I saw Noname perform at The Crocodile this past Wednesday. Ravyn Lenae opened for her, and needless to say they were both incredible. I had been anticipating this concert for quite some time now (I ordered the tickets in November), and the night had finally arrived.
First things first, I had also bought meet and greet tickets for my lovely girlfriend in an effort to blow Valentine’s Day out of the water. For the most part I think it was a success. She was excited to meet Noname, as was I, of course. Unfortunately, we both had different reactions to talking to her in person. She was so nervous that her mind started racing, asking Noname-whose real name is Fatima-question after question. This was a godsend, because I was so nervous that my mind drew a blank and stood there sheepishly, only mustering the courage to introduce myself and say “yes” a few times.
After a photo op with Fatima, it was time for the concert. Unbeknownst to me, there was an act before Ravyn Lenae. Local Seattle rappers Nyles Davis and Mo Money got the show started, but not exactly as I had expected. Noname and Ravyn Lenae’s musical styles both exude peacefulness and don’t try to be in your face. Davis and Mo Money were both accurate reflections of what rap is becoming: repetitive lyrics over bass-heavy beats. Their music reminded me a lot of Lil Uzi Vert, my least favorite rapper in the game right now. Mo Money also got really sweaty and it was flying everywhere, so that didn’t help his set improve.
Finally, the time came for the actual concert to start, and Ravyn Lenae came out. And let me tell ya, her voice was jaw dropping. I knew it was good when I listened to her music on Spotify, but it was probably even better live. Each song she performed had multiple vocal inflections where she would change the note while she belted out a single word or sound. My previously hefty expectations had been exceeded somehow and I was witnessing an angel on stage.
Lenae also took the time to explain the meaning behind each song before she performed it. I had listened through her Moon Shoes EP multiple times, but had never taken the time to thoroughly listen to it and pull the meaning from each song. I found myself listening much more intently, trying to connect the lyrics to the explanation she had given just a few minutes earlier. Also, she put the mic in front of my girlfriend to sing a part of a song, but evidently the pressure was overwhelming and she could only sing for a split second before laughing it off. To be fair, I would’ve done the exact same thing, and Ravyn probably would’ve gotten the whole crowd to make fun of me because I can’t sing as well as her. That may have been why she did it in the first place.
Lenae’s set ended after about 45 minutes and it was time for the headliner, Noname. Her debut album Telefone was one of my favorite albums of last year. It was meaningful, perfectly produced, and it introduced me to a female rapper that I actually enjoyed (sorry not sorry Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea). Noname’s band was the first to come on stage, performing a few minutes of smooth instrumentals before Noname came out to open with “All I Need”. To my relief, she sounded exactly like she did on Telefone. The live band was a great addition; Davis, Mo Money, and Lenae all performed over recordings of the instrumentals to their songs (Davis actually rapped over recordings of his songs with the rap recorded too, so he didn’t have to work as hard). Noname performed Telefone in its entirety, as well as her verses for Mick Jenkins’ “Comfortable” and Chance the Rapper’s “Lost”. Ravyn Lenae joined her on stage and they performed “Forever” together, which was easily the best moment of the night. Noname’s discography still has some growing to do, because she ran out of music to perform after half an hour. Despite the short set, Noname was excellent on stage and had the audience captivated the whole time.
The concert as a whole was great. The surprise openers got the concert off on a sour note, but Ravyn Lenae and Noname more than made up for the openers’ slip-ups. Both either performed exactly as in their recordings or far beyond what I had expected. Once they expand their discography there will only be more demand for them to go on tour again, and I look forward to when that day comes. Check out each artist’s music below.
Only a week after her bandmate Matt Martians dropped his solo debut The Drum Chord Theory, Syd has come forth with her own solo debut, Fin. The former Odd Future member has been all over some of last year’s biggest releases, featuring on Common’s Black America Again, Kaytranada’s 99.9%, and Little Simz’s Stillness in Wonderland. The time has come for her to release new music of her own, and needless to say it was worth the wait. Fin is a smooth, sensual ride that may not take many risks, but lives up to the hype of what listeners have come to expect from Syd.
The album takes off with what might be one of the best tracks, “Shake Em Off”. Syd addresses feeling frustrated and doubted by her haters, choosing to shake them off rather than give into the criticism. Syd rides over bubbly production accompanied by hard hitting percussion. The standout factor, however, is her voice. Syd consistently sounds angelic over the course of the 12-track album, utilizing falsetto tones and slightly lower vocals to showcase her incredible range. Her ability to carry a song on her own is apparent, yet some tracks include background vocals, like “Insecurities”. On these tracks, Syd remains the primary voice, and the background vocals only tend to come in for the chorus. They weren’t necessary for any song, but the addition adds a certain lushness to them that is more than welcome.
The album’s tone is surprisingly sexy. Multiple songs detail Syd romanticizing about women (“Drown In It”, “Body”, “Know”) or describing a trip to the strip club (“Dollar Bills”). Other songs go in opposite directions, favoring heavy beats as the driving force (“All About Me”, “No Complaints”, “Got Her Own”). This album, like Matt Martian’s, lacks a concept; some songs share themes but none of them can be connected as a whole. None of the songs take many risks sonically either; most can be traced back to other artists and a few could be mistaken for b-sides from The Internet. Syd’s otherworldly vocals make every song feel refreshing and new, despite her borrowing elements from present day hip-hop and her band.
Fin is a prime example of why more artists in group acts should be pursuing solo careers. While she does not try to convey a complex message or theme, Syd creates a collection of songs that are just flat out fun. One can’t help but sway to every song. Her melodic voice lifts each track to another level of sensuality and bliss, leaving the listener foaming at the mouth for more. Syd did herself and her fans a favor by leaving Fin nearly empty of features (Steve Lacy on “Dollar Bills” and 6LACK on “Over”). It’s time for Syd to be in the spotlight, as she has proved on this album. Listen to Finhere and catch Syd opening for her band, The Internet, on March 17 at The Neptune.
Monday night I had the privileged of experiencing Chance The Rapper’s uniquely brilliant Magnificent Coloring World Tour inside the cavernous WaMu Theater. Mountainous black curtains lined every inch of the venue instilling a rich sense of mystery. Despite the flowing crowds, I felt alone in the space-like complex. This feeling was short-lived as I was quickly surrounded by masses of colorful people pushing me towards the illustrious ‘front row’. Nevertheless, the vast darkness of WaMu’s towering walls created an alternate dimension isolating the stage and the crowd.
The show opened with Chance’s electrically awkward collaborator Francis Farewell Starlite of Francis and the Lights accomponied by Chance’s go-to producer, Nate Fox. The Oakland, CA native has been on the alt-pop radar since 2007 and recently dropped his debut studio album Farewell, Starlite! in late September. Francis possessed a very soft-spoken demeanor despite his musics’ jagged edge and funky synthesized melodies. He consistently addressed the well-being of the restless crowd and didn’t serve as much of a hype man until the end of his set. I reluctantly began to enjoy his shameless dancing and oddly groovy style due to his undefeated positive attitude. The man was having fun. It then dawned on me that the true purpose of Francis’ modest performance wasn’t to hype up a restless fans, but to set a peaceful precedent for an enjoyable evening.
After Francis left the stage the show encountered a brief 30-minute delay coupled with a preset playlist containing only Drake and Future. This pause disrupted the concert’s energy momentarily but any shadow of a doubt was obliterated with Chance’s immediate energy.
Excitement rushed through my veins as the Broadway-esque red curtain rose to reveal the wondrous stage set. Singing animatronics, colorful supersized crayons and Carlos the spirit guide/lion/mega puppet transformed the stage into an animated fantasy land. Chance opened the show performing classic hits off his breakout mixtapes 10 Day and Acid Rap including songs like; Cocao Butter Kisses, Brain Cells, Favorite Song, Long Time and Juice. Each song exploded with spirit backed by Social Experiment members Chi-town producer Peter Cottontale on the keyboard, Stix on the drums, and the incredible Donnie Trumpet toting his famed bugle. Brilliant multi-color lights and textural animations illuminated the once colorless auditorium adding to “Magical Coloring World” experience. After taking his fans on a trip down memory lane, Chance rerouted and began performing his latest masterpiece, Coloring Book, in its entirety. Carlos the Lion acted as Chance’s mentor, guiding him to push the message of the gospel-inspired album. Loving ourselves. The animatronic choir conveyed the setting of a southern-baptist church as Chance’s soulful-jazzy beats served as a perfect medium for his advocacy of God, peace and happiness. I even teared up as Chance spoke personally on the importance learning to love yourself and his current emotional struggles. For his finale Chance brought Francis back out to perform their song (and one of my favorites off Coloring Book) Summer Friends with an extended outro courtesy of the Social Experiment team leaving the crowd with a sense of musical wonderment. I was absolutely blown away by
part rap-musical part spiritual service the concert turned out to be. If you have yet to experience Chance the Rapper’s music you can find his latest project here. I have also provided links to his previous mixtapes and Soundcloud if you’re interested in exploring this innovative artist’s past work. Chance’s music certainly changed my life and it could change yours too.
Any major music publication will hastily remind its readers how many great records have come out so far in 2016, many of which are high both in quality and levels of pre-release anticipation. Just to name a few, the year has seen rapturous applause and attention applied to long-awaited releases from
Beyoncé, Rihanna, Radiohead, James Blake, Chance the Rapper, Kanye West, and YG, with more on the way from The Avalanches, LCD Soundsystem, Sigur Ros, and Run the Jewels.
While we wait for the second half of 2016 to continue blowing our minds, the fine folks here at Rainy Dawg Radio would love to wish everyone a happy summer, and we can’t express enough how excited we are for things to kick back into gear this September. Until then, your summer listening material is below, in alphabetical order so as not to spoil my highly anticipated annual Best Albums of the Year list. I’ve also decided to include 5 of my favorite shortform releases of the year so far, just because EPs deserve love, too, and the year has seen many fantastic ones.
Writer’s note: This list is solely the opinion of myself, RDR’s music director, and only includes albums and mixtapes released through the end of June 2016.
50 Best Albums of 2016
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
Genre: Hip-hop (alternative/underground)
In brief: This is the alt-rap legend’s seventh album, and also his most lonesome one. The Impossible Kid was entirely self-produced and features no other rappers, making it Aes’ most personal record to date, and quite possibly his best (hot take, I know).
RIYL: Danny Brown, MF DOOM, Run the Jewels
Anohni – Hopelessness
Genre: Pop (experimental/electronic)
In brief: A shockingly catchy political pop album that pulls none of its punches. Anohni is something of a musical trio, composed of the titular Artist, former vocalist for Antony and the Johnsons, as well as A++ production team Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke. The result is an in-your-face, punk-as-hell noise pop record that’s glossy, heavy-handed (for better and worse), and totally necessary and relevant.
RIYL: Bjork, The Knife, The Haxan Cloak
Autechre – elseq 1-5
Genre: Electronic (ambient/noise)
In brief: English experimental duo Autechre may have surpassed expectations with 2013’s Exai, the longest the band had released at that point in their twenty-year career, but nothing prepared anyone for this. Elseq 1-5 presents an astounding four hours of top-notch robotic noise, ambient, and so-called “intelligent dance music.” This record is bigger and denser than any black hole, reaching a seemingly post-human form of musical expression. Is this improvised? Pre-written? Listen to it in one session or ten, just consume all it has to offer.
RIYL: Aphex Twin, Oneohtrix Point Never, Four Tet
Beyoncé – Lemonade
Genre: R&B (pop/hip-hop)
In brief: Now, just what in the hell could I say about this album/its release/the visual accompaniment that has not already been picked to bits ad nauseam by everyone else two months ago? Not much; instead I’ll just say how fantastic the music of Lemonade is, especially considering the amount of sonic variation at play. Each song feels right, necessary, and like it fits, even if Bey jumps from garage rock to bouncy reggae-pop to country without a second’s consideration (and thank goodness for it).
RIYL: FKA twigs, Destiny’s Child, Adele
Big Ups – Before a Million Universes
Genre: Punk (post-hardcore/experimental)
In brief: Although largely unknown, this NY rock group dropped one of my favorite albums of 2014 with their debut, Eighteen Hours of Static. Now, the group is back with a less immediately catchy but much better, more cerebral experience of an album. Inspired by the atmospheric post-rock of the genre’s early contributors, like Slint and Bark Psychosis, Before a Million Universes owes a lot to its influences. Yet, it’s still undeniably a current work, filled to the brim with 21st century anxiety and tension. If you messed up by skipping over this band two years ago, then bring balance to your life by not messing up this time.
RIYL: Fugazi, Slint, Shellac
The Body/Full of Hell – One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache
Genre: Metal (noise/grindcore)
In brief: The Body and Full of Hell make music at different speeds, but for some reason putting their collective minds together makes for a cohesive, fast-paced experience. This record is more than bone-chilling, it’s bone-freezing. Absolute terror lurks here, and it’s more thrilling than the five scariest horror movies you’ve seen combined.
RIYL: Nails, Converge, Cult Leader
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Genre: Rock (Indie/garage)
In brief: Will Toledo has been in business for quite a while, but finally decided to schedule his breakout project for release through Matador Records. Following last year’s salient Teens of Style, this record (Toledo’s first album of all new material for a label) is 70 minutes of some of the finest indie rock you’ll hear all year. Diverse, funny, sad, and totally worth your while.
RIYL: Guided by Voices, The Strokes, Pavement
Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
Genre: Hip-hop (alternative/gospel)
In brief: In which popular, beloved independent rapper Chancelor Bennett follows up a massively acclaimed mixtape with an even more acclaimed mixtape. Unfortunately for me, Coloring Book is not nearly as good as Acid Rap. Still, though, even Chance’s duds are more of a blast than many rappers’ bangers. If you haven’t already listened to this, what the hell is wrong with you, dude?
RIYL: Mick Jenkins, Vic Mensa, Kanye West
Colin Stetson – Sorrow
Genre: Neo-Classical (experimental/opera)
In brief: Colin Stetson has long been impressing folks with his sheer ability as a saxophonist, namely on key releases by everyone from Arcade Fire to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. This time, he put his strengths toward the reinterpretation of a classic symphony by Gorecki, using black metal, post-rock, and jazz as his inspiration through which to create. The result is Sorrow, a frighteningly beautiful album that demands to be heard over and over again.
RIYL: Sigur Ros, Frederic Chopin, Arvo Part
David Bowie – Blackstar
Genre: Rock (experimental/avant-garde)
In brief: Bowie’s swan song; what more is there to it? A vast, gorgeous, totally whacked out record from one of history’s great musical masterminds. As awe-inspiring a late-period album as any of the best from Kate Bush, Tom Waits, Scott Walker, all late-bloomers in their own respects.
RIYL: Scott Walker, Chelsea Wolfe, Iggy Pop
Deakin – Sleep Cycle
Genre: Folk (psychedelic/avant-garde)
In brief: Deakin, a.k.a. Animal Collective’s lost member. My boy here has been working on this record for several years, and the only thing wrong with it is that it’s criminally short. Otherwise, it’s one of the best solo Animal Collective albums ever, rivaling Panda Bear’s beloved Person Pitch. This record is freaky, beautiful, and everything I wanted from Deakin’s solo debut.
RIYL: Vashti Bunyan, The Microphones, Animal Collective circa 2005
Death Grips – Bottomless Pit
Genre: Punk (noise/rap)
In brief: Death Grips are secretly the greatest band of our generation. They fight all boundaries, resulting in otherworldly music that no other set of musicians is capable of even touching. Bottomless Pit, the band’s fifth studio album, serves as further proof that the band can do no wrong. This record is full of noisy, filthy, catchy songs about debaucherous acts, death, and occultish mystery, all of which are subjects from which Death Grips scarcely shies away. Basically, Death Grips do what they do and they do it with equal excellence as they always do.
RIYL: Lightning Bolt, Clipping., The Locust
Deerhoof – The Magic
Genre: Rock (pop/noise)
In brief: Longstanding noise pop group Deerhoof are back with one of their best records in quite a while. Delightfully catchy and outlandishly weird, it won’t be too long before The Magic goes down as Deerhoof’s best late-period album, with its myriad of great songs backed by unrivaled musicianship. One of the most underrated bands ever is back, and probably won’t be converting any non-believers.
RIYL: Kero Kero Bonito, Melt-Banana, Flaming Lips
Denzel Curry – Imperial
Genre: Hip-hop (underground/turnt)
In brief: The latest project from Florida rapper Denzel Curry totally caught me off guard. Imperial is a short, unfiltered psychological journey through the gritty streets of Miami. It’s not the most original record on the block, but it’s angry, consistent, and real damn exciting to listen to.
RIYL: Joey Bada$$, Mick Jenkins, Three 6 Mafia
Diarrhea Planet – Turn to Gold
Genre: Rock (garage/punk)
In brief: Turn to Gold is the third album from the horridly named six-piece Diarrhea Planet. Get past the name, however, and you’re in for one of the most fun, unashamedly upbeat rock records of the summer. Combine the shredding guitar leads of classic Van Halen (praise due to the band’s four guitar players) with the unhinged garage rock Jay Reatard and you have Diarrhea Planet, the one band missing from your life.
RIYL: The White Stripes, Japandroids, Jay Reatard
The Drones – Feelin Kinda Free
Genre: Rock (Garage/experimental)
In brief: Australian rock group The Drones have been kicking rock-n-roll in the head for nearly two decades now, and their music has not reached the wide audience it deserves. The group’s latest record is another in a series of atmospheric, noisy garage freakouts, with deftly political lyrics from the band’s cynical vocalist, Gareth Liddard. You won’t hear anything quite like this in 2016 or any other year.
RIYL: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Mogwai, Sleaford Mods
Future of the Left – The Peace & Truce of Future of the Left
Genre: Punk (post-hardcore/noise)
In brief: Future of the Left is a Welsh group led by Andrew Falkous, the notorious former lead vocalist of cult noise rock band Mclusky. The past few years have seen him apply his ferocious snarl to Future of the Left, a similarly funny, snide group that paints vivid, disturbing images with its music. A totally bonkers experience, much like all of the band’s albums, and yet another in a series of fantastic Future of the Left albums.
RIYL: Mclusky, Shellac, The Austerity Program
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Genre: Metal (screamo/powerviolence)
In brief: I don’t know much about this band, but I do know that they have a fantastically ridiculous name to go along with their fantastically ridiculous music. This record is a short, no-bullshit explosion of classic screamo, powerviolence, and mathcore. It scratches the itch that can generally be quelled with classic Dillinger Escape Plan and Converge albums, but is chock-full of ugly vocal performances and fierce riffs that feel undeniably fresh.
RIYL: Converge, The Blood Brothers, The Dillinger Escape Plan
The Hotelier – Goodness
Genre: Rock (indie/emo)
In brief: I was blown totally out of the water by New England emo group The Hotelier’s last album, 2014’s Home, Like Noplace Is There. This time around, the band goes for a more straightforward, but still lyrically dense and highly passionate style of music. While not as immediately effective as Home, it reveals its magic and goodness – if you will – with each subsequent listen.
RIYL: The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die, The Promise Ring, Foxing
James Ferraro – Human Story 3
Genre: Ambient (experimental/v a p o r w a v e)
In brief: James Ferraro is one of contemporary music’s most versatile underground sensations. He’s released foundational masterworks in ambient, electronic, and beat-based music, from his beloved NYC, Hell 3:00 AM to the underrated Far Side Virtual. I didn’t love his last album, which came out at the end of last year, but I am floored with this one. An experimental piece about our relationship with technology and capitalism, Human Story 3 is an abstract, astonishing experience that will shock you, make you laugh, and maybe make you cry.
RIYL: Dean Blunt, death’s dynamic shroud.wmv, Arca
Joey Purp – iiiDrops
Genre: Hip-hop (alternative/pop)
In brief: Joey Purp’s sophomore tape is one of the most fun hip-hop records I’ve heard this year. Believe it or not, this Chicago rapper’s new project, iiiDrops, did more for me than the latest releases from his counterparts, Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa. This record is full of great hooks, amazing production, and some notable bars from Joey Purp. This tape is just waiting to be your summer jams mix.
RIYL: Chance the Rapper, Mick Jenkins, Le1f
John Congleton & the Nighty Nite – Until the Horror Goes
Genre: Rock (experimental/noise)
In brief: John Congleton deserves praise for many reasons. He’s the Grammy-winning producer behind albums from groups like Swans, St. Vincent, and Explosions in the Sky. He’s also the former vocalist for avant-rock group The Paper Chase, one of the most original groups to ever exist. For his debut solo album, Congleton takes all the frightening, morbid imagery he’s known for writing about and filters them through bizarrely catchy and legitimately great tunes. This one is super under-the-radar, and I don’t know why I haven’t heard much buzz over it, but it’s totally worth checking out.
RIYL: The Paper Chase, AJJ, The Mountain Goats
Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
Genre: Hip-hop (R&B/gospel)
In brief: It’s fuckin’ Kanye, man. It’s TLOP, dude. Just get over it.
RIYL: Kid Cudi, Chance the Rapper, Travi$ Scott
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity
Genre: Rock (garage/experimental)
In brief: This is King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s ninth album in half as many years, and through their intense recording/touring schedule they still somehow produce phenomenal music. Case in point, Nonagon Infinity, perhaps the band’s finest, sharpest work yet. The album works as an endless loop, with refrains and hooks popping up repeatedly throughout the album’s runtime. Nonagon Infinity feels like one really long, amazing song, and features some of the most passionate, tight musicianship I’ve heard this year.
RIYL: The Wytches, Tame Impala, Ty Segall
Lemon Demon – Spirit Phone
Genre: Pop (alternative/experimental)
In brief: It’s time we give Neil Cicierega the crown he deserves, because the man is a musical genius. Recorded entirely by himself, Spirit Phone is the latest record under Neil’s Lemon Demon alias. Being the man responsible for “The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny,” the Potter Puppet Pals, and 2014’s two fantastically blasphemous mashup records Mouth Sounds and Mouth Silence, I should have expected that he would outdo himself once again. This album is a weird, hilarious new wave album that piggybacks off the music of Devo, Talking Heads, and They Might Be Giants. Few albums are as fun to listen to as this one, and the fact that more people aren’t talking about it is a travesty.
RIYL: They Might Be Giants, Devo, Talking Heads
Lil Yachty – Lil Boat
Genre: Hip-hop (New ATL/#Based)
In brief: Lil Yachty is one of the more polarizing musical figures to drop out of an already polarizing musical scene. In a sea of rappers trying to cash in on the popularity of Young Thug, Future, and Migos, Lil Yachty stands alone as a creative talent with a vision and a whacked-out concept. I fully recognize that Lil Boat is not the most highbrow record to come out of hip-hop this year, but it’s one of the catchiest, simplest, and most memorable. It achieves what it was trying to, and then some, and it’s all the more fun for it.
RIYL: Young Thug, Lil B, Migos
LUH – Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing
Genre: Rock (indie/pop)
In brief: Once, Ellery James Roberts was the sore-throated vocalist for beloved indie rock group WU LYF (pronounced, “Woo! Life!”). After releasing one great album, he broke the band up to pursue a new project, a musical/visual duo with his girlfriend called LUH, which is short for Lost Under Heaven. Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing is the duo’s debut, and it’s a pretty ambitious undertaking. Roberts’ vocals sound as gnashed as ever, and his placement atop squelching synths and thunderous drums makes for a truly epic musical experience.
RIYL: King Krule, The National, WU LYF
Matmos – Ultimate Care II
Genre: Ambient (musique-concrete/electronic)
In brief: Matmos has built its career off of making music out of non-music. No one takes sampling quite as seriously as this electronic duo, and it has resulted in one of the finest discographies in sample-based music. Ultimate Care II manages to be unlike anything Matmos has ever done, seeming almost like a joke or a dare gone horribly right. The record is based entirely off samples of a washing machine, the model of which the album is named after. Sounds pretentious and stupid, but it’s a thoroughly beautiful and engaging record that if played for someone not privy to the concept they would have no idea any clothes-cleaning devices were involved.
RIYL: Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Tycho
Mitski – Puberty 2
Genre: Rock (indie/emo)
In brief: Mitski’s newest record is a slow burner as well as a barn burner. She crafts amazing tales and disguises them as catchy, depression-rock ‘90s jams. Seriously, “Your Best American Girl” might be the best song Hole never wrote. It takes a few spins to really unravel the emotions and stories at play here, but the music is simple, haunting, and another example of an independent bedroom pop artist releasing a capital-R “Rock” opus.
RIYL: St. Vincent, Frankie Cosmos, PJ Harvey
Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost
Genre: Punk (pop/emo)
In brief: Fans of Philly kids Modern Baseball already know what the band is capable of in under 30 minutes. The group’s previous two albums, You’re Gonna Miss It All and Sports, are some of the finest pieces of modern indie rock music this side of the emo spectrum, and Holy Ghost manages to surpass both of them in equal stride. This brief, dual-sided journey into the minds of the band’s two vocalists/songwriters is perhaps not as immediately catchy as the band’s previous work, but still mature, funny, and dreadfully sad.
RIYL: Joyce Manor, Spraynard, The Front Bottoms
Moonsorrow – Jumalten Aika
Genre: Metal (folk/black)
In brief: This is the latest record from long-running Norwegian black metal band Moonsorrow, a band with whom my familiarity begins and ends with Jumalten Aika. This record caught me off guard, as it nicely combines the epic, atmospheric nature of black metal with folk music without losing a bit of raw sonic energy. This record is long-winded in the best possible way, and features some unforgettable metal music.
RIYL: Korpiklaani, Agalloch, Panopticon
Nails – You Will Never Be One of Us
Genre: Metal (hardcore/powerviolence)
In brief: At 21 minutes in length, this is the longest album yet from California grind trio Nails, a group notorious for their blistering, uncompromising sound. For their third record, Nails deliver more of the same short whirlwinds of distortion and screams while also demonstrating their ability to experiment and try something new. This is for all fans of loud rock, hardcore, and getting their teeth kicked the fuck in.
RIYL: Dead in the Dirt, Pissgrave, Slayer
Open Mike Eagle & Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival
Genre: Hip-hop (underground/alternative)
In brief: Open Mike Eagle has a consistently great discography that grows greater and more expansive with each release. Hella Personal Film Festival, a collaboration with esteemed UK producer Paul White, is probably the finest, most introspective work Mike has dealt so far, and his ironic sense of humor blends right in with his depictions of anxiety, racism, and living with one’s significant other.
RIYL: Milo, Das Racist, Danny Brown
Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä
Genre: Metal (psychedelic/black)
In brief: Oranssi Pazuzu is a Finnish metal band that has been expanding and warping the boundaries of black metal for several years, to mixed results. Värähtelijä is the finest record the band has ever crafted, distilling black metal through psychedelic rock, krautrock, and noise, resulting in a hell of a cerebral experience. This record is highly inaccessible, but far-and-away one of the best metal records of the year so far.
RIYL: Darkspace, Krieg, Ulver
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Genre: Rock (indie/garage)
In brief: Indie rock transplants Parquet Courts never fail to impress, whether it’s their one-off experimental EPs or their wonderfully written rock LPs. Human Performance is the latest and most immediately pleasant record from the acclaimed band, and it is unbelievably good. There are actually moments where it sounds like Parquet Courts are writing their version of a pop song, and it totally works. If the band hasn’t done it for you in the past, get a load of this and try again.
RIYL: The Velvet Underground, Pavement, Wire
Pop. 1280 – Paradise
Genre: Rock (industrial/noise)
In brief: Another terrifying listening experience! Paradise is the latest record from fearless noisemakers Pop. 1280, and it sounds especially apocalyptic. Even when it sounds like a Marilyn Manson album, it sounds legitimately creepy and weird. If that description sounds like this album will do something for you, it probably will.
RIYL: Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Youth Code
PUP – The Dream is Over
Genre: Punk (rock/emo)
In brief: Canadian band PUP comes through with a bigger, better sophomore album. The Dream is Over is a fierce bummer of an album, and it’s one of the best damn rock albums of 2016. I can’t stop listening to it. Someone help me, please.
RIYL: Rozwell Kid, Joyce Manor, Jeff Rosenstock
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Genre: Sad (ambient/damn)
In brief: Radiohead. There is literally nothing I could say beyond that, because it’s been said before. Just listen to the damn thing. If you don’t like it, no one’s going to sue you or call you a bad Radiohead fan. I happen to find this record mystifyingly beautiful and very sad.
RIYL: Feeling Thom Yorke’s tears pour from your ducts for some reason
Skepta – Konnichiwa
Genre: Grime (hip-hop/real shit)
In brief: I often find grime albums to be disappointing. They’re generally stuffed with filler, bad hooks, and tend to run long. International superstar (and friend of Drake) Skepta, however, defies all those complaints with a tight, cohesive bruiser of a grime LP. Even the bad songs are really good. If you’ve been unconvinced with grime, like many Americans tend to be when first exposed to the strictly British genre, check out Konnichiwa, a.k.a. the best grime album in years.
RIYL: Dizzee Rascal, Jme, Kano
The Sooper Swag Project – Badd Timing
Genre: Hip-hop (alternative/experimental)
In brief: This one caught me off guard, to say the least. Badd Timing is the latest album from Chicago heads and yunk-destroyers The Sooper Swag Project. The premise for this record is deceptively simple: math-rap. Yet, somehow the group manages to put together a pretty great LP of catchy, goofy hip-hop songs that have no interest in your damned 4/4 time signature. At one point, there’s a song whose beat spells out a hidden message in Morse Code, over which one of the trio’s rappers spits effortlessly. It’s fucking weird and I love it.
RIYL: Clipping., Open Mike Eagle, Milo
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Genre: Country (folk/soul)
In brief: Like many, I was first turned on to the music of Mr. Sturgill Simpson two years ago when he released the acclaimed album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. I didn’t love that record, but it made me look forward to what would come next, and Simpson did not disappoint. Written as a horn-heavy self-produced country concept album dedicated to his young son, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is a breathtaking album that packs a lot into a little. Come for the gorgeous opener, stay for the shockingly lovely Nirvana cover.
RIYL: Bill Callahan, Uncle Tupelo, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
Swans – The Glowing Man
Genre: Post-rock (Experimental/ambient)
In brief: The Glowing Man is the fourth and final album of Swans’ second official incarnation, closing out one of the finest album runs in modern rock history, especially considering Swans enjoyed a diverse, ambitious career during their initial run from the early 1980s to 1997. This record isn’t as urgent as its predecessor, To Be Kind, but it’s still a fantastic, dreary, meditative album that sticks to Swans’ current formula without a dull moment ever touching its two-hour length. This album is a monolith, but one worth diving into with every bit of your attention.
RIYL: Current 93, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Chelsea Wolfe
Told Slant – Going By
Genre: Rock (indie/emo)
In brief: I was properly introduced to Told Slant when they opened up for The Hotelier a few weeks before the release of this album. I was especially taken with the group’s principal songwriter/vocalist/member, Felix Walworth, whose stage presence, lyrics, and vocals captivated me. Most of the songs from which Told Slant played were from the as-yet-unreleased album, Going By, which would strike me just as much upon release as it did when they were playing the songs live. This album is a sad, sleepy slap in the face that finds uplifting messages of advice and love in between bits of unrelenting self-loathing.
RIYL: Low, Xiu Xiu, Frankie Cosmos
Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger
Genre: Rock (Garage/psychedelic)
In brief: Quick question – Why the hell aren’t more people talking about this album? Emotional Mugger is far-and-away the greatest thing Ty Segall has ever come up with, serving as a parody of the very fuzzy garage-rock from which Segall pulls so many of his ideas. Centering around a character who’s essentially a giant, whining baby (literally), Emotional Mugger replaces the desire for sex and drugs with candy and a mother’s attention, resulting in an unsettling, heavy, glitchy, catchy rock record that also happened to make for one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen.
RIYL: Thee Oh Sees, Fuzz, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard
Various Artists – Southern Family
Genre: Country (folk/bluegrass)
In brief: TWO COUNTRY ALBUMS?? That’s right, y’all, your boy’s branching out. Southern Family was probably the sleeper hit of 2016 for me, mostly because I did not at all expect to love this as much as I do. I didn’t even know about its existence until Mr. Anthony Fantano (shout out The Needle Drop) gave it a good review on his channel. This thing is a compilation LP assembled by country-producing mastermind Dave Cobb, and each song features a different artist. It feels like a warm, safe quilt of wholesome, gorgeous country music that feels unified yet diverse.
RIYL: Chris Stapleton, The Civil Wars, Zac Brown Band
Vektor – Terminal Redux
Genre: Metal (thrash/space)
In brief: Beloved technical thrash metal band Vektor is back with their long-awaited third album, a sci-fi concept album about madness, revenge, and mind-control. It’s an experience worth having along with the album’s lyrics, which nicely explain the events that take place. The solos are like lasers blasting an enemy’s fleet, while the vocals are wretched and captivating. Terminal Redux is a long LP, but it’s so interesting and fun to play all the way through that the 70 minutes will fly by.
RIYL: Voivod, Havok, Gorguts
Weezer – Weezer (White Album)
Genre: Rock (pop/garage)
In brief: Weezer is on their second official hot-streak. Upon returning from a short recording break in 2014, the famous rock group released their greatest album since Pinkerton, which was titled Everything Will Be Alright in the End. If this is the end, then that prediction was 100% true. White Album is the fourth self-titled album from the band, and would be a fitting bookend to a career that has taken many dives. By shortening and simplifying things, Weezer managed to come through with an even more fantastic album than its predecessor, which is full of great hooks, interesting lyrics, and sticky melodies.
RIYL: Best Coast, Joyce Manor, old school Weezer
Xenia Rubinos – Black Terry Cat
Genre: Rock (Experimental/pop)
In brief: This is my first musical experience with NY singer/songwriter Xenia Rubinos, and boy is this a good one. Black Terry Cat is a catchy, infectious experience that blends an innumerable amount of genres into a seamlessly weird, unique record. The drumming on here is some of my favorite of the year, and some of my favorite songs of 2016 land on this album. Don’t sleep on Xenia and her ultra-tight grooves.
In brief: Noise pop stalwart Xiu Xiu covering the soundtrack to beloved television drama “Twin Peaks;” what’s the worst that could happen? Whatever it is, it didn’t happen here. Xiu Xiu’s rendition of Angelo Badalamenti’s original score is gorgeous, faithful, and damn frightening. The group, led by Jamie Stewart’s dramatic vocal, took just the right amount of creative liberty with this record, and it’s worth listening whether you watch the show or not.
In brief: YG got a lot of attention for his last album, My Krazy Life, and rightfully so. Still Brazy, the album’s follow-up, happens to be a much better, more well-held-together album. The songs on here are so good it’s kind of unfair to other rappers with lesser beats and weaker hooks. Also, “FDT” is this year’s defining millennial anti-GOP jam, and every other song on here is just as good.
RIYL: Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ty Dolla $ign
5.0 Best EPs of 2016
Charli XCX – Vroom Vroom
Genre: Pop (dance/experimental)
In brief: In which famous UK dance-pop vocalist Charli XCX teams up with EDM provocateur SOPHIE for one of the strangest, catchiest short-players of the year. I love everything about this EP, and I can’t wait to have more music from these two.
RIYL: QT, Hannah Diamond, Danny L Harle
Clipping. – Wriggle
Genre: Hip-hop (noise/experimental)
In brief: In case you didn’t know, Daveed Diggs, the Tony-winning co-star of hit musical “Hamilton,” is the frontman of a group that has virtually no crossover appeal with “Hamilton,” a noise-rap collective called Clipping. These guys combine grating harsh noise, found sounds, and fairly traditional but expertly delivered gangsta rap. Following their studio debut two years ago, it’s nice to hear these guys doing exactly what they do best, which Wriggle is full of.
RIYL: Death Grips, Shabazz Palaces, Dalek
G.L.O.S.S. – Trans Day of Revenge
Genre: Punk (hardcore/lo-fi)
In brief: G.L.O.S.S. is necessary, especially in a time of increased visibility and discrimination of trans people. Following last year’s acclaimed demo, the group is back to kick Pride Month in the ass with Trans Day of Revenge, which presents all of seven minutes of gender-neutral-genitalia-to-the-wall hardcore punk. Ferocious lyrics and killer performances abound.
RIYL: Against Me!, Downtown Boys, All Dogs
Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust
Genre: Metal (death/experimental)
In brief: Rather than follow their most recent masterpiece with another full-length album, recently re-booted Canadian group Gorguts returns with an EP, which is actually one 33-minute song. Months following its release, I still haven’t fully dissected this brain-buster of a song. I just know that it is absolutely fantastic, and I notice something new every time I listen.
RIYL: Death, At the Gates, Revenge
Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered
Genre: Hip-hop (R&B/jazz)
In brief: A year after the release of the modern classic To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick is back with a new EP that proves his demos to be better than most rappers’ full-length projects. King Kendrick can do no wrong. Long live King Kendrick.