Thursday, February 2, 2017

Top 10 albums of 2016

The real AOTY?

Another year of music is in the books, and frankly, I feel less enthusiastic than ever about the state of modern music. That's not to say that there wasn't some great new music released in 2016. I just find myself becoming less dedicated to weeding out the good from the bad with each passing year. It was all I could do to avoid putting the above album on my top 10 list this year. When a live album recorded 15 years ago and comprised exclusively of songs that were originally released 26 years ago threatens to crack your annual list of top 10 "new" albums, it's probably a sign you've lost your passion for discovering new music (even if said live album is by the greatest band in the history of recorded music).

So yeah, while it was great to see Ween make their triumphant return in 2016, I had a difficult time mustering much enthusiasm for this year's top 10 list. Still, duty calls in the form of my annual Village Voice Pazz + Jop ballot. I put in my due diligence -- giving at least a cursory listen to the vast majority of promos sent my way and checking out a bunch of recommendations from trusted friends -- and managed to come up with one more list for one more year. As in years past, I've included the points I awarded each album on my ballot (100 points to distribute amongst the 10 albums, with none receiving more than 30 points or less than five).

10. Skeleton Wolf - Skeleton Wolf [5 points]
This is one of those albums I probably wouldn't have heard of had a promo not landed in my inbox. Skeleton Wolf's debut album is an amalgam of myriad metal styles, including black metal, death metal, thrash, NWOBH and hardcore punk. It isn't perfect, but the band strikes a nice balance between serious musicianship and tongue-in-cheek lyrics. These guys clearly love the music that has influenced them, but they're not above acknowledging metal's goofier trappings as well.

9. Band of Horses - Why are You OK [5 points]
"Casual Party," the lead single from BoH's latest, is the weakest song on the album and probably caused me to sleep on this one a little. It's still not as good as their first two albums, but is better on the whole than their last two.

8. De La Soul - and the Anonymous Nobody... [7 points]
For as much as everyone wanted to talk about how amazing A Tribe Called Quest's new album was last year (and it was a really good album), as many people seemed to overlook another comeback effort by their Native Tongues brethren De La Soul. The live instrumentation and genre pushing make this the most forward-thinking hip-hop release of the year, while still maintaining enough of an old-school vibe to please this admitted classic rap snob.

7. Nails - You Will Never Be One of Us [7 points]
This is pretty straightforward early '90s Earache-era grindcore: extra crispy distortion, growly vocals, blastbeats and a bunch of one- and two-minute songs. If you liked this stuff back then, Nails will be a welcome throwback to a (mostly) bygone era. If you've always thought grindcore is just too loud, angry and nihilistic, Nails isn't gonna change your mind.

6. If These Trees Could Talk - The Bones of a Dying World [7 points]
I've always had a soft spot for heavy instrumental post-rock, but too often instrumental bands tend to overcompensate for the lack of vocals with pretentious technical virtuosity. If These Trees Could Talk create songs that resonate for their memorable melodies and structure, much like traditional lyrics-driven music.

5. Trap Them - Crown Feral - [9 points]
Maybe not quite as enthralling as their 2014 masterpiece, Blissfucker, but still a great release from the hardcore veterans. Punk and metal have been combined in countless different ways over the past 35 years or so to varying degrees of success, but few bands have highlighted the best aspects of both genres as effortlessly and seamlessly as Trap Them.

4. Spirit Adrift - Chained to Oblivion [10 points]
This is damn-near perfect doom metal. Nothing particularly fancy. Just slow, heavy riffs complemented by powerful, melodic vocals. Few do it better that Spirit Adrift.

3. Frank Ocean - Blonde [12 points]
In my top 10 a couple years ago, I made a snarky comment about this not being the place to find yet another music writer waxing poetic about the brilliance of Frank Ocean. This is me officially eating crow. I'm not much of an R&B fan, but Ocean transcends any genre confines. Sparse, introspective and soulful.

2. 40 Watt Sun - Wider Than the Sky [19 points]
Part of the reason I felt comfortable stating above that few bands do doom metal better than Spirit Adrift is because one of the best doom metal bands in the genre's storied history no longer plays doom metal. Normally, that would be cause for disappointment, but in the case of 40 Watt Sun, it's a revelation. Listener's familiar with the band's 2011 debut, The Inside Room, or singer Patrick Walker's previous work with seminal British doom purveyors Warning might be taken aback by the subdued nature of Wider Than the Sky. But once you get past the initial shock of not hearing a single distorted guitar riff, this actually seems like a natural progression for the band. It's difficult music to categorize. It's melodic, melancholy and deliberately paced. It might not be heavy in the metallic sense, but it still packs plenty of emotional heft. Doom pop, maybe? Doomgaze? Whatever you call it, its beauty is undeniable.

1. Suns of Thyme - Cascades [19 points]
Yet another album I probably wouldn't have heard if not for the promo that was emailed to me, and yet another band that's difficult to categorize. The music is reminiscent of '60s psychedelic rock, but the vocals have a distinctly '80s New Wave vibe. It sounds like an odd combination, to be certain, but goddamn does Suns of Thyme make it work. The album is incredible throughout, but even among a plethora of great songs, "Aphelion" stands out as one of the best songs of the decade. I look forward to hearing where Suns of Thyme go from here.


Well there you have it: another top 10 list in the books. I don't know if this year's list will be my swan song as a music writer, but if it is, it's been a fun ride. Thanks for reading, and please leave me a comment below if you loved or hated my top 10 this year.

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