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.