I was never the kind of music listener that could sit down at the end of the year and compile lists of records that I loved. I could tell you I loved this record and that record, and that one I listened to a hell of a lot, but to sit down and break it down to top 5, 10, 20, and even 50 records seemed an impossible task to me. I knew some cats that it was an art form; top 50 albums, top 50 films, actors, music producers, MCs, Nike shoes….it was a hobby with these dudes to make everything into a list. At the time it seemed exhausting to me. Christ, I’m struggling to make a grocery list let alone rank albums I listened to.
Where do you get the time, let alone the brain capacity to compile this stuff?
Well here I am, listing records in order. You know, I think I’ve just finally succumbed to the OCD in me. I find great joy in compiling lists now. And it’s not about what I liked more or less with this list of albums I’ve listened to over the past year, but it’s about “Hey, these 50 albums I’m talking about? Yeah, you need to give them ALL a shot.” Every record on this list had an impact on me in some way or another. That’s why they’re here. That’s why I’m taking a weekend to sit and sip on scotch and type whilst the wife makes Christmas cookies upstairs. I love music and I love discovering worlds within the grooves of the albums here. I’m of a particular music lover. I like music that helps expand my brain a bit. Music that lingers in the background nicely, but also can help me explore and think about things bigger than me and my immediate surroundings. I also love a great pop song, too. If it moves me, I’m in.
So here we go. First up, 50-31.
50. Shy Boys – Bell House
Sometimes it’s those albums you happen upon randomly on a drive on the information super highway that really get you. Missouri band Shy Boys’ Bell House feels like a shot of ramshackle jangle rock from some far off planet called the early 80s. A mix of Cherry Twister, Feelies, dBs, and Real Estate all rolled together like a massive ball of used bubblegum. Tracks like “Take The Doggie”, “Evil Sin”, “Something Sweet” and “Bell House” exemplify all that is magical in the combination of garage rock abandon and the sweetly melancholy bummer vibes of power pop. It’s an overwhelming feeling when you just let your emotions go; whether you’re in your car driving to work or you’re home in your chair thinking about someone that’s not around anymore. Bell House is a lot like that.
49. Isvisible Isinvisible – Ghosts of New Mills
Simon Pott’s Isvisible Isinvisible project is a mad scientist’s stab at building emotional worlds with modular synthesizers. From what I can tell it’s a trial and error game with modular synths; you twist and turn and plug and unplug and hope the circuital beast cooperates. With Ghosts of New Mills Pott has found a beautiful compromise between man and electo-beast as he tells a tale of a time and place lost to the hands of a clock and to fading memories(and storefronts.) Ghosts of New Mills is an exquisite electronic album that works its way into your brain with blips and bleeps and robotic beats. Songs like “Newtown Neurotics”, “There’s Nothing There”, and “Patricia’s” burn with both mechanical stoicism and a desire to connect emotionally. It’s an incredible record to get lost in, and one that feels like a real journey, too.
48. Futuropaco – Futuropaco
Justin Pinkerton’s Futorpaco is an espresso shot of funky drums and an Italian-flavored melody machine. Think Ennio Morricone scoring a Bond flick, or some late-60s Giallo with a taste for 60s garage rock. Pinkerton made a debut record filled with exquisite farfisa organ abandon and muscular rhythms that could just as easily be the bottom end of early Detroit rock. Songs like “Fantasma Arancione”, “La Torre Cade”, and the almost Queens of the Stone Age-ish “Seppelire Fascisti” have both a retro vibe and a modern groove. A unique sonic delight.
47. Wild Nothing – Indigo
Jack Tatum has proven to be one of the best pop rock songwriters working today over the last 8 years. His Captured Tracks albums have been filled with adventurous sonics, catchy melodies, and forward-thinking pop structures that could even be described as future pop. At first listen albums like Nocturne and Life of Pause seem retro, but when you live with them for a bit they almost seem alien in their concepts and sounds. Indigo feels like Tatum’s push to set Wild Nothing on higher planes and to allow far more ears to enjoy his writing. “Letting Go” and “Oscillation” feel like massive hits in the making, while “The Closest Thing to Living” oozes 80s production vibes and has an unmistakable Talk Talk vibe. One of the most unsung pop albums of the year nobody is talking about.
46. Wooden Shjips – V
Wooden Shjips rarely disappoint, though their last record Back To Land was lacking a bit in ear worms and/or druggy contemplation. V makes up for what that record lacked by brightening up their typically biker club psych with more kaleidoscopic technicolor graces. Ripley Johnson and crew get grooves going just right on “Eclipse” and “Already Gone”, while on “Red Line” and “Staring At The Sun” the band sounds almost like a sedated Jesus and Mary Chain. V is the most upbeat and clear-headed Wooden Shjips have sounded.
45. Alone In The Woods – Alone In The Woods
Jon Dobyns and Lon Bologna, aka Alone In The Woods, work in the darker corners musically but never get lost in the shadows. They add just enough light and glimmer that allow you to find a good spot to stop and enjoy the world they create. On their Burning Witches Records’ debut they use all of their studio and sonic prowess to make an album that burns with serious vibe and immense groove. It’s a retro-futuristic musical world that feels like lost Depeche Mode b-sides intermingled with Wax Stax remixes. The results, tracks like “Ripples”, “Mother of Deers”, and “New Roots For Old Growth” feel and sound both eerily familiar and alien to your ears simultaneously. It’s an engaging debut that sucks you in as soon as you drop the needle, or hit play.
44. White Denim – Performance
There’s something about White Denim I just can’t get enough of. They’re all musical geniuses that play it off that they’re just some dudes playing soulful, funky rock riffs. They’re not showing off, but they’re not dumbing down their music either. Since Corsicana Lemonade they’ve pulled back some of the off-kilter weirdness they displayed on earlier records. They’ve started a less is more policy in their tracks and the results are pretty amazing. Performance is their most sparse record yet, though don’t mistake that for boring. “Fine Slime”, “Double Death” and “It Might Get Dark” are some of the Texas band’s best work, and I think it’s only going to get better from here. Really, I do.
43. Future Museums – Rosewater Ceremony Part II : Guardian of Solidtude
Neil Lord’s Future Museums is a meditation of loops, guitar, synth, and contemplation. He released Rosewater Ceremony Part I at the beginning of the year and concluded the story back at the beginning of fall. There’s a heavy Krautrock/Komische vibe on both records, but on Part II tracks like “Cedar Incense” feel very transcendent. You can almost imagine sitting cross-legged in some great hall as the knowledge of the universe washes over you. “Closed Eye” seems to point to something greater and something we can’t yet see, while “Presidio” has the rhythm and pulse of some of the best to come out of Berlin in the early 70s. All in all, Rosewater Ceremony Part II: Guardian of Solitude is a deep and heady musical experience.
42. Miracle – The Strife of Love In A Dream
Steve Moore and Daniel O’Sullivan step back from their other gigs in order to make 80s electronic-heavy songs in Miracle. You can hear bits of Moore’s main gig Zombi throughout the synth lines and heavy bass riffs, but it’s a softer version of that. More Depeche Mode and New Order than the heady progressive fare he’s made in the past. O’Sullivan’s vocals sway and yearn as well as anybody named Gahan or Gore. With The Strife of Love In A Dream the electro-pop duo seem to have found a freedom in letting things get a little weird. Opening track “The Parsifal Life” is the darkest and strangest they’ve gotten yet, with the vocals almost sounding robotic and the synths have some common ground with the Zombi bag of vibes. “Light Mind” brings back some of that pop-centric feel from their 2013 album Mercury, and “Dreamours” is beautifully lilting with a touch of Gothic seasoning.
41. Beach House – 7
Beach House’s 7 continues their beautiful brand of melancholy, sun-lit electro pop music, this time adding a bit of mechanical resonance courtesy of producer Sonic Boom. The result is a more synthetic turn in their sound, but one that is equally engaging and emotionally powerful. I still get emotional when I hear Depression Cherry, and it’s one of the few albums that I need to listen to at least twice in a row when I get it out. With 7 it feels like a good friend whom you went through something rough and deep with coming to see you after a long time. Things are kept at an arm’s length, and smiles are awkward and mildly skeptic, but those feelings are still there. After a few spins the awkward melts away and you’re left with longing and appreciation once again. “Dark Spring”, “Pay No Mind”, and the overwhelmingly heavy “Drunk In LA” will remind you why you love Beach House.
40. Earthless – From The West
I’m not much of a fan of live records, but Earthless are the exception. Check out their album Live at Roadburn for an example of a live album done right. Or better yet, check out their newest live album From The West. They visit some of the material from their newest studio release Black Heaven, as well as some classic Earthless mind melters and even an incredible cover of Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown”. This one is worth your time.
39. Phantom Vs Fire – Swim
Phantom Vs Fire’s Swim is really unlike anything you’ve heard. It’s an electronic album that appears out of the ether fully-formed and alien, like OPN, Tim Hecker, SBTRKT. Phantom Vs Fire is both organic and synthetic, combining different sonic worlds to give us a musical experience unlike we’ve ever been given. There’s a ghostly quality to this album that feels very cinematic, as if it’s the score to a haunting or an emotional breakdown. Something like “Breathing” builds to a crescendo of strings and keys that works its way into the baroque and plucked “Swim”. “Nightmares and Dreams” has a catchy groove, while “VHS Hypnosis” wains like classic Boards of Canada and 80s synth scores. File Phantom Vs Fire under: one of a kind.
38. Single Lash – Providence
Single Lash’s Providence is one of those time machine kind of records. It elicits those feelings I’d have sitting around on Sunday night watching 120 Minutes on MTV(back when they actually catered to people that liked music) and hearing bands like The Church, The Cure, Cocteau Twins, and The Smiths. Nicolas Nadeau writes songs that appeal to anyone that ever felt disenfranchised by a world that doesn’t quite get them. He’s the sensitive, arty kid that drew incredibly good and dark pictures in 5th period art class and dropped his backpack to reveal Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Cure cassettes. “Come True”, “Frozen Honey”, and “Broken Tongue” mix shoegaze dreaminess with post-punk noise into something that resembles heartache and soul searching, all the while feeling as if everything was going to be okay….maybe.
37. Timothy Fife – Hoichi the Earless
Timothy Fife is one of these dudes that’s just connected into the vibes, man. He makes music that pulsates and warbles with the world here and out into the great unknown. Check out Victims and his Death Waltz Originals debut Black Carbon for proof of the man’s ability to elicit crazy vibes in the electronic music realm. Last year he re-scored the “Hoichi the Earless” section of Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan for a Holodeck Records-curated event at SXSW. The results have been captured here courtesy of Lighten Up Sounds, and they are astounding. Jump in and bask in the magnificent world of Timothy Fife. Who better to score a story about ghost samurais? Nobody, that’s who.
36. Landing – Bells In New Towns
Landing is one of those bands that has been around for 20 years, putting out music ranging from psych, shoegaze, ambient, to even elements of post-punk. It took a record label from Denmark to point them out to me, as Landing hails from Connecticut. I hail from Indiana. How I never heard this amazing group prior to 2016 is beyond me. On their newest album Bells In New Towns they drop the ambient and psych vibes for more driving 90s alternative. Lush, Dinosaur Jr, and Sonic Youth come to mind while listening to songs like “Nod”, “Bright”, and “Wait Or Hide”, while “Gravitational VII”, “Gravitational VIII”, and “Second Sight” cover the headier side of the Landing vibes. Bells In New Towns is a must-listen for anyone who grew up on things filed under “alternative” or “indie” or “other”.
35. Thomas Ragsdale – Self Zero
Thomas Ragsdale has released an immense debut album with Burning Witches Records in Self Zero. If you’re familiar with his work in worriedaboutsatan, as well as his other solo releases, leave those expectations at the door. Self Zero is its own heavy synth beast, a mixture of Komische and Berlin School vibes that bring to mind classic 70s’-era Tangerine Dream, Popol Vuh, and things yet discovered. Ragsdale builds a sonic world on repetition, atmosphere, and a feeling of self-discovery. Tracks like “Harlow’s Experiment”, “Teeth Upon Teeth And Limbs Dangling Beneath”, and the epic opener “Prophet Knoth” promise an album of epic proportions, and they keep that promise. Self Zero is a masterful display of monolithic ideas and keeping on point with them throughout an album’s length.
34. A Place To Bury Strangers – Pinned
Listening to A Place To Bury Strangers has always felt like an act of self mutilation to me. Grinding distortion mixed with industrial drums and effected vocals, APTBS works in the sonic realm of
Suicide self-imploding to a Wax Trax compilation. Through several albums since 2007, Oliver Ackermann has led APTBS to an almost transcendent form of noise making. He’s turned apocalyptic sonics into an artform, and Pinned might be his pinnacle. With the addition of Lia Simon Braswell on drums and background vocals, Pinned takes APTBS into new territory. Braswell’s backing vocals add a much-needed feminine POV to Ackermann’s dystopian, hard-edged songs. “Never Coming Back” doesn’t lose any of the vitriol and ultra sonic violence of past records, but with a sparse soundscape the song builds heft so when the noise gains, you really feel it. “There’s Only One Of Us” has a more Bauhaus feel, and “Frustrated Operator” goes full Joy Division-meets-Jesus and Mary Chain. A must for any post-punk aficionados.
33. Daniel Davies – Events Score
Events Score is a beautifully sculpted, eerie musical world where ghosts and sci-fi mingle and shake into something both haunting and engaging. From “Shadows Alive”, “XXT”, and “Body Obtained”, Davies builds a sonic world where countless film scores live and meander waiting to be recalled for some point of reference. His use of both modern and vintage equipment coalesce into this vintage/modern blur of malaise and melancholy. One of my favorite pieces of music this year comes from this album, the exquisite and haunting “One 60 Clone”. If you haven’t given this one a spin yet, you need to. Daniel Davies is a big part of John Carpenter’s musical comeback since 2015’s Lost Themes. If you dig Carpenter’s vibe, you’ll dig Davies too.
32. Justin Sweatt – Say Your Goodbyes
Justin Sweatt has made a musical mark on the world under the nom de plume Xander Harris, but all of that has changed. It started with the release of this beautiful ambient record called Say Your Goodbyes. Where the Xander Harris LPs were more techno, industrial, and heavy synth-based, Sweatt’s Say Your Goodbyes feels like a long embrace. He steps from the shadows on this album to showcase a softer, more open-hearted side of his musical personality. Tracks like “The Girl With The Diamond Tattoo”, “Chasing Paper”, and “Eternal Return” showcase a side of Sweatt not heard on records like Termination Dust and Urban Gothic. Vast soundscapes open to interpretation and letting some ample light into the room.
31. Dorias Baracca – Dorias Baracca
Dorias Baracca were a Danish shoegaze band that never got the chance to take off like they should have. Singer, guitarist, and main songwriter Buster Svendsen died suddenly right after they finished recording their debut album in 2011. Thanks to Azure Vista Records we can hear what could have been with their stunning debut album. This self-titled album has all the shimmery glory of classic albums by Ride, Lush, and Catherine Wheel, but with something quite special that only Buster could’ve brought to the table. Thanks to the finishing touches the mastering of Jonas Munk added, this record is a shining bit of what could’ve been. Songs like “Wake Me Up(With a Kiss)”, “Dean & Dane”, and “Goodbye” show an immeasurable talent in Dorias Baracca and that had fate not stepped in, this band could’ve accomplished so much. This self-titled release is an incredible musical statement for a band that never got the opportunity spread their wings the way they should have.
Up next, numbers 30-21.