Sunday, November 27, 2016

The 100 Best Albums of 2016

Every year, when I start thinking about year-end music lists, I wonder who am I actually making a list for and why do I do this? Then I remember being 8 years old and using my parents' old school type writer to type out top 10 lists related to any number of music topics, realizing no one would ever see them. I did it for me. It was fun. Music is something I was obsessively passionate about, even when I was 8 years old. Pounding out typed lists of my favourite 10 Metal Bass Players or my favourite 10 Kool & The Gang Songs. They would end up in file folders, often never to be viewed again. It was fun for me.

Almost 40 years later, I remain obsessively passionate about music, and I still type out lists about music, but I get to share them with a few people. This blog started as a request of sorts, from friends who do not have the time or interest to track new music anymore, but still enjoy hearing something new and interesting. So I still do it for me and it is still fun, but a few other people look forward to it as well now, and that is sort of cool. I continue to be self conscious about my writing, but I do the best I can. I am a proud music nerd, who knows more about a lot of music than most and about as much about it as some. The internet is a humbling place for the creature that is the music nerd, and thankfully I have found a handful of other people with whom I share overlap in taste and they ensure I never feel too big for my boots. I am not a music writer. I am just a guy who drinks and knows things. Especially music things.

The other thing that has not changed is my voracious appetite to consume as much new and interesting music as possible. What has changed, for a host of reasons, is the ability to act on and satisfy that appetite in ways that were never possible when I was a kid. I had more records when I was young than most kids, because all my allowance and paper route money got spent on music. What is also much different is the ability to see all the different lists other people and sites come up with throughout and at the end of the year. For my part, I don't purposely look for obscure or hard to find stuff, but sometimes that happens. I do tend to not listen to a lot of super available mainstream music these days, which means my lists don't tend to showcase many popular high profile artists. It's just not my thing, so thankfully there are already kazillion other sites who capture stuff like Beyonce, for people who enjoy it and need to see it on a list.

2016 was a year where I further embraced my love for alternative music, in the traditional sense, where it used to mean stuff that was weird and unusual. The bulk of my listening continues to be UK based artists and definitely with a slant toward art rock and pop. I re-embraced hip-hop somewhat this year, taking the time to find more artists that fit in my super narrow wheelhouse of smart underground alternative styled rap. As always, I often fell back on melody based indie pop and hook driven power pop, and found a nice share of synth pop and harder driving electronic music. I still shy away from blues based stuff, or anything rootsy and folksy. Hopefully when I'm 85 and sitting on a porch, I will be listening to Bauhaus albums and ranting about what a boring old fart Bob Dylan is.

Last year I narrowed my album list to 50, in the interest of focus and brevity. This year, I was having a hard time giving props to all the wonderful stuff I heard, without taking it back up to 100, so here we are. There is a science that goes with the gathering and listening to 200+ albums throughout the year, much like the science that goes into the final list. At the end of the day though, there is probably not a lot of tangible difference between an album I put at 74 and one I put at 86. Sort of like when the arseholes at Pitchfork rate an album 9.3 rather than 9. I am hoping to follow this list, with a few blog posts that offer a bit of specific commentary around some of my favourites and what they meant to me on the music year 2016. Time will tell if that happens or not. I hope if you are reading this, that you find something you like that you might not otherwise have come across without this post. It's a lot of work to do this, but it is absolutely not work for me. It is also a lot easier than it used to be using a type writer.

100MexrrisseyNo Manchester
98Steve PorcaroSomeday / Somehow
97OperatorsBlue Wave
96CommonBlack America Again
95PortrayalTo The Black Sea
94Teenage FanclubHere
92YeasayerAmen & Goodbye
91The Blessed IslesStraining Hard Against The Strength of The Night
89Witching WavesCrystal Cafe
88Kyle ForesterKyle Forester
87The AmazingAmbulance
86Mayer HawthorneMan About Town
85Holy FuckCongrats
84The DarcysCenterfold
83ShearwaterJet Pane and Oxbow
82Eliot SumnerInformation
81LadyhawkeWild Things
80KaHonor Killed The Samurai
79White LiesFriends
78Animal CollectiveFloriDada
76The Real NumbersWordless Wonder
75WarpaintHeads Up
74Hooton Tennis ClubBig Box of Chocolates
72The Moth & The FlameYoung and Afraid
71Pet Shop BoysSuper
70Bob MouldPatch The Sky
69The Lemon TwigsDo Hollywood
68Dinosaur JrGive A Glimpse of What Yer Not
67MerchandiseA Corpse Wired for Sound
66Paper LionsFull Colour
65SolangeA Seat At The Table
64Mind SpidersProsthesis
63Wild NothingLife Of Pause
61American FootballAmerican Football (LP2)
60Cullen OmoriNew Misery
57Simian Mobile DiscoWelcome to Sideways
56Soft KillChoke
55The Radio Dept.Running Out Of Love
54Against Me!Shape Shift With Me
53DuotangNew Occupation
52ABCThe Lexicon of Love II
51Eagulls Ullages
50jennyleeright on!
49Apollo Brown & SkyzooThe Easy Truth
48Syd ArthurApricity
46Denmark VesseyWhole Food
45Angel OlsenMy Woman
44EZTV High In Place
43Light FantasticOut Of View
42ToyClear Shot
41Blood OrangeFreetown Sound
40SavagesAdore Life
38Kendrick Lamaruntitled unmastered
37Amber ArcadesFading Lines
36Alex CameronJumping The Shark
35Exploded ViewExploded View
33Zoos of BerlinInstant Everything
32Methyl EthylOh Inhuman Spectacle
31The FieldThe Follower
30PJ HarveyThe Hope Six Demolition Project
29Aphex TwinCheetah
28Swet Shop BoysCashmere
26Kristin KontrolX-Communicate
25RadioheadA Moon Shaped Pool
24Factory Floor25 25
23Public Access T.V.Never Enough
22Xander HarrisCalifornia Chrome
21D.D DumboUtopia Defeated
20DMAsHills End
19UnderworldBarbara Barbara we face a shining future
18Anderson PaakMalibu
17Jessy LanzaOh No
16Jagwar MaEvery Now & Then
15David BowieBlack Star
14DiivIs This The Are
13Junior BoysBig Black Coat
10School of Seven BellsSVIIB
9A Tribe Called QuestWe Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service
8Hockey DadBoronia
6SuedeNight Thoughts
5Local NativesSunlit Youth
4Trashcan SinatrasWild Penulum
3The KVB...Of Desire
2Field MusicCommontime
1Wild BeastsBoy King

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

2016 High Fives - Aussie Rules

For the amount of Australian music that seems to get attention, to varying degrees, in North American circles each year, it feels like the artists have a disproportionately high batting average for being awesome. Case is point, I had about six Aussie albums (I'm aware of) hit my radar this year, and they were all completely fantastic. Then if I think back, again from a North American perspective, if we were hearing about bands from down under over here, they were always mostly worth hearing about.

These artists all have a superior sense of groove and melody. Some of them borrow well from influences, and others are pushing their luck with math pop and quirkiness. Regardless, every friggin' one of these albums is worth a shot, with a low risk high reward probability for most listeners.

Jagwar Ma - Every Now & Then

The Temper Trap - Thick As Thieves

Hockey Dad - Boronia

D.D Dumbo - Utopia Defeated

Methyl Ethyl - Oh Inhuman Spectacle

DMA's - Hills End

Monday, November 21, 2016

2016 High Fives: Females Rule

Once upon a time I was probably as guilty as anyone of splitting artists into "the best male artist" or "the best female artist" categories of this or that. You still see it all the time and it does a disservice to all performers, since there is absolutely nothing about gender that makes you better as a musical artist. You are either good, or you are shitty.

What I have noticed however, as I have been contemplating all my favourite music from 2016, is that there was a whole lot of high calibre and sincere music being made by female artists this year. For whatever reason, a lot of these albums aren't necessarily records that will finish as top 10 year-end albums for me, but I thought the sheer volume of quality music made by female artists in 2016 was worth showcasing and celebrating.

It is always worth noting, that like any music lists of mine, I don't shy away from the mainstream stuff, but I certainly don't focus on it. There are already plenty of lists out there with Beyonce and other high profile mainstream artists getting their props, if that's your thing. Plus I already mentioned that these are artists who were making sincere music this year 😏. I have also all but abandoned any interest in folky singer songwriter types (male or female), so I wouldn't look for much of that here either.

Angel Olsen - My Woman

Solange - A Seat At The Table

Savages - Adore Life

Kristin Kontrol - X-Communicate

PJ Harvey - The Hope Six Demolition Project

Jessy Lanza - Oh No

Against Me! - Shape Shift With Me

School of Seven Bells - SVIIB

Alicia Keys - Here

Mitski - Puberty 2

jennylee - right on!

Ladyhawke - Wild Things

Warpaint - Heads Up

Amber Arcades - Fading Lines

Anohni - Hopelessness

Basia Bulat - Good Advice

Eliot Sumner - Information

Roisin Murphy - Take Her Up To Monto

Like A Motorcycle - High Hopes

The Julie Ruin - Hit Reset

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

2016 High Fives: Post Punking

Every year I expect that the kids are going to stop caring about Joy Division. Yet every year, a new crop of gloomy punk kids do their homework and make records full of shrugged shoulders, tuneful bass lines and top shelf hooks.

If there are 3-4 musical sweet spots I hold dearest each year, post-punk type stuff is definitely one of them. What I love about the best stuff this year to be filed under post, is it seems to be a bunch of bands who are mostly on their second albums, but also originating out of not just the UK, but the US and Canada.

Here are five doses of catchy dreariness worth tracking down if that's your thing.

Preoccupations - "Stimulation"

Eaugulls - "Blume"

DIIV - "Under The Sun"

The KVB - "In Deep"

Mind Spiders - "No Filter"

Monday, November 7, 2016

2016 High Fives - Rap Traxx

There is a risk with every year that passes, of becoming the old guy who thinks all new rap is terrible. You hear old guys say it, and they sound like old guys. I never want to sound like an old guy about anything, but especially music. That said, I have always had a reasonably narrow sweet spot for rap that resonates well with me. Probably because I'm a music nerd, and I benchmark good rap to other good music rather than other rap. I still prefer technique, consciousness and underground alternative  rap I suppose, which is likely evident in these five rap tracks from 2016 I thought were really fantastic.

It's worth noting, these are five I could put my hands on easily, but there was a bunch of other cool stuff released in the vein of alternative and underground hip-hop this year. The one caveat is that the new Run The Jewels album will probably drop this year, and I can't see a reality where those guys wouldn't be in here. Conversely, there is a new album by A Tribe Called Quest landing next week, and under normal circumstance, it should be in there too I suppose. However, no matter how pleased I am to see those guys looking after unfinished business, I feel it's business that might be best left alone. No Phife, means no Tribe for me. Plus, I just don't see it doing anything to improve on their relative flawless legacy and influence. If it makes people happy though, then fair game. I just don't see how it will be anything other than disappointing.

These songs, from these artists and their albums this year, were not disappointing.

Swet Shop Boys - "T5"

Kendrick Lamar - "untitled 8"

Apollo Brown - "A Couple Dollars"

Ka - "Just"

DJ Shadow ft. Run The Jewels - "Nobody Speak"

Thursday, November 3, 2016

2016 High Fives - Hand Claps

In anticipation of, and as part of the inevitable preparation for year-end music list season (the best season), I thought it could be fun to put together some posts with random topics, that capture five albums, groups, artists, videos or songs that were fun or interesting this past year, for one reason or another. I'm calling the series 2016 High Fives. That's right...High Fives. Because why goddamn not.

Starting things off, here are five tracks that all include something near and dear to my heart, and the hearts of music nerds all over. Hand claps.

Missing from this group is the actual song called HandClap by Fitz & The Tantrums, for the sole reason that it is a really terrible song, hand claps notwithstanding.

These five songs are not terrible, and they all have obvious or subtle hand claps, designed to make even the darkest soul crack some version of a twisted smile.

Hand clappers of the world, unite and take over.

The Julie Ruin - "Let Me Go"

Luke Haines - "Marc Bolan Blues"

Lindstrom - "Closing Shot"

Tuns - "Mind Over Matter"

Hockey Dad - "Hunny Bunny"

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Halftime: The 25 Best Albums of 2016 (so far)

I went through this same exercise at this time last year. It was good fun, other people seemed to dig it, and it helped me to make sense of all the great music happening, even just six months into the music year. Most of the albums I liked three months into this year are still working out nicely, with maybe only a few having fallen off.

I hear so many people say they can't think of twenty five new albums they have heard this year. Granted, listening to more music than most people have the time or interest to has always been my thing, basically for about forty years now. I can't actually think of a time when there was so much different music being made, and with so many ways to find or access it. That said, there is plenty of interesting new stuff happening right now, especially if you manage to stay clear of all the places really bad music is played.

Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
Definitely on the sleepier side of Radiohead, which is not my favourite Radiohead to be honest. Still, "Identikit" and "Burn The Witch" are as strong as any songs they have ever written. Radiohead fans will find things to love about it, as always. Radiohead non-fans will find reasons not to listen, as always. All fair really. The world keeps spinning.

The Field - The Follower
I have never warmed up especially to previous albums by The Field, but this one hit the spot for some reason. Nine to fifteen minute bangers. Lots of bleeps and blops. Definitely a record for specific moods and for those of us who occasionally or frequently enjoy albums that sound like R2D2 over bass and drums.

The Blessed Isles - Straining Hard Against The Strength of The Night
First album by this Brooklyn band. Has moments akin to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. A leading candidate for one of the year's best fuzzy, dreamy, new wave, shoe gaze type records.

Trashcan Sinatras - Wild Pendulum
One of my favourite bands of all time (in fact my wife's favourite band of all time). 90's BritPop vets who seem to make albums every six to eight years. Fortunately, this might be their best in twenty years. Flawless song craft. Unparalleled sincerity. Album of the year contender for this guy.

ABC - The Lexicon of Love II
You should not be able to make a follow-up album to a brilliant record released over thirty years ago and do it any justice. You also should not be able to sing as perfectly as Martin Fry still does at his age. Lexicon of Love II proves both those things can in fact happen.

Yeasayer - Amen and Goodbye
This is classic Yeasayer with groovy quirkiness and eclecticism aplenty. A return to form of sorts, after a slight miss on their last record, for my money. "Silly Me" makes you dance in a way only Yeasayer can make you dance.

Field Music - Commontime
The elements of prog and solid playing are still here, but these might be some of the most poppy songs the boys have written to date. Smart and fun as always, and likely a top five album for me at year's end.

Anohni - Helplessness
A gorgeous recording by Anohni (formerly Antony from Antony and The Johnsons), largely driven by her beautiful and distinctive voice. It's a bit busy in spots and probably a record that requires a bit of work, but well worth it.

Amber Arcades - Fading Lines
In some circles, Fading Lines could be considered a bit of a hype album this year. Lots of high profile and favourable ratings and reviews on indie music sites, and no shortage of online buzz. The Stereolab comparisons are fair, but this is a very contemporary bit of Danish art pop. Another refreshingly sincere album this year.

Suede - Nights Thoughts
In 2013, Suede re-grouped and released Bloodsports, thereby reminding everyone why they were the best 90's BritPop band. Here in 2016, they decided to do it again. This one leans a bit more to the Dog Man Star side of what they do, but it is worthy of every other bit of brilliance they have released, even in their heyday.

Blood Orange - Freetown Sound
This album just dropped last week, so I still need to spend more quality time with it, but Freetown Sound makes the list because it feels like the perfect evolution of where the artist has been heading for the last couple albums, to arrive at a really personal piece of art, that stretches across many genres seamlessly.

Methyl Ethyl - Oh Inhuman Spectacle
These Aussies may win the award for worst band name of 2016, but in the meantime, they have recorded a solid psych tinged indie rock album. Lower Dens and Tame Impala fans would likely have some time for this album.

The KVB - Of Desire
There might not be a better band right now at equally combining elements of classic shoe gaze, post-punk, goth, new wave, and dark synth, while making it all still sound terribly fresh and original. Another top five year end possibility.

Suuns - Hold Still
On their second album, Suuns seemed to embrace melody much more than on their debut, which was a much more raw and artier effort. Here on their third, they clearly decided to move even further from any notion they might be interested in even entertaining the idea they could be remotely mainstream. This is a challenging listen, but these guys are making some of the most interesting alternative music among all active bands.

Anderson Paak - Malibu
R and B seems once again to be reinventing itself, with clever under the bubble artists trying to carve out space away from high priced glossy major label rosters. This is some funky soulful business, and that's without considering the handclaps on "Heart Don't Stand A Chance."

Underworld - Barbara Barbara, We Face A Shining Future
When Underworld released Barking in 2010, I remember thinking that Underworld had no business making an Underworld album that strong, at that point in their career. Here we are again, and this one is even better. Laser focused at seven tight tracks, most clocking in at over six minutes. This hits all the band's best sides, and "Nylon Strung" is as powerful a jam as they have ever written, over almost thirty years.

Starwalker - Starwalker
Members from Air and Bang Gang make the album that Air has likely wanted to make (or needed to make) since their glory days. Charming and spacey electronic pop, done right.

David Bowie - Blackstar
All these months later, I find myself less and less able to properly describe how I feel about this album. It's a great David Bowie record, regardless of being forever timed perfectly to his passing. Still, when I listen to it, I can't help but feeling all this wasn't supposed to be over, for him or for us.

Kristin Kontrol - X-Communicate
I belong to the Dee Dee can do know wrong club, and her Kristin Kontrol project does nothing to change that. Aesthetically very different than the Dum Dum Girls albums, it still shows her natural and rare skill for writing quality pop songs. It also shows that regardless of the format, strong songs stand on their own. I have no idea if this album will push her from critical acclaim into broader popularity or recognition, but if that was the intent, nice to hear such an accessible record maintain it's integrity and sincerity. 

Mind Spiders - Prosthesis
Over the space of four records, this Texas band have settled into a spot where they seem at equal peace with their punk and new wave influences. They balance the guitar and synth quotient perfectly on almost every track. The singer's sneering vocals recall John Rotten at times, which only helps to keep the album's edge in tact. At moments the album sounds like old Interpol. Not nearly as much polish perhaps, but the corners are round enough to still make it a very listenable record for punks, indie kids, and aging alterna nerds alike.

School Of Seven Bells - SVIIB
The album was conceived before Benjamin Curtis was diagnosed with cancer, and released after his passing. Obviously there is a melancholic sadness stitched through the record, but it largely feels like Alejandra Deheza saying goodbye to Curtis and celebrating their time together as artists and partners. A sad record if you think too long about its origins, but also as fantastic a pop album as we will hear this year.

Kaytranada - 99.9%
Montreal producer with links to high profile hiphop collaborations and electronic remixes. This is his moment to shine on his own. There is some great work here, but for my money, the best tracks are the four he creates on his own without collaboration.

Junior Boys - Big Black Coat
This album came out of the gates strong for me, and has settled into its proper place as another quality offering from the JBs. Maybe the best album they have made since So This is Goodbye. Greenspan's warm vocals are still the biggest differentiator with other synth pop type outfits.

DMA's - Hills End
Oasis may or may not decide to re-group in due course, but for the mean time this is about the most wonderful presentation of their influence I have heard in a long time. Three lads from Australia who made an album that sounds worthy of the Manchester elite. This is a fun one. Zero pretension, just a nice little new school BritPop album.

PJ Harvey - The Hope Six Demolition Project
It must be nice as an artist when you can settle into a spot where you can do whatever you want. Not that Polly Jean ever really seemed to feel the pressure to write hits or make a certain type of album. Still though, this one carries on in similar vein from Let England Shake, but it is a trickier listen. Definitely a grower, even for hardcore fans I would suggest. Very rewarding if you can invest the time.