In no particular order…
Nick Cave Skeleton Tree (Kobalt)
Ryley Walker Primrose Green (Dead Oceans)
Franklin Kiermyer Closer to the Sun (Mobility Music)
Primal Scream Chaosmosis (Warner)
Jayhawks Paging Mr. Proust (Thirty Tigers)
Alejandro Escovedo Burn Something Beautiful (Fantasy)
Ork Records New York, New York (Numero)
Jimi Hendrix Machine Gun (Legacy)
Blind Owl Wilson (Mississippi)
Chris Robinson Brotherhood Anyway you love, we know how you feel (Silver Arrow)
During a year which brought profoundly tragic news in the music world, I am once again reminded of the redemptive solace of that music – the power of rhythm and melody to restore balance and meaning to our psyches in the face of seemingly unrelenting despair. The following is a small representation of some of the sounds that made my life endurable in 2016.
David Bowie Blackstar (ISO)
As a coda for a creative life well-lived, you couldn’t do better than Bowie’s final studio album. Plenty of ink has been spilled picking this one apart; I can only add that Blackstar would make the top of most ‘best of’ lists this year, even if Bowie had blessed us with a couple more decades of music-making. Beautiful, moving, slyly witty, and full of grace. Thank you, David.
Konono No. 1 Konono No. 1 Meets Batida
When these Congolese street musicians exploded on the scene a few years ago with their car-battery amplified likembes (thumb pianos) and beat boxes made from old packing crates and toaster ovens (I’m guessing here), their sound grabbed my ass and threw it around the dance floor like it was possessed by something delightfully unholy. This year, they teamed up with Angolan electronica wiz/producer Batida to create my favorite record of the year. I can’t stop playing it. It is pure rhythm, designed to make you move in ways that foot-washing Baptists guarentee will send you straight to hell. They are right. I am okay with this.
If you threw Gong, the Casiokids, the Strawberry Alarm Clock, some traditional Andean musicians, and a couple tabs of purple microdot in a blender, you would get something like the Swedish commune/band Goat. Or not. Swirly, hypnotic washes of sound, with an unsettling mix of non-Western tones and a rush of bat wings over your shoulder, Goat manages to sound both vaguely familiar and deeply alien at the same time. Voodoo from the Great White North.
Uncovered Treasure: Not a new release, but discovered this year,
Villancicos y Danzas Criollas de la Iberia Antigua al Nuevo Mundo 1550-1750 La Capella Reial de Catalunya/Hesperion XXI/ Jordi Savall
Released in 2003 on the Spanish AliaVox label, this is dance and vocal music from the period of Spain’s conquest of the New World. A blending of classic European styles with popular music of the native peoples and colonists of South and Central America, this is one of the most intriguing musical discoveries I’ve made in many years. I don’t tend to associate this period of the Iberian Counter-Reformation with joyful noises. It is a real ear-opener to listen to the pre-Baroque and Baroque composers of the era blend their more formal musical structure and polyphony with the rhythms of Africa and the Amerindians. The result is pure delight, bubbling with pleasure and joie de vivre. It almost makes you forget the Spanish Inquisition.
David Bowie Blackstar (ISO)
Thank you David Bowie, for all the…everything.
Iggy Pop Post Pop Depression (Eagle Vision)
An august work from local lad Jim Osterberg. Juggling rage, contentment, joy, angst, and wonder, his tone and voice are thoughtful (Iggy until of late overlooked as one of rock’s intellectuals) and wry throughout. Scream of the year belongs to “In the Lobby” and the celebratory “Sunday” has as its coda the prettiest music you’ve ever heard on an Iggy record.
La Femme Mystere (Born Bad Records)
If it weren’t for the Strong-Works-by-Legendary-Heroes category topping my list, this would be as good a pick for favorite of the year, just based on repetition of play alone. Pushing all sorts of buttons for me, and the most hook laden record of the year for sure. By way of description, think Blonde Redhead plays Morricone.
Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool (XL Recordings)
Johnny Greenwood’s work in film scoring is paying dividends for the band with these string arrangements, but the band throughout is strong. “Burn the Witch” a great opener. No one does ecstatic dread better, and with the uncertain times ahead, I feel we have yet to see Radiohead’s best work.
Peter Baumann Machines of Desire (Bureau B) Played this at home a lot!
Warpaint Heads Up (Rough Trade)Hooky, atmospheric, almost early Cure-like at times. Love the fact that even though it’s bleary, arty rock, there are vestiges of the classic girl group sound in the singing. And the good drumming!
Pantha du Prince The Triad (Rough Trade) Every other year or so a record comes out that makes me nostalgic for the present. And this one’s danceable. Emotionally rich, expressive like poetry, hummed.
Brian Eno The Ship (Warp/Opal) Soothing, and unexpectedly jarring. Escape from by swimming, indeed! Better with every play. Is there a term for cinema of the ears?
Fatima al Qadiri Brute (Hyperdub) Opening as it does (realistic sounds of protesters being warned to stop recording by riot squads, crowd dispersal) in a heightened state of awareness, the chillness of the tones that follow may come as a surprise, but they only seem relaxed/relaxing. Captures the anxiety of the fucked year without saying a further word. One of the best album covers of the year, too.
Biosphere Patashnik (Biophon) Spooky. Ambient. Occasional pulsing. Yum.
Okay, I know Jim’s list is running long, but…Here are some records containing material that was not NEW but that had never been released before, making a kind of sub-category I thought (mostly so I could just list a bunch of records though…)
Bernard Fevre Orbit Ceremony 77 (Medical Records)
Betty Davis Columbia Years 1968-69 (Light in the Attic)
Conrad Schnitzler Film Music 1 (Bureau B)
Suzanne Ciani Live Buchla Performances ’75 (Finders Keepers)
Moebius Musik fur Metropolis (Bureau B)
Radiophonic Workshop 21 (Silva Screen)
And these are my picks for favorite Reissues of 2016:
Various Artists Michigan Nuggets (Belvedere) At longfuckinglast!!!
Manuel Gottsching E2E4 / Inventions for Electric Guitar Pioneering!
Peter Baumann Romance 76 (Bureau B) Lost classic!
The Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl (Apple) Yes, louder!
David Bowie Who Can I Be Now? (Rhino/Parlophone)
Blonde Redhead Masculine/Femine (Numero)
Various– Early Pakistani Dance Music from Films, Vols. 1 & 2
Dudley Moore & Peter Cook Soundtrack to Bedazzled (Trunk) Title track!
Top Ennio Morricone reissues of the year:
Amonte d*Oltretomba (Overdrive) Organ heavy, spooky.
Vergogna Schifosi (Carosello Records) Sixties orgy kitsch.
In no particular order, for no particular reason.
Nicolas Jaar – Sirens (Other People)
Innercity Ensemble – III (Instant Classic)
Solange – A Seat At The Table (Saint Records / Columbia)
Sheer Mag – III (Static Shock / Wilsuns)
A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic)
Cymbals Eat Guitars – Pretty Years (Sinderlyn)
Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition (Warp)
Demdike Stare – Wonderland (Modern Love)
Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book (Self-Released Mixtape)
Childish Gambino – Awaken My Love (Glassnote)
These last three I count as a triptych (for thematic reasons):
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker (Columbia)
David Bowie – Blackstar (Columbia)
Nick Cave – The Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed Ltd.)
Vince’s Picks (This one goes up to eleven.)
Jacques Brodier – Xhos De Villemahu (Penultimate Press)
Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra – Les Deux Versants Se Regardent (Clean Feed)
RED Trio + John Butcher – Summer Skyshift (Clean Feed)
Pascal Niggenkemper Le 7ème Continente – Talking Trash (Clean Feed)
Mary Halvorson Octet – Away With You (Firehouse 12)
Oren Ambarchi – Hubris (Editions Mego)
Various Artists – Indian Talking Machine (Sublime Frequencies)
Big Star – Complete Third (Omnivore)
Evan Parker – As The Wind (Psi)
Steve Roden – Every Color Moving (Sonoris)
Philippe Besombes – Anthology 1975-1979 (Cleopatra)
Big Star – Complete Third (Omnivore)
The I Don’t Cares – Wild Stab (Dry Wood)
David Bowie – Who Can I Be Now? (Rhino / Parlophone)
Terry Reid – The Other Side Of The River (Future Days)
The Beatles – Live At The Hollywood Bowl (Capitol)