Better late than never, here’s my Best of 2016 music list. I’m sure there are forgotten records that will pop into my head tomorrow, so it shouldn’t be considered complete.
– Nocturnal Koreans by Wire – Like the Swans, Wire are an old band who never really put out a horrible record and are on a streak of fantastic creative output. This one feels more like a Colin Newman solo record with less influence from Graham Lewis than usual, which is just fine. Colin Newman’s 2016 solo reissues are also worth seeking out if you’re not familiar.
– The Glowing Man by The Swans. The Swans are full-on emotional drain and on a streak of greatness. Their last few are stellar, and this one doesn’t disappoint. Oddly this album also was my most frequent musical running companion while training for this year’s Seattle half-marathon.
– The Paul Bowles field recordings from Morocco. Handsomely packaged in a gilded box that opens to reveal a leather-bound book embossed with gorgeous Middle Eastern patterns. This is another top-notch release from the Dust To Digital. In the same order and from the same label I purchased Folksongs of Another America – Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937-1946, both from Forced Exposure (give them your business because they deserve it). Folksongs… comes in a thick hardbound book that discusses all the tunes, many sung in old-world languages. The culture revealed here is thankfully preserved since it’s being squeezed to oblivion by contemporary culture. This would also be a top one for 2016, but alas it came out last year.
– Blackstar by Bowie. RIP my space friend. He went out with a heartbreakingly beautiful farewell. His passing prompted me to revisit his 1990’s output, and, well, you can’t polish turds, but man, this and The Next Day prove he always had it in him. Someone needs to do some investigation and write a thesis explaining why his output stunk it up after Tonight (many say after Let’s Dance, but I think Tonight is good stuff).
– Everything is Nothing by Jah Wobble. This guy is the most prolific artist I follow and buy without question. Everything is Nothing doesn’t disappoint. It’s bass-driven jazz and groove that lifts my spirits. Gorgeous female voices, trumpet, and the fantastic drummer Marc Layton-Bennett who’s played on about 10 of Wobble’s recent releases make this one of his best in the past few years.
– Day of Light by Constantine – technically released in Dec 2015. Aching and haunting acid folk from Chicago psych outfit.
– Kandodo / McBain – Lost Chants / Lost Chance. Kandodo here is the majority of Bristol psych-rock band, The Heads. Kandodo started as a solo venture of their singer and guitarist, Simon Price. His first release is pretty good, not great, but a nice change from the pummeling of his previous band. Here he’s joined by two other members of The Heads and John McBain of Monster Magnet, who I really don’t know much about. This record features long tracks exploring slow riffs. To quote the Midheaven site, it’s “a meeting of like minds surfing the sonic highways to tonal oblivion.” Great stuff, and on vinyl it comes on two records, one at 45 and on at 33, to keep things interesting.
– There Was a Time by Bari Watts. I don’t know this guy’s story. He’s a middle-aged fellow from England who’s associated with the Bevis Frond, and based on that latter association I checked him out. This guy channels Marc Bolan like no one ever has, and the record is the long lost T Rex record that was never recorded. Mr. Watts doesn’t get a lot of points for originality, but he makes up for that in spades with his spirited tribute to his hero.
– Heron Oblivion by Heron Oblivion. Perhaps a super group, perhaps not. Some Comets on Fire guys joined by someone else and by the singer from the beautiful Espers result in a full on psych-fest. Quiet acid-folky parts are quickly swallowed by a swirl of guitars dancing around each other in borderline cacophony held together by perfect tension.
– Plays Music for Airports by Psychic Temple. Who would consider covering Brian Eno’s Music for Airports? Chris Schlarb, that’s who, aka Psychic Temple. Here he assembles an 11-musician ensemble to belt it out his interpretation, and it works. The most well known of the 11 is Mike Watt. This is a music lover’s reward: following a prolific artist you respect who appears on an obscure artist’s record, such as Watt does here, leading you to other little known gems such as this. Sometimes it’s wasted money, other times it’s a gift. Thank you Mike Watt, not so much for your playing, which is good here though a bit drowned in the mix, but for joining small artists knowing that your name will likely lead many Minutemen and fIREHOSE fans to well done ambient jazz.
– Jah Wobble at the Crocodile. He reinterpreted several PiL songs, revelled in his love of reggae, jazzed it up, reprised his world music phase from the 1990’s, and mesmerized with his bass playing.
– Sick Man of Europe at the Sunset for Christopher Swenson birthday. Thank you Mr. Swenson for having a birthday and making this happen. Cheap Trick never sounded so good.
– Graham Duff, though after following his past few best-of lists one can rest assured that if Wire, Nick Cave, or the Fall put out a record that year, it will make his list. His penchant for bands fronted by female singers is welcome, as well as the shoegazers and experimental releases. I’ve discovered many great artists through his lists.
– Mikey IQ Jones reissues list in FACT magazine.
– The recent limited Redd Kross recordings, especially the Hot Issue. While Steven McDonald is busy doing his bass pushups to keep up with bassing in not one, not two, but three amazing bands, Melvins, OFF!, and Redd Kross, his brother, the creative Redd Kross genius, is putting out hyper-limited releases of unreleased tracks under the “Hot Issue” moniker. One is studio outtakes, though it’s unusual that the best track from Steven McDonald’s solo record, a fantastic power-pop cover of Kim Fowley’s Motorboat, appears here under the Redd Kross moniker. Still, it’s a great addition. The other Hot Issue is a pretty good live recording from Vancouver BC on the Show World tour, and Show World happens to be their most overlooked and consistent record. Great stuff. They also reissued Teen Babes from Monsanto and say it’s the first time it’s been available on CD. However, they seem to have forgotten the Trance Australian Tour 1992 release that contains all of Teen Babes, plus some early versions of songs that ended up on Phaseshifter.
– PiL’s Second Edition on vinyl in a tin square box. Unfortunately it’s several hundred dollars, so I simply tease myself by going to the buy page, stare for awhile, then click elsewhere. It’s a seminal album every music lover should own.
– Mike and the Melvins – Three Men and a Baby. Something by the Melvins had to end up on my 2016 best of list because, hey, Melvins. But their recent releases are falling flat to my ears. The promise of Basses Loaded, a great concept of many bass players, including the Butthole Surfer’s Jeff Pinkus and Krist Novoselic, playing on many songs, doesn’t deliver. Thankfully this collaboration between the Melvins and Mike Kunka of godheadSilo from 1999 is seeing the light of day. I’ll bet the Melvins never dreamed they’d be on Sub Pop.
– The Other Side of the River by Terry Reid. Nicknamed ‘Superlungs’, this gent came close to fronting Led Zeppelin. This is solid early-70’s guitar rock with some country and funk thrown in. It’s classic rock that never achieved classic status.
– Anna Homler and Steve Moshier – Breadwoman and Other Tales. Haunting, percussion driven, minimal music with esoteric singing in a non-language that channels the ether.
– TAD’s first three Sub Pop albums. These sound better than ever, and hit the spot like you wouldn’t believe in today’s political climate. In my youth when I heard Behemoth I would think of the stupid drunk motorcycling motherfucker who plowed his bike into a friend’s car at 90 mph near North Gate on Roosevelt, killing one and putting the other into a multi-day coma. Now I think of Trump. You will fall down.
– Julius Eastman – Femenine. Gorgeous minimalism from mid-70’s New York by a queer New York artist. One can’t help think of Steve Reich, but that’s a compliment. I don’t know much about this guy, but I’m glad this is available again.
New to Me
Best music from the past, but discovered in 2016:
– Robert Roth‘s Someone Somewhere. This should be so much bigger than it is. While it sounds nothing like Genesis, for some reason it always makes me think of side 1 of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. It’s an urban story (I think) with nefarious undertones, but more important are the songs that tell the story. It took a few listens before they became embedded in my head. Robert went to my high school, and there’s part of me that begrudges someone who grew up so close to me coming out with such a great record – hey, jealousy – but I’m almost 50 and bigger than that, so nice work Mr Roth. Truly. Everyone else, buy this CD and you too will wake up with these songs in your head. There’s not a dud here.
– Prince’s MPLSºUND and LOtUSFLOW3R. I lost track of Prince after Batman and then, after his passing, saw this at the Forced Exposure site. These are his 33rd and 34th studio albums and they are everything one can expect from Prince. Funk, songcrafting, guitar, upbeat, so good. They didn’t seem to get the best reviews when they came out, but they never left my car’s CD player this year.