My Summer ’16 Soundtrack: The Top 20 Songs

Well guys, the first day of Fall – or the “autumnal equinox” if you’re pretentious – is upon us, as is our official goodbye to Summer Sixteen. What we’re left with, aside from a month-long hangover and a couple genital warts, is a bunch of memories. More specifically, we’re left with the memories and the songs that accompany them. Seriously, the sheer power of the music-memory connection is mindblowing. (Example: two years ago, I had a severe panic attack in the middle of the Taconic Parkway in upstate New York while Wiz Khalifa’s “Bout Y’all” was playing, and to this day, I still can’t hear that track without losing my shit. It’s a shame, ‘cause it’s a banger.) This potent connection is bested only by the smell-memory link (Olfaction to Hippocampus), which any Neuroscientist will get a sizable boner explaining to you.

So whenever a meaningful chapter in my life closes, it always gets me thinking: what was my soundtrack? What are the songs that, until my liver finally calls it quits or an ex-girlfriend stabs me in my sleep, are gonna be intertwined with the good, the bad, and the ugly of this time period in my life? With Summer Sixteen coming to an end, I reached into the depths of my neurotic mind and these are the songs I yanked out. Below are brief thoughts on each one, and I’ve even compiled a Spotify playlist at the bottom for your listening pleasure.

This is what my Summer sounded like, and consequently, it’s what soul crushing nostalgia is gonna sound like for me in 2040. What did yours sound like? Let me know in the comments. I hope you’ve already given day one of Autumn a swift kick in the ass! Peace out Summer Sixteen!

(Girl We Got A) Good Thing – Weezer

If you ever wondered what summer “sounds like”, here’s your answer.

Sometimes – Ariana Grande

My favorite Pop song of the entire year. Max Martin’s impossibly smooth production reminds me of his work on Backstreet Boys’ Millenium.

KISA – Rittz

On Rittz’s brilliant, hard-hitting Top of the Line, the sappy love song also happens to be my favorite. Bite me.

Roses – Carly Rae Jepsen

Every single track on last month’s Emotion: Side B EP is a contender, but “Roses” takes the cake for me. It’s moody by Carly Rae standards, and perhaps that’s why I have a slightly deeper connection with it than peppy songs like “First Time”.

Everything– Atmosphere

Slug’s hyper self-aware rhymes and Ant’s knocking production make this a quintessential Atmosphere track.

Do You Mind – DJ Khaled

I love this sensual banger from DJ Khaled’s absurdly hyped Major Key LP. The production is a bit of a call back to Rich Gang’s “Lifestyle”, and Future’s guest verse is low key one of the best moments of his career.

Collapse – Vektor

Vektor’s Progressive Thrash opus Terminal Redux is still my number one Metal album of 2016 thus far. And yes, it’s fucking blistering, but it’s actually the LP’s pseudo-ballad that I’ve found myself coming back to the most.

Shelter –Porter Robinson & Madeon

 My two favorite EDM artists broke the Internet with this collaborative single, and it sounds exactly how I had hoped – like Madeon’s Adventure and Porter’s Worlds enjoyed some good ol’ passionate shtupping.

John Muir – ScHoolboy Q

Q’s menacing delivery and Sounwave’s throbbing boom bap – complemented by a touch of Jazz in the hook – are a lethal combination.

Whatever, Wherever – Band of Horses

Another stare-up-at-the-stars-and-think-about-life song from Band of Horses. Gorgeous, calming…everything I’ve come to adore about “Factory”, “Infinite Arms”, “The Funeral”, and the softer moments in the band’s catalogue. I often wonder if other listeners extract the same mood from these songs that I do – if not, chalk another thing up to my weirdness.

Hologram – Crown the Empire

 Histrionic metalcore angst at its most shameless. Normally it doesn’t fly with me, but “Hologram” is so fucking catchy.

Night Drive Loneliness – Garbage

Over two decades after their self-titled masterpiece, Garbage are still killing it. This standout from their new record Strange Little Birds – which came out in June – is the perfect sonic execution of its titular concept.

Stranded – Gojira

In stripping down their pulverizing sound for something a bit hookier, Gojira took a huge risk with Magma, the band’s sixth album. But it’s the most commercial song on it that ended up being my favorite!

 Cleaving Giants of Ice – Revocation

The mammoth closing track from Great Is Our Sin proves that Death Metal and clean vocals DO mix when done right! Prominent Enslaved influence here.

Stole the Show – Kygo

Overall, I was pretty turned off by the excessively commercial sound of Kygo’s debut, but “Stole the Show” was, ironically, my most beat-to-death party song of the summer ‘16.

Dive In – Pierce the Veil

I’ll give Pierce the Veil the gold medal for biggest surprise of 2016 thus far. I usually avoid verb-the-noun bands like the plague, but their new record Misadventures and its explosive opening track are undeniable.

The Fighter – Keith Urban

As with Kygo, I hated the album, but fell in love with a select track. “The Fighter” is a powerful duet with Carrie Underwood.

Something’s Off – Hatebreed

One of the very best songs of Hatebreed’s two-decade career. What a monstrous main groove! And in the bridge section, Jamey Jasta’s foray into clean singing is an absolute triumph.

Ideology is Theft – Saosin

For some reason, the bridge in this song yanks a tremendous amount of emotion out of me every single time I hear it. That addicting lead guitar riff in the chorus doesn’t hurt either.

Love Drought – Beyonce

 This is the song Drizzy Drake wishes he could pull off

 

July 2016 Album Round Up!

From a record label perspective, July is one of the worst times of the year to release new music. High schoolers are at camp, Jewish high schoolers are DEFINITELY at camp, college kids are grinding it out at minimum wage jobs to pay off their gargantuan student debt, and everyone else is cashing in on their vacation days. There’s a reason this coming September is STACKED with exciting albums – the industry’s waiting for all these fuckers to get back in their groove and start shelling out cash in search of an escape.

Still, July isn’t the wasteland that the end of December is. For those taking a crack at radio, the enticing pursuit of a summer anthem remains, and for others, summer tours like Warped and Summer Slaughter are in full swing and those merch tables look awfully nice when they’re adorned with brand new albums. In the end, July 2016 actually blessed us with quite a bit in the new music department. Below are my thoughts on nine of the records that came out:

California – Blink-182

This much-anticipated comeback from Pop-Punk’s most celebrated band was the first record I snatched up this month. It didn’t matter that Tom Delonge was gone and replaced by Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio, which would likely water things down. I just had to hear it, and I expected greatness. Well, “greatness” was not quite what I was greeted with. It’s a fairly enjoyable listen, but there’s so little on here that doesn’t already exist in a superior form on Enema of the State, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, or the self-titled record. Still, I will recommend 1) the lovably sappy ballad “Home is Such a Lonely Place”, 2) the mellowed out title track, which is littered with awesome vocal harmonies, and 3) “She’s Out of Her Mind”, which is vintage Blink. Oh, and the chorus in “Los Angeles” is fucking enormous. But other than that, there’s not much here in the way of replay value. NOT RECOMMENDED

Great Is Our Sin – Revocation

Boston, MA’s Revocation won me over in 2011 with their excellent third LP Chaos of Forms – some adventurous, versatile Death Metal that was tech-y at times, Thrash-y at times, and often dipped into Melodic Death Metal territory. Albums four and five (2013’s Revocation and 2014’s Deathless) were less experimental and more generic, but still solid. Great is Our Sin is the happy medium – straightforward and well-executed like its two predecessors, but it does a better job of breaking the monotony when needed. Case in point, the album’s closer and undeniable apex “Cleaving Giants of Ice”, which utilizes a – well, giant – melodramatic chorus in the Insomnium or latter-era Enslaved vein. For something more more technical, check “Crumbling Imperium”. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Summer Songs 2 – Lil’ Yachty

An 18-year-old Atlanta MC and freshly anointed XXL freshman, Lil’ Yachty blew up with his debut mixtape Lil’ Boat back in March. Naturally, I ignored it. But Summers Songs 2 came, and curiosity got the best of me. This is Yachty’s sophomore effort, and one key ingredient is egregiously missing: talent. Listen to him deliver the hook to “Life Goes On”, an otherwise decent song with a bright and bubbly beat. Does he realize how off-time his flow is? Even if he does, purposeful does not equal good. Yachty’s the product of the last decade of rap’s more “ignorant” side, and he may be a weirdo like Young Thug or Lil’ Wayne, but he’s nowhere near the former’s charm or the latter’s cleverness. NOT RECOMMENDED

 

Wildflower – The Avalanches

Sampling savants The Avalanches far surpassed ScHoolboy Q for the honor of most anticipated album of July 2016. We have waited longer for the follow-up to 2000’s Since I Left You than we did for Guns ‘N Roses’ Chinese Democracy. But Chinese Democracy was an egomaniacal mess and Wildflower is mind-bending, staggering, awe-inspiring, and every adjective that makes me sound like I’m getting paid off to write this. As with Since I Left You, Wildflower is going to take quite some time to fully process, but it took virtually no time to start enjoying. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Snake Church – Ringworm

Over 25 years into their career, these Cleveland Hardcore vets delivered a ripping eighth LP! Snake Church is a fantastic listen if you’re looking for a Metalcore record that’s truly an audible blend of Metal and Hardcore Punk, and not just a Groove Metal record with a handful of breakdowns. James Bulloch a.k.a. The Human Furnace is as visceral a frontman as ever, and he’s backed by a barrage of (mostly) great riffs. In particular, the track “Shades of Blue” is an uncharacteristically sludgy mid-album highlight that adds another dimension to an oft-monotonous style. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 Blank Face LP – ScHoolboy Q

Q’s follow-up to 2014’s Grammy-nominated breakout project Oxymoron HAD to be worthy of “Top 5 Most Anticipated Hip-Hop Records of 2016” inclusion (perhaps alongside Kanye, Chance, Anderson .Paak, and maybe Kid Cudi because of how hilariously bad Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven was). For me, Blank Face LP turned out to be excruciatingly difficult to review; its stark inconsistencies nearly gave me a brain tumor. There’s pure genius like the jazz-tinged boom bap of “John Muir”, or the g-funk influenced “Neva Change”, a collaboration with R &B and soul singer SZA, but then Q turns around and gives you utter landfill like “Overtime” an insincere swipe at radio, or “That Part”, a dull and predictable club song. Oddly, it’s all neatly divided up into thirds in order of the track list: a disappointing first six tracks, a stellar middle section, and a decent but inconsistent final four songs. Pretty strange. But the heart of the album was banging enough to (mostly) compensate for the record’s egregious misfires. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Retrograde – Crown the Empire

In the five plus years they’ve been active, Crown the Empire have made zero effort to distinguish themselves from their Hot Topic-core contemporaries. But with 2014’s The Resistance: Rise of the Runaways at least they executed the formula admirably. Retrograde, their third full-length, finds them attemping to replicate the success of Bring Me the Horizon’s 2015 commercial powerhouse That’s the Spirit to mixed results. The first half has a couple decent singles like “Hologram” and “Zero”, but even then, these songs are like chugging a bunch of girly cocktails – they’re sweet, sugary, and go down easily at first, but you’re gonna puke them up and have a massive headache eventually. And there’s downright atrocious stuff on here too, like “Signs of Life”, which begs the tired old questions: “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?” Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Poison Red – Nonpoint

YUCK. Granted, Nu Metal and Alternative Metal were before my time so I have no nostalgia to swoop in and rescue this album for me, but STILL…I’m having a hard time understanding how there’s an audience for this in 2016. A flaccid guitar tone, cringeworthy lyrics (“so you wanna be the type of motherfucker that person to person is personally an asshole” is an actual verbatim lyric), and unimaginative riffs are the stuff this record’s made of. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

 

Major Key – DJ Khaled

You can hate on Hip-Hop’s favorite Snapchat goon all you want, but this time around, DJ Khaled actually delivered a solid Pop Rap album! Since a Khaled LP is essentially a singles compilation, that’s how it ought to be judged, and there are more hits than duds on here. “Do You Mind” is one of my favorites. It’s smooth as hell, featuring a sensual piano line and one of the best guest spots Future has ever recorded. And if you’re a fiend for bars, there’s the fiery anthem “Holy Key”, on which Kendrick and Big Sean drop some serious heat, there are entire songs by Nas and J. Cole to munch on, and the track “Don’t Ever Play Yourself” boasts the best verse of the entire album courtesy of Jadakiss (“put me in the Hall of Smack”, anyone?). And the bland stuff, like “Fuck Up the Club”, is fairly inoffensive. RECOMMENDED