All hail the Musical Waffle end of year musical round-up! Come, peasants, and bow down at the feet of he whose opinions must be worshipped! Marvel at the KNOWLEDGE!
End of year lists are, we all know, a bit silly. Anyone who writes about music knows this, and yet they spend almost the full last quarter of the year fretting about them. It’s the only time of the year that they feel truly of use, free of the shackles of having to satisfy PR people, and safe in the knowledge that there’s a sizable chunk of people who will trawl them, looking for gems they might have missed throughout the year. If they’re really lucky, one of the bands might spot that they put them on the list, and a good old fashioned circle jerk can commence, with added social proof for both parties.
So… Shall we just get on with my list? For I am ‘they’.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: Before we do that, the good people at Tha Knows wrote the absolute best end of year list I’ve ever seen, so do go check that out. It’s a thing of wondrous glory. Then, let's all spare a few minutes for all the writers at TotalRock, and the office and backroom staff, especially anyone who have just lost their job a few weeks before Xmas. I've been there before, and it's tough.
2016 has been, let’s face it, not a great year. Pop stars falling like things that fall easily, far right lunatics grabbing power by the pussy, and oh yeah, the whole thing where the country I live in turned out to be full of racist dickweasels who’d rather not listen to people who actually know what they’re talking about because they want to get rid of the muslimists, or something.
On the other hand, 2016 has been ridiculous for new music. Properly bonkers. Every week has had at least one great new album, and there were weeks when I could barely listen to all the good stuff coming out before the next Friday came around. I’ve seen people writing up their personal top 100 albums of the year, and they’ve actually missed stuff out. Don’t worry, I’m not going to list my top 100, although I probably could. No, I know my format, and that’s pithy album reviews in segments of 25.
So, here are some pithy reviews of my top 25 albums of 2016.
1. The Black Queen – Fever Daydream: You’d think that in the year one of my favourite ever bands releases one last album, and it’s a corker, that it’d be a shoe-in for my album of the year, right? Not the odd, electro-pop side project of its lead singer? Well, The Black Queen is easily my album of the year, despite being almost the polar opposite of what I’d normally listen to, yet returning to my generic streaming device more often than anything else. It’s so good, and it’s completely challenged my own preconceptions of my own taste, which isn’t bad for a load of gloomy pop songs with shiny keyboard hooks all over them.
2. Cult of Luna with Julie Christmas – Mariner: This collaboration between two pillars of alt-metal royalty is absolutely staggering, a post-metal journey through space with a petulant, hissing, feral child for company. That I managed to see the whole thing live and have it be one of the greatest gigs of my life only serves to cement the glory of this album.
3. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociation: Bye bye, Dillinger. The most interesting and dynamic band in hardcore bow out with an album singular in its purpose; to go out on an outrageous high. The heavy bits are almost unbearable in their technical ferocity, the melodious bits as breath-taking as anything they’ve ever recorded. Not bad going.
4. Oathbreaker – Rheia: Holy fuck. I’ve always rather liked Oathbreaker, with their blend of hardcore, black metal and post-metal, but Rheia was not so much a leap forward as a Wile. E. Coyote-esque ACME catapult forward. Haunting, devastating, brilliant, and so fucking bleak in places as to be a perfect howl of rage for this stupid year.
5. Black Mountain – IV: A swirling blend of British psychedelia, stone rock and fuck off great big pop melodies, this was an album I went into with virtually no expectations and which has been on heavy rotation ever since. They may be Canadian but they sound British as hell.
6. Haken – Affinity: As much as I like prog when it’s joined onto other things, the real deal doesn’t really do much for me, Floyd aside. When I stumbled across this and assumed from the cover that it was a Causa Sui-style stone rock album, I was rather surprised when it worked its audacious prog hooks into me. Properly summery and mind bending music, and I think I’ve been in need of that an awful lot this year.
7. Every Time I Die – Low Teens: Whilst maybe not quite the planet-leveller that From Parts Unknown was, this latest effort from the kings of party-hardcore whizzes along like the firecracker of an album it is. It sounds absolutely huge, and Keith Buckley’s vocals and lyrics are once again a cut above the generic hardcore that they’re a world away from.
8. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool: The sheer volume of great albums this year means that I’ve not paid as much attention to some albums as I’d like to have done, Radiohead’s latest being one of those. Not to say I’ve not really enjoyed it, but I suspect a few more listens to really let it sink in might have seen it a few places higher up.
9. Bossk – Audio Noir: I saw Bossk play to about seven people in a shitty pub in York, years ago, their mostly instrumental post-rock/metal really rather splendid, even then. They fell off the radar, only to re-emerge signed to ‘greatest label on earth’ Deathwish Records, and releasing this, an album with a sound thick enough to flatten the pub I’d once seen them in. Moving from haunting glacial melodies to riffs thicker than a brexiteer, this is absolutely cracking.
10. Causa Sui – Return to Sky: As kings of the (admittedly tiny) fiefdom of Danish instrumental psychedelic stoner jazz rock, this followed 2013’s Euporie Tide in being a much more focused, composed effort than their jazzier, early work, but gosh darn do these Danes know how to work a groove. Splendid stuff.
11. Black Peaks – Statues: A real genre-bender, throwing in hardcore, math rock, prog, emo, and post-rock, this is a cracking, original debut by a British band, which invariably means they’ll implode sometime in 2017, then reform in another ten years. I think I’ve seen this film before, you see. *cough* earthtone9, Raging Speedhorn, Sikth, Pulkas, Labrat *cough*.
12. Astronoid – Air: A really strange one this, musically akin to Black Metal, but with an almost dreamlike, shoegaze production, and emo-pop vocals over the top of it. It shouldn’t work, yet somehow it really does, creating an oddly calming, joyful listening experience.
13. Deftones – Gore: While the arrival of a new album by what was once the most exciting band in the whole world doesn’t quite illicit the same pavlovian response in me as it once did, this is another in a long line of ‘damn solid’ albums from the Sacramento alt. metallers. Eschewing the harder edges of their sound almost entirely, this occupies an almost unique soundscape in modern metal. Which is nice.
14. Russian Circles – Guidance: Taking the post-rock sound and layering riff after bruising riff on top of it, Russian Circles are fast becoming the most reliably excellent band in what is a fairly saturated scene at this point. If it’s toe tapping, head nodding instrumentals you’re after, Russian Circles are the band for you.
15. Emma Ruth Rundle – Marked for Death: This second solo album from ‘her from Red Sparrowes and Marriages and that’ is every bit as haunting, glorious and heart-breaking as her first, which is to say it’s very much all of those things. A rather stunning work of gloomy genius.
16. Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason: My fervent admiration for alt. metal’s most technical wonders has slipped a lot over the last decade, with a string of albums that didn’t really grab me, and a terrible genre of music (ughhh, djent) inspired by them. But this is them back to their pummelling, dizzying best. Maybe it’s the return to live recording over technical wizardry, maybe it’s just that I really needed something this stupidly heavy in my life this year. Either way, this was brilliant.
17. clipping. – Splendor & Misery: In a year when I expanded the scope of hip-hop that I listen to, there was a fair amount of new stuff that was pretty staggering, too, with a few albums that didn’t quite make the list. This, however, was the pick of the bunch. Intellectually challenging, sonically masterful, I’ve never heard anything quite like it. To give you an idea of just how dizzyingly brilliant it is, check out this three part exploration of the album. That’s right, it’s an album so packed with ideas and brilliance to merit someone writing three whole articles on it, which sounds like the sort of thing I would do. Except I didn’t.
18. 40 Watt Sun – Wider than the Sky: Shorn of the crushing doom and distortion of their earlier work, this stripped back, languid doom-rock is haunting and really rather lovely, allowing Patrick Walker’s vocals the space to really breathe. I chuffing loved it. It’s a fairly late release in the year, but given a few more months with it, I may have placed it higher.
19. MONO – Requiem for Hell: I love these mad Japanese instrumental loons, with their staggering walls of beautiful orchestral swell, and their new album is no exception. Breathtaking.
20. Conan – Revengence: This came out at the beginning of the year and has been my go-to album for when I want to hear bass tones likely to rupture my kidneys when played at the right volume. Every now and again you need a bit of oof in your life, and there’s none-more-oof than Conan.
21. Neurosis – Fires Within Fires: While not exactly a disappointment – it’s a fine album – I’ll admit that I was expecting more than this delivered, which is why its languishing down in the 20’s, rather than trying to push The Black Queen off the top of the pile. I adore this band, and I’ve given this a fair few spins, but if it’s anything like the last two albums, I probably won’t fully ‘get’ it until I’ve seen it live.
22. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid: Just a damn fine hip-hop album, with Aesop’s deadpan delivery the perfect vessel for his dry wit and sharp mind, backed by some of the best beats of the year. I thoroughly enjoyed this.
23. Hesitation Wounds – Awake for Everything: A hardcore super-group made of people from bands I’m not a huge fan of, this actually knocked it right out of the park. Somewhere between Converge and Blacklisted, in a year when the likes of Nails, Trap Them et al have failed to impress me much, this has been on pretty heavy rotation.
24. SubRosa – For This We Fought the Battle of Ages: Hey, are you looking for something to totally nail the mood of unrelenting misery and doom that encapsulates this year of our lord and satanic master? Well, you really should be listening to SubRosa. Atmospheric to the point of claustrophobia, crushingly heavy but also hauntingly gentle and beautiful, this probably should be higher up the list, but who can be arsed to control x, control v, in these dark days?
25. Goat – Requiem: I kind of missed this, until the theme song to the excellent Crimetown podcast reminded me to go back and give it a chance, and I’m really glad I did. Close in vibe to the best stone rock, with a completely different tonal palate, this is a great listen.
So there you go. There’s a stupid amount of stuff that didn’t make the list that would have walked onto it in any other year – Boyfrndz, Seven Sisters of Sleep, North, Thrice, Kemba, any one of the eleven million albums that Omar Rodriguez Lopez released – but hey, you have to draw the line somewhere.
I was going to say, it’d be nice if we could have another year this musically brilliant in 2017, but then I remembered we’ll all be too busy building our nuclear bunkers and trying to fight the rising tide of fascism for all that.
Anyway, I’ll be back with a playlist to soundtrack that apocalypse in a few days. Until then, why not let me know which album I’m an absolutely raving lunatic for leaving off the list?
Welcome to Discovery Park – the chronicle of my increasingly frustrated attempt to listen to every album on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums of all-time list, is available now on Amazon Uk, Amazon.com, iBooks, Kobo, and many more.