OUT OF THE BOX: The Best of 2016, part 1

Part 1 in a 10 part series showcasing the best releases in music during the year 2016.

It may not have been the greatest of years in recorded human history, but I believe that this year offered an incredibly large amount of quality music releases. One of the biggest complaints that I hear from friends, family and total strangers is that there isn’t any good music being released anymore. If you are one of those complainers, you just aren’t paying attention. Admittedly, it is becoming harder and harder to sift through the piles of trash that passes itself off as music these days, but that doesn’t mean that good music doesn’t exist! Apply yourself, create new avenues for music discovery, and do your homework!

Too busy or too lazy to determine what is going on in modern music listening circles? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

I spent the last year filling my ears with anything that I could get my hands on. Full-length albums, despite all of the claims that they are in a deathspiral, still have relevancy in this world we live in. Singles and EP’s are all the rage with artists lately, and I completely understand the desire to shift to releasing music in small doses within shorter release cycles, but the full-length album is still alive and well. This is my preferred musical format because it challenges the artist and allows the listener to hear a larger range that the artist is capable of presenting.

I consumed over 1000 albums this year, keeping a steady stream of listening going every single day of this year. Not a day went by without listening to at least 6 albums in full by days end. This was a personal goal that I not only achieved, but often exceeded.

With this 10-part series,  I narrow down, out of those 1000+ albums, the best 150 releases that I think that not only should you have heard, but should have as a part of your collection.

So here we go. We begin with 150-136.



Once I sought after this band because I had heard that they were a premiere shoegaze band. Little did I know that this Toronto, Canada three-piece was so much more. Post Plague comes out of left field and launches in to a straight up industrial barrage with elements of noise, post-punk and experimentalism. It gets a little muddy and convoluted towards the end, but the entire experience is worth while, especially if you like a little noise with your industrial music.



I’m guessing that for an industrial rock/metal guy, this choice seems a little odd. Well, get used to it now because this list is chock full of interesting gems. Whitney took the indie world by storm this year, especially with their helium infused indie number “No Woman,” a track that I found curious at first, but endearing upon multiple listens. This band (duo) is comprised of alumni from The Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and their match creates a perfect, almost folksy indie rock record that seems to get better with successive spins and age.



I’m not going to lie to you: I’m a huge fan of Kathleen Hannah. I think that she represents everything that is right about being female in the punk rock world. Bikini Kill was awesome. Le Tigre is whimsical and fun, but also smart. Kathleen’s new band, The Julie Ruin, captures ideology from both those acts and brings it together in a more modern venture. Hit Reset is full of messy anthems and sloppy punk rock sounds, but thats what makes it so great. Punk isn’t supposed to be polished and perfect, and neither is this album.


Solange - A Seat At The Table


What a great year the Knowles sisters are having in 2016. Both Solange and older sister Beyonce released incredibly well structured albums. While Beyonce could have easily slipped in to this spot, I am not as well versed on ‘neo soul’ and admittedly I missed the value of it on my first couple of listens. That didn’t distract from the fact that I was hearing something wonderful, especially when you allow the electronic, funk and psychedelic touches to permeate your ears in just the right manner. This album has nailed the top spot on many top music lists this year, while her sister’s album has virtually soaked up all the rest. There is a very good reason for that.



I made the foray in to country music this year, but I discovered that there must be an element of rock and roll in the song style in order for me to enjoy it. This list has a few country albums (or country leaning) within it, but Sturgill Simpson snuck in when he was announced for a Grammy nomination for this CD earlier this month. No, I don’t put any stock in the validity of the Grammy’s but the nod he received caused ripples in the music universe. This release may have placed higher in my list had I had more time with it, but I just listened to it for the first time recently. It was good enough that I had to stuff it in to my list. I forget who it wound up knocking out. It’s not really that important.



This French indie group’s second full-length release is a veritable grab bag of sounds that meander through the sultry, electroclash pulsing opener of “Sphynx” to a wide gamut of male-female vocals across a slew of indie rock styles. The album is a little excessive and runs very long with its 1-hour and 14 minute run time, a seemingly self indulgent move that could have been avoided by trimming 5 or 6 songs from its overall collection. It probably would have aided in creating a more coherent piece, but interestingly enough, the songs are pieced together in such a way that they all make sense in the grand scope of the release. If you are lyrics-centric and don’t know French, this album will lose you less than halfway through.



It’s hard to believe that this came out way back in February and it still finds its way on to my listening playlist. For the unfamiliar, Pinkshinyultrablast are a (sort of) shoegaze outfit out of Russia that has been gracefully expanding their swirling, hazy sounds and incorporating a more expansive sound palette to their musical forays. There is an intriguing haphazard feel to their song structures and it can come across as a bit unsettling, but having the angelic Lyubov Soloveva caress your ears with her soft coos alá-Cocteau Twins, while the delicate quiet pauses are shattered by the epic loudness of some of the songs more adventuresome bits reveals a brilliant recipe for dreamy soundscapes. This is a listening experience like no other, and I long to hear more from this band in the future.


M83 – JUNK

You have to understand that I hated this album when I first heard it. HATED IT. I’m not entirely sure what I was looking for from M83, but it wasn’t this. But, as all things do that don’t meet initial expectations, prolonged time spent spinning it, and realizing what exactly it was is what turned me around. There are some really wonderful tracks on this release. I’m still not sold on the entire record, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t figure out a way to make this one of more enjoyable listening experiences of the year. I mean, was I really expecting Anthony Gonzalez and company to write “Midnight City” parts 2 through 10 for this release? Perhaps I was.



I’m not exactly sure if M.I.A. is a rap artist first and then an alternative artist second followed by a pop artist, or if the alternative should come first followed by the rap then the…oh never mind. M.I.A. has always been infinitely intriguing and her skewed view of how pop music should work is just left of center enough for me to not dismiss it as pop music fluff. Actually, it is anything but, mixing up urban rhythms with alternative angst makes M.I.A. an artist that is unique all unto herself. I really thought this was going to be a bigger breakthrough for her, but alas it got quickly swept under some carpets. Actually, thats kind of what happens when your sound doesn’t fit neatly in to the industry’s neat little boxes, and that is just a damn shame.



There are a large number of female artists that are on this list, and several of them go simply by their name as a solo artist. Lydia Loveless, Angel Olsen, and Lucinda Williams are just a few that I enjoyed this year. Another name on this list could have easily been Greta Morgan, but why make things that simple? Instead, Greta operates under the moniker Springtime Carnivore, a name that she hides behind as she collaborates with friends and weaves dreamy pop tales dripping with sass and intrigue. Springtime Carnivore is instantly likable and dangerously familiar sounding. That is not a strike at all against Greta, who is more than capable of creating an albums worth of excellent tracks, as exhibited by the fine release that is Midnight Room.



So, here is a true story: I thought that The 1975 were a boy-band, mass produced by some evil producer sitting fat in South Florida. Well, that may actually be true (no its not!), but this is a phenomenal release that is full of self-aggrandizing musical bloat that is weaved in to actual talent. Talent, I say! This album works its way all over the place, and it wanders in to some very intriguing territory. I kept telling myself that I’m not supposed to be liking this band, but couldn’t turn the record off. It got strange, it got interesting, and it stayed GOOD. I promise you that I haven’t investigated the background of The 1975 like I do most bands, and I want it to stay that way. This album is really good and I don’t want any weird notions about the players involved to poison my view of what this disc does for me.



This is the first industrial rock album on my list (but not the last), and it is yet another release that I obtained later in the year so it really hasn’t had time to sit and fester in my ears the way I let most industrial rock releases do. If I were to rewrite this list again in 6-months (when no one really gives a shit), this album probably leaps up about 50 or 60 spots. Easily. For now, It has the unfortunate distinction of being stuffed in here so that I can give it the attention that it deserves. Deconbrio are a band that is full of massive potential that I think isn’t fully realized. I thought that before and now I really think that after listening to this disc. This is a good record, and upon completion I can easily see how Danny Rendo and friends are going to take the successes discovered while recording this and bring the band to the next level. I believe that because I can hear it. Good production, great sounds, interesting themes, brutal rock tracks, seismic industrial utilization without overdoing it. I have always liked Deconbrio, and I like them even more after listening to this. I can’t wait to spend more time with it.



Do you ever think about what summertime rock and roll should sound like? Hanging out, drinking or smoking (or both) with friends, parked in the middle of nowhere, sitting on the hoods of your beat up Firebirds and dilapidated Camaros, cassette tape sitting in the deck of whoever had the best stereo, blasting out waves of gritty pop infused rock that is hazy and fuzzed out as it is interpreted through uncaring ears. Okay, I may have invented a scene from a teenage party flick set in 1978, but you get the picture. Jacuzzi Boys are successful at funneling that 1970’s rock and roll carefree attitude and rolling it in to one big garage rock joint. Full disclosure, I’m really confused about why I’m hellbent on making so many drug references in a review of a record, especially since I’ve never been one to partake in such activities. That said, this album is really fun, and is gritty and grimy as much as it is fuzzed out and saccharine laced.



Annelotte De Graf: Syrian refugee legal aide by day, multi-instrumentalist and ultimate dream-come-true musician by night. Or whenever it is she can record music. Netherland native has built a great 10-song dreamy pop record full of zest and self-aware appeal. There is a modern feel to her take on classic indie rock sounds from the 90’s. Sounds that were explored by Liz Phair or Tonya Donnelly’s band Belly take the less vicious side of pop-punk and merge it with simple indie rock story telling, all while capturing that weird anti-grunge movement that happened in 1994 that no one could accurately label. As Amber Arcades (Hey! Look at that! Another fine lady that rolls behind a pseudonym! I’m detecting a pattern in my listening habits here…), De Graf proves that her studious endeavors to create and craft meaningful rock music is not a venture in to futility. This album buzzes by before you even realize that it has finished. Its wildly familiar but wonderfully developed, and just different enough to capture my attention.



Apparently I have no clue who Jeff Rosenstock is, which is good because if you had told me that he fronted a ska-punk band from Long Island, NY called The Arrogant Sons of Bitches, I would have told you to “fuck off, I’m not listening to that shit.” If you have’t figured out from that last sentence, I have allergic reactions to anything related to ‘ska.’ Luckily, I had a friend insist that I listen to this record, which is probably the only cool thing this friend has ever done for me. We might be ex-friends after he reads this, but I have enough that I can actually afford to lose one here or there. It’s no big deal. I digress. This record is a joy ride from front to back. I didn’t know what to expect because atypically males that release music under their own name as a solo artist tend to sound like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, or some disturbed amalgamation of any or all of them (let that roll around in your head for a second…am I wrong?). Instead, I get what I want to call my punk record of the year, only I’ve already made that proclamation once or four times this year, and it would be absurd to throw that label on this release. I’m glad its on my list though because its really good.

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