A year of musical heartbreak and classic albums draws to a close.
For a number of years now, there have been a multitude of claims put forward that the album is a dead format. Playlists are now king! Singles are all the kids want! Well, we beg to differ. 2016 has seen double albums, concept albums, epic albums, concise albums, and everything in between. From Blackstar to Patch the Sky, 2016 has been a year of experimentation and also just some really excellent songs and albums. These are Overblown’s favourites.
50. Jeff Rosenstock – WORRY.
Overblown played ‘Festival Song’ for an old friend of ours and he said, “Huh. Kinda sounds like blink-182.” Obviously, Rosenstock is a lot more than that as he explores the insecurities, anxieties, and general mind fuckery of life. At times he’s celebratory, sometimes defiant, and sometimes reflective. Always enigmatic. Always brilliant.
49. Zeal and Ardor – Devil is Fine
Combining gospel/slave spirituals with black metal, Zeal and Ardor is like nothing you have ever heard before. We assure you. Easily one of the more creative and interesting musical efforts of the year.
48. Bob Mould – Patch The Sky
Maybe not quite as revealing or as biting as Beauty & Ruin. Regardless even with the erstwhile Husker Du frontman is not up to his best, he remains ahead of the vast majority of the competition.
47. Descendents – Hypercaffium Spazzinate
People always say that punk rock is about ‘being yourself’. The Descendents are so punk, they don’t care how unpunk being themselves might be.
Their output seems to have slowed down to an album a decade these days, but Hypercaffium Spazzinate feels like meeting an old friend for the first time in years and realising things are no different between you. Now in his mid-fifties, Milo Ackerman bemoans subjects as real as unglamourous as his high cholesterol levels (No Fat Burger) and his son’s medication (Limiter) with the usual mix of melody and menace.
Everything still sucks, and nobody is better at reminding us of this.
46. Two Inch Astronaut – Personal Life
These lads out of New York mix 90’s alternative rock, noise rock, and post-hardcore to create an angular, awkward blast that is also gracefully melodic and catchy as all hell. We’re not so sure it should work, or how it works, but if this world was a fair place, these would be the biggest band in the world.
45. Pinkshinyultrablast – Grandfeathered
After releasing the exquisite Everything Else Matters last year, Russian group Pinkshinyultrablast return with Grandfeathered. A very prog rock return from the band with a mixture of twinkling guitar harmonies in a much heavier approach. They have named their style “thunder pop,” and on the basis of this 11 track album, you would have to agree.
44. Russian Circles – Guidance
2016 makes it ten years since the release of the post metal stalwarts debut album, and they continue to refine their sound beautifully. Guidance is an emphatic and cinematic journey that showcases the trio’s ability to conjure deftly delicate passages and thunderous apocalyptic climaxes. Each listen uncovers new nuances and nooks that show why Russian Circles continue to endure. Epic.
43. ULTIMATE PAINTING – Dusk
There’s something magnificently understated about all of Ultimate Painting’s records and that’s even truer of Dusk. This is two music lovers understanding exactly how to take their love of their influences and create captivating new music to call their own. This collection of songs isn’t flashy or obviously catchy but they worm their way into your consciousness never to escape. This is expertly crafted guitar pop with a dangerous undercurrent that’ll sweep you of your feet.
42. September Girls – Age of Indignation
The 5 piece noise pop band from Dublin followed their much loved 2014 album with ‘Age of Indignation’ which adds more grit and energy to their debut record. Sounds ranging from religion, feminism and self-image, this album comes across as more self-possessed and self-confident.
41. Alcest – Kodama
Album number five from the French blackgaze duo sees a return to their earlier style. Despite being a more direct and immediate affair, the album still sports epic tracks ranging from four to nine minutes in length that focus on a more stripped back, tribal vibe. The result is a lush and synergetic record, one that is a darkly emotional tour de force that would be a career highlight for most bands. For Alcest, it’s simply what they do.
40. Agnes Obel – Citizen of Glass
Lead single ‘Familiar’ suggested that the Danish singer songwriter was going to mine her archetypal piano ballad territory with her third album. Turns out it was a sleight of hand, as the album explores a more cinematic and orchestral sound than Obel’s previous work. It is her deft songwriting that comes to the fore as usual though. Lilting vocals, expansive orchestrations, and development win the day.
39. Eagulls – Ullages
From the enjoyably snarly shoutalong of their 2014 debut, post-punkers Eagulls delivered a daring follow-up that transformed George Mitchell’s vocals from echo-drenched hollers to sharp, wry observations. ‘Heads or Tails’ is an almost folky opener, while ‘Velvet’ and ‘Psalms’ sound like wandering alone into a dark alleyway, not sure whether you’ll make it out the other side.
Tony Wilson once said post-punk is about moving on from saying ‘fuck you’, to saying ‘I’m fucked’. Eagulls have encapsulated this perfectly in two albums.
38. 40 Watt Sun – Wider Than The Sky
Crafting an album that is expansive and truly epic, the English doom folk trio led by contrarian Patrick Walker have managed to somehow top their debut album, 2011’s The Inside Room. Raw and stripped down, the new album has an unrushed sound that carries a heavy emotional heft. Soothing and cathartic, Wider than the Sky is conversely as hopeful as it is downbeat.
37. Hinds – Leave Me Alone
Since bursting onto the everybody’s radar a few years ago, Madrid’s own 4 piece have well and truly dominating the international stage, proving themselves ridiculously likeable in the process. “Leave Me Alone” evokes the feeling of being in their infectious gang, with overlapping and punchy vocals making you feel like you’re in on the joke.
36. HONEYBLOOD – Babes Never Die
What a punch to land for album number two. Babes Never Die is a no-holds-barred slap in the face of a record. Fuzzing guitars, big choruses and even bigger hooks dominate throughout. The key strength of this album lies in its relentless energy and enthusiasm which seems to be based around its title, a triumphant slogan for the band and their fans to rally around.
35. Pre-occupations – Pre-occupations
The Canadian post-punks managed to weather the din of offense that clouded their first release under their original name Viet Cong. Their second LP is a dense and oppressive piece of coiled post-punk that shows no ill signs of the scandal. The tour de force centrepiece ‘Memory’ is the lynchpin that ties the whole endeavour together. Featuring Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner it’s one of those tracks you start to listen to casually and then, halfway through, you realise it has your entire and focused attention.
34. Yak – Alas, Salvation
A fantastic first wave punk album produced by the Stooges-esque band Yak. The combination of hard-hitting fuzzy bass, distorted guitar, and heavy drum grooves makes for the perfect accompaniment to go wild to. Yak have nailed their debut album, it’s like being run over by a snowplough for 41 minutes, but in a good way.
33. THE POOCHES – The Pooches
What can I listen to that’ll just make me feel better about myself? It’s amazing how many times The Pooches is the answer to that question. This is blissful, heartfelt guitar pop all served up with no thrills or spills, just good old honest song writing. It will make you feel better about yourself, every time.
32. Windings – Be Honest and Fear Not
After a four year gap since their last album, Irish alternative genre experimentalists quintet Windings return with an album full of technically proficient tracks full of off kilter rhythms, time signatures and harmonies. What’s particularly impressive is the group’s knack of combining sonic experimentation with genuinely catchy hooks and melodies. Never laboured or contrived, all the messing about always services the songs. Which is just how it should be.
31. Thee Oh Sees – A Weird Exits
A band like Thee Oh Sees, who consistently release at least one new album every year, can be an intimidating thing, but they might have produced an album that they can firmly place their flag down and state “this is the one.” Well, at least until the next one. ‘A Weird Exits’ should prove a solid fan-satisfier or entry point for newbies.
30. WITCHING WAVES – Crystal Café
Witching Waves have the wonderful ability of making the imperfect sound perfect. These songs have all the hallmarks of great guitar rock songs without having to sound polished. There’s a very strong Sleater-Kinney vibe to this record in the buzzing guitar sound. The male-female vocals are extremely effective together on songs that sound sharp and desperate. Listen to ‘Seeing Double’ and revel in its raucous energy and expect more of the same from every track on this record.
29. FEAR OF MEN – Fall Forever
It’s that machine gun snare sound dominating this record, rattling your senses, sharp and explosive against a backdrop of melancholy and bewitching melodies that may not have been what was expected from Fear of Men but we’re certainly glad it’s what they delivered. ‘Trauma’ is the perfect example of everything that’s great about this record. It’s tense and punishing but you’ve got to work hard for the greatest rewards.
28. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
At first glance, ’22, A Million’ is an alienating, even daunting listen. Clearly enthused by the sonic adventurousness of his many collaborators over the years (and he wasn’t unadventurous to begin with), Justin Vernon has created a distinct, unique sound palette with this third Bon Iver album. Where so many struggle to channel great human emotion through an electronic prism, Vernon pulls it off effortlessly. The album is a grower – if you didn’t stick with it, then it is well worth another shot.
27. Emma Ruth Rundle – Marked For Death
Emma Ruth Rundle is a purveyor of what we like to call post metal folk. Cathartic and oppressive, this is not a light and airy listen. Having said this, the melancholia does tend to soar on occasion giving the music a sense of defiance that reflects Rundle’s determinism and growing confidence as a songwriter. As beautiful as it is earnest.
26. AMBER ARCADES – Fading Lines
Ethereal and perfectly of the moment. This is an addictive record, that old cliché of finding something new with every listen has never been more relevant. Often in this case it’s a feeling, the way a certain song can pull you in one direction, raise a certain memory, deliver a certain mood and then deliver a different experience on the next listen. Dreamy guitar pop (although there’s a lot more to this record than just that) never sounded so beguiling.