Basement Dwelling: The Top 25 Albums of 2016 (Part 1)

It’s over. It’s finally over (well, almost). I’m ready to say goodbye to you, 2016. You were a cruel year. You killed many of our greatest musicians, actors, and artists, completely derailed our government both here in the US and across the pond, and saw the goddamn deaths of both David Bowie and Prince. Hate has been encouraged in our society at a sickeningly high level, Batman v Superman kind of sucked, and Pokemon Go was popular for like two weeks (which was two weeks too long). Just so many disappointments.

But even through all of that, there was a lot of good music. Music that is not only good on its own, but which also provided an escape to help ease the pain of what has been an absolute shitstorm of a year — something that the best art of any medium you love — film, literature, etc. — should succeed in doing.

There were so many amazing albums that I loved over the past 12 months, but sadly I’ve had to narrow those down to a mere 25. My hope is that as you read my list, you can find some new music to dig into and become just as much of a fan of as I am, because recommending music to people is something that makes me feel good inside. It’s something I love to do because I care so deeply about the medium. So, I introduce you to my top 25 albums of the year — a list of sounds and visuals that give us life, something we all need now more than ever.

Below are my picks for #25-11. Be sure to check back in the near future for my top 10 list.

#25 Album: Mourn – Ha, Ha, He

The second album released within two years by the Barcelona-based band is another amazing piece of indie-rock goodness. Ha, Ha, He is a much more well-written and tightly-played LP when compared to its self-titled predecessor ( an album that I also loved a great deal). The angry snarl of the title track and the ode to consent/asexual feelings on “Gertrudis, Get Through This!” make for major highlights on the album that demand replay over and over again. The progression found between their debut to their sophomore release is made even more exciting by the fact that most of the members of Mourn aren’t even 20 years old yet. If experience comes with age, whatever they have next will be close to damn near perfect…unless they break up. Please don’t break up, Mourn.

#24 Album: Cymbals Eat Guitars – Pretty Years

The progression that Cymbals Eat Guitars has seen throughout the years has been a great process to watch. From the indie-emo, Modest Mouse-inspired leanings of their first two records to the more post-rock moments of their last record, you could tell as a listener that Cymbals Eat Guitars were on the verge of making a record that is 100% them. Pretty Years is that record. Spotless production, soaring guitars, fucking saxophones; this is the record that would and should make a band ridiculously popular and a staple of indie/alternative radio, but the public is stupid, so of course that’s not the case. Whatever, the mainstream doesn’t deserve as much of a nice thing as Cymbals Eat Guitars anyway.

#23 Album: Preoccupations – Preoccupations

Goodbye Viet Cong (one of my favorite band names in recent memory), hello Preoccupations. The first album for this Canadian post-punk troupe under their newly Christened Preoccupations moniker does not disappoint — not that I expected it to, but a change in name doesn’t really bring about a drastic change in style or anything. Instead, on Preoccupations, the band continues doing what made them one of my favorite bands (and the best one making post-punk music today), and responsible for my second favorite record of last year. “Zodiac” crushes bones with it’s ferocity, “Memory” haunts with it’s beautiful grooves and Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs’ Dan Beckoner coming in and fucking killing it with a vocal melody so beautiful it sticks in your mind like glue. Different name, same operation — which is very much a good thing.

#22 Album: Ian Sweet – Shapeshifter

A darkly sweet and adorably messed up debut record from this L.A.-based band is a portrait of insecurities, mental illness, and self-hatred that is as infectious as it is sad. In an era where irony and hiding feelings is back amongst the generation I live within (millennials). Although, did those feeling ever go away? Shapeshifter is the perfect soundtrack to and for every smart phone staring, pill popping freak that’s inside us all, backed by some greatly written and performed experimental indie-rock. “Slime Time Live,” which uses the 90’s Nickelodeon show as a metaphor for anxiety attacks, is propelled by a guitar lead and drum beat that will linger with you forever, and sound fresh every time you hear it, while “Cactus Couch,” which is a very negative examination of self, is so compelling and earnest (something that can be said about the whole album). The track manages to sound almost like two songs in one, fronted and backed by a noise-based drum and guitar lead. It’s such an impressive debut record and one of the best of 2016.

#21 Album: Jessy Lanza – Oh No

List of things you should do while listening to Oh No, by Jessy Lanza:
  1. Go to an 80’s themed dance party
  2. Drive around in the rain
  3. Shop for some really upscale, nice clothes
  4. Make out and/or make love
  5. Buy it on vinyl (it sounds great)
  6. Play the title track, “VV Violence,” and “Never Enough” over and over and over again
  7. Immediately listen to the thing again and see why it’s a brilliant synth-pop record

#20 Album: Bon Iver – 22, A Million

Do I consider myself converted to the church of Justin Vernon? Ehhhh maybe a little. As someone who admittedly has never really cared for Bon Iver’s previous work, 22, A Million came as a massive shock to the system. Not just because I love this record, but also for how ballsy of an effort this thing is. Justin Vernon let his freak flag fly on this one, which is an undercurrent that was always present in Bon Iver’s music — just not turned up to the volume that it is on 22, A Million. It’s an album that’s experimental as all hell future-folk that relies on acoustic guitar as much as it does auto-tune. I think I can overlook all of the high school kids’ Youtube covers and mispronouncing of Bon Iver’s name and finally admit how great Bon Iver is.

#19 Album: YG – Still Brazy

Still Brazy is a Molotov cocktail of a hip-hop record that remains relevantly dark to the issues and problems many African Americans face in today’s America while at the same time being fun as hell. It’s a record that (sadly) becomes more and more relevant with each passing day and somehow maintains a 50/50 split of being angry as hell and playful at the same time. 90’s G-funk is alive and well on this album, and it leads to some straight up amazing jams. “Twist My Fingaz” and “Gimmie Got Shot” being the two biggest cases, featuring hooks, production, and memorable lyrics that you should feel the need to bump at any given opportunity. “FDT,” an anthem about our new president-elect Donald Trump is my lead example of why this record becomes more and more relevant as the days go on.  Fuck Donald Trump, long live G-funk.

#18 Album: Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger

Garage rock’s mad genius (and I mean that in terms of both the quality of his records and how consistently prolific he is) has unleashed his “Frankenstein’s Monster” in the form of Emotional Mugger, a garage rock acid trip of a record that is both mind meltingly loud and rocking as it is creepy and twisted. It’s one of Segall’s greatest and most interesting achievements, which is saying a lot for this guy.

#17 Album: Thee Oh Sees – A Weird Exists

Speaking of achievements in the world of garage rock, the next album on my list is from an act that is nearly synonymous with Ty Segall, and just as prolific. San Francisco psych-garage outfit Thee Oh Sees have never sounded more revitalized and musically fresh as they have on A Weird Exists. The band faced a radical lineup shift with their last album, Mutilator Defeated At Last, with Dwyer being the only remaining original member. Because of this, these last two records have proven to be a change for the better. While having never made a bad record with any line-up before, the band’s songs have never had the same level of punch and ferocity as it does here on Weird. As well as that, the musical dexterity seen in the near-Pink Floyd-inspired guitar tones of closing track, “The Axis,” to the buzzsaw guitar free-for-all on “Gelatinous Cube” makes this the type of record that should make anyone want to pick up a guitar and hope that they can jam out to a similar level as this

#16 Album: Mitski – Puberty 2

A much more cleaned-up and polished sounding effort than Mitski’s previous, similarly incredible album, Bury Me At Makeout Creek, Puberty 2 is an altogether better record and one that has rightfully launched Mitski into the music world’s public eye. Musically having a loud-soft dynamic of crashing guitars and falling crescendos, and lyrically being about how difficult it is to be a woman in the U.S. (artistically or otherwise), Puberty 2 is a staggering album. “Happy” paints a very disturbing picture of rape and the fallout it has on a woman’s mind, while “Your Best American Girl” is a spit in the face of the stereotype of what every woman should strive to be. Even more simple tracks about restlessness and ambition like “My Body’s Made Of Crushed Little Stars” (my personal favorite of the album’s 11 offerings) are all executed flawlessly. Puberty 2 hopefully gains even more acknowledgement and praise as time goes by.

#15 Album: DIIV – Is The Is Are

Heroin, despite being an awful, addictive, and possibly life-ending drug has sure led to the creation of some remarkable music. The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones, The Flaming Lips all being proof of this. You can now lump Diiv in that category. Say what you will about Diiv’s frontman/main creative force Zachary Cole Smith, but the dude set out to make an ambitious record, one that would basically define a career. And the end result, while maybe not a work of that level, is still something amazing. Is The Is Are is a hard listen both musically and lyrically, more or less being the aural version of a pit of despair. It’s a record about being addicted to drugs and the consequences of that: from losing friends to substance abuse to hurting the one’s you love. While it’s a lengthy listen at 63 minutes, and despite it’s heavy subject matter, Is The Is Are never loses it’s spark, never becomes dull, and always remains beautiful and affecting despite the pain it’s expressing.

#14 Album: I.L.Y.’s – Scum With Boundaries

Side projects can be dicey territory. Typically, there’s at least some sort of enjoyable quality to the record output from side projects, but they often miss the mark of having similar quality to that of the band members’ main projects. Scum With Boundaries, the album from Death Grips off-shoot The I.L.Y.’s is a huge exception to this. Made by what’s basically the entirety of the Death Grips lineup sans M.C. Ride on vocal duty, Scum With Boundaries is a dance-rock nightmare, providing hooks, lyrics, and beats that will stick in your brain like glue. There was a good couple weeks where I would listen to this album everyday. And how could you not? The rollicking synths coupled with the hard as hell drums and guitars on “Peace and Quiet,” to the catchy as hell near dance-pop of “She’s a Genius,” there’s so much to love on this record and so much replay value that it even almost rivals Death Grips’ record from this year. Almost.

#13 Album: Cate Le Bon – Crab Day

For those of you uninitiated, this is Cate Le Bon. She’s one of my favorite singer-songwriters in music. She’s Welsh and sounds like The Velvet Underground fronted by Nico instead of Lou Reed. Her album prior to this, Mug Museum, is perfect and her latest, Crab Day, is absolutely great too. Crab Day is a completely nuanced and weird breakup record that is every bit as adorable as it is sad (and sometimes both at the same time). Hell, she promises to “cry in your mouth” on the piano-based highlight, “I Was Born On The Wrong Day.” But it’s okay, because things are peppy again on the garage rock-tinged “Wonderful.” Get to know each other, I think you’ll become fast friends.

#12 Album: The Avalanches – Wildflower

16 years. That’s a long time to work on a record, to build up hype to a much beloved album that continued to grow a larger and larger fan-base. But that’s exactly what The Avalanches have done with their latest, Wildflower, the first output from the band since their previous album, Since I Left You, came out all the way back in 2000. 16 years of expectations of when (or even if) the sample-based electronic band would ever release another record. Thankfully, the excitement pays off in dividends with Wildflower, an album that is very much in tune to what they were doing on the band’s classic debut, but even offering it’s own character and personality as well. Whereas Since I Left You was a straight-up sample-heavy electronic dance album, Wildflower adds a strong spoonful of hip-hop and psychedelia influences to the mix, making for an album that is equal parts euphoric as it is danceable. Also present is an array of very welcome guests and collaborators, such as the tag team of Danny Brown and M.F. Doom on “Frankie Sinatra,” Toro Y Moi bringing some indie-funk vibes on “Subways,” and Jennifer Herrema from Royal Trux providing heart-wrenching vocals about nostalgia and living in the moment on “Stepkids.” The Avalanches left a giant hole since they left us, but have come back to give us a joyous celebration, and I am very grateful for that.

#11 Album: Sunflower Bean – Human Ceremony

Human Ceremony came out at the very beginning of 2016, becoming an obsession of mine when it came out that still continues today. Human Ceremony is surprising in that it’s the debut record from the New York-based three piece Sunflower Bean, since it sounds like a record by a band that would have already had a few releases under their belt. Sonically combining indie-pop with heavy psych, Human Ceremony is just as blissful as it is hard rocking and heavy. “Easier Said” is one of the most perfect pieces of indie-pop you’ll hear all year whereas “Wall Watcher” and “Come On” are some of the hardest rocking, best psych rock tracks that have come out in 2016. Best debut of 2016? Yes, I would certainly say so.

— Dan Fiorio, Music Blogger

This concludes Part 1 of Dan’s “Top 25 Albums of 2016” list. Click here to read Part 2, in which Dan will go in depth on his top 10 albums of the year.

4 thoughts on “Basement Dwelling: The Top 25 Albums of 2016 (Part 1)

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