#40: A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
Comebacks are a sketchy sort of thing in popular music. When an artist or group puts out a new work after years – decades – of being silent, it’s easy to get cynical. Do they need money? Is this just a nostalgia trip cash-in? Is the new album basically a tour souvenir? Have they phoned it in? Are all of the old members even present, or is this just an excuse for a couple of old members to resurrect the name to get eyeballs and sales? There are any number of great old acts that have fallen victim to this sort of crass capitalism: Black Flag, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Zombies, The Who, The Pixies, etc. and so on into infinity.
Then there are the acts that come back and it’s like they never left. They remain as vital and as timely as they ever were. Sleater-Kinney comes to mind here. Now, so does A Tribe Called Quest. We last heard from the legendary hip hop group in the 1990s, when they were the jazzy, fluid alternative to screwface gangsta rap. They dealt with some hard subjects, to be sure, but they also knew to back off and celebrate the little things in life as well. Thank You 4 Your Service is exactly in the same vein as those old Tribe records – it could be the vanishing point between The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders. The beats are as in-the-pocket as they were back in the day, and the flows are as consistently great as they ever were. The record is shot through with the ghost of Phife Dawg (who died during the recording process from complications from diabetes) but it never falls into the trap of being a maudlin tombstone for him. Instead, Tribe do what they always did – tackle sociopolitical issues, shoot the shit about life’s tribulations, and make fun of wack MCs.
#39: Ian William Craig – Centres
In the wrong hands, ambient music is scattered, banal, and boring. Ian William Craig is not the wrong hands. Centres is a haunting, emotional album crafted out of tape noise, synthesizers, and Craig’s own heavily processed voice. He comes through in jagged moments, heralded by bursts of ghostly static, and it is as beautiful as it is blurred. There’s a veritable shoegaze quality to much of the album, as though Tim Hecker and My Bloody Valentine merged into something gorgeous, fragile, and only partially visible.
#38: Nice As Fuck – Nice As Fuck
A purely articulated vision that is as minimalist and straightforward as its album cover. Jenny Lewis and her indie friends from Au Revoir Simone and the Likes craft a kind of post-punk album that used to only dwell in the early 1980s. It’s as though Young Marble Giants crossbred with ESG and got stoned to some early Spoon records.
#37: Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution
You take some jazz, some funk, some soul, a little bit of noisy rock ‘n’ roll…you sing in a fashion that’s midway between Joni Mitchell and Janelle Monae…you get longtime Bowie producer Tony Visconti on the bill…throw a potato in there, baby you got yourself a stew going.
#36: LUH – Spiritual Songs For Lovers To Sing
Indie rock that’s been blown out, left ragged, and smeared across some odd grade of canvas. Ecstasy as seen from the perspective of a fever dream, left out to bake in a nuclear-blinded sunscape.
#35: Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch
Jenny Hval creates on Blood Bitch a cleared space for women in the tangled sacred space of phallocentric rock ‘n’ roll, a direct continuation of the milieu of “soft dick rock” she discussed in regards to her previous album, Apocalypse, Girl. It’s an album of secrets spilled forth into the light and presented in a hard-edged light that takes some spiritual cues from the grind-and-destroy mayhem of black metal. Nothing is left behind here: blood and vampirism, urine, pregnancy, menstruation, pap smears, and witchery colour the tracks and create a spattered, intimately fluid feeling in the transition of pieces. Is selling art tatamount to selling the key pieces of oneself, and if so, how far can you bleed that self before it blanches out for good?
#34: School Of Seven Bells – SVIIB
A triumph born directly out of a tragedy, SVIIB is likely the last School Of Seven Bells album. During the process of recording, band co-founder Benjamin Curtis died of sudden-onset lymphoma, leaving singer/synth-player/song-writer/lover Alejandra Deheza to finish the process of this final document on her own. This album – which Deheza called in a P4K interview “the whole arc…[of] our relationship over 10 years” – is a soaring, anthemic tribute to him, one final blowout of synth-pop bliss that the duo had been making a claim on for quite some time. Knowing the circumstances behind the songs, it’s hard to hear those swelling pads and those pounding synths without getting all teary-eyed. Onions. Why is the world so full of onions all the time?
#33: Thee Oh Sees – A Weird Exits
You know what I like about John Dwyer? No matter what weird deviations he’ll take you on, no matter what sort of strange psychedelic noises he’ll use to keep you awake and paranoid, he always delivers on his main promise, which is to melt your face off in the course of an album. A Weird Exits does this in a primal way that few bands, then or now, have been able to accomplish.
#32: NAILS – You Will Never Be One Of Us
Twenty-one minutes of pure destruction.
#31: Jambinai – A Hermitage
Post-math, to be sure, but post-math that takes it a step beyond by integrating a number of Korean instruments into the usual guitar-bass-drum Western rock lineup. Ever wanted to hear a geomungo or a haegum alongside a guitar? Look no further.
#30: The Liminanas – Malamore
A French garage band so true to form that you’ll swear you’re sitting on a ratty brown couch watching them play battered instruments through mismatched amplifiers. Also, it’s filtered through a sunrise-coloured love of spaghetti western tones, so it doubles as a great soundtrack for the leadup to your next fight.
#29: Tim Hecker – Love Streams
Veteran ambient composer Tim Hecker turns his attention to a somewhat calmer set of inspirations than his previous works on Virgins or Ravedeath 1972. Love Streams was recorded in part with the Icelandic Choir Ensemble and sounds like the Northern Lights were captured and turned into music. If Marcel Theroux’s Far North were ever turned into a movie, Love Streams would be it’s soundtrack.
#28: Heron Oblivion – Heron Oblivion
A lysergic mixture of Low-style slowcore songcraft and searing psychedelic guitar noise that sits as the vanishing point between J. Mascis and Neil Young. Come for the gloomy atmosphere, stay because the guitar lines have sliced off your limbs and you can no longer even crawl away from the carnage.
#27: Santigold – 99 Cents
A cross-genre trip across the psyche of one of the most entertaining performers to survive the transition from the 2000s to the 2010s. Pop, R&B, hip hop, dancehall, and alt-rock styles dance in clockwork with each other, creating an album that has a little tasty morsel for anyone who happens upon it.
#26: Bat For Lashes – The Bride
A lush concept album about the spiritual journey of a woman whose fiance dies in a car accident on their way to the wedding. Natasha Khan brings all of the fire and pop sensibilities that informed her previous albums and ramps them up to another level here. She treads a fine line between impassioned and histrionic and comes across the gorge free and full of new life.
#25: Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
The Detroit rapper has been tracing a path toward a Universal Theory of Pure Fire for a while now but Atrocity Exhibition accelerates that path like Zizek blowing up the dialectic on a Tuesday. Borrowing a title and an aesthetic from Joy Division, VHS glitch, and the decay of his own home city, he and a scant lineup of guests (which still manages to include Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt on the same song) create something edgy, sharp, and stabby. Did I mention he’s on Warp Records now? Bizarre soundscapes, interesting samples, and his own hectoring B-Real-esque voice (another guest, by the way) are now the order of the day.
#24: Angel Olsen – My Woman
After 2014’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness I would not have been shocked if Angel Olsen’s subsequent album(s) would have been total flops – how do you even follow up such a delightful mixture of rustic folk, Leonard Cohen, and amped-up rock ‘n’ roll? As it turns out, the answer to that question is My Woman. Her voice is on point as always, but the arrangements have been cleaned up in such a way that they manage to crossover several different genres while simultaneously displaying a seemingly newfound love of pop hooks. “Shut Up Kiss Me” is one of the most impassioned songs you’re likely to hear this decade.
#23: Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
Sturgill Simpson has made a name for himself as the gigantic thorn in the side of the stuck-in-traffic-boring Nashville country music establishment. Not content with merely reproducing pop tropes with a light twang for the profit of corporate stooges, Simpson wants to keep the spirit that informed the best of country music alive: Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, a little bit of Waylon Jennings from time to time. None of them would make it in modern Nashville; all of them are responsible for its powerhouse success. A Sailor’s Guide To Earth shows that there’s a way forward from shlock bullshit like Keith Urban and Florida-Georgia Line: tough, wiry arrangements that utilize as much blues as they do country ideas; a horn section that sounds like heaven taking off; a serious approach to theme and lyrics; and a willingness to mix it up with balladry that isn’t just whitewashed R&B – check out the soulfulness of “All Around You” to get a good feel for that. He’s also been a vocal opponent of the Nashville establishment, which makes his success all the more satisfying.
#22: Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate
The last two or three years have seen American black musicians go in one of two directions. Artists like Young Thug and Future are pushing U.S hip hop further into the future, melding genres and pursuing ever-more-cutting production. An equally as interesting group have chosen to go back to forms of black music from back in the 20th Century. Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus have been going back to jazz for inspiration in their neo-freakouts; Childish Gambino abandoned his clownish rapping for a dead-on funk homage; Dre’s last album had Kendrick’s fingerprints of old-school funk and soul all over it; D’Angelo chose to stake his comeback (and win) on gritty old soul music in the vein of Sly Stone; Beyonce even managed to pull out big, brassy Texas country on her album, and her sister used those old soul vibes to nearly become the Top Knowles Sister of 2016. Michael Kiwanuka goes more psychedelic, crafting a series of songs whose hearts rest in a certain type of music the Sixties turned out that can be best summer up by a compilation album called Forge Your Own Chains: Ballads and Dirges. These are songs drawing inspiration directly from road-trip Americana, lysergic long-form psychedelic exercises, and a heavy sense of sorrow and uncertainty. Where the bands on Forge Your Own Chains drew out their sorrow in organ drones, Kiwanuka uses piano, guitar, and horns to create a busy sense of the struggle to get on. “The struggle” is right, too: Love & Hate also taps into that new (depressingly old) sense of political outrage, the one that knows that even fifty years after the Civil Rights Act, being black in white America is difficult at best.
#21: Deerhoof – The Magic
For a band that’s been going for something in the ballpark of a decade now, Deerhoof manage, on their latest album, to top their previous work and put together an even better collection of quirky, fractured, ultra-busy pop that doubles as a kick-ass guitar rock album. I say this every time Deerhoof put out a new album, and every time I genuinely mean it.
The breakout star of Dre’s Compton album last year came into his own in a big way in 2016. Malibu is a rich gumbo of funk, soul, and jazz-inflected hip hop; in other words, it’s got Kendrick Lamar’s fingerprints all over it and we should start thinking of a name for this movement, or something.
#59: Swans – The Glowing Man
Less crushingly oppressive than previous Swans efforts, Michael Gira and Co. still manage to make two hours of music sound like the far end of forever. Unlike older Swans albums, The Glowing Man is more filled-with-air, esoteric, and ambient, which makes for an interesting contrast.
#58: Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
Dev Hynes makes modern R&B that’s trapped in a hole-in-the-wall dance club in the Eighties, like if Prince were actually Frank Ocean in disguise but from Brooklyn instead of L.A. His voice is thoroughly modern but his instrument choices harken back to the days when world rhythms and funky, squelchy synth sounds were de rigueur for hit songs. As much of a solid, exuberant pop album as it is, it’s also a volley fired into the increasingly uncertain night; Hynes describes it as “for everyone told they’re not black enough, too black, too queer, not queer the right way, the underappreciated. It’s a clap back.”
#57: Moon Hooch – Red Sky
Two saxophones and a drummer, baby that’s all you need. With the airless pretentiousness of the way people treat jazz in modern times – as though it were stately classical music to be played in the company of august rich white people – it’s easy to forget that it has it’s origins in dance music. Brooklyn’s Moon Hooch have not forgotten that – Red Sky is a collection of funked-out grooves that pop right out of speakers with a strut rarely heard in modern jazz. If prog rock was the sound of dressing rock ‘n’ roll up in a tux, and fusion was the sound of jazz trying to catch up with it, Moon Hooch is the sound of that tux being ripped off and cast aside in favour of some club wear, or at least a comfortable pair of shoes.
#56: PUP – The Dream Is Over
Two or three times a year, a band comes along and reminds us why punk rock continues to be a vital and life-changing force in rock ‘n’ roll. Typically these bands are from Toronto. PUP is no exception.
#55: Yak – Alas Salvation
Speaking of life-affirming punk rock, here’s some from across the pond. Crunchy, heavy, and off-the-wall, Salvation is an album to get drunk and fall apart to.
#54: Kacy & Clayton – Strange Country
A gorgeous collection of backwoods folk, country, and pop influences, Strange Country at times lives up to its name exactly. It’s a little bit June + Johnny and a little bit Grateful Dead all at once, a breeze with a hint of a storm coming.
#53: A$AP Ferg – Always Strive And Prosper
As his first album’s name implied – and as he affirms on the first track here – A$AP Ferg is a bona fide Trap Lord. On his second album he manages to outdo everyone else in A$AP Mob except maybe Rocky, who still holds the chiefdom by the skin of his teeth. Unrepentant hedonistic trap music for the Drake era.
#52: Dalek – Asphalt For Eden
The New Jersey alt-hip hop group hadn’t released an album since 2009, and were in fact on “permanent hiatus” from 2011 to 2015. A move off of Mike Patton’s Ipecac Records to Profound Lore (a Canadian, mostly metal label) prompted a return to the studio however, and the result is exactly right. Asphalt For Eden is unmistakably a Dalek album: lo-fi, ambient-industrial production, subversive wordplay, and blatantly uncommercial lengths. The perfect companion for a slow, suffocating apocalypse.
#51: Deakin – Sleep Cycle
Deakin – whom we all blame for Centipede Hz – used a Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of this album. When he sort of fell off the radar after making his funding goal, people were up in arms about being cheated, defrauded, etc. What really happened was the story of a guy who’s caught at the worst possible conjunction for an artist – a horribly anxious perfectionist, aka “Kanye West”. The album that finally came out, though, is pure spun gold, an affirmation that, stripped of all their acid-drenched childlike wonder and gonzo borderline-annoying studio sounds, the best Animal Collective songs are actually Deakin songs. Who knew?
#50: Lucy Dacus – No Burden
Part indie-rock also-ran to Courtney Barnett (or, at times, Florence Welch), part world-weary country-folk album meant to burn a candle to. The entire album functions as a slow-burn epic crafted out of individual slow-burn epics.
#49: Matmos – Ultimate Care II
The sole instrument on this album is the group’s Ultimate Care II washing machine – poked, prodded, drummed on, and recorded while running normally. If that doesn’t intrigue you then I don’t know what would.
#48: Autolux – Pussy’s Dead
A spare, mysterious sort of record, with drumlines that bring to mind Radiohead – early Bends-era Radiohead. This also goes for the vocal melodies, which at times seem lifted whole and breathing from the darker parts of that seminal album. Think of the spirit of The Bends filtered through a more Hail To The Thief sound and you’ll be halfway there.
#47: Africaine 808 – Basar
A German take on world music, filtered through a lens of psychedelic electronic production that revels . Call in global acid, if you have to call it something.
#46: Brood Ma – Daze
Aggressively experimental IDM that crosses over into industrial territory fairly often. Most of the tracks on Daze are less than two minutes, and it comes across like the breezy spirit of Robert Pollard fronting Skinny Puppy for kicks.
#45: Josephine Foster – No More Lamps In The Morning
A re-recording of older material, No More Lamps In The Morning feels at first blush like another entry in the Joni Mitchell-Joanna Newsom continuum, but it taps into something older than that. It’s music that might have felt at home at the end of the Second World War, proving that above all good music knows no age.
#44: Cross Record – Wabi Sabi
Wabi Sabi is an album that rolls over you in slow waves, rocking you gently in the same way that a ship stranded at sea in calm, windless waters will walk you gently. In the back of your head, you know there’s something dark swelling in the background – never making it home again, for instance – but you’re too relaxed to do anything about it.
#43: Kevin Gates – Islah
Kevin Gates is simultaneously two things: a hard-edged street dude with a tattoo of a gun on his hand and a penchant for teaching you a lesson with “bullet after bullet after bullet”. The other is an emotional ladies man, who talks about his complicated relationships and his bedroom moves in explicit detail. Thus, “2 Phones” is his signature, an anthem so specifically true to himself that it seems obvious: two phones, one for the plug and one for the load.
#42: Savages – Adore Life
The London band’s sophomore album is denser, tenser, and thicker than their searing debut. “Evil” fights like “Husbands” did, and “T.I.W.Y.G.” is their most punk rock song yet. The title track is the centerpiece though: is it human to adore life? Because I adore life.
#41: Yorkston/Thorne/Khan – Everything Sacred
Three supremely talented players craft a fusion of Western folk, jazz, and Indian music that mesmerizes and energizes as much as it soothes the soul. Much of it was improvised, if you ever want to feel bad about your own creative talents.
The companion album to A Weird Exits is also a fascinating album in it’s own right. It’s lighter, arier, and except for “Unwrap The Fiend, Part 1,” devoid of the hard-hitting bounce that later Thee Oh Sees albums have come to be structured with. Another look into John Dwyer’s increasingly kaleidoscopic head.
#79: Mykki Blanco – Mykki
Michael Quattlebaum, Jr. is the queer community’s foot-in-the-door to the mainstream hip hop world. His Mykki Blanco character began life as a teen-girl YouTube channel before taking on a life of its own as a fully-formed activist/performance-art piece. Mykki Blanco’s debut LP, simply titled Mykki, is a hard-hitting collection of modern hip-hop themes filtered through Mykki’s influences: Lil’ Kim, Rihanna, GG Allin, Bruce LaBruce, and the riot grrrl movement.
#78: Case/Lang/Veirs – case/lang/veirs
A supergroup born in Portland, case/lang/veirs came about after Canada’s k.d. lang moved to the city and met Neko Case and Laura Veirs. For American indie heads, Case is the draw, with her solo and New Pornographers pedigree, but Lang and Veirs end up contributing the best parts after all. Part dusky Americana and part bittersweet indie, the album sounds like old books smell.
#77: Tim Heidecker – In Glendale
Tim Heidecker – of Tim & Eric fame – sets out to skewer 1970s singer-songwriter tropes and the woes of suburban mediocrity and ends up crafting something honestly emotionally affecting. Maybe it’s the seeming earnestness with which he approaches his absurdly banal subject matter or the ease with which he seems to take the concept of killing people and turns it into a slick metaphor for having an emptiness in your life where someone used to belong. Maybe it’s his usual uneasy humour – either way, it works because it knows it shouldn’t and does so anyway.
#76: Death Grips – Bottomless Pit
I’ve said this before, but: Death Grips are less a musical act and more of a piece of performance art satirizing the modern music industry, or, more accurately, a trio of post-modern noise terrorists. After the hyped-out hoopla surrounding Jenny Death, the last half of their last album, they claimed that they were done and they’d never record again. Of course this wasn’t true and of course they would continue putting out music that is as much experimental art-punk noise as it is edgy hip hop. That’s where the satirical part comes in – everyone knew it was a wink-and-nod job from the get-go, and everyone played along because that’s what you do. Who said irony was dead? Bottomless Pit is not the group’s “best” album (if you can ascribe a ranking to any of their albums) but it is definitely the logical next Death Grips album, and “Giving Bad People Good Ideas” is definitely in the top five best Death Grips tracks.
#75: Mitski – Puberty 2
There’s something almost off-putting about Mitski Miawaki’s voice as it seems to deadpan across an intoxicating blend of electronic and indie rock influences. When she ramps up to soaring, however, there are very few that can match her in the indie world. She comes across much like St. Vincent, if Annie Clark dropped the guitar wizardry in favour of reveling in lush textures.
#74: White Lung – Paradise
Who said riot grrl was dead? Oh, no one? No one said that? Anyway, White Lung is a strong entry into the canon of righteous women who breathe fire and live punk rock. More straightforward (and therefore less hardcore) than 2014’s Deep Fantasy – “Hungry” could be a radio track ferchrissakes – it nonetheless functions as one hell of a punch in the nose to the capitalist patriarchy we all find ourselves mired in.
#73: Vince Staples – Prima Donna
There is officially no stopping Vince Staples. Even in a format as short as this twenty-minute EP he dominates rappers with albums four times as long. He’s an artist who knows exactly what his sound is, and how to get it – and it’s utterly riveting listening to him get it, again and again.
#72: PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
PJ Harvey – perhaps the greatest living holdover of the 1990s – spent her last album examining the weighty idea that perhaps England’s greatest days were finally behind her. Five years later she crossed the Atlantic and swapped macro-examinations for micro; The Hope Six Demolition Project is a collection of songs about the HOPE VI American government project that looks to refurbish run-down urban housing projects, if by “refurbish” you mean “gentrify and kick out anyone that can no longer afford to stay.” You can tell how on-the-mark she was with the single “The Community of Hope”, inspired by a trip to the south side Washington D.C., when several prominent city politicians complained that it put them in a bad light. In her review of the album, Pitchfork’s Laura Snapes asked “By pointing out the problems in these three communities, but proposing no solutions, is she (Harvey) just as responsible for their desertion as the global powers that came before her?” No, Laura, and furthermore that’s the sort of inane question that shows why people have trouble taking P4K seriously anymore. Is pointing out problems exactly like domestic economic imperialism? I guess, if you’re a faux-progressive searching for something “important” to say.
#71: Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
In which the former Community star and current Atlanta mastermind thankfully ditches straight rapping (which he’s not particularly good at) for a horny love letter to Seventies psychedelic funk which is, as it turns out, something he is good at. While it seems at it’s heart to be a straight tribute to his parent’s record collection, it’s such a good tribute that it’s hard not to grin ear-to-ear when you listen to it.
#70: YG – Still Brazy
In a hip-hop world consumed with Kanye, Drake, J. Cole, Young Thug, Frank Ocean, Future, and every other singer-first-rapper-second out there, it’s a weird breath of fresh hear to hear some honest, no-foolin’ L.A. gangsta rap. YG is hard af and “Who Shot Me” is a menacing track the likes of which haven’t been heard since Snoop was 18. Also, it has to be said, YEAH YEAH FUCK DONALD TRUMP.
#69: Plague Vendor – Bloodsweat
Visceral, go-for-the-throat garage rock with a singer who isn’t afraid to go absurd in his search for rock ‘n’ roll hedonism. The guitarist has figured out how to turn his instrument into a switchblade as well, so he’s no slouch either.
#68: Damien Jurado – Visions Of Us On The Land
Desert folk best played at night, all reverb and stars and surreal imagery. A little bit Neil Young and a little bit Bill Callahan, it’s a road trip through the mind as filtered through the lens of that old, weird America.
#67: Future – EVOL
Future keeps pushing trap forward, even when he revels in the kind of absurdity that he trades in on “In Her Mouth” or “Xanax Family”. Part of it is solid, consistent flow, and the other part is the production of Metro Boomin and Southside, who keep things menacing, edgy, and focused on the bass.
#66: Rihanna – Anti
Rihanna has spent her considerably successful career putting out singles, and then albums that collect those singles and pad the remainder with forgettable filler. Anti is the first honest-to-god cohesive album she’s ever done, and it’s exceedingly compelling to listen to her sidestep crass commercial concerns to do something artistic. Is it perfect? Hell no. It’s fascinating to listen to, though, and the song quality is there – even the ballads are a little messy and raw.
#65: NZCA/Lines – Infinite Summer
A chill bit of lite-IDM/post-disco that is also a concept album. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a dance concept album before – heady conceptual stuff is usually in the realm of overwrought rock pretentiousness, after all – but the theme works hand-in-glove with the album. In the future, the sun has expanded to the point where there are no more seasons, only the infinite summer of the title. Half the world is in ruins, while in the other half life still holds on. Everyone is going to die a horrible death eventually, but for now the only thing that can be left to do is party hearty (because it’s a disco album, come on). Party they do – in cool, smooth fashion, without fever or hysteria.
#64: Ulver – ATGCLVLSSCAP
Written and recorded through improvisations on a tour designed specifically for the purpose, ATGCLVLSSCAP stretches and distorts the boundaries between what we conceive of as “live album” and “studio album”. Ulver creates something here that is one and the same, and at the same time neither. The result is an album that is moody, atmospheric, foreboding, and primal. I said this in my review of the album earlier this year, but it bears repeating: Forget Explosions In The Sky – this is post-rock.
#63: Cymbals Eat Guitars – Pretty Years
Cymbals Eat Guitars have been the also-ran of indie rock for their past three (excellent) albums, consistently being great but never achieving the name of, say, an Arcade Fire or a Titus Andronicus. Pretty Years is their best effort yet, so look for it to be largely ignored once again, despite the adoption of some Springsteen motifs and a keen eye for appreciating the dreary parts of life.
#62: SubRosa – For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages
A textured, layered, and utterly crushing doom metal album centered on one of the best novels ever written, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. The dynamics on this record alone are worth the price of admission.
#61: The Drones – Feelin’ Kinda Free
A remarkably ramshackle rock ‘n’ roll album, heavy on the bass frequencies and possessed of a weird, stoned anger that belies the slacker ethos of its songwriting. Oddly mainstream-sounding, it’s as though Cage The Elephant took research chemicals, shorted out their guitarist’s patch cord, and stopped being so goddamn complacent.
Now that 2016 is well and truly over, it’s time to take stock of the best albums of that endless slog of a year.
#100: Greys – Outer Heaven
A gloriously blown out pile of noise, akin to …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead before they lost the wordiness and the busted speakers.
#99: Classixx – Faraway Reach
Chrome-plated funk like it was meant to be played, all groove and white decor, clothing and furniture picked to match the drugs.
#98: Amber Arcades – Fading Lines
Sometimes I think that “hazy” is an overused adjective but in the case of Annelotte de Graaf it is absolutely warranted. These are the faded Polaroids of old summer memories, set to music. Did I ever mention she has a law degree and once worked as an assistant with the UN war crimes tribunal? She’s so cool.
#97: Minor Victories – Minor Victories
Rumbling goth-inspired rock that straddles a line between clean suburban days and squalid urban nights. Minor Victories sounds much of the time as though it comes from an alternate dimension where the Batcave gave birth to modern chillwave.
#96: Paul Simon – Stranger To Stranger
2016 proved, at the very least, that the Boomers still had some creative force left in them. That Paul Simon’s best album since Graceland was merely one of them shows the strength of this. He still has that particular bouncing groove, the one that lends a sense of urgency to his marquee-light poetry.
#95: Sonny & The Sunsets – Moods Baby Moods
Contemporary New Wave with a seriously demented bent. Is “Dead Meat On The Beach” the weirdest track? “Well But Strangely Hung Man”? Either way, it’s a fractured fever dream set in the 1980s and populated with the bizarre.
#94: Dam-Funk – DJ Kicks
Electronic funk so party-ready you’ll find a drink in your hand two songs in. If it reminds you of listening to a party set over the radio, there’s a reason for that.
#93: Marissa Nadler – Strangers
Ghostly folk by a living siren, with better production values than before and a better sense of the space that Ms. Nadler’s voice can occupy. Also contains one of the (!) best Black Sabbath covers of the year.
#92: Twin Peaks – Down In Heaven
A swampy mix of T. Rex, CCR, and the Stones, an album out of time and yet completely in step with the contemporary garage scene. Perfect for the curmudgeonly skeptic of modern music on your list.
#91: Skepta – Konnichiwa
Once upon a time (2002? 2003?) they were holding grime parties in Kensington Market as a sort of cutting-edge hip hop night and Dizzee Rascal was winning the Mercury Prize with jacked Playstation beats. Now Skepta is winning the Mercury Prize with professionally thick production and having Pharrell and A$AP Nast guesting alongside old grime luminaries like Wiley and Novelist. 2016, everyone.
#90: Kyle Craft – Dolls Of Highland
Glam was always an English phenomenon at it’s heart, but in the year of Bowie’s death it’s heartwarming to see people taking up the torch (or the eyeliner, as it were) and transplanting it to their own personal experiences. Kyle Craft takes it to the American South and uses it to channel the heartbreak of the dissolution of an eight-year relationship, and it’s every bit as sneering and emotionally impactful as anything Bowie, Bolan, or the boys of Mott The Hoople ever came up with in the early 1970s.
#89: Susanna – Triangle
22 songs in just over an hour shows both an ability to be prolific and a wisdom that leans toward brevity. Also of note: soaring songcraft, highly textured production, and a voice like a more experimental Joni Mitchell.
#88: Moderat – III
German electro-pop that grew out of minimalist traditions and brought along a skeleton crew of jungle, glitch, and throbbing bass music. Ambient, to be sure, but also fully-formed and ready to chart an interior soundtrack.
#87: Teen Suicide – It’s The Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir The Honeypot
A sprawling collection of lo-fi garage pop – 26 songs of ambient, stoned ramblings, like as though Robert Pollard broke out of the British Invasion or Pavement lost the literary pretensions and recorded in a storage room.
#86: White Denim – Stiff
The album with a clear lead for “worst album cover of 2016” is also a soulful, groovy little rock ‘n’ roll album from a band that has forged an identity around delivering exactly that kind of good time.
#85: The Body + Full Of Hell – One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache
The best summation of this collaboration between The Body and Full Of Hell is that it’s a bunch of P U R E F U C K I N G N O I S E.
#84: Young Thug – I’m Up
Thugger is most of what curmudgeonly old heads and rockists hate about modern hip hop – the sing-song flows, the off-the-wall style, the break away from menacing beats that nod your head for you. There’s something simultaneously bone-headed and intellectually esoteric about the music present on I’m Up, a hard-to-nail-down quality that marks Young Thug out as an artist, rather than just another rapper.
#83: Underworld – Barbara Barbara We Face A Shining Future
A surprise, in that twenty years after Second Toughest In The Infants and “Born Slippy (Nuxx)” there is still pounding electronic music that still drives you like you’re in a sketchy dimly lit warehouse chasing glowing lights and little pills and friendly people with neon hair.
#82: Junior Boys – Big Black Coat
The Hamilton, Ontario electronic duo’s big black coat is, like so many n’er-do-well Canadian kids have found over the years, perfect for jacking things and smuggling them out. This particular Big Black Coat contains a wide array of pilfered items: 70’s-era disco-soul, early German electronica, the ghost of Detroit Techno, microhouse, and late-80’s machine-funk. The real secret behind the duo’s strength is that it’s all blended in the smoothest fashion possible, giving you the funkiest milkshake you’ve ever had.
#81: Shearwater – Jet Plane And Oxbow
Eclectic, bombastic, and possessed of a fully modern vitality, Shearwater claims the best parts of pop music from the last three decades to make something akin to U2, but without all the pretentiousness.
Wrestling is a sport (sorry, “sports entertainment”) that has elicited a rather divided reaction over the past few decades. To some it’s a tiresome recreation of patriarchal gender roles, emphasizing hyper-masculinity through a series of half-cocked storylines that repeat the same simplistic hero-villain duality over and over again. To others – and John Darnielle is in this particular listing – it’s a pure distillation of justice and morality, set up for ease of viewing and digestion. In many ways Beat The Champ is the aural companion piece to Mickey Rourke’s 2009 film The Wrestler; both focus on the grit and loneliness of being a pro wrestler. These are not the pro wrestlers of the WWE; they are the lonely men that wander the roads between the cities, going from one match in a packed gymnasium to the next, getting television coverage where they can, unknown outside of their own home regions. These are men for whom turning the heel means their career is winding down, men for whom death is always snipping at their heels. When one such character is murdered near San Juan, it is exactly as much as we expect; a life of simulated violence only leads to the real thing in the end. Still, there’s a glimmer of dawn on that deserted road: love, justice, and the raw triumph of the moment are always lingering, like the carrot in the midst of the path.
#19: U.S. Girls – Half Free
Meg Remy emigrated to Canada after toiling in the small noise labels of America for quite a while. Since then, her career has taken an upward trajectory, culminating (so far) in Half Free, which Remy explicitly mentioned was a collection of character studies in the vein of Bruce Springsteen or John Cassavettes. The characters of Half Free are far more Darkness On The Edge Of Town than they are Born To Run. These are women whom life has taken more than a few swings at, women that are on the desperate bleeding edge between life and death. A husband is revealed to have slept with all of his wife’s sisters before settling with her; another dies in a valley in Iraq and the grief of his war-widow wife is palpable. There are women who stand up and say “enough is enough” and leave their philandering and/or abusive men. It’s touched off with a lengthy slab of high-contrast Italo-Disco that stands up as a screed against the dictates of the religion of beauty. It’s a deeply feminist record, and one in which pop tropes and messy noise compositions stand together hand in hand.
#18: Ought – Sun Coming Down
The poppiest band on Constellation Records is really only marginally accessible, as you might imagine. Ought take the ideas and the sounds of early 80s post-punk and run with them, mutating them until they become something vital and alive once again. This is the relentless motorik energy of The Feelies and the skewed tilt of the Talking Heads melded with cut-up riffs from the DIY emo scene of the mid 90s, delivered with a view towards the desperation of modernity. In the hands of Ought, that desperation is surrendered to and, in that surrender, is shown to be a blissful, clarifying escape.
#17: Dr. Dre – Compton: A Soundtrack
The Great Vaporwave Album of Hip Hop – the Chinese Democracy of rap, if you will – was Detox, the supposed third album by the kingpin producer of the West Coast, Andre “Dr. Dre” Young. It was revealed this year that Dre has put Detox to bed permanently, unable to come up with anything that would truly live up to the hype. Instead, we got Compton, inspired by the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton and packaged with the eye of a man who has been watching his city change from idealistic suburb to gang-ridden warzone and back again since the early 80s. The vision and sound presented here are only partially Dre, however. Dre, whose discoveries have included Eminem, 50 Cent, and The Game, found in Kendrick Lamar a talent that would take over; if Compton bears a resemblance to To Pimp A Butterfly, it’s because Lamar has stamped his features indelibly on both. Anderson.Paak takes the Bilal role here, wrapping the retro-facing jazz, soul, and funk slices in warm buttery vocals; the songs become an introduction for every aspiring rapper that Dre has been mentoring over the past few years. It’s a widescreen, cinematic view of Dre, Dre’s city, and the West Coast in general.
#16: Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too
The Edinburgh hip hop group declared that White Men Are Black Men Too, the follow up to their 2014 Mercury Prize-winning debut Dead, would “break them out of the ghetto”. While the album still revolves around a hard centre of hip hop, the songs play with that form until it is at times unrecognizable. White Men reinterprets British pop and distills key elements out of it, then adds in influences from the continent. If calling Young Fathers “hip hop” makes no sense to you, it’s because the group has increasingly less connection to the American sense of the genre. Instead, they choose to move forward, bringing in trip hop, krautrock, British electronic traditions, and avant art-pop to leaven the aggressive vocals and focus on beats that tethers them, however tenuously, to the hip hop tradition. This is Euro-rap, in a sense; bristling with ambition and aggression, but insistent that art should mean something, and that this meaning can take on a life in and of itself.
#15: Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
Earl locked himself in his basement so you don’t have to. He details the gory, gritty details of his descent into being a young, cynical curmudgeon so that you can walk outside, feel the sun on your neck, and be thankful for your existence. When OFWGKTA leader Tyler, The Creator started tweeting earlier this year about “people” whose attitudes brought him down and that life was great, you don’t need to do so many drugs, stop being so depressed all the time, etc. it was clear that Earl was who he was talking about. The fact that Tyler’s album was a bomb and Earl’s was not is telling about who should be proferring advice to whom in the rap game.
#14: Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Just Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Melbourne indie phenom Courtney Barnett caused a lot of heads to turn with her twin EPs, packaged together last year as A Sea of Split Peas. Her debut magnifies what made those two EPs work. Barnett’s eye for detail exceeds pretty much anyone else out there whose name isn’t Dennis Coles, and she uses it to weave quotidian stories that cross class and gender boundaries. These are universalist themes: embarassment, ennui, confusion, creeping depression. The subjects are light-hearted for the most part – a girl who nearly drowns at the public pool trying to impress someone, a guy who skips off work to watch the city from above and gets mistaken for a jumper, a person who can’t sleep picking out all the mundane parts of her room – but there’s a real existential weight that drags at them. There’s real life going on here, in all of it’s ragged glory, and Courtney Barnett is the person to bring it all to the light.
#13: Girl Band – Holding Hands With Jamie
Girl Band is not a post-punk band. Instead, the Irish quartet take the sounds of post-punk and deconstruct them. “Deconstruct” is sort of a misnomer; what they really do is smash them with a hammer, melt them with a blowtorch, and weld them back together in amusing and vaguely horrifying shapes. Their lyrics are bizarre, cut-and-paste, and obsessed with food, in perfect keeping with the sound of the album. Unlike most blasphemous creations, the misshapen, mutated sounds on display here don’t ever croak out a hair-raising “kill me”; instead, they swarm for your jugular and don’t let up until they’ve rinsed your bones clean of flesh. If that sounds like a fun experience, it’s because it is.
#12: Drake – If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late
If You’re Reading This dropped like an atom bomb: completely by surprise and with devastating force. Coming out of nowhere (and a rumoured record label tiff with Birdman and Cash Money Records), it was originally meant to be a free mixtape. At the last minute, Drake decided to release it as an actual album that you had to pay for – and made millions in the process. The entirety of the rest of Drake’s year stemmed from this: the Meek Mill beef, the wild success of his diss track, the frenzy around “Hotline Bling”, and the even-more-hyped anticipation for the forthcoming Views From The Six. And why not? The record is a study in modern beatcraft: spare, menacing, and throbbing with that 808 bass. Drake’s delivery is on point, and his use of ear worms as hooks makes for an album you’ll be humming forever. If this was, as rumoured, the cutting-room floor of the Views sessions, then the future album will be a monolith.
#11: Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
In the summer of 2006 Vince Staples was 13 and being introduced to life in the crime-ridden streets of Long Beach, CA. Summertime ’06, his debut, is an attempt to capture the peaks and valleys of that time of his life, and it cuts deeply. Drug taking, drug selling, gun play, the mercurial interplay of love and casual sex: none of it is shied away from, and Vince Staples keeps a duality of magic and regret in balance for the duration. The production is handled expertly, the bulk of it by No ID and Clams Casino. The Clams Casino tracks are among the best tracks he’s ever had a hand in, especially on the nauseous “Norf Norf”. Summertime ’06 transformed Vince Staples from being merely another OFWGKTA associate to being one of the biggest emerging stars in the rap game.
#10: Viet Cong – Viet Cong
From the ashes of tragedy, a pheonix rises. Women were a Calgary band that garnered a great deal of good press for being hard-edged experimenters with indie rock sounds. When Chris Reimer, Women’s guitarist, died, half the band went on to form Viet Cong with members of Lab Coast. Viet Cong, their debut, fuses post-punk sensibilities with aspects of electronic, lo-fi, and noise to create an art rock that is specifically their own. The tracks on the record are a delicate balance between constructed hook-oriented melodies and messy, coloured-outside-the-lines noise worship. Jangly R.E.M.-indebted 12 string guitars line up next to forceful, droning keyboards and relentless drum patterns; it’s a fusion of man and machine that points toward the future even as it keeps one foot entrenched in the recent past.
#09: Grimes – Art Angels
The effort to follow up Visions, her 4AD breakthrough, has been painful. It’s only been three years, but in that short time the Montreal singer has already recorded and scrapped an entire album, leaving only the enigmatic single “REALiTi” as proof that it had ever even existed. The reasons were probably numerous, but the most obvious one is that the scrapped album featured production work by other people, and Claire Boucher is not the sort of artist to let other people do her speaking for her. Art Angels instead features songs and production by the artist herself, a package of visual and aural media that outlines the particular, peculiar vision that is Boucher’s very own. This is pop that isn’t afraid to be pop, filtered through the lens of someone for whom pop means something different from the way the rest of us use the word. This is an album where “high concept” and “ridiculously catchy” can exist side by side without it ever being considered strange, where the cheerleader-esque vocals on “Kill V Maim” can seem perfectly right, rather than a Gwen Stefani-style effort to seem hip. This is, in short, pop as it should be: willing to move forward, disdaining the safe path in favour of making people think and dance at the same time.
#08: Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy
Patrick Stickles is a weird dude. The New Jersey punk frontman started off as the most literate Shakespeare nerd in the indie punk world, expanded on this with a sprawling concept album that merged the U.S. Civil War with modern post-crash New Jersey, and then retreated into the small and mundane – into “Local Business”. That last album, Local Business, held odd allusions to despair, depression, and eating disorders; The Most Lamentable Tragedy expands on these themes to the extent that the listener becomes uncomfortably aware that Stickles is dealing with his own problems. In lesser hands this would be a slog, but Stickles and his band make the crushing grind of clinical depression and its resultant branching symptoms seem like the most invigorating thing on Earth. Returning to the sprawling form that made The Monitor such a messy delight, the band burns through jagged power-pop, lengthy drone-rock, burningly intimate ballads, and, in “Dimed Out”, the sharpest blast of punk rock to grace the year. It’s a triumph, all the more so because of the obviously painful circumstances that gave birth to it.
#07: Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress
The pillar of the entire post-rock genre have returned, proving that the surprise strength of Polaris Prize-winning album ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend, Ascend was not a fluke. Asunder finds them paring down their sound to its essentials, cutting the fat that mired them originally in the swamp of 2002’s Yanqui U.X.O. Godspeed in 2015 is a band that has more to do with Black Sabbath than with the avant-garde; every movement, through guitars, strings, or pure noise, is built to evoke a cacophonous drone of doom that sums up all of the existential dread that weighs down the West as we move further into the 21st Century. Godspeed have lost the train noises and the warnings about solicitors in the parking lot, but they have kept all of the apocalyptic fury that powered their best work.
#06: Destroyer – Poison Season
Kaputt brought Vancouver’s Dan Bejar into the limelight, but it was the very last thing he wanted to happen. Tellingly, he dropped the exploration of yacht rock and lite disco that informed his world-weary work on Kaputt in favour of musical snapshots of life in New York City. Poison Season offers the haze of the crowded streets, the sultry jazz of the night, and especially the wailing heartland saxophones of vintage Bruce Springsteen. Not just any Bruce, though; Poison Season channels the Boss as he was on The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle. These are songs that aren’t afraid to get lengthy, to shift gears, to fall in love with themselves as much as they’ve fallen in love with their subject matter. This is Bejar at his best, poetic and mystical in as much as he is self-deprecating and uncomfortable with himself and his surroundings.
#05: Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
Rock n Roll comebacks are a tricky thing. While any band that’s ever tasted success tries to come back after a decade or so of being apart to try to cash in on their old fame with new albums, none of them ever manage to make it work like they did before. Black Sabbath tried to recapture the magic with 13 but the only people listening were curmudgeonly “modern rock” stations that were trying to freeze the clock at 2001. Any band that ever lived through the Eighties never made it back. Soundgarden and Alice In Chains have tried to muddle along as though their respective hiatuses never happened, but they’ve never sounded the same since. There’s usually a story – some pheonix-like rise from the ashes of hitting rock bottom – and that story is supposed to galvanize their fanbase into buying the album and pretending that it’s as good as anything they’ve ever heard before. A lot of people are good at that pretense.
Sleater-Kinney, though, don’t have much of a story. Or, rather, perhaps they have the best story. They were sitting around with Fred Armisen watching advance screenings of Portlandia episodes when they decided that it might be fun to play live again. They’d been out of commission since 2005 and The Woods, an album that was commonly thought of as the best possible record to bow out on – go out on top, after all. The ten years between The Woods and No Cities To Love are so chock-full of media projects of various stripes that by all rights it should have been the story of any other band: they should have lost their way, forgotten what it meant to sound like Sleater-Kinney, and turned out a half-baked excuse to tour, like any other band stemming from the 1990s.
No Cities To Love is not that album. It is, simply put, the eighth Sleater-Kinney album. It sounds as though there never was an intervening period of time between the two. The guitar lines are still as knotted and imposingly complex as they ever were, the vocals still as impassioned, topical, and liberating. If Sleater-Kinney were the pillars of the riot grrl movement in the mid-1990s, it’s telling that they’re still a pillar as such. There is just as much room for them to carry the standard for righteous feminism in 2015 as their was in 1995, and they carry it as though it never left their fingers. Unlike their contemporaries, Sleater-Kinney still sounds exactly like Sleater-Kinney, and it’s a fucking rush to hear it.
#04: Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan Stevens is best known for his massive pop gestures. Albums like Illinoise or The Age of Adz married blissful pop melodies to orchestral symphonies of folk instrumentation and thereby made his bones. Carrie & Lowell, by contrast, sounds more like 2004’s Seven Swans, an acoustic collection released before either of those aforementioned albums. This is Sufjan Stevens stripped down to his elements – guitar, voice, maybe some piano here and there for effect. Despite this, he manages to fill the sonic room just as well as he does when he’s piling on hundreds of voices and crafting shaky little symphonies to John Wayne Gacy. The songs sound gigantic, and a lot of that has to do with the way he’s learned to use his voice over the past decade.
The origins of Carrie & Lowell stem from the 2012 death of Sufjan’s mother, the titular Carrie. Life with Carrie was difficult as she was both a paranoid schizophrenic and addicted to drugs and alcohol. After Carrie left her family, Sufjan only saw her on vacation with his new stepfather, the titular Lowell – who also manages the Asthmatic Kitty record label that Sufjan has recorded for since the beginning of his career. Carrie & Lowell is a reminiscence of sorts of those times, and as such it performs two functions. First, it allows Sufjan to grieve, by committing all of the good and bad parts of his memories to song. Secondly, it’s consistent referencing to Oregon makes it so that it can be said that Carrie & Lowell is the third in Sufjan’s half-joking ambition to make an album for each of the 50 states (Michigan and Illinois being the first two).
Carrie & Lowell is an album about grief and death, and the hope for rebirth that can spring from them. It runs the gamut from bleak to hopeful, and it encompasses Sufjan’s faith in a way that doesn’t feel overt or forced. It’s a spiritual album by a spiritual man that doesn’t shove its spirituality down your throat – a rare item indeed in these times.
#03: Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
Josh Tillman was originally a member of Seattle neo-folkies Fleet Foxes. When that project went on apparently indefinite hiatus he tried his hand at solo albums. When those solo albums went nowhere, he created the character of Father John Misty, a lothario and a “ladies man” whose mixture of self-aggrandizement and self-loathing made him a compelling, sarcastic, hilarious character on Fear Fun, the character’s debut. There’s only so far you can go with a character like that, though, so when it came time to record a follow-up it was a matter of anything goes.
Character study or not, all things flow from the author. Given Tillman’s subsequent marriage, it is unsurprising that I Love You, Honeybear is an album at once about the fear and uncertainty stemming from one night stands and casual relationship and the surprising stability and comfort of a more lasting relationship. This is an album where a girl almost dies in his bathtub, where he can’t perform for the most annoying girl he’s ever met, where he stumbles in wasted at seven in the morning screaming that he’s going to get some girl pregnant. That this is also an album where two lovers watch the economic apocalypse occur, where Tillman yearns to actually talk to his lover and not just on a phone or tablet, and where he outlines how he met his wife and what he thinks their future holds, cannot be overlooked.
Tillman melds the best parts of the singer-songwriter tradition to create a vision that is, at its core, scruffy folk-pop, but a scruffy folk-pop that sounds fully realized and artistically sound. Strings, pianos, and guitars are everywhere, and yet never does one voice seem to overpower any other, even Tillman’s own. It is worth mentioning that the best part of “Chateau Lobby #4 (In C For Two Virgins)” is not Tillman’s impassioned account of giving in and taking the plunge, but the mariachi horns that burst out near the end of the song, a brass orgasm that feels more satisfying than any other musical moment this year.
#02: Deafheaven – New Bermuda
Black metal was long ago relegated to the extremes of even an extreme musical movement like metal. Rather than clearly defined riffs and brutal, gorilla-like vocals, it preferred to blur everything together, approaching shoegaze more than Slayer. It was a movement that was staunchly anti-commercial, trying to be as edgy as possible while conjuring up sounds that eerily approximated the howl of the Norwegian winter.
The second wave of black metal involved the Americans, who adopted the sound of black metal – blurring riffs, blastbeats, howling vocals – while ditching much of the immature, pretentious Satanism that infested the Norwegian bands. Deafheaven belongs to a movement that is beyond even this second wave – a movement often decried as not being pure enough by black metal purists. This includes Liturgy – the ultimate in Brooklyn hipster appropriations of musical styles – and Deafheaven.
Sunbather, Deafheaven’s breakthrough album, was a howling merger between black metal, noise punk, and shoegaze, a metallic meeting of genres that absconded with traditional metal imagery altogether in favour of class struggle, alienation, and isolation. New Bermuda carries on in this vein, albeit in a bleaker way. New Bermuda is, at its core, an album concerned with the abanonment of joy. Nothing feels good anymore. Work is drudgery, and the life that comes after it has become drudgery as well. Hobbies barely stave off boredom. Sex doesn’t happen anymore. Life is intolerable, inescapable, and the only way out is through the bliss of death.
At the same time, New Bermuda musically invokes a chilling, majestic form of joy all its own. The black metal core is still there, but there are also more straightforward nods to traditional heavy metal structures, drone-noise, and hazy dream pop moments. It is as surreal as it is bleak, and it moves New Bermuda from being unrelentingly bleak to be relatably so. It’s the sort of depressing montage of images that can avoid being overwhelming by resonating with nearly everyone who listens to it. This is life, warts and all, dressed up in the best cross-cultural promotion of heavy metal styles heard in decades.
#01: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
2015 was the year the scab of racial relations in America broke open again, spilling centuries-old pus from coast to squalid coast. It began before the year, with the Trayvon Martin tragedy, but it picked up steam with a dizzying series of shootings of black men by the police. Ferguson, loose cigarettes, and the argument of whether being young, black, and male in America was a de facto death sentence became household talking points in a country increasingly divided along class and racial lines. This was the year of Black Lives Matter, a protest group born out of racial protests and the target of a new young conservative movement that decried social justice, racial justice, and the idea that being white and male gave you privilige at all.
Into this uncertain and divided year came Kendrick Lamar once again, following up the hip hop masterpiece of good kid m.A.A.d. city, an album that examined youth, gangbanging, young love, and alcoholism. From the start To Pimp A Butterfly is completely different, although no less masterful than its predecessor. Beginning with the sample of Boris Gardiner’s “Every Nigger Is A Star”, Kendrick throws racism and racial identity in the face of the listener. The song was the title track to a Jamaican movie from the early 1970s, part of the early attempt to reclaim the racial slur from white racists and encourage black pride across the world. That the world the sample is reborn into is as starkly divided as the one the original was created in is telling, and likely not an accident. This is an album that considers racism and stardom in equal measures, conflating the two in a myriad of ways. “Wesley’s Theory” examines the problem with black men becoming famous and then losing all of their money, having been pimped out by the media industry; “King Kunta” talked about escaping the cycle of poverty and what losses that entails; “Institutionalized” discussed the corruption of wealth and the hardening of the soul that the pursuit of it produced; “These Walls” seeks solace in the allure of sex but can’t escape the circle of violence and retribution; “u” and “i” are the mirror images of each other, showing the duality of self-disgust and self-confidence, self-hatred and self-love; “Alright” became the Black Lives Matter anthem; “Momma” and “Hood Politics” are about being true to himself as an artist and a performer; “How Much A Dollar Cost” has him meeting God disguised as a beggar in South Africa (it was also President Obama’s favourite song of 2015); “Complexion” and “The Blacker The Berry” tackle respectibility politics and the problem of racialized self-hatred; “You Ain’t Gotta Lie” discusses the problem of returning home after finding any sort of fame, especially if there’s a racial element involved.
At the same time as it opens up discussion of the issues, it changes the dynamic in hip hop completely. One of the biggest complaints about the album from hip hop heads was that there weren’t any “bangers” on the album. That is to say, there weren’t any traditional trunk-rattling hip hop anthems (although this is debatable depending on how far you stretch the definition). Instead, Kendrick abandoned traditional “beatcraft” for a swampy mix of funk, soul, and jazz – traditional forms of black music, in other words. The Flying Lotus crew, especially Thundercat, provided a lot of the mixture of bass and jazz freakouts; George Clinton guested in spots and brought the funk; Bilal stepped out of his road up from tragic obscurity to slather his soulful voice over everything. It wasn’t hip hop like the radio was blasting, but it was the first album in a long while to span the traverse of black music and amalgamate them into something greater than merely the sum of its parts.
That’s not even getting into the running theme of the album. On first blush, a lot of people found the title ridiculous, and on the surface it is. “To Pimp A Butterfly” – it sounds cliche and kind of cringeworthy. When Kendrick reveals the real source of the title – in a poem he reads to a cut-and-paste incarnation of the late Tupac Shakur at the end of the album – everything becomes several grades clearer, and the title ascends from the ridiculous to the profound. Kendrick is examining the pimping of black talent – his own and others – by not just the hostile system profiting off of it, but by the artists themselves, whose dual nature and life in the institutionalizing ghetto requires them to survive by doing it to themselves. By pimping that butterfly.
In the end this was basically the consensus pick. Unless you really felt very passionately about a single album, To Pimp A Butterfly was the Album Of The Year. It’s rare these days to find an album like that, or one that elicits such strong reactions on both sides of its divisions. It’s one of those rare combinations of albums and years – The Beatles and 1968, Nevermind The Bollocks and 1977, Nevermind and 1991 – that signals a change in the tone, and furthers an established art form in new and exciting ways for the mainstream. It’s an album that will be talked about for a very long time.
Liz Harris takes a break from her day job as the screamingly quiet poet of the interior monologue in Grouper and puts together an actual band instead. True to form, though, Helen makes music that is blurred, lo-fi, and straight out of the cassette tape dream pop of 1992.
#39: Beach House – Depression Cherry
Depression Cherry brought the Chillest Band on Earth into new places in 2015: distorted, heavier places that took the smooth beds of organs and synthesizers and made them darker, dirtier, even somewhat menacing. It was a sidestep from their usual way of doing things, and it solidly affirmed their position as one of the most consistently great bands working today.
#38: Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh
For Dumb Flesh Benjamin Power, primarily of English drone masters Fuck Buttons, signed to Sacred Bones and produced a collection of noisy, mysterious industrial rock. Like Nine Inch Nails, if you strip away the pretension at being a “rock star”.
#37: The Internet – Ego Death
Sydney Bennett – producer Syd Tha Kid of OFWGKTA – was for a long time the secret weapon in her L.A. skate-rap collective. While the goofball MCs (and Frank Ocean) stole the show, she carved out her own corner of off-kilter neo-soul work. While the early music of The Internet was immature, self-obsessed adolescence, Ego Death marks her group out as one of the contemporary soul bands to watch. Cutting, chilling, and eminently listenable.
#36: Bilal – In Another Life
Bilal Oliver came running out of the gate in 2001 and had his legs cut out from under him. After a decade of struggle, he began his career again. That career has described an arc that leads up to his massive presence on Kendrick Lamar’s album, and his subsequent success all throughout 2015. On his own album, he finds a groove that is lightly funky, deeply soulful, and symbolic of his personal triumphs.
#35: Van Hunt – The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets
Another triumph from another man whose career has been a study in adversity, singer and multi-instrumentalist Van Hunt showed everyone why he’s still in it, and the fundamental injustice in the fact that relatively few people still know it.
#34: Lightning Bolt – Fantasy Empire
The Rhode Island noise band celebrated their twentieth year of carving out pure sonics by releasing arguably the best album of their entire career, and the only one to have a featured spot in a Rock Band game. What a time to be alive.
#33: Blur – The Magic Whip
After the last Blur album, the last Gorillaz album, and that odd foray with the disappointingly mediocre The Good, The Bad, and The Queen, it could be said that Damon Albarn had at long last run out of gas. Then The Magic Whip arrived to show that the fundamental concept behind this was utterly wrong. The record recaptures the magic of the The Great Escape or Parklife more or less intact, mixing a variety of eclectic rock influences into that strange beast known as Britpop.
#32: The Dodos – Individ
The wintry companion to their earlier, sunnier work, Individ found the kitchen-sink twee group deepening the grooves and adding a sharper chill to their sound. It’s still sugary with the sunnier side of the 1960s, but there’s an odd swing and crunch to it now that betrays the darker side of that decade.
#31: Tame Impala – Currents
Kevin Parker has high and being driven around L.A. at twilight when he heard the Bee Gees come on. Inspiration struck, and he steered his neo-psych Tame Impala into a more Seventies direction. Currents amalgamates disco, soul, hip hop, and that old time psychedelic into a thick, bassy stew of modernity.
#30: Miley Cyrus – Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz
Miley Cyrus grew up in public, the daughter of an annoying one-hit-wonder country singer and the face of Disney’s star-making television system. Like many such fresh-faced young girls, as she grew closer to the age of majority her brand grew tired, and a new crop of young Disney hopefuls crowded behind her. Unlike the others, whose grasp on relevance was mired in innumerable shallow pop albums, Miley Cyrus has tried to exaggerate her own blossoming embrace of drugs and sexuality. While the results have been on and off thus far, Dead Petz stands alone as a monument to the messiness of being young, rich, and in your early twenties. Backed by the best parts of the Flaming Lips, she goes balls-out into an exploration of pop, psychedelic rock, noise, and sheer ego.
#29: Ryan Adams – 1989
The question on a lot of music site surveys this year is: 1989 – Taylor Swift or Ryan Adams? The answer is, unequivocally, Ryan Adams. The ability to turn a Max Martin number like “Shake It Off” and play it off like it’s “I’m On Fire” is, alone, worth the price of admission.
#28: Baio – The Names
Chris Baio – bassist for indie superstars Vampire Weekend – turned out to be one of the rare people that can step out from the shadow of their ultra-famous day band and still hold their own. The Names is a pop album that manages to be memorable, fun, and throbbing.
#27: Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss
There’s frigid gothic atmosphere and then there’s Chelsea Wolfe.
#26: Tobias Jesso, Jr – Goon
Before Goon, Tobias Jesso, Jr. was another hopeful songwriter adrift in a vast L.A. scene of hopeful songwriters. Following personal and family trouble he left his dream of writing songs for Adele and went back home to Vancouver, where a collection of very cool people (members of the Black Keys, the New Pornographers, and Haim) helped to produce Goon. Now he’s a critical darling writing songs with Adele. That’s Hollywood, baby.
#25: The Decemberists – What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World
The King Is Dead was a foray into what the Oregon band called “American folk” – code for Neil Young and R.E.M. It was, admittedly, pretty great, but it sidestepped the fact that they had largely disappeared up the ass of their own fey English style on The Hazards Of Love. What A Terrible World resolves this, dialing back the self-indulgence to return to a streamlined version of what made them great in the past. This is the Decemberists of “O Valencia” and “Odalisque”, and it’s a welcome return to form.
#24: Death Grips – The Powers That B
Niggas On The Moon, the first disc of the two-sided The Powers That B, had already been released for free. The band promised a second side, Jenny Death, which became the subject of an internet meme – “Jenny Death When”. Given the band’s infamy as mercurial noise terrorists – more performance art than actual band – it was a legitimate question whether Jenny Death would ever actually exist. The Niggas On The Moon side was greeted mainly with confusion, after all; it was much more experimental and ambiently bizarre than anything the already experimental and bizarre group had released. When Jenny Death dropped it caused a frenzy, and as an album it serves to sum up the band’s career: it had elements of each of their previous releases, from the wilful indulgence of The Money Store to the crushing grind of Government Plates. “I like my iPod more than fucking” Ride declared on “Inanimate Sensation” and it’s absolutely true. The Powers That B is raw and sexual, music made to aggressively penetrate the listener with deeply personal force.
#23: Oneohtrix Point Never – Garden Of Delete
Daniel Lopatin signed to Warp and celebrated with R Plus Seven, an album that embraced the almost-joke genre of vaporwave with abandon. Moving beyond that, Garden Of Delete widens his range to include industrial and metal influences cribbed from his tour with Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden. These influences are dealt with in a playfully chaotic way, being amalgamated in much the same way that a tornado amalgamates a whole town into itself. If R Plus Seven existed almost entirely on the surface (and, further, what that surface meant to the listener, in terms of generational discomfort or nostalgia) Garden Of Delete exists in the ever-deepening spirals it casts down with each new sliced-and-diced sample that is presented.
#22: Joanna Newsom – Divers
Divers is a summation of everything that makes Joanna Newsom great: the far-flung prog sensibilities, the pre-modern instrumentation, the odd melodic sense that is at once slightly reminiscent of Joni Mitchell and yet sharper, wittier, and – more to the point – altogether more unique than such a comparison can really transmit. Her lyrics are even denser than her music, requiring a lyric sheet, an English degree, and a love of the theatrical to tease out all the most rewarding moments. A modern classic from one of the most fully realized artists of the 21st Century.
#21: Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Stars
If Depression Cherry was the strangely distorted deviation, the jagged wrong notes in the orchestral dream, Thank Your Lucky Stars is the return to bliss, a comforting settling-back-in that expands on their breakthrough album Bloom with a deepening sense of instrumental placement. Everything on Thank Your Lucky Stars seems weighed and measured, crafted with a sense of how it would all play out together in a small room. It was a complete surprise; a month or so after Depression Cherry, the band casually mentioned that they had an entire new album already recorded and ready to go. As far as out-of-the-blue statements from bands, this was one of the best in recent memory.
Katie Crutchfield follows up her indie-darling breakthrough with a smokier, more autumn-coloured collection of crunchy rock that would have been called “grunge” twenty years ago. A perfect balance of wistful yearning and fist-in-the-air chording.
#59: Ghost Culture – Ghost Culture
A careful balance between EDM and Depeche Mode-esque synth pop, Ghost Culture manages to give atmosphere to the dance floor, like a thick fog descending onto a crowd of ravers.
#58: Desaparecidos – Payola
Conor Oberst has spent ten years running his Bright Eyes moniker into the ground with increasingly bland and irrelevant releases. So it was a surprise when he announced he was releasing a follow-up to Read Music/Speak Spanish, his 2002 album under the name of his power-punk band Desaparecidos. Despite its out-of-the-blue nature, it hits with genuine fervor, turning politics into heady power-pop with a generous splatter of punk rock bile.
#57: Skyzoo – Music For My Friends
Music For My Friends is the jazz-cat Brooklyn version of Summertime ’06. Both albums feature the artist reminiscing about the year they turned 13 and the way their experiences at that age formed the man they would become. Skyzoo, however, puts together a solid cast of underground producers and creates something lush, dense and sticky. It’s less visceral, but for those with the inclination there’s enough packed in here to keep you satisfied.
#56: John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
The former Czars frontman is getting on in years and his wildly hedonistic younger days have left him with a case of HIV. The “Grey Tickles” is an Icelandic phrase playfully describing middle age; the “Black Pressure” is an ominous Turkish phrase describing existential fear and dread. So John Grant is scared about getting old, but he handles it in his usual deeply sarcastic and faintly vicious way.
#55: CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye
Lauren Mayberry and Co. have shifted down from their debut – it’s gone from being “the best synth pop in years” to “really great synth pop” – but here it’s largely a case of not fixing what isn’t broken. There’s big synth movements, throbbing bass, grandiose pop arrangments, and Lauren’s signature voice. It seems to work well for The National.
#54: Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
After hitting it big with their second album, 2011’s Ceremonials, the English indie group found themselves in the midst of label restructuring, nervous breakdowns, and general chaos. Out of it came a concept album that comes across like a thunderstorm conducted with real thrilling bombast.
#53: A$AP Rocky – At. Long. Last. A$AP
That At. Long. Last. A$AP was actually fairly overlooked this year speaks to how solid a year 2015 was for hip hop. In many other years it would be a real contender: part wicked flow, part smirking absurdity, and a package made out of production that made it all seem so real.
#52: The Wonder Years – No Closer To Heaven
The emo revival continues, but there are few bands that get the mixture of Sunny Day Real Estate and Taking Back Sunday as expertly correct as The Wonder Years.
#51: AFX – orphaned deejay selek, 2006-2008
Another blast from the Richard D James vault brings us a burbling, breakbeat-studded set that could have passed for one of his earlier Analogue Bubblebath EPs. Rarely does retro sound so post-modern.
#50: Wavves & Cloud Nothings – No Life For Me
Forget splitting a 12″ – Dylan Baldi and Nathan Williams are going to blend one. Each of their strengths is on full display here: Baldi brings the switchblade-punk that informs the howling work of his Cloud Nothings and Williams brings the eerie half-cracked beach croon of Wavves. It even manages to distill out the bad parts – the Cloud Nothings tendency to repeat themselves and the regrettable Wavves tendency towards latter day Weezer. Maybe they should just form a band.
#49: Sleaford Mods – Key Markets
At first Sleaford Mods make you think that punk-rap is an actual thing, Death Grips be damned. Then you realize that what Key Markets – and every previous Sleaford Mods album – is: a scuzzy, angrily working class distillation of the best Fall albums.
#48: My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall
My Morning Jacket finally recover their balance after losing themselves up their own asses. Evil Urges and Circuital were out-there elclecticism that did a massive disservice to the sort of blissed-out festival rock they perfected on 2005’s Z. The Waterfall comes stumbling back around to that sound, still bearing the tatters of their more experimental days. There are touches of prog, disco, and some of the more out-there folk stuff they were mainlining since the first Obama election, but at its core it’s a My Morning Jacket album, like they used to make.
#47: Lady Lamb – After
When I added this album to my ongoing list they were called Lady Lamb The Beekeeper; months later they’ve shortened the name down to Lady Lamb, probably because of the success of “Billions Of Eyes”. Under either name, After is an album of twee-minded, wistfully sung alt-rock, crunchy and whimsical in equal measures – as though Camera Obscura had developed a thing for late 90s college rock.
#46: Erase Errata – Lost Weekend
Why do I keep coming back to this album? It more or less slipped through the cracks of the year, and yet…is it the slick mastery of the riffs? The cracked-out bliss of the melodies? The way the album blurs by before I can even notice it, and yet it feels full and satisfying in a way that albums twice as long can barely achieve? All of the above, probably.
#45: BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul
Toronto neo-jazz band BADBADNOTGOOD manages to pull off the same feat as Adrian Younge: they make the atmosphere behind the greatest Wu member sound both comfortable and menacing. They dial down the flair and concentrate on the pure beat, making an analog backing without equal for the cinematic MC’s particular brand of storytelling. The guest work isn’t bad either; that Danny Brown guest spot almost makes the album all on its own.
#44: Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper
After hearing “Floridada” I can safely say that Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper will be considered the last great Animal Collective album. While “Boys Latin” was played into the ground by the radio, the other tracks on this record are just as good, and very nearly as irritatingly catchy.
#43: Jazmine Sullivan – Reality Show
Jazmine Sullivan had been crawling her way up the R&B ladder since she was 15 when she suddenly made the decision to peace out in 2011. One of the reasons she cited was a lack of belief in herself, and later rumours added on an abusive relationship as a further catalyst. Then in January she returned and the whole “self-doubt” thing was rendered moot: she could sing like a motherfucker, and the songs were a serious cut above, too. Reality Show is R&B with grit and heart, urban pop that is as at home on the streets and in the trap as it is in the club. Call it a comeback, but in a year of competing comebacks, call it a triumph.
#42: Windhand – Grief’s Infernal Flower
Allmusic likes to say that 2015 is the “Year Doom Broke” and while there’s something to that, it’s more of a matter of a lot of high-profile doom metal bands releasing solid albums at the same time. None of them scores higher than Grief’s Infernal Flower, though; it takes the de rigeur Sabbath riffs and cranks up the sinister dial, making an album that threatens to swallow you whole even while it forces your head to bang of its own accord.
#41: Craig Finn – Faith In The Future
Ever since Franz Nicolay ditched out, Brooklyn-by-way-of-Minnesota heroes The Hold Steady have fallen victim to the law of diminishing returns. Craig Finn, however, seems to be in finer form than ever. Freed of the need to pile on the rock n roll hijinks, Finn lets his odd voice and his strong authorial tone do the talking for him.
What is soft dick rock? Using the elements of dick to create a softer, toned-down sound. You’re free now, that battle is over, and feminism is over and socialism’s over. You say you can consume what you want now. Merry Christmas. War is over.
#79: Kurt Vile – B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down
A stronger, more focused collection of songs than his previous efforts, B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down finds the former War On Drugs guitarist coming into his own.
#78: Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf
This is most emphatically NOT a Chance The Rapper album. At all. This was drilled into everyone when Surf was released. Instead, it’s a breezy, soulful hip hop album that Chance just happens to be the vocalist on. Either way, it’s a hell of a way to spend an afternoon.
#77: Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – The High Country
Hey, remember these guys? They’ve been kicking around the periphery of indie rock since forever. 2015 brings their strongest album in a long series of years, pushing out power pop with a poppy-punk edge like no one’s business.
#76: The Tallest Man On Earth – Dark Bird Is Home
The Dylanesque folkie keeps turning out solid work that bubbles just under the radar. Dark Bird Is Home finds him getting a bit more Paul Simon, and it turns out a bit more romantic than the highs and lows of joy and despair that he’s been known for in the past.
#75: Myrkur – M
Indie popper Amalie Bruun (Ex-Cops) manages to pull off a new persona as the Burzum of the neo-black metal scene. That is to say, she is able to craft an album that is as close to black metal as humanly possible without actually having anything to do with black metal. Sure, there’s the Scandinavian song titles, the occasional chugging riff, and the backbone of screams and blastbeats, but it, like Filosofim, owes much more to dark ambient, goth, and darkwave than anything else.
#74: Prefuse 73 – Rivington Nao Rio
The veteran electronic producer turns in a warm, psychedelic collection of tracks that brings the beat back to his work, something that’s been sorely missing for years. This is an artist who made their bones on fusing hip hop to more stylish electronic elements, and Rivington Nao Rio is a welcome return to that form.
#73: Hop Along – Painted Shut
Painted Shut is strongly dominated by Frances Quinlan’s vocals; once you get over that, though, it’s apparent that the album is at its heart a love letter to the origins of indie rock – your Dinosaur, Jr, your Sonic Youth, your Pixies. Rock n roll is dead? Whoever told you that was sadly mistaken.
#72: Braids – Deep In The Iris
After the emotional apocalypse comes the time of healing; Deep In The Iris is an examination of this state, coming to terms with all sorts of uncomfortable aspects of life and reaffirming that life is there to be lived.
#71: Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer
An old friend I hadn’t seen in a while asked me if there was any good alternative rock being made these days. Speedy Ortiz is the answer to that question.
#70: Matthew E White – Fresh Blood
In a year where the need to go back to mine fresh sounds flipped the calendar from the chillwave Eighties to the piano-man Seventies, Matthew E White stood as the complicated alternative to the chord-on-chord simplicity of Tobias Jesso, Jr, and the synth-heavy sex jams of modern Tame Impala.
#69: THEESatisfaction – EarthEE
Swampy, psychedelic, and built on a solid foundation of R&B and soul, THEESatisfaction made an album that could easily be the bedroom jam of a whole new generation, if not for the sharply political bent many of the songs take.
#68: Mark Ronson – Uptown Special
The British producer pillaged the back catalogues of The Time, Prince, and James Brown to create one of the funkiest albums in recent memory. Everyone knows “Uptown Funk”, but there’s enough great stuff here to keep the party going all night long.
#67: Bjork – Vulnicura
An exquisite examination of the complicated feelings that churn up in the wake of a messy breakup. At first blush Vulnicura feels subdued; there’s nothing of the far-out musical exploration of her previous albums, and yet under the surface there is a strong reverberation of emotion that haunts the listener well after the record closes.
#66: Jamie xx – In Colour
Jamie xx is 2015’s Ravemaster General, and In Colour is his Mission Statement. Kicking off with the ominous drum n bass percussion of “Gosh”, it whips through a shocking variety of forms before peaking on the summer jam of a lifetime, “I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times”.
#65: Faith No More – Sol Invictus
The legendary funk-metal band came back strong in 2015, putting together a record that had all of the wild freedom of their best albums with only a slight blunting of their edge. While there were better comebacks in 2015 (more on this later) there were few that were as animalistically satisfying.
#64: The Sword – High Country
While previous efforts from retro-minded stoner metal demons The Sword were largely based around blissed-out riffs on old Black Sabbath tracks, High Country expanded their pallet to include some breezier stuff from the Seventies – Styx and Blue Oyster Cult, mainly. More rambling than their older stuff, and a bit more fun.
#63: The Sonics – This Is The Sonics
As the sheer force of their primitive, pounding rock and roll pummels you into submission, take the time to appreciate that these men are in their seventies.
#62: Built To Spill – Untethered Moon
The first Built To Spill album in a long while to feature more than one stellar track, Untethered Moon constitutes something approximating a return to form. At the very least, Doug Martsch is still wailing on that guitar in a manner that can only be considered his own.
#61: Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat
The grindcore legends return with more grindcore. What else were you expecting? They’re the best, and this is why.
The drone-doom-noise band finally follows up 2009’s transcendental Monoliths and Dimensions with a more immediate and visceral trio of noise-soaked dread.
#99: Rose McDowall – Cut With The Cake Knife
If you ever missed spiky, snotty Eighties pop, look no further.
#98: BC Camplight – How To Die In The North
Velvety and yet dangerous, like the upholstery on a late-70s vintage Buick.
#97: Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth
He’ll spend the rest of his career living down his ill-fated sophomore album (he recently grudgingly encouraged the destruction of physical copies of it) but Tetsuo & Youth shows where his career should have gone.
#96: Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last
Six albums, five years, and a couple of big lineup changes finds John Dwyer’s day job band rocking out bigger and harder than ever before.
#95: Destruction Unit – Negative Feedback Resistor
Blown-out industrial noise-punk, like Big Black with a better appreciation for depth.
#94: No Joy – More Faithful
The alternagaze duo returns for a murkier, more complex record that plays directly to their strengths.
#93: Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
A strong mid-career album for the veteran indie-dance group, with solid grooves and a touch of early 90s UK rave.
#92: Carly Rae Jepsen – E-MO-TION
An 80s banger of a pop record, once you get over the essential Robin Sparkles nature of E-MO-TION it becomes a great soundtrack to an energetic night.
#91: Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls
A double album of shapeable, moldable pure sound from longtime noise artist Dominick Fernow.
#90: Echo Lake – Era
This record is liquid, in that the sound expands to fill whatever room you play it in. Expansive dream-prog with an ambient touch that is deft and subtle.
#89: Alabama Shakes – Sound And Color
Brittany Howard looks a third grade teacher and sings like the Goddess of Soul. The band is okay too.
#88: Ghostpoet – Shedding Skin
Mercury Prize nominated UK hip hop artist goes full out in an amalgamation of grime, U.S. hip hop, and electronic influences.
#87: Mount Eerie – Sauna
The calmest, quietest sense of dread you may ever experience, and something of a comeback for the former Microphones frontman.
#86: Zun Zun Egui – Shackle’s Gift
A truly world-reaching experience, the Bristol band draws on a number of diverse influences to create hard-hitting, crunchy songs that are close in approximating rock n roll.
#85: Belle & Sebastian – Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance
The band takes a hard skew towards dance pop on their umpteenth album, bringing some much-needed fresh air into their act.
#84: EL VY – Return To The Moon
A meeting of the minds between indie stalwarts The National and Menomena, EL VY is one of the rare side projects that hits all the same pleasure buttons as their respective member’s day jobs.
#83: The Roadside Graves – Acne/Ears
This is a rustic country album, if it were made by a less-crappy Gaslight Anthem, or if The Men took the folk-country side of New Moon and ran with it. Which is to say, it’s as Jersey as anything else you can name.
#82: Wilco – Star Wars
The veteran alt-country band keeps that train a-rollin’, not letting age or maturity get in the way of a good rock n roll hook. It may be “music for dads with receding hairlines” as Shameless put it, but it rocks all the same.
#81: Insect Ark – Portal/Well
Dana Schechter creates a bedroom electronic record that shifts and transforms as much as it makes a serious attempt to claw up your face and wriggle into your ear.