Saturday, January 21, 2017

2016 Highlights & Shows # 647, # 648, # 649, # 651

For my best of 2016, things were done a little differently this year. Both me and my co-host picked 20 albums that we liked from 2016 and played our selections across two episodes. You can download these episodes under the playlists below. I’ve included each of our top 20 lists in this post, followed by a little write-up from each of our top five albums that we liked from 2016.

Dave’s Top 20 of 2016:

1. Parquet Courts – Human Performance
2. David Bowie – Black Star
3. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
4. Thee Oh Sees – A Weird Exits/An Odd Entrances
5. Preoccupations – Preoccupations
6. Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger
7. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
8. Shotgun Jimmie – Field Of Trampolines
9. Danny & The Darleans – Bug Out
10. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
11. Kid Congo Powers & The Pink Monkey Birds – La Arana Es La Vida
12. Paul Jacobs – Movies, Pictures & Apartments/I’m Into What You’re Into
13. Young Rival – Strange Light EP
14. Duotang – New Occupation
15. Monomyth – Happy Pop People
16. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
17. Daniel Romano – King Of Mosey
18. Nap Eyes – Thought Rock Fish Scale
19. Kim Gray – Perfume
20. Snake River – Sun Will Rise

Adam’s Top 20 of 2016:

1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
2. David Bowie – Blackstar
3. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
4. Angel Olsen – My Woman
5. Parquet Courts – Human Performance
6. Car Seat Headrest – Destroyed by Hippie Powers
7. White Lung – Paradise
8. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – I Had a Dream That You Were Mine
9. Swans – The Glowing Man
10. Jeff Rosenstock – WORRY.
11. Preoccupations - Preoccupations
12. Case/Lang/Veirs - Atomic Number
13. Mitski – Puberty 2
14. Cass McCombs – Mangy Love
15. G.L.O.S.S. - Trans Day of Revenge
16. Kevin Morby – Destoyer
17. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
18. PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
19. Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing
20. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

A few write-ups on a selection of our top 20’s of 2016:

Dave’s Top Five:

1. Parquet Courts – Human Performance

Throughout Human Performance, Parquet Courts draw their lyrical inspirations from urban decay, human emotion and critical thoughts of self-doubt. It is here where the band achieves what people love about them the most. Their highly critical and intellectual lyrics are on par with bands such as Wire, Swells Maps, Pere Ubu, The Modern Lovers, and The Fall, among others. The music found on Human Performance also makes connections to the songs and sounds found on 2013’s Light Up Gold. It is also the complete opposite of 2015’s Monastic Living. This noisy/experimental release featured only one song with lyrics. As Parquet Courts gaze away from their thoughts that reflect a look out in New York City, they make broader strokes, finding a larger scope within their lyrical and musical grasp. With Human Performance, Parquet Courts achieve their most realized effort to date.

2. David Bowie – Blackstar

On January 8th, 2016, Blackstar, Bowie’s 25th full-length album was released. For this album he experimented with elements of jazz and hip hop, among other influences. Blackstar was produced by long time producer Tony Visconti in secret, as was his previous album The Next Day. Many of the themes on Blackstar deal with a man battling his own mortality and fittingly the two music videos released for this album, “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” also reflect these themes. Two days following the release of Blackstar David Bowie passed away after a battle with cancer. Lyrics from “Blackstar”, “Lazarus” and different parts of the album took on different meanings. However, as stated more eloquently in Adam’s post below, “Blackstar is a powerful record and stands, regardless of its connection with the artist’s passing”. Musically, the album is just as fresh and innovative as any of his peak creative periods. With Blackstar, Bowie delivers a compelling album that sucks the listener into the black hole of the musical universe that Bowie has created throughout the 25 albums that he has created. It leaves just as much mystery to his recorded output as anything he has ever released.

3. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

Iggy Pop has recently stated that this may very well be his last album. And at 17 albums in and being now 68 years old that is understandable. As the music of the album’s last song “Paraguay” picks up pace with its ending rant, Post Pop-Depression ends with a middle finger, similarly to the way he started with The Stooges. Post-Pop Depression weaves in and out with lyrical content loaded with metaphors, double meanings and musical landscapes that drift between 1877’s The Idiot, Lust For Life and his early solo output. Post-Pop Depression was recorded in the desert in Joshua Tree, California. Perhaps Pop has entered the very same “burning sands” once described in The Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog” or maybe it’s just a mirage. With Post-Pop Depression, Iggy Pop engages the listener and redefines what it means to be a musician and an artist on his own terms.

4. Thee Oh Sees – A Weird Exits

A Weird Exits arrives as a double LP with longer songs that showcase a new range in dynamics for the band. This is the first album to capture Thee Oh Sees new line-up which features two drummers, Ryan Moutinho and Dan Rincon, along with bassist Tim Hellman, who joined Thee Oh Sees in 2014, A Weird Exits produces a new type of groove. Still led by the ever prolific and frontman John Dwyer, Thee Oh Sees vicious and manic live sound is captured here in top form. If 2015’s Mutilator Defeated At Last explored more medieval and folk-like imagery in the songs, A Weird Exits blasts off into outer space, lyrically and musically taking on a cosmic context. While many may say that the sound hasn’t changed that much, Thee Oh Sees music is both undeniably Thee Oh Sees and fresh sounding. With A Weird Exits, Thee Oh Sees focus on a new entry and exit point musically in a way that only they can.

5. Preoccupations – Preoccupations

Preoccupations is the first proper release by the band that previously went by the name Viet Cong. This Canadian band originally from Calgary, Alberta changed their name due to the criticism they received. Following a festival concert that was cancelled in Australia in 2015 and a cancelled date/protest in Oberlin due to their name, it began to affect their ability to play music as a band. The name they chose was a fitting one, Preoccupations. Described as labyrinthine post-punk, Preoccupations was made differently than its predecessor, Viet Cong. This album was made while the band was in a state of transition, changing their name, each of the band members moving to different cities. The songs were put together with no central theme in mind, but several themes did emerge. While the song titles are simple such as “Anxiety”, “Degraded”, “Stimulation” and “Memory”, the music on Preoccupations is an encompassing, complex layer of musical textures that is both unnerving and visceral. Lyrically, the album, as stated on their website, “bears the visceral, personal sound of holding onto some steadiness in the midst of changing everything.” The album art of Preoccupations is simple and basic, made up of lines, repetitive fonts and a simple colour scheme. However, between the lines of this simplicity lies a focused complexity.

Adam’s Top Five:

1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Radiohead’s ninth studio record could have ended up a simple clearinghouse for the band’s backlog of unrecorded songs, a slapped together collection of unrealized ideas dating back to their Kid A days. Instead, A Moon Shaped Pool proved itself to be one of the band’s best releases and an album all too reflective of the anxiety, heartbreak, and political uncertainty so many of us faced in 2016. The album evokes a mood of dread and skepticism, tackling issues of state surveillance, environment damage, and the dangers of political apathy. It is perhaps Radiohead’s darkest statement yet, the mournful feel of the record emphasized by its simple piano lines and Johnny Greenwood’s dominant string and choral arrangements. Listening to the percussive string motif on “Burn the Witch” or the moody somnambulist sounds of “Daydreaming,” it’s clear that this is the most baroque Radiohead has ever sounded. Beyond its sociopolitical concerns, the album’s other most recurring themes are love and heartbreak. While not new subjects to the diaspora of pop music, Thom Yorke lends a legitimacy and weight to these songs, no doubt inspired by the separation from his partner of 25 years, Rachel Owen. The sense of loss expressed in “Glass Eyes” and “True Love Waits” is beyond heartbreaking: its tectonic. Yet for all the album's heartbreak and skepticism, the album also offers a degree of hope. In the track “The Numbers,” a song inspired by Rachel Carson’s classic environmental book Silent Spring, Yorke sings that “the future is inside us/Its not somewhere else.” In a year racked with tragedy and the uncertainly for what the next few years will bring our world, Yorke offers a sobering reminder that it is us, individual people, who our the instigators of change. Rather than the labyrinthine rabbit holes and technocratic paranoia the band's efforts were heading towards (into particularly discomforting territory on 2011’s The King of Limbs) A Moon Shaped Pool is the sound of a band waking up and opening to the world around them. More so than being the best record of 2016, this is perhaps the most representative album of the year, and shows why Radiohead are still one of the most important bands out there today.

2. David Bowie – Blackstar

Blackstar is a difficult record in many ways. Its mutant fusion of avant-jazz, experimental rock, and arty electronic music is a clear challenge to fans who still associate Bowie as the guitar wielding androgynous “Ziggy Stardust.” Record producer Tony Viconti confirmed that he and Bowie attempted to avoid rock music’s influence while composing the album, citing a diverse range of electronic and hip-hop artists as principle influences, including Death Grips, Boards of Canada, and Kendrick Lamar. However, the hardest element to reconcile was Blackstar acting as the artist’s swan song, a rumination on his own impending death. It’s been widely publicized that Bowie wrote and recorded Blackstar after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, lending the songs on this record the certain gravity of a man grappling with his own mortality. The shadow of Bowie’s death looms over the entire record, with its seven songs containing imagery of sickbeds, hospital visits, and public executions, while the record’s centrepiece acts as a post-modern retelling of the Lazarus story. This is not to say the album is a complete gloom-and-doom affair: in the face of death, Bowie managed to craft an album that feels utterly alive. Bowie’s voice is strong and confident, the sound of an artist reaffirming their place as an art-rock legend. Donny McCaslin’s saxophone doesn’t bounce so much as ricochet throughout the record, creating alien abstract textures on tracks like “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” and “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)”. The record is vibrant and hypnotic, the songs resounding with an urgency that hasn’t been heard from Bowie in years. While it’s impossible to listen to Blackstar while forgetting the singer’s death, Bowie’s passing shouldn’t dominate the listener’s thoughts. Rather than a resigned acceptance, this album is the sound of an artist fighting to create and live his life to the very last, proof that the man indeed did not “go gentle into that good night.” Blackstar is a powerful record and stands, regardless of its connection with the artist’s passing, as one of the greatest album’s of Bowie’s career.

3. Nick Cave & The Badseeds – Skeleton Tree

One of the misconceptions about Skeleton Tree is that it was written after the tragic death of Cave's teenage son, Arthur, in 2015. However, despite the album's recurring themes of loss and death, the majority of the record was written before the young man's passing. Certainly this loss did play an important role in the production of the Skeleton Tree, with the Bad Seed's tendency for sleazy alt rock and feral blues completely eschewed for a cascade of sound loops, minimalist electronics, and sparse piano. The album is imbued with the sound of mourning, a musical tone poem of loss. With that said, the melancholy permeating this record wouldn't be enough to make it as resounding as it was if not for truly great songwriting, and the eight songs of Skeleton Tree are among the best of Cave's career. Describing Cave's words as lyrics hardly do them justice; they are poetry. “Girl in Amber” explores memory and anxiety over its fleeting nature. The reference to W.G. Sebald on “Rings of Saturn” is justified with the song's evocation of the author's picturesque style and descriptive prose. “Anthrocene,” with Joycean wit, rebukes the theory of mankind's evolution, faced with the ecological destruction humans have caused to the planet. And then there is “I Need You,” arguably the album's crowning achievement, a prayer to discovering meaning in a world where “nothing really matters.” It would be hard to define Skeleton Tree as a rock record (it is far too sombre and pensive for that), but it instead transcends the idea of a simple collection of rock n roll songs. Skeleton Tree belongs among the likes of the Velvet Underground, Astral Weeks, and Horses, not as a great collection of rock songs, but as one of the most profound works of art committed to disc.

4. Angel Olsen – My Woman

My Woman is more than just a breakthrough record, it is the sound of an artist defining their self. Angel Olsen's fourth release defied critics wishing to pigeon-hole her as a tormented acoustic folk singer, instead showing her chops as a powerful indie rocker. The first half of the record sees Olsen unleashing her venom: after the atmospheric synths of the opener “Intern,” Olsen proceeds to take command with a series of vicious rockers. “Shut Up Kiss Me,” “Give It Up,” and “Never Be Mine” don't ask for, but demand the listener's attention, resounding with the fierceness of early PJ Harvey and the confidence of Courtney Barnett. The second half of the record returns to Olsen's more familiar folk style (a format that nods towards Bob Dylan's own snub at the music press with Bringing It All Back Home), but with newfound confidence and ambition. A pair of seven minute tracks are definitely the highlights of this side, with “Sister” and the haunting “Woman” among the best songs yet penned by the young artist. A powerful statement and an even more powerful record, with My Woman, Olsen proves she is one of the most promising and versatile talents in indie rock today.

5. Parquet Courts – Human Performance

For a band whose breakthrough album riffed through a track about being “Stoned and Starving,” its hard to believe Parquet Courts were able to make an record as focused as Human Performance. While the crackling guitars and hazy lo-fi sounds of the band's previous records remain, Human Performance sees the band reaching the peak of their abilities. The sound is powerful; the clashing guitars cut through with newfound energy and intensity. The performances are tight and the arrangements catchier than ever. As for the lyrics, they are the best yet to come from the group. While never coming across as dullards, the songs on this record demonstrate how critical and intelligent a band Parquet Courts are: “Berlin Got Blurry” examines self-realization and isolation, “I Was Just Here” uses the search for a Chinese Restaurant as a metaphor for the inevitability of change and aging, while “Dust” offers one of the jauntiest slices of existential dread I've ever heard. Then there is the title track, a sombre rumination about an individual dealing with depression and the affects it has on their ability to connect with others. This song is easily the most powerful, personal, and greatest track produced by the band. Human Performance is more than a great album, its a display of a band at their creative peak.

Playlist for Show # 651 (Best of 2016 Part Two):

1. Radiohead - Burn The Witch (A Moon Shaped Pool - XL Recordings - 2016)
2. Jeff Rosenstock - Perfect Sound Whatever (Worry. - SideOneDummy Records - 2016)
3. Danny & The Darleans - Girl (Bug Out - In The Red Records - 2016)
4. Swans - When Will I Return (The Glowing Man - Young God Records - 2016)
5. Art Bergmann - A Town Called Mean (The Apostate - Weewerk Records - 2016)
6. Shotgun Jimmie - Walkman Battery Bleed (Field of Trampolines - You've Changed Records - 2016)
7. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam - The Morning Stars (I Had A Dream That You Were Mine - Glassnote Records - 2016)
8. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Rings Of Saturn (Skeleton Tree - Bad Seed Ltd. - 2016)
9. White Lung - Demented (Paradise - Domino - 2016)
10. Ty Segall - Mandy Cream (Manipulator - Drag City - 2016)
11. Car Seat Head Rest - Teens of Denial (Destroyed By Hippie Powers - Matador - 2016)
12. Preoccupations - Anxiety (Preoccupations - Flemish Eye/Jagjaguwar - 2016)
13. Parquet Courts - Human Performance (Human Performance - Rough Trade - 2016)
14. Thee Oh Sees - Gelatinous Cube (A Weird Exits - Castle Face Records - 2016)
15. Angel Olsen - Give It Up (My Woman - Jagjaguwar - 2016)
16. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Anthrocene (Skeleton Tree - Bad Seed Ltd. 2016)
17. Iggy Pop - Gardenia (Post Pop Depression - Loma Vista Recordings - 2016)
18. David Bowie -Lazarus (Blackstar - Columbia Records - 2016)
19. Radiohead - Identikit (A Moon Shaped Pool - XL Recordings - 2016)
20. Parquet Courts - Berlin Got Blurry (Human Performance - Rough Trade - 2016)

Download this episode here.

Playlist for Show # 649 (Best of 2016 Part One):

1. Lesbo Vrouven - LL (Griff Piff - P572 - 2016)
2. James O-L - Trouble At Nightmare Alley (Cancer In Treble City - Famous Last Records - 2016)
3. Trout - Burning Fire, The House (Lesser EP - Psychic Readings - 2016)
4. Tim Presley - Solitude Cola (The Wink - Drag City Records - 2016)
5. Snake River - I Was Very Drunk Jeanie (Sun Will Rise - Pigeon Row - 2016)
6. Kim Gray - Tropical Low Life (Perfume - Resurrection Records - 2016)
7. Nap Eyes - Trust (Thought Rock Fish Scale - You've Changed Records - 2016)
8. Daniel Romano - Toulouse (Mosey - New West Records - 2016)
9. Leonard Cohen - Steer Your Way (You Want It Darker - Columbia Records - 2016)
10. Iggy Pop - German Days (Post Pop Depression - Loma Vista Recordings - 2016)
11. Frankie Cosmos - What If (Next Thing - Bayonet Records - 2016)
12. PJ Harvey - A Line In The Sand (The Hope Six Demolition Project - Vagrant Records - 2016)
13. Leonard Cohen - It Seemed A Better Way (You Want It Darker - Columbia Records - 2016)
14. Kevin Morby - I Have Been To The Mountain (Singing Saw - Dead Oceans - 2016)
15. G.L.O.S.S - Trans Day Of Revenge (Trans Day of Revenge - Sabotage Records - 2016)
16. Monomyth - Go Somewhere (Happy Pop Family - Mint Records - 2016)
17. Cass McCombs - Bum Bum Bum (Mangy Love - Anti- Records - 2016)
18. Duotang - Karma Needs To Come Around (New Occupation - Stomp Records - 2016)
19. Mitski - Fireworks (Puberty 2 - Dead Oceans - 2016)
20. Young Rival - Heard It All Before (Strange Light EP - Paper Bag Records - 2016)
21. Case/Lang/Veirs - Atomic Number (Case/Lang/Veirs - Anti- Records - 2016)
22. Paul Jacobs Stages For You (I'm Into What You're Into - Danger Collective Records - 2016)
23. Paul Jacobs - Pics, Movs & Apts (Pictures, Movies & Apartments - 2016)
24. Preoccupations - Stimulation (Preoccupations - Jagjaguwar - 2016)
25. Kid Congo Powers & The Pink Monkey Birds - Coyote Conundrum (La Arana Es La Vida - In The Red Records - 2016)

Download this episode here.

And for those keeping track of the episode numbers on this site. Here is all you need to know:

To find out why episode # 650 is in the middle of the best of 2016 episodes, all is explained here.

Episode # 648 was a repeat of a previous episode (my Leonard Cohen radio special) that originally aired in October 2016. You can download that episode here and view the playlist here.

Episode # 647 was a repeat of a previous episode that aired in October 2016. You can download that episode here and view the playlist here.

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