Editor’s Pick: Top 30 International Releases Of 2016

Some may regard 2016 to be an utterly abysmal year and others would say otherwise, but from a musical perspective – 2016 has been amazing if you look past the numerous musicians that died this year. Our editor-in-chief Craig Roxburgh lays out his Top 30 albums below and attempts to give some kind of reasoning. Tune in tomorrow for our list of the Top 20 local releases.

1. Trophy EyesChemical Miracles

This was the pinnacle of my musical experience this year. Chemical Miracles delivers a healthy dose of emo-tinged melodic hardcore punctuated by occasional moments of angst-ridden pop punk. The album is a stunning angst-ridden vista of dealing with mental illness and the stress of adulthood. Songs like “Home Is” find themselves dealing with the concept of loss, loneliness and self-loathing while others like “Rain On Me” explore the intricacies of the emotional spectrum of depression. This is Trophy Eyes at their most raw and authentic as they strive to reinvent the world of emo and melodic hardcore.

2. Every Time I DieLow Teens

Every Time I Die is one of those bands that just get better with each album that they release. They started their career by delivering bursts of brutal and uncompromising hardcore and have constantly improved on that formula throughout their career. Low Teens is Every Time I Die at their utmost best as they weave intricate melodies into their brash, in-your-face brand of music. Rapid bursts of guitar riffs and frantic drumming are the name of the game on Low Teens and lead vocalist Keith Buckley shows no sign of restraint while delivering his rapid-fire hardcore vocals. The band even finds time to sneak a feature from Brendon Urie onto the album in the form of the slow-burning southern rock belter that is “It Remembers”. Plus, the merch associated with this album is truly amazing.

3. DaughterNot To Disappear

When it comes to emotionally drenched ambient synth-pop – Daughter are masters at their craft. Not To Disappear pushes them from the wistful, ethereal world of their debut album Youth to a much dark and more brooding world. Brooding synth tones, intricate guitar work and ominous, self-depreciating lyrics dominate the album. The album is a stunning dissection of the struggle of maintaining personal relationships from the perspective of someone suffering from any kind of mental illness. It is difficult to listen to this album without it tugging on your heartstrings with its evocative melodies and brooding atmosphere.

4. Blink 182California

There are going to be a few people that aren’t going to like the placement of this Blink 182 but that is the beauty of an end of the year list: it is purely subjective and usually based on sheer enjoyment as opposed to technical aspects. Sure, California had technical faults but there wasn’t a single other album that replayed as much as I did California, and I kept returning to it even after it had been released which is uncommon for someone that consumes as much music as I do.

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5. Panic! At The DiscoDeath of a Bachelor

This was Panic! At The Disco back to their eccentric and avant-garde self, but with a much more refined pop edge while still playing into the weird subcategory of pop-punk meets alternative rock that the band was placed into upon the release of A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. It is a burst of pop rock enthusiasm wrapped up in layers of driving synth tones and bass riffs supporting carefully constructed lyrics drenched in wit. Panic! At The Disco may have been reduced to virtually being a solo outfit in the studio, but they are still on top of their game.

6. Storm The SkySin Will Find You

Storm The Sky throughout the rulebook for this album. Their rise to moderate fame in the global metalcore scene was born from Permanence – ta stunning fusion of melody and aggression interspersed with modern post-hardcore influences. Sin Will Find You completely did away with that as they morphed into a fusion of ambient synth-pop, soul music and punchy metalcore. Soaring synth tones wrap themselves around snarling guitar riff as the vocals leap from melodic soulful vocals to blistering screams in the blink of an eye. Sin Will Find You is the metalcore version of Brand New’s Daisy but slightly less weird and eccentric.

7. Jimmy Eat WorldIntegrity Blues

Jimmy Eat World is one of those bands that constantly release astounding albums. Few will ever match the intense emotional attachment I have Bleed American and others receive polite nods of approval because let’s face it – a bad Jimmy Eat World is still pretty amazing. However, Integrity Blues nearly knocked Bleed American off its pedestal by returning to the very roots that established Jimmy Eat World and then infusing that with the melody and technical prowess of modern alternative rock.

8. PolarNo Cure No Saviour

No Cure No Saviour is melodic hardcore at its utmost best. The album is uncompromisingly savage as thundering guitar riffs and explosive drum beats dominate the album. These elements are barely reined in by the strong sense of melody that undercuts the album, but this merely lends itself to accentuating the anger and aggression present on the album. In some ways, No Cure No Saviour probably encapsulates much of people’s emotions regarding 2016.

9. Dance, Gavin DanceMothership

2016 has been a surprisingly decent year for post-hardcore once you look past the bands displaying faux metalcore exteriors. Dance, Gavin Dance has been at the forefront of technical post-hardcore for several years now. The band has always departed from the mainstream norms of the genre and Mothership is no exception from their rule. The album is a smorgasbord of intricate guitar riffs, soaring soulful vocals and screamed vocals that seem like they were pulled straight from a hardcore album. Mothership is a post-hardcore album in the truest sense of the genre, and it gives me so much hope for the future of the genre.

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10. Lonely The BraveThings Will Matter

There is a special kind of beauty to slow-burning, emotive alternative rock. This is exactly what Lonely The Brave delivers with their sophomore album Things Will Matter. Soaring anthems are not the name of the game on this album. Brooding synth and guitar elements dominate this album while the band occasionally ventures into the realm of stadium-filling rock anthems.

11. Twin AtlanticGLA

On the flip side, GLA is a flurry of stadium-rock anthems laden with a faint degree of grit and aggression as Twin Atlantic pays tribute to their hometown of Glasgow. The album is occasionally visited by softer, more melancholic songs but these are rather infrequent and Twin Atlantic rather decides to bare the alternative rock snarls that they showed us when they toured here last year.

12. Night VersesInto The Vanishing Light

Into The Vanishing Light is a beautiful, twisted hybrid of the abrasive energy of hardcore, the sweeping melodic angst of post-hardcore, and the intricate technical aspects of a progressive metal. Night Verses delivers one of the most astounding and quite possibly underrated albums of the year. It defines a new path for heavy music – one that is free from any degree of conformity to modern metal norms. It puts me in mind of what Coheed and Cambria did for post-hardcore, but without the over-reaching story arc that Coheed and Cambria incorporated into their albums.

13. Hands Like HouseDissonants

This is one of the most engaging and socially aware alternative rock releases of the year. Hands Like Houses have persistently proven to be a dominant name in alternative rock and Dissonants is yet another example of the band being at the top of their game. It is a seamless fusion of strong, thought-engaging lyrical content and loud, anthemic rock music peppered by occasional leanings towards punk and post-hardcore.

 14. Emarosa131

Perhaps the only fault with Versus, Emarosa’s first album with new vocalist Bradley Walden, was that it had far too many ballads on it. Emarosa decided to build on that piece of criticism and released 131 – an album that is equal parts blistering alternative rock anthems and equal parts slow, emotionally-laden ballads. The album is a kaleidoscope of emotions that all tied together by the singular thread that is Emarosa’s unique brand of alternative rock. It is an album that effortlessly fuses synthetic elements with traditional rock elements to create one of the most powerful albums of the year.

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15. Joyce ManorCody

The emo revival continued to be strong this year with more and more people embracing events like Emo Night, and more once defunct emo bands returning to create albums that bring the genre back to its hey-day of being awkwardly placed between punk and emotionally-charged indie rock. Cody follows the typical chaotic and angsty formula Joyce Manor albums, but with much better production and a much more mature outlook on life. I think I am just here for the rowdy choruses and the subtle digs at Kanye West on “Fake I.D.”

16. Childish Gambino“Awaken My Love”

Childish Gambino managed to anger much of the rap community that was built around Because The Internet with “Awaken My Love”. Some were angry because he didn’t create a sequel to the album. Others were angry because he turned away from rap music on this album and delivered what can ultimately be described as a fusion of 70s psych rock, soul and funk. There were no well-thought rhymes or bars, but it rather featured Donald Glover singing with the gusto and prowess of a psych rock vocalist. “Awaken My Love” is an evocate exploration of Glover’s creative sound. Here is to hoping that Glover is able to fuse these elements with rap on future albums.

17. The Dillinger Escape PlanDissociation

Dissociation is tinged with a degree of sadness. Every time I listen to it – I am reminded that this is the band’s last album. The Dillinger Escape Plan has defined new heights for modern hardcore with their own eccentric and technical approach to creating music. The albums have constantly defined whatever constraints people attempted to place on them with a genre. So much so that people just gave up and threw them into the weird box that is mathcore. Dissociation may be their final album but it is also their best to date. It is a complex flurry of abrasive guitar riffs, intricate guitar work, frantic drumming and vitriol-laden vocals.

18. Boston ManorBe Nothing

Boston Manor is modern emo at its utmost finest. It is an angst-ridden fusion of the pop-punk elements that came to dominate the later iterations of emo, but it also hangs onto much of the angst and gloomy musical structure that originally defined the genre. Be Nothing  is a mess of crippling angst and self-deprecation peppered with songs that occasionally lean towards being tragically romantic. The guitar work is a fusion of intricate needling and powerful bursts of riffs as the vocals oscillate between brooding whispers and restrained snarls dripping with angst.

19. WaterparksDouble Dare

Double Dare found itself on repeat for at least a week after I had published my review on the album. It may not be the most technically creative album hence why it isn’t higher up on this list, but the sheer enjoyment I gained from the album made it worthy of making its way into the top 20 of this list. It is a wonderful fusion of pop punk and pop rock, and while some may see this as a sign of the genre declining – I see it as a sign of the genre morphing and evolving to expand past niche angst-ridden ripoffs of emo bands. Waterparks delivers equal amounts angst and infectious joy on this album by juxtaposing dark lyrics to upbeat synth tones and catchy four-chord riffs.

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20. Moose BloodBlush

Moose Blood first entered my radar with the release I’ll Keep You In Mind From Time To Time – a rough and emotional pop punk album. Blush seems like a natural evolution from their debut. It retains much of the emotional content but the melodies are crisper and there is a much more refined feeling to their sound. The album is still packed full of heartfelt pop punk anthems, but they now seem like a band that is more comfortable with their sound and are more confident with their songwriting. I am excited to see what the future holds for Moose Blood.

21. Landscapes – Modern Earth

I don’t really know what to say about this album. It is a caustic and cathartic melodic hardcore album that shook me to the core when I listened to it. I think a big theme to my AOTY list is that many of the albums have deep emotional content with which I resonated quite strongly. Modern Earth was an album that placed the listener in a narrative world filled with nihilism and cynicism, as droning bass riffs and needling guitar work wrapped itself around grating, aggressive vocals.

22. Biffy ClyroEllipsis

This one is a bit of a staff entry as the vast majority of the team here at South African Music Scene is absolutely besotted with this album, and rightfully so. Biffy Clyro wowed us with the ballad-laden world of Opposites but Ellipsis makes a return to a sound that is more reminiscent of their early days while still maintaining their stadium rock status. Soaring melodic riffs and gigantic choruses are tempered by a degree of punk aggression and political vitriol. Hell, they even throw in a folk-punk song for good measure.

23. Grouplove Big Mess

A year or two ago, my AOTY lists would have been jam-packed full of indie rock and indie-pop releases as I tried desperately to maintain some kind of hipster façade. This year, it seems that the only vaguely indie release on this list is that of Grouplove’s Big Mess and even that cannot really be regarded as being indie – in the true sense of the word. Grouplove, however, is one of those bands that consistently deliver magnificent albums. It is the perfect synthesis of indie-pop melodies, synth-pop idiosyncrasies and the upbeat punchiness of indie rock. The band even manages to work in the body-rocking rhythm of hip-hop beats.

24. GRiZGood Will Prevail

Forget Justice. Good Will Prevail is the electronic album everyone should have been listening to this year. GRiZ approached this album with an entire swing-band to accompany his afro-house meets electro-soul beats. Trumpets and saxophones greet the listener at every turn while GRiZ lays down the most delectable bass lines. He even weaves funk-laden electric guitar riffs into his production work while soulful smoky jazz house vocals curl themselves around throbbing tendrils of bass.

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25. Modern BaseballHoly Ghost

That’s right – another emo band found its way onto my AOTY list and you really shouldn’t be surprised. Holy Ghost is a reiteration of the emo genre that pushes the genre back to its indie-punk roots while weaving in modern pop-punk and indie rock influences. Modern Baseball proves that they are a band that is not content on being a footnote in the history of the emo genre.

26. A Day To RememberBad Vibrations

A Day To Remember took a few risks on this album by bringing in a multitude of genre influences that caused Bad Vibrations to oscillate between hard-hitting melodic hardcore, first-pumping pop-punk anthems, and then something in-between those two genres. It is typical of the band to incorporate so many different genre influences but the have never had an album that was so varied in its sound. Its inconsistencies are not flaws, but rather merits that allow the album to be layered in a way that produces the kind of depth that is needed in modern mainstream metal.

27. Chance The RapperColoring Book

This was the rap album of the year for me and I suppose many could disagree with me, but both Kanye West and Frank Ocean disappointed me with their overhyped releases. Chance The Rapper rather dropped Coloring Book almost out of nowhere and made it free to the public. It personal, heartfelt hip-hop at its finest and sees Chance weaving lyrical narratives that are drenched in personal anecdotes while still being able to connect with his audience across a broad racial demographic.

28. Young GunsEchoes

Young Guns remained consistent with delivering powerful albums and this time delivered an album that truly accounts for how much they have grown over the past couple years. It fuses the hard-hitting alternative rock of their earlier release with the more radio-friendly and melodic material that accompanied last year’s Ones and Zeroes.

29. WeezerWhite Album

Look, Weezer are pretty much flawless in my eyes. They’re band that has cycled through multiple genres throughout their career but have always managed to come back to their weird and wonderful hybrid of emo and alternative rock. White Album takes a pop rock meets indie rock approach to their traditional formula. It is an album filled with astounding technical talent and enough singalong anthems to make your Summer road trips the most fun possible.

 

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30. Artifex PereoPassengers

This band never ceases to amaze me. Passengers is such an underrated release and I suppose that makes sense as Artifex Pereo aren’t exactly creating music that gets thrust into their limelight. Passengers is a hybrid of alternative rock melodies, post-hardcore catharsis and the technical aspects of post-rock. The sheer technical skill of the album marks it as a landmark for post-hardcore music and it is just great to see bands embracing the early days of post-hardcore and fusing that core sound with modern elements.

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