Hello and happy new year everyone! Due to the untimely crash of our ancient server, our site had been down over Winter Break. I’ve been hard at work slapping together a new and improved site that’ll bring our listening and DJ’ing into the world of 2017. This is a project in the process of completion so don’t worry if some buttons or links don’t work. I’m on it!
Every year, I make sure to spend a decent chunk of my hard-earned income on supporting the amazing bands I love so much. It’s not like you make much money from streaming royalties unless you’re, like, The Weeknd or something, so most independent and lesser-known bands make their money from ticket sales and merch sales. It’s for this reason, and many others, that I make it a goal to see as many bands as I can, especially in low-cost, intimate local venues.
Listed here are my ten favorite live acts of the year, which I found to be an extremely difficult thing to measure. One must consider both the effort and performance of the artist as well as the overall subjective experience. It’s this mish-mash of objectivity and subjectivity that has helped me perfect this list, and understand that this is not meant to say that one act is better or makes better music than the other. All these artists are fantastic and deserve their spot on this list for their efforts and the success of those efforts in my personal experience.
10. Show Me The Body (The Vera Project, September 2016)
New York noise rock group Show Me The Body has been carelessly melding post-hardcore, hip-hop, and experimental rock music to craft the ultimate NY experience. Think of the gritty, grimy nature of groups like Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Anthrax, and Ratking distilled into one, transcendentally aggressive experience. This is SMTB in a nutshell.
I learned a lot about the trio when I saw them perform in the gallery space in The Vera Project, an all-ages venue located in the Seattle Center. Namely, I learned that lead vocalist Julian Cashwan Pratt plays the banjo, not an effects-laden guitar as I initially assumed when I first dug into their 2016 debut album, Body War.
I also learned that SMTB are some intimidating, hardcore motherfuckers. Despite being only a couple years older than me, the group’s aura was one of experience, cynicism, and rage. Despite being a NY native, Pratt showed solidarity with Seattle’s disenfranchised by revealing a crudely made “Fuck South Lake Union” shirt. Genius.
They only played for like 30 minutes, and things took an uncertain turn when some drug-addled misfits started a legit fight in the mosh pit. As tensions mounted in the crowd, Pratt tackled and effectively forced out the offenders, making it really clear that not one bit of that shit will be tolerated at a SMTB concert. It was awesome, and made me enjoy the show that much more, especially with the threat of being tackled by a cokehead effectively removed.
Overall, this band is an absolute riot when performing live. It seems like they opt to go for the “house show” appeal, setting their instruments up on the floor, level with the crowd. Seeing this band live is a personal experience, especially if you’re right up front where you can be grabbed and have your faced screamed into by Pratt. Additionally, the band’s bassist and drummer make for an extremely tight rhythm section, especially as the bass parts get more and more complicated.
Band’s performance: 9/10
Personal experience: 7/10
Avg score: 8/10
9. Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Neumos, January 2016)
Godspeed You! Black Emperor has been on my must-see list since their brilliant first comeback record back in 2012, ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! I unfortunately missed them at Primavera Sound Festival in 2014 (I saw Kendrick Lamar instead, which I don’t regret). Thankfully, they put out another post-reunion album, 2015’s somewhat underwhelming Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, which was basically a recording of the group’s 40-minute song “Behemoth,” which they’d been playing live for years.
And, as you can guess, this track made up about 50% of the band’s set at Neumos, when 2016 was but a young cub. The eight-piece Canadian post-rock collective set up a semicircle of chairs and instruments onstage, projector and anarchist literature in tow, and set that fucking stage on fire (not literally).
Performing for over 90 minutes, GY!BE proved why they’re still one of the most vital live acts in music today. The sold out crowd of middle-aged folk and young hipsters alike would probably agree with me. I got to hear a revitalized edition of the aforementioned Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress in addition to the passionate, tight playing of some of the band’s classic material.
While not the life-changing experience I had hoped it would be, I was still beyond floored with the group’s performance. To hear them play such long songs and know exactly how they’re going to sequence was even more rewarding to me than actually being there and hearing the music performed live. Regardless, GY!BE brought a level of intimacy that is typically absent in post-rock, and I’m extremely happy I was able to cross them off my list.
Canadian pop sensation Carly Rae Jepsen recently appeared on both my Top 23 EPs of 2016 and Top 50 Albums of 2015 list, so naturally my newfound appreciation for her impeccable music would result in money spent on the real thing. As soon as I found out she’d be at one of my favorite venues, The Showbox, I unhesitantly bought a ticket. And it was so fucking worth it.
Playing virtually every song from her 2015 sleeper hit E•MO•TION, as well as her inescapable bop, “Call Me Maybe,” Carly and her band didn’t miss a beat. The musicianship was extremely tight, CRJ really made it seem like the band gave the show a sense of completion.
And, of course, CRJ played the frontwoman role extremely well, whether she was serenading the audience with a performance of her Dev Hynes collaboration, “All That,” or giving us goosebumps with the iconic saxophone lead of “Run Away With Me.” She even, *gasp*, made eye contact with me for a couple seconds during a song. I think I now know what Justin Bieber fans feel when he hits the stage.
I’m not ashamed of how great this concert was, nor am I ashamed of how many words I know to literally every song on E•MO•TION. With her newly released E•MO•TION SIDE B EP, I can only hope she’ll be making her way back to Seattle next year so I can get another chance to see the undisputed Pop Queen of 2016 in the flesh.
Band’s performance: 8.75/10
Personal experience: 9/10
Avg score: 8.9/10
7. The Dillinger Escape Plan (El Corazon, October 2016)
(Source: Metal Injection)
Experimental metalcore band The Dillinger Escape Plan, whom I’ve loved for many years, just released their brilliant and final album, Dissociation, which I’ve been enjoying quite a bit. Additionally, the group has been embarking on a tour to mark the end of the band, making it quite clear that these would be the last chances to catch TDEP at one of their notoriously raucous live events. I obliged.
While El Corazon isn’t my favorite venue in the city, it consistently comes through with amazing metal concerts. And so far, this is definitely my favorite show I’ve seen at the venue. When TDEP finally came on after, like, three opening acts, they lit up that venue the way I didn’t think an artist could.
Vocalist Greg Puciato made all the horrifying sounds he makes on the album, and guitarist Ben Weinman hung from rafters and stood on top of the audience while unleashing impossibly complicated riffs. It’s amazing to me that the band can balance an energetic, frantic performance with an impeccably played song in fuck-if-I-know time signature.
In addition, the concert was made into a truly special event when they invited original vocalist Dimitri Minakakis (who performed on their amazing debut album, Calculating Infinity) to join them for a couple songs. Needless to say, this filled me up with glee.
And, of course, the mosh pits were violent, filthy, sweaty, and hot. So much so that, for the first time in awhile, I actually had to take a break during the band’s set to catch my breath, tie my shoes, and hydrate. It was so awesome.
Band’s performance: 10/10
Personal experience: 8.5/10
Avg score: 9.25/10
6. Jeff Rosenstock (Funhouse, May 2016)
(Source: Brooklyn Vegan)
At this point in the year, I had no idea that Jeff Rosenstock was five short months away from blowing my mind yet again with another amazing solo album. All I knew is that he was 14 months out from first blowing my mind with We Cool?, a pop-punk album that reclaimed Rosenstock’s position as the G.O.A.T.
His headlining set at Funhouse was raucous and passionate, much like the small crowd of people gathered to partake in the merriment. This was a much more spirited performance than what I caught when Rosenstock opened up on the 2015 AJJ/The Smith Street Band tour, due in no small part to the fact that Jeff could be the star of the show. Him and his amazingly talented band blazed through all the remarkable tracks on We Cool?, as well as a couple newer and older songs.
There isn’t much else to say, honestly. Apart from a humorous half-cover of Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly Away,” Rosenstock didn’t stray much from the songs he’s more than used to performing live at this point. When it’s music this good and you’re as passionate a punk rock vocalist as Jeff Rosenstock, it’s hard to play a bad show. Now I just need to catch him live a third time when he brings the more complex, political music of aforementioned new album WORRY. to the stage.
Band’s performance: 9.5/10
Personal experience: 9/10
Avg score: 9.25/10
5. Matmos (The Vera Project, December 2016)
Experimental electronic duo Matmos are way more than two of the creative minds behind Björk’s early 2000s output. They’re also two of the most creative minds to ever put out music under the “electronic” label, with their trademark unique brand of sampling bringing them a cult following.
For their first LP in 3 years, Ultimate Care II, Matmos sampled a washing machine, specifically the washing machine owned by the romantic couple that constitutes Matmos. They processed, sampled, sequenced, rubbed, drummed upon, and made 40 minutes of incredible music entirely from the machine, the namesake of the album. After becoming a critical success, Matmos figured why not bring the trusty Ultimate Care II (by Whirlpool®) on the road and recreate those sound experiments in front of a studio audience.
It sounds audacious, even dangerous, yet they pulled it off in spades. They brought the same catchy, gorgeous intensity they did on the album to the live set, even putting a volunteer’s shirt in the Ultimate Care II, which they promised would merely redistribute the dirt and result in a wet, dirty piece of laundry.
Set to an inspiring and humorous washing machine-centric visual accompaniment, Matmos got a couple people in Seattle’s experimental/noise crowd to actually dance to 40 minutes of laundry music. I’m convinced that that was a once-in-a-lifetime performance in this city, and I’m extremely happy I got to be a part of it.
Band’s performance: 10/10
Personal experience: 8.75/10
Avg score: 9.4/10
4. PUP (The Vera Project, June 2016)
(Photo credit: Jessica Flynn)
I got into Canadian pop-punk group PUP a few months after they dropped their 2014 self-titled debut, an album that hooked me immediately with its off-kilter guitar work, self-deprecating lyrics, and ultra-catchy hooks. If there’s anyone in rock music embodying the spirit of Jeff Rosenstock besides the man himself, it’s PUP, and seeing them live for the first time proved that more than anything could.
There was not a dull moment during the band’s set, and seeing them perform at The Vera Project was one of the most life-affirming crowd experiences of the year for me. I don’t think I’ve seen Vera go harder for a band, before or since, and that’s because PUP writes anthems. Even their most depressing songs go fucking hard, and they ran through all the hits and deep cuts from their debut and their even-better new album, The Dream Is Over.
Go support this band in any way you can, because their music is a hell of a lot of fun and they’re a hell of a lot of fun to see live. As if that wasn’t good enough on its own, they had to steal my heart by encoring with objectively the most fun Weezer song, “El Scorcho.” I don’t think PUP knew that Pinkerton is one of my favorite albums, they just wanted to have some fun with a song that always keeps the party going.
Band’s performance: 9.5/10
Personal experience: 9.5/10
Avg score: 9.5/10
3. Swans (Showbox, September 2016)
(Photo credit: Jens Wassmuth)
Since the beginning of the group’s career, Swans have held notoriously loud live concerts. In its most recent iteration, the band has taken the volume of its ‘80s concerts and fused it with the meditative transcendence of its mid-90s post-rock era, both on record and on the stage. In celebration what could very well be Swans’ final album, which was marred by some unfortunate press on behalf of vocalist and bandleader Michael Gira, the group embarked on a victory lap of a tour.
This was my second time seeing the band perform, and it was just as hypnotic, visceral, and loud this time around as it was back in spring 2013. They kicked things off with a 40-minute unreleased song, which seems to be called “The Knot,” before breaking into a handful of epic, winding songs from their two most recent albums, The Glowing Man and To Be Kind.
A Swans live concert is either something you crave or something you don’t understand. To put things in perspective, Swans stretched out six or seven songs into a 160-minute set. I rather enjoy seeing Michael Gira direct his band of merry noisemakers in creating the loudest wall of sound possible, and that’s exactly the sort of chaos Swans wrought that fine late summer’s eve.
Band’s performance: 10/10
Personal experience: 9.25/10
Avg score: 9.6/10
2. clipping. (Neumos, August 2016)
2016 has been an incredible year for Daveed Diggs, the underground rapper who won some real-ass awards with his acclaimed dual performance in the universally successful “Hamilton” musical. After parting ways with the musical, he’s dropped two projects with his main squeeze, noise-rap trio clipping., who celebrated their big return with a one-off gig at Seattle’s beloved Neumos.
Tickets to the event were cheap, it was changed to an all-ages gig, and clipping. totally came through with a hell of a concert. Production duo Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson dropped their creatively produced beats with considerable aplomb, blasting the audience with harsh noise as Diggs delivered his rapid-fire raps without missing a beat.
The group played a healthy dose of material from their debut mixtape Midcity, Sub Pop debut CLPPNG, and freshly released Wriggle EP. They even debuted tracks from their not-yet-released sophomore album, Splendor & Misery. It was virtually everything I could want from a clipping. concert, and I hope to catch them again in a couple months at The Crocodile.
The first concert I attended this year was the one for which I probably held the lowest expectations. Not that I expected a Ty Segall concert to be bad, per se, it’s just that I had never quite connected with his music the way a lot of people do. But, it was free, so why not? Plus, it turns out the show included a front-to-back performance of his surprisingly fantastic new album, Emotional Mugger, which is probably the most batshit of any album Segall has ever released.
Let’s just say Ty Segall exceeded my expectations exponentially. Within seconds of kicking off the first song of the evening, he pointed his finger right in my face, making uncomfortably prolonged eye contact with yours truly. It felt like I was being chosen, or maybe Ty Segall sensed somehow that I was not yet a bleeding heart believer in his music. If that was the case, he turned that shit around immediately.
With a band that included King Tuff, Mikal Cronin, and Emmett Kelly (The Cairo Gang), Segall played the “crazed, unpredictable frontman” role very well, spitting at the audience and himself, wearing a terrifying baby mask, and making similarly awkward eye contact with other people in the crowd. Even as fans knocked down his mic stand, almost as a childish taunt, he played along like a pro.
This is my favorite live act of the year not just for the shock of enjoying a Ty Segall concert (and album), but also for the originality and humor in all of it. While groups like Animal Collective and Of Montreal take the visual and conceptual game to sometimes garish levels, Ty Segall managed to take a stripped-back approach to that same sense of weirdo-humor with a more successful result.
It sucks that there will probably never be a tour like Ty Segall’s Emotional Mugger tour again, because nothing will beat the euphoric surprise of being challenged by the man himself to try and have a bad time at this concert, only to fail. I had an amazing time at this concert, and Ty Segall and his band of Emotional Muggers were 100% of the reason why that was the case.
Band’s performance: 10/10
Personal experience: 10/10
Avg score: 10/10
Honorable mentions: Danny Brown, Everything Everything, Melt-Banana, SOPHIE, Sleep, Modern Baseball, Joyce Manor, Aesop Rock, Vince Staples
Jakob Ross is Rainy Dawg’s 2016-2017 Music Director. Follow him on Twitter @JayEssArr for rambling thoughts on music, politics, and random bullshit!
Each year, in addition to keeping up with the best full-length studio albums, I find it important to keep track of releases that fall on the shorter side of things. Sometimes they’re merely compilations of material deemed not worthy of a just-released album, and other times they’re well-thought-out, intricate pieces of art that are shorter than the average release in that style.
Regardless, EPs are totally worth keeping track of, especially because they offer new, rare material from artists operating in between full-lengths. Below are 23 of my favorite EPs this strange, messed up year had to offer us. The definition of EP is certainly loose and up for interpretation, so if you don’t consider some of the below releases to be EPs, that’s totally fine. We can agree to disagree in that regard, and set aside our differences for the purpose of this extremely subjective list.
Hardcore punk, gangsta rap, black metal, avant-indie pop; this list runs the gamut of worthy short-form musical releases. Enjoy and stay tuned for my Top 69 Albums of the Year!
23. Bones – Useless
California-based rapper Bones is known both for his unique aesthetic — equally inspired by Internet-borne cloud-rap and ‘90s southern rap — and his prolificacy. He’s got over 40 releases to his name, and this Useless EP wasn’t even the only great project he dropped this year (Bones’ highly anticipated full-length PaidProgramming2 is certainly worth a listen). It does, however, serve as an amazingly appropriate introduction to Bones’ musical style, his influences, and the way he warps them into his own thing.
Across the eight songs (and one bonus track) on Useless, you will hear a multitude of vocal deliveries: the plaintive alt-rock moans on the first track, the effortless Bone Thugs-esque flow on personal highlight “GladWeHaveAnUnderstanding,” and the post-hardcore screams he unleashes when his songs get particularly angry.
This tape is slightly gimmicky and a bit of a mess, and most of the songs run a bit too short, but Bones is certainly onto something here. He managed to get my attention with this project, despite its flaws, and his ear for production and melody is undeniable. If Bones can hone his hip-hop style into something a bit more cohesive and fulfilling, he will continue to establish himself and his Team Sesh brand as a force to be reckoned with.
While best known as the side-project of Shabazz Palaces sonic wizard Tendai Maraire, Girlz With Gunz sees Chimurenga Renaissance really come into its own as a noisy amalgamation of hip-hop, Afrobeat, R&B, and experimental production styles. Beats go as quickly as they come, as the EP’s 11 short songs seamlessly transition from one to the next.
Overall, this record can be hard to make sense of. The lyrics are bizarre, delivery fast-paced, and production completely enveloping. Putting Girlz With Gunz on is like getting sucked into a vortex that puts you through the entire history of hip-hop in under 30 minutes.
Girlz With Gunz is rough, unpredictable, and extremely underrated, and if Chimurenga Renaissance can continue delivering funky, sample-based hip-hop with spirited originality, it’ll definitely be a project worth keeping an eye on. This record isn’t just an EP, it’s a goddamn journey.
Key tracks: “She Is the Fairest Of Them All,” “I See You For Who You Are,” “Peace Always Has A Price”
21. Deathspell Omega – The Synarchy of Molten Bones
French black metal stalwart Deathspell Omega has returned for their first release in some four years, The Synarchy of Molten Bones, an intense, experimental 30 minutes of sonic noise terror. While this isn’t as expansive as some of the group’s more well-crafted studio albums, it still serves as a pleasant reminder that there isn’t any group out there like Deathspell Omega, who’ve never performed live and whose members remain anonymous to this day.
From the mind-warping, psychedelic blastbeats on the eponymous first song to the creative, intricate riffs on the stunning closer, The Synarchy of Molten Bones is a record that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat. Not to mention that its title is extremely fucking cool.
Key tracks: “The Synarchy of Molten Bones,” “Famished for Breath,” “Internecine Iatrogenesis”
20. Mr. Yote – The Terrible Tales of Scurvy Jones
Another extremely bizarre bit of rap weirdness, courtesy of Bay Area rapper/producer/mysterion Mr. Yote, who I first came across when he collaborated with Brainfeeder-signee and up-and-coming producer Iglooghost on last year’s Chinese Nü Yr EP.
The Terrible Tales of Scurvy Jones makes good on the promises that were made when I first came across Mr. Yote, as this project is goofy, catchy, and unlike anything else I’ve heard this year. With a slightly pitched-down voice, Mr. Yote delivers a concept EP about… a pirate. And not a PG Disney film pirate either.
I like the way he presents the historically accurate pirate lifestyle as analogous to the sort of bragging a lot of rappers tend to engage in, and he manages to do so without forcing himself into some weird “pirate rap” Internet trend niche. It’s wholly original and difficult to categorize, and it has me anticipating Yote’s future output.
Key tracks: “Bait,” “SS Mud,” “Boiling Bayou”
19. Adult Jazz – Earrings Off!
The general consensus on English musical group Adult Jazz seems to be either “This band is fucking incredible and completely underrated” or “This band is annoying garbage.” I personally lean toward the former, or else they wouldn’t be on this list, especially with this brilliant new EP of theirs.
See for yourself! Earrings Off! sounds like a collaborative album between Matt & Kim and Strawberry Jam-era Animal Collective. It’s noisy, gaudy, and garish, and the EP is all the better for it. It’s passionate, strange, catchy, and a truly undefinable musical experience.
While we await the full-length studio follow-up to the group’s 2014 debut album, Gist Is, this EP here serves as a nice helping of great material that should hold us all over until then.
Key tracks: “Earrings Off!,” “Eggshell,” “Pumped From Above”
18. Oddisee – Alwasta
I first caught wind of D.C. rapper Oddisee last year when I reviewed his latest studio album, The Good Fight, a record I enjoyed far more than I expected to. Thoughtful, catchy, relaxed hip-hop with a poignant political message and effortlessly great production. Ever since, I’ve closely followed Oddisee’s latest exploits, and I’ve been mostly rewarded for paying attention.
Alwasta is a fantastic EP from Oddisee, one that ties together a lot of the more serious themes from The Good Fight with even more openness and clarity. All this is met with the same, time-signature-defying jazz rap instrumentals that graced The Good Fight. This record is full of witty, memorable tracks that set Oddisee far apart from his “Conscious Rap” contemporaries, because he’s a brilliant songwriter, producer, and spokesman for the politically disenfranchised.
2016 saw a sea change in the continuing saga of eternally controversial Atlanta rapper/singer Young Thug. Before telling everyone to call him Jeffery, Thugger was following up late 2015’s first two Slime Season installments with mixtapes that were half as long.
Thug’s first foray into short-form releases was I’m Up, an admittedly underwhelming EP that was almost the highly anticipated third installment in the Slime Season trilogy. Thankfully, it didn’t take him too long to come to his senses.
While it is short like I’m Up is, Slime Season 3 proves itself as one of the finest releases Young Thug has ever put out. Its brevity saves it from the casual disinterest I’ve held for a lot of Thugger’s longer mixtapes, while also featuring some of his most ferocious vocal performances yet. This record definitely features precursors to JEFFERY, the album that took everything we thought we knew about Young Thug and ran it through a fucking shredder, and it’s a totally worthy inclusion in Young Thug’s ever-expanding discography.
Key tracks: “With Them,” “Drippin,” “Digits”
16. G.L.O.S.S. – Trans Day of Revenge
Before amicably splitting up earlier this year, Olympia-based punk group G.L.O.S.S. dropped another fierce EP of protest music. While it doesn’t progress much past the group’s 2015 Demo EP, Trans Day of Revenge sees the songwriting and lyrical content become more prescient and aware, with vocalist Sadie Switchblade tearing down the cisheteropatriarchy one hardcore scream at a time.
This EP is extremely short, but the Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit are no strangers to making poignant political statements in brief moments. It’s a brutal thrillride that just might dismantle everything you think you know about gender, femininity, and hardcore punk.
Considering this album’s pure volatility and anarcho-punk physique, it’s no wonder Epitaph Records offered them $50,000 for a record deal. It’s also no wonder the group crumbled under the newfound attention and called it quits. Regardless, this won’t be the last time punk music is altered by the artists formerly known as G.L.O.S.S.
Key tracks: “Give Violence a Chance,” “Trans Day of Revenge,” “We Live”
15. KEN mode – Nerve
Canadian post-hardcore group KEN mode has been blowing me away for several years now, especially on their 2015 Steve Albini produced LP, Success, which presented quite a change of pace for the band from metallic, progressive hardcore to off-kilter, bristling noise rock. That’s what happens when you bring Albini into the fold, I guess.
Thankfully, the nine brilliant tracks on Success aren’t the only productive outcomes of the recording sessions, with four leftovers and three circa-2012 demos making up the entirety of the EP. You can think of Nerve as an exploration of the two sides of KEN mode: the visceral screams of the demo tracks (all three songs made it onto the band’s 2013 LP, Entrench) and the cerebral nasality of the first four songs.
While not completely mind-blowing or consistent, I quite enjoy Nerve, especially the first half, and I am in high anticipation of whatever the band offers us next. Hopefully more recording sessions with Steve Albini are in the pipeline, because even this EP’s Albini B-sides are noisy, memorable, and triumphantly weird.
Key tracks: “The German Businessman,” “Let’s Get Divorced,” “Absolutely Not”
14. Tony Molina – Confront the Truth
California hardcore vet Tony Molina is back with yet another all-too-short solo release, following 2014’s highly acclaimed “studio album,” (the thing was only 11 minutes long) Dissed and Dismissed.
Now, Tony is back with Confront the Truth, a radical change of pace for the musician. Exchanging ‘90s grunge and pop-punk for the unbridled pop appeal of ‘60s psychedelia, Tony Molina proves himself once again as a songwriter who can pretty much do it all, and in a far shorter duration than most bands in his league.
From the beautiful plaintiveness of “Old Enough to Know,” which comes as close to an Elliott Smith song as any I’ve heard in recent years, to the garage-rock bliss of closing track “Banshee,” Tony Molina comes through with another mic-drop of an indie rock record, and if this EP of his runs as long as the last full-length album he put out, I can only hope that means his next full-length will be much longer. Because if the world needs anything right now, it’s as much Tony Molina music as fucking possible.
Key tracks: “Old Enough to Know,” “No One Told He,” “Banshee”
13. Burial – Young Death/Nightmarket
Perhaps in a demonstration of great self-awareness, English producer Will Bevan has not followed up his 2007 album Untrue (one of the most highly acclaimed and influential electronic music releases of the millennium) with a proper full-length. Instead, under his mysterious Burial moniker, he chooses to drop short, atmospheric EPs in the dead of winter that seem to get more and more ambitious and experimental each time. 2011’s Street Halo, 2012’s Truant and Kindred, and then of course 2013’s Rival Dealer all present Burial’s increasing interest in longer songs and looser song structures.
This comes to a head on Young Death/Nightmarket which is a bit looser and less developed than the previously named EPs but still delivers 13 solid minutes of unmistakable UK garage. The first of the two songs, “Young Death,” bubbles and simmers as a manipulated sample of someone singing “I will be there for you” repeats. Perhaps this is a message to a close friend who’s undergoing the mourning process of some sort of “young death” (miscarriage? death of a child?). Maybe it’s a show of political solidarity not unlike the trans rights affirmation on Rival Dealer. Regardless, Burial is as inward and introspective as ever on this track.
In contrast, “Nightmarket” has a bit of a techno feel to it, with a repeating synth line that builds into something more moody and menacing. Like Burial’s entire discography, these two songs continue to deconstruct dance music, drawing an even bolder line in the sand separating the melodic bass music that Burial was perfecting a decade ago to something more abstract and just as rewarding.
Key tracks: “Young Death,” “Nightmarket” (there’s only two!)
12. Nails & Full of Hell – Split
Split EPs aren’t uncommon in the multitude of heavy music scenes out there. Two or more bands come together for a split release all the time, and noisy east coasters Full of Hell are certainly no stranger to them. In addition to the two powerviolence cacophonies Full of Hell contribute to this EP is a barnburner from controversial California trio Nails, whose new album You Will Never Be One Of Us is one of the catchiest, craziest metal albums of the year.
All totaled, this EP clocks in at like four minutes, making it the shortest one on this list. It’s certainly not the least effective though, as there’s enough bad ass riffing and throat-shredding vocals on this album to last your dad’s favorite metal band through December 2017. Instead, this is business as usual for the two bands, who prefer to operate in smaller scales even when they release full-length albums, which is probably a good thing.
I love the different approaches each band takes to “FAST + LOUD,” as Nails’ more straightforward approach is akin to thrash/death metal headbanging, whereas Full of Hell’s approach is more similar to the breakneck metalcore of acts like Converge and Botch. Destructive, tasteful, and one of the few instances of a split EP cohering in a meaningful way.
Legendary English trip-hop duo Massive Attack has been on-again-off-again for pretty much its entire existence. We haven’t heard a full length album from these guys in almost seven years, but the spooky, seductive Ritual Spirit makes the wait a bit less difficult. The four songs on this record are moody, dark, and firmly in line with Massive Attack’s oeuvre.
With special guests like Roots Manuva, Young Fathers, and Tricky, the group makes excellent use of the 17 minutes of music on this EP. Rap verses are coolly exchanged, synthetic drums bounce, and a rumbling bass booms throughout. Classic Massive Attack making the style of music they essentially willed into existence nearly three decades ago and still killing it.
While not the most groundbreaking release from the group, it indicates a level of progression and modernity that a lot of old school musical acts tend to ignore. Nothing like that to worry about here.
Key tracks: “Dead Editors,” “Voodoo in my Blood,” “Take it There”
10. Drug Apts – Drug Apts
It seems like the core musical duo in Death Grips (drummer Zach Hill and producer Andy Morin) were all over some of the year’s best music (more on that in my upcoming AOTY list), including the production on this thrilling, provocative debut EP from Sacramento-based band Drug Apts, who toy with garage rock, post-punk, and hardcore punk.
Strangely, the record kicks off with what sounds like someone parodying hip-hop ad libs, making “machine gun” sounds with their mouth with such ferocity that it sounds more like a convulsing bird. It’s intense, it’s in-your-face, it’s extremely effective.
While I wasn’t so sure about this EP at first, I’ve grown to really enjoy it. I hope Drug Apts tour and continue to put out music, preferably with the further involvement of Death Grips members, because the group’s aesthetic and sense of humor definitely seems to mirror their Sacto forebearers.
English up-and-comer Clarence Clarity took the Internet by some sort of postmodern lightning storm early last year when he dropped his bloated, candy-coated sugar-pop extravaganza No Now, one of that year’s best. 2016 has been comparatively light in terms of Clarence Clarity releases, but thankfully he’s left us with a nice helping of songs to keep us going until LP2 drops, probably next year.
Now, Vapid Feels Are Vapid/SAME isn’t really an EP, so much as it is the compilation of two great singles he dropped earlier in autumn. The first track, “Vapid Feels Are Vapid,” is an infectious, glitchy track with an explosive series of hooks. It’s like ‘80s synthpop gone awry, with lyrics about going back in time and other sci-fi weirdness.
“SAME,” on the other hand, is a bit more grotesque, especially considering that it was initially dropped as a 5-song EP on SoundCloud that was literally the same song five times in a row (or was it?). Let’s just say Clarence Clarity is no stranger to cryptic, puzzling music. If you’re not yet a card-carrying member of the Clarence Clarity fanclub, these two songs should definitely give you a picture of what this dude’s all about, and as we anxiously anticipate the follow-up to “No Now,” these two amazing avant-pop songs will definitely satiate.
Key tracks: “Vapid Feels Are Vapid,” “SAME” (there’s only two!)
8. Deakin – Sleep Cycle
I know there’s a debate to be had about whether this debut solo release from Animal Collective participant Deakin is a full album or just an EP. I’m judging it as an EP here, obviously, but I think a strong argument could be made in favor of calling this thing an album, especially since a vast majority of the music press seems to classify it as such. The jury’s out on what Deakin thinks of the thing, to my knowledge.
Regardless, I think Sleep Cycle meets the criteria for being an EP, and it’s an amazing one at that. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Sleep Cycle is my favorite solo release from an AnCo member yet, with its gorgeous field recordings and freak-folk fury. It’s certainly akin to the sort of music Deakin made with AnCo before they went fully electronic on Strawberry Jam. Solemn, sunny vocals, soft-plucked guitar strings, and HELLA-esque free-jazz drum freakouts pervade this record, and I think it’s one of the most accomplished psychedelic folk albums in many years.
At only a half hour long, it’s a little disappointing that seven years of recording and delays resulted in such a short record, but it’s an extremely substantive record that more than makes up for the disappointment. A bulk of the material here is musically tight and aesthetically loose, and it’s exactly what I’d hope for from a solo Deakin project. Leave it to the Forgotten Animal to drop a record that surpasses his main band’s most recent two.
Key tracks: “Golden Chords,” “Just Am,” “Footy”
7. Vince Staples – Prima Donna
My history with Vince Staples’ music has been an interesting journey, and probably not dissimilar from many people’s experiences with him. I vaguely remember him as a fairly common feature on any given Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All project (I was pretty into those dudes in early high school). I also caught him live in mid-2013 as the first opener on Mac Miller’s tour in support of Watching Movies With the Sound Off, which also featured Chance the Rapper (who I was most excited to see live) and The Internet.
I made the mistake of forgetting about Vince, who blew up in 2014 with his incredible Hell Can Wait EP, and then of course in 2015 there was Summertime ‘06. Finally settling into a style and a groove all his own, Vince Staples is one of the best rappers doing it right now, and Prima Donna is simultaneously a conceptually brilliant project and a dope victory lap hip-hop record.
Working with producers like James Blake (who needs to make beats for rappers WAY more often) and DJ Dahi, Vince comes through with a concept EP told in reverse. “A rapper becomes famous and can’t handle the pressure” is the general premise, and Vince tells it almost as if it’s his life (hmmm…). The production is phenomenal, Vince’s flow is more diverse and impeccable than ever, and Prima Donna is further proof that Vince isn’t just a rapper, he’s a storyteller. Despite a few underdeveloped features, this EP is slick, satisfying, and consistent.
Of all the bands who called it quits in 2016, I think the one that makes me the saddest is Philadelphia emo/pop-punk band JANK, who followed up last year’s brilliant Awkward Pop Songs album with perhaps an even better EP, Versace Summer. While this is the band’s final release (for now), it is no small achievement, even if it’s only 20 minutes long.
In a year that’s been somewhat short on great emo music, JANK is the band we need. The soaring hooks and strange vocals on this EP are amazing, and they almost make you forget how talented and intricate the musicianship here is.
With progressive guitar work and math-rock-inspired drums, JANK takes their brand of carefree summer rock to new heights with excellent songs about alligators, Chinese food, a bicycle named Ralph, not to mention a sax-heavy instrumental song that shows off the band’s glitchier, more electronic talents.
I know it’s wintertime and perhaps not the most suitable conditions for jammy, upbeat pop-punk music, but this EP is so good I don’t think many will notice or care. JANK, it sucks that you’re no longer a band, and I certainly understand why that’s the case (Google “JANK band breakup” if you’re curious), but goddamn if you have more music in you that’s like Versace Summer, I need to hear it.
I’ve loved English pop songstress Charli XCX on-and-off since she debuted in 2013 with the still-amazing True Romance. Where that album was a nearly flawless ‘80s synthpop/’90s R&B-pop throwback, her recent material has diverged from that formula significantly. 2014’s Sucker was a fairly flaccid radio-pop effort, and I think Charli XCX feels that way about it in hindsight, hence the left turn down PC Music Lane.
For those not in the know, PC Music is a label/collective of artists out of England currently pioneering a glossy, experimental, somewhat satirical but passionately earnest form of dance-pop music. This label features artists like A.G. Cook (the label’s founder and ⅓ of QT), Hannah Diamond, GFOTY, Danny L Harle (who put out a great song with Carly Rae Jepsen this year), and Kane West (⅓ of Kero Kero Bonito).
Vroom Vroom was produced entirely by SOPHIE, who is not signed to PC Music but has worked closely with A.G. Cook on QT, one of the label’s main claims to Internet fame. Hannah Diamond does feature on the beautiful “Paradise,” though, bringing her unique brand of vocals to Charli XCX’s raunchy, aggressive performance.
For the EP’s full 16 minutes, it is nonstop fun. My one complaint is that there’s not enough music on this record, but regardless it’s nearly fuckin’ flawless. SOPHIE’s production is nasty, catchy, and jagged, which is exactly the direction I feel like he and Charli XCX were going for on this one. This is an extremely well executed bit of futuristic pop music that is simultaneously robotically cold and ferociously human.
Key tracks: “Vroom Vroom,” “Trophy,” “Paradise”
4. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.
Kendrick Lamar is one of those dudes who makes it seem really easy to release a masterpiece. His two studio albums are certified rap classics already, and even his 2011 breakthrough Section.80 holds up after all these years. While not a proper follow-up to last year’s epic To Pimp a Butterfly, this EP is a finely sequenced collection of loose, jazzy rap songs that don’t quite fit the general vibe of TPAB.
Thematically, you’ll find a lot of rhymes that are to be expected from Kendrick at this point. He raps a lot about how instant fame can have an effect on the formerly poor and disenfranchised, hip-hop greed, and how oral sex could be the key to world peace. It’s sexy, sultry, and dense, and it proves that even Kendrick’s throwaway songs are better than your other favorite rapper’s full-length albums.
I love the production, the performances, and the lyrics on this record, and my only complaint is that “untitled 7 | 2014 – 2016″ goes on too long. Otherwise, another excellent release from someone who is inarguably the best rapper right now. I don’t care how many verses he sells to Maroon 5, Cornrow Kenny is the G.O.A.T.
I don’t need to tell you that Daveed Diggs has been slaying the mainstream lately; the Tonys and Grammys for “Hamilton” speak for themselves, as does the story arc on television show “Black-ish.” But, I may need to remind you that Diggs uses both his musical and theatrical gifts in his main musical venture, noise rap provocateurs clipping., who I’ve loved since debuting with Midcity in 2013.
Immediately following Diggs’ awards and the end of his run on “Hamilton,” he got back together with William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes to put the finishing touches on what would be the group’s sophomore album for Sub Pop Records, Splendor & Misery, and a short EP of great songs that didn’t fit their 2014 debut, CLPPNG. Said EP is called Wriggle, and it’s a celebration of everything that makes clipping.’s first two projects so incredible, with their harsh noise samples, pop rap reimaginings, and debaucherous depictions.
The highlight of the EP is, of course, the title track, which transforms a song by foundational noise/industrial group Whitehouse into a footwork anthem that would please the late DJ Rashad (RIP). “Wriggle like a fish, girl/Wriggle like a snake, girl/Wriggle like a worm, girl/Wriggle like an eel” Diggs raps, turning Whitehouse’s “wriggle like a fucking eel!” command into a legitimate dance-rap hook. It’s fucking genius.
If you’re unfamiliar with clipping., this project would be a much better starting place than the group’s (also amazing) new studio album, purely because it’s shorter and catchier. It’s also a strong rap project on its own merits, and it well earns its high place on this list. It’s clipping., bitch.
Key tracks: “Shooter,” “Wriggle,” “Back Up”
2. Carly Rae Jepsen – E•MO•TION SIDE B
You know how the story goes at this point. In mid-2015, Canadian pop vocalist Carly Rae Jepsen pretty much sent explosive missiles of saccharine ‘80s brilliance into the music journalism world. The album, E•MO•TION, didn’t sell well, which might make you think it’s a flop. But, slowly, the high praise started to roll in, and more people decided to see what the big deal was with Carly Rae Jepsen suddenly.
Some still dissent, but a lot of people (myself included) found a lot of greatness in this album. It’s fun, very well produced, and there’s also not a single bad song on here. Seriously, every song on this album isn’t just passable, but great. That’s extremely rare for a “mainstream” pop album. It’s artistic, goofy, and completely redeeming in terms of CRJ’s indie cred. She went from YouTube laughing stock to playing to thousands of people at fucking Pitchfork Festival.
Anyway, over 200 songs were written for this album, so naturally there was some runoff. Of the 185 songs that missed the final cut that aren’t already bonus songs, 8 were put together for this appropriately titled EP (which has an amazing cover, by the way).
And… ALL. EIGHT. SONGS. ARE. INCREDIBLE. There’s not a dull moment on this EP, whether Carly is going vulnerable (“Cry,” “Fever”) or just having a ton of fun (“Store,” “Higher”). Either you are going to really get this or you aren’t, because there’s nothing to get, really. SIDE B is a series of throwaway songs that don’t feel at all like throwaway songs, which is the mark of a True Fucking Artist.
I wouldn’t have said this in 2012, but I’ll say this now: Carly Rae Jepsen is a musician to be on the lookout for, especially now. The real question is, going into the future, will CRJ be able to top herself? I really hope so.
Key tracks: “Store,” “Cry,” “Fever”
1. Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust
Canadian technical death metal legends Gorguts made a glorious return in 2013 with the excellent Colored Sands record, the first to feature Dysrhythmia axemen Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston on guitar and bass, respectively. While we await that album’s proper follow-up, the reformed Gorguts has proven itself to be an even more ambitious group of musicians than the band’s ‘90s lineup.
In turn, Pleiades’ Dust isn’t so much an EP of multiple songs as much as it is one 33-minute song. For a first foray into the art of the short-form release, this is certainly a difficult undertaking. The result is a pummeling half hour of strange, unpredictable death- and sludge-metal music, with elements of drone and progressive metal.
The song itself is a somewhat historical retelling of the House of Wisdom, an ancient library in Baghdad that was destroyed in the 13th century. Vocalist and principle songwriter Luc Lemay uses the library, which was said to house all of the world’s knowledge until the Mongols destroyed it, as a metaphor for the sort of scientific and mathematical achievement which we take for granted every day. Knowledge is personified, with characteristics and the ability to move and evolve.
Pleiades’ Dust is loaded with complex musical structures, ferocious performances, and a truly impressive bass solo from Colin Marston. It’s a massive EP that transitions from one movement to the next with the aplomb of a canonically admired composer of classical music. Fans of more experimental metal music may not find much to enjoy here, but Pleiades’ Dust stands out to me as the best EP of the year. It’s intricate, intelligent, cohesive, and somehow manages to be a hell of a lot of fun to listen to.
Key tracks: (you get the idea at this point)
Thank you for reading! Make sure you stay tuned over the next few weeks to catch my Top 69 Albums of 2016, 10 WORST Albums of 2016, and 10 Best Live Acts of 2016! List week never has to end!
Last weekend I had the chance to see indie rock band Car Seat Headrest, perform live at the Neptune Theatre in what was probably one of my favorite shows I have attended. I’ve been kind of obsessed with this band for most of the year, so finally getting to see them live was a pretty great experience. They were touring in support of their latest album Teens of Denial, definitely one of my favorite albums of the year so far.
The show kicked off after a strong performance by opening band The Domestics, a group I was not familiar with until this concert. Car Seat Headrest then opened with a short Leonard Cohen cover, before kicking the show off with the popular lead track “Fill in the Blank” from their newest album. This was when you could feel the audience really get excited; the level of audience engagement at this show was high, particularly in the front, where many of the people around me were singing along passionately.
The band played many other recent songs including “Vincent” and “Destroyed by Hippie Powers,” as well as older songs such as “Maud Gone” and “Sober to Death,” skillfully mixing different points in their discography. The Teens of Denial tracks stood out especially good live, although I was expecting them to be played, so the older songs were a nice surprise. “Maud Gone” was particularly nice to hear as I was not expecting that song to be played, and it also provided a brief respite of calm among the more high-tempo rock songs surrounding it on the setlist. The audience gave a particularly loud cheer when front-man Will Toledo announced they would be playing a song from Twin Fantasy, probably the most popular of their early albums.The band also experimented with a shortened version of “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” which was reworked in preparation for an upcoming TV performance. Guitarist Ethan Ives’ guitar skills really shone through live, and Will Toledo’s vocal performance was excellent.
The most enjoyable songs live, in my opinion, were “Strangers” from their 2015 album Teens of Style (a re-recording of an earlier release), and the encore in which the band was joined by Naked Days for covers of “Psycho Killer” and “This Must Be The Place” by Talking Heads, which they brought impressive energy to, and closed off the show on a high note. Overall, it was a great performance and a strong end to the tour.
I am not much of a Bruno Mars fan. He is an undeniably talented, versatile artist, and I won’t deny that his pop career has seen huge success. I have just never felt compelled by his music. But in 2014, he surprised me. “Uptown Funk” was unexpectedly groovy, and I couldn’t help getting hooked on its vocal bass line and slick horns. Now, two years later, it’s safe to say that “Uptown Funk” established the retro groundwork for Mars’ newest release, 24k Magic. This album is basically Bruno Mars as a walking throwback, blending pop, funk, and R&B with surprising taste.
Early on, 24k Magic introduces “Chunky”, a synth serenade to “the girls that pay their rent on time”, before changing the pace with “Versace on the Floor”. The latter is a sultry R&B slow-jam that belongs next to a crackling bedroom fireplace sometime in the ‘90s. Mars reincarnates James Brown in “Perm, while “Finesse” oozes with the cocky swagger that brought us “Uptown Funk”.
I would argue that this is his most redeeming album yet, although I likely only hold that opinion because of my soft spot for funk. 24k Magic is a trim, tight project, clocking in at just 33 minutes for 9 tracks. Mars more or less spends the whole time fixated on sex. The result is a mix of fun-sounding songs, but this leaves quite a bit of potential for some more inspired lyrics. I also have yet to be completely won over by his contemporary take on old-school funk, though his attempt is valiant nonetheless. That being said, I expect a handful of these songs to be in my rotation for a little longer. I have high hopes for this new-old direction for Bruno Mars, and I look forward to hearing some more throwbacks from him in the near future.