THE BEST OF 2016
So, 2016 has come and gone (mercifully) and it’s time to tally up what worked the best
this year. Granted, it was a weak year, but even in a weak year there is usually more
than a few things to chew on. 2016 was a year that was tainted by the deaths of many
prominent musicians; everyone from Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen and even Scott
Weiland’s death in December of 2015 seemed to be a harbinger of what was to come.
Aside from all the sadness however, we had releases from Radiohead, Pixies, Autolux
and Dinosaur Jr, to name but a few...so let’s jump right in and see who made the cut!
PJ Harvey - The Hope Six Demolition ProjectThe songstress from Dorset, England
has done it again! Never content to rest on her laurels and make the same record twice,
this time out Harvey uses her travels to Washington DC, Kosovo and Afghanistan as the
direct lyrical inspiration for an album who’s music is more traditional than we’ve heard in
some time. Harvey’s last three records have featured her playing a new instrument each
time; for White Chalk it was piano; Let England Shake had harpsichord and for The
Hope Six Demolition Project it’s saxophone!
Dinosaur Jr - Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not The more things change the more they
stay the same! J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph have been at this long enough to know
not to mess with a winning formula. Glimpse offers another batch of Mascis’ signature
meloncholic fuzzed out guitar rock with just enough of Barlow’s sensitive side to level
the playing field. Of all the reunion bands, this the one making the best new music!
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam - I Had a Dream That You Were Mine Coming on the
heels of Leithauser’s excellent solo debut, I Had a Dream That You Were Mine finds the
former Walkmen crooner teamed up with the former Vampire Weekend mastermind.
The resulting album has all the Leithauser vocal textures that we’ve become familiar
with, but now it’s paired with Rostam’s more exotic world view. “In a Blackout” was
strong enough for Apple to come calling for a commercial spot!
Pixies - Head Carrier This is the second post-reunion release from the living legends,
but this one finds the group promoting touring bassist Paz Lenchantin to official
member. The new dynamic gives Head Carrier a leg up over 2013’s Indie Cindy, simply
because of the addition of Lenchantin’s vocals and bass. Obviously not their best work,
but this second incarnation is finding it’s footing.
Black Mountain - IV The Vancouver psychedelic rockers have continued their
impressive career run with another LP of stoner nuggets. As the album title suggests,
this is their fourth record and it acts as return to form, as Wilderness Heart wandered a
bit of their career arc. The one and only Dave Grohl even went so far as to post a tribute
to the band on Facebook; saying that their single, “Florian Saucer Attack”, was
responsible for sparking a renewed inspiration in him!
Blood Ceremony - Lords of Misrule The fourth album in the Blood Ceremony catalogue, the band have followed in the footsteps of The White Stripes by recording at Toe Rag Studios with Liam Watson in London, England. Steeped in classic rock influence, this album is a definite evolution from the sound that producer Ian Blurton conjured up on the band's last outing, The Eldritch Dark.
Jack White - Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016 The first retrospective release of Jack White's career, this release covers all of Jack White's acoustic material from the second White Stripes 7" single up to 2014's Lazaretto.Digging up the unreleased Get Behind Me Satan outtake "City Lights" and the long forgotten Coca Cola commercial jingle "Love Is The Truth," as well as countless alternate mixes of Raconteurs and Jack White solo tracks.
Wintersleep - The Great Detachment A return to form for Canadian indie rockers Wintersleep, and their debut on powerhouse label Dine Alone, this release sees Wintersleep at their most assured. Featuring strong radio singles "Amerika" and "Spirit," the album also features a Geddy Lee bass contribution on the standout track "Territory". Simply put, this is the first album since Welcome To The Night Sky capable of converting non-Wintersleep fans in a heartbeat.
Beyonce - Lemonade Seemingly an impossible feat, Beyonce has made the first indie rock record of her career. Never mind the fact that it was released on a major label, the album features songwriting credits by Father John Misty and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, as well as standout collaborations with Jack White, James Blake, and The Weeknd. Top it all off with the fact that the entire album is a concept record revolving around the theme of Jay Z's infidelity, and there's enough honest and emotionally raw material to work with here to make for the first album of Beyonce's career that's even worth paying attention to.
Public Animal - Palace Arms Toronto's Public Animal are back with their long overdue follow-up to 2014's debut Habitat Animal. Building upon the full-band songwriting that made their debut so strong, the individual songwriting personalities come across even more prominently on this sophomore effort.
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam - “1000 Times” A simple refrain repeated many times
over has been a good formula for Leithauser and thats what happens on this track.
Leithauser sings the chorus “I had a dream that you were mine / I’ve had that dream a
thousand times”, all the while Rostam weaves the band from lullaby into indie-rock
Dinosaur Jr - “Left/Right” This Barlow cut from Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not shows
how much good material the Sebadoh man has stored away. As usual, Barlow sings of
heartbreak or loss of some kind, but it’s never a downer with such intriguing music
underpinning it. When’s the next Sebadoh record coming?
Pixies - ‘Um Chagga Lagga” This sounds like Surfer Rosa-era Pixies...and is that ever
a good thing! Francis seems to be singing about a daliance by the side of the road
with...a prostitute perhaps? Again, this is classic Surfer Rosa subject matter and the
band more than obliges with Joey Santiago’s ragged guitar lines and David Lovering’s
shuffling fills moving the pace right along.
Black Mountain - “Constellations” Black Sabbath riffs, Pink Floyd keys and singing
about space: what more do you want from these space/stoner rockers? Speaking just
for myself: absolutely nothing!
PJ Harvey - “The Wheel” Grim subject matter here, but the tempo stays upbeat as
Harvey’s saxophone finds a way through the musical chaos that surrounds
it...handclaps et al. “Hey little children don’t disappear (I heard it was 28 000)” is the line
that will stay with you long after the song fades out.
The White Stripes - "City Lights" The first new White Stripes song to be made commerically available since 2007's swansong album Icky Thump, and also the first to feature a bass line (as contributed by Jack White contributor Dominic Davis), the band here are at their most delicate, featuring little more than a shaker from Meg White to round out the rhythm section. Not the strongest song of The White Stripes catalogue, it is nonetheless a worthy and long overdue addition to an exceptional canon.
Beyonce feat. Jack White - "Don't Hurt Yourself" Built upon a Led Zeppelin sample of "When The Levee Breaks," here that song is thrown into an entirely new context, with the the most distorted and scathing Jack White guitar work to be heard on record in years, and Beyonce's vocal starting from a calm monotone blown out into a gut wrenching, bone-chilling scream by the song's conclusion. Don't hurt yourself, indeed.
Blood Ceremony - "Things Present, Things Past" The first acoustic song in Blood Ceremony's canon, the band display the full range of their abilities, with the lead flute melody given more room to breathe than most Blood Ceremony songs allow for. Also featuring some particularly clever production work from Liam Watson in the spirit of The Beatles Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band LP, the song closes with a false, finish, only to crackle back to life once more before being put to bed permanently.
MSTRKRFT - "Playing With Itself" The first new material from MSTRKRFT since 2009, the electro duo have embraced analogue synths entirely, with this song representing the epitome of analogue possibilities. Comprised of five minutes of unaccompanied analogue synthesizers, largely left unattended and to their own devices by their operators (hence the album's title, Operator), this track is easily the standout on an otherwise dense and challenging album to process.
Wintersleep - "Territory" Easily the standout track on their 2016 album The Great Detachment, the presence of Geddy Lee on bass gives the song serious muscle, and represents a real surprise for Rush and Wintersleep fans alike. The first Geddy Lee bass line committed to tape since Rush's 2013 Clockwork Angels album, it's nice to know that in the wake of Rush's indefinite hiatus, the world has not heard the last of Geddy Lee.