The first half of June carried plenty of surprises. This month has been, notably, dominated by major hip-hop artists and included the release of several major records that have the capacity to hijack year-end lists. Those releases have never been the focal point of this site and this won’t be the post where that changes. Every item on this list, as always, deserves more attention than it’ll receive. Following this list, there will be a few other key releases that get highlighted but these songs, clips, and records deserve all the support they can get, including the below listings and anyone willing to click their links. Enjoy.
“Kicking In”, an album highlight from Recreational Hate, finds the band expanding on their classic country influences, conjuring up the kind of wide-open imagery perfectly suited to a music video. The band capitalized wisely, moving to the desert for a satirical deconstruction of the music video process. It’s an exceedingly clever conceit that takes a turn towards the end and offers up a heartwarming resolution to the difficulties and interpersonal conflicts — and petty resentment — that can drive wedges between cast and crew on adventurous shoots. A note-perfect testament to the band’s legacy, “Kicking In” is about as perfect of a music video as Lemuria could have crafted. Just like the band’s music, “Kicking In” is a welcoming invitation to come in, get warmed, and enjoy the party.
Watch “Kicking In” below and pick up Recreational Hate from the band here.
Only a few days into April (and a few posts away from resuming regular daily updates), it seems as good a time as any to look back at some of the outstanding tracks, clips, and records March had to offer. Since the first week of March was largely covered by the last big recap, the focus here is on the material to find release in the month’s subsequent three weeks. An incredible round of songs, some sterling music videos, and a few standout records managed to make their mark. Below is a compilation of items worth hearing and seeing, so don’t miss a beat and save this tab to explore to your heart’s content.
At long last, we arrive at the end of the 2016 lists with this reflection of the year’s best albums. A lot of criteria need to be met for a record to make this list, for example: a record can’t be primarily composed of reworks of older material (this is the reason Talons’ sublime “Driving Home From Shows” didn’t make the songs list). To be eligible for a featured slot on this list, the record also can’t come from a clearly-established artist, which is the only reason Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Treeis being excluded. The Radioheads and David Bowies of the music world all received more than enough positive press and this site has always aimed to give an additional leg up to emerging or unknown artists.
With all of that said, 2016 was an exceptional — and exceptionally diverse — year for music provided you knew where to look. As has been the case, no numerical assignments were given to the below selections. However, the field of titles was so abundantly strong that instead of merely selecting one Album of the Year, there are five. Those five records managed to stand out in an unbelievably exceptional year and picking one of the five to give a singular Album of the Year designation proved to be impossible. That being said, virtually all of the titles below are worth time, investment, and praise.
Once again, the majority of the embedded players belong to bandcamp so be mindful of where the records start (a small handful auto-start at odd points in the record). There’s a fairly wide-ranging display of music to be found below so dive on in and go exploring. Enjoy the list and stay tuned for the third edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories.
Bent Shapes – Wolves of Want
After a string of promising releases, Bent Shapes hit new heights with the galvanizing Wolves of Want, a pitch-perfect basement pop record teeming with memorable hooks. A lovingly crafted work, Wolves of Want finds the band hitting an eyebrow-raising stride and cranking out a formidable batch of songs good enough to grace any mixtape.
Crying – Beyond the Fleeting Gales
One of the most unique and compelling releases of the year, Crying took a bold new step with the riveting Beyond the Fleeting Gales. Taking their early approach and gleefully exploding it into something barely-recognizable, Beyond the Fleeting Gales winds up as one of 2016’s most refreshing, exhilarating, and utterly singular listens.
Mitski – Puberty 2
Embracing the bruising, unforgiving introspection of the breakout Bury Me at Makeout Creek, site favorite Mitski returned with a powerful and acute examination of identity. An artistic leap forward, Puberty 2 saw Mitski wielding an expanded musical palette to arresting effect. Warm, moving, and accepting, it’s not difficult to see why it was one of the year’s most beloved records.
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Parquet Courts records have made a habit of appearing on year-end lists since the band’s formation several years back. While, admittedly, those were solid records, they don’t come anywhere close to Human Performance, the band’s crowning achievement. The band shed their blood all over this record and it shows in every beautiful, cracked, messy, ramshackle moment.
Mannequin Pussy – Romantic
Another record on this list that saw a band make a staggering leap forward, Romantic was — by some distance — the most impressive work of Mannequin Pussy‘s burgeoning career. One of 2016’s most ferocious records, Romantic saw the band firing on all cylinders on levels that may have even surprised their most devoted fans. It’s a molotov cocktail of a record; hit play and get obliterated.
Big Thief – Masterpiece
One of the year’s most welcome surprises, Big Thief‘s Saddle Creek debut Masterpiece found the band conjuring up the open-road spirit that their label built its name peddling. Gorgeous songwriting, unavoidable emotional intensity, and a clear commitment to the material defined Masterpiece. When all was said and done, the record succeeded in living up to its ostensibly tongue-in-cheek title.
Swim Team – Swim Team
One of the strongest records to come out of Infinity Cat‘s cassette series, Swim Team‘s self-titled is a gamut run trough the punk sub-genres that have defined the past three decades. All of them are successful and infused with the kind of grit and determination that characterize great bands. It’s an unforgettable warning shot from a band that seems hell-bent on using the past to elevate the future.
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Easily one of the year’s most celebrated releases, Teens of Denial earned every trickle of positive press that came its way. A landmark record from a project that could have withered under a massively-increased spotlight instead finds Car Seat Headrest operating on an entirely new level. Epics, ballads, and stormy punk numbers abound, illuminating one of 2016’s best coming-of-age stories in virtually any format.
Greys – Outer Heaven
2016 found Greys continuing to determinedly push their boundaries outward and succeeding with the kind of wild abandon that defines their adrenaline-inducing live show. Outer Heavenwas their biggest moment and saw the band effectively blend their delirious energy with a refined sense of atmosphere that enhanced already-great songs. An absolute triumph from one of today’s more fascinating acts.
Hovvdy – Taster
A remarkable, understated, near-flawless record, Hovvdy‘s Taster never received the recognition it was due. Front to back, there are no false moments on this record, only a series of unassuming grace notes that bind it into a gentle, spellbinding whole. Punk-informed bedroom pop, Taster is the product of meticulous dedication to craft and an enormous reserve of genuine feeling. It’s sincerity is a large part of its strength and its strength is overwhelming. Give it innumerable listens and the estimation it deserves.
John K. Samson – Winter Wheat
A painfully beautiful record, Winter Wheat marked the welcome return of John K. Samson. The former Weakerthans bandleader turned in another sorrowful, damaged collection of songs that contained enough glimmers of hope (apart from the devastating opener, which nearly made this year’s song’s list but was abandoned in favor of the record’s emotionally shattering closer) to make the impact even more severe. An atmospheric masterstroke from one of our greatest living songwriters, Winter Wheat is as comfortingly calm as it is completely unforgettable.
ALBUMS OF THE YEAR Mo Troper – Beloved
In focusing on the dark corners while establishing that darkness wouldn’t exist without some lightness as well, Mo Troper winds up wearing a very tattered heart on his sleeve. While that heart may be showing a considerable amount of scars, it’s still valiantly beating. Pathos, gravitas, and an incredibly inviting structure all combine to make Beloved a must-own but it’s Mo Troper himself who makes this record a masterpiece.
PUP‘s The Dream Is Over, the band’s jaw-dropping sophomore outing, was a release where nearly every song was considered for this year’s best songs list. In the end, the record proved so uniformly excellent across the board that it became literally impossible to define a standout. This is as a complete a punk record that anyone will be likely to hear for a very long time. Narrative focus, overall consistency, composition, conviction, production, sequencing, pacing… in every conceivable aspect, PUP absolutely demolished what were already ridiculously high expectations. One of the most defiant, triumphant releases in recent memory, The Dream Is Over was the shock to the system that the punk genre has sorely needed for years. Unbelievably consistent and weirdly empowering, PUP were able to put their name on one of the most vital records of 2016.
Doe – Some Things Last Longer Than You
Meticulously composed and teeming with unchecked aggression and greater meaning, Doe have offered up something that’s impossible to ignore. At every corner, there’s a breathtaking moment that continuously heightens the overabundance of impact present in Some Things Last Longer Than You. Whether the listener tethers themselves to the record’s multi-tiered narrative functions or to the artistry present in the composition, they’ll walk away contemplating its awe-inspiring depth. In short: Some Things Last Longer Than You isn’t just one of the year’s best records, it’s a full-blown masterpiece.
It’s not just that no one does what Weaves are doing as well as they do, it’s that no one else is even making an attempt. Should Weaves inspire some attempts at this particular eclectic blend of songwriting styles, genres, and cornerstones, this record will retain — and most likely remain in — a position as the gold standard. Grab onto something close and hold on tightly because Weaves is an unpredictable, exhilarating, and ultimately deeply satisfying thrill ride that knows no borders or boundaries. Greet it with an anxious smile and give in to its myriad charms.
All told, Return to Love is a document of a band determined to continuously better themselves, a new career high, and a bona fide statement release from one of this generation’s most consistently exciting acts. It’s a series of sustained, connected grace notes that never wavers, even as it openly acknowledges it doesn’t have all of the answers. Not a single second of its run time is wasted and each of the songs are memorable for a wildly varying list of reasons. LVL UP aren’t the type of band to be dissuaded from taking action by a daunting challenge and Return to Love is an assured, steadfast piece of proof.
To put it as succinctly as possible: it’s a masterpiece.
Following suit with the two previous examples, the best songs of 2016 list will abandon the traditional numerical format in favor of a more open approach that concentrates on the best material of the year without offering too many individual designations. The majority of the songs featured on this list were under-represented on lists by far more visible publications (and a few that were fairly represented are listed below the main list as honorable mentions) and fall under the genres normally covered by this site. Of course, this list — just like any other — can’t claim to be truly representative but it does offer a decent encapsulation of 2016 releases that deserved to be celebrated.
An additional note: most of the embeds come from bandcamp, so songs will auto-play after the initial listen. This was intentional to ease the access to the records that can claim these songs and to more directly benefit the artists that brought them into the world.
Enjoy the list.
Mo Troper – Happy Birthday
One of the strongest debut records of last year was Mo Troper‘s Beloved, an entirely unexpected but wholly welcome powerpop masterpiece. While just about every song on Beloved was considered for this list, it seemed appropriate to go with “Happy Birthday” which set the tone for a fearsome record that deserved far more recognition.
Doe – Sincere
Some Things Last Longer Than Youwas a blistering statement from Doe, a band that had been steadily gaining momentum for years. It was a perfectly structured record that allowed its songs an equal amount of weight but “Sincere” still managed to emerge as a standout single. Fiery and full of conviction, it was one of 2016’s best moments.
– Told Slant – Low Hymnal
“Low Hymnal” was a song that I was fortunate enough to hear forming in its earliest stages but the finished product still managed to wind up as a transcendental experience. There’s genuine pain at the root of Told Slant‘s “Low Hymnal” that lends to the overwhelming weight of the song’s unforgettable final stanza. A gorgeous and moving masterwork.
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
In the title track for their career best, Human Performance, Parquet Courts hit an exhilarating new high point. “Human Performance” is a tightly-coiled and deeply felt examination of the human condition that finds the band stretching in new directions with a fearlessness that makes the song as gripping as it is immediate.
Yucky Duster – Gofer
A pitch-perfect pop song, Yucky Duster‘s “Gofer” became one of 2016’s most unexpected summer anthems. It’s a pure delight at every perfectly-navigated hairpin turn, serving up some of the most meticulously constructed guitar pop in recent memory. A perfect blend of style and substance, “Gofer” is a triumph from a band worth watching.
Cymbals Eat Guitars – Philadelphia, 4th of July (SANDY)
While Pretty Years saw Cymbals Eat Guitars continue to evolve their sound, no moment of the record was more jaw-dropping than the towering “Philadelphia, 4th of July (SANDY)“. An eye-opening display of formidable strength and untapped ferocity, the song saw the band perfecting just about every facet of their already-impressive songwriting.
LVL UP – Spirit Was
“Pain” and “Hidden Driver” got a fair amount of attention from year-end lists but the most representative moment of LVL UP‘s Return To Love was the bittersweet “Spirit Was“, which also ranks as one of the band’s best. Vocalist/bassist Nick Corbo provided Return To Love its beating heart and “Spirit Was” marked the moment it completely opened.
Big Thief – Real Love
It takes a certain type of boldness to title a record Masterpiece but when that record features songs like “Real Love“, that title just seems apt. In some moments “Real Love” is breezy and open, while others finds Big Thief baring their fangs. Throw in one of the most effective guitar solos of the past few years and “Real Love” quietly emerges as a new classic.
Jawbreaker Reunion – Cosmos
Before hanging up their cables, Jawbreaker Reunion were kind enough to deliver one last album in haha and then what 😉, which lived up to the bands sterling track record. The best moment of a great record came via “Cosmos“, a gorgeous ballad examining serious topics that quickly transforms into a forceful reckoning. In short: it’s perfect.
Car Seat Headrest – The Ballad of the Costa Concordia
Likely the most celebrated record appearing on this list, Car Seat Headrest‘s Teens of Denial‘s most breathtaking moment was largely ignored by other outlets. “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia” is a sprawling meditation on hopelessness that somehow finds a way to seamlessly work in a brief, heartrending cover of Dido’s “White Flag”. A genuine achievement.
Fred Thomas – Brickwall
Fred Thomas is making and releasing music at a relatively relentless rate, which is a trait that typically produces a lot of filler material. Thomas somehow keeps getting better, something that’s clearly evident in “Brickwall“, a characteristically acerbic slice-of-life send-up that highlights Changer, which will go down as one of 2017’s finest.
Cloud Nothings – Modern Act
Rarely does a band come across as progressive while revisiting their earlier sounds, yet “Modern Act” finds a way to fuse progression with refinement in its revisitations. A brilliant hybrid of virtually every stage of the band’s career “Modern Act” is both a victory lap and an engrossing look at Cloud Nothings‘ increasingly promising future.
Slothrust – Horseshoe Crab
“Crockpot” was the kind of unforgettable song that could make a band’s career, that Slothrust has surpassed those dazzling heights so quickly is a staggering accomplishment. “Horseshoe Crab” is the kind of track that can stop people in their tracks. It’s a spellbinding song from a band unafraid to rip the bleeding heart out of their own chest.
Catbus – Fracas
A standalone release — and lone track — from a band that features Phyllis Ophelia and members of Patio, Catbus‘ “Fracas” is a riveting hybrid of post-punk and basement pop. The verses ensnare the listeners attention before the chorus blooms and casts an unbreakable spell. Exceedingly lovely and perfectly crafted, “Fracas” is an absolute gem.
John K. Samson – Virtute At Rest
No song in 2016 carried more emotional resonance than John K. Samson‘s devastating final chapter to the Virtute trilogy. Plaintive, painfully intimate, and tinged with a deeply damaged sense of hope, the song finds Virtute’s owner resurrecting the neglected cat to beg for forgiveness. Harrowing and unforgettable, “Virtute At Rest” was a knockout blow.
SONG OF THE YEAR
Jay Som – I Think You’re Alright
There’s a grace and elegance that’s identifiable even through the light damage that Jay Som applies to “I Think You’re Alright” that brings Sparklehorse to mind. Now, direct comparisons on this site are few and far between — especially in the case of such notable luminaries — but it’s next to impossible not to hear the ghost of Mark Linkous lovingly haunting every last second of “I Think You’re Alright”.
Melina Duterte, the mastermind behind the Jay Som project, has listed Sparklehorse as a major influence and the two share a kindred, empathetic spirit- something that shows in the delicate tenderness of “I Think You’re Alright” and maintains its convictions throughout the rest of Jay Som’s discography. While that discography is an enviable one, “I Think You’re Alright” remains its crown jewel, thanks to not only the song’s sublime instrumentation but a narrative that plays perfectly into the song’s soft lyricism.
All at once, uplifting and resigned, “I Think You’re Alright” occupies a fascinating space. There’s a lot going on in “I Think You’re Alright”, from the subdued atmosphere to the way that instrumentation interacts in its final quarter. When it’s playing, though, none of that’s taken into account as “I Think You’re Alright” has the ability to envelop the listener in a very specific feeling, rendering it a unique (and uniquely moving) listen. Not just one of the finest of this year but of the past decade.
This post’s feature spot was claimed by Tancred, a project that was all but guaranteed extensive coverage since the release of Out of the Garden, a 2016 highlight. “Sell My Head” was the first glimpse at what the project could achieve and now, a gorgeous Adam Weinberg-directed video for “Pens” has pushed the envelope even further. Masterminded by Now, Now member Jess Abbott, Tancred’s been growing exponentially more fascinating since String & Twine‘s release in 2011. The growth Tancred’s achieved over that time period’s remarkable and fully evidenced by “Pens”.
Opening with a slow-drip ink spill, “Pens” immediately sets a tone that keys in on its atmospherics, conjuring up a sense of tension, dread, and intrigue. In addition to directing, Weinberg also lensed and edited “Pens” and enlisted Nicole Kugel (who served as assistant director and art director on the clip) to bring a comprehensive vision to life. From the brooding, palm-muted opening to the euphoric eruption of the defiantly triumphant chorus, “Pens” is provided a haunted visual accompaniment that sways the narrative toward a darker subtext in surprising ways.
Helping matters along is Speedy Ortiz‘s Sadie Dupuis — who recently unveiled a new project called Sad13 — appears in “Pens” as Death, casting an increasingly foreboding shadow as the clip hurtles towards its climax. Dupuis and Abbott have recently emerged as sharing a spiritual kinship in their work, so Dupuis’ appearance here is both sensible and heartening, solidifying a connection that’s only grown stronger over the past few years. Abbott, in the central role, and Dupuis, as Death, both deliver committed performances in “Pens”, injecting their characters with a barely-contained mischievousness that pays off in an explosive ending.
Following a steady build, the clip hinges on that aforementioned ending, which finds Abbott and Dupuis hooking up in a way that feels more symbolic than exploitative. There’s an intense amount of sexuality, yes, but that moment also cements what the narrative had been driving towards (which expands on the lyrical subtext). Abbott lets excessively dark impulses take hold and merges with them while still retaining an identity. It’s provocative but it’s also incredibly powerful. In a lesser director’s hands it may have felt cheap but Weinberg grounds the moment with a surprising amount of gravitas which elevates the moment far past an easy angle.
The unforgettable final shot, which hints at the thesis shot of “Pens”, finds Dupuis’ death in complete control as Abbott secretes a black liquid that runs out of her lips. It’s the last moment of small-scale horror in a clip that uses the genre as a propulsive function, providing one last gorgeous shot before cutting away to black. A perfect epilogue to a tremendous music video, the moment also secures “Pens” a spot as one of this year’s most memorable clips. Utilizing an economic setup to complete perfection, “Pens” makes its mark with its own brand of dark magic.
Watch “Pens” below and pick up a copy of Out of the Garden from Polyvinyl here.
PressureDrop.tv has been responsible for a lot of the more memorable full sessions of recent memory but the series recently topped themselves with this no-holds-barred session from site favorites Summer Cannibals. None of the other performers on the series’ enviable roster of guests have matched the sheer velocity of Summer Cannibals’ energy here and the visuals match that propulsion. Nearly every second of the performance feels perfectly complementary and suggests that PressureDrop.tv just might be realizing their full potential.
2. free cake for every creature – All You Gotta Be When You’re 23 Is Yourself (BreakThruRadio)
free cake for every creature have appeared on this site numerous times but with each successive link, they’ve bettered themselves and hit yet another apex with this BreakThruRadio performance of “All You Gotta Be When You’re 23 Is Yourself”, a standout from their most recent release. Conjuring up a spell of subdued magic, the band effortlessly breezes through the track and closes it out with a soft smile.
3. Clearance – You’ve Been Pre-Approved (Constellation Chicago)
One of last year’s more overlooked releases came in the form of Clearance‘s excellent Rapid Rewards[full disclosure: my photography is used for the back art] and the record’s allure has actually grown since its release. A large part of that is thanks to Mike Bellis’ knowledgeable songwriting, which is front and center in this recent solo take of one of that record’s many highlights, “You’ve Been Pre-Approved”.
4. Tancred (Little Elephant)
Something is happening in these Tancred videos for Little Elephant that both suggests they’re unfinished and creates a curious pull that’s not entirely dissimilar from quicksand. The performance from the band, as ever, is sharp as hell but the audio sounds canned, as if only an overhead mic was picking the band up. That effect winds up working in tandem with the band’s influences astonishingly well, creating a damaged VHS sound quality that transforms this session into a surprisingly gratifying Easter egg.
5. Julien Baker (Exclaim!)
If a pro-shot Julien Baker session emerges over the course of any given week, it’s probably safe to assume that it’ll find representation in this series. Baker’s an innately talented performer and a mesmerizing lyricist that’s already managed to carve out a space next to Elliott Smith as one of the most effective and intimate narrators of tragedy that the music world’s had in quite some time. All of those qualities infuse this recent two-song performance for Exclaim! with a hypnotic sadness that manages to be both reassuring and heartrending all at once.
In the past month, a lot’s happened on both sides of the coverage spectrum. A lot of sets were documented in that time and will be receiving some attention at some point down the line. A lot of full streams came out, even more songs were released, and quite a few music videos found their way out into the world as well. All three of those formats will have a list dedicated to them and then a slew of individual features will be posted celebrating a handful of exceptional titles. Below is a list of formidable music videos that made a powerful impression over the course of the last month. Take a breath, dive in, and go exploring.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Each of the seven volumes that comprise this Watch This package contain 25 clips apiece. Due to the sheer volume of live videos that have come out during January, February, and March all of the packages will have the same introductory paragraph. Regular Watch This segments will resume on Sunday.]
It’s been a tremendous first quarter for live videos. While Watch This, Heartbreaking Bravery’s weekly series celebrating the very best of the live video format, hasn’t been in operation for roughly three full months, the information required to keep this thing humming (i.e., checking through hundreds of subscriptions and sources for outstanding new material) has been collected at regular intervals. If they were full sessions, single song performances, studio-shot, DIY captures, transcendent songs, or transcendent visual presentations, they were compiled into a massive list. 175 videos wound up making extraordinarily strong impressions, those videos will all be presented here, in the Watch This: The Best of 2016’s First Quarter extended package, one 25-clip presentation at a time.
Watch the seventh and final collection of those videos below.
1. Two Inch Astronaut – At Risk Student (bandwidth.fm) 2. Bob Mould – You Say You (WFUV) 3. The Intelligence (KEXP) 4. Lever – The Task (DZ Records) 5. The Thermals – Always Never Be (Jam in the Van) 6. Saintseneca – Bad Ideas (KUTX) 7. Young Jesus – Oranges (Slanted Manor) 8. Eleventh Dream Day – Go Tell It (Sound Opinions) 9. Julia Holter – Betsy on the Roof (Strombo Sessions) 10. Mothers – It Hurts Until It Doesn’t (Do512) 11. Lucy Dacus – Strange Torpedo (Radio K) 12. Blah Blah Blah – Crying (DZ Records) 13. The Frights – Kids (Allston Pudding) 14. Caveman – Never Going Back (Jam in the Van) 15. Dan San (3voor12) 16. Test Apes (KEXP) 17. All Dogs – Farm (Slanted Manor) 18. Kitten Forever – Brainstorm (Radio K) 19. Bully – Milkman (KUTX) 20. Tancred (Audiotree) 21. PWR BTTM (NPR) 22. Pinegrove – Waveform (BrooklynVegan) 23. Mansfield.Tya – Le dictionnaire Larousse (Faits Divers) 24. Cross Record – Steady Waves (KUTX) 25. Charles Bradley (NPR)
Now that nearly everything’s back up to speed on the three major fronts (streams, full streams, and music videos), it’s time to re-direct the attention to the very best material that emerged in the first three months of 2016. After listening to literally thousands of new songs throughout the course of this year, 50 songs will be embedded below (the original list was just over 50 and the last three cuts were from Public Access T.V., SOAR, and Retired), with the first several artists listed having multiple songs vying for the feature.
Due to the time constraints, each of the songs — while worthy of several paragraphs — will receive a line or two of text. All of the songs that competed for the feature spot will be hyperlinked. All of these songs, in one way or another, genuinely stood out from the rest of the pack- and beyond that, several of them have proven their worth via their staying power.
From moments of devastating vulnerability (“Low Hymnal”) to electrifying bursts of visceral energy (“DVP”), there’s a lot to digest. Whether carrying the status of new, emerging, proven, or elder statesman, the artists that comprise this list have viable year-end potential. All 50 of these tracks deserve investment. Dive in below and explore a large handful of 2016’s finest gems.
A seething mess of chaos and cacophony, Culture Abuse‘s “Turn It Off” was one of young 2016’s most immediate post-punk tunes. Sharp and unrelenting, “Turn It Off” more than makes its mark. | Also worth hearing: Dream On, Peace On Earth
Audacity – Lock On the Door
Self-described by the band as a “Third Eye Blind rip-off song”, “Lock On the Door” is the band’s most successful grime-coated excursion and retains every bit of its predecessors’ considerable charms. | Also worth hearing: Umbrellas, Dirty Boy.
Mulligrub – Homo Milk & Man in the Moon
Mulligrub managed to impress when they were just starting out and they’ve grown noticeably in a surprisingly short period of time. If this two-song package is any indication, there are some extraordinary things in Mulligrub’s future. | Also worth hearing: Europe
Mo Troper – First Monkey In Space
Mo Troper’s Beloved is my early front-runner for Album of the Year and with songs as perfectly crafted (and presented) as “First Monkey In Space”, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Big Star-meets-Tony Molina is a very, very good look. | Also worth hearing: After the Movies
Jawbreaker Reunion – Cosmos
Another early year-end candidate came in the form of Jawbreaker Reunion‘s breathtaking “Cosmos”, which saw them tapping back into the lovesick despair that made “E.M.O.” so unforgettable. When the back half kicks in on his one, it’s a moment of powerful transcendence. | Also worth hearing: Small Investments
Kal Marks – Coffee
A sprawling, bruiser of a track, “Coffee” sees Kal Marks continuing to dominate the realms of aggressively down-trodden post-punk, fully equipped with a messy handful of grunge influences. It’s another masterclass from a band who are very nearly peerless. | Also worth hearing: Mankind
Tenement – The Block Is Safe Again
One of three songs on this list to be experiencing a cleaned up re-release, “The Block Is Safe Again” is vintage Tenement. All you really need to see to know that this is incredible is the last word of that first sentence. | Also worth hearing: Freak Cast In Iron
Nicole Dollanganger – Chapel
Another song that experienced a re-release, “Chapel”, saw Nicole Dollanganger embracing her softest sensibilities and conjuring up something spellbinding. Let it wash over you and give into its dreamlike state, pay attention, though, and you’ll be plunged straight into a delicate nightmare. | Also worth hearing: Beautiful and Bad
Big Ups – National Parks
Shortly after hitting their five year anniversary, Big Ups unloaded a behemoth of a record in Before A Million Universes. The high-wire tension act of “National Parks” was one of its many peaks, providing an able showcase for the band’s commanding sense of self. | Also worth hearing: Hope for Someone
Tancred – Sell My Head
One of 2016’s most pleasant surprises has come in the full-blown emergence of Tancred. Spiky, formidable, and exceptional, everything Jess Abbott’s project has unleashed this year has hit its target. Store this one away right next to the fiercest songs from Palehound and Speedy Ortiz. | Also worth hearing: Control Me
Eskimeaux – WTF
After claiming this site’s Album of the Year distinction, the Epoch quartet known as Eskimeaux has returned with a shimmering new EP. “WTF” continues the band’s winsome penchant for expertly crafted, bittersweet pop songs with a gentle ease. Good luck shaking that chorus section. | Also worth hearing: Power
Solids – Blank Stare
Following a string of strong releases, Solids have a career high on their hands with the Else EP, which boasts four enthralling tracks that combine a host of influences into something melodic and menacing. “Blank Stare” is the EP’s highlight. | Also worth hearing: Wait It Out
Eureka California – Cobwebs on the Wind
Eureka California have proven themselves to be a remarkably consistent band and they’ve rarely ever been granted the spotlight they deserve. Versus, their latest effort, is their most engaging thanks to the jittery energy that propels tracks like “Cobwebs on the Wind” and “Caffeine”. | Also worth hearing: Caffeine
Banned Books – Fuselage
Very few records this year have caught me as off guard or sent me reeling as quickly as Banned Books, the exhilarating self-titled effort from the Philadelphia noise-punk figureheads. “Fuselage” contains some of the band’s most exceptional — and propulsive — work to date. | Also worth hearing: Everything I’ll Ever Need
Hudson Bell – Box of Bones
One of the most difficult decisions to make in compiling this list was which of these two listed songs to feature. “Box of Bones” got the edge for the extraordinary hooks and some jaw-dropping sections of sheer perfection. Hudson Bell is putting together something unreal and more people should be taking note. | Also worth hearing: Hey Doll
Plush – Sheer Power
A sweeping, magisterial work of lush decadence, “Sheer Power” announced Plush’s 2016 run with a heaven-sent explosion. Dynamic, powerful, gorgeous, and towering, “Sheer Power” is the band at their most gripping and one of early 2016’s most spine-tingling offerings. | Also worth hearing: Please Don’t Let Me Go
PUP – DVP
As expected, when PUP resurfaced after making one of the most beloved punk records of this current decade, they were even more feral and wild-eyed than when they left off. “DVP” isn’t just the band’s fiercest song to date, it’s also one of their strongest. Get out of the way or get run over (repeatedly).
Greys – No Star
Another one of Toronto’s finest punk acts, Greys, have been putting together a deeply impressive run over the past few years. They’ve yet to make a bad song and thrive off the tension they inject into the kinetic “No Star”, which expertly balances the band’s most melancholic sensibilities with their most explosive.
The Sun Days – Don’t Need To Be Them
2016 has already had its fair share of excellence in powerop but right now, no one’s doing that genre better than Sweden, who’ve gifted us another extraordinary act in The Sun Days. Album, the band’s debut record, offers up a whole bevvy of what are likely to go down as some of 2016’s loveliest tunes, like the gorgeous “Don’t Need To Be Them”.
Frankie Cosmos – On the Lips
The last of the songs on this list to have a prior release, “On the Lips” finally gets the full band treatment for Frankie Cosmos‘ sprightly Next Thing. Already considered a standout of a very crowded discography, “On the Lips” is pure Frankie Cosmos: light, charming, and memorable.
Oceanator – Nowhere Nothing
Very few songs over the past several years have had a section that laid me as flat as the outro to Oceanator’s “Nowhere Nothing”. The project of Vagabon drummer Elise Okusami, Oceanator’s already showing an astounding level of promise. As a standalone song, it’s breathtaking. As an artist’s introductory number, it’s flat-out unbelievable.
Yoni & Geti – Madeline
Serengeti’s carved out a respectable place for himself throughout the course of a very consistent career. WHY?‘s Yoni Wolf is rightfully regarded as one of this generation’s most remarkable lyricists (by certain circles, at least). Their collaborative project is only just getting started but the lilting powerpop of “Madeline” bodes well for the duo’s future.
EERA – Drive With Fear
“Drive With Fear” was the first song that really pulled me into EERA‘s fascinating world. Combining elements of dream-pop, ambient, and noise into an extremely tantalizing package, the project from Anna Lena Bruland’s landed on something intangible that seems ready to pay dividends as it goes forward. This song alone’s a piece of magic.
Tacocat – I Hate the Weekend
Tacocat returned with “I Hate the Weekend”, advancing the band’s commendable aversion to disappointing by amplifying what they do best: carefree basement pop that deals with life’s more mundane moments. Sugary, sharp, and well-informed, “I Hate the Weekend” will stand as one of 2016’s greatest anti-parties.
Dilly Dally – Know Yourself
Watching Dilly Dally unexpectedly pull out this Drake cover last year at CMJ prompted what I can only describe as a near-out-of-body experience. I wrote about it extensively a few times and was hoping an official recording of the cover would make its way out into the world. When it arrived, it didn’t disappoint; “Know Yourself” is an absolute monster.
Lucy Dacus – Strange Torpedo
“I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” was one of the best songs of last year and I haven’t been able to shake it since its release. Fortunately, Lucy Dacus had a new batch of equally exceptional songs to round out the incredible No Burden, including “Strange Torpedo”, a very strong showcase of Dacus’ knack for hyper-intelligent songwriting.
Weaves – One More
Weaves have undergone one of the more impressive transformations in music, transitioning from an intriguing world-leaning act to a full-fledged basement pop group. “Shithole” was one of the first indications of their radical switch and they’ve followed it up with the vicious, teeth-baring noise-punk of “One More”.
Free Cake For Every Creature – First Summer In A City
Katie Bennett’s Free Cake For Every Creature project has excelled in making airy bedroom pop that’s grounded by a relatable honesty. “First Summer In A City” is an instant standout, instantly capitalizing on the act’s most breezy and road-weary sensibilities. The slide guitar work here is a thing of quiet perfection.
Woods – Morning Light
Another band that knows a thing or two about breezy, road-weary sensibilities is Woods, who have sculpted an entire career out of combining the two. One of the most remarkably consistent bands going today, they’ve managed to produce a career highlight with the easygoing, piano-speckled Americana of “Morning Light”.
Music Band – Fortune Guns
Basement pop meets basement punk is where this site pulls most of the bands it features most prominently. Music Band exists squarely in that intersection and have nearly perfected that marriage. “Fortune Guns” is the latest piece of thrilling evidence.
A Death Forest Index – Myth Retraced
“Myth Retraced” is the kind of song that slowly washes over the listener, pulling them deeper in with each successive wave as the current gets increasingly stronger. A collaboration between A Death Forest Index and Savages’ guitarist, Gemma Thompson, it’s a dark, fractured miracle of a track.
Carey – You Were Right
Old Flame Records has long specialized in retro-leaning basement pop, building up a roster of acts that have — appropriately — been granted a lot of attention from this site. Carey‘s the latest band to get in on the action and they kicked 2016 off with the blazing “You Were Right”, which more than lives up to the label’s high standard.
Wood Lake – Hollow
Easily the heaviest song on this list, “Hollow” is a swift masterstroke from emerging act Wood Lake. Combining the very best elements of post-hardcore and shoegaze, the band’s latched onto something that feels as exhilarating as it does singular. Gorgeous and punishing isn’t an easy combination to pull off but Wood Lake’s got it down pat.
Dead Stars – Unpopular
Dead Stars have shown up on this site a few times thanks to their ’90s-infused take on basement pop and “Unpopular” is another very worthy addition to a strong discography. Clean when its called for and distorted when it matters, “Unpopular” finds the band in fine form.
Such Hounds – I’ve Been Lost
Riding a syncopation lifted from The Damned’s classic “Neat Neat Neat” in the introduction, Such Hounds’ “I’ve Been Lost” quickly transforms into a beast of its own, lacing its emphatic powerpop with a punk sneer. Insanely catchy and playfully welcoming, it’s a breath of fresh air in an all-too-often overly serious musical landscape.
Told Slant – Low Hymnal
The first time I heard a note of Told Slant‘s “Low Hymnal” was when it was being recorded in DBTS. I’d wake up and listen in on Felix Walworth meticulously recording the song, wondering how the finished version would play. When I heard the rough take, I surrendered myself to chills, on the verge of tears. Now that it’s done, that feeling’s returned.
Mitski – Your Best American Girl
The year Bury Me At Makeout Creekcame out it came very close to capturing this site’s Album of the Year distinction. Mitski‘s made a lot of moves in the time that’s followed, watching her audience grow exponentially in the process. “Your Best American Girl” is more than strong enough to allow that trend to continue; it’s a dynamic behemoth.
Yung – Pills
Yung were one of the first bands to really impress me at last year’s CMJ. I’d enjoyed what I’d heard from them previously but their was something intangible happening with their live show that converted me into a full-fledged believer. “Pills”, an expertly crafted basement pop number, serves as a welcome reminder that they’ve elevated their game.
Patio – Arbitrary Numbers
Fortunately, for everyone, Patio‘s only grown more confident since their demo (and their first show). Their upcoming EP, Luxury, is chock-full of memorable post-punk, including “Arbitrary Numbers”, the release’s minimalist pull track. Intelligent, catchy, and well-informed, it shows the band’s well on their way to being a recognizable name.
Jean-Michel Blais (ft. Bufflo) – Nostos
One of the more beautiful piano compositions to have emerged in some time, this collaborative effort between Jean-Michel Blais and Bufflo is a haunting, masterful run that’s weighted by what scans as genuine emotion. All of the ambient elements that spring up manage to enhance the vivid nature of the piece’s most emotive moments.
Fog Lake – Rattlesnake
From its melancholic opening moments to its uneasy close, Fog Lake‘s “Rattlesnake” is a gripping journey through unsparing self-examination. Haunting, haunted, and oddly unnerving, the relatively tranquil “Rattlesnake” is a miniature masterpiece that should go quite a ways in elevating Fog Lake towards a desirable status.
Tangerine – Sunset
Tangerine have all the energy you’d expect from an exciting emerging act but are able to differentiate themselves thanks to how effectively they wield that energy. “Sunset” is a perfect example, a frantic, sun-soaked, punk-tinged powerpop number that plays like the band was having difficulty containing their sheer joy over the prospect of simply making music.
Bob Mould – The End of Things
At this point, if you’re reading this site, it’s highly unlikely that Bob Mould‘s an unfamiliar name. The Hüsker Dü co-leader has been on an absolute tear with his solo releases of late, his finest work on those rivaling the best of the band that made him a legend. The fire-breathing “The End of Things” shows that he has absolutely no intentions of slowing down.
Catbus – Fracas
Patio‘s Lindsey-Paige McCloy and Alice Suh make another appearance on this list as part of this new, Phyllis Ophelia-led project that announced itself by way of the uniformly excellent “Catbus”. Post-punk, ’90s pop, and minimalism are woven together here to instantaneously memorable effect. The chorus alone stands as one of 2016’s strongest musical moments.
Museum of Recycling – Stillove
Last year, I was fortunate enough to host the demo premiere of “Stillove”, the standout track from new Big Ups side-project, Museum of Recycling. Heavy, atmospheric, and unrelentingly bruising, “Stillove” sees Joe Galaragga embracing his most melodic sensibilities to spellbinding effect. Get crushed under its formidable weight.
Leapling – Alabaster Snow
While Leapling have had a sizable handful of great tracks leading up to 2016, “Alabaster Snow” showed the band operating on a different level entirely. Easily the band’s best song to date, it’s a chaotic mixture of powerpop and vicious noise-punk that keeps things clean and winds up being even more engaging for its unconventional choices.
Dusk – My Own Design
Tenement‘s Amos Pitsch and Holy Sheboygan!‘s Julia Blair have both had their turn at the helm of Dusk and now, on “My Own Design”, the band moves darn it.‘s Ryley Crowe to the forefront. “My Own Design” is just as timeless and perfect as “(Do the) Bored Recluse” and “Too Sweet“, definitively proving Dusk as a whole belongs at the head of the WI music scene.
The Gotobeds – Real Maths/Too Much
It took me a while to come around on The Gotobeds after the lead-off single from their last record left me fairly cold. This time around, I’d happily go all in on “Real Maths/Too Much”, a pointed burst of post-punk that lingers long after its left. Fiery, insistent, and played with an intense amount of feeling, it’s the band at their absolute best.
Big Thief – Real Love
Another likely contender for multiple year-end lists arrived in the form of Big Thief‘s “Real Love”, a breathtaking tune that’s breathing new life into Saddle Creek’s increasingly impressive roster. A towering masterclass of pure songwriting, “Real Love” is jaw-dropping at nearly every turn, from the sky-bound guitar work to the plaintive honesty that grounds the whole affair. If the rest of the band’s upcoming Masterpiece comes close to matching this song, it’s tongue-in-cheek title won’t carry a shred of irony. “Real Love” is four minutes and 17 seconds of sublime perfection.