by Jamie at attractive variance
Given that 2016 was such a turbulent year, it’s no surprise that any sampling of the years standout records would produce a rather noisy, loud affair. Political content often mixed with the chaos, with even our greatest hip hop records getting into the act. With 2017 already offering the Uniform’s Wake in Fright and the Priests tremendous debut, it looks like we can expect more of the same over the next 10 months and change. Hooray for that. I’ve attempted to remain clear of ‘Best’, as though I do feel these 50 to be just that, I can’t hide the fact that within popular music I have heavy predilections toward noise, feedback and heaviness. Granted, that is where forward leaning rock n’ roll is at now, but still, I feel a caveat is warranted. Enjoy the tunes, most of these picks can be listened to on spotify, or on the individual artist bandcamp pages by a simple google search. Today will countdown 50-26, with an additional offering of my favorite compilations, while tomorrow will see the final 25. Happy listening.
50. Head Wound City – A New Wave of Violence
Starting the list with a real cracker is always preferred, like a whiplash to the face to wake us all from a quiet slumber. Head Wound City is a thrash rock supergroup, and, as we hear bursting lines of riffing guitars and pummeling drums, we’re reminded that this is the sort of stuff we’re going to need if we’re going to get through this administration (much like hardcore that was birthed during Thatcher and Reagan).
49. Megadeth – Dystopia
48. Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake
In November of last year Metallica released what they promised was a return to their thrash metal roots. And while Hardwired… To Self Destruct has its moments (especially compared to much of their Aughts work), the classic era thrash bands remaining nearest their heydays are Testament and Megadeth. In the case of Testament you could even argue they’ve gotten better over time, which in a genre as closely tied to youthful energy and aggression, that’s really saying something.
47. Trashcan Sinatras – Wild Pendulum
You can’t begin to understand the amazement of seeing the jangle pop masters of the late 80’s and 90’s reemerge with a record as tremendous as this one, but here, on their first record in 7 years, they do just that. Full of epic soundscapes and bristling guitar pop, the young kids could learn a thing or five from these old farts on what just might be the greatest guitar pop record of the year.
46. Alcest – Kodama
A wild mélange of styles, Kodama is at heart a noise record, but it’s measured and full of epic soundscapes, evoking something in the artier avenues of todays metal world. Since heavy metal stalwarts Isis and Nachtmystium—two bands that tread in such waters—are no more, its great to have similar ilk creating such great works. Their most complete record since 2007’s Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde.
45. Public Access TV – Never Enough
Every year gives us a new great young grimy rock band. Last year was Royal Headache and White Reaper bursting onto the scene and this year we have New York’s Public Access TV. The New Wave touches warm it all up a little compared to Royal Headaches blue-eyed soul punk and White Reapers three chord punk, but this is rock polished to a shimmery pop confection, and that’s rarer than you’d imagine nowadays.
44. Charles Bradley – Changes
43. Paul Cauthen – My Gospel
Hearing these two records back to back one would get the pleasant surprise that long dead genres are in fact alive and well. Both highly touching emotional exercises, Cauthen evokes a rural spiritual American folk past, while Bradley continues his one man Deep Soul revival (‘Changes’, the title track, is a moving ode to his long passed mother). One didn’t need an orange-faced blowhard to revive American and ‘make it great again’, we just needed a few genuine artists to do so. Here they are.
42. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
The music world rejoiced upon news of a comeback from A Tribe Called Quest, but I’m not sure anyone was prepared for the consistently great and forward looking record that We Got It Fro Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is. Scathingly honest, expertly performed, at least on the level of their earlier masterworks.
41. the Frightnrs – Nothing More to Say
If you looked up just how many of the artists on this list are from NYC you’d be aghast at number the riches coming forth. No more apparent than from listening to the Frightnrs ska/two-tone tinged debut. Yes, this is a renaissance so plentiful that we’re even getting genuine roots rock reggae bursting forth from the Five Burroughs!
40. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
At this point Radiohead surmise, the most avant-garde thing we could do was try to make an album of Dad Rock. They almost do, and the results are often rewarding.
39. Neurosis – Fires Within Fires
Outside of Swans, there isn’t a band as adept at making colossal albums of titanic power like Neurosis. With crack producer Steve Albini back again at the knobs the band unleashes their shortest record in some time (41 minutes or so), and comparably, it nearly breezes by. In a tidal wave of course.
38. Pears – Green Star
A blast of punk fury, that at times feels like a rushed, thrown together affair featuring a smorgasbord of styles. It all adds to the charm in the end though, a band showing a willingness to try anything and see the results out. Or, the whole thing just supercharges right past you before you’ve had a moment to question a decision—like the best of hardcore.
37. Angel Olson – My Woman
Angel Olson continues her tremendous ascent made apparent on 2014’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness. In another year this probably would’ve been higher, but make no mistake, Olson is a full fledged artist and My Woman is her best yet; fuller, richer and considerably more tuneful.
36. Teenage Fanclub – Here
35. Diarrhea Planet – Turn to Gold
Bands that have such insanely dumb names shouldn’t make albums this good, but alas, Diarrhea Planet have polished the turd to a damn near golden nugget on the appropriately titled Turn to Gold. The 90’s were the last time I recall having this fun with an album like this, and that makes sense, it’s a time warp of a record. An actual time warp delivers Teenage Fanclub back from a slight malaise; while earlier efforts in the 2000s have definite high points, Here is easily their strongest work in twenty years (has it been that long since Songs from Northern Britain?).
34. DIIV – Is the Is Are
On 2012’s Oshin, DIIV announced themselves somewhere near the top of the glut of murky, feedback laden guitar pop bands, so it’s no surprise that it’s proper full length follow up is more of the same, only better. Broader in spirit, and considerably more consistent in quality (virtually no filler here), Is the Is Are is one of the greatest indy pop fuzz records we’ve had in the last several years (and we’ve had a lot).
33. Krokofant – Krokofant 2
Maybe the most eccentric record on the list, Krokofant is a jazz/metal hybrid that doesn’t hedge on either genre and instead somehow creates a saxophone/guitar wailing experience against all odds. Building on their self-titled debut of several years ago, Krokofant 2 evokes metal forefathers Led Zeppelin (‘Snakedog’ is all Jimmy Page swagger) and King Crimson (‘Watchtower’ could slide right next to ’21st Century Schizoid Man’), while creating a disc uniquely their own.
32. Swet Shop Boys – Cashmere
In a year where most albums lists will bend over backwards regaling you about the urgent, of its moment nature of the new Beyonce, Frank Ocean or Kanye West, I’m amazed that a ferocious multi-national hip-hop duo with tracks such as ’No Fly List’ and ‘Phone Tap’ wouldn’t be getting more buzz. No worries, Cashmere is surely one of the most prescient works for our time and I’ll take it over the whole lot I’ve just mentioned.
31. The Julie Ruin – Hit Reset
Having had the pleasure of hearing the first rare Julie Ruin LP for the first time a few years ago, I wouldn’t have thought that Kathleen Hanna would ever resurrect that outfit, but has she ever. Infectious pop hooks intermingle choice insurrectionary lyrics, providing once again that the best way to rattle the system is to tip toe (or dance) through the front door unassumingly.
30. Tyvek – Origin of What
A politically charged punk record, Tyvek’s Origin of What comes face to face with our worlds ever growing concerns. They trade overly topical concerns with a more balanced, nuanced set of critiques and their Detroit garage stomp has never been sharper.
29. The Numerators – Strange
One I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of knowing if I hadn’t seen them open for (perhaps my favorite current band) A Place to Bury Strangers, Austin Texas’ The Numerators ripped through an opening set brilliantly enough for me to pick up the record in giddy anticipation. Combining elements of surf, noise, and punk, it’s a record deserving more fans; a quick spin through ‘Wastoid’ should accomplish these ends.
28. Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker
It’s amazing to me that perhaps the most elusive type of record—a posthumous mediation on actual death—came twice this year. While David Bowie’s got a ton of warranted press, You Want it Darker deserved just as much. That he found new ways to say things he’s returned to time and time again only reflects on an artist full of unmistakable wit and poise. RIP.
27. Mitski – Puberty 2
This album could’ve probably been a single track, ’Your Best American Girl’ and it’d probably still have made the list. Sounding like alternative rock used to in the 90’s (for some reason I link ‘Your Best American Girl’ to some of Weezers more heartfelt Blue Album era songs), full of cathartic bloom, feedback swells and vocals ring. One of the more beautiful records on the list, we assume many more great things are coming from Mitski in the coming years as this is an assuredly polished record made with real craft.
26. Wire – Nocturnal Koreans
Who would have thought that Wire’s third comeback would be this prolific; since returning in 2003 the band has mustered no less than 6 quality offerings. Their newest, Nocturnal Koreans, explores many new sounds and textures, but each is employed with remarkable economy—it’s like punk records used to be, we’re left completely satisfied in under 27 minutes flat.
My Favorite Compilations of 2016
The Meters – A Message: Complete Singles 1968-1977
Is sort of counter intuitive to hear the Meters on single, as their wonderful run of LPs in the 70’s stressed mood and song cycle on extended grooves, but, they were a tightly compressed band in the end and their abundance of riches here makes a strong case that they could do nearly anything. It came as a surprise, but might just be the compilation I spun more than any from last year.
Various Artists – Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze
Since so many of the greatest records in rock n’ roll every year evoke shoegaze at this point, it’s a small miracle that we’d be graced with a great collection that fully expresses the classes era of the genre. You can have quibbles with what isn’t here, but, you can’t fault the range and depth of scouring on display over the discs. Essential.
The Miamis: We Deliver (1974-1979)
While they sorta looked like the Ramones (minus the black leather getup), and played many of the same venues at the same time, the Miamis probably had more in common with the Dictators in sensibility/sense of humor and the Modern Lovers in terms of sound. Jokes abound, but so does weirdo pop, but it might just be worth it for ‘Let There Be Pain’ alone.
Big Star – Complete Third
I’ve long thought that the shelved third Big Star record was their best, and the past complication reissues that finally surfaced bore that out; it’s their most hauntingly beautiful record, the one that argues the best that Big Star wasn’t just a straight ahead power pop band, but also one of breathtaking grandeur. Hearing all the stuff from the project then, is a welcome addition to any fans collection. One of the 1970’s supreme masterpieces.
Game Theory – Big Shot Chronicles
It the pop world of the 1980’s Game Theory is often forgotten, if thought of at all. But, in a decade where wit and sardonicism often crashed the top 40 party, Game Theory were as great as anyone, and this reissue of their second greatest album (the sprawling Lolita Nation that followed Big Shot Chronicles is their masterpiece) collects additional, long unheard tracks.
Tad – God’s Balls (deluxe edition)
Often when we think of grunge today we evoke images of Kurt Cobain propelling himself into a drum riser or Eddie Vedder’s plaintive yelps. It’s a shame really, as it was a genre more about sludgy low end, and if you want to know why, when asked what grudge is, I evoke Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Big Muff and Tad’s first LP. You can’t do worse then this expanded reissue, long overdue.
Pylons – Live
What with bubbling post-punk being all the rage, it’s a welcome reminder to hear an American originator in their prime doing the stuff. Other bands from Athens are better know from their era (REM, B-52’s), but Pylon might just be the best of them all. Hearing that low end live, begins to spell it out.
the Headhunters – Survival of the Fittest
As their name implied, the Headhunters played some of the most savage psychedelic funk you’ve heard, and while you might’ve heard some of their stuff sampled over the years, hearing it here is a damn near revelation. The interplay of the rhythm section is nearly otherworldly at times, creating a collection that can be spun as mood music, or deeply concentrated rock. Essential.
Betty Harris – The Lost Queen of New Orleans Soul
Soul Jazz Records has done an incredible service in releasing a career retrospective of the oft-forgotten Batty Harris. The title says it all really, a package that I welcome on my shelf next to all the Irma Thomas.
Cluster – 1971-1981
The earliest recordings from the noise pioneer, collecting an entire decade shows just how far they went inside of ten years; from raw, primal anarchy, to lush atmospherics. Like the 70’s themselves.
Betty Davis – The Columbia Years 1968-1969
Betty Davis was a singer of unmistakable power, and with her Columbia backing band, delivered some of the heaviest funk you’d ever hope to hear. In an era where minority women are beginning to take back what’s theirs, this couldn’t come at better, more relevant, time.
Frank Zappa – Uncle Meat (deluxe reissue)
Uncle Meat was Zappa’s wildest attempt at anti-commercial music at the time of its release in 1969, and while it’s the final part in a four album No Commercial Potential cycle (We’re Only in It for the Money, Lumpy Gravy, and Cruising with Ruben & the Jets are the other three) it explores areas beyond nearly all of rock (including even Zappa’s radical discography). Original releases were mired in a bad final mix, which this glorious reissue fixes by removing much of the murkiness of it all. It’s certainly for more adventurous tastes, but what is here is some of the most wildly inventive explorations committed to tape by a rock artist. What’s amazing then, is just how exciting and—dare I say—accessible it is to ears now. It took nearly 50 years, but we’ve finally nearly caught up to ol’ Frank!
the Rolling Stones – The Rolling Stones in Mono
Containing most of the bands 1960’s canonical works remastered into proper mono mixes (or restored as much of this stuff apparent this way originally), it’s nearly for extreme fans only, but when you hear some of the density on display here you realize most rock fans should probably do their due diligence and give this stuff a spin. Several songs that I’ve always found somewhat slight in delivery–especially when you realize what the songs are often about—are compressed to a new powerfulness that amounts to hearing them for the first time. The ballads—‘Play With Fire’, ‘Heart of Stone’, ‘As Tears Go By’—are especially strengthened, while the rockers—‘Stupid Girl’, ‘Mother’s Little Helper’, ‘High and Dry’, ‘Get Off of My Cloud’—explode out at you as they should. If anything, it levels the playing field a bit in the group, the rhythm section gets their due on the level of Jagger and Richards for a day.