It’s that time of year for us to count down each of our top ten favorite albums of 2016. Check out Mike’s list below!
10. Balance and Composure - Light We Made
Balance and Composure’s return marks a stylistic change, characterized by electronic drums, distorted vocal samples, and vocalist Jon Simmons’ newfound falsetto. 2013’s The Things We Think We’re Missing’s heavy riffs were exchanged for grooves and ambience.
While certainly a divisive release, Light We Made is worth a listen, best served in the dark with a side of introspection.
9. Chris Farren - Can’t Die
I actually discovered this record because I won SideOneDummy Records’ giveaway that included this album and some Chris Farren swag. The ex-Fake Problems frontman’s first solo LP is full of dancey power-pop and singalongs, but that’s not to insist it’s without its emotional side.
Farren’s self-deprecating lyrics contrast beautifully with the record’s sweet and shiny production. A fitting record for both your best and worst days.
8. Into It. Over It. - Standards
As a long-time fan of Into It. Over It. and its frontman, singer-songwriter Evan Weiss, I reserved this listen for a flight home from Detroit in the spring. I was caught off-guard, tearing up after the first track. “My friends from where I’m from are all a wreck,” sings Weiss, setting the stage for a record largely about the shortcomings of adulthood and their consequential frustrations. Weiss, as usual, displays mastery of the guitar, weaving twinkly guitar lines under stirring vocal melodies.
If you’re not yet aboard the Weiss hype-train, you gotta get your ticket, fam. Simple as that.
7. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Pretty Years
You know those bands that you see discussed online all the time but never check them out, because your music taste is better than random internet people’s? Cymbals Eat Guitars was always one of those bands to me.
Listening to Pretty Years for the first time filled me with a sense of instant regret akin to that time I touched a cast-iron pot to test how hot it was (it was hot). Taking clear inspiration from Springsteen (“Wish” would sound like “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” if Clarence Clemons were a robot) and The Cure (the synth lines and driving bass in “WELL” are reminiscent of “Lovesong”), Pretty Years doesn’t really sound like a 2016 release, which only adds to its appeal.
My favorite aspect of this record is how vocalist/lyricist Joseph D’Agostino contrasts depressing lyrics of Rx drug abuse, school shootings, and longing for childhood innocence with radio-ready vocal melodies.
6. The Hotelier - Goodness
Somehow, The Hotelier’s Christian Holden avoids sounding pretentious when starting off their heavily-anticipated sophomore release with a spoken word poem. In the opener of their last effort, Home, Like Noplace is There, Holden shouts “singing birds tell me ‘tear the buildings down,” but on Goodness, the birds have something else in mind: “A little bird from the side of sidewalk / Sings me hymnals of comfort in pain / Said “Give me you all disarmed and uncertain / And I promise that I’ll do the same.” This distinction outlines the very tangible difference between Home and Goodness: the former is a heartbreaking tale of the world falling apart and the latter is a reconciliation of the world’s wickedness with all its beauty and… goodness. There are many reasons The Hotelier is the band to beat in emo nowadays, and Goodness flaunts all of them.
5. Hurry - Guided Meditation
Hurry’s Guided Meditation is a nod to ‘90s alt-rock, back when guitars were still on mainstream radio. Taking cues from the likes of Oasis and Third Eye Blind, Hurry can write a proper pop-rock song. Vocalist Matt Scottoline writes and delivers hook after hook on this record. High points include “When I’m With You,” a track that could easily have been a Beatles cut and “Fascination,” with a jangly guitar lick and driving beat that begs one to groove. This is the kind of record you can throw on drinking with your friends or barbecuing in the backyard, and if you told your dad this was a lost treasure from 1997, he’d believe you.
4. Anderson .Paak - Malibu
I would say that this is the only hip-hop record on my top 10, but that’d be unfair to .Paak. Malibu is just as much of a soul record as it is a hip-hop record; it’s just as much of a funk record as it is a hip-hop record; it’s just as much of a rock record as it is a hip-hop record. .Paak showcases his wide array of talents throughout the entire project, singing, rapping, drumming, and most importantly, raspily shouting “YES LAWD!” more times than should be acceptable, which is zero, unless, of course, you’re Anderson .Paak, in which case, you can do anything because you’re one of the swaggiest men west of the Mississippi.
This track list encompasses some hip-hop bangers, funky grooves, and downright sexy, soulful cuts. Throughout its 16 tracks, it’s got something for everyone. In 2016, .Paak went from a name I had never heard to being Grammy nominated, and the future’s only looking brighter.
3. PUP - The Dream is Over
PUP’s vocalist Stefan Babcock was famously told he’d never be able to sing again after tearing up his throat by touring too much and being too punk-rock. “The dream is over,” his doctor told him. So in classic punk fashion, PUP returns louder and angrier than ever.
PUP is truly a dream team – Babcock on vocals and guitar, Nestor Chumak on the grinding and oft-distorted bass, Steve Sladkowski playing infectious lead guitar, with solos that work against all odds, and Zack Mykula, one of the more exciting drummers in punk music. These four combine to something larger than the sum of their parts, combining many styles, but playing them all really loud, really fast, and with a lot of anger.
I have to shout out “Sleep in the Heat,” my favorite song of the year. It’s a tale of making a friend when you need one most and losing them to untimely death, and if you don’t listen closely enough, you’ll miss that it’s about a pet chameleon. PUP manages to write songs about everything from hating yourself, hating your friends, and drinking too much Hawaiian fruit punch. This is beer-chugging music. This is pouring-beer-on-yourself-and-your-friends music. This is punch-a-cop music. This is be-told-you’ll-never-sing-again-and-scream-“fuck-that” music.
2. Jeff Rosenstock - WORRY.
I’ll start by saying that I have given Number 1 and 2 more thought than I’m proud of. I knew that these two records were going to be 1 and 2, just could never decide the order. Here’s what I settled with. I’m not happy with it, but I wouldn’t be happy the other way. They are very different albums and comparing them is unfair. With that said, I’m about to compare them.
I reviewed Jeff Rosenstock’s WORRY. for GrizzlyGround right after its release. I was nervous as hell about writing a review because I didn’t want to be the guy that praises an album too highly, prematurely, and decides he wishes he was more critical. That was certainly not the case. I only wish I wrote more about WORRY.
This record is stylistically all over the place, flaunting power-pop ballads, hardcore blast beats, slow-burning grunge, and a singular skank-worthy ska tune, but it’s all held together by Rosenstock’s undeniable ear for infectious melodies.
“Blast Damage Days,” a track that went unmentioned in my previous review, summarizes exactly what is so brilliant about this album: it’s about all the bad happening in the world, from the mundane to the absurd: fake news, binge-watching TV, power, greed, militarized police, but continuing to love in spite of it all: “Where we can't love anything because they keep us afraid / Oh, I will be there kicking, fighting, beating, screaming / ‘There's no fucking way I'm ever letting go of you!'”
1. Pinegrove - Cardinal
Pinegrove is a band that caught me by surprise in January of this year. There is no album I’ve played more than Cardinal. There is no band I’ve driven farther to see this year. There are not enough words in the English language to describe exactly how I feel about this album – although, there probably are, but I don’t know them. So here’s what you’ll get:
Pinegrove is good. Like, really frickin’ good. Like show-everyone-you-know good. Goosebumps-every-time good. Frustratingly good. Confusingly good. Ask-their-singer-Evan-to-be-your-hypothetical-child’s-godfather good. Kinda-makes-you-want-to-quit-making-music good. But also kind-of-the-most-creatively-inspiring-music-you’ve-ever-heard good. It’s just frickin good, okay?
It’s got acoustic guitars, banjos, and Evan Stephens Hall’s twangy, emo-tinged vocals. It’s got incredible lyrics that, at times, read like a dictionary, before slapping you in the face with a lyric that even a 3-year-old could understand: like using the word “solipsistic” followed by “I should call my parents when I think of them / I should tell my friends when I love them.”
Just listen to them. You’ll decide you like them within a minute and you’ll be happy you listened. Or you can wait, and then one of your friends is gonna grab you by the shirt collar screaming, “Oh my god, there’s this band called Pinegrove and you’ve gotta listen to ‘em!!” and you’ll think back to this moment, confused as to how Mike Morris, GrizzlyGround contributor and proud owner of America’s best taste in music, predicted the future with such precision and accuracy, before concluding that you definitely need to listen to Pinegrove.