New music output is a fickle thing. There’s new music being released all over the world all the time, even now; however, sometimes there seems to a be a huge burst or lull in output. One of the most reliable of these boom/bust cycles is the early fall rise, and the subsequent December-January comedown. Artists release music in the early fall, anticipating an end-of-year list bump in sales or a possible Grammy nod, and then the music world generally calms down for a while, recharging itself.
The first month of 2016 saw a decent crop, however: Rihanna’s ANTI, Anderson .Paak’s Malibu, and of courseBlackstar all came out in the year’s first month. This year is yet very young, and yet we’ve already had some very high-profile releases in the indie world. The returns of The xx, The Flaming Lips, Run the Jewels, and even Dropkick Murphys have set 2017 off with a plethora of new tunes to try and wrap our brains around. And in the upcoming weeks, we’ll see a flood of new albums to sink our teeth into, seemingly from every genre under the sun. It’s a good time to be a music fan.
Some of the biggest names in music appear poised to release new projects this year, many of them under the ever-widening umbrella of the “indie” scene: Arcade Fire, Spoon, and The Shins have announced albums, and released accompanying singles as well. Tool have been hinting at something for a while (a long, long while) while. The Orwells have a new single. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is putting out another goddamn album. Gorillaz are coming back! And in the near future, some very exciting releases should be expected. Here’s a few of my most anticipated:
Cherry Glazerr, Apocalipstick: Los Angeles-based weirdo rockers Cherry Glazerr haven’t released a full album in just over three years, and they seem hellbent on following up their debut record, 2014′s Haxel Princess, with something huge. Collaborating with some big-name producers (Joe Chiccarelli of The Strokes’ Angles and Carlos de la Garza of M83’s Junk), the band is looking to expand their sound and audience on Apocalipstick. Preceding singles include the riffy, groovy “Told You I’d Be With the Guys”, which promises a rock record that could be among the year’s best. Apocalipstick is out January 20 on Secretly Canadian.
Cloud Nothings, Life Without Sound: Cloud Nothings have a lot to live up to with this project. The band rode the swell of support for 2012’s Attack on Memory and 2014’s Here and Nowhere Else through the departure of lead guitarist Joe Boyer, a collaborative album with Wavves, and a grueling tour schedule. But now they have to follow up two of the best lo-fi punk records of the decade, and we hope they can follow through on the promise of their two preceding records. Though lead single “Modern Act” disappointed me a little bit, follow-up “Internal World” brought much more to the table. This album, according to frontman Dylan Baldi, is supposed to be a bit more vocally interesting and less dark than Here and Nowhere Else, and I’m optimistic about where this focus will take the band. Life Without Sound is out on January 27 on Carpark Records.
Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life: Japandroids have been putting out some of the most life-affirming, shout-along music in recent memory, which really makes you wonder: can there really only be two of them? The guitar-and-drums duo get such huge sound out of their instruments that it seems hard to believe. Their most recent release was 2013’s Celebration Rock, a critically acclaimed release that included standout track “The House that Heaven Built”, and since then the black-clad rockers have undoubtedly been looking for a way to adequately follow up a triumph like that. Near to the Wild Heart of Life has to be damn good. The album’s first single is the title track, which comes out of nowhere, hitting you with a thick wall of drums and pure energy. It bodes well for a band whose MO has always been: “Hit ‘em fast, hit ‘em hard.” Near to the Wild Heart of Life is out on January 27 on ANTI-.
The Menzingers, After the Party: The Menzingers are a band that remind me of the do-or-die emotion of high school, and that’s not just because I got a little too into them in my sophomore year. The Philadelphia-based quartet can be counted on for some killer hooks and some incredibly interesting lyrics to boot. 2012’s On the Impossible Past is, in my very humble opinion, completely flawless; it’s a masterwork the whole way through, an emotional call to a time that we’ve either forgotten or never had in the first place. 2014’s Rented World was a bit more flawed, but it had some notable standouts: opener “I Don’t Want to be an Asshole Anymore”, for all its long-windedness, is one of the best things they’ve ever done, and follow-up “Bad Things” is hardly a slouch. Their latest record is preceded by singles that range from decent (“Bad Catholics”) to exceptional (“Lookers”), and I look forward to hearing singers Greg Barnett and Tom May bleeding their hearts out all over the damn thing. After the Party is out February 3 on Epitaph.
Dirty Projectors, Dirty Projectors: Ah, Dirty Projectors. The perfect bridge between Arcade Fire’s accessible anthems to Animal Collective’s unrelenting madness, this band has always occupied a weird place in the indie world: they’re not the weirdos AnCo are, but they’re not exactly a band to show your friend whose closest brush with the indie scene was when he accidentally walked by Sufjan Stevens’ set at Coachella this year. They’ve always been really good, but never have they fully scraped their way into mainstream consciousness. The closest they’ve come was 2012’s Swing Lo Magellan, an album that shivers and shakes but never falls down, and their new self-titled release hopes to deliver further on the promise of that record. If this record has anything near half as good as “About to Die” on it, you can catch me listening to it day and night. Dirty Projectors is out February 24 on Domino Records.
Somewhere in Baltimore, at the intersection of soul, funk, and pop, you’ll find a man fronting a 9-piece band. The band is called Bosley, and the man is Bosley Brown. Having just stumbled upon them, I only wish that I had discovered them sooner. It’s pretty much impossible to listen without some serious foot tapping, and hearing their music puts me in a good mood every time.
Bosley released their debut, Honey Pig, in 2011. But this was not Bosley as they are today. Bosley Brown wrote and recorded this album with some members of another Baltimore soul group, The Bellevederes. It wasn’t until after its release that he realized he needed his own band. He posted flyers around local college campuses, and the next thing he knew, he had pulled together a full-fledged group of talented young musicians to form Bosley.
Now with a few years together as a band, Bosley makes appearances in the Baltimore music scene with their fiery, high-energy shows. Below is a video of them performing “Sharpshooter” in 2014. The whole room is ready to dance, and the man himself, Bosley, radiates with infectious spirit.
That same year, Bosley released their second album, The Dirty Dogs Radio Show. This fantastic follow-up to Honey Pig is full of more music that you just can’t help but move to. It’s a great expansion on Bosley’s rock-soul sounds, which will soon include Jamaican and electronic influences, according to an interview last month. They are expecting a new release next year, and I will definitely be counting down until then. If you love new bands with old style, give this one a listen.
On Thursday night I had the opportunity to see a show at the Showbox SoDo featuring indie rock titans Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Death From Above 1979. The spacious converted warehouse provided a nice backdrop to one of the loudest concert experiences I’ve ever had. Seriously, if you’re seeing a show here any time soon, bite the bullet and spring for some earplugs. You’ll regret it if you don’t. I tend to prefer more intimate concert experiences; smaller, sweatier venues are really more my style. The SoDo isn’t that at all, with its high ceilings and air-conditioned floor. Still, the show was a good one.
The openers for the two main acts were L.A. punk duo Deap Vally, who brought a lot of energy into a raucous, noisy set. Featuring Karen O-like wails from lead singer Lindsey Troy, the band crashed through a tight set, capped with standout closer “Royal Jelly”. Deap Vally is touring behind their sophomore LP, Femejism, and they injected a lot of life into the smaller crowd, as people clearly there for one headliner or another started to trickle onto the main floor. There were plenty of reminders that they were an opener; they played in front of a looming DFA1979 graphic, and mentioned their opener status multiple times. However, they did a great job in that role.
The second act of the night was Death From Above 1979, another duo, but this time one from Toronto. These two have been revered in the indie scene since the release of their debut LP, 2004’s You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine (which I would absolutely recommend giving a listen), and even though they’re both well into their thirties, they brought an incredible energy to the set. Drummer and vocalist Sebastien Grainger screamed his heart out and thrashed his kit, and bassist Jesse Keeler kept an unreal air of cool as he tore through some very technical and challenging riffs on his heavily distorted and booming bass. Though it was during these guys’ set that I started to notice exactly how loud it was in the venue, I didn’t really care: they absolutely killed it. They put an extended middle section into You’re a Woman… single “Romantic Rights”, which turned out to be probably the highlight of the night, as they built the anticipation up for almost two minutes before laying into another incredible minute of the track. As they left to an impressive light display, it was clear that the bar for the next band was set very high.
Finally, out stepped the true veterans of the night. Around since their formation in 1998, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club were the elder statesmen of the evening, and their set started to show signs of fatigue. The band hasn’t released a new album since 2013’s The Spectre at the Feast, and although that record is a decent one, it has started to become apparent that they need some new material. Though they did well at the start (with the highlight track from Spectre, “Let the Day Begin”, breathing some life into the set), the rest of the set was less than inspiring. Noise fatigue had started to settle in for me, and going from the incredible energy of DFA1979 to the more subdued, bluesy BRMC set was not a great transition for the latter band. They put on a brave face, but their set, and likely their audience as well, are starting to get tired.
The show was punctuated with some great lighting as well, setting an ominous tone for BRMC’s set that works well for their style. It was a good show in a big venue, and even though I felt the SoDo’s size for every second of every set, I had a blast.
A good show for listeners of: The Black Keys, The Dead Weather, Japandroids, Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
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.
Before I delve into my (rave) review, I have to warn you,
reader: this song is an overwhelmingly scintillating odyssey with lyrics that
will either chill or inspire you. I cannot take responsibility for the intense
emotional reaction you are prone to have when you embark on this gorgeous,
sprawling, 7-minute voyage.
Here is a preview of some of the lyrics, all of which are
“Cold eats the flesh of broken hearts / tender the strike of tinder gods.
Embers across a rayless sky / still warm my soul, I often cry. Hot coals.”
…Kind of awesome imagery, right?
I am a staunch advocate for long songs with multiple phases. MGMT’s “Siberian Breaks” and Daft Punk’s “Touch” are definitely in
my top 25. And “Hot Coals” easily entered those ranks on my first listen.
Featured above is a fan-made music video that Edward Sharpe and
the Magnetic Zeros shared on their Facebook page with the following
comment from lead singer Alex Ebert:
The song lilts from a blues rock beginning into more familiar
alternative folk territory, before transitioning yet again into a jazzy and
upbeat chorus complete with masterful piano ornamentations and wire brushes on drums. The time changes just keep coming, surging forward seamlessly and sending the
listener deeper into this vivid arena of aural stimulation.
In later stages, there are trumpet features
and swelling organs that I believe are resuscitative. Seriously. If I
ever go into a coma, play this trumpet solo to revive me.
This is the first single to be released by the band since
their eponymous album in 2013. It is also ESMZ’s first studio release since their messy
split with Jade Castrinos. Many
fans have voiced complaints about the band’s sound without Jade, especially at
live shows. But if you’ve enjoyed Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros in any
musical capacity besides their hit single “Home”, you may find this change is less
a tragedy and more a testament to the band’s maturation. “Hot Coals” is
unmistakably Jadeless. And indeed, it is still a creative masterpiece that demonstrates
fantastic growth for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
There has already been plenty of discussion about how ESMZ
will have to adapt to losing their lead female voice. I would like to turn the
focus instead toward the statement “Hot Coals”makes: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros will thrive in this
Ten’s company: The band’s current members are Alex Ebert, Nico Aglietti, Stewart Cole, Josh Collazo, Seth Ford-Young, Christian Letts, Orpheo McCord, Mark Noseworthy, Crash Richard and Mitchell Yoshida.
Egert said, “Hot
Coals, to me, are memories.” Perhaps that is why the track is so remarkable; it
is a collection of nostalgias lovingly spun together into a song for the ages.
This single about memories establishes itself as more than memorable – it is an
unforgettable milestone in Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ discography
that has left me eager to see what flames they’ll kindle next.