With 2016 near its end, it is time to reflect on the year’s finest releases. With a plethora of talented young artists having released impressive debuts and veteran artists returning with bold new albums, it has been a year filled with surprises and hope for the future of various genres. With so many anticipated albums finally seeing the light of the day amidst the release schedule, whittling it all down was a difficult task. Although, decisions need to be made and, ready to do so, CrypticRock has organized the Top 5 albums in a broad range of respective musical genres.
(Click on album artwork to read full album review)
Top 5 Alternative Rock albums:
Kaleo – A/B: Nominated for the best Alternative Rock Album of the Year for the 2017 Grammy’s, this stunning debut album blends Icelandic influences with classic Blues Rock. From the first listen, it was easy to see that these Icelandic musicians on Warner Records release would end 2016 at the top of the list of world wide rock charts.
Kings of Leon – Walls: Truly a work of art, Kings Of Leon show raw energy and passion like no other. With words of steel and hearts of gold, Walls perfectly displays everything that these guys stand for. Above all else, there is something special about each and every song off of this new and mastered record. Between bold ideas and perfectly gathered orchestration, Kings Of Leon are just what anyone needs to spruce up even a perfect life.
Night Riots – Love Gloom: Now signed to Sumerian Records, Night Riot’s first full-length album is for anyone who enjoys multiple styles of music ranging from Pop to Rock. Each song is just different enough that any one of them can stand alone as a favorite, and contributes to one powerhouse of an album.
Sonic Syndicate – Confessions: Standing at a crossroad in their career, the Swedish Sonic Syndicate healed themselves with a new lineup, new label in their backs, new producer, and finally a new sound! Turning their backs from earlier Death Metal roots to powerful, synth dominated Electro Metal, the Sonic Syndicate proves on Confessions that timeless Rock music can also be modern at the same time.
Switchfoot – Where The Light Shines Through: After listening to Switchfoot’s latest album, Where the Light Shines Through, one should realize that there is really more to the icing of the musical cake of the American Alternative Rock band. All one needs to do is get a little closer and listen a bit more closely to be able to penetrate the progressive spectrum within which Switchfoot’s music resides.
.Top 5 Hard Rock albums:
I Prevail – Lifelines: One of the brightest young bands in Hard Rock, I Prevail’s Lifelines is catchy, heavy, and potent. Anchored by the addictive single “Stuck in Your Head,” I Prevail will be one of the biggest acts before no time.
Kyng – Breathe In The Water: Perhaps one of the most overlooked bands in modern Hard Rock, Kyng’s Breathe In The Water is all attitude and shows no fear. Showing excellent vocal range, Eddie Veliz pushes and pulls at powerful emotions. Kyng get right to the point with their third album, and it easily holds its own.
Of Mice & Men – Cold World: With two tracks busting into mainstream with spots on the Billboard Top 200 (peaking at #20), the band from Costa Mesa, California made a statement with Cold War. Pulling at the Hard Rock influences that shaped their sound, this is a full transition record for the band that is a treat for Hard Rock and Metal fans.
Skillet – Unleashed: One of the hardest working bands in Rock, Skillet’s Unleashed is a perfect example of a natural progression of a band that keeps up with the times without losing who they are. A collection of fun and interesting songs, this album has something for everyone from in-your-face instrumentals to inspirational lyrics that provide hope in a dark world.
Lacey Sturm – Life Screams: With an unexpected comeback, former Flyleaf Singer Lacey Sturm enthralled fans with her solo debut album Life Screams. Laden with piano-hook driven tracks to electronic Pop and a cover version of The Police’s “Roxanne,” on Life Screams, Sturm offers the whole range and colors of modern Rock music in an impressive way!
Top 5 Hip Hop albums:
Arrested Development – Changing the Narrative: One of the original Alternative Hip Hop bands from the ’90s, Arrested Development still remain strong all these years later. Working independently of a record label, they dropped two albums in 2016, Changing the Narrative and This Was Never Home. Both bringing positive vibes, yet remaining topical, Arrested Development bring hope to modern Hip Hop.
Alicia Keys – Here: Since her debut Songs In A Minor rocked the 2002 Grammy Awards with 12 awards including Best New Artist, Best R&B Vocal, and Best Song, expectations for each new release from Keys have been high. An admitted perfectionist and workaholic, Here is a masterpiece from this highly talented singer-songwriter.
Solange- A Seat At The Table: From her first studio album in 2002, going back to her stint in Destiny’s Child at sixteen, Solange Knowles was destined for success. With her 2016 album, she does it again with Psychedelic Soul music influenced by the Motown sound that is second to none.
A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service: One of 2016’s biggest surprises, A Tribe Called Quest did more than release their first album in nearly two decades, they released one of the best albums of the year period. With beats, topics, and raps from one of the scene’s most adored artists, it is a fine swansong to the late Phife Dawg.
Top 5 Metal albums:
Avenged Sevenfold – The Stage: Returning with a mammoth concept album that deals with the impact of AI upon society, Avenged Sevenfold have evolved towards the Prog Metal side of music while delivering some of their most grown up songs to date. A must listen, this album is one of Metal’s best.
Gojira – Magma: Embracing the mysticism of natural elements and situations uncontrolled by human hands, Gojira exposes a deep vein of raw emotion with their sixth studio album, Magma. The avant-garde approach to Prog Metal strikes a vulnerable, humble and organic chord compared to previous albums, displaying exactly what successful risks are made of.
Insomnium – Winter’s Gate: Seven studio albums in, Finland’s progressively blackened Melodic Death heroes put forth their finest concept album yet with a grand story of Vikings travelling the rough seas and the perils they encounter along the way. The swiftly crafted change-ups throughout the album create and set the story line to perfection. The listener can quickly discover they have become completely submerged in a wonderfully fantastical tale told uniquely and intelligently in one forty-minute long masterpiece of a song.
Lacuna Coil – Delirium: The year 2016 proved to be a renaissance for Italy’s Lacuna Coil with their eighth studio album, Delirium. Without sacrificing the beauty and power of Cristina Scabbia’s haunting vocals, the band managed to push their sound, creating a heavier, turbo-charged atmosphere. With a more developed and fearless quality to their music, Lacuna Coil began a new chapter in 2016 with one of the best Heavy-Metal albums of the year.
Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake: Never counted in the classic Big Four of American Thrash Metal, Testament has nevertheless grown stronger with age. Brotherhood of the Snake solidifies them as tops in the genre, beating out all comers with an effort that is chock full of superior riffs, magnificent drumming, and the undying voice of Chuck Billy. For razor-sharp Thrash Metal, crushing heaviness, and consistent quality, look no further than these Bay Area veterans.
Top 5 New Wave/Synthpop albums:
Broods – Conscious: Compared with its predecessor, Broods’ latest release is a different beast; but a beautiful beast at that – musically, stylistically, and lyrically. One could only guess what new direction the New Zealand–based duo will take music enthusiasts in their next aural adventure. But for the meantime, surrender your consciousness to Broods’ sophomore album and feel musically liberated. Conscious is an epitome of Post-Synthpop at its best.
B Movie – Climate of Fear: It may have failed in its heyday to walk the red carpet of Post-Punk A-listers, but B-Movie can wave high its cult-status flag, especially with the release of Climate of Fear. The English band’s latest offering will not disappoint especially those who have it. Climate of Fear carries the band’s characteristic sound – less-complex song structures, trebley Joy Division–type rolling basslines, angular rhythm guitar strums, flanger-drenched guitar adlibs, minimal but melodic icy Kraftwerkian synthesizer parts, Bowie-esque baritone vocal styling, and romantically dark lyrics.
James – Girl at the End of the World: While its earlier works geared more towards the familiar sound of Post-Punk New Wave and Indie Pop and its penultimate album more progressive and more thematically and stylistically consistent, James has sort of loosened up a bit and wrapped up everything in its latest release. The result is Girl at the End of the World – a better-rounded affair, employing perhaps every musical style that James had explored, making this new release both familiar-sounding and contemporarily slick at the same time.
The Mission – Another Fall From Grace: If many longtime Gothic New Wave enthusiasts have been looking forward to a new The Mission album that is steeped with the English band’s trademark sound – Gothic, gloom, grace, and grates – then they will not be disappointed with Another Fall from Grace. Even new and younger fans of the genre can treat the album as their gateway to the classic Gothic sound of old.
Phantogram – Three: Synthpop’s relative newcomers Phantogram offers a fresh approach to the genre. The diversity and unpredictability of its music – as the American band exhibited once again through Three – has the power to keep its listeners yearning for more sonic surprises. Phantogram stands apart from many of its Synthpop-inspired contemporaries primarily because of its willingness to take advantage of a wider array of musical styles. Consider Three a proof of that.
Top 5 Pop Punk albums:
Blink-182 – California: Basically defining and trade stamping their own new wave of Pop Punk, Blink-182 has captured and transformed the minds of thousands with their introspective and indulgent music. It is hard to believe this well known and loved band formed back in 1992 and has continued creating absolutely insane albums alike California. Completely satisfying listeners and reaching the tops of some of the hottest charts, Blink-182 never disappoint; plain to see with this new piece added to their riveting and still growing discography.
Good Charlotte – Youth Authority: Following a four year hiatus, Waldorf, Maryland’s Good Charlotte returned in 2016 with their sixth studio album, Youth Authority. Released on the Madden Brothers’ new imprint, MDDN, the album contains twelve tracks of straight-up Pop Punk. Youth Authority displays perfectly Good Charlotte’s zest of life and music in their characteristic positive approach to lyrics, as well as their solid musicianship. Clearly, the five year hiatus did not leave the members of Good Charlotte rusty.
Simple Plan – Taking One For The Team: Surely a hit, Simple Plan have once again outdone themselves. With yet another brilliant album, Taking One For The Team just might be their best yet. Surely everything it was expected to be and more, nothing screams Simple Plan like beautiful artistry with pure Pop Punk passion.
Sum 41 – 13 Voices : Chronicling Vocalist Deryck Whibley’s hitting bottom; which landed him in the hospital at death’s door, to his epiphany to change his lifestyle, and cheating death, Sum 41 has created an album in 13 Voices that is so powerful that not only was it cathartic for them, but could persuade fans to change their lifestyles before there is no turning back.
Yellowcard – Yellowcard: Part of their goodbye to their fans, this self-produced final record is personal and raw. Elevating their individual musicianship, each member looks forward to what is to come. Looking forward to individual projects and simply being “normal,” they have certainly earned the luxury.
Top 5 Pop Rock albums:
Alice and The Glass Lake – CHIMÆRA: Not a well-known name in music, Alice Lemke was the brainchild of Alice and The Glass Lake. An Indie artist who spent years mastering her craft and composing songs that are dreamy and mesmerizing, Alice and The Glass Lake were destined for stardom. Tragically seeing her life cut short in 2015 due to a battle with leukemia, Lemke’s debut full-length saw the light of day in 2016. Full of hope, pain, and angelic vocals, this is a must listen and surely secures this talented artist’s legacy.
Daughter – Not To Disappear: Haunting, mesmerizing, emotionally charged are just some of the ways to describe Daughter’s sophomore release, Not To Disappear. The London-based Indie-trio captured our hearts and put listeners under their spell once again, this time fleshing out their sound and inviting one deeper into their world. The evolved soundscape the band created combined with Singer Elena Tonra’s ability to lay her soul bare, have made Not To Disappear a standout Pop/Rock album of 2016.
Fitz and The Tantrums – Fitz and The Tantrums: Taking their style in a new direction, Fitz and The Tantrums self-titled album is an upbeat and fresh approach to expanding their sound. Though it strays from the band’s initial sound, experimenting is the way for an artist to truly surpass their past endeavors. More mainstream and with a wider range in genre, the album lends a new facet to talented players.
Passenger – Young As The Morning Old as the Sea: One of the best albums in 2016 overall, Young as the Morning, Old As the Sea presents Folk Rock at its finest. Cinematic and dramatic, recorded in New Zealand, it is easy to hear the timelessness here. Truly an honor to review this album. Words can paint a picture and this music creates a masterpiece lyrically and instrumentally.
Ingrid Michaelson – It Doesn’t Have To Make Sense: Female empowerment was a strong theme in music in 2016, but pair that with honest and heartfelt lyrics, catchy melodies, as well as captivating vocals, and you’ll find one of the most notable releases of the year in Ingrid Michaelson’s, It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense. The singer-songwriter balances introspective moments with infectious and anthemic tunes. She inspires, breaks your heart, gets quirky, and makes you cheer along the way on her seventh studio release.
Top 5 Progressive Rock/Metal albums:
Animals As Leaders – The Madness of Many: Animals as Leaders’ The Madness of Many has everything one could want from a near-perfect album; roaring guitars, machine-like drums, and insane time signatures that would make even the smartest mathematician scratch their head. Every track is so different from each other, but it still manages to keep the traditional Animals as Leaders feeling.
Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence: With Transcendence, Devin Townsend has done just that, and surpassed expectations with an album more in line with his proggier material than the zaniness of the Ziltoid saga. Fans will find this worthy platter of emotive tunes well worth the wait.
Ihsahn – Arktis: Once a pioneer of second-wave Norwegian Black Metal, Vegard Tveitan, aka Ihsahn, went from the creative force in Emperor to a force all his own. Arktis is the sixth studio album by this expansive, restless artist. Less obscure than past efforts, its compositions range from trippy New-Wave to Prog and even features a taste of the old Black Metal feeling. Catchy, just a bit out there, but totally coherent, Arktis is a bold move and a truly great album.
Kansas – The Prelude Implicit: Kansas may already be a forty-three-year-old band with fifteen albums to boot, but its new offering proves to be a worthy addition to its legacy. The Prelude Implicit successfully combines the American band’s original Progressive Rock sensibilities, acoustic-flavored Orchestral Folk explorations, Metal flourishes, and Pop Rock leanings. This makes it both a sonic trek back in time and a taste of a mélange of various Rock genres.
Periphery – Periphery III: Select Difficulty: It is easy to see why Periphery’s latest album, Periphery III: Select Difficulty, is one of the best albums of the year. It is a fun, heavy, and extremely complex album. As the band continues to grow and expand their sounds to new heights, they also push the Djent movement forward with their well-deserved Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance.
Top 5 Rock albums:
Beware of Darkness – Are You Real?: A Rock band willing to take chances, Beware of Darkness’ sophomore album is a bold step forward. Doing their own thing and refusing to conform to trends, their unique guitar riffs and song structures offer hope to modern Rock-n-Roll. It showcases a perfect example of a band growing and exploring with instrumentation and songwriting. This is a band not to be overlooked.
David Bowie – Blackstar: So much has been said about the man himself and the music of the legendary, sonic chameleon David Bowie. The adventuresome English spirit rightly deserved all that. Twenty-five studio albums of diverse and eclectic music madness spread out on a half-a-century music career had inadvertently been concluded with Bowie’s Blackstar, which consisted of Bowie’s arguably most experimental songs that defied all expectations and dwelled on something sonically new from the creatively restless artist. A blend of Jazz, Avant-Garde, New Wave, Alternative Rock, and bits and pieces of much of what he dabbled on in his career, Blackstar may be taken also as Bowie’s lyrical farewell to the world. If these reasons are not enough for any Rock music aficionado to pick up Blackstar, then it is simply a shame.
The Pretty Reckless – Who You Selling For: Absolute brilliancy, The Pretty Reckless know exactly what they are doing when it comes down to Rock-n-Roll. Constantly taking measures to new heights with raw vocals and purely excellent instrumentation, this four piece is completely and utterly killing it. With an outstanding record such as Who You Selling for, The Pretty Reckless have climbed their way to the top and are sure to stay there for many more years of groundbreaking music to come.
Rival Sons – Hollow Bones: After making CrypticRock’s Best Albums of 2014 for their last record, Great Western Valkyrie, Neo-Rockers Rival Sons have once again proven that they have what it takes to create another one-of-a-kind, sophisticated record with 2016’s Hollow Bones. With Founder Scott Holiday on guitar, Jay Buchanan on vocals, Michael Miley on drums, and Dave Beste on bass, Rival Sons continue to prove their passion and talent with Hollow Bones, an album that holds true to the band’s original sound. Between Beste’s rock-hard, grinding bass, Buchanan’s haunting, plaintive laments, Holidays’ fuzzy, Hendrix-like guitar and Miley’s slamming kitwork, there is no doubt that Rival Sons will be a band that makes its mark in the hearts of both Classic Rock lovers and newly minted genre aficionados everywhere.
Wolfmother – Victorious: Wolfmother has always followed their own distinctive path and 2016’s Victorious once again claimed their unique and true sense of Psychedelic Rock-n-Roll. Stockdale’s ability to meld the years of signature style pulsed along every groove in this album. In due course, Victorious stood triumphantly among the top albums for 2016.
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