I'm now taking a break from my recent music video blog series Only The Lonely until the edits are complete and released. In the meantime I have been enjoying a look back on 2016...
In October last year I wrote the blog Long Live Rock n Roll, in which I mulled over the state of modern rock music and whether it was getting worse.
Since writing that post I made a concerted effort to listen to new releases in 2016. Every Friday I would look at the Wikipedia List of 2016 Albums and Loudwire's 2016 Hard Rock + Metal Album Release Calendar and pick out the week's new albums that interested me.
Another key source was the That's Not Metal podcast, hosted by prominent music journalists Beezer and Stephen Hill. I had been familiar with them both for years thanks to their previous work for Metal Hammer magazine, Scuzz TV and Download Festival and discovered their relatively new podcast in January this year. It's a brilliant show hosted by two experts offering intelligent insights into a wide variety of genres and is responsible for my discovery of several of the albums listed below.
10. Moose Blood - blush
These guys prove just how strong the British emo/pop-punk rock scene is now. In fact, listen to songs like Honey, Knuckles and Sway and try and tell me that we haven't stolen that scene away from its American home! Catchy, heavy, emo-y, lovely.
9. ZOAX - ZOAX
I wouldn't have a clue about this band if it were not for the That's Not Metal podcast and with only 7,170 Facebook likes, 2,358 Twitter followers and 9,875 Spotify monthly listeners (at the time of writing) it seems like most of the rest of the UK is in the same boat. However, this album is an absolutely fantastic debut from a British band who are surely going onto much bigger things.
8. WEEZER - WHITE ALBUM
This album had to win me over. When it first got released I was frustrated because the general narrative being shared by most music journalists was that this was a 'return to form' and their 'best album in 15 years'. Obviously they were being very positive about this album, but in doing so were completely overlooking their last, the inescapably lovable and summery Everything Will Be Alright in the End, and album which was my favourite that year. However early into my second listen the penny dropped with the joyous song (Girl We Got A) Good Thing ...the critics in question may have been wrong about EWBAITE but they were certainly not wrong about this one, it's excellent.
7. THRICE - TO BE EVERYWHERE IS TO BE NOWHERE
I saw Thrice at Reading Festival in 2010 and got a bit bored. They were sandwiched in between The King Blues and All Time Low (both of whom took to the stage with part-starting blasts of physical energy) and by comparison Thrice were a little lifeless and dull. The quality of this album makes me doubt my memory (surely they must have been better?) as it's hard to imagine the band who recorded songs this powerful being anything but brilliant.
6. MILK TEETH - VILE CHILD
I have never been a big fan of the alt-rock/riot grrrl bands that found success in the 90s, though I now suspect that had more to do with my age (I didn't discover music until the mainstream peak of nu-metal caught me at the age of 13) than it did the music in question. Milk Teeth take influences from 90s bands like Hole, Garbage, Sonic Youth, Pixies etc but add modern punk-rock grit to them which suddenly rejuvenates the genre. These guys would have been huge in the 1990s, if there is any justice they'll get at least halfway there today.
5. BLINK-182 - CALIFORNIA
Replacing a member of a three-piece must be ridiculously hard. It must be. Right? Well Matt Skiba doesn't seem to struggle. This is Blink's best album since 2004's self titled effort (to be fair their only other release in that time was 2010's Neighbourhoods, but this is miles better all the same) and it's so great to hear the band mature in a relevant, vital way. There is some filler here, but not much of it and when they get it right they produce some of their best ever songs (Bored to Death and She's Out of Her Mind are ace).
4. LET LIVE. - IF I'M THE DEVIL...
I will always remember 2016 as the year I discovered letlive. If I'm The Devil... (their fourth studio album) comes 5 years after they made a tumultuous and now infamous appearance at Download Festival where the singer arrived through the audience, only to be prevented from reaching the stage by the security guards who assumed he was a crazed fan. I was at that festival and while I didn't see the incident I heard/read a lot about it afterwards. They were clearly an exciting, passionate and intense band, so there's really no excuse for me taking so long to give them a listen. All I can say is I'm glad I finally did. According to most letlive. fans this album is great but not their most impressive release, I'm now looking forward to spending more time getting to know the back catalogue of the band That's Not Metal recently described as the 'best band on the plane right now'.
2. A DAY TO REMEMBER - BAD VIBRATIONS
I bloody love A Day To Remember so my expectations are sky-high every time they release a new album - even more so this time round 3 years after their last release Common Courtesy and just as their long legal battle with their previous record label reached a victorious conclusion. This album did not disappoint and is pretty much a perfect a representation of the band; it ricochets between infectiously saccharine-sweet melodies and brutally heavy beatdowns. There is a mid-section run of 4 or 5 tracks that is totally unskippable and the choruses to songs like Justified and We Got This are going to sound absolutely huge on their upcoming arena tour.
3. TOUCHÉ AMORÉ - STAGE FOUR
Blimey. I'm finding it really hard to put this album into words. Touché Amoré singer Jeremy Bolm lost his mother to cancer. A year later he and the band wrote this concept album about it. The result is the single most moving record I think I've ever heard and the rawest, most honest, most impressive artist statement any band has ever made. The precision of Bolm's poetry makes the vaguely-emo lyrics of so many other bands feel so vacuous and superficial. In fact this album is more comparable to poems like Home Is So Sad by Philip Larkin than it is to the work of other rock bands.
1. BIFFY CLYRO - ELLIPSIS
I wrestled with this choice for quite a long time. Touché Amoré deserve it based on the artistic ambition and execution of Stage Four, but ultimately its subject matter has meant that I haven't gone back to it very often, as like a heavy dramatic movie it demands the right frame of mind from its audience.
Once I'd decided to let somebody else take my #1 slot the rest was easy. Ellipsis is the most enjoyable, most fun and most played album of the year for me. Every song on it is one I hope they play when I see them at Download Festival next summer. They are quite simply the best rock band in Britain right now...and probably have been for quite some time.
Inevitably this year I discovered albums that I loved and would give 5/5 but simply could not fit into my top 10. These are...
AVENGED SEVENFOLD - THE STAGE
A brilliantly complex return to their unpredictable, cinematic and inventive best and impressively suddenly released in one unannounced drop.
PANIC! AT THE DISCO - DEATH OF A BACHELOR
If I were writing this list in July I would have put this in my top 3. Unfortunately in the summer I bought the CD for my girlfriend to play in the car...and I have lost the car DJ argument pretty much ever since. Despite having been subjected to insane number of repeat plays this album is superb, sublimely blending massive swing elements with their usual emo/pop-punk sound.
THE QEMISTS - WARRIOR SOUND
This one combines well with Enter Shikari's 2015 release The Mindsweep to prove that there's still interesting and exciting places to explore while combining electronic, drum n bass and dubstep elements with rock music.
THE STRUTS - EVERYBODY WANTS
I was very tempted to place this a lot higher, but this is a rerelease of their 2014 debut album complete with 5 new tracks and remasters of the originals. Glam rock isn't a popular genre these days but this ridiculously catchy band mix the poppy glam sound of Queen and The Rolling Stones (and more recently The Darkness) with brit-pop choruses that feel like something written by Primal Scream or Oasis.
BEST ALBUM NOT FROM 2016
Of course it's not all been new releases I've been enjoying this year. A friend's casual tip-off about an acoustic gig in Manchester led me to discover the brilliant emo band THE MENZINGERS and specifically their album ON THE IMPOSSIBLE PAST.
Meanwhile an 'album club' feature on the That's Not Metal podcast led me to return to 2014 and to MARMOZETS - THE WEIRD AND WONDERFUL, which I bought for the car to try and do-battle with my girlfriend's love of the new Panic! At The Disco album.
Of course I haven't listened to every album released in 2016. That would be mental. The ones I did listen to are:
Jimmy Eat World
The Last Shadow Puppets
Panic! At The Disco
Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Temperance Movement
Tiny Moving Parts
3 Doors Down
American Head Charge
Band of Skulls
Black Stone Cherry
A Day To Remember
The Dirty Nil
Explosions in the Sky