We are out of the dumpster fire that was 2016 and now into the dumpster oven that will be 2017. It gets worse folks, because we did nothing to make it better. At least, at least we have music. That will remain constant. Some of the new music will be the anthems for protest and power. We will listen and be inspired. This is the final Roundup of 2016.
Tortoise – The Catastrophist
Why, oh why, do I always forget about Tortoise? Not for good reason that is for certain. The Chicago post-rockers have a consistent track record of putting out solid instrumental albums that shift in style, tone, and theme. This time around the band has decided to use far more electronic elements creating this strange combinations of sluggy post-rock and peppy electric zippings. It can feel a bit jarring at first since the two styles in theory should not pair, but I assure you its a truly magical unification. The two ideas dance around at different tempos occasionally coming together in blissful harmony. Everything about it is a truly sublime listen through and through. I understand why Tortoise, with its slightly left of center musical style, is not headlining festivals, but damn they really deserve more attention.
Stick Men – Prog Noir
Stick Men has such a bad habit of being hit or miss on their records, and I mean aggressively so. Their albums either are pure brilliance At times all their talent comes together to make truly monstrous records that demonstrate their skills and creativity and yet at other times no amount of musical proficiency can save them from themselves. Stick Men‘s biggest weakness is their sense of humor, and with the average of the band being about 500 their occasional tongue in cheek approach comes across like the worlds worst dad joke. Prog Noir takes those worst tendencies and amplifies them to a somewhat obnoxious degree. Songs will stop for a brief “joke” or even a random cover song, then start up again. The music itself is ok at best, and Tony, and I love Tony Levin, completely fails to deliver vocally. The whole album is a weird mess of ideas that with maybe some careful editing could have been a decent album, but here its just a quirky wreck.
Oddisee – The Beauty In All
Two things: one, I did not realize Oddisee releases so much music and two, I did not realize how much of it is truly killer instrumental music. The Beauty In All is a massive record. This purely instrumental record takes the idea of making “Beats” and elevates it about 10,000 fold. It is unbelievably sharp-witted and clever, as it takes simple patterns and rhythms and will quickly mutate them into something grander that can stand on its own two feet without any vocal accompaniment. Sure, you could imagine someone singing or MCing over these tracks, but you don’t need it to make the songs shine. Truly unbelievable.
Justice – Woman
I love Justice for continuing to provide a large middle finger to everyone who still complains that Audio, Video, Disco did not sound like Cross. So when Woman was on its way to release people were excited, hoping they got all that disco music out of their system and were heading back to making strange grindy noises. Wrong again, as Justice appears to have zero interest in going backwards. Woman is a direct evolution from Audio, Video Disco. It’s poppy with live instruments and a whole load of fun hooks to groove and shake to. It’s not a mind bending experience, but it gives strong salutes to artists of the late 70’s and early 80’s with solid anthems like Randy. I’m most excited for the inevitable live album that shows how they will blend this album up with their previous music. That is where the band shines.
Black Marble – It’s Immaterial
I decided to check this record out after it was on MC Dalek’s best of list. Considering his group’s penchant for dour and depressing themes I totally understand why this appeared on his list. If you love The Cure or that generally morbid 80’s sound (I.E. Joy Divison, New Order) you are going to love this record. It is not my favorite style of music in the world, bear that in mind, so after about halfway through the album I was pretty done with it. Songs tend to be a bit too repetitive with the same riff going on over and over with little change over the course of their 3 minute run times. I love the nod to the era, and they do it solid respect, but overall it comes across as a bit much for me. In 2016 I would they would take this and make it grow and evolve instead of just relishing in nostalgia.
Baby Huey – The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend
Sort of an ironic name considering the album was released after Baby Huey the man had died of a drug related heart attack. On the positive, before he died he and his band were able to record enough material to release this 1971 juggernaut. An underappreciated hybrid of soul, funk, gospel, and even the early roots of hip-hop. This album is ferocious, unbelievably joyful and full of inspiration. A Change is Going To come is an incredibly powerful anthem unlike I have heard before. Huey belts and howls like he is possessed, filling your ears with optimism and hope. It is unbelievable and one of the best records I have heard all year.
Thee Oh Sees – A Weird Exists
What a whirlwind of garage post-rock. A blending of spacious tones from bands like Tortoise and the ferocity of the basement dwelling grungy anthems of a band like King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. It works on every level as the songs blast along at breakneck speeds, but provide guitar and vocal tones that create wide open spaces. Then you get to the end where things grind to a halt and bring the blurry listening experience to a gentle landing. The Axis, the album closer feels like a prom night song from some dark alternate reality….that we may be currently living in…oh shit.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Two minutes in and I did not have a lot of faith in liking this record. The music and vocal presentation is incredibly dry and soulless, nearly challenging you to connect with any of what is going on. Give it some time though and that sense of futility begins to make sense. The record feels designed to be cold and distant, like an ex-lover who won’t look you in the eye. I always felt out of reach of the music, and after a few tracks I began to like that. It’s incredibly depressing, and not a fun album by any means, but it works for in some strange way. On the other hand you will instantly ruin any party if you put it on. I guess if you want to go to bed then it may be your best option.