I almost backed out of writing a year-end list for 2016, 'cause lately I haven't had much to say and would rather listen to music than write about it. I've also been focusing most of my listening on older classics or shit that I just missed along the way. But, there were some pretty outstanding new releases this year, and I should probably take any opportunity I can to yell at people to listen to good music, so here are some of my favorites from the past 12 months (in alphabetical order)...
Andy Jackson and The Mary Tyler Mormons, Andy Jackson and The Mary Tyler Mormons (JMB Records)
This seven-song EP from Andy Jackson's new solo project comes across like a slightly more country-tinged take on his efforts with Hot Rod Circuit, and was certainly amongst my most anticipated—and most played—purchases of 2016. I'll buy anything with Andy's name on it, and see little reason why this material shouldn't immediately click with fans of the more emo/indie-leaning sides of his impressive discography. It looks like the CD is no longer available, but you can check out the EP on Spotify, or through other digital outlets.
Antagonist, Damned and Cursed... to Life on Earth (Divebomb Records)
I'm a massive reissue buff, so I have to include at least one re-release amidst my year-end favorites. No one does it better than Divebomb Records, so of course they're responsible for resurrecting this group's ultra rare 1994 EP—bolstered by an assortment of live and demo tracks; not to mention a 24-page booklet that includes lyrics, photos, press clippings, and an all-new interview that I conducted with Antagonist's intense and visionary leader, Todd Tousey. (Of course, my minor involvement had zero impact on the decision to include this selection herein.) I was completely unfamiliar with the band's self-described "heavy black thrash" prior to being presented with this opportunity, and was completely floored by their songwriting's distinctive blend of frantic speed, emphatic melody, and aggressive technicality. I suppose the original 1994 pressing fetches upwards of $100 for a reason! Pick up this new and improved reissue straight from the label.
Chinatown, The Night Market (Self-Released)
Chinatown's excellent demo should've been on my list last year, but I fucked up and forgot, so I'm making sure to cite The Night Market this year to make up for it. Something about this Philadelphia trio's raw, loose, and gloomy emo/indie/whatever vibe just hits the damn spot, and continues to grow on me over time. I'd love to see 'em release more than four songs a year, but if 2017 yields nothing more than another killer four-song EP, I'll take it! In the meantime, snag both of their current releases as name your price downloads on Bandcamp, and hopefully you'll be just as enamored by their moody jams...
Cruelty of the Heavens, Grow Up and See (Encapsulated Records)
Without a doubt, this unexpected foray into infectiously catchy '80s and '90s alt. rock from members of sinister metalcore band Chaos Order is my favorite album of the year. I listen to so much music that it's fairly uncommon for new releases to get a large number of repeated spins from me, but Grow Up and See gripped me right off the bat. I had chills and was singing along during the very first listen, and have already come back to this masterpiece time and time again since its mid-November release. I truly believe this band should be a big fuckin' deal, and am perplexed by the seeming lack of coverage they've received, so I'll keep on screaming about it. That being said, it looks like Grow Up and See may have sold out on CD (which I hope is a good sign), though of course you can still find the album on Spotify, Bandcamp, etc. I simply can't recommend this one enough. Seriously...
Integrity, "Deathly Fighter" (Decibel Flexi Series)
Coincidentally, a cover song from the Decibel Flexi Series made its way into my list last year as well, and who could deny the almighty Integrity's impeccable tribute to former G.I.S.M. guitarist Randy Uchida (R.I.P.) via this scorching cover of R.U.G.'s "Deathly Fighter"—with Dwid howling in Japanese, no less!? I believe this marks the recorded debut of Integrity's latest lineup—featuring Dom Romeo of Pulling Teeth and A389 Recordings fame—so, to say that I'm eagerly awaiting their forthcoming full-length for Relapse Records in 2017 would be a bit of an understatement...
(P.S. Speaking of cover songs and the Decibel Flexi Series, Publicist UK's cover of Tori Amos' "Precious Things" was also quite cool.)
(P.P.S. Gazzan's Extinction EP is pretty mandatory for Integrity fans, but I've omitted it from this list because it was included last year, when it was released digitally under the band's original name of Dead Shall Rise.)
Lament Cityscape + Theologian, Soft Tissue (Battleground Records)
This collaborative album between Oakland's Lament Cityscape and New York's Theologian is absolutely fucking epic, and I really wish more musicians would explore such adventurous partnerships given the magnitude of these results. It's just a heaving mass of industrial metal calamities, akin to Neurosis meets Nine Inch Nails while Swans sets them both on fire. Easily one of the coolest and most interesting outings of 2016. Grab a copy on CD (limited to 500 units), or via Bandcamp.
Lifeless, "Die With It" (Fast Break! Records)
As far as I'm concerned, Lifeless is hands down the best hardcore-related band out there right now from the more contemporary generation. No one else even comes close. They're more powerful, more sincere, and completely unmatched when it comes to turning furious negativity into a positive outlet. This digital single (released on CD in Japan alongside the tracks from the If I Could be Anyone But Me 7") is apparently taken from a release that's due early next year, and I can't fuckin' wait. The way these dudes connect with their audience, they deserve to be blowin' the fuck up...
Martel, "I Go Wrong" (Self-Released)
I've already established my longstanding fanboy worship of Marty James, and for the past several years, his solo output has been limited to a small handful of digital "yacht pop" singles under the banner of Martel. The most recent of which, "I Go Wrong," is a bit darker and borderline synthwave-tinged than much of his work—though no less brilliant! The fact that a full-length Martel album does not yet exist brings tears to my eyes. The fact that the bulk of these singles are only available as freakin' SoundCloud streams makes me feel as though my chest has been hacked open with a rusty butter knife, and my heart ripped out Mola Ram-style. That is to say: this is unacceptable. Please, Mr. James, I beg you... let's remedy this situation in 2017, shall we?
Truth & Rights, Lies & Slights (My Reality Entertainment)
This one's a very close second behind Cruelty of the Heavens in terms of my absolute, top-shelf favorites of the year. As indicated by my full review, I'll flip the fuck out about any band that features former members of Elements DEC, Train of Thought, and Agents of Man before I even hear a single note of music. Add Leeway frontman Eddie Sutton to that equation, and said flip-out level is obviously amplified. But I had been hoping and waiting for more from Truth & Rights ever since their Greenlight 7" back in 2010, and Lies & Slights delivers in full with its unflinchingly unique and high-energy fusion of hard-hitting aggression and hook-laden melodicism. It seems all too necessary to continue screaming about this gem, too, as I'm utterly dumbfounded as to why Truth & Rights hasn't gotten more love out there!? (Props to In Effect Hardcore for also knowing what's up, though.) Check out a few tracks on Bandcamp, and hit up the band to get your hands on a CD.
Various Artists, Expressionism Noir (Do What Thou Wilt Records)
I've been wanting to write something about this killer compilation from Greek label Do What Thou Wilt Records for some time now, but was unable to dig up enough background information on the project to properly pull it together. Expect 38 tracks and well over two hours of music from an array of international artists in the post-punk/darkwave type of vein. I'm a big fan but a total neophyte when it comes to this niche of music, so I'm always looking for new bands to explore, and was totally blown away by how great (and authentically dated) many of these contributors sound. A few favorites are Double Echo, Anima Triste, Hapax, Chaos Research, Sounds Like Winter, and The Vanishing Point, among others. It's a name your price download on Bandcamp, too, so don't sleep on this shit!
(P.S. Kalpamantra's The Echoing Black is another huge compilation worth a nod. 34 tracks and over four hours of supreme dark ambient/death industrial sounds for a mere £4!)