2016 has been a year of challenges for myself. Whenever a new year is about to start I would always look back and regret that I didn’t listen to as much music as I should have, didn’t watch enough movies, didn’t go to enough concerts, etc. Last January was the first time I gave myself a set a hard, actual goal of watching 100 movies I hadn’t seen before (currently at about 60). That was just movies, but the same concept bled into other aspects of my life as well. I knew I wanted to go to more concerts this year and immerse myself in as much music as possible; the two Between the Buried and Me concerts at the beginning of the year gave me the bug.
I’m super happy to say I’ve been to more concerts this year than I have my entire past life. I didn’t buy my camera for the specific reason of doing concert photography, but it worked out that way and allowed me to take part in many amazing experiences in concerts and see the vast majority of my favorite bands live. Sold out final shows for Motion City Soundtrack and Yellowcard and an incredibly packed, most people I’ve ever seen there, Deftones show? Still makes me happy I got to be there for those.
For the many amazing live experiences and amazing new album releases this year, I dub 2016 the year of my re-emergence for my love for music. Here’s my top 10 albums released this year with honorable mentions to A Day to Remember, Sum 41, and State Champs:
10. Billy Talent – Afraid of Heights
Billy Talent impressed me this release. I never gave them much time before seeing them live in support of this album. I liked them enough, but couldn’t get past more than a handful of their songs before wanting to switch because each song would start to sound the same as the last. Afraid of Heights is a much more consistent record from start to finish. I’ve always thought Benjamin Kowalewicz has one of the most unique voices in rock and he sounds better than ever.
9. Panic! At The Disco – Death of a Bachelor
Released in January, this record now feels like forever ago that it came out. Brandon Urie is my absolute favorite male vocalist and just seems to get better and better with time. While not quite as good as their Vices & Virtues, and no standout track like the Ballad of Mona Lisa, there’s enough hits on here to make Death of a Bachelor a winner. “Victorious”, “Golden Days”, “LA Devotee” all deserve spots on a live setlist and I’m super excited to see them this March when they come to town.
8. Alter Bridge – The Last Hero
I’ve always liked Alter Bridge. Never enough to say they’re my favorite band, but rather they’re always just there and whenever they’ve released a new album it’d be good for a few more songs I’d go back to for a listen every once in awhile. Which is a shame because I’ve been a huge fan of Mark Tremonti’s. I still think that the band suffers from to many songs on their albums, eight or nine really good songs would provide a much more impactful and memorable record than the 13 on The Last Hero. This is the first album of theirs where I loved the vast majority of the songs though, and the title track is their best song since “Blackbird”.
7. Blink-182 – California
California will go down as the quintessential summer/fourth of July album from now on. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this album as much as I did, but I have to admit that driving down the streets blasting “Cynical”, “Rabbit Hole”, “No Future” was some of the most fun I’ve had. Matt Skiba is a welcome change for the band, and Travis Smith’s drumming is once again majorly on point.
6. Protest the Hero – Pacific Myth
This may be cheating a little bit, as I had it in last years top album list as well, but for a band releasing a full album song by song, month by month, starting last year and being officially released this year, I’ll allow it. The way Pacific Myth was released was amazing. Not only did they do it song by song, but they were recording it as they went too, sometimes up until the release date, so whatever you heard would have been as fresh as possible. They also mixed and mastered each song slightly different, and when all songs were released, they took all feedback on the sound and figured out which sounded best (Harbinger was), and used that for the official release. “Caravan”, the 9 minute magnum opus, is the band’s most unique and emotional track yet, calling back to multiple songs throughout their discography, discussing being burnt out (“The bloom is off the rose, at least for me / Dogs like me can bark, but the caravan moves on”) and going through the motions and not identifying or connecting with what you once used to (“A catchy way of saying nothing / But a narrative seems to allude to something more / With a purpose and a real direction / But they’re just words punched in a template”). It would have been quite an amazing send off for the band if they had decided to call it quits, but they put that to rest quick on Reddit, are on tour, and I’m super excited to see them next month.
5. Lady Gaga – Joanne
Best Gaga album since Fame Monster. Many people have clamored for a stripped down Lady Gaga record for awhile now, and disregarding her jazz record with Tony Bennett, this is the closest we’ve gotten. The biggest difference in Joanne versus her Born This Way and Artpop records is while each era is an “era” of Lady Gaga and whatever one we were in at the time was without a doubt her being herself, this Joanne-era Gaga seems to truly be her most genuine yet. She could have easily written more pop songs like “Just Dance” or “Bad Romance”, but she said screw that and wrote amazing songs that isn’t more of what’s on the radio like “Million Reasons” and “Just Another Day.” “Angel Down” is one of Lady Gaga’s most beautiful songs yet. Please tour soon!
4. Against the Current – In Our Bones
Color me surprised and enthralled with this release. This is my most recent music obsession, listening to In Our Bones a ton, and going to see them live this month. For someone who’s been disappointed with the more poppy direction recent Paramore has gone, Against the Current has been a most welcome find. A mixture of pop-rock with Katy Perry (“Forget Me Now”), Demi Lovato (“Young & Relentless”), In Our Bones never sounds over done, with every song sounding memorable. Chrissy Costanza is a now favorite and wonderful vocalist. Each song translates incredibly live, with an energy from both the music and band that’s infectious. Really excited to see where these guys (and gal) go from here.
3. Periphery – Periphery 3: Select Difficulty
Periphery 3 went from a meh record to one of my absolute favorites real fast. I got to talk to vocalist Spencer Sotelo before their show here last August and he mentioned that he wanted each song on this record to be able to stand on it’s own, and not one where a few songs carry the whole record. The more I listened to it the harder it became to pick out my favorite song. One day it could be “Remain Indoors”, the next it could be “Catch Fire”. Periphery 3 is one of the easiest records to listen front to back this year
2. Metallica – Hardwired…to Self Destruct
I haven’t been this obsessed with Metallica since I was 16 and discovered Master of Puppets. All seems right with the world now that we can say Metallica is good and on top of their game once again. While Death Magnetic was Metallica trying to get back to their roots, Hardwired is an ode to and mash up of the band’s entire discography. “Dream No More” sounds like the child of “Sad But True” and “The Thing That Should Not Be”. “Spit Out The Bone” is their best song in decades and could easily fit on their And Justice For All album. Most surprising of all, James Hetfield sounds the best he ever has since the Black album. When I went to go see Metallica live last August, I thought that one time was going to be enough mostly just to say I’ve seen Metallica live, but now that Hardwired is out, I want to go back and see them play these songs live.
1. Avenged Sevenfold – The Stage
The only thing I could ask for from The Stage is screams. M Shadows is too good of a screamer to leave them out almost completely. Disregard that there’s hardly any screams at all, The Stage is everything I could have asked for from a new Avenged Sevenfold record. There’s amazing guitar work, especially solos from Synyster Gates. Brooks Wackerman is impeccable and quite clearly a perfect choice for drums, and Matt’s vocals are the best and most raw in more than a decade. From every note seemingly perfectly placed with callbacks in songs to previous ones (the bridge of “Higher” has the same riff of the start of “God Damn”), and to a freaking 15 minute epic closer, this is Avenged Sevenfold at their most artistic, expressive, and above all else, their best. Whatever tour plans they have coming for 2017 can’t come soon enough.