Whether you want to admit it or not we’re half way through the year. 2016 is in its middle age. Nearly over the hill and graying at its temples. It’s wondering if its made the right choices in life. It’s considering buying a sports car and taking skydiving lessons. It’s feeling very self conscious of its receding hair line and growing pants size, too.
Okay, I guess years don’t age like
me us humans do. A year doesn’t care how slow or fast it moves. It just moves. So, we lads and lassies have to make the most of those months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds that our current year provides us with. Besides family vacations, trips to the cinema, and when the school year starts and ends, album releases tend to leave their mark quite significantly on me. They singe in my memory moments and feelings that act as these points of reference I can go back to years from now. This year, so far, the album releases have been pretty phenomenal to my ears, more so that 2015(sorry 2015…you get an “A” for effort.) So without further delay, here’s my ten favorite albums of the year…so far.
10. Mythic Sunship : Ouroboros
Ever since 2014 the El Paraiso record label have made quite an impression on me. With releases by Causa Sui, Psicomagia, Jakob Skott, Jonas Munk, Papir, Rasmus Rasmussen, Brian Ellis, and probably a few others I can’t remember at the moment this Danish music collective puts out solid music on the regular. This year is no different.
Mythic Sunship is a raw, noisy psych rock outfit from Denmark that like expansive, instrumental jams. Ouroboros, their debut record, is one hell of an introduction. “Year of the Serpent” and “Ophidian Rising” are guitar explorations of the highest order, mixing stoner rock stalwarts with spacier vibes, while the nearly 22 minute closer “Leviathan” is a dirge-y explosion of feedback and menace.
If you dig your musical explorations on the noisy and interplanetary side, Ouroboros is for you.
9. Mogwai : Atomic
It took me a few years to find my way to Mogwai, but once I did there was no looking back. Their newest, Atomic, is a reworking of a score they wrote for a recent BBC documentary about the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Having not seen the doc I’m can’t compare what’s in that film to what’s on the new album, but I can say Atomic plays like a real deal Mogwai record. All subtle movements and cathartic explosions of noise, the album uses the band’s recent heavier use of synthesizers to their full advantage. Mogwai have always used their use of restraint and release to their advantage and this album is no different.
Another win for these Scottish noisemakers in my book.
8. David Bowie : Blackstar
As this year continues to roll along it feels the need to keep taking some of our most beloved and one-of-a-kind artists along with it. The first(and arguably) most painful loss was the death of David Bowie. Here was a guy that despite a cancer diagnosis and his own pending death looming in the shadows he continued to create. A mere 48 hours after the release of his newest album, Blackstar, the man was gone. He left this gift of an album at our feet and then disappeared into the ether.
You may not have dug every phase of his career, but each time out Bowie was innovating and reshaping the artist we thought we knew. Blackstar, along with his previous album The Next Day, feel like records where the persona David Bowie and the man David Jones finally met in the studio and collaborated beautifully, each accepting the other for who they were. Blackstar, in retrospect, feels like a goodbye album; a tip of the hat to a life led fully and without fear. It’s an album left for us fans to comfort us. “I Can’t Give Everything Away” is both heartbreaking and ominously genuine. It’s safe to say Mr. Jones that you left this earth with still much intact for safe keeping.
7. The Lennon Claypool Delirium : Monolith Of Phobos
If you were to have told me 10 years ago that Sean Ono Lennon and Les Claypool were going to make an album together and that I would love it I would’ve said you were crazy. Well, I would’ve been dead wrong 10 years ago because Mr. Lennon and Mr. Claypool have indeed made an album together and I do indeed love it.
Monolith Of Phobos is the result of a three week hang and jam session between Lennon and Claypool at Claypool’s home studio located at his California ranch. The resulting record is a mix of 60s psychedelia, Crimson-esque prog, funky grooves, and Claypool’s typical gaggle of weirdos and creeps all rolled into a very palatable songbook. If you have the gene that allows you to love Primus and can get over the fact that Sean Ono Lennon sounds a HELL of a lot like his dad, then you need to treat your senses to this nugget of beautiful weirdness. “Mr. Wright”, “Oxycontin Girl”, and “Captain Lariat” await your arrival.
6. White Denim : Stiff
White Denim can be overly caffeinated at times. There are moments in their discography where you want to just yell at the stereo “Hey! Settle down, okay??” Of course that would be crazy because the band can’t hear you, but as good as they are as a rock and roll band that virtuosity and energy can be a little distracting. On their last album, Corsicana Lemonade, the band seemed to find a groove and stayed true to it. There were outbursts of energy for sure, but it all felt contained and honed in. Stiff continues that vibe rather well. The album is one tight groove after another with a healthy dose of soulful pondering thrown in for good measure. “Holda You(I’m Psycho)” sounds like The Allman Brothers on hyperdrive while “Ha Ha Ha Ha(Yeah)” holds court in a monarchy of absolute groove.
Drop the needle, groove, repeat.
5. John Carpenter : Lost Themes II
There’s nothing better than seeing one of your artistic heroes have a second artistic and creative wind. Five years ago John Carpenter came across in interviews as tired, a little bitter, and indifferent regarding his own cinematic achievements. He seemed all but ready to retire into a cloud of obscurity somewhere in Northern California, cashing residual checks from DVD and Blu Ray sales and whatever he made off those horrible remakes of his beloved Halloween, The Thing, and (blech…gag) The Fog. But then a couple years ago Sacred Bones announced they were releasing an album of original music by the Master Of Horror and his son. Lost Themes was played as score ideas that were never used in any films and the record was phenomenal. Darkly lit and synth-structured tracks that could’ve easily scored something from Carpenter back in the late 70s or early 80s it was the shot in the ass Carpenter needed to find that artistic spark once again.
With Lost Themes II he sounds totally in the groove. The songs are completely formed musical narratives. Carpenter, along with his son has put out a beautifully structured instrumental record that can soundtrack whatever you have playing in your head, no movie ticket or overpriced popcorn required. Just your imagination and maybe a beer.
4. Explosions In The Sky : The Wilderness
I love it when a band I love can reinvent themselves without sacrificing their essence and who they are at the core. Explosions In The Sky have done that on The Wilderness. This album feels like a band revitalized and re-focused on the most vital part of making art: making art that moves the artist. I think EiTS could’ve continued to make records in their past canon over and over again and fans would’ve continued to eat it up, happily even. But that sort of thing is what turns great bands into shells of artists. The Wilderness has a sense of urgency to it that something like Take Care, Take Care, Take Care seemed to be lacking in. The mix of electronics into the EiTS fold seems to have been a shot in the arm for these Texans. Tracks like “Tangle Formations”, “Logic Of A Dream”, and “Disintegration Anxiety” build on tension and build up and give way to breathtaking codas.
The Wilderness is a masterpiece and the best from Explosions In The Sky(so far.)
3. Jakob Skott : All The Colours Of The Dust
Man, nobody is making drum and synth records quite like Jakob Skott. You’ve got bands like Zombi and Pinkish Black that make some great, great albums in that area of musical expertise, but there’s more prog than groove with those cats. Skott on the other hand is a master drummer by trade, so bringing the groove is first and foremost. He makes these noisy, skronky worlds with analog synths and then carries them atop these muscular, jazz-inflected rhythms that take them to another level. In 2014 he released two of these drum/synth cosmic battle records that I feel created a whole new genre of instrumental music. With this year’s All The Colours Of The Dust he continues to build upon his mountain of music momentum and created yet another cosmically funky world where the machines have taken over and the only thing standing in the way between human extinction and total robot domination is a man and his drums. “Age of Isotopes”, “Iron Nebula”, and “The Variable” swiftly kick you in the teeth and launch your psyche into hyperdrive.
Sheer musical glee.
2. Radiohead : A Moon Shaped Pool
My brain is still reckoning with this album, honestly. There’s much to say but I’m not ready to say it yet. I will. I can say these songs haunt my skull and this album feels and sounds like the most earnest thing this band has made in years. It breathes like In Rainbows, it complicates and computes like an analog Kid A, and has the dust, wear, and wrinkles of a well-aged book.
This one opens up a little more with each listen. Stay tuned.
And No. 1, Black Mountain : IV
At the beginning of the year if I had been told that out of all the albums released this year the one I’d get the most out of was the new Black Mountain I’d a said you were nuts. Nuts, I say! Well, I stand corrected to the imaginary Greek chorus that spoke of my Black Mountain love. IV is just an absolutely outstanding and brilliant LP that covers all the bases. Proggy, epic jams, shots of punk-ish rock and roll, folksy acoutic numbers, heavily atmospheric synths, and as of at this moment my favorite song of the year, “Crucify Me”. As I said in my initial review, this song reminds me a lot of Wilco’s “Poor Places” off of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. There’s something timeless about this song and for me it encapsulates everything that is great about this Canadian band.
It took me years to come around to them, but consider me a super fan Black Mountain.
Okay, so this is it. It’s been an interesting year for me personally. Lots of quietly significant moments, and this list of albums have been a huge part in soundtracking those moments. This is one of those years that seems to be producing some absolutely incredible music. I haven’t been disappointed yet(well, except for maybe that horrible vinyl copy of A Moon Shaped Pool I received) and hopefully that trend will continue. I’m sure this list will change a bit by year’s end, but for now these records are rocking my world.
How about you? How’s your musical year been?