Quo Vadimus – The Best Songs of 2017

Every year since I was in high school I’ve had a tradition of compiling my favorite songs of the year and putting them together as a single mix. At first they were on cassette, then CD, and now digital. I only have a couple of rules:

  1. I have to have acquired the songs some time within the preceding year or else have been re-listening to them a lot during that time.
  2. Everything has to end up sounding good together, because a mix isn’t random, a mix is a carefully constructed montage of sound.

This year’s mix clocks in at around 2 hours and 2 minutes and features 31 of my favorite songs from 2017. I call it:

quo_vadimus_cover_only
Quo Vadimus

Note 1: these songs are not in order of rank they are in a play order from 1 to 31 and are designed to be listened to as such.

Note 2: I don’t have an online playlist of these songs anywhere other than the haphazard manner you find here because a) there’s no one service with a linkable playlist function that has them all and b)If you like them, you should buy them and make your own playlist. Streaming music is great for discovery, but a poor substitute for owning music and knowing you can play it anywhere … forever. Also, streaming pays musicians like crap.

Note 3: The actual list of songs was finished almost a month ago, it’s just taken me a while to finish this post.

1. At the Drive In
“Hostage Stamps”
in*ter a*li*a

I’m all for reunions, especially of bands that I became fans of just as or just after they initially broke up, but new material from reunited bands is another thing altogether. There have been some lackluster reunion albums that I can recall (Dismemberment Plan, Get Up Kids, Refused), but from time to time bands defy the odds. Such appears to be the case with At the Drive In. While not my favorite album of the year, At the Drive In’s In*ter a*li*a was better than I expected and definitely had a few memorable tracks. “Hostage Stamps” feels like the missing link between their seminal Vaya EP and their pre-breakup LP Relationship of Command. Drenched in rock bravado and split second change ups, but lilting and sardonically playful. I thought it was a good way to start off this year’s mix.

Purchase: https://riserecords.lnk.to/ATDI

2. Quiet Company
“Get Behind me Satan!”
It’s Not Attractive and it Changes Nothing

Eschewing a full release for a duo of EPs, Quiet Company in 2017 felt like a band pivoting and moving forward. I can’t quite put a finger on it, but since frontperson Taylor Muse‘s divorce, the various shifts in lineup, and the re-recording of their debut album Shine Honesty, Quiet Company has felt like they’ve been in a bit of a rut to me. On these two EP’s however I hear a band that feels both more comfortable and reinvigorated. “Get Behind me Satan!” Is a song that delivers all the best of what Quiet Company have to offer, with explosive pop-rock guitars, wispy introspection, and Taylor’s incendiary lyric writing and vocal delivery. It’s a track that’s got me excited about this band in a way that I hadn’t been in years.

Purchase: https://quietcompany.bandcamp.com/album/its-not-attractive-and-it-changes-nothing

3. 4×4
“Nada de Nada”
Puratraccion

This is the first of my SXSW finds of the year on this mix. A pop punk band from Columbia, 4×4 managed to impress me both on their album and live, proving that punk rock and music in general transcends language and perceived cultural barriers.

Purchase: https://4x4music.bandcamp.com/album/puratraccion

4. Basketball Shorts
“This Summer”
This Summer

With every release, Basketball Shorts up their game a little bit and while they weren’t terribly prolific this year, the single “This Summer” again showed just how much they have to offer. Packed with mellow riffs and wistful vocals, “This Summer” is a song about summer love and with nary a mention of Travolta or Olivia Newton-John. “This Summer” moves quick, but makes its mark with riffs that I absently find myself humming and a beat that’s easy to tap my toes to. This is the perfect song to throw on the stereo while relaxing by the water with someone you dig, holding hands, and watching the sunset. Once again, Basketball Shorts have proven themselves mix worthy.

Purchase: https://basketballshortsatx.bandcamp.com/album/this-summer-ep

5. Channels
“Backpfeifengesicht”
Backpfeifengesicht b/w Airstrip One

Seemingly out of nowhere J. RobbinsChannels came back on the scene this year with a two song offering. Comprised of Robbins, his wife Janet Morgan, and drummer extraordinaire Darren Zentek, Channels had been on hiatus since the diagnosis of Robbins and Morgan’s son Callum with Spinal Muscular Atrophy in 2007. Robbins however continued to put out some solo work, a couple of collaborations, an LP for his Office of Future Plans project, and to continue is work as a noted record producer. There’s word that he has something planned for 2018, which may be a solo album or perhaps something from Channels, but regardless it was nice hearing this band again. As a fan of Robbins’ work there’s a specific quality he brings both in voice and guitar work to everything he does, but the unique combination of himself, Morgan, and Zentek on Channels was always enticing. Channels also tends to feature Robbins’ more political writing and “Backpfeifengesicht” is no exception in this regard.

Purchase: https://channels.bandcamp.com/album/backpfeifengesicht-b-w-airstrip-one

6. Worriers
“My 85th Rodeo”
Survival Pop

I’ve listened to a lot of Worriers this year. While having seen them play SXSW in 2016, I didn’t pick up their debut LP until 2017, just in time for their sophomore release Survival Pop. While their new album feels a little less political or pointed than the first, it’s no less woke and no less impactful. Worriers play a brand of singer-songwriter punk rock that’s reminiscent of Ted Leo, while standing firmly on its own two legs. Introspective, but energetic and determined, “My 85th Rodeo” is the perfect track to introduce their new LP.

Purchase: https://worriers.bandcamp.com/album/survival-pop

7. Mutoid Man
“Melt Your Mind”
War Moans

I hope Stephen Brodsky never stops making music. From the early (and later) days with Cave In, to his various side projects, and now Mutoid Man, Brodsky never stops being one of the most intriguing frontpeople in the business. With their third release and second LP, Mutoid Man continue doing what they do best, that being the playing of seriously face melting metalcore. Seeing Mutoid Man live tells you all you need to know about them. These guys are just having a great time and you can either join in or get lost. “Melt Your Mind” is a song designed to do exactly that and serves as a showcase for Brodsky’s full-throated metal crooning.

Purchase: https://mutoidman.bandcamp.com/album/war-moans

8. Otoboke Beaver
“Anata Ga Falling Love Shita No Ha Watashi Ga Kirai Na Onnanoko”
Okoshiyasu!! Otoboke Beaver

This is another of my SXSW finds this year. Seeing them live, they appear at first blush to be a quartet of demure Japanese girls as they come on stage in matching primary colored dresses. The illusion then shatters as they break into a set of raucous pop-tinged hardcore punk. It’s brutal and frenetic, and captivating all at once. These girls are doing what punk does best: taking expectations and turning them on their ear.

Purchase: https://otobokebeaver.bandcamp.com/album/okoshiyasu-otoboke-beaver

9. The Red Heroes
“Player 2”
Six Sad Songs

“Melancholy memorial”, “soaring tribute”, “emotional outreach”, all these terms and more describe the musical rollercoaster that is The Red Heroes’ “Player 2”. Penned in memory of a band member’s son lost to Preeclampsia, the track opens innocently enough with a noodly bass line, the crisp patter of drums, and an upbeat punk rock riff underscoring a mournfully relatable lyrical lament. Halfway through the song, guitarist Travis “T-Baby” Bennett appears to be building towards a formulaic guitar solo to close the track out, but instead the song shudders to a stop and takes an emotional gasp of air before the band explodes together in a torrent of melodic anguish. No longer able to hold back, Bennett roars forth with a soaring, inspired guitar solo that’s both heartbroken and triumphant, a light speed journey through the stages of grief that culminates with the entire band joining together for the final refrains of “I’ll always remember you/I’ll always remember/Because you were my player 2”. After having stumbled upon then during Free Week a couple of years ago, The Red Heroes continue to be one of my absolute favorite local bands and “Player 2” is a perfect example of why.

Purchase: https://theredheroes.bandcamp.com/album/six-sad-songs

10. GoGo Penguin
“Hopopono”
v2.0

Another SXSW pick, but one I didn’t actually get in to see. A pseudo jazz/post rock band with a heavy piano focus, GoGo Penguin at first reminded me of the quieter moments on recordings by Canadian post rockers Do Make Say Think though in practice a comparison to the earlier works of BADBADNOTGOOD is likely more apt. Having gotten to know their work more since SXSW, I really wish I had gotten in to see them live. I’m betting it would have been a highlight of the week.

Purchase: https://gogopenguin.bandcamp.com/album/v20-deluxe-edition

11. Hikes
“Timothy”
Lilt

Hikes had been teasing their latest release for a couple of years and while I was not at all disappointed with the work, I was a little sad that it was only four songs. “Timothy” starts soft and simple with the soothing sound of Nathan Wilkins’ singing set to a folksy guitar riff, the track quickly becomes something much more energetic and complex as it evolves over the course of the next four minutes. Bouncing back and forth between quiet calm and exuberant electricity, “Timothy” takes simple themes and explores them in a variety of settings. Hikes experiment with the composition and complexity of the initial riff with each iteration, all the while ramping up the tension subtly. The whole thing comes to a head in the song’s final act as the band erupts in a joyous noise, a crashing crescendo that quickly slips back into the simple softness of the song’s opening moments. Quiet as a breeze, unexpected and invigorating as a passing storm, “Timothy” is Hikes in a nutshell.

Purchase: https://hikes.bandcamp.com/album/lilt

12. LITE
“Else”
Cubic

I’m really happy that I’ve gotten the chance to see LITE twice in the past at SXSW. LITE produce the kind of super technical post rock that sets your brain on fire seeing it played live. Playful and experimental, yet tight as a drum and brimming with technical expertise, “Else” off of their latest LP is the perfect expression of what this band does best.

Purchase: https://liteband.bandcamp.com/album/cubic-5th-album

13. The Octopus Project
“Wrong Gong”
Memory Mirror

One of The Octopus Project‘s most consistent threads (aside from razor-sharp production and execution) is to expect the unexpected. As it turns out, their 6th LP is yet another expectedly unexpected release for the band. Memory Mirror maintains the singular electro-analog thread that has been the band’s sonic hallmark since their inception, while blazing forward into rocking new territories. Now that I’ve gotten to know it, it may actually be my favorite Octopus Project album ever. Simultaneously embracing the succinctness and brevity of their early albums, while continuing along the electro pop course set by more recent releases, Memory Mirror is a fun house reflection of where The Octopus Project has been, but distorted in bizarre and wonderful ways in the present. Brimming with enthusiasm, charmingly pop, and massively accessible, Memory Mirror is a solid summer album for digital and analog fans alike.

Purchase: https://theoctopusproject.bandcamp.com/album/memory-mirror

14. And So I Watch You From Afar
“Dying Giants”
Endless Shimmering

With their latest LP it feels like And So I Watch You From Afar have come full circle. Endless Shimmering takes everything the band has done over the last decade and mashes it together in ways that paradoxically still rock. “Dying Giants” itself is a mix of the pure fury of songs like “I Capture Castles” off of their self-titled debut, the delicate symphony of “7 Billion People…” Off of Gangs and the spacey, progressive vibe of songs like “Heirs” off of the album of the same name. It works brilliantly and I hope I get a chance to hear it live sometime soon.

Purchase: https://asiwyfa.bandcamp.com/album/the-endless-shimmering

15. Blissing Room
“Know You”
Comfort Life Eternal

The obligatory pop song. Although “pop” for me is still going to come from a band that you’ve likely never heard of. Blissing Room‘s LP was a decent effort, but in the end the only track that really stuck out was this one. The interplay of analog and digital with solid pop hooks really shines here and though there are attempts at the same thing on the rest of the album it’s never as successful as it is in “Know You”. That being the case however, I’m still going to be keeping an ear on this group in the future.

Purchase: https://blissingroom.bandcamp.com/track/know-you

16. Born Again Virgins
“Quantify”
Born Again Virgins

Born Again Virgins‘ self titled EP was one of those pleasant surprises of the year. I generally plan on discovering a certain amount of punk, post, and indie rock during the year, but good singer-songwriter stuff tends to come when I least expect it. Hailing from here in Austin, Born Again Virgins struck me as having a very 90’s sound with elements of Tracy Chapman immediately coming to mind and in a couple of instances the early experimentalism of late 90’s Radiohead. All told it was a nice taste of what I hope is more to come from this act.

Purchase: https://bornagainvirginsmusic.bandcamp.com/album/born-again-virgins

17. Magia Negra
“Something You Want”
In the Dark

Magia Negra (now Lolita Lynne)’s debut LP In The Dark is rife with themes of seduction, obsession, and lust, relying heavily on the allure of front woman Lolita Carrol‘s breathy vocals to drive its narratives. Subtle and sensual, her delivery evokes a sense of hearing something secret, something personal, of private “dear diary” thoughts. On “Something You Want” the quiet introduction is juxtaposed by the full band crashing to completion in its final moments, an emotional counterbalance to the subtle build and sensual suggestion it proceeds. In The Dark is a rainy afternoon album wearing a mischievous smirk, a singer-songwriter confessional that’s also an ensemble jam with a simple beauty and quiet sophistication that underscores both the crashes and the subtlety.

Purchase: no longer available

18. The Effects
“Back and Forth”
Eyes to the Light

What can I say about The Effects? I feel like I’ve had a song by a Devin Ocampo led band on my mixes almost every year for the last 15 years. While no longer working with long time partner in crime Chad Moller, Ocampo still manages to craft a decent album’s worth of technical, but loose guitar noodling, baroque compositions, and mind-altering time changes. While less jazzy than his previous band’s efforts and more rooted in classic rock, I’m still down for what The Effects have to offer and “Back and Forth” off of their debut LP is a perfect example of why.

Purchase: https://theeffects.bandcamp.com/album/eyes-to-the-light

19. Ballerino
“Leopard Tat”
Mobile Eyes / Leopard Tat

I’ve been following Ballerino for a few years now and while I’ve enjoyed their psychedelic post rock style, I haven’t quite been able to find any one song that I’d recommend as a sort of thesis statement about their sound. On their latest release, Ballerino offer up a duo of new tracks, one of which may have finally given me the song to recommend the band on. “Leopard Tat” opens with layers of crisp, noodling guitar and bass, laced with just a hint of distortion. It’s a warm summer breeze, pleasant, but with a bit of a bite. A third of the way through the tempo adjusts, putting a spring in its step and adopting a folky, Allman-esque drawl. The drums tap along, lightly, but warm, and buoyed by delightedly indulgent fills. Breezy vocals waft in like a quick wash of rain, marrying perfectly to the instrumental mix. The back third of the song returns us to the slow breeze of the opening, but with a bit more edge. The intensity ramps up as the guitar noodling is accompanied by a jolt of vibrant chords and the crash of cymbals, ultimately petering out, drifting off into the afternoon.

Purchase: https://ballerino666.bandcamp.com/album/mobile-eyes-leopard-tat

20. Dude Elsberry
“Flower Cup”
hon

Another local band, but this time one that I randomly heard about through a tweet on one of my local music lists. Dude Elsberry immediately reminded me of Chicago-style instrumental post punk, bands like: Dianogah, Ghosts and Vodka, and really anyone connected to the Kinsella boys. If you’re familiar with that stuff than you know what to expect here: late 90’s emo/post punk, without the words. Lots of noodling, twinkly bits, and time changes, but with a distinct 90’s post punk sound coming from a pedigree of hardcore. “Flower Cup” really captures the essence of that for me.

Purchase: https://dudeelsberry.bandcamp.com/album/hon

21. US Weekly
“New Obsessions”
US Weekly

The artful swagger of Nation of Ulysses, the hoarse vocals of Black Flag, the irreverent playfulness of Pixies, and the social awareness of countless bands before them. All and yet none of this describes US Weekly, though on their new self-titled LP they’ve come out swinging again, demonstrating why they’ve consistently remained one of Austin’s most interesting and vital acts. “New Obsessions” explores the scary realities faced daily by women both in the real world and online. “Tries to follow you home refuses to leave you alone / blocking out his fiendish moans / why why why” growls singer Chris Nordahl over the sound of flanged guitars and reverby strums, that serve to create a growing sense of unease culminating in a static-laden outro like something out of a horror movie soundtrack. US Weekly is easily the most “punk” album I’ve heard in a long time and another huge step forward for this band. It’s subversive, edgy without trying to be hip, and woke as fuck. In the age of Trump, so-called “men’s rights activists”, corporate cronyism, and actual goddamn Nazi’s, this is the kind of album we need.

Purchase: https://usweekly.bandcamp.com/album/us-weekly-s-t

22. Sweet Spirit
“Pamela”
St. Mojo

I was lukewarm on Sweet Spirit‘s first LP even though they were capturing the adoration of nearly every music critic in Austin. All the pieces were there for something I should have liked, but the construction didn’t please me. I wasn’t about the write them off however. For one thing, frontperson Sabrina Ellis is just too damn good to be ignored, both as a singer and a performer. So when their second LP dropped this past year I decided to give it a chance. What I found was much more to my liking, but the first track that really grabbed my ears was this soulful ode to Pamela Anderson. While I don’t share Ellis’ adoration for the former Baywatch star, I’ll listen to her sing about her all day long.

Purchase: https://sweetspirittheband.bandcamp.com/album/st-mojo

23/24. The Sour Notes
“Loose Leaf and Bleak” / “Parallel Action”
Darkest Sour

Having perfected their own brand of often dreamy, frequently rocking psych pop over nearly a decade, the sound of Darkest Sour at first blush will be familiar to anyone who’s heard The Sour Notes before. The band revels in brevity while still honoring classic pop-rock song motifs and strives to keep their songs short and sweet while eschewing repetition in favor of variety. Darkest Sour takes some new turns however. A greater focus on guitar tone and intensity is prevalent on much of the album and adds a welcome edge to The Sour Notes sound, while also allowing for the character of individual tracks to reveal themselves in new ways. “Loose Leaf and Bleak” closes out side one of the album with an ominous growl, bolstered by tense tickles of cymbal and the menace of a B5 sounding synth. The subtle bursts of lead guitar through the verse evoke the feeling of a thriller soundtrack to a movie where something unknown and dangerous potentially lurks around every turn. The song goes through several evolutions, quieting down about halfway through for frontperson Jared Boulanger’s wailing refrain of “No apologies, all apologies” and then ramping back up into a greasy, bluesy guitar solo before the final lines of “Here every night starts over with another dumb mistake” judder into the track’s final moments. “Parallel Action” comes seamlessly on “Loose Leaf”‘s heels with a poppy, psych rock instrumental, featuring layered guitars, both swaggering and dreamy, ultimately losing itself in a wild haze of an outro.

Purchase: https://thesournotes.bandcamp.com/album/darkest-sour-lp

25. Ted Leo
“Lonsdale Avenue”
The Hanged Man

Ted Leo came out of semi-exile last year after kickstarting a campaign to record a new album under his own name, the first in 7 years. As it turns out, Ted’s been through a lot in that time and not all of it was good. As fuel for the fire, the result of those experiences come through in an album that’s spans the breadth of Ted’s stylistic growth, while adding something new to the mix as well. It’s a much more personal album than previous releases, at times evoking the isolation of his first album Tyranny of Distance. “Lonsdale Avenue” is such a song and recalls Tyranny opener “Biomusicology” for me, but nearly two decades removed and aged by the maturity of life experience.

Purchase: https://www.tedleo.com/

26. Frank Turner
“The Sand in the Gears (live)”
The Sand in the Gears

Frank kept busy in 2017 by touring (what else is new) and preparing a new album with some very new ideas on it. Early in the year however he surfaced this single, recorded live at a show in Maryland. Never one to shy away from political discourse, “The Sand in the Gears” is at once lament and rallying cry, a reaction mainly to the election of Donald Trump, but also to Brexit, and the backwards ideas coming out of the formerly dark corners of social media. This is a proper protest song full of anguish, outrage, and hope.

Purchase: https://www.amazon.com/Sand-Gears-Live-Frank-Turner/dp/B01N17W3N7

27. L.A. Salami
“Going Mad as the Street Bins”
Dancing with Bad Grammar

The last of my SXSW 2017 finds in this year’s mix, L.A. Salami immediately conjured images of Frank Turner in my head. Obviously the accent helps, but there’s something in the style that feels distinctly punk, but maybe it’s just a British thing. As I spent more time with his music, I evolved my analysis toward something more akin to a fusion of Hendrix and Dylan, with some Billy Bragg thrown in for good measure. The core is folk, but there’s a heart of soul and a smattering of hip-hop/punk outsider status as well. “Going Mad as Street Bins” is a pretty good primer for what to expect.

Purchase: http://hyperurl.co/DwBG

28. Jason Isbell
“Hope the High Road”
The Nashville Sound

My only chance to see Frank Turner live this past year was opening for Jason Isbell down in New Braunfels. I hadn’t heard of Isbell before, but if Frank was touring with him I figured I’d give him a shot. My mileage on more traditional Country and Americana tends to vary, but Isbell is right in my wheelhouse. Not too twangy, a good mix of solo skill and band prowess, and absent the politically and socially problematic parts that regrettably often come with this style of music. “Hope the High Road” almost feels like a companion piece to Frank’s “The Sand in the Gears”. Both songs reference recent turmoil and the personal toll it’s taken and both offer hope as well. There’s a sentiment throughout Isbell’s entire album that it’s time for old things to go away and that while change is hard, it’s both good and necessary.

Purchase: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-nashville-sound/id1216344634?app=itunes

29. Conor Oberst
“Too Late to Fixate”
Salutations

Oberst‘s full band version of last year’s solo piano and harmonica songs plus several new tracks got a lot of play from me this year. This may be the most I’ve played anything by Oberst since Bright EyesI’m Wide Awake it’s Morning. This is Conor Oberst the way I like him and this is the way I like my folk music, full of harmonicas, accordions, fiddles, pianos, and plenty of finger plucking.

Purchase: http://smarturl.it/Salutations

30. The Accidentals
“Crows Feet”
Odyssey

The first time I heard this song off of The Accidentals‘ latest LP Odyssey was on the last night of SXSW this past March. The show was upstairs at some barbecue place on Congress and they had cleared the dining area to make room for a stage and seating. I recall sitting there in the crowd, transfixed by this song, much the same way I had been when I first saw this band play the previous year. When I heard the song again after it was released I was transfixed all over again, sitting at my desk at work, and oblivious to anything around me for 6 whole minutes. I don’t know what it is, but these kids have a power over me … and they’re still way too talented for their age!

Purchase: https://www.theaccidentalsmusic.com/

31. Do Make Say Think
“Return, Return Again”
Stubborn Persistent Illusions

I was both surprised and happy to hear last year that Do Make Say Think had not disappeared as I thought they had. While it had been 7 years since their last release, the band was back with a new LP and it did not disappoint in the slightest. This band just doesn’t sound like any other instrumental rock band. It’s not merely the addition of brass, woodwind, and string instruments to the mix that does it, there’s an ineffable quality that makes them unique and puts them in a class all their own. I hate to end a mix with someone’s final album track, but I needed DMST on this mix and “Return, Return Again” is just a lovely, joyful, mesmerizing, and entrancing track to end on. I hope it doesn’t take the band 7 more years to follow-up and maybe they can find their way down from Canada to Austin as well.

Purchase: https://domakesaythink.bandcamp.com/album/stubborn-persistent-illusions

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This Machine Kills Fascists – The Best Songs of 2016

Every year since I was in high school I’ve had a tradition of compiling my favorite songs of the year and putting them together as a single mix. At first they were on cassette, then CD, and now digital. I only have a couple of rules:

  1. I have to have acquired the songs some time within the preceding year or else have been re-listening to them a lot during that time.
  2. Everything has to end up sounding good together, because a mix isn’t random, a mix is a carefully constructed montage of sound.

This year’s mix clocks in at around 2 hours and 28 minutes and features 35 of my favorite songs from 2016. I call it:

thismachine
This Machine Kills Fascists

Note 1: these songs are not in order of rank they are in a play order from 1 to 35 and are designed to be listened to as such.

Note 2: I don’t have an online playlist of these songs anywhere other than the haphazard manner you find here because a) there’s no one service with a linkable playlist function that has them all and b)If you like them, you should buy them and make your own playlist. Streaming music is great for discovery, but a poor substitute for owning music and knowing you can play it anywhere … forever. Also streaming pays musicians like crap.

Note 3: The actual list of songs was finished over a month ago, it’s just taken me a long time to finish this post.

1. Russian Circles
“Mladek”
Empros

Every year end mix starts with me trying to find the perfect first song. Once I find it, the rest just starts falling into place almost automatically. It took me a few weeks of experimentation before I finally realized that this year, “Mladek” off of Russian Circles‘ 2011 LP Empros was that song.

Empros is an album that I’ve had almost as long as it’s been out, though I had only given it and the rest of their discography a few scant listens despite having seen the band live several times at festivals or in support of other acts over the years. Leading up to yet another live appearance (where the main draw for me had been opener Helms Alee) I put Russian Circles’ catalog on heavy rotation and turned myself from a lowercase “f” fan to an uppercase “F” one. “Mladek” was a big part of that transformation.

The second track off of Empros, “Mladek” is a beast. The ferocity of this song – both brutal and beautiful – pretty much summed up 2016 for me as a whole and given the heavy rotation I gave it over the last couple of months, it was the push that this years mix needed to get started.

2. The Killing Floor
“Corruption Capital”
Corruption Capital

Another older song, but one that was new to me this year. Killing Floor were one of my SXSW picks that I didn’t get out to see, though this song really stuck with me. “Corruption Capital” reminds me of Muse’s heavier moments, but sadly the rest of the band’s repertoire that I could find (all 2014 or before) didn’t grab me the same way. I’ve yet to check out the EP they released more recently on which “Corruption Capital” again appears though, so maybe I’ll find something more along these lines there. If not, then that’s OK. This is still a powerful jam.

3/4. East Cameron Folkcore
“Enemy of the Times”, “Director’s Cut”
For sale

While East Cameron Folkcore did release a very good album this year, given the state of 2016 (especially toward the end) I felt a lot more affinity for a couple tracks from their 2013 release For Sale. “Enemy of the Times” and “Director’s Cut” always almost always come as a pair to me. Following each other on the album, they’re already meant to go together, however there’s a deeper connection between the two that plays out even when attempting to listen to them outside of that context.

“Enemy of the Times” comes on like the apocalypse, full of grim bluster and tortured noise. “Director’s Cut” strikes a more soothing tone, but is still indignant in it’s own way. Together the two strike a balance of terror and defiance amid the band’s cacophonous fury.

If there’s a section of this year’s mix that’s a commentary on the political state of the world in 2016 then it’s these first four songs and these two tracks perfectly express the terror, uncertainty, and the barest glimmer of hope for us ahead in 2017 and beyond.

5. Ruby & The Reckless
“Rainbows”
Rainbows – Single

This years obligatory “pop song that I inexplicably cannot get out of my head” award goes to “Rainbows” by Ruby & The Reckless. I’m already a sucker for violins in pop and rock music to begin with, so they kinda had me from the start, but there’s something about the construction and execution of this song that just grabs me. The entire song is a progressive build, but in no way cheaply done and with moments of anticipation and payoff throughout until the explosive conclusion. I was sad that the full length that followed this single didn’t grab me in the same way, but regardless I still have “Rainbows” … over my eyes.

6. HoneyHoney
“You & I”
3

Not long before leaving Virginia, my friend Amy dragged me out to a show by a band she had just discovered called HoneyHoney. They were sort of an indie rock, alt-country affair and I immediately dug what I heard. For me it wasn’t an unheard of reaction as the right combination of fiddles, banjos, and such tends to do that to me. I’ve managed to keep up with the band over the years and there are always a few really stellar tracks to come off of their releases, “You & I” being one of my favorites off of their 3rd LP from 2015.

7. Andrew Bird
“Are You Serious”
Are You Serious

Late in the year I began thinking “It’s been a while since I’ve heard a proper new LP from Andrew Bird“, at which point I noticed that he had indeed dropped such a thing earlier in the year without my having noticed. After almost a decade listening to his work, I don’t expect Andrew Bird to blow me away any longer, but based on that output I have high expectations and keeping up with those is good enough for me. I’m happy to say that Are You Serious does just that. While packed with quality songs, the title track was the one that stuck out the most to me.

8. The Deer
“Reflections on Moonstone Beach”
Tempest & Rapture

My first exposure to The Deer was seeing them open for Wild Child late in 2015. It was enough to put them on my radar and then after seeing them again during SXSW I decided to become a fan just before they dropped their second LP Tempest & Rapture. I’ve never quite been able to find the right words to describe The Deer, but “psychedelic folk” is about as close to describing their sound as anything. There’s an Appalachian, jam band-ish quality to their sound at times that melds nicely with an ever-present, ethereal vibe and Grace Park’s entrancing vocals. As a whole this latest LP is more of a mood piece, great in the background, but light on singles. Still, there are a few stand out tracks, such as this one.

9. The Accidentals
“Blessed”
Bittersweet

The Accidentals are this year’s SXSW success story for me. Originally just one of the random groups on my list, seeing these kids live won me over in a HUGE way. A trio of early 20’s kids from Michigan, these multi-instrumentalists laid on the charm and proved their musical prowess in person. They also showed their business savvy in a big way by offering their first LP for free at SXSW. Seriously, don’t sell your album at SXSW if you’re small and looking to be bigger, give it away. I would have bought it anyway, but the gesture and the foresight behind it was endearing. There are any number of great tracks off of this LP, but the closing track “Blessed” continues to give me chills in the best possible way nearly a year later. If this were a ranking and not a playlist, it would be in the top 5 … easily.

10. Mr. Lif
“Everyday We Pray”
Don’t Look Down

At this point I’m pretty sure that Lif will never give me a release that I adore as much as his epic 2002 LP I, Phantom, but I’m willing to recognize when he comes close and this year’s Don’t Look Down (his first LP in a while) was the closest he’s come in some time. While in the end the album doesn’t live up to the promise of it’s opening moments (or perhaps just my lofty worship of I, Phantom) there are some great tracks within and “Everyday We Pray” is one without a doubt, even if the subject matter seems a bit more pious than I usually hold with.

11. Lushlife / CSLSX
“Totally Mutual Feeling”
Ritualize

If you like your rap rolled “over soul beats like that” then Lushlife is the man you need to listen to and Ritualize is full of smooth hip-hop jams. Lush is one of those rare hip-hop creatures: a top-notch DJ mixed with a genius lyricist. Having seen him live a couple times at SXSW I’m always hip to hear something from him and “Totally Mutual Feeling” was one of a few tracks I kept coming back to from this release again and again.

12. Aesop Rock
“Rings”
The Impossible Kid

As if Lif weren’t enough, we had the reemergence of Aesop Rock with his first solo LP in several years. This album was on heavy rotation for me this year and in my opinion may even rival  Aes’ seminal Labor Days LP. It’s tough to pick any one song off of The Impossible Kid to highlight as it may as well just be an album worth of quality singles, but as someone who also “used to draw”, “Rings” cut deep for me. It’s just one of an album full of autobiographical tunes that see Aes digging down deep and pulling up some of the best work of his career.

13. Megafauna
“Hogs Out”
Welcome Home

While I never really consider myself a big Megafauna fan, I always like what they put out. This years LP Welcome Home saw the band shifting from their classically styled heavy rock into more progressive and psychedelic waters and the results were both different and interesting. While there were several stand out tracks on the album, I chose to highlight “Hogs Out” here, even though it’s sadly bereft of one of Dani Neff’s blistering solos.

14. Borzoi
“I Feel Alien”
Pinnacle 7″

Borzoi have been teasing Austin with EP’s for a couple years now and while I’m grateful for the semi-constant stream of music, I wouldn’t mind seeing an LP sometime soon. Mostly punk, but with classic rock and hardcore elements alike, Borzoi’s output always feels fresh and different. “I Feel Alien” is an almost perfect example of that blending of style and tone, with its punk intro and classic rock solo blending perfectly together to create something paradoxical and cool.

15. Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes
“Sundance Kid”
Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes

Like the bastard children of Nivana’s Kurt Kobain and My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes offer up a noisy, yet nuanced wall of sound that I like to think of as Grunge Gaze. While it may be easiest to immediately recognize CSSS by monster guitar assaults like album opener “(I)”, where the band really excels for me is when they slow things down and ditch the seemingly 300 guitars for a scant 20 or so. In these moments they almost remind me of Dinosaur Jr. by way of Alice in Chains: thoughtful, but sparse lyrics over threadbare rhythms and stoned beats, with a hint of menace lurking around every riff. “Sundance Kid” is one of those songs. I don’t know that Grunge & Western was ever a genre, but it is now.

16. Sweet Spirit
“Baby When I Close My Eyes”
Cokomo

While I love Sabrina Ellis‘ voice and she’s easily one of the most energetic front persons for any band ever, I’ve never gone all in on any album she’s recorded for one of her many bands over the years. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments and “Baby When I Close My Eyes” is one of them. In addition to having one of my favorite music videos of the year, this is just an expertly crafted pop/rock song. The guitar riff kills and Ellis’ dreamy, sultry vocals conjure a weird Abba vibe, while the strings toward the end of the song add a regal tone. It’s almost a perfect song.

17. Good Talk
“Chill Hill”
Good Talk

I’m just going to come out and say it, Good Talk are channeling Slanted and Enchanted era Pavement in the best possible way and I’m more than okay with that. Seriously though, there’s a lot more going on with this band than Malkmus/Spiral Stairs worship, but that’s definitely part of it. If you want to hear what I’m talking about it, just listen to the solo at the end of the song. At first it oozes early 90’s garage, that Malkmus influence worn bold and proud, but there’s a unique quality to it … something added to the formula. It ultimately creates (for me) something that’s both nostalgic and new and as a lover of 90’s rock (but also someone who refuses to live in the past) that’s the best I can ask for.

18. Beach Slang
“Noisy Heaven”
The Things we do to Find People Who Feel Like Us

My buddy Mark Wood (to whom I owe a sizable portion of my music collection) told me that I should be listening to Beach Slang midway through the year after I told him he should be listening to Modern Baseball (see track 23). Even though I had already written the band off (because I’m the kind of moron who assumes that any band I first hear about from anyone other than local sources or Mark must be crap) I decided to listen to them anyway … because Mark Wood. At first blush, the band were decent enough to pick up an album and over time they grew on me. Seeing their frontman make good on previous band engagements, but as a solo act (because the band had a) kicked out an abuser, and b) lost another member shortly after) at Sound on Sound fest, really endeared me toward them. I still think their production is a little over the top, but I dig the sound and the sincerity of songs like this one.

19. PUP
“DVP”
The Dream is Over

Given the context of this album’s title (a quote from the lead singer’s doctor about the status of his voice … medically speaking) I don’t know that we’ll be hearing anymore from PUP. I kinda figure we will though. I have a weird relationship with this band. They’re one of a few that I love while I’m listening to them, but rarely remember much afterwards. Beach Slang do the same thing to me, which is likely why they follow each other here. There’s always one of two PUP songs that grab me though and the intro to this latest LP (the one-two punch of “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” and “DVP”) did the trick this time.

20. Descendents
“Without Love”
Hypercaffium Spazzinate

I was never a Descendents fan growing up. My punk phase began post college and I had a lot of catching up to do and somehow never made it to the Descendents. I mean … I familiarized myself with them somewhat (thanks again to Mark Wood) and saw them play a blistering set at FunFunFun Fest a few years back, but I never really delved into the back catalog other than a few spins on Spotify. This new album was my chance and I couldn’t have asked for a better one. It’s tough to single out one tune on Hypercaffium Spazzinate because the entire album is an instant classic, especially for aging punks like me, but “Without Love” is easily one of the front runners for “best track” on this LP.

21. Bouncing Souls
“Up to Us”
Simplicity

The Bouncing Souls released their latest LP on the same day as the Descendents, leaving me to wonder what year it actually was, but much like their west coast kin, the Souls released a killer album this year. I’ve gone back and forth on recent Bouncing Souls releases in the 2000’s. I hold my NJ hardcore bands to a high standard. Simplicity is a stellar album though and like the Descendents 2016 offering, full of great tracks. “Up to Us” (while one of my favorite songs on the album) is a great outro for 2016. In a year where we’ve lost so many artistic heroes from David Bowie to Carrie Fischer, this is a song about taking up the torch and keeping it lit. It’s up to us.

22. Bob Mould
“Voices in My Head”
Patch the Sky

Bob‘s been on a roll with his last few albums and while Patch the Sky is probably the weakest of the set, it delivers that signature wall of guitar sound and heart-on-sleeve emotion that I’ve come to expect. This is a break up album, plain and simple, and having just read Bob’s memoir “See a Little Light” at the start of the year, I was sad to realize that. Great pain leads to great art however and while not as triumphant as Silver Age or personal as Beauty & RuinPatch the Sky delivers. Album opener “Voices in my Head” takes the prize as the standout track though, due in no small part to its stellar guitar solo.

23. Modern Baseball
“Tears Over Beers”
Sports

This is one of those bands that I should have been listening to several years ago when I first heard about them and though I had Sports on my “to buy” list for a while, I never got around to it. When their third LP dropped this year I finally got on board. While the new album has a lot to offer, going back into the catalog it was Sports that had the most resonance with me and “Tears Over Beers” was the first song I fell in love with off that record.

24. Free Kittens and Bread
“Bold Promises, Empty Dreams”
American Miserablist

This was a band that I had been following for a while locally and I was poised to review their debut LP for OVRLD when they turned out to be total dicks at a show the site put on with them on the bill. Like Frank [Turner] says “there’s no such thing as rock stars, there’s just people who play music and some of them are just like us and some of them are dicks”. Regardless, I really liked the album despite it being more of that “Gaslight Anthem” style that seems to have taken hold of a lot of punk bands looking to mature in recent years. Free Kittens and Bread were always on that trajectory however, so there’s nothing to be disappointed about and if you ignore their behavior that one time and focus on the music, songs like this one really deliver.

25. Honey and Salt
“Patures”
Seams of Value

Vocals aside (don’t get me started on every math rock band having the same wispy, high register, monotone vocals these days) Honey and Salt deliver in a big way. Tight and technical, with a sound that belies their status as a three piece band, Honey and Salt play the kind of noodly math rock that I really dig. The band had been on my watch list for about a year based on an early EP and when Seams of Value dropped it took a lot of people by surprise. This isn’t a style you hear often in Austin and to have it represented (and well at that) is a major bonus for the local scene.

26. BADBADNOTGOOD
“IV”
IV

I just realized that this last block of songs has been the “I love it … but” section and BADBADNOTGOOD‘s latest LP is no expection. “IV” is the kind of song I love BBNG for, this and various iterations on it. Their last album was like that: jazz, with progressive playfulness, and some hip-hop influence. I felt like IV veered too far into the R&B and hip-hop areas is the problem. It’s not that I don’t like that kind of stuff, it’s just that it doesn’t feel like BBNG. I don’t hear the band in those songs. “IV” is not one of those songs though and brings the jazz the way I like it.

27. A.M. Feelgood
“This Alley is Right Up My Alley”
Wisteria Trail EP

I first heard this band in mid 2015 off a split with Ballerino that was recommended to me by the now defunct band Halaska. At the time they were interesting if unremarkable and while their latest EP shows a lot of growth, it’s not until the final track “This Alley is Right Up My Alley” that they really break the mold. This is Austin post rock the way its meant to be done and in Austin we know a thing or two about post rock. This song soars and swells, growing and evolving riffs, while taking the listener on an astral journey. It reminds me of early Explosions in the Sky though with more urgency and variety. This is easily on my top 5 tracks of the year and I hope to hear more from this band soon.

28. sleepmakeswaves
“The Stars Are Stigmata”
Love of Cartography

As of this year I am finally caught up on Sleepmakeswaves releases. Love of Cartography was their 2015 LP and easily  their best to date. There are any number of amazing tracks on this album, but “The Stars Are Stigmata” is the one that not only fit best in the mix, but also rocks the hardest right from the start. There are times when I feel like Sleepmakeswaves’ sound is best described as “the best bits from the best post rock bands” and that’s definitely true as I hear a decent helping of From Monument to Masses, Mogwai, and And So I Watch You From Afar in them, but the way they deliver is unique. With a new LP planned for 2017, I’m happy to finally be there on the ground floor with the rest of their fans and maybe this time I’ll get lucky and they’ll come to Austin.

29. BLXPLTN
“Blood on the sand”
New York Fascist Week

BLXPLTN‘s late 2015 debut was a revelation and a brilliant, timely, and powerful work. It was a hard act to top, but with New York Fascist Week they have. More powerful, more timely, more brilliant, BLXPLTN rock a potent blend of early hardcore and stripped down industrial laced with moments of soul. I find that I feel every note and lyric deep in my chest. It’s almost unpleasant, but over time it grows on me in a beautiful way. There’s power here, the power of revolution and anger. “Blood on the Sand” opens the album with a perfect example of that chest penetrating sound.

30. Us Weekly
“Asshole”
Ideas

Us Weekly continue to be the hardest band to pin down in the Austin punk scene right now. While some bands strive to sound like Black Flag, Minor Threat, Bad Religion, or Fugazi, these guys are always all over the map in such a way that at any moment you’re not sure where they’re coming from, but you’re pretty sure you’ve been there before. Songs like “Asshole” strike the most easily identifiable chord for me however. There’s a Pixies-like quality to the whole affair that’s punctuated by the lazy “too stoned to be surf” guitar, reminiscent of Joey Santiago‘s early pixies noodling. That comparison is broken immediately by Chris Nordahl’s vocals however as he spits more Henry Rollins than Frank Black. It all contributes to a unique and subtly menacing sound however.

31. The Red Heroes
“Hate Song”
Sing-Along Hate Songs

My first exposure to The Red Heroes came at a Free Week showcase at the beginning on 2016. The band’s set impressed the hell out of me and after they mentioned that they were recording a full-length I immediately got in touch with them to let them know that I was going to be interested in reviewing it. Sing-Along Hate Songs is pop-punk the way it should be and the Red Heroes play it like they’ve spent the last couple of years locked in rehearsal and listening to nothing but old mall punk and early emo. “Hate Song” is the break up song for 2016, spitting venom while simultaneously smirking and commiserating in the company of friends.

32. Hop Along
“I Saw My Twin”
Painted Shut

I should have been into Hop Along before now. I had every opportunity, but honestly, their first album didn’t really do anything for me at the time it came out (still doesn’t) and when the follow up dropped in 2015 I just missed it. Luckily I was in a mood for female singer-songwriter stuff at one point late in the summer and decided to give Hop Along another chance, opting instead for the more recent Painted Shut. I can’t quite place what exactly works better on this album than their debut (it may be that there’s more of a band presence) but I’m glad it does. After listening to it once I immediately went out and bought the vinyl … then proceeded to ignore it for a couple months. When I finally came back to this record it was like getting hit by a bolt of lightning. Something had been allowed to gestate in my brain during that time away and all of a sudden I “got it”. For a solid month I had a new favorite song every few days. Painted Shut is my favorite record that I acquired in 2016. It’s a hard record to describe and a hard one to really recommend initially. It’s not a record that grabs you right away other than the off-kilter vocals, but when it does finally get a hold, it doesn’t let go. I could have chosen any of half a dozen songs on this album to go on this mix (and almost did) but “I Saw My Twin” was the first one I fell in love with and remains top among my faves on Painted Shut.

33. Autolux
“Becker”
Pussy’s Dead

Autolux aren’t a prolific band, but when the do put out a release you can bet it’s going to be all kinds of different and good. Pussy’s Dead is a bizarre and challenging release, full of new ideas and new twists on old themes. It’s Autolux doing what they do best, not standing still. While there are plenty of great tracks on Pussy’s Dead I had to feature one that I felt adequately showcased Carla Azar’s drumming. From the moment I heard “Turnstile Blues” off their demo EP 17 years ago, the drumming has been front and center and “Becker” is another stellar drum track, full of angular jabs and rococo rhythms.

34. Two Inch Astronaut
“Woodstock ’99”
Personal Life

I first came to know of this band a year or two ago when another musician on my Twitter feed described them as being like Medications, one of my favorite late 00’s DC bands. The description was apt and this year not only did they release their excellent sophomore LP, but they had J. Robbins (frontman of many of my other favorite DC area bands over the years) mix and record it. The album is an excellent evolution of their sound and while it captures that DC/VA/MD flavor, it adds something unique at the same time. “Woodstock ‘99” is about as solid a closer to an album as you could ask for and features an excellent, jazzy, post punk jam in the outro.

35. Cymbals Eat Guitars
“Shrine”
Pretty Years

I dislike using someone else’s final track to end a mix (it’s just too easy) but, Cymbals Eat Guitars practically gave me no choice. While I’ve failed to be as captivated with their subsequent releases quite the way I was with their Debut Why There Are Mountains, the band has managed to continually grow and put out quality albums that always feature a few stellar tracks. Their latest release was yet another evolution, poppier in many respects, but maintaining the off-kilter sound and composition that first drew me to them. There are a number of great tracks on the album, but to end 2016, “Shrine” was a no-brainer.