Brian Fallon – Painkillers (3/11/16)
Though The Gaslight Anthem is on hold until further notice, Brian Fallon continues to write letters to former flames, take long nighttime drives, and daydream about past lives. Rowdy gang vocals have been traded for a softer croon, but Fallon still remains one of the greatest American songwriters currently making music, tugging at the heartstrings of melancholy punks everywhere with his solo debut.
Recommended: “A Wonderful Life”, “Smoke”.
Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression (3/18/16)
Backed by the groovy pop beats of Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders and the hypnotic desert-rock influence of Josh Homme and Dean Fertita of Queens Of The Stone Age, Iggy Pop bellows as powerfully as he did in the 70s over these nine tracks. His provocative tendencies are subtle, tucked into lyrics like “When you get to the bottom, you’re near the top / The shit turns into chocolate drops”. Post Pop Depression may turn out to be Iggy’s swan song; the title of the LP hints at the effect that his retirement would have on rock n’ roll culture. If this does turn out to be his last proper album, he went out in style and sophistication – and that’s saying a lot for man who used to be known for vomiting and bleeding on stage. He keeps the future ambiguous, though, singing: “I’ve got it all, and so what now?”
Recommended: “Gardenia”, “Sunday”.
Kvelertak – Nattesferd (5/13/16)
Never before has a band so seamlessly fused black metal with melodic rock. What begins as a straight-up assault on the ears becomes surprisingly complex, giving way to bright guitar noodles before backpedaling to meet Erlend Hjelvik’s craggy screams. Kvelertak are masters of delayed gratification and allow songs to blossom on their own by gradually building upon each sonic layer, rather than smashing the listener across the face with a brick. (That part comes later.) This peculiar brew conjures up imagery of a jaunt through Norwegian mountains, soaring on the back of a monstrous owl while shotgunning a beer.
Recommended: “Berserkr”, “Bronsegud”.
Gojira – Magma (6/17/16)
Gojira’s sixth studio album is simultaneously their riskiest and most accessible. The Duplantier brothers lost their mother during the recording of Magma, and the project ended up as a form of therapy for them. The result was a departure from more abrasive techniques and emphasis on colossal, atmospheric sound. It’s an emotionally charged and mindful piece of work, and the record earned the French death titans their first two Grammy nominations. They came through Philly in the fall on their Magma Tour; read the recap here.
Recommended: “Stranded”, “Silvera”.
Dinosaur Pile-Up – Eleven Eleven (8/26/16)
The grunge revival is in full effect, and Dinosaur Pile-Up have harnessed the 90s vibe and upgraded it with a modern tone. The trio create a full-bodied sound that goes from slow and low (“Friend Of Mine”) to adrenalized (“Nothing Personal”, “Bad Penny”). This album is insanely hooky, too; you’ll catch yourself singing through a smile about wanting to die, cranking the volume on those fuzzed-out guitars.
Recommended: “Grim Valentine”, “Anxiety Trip”.
Every Time I Die – Low Teens (9/23/16)
Named for the temperatures in Buffalo, NY where the songs were written, Low Teens solidifies ETID as some of most powerful juggernauts in heavy music. The band has once again managed to push boundaries without veering off course. On this album, hardcore, metal and punk riffs take turns in a dizzying and unpredictable dance. There’s more clean vocals than ever before, which would usually be a disappointment, but Keith Buckley knows how to play up his strengths; if it’s more effective to sing a lyric than to growl it, why mess with a good thing?
Recommended: “Glitches”, “Awful Lot”.
Trap Them – Crown Feral (9/23/16)
On their fifth full-length effort, Trap Them are unrelenting in their delivery, grinding through sludgy turbulence with impressive death-metal technicality. Steady and compelling rhythms provide the framework for Ryan McKenney’s acidic screams. Listening to this album feels like running from a beast that’s foaming at the mouth, and by the end of it you’re exhausted – but acutely aware that you’re still alive.
Recommended: “Kindred Dirt”, “Luster Pendulums”.
Oathbreaker – Rheia (9/30/16)
I can’t lie: it took me a while to come around on this one. I normally prefer unyielding speed over doom-laced shoegaze. With time, I was able to soak in the full aural spectrum of this album and appreciate its cacophonous glory. Caro Tanghe starts off with delicate pleas that surge into vengeful roars. It’s beautifully bleak, and I can’t help but think while listening: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
Recommended: “Being Able To Feel Nothing”, “Needles In Your Skin”.
Green Day – Revolution Radio (10/7/16)
This was my pop-punk indulgence of the year. Green Day rebounded from the superficial mess that was the Uno / Dos / Tré series with a freshly sober frontman, and delivered a record that’s as cheerful as it is scrappy. Though the brat-punk days of Dookie are gone, the three-chord charm remains, with Billie Joe Armstrong singing about what it’s like to be “all grown up and medicated” in “paradise burning”.
Recommended: “Revolution Radio”, “Bang Bang”.
Sims – More Than Ever (11/4/16)
Sims is 1/7th of the hip-hop collective Doomtree, but he thrives just as well on his own. The Minnesota rapper shows us an introspective maturity on his first solo full-length in five years. Collaborating with three producers (Lazerbeak, Paper Tiger, and ICETEP) over thirteen tracks keeps it fresh from start to finish. Most of the songs on More Than Ever are pensive in tone, but we still get a couple of loose party bangers with tracks like “OneHundred”.
Recommended: “OneHundred”, “Brutal Dance”.
Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins quietly released a “mini LP” called KOTA, on which he handles all vocal and instrumental duties. Frontierer reissued Orange Mathematics, and it’s a prog-metal doozy. Philadelphia provided an outrageous amount of new music this year, but if I had to pick a favorite local release, it’d be Thin Lips’ Riff Hard. Crobot, from just up the road in Pottsville, returned with their sophomore effort Welcome To Fat City. It’s full of funky, psychedelic swagger. Comedic relief this year was provided by Jim Breuer and the Loud & Rowdy on Songs From The Garage. The album puts dad-rock on full display, mixing classic rock riffs with lyrics about raising teenagers and rocking out when nobody’s home.