the depths of December- loud, uncompromising and ferocious. It’s quieter moments tend to be its weakest moments, but when Oathbreaker are at their most brash no other band is quite able to compete. If proof is needed, Second Son Of R is one of the year’s most striking selections, featuring a final minute which is sure to curdle insides. It’s become the substitute for my morning coffee, and it works just as well – maybe even better. I gave it a spin before sitting down to write this list, and 2,000 words later it’s still giving me chills. (Bandcamp DL)
11) Frank Ocean – Blonde It’s been a fairly long time coming, but Blonde was certainly worth the wait. Experimental, innovative, and a record which only Frank Ocean could really pull off. From the distorted vocals of opener Nikes to the seductive sheen of Solo, Ocean is on top of his game.
10) Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost 2016, in terms of pop-punk, has belonged to Modern Baseball, undoubtedly – and rightly so. The band seem to have gone from strength to strength this year, and Holy Ghost seems to embody everything which has seen them do so. Their most positive record, their most mature, and potentially their best (if not for the cult status of Sports), Holy Ghost didn’t really do much wrong. It’s catchy, cathartic, excellently penned, and it sees the band develop a great deal. Definitive final track Just Another Face was a firm fist-in-the-air anthem, a beacon of hope in a year that tried so hard to quash any suggestion of improvement with shitty situation upon shitty situation. Records rarely come easier to enjoy than this one does.
9) The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It With their second record The 1975 became the global superstars they’d seemed tipped to become after their self-titled debut, topping the charts in their home country and stateside. It capped the bands meteoric rise to prominence, and fully justified the hype prior to release. Smart, sophisticated, and polished to perfection, it was a record which dabbled in a few different styles and made the most of all of them. Paris is choice pick on a record full of hits.
8) Every Time I Die – Low Teens Every Time I Die can do no wrong. Fact. Across the bands lengthy discography they’ve rarely slipped below an 8/10, and with their most recent effort they hit a solid 9 – as if any less was to be expected. Ferocious, unrelenting, and with a great deal of lyrical depth, the band fire on all cylinders, churning out riff after riff after riff. Nobody in heavy music does it better, and Low Teens is the sound of the band very, very close to their best.
7) Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp There’s a highly intoxicating quality to Psychopomp, making it a record well worth drinking it. It’s beautifully absorbing, and it flows like water from one likeable track to the next. It’s the soundtrack to submersion, late night drives and early sunrise morning. It feels very much alive, emotional and affecting as it progresses from spellbinding selection to selection. I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve been lost in sixth track Jane Cum this year. It’s truly mesmerising, as is most of Psychopomp, exquisitely lovely while vulnerable and volatile. Get lost.
6) Pinegrove – Cardinal Pinegrove are special, and have well and truly blown up in 2016, ending the year on numerous AOTY lists – this one included. The delightful blending of Americana, indie and emo made for a record which is cathartic, catchy, and incredibly memorable. For the first half of the year Cardinal was my go-to record, the soundtrack to six months spent stateside in Georgia. I have fond memories of wandering around Montgomery, Alabama – a city I wasn’t too keen on – with a record I was especially keen on. Standout track Aphasia has been a very important song from a personal perspective, and I can relate a lot to the lyrics on there, having come out of my shell with a record to accompany doing so. Pinegrove deserve every ounce of praise they’ve garnered this year: Cardinal is quite something.
5) Lucy Dacus – No Burden Lucy Dacus is a talent, no doubt. Subtly epic, emotional and introspective, her debut LP is a gift of warm indie-rock outpourings. It’s as confessional as it is light-hearted, not entirely serious, yet not entirely dismissive either. It’s an absorbing and contemplative release, which mixes expansive slow-burners (Map On A Wall) with punchy, fast-paced selections such as opener I Don’t Want To Be Funny Anymore. No Burden, at times, feels heavily burdened, Dacus’ rich and smooth vocals weighted, but the record never feels wearied per se. Lyrically it’s crammed with observations sparking anxieties, of otherness and emptiness, of adolescence encapsulated. The narratives Dacus spins are engrossing and self-affirming, highlights Troublemaker Doppelganger and Dream State sitting at different ends of the spectrum, but each definitely delivering. What makes No Burden all the most worthy of compliment is the fact that it was recorded in a single day, and that Dacus was twenty at the time. It seems easy, then to draw comparisons to Julien Baker, whose 2015 record Sprained Ankle also placed highly on my list last year. Dacus more than deserves similar levels of recognition, and her brilliant debut should surely garner it.
4) The Hotelier – Goodness The people were eager, and the critics were keen. Very few records in 2016 have carried the weight of expectations as heavily as Goodness, and The Hotelier seemed fully aware of that fact. Having established themselves prominently with 2014’s Home, Like No Place Is There, the bands third LP had promise to deliver upon, and deliver it did. Not as brash as its predecessor, and nor as emotionally cathartic, Goodness marked a subtle shift towards a more mature approach. Where Home… seemed to thrive amidst negative emotions, its follow-up was unafraid to be positive, sunlight streaming across the sonic surface. It’s the sound of moving on without forgetting the past, a bold step forward which builds on the bands discography and strays from their emo-revival roots into more fully-fledged fields of rock. That being said, Goodness isn’t all camp-fire spoken-word lullabies and feel-good fluctuations; throughout there’s a striking sense of urgency which borders on an unravelling. At times, Goodness feels very much a make-or-break record, but The Hotelier make it. Put together with careful consideration regarding narrative pacing and development, the bands third record is absorbing and intricately crafted. It rises to constant peaks, and its lulls still manage to shine. It’s finely balanced between subdued and explosive at all of the right moments, instrumentals relenting during some of Christian Holden’s most striking lyrics and then erupting back into life during some of the more affirming moments. In terms of composition, Goodness excels. Second track Goodness Pt.2 ends up sounding strangely ecstatic, while later cuts Soft Animal, Sun and You In This Light are glorious as they blend together in a bundle of refrained joy, the dark eclipsed by intricate melodies and them warm hum ushering them along. I have fond memories of these songs in particular, which played as I wandered along the edge of Toronto Centre Island and watched the city rise a mile away above the water. If there was a day this year at which everything fell into place, it was that one, and The Hotelier played their part in that pocket of island bliss by the shore.
3) Touché Amore – Stage Four, Written in the aftermath of death, and dealing with the grief process, few records this year have proved as intense as Stage Four dared to be. Penned with crippling honesty by vocalist Jeremy Bolm, the record took a listener through a process, and it didn’t spare them any of the personal details. Having lost somebody myself a few years ago to similar circumstances, the record brought back a lot of the emotions which I’d attempted to subdue at the time. It was good to revisit that period, and the way I often felt during – the more I listen to Stage Four the more it seems healthy to do so. As s result of this relevance, Stage Four was a release which was awarded a great deal of my time. Then again, even without the personal ties it would have merited listen after later. Placed within a discography of great records Stage Four is Touché Amore’s best, far more accomplished instrumentally, lyrically and vocally than any which came before. Branching out into grounds more melodic the band were able to expand their sound, and it shows clearly on closer Skyscraper, which resonates long after it has rounded off the record. Stage Four was Touché Amore at their most confident, their most endearing, and by far their most affecting.
2) Camp Cope – Camp Cope (ST) I slept on Australian band Camp Cope for too long this year, and I’d like to apologise for doing so. The band’s debut record sat neglected in my iTunes library for a while before I stumbled upon it when shuffling during a long afternoon of studying in September. After that initial discovery I’d like to think that I made up for the time I’d passed over it – by playing it constantly. It’s rare that I find a record which seems to suddenly eclipse any other release which may also prove to be deserving of my time. For a good three weeks, I was fully hooked on Camp Cope, and I’ve managed to dwindle my addiction to a few spins per week since realising that it was taking over. From the opening notes of Done, this is a record which does everything to make a listener feel something, dynamic and bombastic, strummed chords and laden drums backing the intense and affecting delivery of vocalist Georgia Maq – who spills her soul openly across the records eight songs. From familial relationships, to mental health problems, to misogynistic assholes on street corners, to the extortionate price of train tickets, everything falls under clever scrutiny. It makes for a record which feels wholly relatable while also somewhat alienating. Maq is smart and convincing, and her conviction is emphasised using memorable hooks and an absorbing punk-rock aesthetic. She sounds drained by the world around her, but channels it in a way which highlights and rallies. Camp Cope is infectious and uncompromising, impossible to shake once its shaken you.
1) Martha – Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart 2016 hasn’t been the best year; we can all acknowledge that fact. Politically it’s been a mess, and at times it seemed as if the year was throwing punch after punch, beating civilization down into a wearied submission. Even now, two weeks into December, ‘Christmas spirit’ isn’t quite enough to quash the bitter aftertaste the last eleven months have left in the collective mouths of humanity. I watched a stage adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and it didn’t manage to move me a great deal. I felt festive, granted, but I didn’t feel particularly optimistic about the ghost of things to come. I’ve needed Martha for that, and therefore 2016 has needed Martha also. Hell, it’s been lucky to have then, and no other record this year has stuck with me quite as much as Blisters has. It’s been a constant companion, in midnight Greyhound stations in North America, and in shopping market aisles back in the UK while trying to pay off the Greyhound trips of North America. I’ve always had Martha, and the year has been better for their persistent presence. For me, Blisters has been the consistent definition of a feel-good record, always sparking smiles on listening, sublimely infectious and upbeat. It’s fun and frenetic, churning along, fuelled by iron bru and high spirits. It’s sunshine in a CD, a summer soundtrack compact disc which is impossible to resist. Blisters, for the sake of a name-sake reference, is blistering, full of lushly layered vocal melodies and hook upon hook upon hook. It’s the catchiest record I’ve heard in a long time, and it’ll probably stay that way for a while. Nothing else from 2016 has come close to making an impression in the same way that Martha’s second LP has. For that reason (amongst many others) it deserves to champion this list – just as Martha champion a keen DIY approach to their music, and the same way they champion a generation so much at odds with the world they find themselves in. Given the good times galore on the record, it’s easy to forget Blisters‘ political edge, but it persists throughout, the sound of the disenfranchised giving themselves a voice – a voice which cannot be ignored once its chirped up. Martha are everything that is right in modern music, and fair play to them.