While 2016 was a terrible year for everyone, it was also a year that gifted us some really great music. As many of us use music as a way to escape the tragedies and banalities of the real world, it is important to remember these releases. Here is some of my favorite music released this year:
Best Music Video:
Ratboys – “Light Pollution”
2016 was a big year for Ratboys. Between several lineup changes and extensive touring, core members Julia Steiner and Dave Sagan starred in a video for their new single “Light Pollution.” The video is a single shot that follows the duo as they move from room to room in a house where progressively stranger things are happening.
Most Eclectic Album:
The Sooper Swag Project – Badd Timing
Chicago rap collective The Sooper Swag Project released their highly anticipated new album Badd Timing on April 20 this year. With the goal of “winning the hearts of the math rockers,” TSSP blends elements of a wide variety of styles over beats with odd time signatures to create an ethereal mix of hip-hop and indie rock. Nnamdi’s stream-of-consciousness style of writing meshes perfectly with JD’s ambient beats and Luscious Duncan’s alluring flow.
Best Garage-Rock Album:
Laverne – Laverne
Chicago is a market saturated with garage-rock bands. Though you can argue they are more indie than garage rock, Laverne stands out the most in this deep talent pool. Laverne released their debut self-titled album earlier this year off of Dumpster Tapes, the label founded by their own guitarist Ed McMenamin. From start to finish, this album is composed of songs that make you want to learn every word so you can sing along at the top of your lungs. Blending simple, yet rockin’ instrumentals with singer Cory Clifford’s angsty vocal melodies, Laverne’s debut album is one you can’t just listen to once.
Best Split EP:
Nervous Passenger/The Normal Years – Nervous Passenger/The Normal Years Split
I could also give Nervous Passenger the award for “Best American Idiot-Style Ballad.” Their only song on this split, “The Slacker’s Lament,” is a 9-minute long epic about a heart-broken slacker that might drink a little too much and too often. The song varies in style from straight punk to slower, more twinkly breaks but is every bit enjoyable. The Normal Years’ side of the split has quadruple the number of songs but is actually slightly shorter. Nevertheless, the succinct, fuzz-filled songs create the perfect juxtaposition to the singular ballad while keeping the thematic continuity of finding “the one” on the EP.
Album That I Knew Was Going to Be on This List Before It Even Came Out:
Options – Maxed Out
Death, taxes, another great Options record. These are all things that seem to be truly inevitable year after year. This year was no exception. Though we all had to pay our taxes and endure the deaths of music legends Prince and David Bowie, Seth Engel came through in a big way with the release of Maxed Out. If you are not yet familiar with Engel’s body of work, I highly suggest starting with this album. If the jazzy, intricate guitar riffs don’t get you hooked, his heartfelt and honest lyrics will have you digging deeper into his discography.
Best Release of 2016:
Forth Wanderers – Slop
Hailing from Montclair, New Jersey, indie-pop band Forth Wanderers released their newest EP Slop in a drip-drip-drip fashion. The band released the songs one at a time, weeks apart until releasing the fourth and final track “Unfold” on November 11. Lead singer Ava Trilling does a fantastic job laying her somber voice over intricately composed waltzes to create ballads that are the cure for what ails any angst-filled heart. This is my pick for the overall best release of the year, despite it only being four songs long. Even though they aren’t local, I would be lying to myself if I chose any other release for this list. I probably listen to this EP 3-4 times every day and am confident you will too after hearing it for the first time.
Most Overrated Album:
Pinegrove – Cardinal
Also from Montclair, alt-country band Pinegrove released their newest album Cardinal earlier in June. Even before this release, Pinegrove was gaining recognition fast in underground scenes throughout the country. However, after this release, I started to see their t-shirt everywhere on the street, and their name being mentioned in all places on the internet. Don’t get me wrong, I can definitely appreciate what they do; to me, however, this album just sounds too plain. Honestly, if you showed me a song on the album without telling me who it was I would guess that it was one of those music videos that Disney channel puts on during commercial breaks. Drake & Josh was one of my favorite shows when I was younger, but I have never intentionally listened to one of Drake Bell’s songs on my own. To me, Pinegrove sounds too much like that.