Happy 2017, everyone! 2016 was a dormant year for The Garden Statement, but thanks to a New Year’s Resolution to write more and Craig’s Top Songs List to motivate me to keep pace, I’m back for a recap of one of the strangest years in both real life (especiallyin real life) and music that I can remember. Many albums that had some serious intrigue fell flat, and it seemed that only the sure-shot great bands that released albums were able to stay on my short-for-space iPod in 2016.
I’m going to be honest: I’ve lost the passion to review or rank albums. I find it to be an archaic practice nowadays. Here’s my thinking: there’s no way I’m going to be able to write something that’s going to change your mind about an album. What I can do is recommend things to you that I hope you’ll like. That’s what this post has always been about. And that’s the way I’m going to keep it. Below, you will find the 20 or so albums that shaped my life in 2016. They will not be ranked in any particular order, because certain albums have been more prevalent for me at different times of the year, and I don’t want to discriminate against albums that are beautifully crafted that I didn’t listen to in the summer because I was too busy blasting pop punk in my car speakers (again). The only album that will be “ranked” above any of the others will be my album of the year. The rest are all equally deserving of your time, and if you get the chance, I’m hoping you’ll check them out. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter. Enjoy the rankings, and let’s hope 2017 gives us a few albums that give these a run for their money.
Album of the Year: The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
I’d rather not keep you waiting, and anyone who knows me well enough probably already knew this was my album of the year before they even opened this post. It seems like only a few months ago The 1975 burst into my ears thanks to a chance encounter with one of their (innumerable) fans while I was waiting tables at Applebee’s. Even then, as I heard “The City,” then “Chocolate,” and finishing it up wtih “Sex” before I went to bed that night, I knew this band was going to be special. Now, almost a month into 2017, they’ve produced my album of the year every time they’ve put an album out, and I’ve put them into my own “Perfect Band” rankings. In a time where pop music is either by-the-numbers hits or quirky one-hit wonders with literally no middle ground, The 1975 turn over the table being set by the likes of the Chainsmokers, David Guetta, and whoever else you want to throw into this mess by making pop music that isn’t afraid to take risks. The scary part is, sometimes the risks The 1975 take on The Pink Album (that’s what I’m choosing to call it) don’t pay off: the somber pair of ending songs (“Nana” and “She Lays Down”) suck the life out of an album that was once full of it; there are some great instrumental moments, but the album’s title track takes it about two minutes too far; the subject matters are hard for some to relate to; and yet, through all of these issues, this album still feels important, and that’s no small feat to accomplish. The 1975 have remained as inspired, creative, and unapologetically outspoken, and they’ve cemented their legacy because of it.
Pup – The Dream is Over
Coming off of their boisterous introduction on their self-titled debut, Pup delivered on their hype in a big way on The Dream is Over. What keeps me coming back to this album is that even though there are your pop-punk anthems (the unforgettable 1-2 punch of “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” and “DVP”), there are tracks that tackle some serious issues, as evidenced by the suicide story painfully expressed in “Sleep in the Heat.” Their self-titled album brought some hype to their name, but now, Pup are poised to become one of the key names in the punk scene for many years to come.
Bruno Mars – 24k Magic
That’s right, we’re completely throwing away the format now baby! To quote Craig’s perfect argument for why the title track was in his Top Songs list, I’m a sucker for perfectly-crafted pop music, and there’s no one doing that right now with more swagger than Bruno Mars. If you thought he’d never top “Uptown Funk,” he does that more than once on his new release alone. The aforementioned title track, “Versace on the Floor,” “Straight Up and Down,” and “That’s What I Like” all combine for one hell of a party mix, and Bruno Mars has become a guaranteed hit-maker now.
Every Time I Die – Low Teens
Am I the only one who feels like somehow, Every Time I Die have become underrated? They’ve gotten better with every release since New Junk Aesthetic, and their latest thrashing Low Teens has proven that the best may still be yet to come for the Buffalo natives. Penned after Keith Buckley nearly lost his wife and newborn daughter in one fell swoop, the always-composed frontman is more unhinged than ever, leading to one of the year’s best vocal performances. As always the guitar work from Andy Williams and Jordan Buckley is top notch, and new drummer Daniel Davison (formerly of Norma Jean and Underoath) adds even more firepower to this band’s already loaded arsenal.
Moose Blood – Blush
Speaking of underrated, Moose Blood continue to be one of the most overlooked bands in pop punk, and it’s about time the scene rallies together to change that. Blushis a record for all seasons, but its release in the late summer really stuck with me, and it’s a record I can throw on and listen to from front to back without skipping a track. Each chorus is as catchy as the last, and it won’t be long until it’s impossible to ignore Moose Blood’s talent.
Balance and Composure – Light We Made
It would have been very easy for Balance and Composure to get complacent. Already two full-lengths into a career that perfectly blended emo, pop punk, and post hardcore into a medley of melancholy, the band opted for a more ambient sound on their third effort Light We Made, and it’s completely opened the Pandora’s box of their talents. Jon Simmons’s vocals have never sounded better or more versatile, and the band’s openmindedness is unleashed on “After Party” in a way that sounds familiar, yet expands the band’s spectrum of sound immensely. If Balance and Composure wanted to, they could have thrown together a third heavy track like “I Tore You Apart in My Head” or “Notice Me,” but they decided to test their limits as songwriters, and we should be very thankful for that.
Thrice – To Be Everywhere is To Be Nowhere
I’ll be honest: I’m kind of over the reunion album phase that the scene has undergone in recent years. The efforts put forth by most bands after a long hiats have been good upon first listen, but after the rose-colored nostalgia fades, the albums have very little replay value. I am confident that will not be the fate of this monumental effort from Thrice. To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere is full of energy from the opening riffs of “Hurricane,” and the entire album showcases that Thrice came back with something to get off of their chests. Dustin Kensrue’s songwriting subjects cover a wide spectrum, and he gives each of them the care they deserve, while tracks like “Blood on the Sand” pulverize listeners with passion. If this version of Thrice can stick around, their reunion will do just fine.
The Hotelier – Goodness
The Hotelier’s sophomore full length mirrors The 1975’s effort in quite a few unexpected ways. Both bands show growth on each effort, both show care for their craft in new ways while maintaining the same high level of quality, and both bands seem destined to continue growing and putting out great music. The Hotelier’s Goodness is certainly a step off of the path they set for themselves with Home, Like Noplace is There, but this new path is a more enlightened one, and as a result their musicianship has been strengthened to the level of Chrsitian Holden’s masterful storytelling style of songwriting. It wasn’t what you were expecting, but Goodness is the album that you’re going to need for many years.
Emarosa – 131
I’ll admit, I’ve got a soft spot for Emarosa. They are a band I pull for immensely, considering that they are the only band to stand up and say “enough is enough” to Jonny Craig’s antics. They’ve come out clean on the other side now, with Bradley Walden’s equally talented voice and superior songwriting steadying the ship. 131 finds Walden and the rest of the band hitting their stride, and the album cruises along consistently throughout, with ample opportunity for everyone to shine. This is a very talented band, and if you’re not listening, I’d say it’s about time you start. Andy Dufraisne would approve of it.
Hands Like Houses – Dissonants
It’s hard to believe that “I Am,” the emphatic lead single from Hands Like Houses’s new album Dissoants, was released almost a full two years before the album itself. Maybe it was overeagerness to show fans something new (or the mounting pressure to have something new to promote on Warped Tour), but it ended up feeling like we waited a bit too long for this album to drop. Sure, tracks like “Degrees of Separation” and a personal favorite “Colourblind” made up for the wait, but it’s tough to look at this album as a full, complete effort given how long we had to digest its lead single. Still, “I Am” is a jam, and I’ve only continued to love Hands Like Houses more and more with each release.
Bayside – Vacancy
Bayside continue to amaze me. Their live show gets better every time, and no matter how much new material they put out, I constantly find new things to love about their sound, even if they rarely stray from their path. There is noticable improvement on Vacancy, however, most obviously in Anthony Raneri’s songwriting. The painstaking experience of his divorce powered the lyrics for this album, but storytelling moments like “Mary” and “It Doesn’t Make It True” are landmark efforts that will keep Bayside’s flame burning bright and beautiful for a long time, especially if he begins to expand upon it on future releases. Are Bayside about to turn to a new chapter of their career? It appears that they may already have.
Touche Amore – Stage Four
Jeremy Bolm’s tragic loss of his mother to cancer is heartbreaking, but the way he was able to channel his grief into Touche Amore’s latest effort Stage Four is flat-out awe-inspiring. Cancer has affected so many of our lives, and for Bolm to put his experience to paper and speaker is a testament to his resolve and outstanding commitment to his artistic process. I cannot say enough how impressed I am by his performance, and I think anyone, even someone who has never heard this band before, will be able to take something from it. One of the year’s must-listen records, for many different reasons.
Brian Fallon – Painkillers
With The Gaslight Anthem on the shelf for the foreseeable future (and perhaps permanently), Brian Fallon’s only option was to continue writing. The result of his persistence is, for my money, the best album he’s written outside of Gaslight. Painkillers has something for everyone, from Americana-tinged rockers like “A Wonderful Life” and “Red Lights” to somber, slowed-down tunes like “Honey Magnolia” or the aching finale “Open All Night.” Fallon’s storytelling is at its finest on “Rosemary” and “Nobody Wins,” and his commitment to experimentation on Painkillers helps him create a compelling and thoroughly heartfelt album.
The Devil Wears Prada – Transit Blues
I’ll be honest, this is the most biased selection on this entire list. I’ve loved watching The Devil Wear’s Prada’s progression from scene-core sweethearts to full-blow metalcore juggernauts, and I’m pot-committed at this point. No matter what happens, no matter how many times the lineup changes, no matter how their sound shifts and progresses, no matter how old we both get, I’m always going to be intrigued and inspired by this band’s music. And I’m fully convinced that Transit Blues is a reward for the faith I’ve placed for them. It’s not a record that will change people’s minds about them, but their songwriting continues to become more and more refined, and their musicianship keeps you guessing from start to finish.
The Weeknd – Starboy
One of my greatest laments about neglecting this blog over the least year and a half is that I deprived myself of being able to write about how much I loved The Weeknd’s 2015 album Beauty Behind the Madness. It may be my favorite mainstream album ever. That is, of course, until The Weeknd dropped Starboy in 2016. This year, I decided I was not going to repeat that mistake. While Beauty was clearly an album where The Weeknd was settling into his stride as a songwriter, Starboy finds him combining his newfound star power with his streetwise delivery, and the two mold into a pop/R&B/hip hop juggernaut that will only make the Starboy shine even brighter. Perhaps the most unique voice in mainstream pop radio right now, The Weeknd is only now realizing his talents and potential. We’re in the midst of the next great superstar.
Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues
At a certain point, I think I lost sight of how good of a band Jimmy Eat World of. It’s not something I’m necessarily proud of, but the band’s long downtime between albums definitely put them deep into the back of my mind. Perhaps that was the band’s plan, though. Integrity Blues has the energy of a band just starting out, despite being Jimmy Eat World’s ninth (NINTH!) studio album. The band delve into a little bit more progressive rock experiments (perhaps taking a page from Thrice’s book), and the energy the band exudes on “Sure and Certain” and “Get Right” matches perfectly with the pummeling angst that lines “It Matters” and “Pass the Baby.” Jimmy Eat World have been long-removed from the unexpected spotlight they garnered with “The Middle,” but they’ve consistently churned out some excellent material ever since, and the world is all the better for it.
Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
While I said the order of this list would not be of any importance, there is a reason I chose to save Chance the Rapper for last. In 2016, there was no bigger rise to prominence than the one that Kanye West’s Chicago prodigy saw. Chance was everywhere, and at the center of this out-of-nowhere explosion was his third mixtape Coloring Book. Chance has never made a dime off of his music releases, and even though I’ll never turn down anything if it’s for free, I’m often compelled to try to find Chance on Venmo so I can pay him for all of the happiness his music brought me this past year. Chance can take on any style of hip hop and make it his own, and the way he melds with his collaborators shows that he wants them to shine just as much as himself. In 2016, a year marred by the bad guy winning, Chance was the good guy we needed. His smile is infectious, his energy is a light to the world, and his music is one of the brightest spots in 2016. To put simply, Chance The Rapper won 2016 by a landslide.
I hope you enjoyed the list, and can leave this site with a few new things to check out. Again, if you’d like to discuss any of what I’ve written here, you’re more than welcome to hit me up on Twitter. Thanks for looking back at 2016 with me, and let’s make 2017 even better!