2016 First Half In Music Review

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By all accounts, the first half of 2016 has already been a stellar year in music. And we aren’t just talking about the stuff on your FM dial or the music that every indie music site is praising. There’s so much more out there, and luckily we live in an era where music is more accessible than ever. Which means there is a whole lot to gobble up if you are willing to listen. 

Back in April we unveiled our 2016 1st Quarter in Music Review, with 4 writers providing their personal Top 10 Albums and 10 Favorite Songs of the quarter. For our halfway point, we are keeping the same format, this time with 6 writers with their ears spread across the US from Boston to Olympia and in between.

While Mothers debut album made all 4 lists in our Q1 Review, with another quarter of 2016 in the books, the lists have become more diverse as we each find the albums and songs that really impact us. Radiohead leads the way, making 4 writer’s Top 10 Albums of 2016 (so far), yet not making #1 on any of the lists. Other common artists across lists include: Car Seat Headrest (3), Mothers (2), Nap Eyes (2), Savages (2), Parquet Courts (2), and David Bowie (2).

Lists are subjective right? These aren’t meant to force feed you our lists as the only right answer for what’s good in 2016. If you’ve listened to many of the artists sprinkled throughout these, you are most likely similar to us, in that you are going to listen and make your own decisions. After all, we all take something different with us from what we need from the music we listen to. Some it’s the lyrics, some it’s the musicianship, some need a song to punch you in the gut, while others need something wonderful to calm you down and relax. Whatever works for you, these lists provide not only a glimpse into what the folks here at OE are listening to, but a chance to find something new or revisit music that may have snuck by you. It’s time for another spin.

Saddle up, and check out the OE 2016 1st Half in Music Review. For your listening pleasure on the go, we’ve compiled a Spotify playlist (end of the article) with all the writers top songs picks from Q1 and Q2. And don’t leave without commenting with your favorite music of 2016 so far, we don’t want to know only about ourselves, we want to hear from you!

Our individual 2016 1st Half Reviews:

Culture Czar's (Birmingham, AL) 1st Half in Music 2016:

Top Ten Albums of 2016 (so far):

Savages at Shaky Knees. Photo by Mike Gerry

Savages at Shaky Knees. Photo by Mike Gerry

Savages made a big splash in 2013 with their debut release Silence Yourself. While critically acclaimed the world over, the album’s stateside success was largely with critics and in larger cities like New York and Los Angeles. Anyone I seemed to mention it to met my enthusiasm with a shrug and a “who’s that?” I loved the record and have been eagerly awaiting its follow up ever since.

Adore Life came out in late January and still holds the top spot for me at the halfway point of 2016. The driving post-punk of their debut is still there, but the songs have become heavier and simultaneously more refined. Several years on the road supporting their debut has sharpened them as players and as songwriters and not only have they avoided the sophomore slump, they’ve knocked it out of the park. Most people zero in on Jehnny Beth’s impressive vocal delivery, but listen to Gemma Thompson’s guitar; she’s got a lot of interesting and subtle things going on. There isn’t a bad song on the record and the diversity is impressive. From heavier songs like “Evil” to the pensive dirge of closing track “Mechanics” they’ve shown themselves to be adept in a wide range of moods and styles. /-CC

  1. SavagesAdore Life
  2. RadioheadA Moon Shaped Pool
  3. Kaitlyn Aurelia SmithEars
  4. DeakinSleep Cycle
  5. SwansThe Glowing Man
  6. Marissa NadlerStrangers
  7. BombinoAzel
  8. Nick MillevoiDesertion
  9. RangdaThe Heretic’s Bargain
  10. Heron OblivionHeron Oblivion

10 Favorite Songs 2016 so far (alphabetical):

  • Animal Collective – “The Burglars”
  • Bombino – “Inar”
  • Deakin – “Good House”
  • DIIV – “Out of Mind”
  • PJ Harvey – “The Wheel”
  • Nick Millevoi – “Desertion and the Arsonist’s Match”
  • Nothing – The Dead are Dumb”
  • Savages – “Evil”
  • Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – “First Flight”
  • Starflyer 59 – “Slow”
Drew Packham's (Atlanta) 1st Half in Music 2016:

Top Ten Albums of 2016 (so far):

All Them Witches at Shaky Knees. Photo by John McNicholas

All Them Witches at Shaky Knees. Photo by John McNicholas

No band has caught my attention over the last few years quite like All Them Witches. I first caught these guys in Atlanta live in July of 2014 when I checked out their live show at the Drunken Unicorn on a whim, knowing nothing of their music or vibe. I was blown away. Their heavy guitars and bluesy drone were not my typical style, but I found myself mesmerized and drawn into their world. Since that show, All Them Witches have failed to disappoint and their latest album, Lightning at the Door, only solidifies them in my view as a must-see live act and a band worth checking out. After a slow-building opening track, the album kicks into full gear on “When God Comes Back”, a sort of call and response as lead singer Michael Parks, Jr. takes turns halting the heavy guitar with his sharp vocals. The highlights for me, though are back-to-back tracks “Charles William” and “The Death of a Coyote Woman”, which is a near perfect 14-minute stretch in the middle of the album.  All Them Witches have mastered the crescendo of a heavy drone sound while keeping it melodic enough to not scare away those with softer tendencies. /-DP

  1. All Them Witches – Lightning at the Door
  2. Car Seat HeadrestTeens of Denial
  3. Various Artists – Day of the Dead
  4. SavagesAdore Life
  5. Kevin Morby Singing Saw
  6. RadioheadA Moon Shaped Pool
  7. HindsLeave Me Alone
  8. Charles BradleyChanges
  9. Matthew Logan Vasquez – Solicitor Returns
  10. Adia VictoriaBeyond The Bloodhounds

10 Favorite Songs 2016 so far (alphabetical):

  • Adia Victoria – “Stuck in the South”
  • All Them Witches – “Death of Coyote Woman”
  • Car Seat Headrest – “Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales”
  • Car Seat Headrest – “Vincent”
  • Cassius feat. Cat Power and Mike D – “Action”
  • Charles Bradley – “Changes”
  • Kevin Morby – “Dorothy”
  • LNZNDRF – “Beneath the Black Sea”
  • Matthew Logan Vasquez – “Everything I Do Is Out”
  • Savages – “Adore”
George Pettis's (Olympia/Nashville/Atlanta) 1st Half in Music 2016:

Top Ten Albums of 2016 (so far):

a1796333516_16Sister Midnight and Déjå Blue, a.k.a. Kevin and Liam from one of the dopest rock bands in the world (Oh, Rose) put out this staggering collection of near-perfect songs this year, and they can be heard coming out of my speakers at least once a week now and I don’t know how or when that will stop happening. “Fuck Sleep” isn’t just the chillest jammer on the album, it’s also (by virtue of its title) a glimpse into what I imagine the writing process was like for these two mad scientists. I can clearly picture them up there in their rooms late into the night chiefing ganja and transforming through alchemy their madness into some semblance of sanity. The pairing of styles here is important to the equation; Kevin’s songs are straight garage rock-pop through a psychedelic rose quartz lense, while Liam has the electronic groove vibe down pat with them basslines ooh lawd. With these powers combined we get (no not Captain Planet) a flowy chilly vibed out jammer of a summer album. Pairs well with red table wine and fresh veggies followed by a heroic bong rip. /-GP

  1. Sister Midnight // Déjà Blue – “Dark Sour Split”
  2. Chris Weisman – “Hi”
  3. Hellier Ulysses – “Prime Example”
  4. Hello Ocho – “In Portuguese”
  5. Fantasy Guys – “On Poppy Island”
  6. Frankie Cosmos – “Next Thing”
  7. Erin Tobey – “Middlemaze”
  8. Rihanna – “Anti”
  9. Stephen Steinbrink – “Anagrams”
  10. Death Stuff – “Demos”

10 Favorite Songs 2016 so far (alphabetical):

  1. Anna Jeter – “85
  2. Chris Weisman – “Makachi”
  3. Déjå Blue – “Nubivagant
  4. Frankie Cosmos – “Outside with the Cuties”
  5. Guerilla Toss – “367 Equalizer”
  6. Mitski – “Your Best American Girl”
  7. Moses Nesh – “Prom (Oh, Rose cover)”
  8. Rihanna – “Work ft. Drake”  
  9. Sister Midnight – “Fuck Sleep
  10. Yani Mo – “Vine City”
Ian Ihde's (Minneapolis) 1st Half in Music 2016:

Top 10 Albums of 2016 (so far):

L1050448-230x201“Never mess with a good thing.” I’d always entertained the thought of Andrew Bird shaking things up, knowing full well the truth of that time-hardened phrase. Sure, from Weather Systems to Hands of Glory, Andrew Bird’s material had never been shy of revelatory, but for an artist with a catalog so verbose and a group of fans so loyal, why not take a chance? Lucky for us, Andrew Bird’s newest direction is both calculated and unprecedented. Are You Serious showcases a significant shift in style and content, with Bird not only employing a full band for the first time in his career, but also delving into his personal life more openly than ever before. The fact that Are You Serious is a culmination of so much change, while also managing to execute on the essential characteristics that we’ve come to expect from Bird, Are You Serious was the obvious selection for my mid-year 2016 standout.  /– II

  1. Andrew BirdAre You Serious
  2. WhitneyLight Upon the Lake
  3. Laura GibsonEmpire Builder
  4. M83Junk
  5. Parker MillsapThe Very Last Day
  6. David Bazan Blanco
  7. WintersleepThe Great Detachment
  8. TW WalshFruitless Endeavors
  9. MothersWhen You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired
  10. Matthew and the Atlas Temple

(BONUS) Top 10 Albums (Q2):

  1. Andrew Bird – Are You Serious
  2. Whitney – Light Upon the Lake
  3. Laura Gibson – Empire Builder
  4. M83 – Junk
  5. David Bazan – Blanco
  6. Matthew and the Atlas – Temple
  7. Band of Horses – Why Are You OK
  8. Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing
  9. Bootstraps – Homage
  10. Brass Bed – In the Yellow Leaf

10 Favorite Songs 2016 so far (alphabetical):

  • Andrew Bird – “Roma Fade”
  • Band of Horses – “Solemn Oath”
  • Courtney Barnett – “New Speedway Boogie”
  • Harriet – “Ten Steps”
  • Laura Gibson – “Empire Builder”
  • Margaret Glaspy – “Emotions & Math”
  • Mothers – “Blood-letting”
  • Pinegrove – “Old Friends’
  • TW Walsh – “Shallow Water”
  • Wintersleep – “Spirit”
Matthew Ellis's (Boston) 1st Half in Music 2016:

Top 10 Albums of 2016 (so far):

The Gotobeds

The Gotobeds

Blood // Sugar // Secs // Traffic from Pittsburgh-based punk-rockers The Gotobeds opens with as strong of a thesis statement as I’ve heard all year. On the opening track, “Real Maths/Too Much” lead singer Eli Kasan takes a glance at the ever-crowding genre he finds himself in and asks “Am I the only punk that is free?”. The band has been categorized as post-punk (their name is an homage to Robert Gotobed, drummer for Wire, a pillar of the genre) but they aren’t afraid to stretch the boundaries.

The Gotobeds aren’t wallowing in any sort of existential despair and don’t have any time for creating dirges. They are refreshingly self-assured in a way that can only come with being in the industry for a half-decade. The band wears their Pittsburgh roots proudly and you can hear it in the music. Album high point “Brass Not Rash” could be mistaken for surf punk at times, but for every high octave vocal there’s a growl right on its tail and when the guitar reaches for the sky it takes a nosedive into the mud right afterward. The classic Midwestern kindness and politeness with the hardscrabble interior always not far from the surface. When Kasan sings “I can be bought / But not sold”, he’s telling you that The Gotobeds are willing to listen to offers, but they’re the ones driving this negotiation. /-ME

  1. The GotobedsBlood // Sugar // Secs // Traffic
  2. WoodsCity Sun Eater in the River of Light
  3. Nap EyesThought Rock Fish Scale
  4. Parquet CourtsHuman Performance
  5. Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool
  6. Car Seat HeadrestTeens of Denial
  7. David BowieBlackstar
  8. MitskiPuberty 2
  9. Diarrhea PlanetTurn to Gold
  10. Sturgill SimpsonA Sailor’s Guide to Earth

10 Favorite Songs 2016 so far (alphabetical):

  • Avalanches – “Frankie Sinatra”
  • Hockey Dad – “Jump the Gun”
  • Japanese Breakfast – “Everybody Wants to Love You”
  • Mitski – “Your Best American Girl”
  • Nap Eyes – “Stargazer”
  • Nico Yaryan – “You Belong to Me”
  • PUP – “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will”
  • The Gotobeds – “Brass Not Rash”
  • The Julie Ruin – “I Decide”
  • Yung – “Uncombed Hair”
Mike Gerry's (Atlanta) 1st Half in Music 2016:

Top 10 Albums of 2016 (so far):

Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial

Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial

In our Q1 review I sang the praises of Athens, GA’s Mothers, who released their debut album When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired back in February, as my obvious best album of the year so far. With time, that luster hasn’t worn off of Mothers, still holding my top spot. But with Q2 in the books, the release of Car Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial brought the first true challenger to Mothers for my top spot. Consider these two albums 1A and 1B, definitely my most listened to albums of the year.

23 year old Will Toledo and his Car Seat Headrest project are a revelation of sorts. 12 albums released via Bandcamp since 2010, including last year’s Teens of Style, the 1st on Matador Records, which was a reworking of old songs. As Car Seat Headrest’s first official “new” release backed by a well respected indie label, Will Toledo has earned his stripes and the praise he has received. It’s obvious Toledo is one talented individual, but what’s so compelling is you can tell he soaks everything in, learning more about his craft along the way.

Teens of Denial is the perfect album to bring Car Seat Headrest to the forefront. Toledo has taken the best of rock ‘n’ roll from the past 30-40 years, and combined it into his own fresh voice. The comparisons have been thrown out there of having hints of names such as The Strokes, Guided By Voices, Nirvana, Yo La Tango, Neutral Milk Hotel, Television, and much like those bands, it’s not just the brand of rock ‘n’ roll that makes Car Seat Headrest great, but it’s the lyrics that really separate them. This isn’t some mindless teen singing about girls as if they’ve figured out everything there’s to know in the world, but instead a smart, lyrically evocative young man that’s not only introspective, but understands his place within his surroundings and generation. Toledo is still figuring his way in this galaxy, something we can all relate to.

I knew Teens of Denial was going to be a really strong album just based on the three singles (“Vincent”, “Fill in the Blank”, “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”) shared before the release, but Toledo didn’t stop there. This is a great album top to bottom, one of those albums where each song you want to say is your favorite, a sure mark of greatness. With 3 songs topping the 7:45 mark up to 11:31 (“The Ballad of the Costa Concordia”), these songs have twists and misdirections throughout that are a rarity in not only keeping your attention, but you want no end in sight. Mothers and Car Seat Headrest have already left a mark on 2016, a mark that’s sure to stick for years to come. /– MG

  1. Mothers – When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired / Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
  2. Parquet Courts – Human Performance
  3. Sunflower Bean – Human Ceremony
  4. Daughter – Not To Disappear  
  5. James Blake – The Colour In Anything
  6. David Bowie – Blackstar
  7. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
  8. Book of Colors – Book of Colors
  9. Little Tybee – Little Tybee
  10. Nap Eyes – Thought Rock Fish Scale

(BONUS) Top 10 Albums (Q2):

  1. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
  2. Parquet Courts – Human Performance
  3. James Blake – The Colour In Anything
  4. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
  5. Little Tybee – Little Tybee
  6. Fantasy Guys – On Poppy Island
  7. Hello Ocho – In Portuguese 
  8. Chelsea Shag – Colours
  9. Flamingods – Majesty
  10. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

10 Favorite Songs Q1 2016 (alphabetical):

  • Car Seat Headrest – “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia”
  • Cass McCombs – “Opposite House”
  • David Bowie – “Lazarus”
  • ex why – “Salt”
  • Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster – “Headed South”
  • Little Tybee – “Empire State”
  • Mothers – “Copper Mines”
  • Nap Eyes – “Stargazer”
  • New Madrid – “Summer Belles”
  • Whitney – “No Woman”

All contributors’ Favorite Songs from Q1 and 1st Half reviews 2016 currently on Spotify, added to the OE Favorite Songs 2016 playlist below:

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Mike Gerry

Head music fiend at OpenEars Music

4 Comments

  1. Great List. Great Music.
    Quick comment. I may have missed how you classify album releases but i am pretty sure the All them Witches album came out in 2014 and was re released in January of this year. Still and excellent album and Band.

    • Mike Gerry

      True, good catch. But I believe for this purpose of individual lists, that album counts as New West reissued the album, not really as a classic album, but putting out to the world as a “new” album that was only put out on Bandcamp with no push behind it. This is the push. I guess 🙂

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