I can’t really explain my affinity for ‘best of’ lists. They’re a weird quirk of the clickbait and pageview count nature of the internet these days, but they are also something I await for an odd reason: it’s not that I want to see what is on the list, it’s that I can’t wait to see what’s not included on the list. I’m not even talking about music here, but those lists always cement that I exist in a bubble. Bill and I have often joked that many end of year best albums list include many artists and songs we’ve never heard. Perhaps this is because commercial radio isn’t something that’s in our ears, or because the internal workings of Spotify, Pandora and the like simply lead you down an ever deeper hole of music that is sonically similar to whatever your current auditory fascination may be.
In this vein, I wanted to expand upon my best of 2016 lists to touch on some other excellent albums that deserve mention, as well as some of the best EPs that were released. Additionally 2016 has been a banner year for the local DC music scene and there are so many great bands and releases that deserve to be highlighted. Some of them we’ve discussed on the podcast in the past and some may be new to you, but the bottom line is this: DC didn’t need to wait for Trump to move into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave for our local bands to put out music that touch on important topics of our time.
[editor’s note: to hear Taylor, Elliott and Bill talk about their best of picks, you can listen to the podcast here: www.kidsdontfollow.com/2016/12/22/episode-21-making-the-best-of-2016/]
Best Albums of 2016, continued…
The Thermals – We Disappear
By the time December rolls around and it is time to run back through some of the best albums of the year, everything that happened before Fort Reno becomes the focus of my summertime attention gets all fuzzy. That’s too bad because March brought us this great album. Though nothing will probably touch 2006’s The Body, The Blood, The Machine for the perfect balance of lyrics, riffs and sing along moments, We Disappear comes close. Not to mention that the sense of dread many of us feel, and that Hutch wrote about in 2006, is brought back to life in this album. While “If We Don’t Die Today” may seem like a downer on paper, it’s the best ballad on the album. But never fear, Hutch can still bring the dread with lyrics like ‘The sky will turn to fire, the sea will turn to salt / Our memories will burn like we were never here at all / We disappear’ from “The Great Dying.” And if there was any doubt this was a great album, when The Thermals came to DC and played The Black Cat, it was all erased as I went home hoarse and happy.
Summer Cannibals – Full of It
Another early-2016 release that would be a shame to ignore. Portland’s Summer Cannibals are a trio that brings the noise from beginning to end. Seeing them live cemented that they’re a band that should be headlining venues like The Black Cat in the next year or so. Given they are now signed to Kill Rock Stars and touring with other Pacific NW bands like Wimps and The Thermals, it should happen soon. Say you knew them before they got big.
Eureka California – Versus
A duo from Athens, GA featuring Jake Ward on guitar and Marie Uhler on drums, Eureka California delivers some of the best fuzz-laden garage rock I’ve enjoyed in sometime. Seeing them live in DC in a venue the size of most people’s living rooms only cemented my take that this album is a must listen. As one that I’ve played on repeat many time, I suggest you check it out. They occasionally tour on the East Coast, so keep an eye out and you won’t be disappointed.
Diarrhea Planet – Turn to Gold
If you let the name of this band turn you off, you’ll be sad. More melodic than their previous two LPs, but just as great from beginning to end. Reminiscent of Cloud Nothings in both sound and lyrical content, this is an album I’ve kept coming back to over the course of the year.
Witching Waves – Crystal Cafe
Playing angular post-punk somewhere between Gang of Four and Mission of Burma, Witching Waves are a London-based trio that puts out a really impressive sound based around lyrical content of drummer/vocalist Emma Wigham which fixates on any litany of societal changes and upheaval as London gentrifies or as Brexiters cry for a return to the good old days. Like so many American bands rooted in the DIY ethos, Witching Waves are putting out accessible music that speaks to many of us, with the veneer shorn away.
Failed Flowers – s/t LP
Checking in at 9 songs and 18 minutes, you could be excused for thinking this is going to be a hardcore album. Instead, it’s a glorious pop romp in the vein of any number of Flying Nun bands. The brainchild of prolific songwriter Fred Thomas, Failed Flowers was something or a side project from his more well known work in Saturday Looks Good to Me. Though there was originally talk of a 20+ track GBV-inspired album, Thomas and his bandmates are now more geographically dispersed (they were at one time all in Ann Arbor), so for now we’ll have to enjoy this excellent album released by MPLS’ 25 Diamonds label.
William Tyler – Modern Country
Though instrumental records are not usually my thing, William Tyler’s work sticks out as somethig imminently enjoyable that I keep coming back to. More well-known for his guitar work in Lambchop, the Silver Jews and Bonnie Prince Billy, Tyler has now put out 3 LPs under his own name. My first introduction to his solo work was 2013’s Impossible Truth which was amazing. Modern Country to me seems like it could be classified as space country given its ethereal tones, but whatever you call it, give it a listen.
Martha – Blisters in the Pit of My Heart
Simply put this is the best pop punk album of 2016. Probably 3a in the top-3 of the year for me. Hailing from Durham, UK, Martha hit the ground running and just never stop. You simply can’t not love a record that includes both silly songs about murder mysteries, meeting someone at the checkout line in the supermarket and also containing the lyric “an existential crisis mixtape on repeat until I die.” Oh yeah, the last song is also an ode to Paul Westerberg. Listen and you’ll get it. Truly a pop punk masterpiece.
Kindling – Everywhere Else
Easily the best shoegaze album of 2016 for me. Lots of fuzz and reverb, but with vocals not as drowned out as MBV. Seeing Kindling at Union Arts on a sweltering late-summer night in an un-air conditioned basement cemented them as a great act that isn’t to be missed if they make a stop in your town.
LVL UP – Return to Love
Sounding like they took all of the good stuff from a GBV or Pavement album, LVL UP improved upon 2014’s Hoodwink’d with this one. Benefitting from a move to Sub Pop, this album shines with better production and an inventive track flow that really keeps you engaged. It took me a few listens, but this is firmly in my mind as one of the best albums of the year.
Pinkwash – Collective Sigh
This Philly via DC duo make an impressive wall of sound and reverb. It sounds good and cathartic, which is important given the heavy material the album deals with. The more you listen, the more the album reveals itself to you as you let the heavy sound wash over your eardrums. It hurts, but then the pain gets washed away. Oh yeah, this album was also reviewed in the freakin NYT. How awesome is that?
Sheer Mag – III
We all know it: Philadelphia is the center of all things good and great in American DIY rock these days. And Sheer Mag only helps to cement this with their blistering third EP. They have truly perfected the 70s am radio fuzz rock sound and it is just so good. Imagine Thin Lizzy crossed with the disco funk and you’ll get an idea of where we are going here. Oh yeah, we’re also talking total DIY here as Sheer Mag are happy to let you know they’ve turned down numerous offers from labels and prefer to self-release everything. Hell, their EPs are even free to stream via Bandcamp. Fingers crossed for a full length in 2017…
G.L.O.S.S. – Trans Day of Revenge
THE EP of 2016. Period. Released just days after the Orlando nightclub shooting, this EP took on an even more powerful tone. Combine that with their meteoric rise and then Sadie Switchblade’s public rejection of a signing offer from Epitaph, followed shortly thereafter by announcing that G.L.O.S.S. were calling it quits, and you’ve got an epic EP.
Taylor: I’ll leave The Split Seconds for you, Bill. That is some pop punk awesomeness, though!
Bill: oh, man. You are on such a roll here and I don’t want to kill the momemtum. I will say that if someone played me The Split Seconds and asked me to guess where they were from, DC would not be my guess. SoCal? UK? sure. But DC?? This is pop punk not hardcore. More Green Day than Minor Threat. But that is not to say that it isn’t awesome. I adore this album and can’t wait to see the band live.
Bad Moves – s/t EP
Something of a DC supergroup comprised of members from Hemlines, Art Sorority for Girls, The Max Levine Ensemble & Booby Trap, this was one of my most anticipated local releases. Once word got out that this project was happening, and after the did an in-studio performance at WVAU, I was hooked. Seeing them at Fort Reno only heightened the anticipation. It took until December for us to get the whole thing, but it was worth it.
Two Inch Astronaut – Personal Life
Though maybe not as great an album as Foulbrood, this is still an album I’ve listened to countless times this year. Continuing to carry the flame for Jawbox-infused post-punk, this is just a solid album from beginning to end. I also love that you can see Two Inch play at the Black Cat one night while the next they’re on a 5 band bill at a house show. DC DIY at it’s finest.
Governess – s/t EP
If this is what mom rock sounds like, we should all be okay with that. Fronted by Erin McCarley (Pygmy Lush, Problems, Hand Grenade Job), this three piece delivers an album’s worth of post-rock driven by discordant drum beats and sparse guitar riffs. Truly an auditory pleasure.
Pure Disgust – s/t LP
Probably the best local release in 2016. It was time for a full length from the band carrying the DC hardcore torch. Add to the mix relentlessly political lyrics that don’t leave anything to question and you have the best album of the year. Even if you think you aren’t ‘into’ hardcore, you will love this album.
Flasher – s/t EP
Dream pop? Shoegaze? Post-punk? You could probably call Flasher all of the above. In this seven track EP Flasher explores the ideation of self, whether introspective exploration is possible in today’s device-addicted society, and what it means to be. Even if you don’t want to go that deep, just let the waves of guitar noise crash over you. It is well worth it.
Bleary Eyed – Cherry Blossom EP
Another early 2016 release that slipped from my radar a bit, but deserves to be mentioned. Shoegaze? Check. Emo? Check. It’s all here, and it’s all good.
Puff Pieces – Bland in DC
After releasing what was probably one of my favorite EPs of the past few years, I was really excited when this full length was released. In the vein of Chain and the Gang, Puff Pieces address all of the shit we are facing in DC these days: gentrification, cookie cutter condo buildings, crumbling political will and the general accumulation of wealth at all costs. This isn’t to say the songs aren’t a joy to listen to, but there is a message that has to be heeded as well.
The Black Sparks – s/t LP
It only took these guys a decade to record an LP’s worth of material. And oh yeah, they’re still in high school! When you’re playing Fort Reno as middle schoolers and channeling Rollins in your soccer shorts and white t, well hey, what else can be said? These kids rip and deserve your attention.
Snail Mail – Habit EP
Does Ellicott City/Baltimore count as local? I hope so because this is a beautiful record. Six bedroom pop songs written and performed acoustically Lindsey Jordan, this is reminiscent of a quieter Diet Cig.
Spirit Plots – s/t LP
Imagine if Stephen Malkmus and Ian MacKaye were to jam. This is what it may sound like. And hey, that’s enough for me to love this record.