I don't like the term "Best Of." How do I know
what the best albums of the year were? I didn't even get
to listen to most of them. And you certainly don't need
the likes of me to tell you about Beyonce or Kendrick or
the Rolling Stones, there are plenty of other places for
that kind of thing. These are my top records of
the year, the ones I enjoyed listening to the most, the
ones that I expect to enjoy for years to come... broken
down to national acts and - because local music NEVER gets
enough attention - my favorites from the Greater NJ/NYC
area. In a pretty awful year in almost every way possible,
2016 at least managed to produce some good music. Enjoy!
JIM TESTA’S TOP 20 ALBUMS OF 2016
Savages – Adore Life (Matador)
Kevin Devine – Instigator (Procrastinate! Music Traitors)
Peter Stampfel – Holiday For Strings (Don Giovanni)
Richard Barone – Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich
Village In The 1960's (richardbarone.com)
Pansy Division - Quite Contrary (Alternative Tentacles)
The Gotobeds – Blood/Sugar/Secs/Traffic (Sub Pop)
Cymbals Eat Guitars – Pretty Years (Sinderlyn)
Mikey Erg – Tentative Decisions (Don Giovanni)
Bouncing Souls – Simplicity (Rise)
Drive By Truckers – American Band (ATO)
Bob Mould – Patch The Sky (Merge)
Speed The Plough - Now (Coyote)
The Paranoid Style – Rolling Disclosure (Bar None)
Martha – Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart (Dirtnap)
Eleanor Friedberger – New View (French Kiss)
Mitski – Puberty 2 (Dead Oceans)
The Mr. T Experience - King Dork Approximately: The Album
NOFX – First Ditch Effort (Fat Wreck)
Plow United - Three (Its Alive)
Cheap Trick – Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello! (Big
BEST LOCAL RELEASES
NO ICE - Come On Feel The NO ICE (NOICE.bandcamp.com)
Rick Barry – Curses, Maledictions, and Harsh Iterations
Glueboy – “Yikes” EP (glueboy.bandcamp.com)
Ex-Mothers – Strange Fortune (exmothersband.bandcamp.com)
The Anderson Council – Assorted Colors (Jem)
The Romantic Comedy – “Let’s Be Said Together”
EP (Rhyme & Reason)
Big Cheese - Supersonic Nothing (bigcheeseband.bandcamp.com)
The Everymen - These Mad Dogs Need Heroes (Ernest Jenning/Orchard)
The All-About – Be Safe Goodbye (theallabout.bandcamp.com)
Tri-State – We Did What We Could Do (tristatetheband.bandcamp.com)
TV Sound – Telecommando (Killing Horse)
WEIRD, FUN, WORTH CHECKING OUT
DEAN WEEN – The Deaner Album (ATO)
MIKE WATT – Ring Spiel Tour ’95 (Columbia Legacy)
GRIM DEEDS – Hails and Schwing! (grimdeeds.bandcamp.com)
NEW AGE HEALERS - Ghosts (https://newagehealers.bandcamp.com)
MIND SPIDERS – Prosthesis (Dirtnap Records, www.dirtnaprecs.com)
QUICHENIGHT – Camille’s Market (quichenight.bandcamp.com)
EVAN O'DONNELL - Concrete Concrete AIN SVP AVR (evanodonnell.bandcamp.com)
Paul Silver’s Top 20 Records for 2016
Let’s face it. 2016 sucked, big time. From the devastatingly
awful election cycle to the numerous musical legends who
died, from the ugly rise of white supremacy to the murder
of innocent people of color at the hands of the police sworn
to protect them, 2016 has been nothing short of deplorable.
But, amidst all of the reasons for anger and sadness, hope
shined through in the form of a bumper crop of great records.
As usual, my list is based off the music I’ve reviewed
over the course of the past twelve months. And, as always,
the order has nothing to do with ranking and everything
to do with the order in which I reviewed the records. I’ve
also got a big change in my list this year! Instead of calling
it a top “10” which has somewhere between fourteen
and seventeen records on it, this year I’ve got an
THE DIRTY NIL – Higher Power –
It’s just rowdy, raucous rock’n’roll music,
loud and furious, ready to fuckin’ punch you in the
jaw then in the gut with a one-two combination that you’ll
never see coming.
WESTERN SETTINGS – Old Pain –
Their previous release, “Yes It Is,” was phenomenally
good, but this EP is next level stuff. The music is lush
and beautiful, Ricky Schmidt’s gravelly vocals have
just the right amount of angst, and the guitar solos have
such a lonely, sad sound.
FREE KITTENS & BREAD – American
Miserablist – There’s a range of styles here,
from energetic guitar-fueled tracks to Americana-laced songs
to nerd-pop. The arrangements are thoughtful, with judicious
use of backing vocals and even horns, to add the right flavor
to the song. And the song writing is really, really good.
The lyrical content, the melodies, the arrangement –
it’s all top notch.
FUCKO – Dealing With The Weird –
Solid female lead vocals with occasional harmonies, easy
tempos, fuzzed out guitars and bass – it has a pop
punk edge without being too punk, and it’s indie-pop
without getting too sappy. It’s got just the right
balance. The best sounds of 90s indie-pop is still being
made, courtesy of Fucko!
PEARS – Green Star – This
sophomore release from NOLA’s hardest band charges
forth with more deliberate pop punk and hardcore music than
before. Where 2014’s debut, “Go To Prison,”
was “thrown together,” according to vocalist
Zach Quinn, “this, we slaved over it.” The time
and attention certainly shows. The songs rage as hard as
ever, but they show more cohesiveness than the debut.
BASTARDS OF YOUNG – White Knuckles
– Bastards of Young play an emotionally edged brand
of rock’n’roll, one that loosely falls under
the pop punk category these days. This album can be exhausting
to listen to, in a good way. I can even see this album,
with the right push, getting it in front of the right people,
having broader crossover appeal with the “alternative”
crowd, so maybe expect bigger things from these guys.
MEAN JEANS – Tight New Dimension
– Tight Ramones-core with a distinct humor. They’re
fast’n’loud pop punk, and they’re a hell
of a fun band. This is a really strong release.
DARIA – Impossible Colours –
Starting with a solid post-punk base and adding in emo energy
and some awesome mature melodic lines, France based Daria
presents a dozen strong songs on this latest LP. Now, so-called
emo-punk or post-punk bands are a dime a dozen, you know?
But what sets Daria apart from the pack are those really
FAINTEST IDEA – Increasing The Minimum
Rage – Faintest Idea, hailing from the port town of
Kings Lynn in Norfolk, UK, are a pretty fucking unique band
in this world, and that should be treasured. This album
features tight, energetic ska music blended with tough working
class oi, and the result is nothing short of astounding.
And, while most ska bands, and even ska punk bands, are
generally about fun times, Faintest Idea inject a heavy
dose of economic, social, and political justice into their
DIRECT HIT! – Wasted Mind –
Direct Hit!’s Fat Wreck Chords debut is a solid release.
The songs are somewhat poppier than those on previous releases,
and the production is certainly a lot slicker. The arrangements
are denser and more complex, too, some with instruments
that are not usual to Direct Hit, like synth, piano, and
MARTHA – Blisters In The Pit Of
My Heart – This band from the northeastern corner
of England presents a dichotomy: the songs are sparkly and
bubbly with a strong sense of optimism, but the lyrics tend
more toward uncertainty, resignation, and even despair.
Happiness and sadness, you can’t have one without
the other. The songs teeter on the edge between pop punk
and indie pop with the best aspects of each.
YEESH – Confirmation Bias –
This is some of the strongest post-punk music I’ve
heard in awhile. Angular intervals, generous use of overtones,
minimalist melodies, and repetition are the tools used in
constructing the ten songs on this, the band’s sophomore
full-length LP. The songs are powerful and edgy, loud and
insistent; they’re Chicago tough.
FOUR LIGHTS – Death to False Posi
– The sounds of bands like The Mr. T Experience or
The Parasites are what immediately come to mind, except
maybe more refined and more mature. They effortlessly blend
a variety of styles into something so coherent and musical,
and they make it their own. This is an outstanding release.
TOYGUITAR – Move Like A Ghost –
There’s just something about toyGuitar. Perhaps it’s
the sunny feel. This is garage rock’n’roll mixed
with surf, mixed with a bright beachy summer day. Perhaps
it’s the sense of fun you get from the music. This
is completely danceable, gloriously bouncy stuff. Perhaps
it’s how genuine and nice the members of the band
are. Or, perhaps, it’s all of these.
CRUZ RADICAL – S/T LP - This album
rocks fucking hard! It’s hardcore! It’s rock’n’roll!
It’s garage punk! It’s all of that and more!
I can’t tell you what any of the songs are about,
because they’re all sung in Spanish, but this record
rules! It starts fast, loud, and hard and never lets up.
GREAT APES – California Heart –
Lyrically, this is an incredibly strong yet depressing record.
Listening to lyrics, such as from the title track, you get
a sense of hopelessness that a kid in a boring town with
nothing to do and no future in sight might feel. Musically,
the album continues to be Great Apes’ unique blend
of pop melodies and powerful punk, with some songs leaning
more one way than the other.
– The Cross & The Switchblade – Though the
powerful lead vocals are gritty and grimy and the music
pounds and pummels, the melodies are warm and inviting.
The band’s emotions are palpable throughout the record,
with every song dripping with feeling. The intensity never
lets up, driving the album forward, on and on, just like
the train that we hear at the very start of the first song.
SIGNALS MIDWEST – At This Age –
Absolutely gorgeous. That’s the first thought that
ran through mind upon the first of several listens to this,
the fourth full-length album from the Cleveland outfit.
Every song exudes emotion. The passion is palpable.
ST. LENOX – Ten Hymns From My American
Gothic – Last year, St. Lenox’s debut LP, “Ten
Songs About Memory and Hope,” floored me with its
soulfulness, its truth, and its beauty, and it made my list
of top records of the year. I couldn’t imagine that
Andrew Choi, New York attorney and the alter ego of St.
Lenox, could ever top it. This year, Choi is back with the
sophomore St. Lenox release. The ten songs on this album
are touching, poignant, and they’re beautiful.
DEAD TO ME – I Wanna Die In Los
Angeles – Who isn’t a sucker for great, bouncy,
melodic music that has an edge? And even more so when the
lyrics to those happy sounding songs hide darkness and pain?
That’s the magic of Dead To Me and it’s on display
in this, the band’s first new release in five years.
In no particular order...
1. Nails - You Will Never Be One of Us.
Music for a really bad day, or in my case, every day.
2. Against Me! - Shapeshift With Me "Dead
Rats" might be my favorite song of the year.
3. Lysine Contingency - Virtuous Sentiments.
Loved the name a lot; loved the playing even more.
4. St. Lenox - 10 Songs About Misery and
Hope. I think about the 90s a lot, too.
5. Pinkwash - Collective Sigh I love a
band that is challenging and brilliant; not an easy combination
6. Transience - Skyward When Nails finally
beats me down, this picks me back up again.
7. Grim Deeds - Hails! America's punk genius
most deserving of your effusive praise.
8. Not Blood Paint - Believing is Believing
I still listen to this frequently and I remain delightfully
9. Pill - Convenience This could be America's
most important band right now and Veronica Torres rules!
10. Dwell - Inate If you have not heard
this, your life, at this moment, is embarrassingly incomplete
Top 40 @ 40 (or, the Top 5 x 9)
If Jersey Beat has taught us anything, it’s that
people over 40 can be trusted. I’ve now got four decades
under my belt, and my finger isn’t just on the pulse,
it’s on NINE different pulses! Also, this is my clever
way to give high honors to many different, deserved releases.
THE TOP 5
01. Martha – Blisters In The Pit
Of My Heart (Fortuna Pop!/Dirtnap)
Their debut made my top list a few years ago, and here we
have a follow-up that’s superior in almost every way.
A four-piece punk-pop outfit from Durham, Martha’s
hard candy sound churns together guy/girl vox, reference
rock, and a heap of catchy hooks. The songwriting is stronger
and the production is better this time around, but what
really shines here is the confidence in the execution. Yes,
these songs are about neurotic hearts and embracing the
weird, but they do it with such conviction and gusto you
can’t help but be all in.
02. Paranoid Style – Rolling Disclosure
03. Mikey Erg – Tentative Decisions
04. Doug Tuttle – It Calls On Me
05. Against Me! – Shapeshift With
TOP 5 Hip-Hop Albums
01. Sammus – Pieces In Space (Don
Your basic album review structure is two pronged: Describe
what it is, and say if it’s good. Usually the former
is the easy part and the latter requires you to dig up and
carefully dissect those sneaky earworms. With Pieces In
Space the situation is reversed. I can rattle off why I
like her album easily – a smooth flow with sharp statements,
clever-as-fuck lyrics, DIY beats, and hot guests spots all
gel into a package that has me enjoying it on each consumption.
However, Sammus here is defying categorization – not
because it’s nothing like anything before it, but
because (cue millennial-speak) It. Is. Everything.
It’s conscious rap: Themes of searching for and affirming
identity permeate the album. Songs about race, gender, relationships,
and therapy step into the ring, and Sammus’ narratives
pull no punches. There’s a collegiate vibe in these
tracks, but it isn’t backpacker fluff. These songs
are cathartic, poetic, and thought-provoking, like all good
conscious rap is.
It’s nerdcore: “All summer I’ve been overdosing
on Pokemon...” Video games, sci-fi, comics, cartoons
– it’s all touched upon. These beacons of geekery
aren’t just here for name dropping, though. It’s
all still flowing through the filter of an African-American
female that’s acutely aware of geek culture’s
shortcomings. Sammus is one of us, but she’ll also
call you on your shit. Internet trolls and white-washed
It’s pop: The first time I saw Sammus I had no idea
what to expect. As the set went on her talents just kept
stacking up. She makes her own beats, she can rap, and she
can sing! Normally the hip-hop/pop crossovers don’t
work for me. The choruses aren’t that great, and most
of the time it just gets in the way of busting out more
rhymes. Here though it succeeds. I find myself enjoying
the pop hooks (though, full disclosure – one of them
is a straight rip of Weezer’s “Holiday”)
in the moment, and then later on humming them to myself
after the record is over.
It’s rare that an album can draw on so many sources,
still have a vision all it’s own, and not end up as
a chaotic mess. When it happens I have a difficult time
deciphering all it’s mysteries, but nevertheless I
know I like it.
02. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
03. DJ Shadow – The Mountain Will
04. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got
It From Here… Thank You For Your Service
05. Factor Chandelier – Factoria
Top 5 Shows I Saw This Year
01. Brian Wilson, Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary Tour
(Chevy Court, Syracuse)
The joy I felt watching Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Blondie
Chaplin, and top-notch back-up bandmates play Pet Sounds
in it’s entirety completely overshadowed the sad fact
that the journey is over. Don’t get me wrong, may
Brian live another 74 years, but this was the last tour
for the masterpiece, and I feel like the Beach Boys chapter
has finally closed (again, for the last time, for real).
Brian Wilson’s voice was unmistakable, charming and
pleasant, you could still hear the heart in those lyrics.
That being said, he sang with a different phrasing on many
songs (since he can’t hold notes) and left the high
end to Al Jardine’s son, Matt. What it lacked in purity
was surpassed by the the ingenuity of the arrangements.
The backing band pulled double and sometimes triple duty
to do the album justice.
This album came out 10 years before I was born, and yet
when I heard those songs I still felt like a kid again.
That’s gotta be magic, right?
02. Andrew Bird w/ Sinkane (Ithaca Theater,
03. Belly (Union Transfer, Philadelphia)
04. Mikey Erg (full band), Worriers (The
05. Tacocat w/ Pujol (Everybody Hits, Philadelphia)
TOP 5 Imports
01. Aries – Adieu Or Die (K Records)
I’m (ahem) a long time fan of K. The indie pop from
that Northwest scene is right in my wheelhouse. I fell in
love with this album before I even knew what label was involved,
so this was just a happy coincidence after all. Not that
being on K points to the sound here, of course. Yet again
we have an amalgamation album (and again, created entirely
by a lone individual – I’m beginning to see
a theme here).
Isabel Fernandez makes swirly, flowing pop, directed by
layers of vocal arrangements and buoyed by electronic flourishes.
It’s dreamy yet not serene, it’s psychedelic
without being trippy. Think more Dairy Queen flurry than
cosmic expansion. It’s definitely a fun pop wave where
the ride just feels right, even if you truly don’t
know what’s going on. That literally may be the case
with me, since it’s entirely in Spanish and I know
nothing of the language beyond things like “yo la
tengo” and um… “Los Lobos.”
02. Triangulo de Amor Bizarro – Salve
03. Kikagaku Moyo – House In The
04. Fumaca Preta – Impuros Fanaticos
05. Africaine 808 - Basar
TOP 5 Old Acts With New Albums
01. Teenage Fanclub – Here (Merge)
This is a special category of artists, only inclusive of
bands that have been around for 25-plus years. But that
specialness is compounded depending on how long the listener
has been a fan. For example, Dinosaur Jr. being in the top
5 for someone who discovered them this year might mean something
entirely different than a top-5 nod from someone who’s
been a fan since 1989. Same ranking, totally different experience,
emotions, and reactions to the music. Anyway, some artists
make legit comebacks. Some just consistently make quality
releases. Others coast along, making music that might not
match their best, but it has the added advantage of being
familiar. Here by Teenage Fanclub falls somewhere stage
center in that triple-Venn diagram. They had a “standard”
amount of releases in the 1990s (five over the entire decade),
but this is only the fourth Fanclub album since the turn
of the century – the last one being Shadows from 2012.
Not enough output to be considered consistent, not absent
enough for any album to be considered a comeback. But anytime
an album shows up, it’s the most welcome thing on
my radar. It’s Big Star homage through a Britpop filter.
It’s Bealtes worship through the American indie/alternative
lens. Catchy songs with vocals that at this point are defying
age. Lots of breezy tunes, and they all hit the right spots
of this long time fan. As I’m cultivating mixes and
playlists I can hardly choose a favorite. That’s the
sign of a solid album.
02. His Name Is Alive – Patterns
03. Dinosaur Jr. – Give A Glimpse
Of What Yer Not
04. David Bowie – Blackstar
05. Bob Mould – Patch The Sky
TOP 5 EP's
01. Vista Blue – Pray For Rain (Self
This band actually put out eight EPs in 2016. My all-powerful
manipulation of iTunes allows me to snag hits from all of
them, but if I had to choose one, it’s the Pray For
Rain EP, because… songs about baseball, dummy! In
addition to being little gems of pure pop punk (read as:
Lookout and Mutant pop), the EP has that “right time,
right place” situation going for it. In a year when
people started caring about baseball again, they threw 4
tracks at fans old and new, ready to laugh, cry, and enjoy
a history in the making.
02. Total Bettys – Connect With The
03. 50 Foot Wave – Bath White
04. Entrance - Promises
05. Exmaid – Neurotic Fantasies
TOP 5 Reissues, Collections, Compilations, Etc.
01. Big Star – Complete Third (Omnivore)
One of those releases that not only supplies us with exquisite
music, but also sets the standard for all reissues that
follow. Lots of rough/demo material without being overkill,
and a final product that is as close to a completed vision
as one could expect. Once again, I’ll admit my shortcomings
as a music nerd and disclose that I was previously mostly
only a #1 Record fan, but this stuff has me falling in love
with the band all over again.
02. Psychotic Youth – Power Pop To
03. Damien Jurado & Richard Swift –
Other People’s Songs
04. XTC – English Settlement
05. Milk ’N ’Cookies –
Milk ‘N’ Cookies
TOP 5 Old Albums I Discovered This Year
01. Trio – Trio (Mercury, 1981)
I admit it. I was one of THOSE people. One of those horrible,
ignorant, fad-chasing sheep that didn’t care about
an artist until a death made the news. Sure I knew that
one song from a car commercial, but I never gave German
outfit Trio a second thought (or even a first thought) until
drummer Peter Behrens passed away this May. One internet
wormhole later and I now recognize what a unique, creative,
and awesome band Trio was. It definitely falls under minimalist,
but usually that genre translates to “boring”
in my mind. This album is miles from that, with bouncy oddball
tunes that are “art punk” enough to make you
raise an eyebrow, but performed with a little wink and smile,
letting you know the band is aware of (and gleeful about)
the absurdity of it all. Motorik rhythms, sparse keyboards,
and even sparser guitar form the skeleton sound, but combined
with these bare bones are pop elements that burrow deep.
So simple! So devious! Discovering this album this year
has been the perfect plan.
02. Dave Edmunds – Repeat When Necessary
03. V/A - It’s A Small World
04. Devo – Something For Everybody
05. Del Fuegos – Boston, Mass
The Bottom 5 (a.k.a The Rest Of My Top 10)
01. Dr. Dog – Psychedelic Swamp
02. Pity Sex – White Hot Moon
03. Quilt – Plaza
04. Tacocat – Lost Time
05. Hurry – Guided Meditation
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