Written by: Shawn Brown
Let’s be honest, 2016 sucked.
I mean really sucked hard.
Without putting too fine a point on it, our collective heads are spinning as we all ruminate on just what the hell is going on around us. The farcical elements of our current existence aside, something stunning happened this year. 2016 was the year musical artists decided that albums are indeed awesome. There were records everywhere! Many of which we had no idea were even coming! Really, everybody had one: Kanye, Bowie, Frank Ocean, Chance the Rapper, Rihanna, Paul Simon, Iggy Pop, Sia, Drake, Keith Urban, Radiohead, Solange, Beyonce’, and the list goes on and on.
The sheer mass of releases by top artists flies in the face of the going concern that the album, as a medium, is a rotting carcass. It’s almost as if streaming has given permission for artists to actually embrace making records again. If you are gonna give it away for free anyway, fuck it – might as well make something cool. Notice the emphasis on the album this year – not the single. There hasn’t been an album year like 2016 in 100 years (ok, not a 100, but many!), which leaves us here at The Screaming Life super fired up for what 2017 holds.
That being said, we felt it right to drop a list of our favorite records of 2016. These might not be the best albums of the year (whatever that even means), its just the ones we flat-out loved the most, so save your staunch defense of Lemonade for another guy.
8. Twin Atlantic/GLA
Glasgow’s Twin Atlantic delivers their fiercest, most savage effort to date. Things get dark for these guys – and loud – really loud. TA has clearly turned a corner and they are literally spitting with both depth and credibility with tunes like “Overthinking,” “Missing Link,” “The Chaser,” and GLA highlight “Whispers” is probably their most brooding showpiece to date.
7. Matthew Mayfield/RECOIL
Mayfield really did it this time. He crushed us. This open vein of a record is as brutal as it is beautiful. He’s always been a singular singer, but never has he delivered sonic textures that bring the joy, anger, loss, and suffering to this degree. It’s a break-up record that slays. He’s magic. “God’s Fault” is likely to be the best track off of any record you’ll spin all year.
6. Caitlyn Smith/STARFIRE
It’s finally starting to be clear to the powers that be in country music that the industry’s best source of “new” artists lies within its own songwriters. Please reflect back on the towering figure of Chris Stapleton (that dude’s a monster).
Caitlyn Smith is similarly monstrous. Her songs are everywhere; she’s got huge hits off of Jason Aldean’s My Kinda Party, several cuts by Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts (“Let it Hurt”), Cassadee Pope (“Wasting All These Tears”), Garth Brooks (“Tacoma”) and Kenny Rogers with Dolly Parton (“You Can’t Make Old Friends”). She’s penned hits for days, but finally decided to step out as her own artist and holy hell – she’s got all those folks beat as a singer. One part Patty Griffin, one part Kerry Underwood, she sings with the blood, people. Rumors are this EP will expand to a full album in 2017. Download immediately, she’ll break your heart. “Tacoma” and “Before You Call Me Baby” will make your day.
5. Bob Mould/PATCH THE SKY
You just gotta love him! There’s something comforting about a guy like Bob Mould who is always there for ya and remains just as angry as he was in 1983. Patch the Sky is by far the best of his latest trilogy of albums and finds him in his leanest, loudest, and wittiest. This highlight-packed record has the signature guitar attack Mould made his own fronting Hüsker Dü and Sugar, yet he’s got bigger questions on his mind than ever before. Mould snarls and crackles with little fear here. He’s still got it, folks.
4. A Tribe Called Quest/ WE GOT IT FROM HERE, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE
18 years is long layover and losing the incandescent Phife Dawg along the way towards finishing this masterpiece only adds to the lore of ATCQ. As a result, there’s a sad reflection to much of the rhymes on this record. Years ago, ATCQ rode the Native Lounges movement all the way to five multiplatinum records. All these years later, Q-tip and the fellas have done the unthinkable, re-purposing themselves without leaning on their past legacy. This isn’t a throwback album; it’s a LOVE album for troubling times.
3. Brian Fallon/PAINKILLERS
On his first solo album, the Gaslight Anthem’s frontman decided to get uncomfortable. After GA agreed a hiatus was the right call, Fallon called up Butch Walker and made his first ever solo record. A tougher-than-it-seems move for a guy who has never worked outside of a band before. The results, however, are exquisite. Painkillers is packed with winners–tunes about love and loss and Springsteen. While “Steve McQueen,” “Nobody Wins,” and “Red Lights” are all HUGE tracks, it’s the eerie “Honey Magnolia” that steals the show. Earlier this year, I saw Fallon play a solo set in San Francisco. He was everything you need him to be–he even reached into his own pocket, gave 20 bucks back to a drunken audience heckler and told him to “get the fuck out.”.
Geezer, plain and simple.
2. Lydia Loveless/ REAL
What the hell is country-punk anyway?! While I’m pretty sure no one actually knows, if the genre has anything at all to do with Lydia Loveless, I’m in! She’s loud, prickly, and emotionally charging on all cylinders. This is the record she’s been working up to for years, and it’s utterly breathtaking. Raw production clears the way for her to lead her Replacements-esque backing band through a harrowing set of songs pulsating with idiosyncrasies. She described Real in a recent interview as a quasi-concept record about stepping into adulthood and, in her words, “realizing what it means to be a fully developed human.” She went on to say, “I’m sorry. This ended up taking a dark turn. But, really, [this record] is about deciding to live.” Loveless is a special talent and she’s just delivered the record of her career.
1. Biffy Clyro/ELLIPSIS
It’s become difficult for me to talk about Biffy Clyro with any scrap of objectivity (so I won’t even try).
As far as I am concerned, they are simply the best current rock band on the planet. Much of Europe has jumped on the Biffy-bandwagon, as they are selling out arenas across the continent. Here in the States, we are blowing it. They aren’t an easy band, they are super challenging and much of their back catalogue is steeped in prog. Hardly the recipe for a chart-topping phenomenon – none of that seems to be an issue for anyone outside the States, though.
While it seems impossible, Ellipsis is Biffy’s seventh record. The band is notorious for working in increments of three, therefore Ellipsis represents the beginning of something new. They have always been musically explosive, but this record finds them mining new ground sonically. In some ways, Ellipsis is a simpler record than their recent previous efforts, however they’ve never sounded this uninhibited. “We don’t want to be a reliable band,” Biffy frontman Simon Neil told NME recently. “No one wants good old fucking Biffy Clyro.”
Biffy is a band that refuses to sit still, they keep moving at whatever the cost. “Wolves of Winter,” “Medicine,” “Re-arrange” and “Small Wishes” are all instant Biffy-classics.
However, “Howl” is merciless.
Ellipsis is an omnipotent monstrosity of a record.
Quite simply, Biffy is peerless.