by Post-Trash staff
It's been a tough year, but there's been a lot of great music.
Welcome to the second annual Post-Trash "Year In Review," a look back at Post-Trash's favorite music of the year, a list built from the site's coverage (and less so our staff's personal lists). This was our first full year as a website and we're happy to be doing our part to share great new music with our readers. Let this be your guide (it's bookmark-able) to not only reconnect with your personal favorites but more importantly to discover something new. The constant barrage of year end and best-of lists can be a bit underwhelming as it begins to feel all too contrived and often disturbingly similar. The people need something new, something good, something that's not quite so mass produced. It's time to catch up on the releases that went under the radar, the hidden gems, and the essential records from the underground. "The Year in Review" is a comprehensive guide to our favorite releases of the year without a pre-determined length. If we loved a record, we're including it... simple as that. The strength of the underground, DIY, and independent labels continues to grow but it's impossible to listen to everything and there's a great chance a potential favorite slipped on by. Luckily, it's not too late. It's never too late. Your next favorite band could be out there, it's just a matter of listening to something new. Together, we've profiled 100+ of the releases that make Post-Trash the site that it is, with countless others recommended as "further listening," a section for releases you might have missed. We're not saying these are the best albums, but rather our favorites.
Discover something new. Support the music you love. Thank you for reading Post-Trash and please help spread the word if you're into the site. We've come a long way this year, and we've got a long way to go.
Thanks to our contributors for this feature: Niccolo Dante Porcello, Josh Ginsberg, Max Freedman, Eli Shively, Gilad Jaffe, Ggregg Stull, Nathan Springer, Kelly Johnson, Dan Manning, Jonathan Bannister, Alex Colston, Marcus Gauthier, Joe Gutierrez, Loren DiBlasi, Conor Rooney, Sebastien Friis Sharif, and Emma Behnke.
Stay tuned later in the week for the "Staff Picked Top 50 Albums of the Year" and a special "Guest List" feature. As I said in the intro, It's been a tough year, but there's been a lot of great music.
- Dan Goldin
ABI REIMOLD | "Wriggling"
Sad Cactus Records
Nothing recommends that musicians should conform or flout the genre nearest to whatever organically comes of their unpredictable creative alchemy. The result from intending either pole is often a narrowing of what is possible. Abi Reimold approaches things on Wriggling, it seems, with a formal looseness and the result is that her full-length effort can and does move to many different musical cul-de-sacs, which leads—and you can’t help but follow—to the heart’s bright and dark corners. - Alex Colston
[Ed note: Reimold's debut is heart wrenching, a wild ride between isolating ourselves and dealing with pain. It's a gorgeous album carried by her strong voice and personal songwriting.]
DAVID BOWIE | "Blackstar"
It’s funny to read the reviews of Blackstar that were published before David Bowie’s death two days after the album’s release. I felt like the capital-M “Meaning” of Blackstar had been irrevocably changed before I even had a real chance to sink my teeth into it. But most of us agreed that Blackstar was a vital piece of music even before Blackstar was rechristened “Bowie’s send-off to our world.” When Bowie released The Next Day in 2013, the critical narrative did not suggest that Bowie had returned to his former glory. Instead the “Heroes”-effacing cover art of The Next Day was conceived as an admission that his best days were behind him. It was immediately apparent that Blackstar was one for the ages.
When I try to think of Blackstar outside of the context of Bowie’s career, I marvel at its ability to establish a sense of place, to sketch a range of themes with remarkable economy of language and to imbue a ghastly set of songs with such a palpable sense of play. The playfulness is the difference-maker on this album that stares directly into the eyes of the artist’s death. On “Blackstar,” Bowie’s riffing on his lyrics as he runs through them for a second time (“I’m not a gangstar…I’m not a porn star”) disrupts the deadpan pallor that critics would like to ascribe to Bowie and Tony Visconti acknowledging the album as his swansong. “Girl Loves Me” adopts the language of Bowie’s beloved A Clockwork Orange like a language puzzle as a means of immersing himself in a cherished text and creating new sonic possibilities. The album’s closing track, “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” one of the album’s greatest delights, establishes the centrality of play to Blackstar without any ambiguity. Bowie, a man with one of the most celebrated discographies in the history of pop music, goofs on his impending demise like a corny grandpa: “I can’t give these things away,” hamming it up like the antithesis of a desperate used car salesman, as he looks over the riches of his life’s work. He jokes with the confidence of a man who knows precisely what he accomplished and how much he meant to generations of weirdos. And so he gives us something to smile about, one more chance to play, from the young man with the painted face, the insatiable love for the tradition of Black music in America, and a drive for adventure and reinvention that no pop star has matched since or is likely to match again. - Josh Ginsberg
FLORIST | "The Birds Outside Sang"
Double Double Whammy Records
Florist’s entire catalog can pretty much be summed up in one word — reflection. Whether it’s lyrical themes centered around past experiences or instrumentation that literally sounds like light being cast onto the surface of the music, everything the band puts to tape has a suspended, otherworldly feel to it that amounts to the sonic equivalent of being lost in thought. Not a lot of records about such dark subject material choose to cover it with such ease and grace, but The Birds Outside Sang almost feels like a guided meditation; each track slowly drifting into the next, allowing the listener to float into the kind of headspace where it’s easy to become convinced that nothing truly ever matters. - Eli Shively
SUPERTEEN | "Isn't A Person"
Sad Cactus Records
Picking up where Stay Creepy left off, it appears that SUPERTEEN just keep getting better. Twisted post-punk and dark as hell psych rock are par for the course, strung out in every direction as the guitars work together to create a thick layered madness. At the core of their charm lies duel vocalists Sam Robinson and Meryl Schultz, often singing simultaneously, harmonizing at times and delightfully working against each at others. Beautiful, discordant, well structured yet deceptively loose, their music pushes as it pulls, transfixed in it's sinister witchy grooves. Just as the chaos seems ready to implode, SUPERTEEN are careful to pull back the intensity, while maintaining the never ending tension. Unnerving and unflinching, the band have created a unique record that has us excited for the future of psych punk... or at least the future of SUPERTEEN. - Dan Goldin
TY SEGALL | "Emotional Mugger"
Drag City Records
The record where Ty Segall wore that baby mask and sang about… babies. Segall gives his ultimate David Bowie adulation on Emotional Mugger by creating a strange, intriguing character for the album. It’s Segall’s weirdest album yet; however, he tempers the experimentation here with the trusty garage tunes he has mastered. “Mandy Cream” and “Candy Sam” can go toe-to-toe with any stomp-rock he’s penned, while “The Magazine” shows him branching into new territory.
The relatively straightforward presentation of Twins and Manipulator are all but absent, as are the caffeine-induced rave-ups of Slaughterhouse. Instead, Segall sends these compositions through the wringer of studio manipulation. Blown-out guitar lines fly around strange synth garbles; a guitar in the first verse becomes a piano in the next. The deliberateness lends itself to a fantastic headphones album that doesn’t reveal all of the tricks at the outset. - Kelly Johnson
WALL | "WALL"
Wharf Cat Records
Concrete walls. Basements. Late nights. Wet alleyways. An older New York before the Giuliani branded brooms took their bristles to the New York streets. This is the sound of New York’s WALL, a new band with a new EP with the first four songs they’ve written. Tight, controlled, no frills post-punk. No using two notes when one will do. No wasted words. It’s music to exercise your body, exercise your mind. WALL shows with this brief glimpse that they are one of the more interesting post-punk revival bands to come along. A taste of things to come. They take the sound and make it their own. The language might be the same, but they deliver it with their own voice. A voice leaving us wanting to know what they will say next. - Jonathan Bannister
WASHER | "Here Comes Washer"
Exploding In Sound Records
Washer drives 55 in the school zone, evoking the faraway time when pop punk seemed like it might just be the one of college rock’s many progeny best equipped to survive in our strange world. If you’re a human being, it is very likely that Washer will suspend your ability to control whether or not you awkwardly nod your head. They’re a lot of fun to listen to and will do for you, over the brief span of Here Comes Washer’s runtime, pretty much anything that Nirvana or The Offspring or The Blue Album or Green Day could. But Washer’s greatest value comes from Mike Quigley’s lyrics, which take snapshots of life in the last fifteen percent of the 20th century and the first fifteen percent of the 21st in vivid detail. Quigley gives tours of a photo album on “Hallmark” and invites listeners to experience the sad dizziness of nostalgia as he sings “my dad would swing me on the bay all frozen over / in a basket with a rope and with my sister / steady business in a time of corporatized nostalgia.” Do you want to talk about the decision to sing “with a rope and with my sister” instead of “with a rope and my sister”? Because I do. Paying no mind to the semantics of Quigley’s lyrics, that “with” changes everything about the poetic quality of that line. Quigley’s first verse on “Pet Rock vs. Healing Crystal” demonstrates his strength of aphoristic insight into quietly sad human experiences: “she latches onto anything / her pet rock / who can blame her / when you need a friend / who cares if it doesn’t breathe.” Between Washer’s capability to rouse the body via the bucktoothed joy of rock music and Quigley’s sharp insight into the experience of feeling or being “not quite right,” Here Comes Washer packs quite the wallop. - Josh Ginsberg
BILGE RAT "Townie Garbage" | DOVE LADY "B" | FREIND "Lemon EP" | GAG "America's Greatest Hits" | JAILL "Wherever It Be" | NAKED LIGHTS "On Nature" | PCPC "Ramsgate" | POP. 1280 "Paradise" | RUNNING "Wake Up Applauding" | SAUL WILLIAMS "MartyrLoserKing" | SODA "Without A Head" | URANIUM CLUB "Human Exploration"
KAL MARKS | "Life Is Alright, Everybody Dies"
Midnight Werewolf/Exploding In Sound Records
EIS/Midnight Werewolf-stalwart Kal Marks’ second full length, Life is Alright, Everybody Dies appeared in the first half of 2016, when a slightly less dystopian future was still on the table. It can be seen in Carl Shane’s songwriting; Life is Alright... registers as somewhat more emotively upbeat than the prior Life Is Murder. However, with the turn towards certain evil that this year has taken, Life Is Alright.... now seems more like the sonic foreshadowing of a tumultuous and inexplicable future, one in which self-preservation seems both more important and somewhat shortsighted. Kal Marks succeeded in releasing one of the most interesting and virtuosic albums of the year, and one that seems vitally angry in a time that so desperately demands it. - Niccolo Dante Porcello
LISTEN: Bandcamp } Spotify
MOTHERS | "When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired"
Grand Jury Music/Wichita Recordings
The songs on When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired could be just as satisfying as a collection of sultry ballads strummed softly on an acoustic guitar; the songwriting is just that good. What Mothers have done is taken these incredibly well-written songs and fleshed them out in all the right places. Intricate drum grooves and sparkling, chorus-laden guitar lines allow the songs on When You Walk A Long Distance... to reach beyond the naturally strong songwriting and become something fully engaging and interesting to listen to. - Dan Manning
[Ed note: Mothers' music is balanced with impeccable strength and undeniable control. Singer/guitarist Kristine Leschper is as talented as they come, blending heartbreaking beauty and subtle post-punk undertones together with slow moving folk in a way that is absolutely stunning.]
PUDGE | "Bad Land"
Bad Land is easily one of the most exciting punk albums of 2016—largely because it is not simply a punk album. It is a diverse assemblage of searing hardcore, alt-country, melodic post-punk, and spoken-word ballads. Given the quality of the playing, songwriting, and production, Bad Land sounds like the proud product of a seasoned punk band. But in fact, Bad Land is Pudge’s first album, and the songs were recorded after only “a few weeks” of rehearsal, with new material being generated right up to moment of recording (Hunter Keene, drums). And under four months later, Pudge released the blistering Backstabber EP. Clearly, Pudge is oozing with versatility, virtuosity, and ideas for new material. We are more than excited for whatever they release next. - Ggregg Stull
TALL FRIEND | "Tawl Friend"
Tall Friend’s Tawl Friend is a collection of songs that are both vulnerable and powerful, tender and tough. The band’s sparse guitar and drum arrangements give plenty of room for the introspective (yet empathetic) lyrics to breathe, and the band maintains a careful balance of spontaneity and poise. “Cockroach” and “Guts” are tracks that wear their hearts on their sleeves without being melodramatic, and “Suf” shifts from Low-level tempos into brief moments of almost-mania. I feel like this album is a good companion to Horse Jumper of Love’s self-titled release from this year, like a more subdued side of the same slowcore coin. - Nathan Springer
TWO INCH ASTRONAUT | "Personal Life"
Exploding In Sound Records
It’s no surprise that Personal Life is one of the best rock albums of the year, given Two Inch Astronaut’s track record of excellent albums (e.g., Bad Brother, Foulbrood). But Personal Life marks the addition of Andy Chervenak on bass (Grass is Green), a perfect compliment to Sam Rosenberg’s spastic guitar riffs and Matt Gatwood’s explosive start-and-stop drumming. Grass is Green and Two Inch Astronaut have made some of the best discordant guitar rock in the past ten years, so the merger of members of both bands is something of a perfect storm. Although the album bristles with noise and dissonance, it is also full nuance and dynamics, and several tracks showcase the band’s ability to make quiet and downright pretty songs (a la Slip Disco), featuring acoustic guitar and cello. Just like every other Two Inch album, Personal Life is essential listening. - Ggregg Stull
BANNED BOOKS "Banned Books" | CHERUBS "Fist In The Air" | DAVID VASSALOTTI "Broken Rope" | DOUG TUTTLE "It Calls On Me" | DOVE LADY "C" | FALL SEATTLE "Fall Seattle" | FEELS "Feels" | OFF DRUGS "On One" | OPERATOR MUSIC BAND "Matérielmusik" | PORCHES "Pool" | RITA FISHBONE "Spilt Milk" | SO PITTED "Neo"
BIG UPS | "Before A Million Universes"
Exploding In Sound Records
Big Ups have always been good at building up tension and then releasing it with Joe Galarraga’s cathartic yelps and distorted guitars. With Before a Million Universes, they demonstrate that they've become experts at it. Here, the band explores a fuller dynamic and emotional range, with Whitman-referencing lyrics and songs covering subjects ranging from economics to the sacrifices made by single mothers. By taking the ferocity down a notch from time to time, the moments when the band lets loose come through more powerfully than ever before (i.e. the patiently unfolding “Meet Where We Are”). It also doesn't hurt that many of the song on Million Universes have been part of Big Ups’ live repertoire for more than two years, and have aged nicely as the band matures. - Marcus Gauthier
GUERILLA TOSS | "Eraser Stargazer"
In their most polished effort thus far, Guerilla Toss’ Eraser Stargazer combines elements of noise, heavy electronics, and art punk into something vastly more refined; on previous albums, GToss often got mired in such noise that it rendered as inaccessible for most, in all but the prettiest moments. Eraser Stargazer trades in the overwhelming moments of prior records for sections like the one beginning around 2:50 in “Grass Shack,” where the structure of the song crumbles, and somehow recombines into a groove that multiplies and progresses in its own right. GToss have always made fantastic and interesting music; here they find their stride in bringing it to a larger audience. - Niccolo Dante Porcello
[Ed note: For the past several years Guerilla Toss have been refining their sound, breaking down their spastic noise punk into something closer to dance music than experimental thrash, opting for deeper grooves and a more directed sense of chaos. Ultimately, the changes have left the band less threatening but every bit as visionary and sonically stimulating while the quintet follow their unique twisted rhythms further into the void.]
GUN OUTFIT | "Two-Way Player"
Wharf Cat Records
Lumping in Gun Outfit – especially with the direction they've taken on their latest releases in mind - with the resurgence of Americana might seem like the obvious thing to do. On first listen their songs seem to fit in well with the archetypal tales of hardship and heartbreak, and, sure, their music could easily soundtrack images of mesas, tumbleweed, long-winding roads and dingy bars. The vocal interplay between Dylan Sharp's sonorous baritone and Caroline Keith's world-weary siren even comes off as a sort of modern indie rock equivalent to Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. When listening more attentively, however, an alien quality in their music becomes noticeable.
Gun Outfit's approach to writing songs is not as much about structure as it is about creating a distinctive vibe. Single chords are often dragged for several measures, while the jammy guitars and stark instrumentation provide more atmosphere than melody. The laid-back ”Make Me Promise”, for instance, is over in a little under two minutes without as much as a single hook, and yet it sits perfectly in the track list like a small song vignette leading on the EP highlight, the lovelorn slowcore-esque ballad, ”King Of Hearts”. In this way the songs on Two Way Player flow the ties in well with the recurring themes of transition and change. - Sebastien Friis Sharif
HORSE JUMPER OF LOVE | "Horse Jumper of Love"
Disposable America Records
Boston’s Horse Jumper of Love is one of a sizable cohort of modern rock bands in love with chords. They don’t cycle through chords at a maddening clip or sound like they’re trying to show off the most obscure inversions they can think of. They highlight the harmony fundamental to the big, loud, distorted rock chords, which is apparent from the first moments of “Ugly Brunette” to the penultimate “Sun Poisoning.” Like many other bands born from this aesthetic--there are many but Peaer and Foozle come to mind—Horse Jumper of Love knows that a substantial portion of their staying power stems from their ability to channel unforgettable images through singer Dimitri Giannopoulos’s lyrics. The character study of “Spaceman” conveys the physical sensation of touch amid its dada ramblings. While images like “you got bored and turned off my glow” and “sitting on our America towels” evoke the misery of unhappy cohabitation, the lyric “kiss you through my shirt” lacerates the misery with a cathartic, nostalgic detail of enormous power. Horse Jumper of Love renders a portrait of a relationship’s decay that accurately captures the hellishness of its status quo and its fleeting wonder. - Josh Ginsberg
LITTLER | "Of Wandering"
Philadelphia's Littler has a big year this year thanks to their full length debut Of Wandering, one of the best examples of Philly's incredible DIY scene. Packed with a jangly blast of sardonic pop music and cathartic punk, the album is full of blistering riffs and inescapable melodies. Led by Madeline Meyer, the songs are relatable, channeling the fury we all feel on a day to day basis. Of Wandering likes to creep in and destroy at whim, catching you off guard with thick pop hooks and crushing chords. There's a bit of power-pop charm to balance the band's quiet-loud-quiet dynamics, but when the hooks come peeling forward, theres no denying the strength of their heavy pop tunes. - Dan Goldin
MAL DEVISA | "Kiid"
A few months ago, Brooklyn Magazine published a great thinkpiece titled “We Are Living in a Peak of Black Musical Artistry.” Its title boasts a sentiment that’s impossible to disagree with if you’re even tangentially aware of all that Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, Frank Ocean, Killer Mike, Beyoncé, Solange, and countless others have accomplished so far this decade. It’s not unrealistic that Mal Devisa, real name Deja Carr, might appear aside these idols in a few years. Kiid, her March debut album released after years of Northeast DIY fanfare, has earned her praise from folks as prominent as NPR Music, Stereogum, and Pitchfork. Its tracks alternate between vicious, home-cooked hip-hop and devastatingly minimal soul ballads, never once taking their pulse off the political heartbeat behind Mal Devisa. The joke-laced black pride and rage of “Next Stop” is just as powerful as the sparse self-empowerment of “Sea of Limbs”; likewise, the candlelit bass force of “Daisy” is as pointed and thundering as the grueling roar of “Dominatrix.” Throughout it all, Kiid is held up by Carr’s miraculously malleable, ridiculous robust voice, which is capable of crooning, belting, shouting, rapping, and hissing its way through all manner of obstacles both musical and situational. It’s a window into Carr’s own artistic peak to date, and it comes with the promise that her best – and perhaps some of popular music’s very best – lies not far ahead. - Max Freedman
RICK RUDE | "Mind Cook"
Salty Speakers/Dead Cat Details Later Records
I will forever remember 2016 as my Rick Rude awakening... that special time in a young child's life when you realize Rick Rude is the best best. The New Hampshire based quartet released their Mind Cook EP back in the early months of the year, a perfect sampler of all their diverse songwriting and the magic of their undeniable chemistry as a band. With the band's upcoming full length, Make Mine Tuesday, less than a month away, Mind Cook is the perfect appetizer (and who the hell don't love a good appetizer) highlighting everything from the band's fuzzy folk underpinnings ('Little Boy'), propensity for math rock ('Stromboli'), and their ability to write the best damn indie rock you can hope for ('54 TLOC'). Led by Ben Troy (guitar/vocals) and Jordan Holtz (bass/vocals), they each offer a unique voice to the band's songs, but when they join together the results are stunning. Take for example the bookends of the record, "Sap" with it's dreamy and twisted verses and enormous hook and "Little Boy," a woozy ballad that blends together folk melodies with a slow stuttering rhythm and harmonized vocals. These are two of my personal favorite songs released this year, a pair that shows the band's diverse talent and their ability to balance adoringly sloppy pop brilliance and with complex indie punk beauty. Rick Rude are one of the Northeast's best new bands. Be sure to tell your people. - Dan Goldin
ROB CROW'S GLOOMY PLACE | "You're Doomed. Be Nice"
Rob Crow returned with a new band Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place and a new album You’re Doomed. Be Nice. It’s an album that sounds like it had to be released. One that wouldn’t stay pent up inside... The album is full of that patented Crow “prog pop” sound. Baritone guitar and bass heavy melodies, heavy lyrics sung in a sing-song way, and riffs and grooves a plenty. If you know Pinback then you know the sound. But there is one major difference, honesty. Much of Pinback’s catalogue is cloaked in code that can make it hard to decipher. Sometimes there is absurdity. Songs to bounce along and shout with even if you’re not really sure what it is you’re shouting about. But on …Be Nice Crow lets us in. Songs are filled with honest fears about living. - Jonathan Bannister
SOFT FANGS | "The Light"
Disposable America/Exploding In Sound Records
Although ours is an age of home recording, the tape hiss-laden worlds that the descriptor “home recording” always signified to me felt in short supply in 2016. When I think of home-recordings I’m left with a feeling that is simultaneously warm and cold. I think of Elliott Smith’s albums for Kill Rock Stars or Lost Boy ?’s early masterpiece, 2005’s Glass--songs for ghosts by ghosts perched at the edge of their spectral beds, their phantom thumbs petting the immaterial strings of their ghost guitars. I think of cymbals that make rain clouds from their clipping. The Light is one of the only albums I listened to this year that possessed this sound. You can almost hear the edges of John Lutkevich’s chords crumbling with frosty distortion. Each strum is sibilant. Warm and fuzzy like a cold walk home on a night where arriving at your destination is the sweetest relief that you could know.
John Lutkevich is a heartwarming martian—a sort of tragic alien who can offer comfort to others doomed by circumstance to never get that comfort back. Holed up, somewhere, he has found ways to make a nylon string guitar and a shaker feel like the planet he left behind. When Lutkevich steps on the stomp-box, which he does sparingly, he kicks up vast expanses of golden dust he left behind when he left his world, not to conjure the past but because he hurts and, when you hurt, rock music is the only antidote. With a coo that evokes Sufjan Stevens, Thom Yorke and the other wispy poets of the aughts, Lutkevich probes the conditions that have cloven him from others. Soft Fangs’ "The Light” is the album’s most gently beautiful track, a hymnal about the viability of death as an escape from the “infinite difference” that alienates you from others. Lutkevich asks listeners to confront that blinding vision of escape. The light may lead you to the fortune you seek or a fate more terrible than you’ve ever imagined. It might even just offer reprieve from the conditions of a world to which you never truly belonged. But you must regard the light. You must. - Josh Ginsberg
B BOYS "No Worry No Mind" | CFM "Still Life of Citrus and Slime" | CHEW "Chew" | HELLIER ULYSSES "Prime Example" | IGGY POP "Post Pop Depression" | KENDRICK LAMAR "Untitled Unmastered" | KITTEN FOREVER "7 Hearts" | LITHICS "Borrowed Floors" | LODRO "Lord O" | MIND SPIDERS "Prosthesis" | ODDISEE "Alwasta" | ROBERT POLLARD "Of Course You Are" | SWIM TEAM "Swim Team" | US WEEKLY "Ideas" | VIDEO DAUGHTERS "Video Daughters"
AUTOLUX | "Pussy's Dead"
30th Century/Columbia Records
Autolux is an experiment in approaching songwriting with a film composer’s precise touch. The trio is at their best when tinkering with sound, how much it can be complexified, how the landscape can be modified. Pussy’s Dead feels like a richer and more faithful articulation of what Autolux attempted with 2010’s Transit Transit, an album that does an excellent job flirting with the texture that Broadcast mastered a few years before, but falls flat under its own complexity ... Though Pussy’s Dead lacks the big, sweeping shoegaze melodies that make 2004’s Future Perfect so captivating—it feels authentically Autolux: balancing a blackjack dealer’s level of focus with the dissociative sensuality of a headrush. It’s gentle, wry, and intelligent. - Emma Behnke
BAMBARA | "Swarm"
Swarm changes everything. It's still seething with harsh noise and dark discontent, but there's a balance, and for the first time, nothing is buried in the mix. Reid Bateh's vocals have never been the focal point of any Bambara song in the past, hell, they generally felt more like an afterthought, but on Swarm, his voice is clear. Deranged and slurred... but clear, and with that Bambara have become one of the best band's the city has to offer. Swarm owes a great deal to a depraved Nick Cave influence, though the writhing squalor of their record is a thing of creative beauty. There's a dirty Western charm to Bateh's howls, but it's the claustrophobic post-punk noise dirges that really pull you in. It's the type of record you wish Iceage would make, but who needs them when you have Bambara. - Dan Goldin
CULTURE ABUSE | "Peach"
Culture Abuse released the "album of the summer" back in the Spring, a record so packed with big shimmering melodies and shout along punk anthems it's damn near impossible not to get hooked. Every song on Peach, the Bay Area sextet's full length debut is bursting with warm guitar tones and thick-as-syrup hooks. It's immediate in every regard, a real Peach of infectious punk and revved up power-pop. While the band's previous releases relied on raw debauchery and hardcore influences, Culture Abuse have embrace pop in a big way and the results are overwhelmingly positive. It's a rare feat when a band reliant on primal noise, deranged shouting, and scuzzy aggression can tame their sound without losing a step (we're talking pot of gold at the end of a rainbow rare), but they've done it and they're happy to prove it, track after track. As Peach unwinds and their outsider blend of punk, power-pop, indie rock, psych, "college rock," and traces of hardcore swirl deep into your subconscious it becomes apparent that Culture Abuse's sound hasn't shifted quite as dramatically as it may appear. Sure, the band are experimenting with a smattering of shiny new pop ideas, sticky sweet refrains, positive mental attitudes (a reaction to adversity and personal loss), and a *clean new sparkle* but at the end of the day it's still Culture Abuse and pop songs or not, the band continue to rip through their riffs with a reckless abandonment. Peach is a triumphant record of unforgetable hooks and caterwauling guitars, so whether you want to call it pop or punk really doesn't matter, and Culture Abuse certainly don't care either way. - Dan Goldin
FLASHER | "Flasher"
Sister Polygon Records
DC's Flasher make the smoothest of post-punk. It's wiry and full of energy with sharp hooks and twisted chords that tangle themselves into the sweetest of knots. The band's self-titled EP is a mature and fully realized effort, an impressive debut of retro-tinged post-punk and raw minimalism. Featuring members of Priests, Big Hush, and Bless, their "DC revival" pedigree speaks volumes, but their EP speaks louder. The band recently re-released the album on vinyl and it's most definitely worth your time, "Destroy," the album's slick closer and one of the record's many highlights is lush with a feeling of sarcasm, and the band made a self aware pop video to accompany it, capturing the band's sense of humor and charm. - Dan Goldin
FRANKIE COSMOS | "Next Thing"
Frankie Cosmos returned this year with a triumphant April Fools Day reminder of their tender, unique contributions to the New York indie pop scene. It is difficult to believe that Next Thing is only the second studio LP of Greta Kline’s career—it demonstrates her magical ability to take one to two-minute songs and smear them into landscape paintings of self-awareness. Though a number of the songs were repurposed from past lo-fi acoustic recordings into rerecorded pieces for the album, they blend into the architecture of the record as though they had been written for it all along. As much as Next Thing reads as an expression of existential vulnerability, far from a hot-mess of emotional platitudes—it is instead a highly composed, extremely delicate and precise presentation of the artist’s self to us, the listener. - Gilad Jaffe
FUTURE OF THE LEFT | "The Peace & Truce of Future of the Left"
Five albums in and Future of the Left are still finding new ways to combine scathing cynicism, sardonic wit, and their own brand of hilariously misanthropic cultural outrage with crushing rhythms and infectiously abrasive melodies. Andrew Falkous aka Falco and company stopped caring what anyone thought of them a while ago, and lucky for us, these days it seems no one is safe. The dismay toward, well... just about everything is as rabid as ever, as Falco takes aim at celebrities, the military, the overprivileged, gluttony, and our ever impending societal doom. While this type of outrage could be considered a downer in the hands of most bands, Future of the Left have mastered the art of transforming the horrendous to the hilarious. While Falco may be the ring leader, Future of the Left's force lies in its ever incredible rhythm section, Jack Egglestone (drums) and Julia Ruzicka (bass), pounding out an unrelenting cavalcade of jagged minimalism and raw "dance punk" grooves. Falco's guitar tones and general agitated vocal howls scrape like rust over the dense low end. Scathing and deranged, Falco's lyricism never quite takes anything too seriously, and yet I can never help but feel that he couldn't be more serious about it. - Dan Goldin
HAYBABY | "Blood Harvest"
Tiny Engines Records
Sometimes a band uses an EP release to mark a transition in sound. Sometimes it's an opportunity to use songs that might not have fit within the framework of a record, and other times it's just a chance to have some fun and explore new ideas. Only time will tell which one of these options Haybaby's Blood Harvest EP falls under but it certainly sounds as though the trio are having a good time. The majority of the record is sludgy and primal, it slowly claws at your senses, leaving the band's clever pop senses behind in a trail of ashes and destruction that favors crushing doom. Much like the glacial pacing of "Pigs," the EP creates an unapologetically heavy atmosphere right from the beginning, ominously moving forward and absolutely decimating everything in their path as Leslie Hong's vocals howl into the sludge splattered void. Blood Harvest in an eclectic EP and what comes next is anyone's guess, but whatever it is Haybaby are getting into, we're excited for what is next. - Dan Goldin
HORSE LORDS | "Interventions"
Northern Spy Records
Baltimore's Horse Lords are making experimental music fun again. Sure, their mix of avant-garde krautrock, psych punk, free jazz, and math rock is challenging, but it's challenging in a mind expanding way, accessible to anyone willing to let it in. "Bending To The Lash" has the band locked in together like an impenetrable vault, so tightly wound around their own snaking bass line and tangled rhythms it's genuinely amazing. Guitars and saxophones spiral out of control into a vortex as the song's hypnotic nature begins to offer the sense of being abducted by aliens or getting sucked into another dimension. There's an otherworldly quality to it all and things may never be the same again afterward. Horse Lords' latest is wildly experimental and infinitely engaging while dance floor ready grooves... the perfect out of body soundtrack, whenever you might need it. Their sophomore album Interventions is a the type of trip that will have seeing colors and hearing sounds you never knew existed. See you on the other side. - Dan Goldin
HOVVDY | "Taster"
Sports Day/Merdurhaus Records
Texas two-piece Hovvdy blends viscosity with an air of confidence to create a truly unique and dynamic record—Taster, the pair’s debut LP. Hovvdy manages to plant a garden of emotions beneath a looming storm cloud, bright with purpose and grainy in execution. A synesthetic success, the album leaves listeners puzzled in the healthiest, most constructive way. As it forces us to take a step back and acknowledge each and every one of our senses in a new light, Taster is in a lot of ways just that; a taster of the band’s various textures (with a palette ranging from minimalist synth-pop to lo-fi anti-folk), and a taster of what is bound to come out of the promising duo in the future. - Gilad Jaffe
LEGGY | "Leggy"
Cincinnati's Leggy released their self-titled "full-length debut" this year, a collection of the band's previous EPs and a new single. While the songs were originally separated via three different releases, they're an amazing cohesion in the band's songwriting and when pulled together into one collection it becomes immediately apparent that Leggy have a lot of hits. Their sound is rooted in dreamy punk and lo-fi garage pop but Leggy sprawl out with songs split between anthemic hooks ("Grrrls Like Us"), hazy shredding ("Waisted") and hypnotic grooves ("Kick The Habit"). Similar to bands like La Luz and Alvvays, Leggy have a knack for surf pop charm and retro-garage melodies with a deviant wink and an expansive palette for breezy pop bliss. Leggy is a compilation if you want to be literal, but it's an album in every other sense, a singular verification that Leggy's distorted pop is among the best. It's like they say, "there are plenty of fish in sea, but girls like us don't grow on trees". - Dan Goldin
PARQUET COURTS | "Human Performance"
Rough Trade Records
Parquet Courts seem to thrive on irreverently selecting and inverting their source material as much as saluting it, creating a modern concoction that's very much their own. On Human Performance this eclecticism reaches new heights: There's the very 60's-sounding mellotron flute on the title track, the smooth nighthawk jazzy atmosphere of the crystalline vibraphones in 'Captive Of The Sound', the tongue-in-cheek exotica of the bongos and raga-like guitars on “One Man, No City”, not to mention the Link Wray-esque surf rock lead on second single “Berlin Got Blurry”. Add to this two very distinctive voices in front. You're never in doubt what song was written by who, partially because whoever wrote it, sings it, but also because of the personas Austin Brown and Andrew Savage have created through their songs; personas that, while disparate, seem to inhabit the same universe. - Sebastian Friis Sharif
PATIO | "Luxury"
The breezy delivery and jagged spirit of Patio’s songwriting and performance struck something inside me immediately. I’m not sure how many times I’ve muttered, “How can a band be this good?” Enough times to get a stick and poke tattoo tribute on my right arm. Or to buy a plane ticket to NYC to catch their tape release show. I think Luxury is about finding something shining outside of the ordinary and dull, and allowing yourself to bask in that without feeling guilty or ashamed. That sort of excitement when you realize something true about yourself and you want to shout it at the top of your lungs. They kinda represent this in-between feeling of knowing what you want, knowing what you love, but still having a long way to get there, and the frustration and excitement that stems from all that. Guitar glides and rips, bass rushes and pulses, drums bounce and crash. It’s the way streetlights fall on the pavement at night, or how gravel skitters across an icy road. Luxury is a gripping force of solace in these tumultuous times. - Joe Gutierrez
SOLIDS | "Else"
There's a good chance Solids have played near you and an even better chance their set absolutely ripped from start to finish. The Montreal duo have toured tirelessly since the release of their 2014 full length debut, Blame Confusion, a record built on roaring fuzz and crushing riffs that created an unavoidable comparison to fellow Canadians, Japandroids. Solid's debut was good, but Else, the band's latest EP on Topshelf Records is great. The raged fuzz punk of their debut has been replaced with a spaced out "slacker punk" vibe (and it's heavy on the vibes) but Solids are anything but slackers. There's nothing lazy about the duo as they fill out a massive sound, but I use the word "slacker" not to describe their work ethic, but their voyage into the unknown, a relaxed, easy going, and simply impeccable listening experience. Else delivers as much in it's heaviest and most dazzling moments as it does in the band's wide open spaces and weed enhanced atmospheres. Enormous harmonies and distorted melodies collide with massively pounding drums and intricate fills, as Solids keep the momentum forever moving forward. Time on the road has done the boys good. - Dan Goldin
BLACK MOUNTAIN "IV" | THE COATHANGERS "Nosebleed Weekend" | DEFTONES "Gore" | EMPTY MARKETS "Stainless Steel" | ESKIMEAUX "Year of the Rabbit" | GUIDED BY VOICES "Please Be Honest" | KIDS HAVING KIDS "Shitstorm Armageddon" | KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD "Nonagon Infinity" | LADY BONES "Terse"
BLESSED | "Blessed"
Experimental art-punk wizards Blessed are impeccably tight and joyfully unpredictable. The Vancouver based quartet’s debut is filled with knotted riffs and crushing dynamics, shaky vocals, and some pretty damn glorious rhythmic shifts. Skittering between loud and soft moments of jagged post-punk, Blessed take an angular approach to non-traditional hooks, twisting and turning between bright flashes of light and dark, creepy vibes. Earlier this year I said "it's that art-punk slime the world needs and most of all, it's utterly catchy" and ten months later I couldn't agree more. Blessed teeters back and forth between surging art rock and furiously complex rhythmic patterns, constantly evolving toward metamorphosis, Blessed claim influences that include Ought, Radiohead, and Can, and like those bands they have built their sound on forward thinking with nothing to prove but everything to gain. Blessed are making gorgeous music that demands your full attention, and the sonic pay off is worth every penny. One of Canada's best up-and-coming bands, Blessed sounds like the work of a veteran band and they've only just begun. - Dan Goldin
CAR SEAT HEADREST | "Teens of Denial"
Despite the heaps of praise thrown at Car Seat Headrest since they signed with Matador a year ago, it somehow gets overlooked just how good Will Toledo is at writing lyrics that immediately connect with the legions of “millennials” bored of the mundanity of parties and house shows, and looking for some kind of deeper meaning beyond that. Toledo’s songs (with their countless distinct sections, clever one-liners, and choruses that beg for a shout-along) strike a chord for the simple fact that he lives in the same reality he writes about. It's easy to believe that Toledo has actually had an existential crisis while lying stoned on a bedroom floor at a house party or spent time contemplating the choice of picture on the Wikipedia page for clinical depression. As a whole, Teens of Denial was a huge record for me this year, if only for the pure honesty of the lyrics and the the choruses that made me sing along more than maybe any record since Pinkerton. - Marcus Gauthier
CAT BE DAMNED | "Daydreams In A Roach Motel"
Joy Void Records
Cat Be Damned's Daydreams In a Roach Motel is a drift downstream through a tunnel with the universe painted on its walls and ceiling. There are things all around you- some of them float and some of them sink. Every song veers off in directions you don’t expect. Guitar riffs and solos twist and turn like blood in the arteries of your arms, or whatever magic occupies the roots of redwoods. Playful soft-served synth transitions mark feelings of that hazy bridge between the waking world and sleep. Drums and cymbals plunge and splash, soaking the songs in a jittery energy, basking in a glow that remains long after each song retreats into the darkness from whence it came. Erik Phillips’ voice soothes and shimmers, personifying that space that exists between your head and the pillow. It’s easy to get carried away with this one. - Joe Gutierrez
CHRIS COHEN | "As If Apart"
As if Apart is a laid back masterpiece. Although the songs were written and recoded entirely by Chris Cohen (except for the lyrics to “As If Apart" and "Memory,” by Zach Phillips of OSR), they possess the complexity and dynamics of a full band. Bouncy keyboard, dreamy rhythm guitar, subtle electric guitar leads, melodic bass, simple yet intricate drumming—these elements are carefully stitched together to create a collection of often somber, always beautiful, entirely engrossing almost-pop songs. Cohen’s mellow voice and introspective lyrics perfectly compliment the mood of the music. Cohen’s music is sometimes described as “psychedelic”; this seems off to me. Maybe “experimental pop” is a better descriptor. But labels aside, the important point is that Chris Cohen is a great songwriter. - Ggregg Stull
CLOUD BECOMES YOUR HAND | "Rest In Fleas"
Northern Spy Records
Rocks or Cake, Cloud Becomes Your Hand's full length debut was an incredible mind-altering exploration that treaded in elements of retro-psych and prog without ever really sounding remotely like anything from the past. Rest In Fleas picks up right where they left off, immersed in a tripped out undersea voyage of tightly orchestrated free-form grooves and moving patterns. It's hypnotic yet busy, pulling you into their madness one pulsating section at a time. Songs like "Bridge of Ignorance Returns" bounce from one headspace to another, a visionary experience with every member of the band leading you in their own unique direction, offering new experiences with each twist and turn. Cloud Becomes Your Hand are what some might call a national treasure... because sometimes you just want to escape reality and let your mind wander to the furthest reaches of its capability. - Dan Goldin
RADIOHEAD | "A Moon Shaped Pool"
Just in case this is the first time you've been on the internet this year, Radiohead have a new album out called A Moon Shaped Pool, and we're happy to report that it's pretty damn sweet... a marked improvement from The King of Limbs (as far as we're concerned) and a most welcome addition to band's catalog. Led by two singles that offered but a glimpse of the record's many different moods, the soaring anthem of "Burn The Witch" and the somber sprawl of "Daydreaming," the album's opening one-two punch sets the tone. It's a brilliant record that takes the Kid A / Amnesiac formula and flips it on its head with pulsating grooves ("Ful Stop" is near perfection) and warped reflection ("True Love Waits" is about as heart-wrenching as can be hoped for). In breaking news, Radiohead: still a great band. - Dan Goldin
A GIANT DOG "Pile" | ANGRY ANGLES "Angry Angles" | ANIMAL FACES "Other Places" | ARBOR LABOR UNION "I Hear You" | ALL PEOPLE "All People" | BIG HEET "Demo" | BIG THIEF "Masterpiece" | CE SCHNEIDER TOPICAL "Antifree" | CLIQUE "Burden Piece" | DORIES "Outside Observer" | DOVE LADY "D" | HEAD WOUND CITY "A New Wave of Violence" | HONEY "Love Is Hard" | HONEY RADAR "Blank Cartoon" | LASER BACKGROUND "Correct" | MEYHEM LAUREN "Piatto D'oro" | MOUNTAINS AND RAINBOWS "Particles" | MRS. MAGICIAN "Bermuda" | THE NUMERATORS "Strange" | PINKWASH "Collective Sigh" | POST PINK "I Believe You, OK" | PSYCHIC HEAT "Sunshower" | US WEEKLY "Imploading" | VISHNU BASEMENT "Bulb"
COUGH | "Still They Pray"
Cough are the pinnacle of modern doom metal, carrying on the legacy of bands like Sleep and Electric Wizard with sludge so heavy it could wilt flowers. While their influences remain semi-active, Cough expand on their formula of slow creeping despair and psychedelic riffs, clawing their way from the depths with a hint of fried cosmic blues a la Hawkwind. Still They Pray is pretty much required listening for anyone remotely interested in the genre, an impenetrable force of filth and sluggish carnage. Dense, depraved, and violently psychedelic, the colossal weight of Still They Pray is dragged through unsettling lows and monolithic despair, but it's the record's desire to veer from the genre's expectations that define it with haunting acoustics and hallucinogenic punk. Drifting through passages of washed out psych, blistering duel guitar solos and crushing slow-dripped thrash brutality, the album, recorded by Electric Wizard's Jus Oborn and Windhand’s Garrett Morris, raises the bar for modern doom, and the genre may just have a new classic. Still They Pray is a monolithic record of genre perfection. You don't have to love doom metal to be floored by Cough... though it probably helps. - Dan Goldin
DEERHOOF | "The Magic"
Deerhoof is the hardest working indie-rock band on the planet. Case in point, from late November 2015 to present they have released three LPs, an orchestral collaboration, and an EP just last month. And they are doing all this, in the trajectory of their output, well beyond what one could call the “Autumn” of their career. It’s insane. The Magic, released back in June is the same magical fare of synchronized frenzy we are so used to, but with a couple of simpler three-chord punk songs for fun—as if the band could be any more fun. - Alex Colston
[Ed note: The art punk legends have an amped up excitement about them on The Magic, evident in the most shredded out "Plastic Thrills," a song that finds the band in blissful glam rock territory. In recent years the glam sound has been revitalized by a handful of garage punk bands known to shred but the sound has never been better than in Deerhoof's all too capable hands.]
JACKAL ONASIS | "Big Deal Party"
Exploding In Sound Records
To call Jackal Onasis’ Big Deal Party a concept EP could be reductive — but even if you’ve never watched Party Down, the cult series which inspired it, its themes may hit you where it hurts. If, say, you went to college, or can’t pay your bills on time, or sometimes feel down (even in beautiful weather), the Brooklyn trio’s debut collection exists to soothes an achy, occasionally somber soul.
And yet, even through bleak subject matter, its riffs are lavish and bright, its beats shift between tumultuous and refined. “Failing is what we do,” Alex Molini surrenders over an avalanche of rhythm on the glittering “Mookie Told Me Everything.” His gloomy sentiment may be warranted, but Jackal’s allure is obvious. - Loren DiBlasi
LEAPLING | "Suspended Animation"
Exploding In Sound Records
Dan Arnes is the son of a multitude of musical traditions; a musician whose work sounds like the product of an avid listener whose last.fm might just change your life. In a scene that often feels dominated by tense screeds and sloppy aggression, Leapling stands out: a student of classic pop from outside the canon and classic rock devoid of orthodoxy, whose gentle coos reassure no matter how knotty (or nerdy!) his music becomes. “One Hit Wonder” exudes a naked and uncomplicated exuberance almost unfathomable in the context of Brooklyn’s DIY scene—going full-on Nick Lowe to an audience that skews Nick Cave. The flanged drums, tall chords and bucolic arpeggios of “Don’t Move to Fast” mine at least three genres of rock (classic, yacht and roots, respectively) with the fluent pop IQ of a collaboration between Elvis Costello and 10cc. “Why Can’t You Open Up Your Door?,” with its bevy of shimmering chords, imagines a chord progression written by Johnny Marr to bring The Byrds to lightless, terrifying depths of a dark Scottish lake.
And then there’s “Alabaster Snow,” an aching curtain of white noise that blows back and forth in a slow motion breeze. Clean and fingerpicked, it might have evoked the augmented chords of Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me” or Steely Dan’s “Only a Fool Would Do That.” But bathed in distortion, “Alabaster Snow” is a love letter to Arnes’ scene—the noisy, heavy, exploratory bands he shares bill after bill with. “Hey Sister,” too, explores the Our Band Could Be Your Life aesthetic that proliferates in New York today, transforming its folksy tumble into a lumbering grapple between Bug-era Dino Jr. and the guitar pyrotechnics of Jeff Tweedy circa A Ghost Is Born.
Suspended Animation expands on the growth of Leapling’s debut LP, 2015’s excellent Vacant Page and incorporates string arrangements onto a third of its songs. These arrangements give lift to Arnes’s songs but also add a layer of subtle darkness, as on the lilting title track and the closer “Time Keeps Tickin’,” tracks whose parallel minors and suspended chords help them achieve the stately beauty of Burt Bacharach or Jon Brion. Merging the spheres of DIY rock shows and classic pop doesn’t come easy but, man, when it works, it’s peerless. - Josh Ginsberg
MELVINS | "Basses Loaded"
The Melvins are one of my all time favorite bands and a constant source of inspiration and motivation. Unlike some more popular sites who chose to poo-poo this record, I think it's another great (and weird) dose of the Melvins having a good ol' sludgy fun time. Simply listen to three of the album's stand-out tracks, album opener "The Decay Of Lying," the Trevor Dunn assisted jazz odyssey "Planet Distructo" and the Krist Novoselic accordion heavy barn-burner "Maybe I Am Amused" and it's clear the Melvins haven't grown tired as they plow through bellowing slow burning sludge, spaced out jazz-fusion and a real backyard jamboree boogie. The band and their onslaught of bassists continue to do what they want, and we continue to benefit. There's also "Choco Plumbing," a new collaboration with one time rhythm section Big Business that has me eagerly awaiting the duo bands to join together once again. - Dan Goldin
PETITE LEAGUE | "No Hitter"
When life gets you down there's always Petite League, a guaranteed pick-me-up for anyone that loves the feel good vibes of power-pop, brash fuzz soaked riffs, and jangly garage pop. The Brooklyn via Syracuse duo's sophomore album is a relentless blast of sun-soaked vibes and surfy feedback happy punk brilliance. It's clamorous and catchy, surging with energy and clever lyrics, vibrant and mesmerizing in the simplicity of its glowing presence. Quick pop songs that permeate with neon colored hooks are built around deceptively sad lyrics and a fleeting sense of youthfulness coming toward a close. The juxtaposition of the upbeat jangle and the darker lyrical content works like magic throughout the record, each song offering a new inescapable earworm melody. This is pop bliss. This album is the light we all need from time to time. Petite League's songs are about as immediate as they come and yet there's a lot to take away from repeat listens. - Dan Goldin
SPOOK THE HERD | "The Small Wins EP"
Exploding In Sound Records
Spook the Herd is an Exploding in Sound fan’s dream. Claiming shared members and other connections with fellow EiS signees Palehound, Ovlov, and Grass is Green, this duo thickens the distorted guitar pop of early Weezer with the same gritty bite that EiS artists such as Two Inch Astronaut and Pile exploit in their post-hardcore madness. As uneasy as they are hooky, the six eerily melodic songs comprising Spook the Herd’s newest EP, The Small Wins, make a strong case for hefty, crunchy guitar music that finds inspiration in the past rather than the future. Whether in the booming march of “Slurpee Surf” and “App Tofu” or the more languid, gradual grind of “One Fell Swoop” and “Song 4,” The Small Wins argues that the appeal of distortion, reverb, and overdrive pedals will never die. Spook the Herd should be proud: The Small Wins is as convincing as it gets. - Max Freedman
SUMAC | "What One Becomes"
Thrill Jockey Records
If you think back to Sumac’s previous effort, The Deal, then you’ll remember the cinematic, atmospheric haze that drifted the album into existence. Not this time. What One Becomes growls and wrenches itself into the world in a mess of climbs and falls—a kind of fanfare of itself before this improbably full-sounding three piece launches headlong into their sophisticated doom. Most of the songs are split into episodic parts which signal that the band is thinking deeply about how to stretch the themes from what they are into what they can become. - Alex Colston
[Ed note: SUMAC best known as the latest project of Aaron Turner (ISIS) continues to claw away from their expectations on a wildly unpredictable album that sounds fitting for the destruction and chaos of the end times as we know them.]
WEAVES | "Weaves"
“We think they are all pop songs,” Weaves frontwoman Jasmyn Burke told The Quietus upon being asked whether she thinks Weaves makes pop music. “We are a contemporary freak-ass pop band,” guitarist Morgan Waters clarified; in tandem, these two statements precisely explain the broad appeal of Weaves. It’s easy to hear the overt pop influences lying behind the Deerhoof-esque spasms and Karen O-like vocal tics of this Toronto band’s self-titled debut, which arrives after a string of buzzy singles stretched across the last couple years. The knockout chorus of “Birds & Bees” gently rests Burke’s soulful vocals over a hotbed of burning guitar lines, and similarly rowdy highlight “One More” draws from the sensual hues of jazz and R&B to contrast its lightning chorus with swinging verses fit for basement blues clubs. Weaves’ impressively varied influences never obscure that its eleven gems are as accessible and straightforward as they are wonky and bizarre; hell, its best track is named “Candy,” which is about as on-the-nose a song title as possible for a band pounding out these sounds. If this decade has taught us anything about music, it’s that pop is just as valid as other forms of art, and dissenters need only listen to Weaves to embrace this truth. - Max Freedman
YUCKY DUSTER | "Yucky Duster"
Yucky Duster play music that lies somewhere between twee and punk, but they are better at their instruments than either of those genres would imply. Some of the catchiest songs I’ve heard this year are on this record (“Construction Man” is infectious to the point that it’s actually somewhat alarming), but the catchiness never takes place of substance. Songs like “Blue Elvis” and “Seashell Song” combine well-crafted harmonized guitars with lyrics that alternate between earnestness and self-deprecation. Definitely a twice (or more) in a day kind of album. - Nathan Springer
CELLULAR CHAOS "Diamond Teeth Clenched" | EARRING "Tunn Star" | FITS "Split EP" | GARDEN CENTRE "Garden Centre" | THE GOTOBEDS "Blood // Sugar // Secs // Traffic" | GUERILLA TOSS "Live In Nashville" | HUSBAND STITCH "Husband Stitch" | JJ DOLL "JJ Doll" | MAIL THE HORSE "Magnolia" | MARBLED EYE "Marbled Eye" | MOURN "Ha, Ha, He" | NASSAU "Hoss" | PUDGE "Backstabber" | SPRAY PAINT "Feel The Clamps" | TERRY "Terry HQ" | USELESS EATERS "Relaxing Death" | VHS "Gift Of Life"
BIG BUSINESS | "Command Your Weather"
Joyful Noise Recordings
Sometimes a great show can reinforce your love for a new album and sometimes it's just a reaffirmation of long standing obsessions. In the case of Big Business, their set this summer at Saint Vitus managed to do both for me. Command Your Weather is a record that's both complex and a return to form, pushing forward with ambition while peeling the band's line-up back to the duo of Coady Willis and Jared Warren. Big Business' records have always been great but their chemistry is at its best as the two piece bulldozer of low end sludge pop and epic prog influenced metal. The band sound like an oncoming stampede throughout Command Your Weather, kicking down doors and forever pummeling their way into a murky oblivion, but there's an undeniable emphasis placed on atmosphere and texture. Big Business have always balanced their brute force with a goofy sense of humor, but they've upped the ante with eerie plodding synths, polyrhythms played on blossom bells, and a never ending cavalcade of subtle twists and turns. Warren still has one the best bellows in the game, his deep wail undulating between howling croons and melodic howls as the record builds tension via haunting nuance and primal intensity. Big Business sound enormous in every way on Command Your Weather, a record free of restrictions and puny inhibitions. - Dan Goldin
LISTEN: Bandcamp | Spotify
BIG NECK POLICE | "Don't Eat My Friends"
Feeding Tube/Ramp Local
In July Big Neck Police quietly released their swan song, Don’t Eat My Friends, one of the most idiosyncratic and gripping albums that I came across in 2016. I remember seeing the band performing some of these songs at a laundromat-cum-venue in Atlanta a few months before the record came out, and listening to trance-inducing cuts like “Guy Named Justice” and “Funicula” transports me back to that space; the recording here does what it should and captures the band’s live feel without much intrusion. This record makes me feel like I’m losing my mind, in the best way possible. - Nathan Springer
BLUE SMILEY | "Return"
Super Wimpy Punch
One of the things that got stuck in my head the most this year was the 30-second intro to “Bird”, the first song on Blue Smiley’s excellent record Return. This collection of brief pop songs is a mix of shoegaze, fuzz, 90’s rock, and lo-fi. Like their previous album, ok, Return is a straight-to-the-point collection of fuzzy pop songs with one-word titles. The brevity of these songs serves as one of their strengths (none of them break the three minute mark), not because you want them to be over, but because they leave you wanting more. This band recognizes the merits of not letting any one idea linger too long. The guitars, which oscillate between shimmering and overblown, keep the album texturally interesting, but it is the songwriting and steady stream of hooks that make Return a must-listen. - Nathan Springer
CONNECTIONS | "Midnight Run"
Columbus, OH's Connections have been making some pretty impressive Guided By Voices inspired rock since the turn of the decade but their new album Midnight Run takes them to new heights within and beyond those comparisons. The record is an impressive mix of lo-fi pop jangle and unrestrained shredding. It's upbeat and fuzzy with a basement recording vibe but a veteran approach to songwriting. Sure, the formula hasn't changed all that much from their previous work, but their songs have never sounded better. With melodies buried and guitars roaring through tin-y sounding speakers, this is true, certified, lo-fi but you could make an argument for the way the songs shine in that din as an integral part of their sound. It's skeletal production aesthetic works to the band's advantage as blistering guitar solos leap from the mix in brilliant technicolor. Midnight Run takes pride in making ramshackle pop anthems that crackle and hiss with blissful power-pop charm as heard on the fuzzed out smash hits "Month 2 Month" and "Kate". Connections' songs are packed with syrupy earworms at every turn and Midnight Run is pure audio fun, a hazy nod to the rock 'n' roll greats.
FERN MAYO | "Hex Signs"
Sad Cactus Records
Fern Mayo dropped Hex Signs, a surprise EP and it's a ripper... a serious shred fest of focused and tangled indie punk and gorgeous songwriting. Katie Capri's vocals are ever strong and radiant, she sings with a unique style that's simultaneously shaky and powerful, letting go in the most captivating of ways. The trio are locked in from the start, tearing through "Pinesol" with unexpected dips and grooves that burst through mounting tension and shifting rhythms. The post-punk and art rock tendencies are further accentuated on "New Ketamine," the EPs elastic single that dives headfirst into a dense instrumental of blistering riffs and dynamic wonky structures. - Dan Goldin
FUTURE BIFF + MILKED | "Tape Split"
Future Biff is a fully realized new band that features all three former members of Geronimo! in addition to Meat Wave drummer Ryan Wizniak. Yes, that's right... two drummers, and yes, it's amazing. Ben Grigg handles all the vocals (with some help from Suzy Erin on the fantastic opener "Built to Last") and the band's infectious shoegaze inflected post-punk is truly something to behold. Colossal riffs skid and wrap themselves around the syrupy sweet vocal melodies as the rhythm section remain fully entrenched in "crush everything in sight" mode. Drummers Matthew Schwerin and Wizniak work extremely well together, pounding out complex beats in unison as Grigg and guitarist Kelly Johnson dive into brilliantly distorted riffs that scream and claw their way into your memory.
There's always a hope that when one of your favorite bands break up that there next project will be even better (the Minor Threat: Fugazi principle), but it rarely comes to be. While it is most certainly way too soon to say that Future Biff are a better band than Geronimo!, we like the direction they're heading in and their debut EP is pretty much the year's best kept secrets. Fuck secrets though, spread the word.
Milked (Kelly Johnson's solo project)'s side is nuanced, oscillating between catchy garage pop jangle and easy riding, classic rock influenced, atmospheric synth explorations that boogie with the feeling of another time and place. Which time and place that is isn't relevant, you're gonna feel good listening to this split EP. Milked released Bruised Fruit & Other Perishables, a new full length that same month, expanding their sound and making us excited for what's to come. - Dan Goldin
KRILL | "Krill"
After the break-up of Krill, the announcement of these new songs, released as the posthumous EP Krill, was a serious cause for celebration among die-hard Krill fans like myself. Although the band presented Krill as sort of an afterthought, this collection of five songs is a landmark. It documents the band at the height of its powers. The songs showcase everything that is great and unique about Krill—chimey guitar, intricate drumming, and driving melodic bass, underlying Jonah Furman’s cathartic vocals and existential lyrics. But the songs are delivered with an effortlessness and virtuosity that suggest great possibilities for a band already unmatched in its emotional power. It leaves the listener both thankful to have these songs but also sad thinking of what could have been. Krill, forever. - Ggregg Stull
SLEEPIES | "Natural Selection"
Mirror Universe Tapes
Natural Selection by Sleepies offers less of the immediacy found on Weird Wild World and their self-titled debut. However, the minimal compositions here start drilling themselves into your brain after repeat listens. I could bob my head to the riff that closes “Natural Selection” all day long; the one-two punch of “Sky Chase” and “Reincarnation” might be my favorite back-to-back tunes on any album this year. Natural Selection retains all the qualities that make Sleepies great while suggesting new directions. - Kelly Johnson
SNAIL MAIL | "Habit"
Sister Polygon Records
"Thinning," the first single from Snail Mail's latest EP Habit is the perfect introduction to those unfamiliar with the Baltimore band. The song's lyrics are sad but there's a sense that things will get better, a sentiment echoed in both the bright lo-fi poptimism of the music and the opening verse, "Haven't felt right in a week / And I'm thinning out / And it hurts bad / I gotta get back". That feeling when things seem to be at their worst... yeah, we've all been there, but it's important to remember to "get back". Let Snail Mail be your guide. From their the EP only gets further assured as Lindsey Jordan's songwriting is impeccably confident and relatable to anyone who has experienced longing. - Dan Goldin
THEE OH SEES | "Live In San Francisco"
Castle Face Records
It has been said that Thee Oh Sees are one of the best live bands in the country. No arguments here. Their energy is unmatched as the band buzz and shake through their own signature hard-coiled freakouts of psych punk, garage rock, and acid folk from the moment their set begins to the generally riotous ending. How do they do it? Cocaine? Untamed adrenaline? Sheer will? Who cares... they do it for you (the audience) and it's always a sight to be seen. After releasing thirteen albums over the past decade (not to mention EPs, splits, and singles collections), Thee Oh Sees released their first live album since 2008's Thee Hounds of Foggy Notion. Live in San Francisco, the latest edition of Castle Face Records' exceptional series of the same name, marks the ongoing series' first double LP, fitting for a band with a tendency to sprawl out as the grooves lock in and spiral onward.
Much like Thee Oh Sees' endless wave of energy, John Dwyer's Castle Face has built one of the strongest catalogs in psych punk and beyond since it's inception and the Live in San Francisco series in no exception, with stand-outs and must-own records including The Blind Shake, The Ty Segall Band, Useless Eaters, Fuzz, and more. It's high time Thee Oh Sees joined the series and they're pulling out all the stops. Recorded over a three night stay at The Chapel, the album will be accompanied by a DVD of the performance and a track list that plays primarily from the band's last few records with a few classics thrown in for good measure. The Live in San Francisco series has captured an essential performance from the band's latest iteration... who remain as revved up as ever.
BORIS "Pink (Deluxe Edition)" | THE CLAYPOOL LENNON DELIRIUM "Monolith of Phobos" | THE CRADLE "Abacus of Love" | THE CRATERS "Kids Can Tell" | DARK TURN "Maw" | GØGGS "Gøggs" | JAMES ARTHUR'S MANHUNT "Digital Clubbing" | JUNE GLOOM "Fake Problems" | THE LENTILS "Botanical Castings" | MILKED "Bruised Fruit and Other Perishables" | NO JOY "Drool Sucker" | OMNI "Deluxe" | PYLON "Live" | TRACE MOUNTAINS "Buttery Sprouts & Other Songs" | VIDEO AGE "Living Alone" | WE CAN ALL BE SORRY "Weekend Sorry"
AUSMUTEANTS | "Band of the Future"
I didn't know Ausmuteants were releasing Band Of The Future until after the album was already out... something that doesn't happen too often to me, especially for a band that released one of my favorite albums of 2014 (Order of Operations). Perhaps it happened because the Melbourne, Australia post-punk band didn't bother with a US release this time. Perhaps they're just too punk for much self promotion. Perhaps I just missed it and perhaps they truly just don't give a fuck... I'm inclined to believe it's a combination of the last two. Better late than never... and if you haven't heard Band Of The Future yet, there's no better time for The Future than the present. Ausmuteants, known best for their demented Devo worship and ragged sense of humor, sound as agitated and deviantly creative as ever throughout the record, The album is brilliantly snide, efficiently tearing through society's myriad problems, music journalists, an industry they want no part of, the politics of culture and sex, and well... science fiction (because of course). The album's title track opens with the line, "have you ever read an article that used the word dystopia?" and the sardonic charm only thickens from there. The record is quick (14 songs in 21 minutes) and razor sharp, demanding attentive listening, best done at a loud volume. The fervor of Ausmuteants' discontent is delightful (in a way that would make Andrew Falkous proud) as they blast through spastic synth punk anti-anthems full of radiant piss and vinegar. Band Of The Future is another great album from a band that are as clever and focused as they are warped and destructive. - Dan Goldin
BUENO | "Illuminate Your Room"
Babe City/Exploding In Sound Records
We’re now more than halfway through a decade that’s seen plenty of nostalgia for ‘90s rock sounds, whether a longing for power-chord grunge or an admiration of wiry, twisted guitar sounds. In this latter category lies the promising talent of Staten Island’s Bueno, a band with a sarcastic charm that distinguishes it from its countless peers. On sophomore album Illuminate Your Room, Bueno frontman Luke Chiaruttini speak-mumbles wry observations via tongue-in-cheek tales rife with real, nonfictional friends, foes, fears, hopes, and loves. Over rickety, dissonant rock sounds that build a bridge between art rock and pop music, he belittles his own emotional undoing on “I Feel So Raw”; he throws indie’s sharpest approximation of a bro, do you even lift? meme into the uncharacteristically Joy Division-like rich man’s fantasy of “Eye on the Cards”; he copes with society’s decay by facetiously accepting its disheveled state amidst the faint overdrive of subdued highlight “Blown Out.” Towards the end of this all arrives a track titled “Burn This Year,” an appropriate mantra for the sheer horror of 2016. Even in the face of everything around them crumbling, Bueno roar through life with confidence and wit too infrequently heard elsewhere. - Max Freedman
CARL SAGAN'S SKATE SHOES | "Carl Sagan's Skate Shoes"
Super Secret Records
Every now and then a debut album comes swarming out of nowhere to leave a huge impression, a reminder that cookie cutter trends and homogenized rock need a swift kick in teeth every now and then. Welcome to Carl Sagan's Skate Shoes' self-titled record, an ugly beast of noise rock, post-hardcore, and jagged punk that borderlines on perfection for anyone that's ever put their trust in Touch & Go, SST, or Amphetamine Reptile's catalogs. The Austin trio revel in volume and filth, a dynamic combo that does wonders for the band's primal influences (Shellac, Hot Snakes, Unwound, and Sonic Youth) and their unique Southern twang. Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes’ album plays like a one band version of Our Band Could Be Your Life for a new generation, a record that brings the past forward rather than looking back. It’s loud and menacing at every turn, but there’s so much texture in the guitar work, songwriting, and the band’s inescapable desire to decimate everything in sight. Every song offers something a bit different, but when delivered together in full, it sounds cohesive and aggressively brilliant. Harsh music is rarely this catchy and bands with these influences rarely do them justice quite like this. Carl Sagan's Skate Shoes is like masterpiece theatre, taking the classics and presenting them in a new light. The band released announced an "indefinite hiatus" and we can only hope it doesn't last. - Dan Goldin
DARK MTNS | "Dark Mtns"
Dark Mtns meanders in with the ambient “Way Home” and settles into a laid-back, hypnotic groove. The album is so casual that it’s easy to dismiss on first listen. However, the strength of these simple but fantastic melodies eventually shines through. “Soft Pink Light” and “R.I.P. Pumpkin” are epic without the pomp and circumstance. The album’s simplicity betrays itself; Dark Mtns is a nuanced and cohesive whole. - Kelly Johnson
[Ed note: I'll be damned if Josh Mackie isn't one of my favorite songwriters in recent memory. After two exceptionally awesome albums with his band Gunk, Mackie has teamed up with Zack Robbins (of Superheaven) to form Dark Mtns, and their self-titled debut is undeniably great. Self released to Bandcamp without warning but for all those paying attention, it is one of the year's best. There's an airy nature to the band's loose slacker pop and indie rock songs, with Mackie and Robbins complementing each other at every turn. Much like Gunk, Dark Mtns create dreamy music with layers upon layers of blissful tones and hooks.]
HAPPY DIVING | "Electric Soul Unity"
Oakland's Happy Diving delivered a riff-heavy, head-bang worthy collection of songs on their first full-length for Topshelf Records. There's plenty of shredding, and plenty of hooks hidden behind the fuzz. Most of the tracks on Electric Soul Unity are short and sweet, with only a handful pushing past the three minute mark. Happy Diving are able to get their point across quickly, loudly, and efficiently. - Dan Manning
[Ed note: If you like warm fuzzy guitar shredding in the vein of Ovlov, California X, Dinosaur Jr, or Screaming Females and for some reason aren't already listening to Happy Diving, now is your time. This is your record. There's an undeniable greatness to Electric Soul Unity as the band utterly demolish with one enormous riff of feedback soaked boogie after another. The sun is shinning on this one.]
NINA RYSER | "I Hope All Of Your Dreams Come True"
Nina Ryser (of Palberta)'s full length debut, I Hope All Of Your Dreams Come True, stood out from the pack this summer, an album full of strange songs that always border between harsh and beautiful, brilliant and juvenile, art and nonsense. It's the dichotomy of those fine lines however that make Ryser's new record so fantastic, it blossoms with new sounds around every turn making it not only dynamic, but genuinely exciting. This is a record you can listen to on repeat, you may not always understand what just happened, but you know you had a great time. - Dan Goldin
SPACE MOUNTAIN | "Big Sky"
Dust Etc/Super Fan 99 Records
Big Sky was recorded at home by Space Mountain aka Cole Kinsler with a singular mic and while there are definite moments of lo-fi, the recordings are radiant and lush with folk and indie vibes coming together to sound something like LVL UP meets Wilco or Built to Spill meets John Fahey. It’s good front porch listening and Big Sky was perfect for the end of summer haze. To be rather blunt, Space Mountain should be a lot more popular than they are. Inspired by the primitive guitar work of the aforementioned Fahey and Jack Rose, Space Mountain's new record shows growth while leaning toward folk music with as much focus on songwriting as the exceptional instrumentals. The guitar tone throughout this record is absolutely lovely. Swooning is both welcome and understood. With Kinsler’s low voice and Americana influenced finger picked guitars, the record shifts between acoustic tranquility and fuzzed out indie dirges, all revolving around Kinsler’s sorrowful baritone and heart breaking lyrics. "Never Lonely," Kinsler's collaboration with Forth Wanderer's Ava Trilling is undoubtably one of the year's best singles (and most likely the year's best guest feature). You should be listening to Space Mountain. - Dan Goldin
STOVE | "Is A Toad In The Rain"
Exploding In Sound Records
The appeal of a song can be mysterious. Many of the most striking entries in the American songbook are elevated by a je ne sais quoi that is better left unparsed, lest some of its magic fall away. Although “Graduate and Congratulate,” from Stove’s Is a Toad in the Rain EP possesses a number of signifiers that resonate with me, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand the unfathomable magnitude of its appeal to me. Is it the otherworldly electric piano that roves through the space of the song like someone who knows they just had what they’re searching for, somewhere in this very room, but just can’t seem to find it? What about a pair of chirping, inexplicably sad guitar solos that sound as if they’re grasping at an unreachable thing, upon which so much depends, despite its ultimate unreachability? There’s the wistful nostalgia over time’s passage, in remarkably pretty images like Steve Hartlett’s “When you see the sun fly through the day” and the opening lyrics, which frame the need to hide who you are from others (“It’s been a while since I had to pretend / hiding my spew from you”). And when he sings “let me drink my feelings down inside,” Hartlett provides a more strikingly accurate description for drinking away one’s troubles than I’ve ever heard a poet render. The lyric “a wishful mind is often then laid down” ashes our optimism with an allusion to Old Yeller’s old timey loss of innocence and childhood trauma. - Josh Ginsberg
THEE OH SEES | "A Weird Exits"
Castle Face Records
If the past decade has proven anything, Thee Oh Sees cannot and will not be stopped. John Dwyer and company (regardless of whom that company may be) have released one impeccable album after another for the past ten years, building from one release to the next, sustaining their past while pushing the envelope ever further with each successive record. A Weird Exits finds the band (complete with duel drummers Ryan Moutinho and Dan Rincon) embracing their garage punk with a raw intensity and a penchant for prog rock inspired divergence. The band's rattled madness sounds as strong as ever when they're jittering through hyper punk headspace, but it's the serene drifts of mind expanded instrumentals and added psych explorations that set this album apart as they use drifting synths, organs, cello and more to soften the palate while keeping things delightfully bent and charmingly deranged. The duel drumming certainly doesn't hurt anything either. Bless Thee Oh Sees, a true national treasure. - Dan Goldin
ZULA | "Grasshopper"
Looking up “zula” on Wikipedia gives a bunch of different results with no common thread. Although the Brooklyn band Zula isn’t among these results, on Grasshopper, it too ties together seemingly incompatible ideas. Opener “Speeding Towards the Arctic” sets the stage with elements of psychedelia, funk, soul, and global music, paired with gorgeously thin vocals that immediately bring to mind Dirty Projectors genius Dave Longstreth. Grasshopper gets no more easily classifiable from there, sprinkling jazz breaths over the tropical bliss of “Getting Warm” with the same audacity and disregard for convention that Talking Heads and Radiohead, both of whom the band cite as influences, remain acclaimed for to this day. Its songs overflow with so many fascinating, disparate inspirations and ideas that they tend to veer on the longer side, which works in favor of abstract, borderless adventures such as “Basketball.” Yet Grasshopper only barely passes the 40-minute mark, a document of balmy, free-flowing experimentation that knows how not to outstay its welcome. More likely, though, listeners won’t ever want Grasshopper to leave. - Max Freedman
THE CHANNELS "Disposable Camera" | CHEENA "Spend A Night With..." | COLD PUMAS "The Hanging Valley" | THE CONQUERORS "Wyld Time" | DINOSAUR JR "Get A Glimpse Of What Yer Not" | EXPLODED VIEW "Exploded View" | JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD "Zone" | KINDLING "Everywhere Else" | MORGAN DELT "Phase Zero" | MUSK "Musk 2: The Second Skumming" | OPPOSITE SEX "Hamlet" | PILL "Convenience" | POP. 1280 "Pulse" | PURE DISGUST "Pure Disgust" | SCULLY "No Sense" | THOMAS QUINTTUS "Warm Empty" | VARIOUS ARTISTS "Start Your Own Fucking Show Space"
ANGEL OLSEN | "My Woman"
With her long awaited follow up to 2014’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness, Angel Olsen returned with her most versatile and musically diverse record to date. While less lyrically focused than her previous works, My Woman defines itself with 10 incredibly dense tracks, pulled together with top notch musicianship. This - of course - isn’t to depreciate any of her lyrics. “Never Be Mine”, painfully and longingly recounts unrequited love with Olsen’s sorrowful and heartbroken voice, while “Those Were The Days” revisits old memories bookended by what have to be some of the smoothest instrumentals on the record. Maybe most interesting here is her striking versatility in songwriting - flip flopping between breezy, saccharine landscapes and punchy, frenetic rock tunes. Pulling the listener through it’s own ebb and flow is what makes this record a breath of fresh air. Additionally, My Woman doesn’t shy away from a stronger emphasis on production quality, and feels like a stark departure from her lo-fi roots in folkier music. This lends itself to a more enriched, matured sound. If her last record brought her to the moon, My Woman is sending Angel Olsen to Mars." - Conor Rooney
[ed note: Post-Trash does not have a "best songs" list but we'd be hard pressed to name a song better than "Shut Up Kiss Me," an undisputed masterpiece]
ANIMAL LOVER | "Stay Alive"
Stay Alive is a wild and abrasive trip though all forms of experimental punk from the band’s noise rock roots to free jazz art rock, and Mission of Burma-esque post-punk manipulation, Animal Lover have created this year's best-kept-secret (despite our best efforts). From the chaotic clattering of the record’s brief introduction to the final krautrock blast of album closer “Waterparks of America,” Animal Lover are locked in and focused, moving between one sinewy idea to the next in short bursts of jagged fury. The band develop their ideas to completion without dragging them past their most primal saturation points. Harsh atonal shredding and disjointed rhythms work together to create complex punk with a skeletal design and uncompromising structure. At times their music is minimal and hypnotic and other times its jittery and loose, but the album is cohesive and utterly captivating from beginning to end. These are not pop songs and the album isn’t exactly “accessible” in the traditional sense but it’s filled with infectious movements and experimental grooves that are sure to leave a lasting impression. - Dan Goldin
CHRISTIAN FITNESS | "This Taco Is Not Correct"
Sure, Future of the Left already put out one of the year's best albums, but it's not enough. It's never enough. Our hero Falco returns just five months later with Christian Fitness' third record, This Taco Is Not Correct, and the lines between the two band's are starting to blur (we mean this as a compliment to Christian Fitness). For those still unfamiliar, Christian Fitness is Falco's "one man band" (not a solo project), and while I may have no idea what the distinction between the two is, it's really not all that important anyway because he's channeled into the same magic that has made all bands so amazing... his untarnished wit, back and as biting as ever. The recordings sound bigger and bolder than Christian Fitness' previous lo-fi efforts and there's drums from Falco's longtime rhythmic counter-part Jack Egglestone, all of which is to say, this is no small matter. These songs deserve further elaboration, as do most of Falco's lyrics, but I leave that for wittier folks than myself. Embrace the sordid and angry world of Christian Fitness, it's the kick in the head of decency we've all been waiting for. - Dan Goldin
THE CRADLE | "The Layers of Honey"
The Cradle is the hyper-prolific solo project of Paco Cathcart (Big Neck Police). Over the past few years, he's established a frantic recording pace, releasing over twenty albums of varying sound experiments, some more song focused than others, some a bit more on the experimental side, all of which undeniably interesting. Over the past few releases however, Cathcart's songwriting has begun to delve further into the psych pop and indie rock spectrum, refining his ability to create experimental recordings that sound accessible, all the while keeping that unique The Cradle charm firmly in tact. The Layers of Honey is built on a blanket of warm buzzing orchestration, allowing Cathcart the freedom to explore blissful melodies, cutting rhythmic pulses, electronic manipulation, and lush psych with a layered and dreamy focus. There's a lot going on in the record's challenging composition, but the brilliant use of space and textures keep things radiant and deceptively gentle. Cathcart creates art rock with an expanded consciousness. Whether channeling folk, world music, dream pop, punk, post-hardcore, ambient soundscapes, or noise rock, his vision remains uncluttered and limitless. - Dan Goldin
FOND HAN | "Sham Cloud"
Exploding In Sound Records
An esoteric, invigorating, and noisy record, Fond Han’s Sham Cloud flits between sheer chaos and breezy rock and does so in a manner that differentiates it from any other record this year. This is no more evident than on “Cali Cruiser,” a blissed out ode that breaks down into catastrophe halfway through, before regaining some of its footing in the final moments. Indeed, throughout Sham Cloud the poppier of Fond Han’s compositions are fighting to gain the upper hand. More often than not, a compromise is reached and they expertly toe the line between reason and lack there of. It is a dynamic that leads to one of the most interesting records this year, and one that takes multiple listens to come to terms with. Luckily, each round will reveal something new and engaging, a true treat from Fond Han. - Niccolo Dante Porcello
THE HECKS | "The Hecks"
Trouble In Mind Records
Chicago trio The Hecks shared their first single "The Thaw" back in June and we were instantly floored. Then they kept us waiting without another single until the full album stream... and it's safe to say the record is every bit as great as we hoped it would be. The band's tangled post-punk sound and experimental indie jangle is reminiscent of bands like Women and Wire, but the band aren't afraid to take hard turns into ambient noise, atonal clamor, and complex psych. The Hecks often pit the band's duel guitarists against one other, intricately weaving melodies into abrasive walls of sound, repetitive rhythmic freak outs, and squealing distortion... and its all pretty miraculous. The Hecks' full length debut is a wondrous record that unwinds over the course of it's ten songs, ripping through chaotic blasts of tension (often without release), harsh minimalism, and incredibly tight post-punk precision. This record is a must hear. - Dan Goldin
IAN SWEET | "Shapeshifter"
Hardly Art Records
There have been several inches of column space dedicated to the resurgence of pop albums in 2016, from Kanye’s epic TLOP to Rihanna’s miraculous 13-track effort, to Frank Ocean’s dependable 17-track Blonde. However, those albums without exception are filled with noticeable marble, excess fat that could have been trimmed with no discernable loss. Jillian Medford, the incredible guitarist and lyricist behind IAN SWEET, is who pop should be taking cues from; Shapeshifter, IAN SWEET’s first full length, is 41-minutes of sheer brilliance. Top to bottom (or: “Pink Marker” to “Pink Marker 2”) Shapeshifter is a perfectly executed snapshot of Medford’s world – one we’re lucky enough to get to visit, if even only for just under three-quarters of an hour. - Niccolo Dante Porcello
J&L DEFER | "No Map"
Exploding In Sound/Defer Records
No Map is an apt title for J&L Defer’s 2016 LP: a record whose various sonic spaces evoke a new geography. On a cold evening at the end of October, I took a long walk down Bushwick Ave to see J&L Defer play at The Silent Barn. Their set was the first I’d seen in Brooklyn in a couple years that was able to conjure a dense otherworldly presence immersive enough to completely alter the mood of the performance space. The noise that Gabriele De Mario and Anita Rufer cull from their guitars evokes the movement in music during the last decade that found Animal Collective and Black Dice striving to make the guitar sound vital in a way it hadn’t since EVOL. Of course, their guitar work sounds nothing like Avey Tare’s or Thurston Moore’s or Eric Copeland’s—melodies spread out in the sonic water like long hair in a bathtub, floating away from its skull. The product of a guitar tandem that demonstrates the importance of both rhythm and lead guitar roles, De Mario and Rufer create black matte motion. Despite or perhaps because of J&L Defer’s impressive textural nuance, their melodies have remarkable staying power. “Hard Fiction Road” remains one of the year’s best songs: its searching serpentine pleas unfold through a chain of pedals and amps so longingly. The soft red glow of “Johnny, Dream” flickers softly as De Mario’s melodies stretch upward and away from the turbid pulse of its foundation like the leafless branches of winter trees. As I walked back into the cold, I felt as though the blank blackness of the Brooklyn sky was an extension of those tones. I had visited another world and it made more sense than Earth. I hadn’t felt like that in a while. - Josh Ginsberg
LEFT & RIGHT | "The Yips"
Left & RIght have created a stunning record full of sludgy guitars and mellow vocals, drawing influences from across the map including everything from Pavement and Pixies to Harvey Milk and Flipper. The Yips is a mixed bag of slacker rock and dynamic indie punk that tackles everything from alcoholism to climate change in cynical bursts and sharp melodies. The band has spent the last two years consistently touring and the live tested songs shine on their new record. I can’t say enough awesome things about this album, but given a listen, the record really speaks for itself. Produced by Justin Pizzoferatto, it’s undeniably infectious as the band tear into a seething distortion, ear candy harmonies, and a cavalcade of toppling drums. They never quite unleash the tension in predictable ways but it works brilliantly with their snaking melodic patterns and bleak charm. Focusing on dynamic songwriting, the record takes the loud-quiet-loud formula and turns it on its head, roaring between hushed "college rock" and crushing sludge pop with a snide charm of everyday relatability. The record rips between lumbering low end dirge, heavy and hooky power-pop, sleepy vocal melodies, wry lyrics, and slow crawling riffs that break like tidal waves. It’s a clever album with big guitar hooks at every twist and turn. - Dan Goldin
LOST BOY ? | "Goose Wazoo"
Little DIckman/State Capital Records
For a long time I thought about how one day, when I’m an old man, I’ll check Pitchfork or whatever equivalent ‘indie music site’ reigns at the time, and read that the man they called Panda Bear has died. I experienced a similar jolt when I received a text from a friend that said that Lost Boy ? was going on an indefinite hiatus. As the brainchild of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Davey Jones, Lost Boy ? should have more staying power than the average rock band. Indeed, since 2010 Lost Boy ? had played scores of shows with about a half dozen lineups. While I feel very confident that we have not heard the last of Lost Boy ?, 2016’s Goose Wazoo would be the perfect parting gift from the long suffering band. The finest and most unsettlingly resonant concept album since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Goose Wazoo offers a cogent portrait of the existential strain of time travel. The gist? Time travel might seem like a way to mitigate all your regrets until you realize repetition doesn’t guarantee eventual success. Exploring the garage, punk and jangle tropes that have proliferated throughout Brooklyn DIY from the scene’s inception, Jones explores regret, loss, time travel and a person’s potential for actual change. Tracked from the ground up by Davey Jones, Goose Wazoo stands beside 1991 at the apex of Jones’ decade old rock project. Whether it comes in the form of Lost Boy ?, or under another name, I suspect the world hasn’t heard the last of Jones’ gems. Goose Wazoo is an album of a rare stripe. - Josh Ginsberg
LVL UP | "Return to Love"
Sub Pop Records
LVL UP’s third full length, Return to Love, is the rare album that directly reflects its creators without being self-referential or frustratingly inaccessible. LVL UP have made a record about their respective experiences in maturation and accessing the larger picture, with each of the three songwriters – Nick Corbo, Mike Caridi, and Dave Benton, furthering their ability to craft thoughtful and immensely catchy tunes. Songs like “Pain,” “Hidden Driver,” and “Spirit Was” enunciate poignant feelings about relentless cycles of love and loss all while smothered in LVL UP’s virtuosic scuzz. In being one of the most openly honest records of the year, LVL UP also made one of the best. - Niccolo Dante Porcello
NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS | "Skeleton Tree"
Bad Seed Ltd.
In the face of an unimaginable tragedy, Nick Cave delivered one of the finest albums of his career. A man who has played with fictional death in many of his songs was forced to confront the very real death of his own son. The result is an album overflowing with grief, sadness, acceptance, and eventually healing. Cave and The Bad Seeds works through loss in front of an audience, tossing the listener into the same emotional pit he found himself in after such a staggering tragedy. Skeleton Tree is haunting, sobering, and absolutely beautiful. - Dan Manning
[Ed note: Skeleton Tree is a crippling album built on the heaviest of emotions. It can be a lot to take in, but there's a sense of beauty in Cave's grieving process, captured in his songs as he brings the listener into his intimate process. "Magneto" is one of the record's darkest moments pull his desperation deeper as the light struggles to exist.]
PEAER | "Peaer"
Tiny Engines Records
Peaer’s new album hits with all the gut-wrenching glow of a brand new crush. Opening track “Pink Spit” uniquely starts with solo piano introducing us to the progression and melody that permeates the rest of the song. The album’s closer ends with one of my favorite guitar solos of all time. Jerk, twitch, spasm. A gorgeous mess. It makes your brain bend in ways it never has before. The whole record has spectacular mountains and valleys of tension throughout. A mound of fallen Jenga blocks. Nails in a floorboard. Inflating a balloon and then pricking it with a safety pin. Blurry vision. Leaving the party. It’s got this sorta warmth, but also a darkness. Like a fireplace, maybe. One of those fake fireplaces you gotta plug in. Looking through the windshield obscured by rainwater as headlights from the other lanes hit. Blatant sincerity. Yearning. Plopping down on a corduroy couch for a long night of watching television in the dark. - Joe Gutierrez
SUN ORGAN | "People In The Distance In The Dark"
Even if the rest of the album wasn’t fantastic (it is), People in the Distance in the Dark would be worth the price for “Couple Years” alone. An ode to youth and denying the anxiety of time, the song’s chorus begins, “All my friends know we still got time,” but by the end it becomes, “All my friends hope we still got time.” The incisive lyrics are paired with a mammoth chorus begging to be shouted along with your pals at the party. The rest of PitDitD is difficult to pigeonhole; there’s beautiful bedroom pop (“Decay”) and stretched-out, Built to Spill-like jams (“Sunset Life 2001”), but all uniquely Sun Organ. - Kelly Johnson
TRUE WIDOW | "Avvolgere"
True Widow have done it again, just like we knew they would. Without straying too far from their "doomgaze" formula, the ever consistent Texas trio's latest album, Avvolgere, captures their magic and reminds us why they've become the past decade's best "slowcore" band. It's slow and heavy, combining filthy guitar tones with perfectly bleak production and gorgeous melodies. The duel vocals of DL Phillips and Nicole Estill captivates as always, each offering their own characteristically stoned detachment over unnerving sonic bliss and fuzzed out monoliths. The band pick up the pace without deviating their sound, adding nuance while offering wavering adjustments of bad moods and downtrodden beauty. When in doubt, there's always True Widow. - Dan Goldin
TURNIP KING | "Laika"
Fire Talk Records
Turnip King gives us a lot of hope with their debut album Laika; hope for the reinvention of a decorated shoegaze tradition, and hope for the future of transcendent avant-garde pop. Unlike many shoegaze pioneers, Turnip King’s music does not adhere to a singular genre-tag, and it certainly does not wash over its listeners. However, It instead provides them with the sonic space to access the deepest and sharpest of their thoughts. The energy behind the LP gives us something familiar to reformulate as our own warmth—as Laika, the album’s namesake, was the first animal ever to orbit the planet earth, Laika forces its listeners into pods of themselves only to be shot out into the atmosphere to hear themselves think. - Gilad Jaffe
WAREHOUSE | "Super Low"
As a fairly recent Atlanta transplant, it has been inspiring to watch Warehouse grow as a band. Having toured with some of the Northeast’s most forward-thinking bands (Krill and Palm), they sort of serve as Atlanta’s musical ambassadors. In a lot of ways super low feels like the culmination of what they have been pushing toward for the past few years. Opening track “Oscillator” could fool you into thinking that super low is full of experimental guitar tracks in the vein of Warehouse’s debut Tesseract, but the rest of the album is full of the most well-crafted pop songs the band has written to date. The music is still full of twists and turns, but the routes are planned out more meticulously. “Simultaneous Contrasts” is possibly the catchiest thing that the band has put out, but it is the subdued and brooding title track that grabs me the most. - Nathan Springer
AUTOLUX "Live At Third Man Records" | BRAVE RADAR "High Season Blues" | CHOOK RACE "Around The House" | CHRISTINA SCHNEIDER "Violence Etcetera" | CROSS COUNTRY "Trials" | DANNY & THE DARLEANS "Bug Out" | DD OWEN "DD Owen" | DUST FROM 1000 YRS "Spring" | EX-CULT "Negative Growth" | GOBLIN COCK "Necronomidonkeykongimicon" | LA FONT "Swish 2" | MELKBELLY "Mount Kool Kid b/w Elk Mountain" | MOMMY "Songs About Children" | NOTS "Cosmetic" | OPTIONS "Maxed Out" | PORCHES "Water" | PREOCCUPATIONS "Preoccupations" | SAM EVIAN "Premium" | SHARKS' TEETH "It Transfers & Grows" | SNEAKS "Gymnastics" | SWEET WILLIAMS "Please Let Me Sleep On Your Tonight" | ULTIMATE PAINTING "Dusk" | WARTHOG "Warthog"
BIRTHING HIPS | "No Sorry"
No Sorry, the full length debut from Boston's Birthing Hips is the latest essential record in a long list of the cities proud "weird punk" scene. Pushing the boundaries of melody (and more importantly anti-melody), the quartet have created their own mutant pop sound that bubbles and pops with seedy post-punk experiments at every turn. Just as quick as Birthing Hips develop a sweet melody they've deconstructed its parts and left a pile of rubble in its path. It's amazing to hear the band break down mid-song only to rebuild and decimate once again. No Sorry thrives on its unpredictability, but it's their strong songwriting and knowing control that allows them to dive headfirst into walls of jagged and atonal abandonment. Loose and noisy, Birthing Hips' songs are still pop friendly at their core and it's a genuine treat to see how far they can devolve from there. - Dan Goldin
DUCHESS SAYS | "Sciences Nouvelles"
How do you capture the essence, the beauty, of a live show in a recording? This has been a main challenge of the studio album perhaps since its inception; it’s a formidable feat that Duchess Says should, in theory, face an even tougher time conquering than most bands would. A Duchess Says show involves vocalist A-Claude simultaneously screaming and staring right into fans’ faces, viciously walking across audience members’ heads, and displaying a generally terrifying, almost militaristic demeanor on stage. 2011’s In a Fung Day T! bottled this explosive, unstable stage presence into a package of frenzied punk chants that aptly reflected the band’s unbelievable live show; its follow-up, this year’s Sciences Nouvelles, trades in this raw fervor for a gloss that’s far more clearly labored-over and clean-cut than in the past. It’s the grounded, artful side of a band known for roughly the opposite, and boy does it work. The kraut-like grind of red-hot punk anthem “Negative Thoughts” slickens the band’s sound without minimizing it, and “I’m An Idea” makes synth-punk seem equal parts badass and scholarly. Sciences Nouvelles is the sound of punks shelving the minimal amount of ire required to pass as maturing, expanding their audience without ditching their diehards. When A-Claude belts “I give a fuck!” repeatedly across long-time fan favorite “Pink Coffin,” it’s clear Duchess Says means it more than ever before. - Max Freedman
GREYS | "Warm Shadow"
Greys have spent much of this year proving that everything you thought you knew about them is simply the beginning. Earlier this year they released Outer Heaven, a politically conscious record that traded in the bands "noise rock" tendencies for slick pop centric punk that teetered between dreamy emo, pop-punk, and post-hardcore. The results are mixed (depending on your personal tastes) but their ability to push boundaries is radiant. Which brings us to "Fresh Hell," the first single from the now released Warm Shadow, a companion album that has Greys digging into their most experimental sounds; delving into tape loops, Liars-esque art punk, and lo-fi fuzz rock. "Fresh Hell" rips with repetitive throbbing rhythms and blistering intensity and well... it could just be my favorite Greys song released to date. Warm Shadow is no mere filler, but rather a chance for Greys to get weird, dig into their more experimental itches, and come out with a set of songs that are raw and loose but filled with excitement and sonic brilliance. - Dan Goldin
MANNEQUIN PUSSY | "Romantic"
Tiny Engines Records
The soft/loud dynamic shift has been, uh, duly noted in the vocabularies of music critics since roughly 1987 when the Pixies first moseyed down the mountain and into our hearts (by way of Best Albums Ever lists published in magazines like Blender during the early 2000s). But I can’t think of a single band who’s done the soft/loud thing as well as Mannequin Pussy, maybe ever. Nirvana was supposed to be really good at this dynamic shift with songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “In Bloom,” “Come As You Are” and the rest of the tracklist of Nevermind, but actually listen to “Lithium” and it’s not even fucking funny how pathetic Nirvana’s soft to loud jump sounds compared to what Mannequin Pussy achieves during the first 12 seconds of “Romantic.”
On three occasions, Mannequin Pussy’s “Romantic” transitions from a pummel and grind so visceral that you can almost feel your skull turn to ash to a verse so gentle and vulnerable that you actually cannot stop yourself from thinking wistful thoughts. Mannequin Pussy’s most achingly naïve lyrics exist in this space, which is something like a sparse, sprinkling of snowflakes drifting slowly downward in a vast lightless night. The listener exists in this space of almost pre-human solitude, as Marisa Dabice intones a thread of consciousness that mirrors the extremeness of the song’s broader tonal shifts. She sings, “You would sleep with me / if you could / do so comfortably / you’re so sweet,” as though to assure herself that the spatial dimensions of her bed are responsible for the feeling of isolation implied by the instrumental arrangement of the verse. The next line finds Dabice diverting her attention from the question of whether or not her lover shares her desire to sleep in the same bed and focusing on the discomfort she feels in a space where “everyone…looks like everyone else.” In less than a second, Mannequin Pussy begins their ascent to the Olympus of hardcore abrasion and Dabice unleashes a sustained, throat-destroying “I’m in hell” that (1) amps you the FUCK up and (2) reads as an incredibly sad sign that she cannot and will not attribute the source of her frustration accurately. Dabice’s speaker will instead go on pointing a finger at the ugliness of external facets of “society” instead of reckoning with the internal turmoil she feels as the result of feeling rejected and lied to by her lover. Romantic is a great 18-minute blast of noise and insight but it’s also the kind of album that really feels like a harbinger of what’s to come. - Josh Ginsberg
MARCHING CHURCH | "Telling It Like It Is"
Sacred Bones Records
Marching Church, the permanently slurred Nick Cave worshipping solo project of Iceage frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt is back with a new album that feels loose, vibrant, and full of unprecedented character. While his debut album felt dragged through the depths with atonal melodies, oft indistinguishable vocal ramblings and experimental dirges (which unlike some snootier websites, we still greatly enjoyed), Telling It Like It Is is well... kinda pretty, or as pretty as the detached vocalist can get while uttering phrases about being "fist fucked by destiny" and themes of delusion. The instrumentation swells with deep piano, bubbling post-punk guitars just underneath the mix, and a spritely rhythm courtesy of the project's new line-up that include further members of Iceage, Lower, and more. Atrocious album cover and title notwithstanding, this could just be the finest record we've heard from Rønnenfelt yet. - Dan Goldin
SLIP DISCO | "Come Clown"
Exploding In Sound Records
Slip Disco (formerly Mattress Financial) is the side project of Sam Rosenberg from Two Inch Astronaut. At first listen, Slip Disco, centering on quiet acoustic songs, might seem like quite a departure from the raucous discordance of Two Inch. But Sam’s intricate guitar, off-kilter bittersweet chords, and wide-ranging vocals give the two projects a similar feel despite the disparity in decibels. Sam’s personal lyrics and careful acoustic guitar comprise the centerpiece of Come Clown, but other subtle additions compliment Sam’s playing: backup vocals from Sadie Dupuis (Speedy Ortiz, Sad13) and instrumentation from Jesse Weiss (Grass is Green), Matt Gatwood (Two Inch Astronaut), and Mike Siegel. Much like Sam’s Mattress Financial release (Private Split, with Fond Han), Come Clown is short but very sweet. Since both albums end sooner than I want them too, I usually listen to them one after the other, then maybe a few Two Inch albums for good measure. - Ggregg Stull
SUPER UNISON | "Auto"
Only one band in 2016 has the distinction of nearly causing me to miss a flight, and that's Super Unison. Auto was recommended to me the day before Thanksgiving, and I made the mistake of giving it a first listen while waiting at my gate at Laguardia. Nevertheless, I was so mesmerized by the absolute gut-punch of what I heard that I didn't notice until it was almost too late that my flight was boarding.
Super Unison formed from the ashes of frontwoman Meghan O’Neil Pennie’s former Bay Area-based hardcore band, Punch. With Punch, she mostly stuck with manic howling over relatively straight-forward rapid-fire hardcore punk songs; but with Super Unison on Auto, the music is much more varied – allowing Pennie more room to breath and letting her better utilize her absolute haymaker of a scream. Beyond just Pennie’s vocals, I find myself returning to Auto for the truly impressive musicianship - i was shocked to learn that Super Unison is a trio. So, definitely give Auto a listen if you haven't already - just don't do it in a place you can't afford to sit stunned in for the next half hour. - Marcus Gauthier
AXIS: SOVA "Motor Earth" | THE BLIND SHAKE "Celebrate Your Worth" | CASPER SKULLS "Lips & Skull" | HALFSOUR "Charm School" | LATISHIA'S SKULL DRAWING "Romanticized" | MALL WALK "Funny Papers" | OOZING WOUND "Whatever Forever" | NOCTURNAL HABITS "New Skin For Old Children" | PURLING HISS "High Bias" | REALLY BIG PINECONE "What I Said About The Pinecone" | TAPE DECK MOUNTAIN "I Will Break U" | TONY MOLINA "Confront The Truth" | UNIFORM "Ghosthouse"
A TRIBE CALLED QUEST | "We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service"
For most of 2016 there’s been this ad popping up in my Facebook newsfeed. It shows a panel from a Peanuts strip with Charlie Brown looking dejected. As he looks down to the sidewalk, Charlie Brown speaks: “I still miss Phife Dawg.” I miss Phife Dawg. I really do. He shouldn’t have had to leave this world at 45 years old. But if I’m being honest, I’ve been missing Phife Dawg for some time.
We Got It from Here... is the last album before Phife's death but it’s also the first album about Phife's death. "Lost Somebody"—which channels an aesthetic native to the 1990s from which A Tribe Called Quest was completely divorced—finds Q-Tip and Jarobi (who emerges as a solid emcee on We Got It From Here) eulogizing Phife Dawg, beginning with his conception. The lyrics are corny and the gesture is trite but it's corny in the same way that 2Pac's most sentimental songs are. Phife is dead (and back, and dead again) minutes after he talks about the hitting ability of AL pitchers and “pussy stew” (whatever the fuck that is).
We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service gets interesting when its sentimentality veers into stranger territory. Hearing a prototypical "my name is Phife and I'm here to say" verse situated within the context of "The Donald," a track eulogizing Phife, built around Busta Rhymes' repetition of Phife Dawg’s name is surreal and discomforting. Hearing an artist featured on his own elegy is not uncommon in Hip Hop but hearing a verse Phife recorded more or less contemporaneously included alongside Q-Tip and Busta Rhymes tributes to his death causes temporal dissonance. This production decision on the part of Q-Tip disrupts the illusion that a song ever exists in real time and makes a striking statement about the suddenness of death. Songs like “Mobius” and “The Killing Season,” which do not feature Q-Tip or Phife, reimagine A Tribe Called Quest as a collective of old friends who came out to trade lines and have fun. On We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, Q-Tip, Phife Dawg & Co. have created a record that proves it’s possible to revive the joy of youth in middle age and simultaneously grieves the loss of a childhood friend. This thematic dichotomy, more than the caliber of the songs themselves, is what makes We Got It From Here… a wonder. - Josh Ginsberg
Aa | "ZebrAa"
Fire Talk Records
Aa's inspired rhythmic gymnastics are in fine form on ZebrAa, a record built on jagged drums that shift time (and space) with a stuttering brilliance. The pounding beats create a dense landscape, thick like the forest and bustling with activity between the trees. Aa have a knack for manipulating polyrhythmic force and their onslaught of multi-drummer experimentation lends itself perfectly to their thundering brand of psych. It's not all clattering rhythms though, as primal vocal yelps and howls drift in and out of focus, buried beneath caterwauling synths, glitchy electronics, and blaring sirens that cut the through the stampede. It's quintessential Aa, a dangerous and delightful mix of hypnotic wonder and dissonance. - Dan Goldin
ESP OHIO | "Starting Point of the Royal Cyclopean"
Robert Pollard released new albums this year as Guided By Voices and as a solo artist (and a few other projects) but it's his latest band, ESP Ohio, that really left an impression on us. Reunited once again with Doug Gillard (GBV) and Mark Shue (GBV, Beech Creeps), the band is rounded out by Travis Harrison (who has worked on albums with Built to Spill, Dope Body, etc) and the chemistry is immediately radiant. Starting Point of the Royal Cyclopean sounds like a relic from Pollard and Gillard's finest efforts... which is to say it sounds a lot like classic Guided By Voices... with an extended palette. It's big and anthemic, with new textures and ancelary instrumentation pushing the songs down divergent paths. It sounds classic and strikingly new, a breath of fresh air from a songwriter who is always three albums ahead of his latest release. Pollard's band comes through to flesh out his vision, wriggling with pop proficiency as they do their best to set a new sonic experience to his enormous catalog. "They can't all be zingers" or so the expression goes, but ESP Ohio is a gem in Pollard's unending opus. - Dan Goldin
FORTH WANDERERS | "Slop"
Slop, Forth Wanderers’ follow up to their excellent debut Tough Love, showcases the band refining their comfortable, precise, and (above all) catchy sound across four unforgettable tracks. “Slop,” and “Know Better,” perch on lilting guitar lines that are as invigorating as Ava Trilling’s lyrics, and the rest of the band adeptly fill in the space between their interplay. Forth Wanderers are a band for people who have grown dissatisfied with both wistful romance and aimless guitar-rock.
Their brand of clean, immaculately wrought pop is vital and yet humble, as if they know that it both doesn’t matter and matters a whole lot. Songs about being young and navigating relationships have rarely sounded as nice or felt as relatable as in the hands of Trilling and the rest of Forth Wanderers. - Niccolo Dante Porcello
GOBBINJR | "Vom Night"
The term “bedroom pop” is just as dependent on feeling and theme as it is on literal musical attributes — the best bedroom records give off a vibe of isolation that can only come alongside whatever circumstance caused the artist to make something so soft and dreary in the first place. gobbinjr’s vom night is a textbook example. its six endearingly catchy tunes are at times upbeat and at others self-effacingly plodding, but never outside the context that songwriter and instrumentalist Emma Witmer just needs some alone time to figure it all out. vom night‘s real power, however, lies in its accessibility; the ease at which it offers an understanding hand to the audience and allows them to feel comfortable admitting they’re scared shitless, too. - Eli Shively
HELLRAZOR | "Satan Smile"
New Professor Music
We had the pleasure of sharing the premiere of Hellrazor's full length debut and our obsession with this album only grows with each passing day. Michael Falcone and co. put on a master display of how to write punk songs with hooks that rival the best pop smash-hits. The balance of the record's gritty production and gnarled sludge pop assault coupled with their propensity to write an infestation of melodic earworms is unparalleled. Like an evil genius bent on (indie) world domination, Falcone and Hellrazor dive between the spaced out hum of "Nova," the menacing pummel of "Allergic," the utterly infectious "Zilch" and the blues assisted noise punk of "Sad Satan" with a loose burning disregard. Hellrazor rip through the record with a smirk on their faces and a brilliant sense of honest fucking songwriting. Don't let the word "pop" scare you, Satan Smile is still very much a punk record... a punk record with a heart of gold. Remember when you first started listening to Nevermind and you realized it was a record packed with sneakily dissonant pop songs and it kinda blew your mind... welcome back. - Dan Goldin
LOWER PLENTY | "Sister Sister"
Bedroom Suck Records
While Lower Plenty share members with Deaf Wish, Total Control and The UV Race there's little aggressive or "punk" about the trio who favor acoustic instruments and natural feelings to anything too abrasive or distorted. There's still dissonance though and a defiant looseness to their sound as songs like "Glory Rats" showcase their bristling outlaw country with a one foot tangled in tightly wound blues and the other ensnared in a harmonized gospel psychedelia while "Ravesh" prefers atmospheric and deconstructed noise folk. While every songwriter really shines throughout Sister Sister (a large part of what makes the band so great), Sarah Heyward really steals the show on tracks like the infectious and ominous "So It Goes" (just listen to those violins) and the gentle "On Off On Off". There's a darkness that presides over the entire record, but it's easy listening, the front porch kind of soundtrack that balances lush ballads with moments of soft spoken no-wave. It's folk for the end times. - Dan Goldin
NINE INCH NAILS | "Not The Actual Events"
As of this moment I have only listened to this EP twice due to the fact that it was released this morning. Here's what I can say on second impression and why I feel compelled to include it here: Nine Inch Nails have been one of my favorite bands since I was old enough to have a favorite band. I grew up with the band from "Head Like A Hole" to now, and I've been a proud fan ever since. Not The Actual Events was promised as "an unexpected left turn from 2013’s Hesitation Marks and sounding unrecognizable from their current film work." Trent Reznor said, “It’s an unfriendly, fairly impenetrable record that we needed to make" and his words are apt. TheEP is dark and immediate, full of dense noise, harsh electronics, and ominous guitar distortion in a way that most reminds me of the late era classic, Year Zero. There's a great deal to unpack with each listen, but it's clear that Not The Actual Events is an exceptionally welcome addition to the band's "impenetrable" side. - Dan Goldin
NINE OF SWORDS | "You Will Never Die"
2016 has sort of pissed everyone off, yeah? For many obvious reasons, this year has mostly and thoroughly sucked. With that said, just the thought of having new music from New York based Nine of Swords had me all giddy for 2016. With a record under their belt, some singles here and there as well as a gripping live set - the band were slated to release some of the most exciting punk of 2016. In November they delivered on that promise, letting loose on 13 absolutely brutal tracks with You Will Never Die. Originating form SUNY Purchase, the energy that Nine of Swords has always seemed to carry translates tenfold into this new record. Take "Wild Strawberries" as an example - where frenzied instruments are painted against singer Rachel Gordon’s scathing vocal delivery. From start to finish, this entire record bursts at the seems with raw excitement, there will not be any room to breathe. - Conor Rooney
STOVE | "Is The Meat That Fell Out"
Exploding In Sound Records
Stove’s second EP of 2016, Is The Meat That Fell Out comes with a big development on the part of drummer Jordyn Blakely’s vocals. Blakely’s harmonies give lift to Steve Hartlett’s leads on almost every song on the EP and her songwriting and voice occupy the fore of new single “Blank.” Despite the involvement of Blakely’s fellow Jackal Onasis member Alex Molini (who plays bass in Stove, engineers and mixes their records and adds his ghostly keys), “Blank” still totally feels like a Stove song. It possesses the same mopey strum-along vibe that has made this year’s two Stove EPs feel distinct from Steve Hartlett’s work as Ovlov and Stove’s debut LP Is Stupider. Beneath the alternately wispy waves of rhythm guitar, Hartlett retains his ability to induce ennui, like when he sings “The will to live leaks like a sieve” on “The Meat.” Stove balances their melancholy (palpable on “Blank” and “Favorite Owl,” too) with the bustling, noodling rock of “Bubblegum Lightning” and the Loveless meets Wowee Zowee second single “I’d Walk A Mile for a Camel.” A most fulfilling dose of rock, these Stove EPs are. - Josh Ginsberg
SURFACE TO AIR MISSIVE | "A V"
It's safe to say that Surface to Air Missive are at the top of their game, so to speak. The glorious psych pop project of Athens by-way-of Tallahassee native Taylor Ross has returned with A V, his latest sun blasted vision of pop exploration. Diving into a world full on wonder and never ending intrigue, Ross invites you deep into his wormhole of sticky sweet melodies and kaleidoscopic pop. Blending together modern exploration and retro psych pop influences, Surface to Air Missive have captured a sense of pure imagination with lush acoustics, unusual progressions, and layered organs and recorders. It's a scenic view into a beautiful world that may only exist in the collective subconscious, but it's beautiful regardless. - Dan Goldin
THEE OH SEES | "An Odd Entrances"
Castle Face Records
Upon hearing the singles from Thee Oh Sees' new companion EP, An Odd Entrances, I wasn't immediately sold. The spaced out retro psych seemed cool but it wasn't necessarily what I wanted out of Thee Oh Sees. I was wrong... dead wrong. After listening to the record on feverish repeat, it could just be one of my absolute favorite albums the band has done. I have spent the past two months listening to this record with devout obsession, letting their world of psych and punk mellow out and simply drift. It's subdued and reminds me of all the best moments of Pink Floyd (Meddle and More in particular), in the greatest of ways. In a time when we need an escape, this is a great album to lose yourself in. Split between three instrumentals and three songs with vocals, it's a dazzling voyage deep into the unknown as the band flex both their greatest strengths and continue to explore new ideas over a decade into their career. - Dan Goldin
TREDICI BACCI | "Amore Per Tutti"
I've said it several times already but it always bares repeating, there's nothing else out there quite like Tredici Bacci. The Italian pop meets spaghetti western meets post-punk collective led by Simon Hanes bring orchestrated soundtrack music to its furthest reaches, tossing in the kitchen sink of influences from jazz and funk to soul and classical music. It's perfectly composed to sound natural in every element, capturing the magnitude of Ennio Morricone's finest work while expanding into the sultry sounds of classic Italian pop with sweeping beauty and a childlike wonder. You will not hear another record like Amore Per Tutti. You need this album. - Dan Goldin
URANIUM CLUB | "All Of Them Naturals"
Static Shock/Fashionable Idiots Records
Uranium Club's All Of Them Naturals is the reason you wait to make this year-end spectaculars. Released on December 16th, the Minneapolis post-punk's sophomore record is impossibly tight and infinitely enjoyable. To put it in real simple terms, It's one of the best punk albums of the year. All Of Them Naturals is presented by a faux corporate overlord and we're all simply drones in their grand scheme, a futile future of chemical control with an art-punk soundtrack as deranged as it is focused. Uranium Club are reveling in the Devo-indebted world of demented post-punk, feverishly blending harsh and hypnotic synth punk, cartoonish aggression, and detached rhythms. It's agitated punk with a snide sense of humor and an excited demeanor. Uranium Club have delivered a masterpiece in sarcasm, an ode to society ("we built the wheel / it's easy, it's just a wheel"), the future ("now that its the 21st century, I only get high on video weed"), and the corporate structure ("you tailored the suit, but I make the loot") with twitchy stop/start rhythms, warped riffs, and tangled melodies. They may wear their influences on their sleeves, but they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and there's no one doing it quite like Uranium Club. - Dan Goldin
AD.UL.T "No, Thank You" | THE ADVENTURES OF THE SILVER SPACEMAN "Bare Bones II: Electric Earth" | BREAST MASSAGE "Cruisin' For Filth" | BRUISE BATH "Bruise Bath" | CREEPOID "Burner" | CZARFACE "A Fistful of Peril" | DEAD TENANTS "Ten Dead Ants" | DEATH PEDALS "Meat House" | DOOMSDAY STUDENT "A Self-Help Tragedy" | FREDDY BEACH "Lost Weekend" | HUNG TOYS "Welcome To Repayment" | THE INTENDED "Time Will Tell" | JACUZZI BOYS "Ping Pong" | LEAPLING "Killing Time" | MARK SULTAN "BBQ" | THE MEN "Devil Music" | NEW FRIES "More" | PERMIT "Vol. 1" | PLUM PROFESSIONAL "Employee Handbook" | REBEL KIND "Just For Fools" | SAD13 "Slugger" | SKYDADDY "My Very First Rodeo" | SLANTED "Prang Wince" | SOAKER "Soaker" | SUN YOUNG "Sun Young" | TYVEK "Origin of What" | VERY FRESH "Hey, It's Me!" | WE LEAVE AT MIDNIGHT "The Holy Rolling Flower Band"