The Best Albums I Listened to This Year – 2016

#19 – Scanni – Scanni

scanni-cover-1

Debut album from Anni Hogan (Marc Almond & many others) and Robin Rimbaud (Scanner) featuring a host of guest vocalists including Jarboe & Jennifer John. An album of synthpop with a little trip-hop thrown in.
Standout track – Carelessly (Jarboe)

#18 – This Becomes Us – This Becomes Us

this-becomes-us

Julia Ruzicka’s (previously Million Dead & current FOTL bassist) debut solo offering featuring guest vocals from Black Francis among others and Ruzicka’s killer basslines (she really is a fucking outstanding bassist), post-punk that’s a bit rough around the edges for the most part which to me is a good thing.
Standout track – Songs in my Mind

#17 – Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

post-pop-depression

Josh Homme producing & he/Dean Fertita (QOTSA) play on this, Pop’s 17th studio album. Garage-y, rough & full of lyrics about fucking & dying (mostly), Iggy is back to doing what he does best I.E being pissed off & not giving a fuck.
Standout track – Paraguay

#16 – Minor Victories – Minor Victories

minor-victories

Stuart Braithwaite (Mogwai), Rachel Goswell (Slowdive), Justin Lockey (Editors) & James Lockey (Hand Held Cine Club) come together in this shoegaze meets post-rock ‘supergroup’ (fuck I hate that term). The album has an almost cinematic quality to it, with guest vocals from Mark Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon) & James Graham (The Twilight Sad).
Standout track – Breaking My Light

#15 – Kid Congo Powers & the Pink Monkey Birds – La Araña Es La Vida

kid-congo-powers

Punky, garage-y, bluesy, stompy & reminds you of being somewhere like The Tote on a Saturday night replete with sticky carpet & souped up punters. Big reverb-y guitars & slippery drumbeats, Psychic Future reminds me a lot of The Cramps.
Standout track – Five Points / Howards End / Nasty Hat

#14 – Thor & Friends – Thor & Friends

thor-and-friends

Percussionist extraordinaire Thor Harris (Swans, Hospital Ships & many others) teams up with a cast of many to create beautifully minimal music that’s part composed & part improvised, and reminiscent of The Necks, Eno & even Steve Reich.
Standout track – Lullaby for Klaus

#13 – Aphex Twin – Cheetah

aphex-twin

Stripped down techno from the master of electronic & beats, mostly created with a Cheetah MS800. Some of the reviews for this were a bit unfair I think. Yeah, it’s not ‘I Care Because You Do’ or ‘Selected Ambient Works 85-92’ but it’s still a damn sight better than what tends to pass for anything electronic these days.
Standout track – CIRKLON3 [Колхозная mix]

#12 – The Avalanches – Wildflower

avalanches

16 years after Since I Left You, The Avalanches finally release their second album (apparently this album was ‘in production’ off & on during this period). I guess the one thing that stands out about this album for me is they’ve clearly made it for themselves, and if people liked it, happy days, and if not, whatever. To me, that’s the purest place any art comes from. Meticulously crafted from fuck knows how many samples, fantastic beats, some grand orchestration, a cavalcade of guest vocalists & flourishes of electronics here & there.
Standout track – Kaleidoscopic Lovers

#11 – Brian Eno – The Ship

eno

Beautiful, dark, ambient & whose lyrics only add to the foreboding atmosphere of the album. Probably the best thing he’s done in a long time, and up there with Before and After Science (my favourite Eno album).
Standout track – Fickle Sun (I)

#10 – Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker

you-want-it-darker

I read an interview with Cohen in the New Yorker about a month before he died where he’d said he’d spent the last year or so ‘tidying up loose ends’ & getting this album done, and that he wouldn’t be entirely unhappy if that was it for him. And not unlike Bowie, 2 weeks after this was released he was gone. Beautiful, spacious, acoustic for the most part and Cohen’s ability to marry the sheer poetry of his lyrics with understated yet beautiful melodies.
Standout track – It Seemed the Better Way

#9 – Mary Halvorson – Away With You

mary-halvorson

I first heard of Mary Halvorson when she was part of Trevor Dunn’s (former Mr Bungle bassist) Trio Convulsant on 2004’s Sister Phantom Owl Fish. Since then she has grown into one of jazz’ most acclaimed guitarists. She’s assembled a rather good ensemble for this album which is full of melodic interplay between the players & with plenty of complexity thrown in for good measure.
Standout track – The Absolute Almost

#8 – Future of the Left – The Peace & Truce of Future of the Left

fotl

Falco’s trademark gallows humour & biting commentary on society, Julia Ruzicka’s rumbling basslines & Jack Egglestone’s thumping drumbeats ensure there’s no letup for 38 furious minutes on this release. Noisey, math-y rock at its finest.
Standout track – Running all over the Wicket

#7 – Mogwai – Atomic

atomic

Originally created as the soundtrack to Mark Cousins’ documentary Atomic, Living in Dread and Promise, the 10 tracks were reworked for this release. Having to work within themes provided by someone outside the band seems to bring out the best in Mogwai if recent history is any guide (E.G Les Revenants). This album stands with anything Mogwai has done in their 20 year history.
Standout track – Pripyat

#6 – John Congleton & the Nighty Nite – Until the Horror Goes

until-the-horror-goes

John Congleton is probably best known as a producer & engineer (St Vincent, Swans among many many others) and also from his time in The Paper Chase. He formed this project with Paper Chase drummer Jason Garner, and lyrically the album explores the big existential questions faced by us all & what it is to be human in a manner that’s darkly funny with Congleton’s love of horror very much to the fore. The album also sounds fucking amazing as you’d expect from Congleton.
Standout track – Your Temporary Custodian

#5 – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

skeleton-tree

Nick Cave’s ability to create compelling characters in his lyrics is unsurpassed over the past 4 decades, yet he’s rarely written lyrics about himself or allowed himself to be introspective. This is an album about loss, anguish, pain & sadness. Cave has said he wished he’d warmed up his voice better for some of the tracks, but the emotion in his voice on tracks such as Girl in Amber & I Need You is palpable & very very real with his voice close to cracking in places. A hard album to listen to, but unforgettable once you do.
Standout track – Distant Sky

#4 – Swans – The Glowing Man

the-glowing-man

I must admit, in 2010 when Gira announced on Facebook & MySpace ‘Swans are not dead’, I wasn’t sure whether a 14 year absence & so much amazing music created in the previous incarnation of the band would make it difficult for Swans to return with music that would do their legacy justice. My doubts were promptly swept away with 2010’s My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky, which began a run of 4 remarkable albums culminating in this release. A spectacular finale to this chapter/for this lineup of Swans. Gira is probably America’s greatest living songwriter.
Standout track – People Like Us

#3 – The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociation

dissociation

The final offering from Dillinger after some initial confusion around whether they were going on ‘indefinite hiatus’ after touring this album or whether this was it, with Puciato confirming ‘he and Weinmann had pretty much achieved what they set out to achieve out of their musical partnership & that was it’ about a month before release. With Puciato’s sometimes cryptic yet deeply personal lyrics & the band’s renowned musicianship (Ben Weinmann is a fucking musical genius) at a peak, this might be their best release.
Standout track – Nothing to Forget

#2 – David Bowie – Blackstar

blackstar

What does one say about this album ? So many things. Bowie is reflective, reminiscent, hopeful, sarcastic, vulnerable & seemingly accepting/at peace with what was happening to him. Yet nobody had the faintest idea of what was about to transpire 2 days after the album was released. Again he reinvents himself/his sound as he did so many times throughout his career. A jazz-laced, concise album with no track sounding like the others (which people either like or they don’t). His beautiful vibrato was as strong as ever until the end. Bowie assembled a killer band for this album (as he often did).
Standout track – Blackstar

#1 – The Drones – Feelin Kinda free

feelin-kinda-free

A brave album from The Drones (or more to the point, they probably don’t give a shit what people think). They pretty much threw the blues rock that had become their hallmark in the bin to make this record, very much taking themselves well outside their comfort zone. Heavily processed (electronically – think Ableton et al) & mostly minimal guitars, keyboards, electronic drums, Fiona Kitchin’s vocals (both lead & backing) on a couple of tracks & Liddiard’s acerbic (and at times darkly hilarious) as ever lyrics make this a fascinating listen.
Standout track – Tailwind

As nothing I listened to this year pissed me off to the extent Genexus did last year (I’m still pissed about the 17 bucks I blew on that), there’s no worst album of the year for 2016.

Addendum: Why 19 albums and not a nice round number like 20 ? Because fuck you. I’ve listened to 56 new releases this year, the above 19 are the best of those. I chose 19 purely to fuck with people who like nice round numbers. You’re welcome.

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