Ryan Gardner’s Top Albums of 2016

The Best of 2016

2016 was such a great year for music. My output considerably slowed down here due to work and life, but I’m very happy to be a part of Chorus.fm. It’s been incredible to see the transition from AbsolutePunk.net into such a beautifully designed site and community space. I’m truly excited for Jason and everything he will accomplish with this site and feel honored to be on board. As always, these are my favorite albums of the year.

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Review: The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

The 1975 - I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

After teasing “June 1st” for months in early 2015, The 1975 began posting cryptic images with text such as, “Pay not attention babe — it’s all pretend. Part of an act!!” and “Be Young and Shut Up.” Following a very brief disappearance from social media – prompting break up rumors – the band promptly returned on the afternoon of June 1st with a new pink album cover and revamped aesthetic. Gone was the expected black-and-white personality we had all welcomed from The 1975, welcomed was a splash of color – pink. Pink photos emerged, a pink album cover that mimicked that of 2013’s self-titled album, and pink attire.

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Review: Death Cab For Cutie – Kintsugi

Death Cab For Cutie - Kintsugi

The word ‘Kintsugi’ means a “style of art where they take fractured, broken ceramics and put them back together with very obvious, real gold. It’s making the repair of an object a visual part of its history.”

It has understandably been a hard four years for Death Cab For Cutie since Codes & Keys came out. First, Ben Gibbard’s divorce makes for a departure from the newfound love that existed in songs like “Stay Young, Go Dancing” on Codes. Second, guitarist and founding member – and perhaps most importantly long-time producer – Chris Walla decided to leave the band, with this being his final album. The result of these situations is Kintsugi

Entirely true to its name, the album expresses the void felt by Gibbard – the need to fix (or fill) something that is broken, to find something that is missing. The opening “No Room In Frame” begins with music that feels desolate and incomplete before Gibbard solemnly admits, “I don’t know where to begin.” The eerie music carries on, as the choppy guitars and drums add weight to the heartbreak of the line “And I guess it’s not a failure we could help / And we’ll both go on to get lonely with someone else.” The repetition of “with someone else” adds another blow to the gut, really letting the sheer desolation of the song sink in. One track in and we already have the fractured heartbreak that resonates throughout Kintsugi, just as the name implies.

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Review: Panic! at The Disco – Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!

Panic! At The Disco – Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!

If there’s anything to be said about Panic! At The Disco it’s that they aren’t afraid to try new things. Each of their three records up to this point have sounded drastically different. But you know what, they probably don’t really care which one you like more or why. With that in mind, the band’s fourth record, the long-titled Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die, takes yet another step away from previous material. 

Demographically, this record sort of sounds like the band started down a similar path of Vices and Virtues before quickly veering down a more dance/dubstep inspired path (Side note: this is where I apologize if I am an idiot – I do not listen to dubstep, so I am only speculating that some of the instrumentation is dubstep-influenced). The explanation for this path reasoning comes very early with singles “This Is Gospel” and “Miss Jackson.” Both of these tracks basically take the pop sensibilities of Vices – I’m looking at tracks like “Memories” and “Ready To Go” – and pick up where they left off. “Whoa-oh-ohs,” repetition, and bombastic choruses start this record off on a note of addictive pop tunes.

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Review: The 1975 – The 1975

The 1975 - The 1975

I had never seen a band gain such rapid buzz before releasing a debut album like The 1975. Surviving multiple name changes before finally deciding, the band released EP after EP over the course of the past year. Each EP gained them more of a following and more of a following – until recently when they seem to be everywhere. Watching this band grow has been incredibly exciting, because this band defines everything pop music should be.

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Review: Taylor Swift – Red

Taylor Swift - Red

The color red symbolizes a variety of emotions. The color represents courage and bravery yet also embodies passion, sensuality, and love. Still, notably, red marks anger and rage, even danger, warranting caution. In conjunction with all of these various symbols, it makes sense that Red is the title of Taylor Swift’s most ambitious, dynamic record yet.

Riding on the heels of three incredibly successful records, Miss Swift knows she has nothing to lose here. As a result, she doesn’t hold back anything throughout Red’s 16 tracks. Her fourth record flirts with pop sensibilities, redefines her inner-country roots, and delivers tender ballads – it has a little bit of everything. Simply put, she could not care less what anyone wants to hear; she’s bridging the “genre gap” more so than ever before and is not about to back down for a second.

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Review: Cartel – In Stereo EP

Cartel - In Stereo

A lot has changed for Cartel since the release of 2009’s beloved Cycles. Bassist Jeff Lett left the band and was not replaced. More importantly, the band decided to split from Wind-Up Records and release In Stereo entirely independently. Still, the transition from Cycles to now shows no missteps, as this EP picks up right where Cartel’s last fantastic attempt left off.

With only five songs to work with, Cartel leave nothing behind throughout In Stereo. As always, Will Pugh soars as a vocalist, exercising an unforgettable vocal performance on “Conduit” over piercing guitars. The musicianship shines on each track, highlighted by guitars mixing wonderfully with the unique vocal delivery on the infectious “American Dreams.” Pugh truly shines on the closing “Something To Believe” which may be the catchiest track on the EP – although it really is hard to choose what song deserves that title.

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Review: City and Colour – Little Hell

City and Colour - Little Hell

Dallas Green is easily one of the most sophisticated musicians in the scene today. His main project, Alexisonfire, has proved to be one of the best aggressive bands around throughout the past decade. His acoustic side-project, City and Colour, proves he can create beauty on the other end of the spectrum, as well. 

Back in 2008, Bring Me Your Love was a soft, ambient, and ultimately poignant release, perfect for a fall evening or cold winter night. Now three years later, Little Hell expands the sound of BMYL, mixing a few bells and whistles with a handful of upbeat tracks to craft the best record City and Colour effort to date, a record now fitting for summer nights. 

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Review: Death Cab For Cutie – Codes and Keys

Death Cab For Cutie - Codes and Keys

It has been just over three years since the release Death Cab For Cutie’s highly experimental Narrow Stairs. Differing from the groundbreaking Transatlanticism and haunting PlansNarrow Stairs had a more raw feel to it – more electric guitars, distortion, and heavier instrumentation. That is not to say that it did not feature the intricate nature of Death Cab’s previous efforts, as tracks such as “Talking Bird” and “The Ice Is Getting Thinner” were poignant and mysterious cuts. In this way, the experimentation of Narrow Stairs made it a record that took time to resonate and fully appreciate – it was a record that got better with time.

However, while recording the highly anticipated follow-up record, the perfectly titled Codes and Keys, Death Cab explained that the record would be a departure from Narrow Stairs, equipped with more keyboards and less guitars. Sure enough, that’s exactly the case. What results from this different approach is a record of true beauty, encompassing every aspect of Death Cab For Cutie’s discography into one definitive record. It’s the haunting keyboards, meek vocals, and eerie fuzzy distortion echoed throughout Codes and Keysthat generate a record that pushes the limits of their sound to the peak.

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Review: Box Car Racer – Box Car Racer

Box Car Racer - Box Car Racer

Box Car Racer was formed in 2002 by Blink-182 members Tom Delonge and Travis Barker along with David Kennedy. This band shows a completely different side of a Blink at this time: a darker, serious side and features songs that Tom felt were not “Blink-friendly.” This change is evident in not only the lyrical content but also the music. 

“I Feel So” begins with a slow piano tune followed by an acoustic guitar. Instantly, it becomes evident that this is a completely different band from Blink. This song is filled with brutal honesty, as Delonge opens the album with: “sometimes, I wish I was brave; I wish I was stronger.” Later, he asks for a new start (“let’s start over”). On “All Systems Go,” Delonge criticizes the government (“the government is lying; the youth, they won’t believe them”) and questions “when will this be over.” 

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