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Austen’s Fav Albums of 2018

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Well, 2018 is almost done happening, so it’s about time for me to drop a year-end roundup or something… emphasis on the “or something.” Unlike in the past few years, I’m not really feeling the album-by-album write-ups this time. Music writing is generally not a passion of mine, but I do still want to provide what semblance of a platform I can for the music I enjoy. Granted, this year I didn’t so much find myself returning to contemporary albums as I did listening to older ambient music, minimalism, and stuff of that nature. Too much Morton Feldman, for instance. And fuck, I’ve even been nostalgically returning to some early vaporwave like Vanishing Vision—how ironic is that?

Anyway, my taste has for a long while gravitated to music that gives me plenty of space in which to get lost, so around halfway through this year, I pretty much drifted away from most in-your-face music. Might explain why an undoubtedly great album like Haru to Shura didn’t carry over from my mid-year list. The top 10 I came up with this year is still somewhat dynamic; just figured I’d explain my prevailing listening habits. Hopefully you dig the albums that ended up making the cut. If anyone wants to discuss them down in the comments, I’ll of course be as responsive as possible. That’s more fun than me just solipsistically writing a mini-essay for each one.

If you’re just dipping in and out, thanks for checking out this list and for following TND this year! It has now been five whole years since I started here, and I’m happy and grateful to still be aboard this ship. Wishing you all happy holidays.

FOREVER!

Notes: The titles don't display on mobile for whatever reason, even when I take them off hover-only. Sorry, mobile users. The list is in ascending order and the last slide is just for you. / Honorable mentions were added on 18 December.

LISTEN:

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

SONG OF THE YEAR:
KANYE WEST - “GHOST TOWN”


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Oh wait, to pad out this article I can tell you about my best live music experience this year, which was seeing a free improv set by the legendary Keiji Haino and Mitsuru Nasuno in Tokyo about a month ago. They were billed as “No Not Jazz” (frankly I’m not sure if that refers to the duo or the event) and performed at a tucked away space in Shibuya called LUSH. It was a perfectly intimate venue. Its capacity is apparently 200, though I’m having a hard time imagining even half that fitting into the room. The drinks were relatively cheap, but I’m cheaper, so I met the one-drink minimum with a tumbler of Jack and was good. The pre-show music consisted mostly of the blues, which was appropriate considering the genre’s influence on Haino. I’m mostly bringing this up because several tracks from Gil Scott-Heron’s final album I’m New Here were played and it served as a reminder of what an unsung masterpiece that album is. It’s a swansong on par with Blackstar (or Lulu if you’re a sick fuck such as myself), so please check it out if it has gone under your radar, or if it’s been a while.

Now, I knew going into this set that Haino would be on percussion, so I wasn’t disappointed when I saw no guitar on stage. He has become a guitar hero of mine through Fushitsusha and solo efforts like Watashi Dake? and This Is the Son of Nihilism, but my introduction to his work was the Tzadik release Tenshi no Gijinka, on which he primarily played exotic percussion instruments. I also quite like Origin’s Hesitation, a later Fushitsusha release that has a similar drum kit / bass set-up. All that being said, I was a little taken aback when all I saw on stage was a bass guitar and a snare drum. That’s right: Haino, the absolute madman that he is, was about to play nothing but a snare drum for about two hours. Not even with a variety of mallets—just a pair of brushes!

The set was divided into 40-50 minute halves with an about 10-minute-long intermission. The first half in particular played out like a conversation between Nasuno’s bass and Haino’s drum. As with any relationship, sometimes the instruments got along smoothly and sometimes shit got downright argumentative. The two performers had unbelievable chemistry and sold the musical exchanges in an actorly way. It was such a joy just watching them play and reading their facial expressions. To his credit, Haino managed to explore a wide range of sounds considering the intense limitations he imposed upon himself. He could of course vary the attack and interval of his strikes, throw off the snare, and run the metal bristles of the brushes across the drumskin, but it speaks volumes about Haino’s ability as an improviser and showman that he was able to keep those things riveting the entire time. So yeah, he expressed himself just fine with nothing but the snare and a few shouted words, one of which was “allegro.” During a particularly allegro part, he knocked over his drum in the heat of the moment. There are few musicians I’d call badass for doing that, but he’s one of them.

Though if I’m being completely honest, Nasuno stole the show. I was transfixed by him most of the time and I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t even know he was on the bill—can’t blame it on not being able to read kanji, either, ‘cause his name was written clear as day in kana. For those unaware of Mitsuru Nasuno, he was in a recent iteration of Fushitsusha and is also an Otomo Yoshihide collaborator, going as far back as the Ground-Zero days. As far as I’m concerned, effectively improvising on bass is a lot harder than on guitar, but Nasuno is a veteran in the scene and made every note count. He also had what appeared to be a contact microphone attached to one of his tuning keys, which amplified the creaking of the instrument. I shit you not, there was at one point a bass creaking solo performed solely by leaning.

The first half was a breeze. I was surprised to hear it went on for almost 50 minutes, as it felt like half that. During the intermission, I went to drain the vat while my less frugal friend got another bourbon. Then we retook our seats for the second half, which started with a serious change of pace. Nasuno controlled a bass feedback drone that reverberated through Haino’s snare. I suppose Nasuno was the bassist and percussionist for this phase, easily the loudest of the set. Imagine the “It’s Not Jackie Chan” sketch’s low frequency counterpart—suffice it to say we’d all answered “Jackie Chan.” My head and my cojones were neck and neck in a race to see which would explode first. After about 10 minutes, just before any anatomical detonations could occur, it was back to business as usual for the remainder of the performance.

I’m not sure if the drum and bass came to any sort of resolution by the end of it all, but c’est la vie. If such a thing did happen, it was probably during the encore, which sounded like a deconstructed version of “Nattanjanai” from Fushitsusha’s Live 1. Then Haino bowed and uttered a “dōmo arigatō.” After all the musical turbulence that had just transpired, those gestures were almost ironic in their modesty. And that was that. Moral of the story: you haven’t lived til you’ve seen Keiji Haino in his element. No matter what instrument is at his disposal, you’re guaranteed an intense experience.

OK, for real now…

Forever!

Austen's Mid-Year Faves 2018

theneedledrop12 Comments
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Hey NeedleDrops, it's ya boy Literally Who back with another (albeit paltry) list. At this time last year, I went all-out with a mid-year top 10, prematurely blowing my load on some of the albums that would end up making and even topping my 2017 list. This time I'm basically keeping it to shout-outs... and I didn't even muster a top 10, so I'm especially half-assing it. Though, in my defense, I'm still in the refractory period following my Koz review. Without further ado, here's my current 'loved list' for 2018:

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I will say that although I only came up with a top 8, I REALLY love the above releases. So, it's certainly been a half-year of quality if not quantity. For now I'm splitting a spot between DAYTONA and ye for obvious contextual reasons, but I'm also enjoying both about equally so far. I'm more fascinated by the latter, though, which may give it the edge. I feel as if all the other names on the list should be familiar as well, particularly if you've been following my yearly articles. That is with the exception of Haru Nemuri, whose music I discovered just recently. Really, if there's one takeaway from this sorry excuse for a list it's to check out her shit 'cause it's sick! Her sound on Haru to Shura is a marriage of J-pop, rap, noise rock, and just a bit of electronic experimentation that goes off without a hitch. I'll link to one of the songs I'm addicted to below.

Happy listening, and thanks as always for reading.

Forever, Austen

Austen Reviews Mark Kozelek by Mark Kozelek

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It’s not often I hear an album that inspires me to write a review – in fact, it’s not something that has happened since I started working at TND back in 2013. Sure, shouting out and showing some love for my favorite albums of the year is fun, but picking apart and critiquing pieces of music is generally yucky business to me. But I’ve been listening to this new Mark Kozelek album for a couple of weeks now and have a lot of thoughts that I’d like to get down on paper. I’ll try to arrange them coherently, but no promises.

Starting with the narrative of the album, it’s what I see as a bottle episode in the Kozelek saga. To quite an extent, Mark’s 2017 output was born out of the tumultuous political climate of the preceding year, not to mention the rash of celebrity deaths. Common as Light in particular had no shortage of drama despite it being the most radical expression of Mark’s diaristic songwriting process up to that point. There were even chapters that found Mark indulging in his fascination with true crime, going as far as investigating a mysterious death at a potentially haunted hotel. Whereas in this new self-titled album, the greatest external conflict Mark faces is either when he knocks over a glass in a restaurant, or when a bookstore cashier teases him about Panera Bread, both of which occur in the track “My Love for You Is Undying.” Yeah, it makes even Universal Themes sound Shakespearean. Mark Kozelek is truly the purest slice-of-life experience the man (and by extension, any other musician) has crafted yet.

That being said, the album contains a pretty much unprecedented amount of self-reflection, intertextuality, and meta-commentary/humor from the Koz. Sure, he has written songs about writing songs before – “Track Number 8” from Among the Leaves springs to mind, as does his joke about not spending much time writing lyrics in Common as Light’s “Seventies TV Show Theme Song.” But this level of self-awareness is even more pronounced and pervasive on Mark Kozelek. A few examples are when he acknowledges the polarized reactions to his stream-of-consciousness lyricism in “Undying,” when he runs out of words mid-verse during the ostensibly freestyled “Sublime,” and when he wonders if he's singing or talking during "Weed Whacker." There are also spots where Mark considers his artistic legacy, most notably on “The Mark Kozelek Museum,” whose poignant coda is a highlight. And in many ways “I Cried During Wall Street” is a song about closing an album. Early in the track, Mark sings about how much he dislikes goodbyes, so it’s a nice touch that the album's final lines instead amount to a “see ya soon." Sure, the song title almost reads as self-parody, but anyone who's not dead inside can relate to tearing up at a movie, maybe even one that makes you think, "THIS of all things is getting to me?!" Oh, and as you might’ve guessed, there are a lot of pop cultural references here. Most of the allusions are to boxing and '70s-'80s Hollywood cinema, though you’ll also be catching titles of books and TV shows, as well as names of fellow musicians like Cardi B and Ariel Pink. Referencing other works and artists isn’t new for Mark, but I believe he's set a new record for himself with this one.

photos via  markkozelek.com

photos via markkozelek.com

Now we can get into the album’s formal qualities, which are arguably even more interesting. In the context of Mark’s career, this album shares the most in common with 2010's Admiral Fell Promises in that they were both recorded almost entirely by Mark alone and that they’re mostly comprised of solo guitar and voice. As it happens, the only reason why AFP wasn’t released under his given name was because Mark had more confidence in the Sun Kil Moon moniker to shift units. That appears to have changed in the past eight years, but judging from his annual holiday letter, he was toying with the notion of releasing this new album as Sun Kil Moon, too. The fact that Mark ultimately decided not only to release it under his own name, but also give it an eponymous title, hints at themes of identity and self-exploration that I might’ve already touched on, but can't completely put into words.

There, Anthony, that’s how a real man digresses. Anyway, Mark Kozelek is a very different animal from Admiral Fell Promises. One may be forgiven for expecting this album to be a ramblier electric version of the latter after hearing the two lead singles, but about half of the album is primarily acoustic and the track "Weed Whacker" is bass-led. There’s also “Sublime,” which features drums from Steve Shelley and sounds like a cross between the titular band's brand of ska and the slowcore of Red House Painters. Of course, AFP had no percussion or instrumental collaborators, and beyond that, it was an album that married classical guitar music and folk songwriting in a rather novel way. As such, it required greater virtuosity on the nylon-string guitar than your average singer-songwriter project. I find the approach to composition on Mark Kozelek to be novel as well, but for essentially the opposite reason. With the exception of “The Mark Kozelek Museum” and the closing track, which do feature some intricate fingerpicking, the songs’ musical backdrops are formed by guitar loops, some of which sound rudimentary compared to Mark’s flashier playing on past releases. Think: Common as Light without the percussive and bassy backbone. That isn’t a bad thing in my opinion, as the resulting product has a mesmerizing effect similar to a good piece of ambient music.

So, I’d say in contrast to the virtuosity displayed on Admiral Fell Promises, the appeal of Mark Kozelek’s instrumentation comes down to its resonance and tonality. Really, I fucking envy the guitar tones Mark achieves throughout this album, particularly on the back-to-back tracks “Good Nostalgia” and “666 Post.” The former is so cavernous and gothic that the lead guitar sounds more medieval than modern, and it sounds as if it was recorded in the echo chamber of the Koz's psyche. Then there’s the latter, which is composed of harmonic sequences that evoke a cursed music box – fitting considering the song’s surreal narrative. It's also brilliant how the strumming in "The Banjo Song" emulates a clock pendulum's tick-tock. Certainly some of the album’s tonal appeal comes from Mark’s proficiency and inventiveness as a guitarist and producer, but much of it probably has to do with the non-studio recording environments he opted for this time. The vast majority of the album was captured with mobile recording gear in hotel rooms, which obviously have different acoustic properties and are less controlled than the professional studios and equipment Mark typically uses. Consequently, the mix is richer in reverb and overtones than any one of his albums since Down Colorful Hill.

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I can imagine this recording set-up being a blessing or a curse depending on one’s sensibilities. The album naturally isn't Mark's most polished effort – some of the soloing on “The Mark Kozelek Museum” peaks and occasionally a bit of incidental noise will find its way into a loop. However, if you prefer your music rough-and-ready (as I do), then those will be non-issues. You may also notice that the Koz's vocal performances are a bit more understated and restrained than usual, and I suspect that's because he wanted to stick to his "inside voice" out of courtesy to the hotels' other clients. In that respect, the recently released Live in Chicago makes for a perfect companion piece, finding Mark's crooning at its most forceful and dramatic. Kudos for that orchestral rendition of "The Black Butterfly" (seriously, Mark, please record more shit with Magik*Magik) ...I'm getting off track again. Not that off track though, as the song "Live in Chicago" actually details the events leading up to that concert.

My only gripe with Mark Kozelek is that my enjoyment drops off a little as the story winds down in New Orleans and the music is taken in a rootsier direction. I can at least acknowledge that it's an appropriate change in sonic palette and respect the versatility. That petty complaint aside, this is one of Mark's most revealing, life-affirming, and envelope-pushing releases to date. It's not without its blemishes, but an honest self-portrait shouldn't be. We've at last reached peak Koz with this album, though I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as an entry point to his art. That'd be like recommending someone to start watching Breaking Bad at the episode with the fly. But those caught up on the lore will hopefully find much to appreciate in this new chapter of the life and times of Mark Kozelek.

Mark Kozelek is out May 11 via Caldo Verde Records. It begins streaming next week on Sun Kil Moon's website.

Forever, Austen

Austen's Fav Albums of 2017

theneedledrop3 Comments
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Hey, it's Austen again, coming at you with another HOT year-end list! For those unaware, I'm the managing editor of The Needle Drop, or in other words, Anthony's right-hand man. It's my third year making these lists for the site, and let me just say up front that this is the best one yet. 2017 has been my favorite year in music this decade, so you're in for a whole lot of gushing and superlatives. Moreover, I'm listing more albums than usual so as to not leave anyone out; you'll see when we get to the honorable mentions section. Many of the albums also happen to be very long, with a few in the Top 10 exceeding three hours. I'm not sure what to make of that – probably just a coincidence. Or perhaps Anthony's conspiracy theory about albums getting longer and longer is proving true.

With that digression aside, here's the list...


The Top 10

1. Oxbow - Thin Black Duke [Hydra Head]

1. Oxbow - Thin Black Duke [Hydra Head]

Thin Black Duke topped my mid-year list and, as you can see, not much has changed since then. Unfortunately that includes my inadequacy as a writer to do this album justice. I'm forced to recycle the line about this being the greatest orchestral rock album since Lou Reed's Berlin (which, for the record, is an all-time fave of mine). It's also a shame that I didn't keep the anecdote about Joseph Losey / The Servant in my pocket. The one thing the album had yet to prove at the time of my previous list was its staying power, and it has certainly done that. Every track on this album hits me as hard as it did on first listen, if not harder. It was just last month that I had the album on one night and got choked up by its centerpiece, "Letter of Note." Not only because it's a pretty tragic song, but because it's just formally perfect. It occurred to me in that moment that I'll probably never create something even half as beautiful—that's a paradoxically inspirational feeling. If you can listen to the track, or the rest of the album for that matter, and not have that response, then you and I are very different people. So, to reiterate: if you're in the market for a rock album that's artful, impeccably arranged, and emotionally overwhelming, you're not going to find much else on the level of Thin Black Duke. Except The Narcotic Story. Listen to that one, too.


2. Mark Kozelek 2017 [Caldo Verde]

2. Mark Kozelek 2017 [Caldo Verde]

In 2017, Mark Kozelek released four albums that total nearly six hours of music. This volume of output comes as a surprise even by his prolific standards. 50 years into his life, half of those spent releasing music, Mark doesn't even seem to think this is a big deal and is really taking the principle of not resting on one's laurels to the next level. I've already written a lot about Common as Light and the Jesu collab on my mid-year list, so I'm just going to use the rest of this space to touch on the Yeaton and Boye/White projects. Yellow Kitchen, the disc with Parquet Courts bassist Sean Yeaton, ended up being the most pleasant surprise of the "tetralogy" and pretty much validated my previous Scott Walker comparison—this is essentially Mark's The Drift. I was expecting some typical garage rock, but it turns out that Sean is quite the composer and producer. He mostly contributes dark ambient soundscapes that perfectly suit Mark's anxious, sometimes downright paranoid musings about his health, daily life, and memories.

Yellow Kitchen has a schizophrenic charm in its brevity and disjointedness, whereas the self-titled collab with keyboardist Ben Boye and drummer Jim White goes for a consistently nocturnal fusion of jazz and slowcore. This sound is a bit more in the Koz's wheelhouse, but the project stands out in his catalog for the trio's exceptional chemistry as improvisers, culminating in the epic "Topo Gigio." I'm also taken by Mark's terse writing in the CD insert detailing the events that inspired the album; it closes with "I sang about my days, my nights and my dreams." The man keeps blurring the line between prose and poetry, and for as TMI as it sometimes gets, I think it's beautiful. As long as he remains ambitious with his instrumental and compositional palettes, I look forward to hearing where this uncharted songwriting direction takes him.


3. Brockhampton - Saturation III [Question Everything]

3. Brockhampton - Saturation III [Question Everything]

I’ve been down on Brockhampton since the release of their first two albums this past summer. Part of that’s to do with me being partial to Odd Future, who paved the way for a similarly boisterous collective (or boy band) like Brockhampton to let their freak flag fly. Saturation had some incredible bangers—hard to top those first three tracks—and some of the low-key spots like closer “WASTE” were nice, too. Still, I couldn’t help but feel as if I’d been excited about this all before, and that was even more the case for Saturation II. I’ll give kudos for the ridiculously catchy “QUEER,” and "GAMBA," though, because after all I’m here to be nice to Brockhampton. That brings us to Saturation III, which is fantastic from start to finish. There’s not exactly a night and day difference between it and the previous two discs, but just enough has been tweaked for it to feel that way to me. Namely the presence of more beat switch-ups, as the group seems to be getting more ambitious with their song structures. Sure, the Odd Future worship is still here (especially in “STAINS,” which is nevertheless a highlight for me), but I can appreciate that Brockhampton’s subversion of rap music is more nuanced than OF’s and that the groups reach very different conclusions. Kevin Abstract and company aren’t nearly as interested in taking the piss out of the genre, and yeah, the difference in technical ability is undeniable. Listening to "BOOGIE" and "HOTTIE," I'm convinced BH has found a way to convert candy and crack into song form. Your move, 1D.


4. Jute Gyte - Oviri [Jeshimoth]

4. Jute Gyte - Oviri [Jeshimoth]

Earlier this year, Jute Gyte (Adam Kalmbach) completed an epic triptych with Oviri, which like its predecessors Ship of Theseus and Perdurance (one of my 2016 faves), proffers a microtonal, polytempic, and electronically-tinged breed of black metal that is guaranteed to give those uninitiated in the worlds of extreme music and atonal composition a severe migraine. One could also be forgiven for looking at the track titles, the lyrics, and the Bandcamp write-ups and thinking they'd need dual degrees in ancient Greek philosophy and existentialism to vibe to this music. But I think it's precisely Adam's deviation from musical convention, his unrelenting limits-pushing, that makes his work so metal. The chord progressions on Oviri are as twisted as ever, though there are more spots here that might be considered melodic than there were on Perdurance. The dense compositions still evoke the totalism of Glenn Branca, and come to think of it, there's even common ground with some of Captain Beefheart's most abrasive work. The liner notes suggest that the dissonance and simultaneous tempi aren't guided by (intentional) ineptitude in Adam's case, but nevertheless, the music in this trilogy of albums subverted my musical expectations in the same way I imagine Trout Mask Replica did for its contemporary audience. However, it's just as important to consider Adam's work as an extension of the black metal tradition—a much needed step toward (post-)modernity. Sure, the pagan mumbo jumbo has been eschewed in favor of enlightened mumbo jumbo, but I find Oviri to be every bit as emotionally potent and frightening as an album like Filosofem. It's exciting to hear the genre pushing the envelope to this extent; I only hope Adam is able to continue doing so now that it seems this phase is finished.


5. Jürg Frey - l’âme est sans retenue I [Erstwhile]

5. Jürg Frey - l’âme est sans retenue I [Erstwhile]

Almost two decades after its completion, Jürg Frey's magnum opus, l’âme est sans retenue I, has finally seen the light of day thanks to Erstwhile Records. The label has been on a roll with these massive, multi-disc sets. Last year's the earth and the sky is one of my favorite collections of piano pieces, and if I had heard Keith Rowe's The Room Extended sooner, it likely would've topped my 2016 list. Clearly I think the streak continues here with retenue I, though I don't have a whole lot to say beyond what cover designer Yuko Zama wrote in her comprehensive breakdown of the composition. Due to its daunting six-hour runtime, much of that devoted to silence, one might see this as, like, the final boss of lowercase music. In a sense, it is, but listening to retenue I is better described as an experience than a challenge. I don't get the sense I'm experiencing "more than an album" very often, but that's certainly the case here. Granted, for some listeners it's bound to sound like quite a bit less than the average album; again, we're talking about a long-form piece that's virtually silent half the time. But as far as I'm concerned, Jürg's use of silence here is the most effective I've ever heard (perhaps "felt" is a better word), and I can see myself making retenue I a regular sonic pilgrimage.

It's worth mentioning that Erstwhile is now making its catalog available on Bandcamp. This Jürg release isn't there yet, but I recommend looking around anyway. The Lambkin/Lescalleet trilogy is a good starting point. Update: It's there now.


6. Impossible Nothing - Taxemenomicon [Self-Released]

6. Impossible Nothing - Taxemenomicon [Self-Released]

You may remember that in one of the first episodes of "It Came from Bandcamp," Anthony and I featured an insane and monolithic plunderphonics album from an Italian producer called Impossible Nothing. Since then, he received the Scaruffi bump (that's apparently a thing) and has gone on to release four more 260-minute-long albums this year—for all I know, the absolute madman may drop another before the year is out. My favorite is the third one, Taxemenomicon, though sometimes I find myself in the mood for Tonemenomicon, which is easy-going by comparison. Honestly, I thought his album last year was cool and all, but saw it as a bit of a novelty that didn't really live up to the cosmic proportions that the artist intended. Taxeme, on the other hand, does. It might be the most incredible plunderphonics / instrumental hip hop album I've heard since J Dilla's Donuts. Except Dilla would've had to infuse Donuts with a shitload of stardust and all the excess of the Internet for these two works to even be comparable. He was also short a Seinfeld reference, but I'll let that slide. Essentially, I think what Impossible Nothing's doing here is the perfect representation of what makes our Bandcamp series worthwhile.

(Heads-up: the track below comes on pretty loud and sudden.)


7. Tyler, the Creator - Scum Fuck Flower Boy [Odd Future]

7. Tyler, the Creator - Scum Fuck Flower Boy [Odd Future]

I've been a fan of Tyler's since Goblin. For as excessive and E D G Y as that album is, I consider it some kind of exorcismic hip hop masterpiece and think Tyler proved himself to be a visionary producer with its consistently uncanny, synth-centric aesthetic. Rarely does a debut studio album following a hyped mixtape make such a statement. I've enjoyed Tyler's work since then, even Cherry Bomb if only because the title track was ingeniously a ready-made YouTube bass boost meme. Actually, if I have one gripe with Flower Boy here, it's that I miss some of the darkness and abrasiveness of those salad days. Other than that, I can appreciate that this is a surprisingly mature album from Tyler. His production here is lovely and he has blossomed into both a versatile rapper and a thoughtful lyricist. Of all the indie blog darlings who had blown up near the end of the Aughts, I'm glad it's been Tyler who has managed to maintain relevance and progress to such a degree as an artist.


8. Father John Misty - Pure Comedy [Sub Pop]

8. Father John Misty - Pure Comedy [Sub Pop]

Pure Comedy is among the most polarizing singer-songwriter albums to have come out this decade, and it's not exactly hard to understand why. It's a collection of post-ironic piano ballads written by a man who's totally unwilling to tone down his cynical and absurdist sense of humor. However, I'm not sure what it is about Josh Tillman that makes him harder to bear for some than similarly abrasive figures like Lou Reed and Frank Zappa. Hell, I could describe a lot of the album's social commentary as "Zappa-esque," though Josh seems more willing than Frank to wear his heart on his sleeve. The music has also been superficially compared to Randy Newman, Elton John, and [insert '70s piano man]; but the fact of the matter is this album couldn't have been made any time but now or by anyone but Josh. Ideological bullshit aside, I simply dig his passionate vocal performances and balladry, as well as the modern production that renders some of these pieces atmospheric and helps the whole thing sound like a product of 2017. Suffice it to say I'm looking forward to next year's Father John Misty album. But it's supposedly about heartache—sounds pretentious.


9. Bill Orcutt - Bill Orcutt [Palilalia]

9. Bill Orcutt - Bill Orcutt [Palilalia]

Bill Orcutt has spent much of the decade channeling the no wave energy left over from his band Harry Pussy into his (poor, poor) acoustic guitar, violently deconstructing a myriad of American standards along the way. Albums like How the Thing Sings and A History of Every One punked the fuck out of American Primitivism and capitalized on the instrument’s free improvisational potential to perhaps the greatest extent since Derek Bailey. However, Bill's gone electric on his latest release, and the results are more modest than one might expect. This is after all a self-titled album by the man who spent the last several years producing some of the most brutal acoustic guitar recordings of all time, and now that he has a decidedly more powerful weapon in his hands we're getting something low-key? Well, it was a wise move, as this is among the best solo guitar albums I've heard all decade. The only things I miss that were lost in the jump to amplification are the involuntary vocalizations Bill would make while going off on his detuned and destrung six-string. Those really added to the rawness. Bill takes things a bit easier on this album, though there is no shortage of explosive, high-attack moments, especially the closing rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." For the most part, his covers are easier to recognize this time around, the highlight being his take on "Ol' Man River." There's still a ton of bite and soul to Bill's playing; he just seems more willing than in the past to preserve some of these songs' inherent beauty. Gotta respect that restraint.


10. Prurient - Rainbow Mirror [Profound Lore]

10. Prurient - Rainbow Mirror [Profound Lore]

For my money, Profound Lore is the best extreme music label out there, and I had trouble choosing between the two multi-disc albums it released this year. The first was Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper, a powerful piece of funeral doom that should be experienced in one sitting at least once. But the album I'll have in heavier rotation is Rainbow Mirror, which commemorates 20 years of Prurient by way of three hours' worth of noisy drones. I've had the first two discs for a couple of weeks and once I got past the initial disappointment of Dominick's growls and screams being entirely absent here, I got absorbed by the cold, staticky soundscapes. I'm really in awe (and envy) of the album's textures, as well as the trio's ability to keep the tension escalating across all of these lengthy tracks. While it's an entirely different animal from Frozen Niagara Falls and is far from Prurient's harshest project, Rainbow Mirror is at once the most mesmerizing and thrilling ambient work I heard this year. Props to Profound Lore for being a metal label that's willing to put out a 4-CD set of dark ambience.


Shout-outs

I'm doing something a little different with this year's honorable mentions section, devoting it to miscellaneous releases. Basically I'm listing albums that're live, limited, compiled, archival, or reissued—reasons why I feel they wouldn't really fit with the ones above. Also A Crow Looked at Me because I wouldn't consider it a personal favorite in Phil's catalog, but still think its concept and aesthetic deserve recognition. Anyway, the sorting is alphabetical and the lineup is arguably just as good as the actual Top 10.


The Caretaker - Everywhere at the end of time Stages 1-3 [History Always Favours the Winners]

The Caretaker - Everywhere at the end of time Stages 1-3 [History Always Favours the Winners]


Ian William Craig - Durbē [Recital]

Ian William Craig - Durbē [Recital]


Julia Holter - In the Same Room [Domino]

Julia Holter - In the Same Room [Domino]


Ocrilim - Srilimia [Self-Released]

Ocrilim - Srilimia [Self-Released]


Nicolas Jaar - Sirens Deluxe [Other People]

Nicolas Jaar - Sirens Deluxe [Other People]


Joe McPhee - Seattle Symphony [Kye]

Joe McPhee - Seattle Symphony [Kye]


 
Lieven Martens Moana - Idylls [Pacificity Soundvisions]

Lieven Martens Moana - Idylls [Pacificity Soundvisions]


Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me [P.W. Elverum & Sun]

Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me [P.W. Elverum & Sun]


Charlemagne Palestine - Arpeggiated Bösendorfer + Falsetto Voice [Alga Marghen]

Charlemagne Palestine - Arpeggiated Bösendorfer + Falsetto Voice [Alga Marghen]


Swans - Deliquescence [Young God]

Swans - Deliquescence [Young God]


Alan Vega - IT [don't buy this album until it's released by a different label]

Alan Vega - IT [don't buy this album until it's released by a different label]


Tanning Salon - Dream Castle [Olde English Spelling Bee]

Tanning Salon - Dream Castle [Olde English Spelling Bee]


Thanks so much for reading. If you enjoyed this, below you can find the list I wrote last year. Other than that, happy holidays and New Year.

FOREVER!

Austen's Mid-Year Faves 2017

theneedledrop2 Comments

Let's get the introduction out of the way: I'm Austen, the managing editor of TND's website and channels, creator of the It Came from Bandcamp segment (which we swear isn't dead), and most recently, Anthony's collaborator on the Stinkpiece series. You guys generally don't hear from me until the end of the year when I drop my year-end lists, but I've decided to get in on the mid-year action this time.

At the halfway point of last year, there just weren't enough releases I dug to come up with a top ten. Thankfully, 2017 has been a lot more front-heavy, and if I'm honest, I think the batch of albums here might already stronger than the one on my 2016 list. Just for the record, only studio albums made the cut. Considered putting Swans' new live album Deliquescence on here, but most of that material was pulled from The Glowing Man, and I've sung that album's praises enough. With that shoutout out of the way, let's get into the actual list:


The Top 10

1. Oxbow - Thin Black Duke [Hydra Head]

1. Oxbow - Thin Black Duke [Hydra Head]

I've had Oxbow's Thin Black Duke in near-constant rotation since its release and I still haven't found the words to express my love for this album. I believe it's the greatest orchestral rock album since Lou Reed's Berlin; maybe that says enough. But recently I came across an interview the band did with TeamRock, wherein vocalist Eugene S. Robinson pointed out a reference to the Joseph Losey film The Servant in the song "A Gentleman's Gentleman," and that made everything click. My introductory film theory class a few years ago had the (mis)fortune of watching that film four times over a short span of time, and I had to have been the only student who came away from that experience not hating the movie, let alone loving it. Losey's twisted baroque vision is very much alive in Thin Black Duke, so I'm pretty much conditioned to love it too. Picking up on the album's cinematic reference points certainly adds to the enjoyment factor, but even in the vacuum of music, this is a must-listen for anyone interested in the artful side of rock music.


2A. Sun Kil Moon - Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood [Caldo Verde]

2A. Sun Kil Moon - Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood [Caldo Verde]

My streak of Koz stanning continues! Common as Light... marks Mark Kozelek's 50th year on Earth and is miraculously his most ambitious and experimental release since his early days as an unwitting slowcore and post-rock pioneer. For the longest time, Mark has been seen in the shadows of songwriting/guitar titans like Neil Young, Nick Drake, and Andrés Segovia. That's fair - those influences were certainly on his sleeve, but now there's not much of a precedent at all to what he's doing. The swagger and crude compositions (due to him mostly working with unfamiliar instruments) are sort of evocative of Lou Reed, but that's about it. In a way, I see Common as Light as the antithesis to Scott Walker's Bish Bosch, an album that pushed the concept of the singer-songwriter to a point of radical abstraction. Mark, instead, has produced something radically concrete, and I can see how that poses a challenge to some listeners. But through all the minutiae, there's love, sadness, anger, fear, and comedy to be found. Frankly, I can't think of another album that so perfectly reflects the human spirit/condition.

2B. Jesu / Sun Kil Moon - 30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth [Caldo Verde]

2B. Jesu / Sun Kil Moon - 30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth [Caldo Verde]

30 Seconds... is essentially an addendum to Common as Light, covering the remainder of the Koz's 2016. As far as the instrumentation goes, it's a step up from the previous Jesu collab. I'm loving the icy electronic soundscapes Justin brings to the table this time, especially on the track "Wheat Bread." That track is practically a folksier version of one of Robert Ashley's spoken-word electronic operas. The album is also bookended by two of Mark's most moving tracks; the opener in particular, which I'm not too proud to admit gets me teary. But at other points, it does seem he's spreading himself thin - case in point "Hello Chicago." It's a very heartfelt tribute to John Hughes and Leonard Cohen, but is underwritten even by modern Koz standards. Also, I've never shared the cynical music writer notion that Mark has begun reading fan letters in his music for ego-stroking purposes, but the one that closes this track does kind of border on being a testimonial. Still, the disc is a worthy follow-up to Common as Light; let's see if the Koz can go 3/3 with Yellow Kitchen later this month.


3. Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me [P.W. Elverum & Sun]

3. Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me [P.W. Elverum & Sun]

The phrase from A Crow Looked at Me's press release that stuck out to everyone was "barely music." It's true, the album manifests such a brutal reality that listening to it feels like experiencing real life (or rather death), not a conventionally enjoyable singer-songwriter project. Phil has gone on record as saying that this is his least atmospheric effort, but I have to respectfully disagree; A Crow Looked at Me is more evocative of a mental and physical place than any field recording ever could be. The album sounds like living in an empty house - you can hear the room tone and some incidental floorboard creaking throughout the record, the sound of a door shutting at one point, and to me even the gentle percussion more resembles a dripping faucet than an actual musical component. This truly is the soundtrack of "unimaginable domestic obliteration," the most potent quote from that press release. My condolensces, Phil, and thank you for the achingly beautiful (non-)music.


4. Graham Lambkin / Taku Unami - The Whistler [Erstwhile]

4. Graham Lambkin / Taku Unami - The Whistler [Erstwhile]

One of the most exciting pieces of music-related news I saw last year was that Graham Lambkin and Taku Unami were working together on an Erstwhile release. My excitement diminished a bit when I learned they'd be editing their discs independent of one another, but at least the sounds had been recorded together. So, when I put on the first disc I was pretty taken aback and thought, "Wow, Graham actually did take his style down a few notches to complement Taku." It turns out I was listening to the latter's piece after all and that the credits on the album are reversed. Yes, as one might expect, the onkyo artist's side is quieter and sparser, and the sound collagist's is more densely layered and "eventful," although I'm not used to hearing quite so much silence from Graham. According to some notes he scribbled on a napkin, neither he nor Taku came into this project with many materials and he described the album as being recorded "on the edge of nothing." That said, I do think The Whistler is an enjoyable listen and that the two artists ended up complementing each other well. The album might seem "empty" compared to, say, Salmon Run and Community, so I guess this is more for people who hear untapped mystery and sonic potential in a quiet day at the park.


5. Tomutonttu - Kevätjuhla [A L T E R]

5. Tomutonttu - Kevätjuhla [A L T E R]

The latest release from Kemialliset Ystävät ringleader Jan Anderzén is apparently the soundtrack to one of his recent sculptural installations. But it functions perfectly well as a standalone aural experience, refining Jan's unique blend of psychedelia, instrumental hip hop, free folk, and exotic electronica. And as a continuation of last year's Trarat, which was commissioned by a classical music festival, Jan in his own way seems to be thinking more like a composer. That's the sense I get from the closing "Kuteen valoon" suite, anyway.


6. Arca - Arca [XL]

6. Arca - Arca [XL]

Not sure why Anthony hated on this one. I haven't been a huge fan of Arca's previous work either, but the addition of her voice really helped her aesthetic click with me for the length of an entire album this time. Right from "Piel," I was taken back to my first time hearing James Ferraro's NYC, Hell 3:00 AM; Arca is right up there in terms of captivatingly vulnerable vocal performances. Granted, Arca is technically a much better singer than James, with operatic moments like "Sin Rumbo" being my favorites, though she also holds her own on the poppier tracks like "Desafío." It helps that the album has a much tighter tracklist than its predecessor, Mutant, too. I dig Arca's alien production style a lot, but over an hour of just that is a bit much for me.


7. Babyfather - 419 [Self-Released, 2016]

7. Babyfather - 419 [Self-Released, 2016]

This dropped shortly after I posted my 2016 list, but I didn't pay it much mind until the start of the New Year because Dean Blunt is more miss than hit when it comes to mixtapes. 419, however; is easily his most substantial tape since The Narcissist II. The stretch from "FOR SHAKILUS" to "penelope freestyle" is what really keeps me coming back. The sampling is next level, from the triumphant guitar soloing of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" on "SKYWALKER," to Dean at one point singing along with the Marine Girls on "Snakeman freestyle," to Kelis getting the vaporwave treatment on the nostalgic "penelope freestyle." I wish I had as many nice things to say about the more recent Cypher...


8. Xiu Xiu - FORGET [Polyvinyl]

8. Xiu Xiu - FORGET [Polyvinyl]

Xiu Xiu's previous (original) album Angel Guts: Red Classroom found the outfit breaking a string of pop-oriented albums with a set of dark, Suicide-inspired synthpunk vignettes. I love the album and think it's their best work since A Promise, but I wasn't disappointed to hear they'd already be heading back to a poppier sound as soon as I heard FORGET's lead single "Wondering." The song forecasted Xiu Xiu's best pop album yet, and that's what we got. "Wondering," "Jenny GoGo," and the underrated "At Last, At Last" rank among the band's stickiest earworms, and the droning "Faith, Torn Apart" has to be their most powerful closer yet. Never thought I'd say this, but Vaginal Davis' ending monologue really made the album. Gives me chills every time.


9. Father John Misty - Pure Comedy [Sub Pop]

9. Father John Misty - Pure Comedy [Sub Pop]

I get it - this is a bunch of samey piano ballads that give off "Don McLean on r/atheism" vibes. To be honest, I think Josh's targets are a bit safe nowadays too, especially when it comes to religion. But I understand his upbringing was a lot more oppressive than my own, and as in the case of the new Sun Kil Moon albums, I don't mind hearing perspectives I disagree with or think are "out of touch." Also as a Mark Kozelek fan, I have a hard time not being moved by tracks like "Leaving LA," "Smoochie," and "So I'm Growing Old on Magic Mountain," which find Josh getting more personal and sentimental. Fuck it, I think every track on this album is great. FJM pulls off the cynical piano man thing. Don't @ me.


10. Toby Driver - Madonnawhore [The Flenser]

10. Toby Driver - Madonnawhore [The Flenser]

Madonnawhore is maudlin of the Well and Kayo Dot frontman Toby Driver's first solo album since 2005's In the L..L..Library Loft. That wasn't even a "solo" effort per se, relying heavily on other members of Kayo Dot, but I bring it up because it's such an incredible testament to Toby's abilities as a contemporary composer. Library Loft found him crafting four uniformly horrifying and mysterious pieces while adhering to strange compositional and performative limitations/gimmicks. Madonnawhore is essentially the polar opposite, a willful move towards traditional songwriting. He has dabbled in the type of atmospheric balladry on this album before, namely the bookending tracks of Gamma Knife, so if you want to hear a cohesive project done in that style, do not let this one go under your radar.


Honorable Mention

Keith Rowe - The Room Extended [Erstwhile, 2016]

Keith Rowe - The Room Extended [Erstwhile, 2016]

I gave a spot on my 2016 year-end list to The Earth and Sky, a triple-CD set from composer Michael Pisaro and pianist Reinier van Houdt, but was unable until more recently to listen through last year's other monolithic Erstwhile release. That would be The Room Extended, a late-career masterpiece from experimental guitarist Keith Rowe. Keith is one of my greatest inspirations as a musician; he was pushing the electric guitar into unfathomable sonic frontiers before just about anyone. In fact, this album coincided with the 50th anniversary of AMMMusic, a landmark recording for improvised music released by his original group AMM. Those days of freewheeling cacophony have long since passed, so what we get on The Room Extended is a beautiful and funereal amalgamation of the sounds that Keith has worked with for decades. The abstract, staticky drones formed by his prepared guitar and electronics are often backed by passages of classical music weeping in the distance, transmitted via radio. I could imagine a fan of GY!BE being moved by these moments. Unfortunately Keith was diagnosed with Parkinson's around the time of this album's production, hence the album's preoccupation with mortality, but I hope he's got many more years of music in him. This month he released a double album called 13 Thirteen with Michael Pisaro, which I'll also recommend.


And that has been my 2017 mid-year list. Here's hoping the year ends as strongly as it began! As always, thanks for reading; hopefully you got something out of it.

But I also want to say thank you for helping us get to one million subscribers on YouTube. I started working for TND in 2013 when the channel was around 170k subs, so since then I've watched that sixth digit roll over all but one time. Reaching that 1M milestone meant a lot to me too, so thanks. Anyway, see you again in November/December.

FOREVER

Austen's Fav Albums of 2016

theneedledrop7 Comments

Your boy Austen is back with another obscenely early year-end list. For those who don't know, I'm Anthony's right-hand man - I help him run social media, manage this site, and (as of this year) edit a good portion of his videos. Last year I made a couple of lists about my favorite music of 2015 and was flattered by the reception. A lot of you guys seemed to enjoy getting an alternate point of view to Anthony's and I certainly enjoyed commending the artists whose work he either didn't care for as much or didn't get a chance to cover. Especially with my role on TND expanding, I didn't see a reason not to come up with another list for this year. So without further ado, here's the music I loved from 2016.


The Top 10

1. Swans - The Glowing Man [Young God]

1. Swans - The Glowing Man [Young God]

The changes Swans made between To Be Kind and The Glowing Man may not have been substantial enough for some listeners, but they made a world of difference for me. Although TGM has a shorter runtime than its two predecessors, it contains a greater number of "epic" tracks, which thankfully show more refinement and unfold more naturally than those on the band's earlier records. This one is also more overtly spiritual and meditative than past efforts, inspired by Christian mysticism, Zen Buddhism, and the writings of Aldous Huxley. But the most noticeable stylistic adjustment (granted it's still pretty subtle) is the integration of orchestral and choral arrangements, which gives the album a cinematic scope and displays Michael Gira's Ligeti influence more than ever - particularly during the cosmic intro of "Frankie M," which sounds as if it came straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. All of these things add up to what I believe is not just the best album of Swans' reformation, but arguably the best of any Swans incarnation.


2. David Bowie - Blackstar [ISO]

2. David Bowie - Blackstar [ISO]

2016 has been the cruelest year in recent memory when it's come to the loss of musical legends; Blackstar essentially forecasted that. Upon first listen, it immediately became my favorite Bowie album and it suggested such great potential for his late career. I was far from the only one whose hopes were dashed just a few days later. Truly a bittersweet masterpiece.


3. Babyfather - "BBF" Hosted by DJ Escrow [Hyperdub]

3. Babyfather - "BBF" Hosted by DJ Escrow [Hyperdub]

Conceptually, there is a lot going on with BBF - it uses the hosted mixtape format to satirize English nationalism and grime culture, and on top of that, it's a tragic character study of the titular DJ Escrow, who portrays a pirate radio host aspiring to be a rapper. The music here might fall short for some, considering the notorious opening mantra, the brevity of most tracks, the somewhat kitschy production, and Dean Blunt's underwritten raps (if you've heard any of his freestyles you know to expect a pastiche of gangsta clichés). But personally, I think these things work in Babyfather's favor and give this album a really fulfilling arc.


4. Tanya Tagaq - Retribution [Six Shooter]

4. Tanya Tagaq - Retribution [Six Shooter]

I'll admit that even though her previous album Animism took home the Polaris Prize in 2014, I was really only familiar with Tanya Tagaq through her contributions to Björk's a cappella album Medúlla. But a few years ago I got into throat singing and vocal acrobatics when I discovered Koichi Makigami's material on Tzadik, and that drew me to Tanya's latest release, Retribution. There are tribal soundscapes here that actually call to mind Koichi's last release, but on the whole Tanya's music is more visceral and cathartic. A few tracks here build to rocking crescendos and there's even a rap cut that goes over surprisingly well. Most importantly, Tanya's voice is strong as hell throughout and her environmental and social commentary, while not particularly nuanced, is respectable.


5. Reinier van Houdt / Michael Pisaro - The Earth and the Sky [Erstwhile]

5. Reinier van Houdt / Michael Pisaro - The Earth and the Sky [Erstwhile]

The Earth and the Sky finds current Current 93 pianist Reinier van Houdt performing 11 compositions written by Michael Pisaro over the past few decades. These pieces span three discs and total almost four hours, which in the abstract may seem like a whole lot of time to spend listening to van Houdt's minimalist piano playing with only occasional accompaniment and embellishments by Pisaro's electronics and field recordings. However, these sparse and sprawling soundscapes are consistently transportive (to that wide open, rolling field on the cover) and make for perfect late-night ambient listening.


6. Graham Lambkin - Community [Kye]

6. Graham Lambkin - Community [Kye]

Community is Graham Lambkin's first solo album since 2011's Amateur Doubles, which is probably my favorite ambient recording of this decade. This new LP has more in common with the sound collage approach of Salmon Run and, as usual, anyone who's into sound design should take note - Graham's collages are pretty much in a league all their own. However, there are notable changes this time around, including the introduction of spoken word and more original instrumentation to the mix. This almost gives Community the vibe of a singer-songwriter album... albeit a very unorthodox one.


7. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree [Bad Seed]

7. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree [Bad Seed]

Echoing the sentiments of everybody who's heard this album, my heart goes out to Nick Cave. I'm not familiar with a set of songs that explore the anguish of grief to the extent that Skeleton Tree does. Nick's voice is just so vulnerable throughout, and the band complements him perfectly with drones and arrangements that range from murky to ethereal. "Girl in Amber," in particular, always gives me chills.


8. Jesu / Sun Kil Moon - Self-Titled [Caldo Verde]

8. Jesu / Sun Kil Moon - Self-Titled [Caldo Verde]

Well, this didn't end up being Lulu 2. Not sure why people thought it would be, seeing as Mark Kozelek's early work with the Red House Painters was foundational to the melancholic type of post-rock Jesu specializes in. Also, Lulu's an awesome album anyway, but I'm getting off track. Of all the Koz's collaborations, I'm glad this is the one that's getting a follow-up. Mark does well to match the energy of Justin's instrumentals and I consider the track "America's Most Wanted" to be the high-water mark of his diaristic songwriting process. My only gripe is that the electronic numbers slightly pale in comparison to the ones that rock, but judging from the new singles, it does sound as though the beats will have a bit more character on the sequel. I enjoy those tracks' off-color subject matters as well, so my hopes for the Koz's 2017 output couldn't be higher.


9. Kayo Dot - Plastic House on Base of Sky [The Flenser]

9. Kayo Dot - Plastic House on Base of Sky [The Flenser]

Going into Plastic House on Base of Sky, I was close to becoming one of those sad "go back to metal" Kayo Dot fans. Coffins on Io was a little all over the place and probably my least favorite Toby Driver-related project to date. Thankfully, PHOBOS's aesthetic is way more consistent, and while the synthetic direction is a major change of pace for the band, the progressive and dense compositions still scream Toby Driver. I actually hope he keeps listening to those anime soundtracks; wouldn't mind more like this.


10. Jute Gyte - Perdurance [Jeshimoth]

10. Jute Gyte - Perdurance [Jeshimoth]

On Perdurance, Jute Gyte develops a breed of microtonal, polytempic, and electronically-tinged black metal that, if you share Anthony's sensibilities, will probably give you a headache. But this unrelenting limits-pushing is sort of what's missing from so much metal at this point. Jute Gyte's chord progressions are seriously twisted, bordering on Brancian at times; and there are ambient interludes spattered throughout that offer some beauty, as well as some much needed breathing space. The climax of the closing track was the greatest musical payoff I heard all year - "overwhelming" doesn't even begin to describe it.


Honorable Mentions

Księżyc - Rabbit Eclipse [Penultimate Press, 2015]

Księżyc - Rabbit Eclipse [Penultimate Press, 2015]

This album dropped at the end of 2015, but I didn't get to hear it until earlier this year. Księżyc is kind of a cult avant-folk outfit from Poland who had been almost completely silent since the release of their self-titled debut back in 1996. Rabbit Eclipse broke this silence and it's totally worth checking out if the sound of "droning Slavic folk music" piques your curiosity.


Xiu Xiu - Plays the Music of Twin Peaks [Polyvinyl]

Xiu Xiu - Plays the Music of Twin Peaks [Polyvinyl]

Yes, Xiu Xiu had some very strong source material to work with for this Twin Peaks tribute, but that doesn't change the fact that they knocked it out of the park. The band's selection and sequencing is brilliant, and they put their own spin on Badalamenti's music while still preserving all of its charm and horror. With a series as extraordinary and evocative as Twin Peaks, that's no small task.


Tomutonttu - Trarat [Leaving]

Tomutonttu - Trarat [Leaving]

Tomutonttu is the solo moniker of Jan Anderzén, frontman of the Finnish free folk group Kemialliset Ystävät. KY's previous album Alas rattoisaa virtaa is pretty much the most blissed-out thing I've heard in my life and is an all-time fave. Trarat here, while not quite as colorful, has enough of the qualities that made that album so magical.


Tim Hecker - Love Streams [4AD]

Tim Hecker - Love Streams [4AD]

I much prefer the warmth of Love Streams to the bleakness I've come to associate with Tim Hecker's previous efforts. I don't necessarily mean that in a derogatory way - those albums are by no means all doom and gloom and there's an apocalyptic beauty to Ravedeath and Virgins, for instance. On the whole, though, I just find Love Streams to be more alluring.


James Ferraro - Human Story 3 [Self-Released]

James Ferraro - Human Story 3 [Self-Released]

I was skeptical going into Human Story 3; it was James Ferraro's most memeable project since Far Side Virtual and it seemed to be sort of a thematic retread, as well. But I ended up loving a lot about it - James takes a whimsical approach to post-minimalism that, for me, has a similar charm to the works of Scott Johnson and even some of Zappa's classical work, and his commentary on commerce and technology comes across as oddly poignant at times. James really proved his chops as a composer this year (s/o to Burning Prius ® too).


Kel Valhaal - New Introductory Lectures on the System of Transcendental Qabala [YLYLCYN]

Kel Valhaal - New Introductory Lectures on the System of Transcendental Qabala [YLYLCYN]

Not gonna lie, this thing's a bit of a mess, especially once it reaches the closing track "Bezel II." There are a few spots where Hunter comes up with compositions that sound either half-baked or cluttered, but for the most part, this is some of the most inventive and densely-detailed electronic music I've ever heard. The centerpiece "Ontological Love" alone makes New Introductory Lectures worthwhile. Fuck, I even think Hunter gets a good flow going toward the backend of that one.


And that has been my 2016 list. I appreciate you for reading the whole way through and hope you got something out of it. If you did, be sure to hit up Anthony on Twitter to tell him how much more patrician I am than him - those were his favorite messages to get last year. But seriously, I don't know when or how you guys will hear from me again so I wanna wish you all a happy holiday season and whatever else until I write another feature. Forever!