Reviewer’s choice: Austin Hille and Sam Cox pick their top 5 albums from 2016

Posted on Dec 1 2016 - 8:01am by Sam Cox and Austin Hille

Sam Cox’s Top Five Albums of 2016

2016 was a fantastic year for music, with some records proving to be remarkable, while many others fell short. These five albums are my top contenders, each one purposefully chosen for its meaning and impact. Check it out!

  1. Goodness – The Hotelier

When The Hotelier released “Goodness,” I didn’t know what to do with it. There was so much depth, so much intricacy and meaning put into every single track that it took me months to dissect every single song. That’s one of the reasons why “Goodness” is by far the best album of 2016 to me. It’s an album you can listen to time and time again and learn something new every time. It has its ups and downs, going from quiet to loud or dark to light-hearted in seconds, and it has its somber moments and its sporadic moments. The album is so creative and well-crafted it’s like a new adventure with every listen. Weaved masterfully throughout the anthemic songs “Settle The Scar” and “Soft Animal” and the beautiful ballads “Opening Mail For My Grandmother” and “Fear Of God,” you’ll discover the overarching theme, which is love. Love plays a huge role in our everyday lives within every relationship with form, and The Hotelier explores every aspect of what love means. It’s a gorgeous and spectacular album, nothing short of perfection that can be at times breathtaking and tear jerking. The Hotelier truly does not disappoint, and I find myself yearning to listen to “Goodness” at any moment of the day.

  1. Celebrate – Tiny Moving Parts

The one band I just could not get enough of in 2016 was Tiny Moving Parts. No other band can compete with the amount of energy and excitement that Tiny Moving Parts produces in each and every song it has made to date. So it’s no surprise that when “Celebrate”, the band’s third and most ambitious album yet, debuted in early May, it quickly became the soundtrack of summer. Songs like “Headache” or “Birdhouse” are infectiously bouncy and incredibly energetic. The album is all about having a good time, and Tiny Moving Parts knows exactly how to have one. Dylan Mattheisen belts powerful choruses on top of whirring guitar parts and slamming drum patterns. The band has always held strongly to the genre of emo and math rock and, though tracks often dance on the line between math rock and just really cool guitar riffs, the album is still loaded with the typical emo lyrics and verses that made Tiny Moving Parts so loved in the first place. “Celebrate” is the perfect introductory album, as it showcases just how talented and mature the band has become over the years while still sounding fresh and unique.

  1. Holy Ghost – Modern Baseball

Prior to the release of “Holy Ghost,” Modern Baseball released a short documentary focusing on the album and the band members themselves, which was titled “Tripping In The Dark.” The documentary helps explain just how dark and epic “Holy Ghost” is as an album, and it did such a good job that it caused me to sob silently in my dorm, even after I had watched it for the 17th time. “Holy Ghost” is an outstanding record that boasts adolescent energy and power from the very beginning. After the album’s brief opening acoustic title track, “Holy Ghost,” you are blasted into the dance-y, fast-paced track “Wedding Singer.”  From there, the album continues to take off and exceed all expectations. Something unique is that the album is split similarly to Outkast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.” There’s singer Jacob Ewald’s half and singer Brendan Lukens’ half. Both halves hold their respective amounts of power and fun while simultaneously bringing the album together to create a perfect balance of absolute jam-worthy pop-punk and personal, heartbreaking emo. Modern Baseball has completely outdone itself on “Holy Ghost” and has crafted a near-flawless record.

  1. Cody – Joyce Manor

Joyce Manor is a band that cannot make a bad record. The band has continued to solidify its sound with each record it’s produced, and with “Cody,” the band sounds more polished than ever before. The record starts off with fan favorite “Fake ID,” which is an anthemic opener guaranteed to get any crowd moving. Following, with each succeeding track, “Cody” proves to be structured and formulated for success, which comes as a departure from Joyce Manor’s typical care-free, unhinged rocker aesthetic. “Cody” still holds true to the typical Southern California punk-rock style Joyce Manor so closely identifies with, while also showing that the band can clean itself up and create an album with songs that are thoughtfully crafted for an audience that isn’t as tuned to the music scene. “Do You Really Want To Not Get Better?” is an acoustic track that slows the album down more than any other Joyce Manor album before, but the following track, “The Last You Heard Of Me,” brings the pace right back to speed with the most fun and interesting song on the album. “Cody” is chock-full of songs that fill you with the spirit of a California high school punk rocker and will leave you jamming out on the way to school or work. There’s even a cute dog on the cover!

  1. I Don’t Think It Is – Say Anything

Since 2012, Max Bemis, frontman and mastermind behind Say Anything, has been the only founding member still involved in Say Anything. Since then, he has taken the project under his wing and released two records, both of which have departed from the typical sound and style of previous Say Anything albums. The most recent is “I Don’t Think It Is,” which was surprise-released in the dead of night this past February. The music and production on “I Don’t Think It Is” is by far the most lo-fi of any of the band’s entire seven-album career, yet the album still contains the angsty, in-your-face aggression that is common with every Say Anything release. “I Don’t Think It Is” satisfies every aspect of a Say Anything album in the sense that it contains the same wicked and creative structure that Max Bemis has perfected over the course of his career. Say Anything is my all-time favorite band, but with the album being released so rapidly in succession after 2014’s “Hebrews,” it feels as though it was pieced together without being given the proper amount of attention that a No. 1 album deserves. Nonetheless, the album is playful and edgy, with opening track “Give A Damn” getting right in your face from the moment it starts.

Listen to Sam’s playlist:

Austin Hille’s Top Five Albums of 2016

I am a firm believer that the best music in history is being made right now.

The millennial generation may get blamed for Kim Kardashian and selfies, but the one thing they may never hold against us is the tremendous progress we made in the area of musical exploration and pioneering.

This sort of work certainly isn’t being done in the mainstream/Top 40 sector of the market, but it exists nonetheless in slightly less funded, more niche pockets of the industry.

The year of 2016 has seen the rise of multiple projects and compositions that have contributed to this generation’s prominence in music history. Below are the five albums (in no particular order) I feel deserve an honorable mention among the hundreds of leaps and bounds made within the industry this past year alone.

  1. 99.9% – KAYTRANADA
    Genre-bending and melding has been a common theme within modern music since most students have been in middle school. It’s not unique, but perhaps it has never been done better than in KAYTRANADA’s debut full-length album, “99.9%.” More than anything, this project reeks of self-taught, artisan-level music production from a Montreal producer who had nothing more than a laptop and the self discipline to teach himself the craft of beat making and sampling. Though the tracklist shows a long list of features from many A-List singers, producers, musicians and rappers, the one thing that ties all the tracks together is KAYTRANADA’s profound ability to brutally destroy all preconceived notions of electronic and dance music and turn it into exploration of different genres and how they can assist in the present generation of musical prowess.
  2. Bottomless Pit – Death Grips
    This is certainly my most controversial pick, mostly because Death Grips is known for making such incredibly loud, dark, abrasive and borderline hard-to-listen-to compositions. This album is not for everybody, but it may be the most significant stride within the industry this year. Throughout music history, there is a recurring phenomenon of taking music and pushing it to new, hard-to-accept extremes. From classical, to jazz, then rock, hip-hop and now EDM, there is an undeniable trend of pushing composition, production and lyricism to new limits. It’s the same phenomenon responsible for parents and authority figures parading in the streets protesting the rise of these new genres, simply because it makes a previously comfortable society uncomfortable. Death Grips has pioneered the next step in that sequence. I don’t know what to call it, but it’s edgy, corrosive, caustic and still supports a large enough loyal fan base to solidify it as the beginning of a new era within music.
  3. Rebellion Sessions – Black Milk and Nat Turner
    Jazz is not dead. It has never even gotten close. Black Milk and Nat Turner seamlessly blend their talents in the areas of jazz and hip-hop to create a truly enthralling project. I wouldn’t call it groundbreaking, but it’s just really dope music. If a DJ and a jazz musician could have a jam session, this would be what it would sound like, and given both of the artists’ talent in their respective genres, a collaboration of this level can only yield positive results. It’s the kind of project that you can’t help but smile while listening to. Every part of it just feels right.
  4. We got it from here… Thank You 4 Your service – A Tribe Called Quest
    Wow. Wow, wow, wow, wow. As can be expressed in my comprehensive review of this album earlier this week, this album will go down in history as one of the greats. Consisting of profound poetic discourse delivered seamlessly over appropriately curated next-level production, this album will only get better with time. Take note now so you can tell your kids you were there when it all went down.
  5. Faceless – Levi Hinson
    Hailing from the artistic mecca that is Ada, Oklahoma, Hinson quickly worked his way up to become a top five pick for me this year. Despite his young age, Hinson’s “Faceless” rivals work from artists such as J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar in both artistic vision and overall lyrical prowess. Each and every decision made by the artist contributes to a consistent overall tone and message made by the project. The music just creates a unique atmosphere and really allows you to experience Hinson’s emotional state and explore his condition. The work can almost be considered equal parts philosophy and hip-hop, and it explores the life of a teenager in America in the most profound of ways. Do not sleep on this.