Friday, December 23, 2016
 Beyond the Fleeting Gales - Crying (Run for Cover)
Crying have graduated from being an emo-infused chiptunes band to grandiose monsters of rock. This record is huge, almost 70s glam rock or 80s hair metal huge. Lots of wanky guitar leads, big-ass drums and still enough video game synths to keep your heart warm. What a fun record. With more time, it probably could have ranked higher.
Top jam: "Wool in the Wash"
 Human Performance - Parquet Courts (Rough Trade)
I was let down by Sunbathing Animal and never got around to listening to Content Nausea, but Parquet Courts have returned to form for me with Human Performance. It's their most dynamic record yet, and is loaded with jams. I still miss some of the more 90s leanings from Light Up Gold, but I'll get over it.
Top jam: "Human Performance"
 The Dream is Over - Pup (Side One Dummy)
Whenever I think of Pup, I kind of want to view them as a gimmick punk band and just get over them. But then every time I listened to this record this year, I felt stupid for ever thinking that way and just enjoyed the shit out of it. I do believe that a band can be too anthemic, and Pup ride that line, but man, do they ride it well.
Top jam: "Can't Win"
 My Woman - Angel Olsen (Jagjaguwar)
Yet another album that gets better with each listen and probably would have ranked higher with more time. I need to go back and listen to Angel Olsen's older stuff, because I was an idiot and slept on it. The first time I heard "Shut Up Kiss Me" I was hooked, and I ain't looking back. "Intern" and "Give It Up" are also serious jams.
Top jam: "Shut Up Kiss Me"
 Outer Heaven - Greys (Carpark/Buzz)
Greys' first album of 2016. Here, they continue the Dischord Records inspired punk of If Anything, but with a little more variety and dynamics, and slightly slower tempos. Oh yeah, more melodicism too. I don't know that it quite reached my expectations, but, it's still a bad ass record.
Top jam: "In for a Penny"
 Slow - Sport (Adagio 830)
I'm still missing Algernon Cadwallader and Glocca Morra, the bands that have done the modern emo sound the best by far. However, Sport has been a nice consolation prize the past couple of years. Could do with less of the beard-y yell-sing, but the tricky song structures and beautiful guitar chords and leads are welcome to my ears any day.
Top jam: "Muscles"
 From Caplan to Belsize - Muncie Girls (Animal Style)
Polished, emo-y, punk-y guitar pop with hooks upon hooks. Lande Hekts's melodies are memorable, and her voice equally so. Brian LaBenne turned me on to this band, and while my love for the album faded slightly towards the end of the year, it still has made a lasting enough impression to land where it has on the list.
Top jam: "Nervous"
 A Seat at the Table - Solange (Saint/Columbia)
Okay, I'm running out of things to say and am starting to sound like a broken record, but seriously, once again, this record gets better every time I listen to it, and with another couple of months with it, it probably would've made it into the top ten, if not top five. Solange's voice isn't quite as impressive to me as Beyonce's, but, A Seat at the Table seems like a much more creative and unique affair. I love how sparse it is, and at times how autumnal it sounds ("Cranes in the Sky," for example).
Top jam: "Junie"
 Eric Bachmann - Eric Bachmann (Merge)
Former frontman of Archers of Loaf/Crooked Fingers doing the solo project thing. This record is sad and BEAUTIFUL. Perhaps this is Bachmann at his most vulnerable. It's heartbreaking, and really worth the listen.
Top jam: "Masters of the Deal"
 Blonde - Frank Ocean (self-released)
Here's one of the most gorgeous albums of the year. Ocean's voice, all of the characters it plays, are amazing. The lack of drums/beats threw me off initially, but the beauty in the songs more than makes up for it. "Nikes," "Ivy," "Pink + White," "Solo," "Skyline To," the back half of "Self Control" and "Seigfried" are some of the best songs of the year, if not the last few. Sometimes I wonder if this is actually the best thing I've heard all year. It's the only one that has made me cry.
Top jam: "Ivy" I guess, but really any of the songs that I listed above depending on the day
 Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not - Dinosaur Jr. (Jagjaguwar)
I think Farm is my favorite post-reunion Dino Jr. album, but this certainly gives it a run for it's money, if not matching it song for song. A very much welcome return to form.
Top jam: "I Told Everyone"
 Personal Life - Two Inch Astronaut (Exploding in Sound)
More knotty, jagged, riff-oriented indie rock from Two Inch Astronaut. Overall a better record than 2014's Foulbrood (perhaps quite a lot due to the production of J. Robbins), but nothing here comes close to touching the brilliance of that album's opener/title track.
Top jam: "At Risk Student"
 Weaves - Weaves (Kanine/Memphis Industries/Buzz)
Weirdo, guitar-driven art pop somewhere between Deerhoof and maybe The Flaming Lips? Almost every song here completely owns. One of the most unique records of the year. The band's future seems very promising.
Top jam: "Tick"
 Puberty 2 - Mitski (Dead Oceans)
The closest comparison I can think of for this record is St. Vincent's Actor. Puberty 2 might be a slightly slower and more sparse, but the general vibe is pretty similar. There are many fantastic moments here, and Mitski's singing is just glorious. She's got a real knack for dynamics and spooky yet gorgeous melodies. This one rules big time.
Top jam: "Your Best American Girl"
 Instant Evening - Zoos of Berlin (Don't Look About)
It had been a while since I had thought of my favorite Michigan band Zoos of Berlin, then in 2016 they surprised by playing some shows, and surprising me with a brand new record (their third). In almost every way, it matches if not exceeds everything they've done previously. "Rush at the Bond," "Spring From the Cell" and "Always Fine With Orphan" have Zoos of Berlin at their best, except for "White Cloud" and "I Get to Follow You," which have them even better.
Top jam: "I Get to Follow You"
 Life of Pause - Wild Nothing (Captured Tracks)
Without question, my least favorite of the three Wild Nothing albums thus far. Of course, this still rules, though. Jack Tatum's songwriting has gotten more ambitious and his compositions more daring and huge. In addition to the usual hat-tips to New Order, The Cure, Cocteau Twins and 80s Fleetwood Mac, Tatum throws in some Eno and Bowie worship this time, too.
Top jam: "A Woman's Wisdom"
 A Moon Shaped Pool - Radiohead (XL)
Now we've arrived at the Tier 1 albums. This follow-up to The King of Limbs wasn't as immediate to me, but, it seems like it has more staying power. A Moon Shaped Pool is gorgeous and more human than Radiohead have been since In Rainbows, if not ever. Just another notch on Radiohead's belt, for sure.
Top jam: "Ful Stop"
[3} Malibu - Anderson Paak (Empire/OBE/Steel Wool/Art Club)
My favorite hip hop/R&B release of the year, without question. Extremely fun and beautiful with lots of great soul samples as well as live band material. I was surprised to find that Paak is actually a drummer, and an incredible one at that. Malibu is the closest 2016 came to To Pimp a Butterfly.
Top jam: "The Season/Carry Me"
 Cody - Joyce Manor (Epitaph)
Never Hungover Again is still the best Joyce Manor album, but Cody is quite the follow-up. The songs have slowed down a bit, and even stretched out a little, but this is some fantastic pop punk with hints at emo and power pop throughout. "Eighteen" is my #1 song of the year.
Top jam: "Eighteen"
 Return to Love - LVL UP (Sub Pop)
I think it took me two listens to recognize that this was a serious contender for album of the year. And then, it happened. Here, LVL UP reference Neutral Milk Hotel, Built to Spill and sometimes (particularly on the amazingly titled "Naked in the River With the Creator") The Microphones. It's quite a diverse set of songs, which isn't too surprising knowing that the band is made up of three songwriters. The melodies are great. The fuzzy guitar leads and layered acoustics do wonders to the record's overall atmosphere and sound. "Pain" is my #2 song of the year. When I found out LVL UP were releasing an album in 2016, I didn't not see it ending up as my favorite, but here we are, and I am stoked about it.
Top jam: "Pain"
Thursday, December 22, 2016
 The Impossible Kid - Aesop Rock (Rhymesayers)
Thanks to To Pimp a Butterfly and Black Messiah, my interest in hip hop and R&B had been completely reinvigorated in 2015. So, that lead to me listening to way more of it in 2016. I'm honestly not sure why I decided to give this year's Aesop Rock LP a chance, but I'm glad I did. His lyrics and brainy and poetic almost to the point of being too difficult, but, they're beautiful that way. And a lot of the music sounds like NES boss fight music. So good.
Top jam: "Molecules"
 Warm Shadow - Greys (Carpark/Buzz)
This was Greys' second album of 2016, initially released as a Bandcamp download. Generally a bit more rough around the edges recording and structure-wise, but a softer, more patient listen. These boys have crafted some gorgeous soundscapes here, both loud and quiet. This was an excellent surprise this year.
Top jam: "Space Mountain"
 You Know Who You Are - Nada Surf (Barsuk)
Not as rippin' volume-wise as their last record, 2012's The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy, Nada Surf has still crafted a wonderful set of guitar pop tunes here. Somewhat lo-key, but pretty upbeat too in places. I think I might prefer this version of them.
Top jam: "Gold Sounds"
 Casino Drone - Mike Adams at His Honest Weight (Joyful Noise)
Mike Adams has done it again: Another full-length of big, dynamic, dreamy power pop with some more experimental undertones. This is his third record under the At His Honest Weight moniker, and it is his best.
Top jam: "Smart Marks"
 Blackstar - David Bowie (Columia/RCA/ISO)
I was absolutely destroyed by David Bowie's death back in January. It happened at the beginning of what I recall to be pretty much the coldest week of the year, and Sara was living in Pittsburgh at the time. It was a lonely, depressing week, and I listened to Hunky Dory, Low, Heroes and Scary Monsters repeatedly and cried quite a few times. We should count ourselves lucky that we received such an impressive and unique document as his goodbye to planet Earth. Blackstar has some truly challenging moments as well as some utterly gorgeous ones, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Top jam: "I Can't Give Everything Away"
 Guided Meditation - Hurry (Lame-O)
Super polished jangle/fuzz/power pop that references everything from Galaxie 500 to The Bats to Teenage Fanclub to Weezer and many more. The production is leaps and bounds better than 2014's Everything/Nothing, which regretfully takes some edge off, but, I think this is probably the superior album.
Top jam: "Fascination"
 As If Apart - Chris Cohen (Captured Tracks)
A lush and gorgeous combination of 60s sunshine/psych pop and 70s AM/soft rock. Pretty similar to this former Deerhoof dude's 2012 album, Overgrown Path, which is the album I prefer, albeit slightly. There are certainly and unsurprisingly some jams here, though.
Top jam: "As If Apart"
 Mangy Love - Cass McCombs (Anti-)
I haven't loved every Cass McCombs album I've heard, and nothing has touched 2007's Dropping the Writ for me, but since 2011 he's been consistently releasing high quality, haunting folk-tinged tunes. Mangy Love might be his most diverse set of songs yet (at least that I'm aware of), with some hints at reggae and 70s soft rock added to his routine. Beautiful stuff.
Top jam: "Laughter is the Best Medicine"
 Little Windows Cut Right Through - Aloha (Polyvinyl)
Aloha have made a triumphant return with their first record since 2010. They've always been hard to describe, but I guess you could say this is their take on big, bright synth pop? It's still got some characteristic Aloha flourishes, namely marimba and Tony Cavallario's trademark silky voice and fantastic melodies. I was pleasantly surprised that they release a new album, let alone by how much it rules.
Top jam: "Faraway Eyes"
 Honeysuckle - Bedroom Eyes (Midnight Werewolf)
I believe this was actually released at the end of 2015, so it probably would have been too late for me to properly include it on last year's list anyway. Loud, fast, gnarly shoegaze with a punk edge. Sometimes I wish the production offered a little more clarity, but sometimes I feel like the chaotic mess is part of the album's charm.
Top jam: "Plain Heir"
 Wildflower - The Avalanches (Astralwerks/Modular/EMI/XL)
15 years later, we finally have that new Avalanches record that's been rumored for who knows how long. I was anticipating this at about the same level as the 2013 MBV album, and I think it landed with similar results: It nowhere near comes close to how fantastic (and perfect) Since I Left You is, but, it's really nice to have them back. Arty soul/R&B sample collages with some truly awesome special guests.
Top jam: "If I Was a Folkstar"
 Coloring Book - Chance the Rapper (self-released)
I'm ashamed I had never listened to Chance before Coloring Book. It took me a bit to fully get into it, but to this day, I like it more and more with each listen. His sing-rap is infectious, and I love both the soft, subtle sexy songs and the outright gospel jams. He also seems like he would be a very fun, positive dude to hang out with. Really looking forward to what an actual "album" from him would sound, as opposed to his "mixtapes."
Top jam: "Finish Line/Down"
 Is the Is Are - DIIV (Captured Tracks)
Not sure why this took four years to come out, as it just sounds like an extension of 2012's Oshin with more direction and clarity. Mostly upbeat, moody, melodic, dreamy 80s goth/post-punk. Quite a few outright jams, whereas Oshin just kind of all ran together (which, I was fine with).
Top jam: "Healthy Moon"
 Patch the Sky - Bob Mould (Merge)
Every two years, Bob Mould puts out a righteous, straight up rock 'n' roll record. He is the model of consistency.
Top jam: "Losing Time"
 Tarantula - Giant Peach (Don Giovanni)
Another record that completely came out of nowhere for me. There are points where I am reminded of emo and punk stuff that I was listening to in late high school. Like, remember Initial and Eulogy Records? Stuff like that. It's awesome.
Top jam: "Snake"
 Out of the Garden - Tancred (Polyvinyl)
Excellent classic punk-y guitar pop with what seems like an endless fount of melodies and hooks. Jess Abbott's voice is awesome.
Top jam: "Control Me"
 Utitled Unmastered. - Kendrick Lamar (Top Dawg)
Apparently when it comes to Kendrick, even what seems like a throwaway release is some of the best hip hop you'll hear all year. More or less a To Pimp a Butterfly b-sides companion piece, I love the aimlessness and daring, experimental song structures presented here. Also, his voice and flow sound just as good as ever. Also also, the third track is probably as good as anything from TPaB.
Top jam: "Untitled 03 | 05.28.2013"
 Standards - Into It. Over It. (Triple Crown)
I did not expect to ever fully embrace the most popular project involving the most prominent person in modern emo, Evan Weiss. But, it happened. Produced by John Vanderslice, Standards is a rippin' collection of beautiful, catchy, technical as hell emo pop that I would have been absolutely obsessed with in high school. The guitar playing is top notch, and the drumming is mind-blowing and probably the best I've heard in 2016. Oh, the songs are totally great too.
Top jam: "Vis Major"
 Preoccupations - Preoccupations (Jagjaguwar)
The second LP from the band thankfully formerly known as Viet Cong. It essentially sounds like a companion piece. The songs are different, but the sound is generally the same. And that is huge, colorful yet dark post-punk with a wonderful merging of chimy guitars and vintage synths (more synths this time around). It didn't knock me over the way last year's record did, but, still very much enjoyable.
Top jam: "Degraded"
 Pretty Years - Cymbals Eat Guitars (Sinderlyn)
Every couple of years, this band sneaks up on me with an underrated, understated, deceivingly good record. This just happens to be their best yet, and no one seems to really care. I don't know what to say, this is just quality indie rock that draws from the past to create something new and fresh sounding, IMO. Also, the production here is the best the band has had to work with. Check it out.
Top jam: "4th of July, Philadelphia (Sandy)"
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
 Commontime - Field Music (Memphis Industries)
Field Music return with another album chock full of classy, elegant Brit pop, this time with some funk and some odes to 70s AM pop and soft rock. Commontime didn't grab me nearly as much as any Field Music album previously, but it still deserves to be honored in 2016.
Top jam: "It's a Good Thing"
 Confirmation Bias - Yeesh (Tiny Engines)
My band Congress played with Chicago's Yeesh at an Ypsilanti house show back in 2014, and then played with them again in Detroit this past August. They are a hell of a live band, and it translates quite well onto recording. Loud, quirky indie rock with some punk leanings. Sometimes on Confirmation Bias, I feel like I'm hearing early Casket Lottery. Case in point: "End Results."
Top jam: "End Results"
 Psychopomp - Japanese Breakfast (Yellow K)
This is some nice dream pop from Little Big League's Michelle Zauner. Admittedly I'm a bit more into their knotty, jagged indie rock, but this is a fine consolation to my hold me over, if they're even still a band.
Top jam: "The Woman That Loves You"
 Riff Hard - Thin Lips (Lame-O)
Philadelphia style emo-tinged indie rock with some gnarly guitar licks and strong female vocals. Almost like a less technical, similarly catchy Lemuria. Into it.
Top jam: "Yup"
 Better Heavens - The Superweaks (Lame-O)
Big, gruff power pop with some punk leanings, The Superweaks bring the hooks. Some songs are even reminiscent of Return of the Rentals with some catchy as hell Moog parts. Those are my favorites.
Top jam: "Oh God (We're All So Miserable Now)"
 American Football - American Football (Polyvinyl)
I don't know how necessary a new American Football record is in 2016. I don't think they really needed to add anything more to their legacy. But don't get me wrong, I don't mean to sound like I'm complaining that this actually happened after 17 years. Emo reunion albums have rarely succeeded to this level. The band definitely sounds like a more mature version of their 1999 self-titled album, for better or worse. There are some nice odd time signatures, and sure, layers upon layers of their signature chimy guitars. To refer to one of my least favorite phrases overused in 2016: Their twinkle game is still strong.
Top jam: "Born to Lose"
 A Shedding Snake - Outer Spaces (Don Giovanni)
Folky, jangly indie pop with a smidge of Ida-style slowcore thrown in for good measure. Excellent production, too. This record came out of nowhere for me, and I have Brian LaBenne to thank for tipping me off. Actually, I could probably say that for a lot of the albums on this list.
Top jam: "Words"
 Empty Beach Town - Shallow Cuts (No Idea)
Replacements-y pop punk from these long time scene vets. I won't deny that all the songs kind of run together, but, they do the style extremely well. Don't know what else to say. I dig it.
Top jam: "Empty Beach Town"
 Episodic - Field Mouse (Topshelf)
I don't mean to say it doesn't happen all the time, because it does, but there especially were a shit ton of great records released by women in 2016. Episodic is yet another one in that long list, sounding somewhere between, I don't know, The Muffs and Velocity Girl (aka the Clueless soundtrack)? My only question for them is did they not do a Google search when coming up with a name to find that there once was a twee band called The Field Mice?
Top jam: "Half-Life"
 Blanco - David Bazan (Barsuk)
It's been quite some time since I last cared about a David Bazan release. 2006's Fewer Moving Parts EP, to be precise. I'd say Blanco is a return to form, at least quality-wise (though I should probably go back and listen to Curse Your Branches and Strange Negotiations again), but, it sounds nothing like traditional Bazan. This is all synthesizers and programmed beats, and is much more interesting than his one-off Headphones project from 2005. "Both Hands" is a true jam.
Top jam: "Both Hands"
 Pool - Porches (Domino)
Homemade synth pop that's sometimes upbeat and sometimes pretty sexy. Aaron Maine's bored tenor is a nice contrast to these colorful tunes, too. "Car" is one of the best songs of the year, hands down.
Top jam: "Car"
 Ready Not Ready - Conveyor (Gold Robot)
Another random find thanks to the internet (Tiny Mix Tapes, I think). This sounds like a cross between Vampire Weekend and Dirty Projectors, so... yeah. The 2007 Pitchfork-rock revival is on. Paraphrasing, but, my girlfriend Sara described this as pretty much the whitest thing she's heard all year. LOL. Haters gonna hate.
Top jam: "Wry Thing"
 Yes Lawd! - NxWorries (Stones Throw)
This is loaded with beautiful classic R&B and soul samples, and Anderson Paak singing all over them. As I'm sure you know, it's certainly not the only thing he had his hands in in 2016, and somehow, it's not even the best, either.
Top jam: "Scared Money"
 Next Thing - Frankie Cosmos (Bayonet)
The best way I can describe Greta Kline's latest album as Frankie Cosmos is subtle, wistful jangle pop. It's not as sparse as 2014's Zentropy, and it surely shows maturity and the songs and production are just better. Looking forward to where she goes next.
Top jam: "Floated In"
 Ha, Ha, He. - Mourn (Captured Tracks)
Bad ass, jagged, angular and muscular rock from this young, Spanish band. I hear a little bit of tough 90s Matador-style indie rock and some Sleater-Kinneyesque guitar playing at times. Right up my alley.
Top jam: "Brother Brother"
 Electric Company - Starling Electric (self-released)
Ann Arbor/Ypsi dudes (I think everyone in Minihorse played on this) doing the damn thing. If my memory serves me correct, the last Starling Electric album was released in 2005 or 2006? I know they've been working on this thing forever, and it was worth it. Diverse, well-traveled pop/rock that's truly all over the place: 60's sunshine/psych pop, 70s AM pop, and straight up 80s jangle/power pop. So glad this has seen the light of day.
Top jam: "Arrowsmith"
 A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings - Beach Slang (Polyvinyl)
I figured Beach Slang would have burned out before releasing another album. Too many youthful emotions running amok. In all seriousness, in spite of the horrendous title, A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings is a solid follow-up to last year's The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us. It's more of the same, and the Replacements references are not as subtle this time around, but the songs are still there and the drums sound awesomely huge. I'm not trying to dog this album, I really do like it!
Top jam: "Hot Tramps"
 Put the Kid on the Sleepy Horse - Mock Orange (Topshelf)
I don't think you can call this a reunion record. At least, I'm not aware of Mock Orange ever breaking up. Their last album, 2011's Disguised as Ghosts, was about as good as their previous two (Captain Love and Mind is Not Brain). They've long left behind the mathy, punky emo of their late 90s/early 00s incarnation, and have since been riding a Built to Spill-inspired wave. They continue that here, with maybe a slight nod to SDRE's How It Feels to be Something On on certain tracks (maybe mostly in the dude's voice). I just started listening to this around Thanksgiving. With more time, this could have landed higher on the list.
Top jam: "Tell Me Your Story"
 The Magic - Deerhoof (Polyvinyl)
Deerhoof put out a new record in 2016, as they do every year or two. Unsurprisingly it's ballsy and zany and weird and insane, but still impressively catchy. That's the magic Deerhoof equation. The gnarly guitars, Satomi Matsuzaki's vocal melodies and Greg Saunier's octopus arms/minimal kit drumming style are the highlights here, as with any Deerhoof album.
Top jam: "The Devil and His Anarchic Surrealist Retinue"
 Fruitless Research - TW Walsh (Graveface)
Friend of and former collaborator with David Bazan, I've followed TW Walsh off and on over the years. I have always loved the lush, somber folk of 2001's Blue Laws. He surprised me with a new album this year, and it rules. There's some synth-driven psych rock here, some blown-out synth pop, and some more chill dream pop. Ok, I'll stop rambling. Just trust me. It's a cool record.
Top jam: "Fundamental Ground"