NPR May 2018

Singer/Songwriter

Damien Jurado - The Horizon Just Laughed - A beautiful and optimistic breakup record between a man and his home.

Ray LaMontagne - Part of the Light - This really threatens to be dad-rock a lot of the time, but somehow I’m cool with it.

 

Dream Pop 

Beach House - 7 - The best Dream Pop record by a band who started in this century. 

 

Art Rock

Tropical Fuck Storm - A Laughing Death in Meatspace - Basically another Drones record in most ways, including the high overall quality. 

Parquet Courts - Wide Awake! - Savage and Brown are writing really different kinds of songs but they’re both getting better at writing them.

 

Indie Rock

Stephen Malkmus + The Jicks - Sparkle Hard - Malkmus and his band as good as they’ve ever been. 

Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel - Courtney returns with an even more rocking set.

La Luz - Floating Features - The garage surf girl group torch carriers are writing more distinct songs and having more fun at the same time.

 

 

Techno

Skee Mask - Compro - a breadth of ideas and technical perfection from one of the best techno producers.

Fluxion - Ripple Effect - Cinematic ambient techno for late nights.

 

House

Jon Hopkins - Singularity - Sometimes too indulgent, but big and beautiful ambient tech house.

DJ Healer - Nothing 2 Loose - As personal and affecting as a house record could be - stick with it for a couple listens. 

Ross From Friends - Aphelion - fun and funky big room outsider house jams, whatever that could mean.

LNS - Recons One - a fun combination of outsider house and electro.

 

 

 

April 2018

Today I kind of wish I knew more about something else other than music. What if I had intricate mental maps built for interpreting something else? What if people made art that was a series of smells that I could interpret in series while I sit at work? Should I just drink more tea and enjoy the aroma as I shift between cups and repeat, long term, the longitudinal rhythmic shifts between earl grey, chamomile, lavender, and rooibos?

 

Sometimes I realize that I need someone to discuss music with at length and that this exorcism of “dancing about architecture” would be much better as, well, “checkers about architecture.” That implies competition that isn’t necessary, though, so maybe “playing catch about architecture,” and really the architecture isn’t necessary, so maybe “playing catch about philosophy” is more apt. Philosophy sounds like a great thing to discuss while playing catch. Alas, I don’t want to play catch with strangers, because I’m probably going to overthrow the ball sometimes and they might not trust me to play another round. Or, what happens if I miss the ball on the first throw, take it in the nose, start crying uncontrollably and never play catch with that person ever again. Both the literal and metaphorical versions of this story have happened.

 

I should mention that today, in relative sparseness of things I’m actually excited about, I’ve turned to listening to the massive Autechre output of this year, in what is admittedly an egg-chicken situation. Crises of “art as faith” are always right around the corner, and there’s always an infinite landfill of electronic music on the internet, so this is really just a standard Tuesday morning. I’m disappointed by most work coming from non-electronic artists with whom I’m familiar right now, in the same way that I dislike social sing-alongs and live performances that I come across: I know these people are capable of more and they’re eschewing challenge in favor of comfort (Car Seat Headrest, Grouper). That, or they’re overreaching in the direction they know can bring them a certain success (Mount Eerie, Janelle Monae). Not changing direction, changing and challenging yourself seems natural, it’s unfair of me to judge, and I’m definitely not listening to any of those parenthetical albums from this year. 

 

This month I became less disappointed in my own artistic output, so maybe I’m holding these artists to a higher standard. Note the amount of qualms I have with many things below, which feels new for me, as this project has been more about praise than criticism when it comes to reviewing. That might mean that it’s time for an overhaul for how I interact with music, but that will have to come next month, because I’m giving you a dump of 15 good things that I listened to this month:

 

Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour (Dream Country Pop)

This, or more specifically, seeing Kacey perform “Space Cowboy” in a glittering pantsuit, is my real introduction to her catalogue. It’s a great place to start and my favorite album of the year so far. Golden Hour is made up of equal parts clever, sincere songwriting, modest but accomplished delivery and great studio flourishes. Check out the string swells in the bridge of “Slow Burn” or the synth that glows over the second verse for some great production decisions. “Butterflies” is another standout, with a perfect mix of psychedelia via keys light vocal processing, and pedal steel that wind around her perfectly understated vocal delivery. It doesn’t get any stonier than “Oh, What a World”, with long tails of sound on every separate track and lyrics about fascination with discovering the world and then, her partner as part of it.  All is not rosy in love and marriage, though, and we hear about it in the beautiful, spacious, trope-inverting “Space Cowboy.” Between this and the country disco smash hit “High Horse” is the only real dip in quality, though “Happy & Sad” is saved by clever turns of phrase and a timely key change. Golden hour is held together, but not limited by, its stellar production, turning great country pop into something psychedelic and dreamy. 

 

Say Sue Me - Where We Were Together (Indie Rock)

It’s hard to say whether South Korea’s Say Sue Me is influenced by a variety of styles, or whether those styles influenced Yo La Tengo and they’re singularly influenced by YLT. It’s not quite fair to say, since YLT never goes full on surf rock (“I Just Wanna Dance”) and have never been as exuberant as SSM are on standout “Old Town.” The mid tempo songs are all Ira Kaplan guitar and Georgia Hubley vocals, though, and they’re pretty nice! This culminates in “Coming to the End,” which is essentially “I Heard You Looking” from Painful. All of this is well done, though, and results in a great indie rock canon listen all the way through, which is a rarity these days. 

 

Confidence Man - Confident Music for Confident People (Alternative Dance)

“I must confess / I've been sleeping with your ex / Cause I heard he was the best” - from the opening seconds, you can tell that you’re in for a self-indulgent, ridiculous party album. The good news is that, for the most part, the rest of the album delivers on this promise, but in a few different ways. There’s a wide swath of influences on display, from ABBA and Aqua to LCD Soundsystem and Primal Scream. The (pretty great) goofy-ass pop singles, “Boyfriend (Repeat),” “Bubblegum,” and “Better Sit Down Boy” might have the most ConMan identity, while “Out the Window,” “Catch My Breath” and “Fascination” sound a lot like they’re Screamadelica remixes, but not in a bad way. It’s a little surprising how consistent this is. There are plenty of good album tracks, and really only one failure in “C.O.O.L. Party” and mostly successes. There also seem like there are a lot of directions to go from here, including global party domination.

 

Goat Girl - Goat Girl (Psych Rock)

As soon as Clottie Cream howls the titular phrase on “Burn the Stake” amidst the guitar onslaught, it reminded me of the excitement I had when I first heard rock music as a kid. Goat Girl captures a classic psych rock energy through simple songs tied together with weird, some might say unnecessary, interludes, but whose peaks are worth the journey. “Cracker Drool” and “Slowly Reclines” keep the country garage influence building, which climaxes with the very Gun Club-by “The Man” (Specifically For the Love of Ivy”). The back half is more sprawl than punch, but ends with a particularly good trio of rockers ending in a tasteful Beatles reference. 

 

Kali Uchis - Isolation (R&B/Soul)

There’s a lot of ideas on this album, and most of them are good ideas. The production is varied, Kali’s vocal style adapts accordingly, and there’s really just a lot of fun. It seems best when it is straightforward pop: “Just a Stranger” is gonna get stuck in your head, you might have a slight “Your Teeth in My Neck” detour, and then it will be replaced by “In My Dreams”, which sounds like some long lost Gorillaz track thanks to Damon Albarn. This up-tempo weirdo pop is not only the greatest strength of this work, it is the most unique part of the formula. This makes the latin-influenced “Nuestro Planeta” the most unwelcome detour, and the quality suffers in general after “In My Dreams.” Tyler the Creator doesn’t sound obnoxious on “After the Storm,” but he’s still not very good. Despite this, Isolation feels like a complete listen and there’s a lot to enjoy along the way.

 

Laura Veirs - The Lookout (Indie Folk)

This is my first full Veirs album, after really enjoying her tracks on the Case / Lang collaboration a couple years ago. This is about what I expected: a set of sweet and well crafted songs with a feel-good bent to them. I especially like the not-so-folk production of “Everybody Needs You,” which calls to mind moments of Marika Hackman or Jesca Hoop. Elsewhere, “Seven Falls” has harmonies that soar over pedal steel, and Sufjan Stevens appears briefly to drill home a catchy melody on “Watch Fire.” The lusher the arrangements the better for this album, which is especially apparent when the swells of “The Canyon” breaks the starkness that typifies the middle of the album. Similarly, “When it Grows Darkest” has lovely string arrangements that build well on Veirs’s simple melodies.

 

The Voidz - Virtue (Art Rock)

Woah there’s a lot going on here. A sprawl of ideas and genres has never been something I think of when I think of Julian Casablancas’s, but this is the Voidz! Just take the opening trio - we go from the Strokes-esque opener to auto-tuned madness to metal breakdowns in 10 minutes. From there, some of the most successful experiments involve the restrained funk of “AlieNNatioN,” and the electro dance pop of “All Wordz Are Made Up”. “My Friend the Walls” is a push and pull between Radiohead-like verses and a catchy power pop chorus, which barely makes sense and serves as a microcosm as how the whole thing barely makes sense. The ideas really never let up, which is admirable, exhausting, and a creative triumph in equal amounts. Casablancas’s songwriting is what makes the whole thing work: he figures out how to make the most eccentric ideas work by reining them in with his penchant for rock energy and melody.

 

Electronic Music

Alva Noto - Unieqav (Glitchy Techno)

This is Carsten Nicolai being relatable. Instead of (beautiful) formless ambience or a barrage of uncomfortably high frequencies, the third Uni album sees him making intense bass-heavy music and sprinkling his touchstones throughout it in palatable ways. The satisfying thud that runs throughout this work is the reason that I personally half the reason I listen to techno, the intricate details being the other half. A lot of tracks, like “Uni Mia” and “Uni Mic A/B” have an early Autechre feel, while “Uni Blue” is a standout for its shoegaze indebted distorted lead. The shortest tracks are the most challenging, like the disorienting “Uni Clip” and the frenetic “Uni Edit”. While as a whole, this is on the headphone end rather than the dance floor end, Nicolai benefits from using ideas from both ends of that spectrum.

 

Brian Eno with Kevin Shields - The Weight of History / Only Once Away My Son (Ambient, Shoegaze)

This is two titans of sound getting together and making something massive. It doesn’t sound quite like what you’d expect from either at this point, too: it’s darker than Eno thanks to Shields’s amazing guitar work, and it’s deep on the artsy end of things thanks to Eno’s direction. In short, it’s a match made in heaven. The A side sets the tone with Eno’s chanted vocals and foreboding atmospheres, including some really nice noisy overdubs. But the B side blows it open with the one of the heaviest pieces of music that either of them have ever recorded. Shields’s guitar has produced a lot of great sounds, but the visceral drone at the center of “Once Away My Son” is a highlight of his career, and it must have to do with Eno’s studio magic. I hope these two keep working together.

 

Christina Vantzou - No. 4 (Ambient, Modern Classical)

It’s easy to forget how avant garde Kranky’s output is, because most of it is surprisingly accessible. This album pulls collaborators from the label and was purportedly recorded in a non-hierarchical collaborative process. I’m left wondering whether Vantzou’s genius lies more within her high-level aesthetics, composition, or her interpersonal dynamics (she is a math teacher by day). All are on display here to make a work that feels cohesive throughout several different shifts in style and performance, from using processed vocals and electronics on the opening few tracks to mostly acoustic performances on the meat of the album, from “Doorway” through the contemplative “Staircases”.  The latter third is exciting and different: “Sound House” adds a dark ambient turn to the work, and “Lava” builds on the unease. “Garden of Forking Paths” features a rubbery yet sinister bass note, which gives way to shimmering synths for the closing track. This is my favorite Kranky release since the last Steve Hauschildt record.

 

Daniel Avery - Song For Alpha (Ambient Techno)

Avery is my kind of techno producer, as he turns his back on the club to make a hazy, psychedelic techno record. The dance floor influences are still there, but they’re saturated with ambient, 90s Warp, and downtempo. “Stereo L” sets a tone by winding a 303 over an atypical bass beat, and is followed by “Projector”, a fun listen that is both too fast and too slow to dance to, but just right to write music reviews to. “Sensation” actually uses a four to the floor and would probably be a banger if it weren’t for tastefully restrained sound design. “Clear” is psychedelic ambience and reverb-laden synth over sixteenth-note clipped percussion. Even centerpiece “Diminuendo,” which is the most club-ready of the tracks, is also very much not, with its descent into ambience too long and sharp before it’s awesome (spoiler-alert) huge beat drop. The latter part of the record is quieter like the beginning, with the single “Slow Fade” carrying to the locked-groove finale at the end of “Quick Eternity.” 

 

Low Jack - Riddims du Lieu-dit (Dancehall, Techno)

Philippe Hallais can be hard guy to keep up with. Is this in his wheelhouse or is this a deviation for him? These are reworking from a tape with Equiknoxx, an abstract dancehall favorite, but these cuts are quite a bit more abstract than the wax from that duo. “Partei” is particularly weird and Low Jack like, but gives way to the playful dub of “They Rule” and digital horn led banger “Brass.” The back half has the danceable “Robert” as well as the epic horn part on “Light,” which may be the highlight of the release. This convinces me further to listen to everything that Hallais puts out.

 

Plaster - Transition (Dark Ambient)

Transition is a close relative of some late-era Yellow Swans work. It is a curated improvised work comprised of distorted synths and fractured moments of melody. Fun fact: the only reviews I’ve read are from the label’s website and a weird dutch site called partyflock.nl…weird! On Transition, texture is king: it’s straight ear-candy if you like meaty fuzz and you aren’t worried about too much else. That isn’t to say that these pieces don’t Go Places (Yellow Swans pun intended); “The Climbers” is a great example of an ominous framework that comes to terrifying fruition through an increasingly broad sonic palette. “Disconnected Heart” instead rides a clean-ish synth groove to its emotional point of eccentricity in a similar fashion to a head-nodding guitar riff that rides through a hard rock song. Highlight “Unregistered Product” pairs a strong but simple harmonic development with the most intense noise improvisation. The latter half has a more ambient spin to it but not too much less forboding. See the beefy drone of “The Last Goodbye”, which I like to think of as a Jeff Buckley cover, leading into the epic “Children on the Cliff.”

 

Sarah Davachi - Let Night Come On Bells End the Day (Ambient)

I was fortunate enough to catch a Sarah Davachi performance at the Waterworks Museum recently, and this is a great document to accompany the memory of that experience. Here, Davachi’s compositions are premeditated and sequenced in a purposeful way, mores than her very enjoyable album from last year and the recent performance. The intro of “Garlands” leads into the epic organ piece “Mordents,” which itself has a contemplative intro. “At Hand” is a high-octave drone that toes the line between pleasant and unsettling. The clean piano strokes in “Buhrstone” are lovely and never fully give in to the drones that come to surround them, resolving cleanly with the key change towards the end. The drones that end this album are the most satisfying kind. They are reminiscent of Eliane Radigue’s work and carry on a lineage of pure tone exploration.

 

Vakula - Metaphors (Progressive Electronic)

In what is a really strange developmental arc, Mikhaylo Vityuk has turned to improvisation-heavy kraut-y progressive electronic as a new means of expressing himself. This is a development from a rather stark techno outing, preceded by a space epic that faithful NPR readers might remember having many different moments, ranging from funky to difficult. These tracks are built on synthesizers, they’re melodic and return to themes, and in a sense they’re a bunch of New Age nonsense. “Smooth Movement” is the most straight ahead progressive electronic here, while the meat of the album is composed with synthesizer and marimba playing off of each other. As a performer, he seems to keep the whole piece in his head in terms of where he wants the subtle development to go, which might have everything to do with the construction of the synthesizer track, which subtly but actively shifts from beginning to end, even on the biggest tracks. The marimba is sparse on both versions of “Tale of the Eternal Thought” and drum machines enter to spice up the journey, and with the Alternate Take, he creates a purely synthesizer based ambient journey.

March 2018

March was a good month of listening for me. At one point it felt like I wasn’t into anything, but I can stand by all of these picks as firmly as ever. Maybe there was nothing mind-blowing, but these are all worth returning to. 

I’ve got a slightly different format for March for the reason of trying to include more meta-data to entice you to listen to a certain kind of thing in particular.  Let me know if it works!

 

Songwriter album of the month:

Haley Heynderickx - I need to start a garden

The only album this month to really get under my skin in a personal way, which is not necessarily transferrable to you. So, probably sorry, but maybe not! Heynderickx spent years coming up with how to record this album to make it feel raw and live to represent the nature of her songs, and she did a great job. The centerpiece “Worth It” brings this into sharp focus, with its meandering form and sudden energy shift halfway through. The arrangements are spacious and bring special attention to the lush touches around Haley’s guitar, which is often strummed plainly in contrast. The best aspect of this record is the songwriting, though, which is top notch for all of the brief 31 minutes.

 

Art Pop album of the month:

U.S. Girls - In A Poem Unlimited

The iconoclastic psychedelia of Meghan Remy has finally morphed into something interesting. This is a funky, weird pop record, with tons of hooks and unexpected turns. The melodies are from the. 60s, the funk from the 70s, the vocals from the 80s, and the distortion from the 90s. There’s a threat the whole time that it’s going to become a little too arty, but it’s more of a fun flirtation than a a misunderstanding of appropriate aesthetics. The twilight driving song “Incidental Boogie” is a highlight for me, as is the gospel funk of “Pearly Gates” and the epic closer. 

 

Psychedelic album of the month:

Insecure Men - Insecure Men

My entry point with Fat White Family was a sleazy psych pop video called “Cream of the Young”, which serves as the basis for the sound of this album in a great way. This is the new project of Saul Adamczewski of FWF “fame”, and it’s the most consistent record that the extended family has ever put out. The songs are lounge dirges or relaxed psych poppers that encompass a broad range of sound inspiration, including tropicalia, carnival melodies, classic rock bangers, and even some grooves from modern R&B. The whole thing feels like a trip directly into the mind of Adamczewski in a slightly more terrifying way than FWF, or other artists who are generally less deranged. But I mean all this in the best way possible.

 

Hip Hop album of the month: 

Black Milk - FEVER

Easily the best hip hop album from the first quarter. Black Milk conjures up the glory days of Stones Throw now more than ever with his full jazz band arrangements, neo-soul hooks and soothing, even flow. The production is creative and is far less indulgent than a jazz rap album would suggest. The band arrangements serve to make a coherent whole that match really well with the world that Black Milk is creating right now. I also haven’t heard him getting much praise as an emcee in particular, but he has honed his style and his lyrical aesthetics match his skill set really well.

 

Indie album of the month: 

Yo La Tengo - There’s a Riot Goin’ on

I think it’s easy to be underwhelmed by the YLT studio albums from the last decade, but this album leans into the idea of creating something quiet and understated, and I think it works. This is the most ambient Yo La Tengo album (proper) to date, and it’s’ a really nice listen all the way through. It’s closest relative might actually be Summer Sun, which is one of the biggest growers in their discography. This has the same kind of sweetness, charm, and strange moments of dipping into unexpected musical styles. It has one song that’s clearly more of a rock song than the rest (“For You Too,” in the “Sugarcube” spot), which always leaves me wanting a bit. The whole album reminds me of their first sets when they do two set shows, which is always quiet and mostly acoustic with brushed drums and mellow vibes.

 

Slowcore album of the month:

Loma - Loma

This has a lot in common with Emily Cross’s last project “Cross Record,” in fact, you can think of it as the same continuous musical thread. This album also highlights Cross’s enchanting voice by surrounding it with loud/soft dynamics and a sort of haunting beauty. The way that the songs are composed maximizes the catharsis and drama that Cross wants to explore, though some of my favorite moments are the more lighthearted ones, such as “Joy” and “Relay Runner.” The highlight for me may be the misty “Sundogs,” though, with its Johnny Greenwood inspired guitar melodies. 

 

Post-Punk album of the month:

Iceage - Beyondless

European post punk continues to be a strangely fun thing to listen to this year. This time it’s Denmark’s Iceage who are back with a more accessible and more artsy approach to the form. This fits really well on the stalwart indie label Matador, which is no stranger to heavy, groovy music. Beyondless has punk anthems, horn-led rave-ups, and wild ballads, sometimes all at the same time somehow. The climax of the album starts with the breakdown in “Catch It” and continues through to the string arrangement in highlight “Take it All” Rønnenfelt’s vocal performances are equal parts unhinged and intentional, which fits really well into the heavier end of the post-punk canon, from The Birthday Party to The Fall to Husker Du. 

 

Electronic

 

Progressive Electronic album of the month:

Remember - City is my Friend

It’s a post vaporwave world out in the heap of audio files that is Dream Catalogue, and this is a landmark release for the transition. This takes some of the best aspects of the label’s past: weird processed ambience, trap beats, and eerie melodies, and combines them with sub bass tones and synth arpeggiation to make something that most closely resembles progressive electronic. “Your Dreams are in the Lights” uses a guitar lick in between distorted synths in a Mark McGuire new age style. The second half of the album builds to the epic closer “Let Yourself Go Into Me,” a romantic swirling epic of synthesizer sounds.

 

Ambient Techno album of the month:

Facechain - Accensor

This is another left turn from Dream Catalogue, in perhaps even a larger way than the new Remember release. This is a techno record with a range of influences, including vaporwave, but more so dub techno, dubstep, idm, and ambient. It’s a forward thinking amalgam of things, especially seen in the two longer pieces that build and release like a standard techno track might. In between, there’s the kinetic highlight collaboration with Blank Body before the moody Visage suite takes over. Somewhere in the middle of all this, I’m reminded of Demdike Stare and the way that they shifted, not seamlessly but convincingly, between abstraction and beat-driven mayhem.

 

Abstract Electronic album of the month:

Rafael Anton Irisarri - Midnight Colours

Irisarri goes full-on tape manipulation while contemplating the end of the world, which is a now-classic move for certain musicians, it seems. The result of the fuzz and hiss texture isn’t actually all doom and gloom, as there is quite a variety to the ambient storytelling here. Highlight “Oh Paris, We Are Fucked” has a more ominous frequency range, crescendo, and, well, name, but much of the album sounds like more of an exploration; the kind of thing I listen to when I’m alone and outside walking. The end of the album is perhaps my favorite suite, with the epic “Drifting” segueing into the powerful “A Ruptured Tranquility.”

 

Techno album of the month:

John Tejada - Dead Start Program

It’s hard to find good tech house that has a healthy respect for electro. This is amazing coding music: mixing mechanized structure with synth melodies that roll out and change throughout a track to tell little stories along the way. The composition is simple and precise and built around harmony-laden grooves like the ones that drive highlights “Detector,” “Hypochondriac,” and “The Looping Generation.” It’s a consistently fun listen for a genre that is usually held back by regimentation.

 

House EP of the month:

Peggy Gou - Once

Some nice lo-fi to deep house tracks with vocals from Peggy Gou herself! This is the first time she’s done vocal performances on her tracks and I think it’s a great direction and works with this style of music really well. I’m excited to hear more and see if there’s a bridge to be built between this type of house and the packaged-as-indie world.

February 2018

 

I'm back in the swing of things for the new year! Definitely a full month for me as I latched on to a solid dozen things that came out between January and February. It's fun to listen to new music! Trust me! Enjoy!

 

Shame - Songs of Praise - My favorite record this month has an album cover with pasty British dudes holding pigs, hardcore influences, and a spoken word passage about a gynecologist’s office. Oh, well, there goes my taste! But no, this is awesome. Shame benefit from their inscrutable Britishness, wielding both passion and neglect in a very UK Post-punk way. But more than anything, they’ve got a brilliance for melody and songwriting, and mostly great influences from their artistically productive little island over there. “Concrete > Rizla” and “Angie” show this penchant for Indie Rock songwriting best, with lead guitar lines floating above varied vocals from Martin Steen. Steen’s vocals are very central to the record, from his punk yelps to quick staccato to his tuneful howl, he sells everything that Shame is attempting here.

 

Alela Diane - Cusp - My first folk love of 2018 comes in the form of beautiful warm gloom of Alela Diane’s sixth solo album (and first as a mother). Diane hails from the fairytale land of Nevada City, where I assume everything sparkles with magic, just like this record. The arrangements on this record build from quiet piano or acoustic guitar to well-timed swells of strings or electric guitar. It’s consistently lovely and fairly understated all the way through; just everyday songwriting and arrangement mastery. 

 

MGMT - Little Dark Age - This is the first MGMT album I’ve listened to in my current listening paradigm, but really any listening paradigm. I was only familiar with the hits before now, and then the inconsistencies of the last couple albums as reviewed by random internet people. The good news is: this is a good album, and all the way through! There are some standout tracks, like the infectious “She Works Out Too Much”, the much darker title track, and the Ariel Pink leaning “Tslamp”, but this album really excels because of the variety of sound, genre, and songwriting. It’s a weird psychedelic pop album that’s consistently interesting and worth some listens.  

 

HOLY - All These Worlds Are Yours - Definitely the nerdiest album of the month. Possibly a progressive psychedelic pop opera about aliens, but also possibly about temporal mystery and magic that’s just out of reach. This draws a lot from Tame Impala, Spiritualized, Flaming Lips, and Sufjan Stevens, though Syd Barrett, Can, and King Crimson are probably the better influences to cite as far as general artistic influence. As I said, a nerdy record. Songs have several distinct movements and refuse to adhere to any sort of structure, which is either infuriating, exciting, or both. What makes it most listenable, I think, is the return to the arena-sized refrains that happen throughout each movement, though morphing and twisting along the way.

 

JPEGMAFIA - Veteran - Damn, Peggy! As in, Jpeggy, which I didn’t get for a while, but the whole thing barely makes sense, anyways. This is a singular hip hop tape that’s very entertaining if you happen to like weird industrial sounds and hip hop at the same time, but not even in a fun way. It’s a cathartic and inconsistent mess, but it also has pretty tight internal logic that more or less holds it together. I like it because it satisfies a very particular raw hip hop craving that you can’t really get anywhere else and that exemplifies the devil-may-care attitude of hip hop through production in addition to vocals. 

 

No Age - Snares Like a Haircut - Somewhat of a return to form for the 2-piece, but also somewhat of an amalgam of everything that they’ve done so far. They’ve hit a great point where both melody and guitar texture are working for them consistently. The combination of hooks and distortion is the basic framework of No Age, and both are more precise than they’ve been in the past. After a classic hard hitting trio of openers, “Send Me” and the title track are a spacious suite that recalls the best songs and ambient passages of the Weirdo Rippers comp. Otherwise, though, the pop punk stylings of Everything in Between and the Losing Feeling EP are the biggest precedents of the sounds explored here. 


Panda Bear - A Day with the Homies - I wasn’t so into Grim Reaper, and I’m not so into the first track here, but besides that, this feels like a really nice return to form. It’s closest relative is actually the Fall Be Kind EP from AC from 2009, with 5 meaty tracks of psychedelia. The Sonic Boom influence is very apparent, especially on “Part of the Math” and “Shepard Tone”, which use a similar psych guitar wash as the Spacemen 3 epic “How Does It Feel?” I don’t see Kember noted as having a huge part in this album, but I think he’s a great collaborator for Noah if they follow this direction. We might look back and see Grim Reaper as an inconsistent and confusing in between state to a great new Panda Bear sound. 

 

Shopping - The Official Body - For being post-punk in ethos and energy, this record packs quite a bit of funkiness and poppiness into a tried and true formula. The result is a succinct, rollicking, minor key set of songs that are uncompromising but surprisingly pleasant. It’s a great tension game that isn’t attempted by many rock bands, since it involves so much precision and restraint. These brits have it down to a science though, and it’s really fun to listen to. 

 

Ty Segall - Freedom’s Goblin - An epic sprawl of an album that makes his previous double album, Manipulator, seem tame by comparison. I have production, length, and consistency qualms for this record, but it’s easily his best since Manipulator and has a lot of good tracks to mine from for his live experience, which is the best it’s been since the Slaughterhouse days. Highlights for me are the glammy cover “Every 1’s a Winner,” and what’s basically a “She’s so Heavy” cover in “She”. Together with his best live moments being hard rock classics (or even a very spirited “Sabotage”), it makes me think he should ape old music as hard as possible.

 

 

Electronic Sounds

Pool Boy - Pool Boy LP - I’m beginning to feel spoiled already by this Coastal Haze nonsense. The balearic and tropical beats here are delightfully out of season and out of this world. This is a post Body-San approximation of pacific beats in a Vancouver way, calling to mind the glory days of 1080p and the outsider house that runs through that beautiful, expensive city. It’s delightfully lo-fi and it has cheesy touches for days. Just check out the horns and bass on uptempo highlight “Karate Kit” or the sounds of the beachside sampled throughout the tape. And yeah, gimme those beautiful chiming synths and downward spiraling melodies on “Overcast” and the decidedly un-sad groove of “Sad Groove.” I’m not sure there is a wrong way yet, but this is yacht house done right.

 

Jonas Reinhardt - Conclave Surge - Reinhardt is a sound design genius who understands his synthesizers and gets what he wants from them. When I think about my personal relationship with art, it’s much more from an angle of “what could possibly happen with this medium”, but Reinhardt sounds like he’s moved far beyond that to “how will I implement this mood and state with this medium?” This album seems to be conceptually about ritual and the mood during a ritual. I’m not sure it has connection to actual rituals though; from what I can tell, it’s a science fiction indebted alternative view of such things. Either way, you’re in good hands from start to finish here. 

 

Shuttle358 - Field - Some nice ambient textures to get you through the winter season. Lots of pops, crackles and hisses, but a distinctly electronic point of view, instead of being electroacoustic. This has a decent amount in common with Alva Noto’s glitchy ambient style, which is a great thing!

 

Johnny Jewel - This album is quite a journey. It remains pithy by keeping the running time of each individual song pretty short, and Jewel is able to cram in a lot of different sounds and ideas because of this. Johnny Jewel is the sound design behind Chromatics and Glass Candy, and this is not certain to please fans of either of those. This is more for fans of the soundtrack to the Twin Peaks reboot, where his music was previously featured. This has the eerieness of a Lynch project, switching between ambient washes and arpeggiated synths to create disparity between moods.

 

Best of 2017: Electronic Music Part 3

Top 5 Progressive Electronic 2017

I tried to learn what people mean when they say Progressive Electronic in 2017. I think it’s all about synthesizer worship, but also often concerns the self: physical body, consciousness, and the response to these frequencies. These are really all pretty general things with music, but this genre seems wholly concerned with exploring them through modular synth. 

5. XYR - Labyrinth - Not Not Fun, also known as 100% Silk’s parent label (to only me), didn’t have a huge year, but they put out this new-age hippie fried slab of wax. There are eastern music inflections and grooves for days one this one. 

4. Jon Brooks - Autres Directions - Brooks uses field recordings collected from rural France as inspiration for his latest output. The synthesizers here are more from the school of late Emeralds than Eliane Radigue, which are strangely my two best reference points.

3. Byron Westbrook - Body Consonance - This is a celebration of the kinetic aspects and raw power of synth as it relates to the physicality of the listener. I’d like to put this on in a dark space at full volume to really experience it. 

2. Caterina Barbieri - Patterns of Consciousness - This analog epic has some of the most off-putting synth sound design I’ve heard in this genre. 

1. Teleplasmiste - Frequency is the New Ecstasy - Thick, muscly modular synth drones (with a bit of bagpipe) make this a deeply satisfying listen. This is basically pure synthgaze except that’s not a thing and I’m not coining it.

Top 10 Abstract / Ambient 2017

A lot of these albums fit the genre electroacoustic, meaning that acoustic instruments are processed and manipulated electronically (usually with more than just live effects). A few of them are harder to place, because they involve largely, but not all, synth sound that’s similarly processed: looped, layered, delayed, etc. Anyways, they’re all a bit tough to parse but highly rewarding.

10. Mary Lattimore - Collected Pieces - Harp is an amazing instrument that seems to have too high a barrier to entry in most cases. Lattimore creates the best abstract harp music I’ve ever found.

9. Marcus Fischer - Loss - A fragile and beautiful work that relies on carefully plucked strings and pressed keys that are manipulated to create a singular sort of mood. Perfect for sunrises. 

8. Anjou - Epithmia - A looked-over Kranky release that’s the closest thing to a Tim Hecker album this year. The long-form composition and particular sounds that are gleaned from acoustic instruments make this a fun ride. 

7. Ryiuchi Sakamoto - Async - I’m not too committed to the life and death narrative that surrounds this release, but I’m committed to understanding it, as I get more with each listen. This is truly a master at work, and one who is still full of ideas.

6. The Transcendence Orchestra - Modern Methods For Ancient Rituals - Anthony Child (Surgeon) and Daniel Bean get spiritual in the woods and make a singular sounding drone album. It’s simple, unexpected, light, and engaging.

5. Samuel Rohrer - Range of Regularity - This sits somewhere between electroacoustic, jazz, and techno without adhering very much to any of those styles. It’s built off of processed and layered acoustic sounds but builds and subsides in a dance music fashion. I keep on coming back to try to figure it out.

4. 36 - Tomorrow’s Explorers - This is really pretty space ambient with lush strings and synth melodies. It’s really pleasant and so much more pleasant than most things I listen to.

3. James Murray - Killing Ghosts - I can’t think of another album that’s so carefully composed without sounding overwrought. The silence of the remote mountain cabin environment drew Murray’s attention to beautifully banal sounds that are celebrated here and given their space between synth washes and sub-bass rumbles.

2. Kassel Jaeger - Aster - Brilliant electroacoustic movements from an expert in the field. Jaeger creates an immersive listening world that isn’t easy to break into but whose internal logic is impeccable once you’re there.

1. Aris Kindt - Swann & Odette - You can’t beat Francis Harris ambient productions with shoegaze guitar from Gabe Hedrick underneath.

Best of 2017: Electronic Music Part 2

Top 10 House LPs of 2017

There is so much great music on this list that it's hard to take it all in. It's also hard to take in all the good house music within a year and I'm positive that I've missed quite a bit. These are all great records that celebrate the form in a myriad of ways.

10. Terekke - Plant Age - Glowing lo-fi house that’s unexpected from L.I.E.S. these days and unexpectedly good.

9. Prins Thomas - 5 - A really strong showing from Thomas, whose range is larger and more somber than his nu disco peers.

8. FP-Oner - 7 - This might have been the year that I decided to give in and love 70+ minute epic albums of beautiful music. This is the platonic ideal of deep house long players - it’s not too elaborate or too smart, but it’s a good amount of both. 

7. Talaboman - The Night Land - Two artists who I’ve never appreciated on their own come together to make some nice deep grooves with psychedelic touches.

6. Lindstrøm - It’s Alright Between Us As It Is - The best space disco from, as far as I can tell, the only space disco producer. I like all the vocal tracks.

5. Four Tet - New Energy - By far the most pleasant Four Tet album. The only bad thing you can say about this is that it doesn’t push enough boundaries, which isn’t even fair because this is house music, not experimental music. 

4. Death’s Dynamic Shroud - Heavy Black Heart - I don’t have a list for this album, because Vaporwave isn’t good enough to have its own list. This is a landmark Vaporwave album, even though it doesn’t sound like the genre it was borne of.

3. Kettenkarussell - Insecurity Guard - I’m such a sucker for melodic, wistful deep house and I’m pretty sure the rest of the world agrees with me for once.

2. Equiknoxx - Colón Man - The sound design of this record is not only unique to Dancehall, but maybe unique to all electronic music. The aesthetic choices here are right and show how wrong the choices are of most Bass music artists.

1. Octo Octa - Where Are We Going? - The most legit Deep House long player in years.

 

Top 7 Outsider House Tapes of 2017

It was a slower year for tape house with the dissolution of the great 1080p, but 100% Silk still released some good magnetic material but is really the only mainstay at this point. I'm hoping 2018 brings more retro physical releases, cause only having a list of

7. Khotin - New Tab - Truly odd ambient house from a Canadian who has been on this scene for a number of years now. He self-released this tape and I was lucky enough to get a copy.

6. Deeper Kenz - Deeper Kenz - Often bubbly house from Philadelphia that sounds a lot different than most of 100% Silk’s output. Put it on expecting a party more often than not.

5. Åmnfx - Moscow Beat - Deep and dark skeletal grooves that celebrate the lo-fi aspect of this type of music.

4. Michael Claus - Memory Protect - This is the most representative of the ambient, tape hiss-laden sound that got me into this genre in the first place. Another really good representation of the 100% Silk sound.

3. DJ Voila - Dumbledogs - This tape is remarkable for seeming to come from six different directions across its six tracks. It’s an exciting follow up for Simon Chioini, who so far, seems to not want to repeat himself. 

2. Tell - Tell LP - Jazzy tropical house that's reminiscent of Body-San and Eyeliner. This is the first great release on new new Coastal Haze label that seems to want to specialize in this sort of thing.

1. Hamatsuki - Uncertain Loops - The wooziest, smoothest, most mysterious, hardest to find outsider house tape of the year is the best one in my book.  

 

Best of 2017: Electronic Music Part 1

Why does it feel like no one likes electronic music the same way that people like other music? The more I listen to it, the more I realize that it is in the earliest branching of musical styles (so: classical, pop, electronic), and that it is the most artistically relevant of the three, though the least canonically and culturally relevant. It’s the most artistically relevant because of the possible idea space: nothing is out of bounds but little is needed. There also doesn’t need to be a purpose to it, which can result in the most beautiful and free art that you can find.

Keeping the comparison to modern popular music, there’s little to hold on to in terms of concrete ideas, and people seem to only be captivated by ideas. It’s more often an emotional response with little metadata to support an understanding of composition, purpose, or quality. It takes a lot to get into the theoretical, mostly internet-oriented culture that surrounds any of the lists that I can make within the handful of different styles that I’ve come to understand enough to enjoy.  In a way, it’s nearly impossible to really recommend any of this, and in another way, it’s really easy, there are just very specific caveats.

Top 10 Electronic Music EPs of 2017: 

This is an easy list because it’s a catch-all of everything that’s electronic and fits on 12” of vinyl. Lots of good stuff here, and it’s a sampler, so try it all!

10. Kara-Lis Coverdale - Grafts - A suite of three modified piano pieces that’s as pleasant as it is abstract, which in itself is an achievement.

9. Emptyset - Skin - This time with their own homemade instruments, this duo continues their journey into their own sound and production language.

8. Rina Sawayama - RINA - A fun trip through retro-futurist R&B stylings with a good ear for what makes pop music interesting.

7. Lakker - Eris Harmonia - This is a meaty 12” that has exercises in many different things that Lakker are great at, from grinding textures to kinetic beats to pure ambience.

6. Skee Mask - 2012 - This is the slightly more traditional of the two Skee Mask EPs, which further proves that he’s the man you should trust if you want your breakbeats in your techno.

5. Skee Mask - ISS002 - This is the more audacious of the two Skee Mask EPs as it flirts (okay more than flirts) with jungle and has a much higher density of breakbeats than he’s ever used in the past. 

4. Objekt - Objekt #4 - TJ Hertz is the most skilled and creative artist operating in whatever kind of music this is. This is the only 17 minutes he’s made in the last 3 years, so we have to cherish it.

3. Body-San - Pacific Reasons - 3 out of these 4 tracks are similar in nature to the highlights on the Body-San tapes, which is to say, they’re highlights. Definitely required Body-San listening.

2. S Olbricht - Purpleblue - One of the best outsider house producers showing great range with more traditional house and techno tropes than last year’s epic album.

1. Pender Street Steppers - Raining Again - super satisfying downtempo house that operates on good grooves and smart samples. I wish there were more things like this because this is the kind of thing I want to play at any cool party.

 

Top 5 Techno LPs of 2017

I don’t think any of these are actually techno albums, at least not in the sense that they contain material that could be mixed into live techno sets. But then again, that kind of techno is better on 12” anyways, and better off left in the 90s. There are stylistic similarities that put these albums on a list together, including that they’re all quite austere and contain little melody.

5. Steffi - World of the Waking State - A complex and interesting Ostgut Ton record. Steffi uses electro influence adds many small melodies along the way that keep things feeling human and engrossing.

4. Nicolas Bougaïeff - Principles of Newspeak - An exciting, crunchy walk through sci-fi technoscapes where the song titles get shorter, but the songs remain the same length (until the very end). 

3. DB1 - Zwischenwelt - The best minimal D'N'B album that I've heard. Full of texture, engaging, and uses the maximal version of the genre for rhythmic inspiration to an appropriate extent. The production details demand headphones and attention.

2. Claudio PRC - This is a simple exercise in setting out to make an accessible ambient techno record and succeeding to do so in every way.

1. Second Storey - Lucid Locations - Alec Storey takes complex patterns and makes them into a sensical, albeit overwhelming, whole. There’s a huge amount of precision just enough restraint to make it all work.

 

Top 5 Post-Industrial Albums of 2017

These are the most intense albums of the year and ones that I will return to when I’m in need of extremely regular catharsis in a listening experience. These all incorporate aspects of techno, industrial, and noise into some really moving art.

5. Phillippe Hallais - An American Hero - Better known as Low Jack, Hallais heads over to Modern Love for his least predictable record yet. There’s a strange push and pull between light and heavy moments on this record and he pushes to make both a relevant part of this release.

4. Perc - Bitter Music - Post-Industrial / Industrial Techno slabs from a master of the form. Each release from Wells is more varied and intense than the previous.

3. Emptyset - Borders - Another necessary Emptyset release. The nature of this record is different from their others thanks to their new electroacoustic techniques. It sounds like it could be performed live in a sense that hasn’t ever been present before.

2. Vargdod - Brutal Disciplin - Opal Tapes releases aren’t too inspiring for me in the last couple years, but this is an extremely notable exception. It could be that Varg is a force that cannot be stopped and he’s actually contained really well within the confines of this brutal tape.

1. Varg - Nordic Flora Series Pt. 3: Gore-tex City - This album wouldn’t be an epic journey without the strange detours that line the way. The reason it’s so successful, though, is because Rönnberg is the world’s foremost purveyor of cold, sci-fi techno.

 

Best of 2017: Art Pop and Indie Rock / Dream Pop

Art Pop

All of these albums are in my top 25 of 2017 as of this writing. This list has so many of my personal favorites of the year, but it seems like there are many people out there on the internet that like a lot of them too. There’s quite a range of music represented here, from folk and chamber pop to electronic, pop, and house. Listening back to it over the past couple days, I’ve noticed that everything here is a success because the artist has carved out a specific space in each of these works and has explored it in all of the ways that they feel like. These are all distinct, unified, and daring works.

10. Colleen - A Flame My Love, a Frequency - A great snapshot of an artist expressing a specific concept within the limitations that help them accomplish their goal. Really lovely ambient pop. 

9. Laurel Halo - Dust - This is the Autechre of Art Pop albums, in that I’m still trying to understand it but I know that I always enjoy putting it on.

8. Fever Ray - Plunge - If you’re a young and/or alternative person, it’s hard not to get on board with everything that Karin is doing and standing for here. 

7. St. Vincent - MASSEDUCTION - Annie’s best collection of songs yet are her poppiest yet. I always want her to go in a different direction, but I can’t argue with these results.

6. Kelly Lee Owens - Kelly Lee Owens - A lot breezier than most of the records on this list. This reminds me of Orchestra Of Bubbles in that it’s electronic music for pop music fans and that it’s indefinitely good.

5. Perfume Genius - No Shape - Mike Hadreas is the (far from) token male artist on this list. I slept on this record for a long time before giving in to its pop genius and emotional resonance

4. Susanne Sundfør - Music for People in Trouble - This is a massive record of sad, Swedish songwriting and amazing performances of many musicians, most of all Sundfør.

3. Circuit Des Yeux - Reaching for Indigo - Haley Fohr doesn’t hold anything back besides maybe her guitar, with which she mentioned she is currently in a fight. 

2. Aldous Harding - Party - A beautiful and strange album where every song can be plumbed indefinitely for enjoyment. Harding takes a lot of chances in songwriting and they all pay off.

1. Jessica Hoop - Memories Are Now - This album does something very specific for me. It reminds me of the energy of the “freak-folk” movement that’s been reined into pop music. It’s so often off-beat but keeps you with it at each step. 

 

Indie Rock / Dream Pop

This is my last list of songs (non-electronic) that I’m putting out for 2017, and it has 4 of my top 10 overall albums (a list that I’m not publishing :) ). These are basically a lot of Indie stalwarts coming back to put out great records that are every bit as worthwhile as their amazing back catalogues. Then there are also a few cool bands who are new to me!

10. Wurld Series - Air Goofy - This bandcamp find is basically a song-for-song re-write of Slanted & Enchanted, which turns out, is a very enjoyable thing to do.

9. Real Estate - In Mind - Real Estate is both further mellowing out and further diving into their effects pedals. The songwriting here is sweet, breezy, and every bit as good as their last couple records.

8. RF Shannon - Jaguar Palace - Sublime dreamy slowcore that borrows good ideas from Americana, Chamber pop, and psychedelia of many different decades. It might be the sequel to Ray Lamontagne’s Ouroboros.

7. Peter Silberman - Impermanence - The Antlers front man struck out his own for an understated and lovely set of songs. I prefer this to all of the Antlers albums. 

6. Alvvays - Antisocialites - It might seem too catchy, too wordy, and too sweet, but it’s actually none of these things and instead is a perfect pop record.

5. Ariel Pink - Dedicated to Bobby Jameson - Ariel strikes a balance between inscrutable and unforgettable on this record that he hasn’t had since “Before Today.” Worth the effort to get there.

4. Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruins - The ideas for Painted Ruins lean more towards Veckitamest than anywhere else. This is a very different record, but it hits the best notes of all of their previous work.

3. LCD Soundsystem - American Dream - I’m in the 99% of people who are happy to have this record. I like it and appreciate it more every time I listen to it.

2. Fleet Foxes - The Crack-Up - It’s so much darker and more difficult than both of its predecessors that I think the world is having a hard time digesting it. I found it at the right time for me, though, and I hope it has a right time for everyone. 

1. Slowdive - Slowdive - I remember being slightly disappointed with the live performances of these songs, because they weren’t perfect live. Here, they’re perfect.

Best of 2017: Singer/Songwriter and Rock

Singer-Songwriter

I split out Art Pop out of this category this year, so that genre is going to have a lot of my usual types of favorites too. This list contains many of my everyday listening music, and all of these albums are things that will be in regular rotation going forward.

 

10. A. Savage - Thawing Dawn - Parquet Courts frontman Andrew Savage satisfies a wide range and a probably narrower audience on his first solo record. Similar to PC albums, it has some great moments.  

9. Laura Marling - Semper Femina - This record has some of Marling’s best songs and some of her least memorable. The arrangements are lush and make the good songs especially captivating.

8. Joan Shelley - Joan Shelley - An understated collection of gorgeous folk songs produced by Jeff Tweedy. There are many moments of beauty and almost none that are out of place.

7. Anna St. Louis - A quiet, quick tape that makes me want more of this kind of thing, which is always a good phenomenon. The quieter the songs, the better on this one.

6. Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness - This record is beautifully imperfect, and I think everything she does will be beautiful, so it’s a matter of it becoming more perfect.

5. Ryan Adams - I almost wish I could dislike a Ryan Adams record for once in my life just to see what it feels like. I thought this sob-fest might be the one, but its as catchy as it is raw and sticks with you for both reasons.

4. Jens Lekman - Life Will See You Now - Jens continues to be an infuriatingly clever songwriter who I can’t help but love to pieces. It’s an immediately enjoyable record, but like all of his, it’s secretly a grower.

3. Wooden Wand - Clipper Ship - This is Toth’s first record that sounds like it was borne of contemplation and self restraint, but still is unmistakably a Wooden Wand record.

2. Raoul Vignal - The Silver Veil - Who is this serenading me with these hushed tones and ubiquitous fingerpicking? Some wonderfully talented frenchman who, like me, has listened to Pink Moon a lot.

1. Mac Demarco - This Old Dog - Salad Days sounded in between ideas, but This Old Dog sounds like Mac finding his groove as today’s premier lounge pop songwriter.

Rock

This list includes post-punk, art rock, alternative rock, synth punk, experimental rock, psychedelic rock, and some things in between. It's a really good list. 

10. Protomartyr - Relatives in Descent - Socially and sonically responsible rock from a very professional rock band.

9. Daniele Luppi & Parquet Courts - MILANO - Just a wacky little concept record with Karen O, Andrew Savage, and Saxophone leading the charge. I don’t know about 80s Italian fashion but this is 2017 American fashion. 

8. Liars - TFCF.- Liars was always Angus’s baby, but I think it’s always shocking to lose your band out from under you. His way forward is to make another good Liars record, apparently.

7. PC Worship - Buried Wish - Idiosyncratic art rock that varies from sludge to art folk to drone and back again. A really fun listen.

6. Queens of the Stone Age - Villains - Josh Homme risks ruining his robot rock legacy with each record but instead keeps on adding necessary sounding records to his catalogue.

5. Snapped Ankles - Come Play the Trees - I think of the tribal percussion aspect of Animal Collective when I listen to this record as much as Krautrock and the dance-punk of the early 2000s. All good things.

4. UUUU - UUUU - The most expansive yet cohesive record made by a rock band in many years.

3. The Moonlandingz - Interplanetary Class Classics - The Fat White Family record that you’ve been waiting for is from an imaginary band that’s produced by Sean Lennon. 

2. B Boys - Dada - Brilliant debut album that has little to do with B Boying or Dadaism. If I had a band it would sound a lot like this, I say in the Velvet Undergroundest way possible. 

1. Guerilla Toss - GT Ultra - Hometown heroes do good on their promise to make insane psychedelic music that’s DFA friendly. The Hassle kids still want to hear their old stuff, but this is by far their best.

Best of 2017: Garage Rock and R&B/Hip Hop

I keep trying to figure out how to do my year-end lists. How and why does one finish a project without a deadline or pragmatic function? Especially when that project could, and probably should (for best results), go on indefinitely and with as much patience as possible. 

There’s an aspect of “truth” that I’m personally pursuing with each of these lists that I’m chasing for my own sake, but I’m really just chasing it. I’m also trying to define my music universe for the next year so that I can essentially not miss anything that’s worth listening to in my recently perceived purview. 

There’s also something very wrong with my music listening habit. It’s the only compulsive thing I do that adds value to my life, but it could add a lot more value if I were willing to classify it less. I only write about something that I’ve listened to more than a handful of times, almost always 9+ spins though. That means that just the music on these lists (and say, runners up), is 35-40 days (as in, 900 hours) of listening, which actually might only be 15% of my waking hours. I’m not sure how much time I waste listening to things I’ll only listen to one or a few times, but it’s probably less than that, total. Let’s assume it’s another 5% of my waking hours. But then again, I rated 534 releases this year, so the abandoned 400+ albums probably make up a fairly sizable chunk. I should have more numbers on this, but last.fm hasn’t been working that well. They say I’ve listened to 30000 tracks, which is conservatively 2,000 hours. So that’s more like a third of my waking hours, which honestly sounds pretty accurate.

Anyways, I’m closer to getting it right, and since I, like many other music listeners, believe that I’m actually right, I should try to get it right, right? 

I’ve only finished my thoughts on two fairly obvious categories so far: Garage Rock and R&B/Hip-Hop. They’re the lowest stakes of my categories, since they’re so well defined and everything fits in place and makes it easy to get my thoughts in line. I’m also not listening to any new releases in either category and I’ve been in the mood to listen to them.

Top 5 Hip-Hop/R&B

I was originally going to do the top 10 and include pop albums as well as Hip Hop albums I thought I should write about, but then I realized that was feeling too obligatory so I scaled back. These are albums I collected slowly throughout the year, and with the exception of sleeping on DAMN for a long time, I enjoyed all year long.

5. Brockhampton - Saturation II/III - I haven’t really gotten into III enough to say anything interesting about it, but there might not be anything strictly “interesting” about it. This is all music for fun and profit, and it’s good enough to be both. These are both consistently fun and occasionally brilliant pop albums from an inspiring group of crazy people.

4. Gabriel Garzón-Montano - Jardin - This is the kind of old school neo-soul that I didn’t know I was missing. This is in a D’Angelo/Badu lineage in a way that few others are able to be and get away with. 

3. Run The Jewels - RTJ3 - This got no love in anyone’s 2016 or 2017 year-ends because it came out 12/24/2016. It’s another canonical album in the RTJ legacy, which I’m pretty sure is enough to say.

2. Kelela - Take Me Apart - This is still just an amazing Alternative R&Bass album with the same guest vocalist on every track and Kelela’s always been amazing on other people’s tracks. Kelela’s also a great vocalist with amazing taste in everything, besides possibly relationships, but I might be reading in too much

1. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN - I got on the Kendrick train a little late for a music nerd (like, months ago), but at least I’m on now. It’s not too late for you to listen to DAMN, because there’s never a bad time to listen to DAMN for anyone.

 

Top 10 Garage Rock

This is one of the nerdiest lists I do and is full of esoteric stuff. It could be worse, though: I could fetishize esoteric rock music even more than I do.

10. Tall Juan - Golden Oldies - Tall Juan is a star in his own mind. And the minds of anyone who has the pleasure of seeing him bounce around like the love child of Joey Ramone and Jonathan Richman.

9. Ty Segall - Ty Segall - Ty does a good job reigning it in a bit on this record while still getting pretty freaky, especially with the addition of full-time keys/synth. It might not be in his top 5, but it also might be.

8. OCS - OCS - It’s nice to hear Brigid Dawson sing again and it’s even nicer to hear John write OCS style songs again. A little hit or miss, but more hit than miss.

    7. Celluloid - Death Rides West - A truly esoteric pick from a band that has since broken up. This country garage punk may have blazed too brightly for this world. 

    6. LA Witch - LA Witch - Sleazy LA psych with deep grooves and lots of Cramps-style sexiness and swagger. Lots of fun to drive to with the windows down.

    5. Feral Ohms - Feral Ohms - Nearly constant shredding. Of guitar strings, of vocal chords, of my eardrums, of general decency. I’ll reach for this a lot in the future because it's really satisfying in a particular mood.

    4. Flat Worms - Flat Worms - More Castle Face love from me to these garage punkers. It’s sort of the most traditional record they’ve ever put out, almost like a classic In The Red record, which I would confuse this for if I didn’t know better.

    3. Teenanger - Teenanger - These underrated Canadians are now serving up some of the best garage glam in the world. There are lots of good ideas on this record and they’re implemented with the precision of professional garage lifers. 

    2. Damaged Bug - Bunker Funk - Only a true fanboy puts Oh Sees’s John Dwyer’s side project just below his main project on a year end list. For the first time, though, I’m enjoying this record in the same way that I like Oh Sees records, so it feels so right.

    1. Oh Sees - Orc - The best garage comes from the best garage rock group, in this case, for many years running. It sounds essential, and maybe the most essential since Floating Coffin in 2013. 

    Nate's Pirate Radio, November 2017

    Welcome to another monolithic block of text about a bunch of different albums that I like! Just wait until next month, when it’s like, ten of these. I probably won’t email it around; you don’t have to block me, yet. 

    I wasn’t able to get through the Bjork album enough times to review it. I might go back if I have the energy. There are a few things happening on it that really drive me away (They’re Arca and Bjork and flutes). But there are many things that are definitely worth listening to! And that is, probably too, but I just wrote enough of a review to satisfy me, which, I’ll remind you, is the main point of this exercise. 
    Anyways, take your time, enjoy. Songs at the top, alpha order. Fairly opaque, until next month. 

    Colleen - A Flame My Love, A Frequency

    If you love art pop but worry that there are too many sounds happening and they don’t go on for long enough, then this is the record for you! AFMLAF is all about the essentials:  up to two Critter & Guitari synths and just enough voice to remind you that this is a songwriter’s album. If you aren’t hypnotized by the reverb, you might think it’s not quite enough. “Separating” is a natural place to start appreciating the stark palette and contrasts well with “Winter Dawn,” which is the most maximal Cécile Schott is willing to get with the piano family. Also, this video (http://bit.ly/2jbhx8d) of Schott playing “The Stars vs Creatures” really helped me understand the careful composition of the whole.  Though supposedly conceived from a place of tragedy (Paris attacks), there’s a palpable romance with life that guides this record.  

    Daniele Luppi & Parquet Courts - MILANO

    I’m not a Parquet Courts purist. After all, once they started releasing in-betweeners as “Parkay Quarts” their output became muddled with a slew of interesting but largely inessential releases. This is more essential than those, but doesn’t necessarily fit into your next PC(/PQ) binge. It’s more of a weirdo indie record with quirky instrumentation that changes a lot based on who is singing, with “Pretty Prizes” not having an obvious Karen O pull to it, nor Andrew Savage either. Savage’s performances are more consistent and generally more fitting than O’s, though the “Talisa” vocals are really fun and couldn’t be done by anyone else. I’d actually really like to hear Savage try, though.  

    Fever Ray - Plunge

    I haven’t been a huge fan of Karin Dreijer’s output, save for a few particular Silent Shout singles. I thought her solo project was too dry for art pop. But Plunge is exciting! There’s more of everything on this record than I was prepared for, in a great way: catchy moments, sexual exploration, and artsy minimal synth that alternatively shimmer and bang. Plunge picks up momentum as it goes through its workouts, culminating in the very fun 1-2 of “To the Moon and Back” and the comedown “Red Trails.” It’s nice to hear art pop that’s as fun to listen to as it is uncompromising.

    Anna St. Louis - First Songs

    A sweet tape from a genre (slacker folk?) that doesn’t really do tapes as a main format. I’d prefer people to only print tapes if it fits with the general idea of the release though, so I approve of this move. This is on a Woodist imprint called Mare and is fairly indebted to the sound that Kevin Morby and friends have been working on. It’s best when it’s starkest: “288” is a beautiful finger picked tune with a warm lap steel drone underneath, and “Sun” weaves in a second plucked guitar and single piano note into a simple but satisfying ode. “Mercy” is Anna’s version of an “I Want You” style psychedelic epic that works really well for it’s lightness and heaviness. The biggest knock is the sub half hour running time: I could use a few more of these, so hopefully there’s more around the bend.

    Flat Worms - Flat Worms

    Things garage rock should concern: motorcycles, fortune tellers, suburbia, girls, cars, flowers, the failures of radical behavior, earthquakes, bridges, California… This list has been a bit of a failure because there’s plenty of metaphor on this album, which is decidedly un-garage, I think. This is Castle Face though, and it’s one of the more realized and garagey releases on the label. It actually reminds me a little of classic In The Red releases, which CF has surpassed in breadth and depth in the last few years. This is a professional garage record made by a bunch of professional rockers, from the classic A1 of “Motorbike” to the opaque, morbid B1 “11816” to the epic riffy closer that stretches out another minute or two more than everything else. 

    OCS - Memory of a Cut Off Head

    In a sense, this has been a long time coming. John Dwyer has been elaborating on the things that made early OCS (original albums released 2003-2005) interesting for the past 12 years. Now, he’s bringing the string and flute arrangements back with Brigid Dawson, who left Oh Sees a couple years ago, to make an album that’s parallel to the evolution of his rock bandonym. The original psychedelic folk project OCS contrasted with Coachwhips in the mid aughts, subtracting the mania but keeping the melody of Dwyer’s inimitable songwriting. The best songs sound like updates of early OCS songs with better everything: the title track rolls more and has better harmonies, “Cannibal Planet” has the perfect psychedelic folk refrain, complete with electric guitar noodles, and “The Chopping Block” sounds like strings and saw were added to the early live Thee Oh Sees record. It’s nice to hear Dawson sing alone, too, with standout “The Fool” and the closer, especially. My mom said this sounded like Simon and Garfunkel until it got weird, so, that’s a review.

    Rina Sawayama - RINA

    Pop music always has the “singles” problem. It almost never works to make, say, 12-14 singles within a calendar year, in so many ways. How would you release them? What would differentiate them? How would you transition between them? RINA gets around this issue, for now, with an EP that has 6 bonafide big pop singles and a couple interludes in between. Sonically, it’s 90s pop and R&B, and 80s cheesy guitar wankery taken to illogical extremes. It’s highly listenable all the way through, with “Take Me As I Am,” “Afterlife,” and “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome” being the most fleshed out, and the exact middle of “Tunnel Vision” / “Time Out” a little undercooked. The net effect of all this might be to overhype a disappointing full length…but I’m getting ahead of myself. Enjoy!

    Taylor Swift - Reputation

    Everyone’s got to have their opinion of the new Taylor album. If you spend enough time with it, you’ll end up talking about it in person with people, maybe even with one of the 1.2 million people who bought it in the first week. Now done with my first ten spins or so, I now think the ballads are the best (“Dress”, “New Year’s Day”), the bangers are right behind (“…Ready for it”, “I Did Something Bad”, “Dancing with our Hands Tied”), and the woeful songs become more tolerable (“End Game”, “Gorgeous”, “…Nice Things”). The production is consistently good and the bad songs are characterized by clumsy vocals (oh god those guest spots, oh GOD the ‘chorus’ of “Look What You Made Me Do”) and unconvincing vocal content. The good parts, which greatly outnumber the bad, are tighter, cleverer, sexier, darker, and more Taylor than ever before. It doesn’t quite all fit with the Taylor narrative that has been created over time, but I like it more for that. It feels like a good pop album from a good pop artist trying to write good pop songs…and sounding misguided about love, fame, parties, beef, the world, and herself. But that all makes for better tunes, so keep the imprudence coming. 

    Electronic (caveat emptor):

    Equiknoxx - Colón Man

    A late addition that I haven’t been through too many times, but I’ve been really enjoying my first few listens here. I’m not terribly familiar with Dancehall or why this record comes to me, but I’m glad that people are excited about it. This is what I want the Jlin records to sound like: artsy abstract dance music that’s still very much dance music. Equiknoxx’s (still can’t pronounce it in my head) development mirrors the footwork movement in the samples and jerky rhythms that spin around your head, but there’s just a certain logical progression that’s better on the ears and must be better on the dance floor. The DDS imprint is a great place for this, too: it’s influenced by Demdike Stare and other dark electronic of recent years in its sinisterness and fearlessness. The details and sheer number of tracks happening within a few seconds have made it hard for me to put down, so far.

    FP-Oner - 7

    Sometimes, when you work full time, you just need big ass 76 minute house album to get some stuff done during. I can’t really think of another function for expertly produced, jazzy tech-house where the long players are too long for a modern attention span. It’s one of those, “well, I’m here, better do something” kind of moments that get me into the sort of records where I never learn the album arc, if there even is one. Everything here is good though! “Smiles and Cries” > “Cosmic Waters” is especially memorable, as is the weird vocal clippings of “Follow the Sound” and Minako’s guest spot on “Light Years.” The back half meanders a bit more without a dip in quality. There are some especially fun moments too, like the toms on “Living Waters” and the spacy synth of “Simple Things,” if you make it that far. But definitely make it that far: be a little more European; put on some house music from New York. 

    Hamatsuki - Uncertain Loops

    This year’s best Outsider House tape came out in March on a brand new Polish label called GASP and was made in Tbilisi, Georgia. It seems like no one covered it all year and it has 17 ratings on RYM, making it officially obscure. Nate to the rescue! This tape never really leaves soporific territory, but all the while there are classic house tropes that are used along the way to interesting effect. For instance, on “Peace to Rookies” when the 4/4 drops out and the synth shuffles in a couple minutes in and the buildup comes a full minute and a half later.  “Still Searching” begins with a full minute of a muted version of its already lo-fi drum beat then evolves a bass line that feels more performed than programmed. The title track even threatens acid house with a 303 sound for like, ten seconds. How uncertain! The ubiquitous sample on “Sultiveteba” may be the most playful house reference on the whole tape. This track is a fitting conclusion; it feels like it could be centerpiece at a sleep dance party.

    Kettenkarussell - Insecurity Guard

    It’s harder, more satisfying, and maybe more destructive to write about abstract, wordless music. You take something away from the experience by trying to lend words where there weren’t any, but now you have some communicated experience of something that was communicated using words like “Gate,” “Everything,” or “Brueder,” which seems useful. I’ve enjoyed my spins of Insecurity Guard, but I haven’t picked it apart in my head now. Now, on my last listen of the month, as is my pattern, I’m finally trying to describe it to myself. It begins as languid ambient house, which is what I’ve been craving, but “New York Blues,” by comparison, is a banging house jam (it’s still pretty laid back). The sound is often some loose combination of Pantha Du Prince / Christian Loffler lushness with the soft spokenness that you find in the outsider scene. “Just for a Second” is the highest tempo that you’ll find, and has a recurring metal brushing sound that fits really well in between the harp trills and banging bass. Closer “Breuder” may be the slowest breakbeat I’ve ever heard, which is right in line with the overall intention of this record.

    Lindstrøm - It’s Alright Between Us As It Is

    How are people wishy washy about Nu Disco, possibly the least wishy washy sounding music I know? This is probably (I’m under-listened) the best example of the genre since Todd Terje’s greatest-hits-singles-collection (I’m just talking about “It’s Album Time”) three years ago, but it’s not being touted as such. I suppose the bar is set really high with albums like the aforementioned and Lindstrøm’s own actual compilation “It’s a Feedelity Affair” from 11 years ago. The album is centered around three vocal tracks, all maximal and lavish in a different way, all with distinct disco divas. Grace Hall is a little much on “Shinin’,” but in a way that I’ve come to enjoy, and Jenny Hval is very Jenny Hval on Bungl. Both work because Lindstrøm leans into their energy and has his own disco narrative to link them.

    Aris Kindt - Swann and Odette

    There is a lot of ambient music out there and it’s hard to distinguish between all of the different flavors. Sources of sound are very important, whether it’s composed or improvised, and where it breaks the rules of pure “ambient” are all important. Here, synth gives structure while guitar improvises, and it bleeds between ambient techno and shoegaze because of these two elements. The electroacoustic elements on “Taking 33” are particularly nice, as well as the static washes on “Seagraves,” which is a centerpiece.   “Still Undivided” may be my favorite moment and the last on the physical release (it’s printed on one LP with two bonus digital tracks. SMART!), bringing in the shoegaze guitar at the center point for a moment that rivals Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s best work. 

    Claudio PRC - Volumi Dinamici 

    I deliberately sought out some specifically chilly music this month, and this is an some of the coldest techno around. This was appropriately released early in this year but wasn’t on my radar because…why would it be? It’s really well-crafted ambient/minimal techno with functionally perfect sound design and influenced by minimal abstract expressionism in visual artwork (and is even shipped with some!). I find the sad techno space to not be very crowded these days, so this is a welcome addition to my collection.

    Marcus Fischer - Loss

    This is one of the most contemplative records I’ve listened to all year. It’s a nice release for late nights and early mornings, being purely ambient and constructed from tape degradation of field recordings and soft piano strikes. It’s sad sounding; it sounds like I wanted William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops to sound like, though it never struck me in the right way. Fischer talks about “the permanence of absence” as an inspiration for the sonic world that he constructs, and this intention finds its mark. The space and silence that pervades the record are what make it the special work that it is, and allows you to get into the minutiae of the recording process that takes in echoes and buzzes from the spaces in which he worked. This is a work to put on when you’re craving little sound and big impact.

    Nate's Pirate Radio, October 2017

    Someone asked about this project of mine, and just like all questions about creative projects of mine, I immediately got defensive and tried to figure out what the real question being asked was. Do they think I should publish my writing in a more significant way? Should it be more community-oriented? Should I try to write more about relevant things to the world?

     

    After that particular wave of anxiety passed, I started re-framing my thoughts for any of my creative pursuits, and perhaps engagements in general. As a person with a limited belief system and no defined long-term goals, it would make sense to simply "do what I want," or more to the point, "do what I'm compelled to do." In general, this doesn't create stable systems, so I have to choose to be unstable within a stable framework, which is what doing this writing grants me.

     

    Mostly the reason I am compelled to do this at all is because the art is that good. One way of supporting it is personal financial investment, which is made more complicated with fungal physical media collections, inferior digital collections, or inconsistent concert attendance. But a nebulous and potentially powerful tool is putting out an opinion (mine are all positive) about something that might garner more support for something in hopes that it keeps happening, which I have to hope is more of an emotional than a financial 

     

    This month it's in alpha order but separated by normative songs and electronic. More rambling might mean I liked it more, but it might also mean I wasn't in a rambling mood. It's a huge month but you've got time to mull it over cause Nov/Dec means seriously dwindling content. 

     

    Normative Song-based music:

     

    A. Savage - Thawing Dawn

    Parquet Courts’ best and most intense songwriter takes it down a notch for his solo debut. His Texan heritage is on display here, suggested in both lyrics and stylistically, suddenly unafraid of guitar twang and Americana meanderings. The record is rooted in careful, quiet arrangements, and even when deviating, such as the sax assisted freakout of “What do I do” or the upbeat pop of “Eyeballs” and “Winter in the South,” there’s still a truckload more restraint than on a PC album. The songwriting is generally very good with a few clunky lyrics along the way that have a way of sounding like Malkmusisms the more I listen to it, which is nice. It’s definitely a satisfying listen for fans and probably worth checking out if you’re not yet.

    Aldous Harding - Party

    Music nerd hits are not like hits for other people. Often, music nerds, heretofore simply nerds, are affected by something that sounds singular and affecting to them, and possibly not too many others. It’s struck a chord, if you will, for these nerds, and one that hasn’t really been struct before. Harding’s vocals, featuring odd timbres, a large range, and varying amounts of vibrato, aren’t unique for these qualities, but their combination and their use feels singular to this nerd. Her songwriting comes from a place of emotion but leans to the canonical, which would feel even more unique if I hadn’t just been talking and thinking about the new Susanne Sundfør album. “Imagining my Man” reminds me of Marika Hackman in the elevation of a simple folk song with an interesting production choice, and is an early highlight here. The title track is the real nerd hit of the album, though, and it’s one of the nerd hits of the year.

    Brockhampton - Saturation II 

    I feel like this is my second chance to appreciate a numerous, oddball, west coast hip hop collective after my complete failure to appreciate anything Odd Future. This is way different: it’s pop music, it’s not obnoxious, and it’s fairly inventive and realized. I also don’t know if this will really just be the launching point for solo careers or if it’s best contained as this baker’s dozen strong “boy band” collective. OF does seem like the right comparison in the 21 year old kids getting together to make something noteworthy happen, and they’re really good at it. The strengths here are enthusiasm and songwriting, which is a rare pair in the genre. The reference points are equally G-Funk and modern not-so-good hip-hop, the latter of which might make this seem not-so-good at first blush. That’s not the case though, it’s really good. Hip hop is a little less over

    Circuit Des Yeux - Reaching for Indigo

    It’s so much harder to verbally recommend (I know, this is writing) a Circuit Des Yeux album than it was to recommend Haley Fohr’s Jackie Lynn album from last year. I mean, there’s the pronunciation, with the contained liaison within that adds a layer of aural confusion that somehow seems representative of his project. Also, Jackie Lynn was an easy sell: a gun-toting, cocaine-fueled cowboy character here to save country music. This record has a bit of Jackie Lynn spirit in that there are very distinct songs with hooks, but it’s sonically much closer to In Plain Speech from 2015. Her songs may be best when they’re both expansive and accessible, exemplified by standout “Black Fly,” which reminds me of her solo 12-string performances but now fleshed out by her usual suspects cast of collaborators. “Philo” is similarly vast but still contained within the idea of a song. “Geyser” is also worth mentioning, though it’s an understated folk jam that’s perhaps most reminiscent of Jackie Lynn. Also, I should say: I know all the words already and I’m a huge fanboy and I’ll be in the front row at Great Scott in a couple weeks.

    Duds - Of a Nature or Degree

    I’m always into snappy, angular, concise post punk with a no-wave bent to it, and this is no exception. Influences range from Swell Maps to Wire to The Fire Engines (okay it’s a pretty narrow range), songs range from 1-3 minutes, and the vibe ranges from fun to funky. I’m surprised to find out that this is released on Castle Face, but maybe because it’s the first non-California act I know of on the label. It’s in line with the consistency and promise of the label otherwise, even if it’s more British and less psychedelic than its peers. Certainly worth your 24 minutes.

    Kelela - Take Me Apart

    This is a headphone, alt R&B production-lover’s album that happens to have some nice vocals. Like, it’s released on Warp and has four Arca joints on it. So you’re well taken care of there, all the way through, and it’s definitely something to come back for. The songwriting does have interesting aspects that are slowly working their way out, though I think they appear more vanilla at first than, say, everything on the Hallucinogen EP. Vocally, Kelela is always pitch perfect, and the lyrics are sort of the usual R&B fare. Specifically though, she finds new ways of phrasing sexy things that, in the middle of several songs, makes me think: “oh, that’s actually pretty dirty.” It’s actually a really special skill. Generally, it’s a really big pop album that’s unfortunately a little bit smaller than the sum of its parts, but not by much.

    Protomartyr - Relatives in Descent

    I’ve mostly been into (obsessed with) music and visual art that doesn’t serve any external purpose in particular but that is as close to autotelic as possible. This record feels pretty far away from that, at least to the extent that it’s driven forward by some sort of awareness of other people and things, in a political sense. It’s all about something, I’m pretty sure, and I probably agree with a lot of it, since I agree with the sound of it. Does that even seem right? Anyways, I’m not going to ignore a massive rock record like this even if I don’t quite know if I agree with the oblique messages it may contain. It’s pretty easy to just listen and enjoy. 

    St. Vincent - MASSEDUCTION

    This is the best record that Annie has made so far but for anyone who’s experienced her live show, you know she can do more. It’s way more consistent than her singles-oriented eponymous album, which is great, and it’s generally a tightly produced pop album. This might be the problem: there’s too much sheen and not enough Annie. She’s the whole show but it feels like she’s playing a part, instead. The ballads are even overproduced, thanks to Antonoff’s sledgehammer approach to pop music (which people apparently love). Strip the excess away and there might not be enough left though - still, I’d sort of like to hear this produced by, say, Steve Albini or Ty Segall. I realize I’m just saying I want Annie to be a Rock Star and not a Pop Star…but I’m pretty sure she’s a Rock Star. I might just have to wait to see her live to really be sold on this as her direction.  

    UUUU - UUUU

    The first question is “Why did it take so long for these artists to come together?” But then that’s too similar to “Why didn’t this art exist before now?”, which isn’t important, because now it does. Then there’s “You can make this music with guitar/bass/drums/synth” and you can’t, unless you’re being helmed by Edward Graham Lewis of Wire fame and you’ve got three other legit professionals (Matthew Simms has been playing with Lewis in Wire for a while now) who aren’t afraid to plunge into new territory. And that’s the thing that this record really is: new and fresh! No one instrument clearly holds the compositions together, nor are they necessarily strict forms. Songs will go from improvised space to tight, muscly composition and back, often within the space of a song. The source of the sounds isn’t important, it feels more like a “whatever is needed right now” approach, which provides a lot of flexibility. The result is not quite a rock record, but with enough structure and familiarity for an accessible, relatively cohesive listen; a hard-to-define art-rock triumph. 

     

    Electronic Music

    $$$TAG$$$ - Fractals

    Asem Tag takes a fairly large sidestep on his second release as $$$TAG$$$, this time for Seagrave. Fractals is far more experimental than his beat-driven debut and explores the territory between Post-Industrial and Progressive Electronic, both spaces that are not completely saturated between my ears. Fractals uses a lot more digital sequencing than is usual for this genre, but still feels organic to me because of the noisy sound beds that are used on a few of the tracks (they sound perfect on headphones).  Like vintage IDM that was largely sequenced similarly, there’s a lot to appreciate and less repetition than other forms of electronic music. 

    A i w a - Recent Ups and Downs

    Seagrave is a label that’s helping step in and save tape house, filling a part of the void that 1080p created by folding late last year. Between this and the Boliden release earlier in the year, as well as the Perfume Advert tape last year, they are gaining some pretty solid traction and/or runoff from Opal Tapes, who is apparently going more experimental and less beat-driven. This particular release moves in a good direction with a restricted sound palette of synths and drum machines without getting penned in by it. The low end is especially well fleshed out compared to other releases in the genre, which makes for a satisfying listen.

    Ben Frost - The Centre Cannot Hold

    Frost takes a break from making soundtracks for things (Fortitude, A rainbow six video game, and Super Dark Times, recently) to soundtrack some version of mechanical urban decay in realtime. The composition of this work is harder to parse and probably more interesting than AURORA, his last work, which used obvious dynamic shifts to celebrate its intense moments (which were great). Here, the more the shifts are more from melody to amelody than quiet to loud, and both give the listener a lot to hold on to, if they manage to hold on at all. The more melodic pieces are quite successful: “A Sharp Blow in Passing” sets the idea in motion early and “Ionia” is somewhere between a climax and a centerpiece because of its massive intertwining melodies. There’s no moment that’s quite as satisfying as the cataclysmic shifts of his earlier work, but this is another intriguing listen from one of the best sound artists around.

    Byron Westbrook - Body Consonance

    A Progressive Electronic nugget that found its way to me last week and has been helping me float along on pillows of analog synth once each day since then. I enjoy the idealistic nature of gear limitation and the effect it can have on long-form composition in this type of music, which can be actually be carefully planned and/or improvised in nature. This album feels like it has a score, and an uncomplicated one that allows you to keep it in mind all at once despite great levels of detail along the way. The one two punch of the first two tracks quickly establishes a post-Emeralds maximalist style that lends itself to powerful crescendo. The real standout for me is the most minimal moment, the closing “Fireworks Choreography,” which reminds me of Eliane Radigue’s sophisticated understanding of analog synth drone. 

    Four Tet - New Energy

    Generally, this feels a little bit like a singles collection, and I historically really like Hebden’s singles collections (Pink, Percussions comp). There are five beatless passages that try to tie together the 11 fleshed out tracks, which are by and large warmer and less dance oriented than most things he’s done before. There are a couple house tracks (“SW9 9SL,” “Planet”) but a lot more that sound somewhere between Downtempo and sample-laden ambient house. “You Are Loved” sounds very familiar but is a highlight, and “Scientists” plays with vocal chops well in a way that hasn’t been typical of his productions lately. Overall, a shift to less danceable house is never something I’m going to complain about, so this gets my seal of approval.

    Kassel Jaeger - Aster

    Once you refuse melody, rhythm, and structure in general, it can be hard to create engaging…well, sound art. I’m a pretty big fan of what I label as “Abstract” music, and I do so because it most closely reflects my visual work that’s best described in a similar way. With painting, I think it takes a moment of inspiration, disquiet and/or change in order for something interesting to happen with a restricted palette and ideals, and the same can be said for this sort of art. Jaeger has capitalized on some inspiration with Aster, as it is one of the most fully realized works of purely abstract. This album (on Mego) works because it is expressionistic, and performance oriented without feeling unplanned (or overwrought). The biggest difference between this and similar music may be that this is consistently beautiful and a wide enough variety of sound from Francois Bonnet’s chosen palette.    

    Lakker - Eris Harmonia

    This is a fun little burst of icy textures, more so than beats, that blends together a wider spectrum of sound than their last couple releases. It’s a great length of EP to explore this more-caustic, more-artsy sound, but hopefully it will be incorporated into their other releases in the future. The two parts of Eris are both laden with lush distortion, but the former is more aggressive and beat driven, and the slower is a calmer drone. Before that though, “Empress” has a UK Bass meets Grime approach to beat creation and “Extinct Peoples” is downright noisy. “Song For Rathlin” might be the most classical Lakker tune here, and it kicks off the EP because I think it would sound strangely calm and normal if it came anywhere else.

    Michael Claus - Memory Protect

    100% Silk is having a really slow year, which isn’t helping my tape collection. This is one that I’m strongly considering picking up though.  It’s got a classic Silk sound to it (circa 2015), replete with ambient washes and skeletal 4/4s. It’s generally groovy and psychedelic, with builds that can mirror more typical house track structures while still eschewing the sound of Deep House to a great extent. This is especially seen in the middle of the tape on “Forest” and “Dissent,” which largely take out the kick drum in trade for spiraling synths. Recommended if you like drum machines and ambience together and separately.

     

    Best of September 2017

    Another month another bunch of albums from the world’s lowest profile music critic. I originally thought this month was going to be electronic heavy, and while those are some of my favorite records of the month, it’s actually more show-coming-up-next-week-should-I-go? heavy, which is fun. Also, it makes enough sense given that people’s tours coincide with their album releases, and album leaks happen a certain number of days before then, and in between there’s the requisite 5-10 listens that i’ve given everything here.

    I have to come clean that my favorite album all month is from an act who recently had .wmv at the end of their name. The now Death’s Dynamic Shroud(still a terrible name) is one of several midwestern US vaporwave acts that sounds like the deep internet. Vaporwave often consists of familiar, screwed or sped up vocal chops, and DDS is surfing american R&B and K-Pop to great effect on Heavy Black Heart. This album is singular in the genre for taking it to the glitch hop extreme without getting trap-py, which frankly has never worked for this type of music. Instead, vocals, whether in English or Korean, are repeated as hooks rather than mantras, creating weirder pop songs out of other pop songs. Really, this album eschews most of the pitfalls of the genre, except the crazy speeding up and repetition of samples, which feels really drill’n’bass, or, well, internetty. But actually, this is the pinnacle of the newest, weirdest genre on the internet. 

    In other digitally sequenced news, Second Storey’s new album Lucid Locations is probably the most satisfying dense-listen electronic since the collaborative ALSO project from a couple years back. It’s released on Houndstooth and I think it sounds like how most Houndstooth artists which they sounded: a projected line of what IDM thought it might sound like 20 years later. The Autechre and Richard D influences are all over the place here, and it’s all underpinned by expressive, irregular bass beats, as is the modern UK style that probably evolved from garage or dubstep in the last decade plus. Storey uses this non-4/4, really hard to work into a DJ set thing to optimize sound design and create interest in all the possibilities that a song can have. I really think this takes up the mantle of IDM as the most fun and active headphone listening can possibly be.

    My favorite songs, in the traditional sense of words and chords, were from Susanne Sundfør this month. Her last album, Ten Love Songs, was legit synth pop, her take on what pop songs should sound like. Music for People in Trouble, heretofore Ten Sad Songs, is constant art pop balladry that is canonical folk at best, Adele at worst, and weird arty moments in between. The schmaltzy and arty moments fit really comfortably in the record, actually, it’s just hard not to think of them as a little over the top. Most songs have unique arrangements that draw from a wide sonic palette, that ranges from slide guitar to woodwinds to carefully placed synths. The coda melody reflecting the beginning Mantra is a nice touch, just one of many details that was carefully planned and very well executed.

    Lee Gamble has a new record, on Hyperdub this time, and it’s as confounding as ever. It’s called Mnestic Pressure and it veers away from his more straightforward techno leanings of late and back into Autechre realm meanderings in all sorts of eras of their development! If Autechre invented a genre, and they did and no one has an appropriate name for it, this is mostly in that genre. Gamble still has his knack for breakbeats and dreamy passages at a few different points. This is an interesting listen all the way through but impossible to hold in your brain during or between listens. I’m pretty sure it’ll continue to be a grower.

    Okay, bands who are coming to town:

    10/1: Should I go see Tall Juan? Probably. He’s opening for Together Pangaea, a good garage rock band. He’s an Argentine born Ramones enthusiast in a Mac Demarco world (both of whom he covers on Olden Goldies), and he almost makes me think of NYC in a rosy way. Plus, I haven’t seen Sonia yet.

    10/2: How about Metz? Maybe. I like all their records, though I can’t distinguish between them or between songs on a record. Their new one, Strange Peace, has more melody in the crunch and probably has better songs than their other ones. I have been enjoying listening to this, though, and they are basically the first name in Albini style noise rock for the hell of it right now.

    10/3: Alvvays, fun fact, autocorrects to Elvis. No matter which show I go to on Tuesday, it’s going to be a little indulgent. It’s this, which is sold out and I don’t have a ticket, or Cloakroom. Alvvays pulls inspiration from the c86 and 4AD heyday of jangly indie pop, but are way indie poppier. It’s held together for me by clever, un-clumsy lyrics and tight songwriting all the way through, which are rare for the genre in my mind.

    10/4: If I’m not burnt out by going to maybe three nights of shows in a row, I might go see Wand at Elk’s Lodge. Wand is a psych rock band who has been on a crash course with the style of early Tame Impala for four albums now. Though they’ll never catch up to modern, commercially successful TI at this rate, but they are actually a completely different band and they’re pretty good.

    11/6: A good time later, L.A. Witch comes to the Middle East. I saw them labeled as Garage Rock Revival, which irks me. Here are the incorrect implications: 1) Garage Rock died, 2) This sounds like the bands who did the reviving 15 years ago (Strokes, Hives, White Stripes), 3) GRR goes back to the beginning of Garage Rock. L.A. Witch sounds like equal parts The Cramps and The Black Angels. Not to say that either of those bands don’t sound like The Velvet Underground, but VU isn’t even garage rock! Neither of those bands sound like nuggets psych garage of the 60s (The Seeds, Chocolate Watch Band, Blues Magoos), nor what was called garage rock at the time, but retroactively is called proto-punk because it distinctly became punk (The Stooges, Sonics, Monks, some VU). So basically, there’s the Cramps, whose reference points were largely 50s rock and roll, and there’s the strain of heavy blues psych that really originates with Jimi Hendrix and Cream. I actually don’t know where the Black Angels muscly, fuzzy, sustain ridden guitar tone started though. Though it’s Jimmy Page, Tony Iommi, and Josh Homme influenced, it’s a decidedly modern (non Heavy Metal) psychedelic style that’s been in much wider circulation since the first Black Angels record. So, L.A. is an all-female garage psych bad and they're really good.

    Other Stuff:

    I saw Feral Ohms play a set a few months ago where their lead singer was sick and they just played 27 minutes straight of chugging riffs and proto metal guitar wankery. It was great. The album is a 27 minute Heavy Psych explosion (separated into 9 songs) that sounds like sped up Cream with an unhinged Robert Plant on vocals.

    I’m more into Anthony Linnell now with Emerald Fluorescents. I’m a big fan of his Abdulla Rashim moniker, and this is sounding closer to that style of minimal techno than the Dungeon Synth that he was making last year. This may be the best coalescing of his various interests at this point, and it’s a satisfying listen.

    Porter Ricks is a thing again! Minimal Dub Techno needed to be saved, so they’re back! It’s no Biokinetics but I’ve been enjoying it.

    Hope your Fall is starting well,

    Nate

    Best of August 2017

    August was quite a month of comebacks. Nobody put out their best record, but nobody put out their worst record, either. The albums range from satisfying to intriguing, and I'm really glad they all happened.

    The best might just be the new LCD Soundsystem, which could actually be their best record, but really any of them could be. I like how much this one sounds like a record. I'm still at the point of thinking: "Are any of these hits? Are they all hits? What's a hit?" sense, which I like. "Call the Police" is probably the most traditional LCD hit, but the flow of the album to that point really has few weak moments. Afterwards, there are weaker moments, but interesting ones.

    The Oh Sees record (note "The" is not in the name of the band) has great moments, but is a little aimless in the second half. The trio of heavy hitters at the beginning is their best run in years, and "Jettisoned" is fun and funky but very Oh Sees at the same time. I feel like the album has a lot of potential to be in their top few, but does suffer from a two-song jam suite between the two ballads. The ballads are both great, by the way. So, song for song, right up there with Mutilator but with some not unexciting filler.

    Queens of the Stone Age, wait keep reading, are really good. Villains is the most robot rock part of all the previous QOTSA albums with hardly a minute of meandering or downtime, which makes me think that Ronson and Homme spent a while thinking "What would a rock fan want next?" The answer: more rock. Particularly, at times, it's stripped down garage rock, like on "The way you used to do" and "Head like a haunted house," which I shouldn't have to tell you, but I really appreciate. Not conceptually brilliant like the most lauded QOTSA, but a great one for rock fans.

    The slowest grower is Grizzly Bear's new one, but it's picked up steam with me over the last couple weeks. I still apparently want them to constantly be rewriting "Little Brother" and "Marla." The beginning of the album is dreamy and poppy, and gives way to a middle that still hasn't completely captured my interest (a problem since Veckitamest for me) before the gorgeous "Neighbors" reins it back in. I do find myself singing along with almost every song already, though, even in the middle. Knowing how to end albums has always been a GB skill and this one leaves a good taste in your ears.

    Liars is another band that I keep up with that few other people seem to, and TFCF is another good example of what they can do. Liars are best when it's heavy, driving, and lately, electronic-driven, and this album captures these ideas better than their last few. There is also a refreshing understanding of songwriting present that surpasses most rock albums, and even most art rock albums. I really like when "Face to face with my face" bashes in, and the trio that starts with "No Tree No Branch" is particularly satisfying.


    In new news, Girl Ray is British and twee-leaning, neither of which I like all the time, but put out a great album called Earl Grey that feels like watching a good coming of age movie. Songs like "Cutting Shapes" and the title track are really smart and suggest a lot of possibilities for the future of the group. Also check out the funky riffs of "A Few Months." Also the adorable "Ghosty." Really listen to the whole thing if you can stand it.

    Cloakroom is also a new group to me, except that I listen to True Widow and the overlap between the two is wide. I've always wanted more fuzzy heavy slowcore, so, thanks! This is better than the last True Widow album in songwriting, fuzz, harmony, and idealism, though the band is markedly less mature than both True widow, let alone slowcore giants Low. "SeedlessStar" is a highlight for crunch, and the title track is a great place to look for melodic prowess.

    I didn't listen to much electronic music this month, but S Olbricht stuck out for making another great release with Purpleblue. It has prettier moments (the title track, much of "Hrom"), or moments that are more aggressive (the awesome "T" in particular) than the epic For Perfect Beings, both of which fit into the Lobster Theremin aesthetic neatly.

    In Progressive Electronic, there's X.Y.R., who released Labyrinth on the super-label Not Not Fun (I just listen to a lot of 100% silk), which turns out to be great music for staring at the sun during the onset of a total eclipse. It's plodding, synth heavy (I mean, really heavy), vaguely New Age-y, and kind of like everything on NNF, but better than average for the label. I'll be listening to more NNF in the future.

    In Abstract Electronic, I dug out the Second Woman record from this year for a few more listens, which have all agreed with my ears. It's a record only for people with really good headphones / binaural listening setup, and a slightly warped mindset. It dips into footwork at times, like /// and ////, and at other times leans towards Autechre or ambient music. It's probably the best release on Spectrum Spools, period.

    I cleared out my garage playlist this month too, and I included a few of my favorite bandcamp demos. Angry Skeletons, Sial, and Futuro are all really nice demo tapes if you like crate digging for garage :)

    Lemme know what you like,

    Nate

    Best of January 2017

    There wasn’t a ton of new music in January, but each week I had an album or two that I couldn’t put down and I listened to multiple times a day, at times. The first five albums below are all classics that are sure to appear fairly high on my year-end list that is…really far away! A lot of prolific stalwarts put out their best releases in a while, as well as a few newcomers.

    Songs

    Run The Jewels - Run the Jewels

    If this had been released a couple weeks earlier, it probably would’ve beat out Danny Brown for the hip hop album of 2016. Now, I have to wait a whole year to remember how enthusiastic I am about this record. It’s so good! It’s exactly what you want out of these two! El-P’s beats are as ridiculous as ever, and I actually think he out-brags Mike on this one. All of that, along with amazing guest stars, and a few songs at the end that convey emotional meaning make for a great listen.  

    Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness 

    I think about Pink Moon when I listen to this often, though it is as much that record’s opposite as it is its companion. It is fairly stark, short enough to be pithy, and obliquely confessional. However, it is an album of “Natural Blue” instead, about living life in the daylight with the same struggles that Drake experienced with his last release. Byrne’s voice and guitar work are as beautiful as any American folk singer. Her songwriting is a bit inconsistent for me: at times, I think she poetically describes something in a really unique way, and at other times, it feels like she’s cramming poetry into meter it doesn’t quite agree with. This quibble is a small one, though, and doesn’t make this anything less than a beautiful listen. 

    Ryan Adams - Prisoner

    A really heavy-handed breakup album in one sense, but in another, a really great natural next point on Adams’ trajectory into songwriting legend. This is as good as his self titled and 1989 records of this decade and, if you’re looking for a really Ryan Adams-sounding album, this is definitely the place to look. There are a dozen really good earworms to be had here and more than a dozen listens for me already.

    Priests - Nothing Feels Natural

    I was admittedly not expecting much from a young DC-based post-punk band right now, and maybe you should go in with low expectations too. Maybe this whole positive writing thing I do is actually a terrible anchoring mechanism for people to not enjoy the music that I’ve so enjoyed. This observation, and many other pointless observations, feel very appropriate to this record, which is wordy, clever, naive, and impassioned as punk rock should be. The spread of influences is broad and smart for this kind of record: Priests switch between no-wave of “Appropriate” and “No Big Bang” to power pop on “JJ” and “Suck” to post-punk of “Nicki” and and the title track. Melody trades with intensity often enough to feel like a well-written whole and not a rock record simply unified by energy. Definitely the rock album of…the year. So far.

    The Flaming Lips - Oczy Mlody

    What a comeback! There’s been so much meandering in the last decade for Coyne that I really wasn’t expecting this to be such a barn burner of a psych album. I’m pretty sure this is being underrated by Lips fans but lauded by weirdos who think having songs about unicorns and Myley Cyrus sing on your record are acceptable and normal things, or at least, not too far from the centroid of good taste in 2017. There’s just so much satisfying synth and sound design to go along with these mystic meanderings! In particular, “How?? > There should be Unicorns” is my favorite psych couplet in recent memory and should not be missed.

    Ty Segall - Ty Segall

    A lot happens with Ty, so when he releases what feels like a proper album, even though his last proper album was just a couple years ago, it feels like a comeback. I have a sense that he’s going John Dwyer right now and releasing only every other album with a full band and full concept. This, then, is a proper Ty release, and maybe the best since Slaughterhouse. The songwriting is spot on, the shredding is satisfying, and there are some pretty psychedelic detours in between.

    Abstract and Weird

    Emptyset - Borders

    Not quite as enjoyable for me as Recur, but surely less enjoyable than anything that you enjoy listening to. The best sound art of t he month for sure, and an interesting step forward compositionally. It still seethes and feels like it’s ripping apart sound itself, which is what I need from this duo, who have become an important reference point in heavy electronic music. Definitely worth a listen if you are crazy in the head.

    mmph - Dear God

    A small, densely packed EP from a Boston based producer who has an ear for sonic experimentation. This bounces around between Bass music, Emptyset-style post-industrial, and IDM style meandering. Keep an ear out if you’re around Boston and you see these four letters together on a sign or wherever.   

    Suzanne Kraft - What You Get for Being Young

    Really gorgeous slice of analog-heavy Progressive Electronic. Borders on ambient and IDM at times, but maintains a solid emotional core all the way through. This technically came out in December, but for some reason, the world kept it from me until a few weeks ago. This could easily soundtrack a Terrence Malick film or be the first thing you listen to on a spring morning.  

    Bing and Ruth - No Home of the Mind

    This is the first B&R release that I’m on board with, but it’s probably pretty similar to the others. The chiming piano pieces split up by ambient washes seem to be a winning formula whose only downside is that it is a formula. Still, a very timely and lovely release from this ambient collective.

    Varg - Nordic Flora Series Pt.1: Heroine

    I think the closer Northern Electronics leans towards techno, the better. This is a four track 12” of cold, swedish techno that will sound good to whoever likes that sort of thing.

    Garage Mania

    Tall Juan - Taller than Ever

    Really fun Ramones aping from a Rockaway-based Argentinian transplant who I guess is pretty tall. I don’t know how tall.

    Leather Jacuzzi - Monsters, Narcs, and Idiots 

    Young Canadian punks hit hard with their first release, which will come out on April 20th, 2020 according to their band camp page.

    Leather Lungs - Are Humans Too

    Thee Oh Sees style garage bangers that are somehow louder than seeing a live garage gig. Good times.

    Best of 2016: Singer/Songwriter

    This was the hardest list to write but some of the most fun albums to listen back to (and sing along with). I listened to every album in this project as I wrote about it, and now that I’m done, music sounds entirely differently than it did before. I think I have weeks of minimalism and musique concrete ahead of me unless I start my best albums 2010-2015 project (which would be about six times harder than this). I couldn’t get this list down to 10, so I had to do five extras, which felt just right because of how many of these were my very favorites for the year.

    15> Agnes Obel - Citizen of Glass

    This is my introduction to Obel, or really the phrase “a classically trained pianist with an elegant and elastic voice” was my introduction. This is a record that focuses on voice and lush arrangements, which there isn’t enough of, or at least, not enough of it finds me.

    14> Cass McCombs - Mangy Love

    Cass writes his best songs but doesn’t maybe put out his best record with Mangy Love. Half the songs are indelible Cassics (a clumsy portmanteau of Cass and classics), which is a high hit rate for him, or for anyone. The other half sounds like he just didn’t really try hard enough. Tune in for 1, 4,5,6,11, and 12 though for sure.

    13> Aidan Knight - Each Other

    Each Other is a quiet album with some loud bombastic moments. It’s a pop record one moment and quiet, introspective folk the next. Knight has an interesting way of maintaining distance while singing about things that must be very personal. Perhaps that’s a Canadian thing. It works for him.

    12> Carter Tanton - Jettison the Valley

    Having enlisted Sharon and Van Etten and Melissa Nadler to complement his fragile tenor, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before Tanton becomes a critical darling. Not yet, though! This is a classic breakup album with careful songwriting and palpable emotion. It gives rather than takes, though, and I find myself enjoying it more with each listen.

    11> Angel Olsen - My Woman

    Big year for Angel! Everyone loves this album! Except me, I just like it a lot. I still can’t really get over the production of her voice, or maybe just her voice itself. It’s the most powerful part of the record and it’s the biggest nagging point if you don’t quite like how it sounds. This is still a great record that deserves all the nice things that people say about it.

    10> Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

    Signing to Atlantic certainly shifted where this album went, but not in a bad way! I had no idea if there was anywhere to go from his amazing album that got him signed to the major, but rollicking country soul wasn’t what I would have guessed. I really enjoy hearing Sturgill’s evolution and I hope he continues trying things out!

    9> Adam Torres - Pearls to Swine

    This came to me at a strange time, where I was surrounded by beautiful folk records to the extent that it just sounded like another beautiful folk record (this list is sort of full of them). This is a very special one though: live to tape with really interesting arrangements and one of most unique and beautiful voices I’ve ever heard from anyone. One of the few I really have a hard time matching note for note while singing along. I still try!

    8> Andrew Bird - Are You Serious?

    Maybe this isn’t that notable an album in the Bird oeuvre, which boasts half a dozen classics already, but it sure is a nice listen. These songs played really well live, unlike a lot of the songs off of the last two proper records. It has a great run of pop songs in the first four tracks and an amazing one-two punch in “The New Saint Jude” and “Valleys of the Young.” In between it sags a little bit, but not much. A necessary listen even if you’ve tuned him out for a bit.

    7> Ryley Walker - Golden Sings that Have been Sung

    Ryley does two diametrically opposed things on this record. First, he brings his live show onto the record a bit via some extended jam moments and moments of great energy. But at the same time, he creates further distance between his record self and his goofball stage persona that works with his rollicking live sets. These songs sound more sober, though he sings directly about experiences that are not so. Ryley has written his best songs to date here and I hope he continues on this path. 

    6> Emma Ruth Rundle - Marked for Death

    This is the heaviest album on this list, and one of the heaviest that I’ve listened to all year. Since that’s not a linear description, it might actually be one of the heaviest albums of all time. Her words carry great weight, and set against the guttural strum of loose, distorted guitar strings, it makes for quite the listen. There are moments of extreme beauty on this record that few others could ever achieve.

    5> Leonard Cohen - You Want it Darker

    This is the first Leonard Cohen album that I’ve really understood, internalized, and enjoyed. Life always seems to go that way. I remember playing it for the first time at the end of a long party. He was still alive at the time but I had read about him speaking about his life ending. It felt good to listen to it that night and it still does today. There’s a life full of catharsis to be had in these songs, which are immediate and lovable.

    4> Ray LaMontagne - Ouroboros

    If you make an album of vintage blues psych prog with massive guitar riffs, you can count me as a fan. Give it a solid narrative but with songs that stand on their own and you have one of the best records of the year. I haven’t been sure if that feeling would change throughout the year, but each listen feels mostly like the first time in the best way, still.

    3> Case/Lang/Veirs - Case/Lang/Veirs

    This is a really special record from three modern folk luminaries. At each turn, they are at least the sum of their parts, and sometimes more. The styles shift enough across the course of the album so that the whole thing has a cohesive but varied sound that fits the album format perfectly. This is definitely one in permanent rotation for car rides and afternoons.

    2> Jackie Lynn - Jackie Lynn

    My most listened to record of the year, and really just about a tie for #1. The only criticism I have is a rare one for me: it’s too short! That is to say, the six fully formed songs here leave me wanting more every time, as I think they are strange and perfect concoctions of art pop, country, and minimal wave electronic. The performance I saw from Haley Fohr may have been the best I saw all year. While she didn’t play any of these songs, she was wearing a Jackie Lynn guitar strap, so she was certainly there in spirit. I’m eagerly anticipating whatever comes next for Haley, be it Circuit Des Jeux, Jackie Lynn, or something else entirely.

    1> Damien Jurado - Visions of Us on the Land

    My favorite record didn’t change from the mid year point to now, and that’s because it’s a nearly perfect sprawling masterpiece of psychedelic folk. The polish that was put on these songs in the studio, having heard them live on acoustic guitar only, really elevates this to another level of sound design. All this wouldn’t be possible without Jurado’s songwriting of course, at once both confessional and canonical. This is the high point of a great career. 

    Best of 2016: Indie Rock

    I’m kind of defining this as notsodark notsofolk rock music, which I think makes for a really good list. If these ten albums are any indication, Indie is alive and well and these types of artists deserve more recognition for keeping the American suburban dream alive of moving to cities and going to concerts with a bunch of other people who went to college for at least a little while.

    10> Whitney - Light Upon the Lake

    The best moments on this album are the most innocent ones. Having a sort of naiveté that doesn’t overwhelm your music and turn it twee or emo or simply lesser art is a rarity, and I think Whitney pull it off almost all the time. That, and they just write really sweet songs. 

    9> Amber Arcades - Fading Lines

    Annelotte puts together an indie supergroup to record her debut album and it works out great. Taking band members from Real Estate, Quilt, The Men, her vision is exemplified in modern Indie fashion. The touchstones of dream pop and occasional kraut are great choices for her sugary voice and slightly melancholy melodies.

    8> Chook Race - Around the House 

    I had too look it up, a chook is a chicken. Silly Aussies. This is a really smart record full of jangle pop tunes with a few heavier riffs thrown in for good measure. I’ve just found it over the last few weeks and i’ve had a very wonderful 29 minutes to spend in the middle of the day. 

    7> Nice as Fuck - Nice as Fuck

    This is still the most fun I’ve had listening to and singing along with an album this year. I’m a sucker for short, sweet, catchy, and Jenny Lewis, so I’m really happy that she’s gotten so darn nice all of a sudden. 

    6> Young Rival - Strange Light EP

    16 minutes is short, even for this list, which I think has an average running time of less than my garage album list. I’ve only listened to Young Rival’s EPs, eight years apart, but I think I should go back and check out what they’ve done in between. They know their way around power pop jams, jangles, garage riffs, and pop punk, which they roll together into their own infectious blend. 

    5> The Shivas - Better off Dead

    Languid surf pop? Yes please. Infinitely playable in direct sunlight, indoors or out. Preferably out. This is dreamy daytime music that sparks the right kind of brain chemistry in certain people.

    4> Cool Ghouls - Animal Races

    My favorite lyric of the year to mishear is “Animal Racists, the Animals Racists.” That’s the beginning, but far from the end, of my enjoyment of this album. The 60s are a huge reference point here, with sunny melodies mixing with Americana, psych and garage pop. Everything stays really fresh and easygoing, which makes me think about the effect that Real Estate has had on down-the-middle Indie in the past few years. I think it works out really well.

    3> Wilco - Schmilco

    Yeah, I still like Wilco! Proud of it. My memory isn’t the best, but I don’t remember enjoying a Wilco album this much since A Ghost Is Born. And then again, that album wasn’t necessarily the most digestible thing ever. Schmilco goes down easy with some of Tweedy’s best pop songs in Wilco history.

    2> Parquet Courts - Human Performance

    his is the only record I bought on vinyl this year and I’m happy about the format print of it. The middle songs need to be broken up a bit, with Austin Brown dragon the middle of the album down a bit and Andrew Savage needing to pick up his game even more to make a great record (which he does). I feel like we might see Savage break out on his own someday. Oh did you know that Jeff Tweedy played guitar on a couple tracks on the album?! I didn’t. Tweedy isn’t really noted for his guitar work but I bet he’s a cool guy.

    1> Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Denial

    I'm still bitter about the Car Seat Headrest show. Does he want everyone to sing along so loud so as to drown him out? Listening back, I think he invites it. I blame my high expectations, I blame the fans. But: this is music for young people by young people, and they're the ones for whom these are generational anthems. I don't know how different it is from me and how much of an issue of gig mores it is. I'm getting grumpy in my moderate age. I'm still going to see Will when he comes to Paris. This is still the best.

    Best of 2016: Art Rock and Shoegaze

    This is a funny list because I think it’s really consistent and these artists are all in the same lineage, but then again, it’s a little bit all over the place. This has some of the best records as might be recognized by very official publications, and then it has a bunch of other stuff. I like it though, and I really think, as for all my lists, that it’s in the right order.

    10> Swans - The Glowing Man

    I always include the Swans albums right near the bottom of my lists. They’re great albums and it would be wrong to not include them but…I think it’s important for music to be more digestible than these epics are. It’s a rare listen, and I listen back to the older ones rarely. However, it’s a great album, and it does deserve to be heard…a few times.

    9> Programm - A Torrid Marriage of Logic and Emotion

    There’s not a lot of information about these Toronto natives, but I can pretty much write their bio having heard the record and knowing they’re from Toronto. They grew up right outside the city, listened to a lot of alternative rock and shoegaze, moved to Toronto and formed a band. And then they made a good record! Programm use their influences wisely and add their own fingerprints to music that’s hard to have identity with sometimes.

    8> Matt Bartram - Moments Before

    This is essentially a one-man shoegaze army doing exactly what he wants when he wants to. It’s so much easier than what Kevin Shields tried to do 25 years ago with today’s technology, but Bartram deserves credit for honing his sound and songs to this point. There are some really perfect moments that celebrate the genre and its forbears better than most.

    7> True Widow - AVVOLGERE

    What do True Widow’s titles of things even mean? I’ve never picked apart much about this band (they’re one of my favorites) because it’s so much more important that they have their trademark sound that no one else has. Heavy ass slow core sounds basic enough, but no one is doing it! This is another good effort from them that doesn’t change much, but doesn’t need to.

    6> Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree

    More beautiful balladry from the master of the craft. Nothing is as good as “Jesus Alone” but “Magneto” comes close and it’s beautiful all the way through. People have talked a lot about the context in which it was performed (but it was already written) and I don’t think the tone is dramatically different from before. If anything, I take Cave a little more seriously, but then again, I took him pretty damn seriously.

    5> Cross Record - Wabi-Sabi

    I keep wanting to think that this is called Cross Record (emphasis on the first syllable) and that the band is Wabi-Sabi, but that’s just not the case. Never was. This is the best slow core record of the year, which is a strange distinction because of how rare it is to come across any slowcore record. This is in permanent rotation for when you’re in a slowcore mood though, because it hits all the right dynamic shifts.

    4> Medicine Boy - Kinda Like Electricity

    Really strong debut from this South African duo. They show a lot of restraint and care with their sound in a way not too distant from the likes of the XX or Low. This was close to being on the Indie list, but there’s reverb at every turn and the whole thing is quite a dark affair. Very lovely record.

    3> Flyying Colours - Mindfullness

    This really makes me think that people shouldn’t stop aping the likes of MBV and Catherine Wheel…ever. This really works for me in the really traditional It’s Anything kind of way that apparently never gets old. This is one of those that is hard to explain besides “this just rocks” .

    2> David Bowie - ★

    This is an incredible record. It would be an amazing achievement for a healthy man and a monumental one for a dying man. I was thinking about Bowie this morning and I realized how no matter when he lived (in modern times), he would have to eventually be recognized for his greatness. There’s no coincidence, there is only infinite talent, passion, and personality from this man. 

    1> Radiohead - Moon Shaped Pool

    Other people do lists wrong, because while this isn’t the best album of the year (necessarily), it’s the best rock album of the last few years (I’m going to do some research soon that proves this). Seriously, people, do some genre separating on your lists. Or be like pitchfork, who reserves most of the top ten for Hip-Hop and R&B. Pitchfork is the worst. What am I talking about here? You’ve all heard Moon Shaped Pool, it’s great. While not necessarily as revelatory as ★, it’s more consistent and does almost as much to prove the relevance of the artist who has already seen great success. 

    Best of 2016: Outsider House

    This year was a little slower for some of these artists who make this sort of lo-fi home listening house music. Then again, I put some of them on the other lists because they leaned so far into Techno or Ambient, especially the Opal Tapes / Black Opal output. 1080p was up to its usual tricks to brilliant effect, and 100% Silk was a bit slower, unfortunately making some headlines a few weeks back with the deadly Oakland fire. I hope they make another headline because of the brilliant artists that they’re supporting, and I feel terrible about the tragedy because I love the music and ideals of the label so much.

     

    10> Computer Graphics - We Have To Go

    Almost a year ago I started listening to this debut full length as Computer Graphics aka Aleksey Devyanin aka Pixelord aka other stuff. Listening back now, there's nothing discernably Russian about this, but it's interesting that this sound usually comes from Vancouver or the UK. This is smooth and well-produced outsider house with a brooding title track that makes it a worthwhile listen.

    9> But Ludzha - Basslines for Life

    Baselines for Life is the standout 12” on 100% Silk this year. It takes Deep House and washes it out to a beautiful extent that is perfect for me and…no one else? Very few people, at least. These are jams built around stellar soul samples and blasted out bass that just roll.

    8> DJ Voila - Aimless Summer

    A reference to Endless Summer? This was made for a Montreal summer and I’ve been there to experience that weather phenomenon. I imagine it’s different if you’d lived through a bitter, cold, Canadian winter, though. This is a 1080p tape through and through: it’s often fun and bouncy, it has a range of moods, and it demands your ears.

    7> Akasha System - Vague Response

    This is the other 100% Silk moment that keeps on giving from this year. This defines what the label should sound like right now and I hope the direction that it’s headed in. Vague Response is carried by planned out melodies that generally impart a sort of hopeful melancholy about a lost past, a bleak present and a less bleak future.

    6> $$$TAG$$$ - Crowd Surfing

    Opal Tapes put out a lot this year and this is one of the two releases that I physically acquired. It’s a fun listen because of how the beats roll through the whole thing. It has the feeling of an outer space mission that is lurching steadily forward all the time. It’s really good on analogue too, seriously…

    5> Perfume Advert - Foreverware sounds like the opposite of Vaporware, but maybe it's the opposite of Temporare. Compared to last year's tape of the year +200 Gamma, this is a pristine outing that has the tech house beats of their first few releases. It still has the Perfume Advert sound for sure and it's fun to hear it in a more precise context that makes it possible to bring forward the deep house funk that was latent in their sound already. Don't accidentally sign up for Seagrave's mailing list or anything, but this Pepto Bismol pink tape shouldn't be missed.

    4> LNS - Maligne Range / Helical Rising

    2016 saw the debut of Vancouver's Laura Sparrow in two releases that are similar in length and different in release format. Maligne Range was a tape released on 1080p that introduced me to her electro-tinged skeletal outsider sound and it was furthered by the Helical Rising 12" that occasionally brings the tempos up while still maintaining the unique sound of the debut. With the latter on the new Freakout Cult label, it feels like there's a movement that complements and counters Mood Hut that's brewing in Vancouver and I'm excited to see what develops here.

    3> Immune - Breathless

    The only release that I can think of that stands in between Vaporwave and Outsider House. It has the gnarled shoegaze and grit of the former, and it's on Dream Catalogue and features HKE on a track, but it fits on this list pretty well. As I think about it, the two use similar hardware up to a point, though Vaporwave often probably would use Software in a much different way than many of these artists. This is a fresh listen though, especially because nothing out there really sounds like it.

    2> S Olbricht - For Perfect Beings

    The sole notable Lobster Theremin release this year is from Stephan Olbricht, Né Martin Nikolai, of Hungary. He perfectly sums up what can be done with the outsider sound and actually does so on the front and back of a single vinyl record (that I wish I owned). So, format wise it’s a misnomer, and quality wise it is too. You can hear it in the transition between ambience and house where the same wit and attention is paid to the sound and composition of the overlapping moments.

    1> Body-San - Shining the Money Ball

    One upping a high bar that was set on last year’s Corporate Interiors, Body-San moves to 1080p to drop the tape of the year. This time, there’s more jazzy funk, muzak, and tropicalia rolled into the house structures than before. It’s all a soundtrack to a B sci-fi animated film about interstellar intrigue (not really). I want every party I’m ever at to have the vibe of this album.

    Best of 2016: Garage Rock

    This feels like a good year for garage! The stalwarts mostly didn’t disappoint (Emotional Mugger is just ok), there’s some fresh blood in the mix, and definitely some moves towards the types of sound that I think complement modern garage really well. More than the other lists I feel like this one is just for me, but take a gander, will ya.

    10> Waylon Thornton and the Heavy Hands

    The lone band camp find on the list this year is from a Gainesville Florida group who has been around for a few years. They’re bringing the kind of energy that Ty had back around Melted and they’re writing ridiculously catchy songs. The one-two punch of “Daddy Was a Strutter” and “Mickey Mouse” is simply infectious. 

    9> Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds - La Arana Es La Vida

    The only long album on this list is from a garage rock legend whose solo work I’m getting into for the first time. There’s a lot of meandering on this album, which is long for garage standards, but there’s a ton of good stuff. Kid Congo swaggers like the best of them and mutters like Mark E Smith’s little brother. 

    8> Night Beats - Who Sold My Generation

    The Seeds are alive and well and they call themselves Night Beats and they’re 40 years younger somehow and they’re rocking better than ever. Night Beats really cement themselves as a staple of modern garage with this one, which plays really well at parties and once, memorably, even in the Brattle Theatre! Really solid all the way through.

    7> Yak - Alas Salvation

    There’s not too much on the garage market from the UK, that doesn’t borrow from the 60s entirely, and where an array of different instruments and styles are explored. But this is very much garage, still! There are so many barn burners here that are cleverly fashioned into an album via interludes and the psych drawl of the closer. 

    6> GØGGS - GØGGS

    This is the best Ty related album of the year. There are a lot of elements working here to make this good though: Chris Shaw (Ex-Cult) is an amazing vocalist, and he and Charlie Mootheart have a rapport that runs pretty deep at this point. Just like all the Ex-cult releases, this will be on my garage rotation for the foreseeable future.

    5> Honey - Love is Hard

    More than any other album on this list, and possibly this year, Love is Hard sets a focus, sticks to it, and nails it. Seven song half hour albums will always have a place in my heart, especially when they rock this hard. This sludgy psych garage will definitely satisfy you if you’re able to be satisfied by such things.

    4> Acapulco Lips - Acapulco Lips

    Hey, here’s a good debut! Riding the heels of fellow Pacific Northwesterners La Luz but cranking up the pop and girl group melodies, this album doesn’t end up sounding like any time in particular. The surf and the vocals hit every mark and the songs are hooky as hell. I hope these guys make a splash soon.

    3> Exploded View - Exploded View

    The echoes of post-punk forebears are heard very specifically here, and, you know, making something echo something else is a very post-punk thing to do. This is a killer record full of angles, attitude, and dark charm. The final third might be the best run of songs on an album this year.

    2> Thee Oh sees - A Weird Exits

    You can’t deny John Dwyer and his new band of youngsters that are trying desperately to keep up with him. This sounds like their first release written with the new lineup, which threatens to jam and meander all over the place while still writing some of the best songs that Dwyer’s ever performed. Not quite the hit that last year’s Multilator was, but pretty darn close.

    1> Cosmonauts - A-OK!

    I was worried when reading the press materials about this one that it was going to be too poppy and that they would sell out as they “turned down the noise.” Well, they sorta turned down the noise (not live, though), and replaced it with really strong melodies and songs in general. Their last couple releases have suggested their position as one of the best bands on the West Coast, but this clinches it.