2016 is over halfway over. A lot has happened, especially in music. Some of the biggest names of our generation, and even some from the last generation, have released albums in the first half of the year. To get you caught up on what’s been happening over the past 6 months and the singles that have us excited for what’s to come in the next half of the year, the Fawkes crew has written about the albums and singles they’ve been jamming to and curated a playlist for your ears.
Human Performance – Parquet Courts: Much of the writing surrounding Parquet Courts speaks to great lengths its influences and the lineage of music they fall in. While spilling endless words about the band’s place in the punk and alternative canon, most seem to overlook a tradition that probably bears their greatest mark on this band- the Modernist literary tradition of the early 20th century. Parquet Courts bear the distinct mark of modernists from Joyce to Woolf to Eliot. Their music chronicles the detachment and alienation brought about by modern societies and technology through a stream of consciousness lyricism. On Human Performance, they continue this. Take the title track, “Human Performance,” in which Andrew Savage uses the objective correlative, a literary technique named (but not necessarily created) by T.S. Eliot, to describe the aftermath of a break up. With “Captive of the Sun” and “Berlin Got Blurry,” the band captures the disorienting and lonely nature of urban life. While the album sheds some of the breakneck punk that characterized many of their prior releases, “Human Performance” is a welcome step forward for the band, as well as one of 2016’s best releases.
Listen to: “Already Dead” and “One Man No City”
Next Thing – Frankie Cosmos: It’s hard to think of an album in recent memory as intimate as Next Thing. The album is a minimalist pop masterpiece packed with short, but resonate songs. Greta Kline draws the listener in close through the distinctly personal and confessional nature of her lyrics, as well as her voice. “Is it Possible / Sleep Song” finds Kline rooting out a person who treats her poorly. “I guess I just make myself the victim/ Like you said/ That’s why when you treat me shitty/ You get mad,” she sings. The level of detail she allows the listener to hear forms a relationship between singer/listener that brings the two together in a shared experience. This creates a situation where the specific details of Kline’s experience become universals rather than particulars. This doesn’t even mention the poetic wit present in her music. On “Fool,” she opens the song: “Your name is a triangle/ Your heart is a square.” There is a subtle beauty in these lines that is just impossible to explain. “You are a bug bite on vacation,” she compares her addressee to on “Outside with the Cuties.” Her use of metaphor is uncanny at times, and an absolute joy to listen to.
Listen to: “On the Lips”
The Dream is Over – PUP: This album is desperate in the best ways possible. Starting with the opening track, “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You I Will,” lead singer Stefan Babcock chronicles the hells of touring, the dysfunction and the hatred born of being stuck with the same group of people for an extended period of time. By the end of the song he is pleading for everyone to just fucking suck it up and get along. He is at his last nerve and just wants to finish. But we know his request will be ignored. PUP plays loud and fast punk rock. The album clocks in at exactly 30 minutes, as if trying to race to the finish in order to stave off some other inevitable end from striking them first. The album is obsessed with failure and inadequacy. On the lead single “DVP,” Babcock sings “I get so drunk that I can’t speak/ yeah, nothing’s working and the future’s looking bleak.” The future holds nothing on this album, so the band tries to get everything out before that bleak future comes. Later on, he sings “I’ve been blessed with shit luck/ There are some things that’ll never change,” on “Can’t Win.” But despite all of this, the songs are some of the most fun tracks of the year, even when they’re titled “My Life Is Over and I Couldn’t Be Happier.”
Listen to: “My Life is Over and I Couldn’t Be Happier”
Blackstar – David Bowie: When the original video for “Blackstar” came out, no one knew we were going to lose one of the greatest artists of the past fifty years in less than two months. We just had another great Bowie song, a ten minute masterpiece that begins with spastic drums and motorik strings, electronica, and jazz riffs, with Bowie singing in a voice surprisingly frail and quiet. His voice sounds a bit fearful and subdued. But around five minutes there is a shift, and the song opens up, and he starts singing with the confidence and swagger he always had. At age 68, David Bowie had reinvented himself once again. He had produced a work as complex and inventive as he ever had. On January 8th, his 69th birthday, he released Blackstar, and the album lived up to every expectation set forth by its initial single. And then he was gone. Two days later, he was gone. It was a shock, and it still is. Bowie was capable of reinvention on a level that made him seem immortal at times. He could be everyone and anyone at any time. He was regenerative, coming back to life again and again as a thousand different people. But in his final album, he was only himself. He stripped away all the identities and released one of his most personal albums. On “Lazarus,” he sings “Look up here, I’m in heaven/ I’ve got scars that can’t be seen/ I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen/ Everyone knows me now.” This album showed David Bowie as David Bowie, talking to all of us from a place beyond life. With Blackstar, he created a tomb of immortalization, a headstone to remember him by, as well as a beautiful album. This album was the final evolution of Bowie as an artist. He left with another change in sound and image, days before his death, as if to suggest that there could always be more.
Listen to: “Lazarus”
Revolutionaries – You Won’t: My friend texted me a while back: “Have you ever listened to You Won’t,” he asked. At this point it was right around the release of the band’s sophomore album Revolutionaries, and I had not even heard of You Won’t, let alone listened to them. I answered no, and he replied telling me how much I’d love them. God, he was fucking right. Revolutionaries, the second album from the Brooklyn duo, is a joy of jangly lo fi acoustic folk. It is reminiscent at times of a more ramshackle Neutral Milk Hotel. The duo have packed the album full of little folk pop gems that are surprisingly anthemic. For an album that spends much of its time lamenting lost innocence, Revolutionaries has some of the best sing along choruses of any album this year. “I was standing there broken down, wanting to cry/ Like a Santa Claus drunk on the 4th of July,” goes the first lines to “1-4-5.” The idiosyncratic image is evocative and kind of hilarious. With Revolutionaries, You Won’t gave us one of 2016’s best indie albums.
Listen To: “Revolutionaries,” “Trampoline,” and “Douchey”
Painkillers – Brian Fallon: In the first song off his debut solo album, Painkillers, Fallon emphatically declares “I don’t want to survive / I want a wonderful life,” setting the tone for things to come. Fallon, the former lead singer of The Gaslight Anthem, has experienced some pretty public rough times, and while Gaslight’s last effort, 2014’s Get Hurt, was a trek through that pain and misery, Painkillers feels more like a celebration of those hard times with raucous stomp-and-holler style drums and sing-song choruses. Fallon’s raspy vocals are as powerful and captivating as ever. His lyrics still are coated in heartbreak and long for the past with a hopeful nostalgia. But throughout, it is clear that Fallon refuses to allow heartbreak and struggle to determine his life. The album has familiar elements for longtime Gaslight fans.Tracks like “Rosemary” still have the simplistic and straight forward punk undertones that characterized much of the band’s earlier music and the title track would have been right at home on Get Hurt. Yet, Painkillers offers a stark contrast to both of Fallon’s earlier projects (Gaslight & The Horrible Crowes). Sure, the fans who began following Gaslight for their punk anthems may not love the album, but no matter your take, Fallon continues to show off his virtuoso songwriting chops, securing his place as one of the premier songwriters of this generation.
Listen To: “Smoke,” “Rosemary,” “Open All Night”
Holy Ghost – Modern Baseball: Modern Baseball’s previous releases, Sports and You’re Gonna Miss it All, were characterized by the fun-loving, self-deprecating lyrics common of their pop punk predecessors like Blink-182 and Say Anything. These bands had a certain level of immaturity that was present on Modern Baseball’s earlier efforts, albeit to a lesser extent. Now MOBO always have had the ability to tinge with lyrics with a strong sense of self-awareness and reflection but the band took it a step further on Holy Ghost, leaving the youthful wise-cracks behind. The songwriting duo of Jake Ewald, who wrote the first half of the album, and Brendan Lukens, who was in charged for the album’s last 5 songs, crafted a masterpiece focused on difficulties the two respectively faced in their personal lives. Sometimes when songwriting duties are split half and half for an album, they end up lacking cohesion. That is emphatically not the case on Holy Ghost. Ewald’s slow-brooding over the loss of his grandfather on the first half of the album explode with chunky, almost volatile guitar riffs from Lukens on the second half. People are keen to say Modern Baseball has sold out on this record because of it’s more mature nature but that is simply not the case. The band has delivered a powerful album on dealing with loss and extreme self-doubt while simultaneously pushing the boundaries of their music forward in a way that is true to themselves. Kudos to those guys for baring their souls, lyrically and sonically, and crafting one of the best punk albums of the 20-oughts.
Listen To: “Hiding,” “Coding These to Lukens,” and “Just Another Face”
The White Album – Weezer: 2016 is the year that 90’s nostalgia is finally going to kill us all or at least bring the doom of pop culture. The TV show Full House is being rebooted. Zoolander and Independence Day have gotten sequels that seek to undermine the legacy of the originals. And somehow, inexplicitly someone signed off on a live action Tarzan movie that has some of the shittiest CGI abs I have ever seen. In the midst of this burgeoning time of tired and unnecessary 90’s retreads, Weezer managed to drop their best album since the middle of the decade that we’re all longing for. The album combines many of the things that worked in their two plus decades of music, while returning to their roots. Songs like “LA Girlz” have the stadium rock sound, soaring guitar riffs, and the tongue-in-cheek humor that have characterized much of the band’s more recent attempts. Rivers Cuomo has the ability to change his vocal arrangements and melodies from album-to-album, similar to how band’s change how their guitar sounds and he pulled out all the stops on this album, showing his full range on tracks like “Jacked Up.” The White Album is not the creative undertaking of Pinkerton or as perfectly written as their debut Blue Album. However, it is an undeniably fun summer rock album, Beach Boys influence and all. But best of all, it offers a glimmer of hope in the face of the 90’s nostalgia apocalypse.
Listen to: “Wind in our Sail,” LA Girlz,” and “Jacked Up”
Secret Boy – Wicca Phase Springs Eternal: Following his departure from Tigers Jaw, Adam McIlwee threw himself into a project that many, myself included, questioned. I remember seeing McIlwee in 2013 at the Scranton Holiday Show, opening up for his former band and being really shocked at the music he was performing, a type of super raw, rap-rock inspired music. It was genuinely unlike anything I had ever heard before. As the music has evolved over the years, McIlwee has found the perfect combination of trap beats to go with his low draw and acoustic riffs more typical of his former band. The lyrics contrast between clear brags about still reaping the benefits of his former band’s album sales (“Secret Boy”) with the insecure emotions that he was known for as Tiger Jaw’s front man (“It Takes”). Admittedly, Secret Boy perfectly hits my musical funny bone, with it’s off-kilter melodic vocals and a raw, punk feel despite that its music doesn’t always match up to the genre.
Listen To: “It Takes” and “Secret Boy”
Cardinal – Pinegrove: Pinegrove’s sophomore album – and debut on Run for Cover Records – Cardinal is a breath of fresh air right from the opening song. The album is about confronting the realities of growing up and that is epitomized on “Old Friends.” Beginning with straight strummed, hand-muted chords and introducing a bit of twang via banjo, the song is a reflection of growing up and moving beyond smalltown, both geographically and emotionally, culminating with lyrics like: “I should call my parents when I think of them / Should tell my friends I love them” that admit to newfound responsibilities. Initially, the album reminded me of the southern country-punk vibes of bands like Lucero, which is unexpected for a band from New Jersey. But Cardinal offers so much more than that, blending quiet, brooding songs like “Aphasia” with up tempo pop punk tracks like “Then Again” and “Size of the Moon.” The diversity of tracks on this album is truly something to behold and makes me excited to hear what comes next.
Listen To: “Old Friends,” “New Friends”
Cleopatra – The Lumineers:
The success of The Lumineers’s self titled first album gave me considerably low expectations for Cleopatra, their second album which came out this past April. From the outset of Sleep of the Floor, I was ready to shed my doubts, and by the time I got to the title track, I was all in.
Bands that are the most successful retain the genuine and unpolished sound of their first albums while still maturing. Cleopatra retains both the upbeat tones of songs like Ho Hey from their self- titled album and the melancholy of songs like Dead Sea. That same dichotomy manifests itself through the poignant theme of the album- growing up. This is most apparent in “Gun Song,” where the speaker takes us back and forth between childish ideals and a mature mind– “I don’t have a sweetheart yet, but if I did I’d break my neck /To please her, make her want to stay in my arms she’d rest/ But I don’t have a sweetheart yet” and “I can’t believe what I found in daddy’s/ Sock drawer, sock drawer today/ It was a pistol, a Smith & Wesson, holy, holy shit” — linked with la’s and da’s. The adult inside is aware of how things should be but the child is still surprised by the gravity of reality. Woven together with such personas and allusions, the album feels honest and vulnerable.
Listen to: “Gun Song,” “Sleep on the Floor”
A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead: After falling in love at first listen with “True Love Waits” and binging on the rest of A Moon Shaped Pool, I texted my friend, who has made me listen to more Radiohead than any Indie-Pop-Princess could ever want, and I said “I really like the new Radiohead Album, so I can only assume real hipsters hate it?” That’s usually how it goes for me, but lo and behold, he agreed. The album is simply stunning, feeling almost like one stream of consciousness, an effect only enhanced by tracks titled, “Daydreaming,” “Present Tense,” and “Tailor Tinker Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief.”
Listen to: “Desert Island Disk,” “True Love Waits”
Day of the Dead – Various Artists: Given my obsession with Lost on the River from the New Basement Tapes, it’s really no surprise that I rank this collection in my favorites of 2016 so far. I can’t pretend I have listened to the entire 59 song tribute to Grateful Dead, but I am certainly working my through it! I have a theory of music that anything the Dessner brothers touch turns to gold, and this spectacularly curated album proves no different. Of course, I started with the songs from The National, but you will also find indie favorites such as The War on Drugs, Jim James, Courtney Barnett, Wilco, Tallest Man on Earth, Real Estate and The Walkmen. As someone who did not grow up listening to Grateful Dead, it’s a great mediation between the bands I love and a band that has been so essential to the rock canon.
Listen to: “Ship of Fools” from Tallest Man on Earth, “Morning Dew” from The National
Hard to Read – Day Wave: So I’ve been raving about Day Wave since the release of their single “Drag” last year. Since then, we have been given a couple other singles and two EPs, one of them being 2016’s Hard to Read. Guys, Day Wave is for real. The stuff that these guys are putting out is incredibly reminiscent of anything we have seen since the New Wave movement of the 1980s, what some might consider the most important era of the independent music movement. In fact, no disrespect to bands like M83, I’m not sure if any band has successfully replicated the sound as well as Day Wave has. On this EP, Day Wave presents a mellow sound guided by smooth guitar riffs and finished off with lyrics that compare to those of the First Wave movement and even the modern pop-punk revival. These lyrics speak to both of these generations of music. Even a simple bridge at the end of “Gone” proves this, where Jackson Phillips repeats “do I belong?”. Their melancholic, synth sound is something that can be appreciated in the office, the dorm room or over a few beers with some friends. I expect huge things from Day Wave in the coming year, so get ready because you will hear this name again.
Listen to: “Hard to Read,” “Stuck”
Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest: Before I really get into this album, I do want to address something. This is a sick band name. I wish I thought of it. Anyway, I first got into Car Seat Headrest from their 2015 single “Something Soon” and soon after their sixth album Teens of Style. Needless to say, I definitely discovered them way too late. Car Seat Headrest is talented, fun, and profoundly interesting. The lo-fi sound they present has seen a revival recently in the indie scene is something that is becoming very popular amongst these kind of bands, however this album proves that it is not overdone. This album flows incredibly well, with an evident Radiohead influence, it is very listenable throughout, with some tracks to jump to and some to make you think.
Listen to: “Fill in the Blank,” “(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem),” “Joe Goes to School”
Goodness – The Hotelier: This is the third album in The Hotelier’s arsenal and arguably their best yet. Most places you look, the cover art for Goodness looks blurred and digitized, however this is censorship ladies and gentleman. The cover art is actually a collection of nude middle-aged men and women standing in a field. Got the picture? Great, that censorship was really worth it. Anyway, the actual content of this album is outstanding. The “emo-revival” movement continues to impress, especially here. Goodness highlights a quest for hope and namely, a search for that good. An interesting element of this album is the three interludes throughout the album, which serve as near perfect transitions from song to song. This is an album to sit and listen to all the way through, in order to get the full message. Get ready to think and feel things because that is exactly what The Hotelier is doing.
Listen To: “Goodness Pt. 2,” “Piano Player,” “End of Reel”
Singles that have us HYPE for the rest of 2016
“Past Lives” | Local Natives
“Better Love” | Hozier
“Frank Sinatra” | The Avalanches
“Female Vampire” | Jenny Hval
“Intern” | Angel Olsen
“Anxiety” | Preoccupations
“Bored to Death” | Blink-182
“No EQ”| Into It. Over It.
“Blonde Hair, Black Lungs”| Sorority Noise
“Mr. Startup”| Wolf Parade
“McCafferty vs Tfb”| McCafferty