Andy’s Best Albums of 2016 Playlist Roundup
I know it seems a little early for a best records of the year compilation, but these last couple of months of terrible 2016 have been dedicated to distracting myself from thinking about reality. And what better solace is there than music? More than a few great musicians died this year too, which seemed like adding insult to injury. (David Bowie, as usual, knew exactly when to go. That bastard! Always ahead of the rest of us. If someone told me he was The Master, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.)
But, putting Bowie’s prescience aside, it actually was a pretty good year for music. A lot of people released good albums, and some even released great albums. In no particular order – because I really can’t order these things – are my favorite albums of the year.
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid: There’s no denying his beats or his flow, but the thing I love most about Aesop Rock? Imagery. It seems like a funny thing to say, but every now and again, he’ll spit out a sentence, or a fragment of one, and my writer brain will just spark off of it. There’s so much in that particular turn of phrase, you get a sense of a huge story behind it – a history there’s no time to let us in on. I love that kind of thing. And this is a super personal album, so you’d think there’d be less of that but it simply isn’t true. It is great, and has been in heavy iPod rotation since release. Even if you’re not a fan of rap, give him a chance. He may surprise you.
Zeal and Ardor – Devil Is Fine: This is one of those odd Bandcamp discoveries I live for. This is a Satanic album that melds together old negro spirituals and heavy metal. It sounds ridiculous I know, but then you listen to it. It’s weird, captivating, sinister, and wholly original. It smacks you against the side of the head and demands you pay attention to it. I don’t think the Satanic stuff is at all sincere, but I don’t think it’s a gimmick either. I think this is the kind of music you could only worship a dark god to and for, and I’m all in. I dare you to find a more original album.
Pansy Division – Quite Contrary: This is their 25th year as a band! That’s incredible for any punk band to have all its members alive after such a span of time, not to mention a group that doesn’t hate each other. You’d think, after all this time, no queercore record could be relevant. And then Trump somehow got elected. Yes, they’re still relevant, now more than ever.
Beach Slang – A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings: Yes, they sound a lot like The Replacements. But that’s a compliment, as that’s a difficult alchemy to recreate, and they do it with style. Even if you’re an old fogey who can recall The Replacements, they make you want to go out, get stoned, break some bottles, and break some hearts. Clean guitars, as sharp as razors, and vocals full of yearning. It’s hard not to like this album.
Tobacco – Sweatbox Dynasty: If I didn’t lead off with the fact that this is trippy as fuck, I’d lose whatever credibility I have. This is exactly what you’d expect from a Tobacco or Black Moth Super Rainbow album: synth infused psychedelic music, cut with jagged shards of noise and glitches, and occasionally weird vocals. Not all of it even has a recognizable beat, or at least not all the way through, but you do realize that’s part of the charm for me. It’s a weird soundtrack for a weird time.
Russian Circles – Guidance: Russian Circles are always great. Hard charging instrumentalists determined to crush you, their music always manages to sound aggressive and ominous, even when they slow it down and drop the volume. Which isn’t often. But whereas Tobacco will give you (possibly drugged) candy and try to get you to play along, Russian Circles doesn’t care if you play along or not. Only that you keep up.
Future of the Left – The Peace & Truce of Future of The Left: Don’t let the title fool you. Peace has never been what Future of the Left was about, and they aren’t about to start now. Snarling, snarky, and slightly atonal, they go out as they came in: angry and lashing out at whatever’s in reach. But if you didn’t leave kicking and screaming, they’d have no respect for you at all.
Casket Girls – The Night Machines: Did you ever wonder what would happen if a female fronted shoegaze band started getting into goth? If so, you should be dead pleased – pun intended – with this album, which is shimmery and light, and yet cut through with darkness, and moments of sheer oddity. Kind of hard to explain. But if this is your thing, you’ll know right away.
Ekin Fil – Heavy: Another Bandcamp find. I can’t tell you a single thing about the musician(s) that made this album. I can say this album is beautiful ambient music, with hints of darkness at the edges and occasional vocals, but otherwise a drifting dream. It’s hard for me to separate the tracks of it. It all works together quite well, and feels like a single song, broken into pieces.
Field Mouse – Episodic: Do you want to listen to something sweet? Light and enjoyable, with just a tiny bit of bittersweet? This is that album. It’s almost too sweet for me, but I decided, this year, why not? We could all use a little of this. A shimmery pop confection, done well. If you don’t feel like rage or oddity, this is for you.
Mamiffer – The World Unseen: Now we‘re back to the weird stuff I generally love. Eerie ambient drone music with electronic and rock touches, and vocals. So not ambient really? This is another one in the hard to explain dark music category. This feels like the soundtrack to a creepy movie you’ve never seen, and might not want to see.
Spartan Jet-Plex – My Time: This is a name your price album on Bandcamp that sounds like a woman – or maybe a ghost – recorded it in her bedroom. It’s intimate, quiet, and there’s something lonely and eerie about it all. Apparently she is part of something called “alt-folk” or dark folk, depending on who you ask, and having sampled some, I can’t say it’s a genre I care for. And yet, this album is great and eerie as hell, singular and beautiful. I now buy whatever she puts out. I can’t wait until Welcome To Night Vale or Bryan Fuller find her and expose her to a wider audience.
I Liked These, But Can’t Give Them Album Status For Reasons:
G.L.O.S.S – Trans Day of Revenge: This is unapologetically angry punk, by a band made up entirely of trans women. Sadly, they’ve already broken up, seemingly having imploded as soon as major labels started sniffing around their door. The reason I can’t name this a favorite album is it’s an EP of five very short songs – all under two minutes. (See? That’s old school punk.) But it’s a great piece of work all the same. And in a time when people seem to be insisting you make nice with your oppressors in the name of unity, this is a bracing kick in the balls. I see your unity, and raise it with a fuck off.
Color TV – S/T 7”: Again, some old school sounding punk, although leaning towards the pop side of things, nowhere near as angry or in your face as GLOSS. But with four songs? EP.
Dead Vibrations – Reflections: Same issue here. Four songs! But it’s an intriguing new style of pop-y psychedelia, Goth pretensions with a driving rock beat. And Swedish! It’s a bucketful of weird, and you know how I like that.
Slug – Early Volume: This album was released this year, but is a collection of singles and rarities from the ‘90’s noise rock band Slug. It’s noisy, weird, and great. Again, you probably could have predicted that I’d love it. There’s a sort of timelessness in this kind of music, as it could have been recorded yesterday. There’s a lesson there – if you’re weird enough, you can transcend time.