Part 8 in a 10 part series showcasing the best releases in music during the year 2016.
What can you say about 2016? For the most part, the temperature of the room indicates that this was an extraordinarily bad year for most. I’m a glass half full kind of guy, so I really didn’t see 2016 as being a particularly bad year. Personally, I saw amazing growth in my personal well being, I stayed healthy all year long, which is quite an achievement considering that I had some serious injuries in 2013, 2014 and 2015. I completed my degree that I had been working on for the past 25 years. My family saw no major setbacks, and I was able to aid in helping out my mother who was going through some particularly hard times.
I was able to do a little bit of traveling, but I was hindered by a work schedule that saw me work the most hours in any year that I had worked up to this point. I spent a good part of the year exhausted, but I felt rewarded and enriched by the relationships that I had with my family and my friends. I may not have much money in the bank, but I feel extremely wealthy.
I focus very closely on the things that I can control. I don’t waste any thought or energy on things that I realistically can’t do anything about. I watched friends and family spend an insane amount of time and energy on a political cycle that I just couldn’t be bothered with. I watched friendships crumble, arguments erupt and names being called over people that I didn’t really give a shit about. Am I upset about the election results? Nope. I don’t care. I went to bed early election night without a care in the world who won. When I woke up and saw the results, I shrugged my shoulders, and went about my day. I’m an American that is shaped by the people that I surround myself with. I have friends who live overseas that understand that. I would never lower myself by apologizing or being ashamed of being American. I’m proud of who I am, what I represent and the company that I keep. No President is going to change that. Ever. If you are that person, get a grip. There are over 300 million people in the United States. That is America, not one guy that sits in an office and signs a paper that goes through 500 other people first. You are overthinking who you are in this puzzle, so stand up and represent yourself. Don’t let someone else do that for you.
The idea that celebrity deaths are caused by the date, month or year on a calendar is ridiculous to me. I know some people are being funny, but you need to do something first before you continue with this whole “Fuck you 2016” tirade that I see many of you going on. Sit down at a computer and Google the list of living centenarians. Then look at the nonagenarians. Then look at the list of octogenarians. Finally check out the septuagenarians. Have you noticed something? The list is very, very long. Over a thousand names that you and I know, from celebrities, to scientists, world leaders to philanthropists. Sadly, we have to say goodbye to them, and when their time is up, it is up. It has nothing to do with the calendar year that they fall in. You think that 2016 was a rough year on losing people that we know? Buckle your seatbelt because each successive year is going to crush the year before it. Thats just the way it is going to be.
2016 was a great year. I think is was a phenomenal year and I am excited by the foundations that were created, the friendships that I made, the music that came out that is going to entertain us for decades to come. 2016 was one of the best years for music releases that I can remember. I hope that 2017 is even better, because I find all of this so exciting.
If you didn’t have a good year in 2016, then figure out why and make changes to your life. Start with focusing on you, your family and your close friends. Thats what I did 10 years ago and it has worked wonders for my life. Turn off the news, pay attention to local issues and listen to your neighbor. De-stress your life. Un-complicate it. Learn to live in the moment and certainly stop to smell the roses more often. And tell those close to you that you love them. Do that every day. It is my secret to happiness. It could be yours too.
Here is 45-31:
DAVID BOWIE – BLACKSTAR
What can be said about this release that hasn’t already been said? Let me start with how I saw this record a year ago when I first got my hands on it. Here is a review that was written prior to Bowie’s passing:
There has always been a fascination with the space oddity that is David Bowie, something of a desire to see what journey he is going to take the listener on and what conventions he is going to blatantly ignore. At 68 years (he’ll be 69 on Friday, January 8), Bowie continues to massage the edges of pop and rock existentialism by blurring the lines between avant garde-art rock and free-form jazz. The result is a wildly uneasy experimental ride that may prove to be too much for the average listener longing for his more pop friendly sounds and classic rock tribulations. Bowie purists, however, will devour this disc and find themselves wondering why it only has 7-songs with a 40 minute run time. Listening to Blackstar’s first half showcases Bowie trading between half spoken, half sung narrations as the band behind him meanders through free-form jazz that sounds like wildly paced syncopations and improvisational saxophone solos. By time the second half of the disc arrives, Bowie settles down and sounds more like the veteran crooner we have expected that he would become at this point in his career. Forging a trail that can only be his own, Bowie has given us yet another release that feels like an attempt to distance himself from all of his commercial appeal of the 70’s and 80’s, settling in to a montage of vaudevillian space operas performed in smoky speakeasies located somewhere on the moon.
Looking back on this release, it hasn’t aged well with me and used to be a top ten release, but now is all the way down here because I wanted to like the jazz elements, I really did, but I have come to the conclusion that no matter how hard I try, I will just never enjoy it or appreciate it. But I do appreciate, in hind sight, what Bowie was actually doing on this release, and the profound idea that he was penning a sort of goodbye letter, or obituary for his impending death. I’m glad he a had a chance to do something like this despite his ailment. All the more reason why he is elevated to legendary status, and admired by all, including me.
PITY SEX – WHITE HOT MOON
I have been enamored by this band since I first heard them a few years ago, and this new release cemented my love for therm even more. I love this album, and the fuzzy, noisy pop punk flavor that it presents is almost perfect from beginning to end. I am a big fan of bands that have a good male singer and a good female singer, and utilize the talents in a back and forth nature. The underlying darkness and sad moods gives way to a listening experience that seems more grounded and gritty, making the album coarse and disheveled to great effect. Thematically there is a lot of push and pull, dichotomies that treat the listener to palpable experiences of love and rejection. The album grows as a larger sounding, almost anthemic stadium feel with some of the tracks, catapulting them away from the garage rock core that each track exudes. Sadly, just as we were getting to know this Michigan foursome, they have decided to go on an indefinite hiatus, but with co-founder Britty Drake leaving the band, it seems more likely that they have now broken up. They leave behind some solid work, and White Hot Moon will remain a classic in my library for a long, long time.
LADY GAGA – JOANNE
Oh, you think I’m being funny by including this release amongst all of this alternative rock, punk, rap, metal and industrial? You think that I must be playing with your head, because I see you looking at this release and scratching your head. Think again, cowboy, because Lady Gaga is extremely talented and deserves to be heard, even if you don’t appreciate the blend of pop music that she makes. Joanne is a wonderful release, fully tapping in to this multitalented artist’s entire arsenal of musical abilities. She can write, she can play, she can produce, and she can sing. Boy, can she sing! I don’t really think that I can spend too much time reviewing this CD, to what might actually be an audience that will immediately dismiss her. But I want you to challenge yourself and listen to this release with an open mind. Get out of the box. Get. Out. Of. The. Box. You see, once you hear Lady Gaga for exactly what she is, you will appreciate what her role is and just how important she is, not only as an artist, but also as a social ambassador. Still not convinced? Here is a little homework assignment: take some time to go on YouTube or some other video propagation web site and seek out interviews with her. Listen to her answer questions with heart and honesty. Listen to her talk about her family, her father, her fans. I heard her on The Howard Stern Show a few years ago and I was hooked, not only by her ability to stay grounded amongst her over the top facade, but also hooked by her singing and performing skill sets. Yes, I am a little monster, but if you get right down to her message, we all are. And there is absolutely no shame in that.
WHORES. – GOLD
Every once in a while, it is completely necessary to blow off some steam and seek out the loudest, angriest, mostly obnoxious hardcore punk based music that I can possibly find. Sometimes during this search, bands like Whores. appear and make me realize that hyperdrive noise makers that pummel and grind with chaos and destruction are a much better option than expensive drugs or overpriced therapists. I need to escape sometimes and let my inner demon release all of its pent up anger and frustration, shake my fist at the world around me and growl at the moon. I am a classic internalizer, so when you meet me you wouldn’t realize that I hide all of my negative energy deep inside me and let the polite, glossed over positive person run the ship. It can’t stay there forever, so I reach out for a brutal release like this and turn it up as loud as humanly possible and let the rage fly. When it is all over, I have expelled all of that bitter bile and frustration and celebrate a boisterous and bombastic punk rock record. It feels good to rage every so often, but I will always do it privately. I have an image to uphold and it is important for me to make you believe that I don’t let anything bother me, ever. Which is a big fat fucking lie, but it works in the context of this album. What I can tell you is that this three-piece band out of Atlanta created one of the most perfect noise-rock albums soaked in sludge that I have heard in recent years, and you should give them the time of day because they are fantastic.
THE LEMON TWIGS – DO HOLLYWOOD
I want to say terrible things about bands that create retro albums, because it always seems like they are incapable of creating new noise on their own and lazily replicate the themes and ideas that bands from the past have already covered. Then a band like The Lemon Twigs comes along, who are just a pair of teen brothers from Hicksville, NY, and shatters my desire to crush them like ants on a sidewalk. This album, Do Hollywood, is a remarkable creation of sounds from the evolutionary rock period that I can only categorize as post Beatles, early 1970’s rock. Hints of Queen, Mott The Hoople, Paul McCartney and Wings, and a slew of other pre-glam era bands that forged the 70’s sound 45 long years ago are ever present on this 10-song release. Soaring melodies, guitar and piano duets, rapid fire timing changes and songwriting skills that have been nearly abandoned after all this time forge a record that is no where near sounding new, but you would be hard pressed to nail exactly who they sound like from the past. So lets just say for sense of entertainment, that this type of release needs to exist, not only for reminders sake, but to also catalog a songwriting style that maintains modern relevancy. The album criss-crosses the 70’s rock playing field with ease, and it sounds joyous and whimsical with a heart of passionate gold. There isn’t going to be a wide audience for this amongst youths, but maybe this will catch fire and give kids inspiration to go digging through their grandparents vinyl collection. If they are smart, they will get their hands on it now before some picker comes along and offers chump change for the gems that are sitting in there collecting dust. You hear me kids? Go look through your parents and grandparents vinyl collection now, and covet as much of it as you can.
SAUROPOD – ROARING AT THE STORM
Sauropod are a band that hail out of Norway that I have no idea how I discovered. All I know is that one night I was binge drinking alone, and browsing music web-zines and blasting music as loud as possible, as I am known to do. Sure, I throw a good party of one, but the next day I awoke to this purchase sitting on my credit card and I had no clue as to why I ordered the album. Drunken purchases are the best, aren’t they? So I sat and waited a few days for the CD to arrive and when I got it, I tossed it aside in fear that I had royally fucked up. So the next day, I opened the CD and decided to try to listen to it. Should I get drunk again and see if that is what made it sound good, or should I just take it to the car, pop it in and see what the music does to me on the road? I said screw it and put it on and was floored by the sounds that exploded out of my speakers. High energy alternative rock with mixed edges of punk and noise, with just enough Norwegian melody to make my head spin with delight. The opening track had hints of rocakabilly, but the second song, “Winter Song,” is what sold me. I heard a song that sounded like everything that I have always wanted The Thermals to be, but was never able to have. I was excited, jubilant and on top of the world. This is the music experience that music nerds like myself yearn for, one that takes you by surprise and has you wanting to put a song on repeat before you have even had a chance to let the whole album finish. Now I have to take a good hard look at my life decisions, drinking habits and my inability to remember how music enters my life, and I will be a better person. Or will I?
THE BESNARD LAKES – A COLISEUM COMPLEX MUSEUM
I was steered towards The Besnard Lakes by one of my shoegaze friends a few years ago when I lived in Texas, and while classifying them as a shoegaze band is rather simplistic, I get why he would have thought that I would like them. For about 3 minutes of my life, I embarked on making a shoegaze podcast called Blissfully Gazing Downward, and he really wanted this band featured on it. He lived down the road from me in Marfa, Texas, an artsy community that I was the sole maintainer of their telecommunications network, which has absolutely has nothing to do with the story other than I wanted to brag that I hung out in Marfa, Texas for 7 years. So the podcast failed just quickly as I started it because, well, I had another podcast that I was doing a poor job of maintaining, so I thought it was foolish to run two of them. So The Besnard Lakes never found a spot on my failed podcast. In an interesting twist, my main podcast featured industrial rock and metal (you know all of this) called Razor Blade Dance Floor. One of the bands that I featured on that podcast, and a band I wrote about in Outburn Magazine when I worked for them was a band called The Rabid Whole. The Rabid Whole used to have a friend of mine in it, a friend named Sheenah Ko. Long story short, Sheenah Ko left The Rabid Whole, did some other music things and then found her way in to The Besnard Lakes. So that is the story of how two podcasts, two bands from Canada, a friend and a small town in Texas get woven in to a CD review that adds no value to anything, other than the fact that I like to tell meaningless stories to make you say “What. The. Fuck.” The Besnards Lakes are a wonderful, albeit strange band out of Canada that I adore, and they created a beautiful release in A Complex Coliseum Museum. Give it a spin and love it with me.
DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS – AMERICAN BAND
In no universe would I have ever considered listening to The Drive-By Truckers on purpose, but here it was, two years ago, I find myself sampling their music and wondering how to digest this blend of countrified rock and roll that sounds like it is too contained on CD and needs to be unleashed properly in a small club or bar. Drive-By Truckers are wild and crazy, the kind of band that you imagine slinging beers back with your redneck friends, while listening to their CD in the garage. But this band is so much more, and I owe fellow journalist Garret K. Woodward an immeasurable debt for doing a phenomenal job of slinging this band at me week after week until I finally said “Alright already!” and gave them a listen. Maybe they are an acquired taste, but I am here to say, that I acquired their taste. Originally based out of Athens, Georgia, this five-piece actually is a collection of like minded artists that have drifted in from Alabama as well, helping to create a blues infused southern rock hybrid that is both fun and intelligent. American Band treads in to some pretty serious waters, and doesn’t exactly spill the usual spiel that their Southern brethren tend to emote. Politically charged, and adept to conversing about the current state of affairs, no matter how left of center they seem to be, American Band tackles issues such as gun-control, violence against black youths, the human character and other ideas that seem to go against the Southern man’s mantra. Protest music is what is transpiring here, and The Drive-By Truckers have never sounded so relevant, even if their lyrics are steeped in soliloquy and not masked by metaphors. Again, I have to state that if you would have played this music for me 5 years ago, I would have said no way would I listen to that on purpose. But I like to think that I’m older and wiser, and this album, along with much of Drive-By Truckers past catalog, is starting to make more and more sense to me everyday.
NOTHING – TIRED OF TOMORROW
Ever since I heard Nothing’s 2014 debut Guilty of Everything, I have been excited for this Philadelphia shoegaze band. Their brand of shoegaze is not metal sounding, not by any stretch of the imagination, but they take the dreamy, atmospheric haze of traditional shoegaze music and sharpen it a bit, The guitars are ever so slightly more aggressive, harkening towards an almost Dinosaur Jr. type of post-rock rather than a Deafheaven variant of metallic shoegaze. I have to admit, I am smitten by the extra leverage against the heaviness that the band expresses, but also happy that they retain enough of the shoegaze soul that they can maintain their membership in that collective without being considered crossover experimentalists. Tired of Tomorrow is rugged and loud, offers up a harsher bite than anything that normally dwells in a reverb laden guitar based atmosphere, and even exhibits some glossy melodies that are heralded by post-hardcore acts. I daresay that fans of The Deftones may find this band appetizing, especially fans of their more recent works. Nothing are a great band that have carved out an interesting niche for themselves, showing that they can straddle a few fences but still remain firmly committed to their core genre.
UNDERWORLD – BARBARA BARBARA, WE FACE A SHINING FUTURE
I think that Underworld are one of the greatest artists that have ever recorded music. Okay, that is a bold statement, but Underworld are one of those bands that are deeply personal to me. I don’t really have any stories of sitting around with friends listening to Underworld records, or even discussing them with anyone. They were always a band that I listened to privately, utilizing their soothing electronic epics to lull me to a better place. They were my private, personal band that I just had no desire to share with anyone else. Then, over the years, I started to find out that I wasn’t alone. Underworld had built quite a large following, and my tightly kept secret was no longer one to behold as all my own. I always have this fear that Underworld are going to hang it up, disappearing in to obscurity leaving behind a strange but wonderful collection of solid electronic dubscapes. Barbara, Barbara, We Face A Shining Future is a breathtaking adventure in rhythmic electronic dub and bass, a creative volley of well crafted sound structures. This artist is solid as a rock and seemingly can never do any wrong in my book. What I love most about Underworld is their ability to remain fascinatingly strange and futuristic in its vision. As I sit here and think about their catalog, a warm smile peeks across my face as I remember the fun of discovering dubnobasswithmyheadman, an album that has been worn out for a long time now, and the commercial dalliances of tracks like “Push Upstairs” and “Born Slippy. Nuxx.” And I smile when I listen to this album too, knowing full well that I have been enjoying them for well over 20 years now, without anyone having any idea. Until now.
CAR SEAT HEADREST – TEENS OF DENIAL
Is there any band that has has had a breakout year like Car Seat Headrest has? These alternative rock darlings have succeeded in gaining the attention of all of the major media magazines and radio stations, and turning heads of alt-rock fans the world over. What is astonishing to me is that their blend of safe college rock and nifty lyricism has all the hallmarks of just about any band of their ilk that has travelled their same pathway over the last 30 years. But this band is entirely different for some reason, crafting songs and melodies that just work so well on different levels. Lets take a closer look at these guys and see if we can get to the bottom of what makes them so successful. Car Seat Headrest is a name used by artist Will Toledo, an artist out of Virginia that has recorded 12 albums since 2010 and self released them on Bandcamp. Wait a minute. Car Seat Headrest is just one guy? Mind. Blown. Will Toledo is essentially another variant of a DIY indie rock artist that can not only play many instruments, but can write good songs too? Wow, this makes this album even more impressive. Toledo actually works under the collection of a full band now, but we might as well be talking about him like we do Rivers Cuomo, Father John Misty or Bon Iver. No, lets not get crazy here, Bon Iver does not have to be a part of this conversation. Whats the deal with that name though? Apparently the band name is a reference to his using the back seat of a car for privacy while recording vocals for his songs. Okay, I Wikipedia’d that little tidbit, so sue me. It also may not be true, so just consider the source. Anyways, this album is remarkable and well crafted, a journey through indie rock 101, but unique in all its own way. I did mention that the music was what I consider “safe,” so just be very aware of that before venturing inside.
LEONARD COHEN – YOU WANT IT DARKER
Amidst all of this talk of the people that passed away this year, I really don’t hear much about Leonard Cohen lately. I suppose that is what happens when someone dies every other day, you tend to overlook the ones that passed 10 celebrities ago. I still think we are overthinking this entire pseudo-epidemic, but I’ll just sit here and roll my eyes while the rest of you mourn. Yeah, I know, I’m a dick, but I put a lot of value in people that I actually shook hands with, not so much the ones that appeared on a silver screen. But I’m a dick, just remember that when I die. Don’t you dare mourn me, not for a second. You are commanded to party like its 1999, listening to music and drinking like prohibition is returning tomorrow. We lost Leonard Cohen shortly after this album was released, but I don’t want to talk about that. He left behind an extraordinary body of work, and we are all better for it. For that we should celebrate his life and not mourn it. Instead, I want to retell a story that some of you may or may not have heard before. I live in Lumberton, NC, part-time, and I was working here in October when Hurricane Matthew rolled through and hung out a couple of hours too long. The result was immense flooding like I had never seen before. Water was everywhere. The city of Lumberton literally became an island with no way in or out. I’m not exaggerating. I saw people being taken off of the rooftops of their homes by helicopters or boats, because the water was just that high. But its a hurricane, so these things are possible. I work in telecommunications and it was my task, along with many others, to try and put this city back together. After many, many days of seeing peoples lives ruined, sadness set in like the plague and I thought that I wasn’t going to be able to take much more. Watching peoples lives ruined day after day by flood waters has a way of seeping in to the darkest places of your heart and ruining your outlook on life. I settled down one day and found a cable that needed to be repaired, a process that doesn’t take long, but can create a few hours of solitude. I began my work, and I decided to listen to this album. Now mind you, I know nothing of Leonard Cohen, just that I don’t think that his music is the kind of thing that I would seek out on purpose. As I listened to this album, I felt things that I never felt before. I became absorbed in his story telling. The album was phenomenal and his words and music seared my mind with a type of metaphysical resonance that I just can’t explain. When I finished listening to the album, I knew that I not only heard something extraordinary, but it helped me heal from all of the emotional scarring that I had been subjected to over the previous week or so. I know it sounds crazy, but its the truth. You have to believe me. You have no choice.
NAILS – YOU WILL NEVER BE ONE OF US
Brutal. Powerful. Devastating. Soul Crushing. Absolutely HEAVY. This is what you get when you listen to the gloriously harsh album from hardcore artist Nails. I was completely knocked off my feet and honestly unprepared for the heavy blend of hardcore and brutal metal that these guys throw at you. Its a brisk listen, with the tracks pummeling away at your eardrums for a deafening 21 minutes. There are 10 tracks on this release, but it just barely feels like an album. The songs hammer away at your skull and its over before you know it. Kind of disappointing if you ask me. Oh well, the only thing I know to do with this album is to start it over and listen to it again. Did you know that you can listen to this album 3 whole times in the course of an hour? Trust me, I know, because I was doing that much of last summer. There was a period of time there that I believe the news indicated that this band was finished. They went on an abrupt hiatus earlier this year, but I guess that they just needed a break. Word is that they will indeed be back for more. That is perfect, because this album is way too short, and I really need to get some more of this soon.
KANGA – KANGA LP
Could there possibly be an industrial release that has gotten any more attention this year than the new Kanga album? Okay, I guess you could try and sell me on The Black Queen, Adoration Destroyed, Youth Code or even Strvngers, but it is not going to work. Those albums barely registered a blip on my musical radar, and you will not find any of them on this list (but they may show up on a “Best of Industrial, 2016” list that I might do. Stay tuned!). This album, however, is a spectacular display of electro beats and industrial rhythms. Add to that the welcome vocal styles that Kanga gives us, and you have a recipe for a techno-laced, dance club set-list requirement. Rhys Fulber lent a hand in producing this album, who seems to make everything sound glorious, and it was released by Negative Gain, a label that is firing on all cylinders right now. This album has a full array of interesting tracks that have a sense of familiarity, but also take on an identity all of their own. I don’t like that there have been a few comparisons to Nine Inch Nails with this release, because that isn’t even close to accurate. Kanga is something else, even when she handles the industrial rock genre with relative ease. Kanga’s skills as a songwriter, a producer, and a vocalist prove that she is the complete musical package. There are subtle senses of reservation and possible limitations that I believe she will have worked out by the next release, but rest assured that this is no slouch release by any stretch of the imagination. It is as adventurous as it is danceable, and those are formulas that need to work if industrial is going top regain its relevancy. Kanga can position herself at the forefront of a full blown industrial resurgence, one that is brewing in the underground as we speak.
SLEIGH BELLS – JESSICA RABBIT
When it comes to original music, I have always believed that Sleigh Bells’ blend of garage rock and punk mixed with smatterings of metal and even industrial, are absolutely one of a kind. I mean, who else sounds like them? Anyone? Go find me a band. I’ll be sitting here waiting. All. Day. Long. Sleigh Bells are loud, abrasive, sometimes obnoxious and thoroughly lovable. The duo have churned out four albums now, each with their own brand of psycho-pop-punk. The Brooklyn, NY duo that consists of Alexis Krauss and Derek Edward Miller craft extremely upbeat, loud and abrasive pop songs, songs that are probably too harsh for commercial radio, but alt-radio really seems to love them. I had already compiled this list as of December 15, 2016, but I decided earlier today to go back through all of the releases that were on this segment of this list. When I got to Jessica Rabbit, the first thing I thought to myself was how much I hate the album title. I can’t figure out why, I just don’t like it. The next thing was that it catapulted me to a crazier, far more fun version of myself that existed just a few years ago. Age has made me really boring lately, but this album resuscitated the youthful exuberance that I once had. By the time I finished this album, I wanted so badly to push it up in the list at least 10 spots, maybe more, because I didn’t realize how much of an effect that it had on me until today. I really love this album, and I feel that it is a better release than Bitter Rivals and Reign of Terror (but not better than Treats, despite the irritating production on that album). Not all music aficionados can get behind the madness that Sleigh Bells creates, but if you like loud, raucous rock music that is bipolar and fun, then this release will suit you just fine.