10. Bayside – Vacancy
It seems like Bayside are just popping these albums out year by year lately – and they're pretty damn good. With age, it seems evident that Anthony Raneri is writing some beautiful stuff and Bayside's albums are becoming cohesive pieces of music. Cult is a great example of this and Vacancy is another. It seems like they were really channeling their inner Billy Joel on this album (they did do a cover of “Moving Out” - probably the only Billy Joel song I can stand, that's for another blog post, I guess,) particularly “I've Been Dead All Day” and “Pretty Vacant”. Regardless of my feelings for Joel, Bayside actually pulls it off very well.
9. Green Day – Revolution Radio
Green Day, I'm so proud of you. You've been so resilient throughout the years. From 924 Gilman Street to Broadway, you've just kept on going regardless of what people said - “Remember that album with the song about masturbating? That was great! Now they suck.” And yes, they had a rough patch. The Uno, Dos, Tre albums – what were those? Don't even get me started on 21st Century Breakdown. The aftermath of such a monster hit (American Idiot, if you were living under a rock in 2004 and didn't know what I was referring to,) can be very weird for a band – they can either move on or try to re-create the hit. For a lot of bands, this can be defined as the sophomore slump or comeback of the year. Green Day however, had a lot of albums under their belt, critical success and a die hard fan base before all of this rigamarole happened to them.
Unfortunately, Green Day kept trying to re-create the hit for a while. Over a decade, to be exact. Perhaps they were just bored and were like, “yeah, let's do this, I guess”. Who knows. But it seems like they've bounced back with Revolution Radio and I couldn't be more pleased. Ya know, it only took twelve years. This album kind of reminds me of Warning with an American Idiot twist. There's variety, just like American Idiot but there's also the apathy and stripped down rawness that Warning had. Gwendolyn Mumford of The Guardian, I think says it best: “"[after their last few albums] the band have decided to get back to basics: Revolution Radio is their most focused work in years.” Key tracks include “Bang Bang,” “Revolution Radio,” “Say Goodbye” and “Still Breathing.”
8. Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues
This was Jimmy Eat World's ninth studio album but it sounds like it could be their second or third – I love how consistent they are! It's not very often you find a band like Jimmy Eat World that just continues to come out with great records – Bayside being another band that does this, I think. It doesn't sound like they're just churning them out for their kids college funds at all. I mean, maybe they are, but it doesn't sound like they're desperate, is where I'm getting at. They're still doing this because they like to and because they have more to say. There's passion behind these songs. Not their highest chart topper but it did get to #4 on the alternative billboardcharts. Key tracks include: “Get Right” (might be one of my favorite songs they've ever writen,) and “Pretty Grids”.
7. Tegan and Sara – Love You to Death
Oh, this album. Yeah, I listened to this a lot. Tegan and Sara's music is very relatable and listenable – they come out with an album and you just want to immerse yourself in it until you hear “U-Turn” for the 405th time and literally anything else would be a sweet relief. I wrote about my feelings on this album when it came out and I don't think I've really changed my mind – still totally into these ladies time traveling to the 80s and doing their thing. Heartthrob was great but Love You to Death feels more like an album to me – it has a specific focus and a specific sound. Very Tears for Fears – Human League 80s. Key tracks include “Dying to Know,” “100x” and “White Knuckles”.
6. Margo Price – Midwest Farmers Daughter
Margo Price is a country queen amongst the Keith Urban's and Toby Keith's of the country music world (and seriously, why is Keith such a popular name in country music?). It's truly a damn shame that country music doesn't worship the greats like Price, Kasey Musgraves, Amanda Shires and Gillian Welch to name a few. Sure, these ladies have success, but they're not country music's superstars – the Keith's are. It used to be Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline and Hank Williams at this pedestal who are way more in line with what Price is doing with her career. This is why I have a problem with country music but anyway, Margo Price is awesome. She's brutally honest with her lyrics, she tells an autobiographical story in Midwest Farmers Daughter and it really shows. When you put your heart into your music, people notice. She has got to be one of my favorite, if not my favorite, new artist that came out in 2016. Key tracks include “Hands of Time,” “About to Find Out” and “Hurtin' on the Bottle”.
5. Beyonce – Lemonade
Did you ever think I was going to put Beyonce on one of these lists? Because I didn't! Let alone in the top 5. But I can't deny that I really love Lemonade and think it's a pretty enormous accomplishment for Queen Bey. What I love about this album is that she used her fame and status to release an album that brings up some very interesting questions and concepts, especially as we roll into 2017 with a new president, hate crimes abound and Black Lives Matter still going strong. If only other celebrities at this pedestal would do this more often. To me, it seems like she wanted to make a stand and talk about this stuff because she knew she could. And what's even more badass is that she didn't care if her fame would be compromised or not – she's at that stage in her life like most thirty-somethings, where she's like “IDGAF.” As she says in “Formation,” “You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation.” But people loved it and it became her most popular album in years, probably since I Am...Sasha Fierce. And let's not forget about the other personal stuff she talked about – her marriage...which we found out is not always perfect. To put herself in such a vulnerable and uncomfortable place, especially with how famous she is and how picked apart she can be from the media, it's just a total badass move. Like, I have no other word to describe it other than badass. And it really changes my view on Beyonce too. I still can't say I'm a huge fan of hers but I can appreciate her “going there”. Because I think that's what being an artist is all about. I can't even think of key tracks for this because it's one of those albums where all the songs feels like one big song. So just listen to it.
4. Angel Olsen – My Woman
This lady is a powerhouse and My Woman is just a slither of the music she'll make in the future that we'll gladly listen to. Olsen's music has so many genres you could attach to it – punk, rockabilly, folk, alternative – so many options. There's something here for everyone. I loved Burn Your Fire for No Witness, but I think My Woman is what she's going to be as an artist – a combination of Joan Jett, Liz Phair and Grace Slick. A combination of pop-rock goodness and surrealist poetry. You listen to the way she says “Still got to wake up and be someone” on “Intern” and how sternly she yells “Shut up, kiss me, hold me tight!” on “Shut Up Kiss Me” and you're like, “yeah, I don't know what this girl is about yet, but I like it.” And we might not ever know.
3. Banks – The Altar
The Altar was a great sophomore album for Jillian Banks – it was pretty similar to her debut, Goddess, but also very different – it was safe but it was still good. I have a feeling she'll branch out on her third album and get a little more experimental although I'm not sure if that's a good thing because she does this well and still can put herself into these songs, writing honest, unmerciful lyrics about love and life. Especially if you've listened to both of her albums as much as I have, you can tell The Altar has a vibe that says, “I want to branch out but...I'm gonna stay here.” Regardless of that, she really pulled through the sophomore slump, in my mind. “Trainwreck” is probably one of her best. I love that she thinks about the sound, or I guess timbre (yes! I can use one of my favorite words!) for every song on this, “Trainwreck” being a perfect example. Almost all of the tracks on this album are very quiet, she's almost whispering in some of it - “F*** With Myself,” being a good example – and then “Trainwreck” is just like, “oh my god, I'm acting crazy and I don't what to do with myself, please help.” It sounds very anxious but I think that's what she wanted and I love that. Then, “This is Not About Us” could easily be on a Salt-N-Pepa album from the late eighties – she just needs a rap break and she's all set. Other key tracks include, “Weaker Girl” and “Gemini Feed”.
2. Against Me! - Shape Shift with Me
Ah, something familiar. I can always count on Against Me! for a good album. Shape Shift with Me was perfect in every way. Their last previous work, Transgender Dysphoria Blues was kind of the introduction to Laura Jane Grace Against Me! - which wasn't really too different musically but lyrically, very different. Grace discussing her battle just to be herself was heartbreaking and very powerful, but I did think to myself, it isn't smooth sailing for them after this - after such a drastic change, will we still be getting the same Against Me! I've known and loved for years? Will I still get the band whom I feel in love with on MTV in a post 9/11 world, with former President George W. Bush in office, when I heard “Don't Loose Touch” and thought, “they're pissed. I need to listen to more of them.” Well, will I? Transgender Dysphoria Blues was definitely an album she needed to make and an album we needed to hear, but is this what they will be now? And I got the answer after listening to Shape Shift with Me – yes and no. Which is the answer I wanted because after such a change, you can't possibly be the same. They're relatively still the same but they're even better! You can tell she's so focused now in her music and lyrics, you're just ready for the ride. I've seen them live twice now post-Laura and they're better than they've ever been. There's nothing in their way. Key tracks include “Boyfriend” (LOVE that song), “Delicate, Petite & Other Things I'll Never Be,” “Haunting Haunted Haunts,” “Norse Truth” and “Crash”.
1. Watsky – x infinity
This is a pretty obvious choice for me and I did think about putting someone else in my number one spot. “Maybe I'll put Beyonce there, no one would ever suspect that,” I thought to myself. “Wouldn't it be funny if I was like, 'psych! I've been a huge Frank Ocean fan this whole time and Blonde is my number one'? No, just I would think that's funny?” But the thing is, I can't deny the fact that I listened to x infinity for almost half of the year non-stop. Seriously, ask my boyfriend, he'll tell you. Every time we were in the car and “Don't Be Nice” or “Pink Lemonade” started playing he'd turn to me and say very deadpan, “You have a problem” and he's a Watsky fan himself. And even he was getting tired of it. I can still listen to x infinity and be fulfilled. I'm not like, “ugh, if I have to hear 'Tiny Glowing Screens Pt. 3' one more time...” No – I'm not. I'm like, “yeah, let's listen to Cardboard Castles next.” His music is so intricate – it's like a Where's Waldo book but for music – there's always something that you missed the 60 other times you listened to it, and catch it on the 61st. His lyrics are also incredibly inspiring. Much like some of the other musical loves in my life – Ryan Adams and Frank Turner to be exact – Watsky's lyrics can be considered very depressing and sad to some but for me and other people out there, they're inspiring. Why? Because they're just honest. Yes, one day you'll die. Yes, you might be super depressed sometimes. That's life. Just try to be a good person and you do you. And like Adams and Turner, Watsky doesn't hide these facts of life. For some reason, I find comfort in that. But what's interesting is that he presents his ideas and music in a very different way than Adams and Turner however, I do consider them to be very much alike – in their ideas and opinions. Watsky definitely has more humor to his music. Another interesting aspect is that he's 30, only a year older than me so he's in the same age group as me – I hate to say millennials since it has such a negative connotation but, that's the group we're in.
Millennials are such a huge group, it's impossible to really group us all together. If you were coherent and aware during 9/11, that's the cut off for me. If you experienced 9/11 and know exactly where you were, what you were doing, how you felt – maybe you're technically a millennial, but you're not what media and society perceives a millennial as. I feel that Watsky definitely talks a lot about the issues people in this age bracket face. How they feel about the world, how they want to be and how they really are or how the future will be for us. Because we're around the age where people start buying houses, making families and some of us will even be in positions of power where we'll have the opportunity to change the world and how it works. To me, Watsky is a voice for this age group. The cusp of adulthood in 2016 and what to do with it. This is particularly evident on x infinity – there were definitely hints of it here and there in previous works but his music was much more fun and youthful when he started. Now, x infinity is a huge step toward a different direction. What that direction is, I'm not sure, but it's the end of an era for George and the beginning of a new one.
Bon Iver – 22, a million
Bon Iver came back this year and I think his new friends who are creating music of the Hip Hop variety are drastically influencing his sound. It was quite a leap from Bon Iver, Bon Iver. And you know what? I think I might be okay with it.
Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
Since this just came out on December 2, I haven't had a lot of time with this album so it will be an honorable mention. Perhaps if I did listen to it more, it might be higher, cause I feel like this is one of those “grower not a shower” albums. You have to sit with it. Listen to it during a traffic jam in the car. Although “Redbone” really stands out to me already.
The Chainsmokers – Collage EP
Damn it, I like The Chainsmokers, okay? Not a single fuck is given. Take away my music cred membership card, if you must. Hey, at least they're creating pop music that is original, has catchy melodies and are actually pretty cool pieces of music – especially without all the horns and beat machines in the background. I'm not a huge fan of the whole EDM-rave scene – to be honest, I think it's an irresponsible injustice to teens and they shouldn't be force fed musical Ecstasy and think it's okay to just go to a rave and get alcohol poisoning and everything will be fine because Skrillex does it all the time and he's fine – probably shouldn't market that to teens. Just as I wrote that, another realization that I've certainly crossed over. But still. The Chainsmokers, however, I can appreciate because it seems like they're in the music biz for the right reasons. Time will tell though.
Solange – A Seat at the Table
The music doesn't really grab me at first and honestly, I find it offensive when iTunes genrefies this album as “Soul” and then Lil' Wayne makes an appearance. But like her sister, she's talking about some heavy things in her music and I think that should be celebrated and thought about. Definitely listen to “Don't Touch my Hair” and “F.U.B.U.”