Here’s where it gets really interesting: the best albums from one of the best years I can remember. Aside from my number one pick, the other nine listed here could have taken any order – they are all stunning pieces of art, all stupendous albums that you should absolutely listen to at least once. They underline what a good place rock music is in as we head into 2017. And the fact that there are four debut albums – all from British bands, for that matter – makes the future seem very exciting.
Click here for numbers 20 to 11 and for Chris Nee’s picks.
10. HECK – Instructions (NPAG Industries Ltd)
You’ve probably heard the stories about the live show – the chaos and carnage but no real songs to take home and sing on the way home? Right? Not any more. HECK unleashed a serious credentials check with this, their debut album, and it tears up any idea that they don’t have any songs. This album has hooks aplenty and underlines what a serious talent the mob formerly known as Baby Godzilla are. And that live show? It’s still everything it was before. [Spotify]
9. Thrice – To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere (Vagrant Records)
I’ve always been conscious of Thrice without ever really knowing their material, so to really get to know them on this wonderful album has been a real treat. Probably my third- favourite vocal performance of the year tops off a marvellous set of songs that I keep getting more and more from with each listen – none more so than ‘Black Honey’, which is as near to perfection that I’ve heard all year. [Spotify]
8. Touché Amoré – Stage Four (Touché Amoré)
One thing you should know about me is that I’m not a vocals guy. My ears are wired to latch onto guitars and rhythms, so I know the words to very few songs. But the lyrical content of Stage Four has touched me and moved me like no other album I’ve ever heard. If you’ve ever lost anyone it will undoubtedly have an effect on you too. In case you were wondering, this is my favourite vocal performance of the year. The music behind it ain’t half bad either. A gruelling ride, yes, but what a stunning piece of work. [Spotify]
7. Milk Teeth – Vile Child (Hopeless Records)
The second phenomenal British debut album in my top ten comes from Slough’s Milk Teeth, who showed exactly why so many people are quite so excited about them. Vile Child is bursting at the seams with life, and it spits out great song after great song, all the while hinting at even more genius to come. Becky’s vocal performance raises this record from good to great, and it is simply a joy to listen to. I knew from the first time I heard this record that it was top ten material, and I’ve not gone more than a week without giving it a blast since in came out in January. Top quality stuff. [Spotify]
6. Architects – All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us (Epitaph)
Even without the tragic passing of their guitarist Tom from cancer just a few weeks after this album was released, and the added poignancy that awful event has given these songs, this record would still have been in my top ten. Architects are a band that never quite clicked with me until this came out, but the ambition, prowess and dexterity shown here is staggering. This is an album that makes you proud to be British. Its brilliance is unrelenting and it will forever be considered a classic. [Spotify]
5. ZOAX – ZOAX (Century Media Records)
Brilliant British debut number three comes in the form of this majestic album from ZOAX, who show anyone that cares to pay attention what a special outfit they are. Few bands could appeal as much to fans of the mainstream and the heavier side of things as this talented bunch, and this album deserves to be heard by so many more people than it has already. Like HECK before them, ZOAX are a band with a reputation for a crazy live show but not much to back it up in terms of songs. If you still think that, shut the hell up and go and listen to this album, you crazy fool. And, listen to the whole thing – taking in this record in one sitting is incredibly rewarding. [Spotify]
4. letlive. – If I’m The Devil… (Epitaph)
This album makes me so happy. A hyped band – that is actually worthy of said hype – delivers a stunning album that underlines their immense talent and hints at what they might yet be. Over the course of three albums, letlive. have morphed from punk heroes to modern rock’s most vital and exciting band. They can do it all, and they prove it here – from melodic to raging fury, this album ticks every box. And, of course, there’s also the small matter of their frontman Jason Aalon Butler – my second favourite vocal performer of the year – who, it seems can do anything. Not only that, but you believe him. Every word. This record feels like a tipping point in the trajectory of letlive.’s career, and I can’t wait to see what they do next. [Spotify]
3. Every Time I Die – Low Teens (Epitaph)
In case you were wondering – yes, Every Time I Die is one of the very best bands to ever make make music. Ever. Of. All. Time. So, knowing that, it won’t really be a surprise just how good Low Teens is. Except this is the band’s eighth studio album, made by a battle-scarred bunch of blokes in their thirties who, somehow, are still getting better year on year. On and off stage they school any band that tries to follow, and they’ve only been beaten this year by two very special albums. The guitar player in me would like you to know that this album is the best guitar album of 2016. [Spotify]
2. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociation (Party Smasher Inc.)
There is so much that has already been said about the career-defining masterpiece that I’m struggling to find something else to say. This album is undeniable, as are its creators. Even disregarding the fact that this is their swansong, this is every bit the juggernaut you’ve read about. Every band member gives the performance of their career. Just let me remind you that this is The Dillinger Escape Plan we’re talking about, and let that take a moment to let that sink in. This band has kept us all frothing at the mouth right to the very end, and this is a magnificent way to sign off. [Spotify]
And my Album of the Year for 2016 is…
1. Black Peaks – Statues (Sony Music Entertainment)
I’ve known this was likely to be my top pick for some time. As good a battle as The Dillinger Escape Plan put up, I haven’t been this excited about a band’s debut album in a very long time. Black Peaks are, quite simply, incredible. They can do everything – heavy, melody, progression, emotion…they’ve got the lot. Some bands will go an entire career without producing something as ambitious as Statues, and this is Black Peaks’ first attempt! Imagine what else is going to follow.
And, to top it all off, this band has performed the three best live sets I’ve seen all year; their set at Download was the best festival set I’ve ever seen in my entire life, while their acoustic jaunt at 2000trees was spine-tinglingly special. I’ve picked this album as my number one because it still thrills me with every listen, because it makes me giddy with excitement about what this young British band might do over the coming years, and because it is a glorious shouted statement to the world that rock music is better than anything else. For me, Statues is the best thing 2016 has to offer – the best of the best. [Spotify]