Monday, January 30, 2017

Favorite Albums of 2016

Another year, another list, another diminishment in quality (in terms of my writing quality -- musically speaking, it was really good).

I'm certain this is right.

20) Mitski -- Puberty 2: interesting album title. features one of the best songs of the year.

19) Left and Right -- The Yips: A touch of Malkmus. "“Margaret Thatcher bought a Stratocaster/ played it/ made it/ rose to greatness.”

18) Veils -- Total Depravityproduced by one-half of the best tag ever (El-P from RTJ), and one of my favorite bands, this album didn't measure up for some reason. Tried to reach the same deranged, cathartic heights of their 2006 classic Nux Vomica, this one captured the production qualities but missed out on all the heart.

17) Preoccupations -- Preoccupations:
  Music for paranoid joy division fans.

16) Space Mountain -- Big Sky: a touch of David Berman here, but only a touch.

15) The Peep Tempel -- Joy

Couldn't snag the album cover for some reason. The return of the band that put out 2014's second best album. A good listen all the way through, just maybe not as cheeky/gritty/idiosyncratic as the last one.

"Joy reignites the band’s distinct drawl, growling and fist-waved plainspoken complaint spun through colloquial larrikinism and picture-book pub-punk storytelling. Yet, with longer studio sessions booked, the band also enjoyed what they describe as a “definite indulgence”, leading to left-field experiments ranging from organs to car engines.

Thematically, it’s equally varied. Snapshots of everyday life butt heads with more straight-shot, politically-ignited rhetoric, as with fiery first single “Rayguns”. At the other end of Joy’s wide-spread spectrum, minimalism lounge-bar ballad “Go Slow” compliments the sparse backdrop with throaty, targeted taunts, taking a far more personal slant to the band’s usual tact." (Rolling Stone AU)

Slay Tracks: Totality, Rayguns, Constable

14) Alex Cameron - Jumping the Shark
This album is sweet. Alex Cameron, the lead singer, takes on the perspective of a variety of down-and-out sad sacks. He's all in on it though -- going so far as the dress up as the miserable cast of characters he creates (like the one on the cover, who I just noticed has a hearing aid). In a way, he's kind of mining the same vein as Krispy Kreme in the "is this real or an act kind of thing?" Here, we know it is a trick, but it is really well performed. Anyone that says music is dead isn't looking hard enough for gems like this. This video of one of his "characters" is incredible.

"I ain't every man I wanted to be," Alex Cameron sings on Jumping the Shark, but over the course of the album, he's more than a few. Cameron's solo debut album introduces him as a meta-singer/songwriter: though he's best known as a member of the electronic pop trio Seekae, in Jumping the Shark's world, he's a down-on-his-luck performer with a saxophone player and "business partner" named Roy Molloy. Cameron uses this theatricality to sell Shark's portraits of failure, capturing them with a complex mix of humor, beauty, and poignancy. Cameron commits to his characters and moods completely, sketching them with stark, warts-and-all sounds and lyrics. Jumping the Shark's tinny keyboards and beats could be ancient presets, but also sound oddly timeless as they move from shabby to almost noble at a moment's notice: on songs like the bittersweet anthem "Take Care of Business," Cameron uses little more than some well-placed synth washes to turn the titular chorus from innuendo to a plea. Meanwhile, his storytelling is remarkably sophisticated, filled with the depth and empathy of a much more seasoned singer/songwriter. At times, his songs recall those of Bruce Springsteen or Billy Joel -- if they happened to be backed by Suicide. " (All Music)

Slay Tracks: Real Bad Lookin, The Internet, Take Care of Business, etc.

13) Teleman - Brilliant Sanity
If you don't know Pete and the Pirates, I'd check them out. They released two really great albums before breaking up and creating this group, whose goal, from what I can tell, is to make insanely catchy pop songs.

"Listing “the dogged pursuit of the perfect hook” as a driving force behind their music, everything Teleman do is crafted to worm its way under your skin. The follow-up to 2014 debut ‘Breakfast’, ‘Brilliant Sanity’ is an embellished venture through the unmistakable sound the four-piece have forged for themselves.

Having established an aesthetic that’s so very distinctly them, Teleman show no fear when it comes to pushing boundaries. Propulsive drumbeats reverberate and repeat, burrowing further through consciousness with every reiteration. It’s a mechanical sound that the quartet create, but with album number two they’ve given these mechanisms flesh.

Thomas Sanders’ vocals are as prolific as ever. Taking the lead over buoyant guitars, bubbling synth, and breezy rhythms, it’s all too easy to become lost amidst the high flying lyrics, which is exactly where the group want their listeners to be. It’s a vivid canvas that Teleman paint upon, using electric nuances and eerie echoes to give their dynamic melodies a possessive life of their own." (DIY)

Slay Tracks: Dusseldorf, Fall in Time, Glory Hallelujah, Drop Out

12) Christine and the Queens -- s/t

"“It’s rare to see a female pop artist so resistant to adoration, asking to be allowed to adore instead,” Pitchfork wrote about Christine (née Héloïse Letissier) earlier this year. That least Stone Roses-y of attitudes is clear throughout Christine’s first proper LP, which bounds along like a collection of curious observations, never explicitly demanding attention but always captivating it nonetheless. Hooks poke out of the mix and then slink back underneath. Phrasings from Christine’s lyrical mix of English and French — a near-identical version of the album was released entirely in French under the name Chaleur humaine in 2014 — draw you in for a line at a time. Arrangements swell but never go for the knockout punch. It’s brilliant in its quiet confidence, its willingness to intrigue rather than stun." (SPIN)

Slay Tracks: iT, Tilted, Paradis Perdus, Safe and Holy

11) Andy Shauf - The Party

"The Party plays out like Shauf is telling someone these the stories hours after or the next morning following the blowout. While the arrangements are lush, they don’t get too overbearing or massive to take away from the lyrics. Fans of artists like Elliott Smith and Grizzly Bear will likely enjoy Shauf’s music, but overall Shauf really comes into his own on The Party." (Paste)

Slay Tracks: Early to the Party, Quite Like You, The Worst In You, Alexander All Alone

10) Frightened Rabbit -- Painting of a Panic Attack
This one sounded like it was going to be incredible. Frightened Rabbit, who held down the #1 spot in 2010 and the #2 spot in 2013,  teaming with the Dessner Brothers (The National -- who have also showed up a lot in these gd lists). Unfortunately, it seems like the Dessner's kinda National-ized away some of Frightened Rabbits rougher edges. It's incredibly well produced and sounds great, but the album is a bit quieter and less eventful than I would have liked. Still a really solid album, but not quite reaching the heights of some of their earlier classics.

"Having said that, though, Painting of a Panic Attack is still an album to be cherished. A combination of new life experiences, that allow Hutchison to weave more vivid tales of mourning, nostalgia and, ultimately, triumph, and the shot in the arm that is Aaron Dessner giving the band that little bit more has helped to create an album that could rival Midnight Organ Fight. Just as Frightened Rabbit felt like they were starting to fall into a bit of a rut, Painting of a Panic Attack arrives to remind why they are such a special band. They’re not giving in just yet and thank goodness for that." (The Line of Best Fit).

Slay Tracks: Death Dream, Woke Up Hurting, Blood Under the Bridge, Wait 'Til Morning.

9) Touche Amore - Stage Four

Didn't expect a "post-hardcore" album to make the list. Especially one about a lead singer dealing with the loss of his mom to cancer. But life is full of surprises. Without a doubt, this album is pretty brutal and not for everyone.  But it packs a huge emotional wallop and it is beautifully wrought. A bit hard to listen to all the way through on  account of all the screaming though, ha.

"The heartsick sentiment of this album will leave most listeners with a pang in their chest. Bolm’s pain is so beautifully expressed that it can be hard not to buy in entirely. The “hardcore Carrie & Lowell” description is becoming fairly standard for Stage Four, but it still serves to highlight just how moving this record is. It will make you want to mosh, it will make you want to cry. I can’t think of a better sell for Stage Four." (The 405)

Slay Tracks: Flowers and You, Rapture, Benediction, Water Damage

8)  Modern Baseball -- Holy Ghost

Scratches a lot of the same itches as 2014-best "Home Like Noplace There Is" by the Hotelier.

"So, no, Holy Ghost isn’t as lighthearted as the band’s previous records. And it’s true that it lacks the sense of humor that propelled songs like “Going To Bed Now” and “Rock Bottom.” But this batch of songs serves a higher purpose: In addition to being a powerful examination of self-worth and how it tends to wither beneath the responsibilities of adulthood, the record is also a testament to the band’s growth musically and thematically. Ewald even seems to sneer at the carefree philosophies of youth when he sings about how “you ate the words you always used to say.” “Whatever, forever” just no longer applies. The Holy Ghost, that intangible something that represents forgiveness and spiritually fulfillment, remains out of reach. This record is the space in between." (The AV Club)

Slay Tracks: Mass, Everyday, Coding These To Lukens, Breathing in Stereo, Just Another Face

7) Operators - Blue Wave

Dan, the man, no stranger to this blog. Handsome Furs, his old group, got #1 on the 2011 list; and his even older group, Wolf Parade got #6 on the 2010 list. Oh yea, and his side-project super-group got #7 in 2012. He's an incredibly solid songwriter, who just seems to get better and better as he goes, and this offers a somewhat, if not completely new, take on his style and themes.

"It's ironic that Dan Boeckner sings so specifically about dreaming on four of the 10 songs that make up Operators' full-length debut. While Blue Wave showcases enough synth-centric production to meet all of the requirements to recreate a genre once widely referred to as dream pop, the songs on this album teem with such agitation that it could be the photo negative of that style: nightmare pop." (Pitchfork)

Slay Tracks: Rome, Cold Light, Blue Wave, Bring Me The Head, Nobody

6) Christian Fitness - This Taco Is Not Correct
Andy Falkous is no stranger to this blog. Another one of his projects got the 10 spot in 2009, and the number 3 spot in 2013. I seem to really like about half of his work, and this falls into the category. A lot of the songs are completely mental -- both lyrically and sonically, but the melodies are always super strong to keep it together.

"Amps are overloaded, ala ‘68 on the noise-wreckage of the superb Bad Boys Die In The Bath (you can almost feel the heat as it starts popping and hissing from the roaring strangulation that’s created) whilst the swaggering nonchalant of the hilarious and cutting bite of Reggie Has Asbestos Training is summed up by the immortal line: “the proof is in the pudding well, the pudding was made in a shit oven by a donkey cock fuckwit with half the world in its petty-hate petting zoo and if that sounds like you, it’s not.” A mostly spoken word piece, with Falco reciting the song’s title over Jack’s upbeat percussion, whilst some smooth synth-flows, buzzes and hums in the background, like some weird 70s-style novelty theme song from a show based on the life of the titular Reggie. What is going on here?" (Keep it Fast)

Slay Tracks: Your Favourite Band Wants you Dead, Bad Boys Die in the Bath, More Skin for the Skin-Eaters

5) Run the Jewels - RTJ3

Same Spot as 2014's RTJ2
 -- which has aged extremely well, and which I prefer a bit more.

"Maybe it’s that dichotomy that makes Run the Jewels the most exciting prospect hip hop currently has, even in an age when Kendrick is revolutionizing the genre, when Kanye is redefining the word megalomania and when Chance the Rapper is leading a vanguard of new talent for whom classic LPs look like a foregone conclusion. What none of those can offer, though, is the increasingly unshakeable feeling that the two decades’ worth of hard yards that Mike and El put in is what makes RTJ so special. Nobody fresh out of the blocks could ever make a record this vital sound quite so effortless. That’s the only issue with RTJ3; the sense of triumph occasionally spills into self-satisfaction, and the next stop would be complacency. This is an album that could easily be subtitled Mission Accomplished, but for once, it feels like bowing out on top would be ill-advised. That, in itself, is quite the compliment." (Drowned in Sound)

Slay Tracks: Down, Legend Has It, 2100, Panther Like a Panther

4) PJ Harvey -- The Hope Six Demolition Project

PJ Harvey does albums like they were intended. This is not quite as good or coherent as 2011's number 3 ranked Let England Shake, but still very good.

"The Hope Six Demolition Project is an album with quite a story attached. Preparations for the follow-up to 2011’s Mercury prize-winning Let England Shake involved Polly Harvey travelling to Afghanistan, Kosovo and the grimmer parts of Washington DC in the company of film-maker and photographer Seamus Murphy, the better to record the effects of war and poverty. The field trips have thus far spawned a book of poetry and photographs called The Hollow of the Hand, and an open recording session-cum-art installation, during which the public were invited to stand behind a one-way glass and watch Harvey and her band making the album in a specially constructed studio in London’s Somerset House. There is a documentary film to follow" (The Guardian).

Slay Tracks: The Community of Hope, A Line in the Sand, The Orange Monkey

3) Car Seat Headrest -- Teens of Denial

This 23-year old is prolific (his 12th album?) and in complete control of his music. Really solid stuff. Check out Teens of Style as well -- my second favorite album of last year.

"Teens of Denial showcases most of the weapons in Toledo’s arsenal: deft wordplay, a vocal style that might be the very definition of ennui, and tight guitar-driven indie rock arrangements that recall Weezer, Beck, and Jonathan Richman. " (Flood Magazine)

Slay Tracks: Fill in the Blank, Destroyed by Hippy Powers, Unforgiving Girl (She's Not An)

2) The Hotelier -- Goodness

They made some interesting artistic choices (album cover for one, drum placement in the mix for two), and not quite as good as 2014's "Home, Like Noplace There Is," but a damn good record. 

"Goodness is a spiritually rich listen, but none of it would matter much if it weren’t such a goddamn great rock album. For something that, on paper, reads as terribly intimate, its anthemic appeal transforms Goodness into a surprisingly liberating event. Especially on the spring rush of single “Piano Player” and the openhearted ache of “Two Deliverances,” these private experiences become electrifyingly communal. Yet wedged in-between are moments of cautious reverie in the form of campfire songs and ruminative ballads, affording more credit to how well-balanced — and life-affirming — a record this ambitious can be." (SPIN)

Slay Tracks: Two Deliverances, Settle the Scar, Soft Animal, Sun, End of Reel

1) Drones -- Feelin Kinda Free

From the first moment of track one, I knew this would be my top album of the year. Maybe not a classic like their last few, but the first six songs on this album may be the the finest six track sequence on any of their albums. An intensely political and timely album.

"It’s fair to say then that The Drones’ music is loaded with a capital L – pumped up with fury at our historical flaws, contemptuous of seemingly institutional wastefulness and pride. Lyrically, Liddiard cuts an entrancing figure – somewhere between a political revolutionary and an apocalyptic conspiracy theorist, uncompromisingly skeptical but never without reason. On 2013’s I See Seaweed he readily obsessed over humanity’s most callous elements – the warmongers, the capitalists, the faceless elite – without flinching once, his words often spat out snidely like a crazed Nick Cave. Throw his dogged lyricism over manic, maddened guitar work and you have yourself a dark horse for one of the best albums of the past five years.

You’d think things couldn’t possibly get any more ominous but you’d be wrong. The first chorus on Seaweed’s follow up sees Liddiard flippantly remark: “now I’m feelin kinda free // I’m going straight to DVD” as if liberated by the acceptance that humanity is too far gone. Later he sneers, “I want a private execution…for free_” over one of the most guttural bass lines I think I’ve ever heard. After the sharp, juddering ‘Taman Shud’, ‘Then They Came For Me’ references the always crushingly relevant Martin Niemoller poem as well as psychological tactics used by the German air force in World War II. The stakes are somehow even higher, the outlook somehow even bleaker." (Drowned in Sound)

Slay Tracks: 1-6

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