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A year in music, 2016 edition

This year has been another fruitful year of new music. While I still dig in and revisit the past, there were many new records that I immensely enjoyed. I have made a Spotify playlist of tunes I liked, but here is the rundown of what I championed in 2016.


American Football, LP2
When American Football released their debut album in 1999, nobody I knew considered it a classic whatsoever. The four-piece had a lot of close company in the emo/post-hardcore world at that time, including Pedro the Lion, Rainer Maria, the Get Up Kids, the Promise Ring, Jimmy Eat World, and many more. Seventeen years later, this once-short-lived Mike Kinsella project is bigger than any other band he's been involved with. The debut inspired many young bands to create a sound that was more from the heart instead of the hope of becoming famous. Their second LP was a bit of surprise as it seemed to be a project that was under wraps until it had a release date. The bigger surprise is how great it is. Not just good, but a record that surpasses the debut in a number of ways. Kinsella has much more experience as a songwriter in 2016, and it's obvious in terms of the quality of the tunes on here. It's a sad yet pretty album. It's the kind of album that works on rainy days and sunny days. (Spotify) 

Beach Slang, A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings
This is Beach Slang's second LP in two years, and it's a final document of a line-up that is no longer intact. The band broke up onstage earlier this year, only to reform a couple of days later. Drummer J.P. Flexner later quit the band, then guitarist Ruben Gallego was fired, and frontman James Alex did a number of shows alone. Who knows what will hapen for this band in the future, but A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings is certainly a worthy follow-up to The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us. It's much more diverse, and it's definitely not a retread of the first album. A song like "Atom Bomb" is a rough-edged, harder tune for the band while a song like "Spin the Dial" sounds like unapologetic ode to the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait." One can hope there is more Beach Slang to come in the future as the band's sound holds a special place for those who thought punk rock went away with the Warped Tour. (Spotify)

Tiny Moving Parts, Celebrate
This trio's second album, Pleasant Living, was one of my favorite records of 2014. It was a record I listened well into 2015 because I could not get enough of it. Celebrate will probably get as much attention in 2017. Pleasant Living was, for me, a long ode to grief over a relationship that ended. Celebrate comes across as addressing those close to you who cannot seem to find happiness. This is the band's most accessible record to date, blending complicated rhythms with sing-along choruses. (Spotify)

Into It. Over It, Standards
Evan Weiss's latest balances out the major sides of his Into It. Over It project. Produced by John Vanderslice, Standards has both delicate acoustic-driven songs mixed with full-on rock songs. Into It. Over It's previous albums, Proper and Intersections, explored both extremes. Standards blends all of that together quite well, where the whole album doesn't sound like a Jekyll and Hyde sort of identity crisis. (Spotify)

Explosions in the Sky, The Wilderness
Explosions in the Sky did a major reboot of their sound on The Wilderness. Rather than be dominated by shimmering guitar lines and behind-the-beat drumming, this album is anchored by keyboards and programming. Still, these songs are beautiful and there is plenty of welcoming sounds that Explosions in the Sky is known for. The longest song on here is seven minutes in length, which is also a bit of a change for them. A band who inspired many others created a newer sound to inspire even more bands. (Spotify)

face to face, Protection
I don't fault face to face for trying to expand their pop-punk leanings. As much as I love their first three records, which elevated pop-punk in many ways, I still find a lot of merits in Ignorance is Bliss, a record that owed more to the Cure and the Foo Fighters. Matter of fact, I championed everything the band did until Laugh Now, Laugh Later and Three Chords and a Half-Truth. I simply could not connect with them as they tried to be a bit more than what they had been known for, whether it was short punk tunes or songs more in the vein of Stiff Little Fingers. With Protection, the magic of the band is back. Trever Keith is still an inspiring vocalist and lyricist, and the rest of the latest version of the band (with new guitarist Dennis Hill) they have found a good, stable footing again. (Spotify)

My Jerusalem, A Little Death
There have been many times where I have seen a band play songs from a forthcoming LP that were significantly better live than on record. Austin's My Jerusalem played a few of the songs from A Little Death months before it came out, and I'm happy to say the resulting album is great. These are some of the poppiest songs Jeff Klein and his band have cooked up, and they retain the energy they have when they play live. It's a collection of dark pop songs that you can listen to during the day or night. (Spotify)

Joshua Dylan Balis, Modern Gospel 
Normally, I have hesitation praising a debut from an artist who is only beginning to establish himself or herself. Well, Modern Gospel is the sound of someone who has already released something exceptional. Even though he doesn't list them as influences, Balis's songs remind me of Nick Drake and Bruce Springsteen (the more subdued side of the Boss). There is confidence in these six songs and a taste of good things to come. (Spotify)


"Don't Need to Be Them" by the Sun Days
Not to be confused with the Sundays, the Sun Days make cheerful pop rock. This is one of the brightest songs I've heard all year. (Spotify)

"Portals to Hell" by Slow Mass
Featuring two members of Into It. Over It, this Chicago-based band reminds me of the mighty Crash of Rhinos. This one's a rager that's colorful, too. (Spotify)

"Just Another Face" by Modern Baseball
This is one of the most honest songs I've heard in 2016. Addressing the dark side of life while focusing on the positives, Brendan Lukens wrote a song I have listened to (and connected with) again and again. (Spotify)


Jason Isbell, February 16th, South Side Ballroom
I'm a newcomer to Isbell's music after hearing raves about his solo work and his time with the Drive-By Truckers for years. This show was a revelation. Isbell doesn't write corny country music or by-the-numbers Americana. He has his own sort of vibe that blends folk and country with Neil Young leanings. Over the course of 20 songs, he set a comfortable mood, playing a lot of songs from his last two solo records and a few odds and ends, along with some songs he did with the Drive-By Truckers. I was captivated and I've since become a big fan of his work.

Explosions in the Sky, August 22nd, The Bomb Factory
What I wrote in my original review sums up my thoughts and feelings in detail, but I'll add this, I was deeply moved by this show. My eyes were glassy in a few spots because of the kind of emotion I draw from Explosions in the Sky's music. A wonderful show.


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