The best albums I didn’t hate, in 2016, didn’t inlcude much new hip hop. Not sure why. Maybe Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition. Senior rappers comported themselves well, De La Soul, Kool Keith and A Tribe Called Quest making better records than expected, especially the latter.
In descending order, after the Spotify List.
Heron Oblivion – S/T
Easily the best album I heard all year. Guitar depth. Pastoral Brit-folk melody. Sandy Denny singing with Crazy Horse. They can’t make album #2 fast enough.
For me, the bad dream of November 8, 2016 was predicted here, in a dark, paranoid, sprawling opus by the renamed Viet Cong. The coda on “Memory” was worth it alone. Or: Iggy Pop makes a record with Bauhaus, which I’d bet money almost happened.
The masked psychedelic rockers in Swedish group Goat previously favored electric guitar as the lead instrument for song-freakouts resembling the Shaggs guesting at singalongs at Manson family meetings. Requiem isn’t as plugged in; it retains tastes of electric guitar, but flips the script from the get-go: lead track “Djorlen/Union of Sun and Moon” riffs on a chorus of recorders. Woodwinds take a prominent place in general. If previous albums were northern California hippy, Requiem is northern Africa hippy.
Hamilton Leithauser and Rotsam -I Had a Dream That You Were Mine
I’ve gone hot and cold on vocalist Leithauser since he turned Jonathan Fire*eater (my fave live act of the 90s) into The Walkmen after replacing JF singer Stewart Lupton. I was up and down with Walkmen, too; sometimes they scored: on “Blizzard of ’96,” I can’t imagine the ’90s and ’00s without them. By teaming with Rotsam of/formerly of? Vampire Weekend – which never turned my head – Leithauser finds it, Rotsam fitting each track with a perfect pop backing for Leithauser’s swing-for-the-fences style. Imagine a punk Harry Nilsson, produced by 10CC.
Kaitlyn Aureilia Smith/Suzanne Ciani – Sunergy
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – Ears
In a year when I found myself listening to an inordinate amount of Harmonia and Cluster, Smith’s collaboration with electronic innovator Ciani, and Smiths’s own album Ears, stood out for me as birds of a feather to those German pioneers, if a step over the line from instrumental touches (especially synergy)
Goon Sax -Up to Anything
The common lede, here, is how Goon Sax’s Louis Forster is the teenage son of the Go-Betweens’ Robert Forster. And sure, that’s a reason to listen; and sure, the first ten seconds of “Up to Anything,” as well as its chorus (I want people / to think / about me) could appear on any early Go-Betweens record. But this isn’t something easily pulled of if you’re not the Go-Betweens. It isn’t all Forster, either; James Harrison is as much a songwriter as Forster, and together they give Goon Sax a delightful Modern Lovers-esque simplicity.
Kate Bush – Before the Dawn
I haven’t even listened to it yet, but I know.
African Head Charge – Return of the Crocodile
I have to admit I had no idea African Head Charge never stopped making their surreal, instrumental reggae-dub since their exciting four-album streak in the early eighties for Adrian Sherwood. This one begins with canonical tunes (“Makola Market”) and then acknowledges an odd turn by its titles (“More Bizarre;” “Further Off the Track.”)
Flyying Colours – Mindfulness
Welcome to shoegaze mach 3. These Australian gazers finally follow up two dynamite EPs with a full-length melding of shoegaze’s disparate sounds, a spectrum running from Slowdive’s float to MBV’s cacophony.
Kevin Morby –Singing Saw
I dug Morby’s work with Cass Ramone of the Vivian Girls in the (defunct?) Babies, but this is something else altogether, and expansion of the Babies’ tight pop-rock as well as a deepening of Morby’s work in Woods. It’s what I like to call a “guy alone in a cabin” album, akin to Richard Buckner, or Bon Iver’s first record. It doesn’t sound hermetic, however, most tracks effecting a Phil Spector-like sheen to acoustic guitar and sparse use of saw, or horns.
The Men – Devil Music
Who makes an album, of what used to be called “hard rock,” anymore? Devil Music makes a statement out of what wasn’t a statement 20 years ago.
Delroy Edwards – Hanging at the Beach
I’m not sure anyone saw this coming. Primarily known as a lo-fi house/dance DJ, Delroy Edwards has made an odd, analog sounding LP of short tracks collectively evoking some lost 1980s steampunk B-movie. Some tracks, like “In a Fight,” sound as if a studio engineer spilled crystal meth on the master of a 1981 Cure b-side.
Aphex Twin – Cheetah EP
Yes, this is really just a single plus a few tracks where Richard D James fools with an obsolete, arcane synthesizer from the 80s. But oh, that single, better than anything on his most recent releases.
The Avalanches – Wildflower
After 16 years, you expect a masterpiece, and this isn’t one, but only if you were expecting an IDM-party burner like their debut. Wildflower is a headphone record, as much about listening to music while walking through a city as it is fun to literally do that while listening. And they got clearance for Beatles samples.
Chook Race –Around the House
Earlier this year, at Cakeshop in Manhattan, Chook Race covered the Bats’ “Had to Be You,” a song possibly older than any Chook Race band member. I’m old, but that’s a deep pick for anyone, old or young. Chook Race’s Around the House is obviously inspired by DIY trio rock of the Flying Nun label ilk, but it’s so expertly done, and live they rocked so well, they’re primed to grace us with good stuff for a while yet. (PS Bats have new album coming. See tracks, below).
Mike and Rich – Expert Knob Twiddlers
In the nineties, I had a CD copy of this, and some lucky bastard stole it. A stoned collab between Aphex Twin and U-Ziq. As sloppy and good as it sounds.
Lifetones – For a Reason (Light in the Attic)
Following the dissolution of This Heat, Charles Bullen made this nearly forgotten slice of mutant reggae, clearly influenced by Flying Lizards-svengali David Cunningham, who had collaborated on This Heat’s amazing Deceit.
Gas – Box
I don’t have this yet. But Gas is great.
Kollection 06: Cluster 1971 – 1981(compiled by John McEntire)
When Dieter Moebius died last year, krautrock-krautelectro lost a giant. His work in Cluster with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and, to some extent, Brian Eno, remains landmark music to all progressive electro or electronic ambient that came later.
The Bats – Antlers
New album on the way!
Kestrels -No Alternative
Nova Scotia breeds pop melody like Atlanta breeds hip hop.
Astronoid -Tin Foil Hats
Amazing amalgam of neu-metal and emo, and a delicious anthem I formally dedicate to anyone who voted for President-elect Mr. Fail Upwards.
Dungen – Alberto Balsam (Aphex Twin cover)
I couldn’t have imagined a better pairing if I’d tried.
The Future of the Left – The Proper Music
Need abrasive rock strung with scathing society send-up, head for FOTL. “How many farmers markets/does it take to change a light bulb.”
David Nance – Pure Evil
Messy rock-songwriting isn’t as easy as one would think. Nance is on it.