By now you’ve surely seen Already Heard’s Top 10 Albums of 2016 and debated, deliberated and decided on your own favourite album. But we’re not finished with our 2016 review just yet.
Already Heard’s Top 10 Albums are decided by a site-wide staff vote. And, while this is democratic and excellent for deciding on a site favourite, skews the list in favour of albums more staff have heard.
With that in mind, here’s 10 of the best that were selected by only one or two members of staff, representing smaller, up-and-coming bands you would do well to get on board with. Have a listen and find your new favourite band.
Blowout – No Beer, No Dad
Not quite indie, not quite emo and not quite pop-punk, Portland, OR’s Blowout have hit on a sound that should appeal to fans of the likes of Martha and Modern Baseball. Literate and smart, ‘No Beer, No Dad’ is also packed with huge hooks to go with the powerful, sometimes playful lyrics and heavy irony. It’s a winning combination, with cuts like ‘Green Couch’, If Else If’ and ‘Fuckslang’ sparkling from start to finish. Now for the sad news; they’ve said on social media that they might only have a couple of gigs left in them. They burned fast and bright, but ‘No Beer, No Dad’ is anything but a blow out. (RM)
FOES – The Summit Lies Skyward
2016 has been a big year for Liverpool’s best kept secret, four piece alt-rock outfit FOES. After signing a deal with Basick Records and perfecting a live show that leaves all who see it speechless, FOES unleashed their debut full-length ‘The Summit Lies Skyward’. A progressive masterpiece, ‘Summit’ dropped in October after a summer of festival appearances and touring to rave reviews.
With an eclectic and powerful sound encompassing a collection of influences from across the board, songs like ‘No Sleepers Verse’ and ‘Young Sovereign’ land like the heavy rights of a champion boxer.
The production is crystal clear, helping FOES to create a beautiful and, at points, other-worldly landscape, the same haunting tones this band are synonymous with. That’s not to say that this album doesn’t rip when it needs to – there are riffs of spine-tingling proportions on offer. All these factors pull together to create a forward thinking, powerful, defiant and at times utterly epic collection of songs. (JH)
Gouge Away – ,dies.
Catharsis has become too superficial. Too manufactured. Too forced. Real anger comes from deep in the gut of your stomach from those things that make your blood boil and fists clench. In 2016 one band captured that feeling better than anyone with a debut that no one saw coming. ‘,dies’ by Gouge Away is the sound of your teeth crunching on the pavement as a Doc Marten comes crashing down on the back of your head. The itchiness you feel when you want to rip someone to pieces. A 22-minute whirlwind of pit battering beatdowns, ferocious riffing and twisted squeals of anguish, this is the wake-up call that a genre that was becoming a touch too safe needed. Warts and all, no bullshit and as back to basics as you can possibly get, this is the sound of the new generation of hardcore. Things have never been better. (JR)
Happy Accidents – You Might Be Right
There’s just no disputing that Happy Accidents’ ’You Might Be Right’ was this year’s most instantly loveable debut full-length by quite some distance. Released on that ever reliable hallmark of DIY quality, Alcopop Records, this effort was even better then we could have hoped for after the London trio wowed us at several festivals. The record packs the sort of crunchy inescapable indie-pop riffery that even Brit-pop kings Blur would have been proud of in their prime, while frontman Rich Mandell’s lyrical output was so bluntly self-deprecating it makes you want to give him a big hug, ruffle his hair and buy him a beer.
Album stand-outs ‘Leaving Parties Early’ and ‘But You’re Probably Wrong’ were quirky outsider anthems that were infinitely relatable on every possible level and provide just two of the reasons ‘You Might Be Right’ has continued to be an utter joy to listen to over and over. Someone please give these kids a deal to make a ton more music like this, because there’s no way every track wouldn’t be properly lovely. (DW)
Hurry – Guided Meditation
Like all the best pop music, Hurry’s toe-tappingly infectious indie-pop gems contain a darker core, ensuring the saccharine sweet jams possess a hidden lyrical bite. Unrequited love and mental health are just two of the themes tackled on ‘Guided Meditation’, adding a heart and soul – and bags of personality – to Hurry’s gloriously upbeat and summery vibes. Taking cues from the likes of Teenage Fanclub, Weezer, Oasis and The Posies, there’s not one facet of modern indie/pop music that’s left unexplored in an album of deceptive depths and limitless charm. And, to top it all off, ‘Guided Meditation’ was no-one off; Hurry also released the excellent ‘Casual Feelings’ EP! (RM)
LTNT – Rank
If you consider yourself to be a fan of big guitar riffs, there’s no excuse to be sleeping on this album. With years of touring bar venues and being tucked away on smaller festival stages, LTNT have captured the cut-throat intensity of underground shows on their debut full-length ‘Rank’. Their songwriting is formidable across this record, on both the chaos and power behind the band’s performance and the size of the hooks the trio craft.
The scale and frequency of massive grooves throughout the record tips its hat to Helmet and early Biffy Clyro, and the heavily distorted production only makes riffs on ‘Abso-Regular’ and ‘Boss Lady’ feel louder and easier to bang your head to, while the spacey chorus to ‘No Aquarius by Will’ shows how the band can use this raw sound to make something more epic as well. Even ‘In the Back of Your Mind’ displays a more tender side to LTNT’s songwriting. With enough versatility in their songwriting and live-wire energy, ‘Rank’ is one of the finest straight up rock records you’ll hear this year. (AD)
Pkew Pkew Pkew – Pkew Pkew Pkew
While ‘Pkew Pkew Pkew’ doesn’t reinvent a genre, you’d have to dig pretty deep to find an album so brilliantly entertaining and engagingly fun as the worldwide debut from these Canadian punk rockers. Silly – very silly in places – ‘Pkew Pkew Pkew’ is the story of adolescent hijinks set to bouncy, insanely catchy, pop-punk. “We’ll sing about beer and football” they blast on ‘Prequel to Asshole Pandemic’, and it’s not far from the truth once you throw in songs about pizza, baseball and skateboarding. It’s undemanding stuff and there’s no grand message, but it doesn’t matter when music this thrilling can soundtrack all your best days. (RM)
Say Yes – Real Life Trash Mag
Say Yes delivered impressively with their full-length debut – ‘Real Life Trash Mag’. Boasting a line-up featuring the cream of the Toronto underground scene (including Alexisonfire drummer Jordan Hastings), the record was co-produced by Eric Ratz (Billy Talent, Cancer Bats) and Billy Talent’s own Ian D’Sa.
Opener ‘Once Forward, Twice Back’ is easily one of the best rock tracks of the year and sets a blueprint for an album full of big riffs and plenty of interesting ideas. Making excellent use of the dual vocals of guitarist Adam Michael and bassist Michael Zane, the trio chug through tune after tune of punk and grunge tinged rock n roll.
‘Five Walls’,’ ‘Too Much Not Enough’ and ‘Remorse is in the Flames’ demonstrate the versatility of the musicianship, using their three-piece dynamic to maximum effect, whilst closer ‘Sea Of Trees’ satisfies further with a post-rock opus, complete with Hammond organ.
‘Real Life Trash Mag’ is a superb full-length debut effort from a band that have taken the best of their experience, and delivered something genuinely unlike anything else that’s out there at the moment. Fans of good time rock music across the board are in for a treat. (AL)
Strange Ranger – Rot Forever
Sixteen songs long and with a run time of near 75 minutes, ‘Rot Forever’ is genuinely one of the most astonishing debut albums of 2016. Sprawling and messy it’s also wildly distinctive, calling back to the mid-90s indie-rock heyday of bands like Modest Mouse and Built To Spill. It’s constantly thrilling too – no mean feat considering the labyrinthine run time and serpentine song structures.
Yet for all the twisting guitars and throttled vocals, ‘Rot Forever’ is an album that demands repeat listens thanks to some sublime and eccentric lyrics. From cultural touchstones of American football and True Detective through to powerful moments of insight and personal narrative, it’s an instantly relatable album grounded in reality and everyday experiences. Having released ‘Rot Forever’ under the name Sioux Falls as a trio, Strange Ranger may have lost a member and changed their name, but they’ve already debuted a new EP and a new single in the latter part of 2016; expect to be hearing much more from Isaac Eiger and Fred Nixon in 2017… (RM)
The Lion and the Wolf – Cardiac Hospital
Thomas George’s sophomore album, under the guise of The Lion and The Wolf, is a thing of beauty. ‘Cardiac Hotel’ is a gloriously sad record, yet its rich blend of indie folk rock is soothing, comforting and at times uplifting as it gamely tackles the difficulties of illness, grief and loss. Its distinctly human feel offers a complicity with the listener that is not easily achieved, the deceptive simplicity of the songwriting being precisely what draws you in to Tom’s subtly detailed reflections.
Although the whole record is engaging, it is the darkness of ‘Heaven Forbid’ that makes the most obvious impression, but then there are tracks like the sublime ‘Barstools’, which brilliantly captures late night longing and a sense of defeat. Strangely though, despite the melancholy overtones, there is a hopeful air and an underlying whisper of positivity to the record, especially on tracks like the rousing ‘December’ and powerful opening track ‘Don’t Fail Me Now’.
All in all, Tom has delivered something special on ‘Cardiac Hotel’, from the folk simplicity of ‘Pinching Point’ through to the rich textures of ‘Witness’ every track makes its own mark, making for a perfectly weighted collection of songs to soundtrack difficult times. (EL)
Words by Rob Mair (RM), Jack Rogers (JR), Dane Wright (DW), Edward Layland (EL), Andy Davidson (AD), Jay Harrison (JH) and Adam Lewis (AL).