Top 10 Albums of 2016

I’ve listened to 100s of hours of music. I’ve listened to the same albums over and over again. After many hours of agonizing deliberation here are my top 10 albums of 2016. There were so many good albums this year that I contemplated doing a top 15 or 20 but no. No, I said. I must whittle them down to 10. Although, stay tuned I’m doing an article about my honorable mentions and why they didn’t quite make the cut.

This year I’ve switched from Spotify links to Apple Music links. Sorry, if that’s an issue but we’re an Apple household and Apple Music makes more sense. I’m sure you can figure out how to listen to these albums on Spotify. After each album you’ll get the link to the album and at the end you’ll get a link to the playlist of one song off each album. Alright, got it? Here we go!

10. Solange – A Seat at the Table (Columbia Records)

While her sister is busy racking up number one spots on every other best of list I vastly preferred this album. At 21 tracks and 50 minutes this album seems like it might be pretty daunting but it is downright breezy. The album features many interludes that start out appearing every few songs and then end up being between every song. And each one fits the track it’s about to introduce perfectly. I found myself enjoying every second of the album and actually being shocked when it was over. I couldn’t believe 50 wonderful, soulful, daring minutes had passed.

Link: https://itun.es/us/m0khfb

9. Joyce Manor – Cody (Epitaph)

Joyce Manor quietly released their best album back in August. So quietly that I only listened to it twice and then…..kind of forgot about it. When I went to go make this list I saw Joyce Manor and couldn’t for the life of me remember what I thought. I was sure it wouldn’t make the top 10 but I ended up listening to it twice in a row. By the end of the second listen I was in love with it. Joyce Manor has grown up and made their most mature album yet. All while still retaining all the things you love about Joyce Manor.

Link: https://itun.es/us/KN5-db

8. Newmoon – Space (Mayfly Records)

In 2014 Newmoon released their criminally under-appreciated debut EP Invitation to Hold. After that I assumed that maybe they had called it quits. But now here we are over two years later with their stunning debut album. Space is everything you wanted it to be. Delivering on the promise of Invitation… but expanding and refining its sound into one of the best rock records of the year. No one did reverb better in 2016 than Newmoon.

Link: https://itun.es/us/tT_Efb

7. Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost (Run for Cover)

Speaking of pop-punk bands getting mature. No one embraced that this year more than Modern Baseball. Their last album was a mostly light-hearted romp about girls breaking your heart. This album is centered around missing loved ones both alive and dead, depression, suicide, and hopefully getting better. The only question now is whether or not these guys are going to cheer up by their next album.

Link: https://itun.es/us/JNa2ab

6. Sioux Falls – Rot Forever (Broken World Media)

Rot Forever the debut album by Sioux Falls (now known as Strange Ranger) makes zero sense on paper. 72 minutes of music that is supposed to sound like the entire range of indie rock in the 90s. Miraculously the band pulls it off flawlessly. Rot Forever sounds like an album you found in your older brother’s car. Something formative, exhaustive, that you could listen to every day without getting bored of it. How they could ever follow this up I have no idea but it’ll definitely be exciting.

Link: https://itun.es/us/pdG7_

5. The Hotelier – Goodness (Tiny Engines)

In one fell swoop The Hotelier cemented their place in the Emo revival with their incredible 2014 album Home, Like Noplace is There. Just a little over two years later the band returns with the grandiose Goodness. Everything from the announcement of the album to the packaging is infinitely more intricate than Home. And that goes for the music too. The band effortlessly weaves from spoken word interludes to tight chaotic indie rock jams. It’s the bands first attempt at inching towards something epic and they nail it. It’s clear that The Hotelier didn’t want to be pigeonholed as just another Emo band and they deftly dodged that tag with Goodness.

Link: https://itun.es/us/Q8tkbb

4. Balance and Composure – Light We Made (Vagrant)

The first time I heard Postcard the lead single from Balance and Composure’s third album it made me a bit weary. First of all it ripped off Radiohead’s I Might be Wrong and second of all…..it didn’t sound anything like Balance and Composure. Had the band gone off the deep end? We’re they trying to commit career suicide? Nope, turns out they made their best album. The album in full doesn’t sound that much different from the band’s previous work. They just added new layers on top of their existing sound. Light We Made is one of the most refreshing original sounding rock records of the year.

Link: https://itun.es/us/GzFOdb

3. Into It. Over It. – Standards (Triple Crown Records)

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Standards is the best Into It. Over It. album. The album is filled to the brim with rock solid pop-rock with just enough embellishments to make things interesting. These songs are easy to listen to and I don’t mean that as a negative. I mean that the album feels like its over before it begins and then you just want to start it again. After the first listen I knew this was going to be a top 3 album of the year. Without hesitation one of the best albums of the year.

Link: https://itun.es/us/zZ2Aab

2. Touche Amore – Stage Four (Epitaph)

By now you probably know the story behind Stage Four. An album that documents the journey of singer Jeremy Bolm after his mother dies of cancer. But listening to it is another beast altogether. The first time I heard it I could not believe some of the lyrics. They aren’t just honest they are so intensely personal you will cringe. Some of the lyrics aren’t even relatable they are straight up just lines from someone else’s diary. It is very hard to listen to at times. Luckily Bolm is backed up by his more than capable bandmates who continue to combine bracing hardcore with increasingly more jangly indie rock. The closing track Skyscraper is mandatory listening in 2016. I always think there’s no way Touche Amore could outdo themselves and they continue to defy my expectations at every turn.

Link: https://itun.es/us/iwm4cb

1. Frank Ocean – Blond (Boys Don’t Cry)

Frank Ocean spends the first three minutes of one of the most anticipated albums in recent history with his voice pitched up so high he sounds like an alien. And quite frankly he might as well be. Every four years Frank Ocean descends from the Heavens and blesses us with an album. An album that never sounds like anything else. Something that sounds like it came from another planet or even another solar system. Something so groundbreaking that no one even attempts to duplicate it. There is no one else that sounds like Frank Ocean. There is nothing else that sounds like Blond. Every time I listen to this album something new unfurls. A sound I never heard before. Wordplay I never thought about before. I look forward to the next four years between this album and the next. As I continue to uncover all the little treasures this album has buried in it. Maybe one day Frank Ocean will make an album because so far all he’s made is masterpieces.

Link: https://itun.es/us/m6yueb

Playlist Link: Coming Soon

Honorable Mentions, EPs, 7″s, Etc.

Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues
Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
Kevin Devine – Instigator
Planes Mistaken for Stars – Prey
Super Unison – Auto
Self Defense Family – Colicky
Self Defense Family/Null – Split
Dangers – The Bend in the Break
Oathbreaker – Rheia
American Football – American Football (LP2)
Hesitation Wounds – Awake for Everything
The World is A Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – Long Live Happy Birthday
Wilco – Schmilco
Deftones – Gore
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Bon Iver – 22, a Million

Top 10 Albums of 2015

This year seventeen albums fought to make my top 10. I think that’s the most I’ve ever considered. Between all the great albums that came out and all the concerts I went to go see music was a central focus of my life in 2015. The fight for slots ten and nine in my list was brutal with me making a last second change just before I sat down to write this. I probably could have held off until New Year’s Eve and still had trouble getting this list exactly right. However, I’ve been confident in the top 8 for weeks now so its time to call it. This list feels good.

Don’t forget there are Spotify links to each album after each entry and at the end of the whole thing a playlist I made of 10 songs from this year’s list. And of course I would love to know what your favorite albums were from this year.

10. Citizen – Everybody is Going to Heaven (Run for Cover Records)

citizen

I didn’t know anything about Citizen until the hype train for this album started to leave the station. I was under the impression they were either a pop-punk band or a hardcore band. It turns out they are fans of both genres trying their best to not sound like either of those genres. Their influences bleed in from time to time but honestly there weren’t too many records like this one in 2015. The album is downright jarring. There are tracks that build and build into a catchy heavy ending just for the next song to start abruptly and its a straight up ballad. Everybody is Going to Heaven is uniquely Citizen.

Spotify Link: Everybody is Going to Heaven

9. Title Fight – Hyperview (Anti-)

titlefight

Last year Epitaph released the fantastic album Keep You by Pianos Become the Teeth. The band changed almost their entire sound for that album. This year Epitaph does it again through subsidiary Anti-. Title Fight’s last album Floral Green had the band doing more of what they were good at, playing fast throaty punk rock. Except for a couple of curveball songs that found the band playing with atmospherics and actual singing. Little did we know that those songs were the precursor to Hyperview. This album is a brisk walk through an alternate universe version of Title Fight where someone played Floral Green 100x’s slower than recorded. Regardless of whatever baggage you attach to this band Hyperview is still a fantastic album. Separate it from what came before and you’re still left with one of the best indie rock records of 2015.

Spotify Link: Hyperview

8. Annabel – Having it All (Tiny Engines)

annabel

Having it All sounds like it came out of an early 2000’s time capsule. Like the last band to make a true Emo record before Emo got associated with bands like My Chemical Romance. And it had to be protected until people could appreciate music like this. If you ever drove with the windows down while blasting Nothing Feels Good this album is for you.

Spotify Link: Having it All

7. Wilco – Star Wars (dBpm/Anti-) 

wilco

No one was expecting Wilco to release one of their best albums this year. Mostly because no one even knew Wilco was making a new album. Star Wars was released the day of their headlining Pitchfork Festival set with no warning. This record finds the band wonderfully constrained. The band uses every trick in their bag on every song but they never waver or sound messy. All the songs are brisk and stay on track. By the time its over you want more and songs are stuck in your head. Wilco hasn’t been this fun in a long time.

Spotify Link: Star Wars

6. Defeater – Abandoned (Epitaph)

defeater

At this point I’m not sure Defeater will ever make another album as wildly ambitious as Endless Days, Sleepless Nights but on their latest album you get the impression that they are building towards something. Anyone who follows the band already knows their music is conceptual. Telling the same story over and over again from the perspective of different characters. But this time they throw back to lyrics and audio cues from past albums in a really obvious way. It makes being a long time listener exciting. On top of that this is definitely a big improvement on 2013’s Letters Home. Easily the best straight up hardcore record of the year.

Spotify Link: Abandoned

5. Self Defense Family – Heaven is Earth (Deathwish)

sdf

Self Defense Family is one of the best indie-rock bands in the world. Why they don’t get the respect they deserve I have no idea. Everyone should be raving about Heaven is Earth. In eight songs Self Defense Family accomplishes something that most bands spend eight albums trying to perfect. The band puts out nearly a half dozen releases every year but they really brought their A-game to their second album. If you’re a fan of slightly left of center indie-rock this deserves at least one listen.

Spotify Link: Heaven is Earth

4. Take One Car- Everyone You Know is Here Right Now (Broken World Media)

takeone

Take One Car make long songs. Almost all the songs on this album are over five minutes. But I can tell you from repeated listens that they never get boring. Take One Car are masters of tension. Every time the music gets softer its because you needed a break from the intensity. When it gets loud again its because the lyrics and vocals demand extra noise. The ebbs and flows are placed perfectly through each song. Like a roller coaster you’ll listen to this album again just for the thrills.

Spotify Link: Everyone You Know is Here Right Now

3. Drug Church – Hit Your Head (No Sleep Records)

drugchruch

Drug Church sounds like a band at odds with its singer. The band sounds like a throwback to great heavy 90’s alternative rock. Their singer is singing the most ironic sarcastic lyrics I’ve ever heard. There’s something about listening to a band play honest music while their singer rolls his eyes that just works with these guys. This album will make you feel better about yourself as you listen to depiction after depiction of some of society’s worst people. The album ends with one last breathtaking curveball that I won’t spoil here.

Spotify Link: Hit Your Head

2. Deafheaven – New Bermuda (Anti-)

deafheaven

We waited two years to find out what Deafheaven would do after their crossover success with Sunbather. New Bermuda strips away much of what made them likable to non-metal fans leaving just tiny breaks in their relentless assault. New Bermuda is heavier, scarier, and much less accessible than their previous album. Yet its also more focused and the songs feel more like songs and not pieces stitched together. The slower moments are more epic and create an atmosphere that makes me feel uneasy. By the end you’re left wondering what isn’t Deafheaven capable of.

Spotify Link: New Bermuda

1. The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die – Harmlessness (Epitaph)

twiabp

In 2013 The World is a Beautiful Place were the poster children for the Emo Revival. Their debut album Whenever, if Ever is a landmark for bands trying to recapture the emotional indie-rock sound that marked third wave Emo. Instead of building on that Harmlessness completely rewrites the book not just for what Emo can be but what indie-rock is. The World is a Beautiful Place should be a much bigger band talked about in the same conversations as Arcade Fire, Ra Ra Riot, and Wavves. Instead they are stuck with their Emo tag playing to kids in tiny rooms. But maybe that’s the kind of band TWIABP needs to be.

Harmlessness takes us on a journey to teach us that not everything is going to be ok but there’s nothing worse than wallowing in it. While the music is busy changing genres the lyrics are on a whole different level. Harmlessness sounds like an audio guidebook on how to deal with your mental health. This album is downright inspiring and I could see it being a direct link to people getting help for their depression or anxiety. For me there really isn’t a better album this year. Musically this record is ambitious and more spontaneous than the meticulously planned Whenever, if Ever. The lyrics here are some of my favorite ever written. Every time I listen to it I can hardly believe over fifty minutes have passed. It never feels like a moment is wasted or any song is skippable. Harmlessness is an album not a collection of songs. Give it a listen and see if it does as much for you as it has for me.

Spotify Link: Harmlessness

Honorable Mentions, EPs, 7″s, etc.

MewithoutYou – Pale Horses
Refused – Freedom
Desaparecidos – Payola
Run Forever – Run Forever
Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi
Tyler, the Creator – Cherry Bomb
Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
A$AP Rocky – At.Long.Last.A$AP
The World is a Beautiful Place…. – Death to New Years
Drug Church – Swell
Touche Amore/Self Defense Family – Self Love
Birds in Row – Personal War
Loss Leader – Flex Your Hair
Warm Thoughts – Intangible
Adventures – Supersonic Home

Finally here is the Top 10 of 2015 playlist. Enjoy!

The 5 Bands You Must See At Riot Fest Chicago 2015 – Sunday

Riot Fest is a go! After a weekend filled with drama Riot Fest 2015 will proceed as planned. Here’s the last batch of bands I think you need to watch.

Doomtree – 1:30pm Rock Stage
doomtreeDoomtree the eclectic Minneapolis hip-hop crew plays a far too early set for the kind of raucous energy they are sure to bring to the Riot Fest stage. I can’t imagine a better early (for the last day of Riot Fest) in the day pick me up than Doomtree.

Hum – 2:15pm Riot Stage

hum

Did you not get your full of emo-rock reunions on Saturday? Well Hum has you covered. Whether you only know “Stars” or you celebrate their entire catalog Hum doesn’t play very often so here’s your chance to see a band that should have been bigger than a one hit wonder.

Kevin Devine – 12:50pm Riot Stage

kevindevine

There are many different incarnations of Kevin Devine. There’s the quiet acoustic-tinged Kevin and the full on rock band version. I’m pretty sure we’re getting full band version but either way Kevin has been doing this for quite a while and has been a commanding presence at festivals for years now. I’ve seen Kevin Devine play a few times and it is always mesmerizing. Devine’s band is always full of super-talented musicians bringing new life to all the recorded material. Even if you know a lot of his songs you may not recognize them live and that is a treat to watch.

Manchester Orchestra – 5:15pm Riot Stage

manchesterorchestra

Oddly enough Manchester Orchestra plays on the same stage a few hours after their best friend Kevin Devine. When Manchester and Kevin Devine combine they become Bad Books who played Riot Fest in 2013. Will we get a repeat performance? I doubt it but don’t be surprised if Kevin shows up to play in the Orchestra. Don’t know anything about Manchester Orchestra? They are one of the most powerful live bands I’ve ever seen. They put everything they have into their live show. Riot Fest starts with Into It Over It and the emotional onslaught ends with Manchester Orchestra.

Modest Mouse – 8:45pm Riot Stage

modestmouseSunday is a good day for the Main (Riot) Stage. And everything wraps up with Modest Mouse. It has been 15 years since I’ve seen them live but I remember how great it was all these years later. 15 years ago I never thought they would be a popular band let alone headlining festivals so it will interesting to see how they perform for very large crowds but if the last decade and a half are to be believed they’ll be just fine. Modest Mouse doesn’t technically have more than 3 “hit” songs so I’m excited to see a band that doesn’t really have any radio airplay navigates a festival. I guess I don’t need to convince you to see Modest Mouse they’re closing out the whole damn thing so lets just be excited that Riot Fest is wrapping up with such a great band.

 

 

 

The 5 Bands You Must See At Riot Fest Chicago 2015 – Saturday

Saturday is jam packed with reunions, nostalgia, and some of the biggest bands in the world. These are the five I think you need to check out.

American Nightmare – 3:30pm Roots Stage

americannightmare

Ask the current wave of melodic hardcore bands who their biggest influences are and American Nightmare (who for a short time were called Give Up the Ghost) will come up every time. We caught them a couple of years ago at Metro and it was easily the most chaotic show I’ve ever witnessed at a venue I’ve been seeing shows at for going on twenty years. How will that translate to a festival setting? I’m honestly very curious but they’ve been doing the festival thing for a while and I haven’t heard any complaints yet. In a day that’s honestly full of melodic hardcore bands I would guess this will be the stand out set.

Desaparecidos – 4:30pm Rock Stage

desaparecidos

You guys know that of all of Conor Oberst’s projects this is the best one, right? You know it took them 13 years to release their second album, right? How are you going to miss this? Of all the bands that could actually start a riot at Riot Fest Desaparecidos seems like the most capable.

Drive Like Jehu – 6:40pm Rebel Stage

drivelikejehu

Drive Like Jehu are one of the links that connect hardcore to emo. They released their second album via Interscope records and then evaporated. That was 1995 and they played one show in 2014. That inspired some scattered appearances earlier this year and now Riot Fest in Chicago. Basically…..you’ll never get to see Drive Like Jehu again. So if you missed them in the early 90’s here is your only chance.

Lifetime – 1:10pm Rebel Stage

lifetime

Let’s be honest the Saturday lineup for Riot Fest is so good its almost embarrassing to other festivals. Here’s another band that I never thought we’d see at Riot Fest let alone….anywhere. Lifetime was another influential emo-hardcore band from the early 90’s who just stopped playing and that was that. Out of nowhere they reunited in 2007 with big time plans. They signed with Fueled By Ramen/Decaydance and put out a fantastic self-titled album. Then….they played a few shows and that was that again. They pop up here and there on larger East coast shows and punk festivals but this will be their first Midwest date in a long long time. Could it be there last? I wouldn’t miss it.

The Movielife – 2:15pm Roots Stage

movielife

I could say the same thing about this band that I said about the previous four. The Movielife was big once, then they broke up, now they’re playing festivals. The Movielife is one of the most well respected bands from the 2000’s Emo movement and we get to watch them play Chicago for the first time in like a decade. See these five bands in a row, which you could do and get schooled on emotional hardcore’s history.

The 5 Bands You Must See At Riot Fest Chicago 2015 – Friday

It is once again time for Riot Fest in Chicago. Well, if it even happens at all. But if it does here are the 5 bands you need to check out on Day 1.

Alkaline Trio – 8:00pm Rise Stage

Alkaline Trio

Alkaline Trio owns Chicago pure and simple. The energy between the band and their fans in their hometown for over a decade has always been a very special thing to watch. Odds are you were already going to see them but I just have to be sure. On a personal note Riot Fest started for me at their Empty Bottle show in 2012. This could very well be the last Riot Fest I attend so it would be nice to bring things back to where it started.

Coheed and Cambria – 5:45pm Rock Stage

coheed

Speaking of Riot Fest 2012 Coheed and Cambria put on one of the most memorable performances of that years festival. It really felt like the first set that weekend where everything clicked. We were watching a band at the top of their game play on a stage and the end of the street in Humboldt Park. Definitely a top 5 Riot Fest moment for me. With a new album coming out October 16th hopefully we’ll get to hear some new jams mixed in with the crowd favorites.

Ice Cube – 9:00pm Roots Stage

icecube

Ice Cube is playing Riot Fest. Oh, that sounds like a fun set to watch. Oh, he’s doing “Straight Outta Compton”? Hmm…that’s even more interesting. Well, also he’s billed as “with special guests” which at Riot Fest Denver included MC Ren and DJ Yella. That’s 3/4 of the surviving members of NWA for those not keeping track at home. On top of that the NWA movie is still raking in millions of dollars. What you have here is one of the most anticipated sets of the whole weekend. Oh, and will Dre show up? No, but….I mean…you’re gonna make sure he doesn’t right? We all are, we all are.

Into It. Over It. – 1:15pm Rise Stage

intoitoverit

Into It. Over It. are the so called kings of the “emo-revival”. I tend to agree. Over the course of 2 albums and more singles and compilations than you can count Evan Weiss has gone from lone acoustic gunman to the leader of a great emotional rock band. I saw them last year open for Mineral and they were fantastic. I just wish they were playing more than just a brisk 30 minute set.

Thrice – 6:15pm Rise Stage

thrice

In 2012 Thrice called it quits or they called it a hiatus or something. They claimed their hearts weren’t fully in it anymore. I don’t know if they were talking about being a band or the hiatus because three short years later they are back at it. Playing mostly festivals but well…this is a festival and here we are so lets just go watch one of the best alternative rock bands ever play some music.