2016 was an incredible year for music. Anyone who says otherwise is either ill-informed or just plain ignorant. The same could be said of those who constantly bemoan the “death of the album”. Yes, while the mainstream may be consuming music in an ever more disposable fashion, the case has always been thus and when have we cared about what’s happening there anyways?
Records and albums never died or went anywhere, for those who’ve always bought music and supported the artists they enjoy, there is no “vinyl revival”, just a lot of over-expensive major label re-releases and longer waiting times at pressing plants. I could bang on about this shit at length but shall refrain from doing so in an effort to maintain the positive nature of this piece, which is to talk about my favourite records of the year.
I should establish some ground rules here; I’m going to talk about my favourite records of the year that I own in its physical format, thus disqualifying digital exclusives/streams and the like. So yeah, we’re talking physical vinyl records of all kinds here, not exclusively albums. The list will be alphabetical as opposed to ranked by preference. I think it’d also be imprudent to include any of the MTAT releases this year, although it goes without saying that I love them all, as that is pretty much the entire condition of whether we put something out or not.
That said, “Held In Merciful Light” by Clearer The Sky is a stunning record and one I’ve spent a lot of time with. Also, “ScreamerSongwriter” by Stoj Snak is just next level incredible; a folk punk record that transcends the genre’s often limiting boundaries, creating a kind of “stadium folk punk” sound as I described it to someone at the indie label market in Aberdeen earlier this year. Ye can check out MTAT 2016; A Year in Review here.
AJJ – “The Bible 2” LP (Side One Dummy)
America’s greatest living rock band have produced what I believe to be their masterwork with “The Bible 2”. Everything about this record speaks to me of the contemporary frustrated American experience as we transition into times of heightened political violence and paranoia. I have long admired Sean Bonnette as a lyricist and songwriter and truly believe that, great as “Christmas Island” was, this is his greatest work yet. Everyone should listen to this record.
Anxiety – S/T LP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
I’d read about these Glasgow punks a fair bit before I finally got a chance to see them play at the last Clocked Out show at Nice N Sleazy earlier this year and I was blown away, their intensity matched only be the uncontrollable rage that is Crawford and the troops. This eight track mini-LP is absolutely incredible; a convulsing nightmare-ish soundscape like Joy Division/Dead Kennedys/Butthole Surfers self-abusing in an anarcho punk squat. A thrilling, unsettling and unnerving experience, tremendous.
Boak – II 7″ (SuperFi Records / GrindPromotion)
I fucking love Boak and their set in The Firefly at BYAF X just absolutely stripped the paint from my face. This second seven inch (I got a blue one) manages to take everything that was awesome about the first one; the precision, intensity, rage; and hone it to even sharper perfection with four nuclear blasts of intelligent and articulate grindcore/powerviolence. I must’ve played this record fifty times over before something knocked it off the turntable. Absolutely essential, truly one of Scotland’s greatest bands.
The Cut Ups – “The Nerves” LP (Banquet Records)
Jon Shoe is one of my favourite people in punk rock and I’ve been a huge fan of The Cut Ups for over a decade now, so it’s no great surprise that their fourth record makes my list. “The Nerves” is arguably their most politically focussed album yet, a rallying cry reflected in the loving gravelly embrace of their finest collection of songs to date. Driving and anthemic, featuring keys from Franz Nicolay, this is The Cut Ups at their determined best. “Stay Obscure” may be closing track of the year too, tugged away on the old heartstrings. This record is a beacon of hope in an ever-expanding shit-storm of misery, isolation and exasperation; a reassuring cuddle from an old friend.
Dead To Me – “I Wanna Die In Los Angeles” 7″ (Fat Wreck)
Besides simply being an awesome collection of three songs on a seven inch, I feel this is an important record in a few different ways. Purely musically, this is solid Dead To Me gold (there was a gold pressing, I have the black) and we’ve waited eight years for new songs featuring both Jack Dalrymple and Chicken, but more importantly, this is a record that may have just saved a life. Alcohol and drug addiction is something people in the punk scene seem reluctant to talk about at times, despite the fact that it’s killed so many of our friends, in both punk and wider society. This record is about hitting rock bottom and recovery, with “Comforting the Disturbed and Disturbing the Comfortable” being one of the most beautiful articulations of recovery I’ve ever identified with, in so many different ways. This 7″ also directly inspired me to start Sober Punks Supper Club. Thank you Dead To Me, stay strong troops.
Descendents – “Hypercaffium Spazzinate” (Epitaph)
Descendents are a band that I’ve loved for almost twenty years so there’s no way I wasn’t going to be stoked about their new record. Ever the pessimist, however, I didn’t have sky-high hopes but am thankful to be proven wrong as I think this is definitely up there amongst their strongest work, streets ahead of “Cool To Be You”, which itself contained some bangers. There ain’t a huge number of older punk bands who’ve released new records that rivals that of their back catalogue this year but this one is up there in my book. As for the controversy surrounding the title, I don’t think it’s a great title but listen to the fucking record and the picture will become a little clearer I’d hope.
Fall Of Messiah – “Empty Colors” 12″ EP (Holy Roar / I.Corrupt.Records)
Utterly stunning, expansive and harrowing yet serene post-rock/screamo from France. I was lucky enough that Shitgripper played with these troops in Edinburgh in April of this year and I was completely blown away by their dynamics, intensity and power. Largely instrumental but with infrequent intense outbursts of screaming, this EP is a deep weaved texture of math-rock meets brooding hardcore intensity. One of the records I found myself coming back to again and again over the year, finding more to love in it with every listen.
The Hotelier – “Goodness” LP (Tiny Engines)
This is probably overall my favourite record of the year and definitely the album I’ve listened to most in 2016, at least once a day since I put the download on my phone. I connect viscerally and emotionally with The Hotelier in a way that I don’t with the vast majority of modern emo/pop punk bands, in ways that I can’t fully explain, but this record is a testament to what I understand to be their experimental progressive worldview, like therapy expressed through poetry. The aforementioned who mourn the death of the album would do well to listen to the narrative of this record, each song a chapter. Their show in the church at Restless Natives Fest was as close I’ve come to religious observance this year, truly spellbinding stuff.
Hot Mass – “Nervous Tension” LP (Brassneck Records)
Glorious squally and noisy heads-down punk rock’n’roll goodness from these well-traveled punks from Swansea who blasted out their first full-length and reminded me of everything that is awesome about straight up UK DIY punk rock. These dudes have been in the game for a long time, in essential Welsh bands like Dividers and The Arteries, and this record exemplifies the lessons learned and lives shaped by those experiences. I grabbed this record from Jenks when they opened for The Menzingers earlier this year and I very much hope we’ll have them in the basement at some point in the new year. Great stuff, super smart coke-bottle clear vinyl too.
Medictation – “Warm Places” LP (Little Rocket)
With such pedigree, this record was always going to be something special but considering the fact that this is the final recorded work of the legendary Dickie Hammond, this album takes on an extra layer of emotional weight. Featuring members of Leatherface and The Sainte Catherines, “Warm Places” was always going to be a great punk album but knowing that Dickie is gone, his presence is felt with greater gravity, his loss with extra depth. When Dickie takes on the vocal for “Stalingrad”, it’s a difficult listen as he sings about having no hope left and drinking to oblivion, especially knowing the circumstances under which he died. It’s a testament to the greatness and fragility of the man himself and the friendship of his band mates and extended family that this record serves as fitting epitaph. The release was a labour of love from Little Rocket Records, a label formed specifically to release this LP. A beautiful, moving monument.
Muncie Girls – “From Caplan To Belsize” LP (Specialist Subject)
This Exeter three piece have absolutely knocked it out the park with their first full-length LP on Specialist Subject Records. With a title taken from Sylvia Plath, there are few ambiguities pertaining the feminist politics of this record, serving as an indictment of our current cultural situation. This is no mere soapbox politics, however; this record talks of basic human decency and action in times where many people lack these things. Indeed, it was in reference to this record, specifically the “Respect” video, that I had one of my more interesting interactions of the year with the “alt-right”. Without putting too fine a point on it, fuck that shit, this is an important and, sadly, required record, on top of being a mighty fine melodic rock/pop punk banger in and of itself.
The Murderburgers – “The 12 Habits of Highly Defective People” (Asian Man / Round Dog Records)
Once again raising the bar for Scottish punk rock, Fraser Murderburger has crafted his greatest piece of work to date and created what is undoubtedly one of the finest UK pop punk records ever released. Fraser and I have been friends for a long time now and I know exactly how much this record, and indeed the band, means to him. I couldn’t be more proud to see this record getting the love it so richly deserves. Progressing far beyond the bubblegum Ramonescore template of yore, this fourth LP sharpens the knives for a thrilling narrative ride of lacerating self-analysis with cinematic sound and minor chords tucked in amongst the hooks and sing-a-long choruses. While perhaps less immediate than previous work, the cuts are far deeper and this record fulfills the promises made on “These Are Only Problems”, is a more cohesive piece of work and their absolute best yet. Proud of you, pal.
Pears – “Green Star” (Fat Wreck)
This record is just a straight-up hardcore punk rock juggernaut from front to back, a relentless storm of energy and aggression laden with insidious hooks, a fuck-you-fight-me southern charm and a refreshing blast of punk rock noise that looks forward rather than wallowing I n nostalgia, as punk is often inclined to do. For me, Pears absolutely blew Bouncing Souls off the stage when they played at Stereo in Glasgow earlier this year, one of the most energetic and engaging shows I’ve seen on a bigger stage in some time. Super nice dudes too, although twenty quid for an LP is taking the piss a little I’d suggest (no slight on the band, I know how these things go). One of my favourite Fat Wreck releases in recent years.
Sheer Mag – III 7″ EP (Static Shock)
I confess I had never listened to Sheer Mag before this year but once I did so, I immediately ordered all three EPs from Static Shock Records. This band are fucking great, a classic soul-powered rock’n’roll band that transcends time and genre classification, political without being divisive and subversive without being alienating. Plus, most importantly, just plain fucking rocking, like The Bellrays/Thin Lizzy/Dirtbombs, these are some of the catchiest, most perfectly written rock songs you’re ever likely to hear. Few bands this year have got me as hyped up and hooked as Sheer Mag.
Wonk Unit – “Mr. Splashy” LP (TNS)
If the AJJ LP is the soundtrack of the death of the American Dream, then it logically follows to my mind that “Mr. Splashy” is the sound of dystopian London, and by extension the United Kingdom, in full collapse. Wonk Unit may be the premier clown princes of UK punk rock, but don’t let the black humour and abundant laughter fool you, there is deep intelligence and political anger contained within the poetry, art and channeled chaos that follows the Wonk family. “Mr. Splashy” is an engaging tale that follows a narrative story arc through the increasing bitterness of British life in which we are both increasingly lumped together (as “lefties”, as “punks”, as “radicals”, whatever the case may be) and further isolation from one another. When we look back in twenty years time, this will be one of the records we reflect upon when considering the state of UK punk in 2016. I was lucky enough to score one of the one hundred green copies too!
So there we go, there are my fifteen favourite records of the year. There have been loads of other great records released this year and I want to shout out Revenge of the Psychotronic Man, The Bennies, Kamikaze Girls, Womps, Departures, Pale Angels, G.L.O.S.S and Direct Hit! and Human Hands, all of whom released top quality records this year, plus the Asthenia/Akallabeth split 7″ that absolutely tore my face off (the Asthenia show was probably, at a push, my favourite MTAT show of the year too).
Can’t wait to see what’s coming in 2017, plus we’ll finally get the long-awaited Tragical History Tour LP. Bring it on!