The Best of 2016: Rob Jensen

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In 2016, I saw my tastes in music grow a bit more. This would account for why you’ll see some albums make an appearance on this list that, if you know me, you wouldn’t normally expect to see here. Overall, I thought it was a pretty good year for music, but a number of times some of the albums I was most excited about lost something after numerous listen throughs. This could account for why some albums (if you know me) you’d expect to see on my list are noticeably absent. So this year’s list is a bit different and more diverse than my lists in years past. Hope you enjoyed some of what 2016 had to offer in music and that maybe you’ll find some new bands/artists to check out in my list below. Praying you all have a blessed and prosperous 2017!


1. Fit For A King – Deathgrip (metalcore) – Deathgrip wasn’t even really a tough call for me to be named the best album of 2016. There’s so much to like about this album from killer riffs, insane drums, brutal screams, and great lyrics. It really had everything I love in an album and regardless of how many times I listen to it, it never gets old or boring, but in fact, I find even more things to love an appreciate about it. If you’re into the heavier side of things, it’s simply not possible to go wrong with this album.


2. Korn – The Serenity of Suffering (“nu-metal”? do people still say that?) – When Korn released their first single off The Serenity of Suffering, “Rotting In Vain”, I felt the same excitement I remembered feeling when I first heard them years ago. I love the sound of the 7 string guitars along with the thunderous bass, not to mention Jonathan’s vocals sound better than ever. There’s maybe a track or two that sounds like filler, but overall it’s a great album reminiscent of the band’s earlier days.


3. The Interrupters – Say It Out Loud (ska/punk) – It’s funny, just when I was on the search for some new ska to listen to, out came “Say It Out Loud” by the Interrupters. I was hooked from the first listen. Musically, it’s everything you expect from ska; very catchy with the jazzy bass runs underlying it all. Musically, ska in general is never really exceptional, but when it is done right, it is always FUN. What really stood out to me on this album though (remember now, this was my first introduction to the band), we’re Aimee’s vocals. She is the female version of Tim Armstrong to a tee. Nice, gritty vocals churning out track after track of melodic hooks that aren’t just addictive, but stick with you. Ska fans, if you don’t have this album yet, you’re sorely missing out.


4. Deftones – Gore (Alt-metal/melodic hard rock) – When one of your overall favorite bands announces their first album in years, you tend to take notice. I remember the Deftones announcing this one LONG ago. After a while I even questioned whether or not it would see the light of day or if we were just being toyed with. When it was determined to be a certainty and a release date was finally set, the excitement for “Gore” set in. The first single or two released ahead of the album added to that, and although I admittedly wasn’t in love with them, I still thought they were pretty good. To me, the hype surrounding the release of “Gore” far outweighed what the album delivered. Yes, great album, but it had to grow on me a bit. But once it did, it really took root and I was able to appreciate it far more, it gained a steady spot in my listening rotation, and even found a home here in my “Best of 2016” list. Musically, it’s what you would come to expect from the Deftones; at times it’s heavy as anything as Steph frequently employs the use of 8 string guitars. Other times there’s a really nice ambience to what you hear as the clean guitar echoes with a warm reverb and delay. All this overlayed by Chino’s unbelievably energetic and chill inducing screams as well as his complimentary smooth, melodic vocals makes “Gore” an album that really stood out this past year. Can’t wait for what they have planned next, I just hope the wait is a little shorter this time.


5. Lacey Sturm – Life Screams (Rock) – When Lacey left Flyleaf, I wasn’t too sure whether or not I should expect to hear anything from her again in the future. Was she done with music or would she be back? The first single off “Life Screams” answered that question and happily so! “Life Screams” is extremely reminiscent of Lacey’s earlier work with her former band, Flyleaf. An excellent release!


6. Memphis May Fire – This Light I Hold (Metalcore) – Memphis May Fire’s release, “This Light I Hold” combines the heavy riffs we’ve come to know and have gained the band a strong following with Matty’s sometimes smooth, sometimes brutal vocals. To be honest, there seems to be a good deal more singing than screaming on this album as compared to their previous work. Solid album.


7. Metallica – Hardwired to Self-Destruct (Metal) – Everywhere you turn, when Metallica is brought up, everyone talks about how much they miss the band’s old sound. So naturally when news came of a new album, most of us were kind of hoping for a return to that sound, despite the unlikelihood. When that first single dropped though, our ears perked right up and you could almost hear Metallica fans everywhere cheering. The new album brings back their old sound for a strong amount of “Hardwired to Self-Destruct”. It would almost seem as though the band knew what their fans wanted and were intent on giving it to them. I was hoping this album would defeat the skeptic in me, that Metallica could still put out an album that really rocked…expectation met and even exceeded in some instances.


8. Beartooth – Aggressive (Metalcore) – The first Beartooth album was loaded with songs that really stuck in your head from the first listen. While this album had that on a few tracks, it wasn’t as plentiful as I found it to be on the first. I’ll always be a big fan of these guys and I especially love the guitar tone. Caleb’s vocals are great and he can sing as well as he can scream, if not better. From the first time I heard this album, I knew it would be on this list. Definitely an album my collection would be incomplete without.


9. Blink 182 – California (Pop-punk) – Blink is BACK. It feels like this album should’ve been the next logical step following their self-titles album. I hear there’s a special edition reissue coming out that will almost feel like a whole new album and I’m pretty eager for that. My only gripe about the new album is that I’m really not a fan of the vocals of Tom’s replacement. That aside though, it reminds me a bit of the “Take Off Your Pants and Jacket” album. Good stuff.


10. Skillet – Unleashed (Hard rock) – I’ve always enjoyed Skillet’s music, but when they started doing what sounded like ballads, they lost me. There were a few albums that leaned heavily in that direction, but starting with Rise, they seemed to start turning things around. Then came Unleashed. Unleashed relies more heavily on electronic sounds than anything they’ve done before, yet maintains that element of hard rock we’ve come to love. There’s some excellent songwriting happening here and I think they’ve really started to strike a decent balance between the hard and soft sides of things. The album seems to have been received pretty positively by fans and critics alike, so give it a listen if you haven’t done so already!


11. Decyfer Down – The Other Side of Darkness (Hard rock) – Man was I skeptical about this one from the very first time I heard it was in the works. The first time I heard these guys was on their debut album, “End of Grey” and I was a fan right away. I loved the sound of the guitars and was strongly reminded of one of my favorite bands, Sevendust. The next album, Crash, came out and I was a little let down after the first one. It still had it’s moments, but it was nothing compared to The End of Grey. Then came Scarecrow. I couldn’t get past the first few tracks for a good while. I found nothing at all to like about the album and wondered if I’d reached the end of the road with these guys. Scarecrow was the main reason for my skepticism about The Other Side of Darkness. I by no means wanted a repeat of that. Nevertheless, I picked up the album anyway and was floored. Decyfer Down was back! Still not as good to me as The End of Grey, but it was close and beat the heck out of the rest of their albums. This is a truly solid hard rock album I would recommend to anyone.


12. Kelly Mac – The Bridge (Hip Hop) – Yeah, you read that right…Hip Hop. If you know me remotely this probably shocks you, because you are very likely aware of the disdain I’ve had for the genre for the longest time, so I steered clear of it the best I could. So this past May, my band and I headed out from Nowhere, NJ to Nashville, TN to be a part of a really special event called The Objective, which is a precursor to The Extreme Tour in many ways. We performed at the showcase one night at Rocketown and that same night, a group called sWord (pronounced Swirred, not soared) took the stage. When I found out there was going to be some hip hop going on, I decided I would take the opportunity to go and get some snacks or hit the bathroom or something. But for some reason, I stuck around and from the moment the guys took the stage, it was clear they owned it and the energy was undeniably palpable. The songs were infectious and there was really great interaction between the guys and the crowd and despite the fact I’d shied away from hip hop for so long these guys won me over in their short 2 song set. Since that performance, I’ve been getting into more and more hip hop and we were even fortunate enough to tour later in the year with a few other really great hip hop artists. So why am I talk about sWord? Because Kelly Mac is one of the guys in the group. His album, “The Bridge” dropped back in February 2016 and is pretty awesome. There’s some great beats, but the thing I’ve found myself drawn to are the lyrics. They’re raw, they’re real, and very well put together. There’s a spoken word type track in the middle which is a really great monologue from the perspective of someone who just feels trapped and frustrated, but just won’t look accept the solution to his problems. The song “Power Moves” is especially a high point for me. Not an album to miss out on, you’ll love it!


13. NF – Therapy Sessions (Hip Hop) – NF is Christian Hip Hop’s answer to Eminem. The two are so strikingly similar it is eerie at times. Dude puts together some really great songs and he can really fly at times. It’s really crazy stuff. Not much else to say here other than “give it a listen”.


14. Everything In Slow Motion – Laid Low EP (rock) – Laid Low by Everything In Slow Motion is a pretty decent ep. It’s straightforward rock, but not abrasive or too light, it’s just right. I often found myself going “Oh good, this song again” as the ep would repeat itself in my car. Great ep!


15. Disciple – Long Live the Rebels (Hard rock) – Disciple released both an ep and a full album in 2016…these guys were busy! The album isn’t a huge deviation from what you know of Disciple, but that’s why it’s here. I love the style of hard rock these guys bring and you can be sure that this album brings it well.


16. Thousand Foot Krutch – Exhale (Hard Rock) – The past few TFK albums have seemed to be getting more and more mellow to me. Not that they’ve been entirely mellow, but it’s definitely been getting there more and more. Exhale took that pattern that seemed to be developing and turned it on it’s head. This album brings back the hard rock grooves I’ve come to love these guys for. In addition, Trevor’s vocals sound as good as ever and he even brings back a bit of the rap style he’s thrown to a few songs in the past. It’s a great album and fans of older TFK are going to be really happy with this one.


17. Comrades – Lone/Grey (Metal?) – 2016 brought us the debut album from the band Comrades. Talk about different! I think this one might even belong a bit higher up on this list. The 3 piece boasts sounds of metal, hard rock, screamed vocals, and a female vocalist as well. Has to be the best new band of 2016 for sure.


18. Aaron Gillespie – Out of the Badlands (Acoustic) – In December of 2015, my band had the pleasure of opening for Aaron at our local venue. His set was just him with a guitar and a bass drum and consisted of acoustic renditions of songs from Underoath and The Almost as well as a cover or two of some well known songs. I remember sitting there blown away by how incredible his voice sounded as he belted the songs out and found myself hoping he’d one day record an album like that set sounded. Well…he did. Out of the Badlands is a “must” for fans of Aaron’s previous work with Underoath and The Almost. The album is mostly acoustic versions of some of the more popular songs from his time with those bands along with a new song or two thrown in there as well. Highly recommended.


19. Silent Culture – Behind These Walls (Rock) – Silent Culture is a band from southern NJ with a solid rock sound and a message that is unafraid to tackle some of the tougher issues many of us face today. The songs are very well crafted, the musicianship is excellent, and the vocals fit the songs perfectly. The only downfall of this release is that the mix and perhaps the production feel a bit off at times, but all in all it’s a great ep by a band I fully expect to hear much more from in the future. Oh, and their live show is also very impressive. If you find you have the opportunity to see them, make sure you do.


20. Grand Mill – Divine Awakening (Hip Hop) – Grand Mill is a hip hop artist from Knoxville, TN. This past year he released the album “Divine Awakening”, which features great beats and lyrics that build you up spiritually. I had the opportunity to perform a number of shows with him last Summer and was blessed to see how he walks his talk and loved on everyone he had the opportunity to perform for. Great guy, great music.

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