I’m not entirely sure how, but we’ve reached the middle of December 2016 without the Earth’s core opening up and swallowing us all down into the burning fiery furnace below. That can only mean one thing; it’s time for people who spend all year pretending to be entertainment journalists to narrow down the most entertaining things of the last 365 days into bite size pieces. And in list form! This is the sixth one of these I’ve done for Dying Scene, so the intro stuff might start to get a bit repetitive. As such, I’ll spare you my normal rambling 1500 word babble and jump in to the music itself. You’re welcome.
As is usually the case, I didn’t trim my list to ten, in spite of our esteemed leader, Johnny X, instructing us to do so. What can I say; I’m not a fan of restrictions, or base ten number systems. I thought there was something apropos about reclaiming the number 16 from the giant shitstorm that was this year. I also genuinely love all of the albums in my final list, and if I were to submit this list a week from now, the last half-dozen or so might be in a very different order. I did adhere to the instructions about keeping the list Dying Scene-relevant. If you’re into expanding horizons, you should check out Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, Amanda Shires’ My Piece Of Land, Sadler Vaden’s self-titled album, David Bowie’s Blackstar, Wilco’s Schmilco, and probably a bunch of other mid-tempo stuff I’m forgetting.
As always, I didn’t include EPs, split-releases or live albums in my final list, because…because I didn’t. However, you should by no means skip toyGuitar‘s Move Like A Ghost, Useless ID‘s We Don’t Want The Airwaves and Dead To Me‘s I Wanna Die In Los Angeles on the EP front. You should also check out The Darlings‘ live album, and the Bundles/Dan Webb And The Spiders split 12-inch that came out a couple months ago. Oh, and Oklahoa’s Don’t Make Ghosts put out an EP, Death Ride, that’s easily one of the best debuts this year.
I did include tracks from all of the above, and obviously all of the below, on the Spotify playlist I curated for this story…scroll all the way down for that and hit “play.”
Check out my list below.
(I included Off With Their Heads and Ray Rocket on here because they’re acoustic albums of songs that already existed. Arbitrary move on my part, perhaps. I’m not sure exactly why I included the rest of these in my “Honorable Mention” list and not in the Top 16 list, because they’re all solid as hell. Don’t worry, they’re all in the big-ol’ playlist down below too.)
The Top 16 of 2016
16. Brian Fallon – Painkillers
The Gaslight Anthem frontman stepped away from the band that was his day job for a decade and took a stab at becoming a solo artist, to stellar results. The music is more mid-tempo than the TGA fan club might prefer, and more upbeat and country-tinged than his prior side project, The Horrible Crowes, resulting in a little bit of mid-tempo repetitiveness, but Fallon is Fallon; the strengths are always in the lyrics and the melodies, and those are both top notch here.
15. Bob Mould – Patch The Sky
It probably goes without saying that you can wade all the way through the depths of the Bob Mould songbook without finding a bad or poorly-written song. That said, he’s hit one hell of a resurgent stride as he nears the end of his fourth decade in music. Patch The Sky joins 2012’s Silver Age and 2014’s Beauty & Ruin as a member of the most solid trio of his career; loud, aggressive, brutally honest, and very quintessentially Mould.
14. Ship Thieves – No Anchor
I don’t quite understand why Ship Thieves aren’t more popular, or at least more widely respected in the scene. Due in part to the increased involvement in songwriting from the band’s other members, they dropped the “Chris Wollard” part of the band’s name, but he’s very much still a presence, and Ship Thieves are now starting to solidify a textbook sound for themselves. Yeah, the best songs sound like they could have been HWM songs, but they see the light of day as Ship Thieves instead and that’s quite alright.
13. Against Me! – Shape Shift With Me
I’ll admit that there’s something weird and seemingly wrong about having the number “13” next to Shape Shift With Me. I really like this album. I really, really like it. In many ways, it’s better and more consistent and is more of a good thing than Transgender Dysphoria Blues was, though the latter gets bonus points for its ground-breaking nature. But what can I say; 2016 was a steaming turd of a year in more ways than I can count, but the music was pretty awesome.
12. Direct Hit – Wasted Mind
The Milwaukee-based quartet released their Fat Wreck Chords debut back in June, and it’s everything you could want from a pop-punk album. It’s got the fire and intensity and herpes-like catchiness of early Blink, only with fewer juvenile dick jokes and waaaay more drugs. Really fun album from start to finish.
11. Pkew Pkew Pkew – Pkew Pkew Pkew
Speaking of really fun albums from start to finish, Ontario’s Pkew Pkew Pkew put together easily one of the most fun pop-punk albums in recent memory. It’s got a straight forward sort of humor to it that somehow doesn’t get old, unlike a traditional comedy album. I even came out of review-writing exile to heap praises on this one; read it here.
10. Noi!se – The Real Enemy
The Tacoma-based four piece Noi!se might have had their last album, The Scars We Hide, go overlooked by far too many people. And while Scars… was a solid album, they didn’t just raise the bar on The Real Enemy, they obliterated the damn thing. Their latest full-length is still raw and punishing in some areas, but they really found some interesting depth and added a few new sounds to the arsenal. Try overlooking this one; go on…just try.
9. Face To Face – Protection
Much like with Against Me! a few entries ago, there is something weird about seeing Protection at this spot. Number 9 seems too low for the SoCal vets’ return to Fat Wreck Chords. In many ways, this album hearkens back to the trademark sound that made Face To Face a household name in the punk rock game. Great hooks, great melodies, Trever’s trademark voice, Scott’s inimitable bass stylings, plenty of whoa-oh-ohs, singalongs for days. In my mind, it’s actually better than the original trilogy (I know, I know…).
8. NOFX – First Ditch Effort
By now, you know the narrative. Fat Mike bottomed out, had a moment of clarity, and got clean in rather public fashion. He’s always been clever and has been able to craft catchy, melodic hooks in his sleep. But by getting raw and intensely personal, he also just wrote his best and most important album in easily a decade.
7. The Bouncing Souls – Simplicity
I’ve got to admit that the first time I gave Simplicity a spin in the ol’ Toyota Camry, I thought it was fine. Just fine. But I left it in its spot in the changer for a while, and each subsequent listen moved it steadily up in the ranks. While not meant to disparage long-time drummer Mike McDermott in any way, shape, or form, the addition of George Rebelo to the band adds a different sort of feel to support the punchy, high-energy tracks. Two-plus decades in and they’re still going strong.
6. Arms Aloft – What A Time To Be Barely Alive
Here’s where we get into “this could have been #1” territory. Since we’re still being honest, I really only heard this album for the first time a little over a month ago. I had it bookmarked from the first time I read our esteemed editor Carson Winter’s review, but I kept forgetting to actually pull it up. I was wrong; embarrassingly wrong. What A Time… is personal, political, earnest. It feels like an important album in a way that early Gaslight or earlier Hot Water Music helped define a sound and a feeling.
5. The So So Glos – Kamikaze
Do you ever get that thing happen where you put on an album for the first time and you get overcome with this visceral reaction within the first handful of notes of the first song that implies that you don’t only love that track but you already know you love the whole album? And then you listen to the whole album and it’s even better than you expected? That’s me with Kamikaze. Here’s the review I did back in May.
4. Get Dead – Honesty Lives Elsewhere
So you could pretty much just delete the word Kamikaze from the blurb above, substitute the words Honesty Lives Elsewhere in its place, and the rest would be entirely accurate, except that I wrote the review in September, not May. Sam and the boys worked hard and played hard in 2016, and they’ve got an absolute gem to show for it.
3. Descendents – Hypercaffium Spazzinate
I don’t know if there was something in the water this year or not, but given the looks of this list, it seems like a lot of the punk rock old guard decided to band together, put out kick ass, career-lifting albums, and show the young kids how it’s done. Maybe they saw a void in good new punk music; maybe they were refueled by the threat of the coming election of Cheeto Hitler, maybe it’s some other narrative entirely. Either way, Hypercaffium Spazzinate starts hard and fast and is everything you want in a Descendents album, perfected for 31 straight minutes.
2. The Falcon – Gather Up The Chaps
The mind of Brendan Kelly is a dark and twisted and beautiful place. Kelly’s songwriting wheelhouse is society’s underbelly, as he’s long had a penchant for rolling in the mud or going down to the basement or picking hte scabs and salting the wounds. He’s in rare form on …Chaps, and with Dave Hause added into the already formidable mix, the result is a raw, passionate and chaotic work of art.
1. The Interrupters – Say It Out Loud
Say It Out Loud is without question the slickest, best-sounding, most-danceable album that’ll appear on this or any year-end list. It’s fun, it’s bouncy, it has a way of never, ever finding itself getting old or monotonous in spite of endless replays. I’ve heard/read grumblings on certain corners of the internet claiming that The Interrupters’ infectious energy is a studio creation or whatever, but on stage, they’re absolutely one of the hardest-working, most frenetic bands on the planet. Top notch, grade A certified stuff from start to finish. The fact that they allowed themselves to appear on camera with me (above) has no bearing whatsoever on their place on this list!
Add The Interrupters to My Radar