Sunday, February 5, 2017

Top 10 Albums of 2016

I'm still actually finalizing my Top 20 Songs list, but I figured why not go ahead and publish this one.

Here are the rules for what is eligible: It has to be a full-length album of at least 7 songs (unless you've got one or more epic-length songs). No EPs. It also has to be all by one artist -- no compilations. And although I know one of these days I'll have to change this (maybe next year? I don't know, more artists every year are only putting out cost-saving digital copies of their albums, especially independent artists, so we'll see), but I'm still old school, so for now, at least, I have to have a physical copy of the album on CD. I won't count it if I can only get a digital version.

In 2016, I listened to 75+ albums to put together this list. I tried to include a variety of genres, but my tastes are what they are -- I like classical, but no classical albums were included. I don't much like pure hip-hop or jazz, although I did listen to one jazz album this year, but I just don't enjoy/understand those genres. (Some of the rock was a little hip-hop tinged, though, e.g. Twenty One Pilots). I listened to a couple of metal albums this year, and they were OK, but they didn't make this list.  I didn't include any straight country, although some of the artists I listened to produced country-tinged rock. But this year, none of them made the list either. And of course, it's all based on my taste. It's all about what I liked, and what I thought was good.

So from 10th through first, here's my list:

Top 10 Albums of 2016:

10.  Phantogram - Three

Phantogram is a male/female duo from upstate, NY. They almost made the Top 10 list in 2014 for their Voices album. The music is kind of electro-rock. The best song on here is one called "Run Run Blood": "Hey wolf, there's lions in here/There's lions in here, there's lions in here".

9.  The Jezabels - Synthia

This is a band I learned about on the Sputnik Music site. They're a female-fronted indie rock band from Australia. They mix it up pretty well in terms of the styles and speeds of their songs, making the album a pretty satisfying listen. I'm not 100% sure, but their song "My Love Is My Disease" is in contention for my Top 20 Songs list. It's right on the brink, so I'm not sure if it will make it or not.

8. The Mowgli's - Where'd Your Weekend Go?

This is the second year in a row this band made my Top 10 Albums list, so you know they're doing something I like. These guys are alt rockers from Los Angeles, and their music is a throwback to the days of hippy rock like Jefferson Airplane, mixed with pop rock harmonies reminiscent of The Cowsills. They've mostly got an upbeat, happy vibe, although the lyrics on some of the songs this time around are a little darker. For example, the best song on this one is a track called "Alone Sometimes", which about sitting home alone and getting drunk on Johnny Walker after the end of a toxic relationship. Good times, good times.

7.  Night Riots - Love Gloom

These guys made my Top 20 Songs list last year with their song "Break" from the Howl EP.  They're an alt rock band from the Central Coast of California, and they sound to be heavily influenced by The Killers, with maybe a little bit of Vampire Weekend thrown in. My favorite number on this one is a song that takes a shot at big-headed celebrities and rock stars called "Nothing Personal": "I'll be the king, you'll be the filth I was away/Nothing personal, personal, personal."

6. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

I have to admit, I haven't been a big fan of this band in the past. I always liked the song "Creep" from their Pablo Honey album, but nothing else I heard by them ever grabbed me until now. But these guys are so worshiped on the Sputnik site that I felt this was the year to give them another chance, and I'm glad I did. I'm kind of on the borderline with their vocalist, Thom Yorke (which may be what put me off them for so long), but the music here is complex and beautiful, to the point that I'm thinking that maybe these guys are the truest heirs to Pink Floyd that I've heard yet. So now I'm going to have to go back through their discography and give them another listen. Anyway, this album is a total winner.

5. Garbage - Strange Little Birds

I've always been an admirer of this band, but at first, this album left me a little flat -- I felt like there were more sounds and snippets here than actual songs. However, this is one of those albums that really grew on me with repeated listens, and while I don't like it quite as much as 2012's Not Your Kind of People, it's still a pretty damn good album. "Empty" is my favorite track here, which was deservedly released as the album's single. And as fans of the short-lived TV show already know, Shirley Manson is still the best Terminator ever.

4. Tegan and Sara - Love You to Death

This album has been criticized as sounding pretty much exactly like their last album, 2013's Heartthrob, and the band is definitely guilty as charged. But that album made my Top 10 of the Year list, and this one does too. What can I say, these Canadian twin sisters know how to make catchy alternapop songs, and I'm not tired of it. "Boyfriend" was the first single from the album, and it's also the album's strongest track. Go, Canada, go!

3.  Against the Current - In Our Bones

I'm so proud of these guys! This is an alternapop band from Poughkeepsie, NY, fronted by a tiny little girl with a big voice, Chrissy Costanza. I thought their Gravity EP from last year showed a lot of potential, but a lot of bands never take that next step. This one did. This is an album full of manic 20-something energy, driven by a pair of youth anthems, "Young & Relentless" and "Running With the Wild Things". Alternative Press called this album "pop rock perfection", and I'd have to agree.

2. Andy Black - The Shadow Side

For most of the year, I thought this was going to be my #1, and that would have been fine. Andy Black is actually Andy Biersack, the lead singer of Black Veil Brides. Unfortunately, I think this album has fallen a little bit into a crack commercially -- it's not rocky enough for Black Veil Bride fans, and alternative pop fans who would be its most natural audience just haven't discovered it. Too bad, because this album is a winner from beginning to end. My favorite track is "Stay Alive" (which features Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio/Blink-182 fame), but there are a number of treats here, including the single "We Don't Have to Dance" and the song "Ribcage": ("Nothing in the cage of my ribcage/Got no heart to break, like it that way"). Black has long been one of my favorite vocalists, and I really like the direction he went in on this album.

1. Bayside - Vacancy

Anyone who has followed my mad ramblings over the years won't be surprised that this one made my Number One album of the year slot. Until such time as Paramore returns to top form (which may never happen, given the bad feelings between Hayley Williams and Josh Farro), Bayside is my favorite band of the modern rock era. Their albums usually make my Top 10, and it's not even the first time they've taken the Number One slot (they first did it back in 2008 with their excellent Shudder album). For my money, Anthony Raneri is one of the best vocalists and best songwriters out there today. This one makes Number One on the strength of  a solid album throughout, led by two particularly strong numbers, the album's lead-off song "Two Letters", a song about working out a complicated ongoing relationship with your ex (even though he doesn't like to use that term), and "Mary" which an upbeat song that seems to be a tribute to a deceased friend/fan. While "Two Letters" is a song very much in the usual Bayside style, Mary is a more danceable number in kind of a classic rock style (I'm thinking Springsteen/Joel/Mellancamp here). Anyway, for me, this is Bayside's strongest album in awhile, and that's saying something.

So that does it for my Top 10 Albums of 2016. I'll be posting my Top 10 Local Albums in a day or so, but notice we have some drama here -- unlike last year, I only had one local artist (Bayside) on my Top 20 Album list, so there will be plenty of new blood on the Local Albums list.