OUT OF THE BOX: The Best of 2016, part 10

Part 10 in a 10 part series showcasing the best releases in music during the year 2016.

So that brings to an end yet another year in music. I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating: I think that 2016 was one of the most exciting years in music. I am excited by what I have seen in new artists and young acts, but I am also encouraged by music that is being created by veterans as well. I am already looking forward to 2017, and my target list of releases and potential releases has already grown to be very large.

Here is how it is shaping up right now:

1/1

Brian Eno – Reflection

1/6

The Dropkick Murphys – 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory

1/13

Bonobo – Migration

Code Orange – Forever

The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody

Klank – Rise

Run The Jewels – RJ3

Sepultura – Machine Messiah

The XX – I See You

1/20

AFI – AFI (The Blood Album)

Cherry Glazerr – Apocalipstick

Foxygen – Hang

Menace Beach – Lemon Memory

1/27

Annihilator – Triple Threat

Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound

Japandroids – Near To The Wild Heart of Life

Kreator – Gods of Violence

Stephen Pearcy – Smash

T.S.O.L. – The Trigger Complex

Ty Segall – Ty Segall

2/2

Singapore Sling – Kill, Kill Kill (Songs About Nothing)

2/3

The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes are the Divine Wind

Elbow – Little Fictions

Porcelain Raft – Microclimate

Surfer Blood – Snowdonia

2/10

Mors Pricipium Est – Embers of a Dying World

2/14

Marilyn Manson – Say10

2/17

The Orwells – Terrible Human Beings

Son Volt – Notes of Blue

Strand of Oaks – Hard Love

2/19

Overkill – The Grinding Wheel

2/22

Xiu Xiu – Forget

2/24

Crystal Fairy – Crystal Fairy

Los Campesinos! – Sick Scene

The Feelies – In Between

Modern English – Take Me To The Trees

Pissed Jeans – Why Love Now

2/28

Sun Kil Moon – Common As Light and Love are Valleys of Blood

3/3

Grandaddy – Last Place

The Jesus and Mary Chain – TBA

Magnetic Fields – 50 Song Memoir

Temples – Volcano

3/24

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Damage and Joy

6/1

Jesu/Sun Kil Moon – 30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth

6/16

Spiritualized – TBA

No Release Date

Airiel – Molten Young Lovers

Alice Glass – TBA

Alpha Male – TBA

Alvvays – TBA

Amelia Arsenic – Architects of Death

Arcade Fire – TBA

Bad Religion – TBA

Beck – TBA

Belly – TBA

Blondie – TBA

Body Count – Bloodlust

Brief Candles – TBA

Burning House – Anthropocene

Burning House – Tracer (EP)

Chromatics – Dear Tommy

Cloakroom – TBA

Coldplay – TBA

Coroner – TBA

Cyanotic – Tech Noir

Danzig – TBA

Darkbells – TBA

Deep Purple – Infinite

Deftness – TBA

Deicide – TBA

Denver, Colorado – …And It Still Keeps On Rising

Depeche Mode – Spirit

The Enters – TBA

Exodus – TBA

Sky Ferreira – Masochism

Fleet Foxes – Ylajali

Fleetwood Mac – TBA

Fucked Up – Year of the Snake

Gary Numan – TBA

Gorrilaz – TBA

Grizzly Bear – TBA

Haim – TBA

The Horrors – TBA

Horskh – Gate

Inheaven – TBA

Jayce Lewis – TBA

The Killers – TBA

LA Guns – TBA

LCD Soundsystem – TBA

Legend – Midnight Champion

Liam Gallagher – TBA

Linkin Park – TBA

Living Colour – Shade

Lorde – TBA

Mahogany – TBA

Major Lazer – Music Is The Weapon

Maria False – TBA

Miniatures – Jessamines

Modest Mouse – TBA

Morbid Angel – TBA

The Morelings – TBA

My Morning Jacket – TBA

Nine Inch Nails – TBA

Obituary – TBA

Panda Riot – TBA

Perfect Pussy – TBA

Phosphorescent – TBA

Pia Fraus – TBA

Pond – TBA

Qual – TBA

Real Estate – TBA

Ride – TBA

Seeing Hands – TBA

Sheryl Crow – TBA

The Shins – I Gleek on Your Grave

Sigur Rós – TBA

Slowdive – TBA

Smiles – TBA

Spiritualized – TBA

Spoon – TBA

Star Horse – TBA

Statiqbloom – Blue Moon Blood

The Stone Roses – TBA

St. Vincent – TBA

System of a Down – TBA

Tears For Fears – TBA

Tender Age – TBA

Thirty Seconds to Mars – TBA

Tool – TBA

U2 – Songs of Experience

Vampire Weekend – TBA

Velvet Acid Christ – The Heart of the Mind Has Died

Voivod – TBA

Vowws – TBA

Wavves – TBA

Wolf Alice – TBA

Youth In Bloom – TBA

3Teeth – Shutdown.exe

What are you looking forward to in 2017? What is missing from this list? All that I can say is that 2017 is already looking like a very good year for music, and I’m super excited about it.

Here is 15-1:

15

JAGWAR MA – EVERY NOW & THEN

I discovered Jagwar Ma a few years ago right around the time Temples and Tame Impala were breaking out on to the music scene. Well, Tame Impala has been a thing for more than a few minutes, so I will just reference the time that they broke here in the United States, which was about 4 years ago. Whenever I would read an article about those bands, the band Jagwar Ma would always seem to crop up in some off handed mention. I was pleasantly surprised by their strange blend of psychedelic rock and offbeat alternative rock. Their debut release, Howlin’, was a year end favorite of mine for 2013, and it continues to stay in my regular rotation of music that I just can’t seem to shelve. Their latest release is a dramatic shift away from the oddities that they expressed on their first album, moving in to a more pop friendly, electronic direction. The first single from the album “OB1,” was a hook filled dance number that was filled with large beats and rhythmic ecstasy. The track set the tone for a decidedly happy album full of positive vibes and upbeat compositions. If you aren’t aware of this Australian act, you should be. Their brand of psych-electro dance music is an infectious romp through a magical sound arena full of euphoria.

14

SCHOOL OF SEVEN BELLS – SVIIB

This is the saddest/happiest release of 2016. I honestly wasn’t even expecting this to be coming out, and then when I heard that Alejandra Deheza was going through all of the recordings that she and Benjamin Curtis made before his untimely death due to lymphoblastic lymphoma, I really didn’t think that the recordings were going to be anything but a collection of b-sides and unfinished tracks. When SVIIB, the fourth full-length from this fabulous act, was finally released, I was blown away by the high caliber production, glossy atmospheres and excellently crafted songs. Alejandra not only added to the brilliance of what School of Seven Bells had exhibited up to this point, she honored the vision of Benjamin Curtis and added to his legacy. I think that it is safe to assume that this is the last release as School of Seven Bells, barring any found recordings or other creations that Deheza will find that are related to Curtis. For this I am extremely sad, but it makes perfect sense. Benjamin Curtis was at least 50% of the creative force that had the right to the School of Seven Bells namesake, so to hear anything more would be dishonest. Alejandra has stated that her contributions to music are not finished, and that is a wonderful relief to hear. Not being able to hear another School of Seven Bells album is disappointing, but at least we have her promise to carry on to look forward to.

13

WILCO – SCHMILCO

Wilco haven’t always been on my musical radar, but it is clear after every release, they really should have been. Schmilco is their 10th full-length studio album in an illustrious 20 year career. Formed out of the ashes of Uncle Tupelo, Chicago’s own Wilco showcased Jeff Tweedy and a John Stirrat, along with a revolving lineup of high caliber musicians. Following up on last years excellent release, Star Wars, the band don’t miss a beat and craft excellent blues rock infusions of heartland Americana. Tweedy and the band have the pulled from their arsenal another batch of well rounded songs, seemingly tapping in to an endless well of stories and melodies. Strangely, despite their storied career, Wilco are a newish band to me. They existed on the periphery of a musical universe that I never allowed myself the pleasure of exploring. It wasn’t until I saw the excellent documentary I am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco in 2012, that I decided that it was time I began to pay closer attention to them. I am happy that I did because now I have a fuller appreciation for the kind of music that they make and the importance that they have in the realm of American music history. Wilco truly are, and should be a time honored and cherished iconic band.

12

DINOSAUR JR. – GIVE A GLIMPSE OF WHAT YER NOT

Who knew that Dinosaur Jr., a brilliant alternative rock band and perhaps the godfathers of all the is heavy indie rock, would release an album this year that would be considered one of the best. Well, I knew that before it was even released, because Dinosaur Jr. are an alt-rock institution. Consisting of just three members, J. Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph, this band makes very large and very loud music. One of the strangest things that I read about this band this year is that J. Mascis and Lou Barlow have not communicated with each other directly for years, and perhaps don’t even like each other that much. Instead, drummer Murph acts as a conduit between the two to help craft their music and formulate their ideas. How the hell does that even work? Does it matter? All that is important is that these three pull together and create a monster sound that rocks your face off. I haven’t seen Dinosaur Jr. live in a long time now; I believe that it has been 24 years since the last time I was able to catch them. What I do know about them now is that they are probably the loudest club band in the world in the modern era. That is an unverifiable claim, but from what all my friends have been saying about them after seeing them, I don’t believe that I am wrong. A Glimpse of What Yer Not is a fabulous release chock full of alternative rock gems that should not be excluded from your listening experiences or you library in general.

11

VAMPYRE ANVIL – TETSUO

For as long as I have been creating these lists, I have never once been able to put an industrial record in my top 10 releases of the year. This will come as a surprise to many of you because a good number of my friends exist within the goth-industrial world. Many of my friendships have been created around my industrial rock podcast, Razor Blade Dance Floor, and have even been established by my reviews of industrial based music in print and online. Four years ago something happened, so I began to write a letter. The letter started something like this:

Dear Industrial Music,

This is painful for me to write, but it has come to my attention that I am just not that in to you anymore. We are going to have to break up. It’s not you, its me. I’m boring. I’m uninteresting. I’m lost. But you can carry on without me. I know that you can…

But then something happens every year. One or more bands release an album that gets me excited, reminds me of everything that I love about this art form, and makes me tear the letter up and throw it away. Vampyre Anvil is the band that made me throw away the letter this year. This is a brutally dark, multi-layered, nihilistically exciting, dystopian fantasy full of bleakness, anger and boiling point aggression. The album is starkly beautiful in all of its jagged, disjointed and ugly sound abrasions. Its a perfect industrial creation that weaves its way in to a nightmarish soundtrack, and I absolutely love it. It is even more exciting to know that it was created by two people that I consider friends. Jason Novak, the brilliant artist responsible for bands such as Acumen Nation and Czar, along with my little-brother-from-another-mother Sean Payne, an infinitely talented producer and musician that has his hands in a whole lot of things, but is mostly recognized for his band Cyanotic. They are the dynamic duo who built all of this up. I can do nothing more than sing high praises for this release, and shudder in fear of its power and glory. I get goosebumps every single time I listen to it. So, I may be losing my nerve for industrial music, with an interest in things that are more rock oriented, but as long as releases like this are created, I will always be reminded of how great that this music form can be.

10

BAND OF HORSES – WHY ARE YOU OK?

As we enter the top 10 releases for the year, I think that it is important to note that these next 10 albums not only were very good releases, but they also shaped and defined how my year transpired. You may not agree with this list, or even the placement and positioning of each release, but that is really part of the process that I want. I am interested in sparking healthy debate about viewpoints and opinions so that you can see the perspective of others’ as well as myself. This isn’t a drawing of a line in the sand to see which side you stand on, this is to see if you have the ability to cross that line for yourself. Band of Horses have been a favorite of mine for the past 10 years. They create inspiring, country influenced rock and roll music that has garnered a lot of attention in the alt-rock and alt-country communities. I was drawn to them by their excellent track “The Funeral” off of 2006’s debut release Everything All the Time, a release that I didn’t really pay much attention to until a few years later when Band of Horses seemed to be a fitting soundtrack to my life in West Texas when I lived there. Their latest release is a typical affair for the band, but it seems like the band are getting better at putting together complete albums that are enjoyable front to back. Previously, I had never really claimed to like entire albums by the band. Standout tracks on the album include “Casual Party,” a staple on Sirius XMU’s playlist for much of this past summer, and “In a Drawer,” an upbeat number that features Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis. This is a qualified success in my book, and an album that I enjoy returning to again and again.

9

SAVAGES – ADORE LIFE

Somehow when I heard this album for the first time earlier this year, I had suspected that it would find its way in to my top 10, and here it is at number 9. I just completed one of my many trips across North Carolina that I do weekly and needed to listen to this album one last time before I wrote about it. This album plays so well while on a long drive, and I still can’t help but hear classic Siouxsie Sioux in the underlying current of this bands style. Savages are so much more than just another Siouxsie and the Banshees knock off, because they are diversely post punk in a much different dark rock spectrum. I have to stop here for a second to reveal that a good number of you reached out to me this year to tell me about this release, because I know that you all know me so well. And while it is true, you are 100% correct in knowing my musical tastes and have the intuition to  know that I wold love them, you all seem to forget that I was ranting and raving about them back in 2013 when they released Silence Yourself, an album that was my number 3 album of that year! Where the fuck have you people been? Asleep at the wheel again, I see. It doesn’t matter, I just like that you enjoy them and that is all that is important. Just know this going forward: its pretty hard to sneak a band past me. You have to trust me on this little egotistical fact. But I work hard so that you don’t have to, so leave the discovery process to me, and I promise that I will take very good care of you. Anyways, Jehnny Beth and her compatriots have delivered yet another stellar release, albeit a little more professional and polished than their debut release. I think that I still favor that one a little bit more, but this is a high quality release for sure.

8

TESTAMENT – THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE SNAKE

Okay, thrashers. This is the real deal. Whenever I hear the term ‘Bay Area Thrash,’ this is the band that pops up in my mind, first and foremost. Sure, everyone thinks Metallica and Slayer, or maybe even Exodus, but Testament are a beast of a band, have written far more quality releases than any of those other bands, and are consistent. Are there albums that Testament has made that are weak? Absolutely. Does this detract from their legacy (not their first album, but nothing could detract from that release, so think what you want. You see what I did there?) as one of the greatest thrash metal bands of all time? Hell no. This band is and always has been amazing. I saw this album left off many year end lists, and when it did appear, it wasn’t really placed that high up. Screw all of those people, they don’t know a fucking thing about music. This release is phenomenal, and might be the greatest Testament album of the past 20 years. Yes, I said it. The greatest since the days of the classic lineup. Chuck Billy has never sounded better or more brutal. And Alex Skolnick is still probably my favorite metal guitarist ever, with possibly the greatest support from fellow axe man Eric Petersen. I’m a bit bummed that ex-bassist Greg Chrsitian is once again out of the fold, and from what I can see, he has been mouthing off about his time with the band in the press, which is a real shame. I love that guy and want nothing but the best for him. Brotherhood of the Snake is a solid release that cements Testament as one of the greatest classic metal bands, and shows that even after all these years, they can create brutal, heavy, and satisfying thrash metal music.

7

THE AVALANCHES – WILDFLOWER

How often have you heard the term plunderphonics tossed around? This is a genre of music that accentuates sound design by assembling found music and sound sources in to a collective musical piece. The Avalanches not only utilize this technique, but they may have perfected it. The Australian electronic artists have released one of the most anticipated and thoroughly captivating releases of 2016. Wildflower is a journey through music, a time capsule of sorts that visits musicals golden ages, sampling pop, rock, hip hop, soul, jazz and classical music to great effect. This is an vastly interesting experience. You don’t just listen to the album and cherry pick songs, you go along for the ride. This is another one of my headphone albums, one that I settle down with to enjoy in full. I can’t listen to just one track on this album without first trying to get to it through the others first. This is a wide ranging, far reaching experiment in sound that defies category and challenges the listener to hear new things on each successive listen. There is a world of sound here filled with street sounds, interesting samples and quality songs. When you take the time to listen to it, clear your plate of any obligations and just sit idle and feel the album all the way through. This is a very enjoyable experience that I promise will pay dividends to your ears and your heart, tenfold.

6

WHITE LUNG – PARADISE

This Vancouver four-piece hardcore punk band is four albums deep in to a terrific career, one that finds them crafting one quality release after another. White Lung have captured my attention for the past 6 years and have consistently pleased me with their abrasive plundering of noise. The band can tap in to melodic sound waves, but mostly come across as a barely contained nuclear bomb. They are loud, intense and thoroughly gritty and raw. Lead vocalist Mish Way-Barber is a powerhouse singer who sings, screams and shouts her way through each track, delivering vicious blows to the ears while reigning as master of the cacophonous sound that erupts behind her. As is my complaint with just about every single punk rock record (except for maybe Green Day) is that this release is incredibly short for my well being. Just as soon as it seems to be gaining a full head of steam, it ends, and I become a sad listener. Luckily White Lung are not a ‘Use Once and Destroy’ kind of band so repeated listens are absolutely required.  If you are looking for monstrous punk rock that can be deafening and destructive while maintaining a delicate balance of melody and nihilism, then this is the disc you must reach for time and again.

5

PREOCCUPATIONS – PREOCCUPATIONS

Once upon a time, a Canadian band that went by the name Viet Cong, dazzled and amazed listeners by introducing their blend of post-punk and new wave blended rock music. Their music was formidable and vastly interesting, but something was really getting in the way: their name. I have to admit that I wasn’t really crazy about the choice of name that this Calgary band decided to use, but I wasn’t offered by it, I just thought it was short sighted and downright stupid to name a band that. Apparently, they thought so too and changed the name of their band to Preoccupations. This is their first official release as that band, and they actually sound a little different than what Viet Cong had originally brought to the table. The resulting album is a fantastic ride through post punk that challenges the listener to new ways of sound creation while displaying excellent songmanship and knack for utilizing tones and themes of the past (most notably from the early 80’s). The production and sounds on this release are big and fully realized, capturing a brilliant display of rock music fused with subtle electronic sound washes. The self-titled debut is so good, that it is one of those releases that leaves the listener wondering where in the world can this band go from here? Hopefully that is a task that isn’t worrying these guys too much. I will continue to enjoy it until the time comes to record that followup, a challenge that I’m positive that the band is capable of mastering.

4

A TRIBE CALLED QUEST – WE GOT IT FROM HERE, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE

This is my rap record of the year, without question. I have been a fan of A Tribe Called Quest ever since I lived next door to band member Jarobi White when we both attended New York Institute of Technology in 1989. I only had the pleasure of knowing Jarobi for that one year, but he was always a pleasant, happy guy that was very modest about being a part of this collective. To be fair, I don’t think he had any idea that A Tribe Called Quest would be come one of the most important acts of our time. This release is important for a number of reasons, but most notably because it was probably going to be the last A Tribe Called Quest album due to the passing of Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor earlier this year. Recent news indicates that this may not actually be the case, but we shall see. The remaining members, which included Jarobi White, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Q-Tip, all got together and collected Phife’s final recordings and finished the songs that would appear on this album. The result is a social commentary of enormous impact, one that is not only timely, but shines a light on important issues of today and forces the listener to reckon with them. The songs are amazing, and A Tribe Called Quest have, in my option, never sounded better. I like their past catalog well enough, and those first four releases will always have an important place in the pantheon of rap music. But this release maintains an extra special level of importance, and a high quality of song crafting skill that resonates well with me. And for that reason it will place itself as one of the best releases of 2016.

3

BLEACHED – WELCOME THE WORMS

In any relationship, it is extremely important to have something that you both find endearing and unifying. Sharing something you both love is a special part of maintaining that bond and creating unique bridges that you can both cross together. My wife and I are never always on the same page musically, and I’m absolutely fine with that. I honestly don’t know if I could stay married to someone that liked every single thing that I liked, because then there would be no real challenges, no real learning experiences, and no way to test each others boundaries. It would be…boring. Bleached released Welcome the Worms earlier this year, and it was an album that both my wife and I gravitated towards together.  When these moments occur, and trust me they aren’t as often as you would think they would be, they are magical. The album became our staple travel album, one that filled the long silences during car rides, the kind of silences that happen when you have been with someone for 20 years. Yes, I know I talk a lot, but when you have a partner that has patiently listened to your every word, there comes a time when I have said it all. And I have also learned when to shut up. Bleached filled the silent gaps with beautiful, surf punk pop songs and made them special. We had this album together and it was our theme album for our many adventures together. The album also screams ‘summertime’ for some reason, even with its dark undercurrent and edgier sounds. The album is an amazing display of pop-punk music created by three girls from sunny California. This is their second release and it is as equally fantastic as their 2103 debut Ride Your Heart. The album is a streamlined destination for fun rock and roll, and I find them to be one of the most interesting, and fun to listen to bands of the past 5 years.

2

WUSSY – FOREVER SOUNDS

Wussy have been at their craft fr quite a while now, formulating a hybrid of country and rock music for the better part of the last 15 years. They originate from Cincinnati, Ohio, and have six strong albums under their belt now. What initiated my interest in them was an article that announced that the band was going to explore more noise and shoegaze on their new release, a release titled Forever Sounds. So shortly before this release came out, I grabbed their previous release Attica! and found it to be a charming and interesting album, even though it exhibited a little more country charm than I would normally enjoy. When I finally listened to the album, I wasn’t immediately sold by its shoegaze proclamation and found it to be generic at best. Then I decided to try it again, two months after my first listen. By this time I had been exploring releases by Band of Horses, Fruit Bats, and The Handsome Family (all on this list) and I found that my ears had been properly tuned to appreciate what was transpiring on the disc. When I hit the middle of the album with tracks like “Gone” and “Hello, I’m a Ghost,” I really felt the power of this release. I was nodding my head, tapping my feet and I was experiencing chills. Honest to God chills. The album was speaking directly to me and I loved every minute of it. There is only one album that I listened to more this year (you only get one guess which one it is), and I’m certain that this one got spun at least 50 times this year, but probably much more. Is this a surprise to you that this is at number 2? Let me tell you, it is definitely a surprise for me. If you had told me that a release like this was even in my top 100 a year ago, I would have… what a dumb cliché. Why do people say that? Who cares what I would have said or done. The point is that I evolved as a listener, and I feel like a much better person for being able to enjoy such an amazing release as this one.

1

MERCHANDISE – A CORPSE WIRED FOR SOUND

So it all boils down to this. The number one album in my musical listening experiences for the year 2016. I will tell you that I am absolutely not surprised in the least that it is this release from Florida band and 4AD artist Merchandise. Its not very often that an album knocks me to the floor upon first listen. It also not very often that I put on a release for the first time, and one day later it is in its tenth spin. The maturity that this band expresses with its gothic tones and alt-rock sensibility is simply breathtaking. I have been very keenly aware of Merchandise’s career, and I haven’t exactly locked in to them as a band up until now. When this album first came out, I steered clear of it because I was afraid that it was going to be something else entirely. Then I read a review that claimed that the band had all the hallmarks of classic 4AD releases (not surprising; they are an amazing label) with all the heart of Sisters of Mercy and the intelligence of The Mission U.K. I can’t find that review now to give it credit, but that summarization forced me to put it on immediately. From that moment on I knew that this was my number 1 album of the year. I have known that for the last 4 months. That has been an unshakeable decision and this release grows with each successive listen. I’m not certain that many or any will agree with me, but I challenge you to listen to this thing over 100 times like I have and not find that it has so much to be enjoyed from start to finish. And that is about all I have to say about that. The End.

 

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