Essays

2016’s Albums Of Note, Part One

albums-of-note

I don’t like “best-of” lists, and I think they’re just…dumb. Short-sighted. I mean, really, how can one possibly quantify a year’s worth of artistic accomplishments and releases numerically, with just a handful of releases? It just seems so silly. That being said, an end of the year review isn’t necessarily a bad idea; in fact, I’m all in favor of taking a few minutes and reviewing what was right about the year.  It’s in that spirit that we spend this next week taking a look at just a handful of what I personally feel to have been some of the year’s highlights, split up over the next five days, and presented alphabetically, because what I feel to have been “best” might not be yours, as art is completely subjective, and, well…I just happen to like these records that just happened to have been released in 2016.

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12''_GATEFOLD_BLEEDBrian Jonestown Massacre: Third World Pyramid: Anton Newcombe has been a very busy man, and his hard work has resulted in some of his finest work to date. Though his role in modern psychedelic rock is forever cemented, he has yet to rest on his laurels. Third World Pyramid is his fifteenth album, and it finds him in fine voice. It’s a succinct record, ranging from sublime beauty (“Good Mourning,” “Assignment Song”) to vibrant rockers (“Don’t Get Lost,” “Oh Bother”), as well as a satisfying taste of post-punk groove (“Third World Pyramid,” “Government Beard”). Newcombe’s muse is keeping him busy, and we’re the better for it; though the album was released in October, three new singles are coming next month, with the band’s next album, Don’t Get Lost, arriving in February. (A Recordings Ltd.)

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cotton-matherCotton Mather: Death Of The Cool: One of the surprise releases of the year was the legendary Austin power-pop band Cotton Mather’s first new studio album in fifteen years, Death Of The Cool. The band’s cult status was formed when Noel Gallagher declared them to be one of the best contemporary bands of the era, thanks to their excellent album, Kontiki; though they released a handful of records after that, they seemingly came to a quiet end in 2001. But Death Of The Cool picks up nicely from where they left off; mastermind Robert Harrison’s circa-1965 John Lennon vocal style hasn’t aged one bit, and his ability to write a song that sounds both contemporary and vintage hasn’t weakened, either. The soulful rockers “Never Be It,” “Life of the Liar” and “Waters Raging” fit nicely alongside mellower psych-pop numbers like “Close To The Sun” and “Child Bride,” while the ballads “The Land Of Flowers” and “The Middle of Nowhere” are some of Harrison’s most vulnerable and sublime compositions to date. (The Star Apple Kingdom)

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cross-and-quinnCross & Quinn: Cold Sky Blue: This record is the collaboration of two generations of progressive musicians. David Cross has a long and varied musical career, most notably as a member of King Crimson, while Seán Quinn has had his hand in a number of projects over the past few years. Together they came up with Cold Sky Blue, an album that is wispy thin, gossamer delicate, and sonically deep. In between deep instrumentals are spoken word interludes and seductive trip-hop numbers. Together, the two musicians transcend their individual eras and sonic styles, and come up with music that’s soothing, gorgeous, seductive, and comfortably alien; Cold Sky Blue is a cohesive forty minute suite of ambient mood. While one hopes that this debut is the beginning of a rewarding collaboration, if this be a mere one-off, then it is a fine one-off. (Esoteric Antenna)

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cult-of-luna-julie

Cult of Luna/Julie Christmas: Mariner: Normally, you won’t find me liking a lot of sludge/doom metal records—it’s just not my thing, and that’s okay. I appreciate the genre, even if it doesn’t appeal to my taste. However, I’ve always sort of had a distant admiration of Swedish band Cult of Luna; for nearly twenty years, they’ve always had a touch of beautiful ambience, even in their heavier work. What drew me to their latest album, Mariner, was that it was a collaboration with Julie Christmas, someone whose unique singing style offers up both a touch of innocence while being oddly disturbing. (We highly recommend her records with her two previous bands, Made Out Of Babies and Battle Of Mice.) It’s been a few years since she’s done something, but this collaboration…wow. The six songs here are epic, and her little girl singing style makes heavy tracks “The Wreck of S.S. Needle” and “Chevron” even creepier. Mariner is overwhelming and oppressively nerve-wracking in all the best ways. Here’s hoping Christmas works with them again, as the mix of light and dark and innocence and experience conjures up darkness in a most satisfying way. (Indie Recordings)

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efterklangEfterklang/Fundal: Leaves: The Colour Of Falling: After the release of their last album in 2012, Danish folk/electronica collective Efterklang announced a hiatus; after a break, the group convened once again, resulting in a ten-song opera-inspired collection. With lyrics taken from the works of poet Ursula Andkjær Olsen and arrangements by Karsten Fundal, Leaves is a stunningly beautiful and unique record that defies easy categorization. Efterklang’s always dabbled in operatic forms, but with Leaves, they jump headfirst into the genre. The hour-long piece offers pieces coated in Earthen tones (“Cities of Glass,” “Stillborn”), joyousness (“The Colour Not Of Love”), and the darkness of the night (“Abyss,” “Wind”). The uniqueness of Leaves might give you pause after first listen, but it is compelling enough to draw you back in for a further listen, in hopes to discover something new or to comprehend just what the hell it is you just heard. Challenging music this lovely and compelling deserves to be heard, for you’ll probably not have heard anything like it all year. (Tambourhinoeros)

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