By most accounts, 2016 has been a bit of a write-off but, not for the first time, music has been the saving grace. It’s been another fantastic year for music – so much so that I’ve gone for a top 20 list this year rather than the traditional 10. Enjoy the list, I’d love to read your comments if you have any.
20. Long Distance Calling – ‘TRIPS’
This German alternative act with an epic sound, fusing together prog-rock, classic rock and instrumental post-rock, served up a mightily epic journey here. It takes some orienteering, but it’s well worth the effort. [Review]
19. Rome Hero Foxes – ‘For When You’re Falling Backwards’
A base of ‘On Letting Go’ era Circa Survive but with a touch more urgency, the rich, sophisticated sound of Rome Hero Foxes is so natural and accomplished with its mix of serene melody and tasteful aggression that it’s hard to believe this is the band’s debut record. [Review]
18. Hail the Sun – ‘Culture Scars’
There may be less chaos on this record than debut ‘Wake’ but there’s no shortage of breathtaking quality. Now signed to Equal Vision, the band continue to go from strength to strength and they deserve everything they get.
17. Fallen to Flux – ‘Transitions’
The first British band on the countdown (but certainly not the last!), Fallen to Flux are an important reminder that alt-rock doesn’t need to be stagnant and boring. This record is full of catchy hooks and choruses, but also some meaty riffs that make it stand out. [Review]
16. Lite – ‘Cubic’
Instrumental math rock that you can dance to?! It’s unheard of, but now that it’s been done to this level of quality I’m hoping it’s a trend that catches on. These head-scratchingly impressive instrumentals are so much better within solid, catchy songs. [Review]
15. Thrice – ‘To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere’
I’ll admit, though I’m a big fan of Thrice, I wasn’t expecting much from this record. When a band comes back from hiatus they rarely carry the same spark, but they’ve certainly proved me wrong here. A fantastic, solid, slab of quality alt-rock.
14. Architects – ‘All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us’
It’s been a year of tragedy for Architects and no words can describe the gravity of their loss. This record is another example of why Tom was so revered in the business – his ability to write bone-crushing riffs was second to none and though he may be gone, his art remains with us forever.
13. Polyphia – ‘Renaissance’
It’s common for guitar-based instrumental records to descend into a show of skill and self-congratulation, losing sight of the fact that an album still needs to have cohesive songs. Polyphia used to be like that for me, but this record is a game changer. This is how you keep instrumental records fresh and exciting. [Review]
12. Greaver – ‘The Faun’
Drawing comparisons to Being as an Ocean and early As Cities Burn is never a bad thing; Greaver use the narrative vocal style to great effect, over the top of some genuinely moving melodic hardcore. [Review]
11. Hands Like Houses – ‘Dissonants’
This is another record I was nervous about this year but again have been completely proved wrong. I was worried the band would go down a softer route but they did the opposite and dialed up the heaviness. The combination of downtuned riffs with soaring vocals is fantastic – I won’t be so quick to doubt them in the future! [Review]
10. Megosh – ‘Apostasy’
A late arrival in the year (released on December 16th) but heading straight into the top 10, Megosh are seriously impressive. Combining influences from Coheed and Cambria to Deftones, this record challenges the lack of creativity in the alt-rock genre and does it in style. [Review]
9. Casey – ‘Love Is Not Enough’
Music is most memorable, most powerful, when it makes you feel something and there are few bands that make you feel quite like Casey do. Beneath the anguished screams is an instrumental core that’s so beautifully melodic and atmospheric, it stands every hair up on your body. A triumphant debut album.
8. Every Time I Die – ‘Low Teens’
Confession time: I never got into Every Time I Die. I’ve seen the band live a few times and each time they absolute blew me away – they’re one of the best acts you’ll see on stage. But on record I’ve always been so disappointed that the raw power and carnage doesn’t translate anywhere near as well. This time though, that’s all changed. ‘Low Teens’ is the closest the band have come to capturing their live sound and it’s phenomenal.
7. In Dynamics – ‘Everything I See’
There’s no denying that In Dynamics’ debut album is more commercially accessible than their previous EPs, but there’s certainly no shame in that. The album is cleaner, more crisp and contains catchier choruses, but what’s remarkable is that the band have managed to retain the complex instrumentals and structures that gave them their unique character. It’s not often that bands manage to access a wider audience while staying true to themselves, but this album is proof that’s it’s possible. [Review]
6. Dance Gavin Dance – ‘Mothership’
The post-hardcore innovators celebrated their 10th anniversary as a band this year and they show no signs of slowing down. As well as continuing to go from strength to strength with each record, they’ve also managed to hold down the same line up for 3 consecutive records – something they’ve never done before. The consistency shows in probably their most successful record to date.
5. Black Peaks – ‘Statues’
Having seen how explosive Black Peaks are live, I thought it would be impossible for them to capture that level of energy on record, but they’ve done as good a job as they possibly could. Heavy, complex, melodic, brutal – this record has everything and it’s been a joy to see the band getting all the attention they deserve this year. [Review]
4. The Dear Hunter – ‘Act V: Hymns With the Devil in Confessional’
This penultimate chapter in Casey Crescenzo’s epic concept story is another reminder of the genius of Crescenzo’s songwriting. The introduction of a full orchestra has elevated this project to new heights and after another sublime series of adventurous songs, my excitement for the final chapter is beyond comprehension. [Review]
3. Issues – ‘Headspace’
Issues may not be the most sophisticated or nuanced band on this list, but sometimes you just have to give bands credit where it’s due. Issues’ self-titled debut showed talent, but it was a little too cliched, and dare I say cheesy, to be a huge success. ‘Headspace’ is a massive step forward for the band, adding some impressively complex rhythms and grooves to their already strong vocal talents to create a well rounded and long-lasting record. [Review]
2. Hotel Books – ‘Run Wild, Stay Alive’
When it comes to creating music from the heart, Cam Smith has everyone beaten. If you’re able to listen through ‘Run Wild, Stay Alive’ without having your emotions stirred, then it might be time to sit by a fire and defrost your cold, dead heart. The combination of a painstakingly honestly narrative and uplifting melodic hardcore instrumentation is a joy to behold and in any other year, this would be my top album through sheer feeling alone.
1. Artifex Pereo – ‘Passengers’
If there was ever an album I wish I’d written myself, it would be this one. Everything I hold dear about music is captured: thought-provoking lyrics, interesting yet far from obvious vocal melodies, complex instrumentation, infectious melodies, the masterful production work of Kris Crummett… it’s all here.
My expectations of this album were already high, following the incredible ‘Time In Place’, but I wasn’t quite prepared for this level of breathtaking brilliance. Simple songs are often the most effective: if you remove the clutter then all you can focus on is the melody and structure. This is how some of the best pop songs get into your head and refuse to leave. What amazes me about ‘Passengers’ is that every song has this ability to seem so simple and effective, yet when you concentrate on what’s happening beneath the surface, there’s more going on than you ever imagined. The guitar work is insane, the drumming is relentless and the vocal melodies perfect to the last note. It’s all there from the first song, but it never clutters or gets in the way of each song’s clear message and melody.
I’ve never heard an album as stealthily crafted as this before and it’s this achievement that puts ‘Passengers’ on top for 2016.
Thank you for reading. See you in 2017!