Part 6 in a 10 part series showcasing the best releases in music during the year 2016.
Where does music fit in to your daily life? How often do you listen to an album, turn on the radio, check out the suggestions of friends or articles that have piqued your curiosity? How do you find the time to listen to all of this great music? For me, it isn’t anywhere near as easy as I make it seem. Thankfully, technology has made the transportation of large music libraries extremely easy. No longer do I lug around CD’s and a portable CD player, nor do I rely in the upkeep of a stereo system that will play any type of media, such as a home stereo, car radio or a desktop speaker system for the office.
My luck in my career field relies on the fact that I have long periods of downtime where I can put on headphones and do whatever it is that I need to do, such as drive long distances or to splice a cable, an operation that takes hours of solitude to complete, and requires a musical accompaniment in order to finish with the sanity that I entered in to the project with. You are probably less fortunate, but I’m positive that you have far more free time than I do (my work day usually begins at sunrise and ends long after sunset somewhere between 9pm and midnight). I’m a workaholic out of greed, necessity and convenience, so I’m not telling you to run right out and get a job that finds you putting in 14 hour days, 6-days a week like mine does. What I am saying is that I am not under any requirement to do this, so please save your pity for someone who has a far worse situation than I do.
I mentioned before that I rely on technological advances, and I have neatly wrapped my musical life in to the confines of my phone. All CD’s that I obtain are immediately ripped to my hard drive on my home computer, which is then turned in to a media server. I have an unlimited data plan, and I have access to my music collection, in full, with a 99% level of uptime. Its actually quite extraordinary having the ability to dial up (terrible term to use when talking about data) my music collection anywhere at any time. 13,000 CD’s are only a matter of a few finger taps to my phone’s screen away. Its simply amazing to me, and provides me with the instant gratification that I desire in this life.
So how do you do it? Only you can answer that question. Drive time is the best time, but work time might work for you as well. Taking the time each evening to settle down with a CD and listen to it alone or with family members may be something you can do, and if you can pull it off, I’m jealous. My evening time is limited to the amount of time it takes to take a quick shower, eat a late dinner and then dive in to bed. Again, don’t cry for me, I self-flagellate this entire situation due to obsession.
Could you add another CD or two to your listening day? I think that you can. Think about how you can make it happen, and then do it. I’m not asking you to keep up with my marathon listening sessions that I do daily, just asking you to add more to your plate. You can do it. I know you can.
Here is 75-61.
CLIPPING – SPLENDOR & MISERY
When I was young, I was seriously in to sci-fi storytelling, and anything that involved space travel, space exploration, space conflict, or space adventures, I devoured no matter how good or bad it was. I’m sure this started with my obsession with Star Wars, but soon I was in to just about anything space related, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to TV shows such as Quark or Space: 1999. I have let go of much of that obsession over the years, but every once in a while something comes along to remind me that my active imagination as a child was far more fun than anything that I claim to be now. When I first heard the latest release from Clipping, the memories of all of my space age imaginations as a young child rushed back to me. But this isn’t a happy space tale told from the perspective of some joyous robot on a ride with a swashbuckling hero. Instead, this is an interesting tale conversed through experimental sounds and field recordings filtered though a jagged rap and hip hop fueled extravaganza. We have character development and a loose but followable plot, presented with layers of noise, melody and vivid soundscapes. Its actually quite original and requires repeated listens to absorb not only the tale that is being weaved, but to also hear all of the little things that are interspersed throughout the 17-track dystopian tale. There are moments of tedium and moments of joy. There is sadness and resolve. There is a political subtext and racial message. There is also a highly valuable listening experience that isn’t going to be for everyone, but is worth going through at least once.
MONEY – SUICIDE SONGS
There are certainly a handful of albums that really don’t make any sense to a lot of people, albums that I recommend and the resulting reaction is “Why would you do that to me?” Money’s second album Suicide Songs is one such album that I think I heard completely different than anyone else did. What I hear is a brilliant rock opera of interesting musical compositions that tackles a subject that is hard to discuss on any level within any chosen medium. It is a challenging release that presents layers of lush instrumentation and interesting compositional adventures. There is a very good chance that you will not like it like I did, because I have recommended this album to 7 people so far that I thought would understand it, and they all hated it. Which leads to a much bigger question about my tastes or the company that I keep. The most off putting comments I hear about Suicide Songs has nothing to do with the music or the lyrical content, but more to do with the vocals of Jamie Lee, which I find to be inoffensive in any way. I really hope that someone finds this album good like I did so I don’t feel like there is something wrong with my ears.
CROSS RECORD – WABI-SABI
I honestly have no idea how I found this release. It wasn’t being covered by any of my usual trade magazines, and I didn’t hear it on any of the podcasts or music programs that I frequent. It wasn’t even recommended by a friend. I think that I was looking for something else, but Googled this album instead. What a great mistake to make. I do know that I stumbled upon a SoundCloud presentation of the track “Steady Waves,” a slow building track that features the sultry voice of lead singer Emily Cross leading in to an ominous and dark acoustic guitar sequence. The track climbs and expands, growing more ominous and tense as the song evolves, finally rupturing to reveal a dreamy, ethereal cascade that is brooding and repetitive. Its absolutely beautiful, and once I heard it, I knew that I had to own the album. The rest of the album characterizes various aspects of tension building and soft exposition, but ultimately the star here is Cross, who has a style of singing that perfectly fits the sound fields and audio excursions that this Texas duo put together.
WYE OAK – TWEEN
It might be totally incorrect to place this album in this list, because I’m not certain that this release was meant to be an actual release for Wye Oak. Let me explain: the songs on this album were recorded during the band’s transitional period between their third release, 2011’s Civilian and their fourth release, 2014’s brilliant Shriek. This album is the proper recording and packing of the unrecorded songs from the fleshing out period of the sounds they eventually achieved on Shriek. It doesn’t exactly take a rocket scientist to put the pieces together and figure out where they came up with the title Tween. The resulting work is a great collection of awesome, spatial, relaxing and diverse indie rock tracks that lurch and yaw in dynamic ways that showcase a band that isn’t bound by their predetermined destinations. There are no rules, no expectations, just the desire to write interesting songs that simmer and explode out of the speakers. Tween rolls along nicely as a well produced rock record, exhibiting themes and sounds that aren’t normally attributed to them. The result is excellent, and to understand that the band didn’t really understand how they would be received by their audience shows that they are fully aware of what expectations have been created by recording a monumental release like Shriek. So Tween will have to do for us Wye Oak fans for now, and I have to say that I am totally okay with that.
FILTER – CRAZY EYES
Here it is, the Filter album that I have waited almost 20 years for. Every single time Richard Patrick announces a Filter release, some idiot always ruins it for me by claiming that this album is the most industrial album since Short Bus. After several disappointing Filter releases, this is the one that had me rejoicing. I absolutely love the first three Filter records. Short Bus is actually my least favorite of the three, if you can believe that, with The Amalgamut as a close second to Title of Record, my favorite Filter release. Now we have Crazy Eyes, a full blown straight up industrial rock record full of mechanical noises and sounds and hyper-percussive beats. Admittedly its a bit of a disjointed affair, with some really great tracks surrounded by a couple of duds, but mostly the CD is refreshing and enjoyable. This is the Filter I want to hear, and it has been infinitely frustrating to watch Richard Patrick and company create mediocre alternative rock album after mediocre alternative rock album. Look, I get it, there is no money in industrial rock records. No one is going to recreate the commercial anomaly that is The Downward Spiral. But no one is going to find out until someone tries, and I always believed that Filter was the band that could pull it off. So no, Crazy Eyes doesn’t exactly match the power and originality of that second magnificent Nine Inch Nails release, but it is such a relief to know that Richard Patrick isn’t scared to try. I know that there is a brilliant Filter album waiting to be released. Crazy Eyes should be the stepping stone to make that happen. Are you listening to me, Mr. Patrick? I believe in you!
CRYSTAL CASTLES – AMNESTY (I)
Drama surrounding bands isn’t something that I am interested in buying in to. After all, I’m all about the music and if something glorious or terrible occurs before, during or after the album is made, I could care less. It’s difficult to ignore the stories that have filtered out about Crystal Castles and the events that led to the departure of Alice Glass, especially when they depict Ethan Kath as somewhat of a monster. As difficult as some of those stories have been to swallow (true or false), I entered in to this album with a level of skepticism, not because of what was circulating these past few years about Ethan and Alice, but more about what Alice’s replacement, Edith Frances was going to bring to the table. Its kind of wonderful and creepy that Edith has the ability to emulate and even let you forget that Alice Glass is no longer in the fold. The album itself presents the usual fare of noisy and challenging audio excursions that we have come to find on Crystal Castle releases over the past decade, and the album itself isn’t really a huge step forward in Ethan’s production and songwriting skill sets. But what I like to say, and it applies in ample amounts here, is “if it isn’t broke, why fix it?” Crystal Castles is doing Crystal Castles the way that they know how to do Crystal Castles. That is a statement of obvious proportions, but when you are looking for aggressive, dance oriented electronic music of that handles a punk ethos better than almost any act of their ilk, then this statement is a refreshing reminder of who they are, where they have been and where they may be going from here. Which is, if you are fan of the band, exactly what you want to hear.
THE DEAR HUNTER – ACT V: HYMNS WITH THE DEVIL IN CONFESSIONAL
Whenever I think about the concept of progressive rock, I can’t help but draw up the sounds of Yes, Porcupine Tree, Rush or even to a certain extent Pink Floyd within my inner ear. Progressive rock can be challenging and require a great deal of investment form the listener. There have also been a great many times that progressive rock is obnoxious and ego stroking, daring the listener to endure grandiose spectacles of sound in an effort to ultimately reach no real reward. This is something I found with a lot of Yes records, but that isn’t fair to drop at your feet without informing you that I think Yes are an amazing band. So this brings me to The Dear Hunter, and extraordinary rock band that weave intricate concept albums through powerful audio montages. I will take a second to remind each of you (and inform those of you that haven’t read a damn thing I have written up to this point) that I have audio ADD. When I hit the 3-minute mark in any song, I’m about done. So imagine my glee who I realize that The Dear Hunter are capable of pulling off the concept album, prog-rock formula without over indulging in 8 to 20 minute expositions. This band is absolutely excellent, and are capable of getting to the point with ease and precision, all-the-while capturing the imagination of the listener during the process. It isn’t an easy task, but The Dear Hunter can pull it off. This band isn’t anywhere near what I consider what belongs in my wheelhouse, but they are good enough to capture my attention and make their way on to this list. And for that, you must now consider that this band has to become a part of your expanding music library.
RA RA RIOT – NEED YOUR LIGHT
I’m an avid listener of satellite radio, most specifically SiriusXM (is there another option?), and even more specifically the channel Sirius XMU. This is essentially the college rock channel, but the music and shows that they exhibit are far more than that narrow field of view. I could go on a whole tirade about how the programmers and on air personalities are my imaginary friends, and how if my wife ever leaves me (never happening, by the way) I’m actively pursuing Jenny Eliscu as my next life mate, but that only depicts me as a creepy person, which I may or may not actually be. Earlier this year, Ra Ra Riot released the album Need Your Light, and Sirius XMU constantly played the opening track “Water” over and over again. I was hearing it 10 to 15 times a day and I was irritated by it. Then one morning, I heard the song yet again, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was overcome with emotion and the song moved me in a profound and powerful way. Right them and there, I decided that I must own this album. I am so glad that I obtained it because the really upbeat indie rock songs and even the melodramatic ones like “Water” fit neatly in to my daily musical repertoire. This Syracuse, NY band had successfully created a perfect soundtrack for the emerging warm spring weather, pulling my mood out of a deep winter funk that I had been stuck in for the previous several weeks. I may be wrong about this, but I think my initial resistance to this band was its similarity to Vampire Weekend, a band that I have never been able to like properly. My apologies to Ra Ra Riot.
ANGEL OLSEN – MY WOMAN
2016 may go down as the greatest year for female artists, and I really hope that I’m wrong about that. Not because I want this year to be forgotten, because there really is a lot worth forgetting, but more because I see a trend that has been getting stronger and stronger as each passing year finishes its run. I want next year and the year after that to be even better. Angel Olsen is just one of a great many artists that released a phenomenal record this year, and this is actually one that I charted and watched for all year long until it was finally released in the beginning of September. It was absolutely worth the wait. From the opening lines of “Intern,” through the great indie oriented singer-songwriter tracks “Give It Up,” “Sister” and the hit single “Shut Up and Kiss Me,” the entire release is enchanting. Angel Olsen is originally from St.Louis, Missouri, and I just recently learned that she is calling Asheville, NC as home. I frequent Asheville many times a year, and no, I have never run in to Angel Olsen, but I would love to chance upon her and tell her how great she is. What is more amazing is that I can’t think of a more perfect soundtrack than the brilliance of My Woman to listen to while venturing in and around that amazing Western North Carolina mountain town. The album glistens with perfection, captures the spirit of Appalachia, and harnesses the feeling of wandering through the endearing Asheville streets on a late summer evening, sampling the local cuisine and sipping a drink or four at the local bars. If you’ve never been there, then this doesn’t even make any sense to you. Add it as a destination. You won’t be disappointed.
GARBAGE – STRANGE LITTLE BIRDS
When Garbage first broke out on to the 90’s alternative scene with its roster of musicians and producers along with relatively unknown and ultra-charismatic front woman Shirley Manson, I quickly dismissed them. I was never a fan of this band, but more because I was a prudish industrial/punk/metal/goth guy that saw this band as nothing other than yet another act in the swirling cesspool that had become 90’s alternative. People speak fondly of 90’s music, and it is really one of my least favorite era’s in music. I have more regard and respect for what is coming out now, or what the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s offered in music and cultural relevancy. So Garbage was never on my radar at any point within their career, and it had absolutely nothing to do with them. Luckily I have friends who are rather convincing, and I have nothing but respect for their musical recommendations. When this album came out, I had several friends beg me to listen to it. The one person that I was close to was fellow podcaster and music freak Renee Aztalanturf (not her real name) who was not only a fan, but well versed in anything to do with the band. I respect Renee’s taste more than most people, so I decided it was time to listen to this band that I have been readily ignoring for the last 20 years. This album was a breath of fresh air, an electronic rock album with hooks and melodies that I could get behind. My love of this album was solidified when Renee decided to pay a visit to Charlotte, NC to see Garbage, and she made sure that I was in attendance. It was a great show that showcased a career’s worth of solid music, and even tossed in a few of my favorites from this release. Luckily, I like Garbage far more than I thought I would, so I guess you can consider me a fan of theirs now. This album did a lot to help nudge me in to their camp.
ULVER – ATGCLVLSSCAP
Norwegian band Ulver have moved very far and away from their black metal roots, opting for a more immersive, expansive sound that can vaguely be referred to as post-rock. This album finds Ulver testing boundaries, redefining sounds and taking the listener on a journey that captures the realms of ambient soundscapes, glistening psychedelic ear twists, and epic and calculated drones. This is an exploration of sound that is intriguing, enchanting and imaginary. I never would have thought that an album like this would find its way in to a list like the one you are reading through right now, but here it is. This is an adventure in sound design that mesmerized me from beginning to end. It is one of those albums that I put to the side and save for special occasions or reach for when I am looking for a particular escape from reality or need to settle down my mood from a harrowing day. This is a non-traditional music release in every aspect, but will find a particular audience with its captivating movements and cascading audio expeditions.
THE COATHANGERS – NOSEBLEED WEEKEND
I keep mentioning here and there that I have good friends with good taste in music. I can’t do this alone, and it is their recommendations and suggestions that help guide me to the good music that I have to pay attention to. One of my closest friends is a musician and about as big a music fan as I am, Zoltan von Bury of the Charlotte, NC band Lovesucker. Von Bury randomly posted a link to the video for the song “Down Down” by The Coathangers, and when I watched it I couldn’t get enough. This Georgia band deliver a raucous blend of pop and punk that is both fun and refreshing. Nosebleed Weekend is their fifth full-length release and perhaps their best yet. 2016 was a good year for them, doing opening stints with some serious bands such as Refused, and finding performance slots on late night talk shows. The album is full of real fun and real energy, but isn’t a complete success. While I genuinely love the 13 tracks on the album, there is something about the thrid track “Squeeki Tiki” that I just can’t stand, so I always skip it. Oh well, I guess they can’t all be perfect albums. This one comes close though.
ANOHNI – HOPELESSNESS
This album by transgender artist Antony Hegarty, better known as Anohni, is a dark and strange journey through an electronic maze of atmospheric layers and bruising political commentary. Anohni has a deep, androgynous vocal delivery that was immediately repelling to my ears, but after a few repeated listens, became intriguing and mesmerizing. There are deep and scarring messages forced upon the listener, but I don’t really take much stock in the value of a lyric. Interpretations of the voice as it is layered over music is far more interesting to me. I am like a musical voyeur sitting idly by the side, waiting and watching to see where the music is going to go, and how the vocalist is going to navigate around the compositions to create a truly unique experience. On Hopelessness, Anohni delivers on that desired listening experience, and kept me guessing all the way through the disc. I can promise you that this is not a release for everyone, because as I have said before about other releases, either you get it or you don’t. Enter this listening experience with an open mind and try to hear the subtleties that are building beneath the subtexts. It really makes the main melodic drive and Anohni’s voice pop through exponentially.
POLICA – UNITED CRUSHERS
This album came out much earlier in the year, and as I was going through my record collection, I flipped to this album and forgot how intriguing the sounds were on it. When it first came out, I spent a lot of time with it, exploring each track, analyzing every nuance, studying the minimalism that it presented and was fascinated by the power that was transpiring within each song. I was at a pint in my listening journey when this came out that I was going to force myself to listen to genres and creations that fall far outside my listening comfort zone. While I will admit, there were certainly a number of challenging CD’s that I just could not finish, this one grabbed a hold of me and just wouldn’t let go. There is an element of minimalist electro-pop, or even a layer of synthpop on this disc, but that isn’t really telling the whole story because there are challenging synthetic dynamics that wrap around the vocals of Channy Leaneagh and lift her up in a curious way. Even thematically, the artists attempt to capture a sense of challenge and frustration with society’s current and future problems. I’m not entirely sure that I am correct on this, but I had read somewhere that this may be Polica’s last album. I sure hope that is wildly inaccurate.
THE BODY – NO ONE DESERVES HAPPINESS
The Body are an interesting set of audio terrorists that create challenging post-rock and heavy, thunderous sound explosions based in the foundations of doom and noise metal. They can even sound meticulously mechanical at times, leading one to believe that they have intentional dalliances in to industrial music. There are layers of experimentation and thematic moodiness that beguiles the listener. I found this release to be exceptionally enjoyable despite the attempts at these musicians to create an unsettling, apocalyptic nightmare that swirls around unconventional post rock and post metal. The experience that one would have while listening to this release isn’t essentially a normal one, but there are injections of familiarity with some of there more traditional musical motifs. The balance of controlled chaos and normalized musical expression is where The Body succeed, and they are fascinating noise walls to scale. I have seen this release pop up on year end ‘best of metal’ lists, but their forays in to post-rock, experimental and even industrial can win over fans from other arenas as well.