Here it is. Our obligatory year-end review. The following is an unranked list of albums that caught, and kept, our attention in 2016. Have at it. — AD
Heron Oblivion – S/T: For listeners whose love of exploratory, thunderous psychedelic rock is matched only by their jones for classic Britfolk, Heron Oblivion’s self-titled debut is a dream come true. Sure, Sandy Denny sat in with Zeppelin on “Battle of Evermore”, but did Anne Briggs ever jump onstage with Sabbath? Did Linda Thompson cut a record with Crazy Horse? These are just some of the thoughts that come to mind while getting inside this one…on blast. (buy)
David Bowie – Blackstar: Bowie was always ahead of his time, and with Blackstar, he got ahead of his death. His final album dropped two days before his passing. Instead of inhabiting a certain character or sound, Bowie approached Blackstar with an end-of-the-Zodiac style explosion of genre, having recorded with a cabal of NYC’s shapeshifting, experimental jazz musicians. Expansive and fluid, Blackstar sounds like the all-neurons-firing headrush of the visionary artist’s somber finale. (buy)
75 Dollar Bill – WOOD/METAL/PLASTIC/PATTERN/RHYTHM/ROCK: An exquisitely crafted sentence for an album title that also serves as the mantra for this cosmic, deep blues odyssey. 75 Dollar Bill is powered by an elemental simplicity, the electric guitar and homemade percussion/horn duo of Che Chen and Rick Brown. The four compositions on WMPPRR are ecstatic and ritualistic, out of time, arcing through musical lineages from Mississippi country blues to the Saharan desert blues to Molam, emerging focused and transcendental. Four mindbending tracks, each one a delight. (buy)
Kikagaku Moyo – House in the Tall Grass: One of the great sleepers of 2016 — House in the Tall Grass, the latest long-player from Japanese quintet Kikagaku Moyo. A kaleidoscopic haze of acid folk and trance-inducing krautrock, album opener “Green Sugar” lives up to its name, with its saccharine rhythm and faded vocals floating high above a grooving bass line. The album’s tone of serenity sets in early on, with the baroque, chamber pop of “Kograshi” and the shoegaze-y “Old Snow, White Sun”, whose barely audible vocals echo amongst a wash of reverb and delicate splashes of piano. A flawless and captivating record. (buy)
Bobo Yéyé – Belle î‰poque in Upper Volta: A compilation of West African highlife, jazz, funk and rock & roll, focused on the artistic boom of 1970s Burkina Faso, formerly the Republic of Upper Volta. Informed by French ye-ye and ’60s pop, and spirited by the fruitful and poignant time for the region, the music of bands such as Volta Jazz (who represent the collection’s entire first disc) absolutely stun in their beauty, whether they are ripping into raw Afro-rock with triumphant orchestral arrangements, grooving in tight swings, or swaying in calm, blissful ease such as in the gorgeous standout “Djougou Toro” — a kind of palm-wine gospel that is worth the price of admission alone. There’s a lot to dig into here, and always more to learn. (buy)
Johnnie Frierson – Have You Been Good To Yourself: Following his hellish time in Vietnam and the death of his son, Memphis singer/songwriter Johnnie Frierson (the brother of R&B queen Wendy Rene) withdrew into his faith, recording a set of beautiful lo-fi songs direct to cassette. Originally self-released and reissued this year by Light in the Attic, the album asks tough, sobering questions like “Have you been good to yourself?” but offers comforting answers about trust and duty. Regardless of ones’ faith or creed, it’s impossible not to hear the heartbreak and the solace in Frierson’s voice, and hear how the creation of music can serve as an act of worship and service. (buy)
Omni – Deluxe: “Quality of life is hanging on the line/We’re taking you.” Atlanta’s Omni shares comes from the same post-punk lineage as like Pylon and the B-52s, but the trio’s debut album Deluxe isn’t a throwback. Transmuting of-the-moment anxiety into frenetic energy, the band hits refresh on angular, cerebral rock themes and winds up with a set of songs that feels more timeless than vintage. Stocked with former members of Deerhunter and Carnivores, Omni’s jittery songs are packed with melody and lingering hooks, equal parts jangle and ragged, pulsing rhythm. (buy)
Steve Gunn – Eyes on the Lines: Drawing inspiration from the writing of Rebecca Solnit, the installation art of Robert Irwin, Malian blues and the Basement Tapes, Steve Gunn drives forward on Eyes on the Lines, his debut for Matador Records. Gunn and his band (more or less carried over from his previous full-length Way Out Weather) make music for getting lost/getting found and taking trips, the kind where you’re not sure exactly where you should be going, but you’re certain you can get there. He leaves room in his impressionistic lyrics for the listener to wander in and look around, “Feel the path and move along the traces where you’ll go.” (buy)
Psychic Ills – Inner Journey Out: Since 2003, Psychic Ills have traveled through a myriad of psychedelic landscapes, from extended drones to scuzzy garage rock. Inner Journey Out finds them in an even more classic rock setting than its predecessor, the excellent One Track Mind. Employing sunkissed pedal steels, ghostly gospel choirs, and gentle acoustic guitar strums, comparisons to the Opal/ Mazzy Star world (Hope Sandoval herself shows up on guest vocals here), as well as similarly wasted vibesters like Nikki Sudden and Jason Pierce are apt. It’s by no means as “out” as Psychic Ills have gotten in the past, but it’s an album well worth getting into. (buy)
Jack Rose – The 2016 Reissues: Seven years after his much-too-soon passing, Jack Rose’s influence is all over the underground these days, in both obvious and subtle ways. And thanks to this year’s vinyl reissues of six of his finest works via VHF and Three Lobed Records this month, it’s easy to understand why. Rose sounds better than ever, as he navigates his way through deep blues and folk forms, raga excursions, unbelievable drones, and unclassifiable zones. “As far as I am concerned, the more people who listen to Jack, the better the world will be,” Ben Chasny told us. And he’s 100% correct. (buy)
Bonnie Prince Billy & Bitchin Bajas – Epic Jammers and Fortune Ditties: While ambient new agers Bitchin Bajas creating gentle and inviting drones behind him, Will “Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy” Oldham stitches together poetry from sweet aphorisms and fortunes. His most overtly peaceful album in years, Billy’s voice fits into the tapestry of synths, acoustic guitars, and percussion – soundscapes evoking Laraaji and Popol Vuh – looping and echoed, his messages amorphous but always applicable: “Show your love, and your love with be returned”; “Nature makes us for ourselves”; “Keep on keepin’ on.” (buy)
Psychic Temple – Psychic Temple III: Psychic Temple mastermind Chris Schlarb’s most group-oriented outing yet, Psychic Temple III mines British folk, R&B, jazz fusion and progressive rock styles, all shaped and molded to fit Schlarb’s relentlessly creative worldview. Recorded with a rotating cast of collaborators like Nedelle Torrisi, Mike Watt, and Fame Studios legends David Hood and Spooner Oldham, the record applies Schlarb’s creative experimentation to familiar “pop” sounds, but never ceases to surprise. “When I Know” evokes Led Zeppelin’s folky side, “Don’t Try” oozes erudite AOR sophistication. Best of all is the stellar kiss-off “You Ain’t a Star,” which feels like something early Stereolab might have recorded. (buy)
Cass McCombs – Mangy Love: “Knock me down that mystic slide again.” Cass’ folksy wisdom and deep pathos glides on his smoothest sound to date. Mangy Love is an virtuoso arrangement of the down-home hippie band to conjure the perfectly groovy vessel for Cass’ rich zen language. It’s cutting, loving, contradictory, crass, and beautiful. His cosmic folk songs disappear into themselves and transform into dark truths. That mystic slide goes in one direction and never ends. (buy)
Cate Le Bon – Crab Day: Le Bon’s Dadaist Crab Day elevates the Welsh singer-songwriter’s abstract lyricism, crooked sense of melody, madcap guitar shredding, and arresting, leaping vocals into a fully integrated aesthetic concept. Each of her topsy turvy songs are framed in a visionary counterpoint of crispy, dissonant guitars, snare drums, mallet percussion, and throaty saxophones. The effect is angular, like humans imitating machines as part of some absurdist game. The rhythms and arrangements strike a carnivalesque, playful tenor while sustaining feeling of slight unease throughout. Crab Day is a delightfully strange realization of Le Bon’s slanted sensibilities, suggesting at times a wily poet’s no wave band copping a Steve Reich score. This, her fourth LP and Drag City debut, is her finest to date; theatrical, gothic, and inspired. (buy)
Lambchop – FLOTUS:FLOTUS is a reimagining of Kurt Wagner’s long-running project with synths and sequencers, his sonorous drawl lightly autotuned. Lambchop is known for its large ensemble with a light touch, a chamber jazz ecosystem for a maverick Nashville songwriter. That light touch aesthetic guides FLOTUS, where the band with all of its winds and brass and shimmery guitars blends in and out of a beautifully slow-paced electronica. Aching melodies abound, and for such rich musical ideas and FLOTUS sounds sparse and nuanced. A compelling exploration of form and ensemble, as exemplified 18 minute masterpiece “The Hustle.” (buy)
Wake Up You Vol. 1 & 2: The Rise and Fall of Nigerian Rock, 1972-1977: Following a bloody civil war, a musical revolution exploded in Nigeria. Filled with hard rock, screaming funk, and psychedelic R&B, Wake Up You: Vol. 1 and 2 traces the expanding lines of the youth culture’s emerging rebellion. In the distorted wails of artists and bands like Ify Jerry Crusade, War Head Constriction, OFO the Black Company and many more featured here, you hear fury, unrestrained spirituality, and unabashed glee. Assembled by producer Uchenna Ikonne with great care and exhaustive research, the two-volume compilation makes a bold case for the heavier side of Nigerian Afro-rock. (buy)
Jeff Parker -The New Breed: A deeply felt, soulful blend of hip-hop minimalism, jazz fluidity, and cerebral funk. Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker draws from the history of beat music on The New Breed, but also his family’s personal story. Named for his father’s Afro-centric clothing story and featuring the vocals of his daughter Ruby on the stunning closing track “Cliche,” The New Breed illustrates the creative spirit of three generations of Parkers, and it’s generous enough to invite listeners into that warm familial interplay. (buy)
The Microcosm – Visionary Music of Continental Europe: 1970-1986: A sort of sequel to LITA’s I Am the Center new age retrospective, The Microcosm: Visionary Music of Continental Europe 1970-1986, finds producer Douglas Mcgowan turning his focus to Europe, examining various threads – progressive rock, psychedelia, ambient, spacemusic – which would have profound influence on the American new age movement. There are big names here (Vangelis, Popol Vuh, Ash Ra Tempel, Roedelius) but also lesser known composers blending sacred explorations and avant-garde instrumentation like Enno Velthuys, Suzanne Doucet and Christian Buehner, Gigi Masin, and many more. Though genre lines and definition separate some of the artists here, the track list is uniformly sublime, the “visionary” aspect of the collection’s title holding up beautifully. (buy)
Horse Lords – Interventions: This Baltimore quartet has fashioned an incendiary instrumental style that draws on polyrhythmic West African music, Krautrock, new music minimalists like Steve Reich and LaMonte Young. Psychedelic, interlocking pattern plays investigate soundwaves and timbres to their core, delivered with the ethos of a garage rock band. The guitar and bass have been fretted to just-intonation, lending a bent sound that swarms around Andrew Bernstein’s breathless saxophone work. Interventionscrystallizes the group’s sound over an album-length overture, conjuring a vibe that is both meditative and deconstructive. (buy)
Parquet Courts – Human Performance: On Parquet Courts fifth album, songwriters Andrew Savage and Austin Brown, have grown more dynamic and distinct, conjure the group’s catchiest collection of songs while consolidating its heady punk ethos. The band has sharpened its bold rock and roll sound while both lyricists spit in their own gritty, cerebral tongues, investigating modern city life and various psychic dislocations. Instrumental experiments from the recent past manifest in powerful movements on highlights “Dust” and “One Man No City,” in which Brown sings in a smirky deadpan “Where I’m from/when no one lived there/I look back now/Nothing’s changed/Where I live now/Still no one lives there/Look back again/And lock the door.” (buy)
Nap Eyes – Thought Rock Fish Scale: Scotia quartet Nap Eyes sophomore LP finds the group tighter and more self-assured, weaving through eight airy, existential numbers, with vocalist Nigel Chapman evoking the hallowed likes of Jonathan Richman and Lou Reed. Finding absurdity in the mundane, he turns to Jesus, meditation, self-cleansing and the mystical healing powers of tidying up, yet the band’s unhurried and sleepy pace suggests a half-measure. Both a desire to change, but comfort in the stasis. An instant indie-rock classic. (buy)
Trî¤d, Grî¤s och Stenar – Djungelns Lag/Mors Mors/Kom Tillsammans: Swedish progressive rock band Trî¤d, Grî¤s & Stenar recorded a series of brilliant studio albums, but the group’s blend of traditional folk, avant-garde, psychedelia, American rock, R&B, and blues was best understood in a live setting, where the group’s songs could twist and turn, becoming wild new things. For those who couldn’t be there, Anthology Recordings released a box set compiling three documents of TGS’s live power: 1972’s Djungelns, ‘73’s Mors Mors, and Kom Tillsammans, featuring previously unreleased material recorded in ’72. Spiritually connected to psychonauts like the Dead and Terry Riley, these live recordings demonstrate the band’s adventurous spirit. (buy)
Yoko Ono – Plastic Ono Band: 1970’s Plastic Ono Band still sounds like the future. Presaging post-punk (before punk proper had even hit) Yoko Ono’s proper studio debut bursts with creative fury. Utilizing her voice like a sonic weapon and featuring heavy accompaniment by John Lennon, Klaus Voorman, and Ringo Starr, Ono taps into primal forces and rages on “Why” and “Why Not.” Side B features the earlier-recorded “AOS,” put to tape in 1968, with Ono teaming with free jazzers Ornette Coleman, Charles Haden, David Izenzon, and Edward Blackwell, helping to interject the creative spirit of outsider jazz into rock & roll and pop forms. (buy)
Paul Bowles – Music of Morocco: The author Paul Bowles made these recordings in 1959 with the help of the Library of Congress in an Lomax-style (off)road trip through Morocco in a VW Beetle, hoping to preserve and document the country’s vanishing folk forms. In the label’s typical, masterful fashion, Dust-to-Digital has given Bowles work a stunning anthology with an accompanying book of pictures and text. An immersive study, Music of Morocco is as fascinating a document of traditional Moroccan music as it is insight into one of the iconic expat literary figures of the 20th century. (buy)
Gimmer Nicholson – Christopher Idylls: Were it contained in teak or porcelain, Gimmer Nicholson’s solitary Christopher Idylls would be the most interesting and enchanting wind-up music box ever made. As it stands, it’s one of the most interesting and enchanting records you never knew about until it was pressed to reissue this year. We wrote about the Memphis and Big Star connection before, and while the backstory and context is both marvelous and a little sad, the draw is the music: harpsichord-like guitar that chimes like centuries blurred beautifully together. (buy)
Shirley Collins – Lodestar: Returning with her first recording in 38 years, song collector, treasurer, and interpreter Shirley Collins unites ancient English folk ballads to Cajun reveries, presenting even Lodestar’s 16th century material resolutely in the present tense. She finds dark humor and pathos in these songs, her voice, regained after years of disuse and sickness, sounding warm and present. Surrounded by fiddle and hurdy-gurdy, Collins presents the traditional as avant-garde and her relationship to these songs goes far beyond singer into the realm of inhabitation. (buy)
Elza Soares – A Mulher do Fim do Mundo: 79 year old Elza Soares taps SÄo Paolo’s avant-garde music scene to bring her “Woman At the End Of the World” compositions into weird, raucous existence. Experimental samba sujo (“dirty samba”), the music is urgently contemporary and calamitous, sung with voice is rich is powerful, roughed, and full of the heat and history of a 34 album, 60+ year career. A postmodern human glitch samba masterminded by one of Brazil’s musical auteurs. (buy)
William Tyler – Modern Country: Spacemusic for backroads and the landscapes of forgotten America. On Modern Country, guitarist William Tyler leads his band, which includes ace musicians Phil Cook of Megafaun/Hiss Golden Messenger, Glenn Kotche of Wilco, and avant-garde journeyman Darin Gray, through his most inviting set of songs yet. Employing tugging grooves, motorik pace, and familiar sounds – listen for traces of Dire Straits, Robbie Basho, Michael Rother, Bill Frisell, Jim O’Rourke, the Dead and other deep head references – Tyler incorporates vanished histories and connects to American soil and the people upon it with meditative grace. (buy)
Hiss Golden Messenger – Heart Like a Levee: “You can’t choose your blues but you might as well own them.” In M.C. Taylor’s songs, there’s room for it all: room for dread, for peace, for celebration, and reckoning. Heart Like a Levee finds him dipping his cup into the deep waters of Southern country, R&B, and gospel, and the palette of sepia-toned sounds perfectly fits his words about duty, the nature of work, and the salvation of family. Taylor’s songs fit like a broken-in jacket, one pulled close when the winds get icy and the road gets hard to see. In hard times –times like now – these kind of sturdy songs are needed more than ever. (buy)
Damien Jurado – Visions of Us on the Land: The fertile Jurado-Swift collaboration yielded two more harvests this year (there’s a covers record, too), but it’s this, the final installment of the Maraqopa trilogy that gets priority. Not unlike The Return of the King winning best picture, Visions is as much an achievement of its predecessors as it is an achievement on its own. (Indeed, nifty easter eggs and allusions to Brothers and Sisters and Maraqopa abound, never mind the obvious character references.) And as “visions” go, this psychedelic vision quest has ventured into the belly of the whale and returned to the grace of the world it has created. (buy)
Nicolas Jaar – Sirens: Jaar’s studies on space and noise turn to question time. Loosely framed by the Revolution in his homeland of Chile, Sirens explores the outer and inner limits of Jaar’s sonic language and formal imagination. This is dance music and aural manipulation abstracted into a magical-real fantasia for the ear. The slinky synths, crystalline grand piano, and his own music concrete mingle to conjure white knuckled electronica, a dubbed out cumbia, a celestial doo-wop, old fashioned rock-and-roll, and a sonic sculpture garden that sings on a dusty corner of the mind. (buy)
Frank Ocean – Blonde: Much was made concerning Frank Ocean’s disappearance following his Grammy-hauler 2012 release, Channel Orange. Fast forward four dry years and the reluctant superstar has certainly dispelled any notion of slump on the progressive, Blonde. If you include the release of a companion visual album (Endless) – Ocean is not only peaking creatively but doing it on his own terms. Ocean is joined by A-listers (Andre 3000, James Blake, Johnny Greenwood, Kendrick. etc.) throughout the exposed and self-referential listen…resulting in just about the best view we’ll get of the R&B savant. (buy)
A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here: “Babylon blood clot!” Just what we needed right now. Tribe returns with a final word from Phife Dawg, a cathartic double album from the grown wise, fully woke originators from the Golden Age. They’re as wise and ferocious as ever, heady everymen armed with beats tuned-in to the now yet resonant with ATCQ of yore. Gloriously intact and mainlining a doomy sense of urgency, this is their most politcal music, their jazzy sound now exerting a dubby undertow. Celebrity guests abound and it rules: Busta Rhymes, Talib Kweli, Consequence, Kanye, Kendrick, Anderson Paak–even Jack White, Elton John, and a monster CAN sample! Que sera… (buy)
Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids – We Be All Africans: Continuing the trailblazing work he started in the early ‘70s uniting psychedelia, soul, funk, and jazz, bandleader Idris Ackamoor returns with his soul-jazz combo the Pyramids with We Be All Africans. A cross-cultural tapestry equally rooted in the spiritual jazz of Pharoah Sanders as the Afropop of Fela Kuti, Ackamoor provides driving anthems (“We Be All Africans”) and classically-minded ballads (“Whispering Tenderness”), imbuing the material here with a deep passion and humanist message, a call for unity in the face of division and a recognition of our shared roots. (buy)
7FO – Water Falls Into a Blank: 7FO is the electronic dub project of Japan’s neé N. Kawata. A cassette release as part of RVNG Intl.’s Commend See series, the seven lengthy tracks float in rippling atmospheric worlds, rich with aquatic tones and timbre. True to its title, the music takes us deep into oceanic worlds, populated with strange yet welcoming sounds with a shimmering serenity guiding the listener along. Oh, and album closer “Forest of Old Cloth” is a jam on an entirely different level. (buy)
Sun Ra – Singles: This, the latest reminder that space is the place, comes courtesy of Strut Records as part of their ongoing Sun Ra series. At 65 tracks the set works chronologically, blasting into the cosmos and beyond as the jazz titan and his Arkestra expand upon, and create, Ra’s brand of Afro-futurusim. Space Loneliness this is not. All aboard. (buy)
PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project: Enter saxophone. Nine albums in, PJ Harvey delivered Hope Six in 2016 – an lp demonstrative in tone, casting its gaze upon America. A ‘rock’ record with its roots born in Harvey’s poetry, the album (and its accompanying tour) breathes deep, uncomfortable at times, yet enthralling. (buy)
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial: Pavement? Pixies? Guided by Voices? Yeah, you’ll hear all of those touchpoints and more. The reality is, with Teens of Denial, Will Toledo has crafted a lofty (see: run time of 70 mins), lyrically observant, melodic heavy and fun-as-hell album that does its predecessors well. Quite promising for a young artist rounding into form. It might be rash to say, but if he keeps up this pace, he just might find himself sitting at the same table with his influences as a contemporary. (buy)
Woods – City Sun Eater in the River of Light: Steady like a sailor, Woods navigate the waters of genre-bending psych/folk like the very best of them. However, on City Sun Eater and in the River of Light, the winds shifted their proverbial sails in an unexpected, form-fitting and welcome direction. Hovering somewhere between the rhythmic Ethiopian influence of Mulatu Astatke and their signature sound, this album serves two masters: invigorating (and challenging) both the listener and performer. (buy)
Whitney – Light Upon the Lake: Whitney make music to accompany the widescreen photo of a beach that adorns the record’s inner sleeve. Guitarist Max Kakacek (ex-Smith Westerns) and singing drummer Julien Ehrlich (ex-Unknown Mortal Orchestra) form the backbone of the band, whose debut stands as tall as the best FM radio hits from the seventies. Look no further than the album’s plaintive highlight “No Woman,” where bombastic horns accompany Ehrlich’s mournful optimism and Kakacek’s nimble playing. Light Upon the Lake is both a life-affirming sunrise and an introspective sunset. (buy)
Kacy & Clayton – Strange Country: Distilling the traditions of Southern Appalachia and the British Isles through their Saskatchewan home, Strange Country is a monumental leap forward for the duo of second cousins. Kacy’s hypnotic voice and Clayton’s fingerstyle guitar are front and center, anchoring forward-looking traditional and timeless original songs. Canadian folk music has a bright future. (buy)
Sonny & The Sunsets – Moods Baby Moods: For over a decade now, Sonny Smith has been crafting his own sort of universe, exploring and expanding upon his own brew of garage-inflected art-rock, adding forms of country, new wave and spaced-out proto-punk. Lyrically, it’s an exaggerated reflection of our existence – a kind of deadpan cynical vision of a not too distant future. On Mood Baby Moods, those otherworldly sounds and influences — the musicians; Smith’s recurring cast of characters: strange freaks, rejects and aliens among them; the mysterious void explored – brilliantly coalesce into what might be Smith’s defining record, and surprisingly, also his funkiest. (buy)
Karl Blau – Introducing Karl Blau: Washington State’s Karl Blau has been releasing eclectic, original music for the better part of two decades, much of which has remained under the radar. On Introducing Karl Blau, we find the artist born again in the light of Cosmic American Music. Covering country and folk greats such as Tom T. Hall, Link Wray, and Townes Van Zandt, Blau rejoices, not in pastiche, but in the delicate splendor of submerging into the source material. (buy)
Michael Nau – Mowing: In the years since Cotton Jones’ Tall Hours in the Glowstream, a master recording of Cosmic Americana that placed the group in a category all their own, Michael Nau and Whitney McGraw have married, had two kids and have settled into their home of Cumberland, Maryland. And while Mowing was released under Nau’s own name, this record gleams with the warm familial spirit of a Cotton Jones record. McGraw and a cast of supporting characters help craft woozy AM gems of pop, country, soul, folk, gospel and 60’s tinged psychedelia. Swaying gracefully between breezy and languid, and brimming with charm, it’s got all the fixings of what has made this group one of the finest of the past decade. (buy)
The Baird Sisters – Until You Find Your Green: Originally released as a subscription-only LP by the Grapefruit Record Club in 2012, Ba Da Bing has finally made Until You Find Your Green available to the masses. Home recorded in Laura’s house, the album is closer in tone to Meg’s more traditional solo work, but as expansive as her latest. Understated guitar and banjo paired with gorgeous sibling harmonies and a bevy of other instrumentation. A familial and familiar treasure. (buy)
Aquarium Drunkard Presents – Lagniappe Sessions Vol. 1: How does one take a song and make it their own? The question’s answered over and over again on Lagniappe Sessions Vol. 1, our first collaboration with Light in the Attic Records. Collecting choice cuts from the five-years since AD launched the Lagniappe Sessions, the record features interpretations of songs by the Kingston Trio, West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Gin Blossoms, the Germs, Aphex Twin and more by of Montreal, Sonny and the Sunsets, White Fence, Kevin Morby, and Dungen. Some songs uncover hidden elements in the originals, others reshape and redefine. “Songs like this play on long after the record is done and become more like truths to me,” songwriter Jennifer Castle wrote for AD regarding her cover of Bob Dylan’s “Walkin’ Down the Line,” featured on Vol. 1, and her statement seems to sum up and unify the songs gathered here. (buy)
Brian Eno – The Ship: If 2016 was about anything, it was about the undeniable and inescapable. As old heroes died and countries shifted under our feet, Brian Eno offered The Ship, a “musical novel” about the First World War and the sinking of the Titanic. Boats and vessels have long fascinated Eno, and he uses them here to explore inevitability and the sense of being carried – by time, by circumstances – through life. Reflecting on mortality, Eno’s voice, seldom heard on recent records, booms from a low register, amid dark drones and soundscapes. “The sail is down, the wind is gone,” Eno sings, before closing with a sublime reading of the Velvet Underground’s transcendent “I’m Set Free,” a move as beautiful and moving as it is ambiguous. (buy)
The Family of Apostolic – S/T: John Townley of The Magicians bought a loft, invited some friends over, turned it into a studio, had a little success, then it closed. He called it Apostolic. So, the “family” means pretty much that – the characters, creatures and sounds of the Apostolic collective, coming together to record. It was 1968, certainly a transitional period in music, rife with experimentation and eccentricity. And that’s what we have here. But rather than a hodgepodge of hogwash, this amalgam of folk-garage-avant garde-other (other: bag pipes, animal noises, dissonant yodels) is somehow cohesive, linear – and now, in 2016, a living document of a place and time, like a period piece that set out to capture, not history, but the very moment it occupies. (buy)
Nathan Bowles – Whole and Cloven: Whole and Cloven is comprised of simple elements, but they expand in practice. Bowles’ plays his banjo with percussive force, composing roiling, circular melodies that dance around his artful Americana boogie. On “Chiaroscuro” he takes to the piano for a classical minimalist exploration; on “Moonshine is the Sunshine” he hoots and hollers a mischievous Jeffrey Cain cover. In some ways Whole and Cloven feels like his most personal record yet, inspired by his mentor Jack Rose on “Burnt Ends Rag” and emotionally bare on the 11-minute song-journey “I Miss My Dog,” a heartfelt saga that expresses its longing without a single lyric. (buy)
Imaginational Anthem – The Private Press: A deeply satisfying dig into the dusty world of private press guitar soli from the 60s, 70s and 80s. While there’s been no shortage of archival releases from this zone in recent years, the players here are extremely obscure. Un-Google-able until now, for the most part. Of course, obscurity doesn’t equal quality, but don’t worry: the compilers have expertly chosen songs that don’t land in the “rare-for-a-reason” category. Above all, The Private Press is extremely listenable, flowing magnificently from start to finish. (buy)
Fairport Convention – Live in Finland: Live in Finland 1971 captures the singular Fairport Convention blazing through an all-too-brief festival set of excellent Britfolk boogie. The raw, righteous recording features the band just after guitarist Richard Thompson exited — but even without their resident six-string genius, Fairport is a force to be reckoned with, careening with thrash metal speed through some well-nigh unbelievable jigs, reels and traditional tunes. (buy)
Daniel Bachman – Daniel Bachman: While some of his neo-Takoma School peers have plugged in and/or headed in more straightforward singer-songwriter directions, Daniel Bachman‘s focus remains firmly on the acoustic guitar. And that’s a very good thing. Dan’s new self-titled effort on Three Lobed Records is a master class in fingerpicking and slide guitar that’s deeply felt and skillfully rendered. For a few minutes of pure slide guitar perfection, head straight to “Watermelon Slices on a Blue Bordered Plate,” a tune that’d make even John Fahey nod his head in approval. (buy)
Robert Stillman – Rainbow: Composer Robert Stillman builds vast worlds on Rainbow. Layering electric keys, piano, woodwinds, and percussion, Stillman sounds at home in the melancholy of “Ruthie in May” and the playful looping of “Warren is a Great Car.” Though the born Mainer lives and records in United Kingdom these days, there’s a palpable connection to American sounds on Rainbow, which taps into spiritual jazz, classical minimalism, and avant-garde folk. On the record’s centerpiece, “As He Walked Into the Field,” Stillman starts with a hymnal melody played on piano and continually builds the composition until the song is twisting mass of ecstatic melodies which collapse into a sustained drone. (buy)
Daniel Lanois – Goodbye to Language: Meat Puppets lyricist Curt Kirkwood once asked, “Who needs action when you got words?” On Goodbye to Language, composer and producer Daniel Lanois seems to ask the inverse of that question. Pondering the concept of music as a universal language, Lanois and collaborator Rocco DeLuca forgo lyrics but not lyricism as they craft swelling pedal and lap steel soundscapes that seem to pick up where Lanois’ collaborations with Brian and Roger Eno on Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, as heard in Al Reinert’s documentary about the Apollo moon missions For All Mankind. Like that work, Goodbye to Language evokes spaciousness, devoted to the ambient Americana that has shaded Lanois’ defining work with Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, and Willie Nelson. (buy)
The Skiffle Players – Skifflin’: The Skiffle Players are like an anti-super group. Like, the Deadpool of supergroups. Cass McCombs, among other members of and contributors with: Beachwood Sparks, Jonathan Wilson, Phil Lesh, Chris Robinson, et al. They ain’t takin’ things too seriously. In fact, it’s like they just started playing music and one day looked at each other and said, “Record? Record.” Like any good jug band – though they’re not really that either – they’re happily picking tunes and tossing a slew of musical contexts into the mix, mostly giving Americana just a tinge of pastoral brit folk. It feels pretty easily put together, and is appropriately easy to listen to. (buy)
Angel Olsen – My Woman: The emphasis in “My Woman” is on the possessive pronoun. Self-possessed, self-aware and ostensibly more in control than ever, that emphasis turns about in manifest ways – themes, sound, production. Despite this being her best work to date, it’s all rendered meaningless without that voice. And what a voice. (buy)
Morley Loon – Northland, My Land: Not to get political, but Morley Loon makes you wonder how pieces of culture might’ve manifested had native voices not been summarily chucked from the colonial experiment. Loon sings in Cree, and was very much a traditional Cree himself. So, his transmogrification of Cree into period folk is no pastiche. It’s a sincere calling, activism even. It is a thing entirely unto itself. That it is so magically distinct is as much a triumph as it is a shame. (buy)
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool: There’s been a lot written about A Moon Shaped Pool this year. A lot of that has to do with the band – at this stage, nearly anything Radiohead does, no matter how good it objectively may be in a superuniverse where objectivity is possible, it will receive volumes of thought, most of it praise. In this case, the praise is warranted. Puzzles, mazes, labyrinths – these are all terms used to describe their music. The band’s music is often at its best while confronting existential conundrum, but the very best of that is never so audacious to claim to have found an end. Because every truth can only reveal new questions, and so it is in A Moon Shaped Pool, the watery subconscious in the shape of a thing we can see so brightly, yet never really see at all. (buy)
Wilco – Schmilco: To suggest Schmilco is something new or a late-period Jeff Tweedy finding himself all over again, well, that would be a poor a suggestion. (Too much credit was given the still-good Star Wars, in that respect.) Schmilco, on the other hand, is a more fundamental form than we saw last year–more acoustic, less juiced – proving that Wilco can go from a Billy Bragg collab to a record that sounds like Star Wars to a record that sounds like 2007, and it’s probably better than way. (buy)
Syrinx – Tumblers from the Vault (1970 — 1972): Experimental New York label RVNG Intl. had something of a banner year in 2016, culminating in this compilation of mind blowing and boundary leaping music from Syrinx — a Canadian trio that put out a pair of albums in 1970 and 1971, both collected here in their entirety, along with previously unheard material. (buy)
Black Mountain – IV: Thanks to a certain band, the number ‘4,’ Arabic or Roman, as an album title is bound to raise an eyebrow. But the first album of all new material from Black Mountain in six years is a revelation. The band channels a broader array of influence than ever before, finding itself in its usual stoner and prog trappings, but also including Krautrock and Flying Saucer Attack – and in the song “Florian Saucer Attack,” both. It’s quite possibly the band’s finest moment yet, and in a career of tremendous albums, that’s saying something. (buy)
Cymbals Eat Guitars – Pretty Years: There’s magic in rock and roll, still, even as it only seems to cannibalize itself. After all, it’s not the fact that you’re digging up old parts, it’s what you’re doing with them that matters. So when Cymbals Eats Guitars calls a song “4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)” and makes its own play on the Boss’ tale of love won and lost all over the course of a summer, focusing instead on the idea of infinite dimensions of existence where maybe your friend doesn’t take a bat to the head, or maybe you do as well, that’s the kind of insight rock needs. The band has refined its act to a sharp point, and Pretty Years is its apex. Where they go from here, there are infinite universes of possibilities. But for tonight, Sandy, we love them. (buy)
The Gotobeds – Blood // Sugar // Secs // Traffic: Pittsburgh, for all its qualities, is not a town that usually comes to mind as a hotbed of rock. But The Gotobeds’ second LP is a great build from their first, continuing to create something magically raucous. “‘Bodies'” is an incredibly catchy stomper that takes flight in its melodic lead as much as in its sing-along chorus. “Red Alphabet” shows off the band’s ability to use the influence of their namesake (post-punk legends Wire’s drummer, Robert Gotobed) and hone it into something all their own. In a year where rock and roll’s existence seems more tenuous than ever in the wider pop realm, The Gotobeds are proof of its vibrant underbelly. (buy)
Xylouris White – Black Peak: As one third of Dirty Three, Jim White has long been known as one of the most powerful and distinctive drummers on the scene. But he outdoes himself on the title track of Xylouris White’s sophomore LP, building the song into a righteous gallop that’s thrillingly thunderous and devastatingly precise all at once. The drummer’s partner, George Xylouris, is no slouch either, delivering nimble lines on his eight-string laouto, and singing in the voice of an angry, old god. It seems the duo are inventing a new musical language, one based on deeply telepathic interplay and pure, transcendent abandon. Righteous. (buy)
Rhyton – Redshift: Rhyton’s absorbingly eclectic Redshift may feature a totally killer Joe Walsh cover, but it’s not all big classic rock moves. There are surf-y excursions, krautrock zones, Dead-worthy chooglers, and intricate, electrified Greek-inspired folk jams. In other words, there’s not much Rhyton can’t do. Whatever they get up to, the primary pleasure here is just hearing the trio interact and bounce ideas off one another, the rubbery rhythm section of Jimy SeiTang and Rob Smith providing a launchpad for Dave Shuford’s fearless/fun explorations. (buy)
Tindersticks – The Waiting Room: 25 years into their career and Tindersticks sound as fresh, vibrant and brilliant as ever. The band’s latest, The Waiting Room, find them at a creative peak — melding the melancholy and maudlin with beautiful visions of light and streaks of orchestral jazz. Stuart Staples is a master vocalist, employing his voice to convey the dramatic, the sentimental and the sullen. His poetry is draped in a swirl of organs, strings, horns, glockenspiels — a noir landscape for his observations on mystery and nostalgia; beauty and regret; last chances and clean slates. (buy)
Rangda – Heretic’s Bargain: The old rock critic reflex is to call Rangda a “supergroup” but it feels like a new term needs to be invented for the trio of Chris Corsano, Sir Richard Bishop and Ben Chasny. Mega-band? Kozmik Kollective? Whatever you want to call them, Rangda’s third album delivers all the interstellar interplay listeners have come to expect from these avant-psych masters, from the buoyant eastern modalities of “To Melt The Moon” to the noisy/beautiful feedback of “Hard Times Befall The Door-to-Door Glass Shard Salesman.” Peak Rangda. (buy)
Spacin’ – Total Freedom: Recorded deep in the depths of the Chillinger Community Center, Spacin’ coasted into 2016 with a fuzzed out choogle and no shirt, no shoes, no problem mantra. Transmitted blaringly loud — the ear-splitting power chord chug racket is so blasted and savory one wonders where he can get his hands on the electric hoagies they have been gobbling. As the album’s enclosed doctrine attests — blast it soon or remain condemned to a million years probation. (buy)
High Llamas – Here Come The Rattling Trees: At fourteen songs and clocking in at less than twenty-five minutes, the latest release from High Llamas is a subtle journey through a suite of sorts, with restrained and affecting touches of exotica, lounge, and wistful chamber folk. It’s a charming record and features purely compelling moments, especially in the “Recalls” theme — half remembered dreams of conversations between reflective Tropicî¡lia-inspired guitar, twinkling keys and soulful, knowing marimba. (buy)
Kevin Morby – Singing Saw: Kevin Morby has been making excellent solo music since Harlem River, his 2013 debut. If anything, Singing Saw is perhaps Morby realizing just how talented he is and just…going with it. It isn’t so much that he’s more confident, he’s just less encumbered by source material and influence and more freely creating. Maybe it’s that he’s more settled – both musically and, physically, no longer in transit. Opener “Cut Me Down” is certainly as good as anything he’s done, but it’s when things tick over to “I Have Been to the Mountain” that you find yourself on a much bigger, more lavish experience, a sort of “concrete Americana,” where the dust is in the cracks of the sidewalk, not the fields rolling by in the distance. (buy)
Ryley Walker – Golden Sings That Have Been Sung: Ryley Walker’s third record in as many years finds the singer/songwriter/guitarist fully coming into his own. Exploring English jazz folk through the unique lens of the Chicago experimental scene from which he stems, and folding in elements of improvisational jazz and experimental textures, Walker blends and synthesizes his various influences, creating his most fully realized work to date. (buy)
Battle Trance – Blade of Love: The NYC tenor saxophone quartet Battle Trance tests the outer limits of the instrument’s technique and timbre with their enchanting three movement suite, Blade of Love. The four horns evoke both alien and atmospheric soundscapes, as well as haunting and triumphant motifs. (buy)
Lightdreams – Islands in Space: Feeling like maybe we oughta get off this rock? Maybe build massive space stations to float in the cosmos where we can grow our food and expand our minds and generally chill out? Those were the ideas on Paul Marcano’s mind at the dawn of the ‘80s, when he crafted Islands in Space, a far out concept LP inspired by astrophysicist Gerard K. O’Neill, psychedelic counter culture, and emerging technologies. Mercano’s homespun songs drift from spacey folk rock into synth-led new age vistas with groovy ease on the album, which was reissued by the killer Got Kinda Lost label this year. (buy)
Vijay Iyer/Wadada Leo Smith – A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke: Pianist Vijay Iyer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith pay tribute on A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke, naming the closing song for singer Marian Anderson and dedicating the title suite of their latest collaboration to Indian artist Nasreen Mohamedi. Her intricate line drawings (one is featured on the album’s cover) serve as a visual counterpoint to the sounds of Iyer’s deliberate playing, which Smith weaves his otherworldly melodies around, under, and between. (buy)
Joanna Brouk – Hearing Music: In the 1970s, Joanna Brouk began listening for the sounds underneath sounds, for the symphonies in the silences between notes. She honed in on it at the Mills College Center For Contemporary Music, where she studied under Robert Ashley and Terry Riley, and then shared her discoveries via a series of self-distributed cassette tapes. Quickly, her spiritual “sound poetry” found a welcoming home among the burgeoning new age movement and is collected on Hearing Music, a double LP set which makes a case for Brouk as one of the under recognized pioneers of the genre. Written for piano, synth, flute, and percussion, the collection presents the kind of quiet music that is so desperately needed in loud times. (buy)
Washington Phillips – Washington Phillips and His Manzarene Dream: There was a time nearly everything about Texas gospel singer Washington Phillips was shrouded in mystery. But now, thanks to archivist and investigator Michael Corcoran and the good folks at Dust-to-Digital, much has come to light about the man with a strange stringed instrument (his homemade instrument the Manzarene) and his haunting voice. Compiling all known recordings Phillips made between 1927-29, Washington Phillips and His Manzarene Dreams is an indispensable box set featuring a CD and hardcover book by Corcoran. There’s hardly the right words to describe Phillips’ ethereal music. Though he was undeniably familiar with the gospel themes of human suffering and toil, Phillips seems to have a mainline direct to celestial planes. His songs swell and shine. (buy)
Jackie Lynn – Jackie Lynn: Haley Fohr is primarily known for her project Circuit des Yeux, an experimental pop vehicle propelled by Fohr’s distinct vocals and dramatic, operatic lens. An artist surrounded by mystery and intrigue, she doubled down this year with the compelling Jackie Lynn, a concept album recorded in collaboration with Cooper Crain of Chicago’s Bitchin Bajas and CAVE, centered on a the titular character, a debutante runaway, living the fast life, swirling in a haze of cocaine, highways and alien abductions. The musical and conceptual results are intoxicating — a late-night narcotic pulse bordering on hypnotic bliss. And as the listener, we find ourselves in the midst of an existential tunnel, an outlaw riddle of self-reflection and fantasy. (buy)
Tim Presley – The Wink: Tim Presley stays very busy with no signs of slowing down, between his prolific White Fence discography, collaborations with Cate Le Bon and Ty Segall, and now his solo debut. The Wink marks a new touchstone for Presley. Without abandoning his roots of warped California garage-rock, the man’s latest finds him channeling into a deeper level of avant-garde pop, exploring elements of minimalism and electronica with classical touches and angular approaches. Presley evokes Syd Barrett and the spirit of infinite progression in exploring baroque psychedelia from a wealth of unexpected and unpredictable lenses. (buy)
Kaitlyn Auriela Smith – EARS: In a year when the world lost Don Buchla, one of music’s most exciting new visionaries has taken his Music Easel and made her definitive statement. Synthesizers pulse, woodwinds flutter, and Smith’s processed voice leads the way. EARS is a wholly immersive and truly staggering natural world, equal parts organic and electronic. (buy)
Maria Usbeck – Amparo: A wondrous surprise came this year in the form of Maria Usbeck’s solo debut, Amparo. The former frontwoman of new wave/post-punk band Selebrities went back to her roots, resulting in an exotic and densely percussive Spanish-language journey of artistic expression and soul. Recorded over three years and across Usbeck’s homeland of Ecuador, as well as Buenos Aires, Santiago, Barcelona, Lisbon, Easter Island, Costa Rica, and beyond, Amparo is atmospheric album layered with tropical and angular textures, all buttressed by Usbeck’s gentle and genuine vocals. (buy)
Marisa Anderson – Into The Light: Marisa Anderson is one of those musicians who can stop you in your tracks with just a handful of notes. Into The Light sees the guitarist taking a widescreen, cinematic approach — indeed, the album was apparently written as ” the soundtrack to an imaginary science-fiction western film” set in the Sonoran Desert. The album may not have the the visuals to go along with it, but the compositions here definitely fit nicely next to such dusky rambles as Bruce Langhorne’s Hired Hand soundtrack or Dylan’s Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid. (buy)
Cian Nugent – Night Fiction: Night Fiction sees Cian Nugent slipping into a more traditional singer-songwriter role — and making it look like no big thing. The album’s seven songs swing and swagger, calling to mind such legends as Fred Neil, Neil Young, and Michael Hurley, as well as more recent favorites like Kevin Morby, Steve Gunn and Cass McCombs. The scrappy vocals and wry lyrics are perfectly complemented by the Cosmos’ nimble folk rock backing, and every note Nugent plays here is casually dazzling, with tones and taste worthy of the mighty Richard Thompson. (buy)
Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – The Rarity of Experience: Chris Forsyth’s Solar Motel adventure continues with The Rarity of Experience, a double LP that delivers plenty of the six-string fireworks that have become the Philadelphia-based guitarist’s signature over the past few years. He tackles Richard Thompson’s deathless “Calvary Cross;” he imagines what it would be like if Jerry Garcia circa 1977 joined forces with Tortoise circa 1994 for a groovy “Harmonious Dance;” and most excitingly, on a remake of his own “The First Ten Minutes of Cocksucker Blues,” Forsyth and co. let the frozen, tense funk of the original boil over into a righteous Bitches Brew (complete with Miles-y trumpet and fiery sax) that bubbles well past ten minutes. (buy)
Glenn Jones – Fleeting: Patient, meditative and graceful are the words that come to mind when describing Glenn Jones’ playing – which might make you think his work borders on the somnambulant. But it’s far from that. Subtlety is a strong suit, sure, but there’s also a current of restlessness and curiosity running through every note on Fleeting. It’s stunner from start to finish, offering 10 compositions for guitar and banjo that cast a lasting, luminous spell over the listener. (buy)
Bert Jansch – Avocet: There were probably cooler things for Bert Jansch to do in the late 1970s than make an instrumental folk-jazz concept record about birds. But the late guitarist was never one to chase trends. So instead of making a lunge for the new wave, he brought his former Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson and multi-instrumentalist Martin Jenkins in to record Avocet, a total classic that offers some of the most joyful and inspired music of Jansch’s career. This one’s not just for the birds. (buy)
Why The Mountains Are Black: Primeval Greek Village Music: 1907-1960: Collector/compiler/remasterer extraordinaire Christopher King continues his exploration of Greek folk music and keeps coming up with gems. Why The Mountains Are Black is two discs worth of wonderful sounds and virtuosic performances, mainly drawn from rare 78s. The 28 tracks King has brought together seem to encompass the entire range of human emotion, from uncontrollable ecstasy to almost unbearable longing. These recordings may be old, but they are more full of life than pretty much anything else you’ll hear this year … or any year. (buy)
Chuck Johnson – Velvet Arc: As opposed to his (mostly) solo acoustic recordings of recent years,Velvet Arc shows that Bay Area guitarist Chuck Johnson is just as effective in a more fleshed out band setting. The album’s seven songs offer shimmering electric guitar, gorgeous pedal steel and folky fiddles, fading into mesmerizing minimalist pulses. Johnson never lets his songs get too lush or soft focus; each moment feels perfectly devised, one absorbing soundscape after the next. (buy)
Wayfaring Strangers – Cosmic American Music: Another illuminating entry in Numero Group’s Wayfaring Strangers series brings forth two LPs of country fried could-have-beens from across the country. Newly-discovered heroes emerge from their private press confines with pedal steel guitarists in tow. A second chance at becoming a household name for the likes of Mistress Mary and Kenny Knight. (buy)
Big Star – Complete Third: The definitive edition of Alex & Jody’s disintegrating masterpiece. Every known recording from the 1974 sessions takes the listener from Chilton’s demos to Jim Dickinson and John Fry’s differing rough mixes to the final masters. (buy)
Terry Allen – Juarez/Lubbock (on everything): Only a few years into their existence and Paradise of Bachelors have already reached the peak of the mountain in reissuing the landmark first two records of visual artist/country (“Which country?”) songwriter Terry Allen. The concept album Juarez has been at the center of Allen’s practice for decades and its songs take the listener on all-encompassing journey through the light and dark of the American West. Lubbock (on everything) brings things back to Terry’s hometown and broadens the scope on the small city of his memory. Essential listening compounded by gorgeous packaging–both feature extensive booklets with photos, essays, and related artwork of Allen’s. (buy)
Drive-by Truckers – American Band: The Drive-by Truckers have always been ‘of the moment,’ but in a way were all time is like a field, not a river. The entire 20th century was a mine to pull from for topics that are relevant to today. But American Band is the most finely honed example of their craft they’ve ever made. It’s an album that should, and will, sit alongside their best. “Ramon Casiano” and “Surrender Under Protest” are among the most rockin’ and focused Mike Cooley has been as a songwriter, while “Guns of Umpqua” and “What It Means” are some of Patterson Hood’s most reflective and deep. There’s not a bum note on the album and what was hinted at in the potential of this current version of the band has finally come home to roost in a seriously powerful way. American Band is absolutely the record America needed in 2016 and it is still the one we need going forward. (buy)
Eric Bachmann – Eric Bachmann: After a career spent writing mostly for either Archers of Loaf or the Crooked Fingers name, Eric Bachmann released only the second album under his own given name this year and self-titled it to boot. Eric Bachmann is not outstandingly different from a lot of his Crooked Fingers albums, but it is decidedly sharp and the songs are magnificent in scope. “Mercy” is a great reminder of the way we love people despite all the “batshit crazy things they sometime say.” And the portraits of wayward souls (“Master of the Deal,” especially) are as engaging the tenth time through as they are the first. If, as Bachmann has suggested, this marks the official end of the Crooked Fingers moniker, then his first permanent steps into the light from under that revered name are a great sign of things to come. (buy)
Wye Oak – Tween: What makes an album an album? They’re often perceived as a purposeful collection of songs, possibly written with one another in mind, that are sequenced and put together in a particular way. But there’s a whole subset of albums made up of collections of wayward songs, be they b-sides or demos or what have you, that despite never being intended as part of a larger whole, become much greater than the sum of their parts. Add to that list Wye Oak’s Tween, an album made up of tracks recorded between their previous two albums. At a scant eight songs it’s the shortest full-length of their career, but it ranks among their best especially with the invigorating “Better (for Esther)” at its core and the fantastically catchy “Watching the Waiting” at its finish. While they were most likely put aside for lack of lining up with the vision of 2014’s Shriek, it’s fantastic that the band didn’t abandon them altogether, instead going back to revisit the abandoned lines of thought. It’s a journey well taken. (buy)
2012 Year In Review / 2013 Year In Review / 2014 Year In Review / 2015 Year In Review
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21 thoughts on “Aquarium Drunkard :: 2016 Year In Review”
Always my favourite best of list each year. Have a lot to catch up on. Thanks so much!
Always a great list but no Nick Cave? I found Skeleton Tree to be one of the most moving albums in a very long time. Or Leonard Cohen? Definitely his best since I’m Your Man.
Quichenight – Camille’s Market
Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions – Until the Hunter
Tyvek – Origin of What
Cory Hanson – The Unborn Capitalist from Limbo
Autolux – Pussy’s Dead
Biosphere – Departed Glories
Demdike Stare – Wonderland
Ka – Honor Killed the Samurai
The Outfit, TX – Green Lights
Maxo Kream – The Persona Tape
Danny Browm -Atrocity Exhibition
Jessy Lanza – Oh No
Autechre – elseq
Skepta – konichiwa
Crowbar – The Serpent Only Lies
Nels Cline – Lovers
Mary Halvorson Octet – Away With You
And shouts out to u dudes for puttin out the Muuy Biien record. The record may not reach the highs that the live shows do but I can dig the Rowland S. Howard worship that they got goin on.
This year’s playlist (modulo 14 albums not on Spotify): https://open.spotify.com/user/rainvt/playlist/61tnyJ3nEOXsRccfz8a79O
Thank you for not doing a top 10 or 15 or whatever.
I’m surprised Krano didn’t make your list as I heard about the album through AD.
Great List! I’m diving into it now. Surprised to not see Andy’s Shauf’s album THE PARTY. I can’t stop listening to that album.
I’d also add “Blank Panthers / Priest, Expert or Wizard” by Skyjelly
I am overjoyed at the High Llamas inclusion. It’s a band deserving of much, much more love. You guys made my day.
That’s a pretty solid round up…thanks
Moved on from the Growlers? City Club was so good!
Any (condensed) Spotify playlists?
Wonderful list. Every year end I glean off your listing to make some new discoveries. This year it has to be the Michael Nau and the Kacy & Clayton LP’s. Thanks!
Did no one listen to White Denim this year?!
Great list, as usual. The only omissions for me are Justin Peter Kinkel-Shuster’s ‘Constant Stranger’ and Dylan Golden Aycock’s ‘Church of Level Track.’ Still, amazing list.
Oh! And also ‘Cannots’ by Ryley Walker and Charles Rumback.
I’m surprised I didn’t see GÃ¸ggs s/t on here. I thought this was a thoroughly enjoyable LP.
Good stuff. The one omission I might cite is Khruangbin “The Universe Smiles Upon You”
For those who want to listen to everything on this list at least once (minus a very small handful who weren’t on Spotify). 81hr 41min total. Enjoy!
Sad to see Weyes Blood’s brilliant album didn’t make the cut.
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