Part 3 in a 10 part series showcasing the best releases in music during the year 2016.
Creating these lists every year is a labor of love. It is also a matter of opinion. I have a thick enough skin to handle all the tirades that fans and artists have and will throw at me regarding the inclusion (and exclusion) of the bands that comprise these lists.
Am I right in the order of good to great album releases? I certainly am to myself. I may not actually be correct to many or all of you. And that is perfectly okay. I want to start a discussion. I want to draw attention to artists or bands that moved me in such a way, that I labored for hours of my life to create this list and to listen to their art.
Can art be criticized? Of course it can. This is how we begin discussions. We have to talk about this music in a way that generates interest and passion. Artists can only get so much recognition or publicity through the various channels that they can utilize. Often times they are required to pay for advertising space just to be noticed in an effort to force them up to the top of the huge musical landscape that inundates our ears day in and day out. I believe that it is a requirement that artists sustain the positive and negative criticism in an effort to garner a conversation that was created for them free of charge.
I have never accepted any money for doing what I do. I would never monetize the act of critical thinking and promotion that I give to these artists. Sure, I may have paid for the CD with what I believe are insignificant funds (have you seen the cost of therapy or good drugs lately? Music is cheaper. Trust me) but I always want to give the artists back more than that. This is why I do what I do.
This is why this list exists.
Here is 120-106.
GREEN DAY – REVOLUTION RADIO
I have a special place in my heart for Green Day. It’s not that they are particularly original or groundbreaking. They don’t exactly adhere to the rule book on punk rock music. It’s possible that they have borrowed all the right elements from dozens of great bands before them, bands that have paved the road with their blood, sweat and tears, just so Green Day could be the ones to succeed. Maybe Green Day is just fucking lucky: right place, right time, right sound. Yeah, right. Did anyone just stop to think for a second that maybe Green Day is just a good band? I have, and I have since the beginning. Well, not the very beginning, but the beginning that we all knew when Dookie broke the punk rock glass ceiling (is that a thing?). One thing that you can count on and I believe that we all can count on is that Green Day are Green Day. Nothing more, nothing less. You know exactly what you are going to get. Some will say thats a bad thing, and I am usually first in that line. But for some reason Green Day get a pass. They get to do their thing over and over again and we get to like it. Sometimes I wish there were other bands that would just do that too. Throw this disc in, turn up the volume, and let yourself enjoy a formula for great pop punk with just the right level of wit and cynicism. Or don’t. What the fuck do I care?
COBALT – SLOW FOREVER
I have a penchant for telling you what I don’t like, but it is only to help you gain perspective of the things that I do. I don’t like leftover food. I don’t like like horror movies. I don’t like sleeping for more than 5 hours. I don’t like black metal. Wait, what? How, you must be asking yourself, can you put Cobalt in this list if you don’t like black metal? Let me explain: Cobalt were a black metal band that created an Americanized version of it, best represented by the very good release Gin back in 2009. They haven’t released an album since and that is a long time to refine your craft, and to go through some shit. This isn’t the same band anymore. Does black metal exist on this album? Yes, it certainly does. Is it a black metal album. Not in any way, shape or form. There is so much to devour within their current direction, that it took two discs to do so. Most of it is utterly mind blowing. Prog metal, psychedelic, speed, and thrash elements all coexist to create a new breed of American extreme metal.
OUT OUT – SAWN/DIVE?
Mark Alan Miller is by all accounts a really good dude. I have been following his work and interacting with him for a very long time now. He is also very talented and very smart. These are all characteristics in a person that I admire and respect. He also makes incredibly good music. When you can do this too, you are a next level entity in my little world. Rest assured, Mark is human and I totally know that. We have never met face to face, but I consider him a friend, which is weird, but this is a world that we can now get away with calling people we have never met a friend. Why do I bring this up? No good reason. I just wanted to brag that I know a cool dude. Thats about it. Besides that, he has (finally!) created a new Out Out release, one that I have been waiting for in what seems like forever. I think that Out Out got tossed aside for unknown reasons back in the 90’s for nothing more than not being a more accessible version of industrial rock, which is how dumb people destroy smart music. We live in a world controlled by dumb people, so smart musicians are crushed by forces that have nothing to do with their personalities or talent. It’s because no one understands them and they dismiss them as unaccessible. Go back and check out the Out Out catalog and absorb it. Then listen to this release. Or do that in reverse. It does’t matter. It will still reveal that Out Out is an American treasure within the industrial community and should be praised for it’s relevancy and acomplishments.
BOUNCING SOULS – SIMPLICITY
I used to live in New Brunswick, New Jersey, a long time ago. I moved out of there quite a few years before The Bouncing Souls formed, but I will always maintain an inexplicable bond with that city. The Bouncing Souls aren’t really from New Brunswick, but that has been their home base of operations for pretty much their entire career. I caught them live at The City Gardens in Trenton, NJ some time between 1990 and 1993, and sadly it was a blur that is contained as a hazy memory that has me believing that I never watched their set. They may have been opening for Agnostic Front. Maybe it was Sick of it All. Maybe it was both. What matters is that for years I told people that I saw them live, and in reality I was in the same room while they played, but I may or may not have actually seen them. My story is irrelevant to the fact that the band has consistently churned out quality releases without any real admiration. Simplicity is their 10th full-length release now, and my opinion is to claim that they have never sounded better. This band is sorely underrated and I wish there was a way to change that.
YEASAYER – AMEN AND GOODBYE
Earlier I mentioned that I had some weird releases in this list. Yeasayer are weird. I don’t do drugs, but I have an idea that many drugs were used to concoct this art-pop record. There is a point on a line somewhere, where the realms of psychedelia, rock, experimental and concentrated happiness intersect. I call this point on the line Amen & Goodbye. At this point you can stand and see in every direction, but the mind warping effect of hallucinogenic drugs has you looking back on yourself standing exactly on this point where you see your body bouncing to the beats and bobbing your head to this Yeasayer album. Should you care, is totally up to you. Getting lost in this album and smiling the whole time is kind of the right way to listen to it. If eccentric musical fantasies aren’t your thing, Yeasayer isn’t really going to be able to get you there. There is no real journey, either you are already standing there or you just can’t locate this point. Something to consider when spinning this for the first time.
TACOCAT – LOST TIME
It’s time for a fun story. My youngest son is a brilliant and extremely funny kid. His mind operates in a way that I can’t fully understand, but he is infinitely happy and loves to make you laugh. He is that guy that lights up a room every single time and never drags the mood down. One day he walks in to my bedroom and tells me, randomly, that Tacocat is Tacocat spelled backwards. Then he walks away, giving you time to calculate the knowledge that he has just dropped upon you. I laughed, but I never could figure out why he just randomly said that. Our conversation never evolved beyond that point, so I have no idea what motivated him to inform of this useless tidbit. Then I was skimming articles on music web sites, as I am known to do, and the band Tacocat appears. Right away, I knew I had to investigate what Tacocat was. The first thing I discover is the opening track to Lost Time, a track called “Dana Katherine Scully.” Being a fan of The X-Files, I figured that this is either fantastic or the worst idea in the history of ideas. Luckily it turned out to be a very cool, upbeat, old school female pop-punk song, followed by more of the same. The album struck me as classic sounding and fun all at once. It has remained as one of my favorites to this day.
PINEGROVE – CARDINAL
Continuing my exploration of the far reaches of indie rock that dabble in country music, I stumbled across Pinegrove, a really cool band out of my home state of New Jersey. Pinegrove have had a little criticism thrown their way for their frontman’s vocal style, but I personally see nothing wrong with it. I can list at least a dozen country singers that are national hit makers that have a twangier, drawl-ier vocal delivery that sound like someone choking a cat while dragging its claws across a chalkboard, and people seem to love them for it. Evan Stephens Hall is no where near that level, so I really can’t get my head around some of the reviews that I have read about him. Pinegrove is a band that I targeted because of my new found love of artists such as Wilco, Band of Horses and Drive By Truckers, all of which released great albums this year and appear later in this list. If those bands get you up and going, you would do well by exploring Pinegrove a little further.
GO FIGHT – AMERICAN JIHADI
I feel like most of my friends and listeners of Razor Blade Dance Floor will know who Go Fight is. Sadly, I’m pretty sure most people don’t know who Go Fight is, so its time to start making some changes. Go Fight is a band out of Chicago that is fronted by Jim Marcus of Die Warzau, and backed by Mike Love, Dan Evans and Vince McAley of Dead on TV. In essence, it’s a supercharged political band that appears to be more agenda based than anything Die Warzau set out to be. That statement actually undermines the importance of Die Warzau’s past work, but the themes with Go Fight seem to be more pronounced on Go Fight’s work than the subtleties delivered by Die Warzau over the past couple of decades. I’m not a political guy, so all of this really falls flat to me, but I do hear the music, and the music is good. Go Fight deliver a post-punk, electro-industrial, hyper-funk, party-like blend of many elements that combine to become a wonderful and positive vibe oriented set of songs. In the grand scheme of things, Go Fight’s lifespan is relatively short, but their impact has been pretty enormous already. So yeah, I’m not entirely sure why they aren’t much bigger than they are, so I’m putting the ball in your court. You can change that.
FAT WHITE FAMILY – SONGS FOR OUR MOTHERS
Have any of you actually heard of these guys? Before this year, I hadn’t. They clearly have a following and they’ve been around for more than a few minutes. I was pleasantly surprised when I picked up Songs For Our Mothers and listened to it for the first time. The most criminal thing I have ever read in music journalism lead me to this album, where a rock journalist from England wrote that they were the second coming of Throbbing Gristle. Thats not even close to accurate. The band is a lo-fi garage rock band that dabbles heavily in reverb and psychedelia, pushing out a high energy blend of hypnotic rock and drug influenced weirdness. The first band that came to mind that seemed to compare to them was Thee Oh Sees, but they don’t even play the same game, so that comparison falls apart pretty quickly. Psychic TV, maybe? I guess I could see that in fleeting moments here or there, but again, not a great comparison either. Just grab this band’s latest album and check in to it yourself. Its not in the least bit disappointing. This is their second full-length release, so investigate 2013’s Champagne Holocaust as well.
CULT OF LUNA & JULIE CHRISTMAS – MARINER
Some time in the middle of last summer, I started combing through all of the industry music magazines to see what was appearing on the “Best of 2016, So Far” lists to find out what I may have missed in the first 6 months of the year. This album kept appearing on lists, so I knew that i had to get it and check out what all of the hype was. What I discovered was an incredible compositional work of post-metal band Cult of Luna creating long, epic musical journeys that is propelled forward by vocalist Julie Christmas, a New York based singer that formerly fronted Battle of Mice. How she landed on this album with these Swedish heavy metallers, I have no idea, but I don’t really care. This album works well on so many levels, that I couldn’t stop listening to it for a week. It really was starting to interfere with my ability to discover new music, so I had to shelve it. I went back to it earlier this month just so I could see if it was as good as I remember, and lo and behold, here it is. Post-metal isn’t exactly my cup of tea (I blame the really long songs on that; my ADD is crippling my ability to appreciate this kind of music) so the low location in this list reflects my music listening handicap level. To be fair, almost any of the list between 150 and 26 is pretty interchangeable, so don’t take the numeric placement too seriously.
HELMS ALEE – STILLCIDE
I went to go see the Melvins on tour earlier this year while on one of my few visits to my permanent home in Charlotte, NC (that’s a long story that has no real value in this list; ask me about it privately if you really need to know what that is all about). The opening band on the tour was Helms Alee. I had no Earthly idea who Helms Alee was, but I got there early enough to check them out. While I liked them well enough, I wasn’t overly impressed with their set, but I did recognize that the trio had something going for them. So in an effort to fairly assess them, I picked up Stillcide and gave it a listen. I really wish I had listened to this CD before I went to that show, because this album is very good. Their sound leans more towards the post-rock, post-metal side of things with a dash of sludge and grunge, but the formula works well for them. Its amazing how full of a sound that the band produces with just three members, and the male/female vocal trade offs really set this band apart from their peers. Good stuff!
THE STARGAZER LILIES – DOOR TO THE SUN
Once upon a time there was a really cool shoegaze band called Soundpool, who I absolutely adored. Soundpool stagnated and dissolved. The two main members of the band, John Ceperano and Kim Fields reconvened as a duo, and the resulting act is The Stargazer Lilies. This year they introduced to us a hazy, slow-gaze gem that is awash in reverb and dreamy vocals surrounded by oceanic fields of psychedelic fueled audio bliss. This is a lazy, hazy record that captures a peaceful daydreamers mental soundtrack. It’s lush and gorgeous, and offers no significant challenge to the metabolism. If you like to be washed in waves of shimmering guitar while being lulled down from your psychotic day, then this is where you should plan your destination. Simply lovely and breathtaking, Door to the Sun is a wonderful exploration of somber sounds.
MARTHA – BLISTERS IN THE PIT OF MY HEART
Okay, if you haven’t already been taking notice, I went on somewhat of a binge this year, exploring genres and cultures that I normally don’t find myself hanging out in regularly. I also have loaded this list with female artists, especially those that capture the raucous energy of pop and punk. Martha is another one of those acts that do power pop and punk extremely well. I really can get behind the cuteness that the band exhibits, and I absolutely love the three-chord, high speed punk delivery that they have taken on as their primary motif. Martha hail out of small-town England, and we are all the better for being able to hear them anywhere else. I could list a slew of acts that do what they do just as well, and a lot of them have found their success more than a decade ago, so to say that what they do is extremely familiar would be an understatement. But they do it amazingly well, and it becomes so refreshing and fun that the familiarity in their sound actually is a welcome bedfellow. Be careful with this disc. Much like sugar laced soft drinks, this can become addictive.
CYMBALS EAT GUITARS – PRETTY YEARS
You know what I just realized? When I lived in New Jersey, I drove through Staten Island hundreds of times, maybe thousands, on my way to Brooklyn, Queens or Long Island. While I typed that last sentence, it struck me that I must have spent a small fortune to cross the Verrazano Bridge, and an equally sizable amount of cash repairing my cars that the Belt Parkway helped destroy over all those years. But what I realized is that to this day, I have never placed my feet upon the ground in Staten Island. Never stopped once. I wonder what it is like there? I mean, what is there besides shitty drivers and land fills? People actually live there? I guess they do, because this is where Cymbals Eat Guitars is from. Thats pretty cool, I guess. You’ll have to ask them. Their fourth release came out earlier this year, and it is getting all of the adoration that it deserves. College leaning indie rock in the vein of The Replacements or Archers of Loaf that dwells in gritty storytelling while soundtracked by a little more than simple rock and roll formula makes for a special kind of record that will probably be remembered in the future as being more of a musicians favorite than a fan favorite. This is the type of record that radio DJ’s and rock critics adore, but fans ignore. There are a lot of those records out there, which is a damn shame. I think this band deserves to be recognized in the now, not years later when they have moved on and people discover them long after their relevancy. Just like I’m just now realizing Staten Island may actually be a cool place, 20 years after I last drove through there. Don’t let that happen.
VOMITFACE – HOORAY FOR ME
Do you want to hear a record that nobody you know is talking about. Here it is. Be the coolest guy/gal on your block and grab this disc so you can say that you heard of them first. There is a sloppy, sludgey, angry, noisey, ultra loud, in-your-face, miserable post-punk album swirling around here. The raw energy of The Pixies, Mudhoney, early Nirvana, or hell, anything slumming around Seattle pre-Nirvana is wafting off of this record. Are they original? Oh, hell no. But are they good? You bet they are. The raw and open sore wounds that each of these tracks represents are attention grabbing, and represent the best thing about any band in modern era trying to produce ugly energy in the way Vomitface procure upon this disc. Could Vomitface be the second coming of Nirvana? Don’t be ridiculous, but they sure do conjure up those initial feelings that I had when I first heard Bleach many moons ago. This is the kind of listening experience that makes you want to take a shower after its finished, and I mean that in only the best of ways.