YEAR END! – Top Records Of 2016

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2016 was on some bullshit, man. I didn’t dedicate a lot of time to the blog because shit just kept happening. I kept running into car related money problems. My personal life kept finding new and exciting ways to be terrible. And everything really kind of stopped after my dad died back in May.

I’m still trying to figure out how much longer I’m going to keep doing things here. I’m leaning more toward keeping up than I was back in October. I guess we’ll see where it all goes in the coming months. Anyway, here are my top 25 favorite records of 2016 in alphabetical order:

  • Angel Olsen – “My Woman”
  • Colleen Green – “Colleen Green”
  • Computer Magic – “Obscure But Visible”
  • Dowsing – “Okay”
  • Flock Of Dimes – “If You See Me, Say Yes”
  • Fucko – “Dealing With The Weird”
  • Frankie Cosmos – “Next Thing”
  • Haybaby – “Blood Harvest”
  • The Hotelier – “Goodness”
  • Japanese Breakfast – “Psychopomp”
  • Kindling – “Everywhere Else”
  • Kowabunga! Kid – “Wasting My Time”
  • Magik*Magik – “MAGIK*MAGIK”
  • Middle Part – “Middle Part”
  • Miserable – “Uncontrollable”
  • Mitski – “Puberty 2”
  • Museum Mouth – “Popcorn Fish Guinea Pig”
  • Nancy Pants – “Vol. 27 EP”
  • Orations – “Incantation”
  • Psychic Twin – “Strange Diary”
  • Sad Blood – “Legion Of Gloom”
  • Save Ends – “Hug Your Friends”
  • Signals Midwest – “At This Age”
  • Slingshot Dakota – “Break”
  • Slow Bloom – “Slow Bloom”

That’s the list. Yes, I know there are some high profile releases that I didn’t include. Most glaringly, I passed on the American Football record and the Jimmy Eat World record. I know I’m supposed to love those records, but I really didn’t.

In the immortal words of the Wu-Tang Clan: if you want beef, then bring the ruckus.

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REVIEW: Signals Midwest – “Light On The Lake”

“This band is maturing…” is often code for getting boring. You see it all the time, but especially with punk rock bands. It’s really has become kind of a cliché. As with any accepted rule, there are exceptions. Signals Midwest are a great example of a band maturing doesn’t always mean getting boring. On their third full length, the band has crafted a solid 40 minutes of enjoyable, complex punk rock songs. There are some growing pains, but it’s a great record overall.

Light On The Lake is an excellent record. It showcases the maturity of the band, both musically and lyrically. It builds on the foundation of earlier records, but adds enough to keep things interesting. It would have been easy enough to remake Burn The Blueprints or Latitudes And Longitudes, but that’s not an adventurous thing to do. Especially given how much of the band’s lyrics frequently broach the topic of change (and, in some cases, the lack of it). This theme is all over this record. It’s approached as a physical thing and a mental thing. Recognizing the fleeting nature of things is kind of an obtuse thing to write songs about, but Signals Midwest make it work.

Light On The Lake is a melodic punk album, superficially anyway. There are gruff vocals, driving guitars, and killer backing vocals are abound. There is a lot more to it than that. There are some emo and indie rock influences in here. There’s also a fair amount of post-hardcore influence. This is most notable in some structural aspects of the songs. A song can begin as a straight forward punk song, but then go off into a mathy direction for a minute. Guitar leads are strong, and not generically “punk.” It’s not uncommon for a song to abruptly change and go a different direction all together.

It’s that tendency that is both the greatest strength and most glaring weakness on this record. On the plus side, it keeps the record interesting. On the other hand, it makes certain songs sound a little disjointed. “Lowercase” being an example of the former, “In The Pauses” an example of the latter. It’s not a bad thing, I suppose. It just feels like sometimes ambition got out ahead of the band. It’s by no means a deal breaker, but it can get distracting when a slow to mid-tempo song all of a sudden takes a right turn into quick punk song via an extended solo. Especially when it feels like it’s happening on almost every other song.

Let’s get back to the point though. Light On The Lake is a great record. It exists in a world where a punk rock record doesn’t have to be a “punk rock” record. It shows that bands can grow and mature without compromising. And, ultimately, isn’t that the point?

REVIEW: Signals Midwest – "Latitudes And Longitudes"

I’m a total sucker for melodic punk rock. When it comes to bands in that genre, it takes a lot to not sound painfully redundant. In a world where every melodic punk band sounds like Latterman, it is nice to get something that really doesn’t. Fuck, this record is great.

Signals Midwest play a great mix of indie, punk, and post-hardcore. Maybe throw in a bit of Midwestern emo for good measure. Latitudes And Longitudes mixes all those little sub-genres into a very cohesive record. This is a sophomore record that shits all over the idea of sophomore slump. It takes what the band had on Burn The Blueprints and adds some new dimensions. Instead of another straight forward pop punk type record, we get a record full of great hooks, great leads and solos, strong choruses, and some great gang vocals in places. I keep trying to think of a way to describe the music on this, and all I can think of is A Wilhelm Scream played through a filter of later era Hot Water Music. Even that description seems a little lacking.

This record has a central theme of motion. Be it leaving or staying. There is the underlying idea that you can’t leave everything behind, no matter how much you may want to. Rarely does this kind of record ever get that in depth on such topics. There is a high level of sincerity that shines through. On the theme of distance, this line is repeated throughout the record:

“I was counting the miles.
You were counting the days.
Ain’t it strange the numbers we wanted
were moving in opposite ways.”

The songs that most stand out to me are “I Was Lost” and “Limnology.” Also of note is the slower, acoustic song “January & Seven.” If anything, these songs define this record to me.

To make the long story short, this is a great piece of punk rock. It shows that you don’t have to stick to the stupid formula to make a great record. If more punk bands could be this sincere, maybe the genre wouldn’t seem like such a fucking joke.

Signals Midwest
Tiny Engines
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