Notable Releases of 2016

2016 may not have been music’s finest year, but there were a lot of good albums I played on repeat. While not all of them were notable or amazing, there were plenty that stood out for different reasons. So here are my picks for other notable releases for 2016.

Album that Caught me Off Guard:

Electric Warlock Acid Witch – Rob Zombie

When I heard Rob Zombie was dropping a new album, I reacted with a “meh.” Seeing as I didn’t care for his last few albums, I had low expectations for this one. Educated Horses was a big disappointment, Hellbilly Deluxe 2 is bearable, yet forgettable, and Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor is hardly worth remembering. My disdain for the new album grew when I saw the lengthy album title and tracklist featuring songs like “Everybody’s Fucking in a UFO.” But when listening to it a revelation dawned on me: this is fucking great! This album is Rob Zombie getting back to basics: weird songs, tons of samples, and rocking the fuck out. There are some misses on the record, like the sludgy “WURDALAK,” but it’s a rousing ride from start to finish. Zombie keeps it short and simple as he pumps out bangers like “Get High,” “Get Your Boots On,” and “Teenage Rock God.” Some of the songs are reminiscent of his past stuff, but it still gets your heart racing and head banging. Even the songs that are just okay are still gripping instead of boring filler like on his last records. Listening to it again I couldn’t help throwing devil horns in the air even though I was by myself on the couch. It’s loud, aggressive, weird, freaky, groovy, and kick ass, everything a Rob Zombie album should be. It’s a proper return to his aggressive roots, which he seemed to move away from in later years. And best of all, the album is fun as hell. It reignited my faith that Rob Zombie can still make killer music. Can’t say the same about his movies, though.

Underrated Album of 2016:

Alas Salvation – Yak

Once I heard Yak’s brand of chaotic, psychedelic rock on their 2016 debut, I knew it would be one of my favorite albums of the year. They almost went under my radar, but I barely caught them thanks to an assignment for another music site. What instantly grabbed me was their energetic, destructive vibe. Listening to songs like “Victorious” and “Harbor the Feeling” makes you picture them breaking everything in the room while they’re playing. It felt like I was hearing chaos incarnate when listening to the album. Half the time it’s unbridled noise and audio insanity, but I loved every minute. To keep the album from getting repetitive or dull, Yak plays with different sounds, like the psychedelic tinged “Use Somebody” or the Spaghetti Western isolation of “Smile.” Tracks like these made for an unpredictable, exciting ride. If there was one album that got me the most excited and left the biggest impression on me, this was it. I can’t wait to hear what else the band has in store for us in the future.

Album I Tried to Like But Couldn’t:

I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are so Beautiful yet So Unaware of It – The 1975

Get out the pitchforks right now. Yes, for some reason, I couldn’t get into this album. I was intrigued by The 1975 when I saw them perform “The Sound” on The Tonight Show. Since they’ve received mass praise from practically every outlet, I decided to check them out. While I liked songs like “Love Me” and “A Change of Heart,” the rest did nothing for me. It seems I like the 80’s, danceable side to the band, not the slow, drawn out, ballads that permeated the second half of the record. I listened to it several times, but came away with the same feeling; it’s long and too slow for my tastes. It just didn’t grab me like I hoped it would. This doesn’t mean I think The 1975 are a bad band or that the album sucks. It just wasn’t for me and I still don’t get what all the hype’s about.

Album of the Year Runner Up:

The Dream is Over – PUP

It was really hard picking album of the year and it came down to PUP’s second album and what I ultimately picked. PUP’s self-titled debut kicked ass. It showed off their punk nature and chaotic drive, but also showed the band can do more than just scream and be loud. They pushed that to the breaking point with their sophomore effort. With such praise heaped on their first album, it would’ve been easy for them to cave under pressure and release something that was tolerable. For this album, they somehow managed to top themselves. Everything about felt rawer, fiercer, and even more emotional in some places. I love how songs like “DVP” and “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You (I Will)” are pure destruction and aggression. Yet, songs like “Pine Point” and “Sleep in the Heat” both haunting and gut wrenching. It’s easy for a punk band to be loud and brash, but few of them can get out of their comfort zone and make emotional songs that still kick major ass. So much passion, drive, and heartache comes out of this album, it’s hard to take in all at once. It’s an excellent follow-up proving the band didn’t get lucky the first time around.

Well, 2016 is finally over. Let’s hope more awesome music in 2017. What albums are you looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!

2016 Album that Left Me Conflicted

California – Blink-182

It’s been painful following the Blink-182 debacle. With Tom leaving the band, but not really leaving the band, according to him anyway, it seemed like it was the end. They tried reforming and it clearly didn’t work. Story over, right? Instead, they recruit Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba and drop a new album. And if you thought the Untitled album divided the fanbase, this record destroyed it. Go to any forum or comments section and thoughts range from “This is the best they’ve done in years” to “They’re fucking garbage now!” It feels impossible having a discussion about the album without having the Tom vs Matt argument.

My expectations were pretty low after I heard the first single, but I was still pretty happy to hear new music from them, especially since I didn’t think it was happening. Once I got the album, I could only stomach hearing the entire record about three times. I don’t hate it; there are actually some songs that impressed me. I love the big booming verse of “Los Angeles” and “Cynical” might be the best song on the album. Still, California is nowhere near their best. And don’t get me started about their Grammy nominee. Even though I knew I didn’t really care for the album, I still felt confused about the whole situation.

I’m in the Blink-isn’t-Blink-without-Tom camp. The instant rebuttal for this is how Blink faltered when he was in the band. Personally, I thought Neighborhoods was pretty good and the Dogs Eating Dogs EP made me think even better music was in store. Yes, I do think Tom is a dick for leading on fans when he really didn’t want to be in Blink anymore. But Tom brought a certain sound to Blink that’s missing on California. When I listen to that album, it doesn’t sound like I’m listening to Blink-182. It sounds like I’m listening to some other generic “pop-punk” band. Blink-182 have never been the best pop-punk band around, but they had a style and vibe that was all their own. I hear none of that on their latest album. It might as well be +44’s follow up and even that album is better than California. And it’s funny how many people think Matt is better when half the time it sounds like he’s doing an impression of Tom.

At the same time, I agree with people who say Blink have the right to move on if one member doesn’t want to play anymore. Yes, they certainly do, just like Tom has the right to do other projects. Still, it’s not the same to me. And that’s fine. It still feels weird to see pictures of them or hear their name and see Matt instead of Tom. I’m sure it’s one of those things I’ll get used to, but they might’ve been better off releasing the album under a different name. There are certain expectations that come with the Blink-182 name and for me, California didn’t hit them at all. Maybe things will get better for Blink once Matt’s been in the band for a while and the shock of not seeing Tom washes away. But it will never be the same for me and that’s something I can accept.

Best Album of 2016

Revolution Radio – Green Day

Picking my choice for best album of 2016 was harder than I imagined. In past years it was easy. There was always one record that stood out among the others. But so much of the music I heard this year was so good or at least enjoyable. It was hard to pick out which one rose above the others, but when I thought about which album excited me and kept me listening long after its release, the choice became clear.

Revolution Radio is one of Green Day’s strongest records. Their future seemed spotty after the Trilogy. And though I was one of the few that enjoyed those albums, they didn’t pump me up like their previous efforts. As soon as I heard “Bang Bang,” I knew the album was going to be killer. The last time I was truly excited for Green Day after hearing one song was 21st Century Breakdown. I don’t hate the singles from the Trilogy, but they’re kind of disappointing. RevRad kept me excited even after I heard the entire thing 50 times.  It took me a few listens to actually fall in love with the record, but that’s because I had certain expectations. I thought every song was going to sound like the lead single, so when heard tracks like “Somewhere Now” and “Outlaws” I didn’t know what to think. But after giving them a chance and looking at the lyrics, I found them to be strong, thoughtful songs.

Many felt the Trilogy saw the band take a step backward, trying to hold on to long lost youth. This record is the opposite. Green Day looks forward even if the future doesn’t look so bright. Sometimes they’re reflective, sometimes they’re angry, which is when the band really thrives. They also toss in some political commentary about recent events like the Black Lives Matter movement. It doesn’t permeate the entire record, like American Idiot or 21st Century Breakdown, but it’s just enough. I honestly loved how they mixed in social commentary with songs about looking forward and getting older. The entire thing feels honest. It’s also a very focused record, something that was lacking from the Trilogy. It doesn’t sound like they’re going all over the place never sure which direction to take.

The record also seems like a mesh of what Green Day has done before. There’s the maturity of Warning, anger of American Idiot, and even some party vibes from the Trilogy. Even if the record isn’t perfect and still can’t top their best albums, it shows different sides to the band we love. They’re wild, and having fun at times. Others they’re serious and show they’re afraid for the future, something many are feeling right now. RevRad didn’t meet my initial exceptions, but that unpredictability is part of the reason I love it so much. Sure, they may be playing with the same formula, but they gave it to us in a way that made us excited, made us feel a way the Trilogy didn’t. Yes, Green Day are getting older as they show on this record, but they also show they still know how to make some noise.

Worst Album of 2016

This is What the Truth Feels Like – Gwen Stefani

I was never a huge No Doubt fan growing, but I’ve come to like them more over time along with Gwen Stefani. There was a point when she was the epitome of cool in alt rock. Her solo music is vastly different from what she did with No Doubt, but it’s still catchy, enjoyable, and fun. When she dropped two singles in 2015, I was pretty excited to hear what her next album was going to sound like. I actually dug Love.Angel.Music.Baby, but didn’t care for The Sweet Escape. Turns out, I hated  even more.

It feels kind of harsh calling this the worst of the year, but out of everything I sought out and listened to, this is the album I hated the most. I’ll admit, most of the songs are unoffending. Some are even pretty good, like the hypnotic “You’re My Favorite,” but once I got to songs like “Naughty” and “Red Flag” I couldn’t take anymore. I thought she was joking. The horrible rap segments, the sad attempt at trying to keep up with the trends, and the ridiculous lyrics made the rest of the record laughable. She tries to hang with Fetty Wop on “Asking 4 It” and comes off awkward while her other attempts at rapping are just sad.

What’s most annoying is her pretending she’s still this rebellious, bad ass we came to love in the 90s. It’s fine if Stefani has grown up and is more comfortable following the herd now. But it feels like she’s pretending she’s still alternative like she was back in the day. With tracks like “Asking 4 It” and “Rare” it seems like she’s trying to hold on to her edgy title, when that’s not who she is anymore. And that’s fine.

When the album isn’t delving into horrible rap, it’s just bland and dull making you think “meh” as you listen to it. Very few of the songs are interesting. The rest follow the same pop music trends as everyone else. There’s even a few songs you’d think were outtakes from Madonna’s Rebel Heart. This is What the Truth Feels Like was hardly worth the 10 year wait. Hopefully, her next effort will be interesting and bring back some weirdness to pop music. But considering her last few releases, it doesn’t look too promising.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York Soundtrack

Release Year: 1992

Rating: 7/10

Believe it or not, Christmas is only a week away. Though the holiday is meant to bring cheer and joy, sometimes the days leading up to Christmas are more exciting than the holiday itself. Drinking hot cocoa, listening to Christmas music, seeing pretty lights strung up everywhere, and, of course, Christmas specials. Every year without fail, I watch the first two Home Alone movies. Yes, I can practically quote both movies. It’s a holiday tradition and I love wearing a holiday shirt, sitting next to the tree, and watching Kevin McCallister take down some bumbling criminals. Even though I’ve seen the movies more times than I can count, I never thought about their soundtracks. There’s four in the series: an original score for each movie, a soundtrack for the second, and the last one a re-release of the Home Alone 2 soundtrack. This year, I thought it’d be fun to give the Home Alone 2 soundtrack a spin and see what it’s about.

The soundtrack is mix of traditional holiday songs with some modern (at the time) interpretations. What I like most about the soundtrack is how it has songs taken straight from the movie. You’ll hear Bobby Helm’s rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock,” which is my favorite version solely because of this movie. Played during the scene where Kevin loses his shorts in the pool, I always end the song with him exclaiming “Yikes!” in my mind. The album also features Jonny Mathis singing “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas,” which always makes me think of Tim Curry’s smug smile when he learns of Kevin’s credit card fraud. There’s also Alan Jackson’s version of “Holly Jolly Christmas,” which I don’t remember from the movie at all. It’s a pretty standard cover with a lot of country twang; nothing too spectacular.

But for traditionalists, there are also the classical holiday songs, many of which were also included in the movie. There’s “My Christmas Tree,” which you may remember from the beginning of the movie. Personally, I found this song boring without Kevin attacking Buzz in the middle of it. If anything it serves its nostalgic purpose. There’s also “Somewhere In my Memory” sung by Beth Midler, better known as the song that plays throughout the first two films. Again, not really my type of Christmas music. It’s pretty, but also sappy and too slow.

One of the best, but admittedly odd additions is “Cool Jerk” by The Capitols. But that’s not a Christmas song, you say. Home Alone fixes this by mixing in bits from the movie, mainly Uncle Frank singing in the shower. While listening to the song, you’ll hear Uncle Frank say “You’re cooking Frankie!” and of course the hilarious line “Get out of here you little pervert before I slap you silly!” Being one of the best scenes in the movie, there’s no question this is one my favorites on the album. But the best song on the album is TLC’s “Sleigh Ride.” This has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs and I was surprised to learn it was on this soundtrack. Something about it is cool and makes you want to dance. Left Eye’s raps are funny and sick, filled with her offbeat humor and awesome flow.

The album ends with two more sappy, slow holiday songs: “Christmas Star” and “Come All Ye Faithful.” I’ve never been a fan of these big, over the top, drawn out Christmas songs better suited for church. I find them boring and sometimes they’re just sad. They’re pretty, but not something I really want to sit through. The same goes for the more upbeat, but annoying “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas.” It’s a beautiful score, but not very fun and jolly, which is how I prefer my holiday music. Plus, hearing a choir shriek “Merry Christmas” at the top of their lungs gets old really fast.

If anything, this soundtrack is a blast of nostalgia. Most of the songs I had a hard time thinking about them outside the movie. There are some genuinely good Christmas tunes here, but I found most to be boring, bland, and too slow. If I saw this soundtrack, I would buy just because I love the movie so much. I mean, I have a Home Alone 2 board game I have yet to play. But it’s not something I would put on while trimming the tree. The original scores for both films are much better being both joyful and beautiful. You want a good Christmas album? Look elsewhere. You want an injection of nostalgia? This is the record to pick up.