The Top Ten Albums Of 2016…So Far
Hello friends, my old darkness. Are you all gearing up for your July 4th weekend? I know I am. For the first time…ever–I think–I am going to have a four-day weekend. This is how adulthood feels, huh? At 33 years old, it’s about time I experience it (or something like it).
In lieu of a mix tape today I’m going to share tracks from what I believe are the best new albums released this year. I’ve compiled similar lists in years past. It gives me a chance to gather notes and study my listening habits from January to June. Half of 2016 is behind us. It’s never too early to start thinking about December’s annual Year-End list of the 100 best albums. Sometimes there’s a lot of upheaval in the top ten between June and December, and sometimes they stay nearly identical. Who knows how it’ll go this year.
Here we go!
The Top Ten Albums Of 2016 (January – June)
10. Cough – Still They Pray (Relapse) – It’s slightly unsettling to have to admit that I discovered Windhand before I discovered Cough. My foray into the world of metal and its sundry sub-genres began more recently, and the last proper studio album Cough released was issued in 2010. So I wholeheartedly apologize for my being late to the party. Nevertheless, this stands as a fantastic take on the swirling, sludgy, psych-meets-doom sound that has become popularized in recent times. With Jus Oborn of Electric Wizard in tow as producer and boasting a sickening blend of guttural vocals, Lovecraft-ian imagery, and riffs galore, Still They Pray worms its way under your skin in the best possible way. [Listen to “The Wounding Hours“]
09. Marissa Nadler – Strangers (Sacred Bones) – I happen to think that Nadler’s last record, July, was an absolute gem–perhaps the crowning achievement of her career. Strangers boasts more varied instrumentation than its predecessor resulting in a more noticeable “full band” sound. Her gauzy, otherworldly voice still floats above the music, though, as haunting as ever. After I spun this for the first time I went back and grabbed my copy of Ballads Of Living and Dying and played the ‘A’ side before returning to Strangers for a second listen. From “Fifty Five Falls” to “Hungry Is The Ghost,” the evolution of her songwriting and her sound is remarkable. [Listen to “Hungry Is The Ghost“]
08. Aluk Todolo – Voix (Norma Evangelium Diaboli) – Aluk Todolo doesn’t make easy music. Their records are hyperactive, dynamic, constantly shifting slabs of rock-meets-metal that require a lot of effort on the part of the listener to keep up. This is not music I can put on in the background at work in order to get things done. It’s unsettling, it hypnotic in all the wrong ways, and I think that’s why I love it so much. [Listen to “7:01“]
07. John Carpenter – Lost Themes II (Sacred Bones) – I can’t believe my sister came to town the same weekend as his Los Angeles concert, because it meant I had to sell my tickets and skip a show I had been looking forward to for months. I don’t know how he does it. The now 68-year-old Carpenter released his debut LP last year, and has now followed that up with another shockingly good studio album this year. And he already has plans for a third Lost Themes album for 2017. He’s an absolute genius. I hope I have the chance to watch him perform these songs again soon. [Listen to “Angel’s Asylum“]
06. Thomas Köner – Tiento De La Luz (Denovali) – More than any other album this year, Tiento De La Luz is what I turn to when I need inspiration while writing. The record features Köner’s ambient electronics accompanied by piano, percussion, and viola da gamba. My old college roommate used to play the latter instrument and it did not take long to become enamored of its sound. Whereas Köner’s previous efforts (like 2012’s Novaya Zemlya) are often described with works like “bleak,” this is a slightly lighter affair. Emphasis on slightly. [Listen to “06“]
05. Astronoid – Air (Blood Music) – I’m still not quite sure how to describe this record. Is it “emo” metal? Dream Metal? Blackened Pop? By all pre-exiting closed-minded Swan Fungus grading metrics I should not like this record. And yet for the past few weeks I cannot get enough of it. It’s like Deafheaven or Alcest decided to collaborate with Sigur Ros or Jesu. You’re just going to have to listen to this one for yourself because the fact that I think this is so good defies logic. Any more thought given to describing it to you might cause my head to explode. [Listen to “Up And Atom“]
04. Wildernessking – Mystical Future (Sick Man Getting Sick) – Here’s one you don’t come across often, South African Post-Metal. When this came out back in February Ian hipped me to it and I got obsessed. I started forcing it upon friends and acquaintances from work looking for new music recommendations. It’s probably the most beautifully layered, melodic black metal record you’ll hear this year. [Listen to “With Arms Like Wands“]
03. Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial (Matador) – Another recent discovery that I can’t get enough of, which was recommended pretty much on my way out the door of my last job. If you were to tell me there is a better young lyricist than Will Toledo actively recording music right now, I would call you an outright liar. I’ve heard Toldeo compared to luminaries like Leonard Cohen (lofty praise indeed) to Stephen Malkmus (slightly less lofty in my humble opinion). He’s definitely a wordsmith with a gift for spinning verse. While “timely” lyrics such as references to Wikipedia might not age as gracefully as others, by and large Teens Of Denial is filled with fantastic insight from a brilliant mind. You’d be surprised how refreshing it feels to hear a fantastically written, exciting new rock record. [Listen to “Fill In The Blank“]
02. Ulver – ATGCLVLSSCAP (House Of Mythology) – This ain’t your cool, older cousin’s Ulver. Long gone are the days of Nattens Madrigal or Bergtatt. This is meditative and Kraut-y (in the Popol Vuh sense of the word), a new take on a dark and disturbing sound. Could I easily hear these tracks in an episode of The Venture Bros. credited to JG Thirlwell? Yes. When Kristoffer Rygg stretches out his vocal cords on “Nothing (Sweet Sixteen)” does he sound as if he’s inadvertently written the most brooding The The song ever? Also yes. There’s a lot to unpack here, which for me has meant a lot to enjoy. [Listen to “Nowhere“]
01. Tim Hecker – Love Streams (4AD) – Speaking of challenging records, it took a few weeks of coming home from work and spinning Love Streams for me to fully appreciate its brilliance. The first time I sat down with it I was reading an interview with Hecker published by The Guardian and I couldn’t bring myself to hear what he was describing. Mostly because I thought quotes like “an electronic version of the Nordic desecrations of Christian sites” were more cringe-y than informative. In spite of such claims, I find this to be one of his warmer (which is to say less harsh — dare I say less icy — sounding?) recordings. I’ve really come to enjoy the sinuous flow through compositions as layers are built and stripped away, then built up again. It’s not easy to disrupt experimental music “norms” when by definition it is meant to be in flux. Hecker manages to achieve something both unique and beautiful on Love Streams, which is what makes it one of the most intriguing and enjoyable albums released this year. [Listen to “Collapse Sonata“]
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