Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Year End 2016: Top 10 Favorite Albums of the Year

So, as promised, here are my 10 favorite albums of last year. These are just my personal picks, but feel free to start a discussion or share your favorite albums in the comments. I definitely missed some albums this year, and we can share some great music.

22, A Million cover.jpg10. Bon Iver- 22, A Million
Hype and weird track names notwithstanding, this is actually a really good album. This is quite different from the last Bon Iver project, as its a little more experimental and electronic, but I still prefer the kind of subtle auto-tune ballads that only Justin Vernon can convincingly pull off. This album made the list just by the track '(715) Creeks' alone. It really reminds me of the Blood Bank EP, which remains my favorite Bon Iver record.

Chance 3.jpg
9. Chance the Rapper- Coloring Book
This record was not what I was expecting, but I still really enjoyed it. Chance decided not to use the quirky and schizophrenic flows that defined Acid Rap, and instead look inward for a more introspective, spiritual and emotional listen. With its gospel aesthetic, I feel like this is what Kanye wished The Life of Pablo was, but he had to half ass it and rush it out before this mixtape dropped. It speaks to this project a lot where I can still enjoy it with some of my least favorite rappers like Future, Young Thug and 2Chainz appearing. The sky is the limit for Chance now, and with staying independent, the voice here is his alone.

Bottomless Pit.png8. Death Grips- Bottomless Pit
This is the most straight forward Death Grips have been since The Money Store, and is probably the most metal hip-hop or hip-hop adjacent album ever. The drums on 'Giving Bad People Good Ideas' sounds like its sampled straight from a black metal record. Death Grips lost me a little bit with the obtuse nature of the first disc of The Powers That B, but I really appreciate them at their most stripped back, straight to the point and aggressive. I also appreciate that they can poke fun at themselves and their rabid fan base on tracks like 'Trash' and 'Eh', while still providing content that lives up to the hype surrounding them.

Blonde - Frank Ocean.jpeg7. Frank Ocean- Blonde
The wait was well worth it. Frank Ocean went a lot more experimental on this project than on Channel Orange, and it yielded a project with a lot of depth and tons of replay value. At first, I was super turned off by the Endless project he dropped right before this. I was just baffled, as it seemed like just an extension of the interludes from Channel Orange, and was about to dismiss Frank. Luckily I didn't. I won't have any trouble waiting another 4 years if this is what Frank can conjure in that time. You don't rush an artist at work, and this is proof of that.

RunTheJewels3.jpg6. El-P & Killer Mike- Run the Jewels 3
I'm glad I waited until into 2017 to do this post, because I would not have had this record on my list, as it came out so late (sorry Lush, you got bumped off for this). El-P and Killer Mike deliver another amazingly dense and crazy hip hop album. I feel like this one is a little more grandiose and serious in tone than Run the Jewels 2, but just as aggressive and with just as much wordplay and attitude. I'm glad I had more time to sit with this, and I'm sure you'll be seeing this on year ends for this year, since critics will feel bad for posting their lists so early and passing over this.

A black-and-white photo of Cohen in a suit with a large black border around it5. Leonard Cohen- You Want it Darker
In what is unfortunately to be Mr. Cohen's last studio album, he paints a heartbreaking portrait of death, and a joyous celebration of life. This is sadly adding to the growing number of albums released right before an artist's death, and will forever be associated with that event. We lost a large number of great artists in 2016, and Leonard Cohen was arguably one of the best songwriters among them, if not of all time, and his poetic sensibility will be greatly missed.

Awaken, My Love!.jpg
4. Childish Gambino- Awaken, My Love!
Donald Glover really went on a tangent on this record, which is a complete departure from the hip-hop he is known for. I didn't listen to any of the teasers for this album, because I wanted to listen to it all together, so I was not expecting this at all. This is more of a funk and R&B record, and he pulls it off wonderfully. Now looking back, the cover is a huge homage to Maggot Brain, or at least I'm going to take it that way. Hats off to his band here, as they are killing it on every track, from the Bootsy Collins bass popping on 'Redbone' to the instrumental on 'Boogie Man', which almost sounds like something Zappa would have recorded around Roxy & Elsewhere. Donald really can go anywhere musically after this album, and was really able to showcase his vocal chops in a way never before seen.

Nails - You Will Never Be One of Us.jpg3. Nails- You Will Never Be One of Us
As someone who is really just starting to get into heavy music, this is easily the most punishing album I've ever heard. I eased my way in with atmospheric black metal, but Nails is pretty much as brutal as one could possibly get without the music just being a literal punch to the teeth. At 21 minutes, this is their longest album, and you wouldn't want any more. The band keeps it lean, runs through 10 tracks of pure chaos, aggression and anger, and then disappears. It's interesting that Jeff Whitehead of Leviathan did the art for this, as his last record, Scar Sighted, did for me last year what Nails is this year, which is broadening my musical horizons and getting me more into the more extreme parts of music.

The Glowing Man (Front Cover).jpg2. Swans- The Glowing Man
Following up one of 2014's best albums, To Be Kind, Michael Gira and company had their work cut out for them, but Swans delivered in a big way. The Glowing Man is less immediate and aggressive than its predecessor, but builds on its formula of monstrous tracks with epic lengths and gargantuan builds in instrumentation. There's a lot of subtlety in these walls of sound, and grabs and entrances the listener. Also, 'When Will I Return?' is probably my favorite song of the year, and yet also one of the hardest to listen to when you find out what its about. An extremely powerful listen and a fitting end to this iteration of the band.

1. Danny Brown- Atrocity Exhibition
Danny Brown continues to be a rapper that sounds like no other. With his two distinct voices, sometimes he doesn't even sound like himself. This record has unpredictable flows, unorthodox beats and a mood that sounds like a drug binge that makes Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas look like a day at the zoo. This music really brings you into Danny's mind, or at least the persona he puts on (I really doubt he could flow over some of these instrumentals with this much skill without being sober at least part of the time). Sometimes you hear the beat and wonder, 'how is he going to rhyme over this?' And then he does. I really wish there was more hip-hop that was this experimental and pushing the artist to their very extreme.

So those are my picks. Feel free to share your list, and check back in for more reviews and record related musings.

"Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Year End 2016: Top 10 Albums I Discovered/ Rediscovered This Year

Before I share my list for my favorite albums of 2016 (I promise, its coming), I wanted to again share of list of albums (alphabetically) that I either discovered this year, or I really got back into this year, because why should only recent albums get all the love?

Image result for centipede septober energyCentipede- Septober Energy
I was interested in this record due to its King Crimson and Soft Machine connections (Robert Fripp and Robert Wyatt provide production and drums, respectively), but I was not ready for the magnitude of this record. This is an extremely off the wall and overblown jazz fusion piece spanning 2 LPs, which I of course had to purchase on vinyl after one listen. Worth it. Critics weren't fans when it was originally released, but if you like Miles Davis' fusion stuff or On the Corner (it does get funky in spots) and thought the band could've used like 30 extra members to give it a fuller sound, I'd give this one a listen.

Image result for current 93 swastikas for noddy crooked crosses
Current 93- Swastikas for Noddy/ Crooked Crosses for the Nodding God
Current 93 is a band I discovered through Myke C-Town's Youtube channel, and I'm so thankful for that. There are so many periods and facets to the group's sound, and they're really a band you can't pin down stylistically, which are always the best kinds. This record is a compilation of two records, which are reworkings of the same material. It's really interesting to see the directions David Tibet and co.take on each record and see how songs evolved. This is some really dark, beautiful and sometimes scary neofolk, and shows a more acoustic side of Current 93.

Image result for gin blossoms new miserable experienceGin Blossoms- New Miserable Experience
I heard 'Found Out About You' on the radio a while back, and realized I had heard a lot of the Gin Blossoms singles, but had never sat down and listened to a full album, and what I heard what surprisingly diverse. A lot of their radio style had a vaguely jangly, indie rock sound to it, but there are touches of Latin sounds and alt-country on some of the deep cuts. I heard the final track 'Cheatin', and had to make sure my player didn't skip to something else. I wasn't expecting to hear something this good, and now I feel bad Gin Blossoms didn't have as much staying power as I think they deserved.

Image result for ink spots anthologyThe Ink Spots- Anthology
If you ever played Fallout 3, I'm sure you listened to a bit of the Ink Spots on the oldies radio station. This music is just so classic, and this compilation collects a lot of their tracks. As these songs are from the 30's and 40's, there is a fair amount of surface noise from the presumably vinyl sources, but that gives it an even more dusty and classic quality. I also really enjoy the spoken word bits on the bridge of a lot of these tracks that repeat the opening verse. If you're a fan of old vocal groups and haven't heard of the Ink Spots, they're definitely worth your time.

Image result for lush lovelifeLush- Lovelife
For Lush fans, this is a bit of a divisive album. The group eschewed their shoegaze sound for a more Britpop direction, which was getting pretty popular around the time of the recording. It's definitely an outlier in their discography, but not necessarily in a bad way. Sure, the washes of reverb and effects are largely absent, but I feel like the song writing and lyrical content is a lot stronger, focusing on some feminist themes. This is an album that relies more on songs than an atmosphere like their other records, and I feel like if this album were by another band, it wouldn't get some of the hate it does, just because it doesn't fit into Lush's typical style.

Image result for modest mouse the lonesome crowded west
Modest Mouse- The Lonesome Crowded West
This album really inspires an adventurous spirit. I really got into this album this year, and the Pitchfork documentary on the record (you should really check it out) helped me really understand a lot of the motivations for its themes and content. There are tons of references to travel and the American landscape, which really gets me in the mood for a road trip. I've only ever been in the Eastern time zone, but the images this record paints make me really want to travel to all those small towns.

Image result for of montreal lousy with sylvianbriar
of Montreal- lousy with sylvianbriar
of Montreal are currently one of my favorite bands, as they are a group with many periods and a group that play around with many sounds. I really enjoyed this record when it first came out, as it was kind of a roots rock departure from the funk and electronic stuff they were toying with in the late 2000s, but when I returned to it, my admiration of the album grew exponentially, as it is probably one of Kevin Barnes' most consistent records to date. Even Hissing Fauna, their commercial and critical peak, had some weak moments to me, but this record, along with Cherry Peel, are probably now my favorite of Montreal albums.

Image result for panopticon kentuckyPanopticon- Kentucky
Panopticon was one of the bands that really warmed me up to black metal, with its mixture of metal with folk and almost bluegrass sounds. I found this kind of synthesis of very opposing musical styles incredibly intriguing, and on no other Panopticon record is this better executed accomplished than on Kentucky. A kind of concept album, it focuses on the human cost of coal mining, and of a union protest of poor working conditions. Austin Lunn really puts his love of his home into this work, and is a love letter to this region in Appalachia, while also pointing out the darkness that still exists in the region, and the people more than willing to destroy it for a quick buck.

Image result for tom waits small changeTom Waits- Small Change
Before the wildly experimental material Tom Waits began releasing in the 80s with records like Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs, he was a singer songwriter with a love of Kerouac, piano lounges, and the more than occasional drink. I really enjoy the kind of burnt out, boozy lounge lizard persona Waits adopts on these albums, and I feel like this effort, with tracks like 'The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)' and 'Bad Liver and a Broken Heart' is one of the best examples of his work in this style. He would abandon this shortly after, as his art started to bleed into his life, and the romanticizing of the wino was no longer something he wanted to do, but I definitely still enjoy it.

Image result for frank zappa lumpy gravyFrank Zappa- Lumpy Gravy
This is Frank Zappa's first solo outing without the Mothers of Invention, and a criminally underrated piece of his work. Even in its embryonic form (the rare 1967 Captiol version), the mix of orchestral arrangements are great, but the reworking with tape recordings, strange sound bytes and weird stories make for a compelling, interesting and funny listen. Also, fans of his other works will notice many bits of future pieces buried in this album, notably elements of We're Only in it For the Money, 200 Motels, and Uncle Meat. It's kind of cool to hear these and than have these moments pop up and recognize them.

The Top 10 will be out by the end of the month. With a nice month after the end of the year, I've had a pretty good chance to sit with a lot of albums that were released late, so there will be a nice comprehensive list.

"Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use."

Monday, January 9, 2017

Quick Update

Image result for vinyl record

Time for a quick update. I am alive, though sometimes I don't feel it. Work has been demanding a lot of my time, and as such, I haven't posted in 3 months. Since the reviews wouldn't even be close to current, I have decided to abandon the gauntlet I was running, and instead focus on year end lists, which will be coming out this month (fingers crossed). I'll also be reducing current reviews to records that have really hit a chord with me, and instead focus my attention backwards, to underrated gems and other such items I may have looked at in an album spotlight. More later.

"Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use."