Whew. here we go. I embedded a year-end playlist at the bottom, including a few tracks that didn’t quite made the cut but I couldn’t be bothered in further editing. Put on “random” to appreciate what it sounds like in my head every day.
Top Ten (in alphabetical order):
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
The most verbose rapper in the game seems to have purged his abstract tendencies on 2012’s “Skelethon”, a lonely endeavor detailing the pieces of his life left after divorce, label dissolution, and isolation. On “the Impossible Kid”, Aes makes it more concrete, looking back nostalgically over his own story to talk family, abandoned aspirations, pets, and getting old.
American Football – LP2
When you get any number of Kinsellas in a room and make music, it’s going to be good. When you get them to recapitualte the Truly Important bands of yore, they carry on as if 17 years was merely a summer apart at camp or something. This record is a gorgeous testimony to the legacy they have left behind in the Chicago music scene of the past almost-two decades.
Bon Iver – 22, A Million
In many ways, the third Bon Ever record actually feels more the spiritual successor to his first studio effort. It may be choppy samples and broken keyboards, but there’s an intimacy to each of the songs here that hearkens back to the ad hoc myth of the broken-hearted man in the cabin alone in the woods. Also kudos for sonically taking cues from my favorite Justin Vernon project, Volcano Choir.
Gold Panda – Good Luck and Do Your Best/Kingdom EP
One of my favorite producers, Gold Panda continue to merge earthy local instrumentation with crackling electronics on a full-length and EP release this year. “Good Luck” was the result of a trip to Japan intended to be a collaboration with a photographer friend, while Kingdom was a response to the cultural tensions surrounding the Brexit vote in his native England.
Horse Lords – Interventions
This band was my favorite discovery of 2016. I read somewhere they are less a rock band and more a minimalist performance group who happen to use rock instruments, which I like. It doesn’t take too much mental energy to imagine Horse Lords jamming some Steve Reich, or Philip Glass’ ensemble transposing these songs for woodwinds. The bizarre interplay of guitars and saxophone makes Interventions a hypnotic and difficult listen.
Kjartan Sviensson – Der Klang der Offenbarung des Göttlichen
I having been waiting for this record a long time without knowing it. Kartan left Sigur Ros in 2013, and little had been released save news articles concerning collaborations with film makers and dance productions. Now we have his first widely accessible piece (third major work in his solo career?) and it is absolutely gorgeous.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – The Skeleton Tree
There’s a dramatic difference between Good and Important. For the best part of a year I have been wrestling with this one, trying to discern if this loose collection of half-improvised songs recorded after Cave’s son’s accidental death is truly “good music”. I can tell you, it is certainly Important. As one who has been been able to divorce the music from the stories and personalities surrounding it, seeing the documentary about its creation only soldified “The Skeleton Tree” in my top ten for the year. In some way, it seems to put to tape that disorienting feeling that comes from processing tragedy with only a few ideas in your hands and a group of close friends, leaning in to be whatever they can for you in the moment.
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
I don’t think it’s too heretical to say I wasn’t particularly impressed with Radiohead’s last endeavor “The King of Limbs”. To me, it felt like a few clever ideas strung together because it was time to put out another album, but Radiohead don’t do clever anymore. They’re the elder statesmen. Thus “A Moon Shaped Pool” becomes the testament of a mythological band continuing to build a legacy that still reveals new spaces for us to occupy for a while as the world becomes more complex.
Tim Hecker – Love Streams
Hecker continues to prove himself as much a modern composer as an electronic musician. Taking the ideas of “Virgins” a step further, he collaborates with classical musicians to build a cadre of beautiful and organic sounds to build his compositions with, large swirling masses of choir and organ, flutes skittering over the top while dark tones pulsate beneath. This is head music.
Wovenhand – Star Treatment
Listening to a new Wovenhand album inevitably leads me to back and re-examine all his previous recordings, not so much that I can rank them but mark them stylistically. 2010’s “The Threshing Floor” seems to sit at the middle of David Eugene Edward’s work under this moniker, stretching out in time in either direction from quiet one man band drone to this year’s reverb-drenched rager “Star Treatment”. The consistency of the project is less in Edward’s sonic aesthetic (although there are some terrific points of reference throughout) and more in his singular devotion to his faith. Bonus points for wrangling Planes Mistaken For Stars members into your corner.
Next 32 (foolishly grouped by genre):
Convention is overrated:
Matmos – Ultimate Care II
Fennesz – Mahler Remix
S U R V I V E – RR7349
Zammuto – Veryone EP
Oval – Popp
Venetian Snares – Traditional Synthesizer Music
Words are overrated:
Explosions in the Sky – Disintegration Anxiety
The Album Leaf – Between Waves
Sonna – Keep it Together
Tortoise – The Catastrophist
Getting out of bed is overrated:
Colin Stetson – SORROW
Johann Johannsson – Orphee
Daniel Lanois – Goodbye to Language
Eluvium – Curious Things
Kanye is overrated:
Homeboy Sandman – Kindness for Weakness
A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here, Thanks 4 your service…
Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love”
Country is overrated:
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Being overrated is overrated:
Gallant – Ology
James Vincent McMorrow – We Move
James Blake – The Colour in Anything
“Rock” is overrated:
Mock Orange – Put the Kids On the Sleepy Horse
David Bazan – Blanco
Fakear – Animal
Deerhoof – The Magic
Gungor – One Wild Life: Spirit
Vikings are underrated:
Khemmis – Hunted
Meshuggah – the Violent Sleep of Reason
Sumac – What One Becomes
Wrekmeister Harmonies – Light Falls
Kvelertak – Nattesverd
Amon Amarth – Jomsviking