Let me start off by saying there were so many great releases from many of my favorite artists in 2016 that picking a Best Of list was quite challenging. If they weren’t all released in the same year I could have easily ranked any of my top 5 LPs as #1. Also, all the artists in my top 5 have been around since the late 90s/early 2000s, which speaks highly of these artists’ longevity in a music industry that is continually turning over artists.
1) Relient K – Air For Free
Though Relient K never became inactive, Air For Free felt like a comeback record, and it’s the perfect one at that for longtime fans like myself that were worried the RK they knew and loved was a thing of the past. Air For Free’s robust tracklist contains nearly every aspect of classic RK in a mature sound, and all the songs work well cohesively. After spinning this for half a year, I think I’m finally ready to admit this is their best album. Welcome back, Relient K. You’ve been missed.
2) Thrice – To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere
It was difficult for me to put this album at #2 because Thrice is my favorite band, but Air For Free was the record I’ve been waiting for since 2009, which is the only reason why Thrice isn’t first. Not only was TBEITBN a magnificent comeback record, but it might objectively be their strongest record ever. Thrice is renowned for their musical progression, and they proved they haven’t lost any of their creative ability during their hiatus. No four people play better together than Dustin, Teppei, Ed, and Riley. Thrice is back, and it’s wonderful.
3) Norma Jean – Polar Similar
Norma Jean just continues getting better and better in a genre that has become increasingly generic. I was skeptical they could top Wrongdoers, but they did it handily to my amazement. Objectively, this may be the best record from 2016 on my list, but subjectively I’m ranking RK & Thrice higher. Regardless, Polar Similar is a masterpiece. I have no idea how they’ll top this on LP8, but I’m confident they’ll find a way.
4) Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues
Integrity Blues was the hardest to pick individual songs from because each track plays a pivotal role on the record. It really needs to be listened to all the way through. The theme is incredibly introspective, and it’s brilliantly conveyed in a poignant manner. Invented & Damage didn’t really do it for me, but Integrity Blues triumphantly joins the ranks of nearly perfect records alongside Clarity, Bleed American, Futures, and Chase This Light. These guys have such an incredibly strong discography, and they still have a lot in them.
5) Starflyer 59 – Slow
The prolific Jason Martin put out his 14th LP, which is an amazing feat in itself. Add to it the fact that it essentially serves as a musical summary of SF59’s musical progression through their twenty-two year career, and you’ll quickly see what’s so great about Slow. Starflyer is back on Tooth & Nail, and Jason’s back to making records left and right again. It’s a beautiful thing.
6) Animal Flag – LP
This is technically a re-release of two EPs from previous years, but I had to include it on here. I’m new to the Animal Flag fan party, but LP is a solid conglomeration of songs. Matthew Politoski can pull off super catchy songs and gritty, somber ones. I’m looking forward to what he comes out with next.
7) Say Anything – I Don’t Think It Is
While I’m a huge Say Anything fan, I Don’t Think It Is wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. The record is written primarily to Max Bemis’ best friend Josh, and I go back and forth thinking whether that makes the content too narrow to relate to or if that’s the genius that makes it stand out in Say Anything’s discography. Production-wise, it’s an extremely raw record, but it still has enough of what makes Say Anything special to enjoy.
8) From Indian Lakes – Everything Feels Better Now
I loved Absent Sounds so I was very excited for a new From Indian Lakes record. However, Everything Feels Better Now is quite different than their last release. It’s much more mellow, and so far I have to be in the right mood to really get into it. But I’m keeping this one around in hopes it will yield great results with the right amount of time.
9) David Bazan – Blanco
Blanco is a very different record for Dave Bazan, but I think it works. There’s just something in his simple songwriting that captures emotion in a way only accomplished artists can. The classic Bazan lyrics are still present ebbing over a poppy, melancholy electronic landscape. It’s perfect for cold, rainy drives.
10a) Showbread – Showbread Is Showdead
I can’t exclude Showbread’s final studio effort since I’ve been quietly following their raw rock tendencies for years. It’s sad to bid them farewell, but they’re leaving on a solid, satisfying release. There’s a great balance on this record of evolution and classic Showbread to make new and old fans rejoice. Thank you, Showbread, and may raw rock kill you forever and ever. Amen.
10b) Wolves At The Gate – Types & Shadows
I’ve been keeping tabs on Wolves At The Gate from a distance for a few years, and I decided to give Types & Shadows a go this year. It’s a solid record, packed with deeply theological lyrics, powerful vocals, and great instrumentation. These guys are doing some cool things, and I’m excited to see where they go next.
1) Third Eye Blind – We Are Drugs
I’m a sucker for 3EB’s pop sensibilities, and while it’s pretty short, We Are Drugs has songs that are rocking, grooving, mellow, and even some R&B influence. Though they announced they won’t release anymore studio albums, hopefully we’ll keep getting EPs like this one.
2) Everything In Slow Motion – Laid Low
This EP is spectacular. I love the direction Shane went on it. His singing is excellent, and the vocals work even without his screaming. This was a great place-holder while we wait for LP2.
3) Brand New – 3 Demos, Reworked
While we didn’t get a new record from Brand New, we did get re-recorded studio versions of some of the better songs off their infamous Leaked Demos. “1996″, formerly known as “Morrissey Song”, has been a favorite of mine, and I’m glad it received proper studio treatment.
4) My Epic – Viscera
I wasn’t as taken with this EP as I expected to be, but it’s a solid release. You can almost forget it’s not a full-length record from the three six-minute-plus songs. I loved hearing Shane on “Ghost Story”, and I’d certainly be down for more collaboration from these two artists in the future.
5) Talkie – Songs From Hablas We Thought Would Sound Cool Acoustic The Album
These guys just make fun music. I thoroughly enjoyed Hablas last year, and I loved hearing acoustic versions of “Sunny” and “Honest Man”, which were two of my favorite 2015 songs. Listen to Talkie!
Cool to see Relient K at #1 on another list, Josh. Seems our tastes are pretty similar. As far as From Indian Lakes goes, I’d recommend putting that album on in the background while you’re working on something. I did that and it slowly started to creep in. I’ve found that to be the case with all of their records actually. Absent Sounds didn’t really hit me until this last year. I missed Starflyer 59 on my list. I really enjoyed that record. I also have the feeling that I put Wolves at the Gate’s new record too low on… Read more »
Solid list Josh! A lot of releases I enjoyed in there.
Norma Jean was a nice choice. I also really enjoyed the EISM songs I heard.
Nice list except for me reliant k album is terrible and has no elements of their classic past sound which is understandable I guess. I might be the only one who feels this way though!
Honestly Hylt, I think you just might be the only one! Haha Every other 2016 list has listed this album as a big return to form for RK and their best since ‘Forget and Not Slow Down’.
I haven’t even heard it yet so I’m yet to say anyrhing with any real authority…