The good folks at Trial and Error Collective present to you their year end lists! Six contributors discuss thirty-eight of their favorite albums of 2016, ranging from lo-fi indie folk to harsh noise-techno to Norwegian viking metal and beyond.
Favorite Song: “Fenrir Hunts”
As a fan of every incarnation of Immortal’s long and majestic career, I was quite saddened to hear that the black metal partnership of Demonaz and Abbath was coming to an end last year. However, sometimes break-ups are the best thing for all parties involved, and Abbath’s self-titled solo debut clearly comes from a musician excited for a new phase in life and burning with creativity. While Abbath is most clearly the spiritual successor to Immortal’s last record All Shall Fall, it’s polished, flashy leads and heavy metal feel are wonderfully mixed together with both the simpler, and more straightforward style found on Sons of Northern Darkness and their earlier, more extreme output. “Fenrir Hunts”, in particular, showcases how well Abbath converges these styles, with a track that is as grim and frostbitten as anything that has ever come out of the realm of Blashyrkh and yet as epic, catchy, and inspiring as any Iron Maiden song. Abbath started 2016 off to a bang with this unrelenting, hypothermia inducing blizzard of blackened, demon-and-battle-filled heavy metal.
Album: Winter Thrice
Favorite Song: “Winter Thrice”
One of Norway’s most consistent and consistently underrated viking metal bands, Borknagar, managed to release their greatest album to date this year: Winter Thrice. The band’s continually evolving sound, comprising progressive rock, viking metal, black metal, and folk, has culminated in something truly remarkable. On this album, the three-headed vocal hydra of ICS Vortex, Lazare, and Vintersorg gains a new head in Ulver’s Garm, resulting in the band’s most expansive, creative, and finest album to date. The melodies, harmonies, and sheer brilliance of this four-piece vocal supergroup, combined with the band’s most epic and extensive song structures, take us on a deeply moving and ultimately powerful journey through the beautiful, and sometimes brutal, Scandinavian wilderness these modern-day vikings call home. It is a real testament to the musicians in this band that 10 albums in, Borknagar bless us with their magnum opus.
Artist: Oranssi Pazuzu
Favorite Song: “Vasemman Käden Hierarkia”
Oranssi Pazuzu is an oddball in the Finnish metal scene, and when you consider just how strange, unique, and unexpected much of the Finnish scene itself is, you realize how damn weird that must be. Indeed, Oranssi Pazuzu has always been fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable due to their dedication to meshing black metal, spacey-psychedelic rock, and krautrock in exceedingly unexpected ways. With their newest record, Värähtelijä, the band demonstrates how second-nature their trips to dark, unexplored, and surreal planes of consciousness have become. On display here we have their longest, most ambitious, grandest, and simply best effort to date. The genre-blending we have come to love has been further supplemented by meanderings into the territories of jazz, post-metal, electronica, noise, and even overt King Crimson worship. While only some elements of the music, such as the vocals, tertiarily links the band to black metal at this point, the darkness of the atmosphere is as evil, frightening, and disturbing – if not more so! – than any black metal album out this year. Värähtelijä is a dense, incredibly layered, hypnotic, perplexing, and oftentimes inexplicable foray into dark psychedelia that will truly bend the mind.
Album: The Synarchy of Molten Bones
Artist: Deathspell Omega
Favorite Song: “Internecine Iatrogenesis”
With The Synarchy of Molten Bones, Deathspell Omega continue their crusade of releasing essentially perfect avant-garde, dissonant, Orthodox Satanism flavored black metal. This record is closest in kin to Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum; while it shares fleeting moments of beauty with Paracletus and Drought, it is the band’s most technical, dense, and claustrophobic release to date. The angular, dissonant, and disorienting guitars alone plunge the entire album into a traditional ecclesiastical hellish whirlwind. However, once the ever-diabolical vocals, the drums – surely played by a PCP-addicted demon – and the bass are added to this mix, it is clear Deathspell Omega has not actually written a new album. No, they have determined a way to access the true evil that is the orthodox Christian hell and have managed to make a very high-quality recording of it. I have attentively listened to The Synarchy of Molten Bones over a dozen times already, and I am still unraveling its mysteries, hearing new things with each listen. While I do worry that my quest to fully understand the impenetrability of this record will ultimately lead to my insanity, this is an album that will undoubtedly dominate my music experience for months to come.
Album: Terminal Redux
Favorite Song: “Recharging the Void”
As fantastic as all the records on my year end list are, and the fact that 2016 in general has been an incredible year musically, there is one album that stands above them all. That record is emphatically Vektor’s Terminal Redux. The band’s first two outings were two of my favorite records – and certainly two of the best modern thrash metal records – of the last few years. Due to the 5-year break since Outer Isolation, further extended by a few delays last year, my anticipation for this record was overwhelming. While at times I feared the worst – how can this possibly live up to the hype? – in the end, Vektor delivered in more spades than I could have ever imagined. The band’s hyperspeed, progressive, sci-fi themed, blackened thrash metal returns and is firing on all cylinders in every category and exceeds any metric you wish to use. Terminal Redux is an absolute behemoth of album, clocking in at nearly 75 minutes, and packed with more razor-sharp, piercing riffs than there are stars in the universe. Add to this winding progressive song structures, David DiSanto’s superb black metal rasp, shred-tastic solos, neck-breaking thrash breaks, jazz and soul interludes, an insanely complex rhythm section, AND the fact that this entire thing is a concept album?! It’s unreal. At the risk of hyperbole, with Terminal Redux, Vektor has truly achieved greatness. This is not only my Album of the Year, this is by far Vektor’s best album, the best modern thrash metal album, and one of the best metal albums of the last decade. In one of the countless interviews I watched leading up to this album’s release, David DiSanto explained how hard the band had been working on it and that they wanted the band’s third album to be its best because it was a defining moment for them. Well, gentlemen, having listened to this record countless times this year, I can say: Mission Accomplished.
Album: Fever Daydream
Artist: The Black Queen
Favorite Song: “Ice to Never”
Mathcore legends The Dillinger Escape Plan stole the heavy music headlines this year with the announcement of their impending breakup and the subsequent release of their ferocious swan song, Dissociation, but it would be unfair of me to write these reviews and not mention another Greg Puciato-fronted release that totally caught me off guard at the start of the year. Back in January, the Dillinger vocalist, along with Josh Eustis (Teflon Tel Aviv/ex-Nine Inch Nails) and Steven Alexander (former tech for Dillinger, Nine Inch Nails, and Kesha), came together to release a synthpop album that didn’t get as much fanfare as the one released by his main band, but served as a refreshing change of pace and a sign of challenging growth that falls perfectly in line with the fearless reputation that Puciato has earned as an artist over the years. The Dillinger Escape Plan have never been shy to show off their influence from more electronic-oriented artists such as Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, and Massive Attack, but I never imagined any of their members embracing this style to this extent. The Black Queen’s music is full of dreamy synths, Puciato’s 80’s R&B-inspired crooning, and dark, sexually-charged energy. This album plays out like a love story set in the Blade Runner universe, and I found myself coming back and re-listening to it countless times throughout the year. While I’m sad to see The Dillinger Escape Plan go, I can only hope that it means we’ll see more from The Black Queen in the years to come.
Artist: The Dillinger Escape Plan
Favorite Song: “Limerent Death”
And speaking of which… Ho. Ly. Shit. The Dillinger Escape Plan. This band has written some of the craziest, most frantic, and most complex music in metal/hardcore over the years, but they outdid themselves and went out on a high note for their final album. Musically, the band revisits many of the ideas from their past few albums - the IDM-inspired song structures of Ire Works, the all-out aural assault of Option Paralysis, and the dark subject matter of One Of Us Is The Killer. It's a fitting tribute to the band’s extensive career. Lyrically, Greg Puciato has gone even darker on this album than on One Of Us Is The Killer. I read somewhere that The Dillinger Escape Plan had stopped being the cathartic release that it was for him in the past and instead started exacerbating his inner demons, and it absolutely shows here. In that case, maybe their breakup really is for the best. I'm just happy that I got to catch their legendary, destructive live show one more time before they ride off into the sunset. Thanks for the memories, The Dillinger Escape Plan. Rest in peace.
Favorite Song: “Nattesferd”
The crazy Norwegians in Kvelertak are back. I was worried about this album at first - I thought their last album, Meir, was a step back compared to their self-titled debut, and the first song that they debuted from this album, “1985,” wasn't giving me much hope when I first heard it. I was afraid that the infectious, rip-roaring molotov cocktail of thrash, black metal, hardcore punk, and classic rock that they had introduced us to on their first album was gone forever, and that Kvelertak were destined to become the new Boston, albeit with raspy black metal vocals. Thankfully, that did not turn out to be the case. Kvelertak were only giving us the tip of the iceberg of what was to be expected and instead released an album that has the fun from the self-titled album, but that also showed signs of exploration and growth. Songs like the title track and “Bronsegud” are Kvelertak’s trademark cheap beer-fuelled party metal, while “1985” (it grew on me) and “Svartmesse” pay tribute to the 80’s classics that are so integral to their sound. Elsewhere, the spacey “Ondskapens Galakse” and “Heksebrann” see the band exploring previously uncharted prog-rock territory. It's not what I expected from Kvelertak, but it sure makes for one hell of a ride.
Album: Still Brazy
Favorite Song: “Why You Always Hatin?” (feat. Drake and Kamaiyah)
Last year, Kendrick Lamar dropped what will probably end up being one of, if not THE, top albums of the decade in To Pimp A Butterfly. It was an ambitious, complex album that served as a commentary on the African-American experience through the scope of Kendrick's own life experiences growing up in Compton, and that also paid tribute to African-American music as a whole via jazz, funk, and old school gangsta rap beats. Fellow Compton… Erm… I mean Bompton native YG touches on some of the same topics that Kendrick explored, but Kendrick was the self-proclaimed good kid in the madd city who, while not being a stranger to the lifestyle, was never gang affiliated and had a comparative outsider’s perspective to gang culture. YG, as an actual member of the Compton bloods, tells the same story from a different perspective. Kendrick’s album is a heady effort that has reached the ears of President Obama and has been studied as course material in English and social studies classes. This is all well and good, but every now and then you feel like listening to rap that hits you like a shot of raw bravado. These types of rappers have been around since the genre’s inception, and people have always fucked with them because they were fun. Some days you feel like eating an organic, healthy lunch with plenty of fresh vegetables. Some days you feel like getting $2 tacos from the sketchy hole-in-the-wall Mexican place around the block and washing it down with a cold Tecate. Both have their merits, and both are essential to living a healthy and enjoyable life. Kendrick feeds the head. YG feeds the soul. Production wise, YG eschews the jazz that Kendrick embraced in favor of turning up the dial on gangsta beats that are heavily inspired by the great West Coast Classics. From the lyrical content to the throwback g-funk, this is a hard-hitting gangsta rap album that's committed to resisting rap’s gentrification just as much as the hoods where the genre originated are committed to resisting their own gentrification. Towards the end of the album, YG also touches on political issues that he feels strongly about, including that one catchy song that's going to be everyone's political anthem for the next four years. There’s plenty of 90's nostalgia on Still Brazy, and YG did it right because he nails the aesthetic authenticity of the era’s music while framing it in a modern context. And that shit SLAPS.
Favorite Song: “Stranded”
Gojira’s sixth studio album is one that was written amidst a background of major life changes. Between the cycles for their last album, L’Enfant Sauvage, and Magma, the band relocated from their native southern France to New York City, and proceeded to start working on music. Shortly after the move, tragedy struck Gojira’s brotherly duo, Joe (vocals/guitar) and Mario (drums) Duplantier when their mother died after battling an undisclosed illness. Both of these life-changing events, especially in the case of the brothers Duplantier, heavily influenced the development of this album. Their mother’s death is a prominent theme throughout many of the songs. It’s evident on the album opener, “The Shooting Star,” and the album’s melancholy, introspective vibe continues from there. The prominent theme of death gives Magma the same feel as two other albums from Gojira’s peers that were written at least partially in response to the death of a loved one: Crack The Skye by Mastodon, and 10,000 Days by Tool. The musicianship within the band has changed, as well. Gojira’s earlier works had an untamed, primal feel that I like to think was influenced by the natural beauty that surrounded the band’s hometown of Bayonne, France as they grew up. I feel like the move to New York City has resulted in a tighter, more organized feel that is reflective of the clockwork of life in a major city. It’s reassuring to know that Gojira refuse to get too comfortable with their music, and that they continue to make it as personal and authentic as possible.
Favorite Song: “Needles In Your Skin”
In recent years, metal fans have found themselves divided over the state of modern black metal now that hipsters have infiltrated the scene. Some black metal purists despise hipsters and want to keep the genre’s grim, antisocial aesthetic free from the influence of trendy outsiders. I, on the other hand, welcome hipsters to the scene with open arms. Metalheads were pretentious hipsters before pretentious hipsters were a thing, and I see the hipsters that play this extreme music as a breath of fresh air that contribute much-needed new ideas to a genre that once suffered from stuffiness and creative stagnation. And if that comes at the expense of blast beats and raspy, atonal vocals being plugged on NPR and Pitchfork to the types of people you find in fancy coffee shops instagramming their $8 unpasteurized lizard milk lattes, then so be it. I wouldn’t go so far as to label Belgium’s Oathbreaker as full-on hipsters, but they have earned comparisons to their former labelmates Deafheaven thanks to their combination of black metal with mellow, shoegazy passages and subtle hardcore influence. The appeal to that crowd is there. Stylistically, however, they differ from their divisive Californian counterparts in a couple of different ways. They’re not as dreamy as Deafheaven. Vocalist Caro Tanghe make use of clean vocals that sound reminiscent of Chelsea Wolfe at times. Oathbreaker seamlessly blend punishing black metal with tortured art house passages that result in some truly bleak soundscapes. While their previous album, Eros/Anteros, explored similar sounds, Rheia is a tour de force that truly cements the band’s stylistic niche and shows that Oathbreaker are capable of crafting masterpieces.
Album: A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings
Artist: Beach Slang
Favorite Song: “Punks In A Disco Bar”
I can't remember the last time I discovered a band that immediately brought a big, stupid grin to my face upon first listen the way Beach Slang did. Over the span of two albums and two EPs, the Philadelphia trio have been raising a lot of buzz over their heartfelt, bruised-and-boozed brand of punk rock. This type of music isn’t normally up my alley; I've listened to other bands that fit this description in the past only to turn them off after a few songs and think to myself, “God those guys are so whiny!” There's something different about Beach Slang, though. Stylistically, the band has earned plenty of comparisons to The Replacements, but you can also hear influence from the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello soaking through frontman James Alex’s washed-out vocals. And speaking of James Alex, here’s a guy who stands out from other bandleaders in the scene. After a relatively late career change to pursue his dream job of Punk Rock Frontman and the release of only his second full-length album at the age of 41, Alex sounds like a man who’s been knocked down plenty of times, but who also feels like the good times and lessons learned along the way have made for a fulfilling life. The mere fact that he’s making such memorable music and hitting his stride right now is nothing short of inspiring. He’s the quintessential punk rocker who never grew up, and a reminder to everyone that you should hold on to the things that make you who you are no matter how old you get. Beach Slang may not necessarily write the happiest songs, but they sure have a gift for writing the kinds of songs that make you feel happy to be alive.
Album: Low Teens
Artist: Every Time I Die
Favorite Song: “It Remembers” (feat. Brendon Urie)
Every Time I Die vocalist Keith Buckley has always been one of my favorite lyricists. His roots as a former English teacher have helped him write some of the most fun, memorable, poetic, and tongue-in-cheek lyrics in hardcore throughout the band’s career, which has spanned the better part of the last two decades. His lyrics on Low Teens, however, are decidedly less playful than what he’s written in the past. And with good reason: During the album’s writing/pre-production phase late last year, Buckley’s wife developed a life-threatening pregnancy complication that nearly killed her and forced a two-months-premature delivery for their daughter. (Thankfully, both mother and child are alive and well.) Suffice to say, the experience took a toll on Buckley. In turn, he took inspiration from both that ordeal and his newfound sobriety to write lyrics that are darker than what he's written in the past, but also more honest. The music is less party friendly than some of the standout tracks from their other albums, too. Instead, Low Teens swings between cathartic, heavy breakdowns, and a deeper embrace of the Southern-fried mosh and roll that set Every Time I Die apart from their peers. One of the album's most notable bright spots includes “It Remembers,” a surprisingly effective collaboration with Panic! At The Disco’s Brendon Urie. It's a bluesy, slow-burning number that gives off some serious Queens of the Stone Age vibes. Towards the end of the album, “Map Change” plays out like the Every Time I Die of old, but with more ambition and emotion than what we've heard from them in the past. Low Teens is a complex effort full of dark twists and turns, and it's enough to keep longtime fans guessing as to what will happen now that Every Time I Die seem to have entered a new chapter in their career.
Favorite Song: “Leave Me Alone” (feat. Shay Lia)
Have you ever gone to a concert, listened to the music that the venue plays over the speakers while everyone goes to get drinks or have a smoke before the headliner comes on, and thought to yourself, “Man, I don't know what this is but whatever it is, it's BANGIN?” On 99.9%, Kaytranada gives us an entire album made up entirely of those types of songs. The Montreal producer lives at the intersection of house, indie, hip-hop, and R&B, and makes music that can vary between danceable party jams, cool and mellow comedown music, and straight up baby making music. Kaytranada certainly covers a lot of ground here, but he has an ear for pop that manages to keep this album feeling consistent while keeping it interesting the entire way through. Guest spots from Anderson .Paak, Phonte, Vic Mensa, BadBadNotGood, and Craig David particularly shine on here. It’s a solid debut full-length from a talented young producer, and I have a feeling we’ll be hearing a lot more from him in the future.
Album: Move Thru Me EP
Favorite Song: “Come Back For More”
Dirty little secret: I recently discovered Turnstile and I was originally going to write about their full-length album, Nonstop Feeling. Apple Music told me that album was released this year, but it turns out that they’re liars and it was actually from 2015. Luckily, the Baltimore wrecking crew released a short, but sweet EP this year and it still ended up kicking my ass. Whereas Nonstop Feeling is a cool blend of hardcore, funk metal, and rap-rock that could have easily fit into a pile of cassette tapes from the late 80’s or early 90's, Move Thru Me is a little under eight minutes of in-your-face hardcore. The breakdowns on the title track and “Come Back For More” are punishingly heavy, and their fast-paced cover of “Fuck Me Blind” by Give that closes out the EP is a raucous, melodic frenzy that will make you want to start a circle pit as soon as you hit play, then stay stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Right now I hesitate to call Turnstile this generation’s Bad Brains, but I'd be lying if I said I haven't been drawing at least a few comparisons between the two lately. They're one of the most exciting young bands I've heard recently, and I can't wait to see where they go from here.
The Weeknd - Starboy
Kanye West - The Life of Pablo
Ghost - Popestar EP
Ihsahn - Arktis
Planes Mistaken for Stars - Prey
Trap Them - Crown Feral
Amon Amarth - Jomsviking
Favorite Song: “Hold Up”
My selections may be peak mainstream, but truthfully I’m awful at keeping up with new music. Beyoncé dropped this bombshell of an album and accompanying 60-minute film in April; though I naturally heard bits and pieces over the months, I didn’t actually watch the film (or hear the album in full) until October. Arriving at her party half a year late, I was shocked to discover Beyoncé actually lived up to the hype. Traversing a vast spectrum of genres—from spoken word to hip hop to country--Lemonade is a beautiful piece of poetry. People made much of the superficial plot line, which finds our heroine taking up arms against her unfaithful husband, but the album is so much more. It may be personal, but it’s also a national statement about the treatment of black women: as Malcolm X is quoted saying in the film, the black woman is the most disrespected, neglected, and unprotected person in America. Through this lens, Beyoncé’s album can be seen as the feminine form of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. It demands respect. It demands attention. And, most importantly, it does not beg for protection; it can damn well defend itself.
Artist: David Bowie
Favorite Song: “★”
On January 8, 2016, I was blessed with a DJ gig at the Chapel in San Francisco. The main act for the night was the First Church of the Sacred Silversexual, a David Bowie cover band a hundred times more than a cover band, as their performances incorporate outlandish outfits, drag queen dance routines, and a rapturous display of religious revelry. Two days later, Bowie passed away. Suddenly, everyone—casual fans and devotees alike—turned serious attention to his just-released album Blackstar. And everyone, from Bowie’s closest studio musicians to ordinary fans like me, soon realized that the man had deliberately written this dark, brooding album as his swan song. The lyrics explicitly reference death, with Bowie looking down at the listener from heaven. Old, literally dying, he stars in the music videos for the title track and “Lazarus,” shuddering, convulsing, and levitating from his deathbed. All this would’ve been enough to make the album worth a listen, but the music itself stands alone. Alien and familiar all at once, its tracks lay suspended somewhere between techno, punk, and glam rock. It is the perfect parting gift from one of rock & roll’s most legendary wizards.
Album: The Life of Pablo
Artist: Kanye West
Favorite Song: “I Love Kanye”
Poor Kanye. Started his rapping career after a car accident nearly killed him. Soon after, lost his grandma. Soon after, his mama. Soon after, his lifelong girlfriend, and then another. And then? His attention-wealthy wifey got tied up and robbed at gunpoint in Paris. Maybe we shouldn’t make excuses for the man since he’s been an emotional wreck and loose cannon of braggadocio for years. But I can’t stop making excuses. Why? Because he’s a brilliant musician. All year, I’ve been saying that The Life of Pablo is far from my favorite Kanye album, but even The Beatles suffered from the occasional fault. The truth is that even though I wouldn’t rank it anywhere near College Dropout or Dark Fantasy, the album offers so much beauty and realness on standout tracks like “Father Stretch My Hands [Pt. 1]” (bomb beats in spite of the nasty lyrics), “FML” (featuring The Weeknd singing like an angel), and “Real Friends” (chill harmonies paired with an addicting hook). Then there’s “I Love Kanye,” an a cappella track featuring Kanye letting loose the verse that only a man of his ego and self-consciousness could unravel. He’s serious, but don’t take it too seriously.
Album: untitled unmastered.
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Favorite Song: “untitled 04”
For the second year running, Kendrick is my favorite living musician. How else could he follow up his hour-plus, critically acclaimed, endlessly dissected masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly except by surprising the world with an “untitled” and “unmastered” half-hour album? Where one might think twice before casually throwing on his 2015 work—the hip hop equivalent to a dense thesis paper on race relations in America—Kendrick’s latest work is smooth as butter. I love the latter half specifically, with Kendrick channeling perennial G-funk influence George Clinton and even inviting CeeLo to guest on one of the tracks (“untitled 06”). Even at his most relaxed, however, Kendrick still gives us plenty of poetry to pore over. The most sticky motif first appears in an earthy duet with SZA (“untitled 04”) and then resurfaces on a rough demo (in the middle of “untitled 07”) with Kendrick singing the words all by himself: “Head is the answer / Head is the future.”
Favorite Song: “Let Me Be Me”
Over the past couple years, I’ve slowly expanded my appreciation for groove and soul maestro DâM-FunK (pronounced "Dame-Funk"), a Los Angeles-based musician deeply committed to keeping the the magic of 70s and 80s funk alive. When I learned that he’d collaborated with Nite Jewel, another underrated LA musician, I knew it’d be a match made in heaven. On their 20-minute, four-track EP released this year, man and woman glide together, each perfectly complementing the other. He lays down the groovy, delicious bass and beats influenced by everyone from Rick James to Prince (RIP) to Kashif (RIP) to underground funk producers we’ve never heard of; she sings clear and lovely channeling Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson. It’s all good, but the gem is undoubtedly the second track (“Let Me Be Me”), deep and thumping with Nite Jewel pleading “let me be me.”
conifold — conifold
DJ-Kicks — DâM-FunK
Big Livin’ — Hafner
Love & Friendship — Mark Suozzo
Live in San Francisco — Thee Oh Sees
Album: The Birds Outside Sang
Favorite Song: “Thank You”
First listen through and I knew my first favorite album of 2016 (released in January) was locked down - goosebumps, tears and all. Lead singer Emily Sprague was the victim of a hit and run accident, and worked on The Birds Outside Sang during her healing process. Florist’s music is simplistic yet profound, and comes forth as eye-opening streams of observations and thoughts I can only imagine one must have when death misses you by a stroke of luck. The album is a juxtaposition...It’s an ode to life, it’s a curse to life; it is life. Its songs makes me feel so small and alone, which somehow, in turn, beautifully allows me to feel like a part of the bigger picture: there is comfort in knowing others feel and see the world similarly to you. Where it's struck me the most, however, is the album’s quiet nod to the little things in this life, which, funnily enough, are really the big things.
Album: Painting With
Artist: Animal Collective
Favorite Song: “On Delay”
Painting With, AC’s tenth studio album (sans Deakin, add Jeremy Hyman on drums) is no exception to Animal Collective’s fearlessness and steady march forward. New musical techniques and elements of sound are utilized on PW, with vocal hocketing being the most prominent. It’s featured on a hefty amount of the tracks and unifies Avey and Panda in a brand new way, allowing their voices to play off of one another, reminiscent to a game of vocal ping pong. The album’s noise elements refuse to quit, and are jampacked and playfully splat on top of one another. It was all too difficult for me to single out a favorite from this album (my favorite of 2016), but I’m going to have to go with On Delay. I was on a flight going to Austin earlier this year, and while listening, I actually jotted this note down, verbatim: ‘Thinking: Would be happy dying listening to On Delay.’ PW is a doozy of quick, action-packed songs which don’t stop moving. Each track sucker punches you in the face one right after the other, and when it’s all over you’re left wondering what the hell happened in the best way possible.
Album: The Dream is Over
Favorite Song: “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will”
Canadian punk-rock band PUP has received critical acclaim for their sophomore release, and I’ve gotta give the respect where it’s due. The Dream is Over is ballsy, loud and tightly controlled. If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will, excels in its role as the album's’ opener -- it grabbed me straight by the neck and demanded I keep listening. The track starts off a bit slow and plays on the acoustic indie-rock side before it flips upside down and explodes into a straight up thrash, paving the way for the rest of the album. PUP is smart and talented, and they’ve compiled an excellent collection of life-affirming songs which will have you screaming along right with them the entire time.
Artist: IAN SWEET
Favorite Song: “Slime Time Live”
I love everything about IAN SWEET - a band I never knew I desperately needed in my life until I began listening to them. The band's debut album Shapeshifter rings true taking on many forms of sound. Some tracks (including my initial fav Slime Time Live-a nod to good ol’ Nickelodeon nostalgia with a lyrical tainting of modern life anxieties) are vibrantly twangy, whereas others (Knife Knowing You, Pink Marker) opt for more of a bedroom-indie sound (bonus: check out the track "Shapeshifter" for some major Bjork vibes). There’s a nice balance between chaos and control on Shapeshifter with a tendency of stopping sound altogether for a beat before slamming back into it all. Check out this fantastic album for kick-ass tunes and some seriously innovative music.
Album: Sleep Cycle
Favorite Song: “Footy”
Sleep Cycle is Josh Dibb’s (most commonly known as Deakin from Animal Collective) debut solo album, released by way of a successful Kickstarter campaign which launched in 2009. It’s a short collection of six tracks, but that’s not to say each one is gleaming with beautiful psychedelic, experimental indie goodness. He’s lyrically quite gifted, with songs covering a span of topics including truthful self identity, the cyclical and inevitable life pattern of the dark transforming into light, and the basic human need for love and connection. The album holds a nice sonic range as well, and vibes anywhere from low-key and melodic, to experimental buzzing, to spasms of chopped, screwed and looped noises. It’s evident there’s heart and soul within this collection of songs which are brimming with light and love.
Artist: Snail Mail
Favorite Song: “Thinning”
There’s a soft spot in my heart for low-fo indie rock, and Habit nails everything I love about this genre. Lead singer and songwriter Lindsey Jordan is SEVENTEEN years old, (I hope this only further encourages you to listen) which I can’t seem to get over. She has a stunningly hallowing voice which emanates years of life experience. The album brings up the big questions, like why and what the hell does our existence mean on earth, anyway? My favorite track, Thinning, discusses falling down the rabbit hole of isolation and feeling other and less than yourself. Habit is a fuzzed out, down-to-earth bedroom release smart beyond its’ years, and I can’t wait to see what else Snail Mail has in store as they continue to grow together.
Album: Flood Network
Artist: Katie Dey
Favorite Song: “Fear O’ The Light”
Alienistic pop music. If you’re not sure of what I mean, listen to this album. If you are sure of what I mean, listen to this album anyway. The album’s title, Flood Network, perfectly represents the sound of this record. I like to envision a super fancy computer being waterboarded with 22 year old Aussie Katie Dey trapped on the inside trying to get out - we’re merely the outsiders observing her. Unlike Dey’s lyrically undecipherable first release, Asdfasdf, you can decipher most of what Dey is saying on Flood Network. Her glitched out, raspy voice tells tales of the fears surrounding what it’s like to open up and give yourself away to others. Eight short instrumental interludes (titled f(1) - f(8), respectively) provide for excellent song transitions. Flood Network is a colorful and whirring record which will garner your love if you can look past its rough exterior. Once you recognize its true beauty, it’ll no doubt envelop you with open arms in its warmth.
Album: A Moon Shaped Pool
Favorite Song: “Identikit”
Cheesy as it sounds, Radiohead has shaped the person I am today, and has been by my side through countless ups and downs. Earlier this year, when news broke of AMSP, I naturally lost it. The first single (along with its dark, thought-provoking music video) Burn the Witch blew me away. It’s a lyrical and musical upheaval which is hauntingly orchestrated. Upon the album's release, I listened through and was, at my own surprise, a bit at a loss. In the era of internetinformationoverloadoverdrive culture, it’s become a normalcy to ‘formulate an opinion and a full review’ of an album in approximately .5 milliseconds. Identikit aside, I was left wondering why? Why was I not immediately swept away with the rest of AMSP ASAP? I gave the album room to breathe, which allowed me to recognize how important this album is for numerous reasons. The most standout for me, however, is how perfectly this albums’ vulnerability soundtracks the uncertainty and fear which currently exists within our world. It’s also reminded me that things don’t always need a definitive label right away, and good things often take time to settle in.
Artist: Horse Lords
Favorite Song: Toward the Omega Point
Intervention magnificently excels at creating purposeful experimental music. Its Instrumentation features saxophone, percussion, bass, electronics and guitar. The two prominent, general sounds of the album experimentally err on a jazz plane (hello sax!), techy, synth-syphering glitches, (Intervention I) and a combination of the two (re: Time Slip) . The album bounces in circles off of itself and has a math-rock vibe, but it’s so much more than that. If you’re into mind-bending music, this is an essential album for you to get your hands on.
SALES LP - Sales
A Weird Exits - Thee Oh Sees
Amen & Goodbye - Yeasayer
Teens of Denial - Car Seat Headrest
My Woman - Angel Olsen
Artist: SØS Gunver Ryberg
Favorite Song: "Skolezit"
SØS Gunver Ryberg and Karen Gwyer (more on her later) are the most obvious picks to me this year for several reasons. SØS Gunver Ryberg is a Danish artist who has worked in several media. More importantly, I would argue she is making the most impressive, powerful and forward-thinking dance music in the world right now. While this album is, simply put, very very good, her Boiler Room set is a source of constant inspiration. I’m breaking the rules and linking the Boiler Room set here because it is absolutely incredible. Her textures and keyboards at times blend seamlessly into complex drums that get every part of you moving, and more impressively, she is able to blow a bassline or a kick drum straight through the mix and change the feel of the track with incredible ease. This artist, and this album, completely floored me this year. An absolute must listen for nearly everyone, especially if you think techno is derivative or uninspired in the year 2016. Even if you already love the genre, this album will open up some strange portals with its magic.
Album: Love Streams
Artist: Tim Hecker
Favorite Song: "Violet Monumental I"
Tim Hecker is a known quantity in the experimental electronic world. He’s been putting out great experimental electronic music since 2001’s (fantastic) “Haunt Me, Haunt Me, Do It Again” and made a lot of waves with his last two albums, “Ravedeath 1972” (2011), and “Virgins” (2013). This album seems softer, somehow, than his last few releases, but it’s still incredibly beautiful. It’s full of amazing texture and some next level sampling, but it demands your full attention. If this album is on in the background you’re just wasting your time. Make yourself a cup of tea, put some headphones on, and listen close. If you’re anything like me, you’ll forget about the tea and realize you’ve been holding your breath for an hour.
Favorite Song: "Omerta (feat. Tujurikkuja)"
Rrose is another techno artist shrouded in some amount of mystery (I have a type, okay?!). The project is named after a punny pseudonym (Rrose Selavy) of Dada dreamboat and visual artist Marcel Duchamp (whose piece Fountain is a perennial talking point of people who “just don’t get!” Modern Art, or more bluntly, Art that makes you think at all). I stick on this point especially because it is a real conceptual influence on this project, a 2011 album Merchant of Salt takes its name from an aphorism written by another French Surrealist, Robert Desnos. Rrose (the artist), is very obviously in dialogue with these French artists, recreating the genderbending performativity of Marcel Duchamp’s pieces about Rrose, referencing jokes between these artists, etc. But I’m not trying to write an art history essay here, I’m trying to turn you on to the music. If you are at all interested in the aside about Dada and Surrealism, though, you’ll like the music too. Standard issue fare for my list this year: good, progressive, interesting techno. This EP features a very nice piece of noise by SF-based artist Tujurikkuja, as well.
Favorite Song: "SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs"
SHXCXCHCXSH?! You say in confusion. Except you don’t say it because, well.
SHXCXCHCXSH are a techno duo from Sweden who perform in with their faces covered and cloaks (the techno Sunn o)))?). Obscure to say the least. Some of their earlier releases swim through territory that is reasonably catchy for the crackles and whirrs. Sometimes it sounds like dance music that you’d get in trouble for being caught listening to, somehow. SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs is much less percussion-oriented than their earlier material but it is certainly haunting, and can even make you move at times (at least if you have a noise-addled brain like myself).
Artist: Ian William Craig
Favorite Song: "Contain (Astoria Version)"
Ian William Craig is a Vancouver-based ambient musician who has been on my radar since his (excellent) 2014 release A Turn of Breath. This year’s Centres has seen a tremendous amount of buzz (for an ambient release at least) and does not disappoint. Craig works heavily with vocal loops and effects to create beautiful textural pieces that seem to be living breathing things. Sigur Ros on lots of xanax. Bon Iver-esque vocals run through a blender, played on a 45 record in a chapel in the woods, and half-remembered later. Highly recommended for long-time ambient fans and a great introduction to the genre for newcomers as well.
Album: Vegetation EP
Favorite Song: "Radiator"
Many of my favorite albums this year feature a heavy dose of restraint and deliberate slowness and focus on minutia instead of, for example, hitting your head into the gas pedal of your car with a brick over and over down the highway at 85mph. Container, on the other hand, is much like the latter. Container is a Philly based producer who, after a formation in producing noise, led a Roland MC909 groovebox to water and made it drink your brains out of your skull. This is some high-test shit. The hardest hitting, most abrasive, and somehow still incredibly danceable techno out there. This new album, his first on Diagonal records, does not disappoint. Techno that sounds like a blender, put through a blender, listened to while you yourself are also in a blender.
Album: Prophase Metaphase Anaphase Telophase
Artist: Karen Gwyer
Favorite Song: "Prophase Metaphase Anaphase Telophase"
This is a great EP from one of my new favorite techno producers. Gwyer expertly crafts gnarled marble slabs of dance music (with plenty of tracks clocking in at 10-15+ minutes) that expertly flow through layers and layers of sequenced keys and drums at a restrained pace. The result is dance tracks that just keep coming and, presumably, bodies that just keep moving. This is a short EP but if you haven’t been paying attention to Karen Gwyer before now, you definitely should be.
Artist: Manon Lescaut
Favorite Song: "Taut and Trembling Like a Bow"
What do I know about this album? Almost nothing. The artist takes their name from a Puccini opera. This tape was put out on Janushoved, whose label’s website is a cryptic monochrome still and a distro email. This whole thing is shrouded in mystery. The tape, however, is shrouded in textures that breathe like a sweetie sleeping next to you and comes in and out of focus like the tides on your memories of a beach. It’s a beautiful piece of work. Favorite tape of the year, I’d reckon.
Album: We got it from Here...Thank You 4 Your Service
Artist: A Tribe Called Quest
Favorite Song: "Dis Generation"
I almost didn’t submit anything for this year end list. There were so many great releases that I figured I’d get too overwhelmed trying to think of which albums would be best to write about. After hearing the new Tribe album, though, I immediately knew that this would be the one album from 2016 that I'll still be regularly listening to years from now. I had my doubts going into it, as I would with any other album from a group that hasn't recorded in over twenty years, but We got it from Here only proves why Tribe is one of the best hip-hop groups of all time. They stay true to their classic sound but manage to be so socially, politically, and sonically relevant. The guest features from Busta Rhymes to Kendrick Lamar bring together the past and future like a passing of some sorta Olympic hip hop torch, reminding us of the legacy from Tribe and family but leaving us hopeful for the future of hip hop (hence the album title). This album is a stellar tribute to Phife Dawg (R.I.P. <3) and overall one of the best records to come out this year.
Atrocity Exhibition - Danny Brown
Nonagon Infinity - King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
Culture & Random Beat