According to the nerdy-ass, joyless-as-fuck music listening spreadsheet I kept this year (shouts out to the analytics revolution, nothing is fun anymore and everything is math), I listened to just about 200 albums this past year. Here are 15 of them that I think you should consider spending some time with, if you’re the kind of person who likes taking suggestions from internet strangers / a dude you sometimes see at parties. Select songs are included as means of an introduction into what the album is all about.
30) S U R V I V E – RR7349
2016’s “Drive Soundtrack Memorial” winner for “Excellence in the Field of Neon, Slightly-Disco, Ambient Electronic Music.” RR7349 sounds like wet streets in a future Tokyo; I feel a little bit like an anime character every time I dip into it. Plus, its an A+ record to write to. Shouts out to Philly’s own Relapse Records for continuing to put out weird, cool shit.
29) Hopeless Otis – Dangerfield
NEPOTISM ALERT: These dudes are personal friends and I won’t act like it doesn’t color my opinion. I’d like to think that I’d see a lot to admire in this punk band’s relentless optimism even if they hadn’t stayed on my couch a bunch. Dangerfield is a record that feels honest about its approach to hardship: Confront it, swallow it and move on. It would seem naive if it wasn’t so convincing.
28) Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gales
Weeks later, I remain at a loss as to how to describe Beyond the Fleeting Gales. Part Boston, part Van Halen, part Lemuria, part guitar-heroism, part keyboard sadness. Crying’s proper LP lives in the hard-to-define world as Andrew WK and Fang Island. Call it whatever, it remains a party.
27) Cymbal Eat Guitars – Pretty Years
New Jersey indie rock that splits the difference between wild punk and Tom Petty, singing songs about feeling weird and out-of-place while settling into an age where it’s a little awkward to be rocking. This is a very On Brand record for me.
26) Tender Defender – Tender Defender
I will sometimes joke that my favorite genre of music is “Latterman.” Tender Defender is another branch in that band’s ever-fertile tree, one that takes the mid-tempo antithetic punk backdrop to some dark and defeated places. Few records I’ve heard this year have seen their music and lyrics as aggressively at odds with each other.
25) Ra Ra Riot – Need Your Light
Big year for Rostam Batmanglij, who breathed life into not one, but two mid-aughts blog-rock outfits. All respect to Hamilton Leiathauser, but Need Your Light is the one that kicks harder for me. Ra Ra Riot sounds back at full power, taking the best parts of its Beta Love dance experiment and melding them with the orchastra-pop of the band’s early work.
24) Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
If Skelethon, was an explanation for Aesop Rock’s self-imposed exile from the underground rap world, The Impossible Kid is him re-engaging with the world, if only to clarify why he left in the first place. How he’s spent that time, apparently: playing with wildlife, thinking about his relationship with his brothers, ignoring lame-ass rappers. It’s a compelling argument for unplugging and never coming back.
23) The Dirty Nil – Higher Power
So much of the current crop of 90s-influenced rock bands look to its college radio-waves for inspiration. The Dirty Nil gets its big, riffy guitar rock in far less cool, but much more viscerally rewarding places. It’s not hard to hear shades of Lit, Eve 6, American Hi-Fi and Third Eye Blind in this Canadian trio’s beer-chuggin’, person-smoochin’ music. It isn’t always hip or charming, but it rocks like a motherfucker.
22) Jeff Rosenstock – WORRY.
May Jeff Rosenstock never stop having panic attacks and writing records about them. New York City is basically Mumbai, anyway.
21) Royal Coke – Savage Beach
NEPOTISM ALERT: Royal Coke is a blood relative of mine. Even if he were not, this aggressively stripped-down, bedroom surf-rock project would captivate me. Savage Beach seeks to find out how far one can run with catchy melodies, Elmore Leanord-style lyrics, mouth drums and nothing else. The answer, as it turns out, is pretty fucking far.
20) Shearwater – Jet Plane & Oxbow
Sometimes, I think that I like this record so much because it reminds me of a period in the mid-aughts, when I was in college, and shit like Gimmie Fiction and The Stage Names was popping off in the emotional dorm rooms I was getting fat in. Other times, I listen to “Pale Kings” and “Wildlife in America” and remember that this is as good an anthem for simmering national paranoia as could be hoped for.
19) Daughter – Not to Disappear
In a year rich with depressing new wave music, there was none more black than Daughter. For example: the most up-beat, socially-appropriate song on this record is a jumpy little number called “No Care,” a song about being emotionally numb. Not exactly a party record, but it’s as evocative a pity party as 2016 produced.
18) Open Mike Eagle – Hella Personal Film Festival
It has to be stressful to be Open Mike Eagle, considering how eloquently and richly he talks about his anxieties on Hella Personal Film Festival. As much rich ground as there is to be found in self-aware analysis of a upwardly-mobile American life, it is his racial observations that hit hardest. Rap game Father John Misty, basically.
17) The Snails – Songs from the Shoebox
In one view, this is a horn-blowing, R-n-Punk art project from a Baltimore supergroup fronted by Sam Herring of Future Islands. In another view, it is the finest concept album about snail life this world has ever seen. In either light, it has a view and a connection to joy that few serious artists allow themselves. Wear more snail costumes, I guess.
16) DIIV – Is The Is Are
I think I’ve said this before, but there is no greater rift between how I feel about the music (love it! Echo-y college rock that sounds like Yo La Tengo listened to Guided by Voices) and the performers making it (passion before fashion, you ectomorphic culture casualties). Is The Is Are is strong enough to heal that rift, as long as I stay off Instagram