Okay, honestly, of the three “Best of” lists that I’m writing (including last week’s look at every film I saw from 2016 and next week’s Game of the Year awards), this is the one I’m not excited about posting. Writing about music? Not something I have too much experience with.
So hopefully this isn’t a complete train wreck. And now that I’ve lowered any expectations someone reading this might have…
What happened here? Where their first album featured charming, occasionally quirky lyrics and instrumentation, The Lumineers sophomore effort Cleopatra lacks so much of what I loved from this group. There’s glimmers of something better — “Ophelia”, for instance — but the overall album, while competent in all aspects, is boring. Some fans have called Cleopatra a more “mature” album, but it feels more like The Lumineers lost their identity.
Where some musicians change and create different sounds — some dramatically — others don’t change at all. Switchfoot is one such band, and the album Where the Light Shines Through differs little from everything they’ve released before. The biggest change is that while frontman Jon Foreman rarely writes overtly religious lyrics (outside his solo material), this album includes the more open “The Day That I Found God”. Where the Light Shines Through is a good album that Switchfoot fans will enjoy, but it’s lacking any surprises.
Braver Than We Are would’ve reached a better spot on my list had Meat Loaf’s voice been stronger, but it’s pretty rough, especially compared to previous albums. The man is nearing his 70th birthday, and his operatic voice can’t be easy to maintain throughout the years, yet it’s too easy to imagine Braver Than We Are with the voice we all remember. Sometimes it’s easy to ignore the shakiness of his singing voice in the better tracks, but other times it’s a cruel reminder of what could’ve been a far better album.
I’m probably in the minority by stating that I loved American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown far more than Green Day’s other albums. They were ambitious punk/rock operas with a sound that matched such a descriptor. Meanwhile, Revolution Radio comes across as just another punk album that could’ve been made by any number of punk bands. There’s good music here, but it doesn’t feel unique.
You’d think that a 5-song EP would be at a disadvantage against nine full albums, but I have listened to Mittens enough times to grant it a decent spot. I understand why these songs never made an album (outside of “Mittens,” which was on 2015’s Positive Songs for Negative People), but they’re fun songs with a handful of instrumentations, few sounding like your standard Frank Turner songs. They’re less aggressive than “The Road” or “Five Simple Words,” but enjoyable nonetheless.
Released only weeks before his death, You Want It Darker is an appropriately somber and moody album by Leonard Cohen. Unlike every other album here, You Want It Darker begs to be played with the lights down low and with a decent pair of headphones. You’re likely to lose something with the instrumentation otherwise, and Cohen’s rough voice shouldn’t be heard over, for instance, the car speakers. Not every song is a winner, but taken as a package, You Want It Darker is a haunting send-off.
Where 2015’s Afraid of Ghosts featured a quieter Butch Walker, Stay Gold sees the musician get louder, reminiscent of 2016’s The Spade, although it’s his quieter material that’s stuck with me. “Stay Gold,” “Irish Exit,” and “Mexican Coke” are great rock songs, Walker steals the show with “Descending,” a duet with Ashley Monroe. “Can We Just Not Talk About Last Night?” is another standout mid-tempo track, along with the closing song “Record Store.”
I could name a dozen problems with Bon Jovi during the past decade, but topping that list would be that the band was spinning their wheels. This House Is Not For Sale is their first album since 2005’s Have A Nice Day that I felt a real passion from the group. The album does commit a number of those dozen problems, including mediocre production on “Roller Coaster” and “Knockout,” but This House Is Not For Sale has a spark that I haven’t seen from Bon Jovi in years. Shame that it took the departure of longtime guitarist/co-writer Richie Sambora to make that happen.
Grab the deluxe Target-exclusive edition for an additional six songs that’re surprising good despite not making the regular album.
Even compared to Passenger’s (aka Michael Rosenberg) previous mid-tempo folk songs, Young As The Morning Old As The Sea is particularly solemn, yet remains beautiful. There’s little here to remind more casual listeners of his breakout (and overplayed) hit “Let Her Go,” but while this new album is unlikely to grab the attention of anyone not already familiar with Rosenberg, this’ll be a treat for anyone who is. Grab the deluxe edition for a handful of acoustic versions of songs.
Frankly, Brian Fallon could release a collection of disco covers, and you’d find me squawking about how much I love them. The New Jersey native’s first solo album is mostly straight rock, comparable to music by his producer Butch Walker, making for a more approachable package than his previous two albums — Get Hurt by The Gaslight Anthem and Elsie by The Horrible Crowes. The instrumentation isn’t as full as the aforementioned music, but that’s not a detriment. Instead, it comes across as Fallon stepping away to create something different from previous projects.
The result is an album that I’ve returned to countless times throughout 2016.
September 26, 2017: Added my YouTube video.