Part 4 in a 10 part series showcasing the best releases in music during the year 2016.
As you may or may not have noticed over the course of the last 3 installments (and certainly within this one), there is no set criteria for genre. Razor Blade Dance Floor as a podcast is devoted to the promotion of guitar driven industrial rock and metal. The concept of Out of the Box delivers on a promise that no stone would be left unturned. There is no reason to confine the ears to a defined subset of the rock and roll hierarchy. Which in itself is a subset of…music, but lets not overthink this whole thing…
This list dares to mix listening choices in an effort to show compassion to the listening audiences that have no interest in defining themselves as part of some division of the global socio-ecostructure. You no longer have to call yourself a punk, a metalhead, a goth, a hipster, a freak, a dead-head, a parrot-head or any other quasi-devotional music aficionado.
There is only one serious rule for enjoying music: let the ears like what the ears will like.
Guilty pleasures? No such thing. Apologize for liking something? I would never allow it. Love what you love, and stand behind it. I don’t only ask that of you, I demand it.
Interesting side note that I just thought to share with you all: Each album review/comment is accompanied by an image of the album cover. If you click on that album cover, you will be directed to a location where you can get the album and quite often be able to hear album full songs or samples. I tried my best to include Bandcamp as the preferred music vendor because I really believe in what Bandcamp is and what it represents. If an artist does not participate on Bandcamp, I usually direct you to their web site, Amazon CD sales page, or to another location such as Soundcloud or Apple Music. You will find that about 90% of the artists utilize Bandcamp, which says a lot about the strength of the platform and its viability as a potential social network extension. I’m a big fan of it, and if you aren’t, I really think that you should be. Its kind of awesome.
Here is 105-91.
DE LA SOUL – ANONYMOUS NOBODY
I’ve heard a lot of complaints about this record. Most of the complaints revolve around how little the core members of De La Soul are actually featured on this release. That ultimately this is an album about the guests and not the hip hop trio that we have come to love over the last 25 years. Complaints that this doesn’t even sound like De La Soul, but more like an overbearing collaborative effort that is a product of its parts and not the mythological beast that De La Soul has been revered to be. Hogwash. This is a fun recording all the way through. This was a crowdfunded album, so maybe the complainers are the investors, people pissed off that there is so little De La Soul and so many featured performers such as Snoop Dogg, Usher, Jill Scott, David Byrne (!!!) and a Swedish group called Little Dragons that I had never heard of before this release. For Christ’s sake, who cares? Sit back, relax and listen to the album. It is such an enjoyable listen that may not be a De la Soul record as a focused piece, but more or less a symbol of De La Soul’s early collaborative hive mentality that they had in the 80’s while in New York City with their contemporaries known as Native Tongues. Don’t overthink this album, just chill out and enjoy it.
LVL UP – RETURN TO LOVE
Experimental rock outfit LVL UP are an interesting group of individuals that craft exciting indie rock tracks that have a sense of yearning and positivity. Short bursts of post-punk leveled against a college rock spirit create a free falling rock & roll experience. There is nothing edgy or offensive about the music that this band makes, which is all the more reason why I wanted to hate them. But the songs weave their way in to your psyche and become those simple ear worms that don’t want to let go. Bands like Built to Spill and Pavement quickly come to mind, less in sound and more in spirit than anything else. I’m not saying that Sub Pop has released nothing but great music, but it would be dishonest to not reveal that their being signed to this label led me to pay more attention to them. This is argument number 42 that I have as to why labels are still important in this day and age.
HEAD WOUND CITY – A NEW WAVE OF VIOLENCE
What would happen if you took the insanity from math-heavy band The Locust, the no wave rhythmic pulse of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the unabashed noise elements of The Blood Brothers, poured it in to a mixer and dumped it on a hot bed of coals simmering for no good reason in a dirty back alley? The answer is Head Wound City, you silly reader. Why else would I write this description next to the image of this bands first proper full-length release, a release that sees the light of day more than 10 years after the band formed? This album is abrasive and chaotic, noisy and irritating, loud and obnoxious. This album is so intense and way beyond good. The result is a noisy breed of hardcore punk that dances around the dying body of old school punk, and points and laughs at it. This has been my ‘go to’ album when I’m super pissed off, which isn’t really as often as I would like you to believe, but it works nonetheless. I want you to believe that I’m a rage filled asshole covered in tattoos, sporting a green mohawk, but I’m probably the furthest thing from that. Use your imagination to picture what I really am, but it isn’t cool looking, I can guarantee you that. I may actually still be an asshole though. That much is true.
LYDIA LOVELESS – REAL
Alt-Country music darling Lydia Loveless has captured my heart. One day at the end of last summer I went for a ride with my wife with the top off my Jeep Wrangler and nothing but the warm summer air blowing through our hair and the sounds of this album flowing through our ears. As we careened through Hickory, North Carolina on interstate 40, this album suddenly made all the sense in the world. It was perfect, and judging by the smile on my wife’s face, she got it too. I don’t even know why I decided to put this album on in the first place, but it worked as the perfect soundtrack to a pre-fall afternoon on this Carolina highway. I guess there is a metaphor in there somewhere, but you’ll have to figure it out for yourself. Me? I just liked how this album sounded at that particular moment in time and I will always cherish the fact that when I listen to it today, the good memories and warm feelings of that day come rushing back to me. Most artists dream of being able to do that for all of their fans. Lydia Loveless did it for me, and I am forever grateful to her for making this album and allowing me to listen to it.
DEAD – VOICES
Did you know that there is a movement of sound purveyors combining the minimalist sounds of industrial and merging them with the colder side of shoegaze? Well, I did and I have been seeking this kind of music out seemingly my whole life. I love industrial, and I love shoegaze, and I have been begging for years for these two worlds to meet in a perfect marriage. The band Dead, hailing from France, describe their music as ‘cold noise’ which I guess is their way of presenting their take on European cold wave (not American cold wave, there is a BIG difference) and merging it with the weightless sounds of shoegaze. The end product is amazing. There are a lot of bands hitting this formula with their own varying results. Check out SPC ECO, Bloody Knives, Cold Cave, The Soft Moon and others of their ilk to hear just how different each of these bands interprets this evolving sound pattern. Back to the band Dead, this album is simply amazing, and if you absorb the entire album properly, you will actually feel your body temperature drop a few degrees. It’s that cold. I’m kidding, of course, but you get the idea. Try it for yourself to see what effect it has on you. If you record an actual drop in body temperature, tell me about it first, then go see a doctor.
HINDS – LEAVE ME ALONE
I first discovered this Spanish band when they were called Deers. Their song “Bamboo” was the messiest, most disheveled awesome song I have ever heard. It was fantastic. Deers was forced to rename the band Hinds after a conflict with another band with the same name (thats never happened before…yeah, right) and thankfully released a full-length album that included the tracks recorded as Deers. Earlier in the year I decided to write a music review every day for the entire year, and this was one of the first bands I covered. Here is that review, written on January 1, 2016:
It’s been 14 months since the duo (later turned quartet) Deers unveiled their mirthful and instantly classic track “Bamboo,” a song that was a train wreck of overlapping vocals and shimmering surf-leaning guitars. After some legal wrangling with another group, the band changed their name to Hinds and set forth to record their first full-length release. The result is a sunny affair with loads of retro-beach rock injected with carefree attitudes and the kind of happiness that tight knit circles of friends enjoy in simple settings, usually with access to healthy amounts of alcohol. Hinds are whimsical both in their lyrics and musical delivery, and that is what makes this CD so charming. It’s a joyous affair that captures personality more than talent, which in the case of these four girls, is an overrated asset. Some of the tracks can be a sloppy mess, but that is part of their allure. Fun is the lifeblood of the 12 tracks, with hardly an ounce of seriousness that lasts for any considerable measure of time, and because of that these youthful free spirits from Madrid, Spain create an instant classic.
Needless to say, the challenge of writing a review every day of the year does not gel well with my insane work schedule, so this practice fizzled after about 2 weeks. Nobody cared anyways, so it wasn’t a very big loss. I wonder if anyone actually cares that I’m publishing this list? Message me if you actually read this, even if you don’t actually care. The responses, I suppose, will be fun(ny).
TEARS RUN RINGS – IN SURGES
Yet another late entry in to my musical arsenal; by the time I listened to this CD, I had already listened to over 950 albums during the course of the year. You have to imagine what it takes to make an impression on me at this stage of the musical evaluation game. But I’m a professional (or, I used to be), so I was able to pull this album into a listening space without comparing it to 800 mediocre releases and another 150 really good ones. The effects on this shoegaze record are blissfully satisfying, and provide enough jagged edges to satisfy my craving for the noisier side of this musical art form. There is a perfect balance of serene melody, enchanting songwriting and air churning waves of reverb that make this album so very listenable. I don’t actually know much about this band, and sometimes I like to have a few bands in my library that remain a mystery to me. In due time, I will research them a little more, but for now I want to enjoy them for what this album gives to me without analyzing the backgrounds, country of origin, and membership alumni that any of the Tears Run Rings roster has. This isn’t an easy task for me because I am perpetually in research mode when it comes to music. Sometimes I need to reward myself with ignorance so that I can remember what it is like to just listen to music as a simple fan.
OATHBREAKER – RHEIA
I’m not exactly the biggest fan of post-hardcore. As a matter of fact, I’m actually quite disgusted by it most of the time. The same can be said for black metal. I honestly can say that I do enjoy things that are ‘blackened,’ so when I read a review that praised the latest Oathbreaker release, lifting it up as one of the most original metal releases of the year with its hardcore roots and blackened metal style, I didn’t exactly run right out and buy it. But then the album appeared on a best of list. And then another one. Then another one. Ignoring this album wasn’t going to be easy, so I finally broke down and bought it. I was certainly impressed by what I heard, but it wasn’t exactly an easy sell. My first run through the album had me focussing on too many of the black metal elements, and the screechy howls of front woman Caro Tanghe. But then I released my inhibitions and anxiety of this album and gave it another spin. Then I heard it. The magical beauty within the anger and rage. It doesn’t come right out and bite you like the more heavy metal moments do, but letting this album languish and stew about in the ears for a bit, and it all comes together. It was what I refer to as a ‘grower,’ that album that takes four or five listens to finally make sense because it forces your brain to rewire itself and listen to things from obtuse angles that it normally wouldn’t conform to.
NO BODY DIED – THE NIHILIST & THE PRETENDER
As I mentioned before in my synopsis of the album for Voices by Dead, I have forever been hunting and scouring the Earth for industrial-gaze records. The artist known as No Body Died offers yet another unique perspective of this new twist on two old genres. There is probably more industrial and experimental sounds on this release than there would be ones to be referenced as shoegaze, but that doesn’t change the really interesting nature of all of the songs found on the album. The vocal style also seems to lean more outside of both genres to a more androgynous alt-rock approach, much akin to how Brian Molko of Placebo sings on his LP’s. When rating and (over)analyzing music, I pay particular attention to the production values used and utilized to create the recording, and as an audiophile (who is going deaf), I listen to particular elements that add dimension to the music. This release is a perfect ‘headphone’ album that resonates well in both ears, essentially aiding in putting a few extra points in to its final score that I give it. Okay, I agree with you, I do overthink these things, but they are important when assessing the final released product. I am friends with many musicians, and I can tell you they appreciate when I can point out the subtleties that the average listener misses. Does that make me a better person? No, it just makes me a nerd.
AGAINST ME! – SHAPE SHIFT WITH ME
You can’t read anything about Against Me! anymore without having to hear about the transgender issues that lead singer Laura Jane Grace has undergone since before their last release, the fantastic Transgender Dysphoria Blues, which is good and bad for a few reasons. The good reason is that it sheds light on an important issue in todays world and it helps give empowerment and a voice to others who identify as transgender. The bad is that it can overshadow the music, which to me is just as important. There is no need to dwell on Grace’s personal life, so lets focus on her singing and music. Against Me! are a severely underrated band that I always thought has been tossed aside as some sort of indie-emo band that doesn’t deserve any notoriety or recognition. Nothing could be more wrong since Against Me! are a great rock band that encompasses a breed of hard rock and post punk that is often genre defying. Throwing Against Me! under an emo bus is simply lazy and undermines their true potential. Shape Shift With Me isn’t necessarily as good as the raucous and adventurous Transgender Dysphoria Blues album from a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean that it is worse either. Instead, the band provide a more level sounding album that avoids the more exploratory avenues that their previous album took on. But this album is just as good on most areas, and is a completely rocking album that sounds great at really large volumes. Especially in your car. Listen to it loud in your car. And drive fast. The whole experience works. Trust me.
METALLICA – HARDWIRED…TO SELF DESTRUCT
I think I’m completely over making fun of Metallica, and I’ve lost all my energy that I had to hate on this band for 25 consecutive years. I’m done. I bought Master of Puppets on vinyl way back in 1986, when I was just a sophomore in high school. The summer of ’86 was my heavy metal awakening period that was dominated by Ratt and Mötley Crüe up to that point. That year I discovered Megadeth and Slayer as well, and my world has never been the same since. Well of course it wasn’t, I was 16 for Christ’s sake. If it was still the same today, I would be in serious trouble right now. Metallica was the best band in the world for 5 years of my life until the Black album came out. From that point forward I shunned and ridiculed them. Forever. Until this year. Let me first say that I went in to this album with about as low of expectations as anyone could, and when I saw that it was a double album, I rolled my eyes. I didn’t want to listen to it. I had lost my nerve for James Hetfield’s voice, Kirk Hammett’s lazy guitar work, Lars Ulrich’s smug and pompous attitude, and…well, I like Rob Trujillo, so he was always very exciting to me. Then I let it all go. After all, I was the one being a dick. Could these guys just stop fucking around for one album and be a great thrash band again? The talent has always been there, but I always saw these guys as underutilizing their core skill sets. Imagine my surprise and teenage glee when I heard this album and found that it was a great culmination of what they once were and what they have become. My best friend in the entire world is a ginormous Metallica fan, and when I saw that his love of this band had been passed successfully on to his son, who happens to be the same age I was when I discovered them, I was overjoyed that this was the band that he was able to see and hear. Its not about me anymore. It hasn’t been for a long time. What is important about this release is that it connects with old fans and the new ones. It’s the new ones that are the most important to me. Look, I realize this is a total avoidance of a review of this new Metallica record, but you must understand that for this to be good, this has to connect with another generation much younger than me. That is where heavy music will live and thrive. I think my friend’s son Jacob Krause is the living embodiment of this as a successful music release, and for that Metallica should be very proud. If you want to read an actual review of this album, check out Jacob Krause’s web site 666 Music Reviews.
PHANTOGRAM – THREE
When I first learned that Phantogram were releasing their third album this year, I fully expected it to be in the top 10 albums of the year. Phantogram have been the most exciting band to me over the last 4 years, and I saw nothing but a meteoric rise in their popularity and talent level. When “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” was released as a single earlier in the summer, I got very excited about what I was hearing, but my wife didn’t really like the track and she said something sounded off about them. Then I got the album and I could hear what she was hearing. My exuberance for the Canadian duo had clouded my judgement and allowed me hold them aloft far too high. The album was good. Really good, but it was missing some of the magic that had been captured on the first two full-length releases. What happened? The band stripped itself of its quirky experimental electronic features and replaced it with glossy, commercial friendly songs. Well written, commercial friendly songs, but far more accessible than anything that Phantogram had done up to this point. Was this band going for top 40 radio, a place to go and make real money? Well, I can’t say I blame them, but where did my Phantogram go? Luckily, the album grew on me and I can actually see it for what it is. Its a very good release, but not special enough to crack my top 10 list this year. I haven’t lost faith in them. I had the opportunity to see them live in Charlotte, NC this past October and I was blown away by their performance. They are so very, very good, and I still regard them as one of my favorite acts of the last 5 years.
VEKTOR – TERMINAL REDUX
Somewhere along the way I stumbled across a description for Philadelphia based heavy metal four-piece band Vektor as the second coming of Voivod. Umm…no. Vektor is not even in the same league as Voivod. I actually think that Vektor are better. This is seriously technical thrash metal with concept album ready themes based in science fiction, which is about the only place that Voivod and Vektor intersect. Vektor establish thrash-opera epics with dizzying displays of fast guitar and injections of speed metal, black metal, technical metal, basically kitchen sink metal. Kitchen sink metal? Come on, you get the reference: Everything but the kitchen sink. I can’t believe you made me explain that one. Sheesh. Anyways, Vektor are a crushing brand of articulate thrash, a thinking man’s version of a genre many equate with neanderthal headbangers and lunkhead skaters. I’ve never really understood that, because I am one of those neanderthal headbangers, fully in love with all things thrash metal. I know a lot of smart people in to thrash metal. I’m getting sidetracked. Vektor is definitely on another level with their blend of hyper-thrash that I believe would be quite a welcome album for fans of Devin Townsend, who has also created some seriously technical guitar oriented music during his interesting career. One thing that you must be aware of with Vektor is that they are story tellers and their vision isn’t easily expressed in short form, so many of the tracks run well over 5-minutes in length. I have musical ADD, so sitting through these tracks with relative ease was quite a feat, since normally I lose focus at around the 3-minute mark for just about any band that I listen to. Vektor held on to me all the way through the release, so take that for what you will. It’s nothing short of a minor miracle.
FEAR OF MEN – FALL FOREVER
English trio Fear of Men follow up their mesmerizing debut Loom with another dreamy release, showcasing a push-pull sound method that drags the music from quieter moments to louder ones and then back again, all while lead singer and guitarist Jessica Weiss softly sings her poetic lyrics. There are subtle electronic elements that create subtexts to round out their sound, but nothing so dynamic as what was first expressed on their debut. There is a spiritual endeavor within these 10 tracks, bound by an indie rock sensibility that could be found in some of England’s early 90’s purveyors during the foundation of alternative rock music. The album is a soft spoken representation of the lighter side of indie rock, something that has a seemingly better resonance with older, more mature music listeners. It’s a calming release that doesn’t provide any stark deviations to offset the audio immersion that the listener allows themselves in to. For that, it kind of disappoints because I certainly like a surprise or two with my music. Thats not to say that it is bad in any way, just played a little too safe for my liking. But it is still a beautiful artistic expression that I have enjoyed numerous times this year.
FRIGHTENED RABBIT – PAINTING OF A PANIC ATTACK
Frightened Rabbit are new to me, but they aren’t a new band. Painting of a Panic Attack is their fifth album in a 10+ year career that has somehow evaded me all of this time. Truth be told, their brand of mature alternative rock hasn’t been on my radar until just the last 3 or 4 years, so its easy to understand how this Scottish act escaped my attention. It wasn’t until earlier in the year when I heard the excellent single “Get Out” that I really got excited about them and realized that I had to figure who they were and what they were all about. It reminds me of how I got in to this music to begin with, hearing bands like Future Islands, The War on Drugs and a few others that escape my mind right now that generated a level of excitement that had never been tapped in to before. There is a brand of story telling and indie cred that weaves itself in with an arena level rock ideology that pits this band against itself from the get go. Do they stay grounded and connect with audiences on a club level by writing tracks that could never escape the bars, or go big by introducing expansive electronic elements and grand choruses in an effort to tap in to that audience that sucks up everything that U2 and Muse release? They are neither and both, which makes them instantly interesting to me. Recording big records is alway fun, as long as you have the chops and the financial wherewithal to do it live. I’ve never seen them live so I don’t know if they could actually pull that off. Something tells me that Frightened Rabbits could do it. Easily.