25 Best Albums of 2016

Honorable Mentions: Flume – Skin, Kendrick Lamar – Untitled, Unmastered, Banks and Steelz – Anything But Words, The Kills – Ash & Ice

25. Rhianna – Anti


I can’t really say I’ve ever listened to a Rhianna album until this year, and it’s shocking to me that Anti is her 8th album.  While it’s a little long in the tooth, it has probably two of my favorite songs this year in Kiss It Better and Work.  

24. Sia – This is Acting


I have always been a huge fan of Sia as a vocalist and particularly a songwriter.  This is Acting is made up of songs that Sia wrote for other artists but ended up keeping for herself, and it’s some of her best work yet.  The songs on here are massive, and remind me a lot of another singers last album I loved, Florence and the Machine.

23. Richard Ashcroft – These People


I’ve always been an Ashcroft fan, ever since his days with The Verve.  He is a tremendous songwriter, and he continues his remarkable career here.  Again, it’s not like he’s doing anything new here.  He’s just writing great songs which he’s always done in the past.

22. Temper Trap – Thick as Thieves


I’m not saying The Temper Trap’s new albums feels, or sounds original at all.  There’s a ton of bands that have been riding the synth, pop sound for a while now; The Killers, Phoenix, etc.  For some reason I’ve gravitated towards Temper Trap and been a fan for a while now.  I think it’s the best thing they’ve done so far.

21. Plants and Animals – Waltzed in From the Rumbling


Waltzed in From the Rumbling is a product of a massive catalogue of songs that were created by Plants and Animals prior to going in to the studio.  It feels and sounds like a love-lorn concept album.  Very dreamlike and ethereal.  Deep, resounding songs.

20. Minor Victories – Minor Victories


Supergroup Minor Victories consists of members of Mogwai, Slowdive, and The Editors.  Three bands I absolutely love.  You can definitely hear their own styles coming together on this pretty robust album, and let’s face it I’m a sucker for electronic, shoegaze, dream-pop.

19. Crystal Castles – Amnesty (I)


When Alice Glass left the band it was kind of hard to say….oh man….they’re losing so much.  Ethan Kath is the heart and soul of the band.  He creates all the movements, and it’s especially hard to say that something is missing from the lead singer when 99% of the vocals are digitally manipulated.  Kath feels rejuvenated in what feels somewhat like revenge against Alice Glass for whatever reason, and new singer Edith Frances actually sounds fresh in a band that never totally relied on the vocals.

18. Frank Ocean – Blonde


There’s not a lot to be said about Frank Ocean that hasn’t already been said.  He’s become one of the most original and talked about artists of the past few years.  His follow up to Channel Orange is maybe not as good, but it’s not far off.

17. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion B


It’s pretty amazing the level of output from Jepsen since last year.  Her Emotion barely missed my best albums last year, and when her B-sides album came out this year I was blown away with the level of songwriting and experimentation that was involved.  It eclipses her last album only in the fact that it is a more lean experimental version of the latter.

16. Garbage – Strange Little Birds


I’ve always liked Garbage, but at this point in their careers shouldn’t they just sound like old tired rock?  Well somehow they still sound fresh and make great music.  Shirley Manson is one of the great front-women in rock and roll and she’s the reason why this album charted so high for me.

15. School of Seven Bells – SVIIB


The ending of School of Seven Bells is spelled out not as much as a sad eulogy to the death of songwriter Benjamin Curtis, but as a celebration of what made them such a great band.  It’s really a perfect ending to their 4 magnificent albums.

14. Foxes – All I Need


I love synthpop, and I love synthpop fronted by a woman who can just make it all come together.  Louisa Rose Allen, who is Foxes, created a great pop album in All I Need.  I think she’s definitely one to watch as she continues on through her career.

13. David Bowie – Blackstar


There’s been lots of death in 2016.  Bowie’s passing along with Leonard Cohen hit hard for me.  These were two men whose music spoke volumes to me, not only in my youth, but also as I’ve grown older.  Their songs resonate.  The meanings change as I’ve grown as well.  Blackstar is an amazing stamp on a career in which Bowie’s persona created so many different faces, and music took so many forms.  RIP to the Thin White Duke.

12. Polica – United Crushers


I loved Polica’s first album Give You the Ghost, and their 3rd album is right up there.  I feel it’s the perfect blend of hard synth and pop hooks. Channy Leaneagh is one of the most original vocalists making music right now in my mind.

11. Wye Oak – Tween


I was lucky enough to see Wye Oak a few months ago at the beautiful Thalia Hall here in Chicago, and I was blown away by how they pull their sound off live.  I was really amazed how great a front-woman Jenn Wassner was as well.  Tween is an album of castaways from the Civilian and Shriek sessions, but that doesn’t make it feel like an album full of B-sides.  It makes it feel like its own work.

10. The Joy Formidable – Hitch


I’m a total homer here.  I’ve been a huge fan ever since the first time I’ve heard them.  Massive stadium rock riffs, and they’re getting more complex here.  They do go a little far with the composition, and this is as far as they should go in my mind.

9. Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues


I’m kind of shocked myself I’m putting these guys up this high on this list.  I think their smash hit The Middle kind of does a detriment to their overall discography.  Integrity Blues is full of just great, well-produced and written songs.  Hard rock riffs, to alt/rock ballads.  Great album front to back.

8. Frightened Rabbit – Painting of a Panic Attack


Frightened Rabbit is a band that I’ve slowly liked more and more over the years.  First of all they are fantastic live if you ever get the chance.  Painting of a Panic Attack is once again produced by the National’s Aaron Dessner.  So it has that thick sound that reminds you of the National for sure, but still has the sound that’s made Frightened Rabbit a band to constantly watch.

7. Shearwater – Jet Plane and Oxbow


I had to do a double take when I checked Shearwater’s discography.  They’ve released something like 11 or 12 albums since 2001, most of which have been self-released.  I must admit I’m only family with Animal Joy and their newest Jet Plane and Oxbow.  It’s a rich album with tons of layers within each song.  It’s a dense album that takes time to absorb.

6. Wild Nothing – Life of Pause


Lead singer and songwriter Jack Tatum has slowly been creating is own unique vision of shoegaze dream-pop over the past 5-6 years.  His brainchild Wild Nothing has slowly gotten better and better with each release.  Their third album is easily their best effort yet.

5. Deftones – Gore


Gore along with The Deftones last album, Koi No Yokan marks their best outings since White Pony.  They’re able to blend the heaviest of riffs along with dreamy pieces of architecture that float in between.  It’s all courtesy of lead singer Chino Moreno.

4. Tegan and Sara – Love You to Death


Its hard to imagine an album of pop gems much better than Tegan and Sara’s last album Heartthrob, but somehow they did it with Love You to Death.  Barely over 30 minutes of pop laden hooks.  The twins are streamlined and at their absolute best on their 8th album.

3. Mystery Jets – Curve of the Earth


Mystery Jets are a band that have been consistently pumping out music for the past decade.  I’ve only heard their two prior albums to their newest and never thought much of them.  Just pretty good music, but their new one is something special.  Very well written and thought out songs.

2. Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker


The passing of Leonard Cohen was the bookend of a horrible year of death for musicians and artists of all forms.  Cohen was a poet who just ended up being a musician.  He is my favorite lyricist of all time, and You Want it Darker may be his greatest achievement of all.  Deep songs of love, hate, loss, and death, and lonnnngggg life living with all of it.

1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool


My love/hate relationship continues with one of my favorite/least favorite bands of all time.  Radiohead gets praised for everything they do, but not everything they do is as amazing as this.  Noel Gallagher infamously said “…if Thom Yorke shit into a f$%king light bulb it’d get 9/10…”.  Which is true, but this is definitely not shit.  It’s a pretty amazing album, and even more amazing that a band such as Radiohead is still able to create something so atmospheric and original.

The 10 Best Films of 2015

Honorable Mentions: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 99 Homes, The Gift, Black Sea, It Follows, Sleeping With Other People, While We’re Young, Inside Out, Phoenix


10) All This Mayhem

This was technically released in late 2014, but didn’t come to the states or at least to my attention until early this year, but I have to add it.  The insanely true story of the Pappas brothers.  Two Australian skateboarders who set out to conquer the skateboarding world and prove they were better than Tony Hawk could ever dream to be.  Is it a little lopsided?….yeah of course it is, but that doesn’t change what both of them went through in their own personal lives.



9) Steve Jobs

Danny Boyle knows how to make a film.  He knows how to make things simple, yet interesting at the same time as well, and he knows how to cast his sea of characters.  Michael Fassbender does an amazing job of portraying Steve Jobs over the years, and doesn’t hold back from what a genius, and an asshole Jobs was.


8) Spotlight

Easily the best ensemble cast of the year, you could make the case for H8teful Eight though. The true story of how a news crew took down the Catholic church in Boston and exposed them for the molestation of 100s of boys.  A great look in to how a team of journalists uncovers the truth.


7) Room

At first this doesn’t sound like the most interesting film.  A woman is stuck in room with her son, held by her captor.  I’ve seen infinite 48 hour mysteries about the subject, so it seemed like yet the same thing.  What takes the film to the next level is how this woman and her son interact with each other throughout the course of the film, and especially how they evolve halfway through the film and in to the end of the film.  One of the best performances of the year by Brie Larson.


6) The Big Short

The fall of the housing market in 2007 is captured across multiple converging storylines.  We follow bankers, we follow people who are in the know ahead of the collapse, or at least think they’re in the know, and we ride the rollercoaster with them.  We all know for the most part what happened around that time, but The Big Short  is an intricate portrait of the collapse.  Probably one of my favorite “acted” films of the year, and also one of the more interesting in how these actors interact with each other and interact with the viewer.


5) James White

A film that really took me by surprise.  Fantastic acting, and director Josh Mond does an unbelievable job of taking us through the phases of James White’s depression of dealing with the death of his father, and the struggle of taking care of his mother through her cancer.  It’s an emotional film that speaks to you as a film-goer.


4) The Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio is a lock for an Oscar here.  He drives this movie.  It’s a very simple story on the surface.  A tale of survival and revenge in one of the toughest times in American history.  An absolutely beautiful film, shot to perfection in every way, and acted perfectly in every way as well.


3) Ex Machina

One of the more interesting science fiction films I’ve seen over the years.  The film makes you think on so many levels.  IF Artificial Intelligence existed what would it look like, and how would we interact with it.  Could it be so life-like to mimic feelings, or just be programmed to do so?


2) Mad Max: Fury Road

I almost had a brain aneurysm within 10 minutes of sitting through George Miller’s re-imagining of his Mad Max series.  It is non-stop action from beginning to end.  Edge of your seat, pulse-pounding action.  It’s so simple too.  Furiosa and her team need to escape from the big baddy all the way across the desert, only to have to go all the way back and take him down.  A road movie, and a survivor movie done to perfection.


1) Creed

No I’m not kidding.  Stallone gives the performance of the year, and director Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan prove they’re something special together.  This turns the whole Rocky franchise on its head and does such a great job of tying in all the great things about ALL the Rocky films, while also tipping its head to a lot of things that happened in real life to both Coogler and Sly.


The 5 Worst films of 2015


5) The Fantastic Four

Not even a stellar cast can save this piece of garbage.  This is what people are talking about when they say they’re getting sick of superhero films.  A dumb plot, horrible writing, and horrible directing.  Perhaps the worst superhero film of all time.


4) Aloha

I’m not sure what the hell Cameron Crowe has been doing for the past 10+ years…but it’s not making good movies.  This is strike two after Elizabethtown.  I’m honestly not even really sure what the film is about.  It is boring and confusing as hell, not funny, not dramatic, it’s just kind of there.


3) The Ridiculous Six

Adam Sandler will obviously never stop, but god I wish he would.  Yet another straight up piece of shit.  Dude is cashing paychecks like a mo’fo’.  He’s just not making anything worth watching.


2) Project Almanac

The worst time travel movie I’ve ever seen.  Filled with holes, and involves kids who somehow are smart enough to figure out a time machine….but not smart enough to go back in time with the correct numbers of a winning lottery.  Dumb.


1) 50 Shades of Grey

It doesn’t get much worse than this.  Soft porn for the eyes with the worst acting of the year.  Although points do go to the film for the best line of the year…”I’m 50 shades of fu$%ed up!”



Room_PosterBrie Larson is slowly becoming a fan favorite of mine, especially considering the fact that she’s able to juggle comedy (Trainwreck) along with serious roles such as Short Term 12 and now Room.

Room is the story of a woman who was kidnapped and imprisoned at the age of 17.  She is forced to become the slave of her kidnapper.  It’s unknown how she was abducted, why she was abducted, and the motive of her kidnapper.  All of which doesn’t really matter anyway. You can’t try to explain these sort of things.  Unfortunately they happen.  What does matter is the relationship she has with her son.  The son of the kidnapper.  A son that has never seen the outside world, and who has only known what he sees on the TV, and what he sees within ‘Room’.

At first glance we are presented with the horrible story of captivity.  We live inside room with a mother and son, and we feel the sickening and gut-wrenching disgust for this man that has taken her.  We view their world in a 10 by 10 space.  We try to understand how they cope and survive, and also try and figure out…why haven’t you done everything in your power to escape in the SEVEN years that you’ve been held captive.  All these questions will soon be answered.

What we learn, and really need to understand, is that Brie’s character will do anything for her son.  It is HER son.  The kidnapper may be the father but he has no claim to that child.  The film really begins to pick up steam and head in another direction around the halfway point.  No spoilers, but the film shifts from being about the little boy to being about the mother, and how childhood keeps you ‘plastic’ from the atrocities around you.  It’s not that easy for an adult who knows better.  It’s not easy for someone who understands evil, and horror, and has to explain that to the eyes of an innocent child. An innocent child by the way who has always felt the comfort of the four walls that he has known his entire life.

Brie carries Room, but it shouldn’t be understated that Jacob Tremblay, who plays her son Jack, does an absolutely fantastic job as well.  Director Lenny Abrahamson plays a chess game here.  He puts us in the mind of Jack….and then he puts us in the mind of his mother.  It’s very calculated.  It’s very effective, and it results in one of the best films of the year.

Grade: A

The Night Before

TheNightBefore2015posterSeth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have been cash cows in the vein of 1990s Adam Sandler films over the past decade+.  They’re the writer/producer team behind Pineapple Express, Superbad, and This is the End to name a few.  It’s not that these films are amazing, but all of them have a few epic scenes that make them semi-classics.  I use that term loosely.  The Night Before is no different and offers up a ton of laughs, and a few epic scenes as well that make them riot-fests.

The film follows Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt), Issac (Seth Rogen), and Chris (Anthony Mackie) on Christmas Eve through the past 14 years.  This year on Christmas Eve will be the last that the three friends will spend together in epic blowout fashion.  Their tradition began years ago when Ethan’s parents were killed in a car crash and he was left alone for Christmas.  Issac and Chris promised to be his family from here on out.

As the years have passed, life has changed for Issac and Chris.  Issac now has a family, and Chris is working on a burgeoning NFL career.  They just don’t have the time to do this every year anymore with Ethan. Ethan on the other hand hasn’t progressed much in life over those years.  In fact he’s regressed.  He can’t move forward even in his relationships.  Diana (Lizzy Caplan), Ethan’s Ex, show’s up in the film as well and we soon learn about all the hang-ups that Ethan has had over the years, explaining his current predicament.

As the three guys meet up on their last Christmas Eve adventure, Ethan is holding something very special. Something they’ve been on the search for ever since they started this ritual.  Issac is holding a boatload of drugs, much of which he’ll be doing on his own.  Chris is holding on to a few secrets.  They’re ready to take this night by storm for the very last time, and they’re bring us with them…along with their drug-dealer Mr. Green.

What follows is pretty much what you would expect from a movie of this kind.  Hijinx, after hijinx, after hijinx.  There’s a lot of great hilarious scenes, and a couple that will get you non stop laughing.  There’s fart jokes, and weed jokes, and dick jokes, and all other kinds of juvenile and childish humor, but that’s what you want from this type of movie.  You want to go in to this type of movie without any real desire for substance, and that’s why it works.  That’s why it’s fun.  That’s why you should see it.

Grade: B+