Those of you who know me realize how much music means to me. The amount of time I spend searching for new music to dig into is probably unhealthy. 2016 has already delivered some incredible music. Ranging from the soft, emotional type, to experimental, to metal, this year has not let up. Every year I do a list of my favorite entertainment properties, but I've never put together a midyear list (mainly because I didn't have the avenue for it). I'll still do a "Best of 2016" list at the end of the year, but I thought this would be a good time to check in and hopefully help you find that next musical love. It's just the mid point of the year, so some of these albums will end up rising up the ranks and some of them will fall completely out. Replayability is a big factor when it comes to a records lifespan. So without further ado, here are my favorite 25 records of 2016 (so far)
25. Imarhan - Imarhan
Called by many the 'younger brothers of Tinariwen', Imarhan both embrace the comparison, while going down their own path at the same time. With their debut record, the group from southern Algeria have created a funky, '70's inspired record while keeping with the tradition of Tuareg music. The name Imarhan means "The ones I care about". That seems to be the message throughout the record (although, I don't speak Tamasheq, so who knows).
24. RY X - Dawn
With a background in dance music (and an odd detour in the pop rock genre), RY X has found his groove in Dawn. The Australian songwriter/producer, Ry Cumings, uses pop music, with melancholy tones to perfection. He uses repetition when he really wants to nail a point home, like in standout track "Salt" (We let love be like water to wine / we let love be the higher design / we let love be a call in the night / we let love be the fire divine). It's this vulnerability that makes this album stand out. With strong influences of James Blake's work, the music feels as if it simply floats. It's a fantastic jumping off point for him, and it leaves me wanting more. Which is exactly what a good debut LP should do.
23. HONNE - Gone Are the Days EP
There's a genre that has been around for quite some time, one which really took off in the mid-'90's, and one that isn't officially a genre due to it's, shall we say, less than professional name. That genre would be: "Baby-Making Music. HONNE has perfected that style. Technically falling under the "R&B/electro-pop/Soul genre (if that mash-up could be a genre), the beats and music are so smooth and so sensual. The music is an interesting mix of funk, 80's-esque power pop and electronic (with the title track featuring both a synth and violins that fit so perfectly). The lyrics are a bit cliched, and Andy's lead vocals are a bit boring with very little range, but it works so well. 3 AM is by far the highlight of the EP, but as a whole is a solid outing, and with a full length due later this year, I can't wait to hear more.
22. Carter Tanton - Jettison The Valley
The Singer/Songwriter genre has been so overdone over the last few years that it's difficult to find an artist that's actually worth listening to. Not only has the market been flooded with artists of this genre, but they all sound so familiar that it begins to run together. Carter Tanton mixes enough genres together to have a bit of a different sound than some of the other "run-of-the-mill" Singer/Songwriters; with some tracks sounding similar to Beck's fantastic Morning Phase from 2014. Carter Tanton has been involved with a few different projects, but I think he's found something that fits him perfectly with this release.
21. Radiation City - Synesthetica
You would be forgiven if you heard this record and thought St. Vincent had surprised released a new record under a different name. The similarities are striking. The intricate guitar work, the interesting vocal melodies, even the tempos on most tracks sound like something St. Vincent would release. This is the first Radiation City record they've released that I've thought that, and it's a styling that fits them quite perfectly. The record is loaded with catchy hooks, but standout track "Juicy" really shows the progression of the band. From just a standard Indie Rock group, to a powerhouse to be reckoned with.
20. Quilt - Plaza
Arcitic Shark from Quilt's last record, Held In Splendor from 2014 is still one of the best single tracks I've ever heard. It's the perfect mix of pop and 60's inspired rock. With Plaza, Quilt wasn't quite able to reproduce another masterpiece, but they still delivered an incredible record. On the group's third record, which is surprisingly built off old demos, they once again capture the sound of 1960's British Pop. A sound so loved then, and so ignored now. The reverb-soaked vocals backed by wavering guitar tremolo, Quilt have captured something lost, and made it something new again.
19. Nothing - Tired of Tomorrow
With the kind of history that this Philadelphia based band has, it's a bit of a surprise when first listening to the music. Their past would indicate a much harder, more punk sound. Instead, we get a soft and subdued 90's grunge sound. The lyrics are dark, depressing affairs. But again, with all of the struggles the band have gone through (mainly self-inflicted) it's no surprise. The music on the other hand has a shockingly joyous feeling to it. Almost as if to say it's not what you see (or hear) on the outside, people can still be hurting within. Nothing (aptly titled) encompass that feeling, and deliver a stellar record with it.
18. Lewis Del Mar - EP
The debut EP from Lewis Del Mar is some of the most exiting music I've heard thus far. It's nothing flashy or revolutionary, it just sound, right, if that makes any kind of sense at all. Danny Miller and Max Harwood, the duo behind the moniker Lewis Del Mar, have been making music together since they were 6 years old. And you can almost hear it in the music. It's no coincidence that most people think it's one man. They work together so well, it seems like they're one person. With the intricate acoustic guitar backed by electronic samples taken from the bustling streets of New York, its a unique sound that is almost irresistible.
17. Oh Malô - As We Were
Heartbreak is a common theme in music. It's an emotion that is so easy to write about and convey. As We Were, the debut record from Oh Malô, is a lush, atmospheric look at what a failed relationship can feel and sound like. Radiohead's influence is all over this record, especially with lead vocalist/lyricist Brandon Hafetz. The record begins with aggression and ends with a sign of acceptance. It's an incredible journey through a painful experience, that of losing a loved one to somebody else. With catchy hooks, pop sensibilities and down-tempo melodies, this record could easily end up much higher by the end of the year.
16. Band of Horses - Why Are You Ok
Band of Horses have, according to some, been on a downward track since their debut record. I wouldn't go that far, but it's no secret they haven't quite been able to live up to their initial hype. With each record they release, they've failed to surpass, or even meet, the quality of the record before with Mirage Rock simply being a bad album. With Why Are You Ok, the band have seemingly gone back to their roots. The first half is classic Band of Horses, biting lyrics with an alt-indie vibe with country sensibilities. The second half falls off quite a bit, but it's still some of the better stuff they've released in quite some time.
15. Words Like Daggers - Perfect Weather
Words Like Daggers are pure nostalgia for me. Touring with bands such as Chiodos and The Color Morale, they wear their influences on their sleeves. With blistering guitar riffs, heavy drums and some of the cleanest vocal harmonies in the genre, this is a band that I'll be paying very close attention to. Yet again, this is another band that released their first record, and yet again it's some of the better music you'll hear all year. They've shown a range few bands can accomplish, especially on a first record. Being able to slow down the tempo and not lose any of the passion that bands like this fuel themselves on is impressive. This is a band to watch closely.
14. Yuck - Stranger Things
It's no secret that Yuck isn't the same band that released that lovable, hectic homage to '90's Indie Rock record back in 2011. With Daniel Blumberg, the former lead vocalist, leaving the band and the guitarist Max Bloom taking over, we knew the band wouldn't be the same. But the band have soldiered on, still making music that would fit right in alongside the best 90's Indie Rock bands. That doesn't mean the band isn't still great like some have implied. Stranger Things is proof of that. From hectic fuzzy guitars, to slower (still fuzzied guitar) tracks, this feels like the most complete Yuck record to date.
13. Basement - Promise Everything
Pop Punk as a genre is in a weird spot right now. There are bands that lean more towards the punk aspects and bands that lean more towards the pop aspects. Basement have decided to lean away from both. The music, while not being genre defining, is good. The guitars are tight, the drums are frantic and the best instrument the band has, Andrew Fisher's voice, fits in well with the rest of the music. Like most Pop Punk bands though, the lyrics are atrocious. They aren't deep, they lack meaning, and they're a bit elementary. But that's ok, I don't need to have my mind blown every time I listen to a record.
12. Killswitch Engage - Incarnate
The influence of Killswitch Engage can be heard all throughout the metal genre. The melodic metal they perfected so long ago has become the formula so many bands use, it can be hard to differentiate one from the other. But not Killswitch. Some have critized them for not exploring, not expanding upon the formula they've made so popular. But why would they? The music is still so incredible, it seems almost silly to mess with it. This is the second record with original lead vocalist, Jesse Leach back in the band after Howard Jones' incredible run. I was always partial to Jones, but this record shows Leach's passion for the band. Couple that with brutal guitar work by Adam D. and Joel Stroetzel, incredibly catchy melodies, passionate, guttural screams and you have one of the best metal records released in the last few years.
11. Hayden Calnin - Cut Love Pt. 1
"All places are the same place, and the only time you ever notice any difference is in the moment of transition." What a way to introduce a record and to set the tone for a record. The spoken word opening track "Introduction; Nothingness" sets this debut record up for a journey through loss, loneliness and pain. The dark electronic melodies that Hayden Calnin has made a name for himself with resonate throughout the room. Bon Iver has been one of the most influential voices in music over the last 5 or 6 years, and Hayden Calnin is another artist piggy backing off his sound. The searing, haunting falsetto, the atmorpheric music, the slow pacing, it's all in the vain of Bon Iver, and made possible because of Bon Iver. Hayden Calnin is able to stand on his own, apart from his influences due to the production and layered instruments and electronics in his music. Title track and standout "Cut Love" has the best chorus of a song I've heard all year. It's equal part passion, love, and anguish.
10. Gallant - Ology
Christopher Gallant's debut full length is pure, unadulterated gold. His sultry and weightless voice, his intricate electronic beats behind his falsetto and his deeply personal and ambiguous lyrics combine to make one of the best R&B records in years. Originally from Columbia, Md., he moved to New York to attempt to start his music career. As a self proclaimed introvert, he admitted New York was far too busy for him and he eventually moved to L.A. where he finally got the start he deserved. But that doesn't mean his anxiousness and angst were gone. In standout track "Talking To Myself" he wails "I've been whispering to ghosts lately / I'm begging for more time before I'm buried deeper in the trenches of insanity." He doesn't like the spotlight, but he's about to be thrust right in it with this incredible debut.
9. The 1975 - i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
If this were a list of the most ridiculously long album titles, this would take the top spot. The 1975 have often been pegged as "just another one of those British Pop bands". This record firmly declares that's not the case. It starts off with a punch, with loud energetic pop anthems that are sure to get people dancing. As the record progresses, the tone gradually softens, becoming less of a pop record and more of an 80's inspired instrumental work with pained lyrics to back it. The record deals with love, loss and addictions. Standout track "UGH!" details Matt Healy's cocaine addiction and "Nana" talks about the loss of his grandmother and how hard he took it. It's a fascinating record with the thematic tone shifting with the varying musical influences.
8. High Highs - Cascades
There are certain bands that make "Seasonal" records. Bon Iver's music typically conjures images of winter for me. High Highs is a summer band. There's absolutely no questioning it. The music is light and breezy and it has a certain dreamlike sound to it. They've really experimented with their sound compared to their last record, Open Season. With Cascades, there's sprinkles of folk music, music that leans more towards electronic music. Standout track "Ocean To City" is begging to be commercialized. It would fit right in in an Indie film with it's airless flow and cool melodies.
7. Ray LaMontagne - Ouroboros
Continuing down the path Ray LaMontagne took with his last record Supernova, Ouroboros is an exploration of himself. They aren't songs you'll hear on the radio, they won't be climbing any charts. They're simply personal songs, songs that he's been wanting to make for years. With the help of members of My Morning Jacket, Ray has created a record that feels both modern and from a different time. The influences, whether intentional or not, are apparent. This sounds like the softer side of Pink Floyd. Complete with heady lyrics, electronic beats Nick Mason could've made and Blues guitar that David Gilmour could've created. It's a record from a different time. Ray's voice is one of his greatest assets, but in this record he's much more subdued. This could be intentional to give the record a mysterious vibe to it, which works, but he really lets the music be the vocalist in this record. By far the best track, "In My Own Way" gives a very distinct Pink Floyd vibe, specifically their track "Us & Them" from Dark Side of the Moon.
6. Adult Jazz - Earrings Off!
Adult Jazz, the experimental British group, have no issue filling their music with heady themes. With their second record, they analyze the complexities of gender and the body's changing place in society. It's a heady subject, one that is still being fiercely fought. But Adult Jazz attacks it head on in this incredibly short record. 3 of the 7 tracks on the record are instrumental interludes, making the record come in at only 24 minutes. It won't take long to get through, but the impact of the record will stay with you. Adult Jazz throws literally as much as they can at you as far as the music goes, using a cello, a trombone, vocals that have been manipulated and as many electronic samples as they can fit in. The fasinating part of these records is how well all of these things fit together. It's something that could sound hectic and overdone very quickly, but they know exactly when to pull back to keep the record flowing.
5. exwhy - The Feels
A few years ago a band named The DoDo's released a record that was so good, I got irrationally angry every time I heard it. It was too good that it wasn't fair (I know... I said irrationally angry, give me a break). exwhy does this to me. While I drive, I usually keep my phone on shuffle unless I'm in a specific mood, and every time exwhy comes on, I simple can't handle how much I dig this record. It has anthemic hooks, pop-centric melodies and ringing guitars. It's catchy, electric and fun. The record sways with each shift in mood. With two members leaving the band already, here's hoping they don't call it quits too soon.
4. Deftones - Gore
The Deftones have been one of my favorite bands for years now. Since their debut record in 1995, they've changed and experimented with their sound, slowly moving away from their "Nu-Metal" roots and more towards the melodic side of metal. Chino Moreno's voice is one of the highlights of any record he's part of (which, at this point, is too many to number) and this album is no different. It's slow, melodic and ethereal while maintaining the incredible heavy guitar riffs we've come to love from Stephen Carpenter. Gore is arguably the softest Deftones record, but that doesn't mean it's bad. On the contrary, this is one of the best they've ever released.
3. Day Wave - Hard To Read EP
Jackson Phillips is one of the most exciting acts in music right now. Working under the moniker Day Wave with a Live Band when he tours, he's made some of the best indie/rock/pop music I've heard in quite some time. This record is one of those rare records that have the feel of both a summer record and a winter record. The music is light and whimsical while a heavy, slow angst hides underneath. The music sways back and forth, almost as if in a dream. With just two EP's released so far, this is project that I'll be watching very closely. I highly recommend picking this up, getting in your car with the windows down and blast this.
2. Panic! At The Disco - Death of a Bachelor
Panic at the Diso is a band I was never a fan of. Wildly popular in the mid 2000's, they were a group that never really hooked me. Couple that with the ever changing lineup and ever changing genres, this record would be a hard sell for me. Brendan Urie, the lone member of the group, changed my mind instantly with the release of the title track. I've always known his voice was good, but I never quite realized how angelic it was until this record. The record ranges from power pop anthems to mid 1950's piano bar, it's a marathon of a record that never lets you down.
Favorite Track of 2016... So Far: I Need A Forest Fire by James Blake (feat. Bon Iver)
Before we get to my favorite record so far this year, I wanted to highlight my favorite track. Bon Iver is one of, if not my favorite artist currently working. Having only released 2 full length records and an EP, Justin Vernon has built so much hype and anticipation for whatever he does that it's palpable. Frequently collaborating with other artists, we get pieces of Bon Iver, but no word on if he's working on another record. He's said in the past that he thought he was finished with Bon Iver, at least until he could find a reason to go back. I'm hoping he found that reason. In the past, whenever he collaborated this much with this many different artists, he was gearing up to release a record. I'm seriously hoping that's the case now. I like James Blake, but his most recent record was a bit of a letdown for me. Until I heard this track. It's essentially a new Bon Iver song that James Blake produced, and it's magical.
1. Rob Zombie - The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser
Few artists have had careers as adventurous and polarizing as Rob Zombie. Starting his musical journey as White Zombie, then changing to Rob Zombie, dabbling in film, it's safe to say he's had one fascinating career to follow. He fully embraces the weird, has a deep love and infatuation with the occult and doesn't apologize for anything. This record is almost a symbol for his career. It's loud, it's vulgar, it's in your face the entire way through the short 31 minute album. It's one of the heaviest, catchiest records he's ever done. He samples old horror films, news broadcasts, his own wife among a myriad of other things. The guitars are loud and heavy and frantic. The title, while strange, is fitting. He said he wanted a title that sounded and described what the record sounds like and, it works. There are anthems, especially the opening track, and there are the weird tracks that experiment with the sound of the band. As a whole the record is probably Zombie's best since Hellbilly Deluxe, if not his best record.
That's our list. Our favorite records of 2016 (so far). Again, we're only at the midpoint in the year, so this list could and will change drastically as the year moves on. More music will be released that'll be better than some on this list and some of these records won't hold up as well as they initially did. While other records on this list will climb higher.
What are some of your favorite records are so far this year? What did we miss? Let us know in the comments.