Well then. That was a weird year.
In many ways, 2016 was a whirlwind—a confusing and frustrating year that will probably always be defined by its political tension and long list of celebrity deaths. For our staff and community, 2016 was also marked by the end of AbsolutePunk.net and the birth of Chorus.fm, a major transition that brought some serious nostalgia about the place where many of us grew up online.
No matter where you were or what you were going through in 2016, though, you probably at least had a great soundtrack to keep you company. By almost every metric, 2016 was a remarkable year for albums. If you are a fan of pop music and superstar acts, there was certainly no shortage of marquee releases for you to sink your teeth into. Even beyond the blockbuster surprises and capital-I “Important” albums, though, the year was a goldmine. Rock music was vibrant, highlighting both new bands and longtime veterans. Country music continued a resurgence that even self-described country haters could get behind. Hell, even the movie musical came back in a big way.
In virtually every genre or category, 2016 provided a wealth of new musical treasures. It’s no wonder that our contributors placed votes for 267 different albums while compiling this list. Ultimately, though, it was the 30 records listed below that rose to the top.
I’ve been listening to Jimmy Eat World for over half my lifetime. Crazy enough, the last (and only) time I attended a Jimmy Eat World show was in 2005 when they were opening for Green Day on the American Idiot tour. That’s pretty sad! Fortunately, I made some sort of amends this past Thursday when the Arizona quartet made their way through Indianapolis. Headlining one of those radio station holiday shows, the band played a 20+ song set that included a well balanced mixture of hits, deep cuts, fan favorites, and new songs.
With the holidays rapidly approaching, I wanted to steal an idea I’ve seen on other websites and put together a few gift ideas that I think are pretty great to give and receive. Since I already have recommendation posts for albums, movies, tv shows, books, software, podcasts, blogs, audio-equipment, and random miscellaneous tech and around the house items, this list is focused mostly on things not included in those posts and more geared toward things I’ve come across in the past year or so that I think are worth checking out and that I think would make good gifts. As always, I only recommend things I’ve personally used and loved.
I used my Amazon affiliate link when the product showed up there, which gives our website a slight percentage back if you make a purchase, and therefore helps fund our continued existence. I hope you’ll find something cool, and feel free to drop your own recommendations in the comments.
Between 2002 and 2009, Bruce Springsteen released five studio albums. Rather remarkably, that statistic made the aughts Springsteen’s most prolific decade ever. The Boss fired off four straight classics in the 1970s (Greetings from Asbury Park, The Wild, The Innocent, The E Street Shuffle, Born to Run, and Darkness on the Edge of Town) and put out four more in the 1980s (The River, Nebraska, Born in the U.S.A. and Tunnel of Love) before faltering in both quality and output in the 1990s. (The last decade of the millennium only saw Human Touch, Lucky Town, and The Ghost of Tom Joad, all of which are among Springsteen’s weakest LPs.)
The 2000s, though, brought the man back to life. Suddenly, Springsteen albums (and good ones) were a regular occurrence again. During the seven years that elapsed between 2002 and 2009, we got three E Street Band records (The Rising, Magic, and Working on a Dream), one acoustic album (Devils & Dust), and one tribute record (The Seeger Sessions). Four of those five records are worthwhile (Working on a Dream is the dud), and two are genuine classics (The Rising and Magic both recapture the…well, “magic” of the E Street Band’s golden age). However, there’s still an argument to be made that the three best Springsteen albums of the 2000s weren’t even written by Bruce, but by guys named Brandon, Craig, and Brian.
The first time I heard Yellowcard was sometime in the summer of 2004. I think my sister and I were packing for our annual trip to visit my grandparents in New Hampshire and I had the radio on. (This event is notable because I can legitimately not remember the last time I had the radio on of my own accord.) I had my radio tuned to the local “modern rock” station, which played about 50% Staind and 50% everything else. They also had this feature called “the Buzzcut,” where they’d play an up-and-coming song from an up-and-coming band and ask listeners to call in with feedback. If listeners liked the song, it got added to the playlist. If they didn’t, it never got played again.
The Buzzcut song on this particular morning was “Ocean Avenue,” Yellowcard’s breakout hit single. At this point in time, the song was almost a year old, because it inexplicably wasn’t the lead single from the album of the same name. (More inexplicably, Capitol Records officially released “Ocean Avenue” as a single in February, the least appropriate month of entire year to be listening to “Ocean Avenue.”)
As we pass the midway mark of 2016, it’s nice to sit back and reflect on the great albums that have come out so far this year. Below you’ll find a compiled list that looks at the selected albums from contributors and moderators to this website, as well as all of the broken down individual lists. Maybe there will be some albums you’ve heard of, hopefully there will be quite a few you haven’t checked out yet, and maybe there will be a few you’ll want to give a second look. I think it’s been a pretty damn good year for music so far and there’s quite a bit to still look forward to as well.
There’s a thread in our music forum where we’d love to see your lists.
To say that Taking Back Sunday is a polarizing band is an understatement. For nearly 15 years now the Long Island-based band have gone through it all – inter-band drama, outer-band drama, more member changes than they’d like to admit, and the transition from emo darlings to bonafide rock stars. And while not every fan has always enjoyed every change the band has gone through musically and professionally, Taking Back Sunday has always stuck to their vision. And the same can be said about the band’s latest song, “Tidal Wave,” the first single from the band’s upcoming seventh LP of the same name.
I’m lucky. I’ve never lost anyone close to me during my adult life. My grandfather died when I was very young and my six-year-old brain really didn’t understand what was going on. I’ve never gone through what Jeremy Bolm has. The Touché Amoré frontman lost his mother to cancer in the fall of 2014 and much, if not all of his band’s upcoming new album, Stage Four, revolves around processing her death and remembering their life together. The album’s first single, “Palm Dreams,” is a soaring piece of post-hardcore that showcases the continual growth of the band’s songwriting while Bolm attempts to learn even more about his mother even after her passing. In the song premiere’s accompanying article, Bolm tells NPR that “’Palm Dreams’ was written around the realization that I never had a full understanding why my mother moved from Nebraska to California in the ‘70s.”
If you’ve ever told someone they’re a fucking moron for liking band X more than band Y, or for otherwise disagreeing with your obviously superior musical opinion, then Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me is the book for you. Written by Steven Hyden, a former contributor for Pitchfork, the AV Club, and Grantland (RIP), Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me is a thoroughly entertaining excavation of artist-versus-artist pissing contests. The subtitle says the book will teach us What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life. Hyden’s thesis is that, depending on which side you take in any given pop music war, your choice says something about you. Something like Oasis vs. Blur might seem pretty trivial for anyone who wasn’t actively paying attention to Britpop in the 1990s, but in the pages of Hyden’s book, these battles mean everything.
A few weekends ago, I was able to attend Shaky Knees Festival in Atlanta, Georgia. In addition to being held in one of the best cities I have visited on the East Coast thus far, Shaky Knees also had the added benefit of putting on the most killer festival lineup this side of Riot Fest. With fantastic sets across all of the days and stages from the earliest Sunday doldrums (more on that later) to the main stage headlining acts. Below you’ll find my 10 favorite things from the festival along with some photos I took over the weekend.
Over the past 12 months, as one of its primary proponents, I have spent a lot of time thinking about call-out culture. Or, as some industry heavyweights have phrased it, the trend of “witch hunts” that has been plaguing our scene as of late. I have spent a lot of time frustrated by the perpetuation of the idea that says the call-outs are the problem, instead of the abuses that said call-outs address. I’ve been upset because we know that statistically when an accusation is finally made, they are are overwhelmingly true; however, the opposite manages to live on in the minds of so many. It’s a problem, because as long as the focus is on whether or not call-out culture ought to exist, the real problems and abuses plaguing our scene fail to get properly addressed. As such, it’s a problem I want to solve.
When I drew the AbsolutePunk.net logo all those years ago, I never imagined how many places it would end up. I can’t tell you how many times we needed to shrink it down, or blow it up, or put it on a colored background, and I’d end up laughing at the little red splatters while having no real idea what to do with them. When I started building Chorus I had a color scheme I loved, but I was never able to settle on a logo that felt right. I tried a few different things before deciding to punt and launch with the word mark while using a blue and white “C.FM” placeholder. I wanted to make sure that this time I thought through everything. That if we had a logo, it was something I felt could stand the test of time and was a true representation of this new website.
I had a few goals in mind: I wanted something that represented the website, was easy to recognize, could be used in very large or very small sizes and still be distinguishable, could be used in virtually any color, or even monochrome if needed, and I was looking for something that had a familiar relationship with both our word mark and the Encore podcast logo. And more than anything, I was looking for that feeling of joy when I saw it — that feeling of, “yep, that’s it.” After working with the same designer that helped birth the Encore logo, I know that we found exactly what I was looking for.
Last Friday night I saw Noah Gundersen do something I’ve seen very few artists do: walk out onstage alone, with no backing band and no opening act, sit down in a chair, pick up an acoustic guitar, and start playing. He’d interact with the audience more—and make a surprising number of jokes—later in the show, but for now, he wanted to get right to the point: the music.
There’s something to be said for a concert with high production values. There’s something to be said for light shows and setlists where every moment has been meticulously planned — right down to the dialogue between songs. But there’s also something to be said for a show where an artist just comes out and acts like he’s playing songs in his living room. As someone who just made an entire album in his living room, that was something I appreciated about Noah’s show on Friday.
By their nature, musicians are creative. Just because they find success doesn’t mean they don’t like to explore new genres or shake things up. Sometimes their new music doesn’t gel with their current band. Sometimes a band goes on a Ross and Rachel type of break, but the music has to keep flowing. Moonlighting is all about the side projects, the passion projects, the weird and wacky that branch out from the original act.
The Get Up Kids are your older brother’s emo. In their early years, the band members looked like they walked on stage immediately after bagging groceries or tutoring middle school kids. This was long before emo became associated with Hot Topic or bangs. Matt Pryor certainly has some growl to his vocals, but overall the band’s music is approachable, agreeable, heart-on-your-sleeve rock. This is music you wouldn’t be afraid to play in front of your mom. With a catalog featuring grainy distortion (“Coming Clean”), acoustic sing-alongs (“Campfire Kansas”), and new-wavey exploration (“Shatter Your Lungs”), it’s clear The Get Up Kids have never been worried about creating one type of music. The other projects from these members reflect that versatility.
Ten years ago, 19-year-old Renee Yohe was just another addict struggling with her pain. As fate would have it, a journalist, Jamie Tworkowski, caught wind of her plight and offered his support. That encounter would eventually pave the way for the Florida-based nonprofit To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA). In a decade, the organization has offered help to nearly 200,000 people and raised more than $1 million towards counseling and professional solace for those battling depression, self-injury, suicide and more.
Earlier this month at Orlando’s House of Blues at Disney Springs, a sold-out crowd helped fete TWLOHA and its founder Jamie Tworkowski as part of its 10th anniversary Heavy and Light celebration. With a headlining set by Jon Foreman of Switchfoot and support from Arizona’s The Summer Set, Nashville’s Matt Wertz and Renee Yohe herself, the event proved to be a rousing success.
This weekend is Record Store Day. A time for vinyl nerds to rejoice in a weekend dedicated to their passion, or wax poetic about how it was so much better before it got so popular. Thomas and I discuss this on the podcast this week, but, in preparation for the big day, I asked our friend William Angelos from Creep Records in Philadelphia to put together a write-up of the releases he’s most looking forward to and what to be on the lookout for as you make your way to your local shop.
I wanted to title this, “It’s been one week …,” but the moment I even think that sentence I’ve got Barenaked Ladies stuck in my head the rest of the day. You’re welcome for that. However, now that it’s the weekend, it means we have officially gone through our first week on the new website. I wanted to take a moment and thank everyone for the incredible response we’ve seen over the past seven or so days. I’ve been blown away by the outpouring of support, kind words, and all the amazing write-ups and tweets I’ve read remembering AbsolutePunk. I’ve compiled some of the articles from current and former staffers alike into a little round-up below, and put together some first week stats on the site as well.
I started writing online by uploading HTML files to some free server in 1996. Angelfire? Geocities? Something like that. I was playing around with this relatively new thing called “the internet” and had no idea what I was doing. I created a little “about me” page that talked about how much I loved Blink-182, MxPx, and the comic Foxtrot. I’ve been doing some variation of this for over 20 years. When I first picked the name “AbsolutePunk.net,” it was because I saw a vodka magazine ad, I thought it would show up first in an alphabetized Yahoo! directory, and my adolescent brain thought I was a little punker. At the time I had no idea that this would end up being my career or that I’d gradually shift the website into an online alternative music publication that would cover thousands of artists, have hundreds of contributors, and be read by millions. The growing pains were tough. The servers couldn’t handle the traffic we were seeing, the overhead cost of running this website from my parents’ basement or my dorm room became almost unsustainable, and a little band called Fall Out Boy exploded into the mainstream and brought millions more searching for the exact kind of music we were talking about in our little corner of the internet. Searching for answers and help, I ended up selling the business I had created in my teens.
I think it’s safe to say that didn’t quite play out as I thought it would. However, the love for the music outweighed it all. In many ways running the website became the very job I had tried to avoid. Stress. Anger. Depression. A frustration brought on by the feeling of a constant cycle of defeat. But, so many of you still read my quirky sarcasm in the news. People still talked with the staff about music, life, and pop-culture. You’ve still read our features, read our incredible reviewers, pored over our articles, and listened to Drew, and Thomas, and I talk on podcasts. People still wanted to know what Jesse Lacey had for dinner. I had started my first business, AbsolutePunk, LLC, as a teenager with cargo shorts and puka shells. I started my second, Chorus, LLC, in my early thirties — an online consulting business that included running that very same website I had started when we all wanted to look like Kenny Vasoli. Today I’m writing to announce that my second company is buying back my first.
2015 will go down as a memorable one for me. The music we got this year was fantastic and the memories it soundtracked will stay with me for a lifetime. As we move into the new year I want to wish everyone a happy and healthy year. I think what’s in front of us is always more exciting, and far scarier, than what’s in our past. I think the future’s bright. I think it’s exciting. Let’s not let it scare us.
2014 ended up being one of my favorite years for music in a long while. It just seemed like every few weeks there was a new album to dive into and experience. There were times where it felt overwhelming, as if there was so much to listen to I felt ashamed I couldn’t give each album the time it deserved. But, here we are at the end of the year, and here we are tasked with trying to put numbers to the madness. I’ve done my best to put my favorite albums of the year in some kind of order … I hope you find as much to enjoy here as I have.