Albums of the Year – 2016 – Part 3

6,5,4,3,2,1, go!

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6. Primal Scream – Chaosmosis

“More Light” was the dark, brooding, brass knuckle side of Primal Scream.  Chaosmosis is the Technicolor, grooving, silk shirt wearing side.  It’s fun, dancy and easy to take for granted from your first listen.  From the first track, in fact.  “Trippin’ on Your Love” is laced with Haim backing vocals and I would hate to be caught listening to it in public.  But the song’s wah wah guitar keeps the whole thing grounded and launches the album from the get go.  Bobby Gillespie is obviously in a good phase here.  It’s hard not to be there with him.

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5. The Cult – Hidden City

The best Cult record since “The Cult” and a direct descendant as well.  The one-two punch of “Hinterland” and “GOAT” anchor the middle of the record.  Before and after those songs is a mix of “Love” like balladry and slightly scuffed “Sonic Temple” arena rockers.  There’s no real reason this band should be out there doing this except for the fact that nobody does a great Cult record like the Cult.

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4. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

What a head fake, Sturg.  Just when everyone thought they had you pegged as the ultimate classic country revivalist, you go and do a late-career Elvis Kung-fu move – complete with brass.  This is an album to be devoured in one sitting.  It starts with a tender, almost schmaltzy song directly addressing his son and continues as a chronicle of the life of Sturg.  Along the way it passes ports of call, drug busts, and Nirvana.  Simpson is a young guy so it seems premature.  That said, it’s only a guide to earth.  Maybe other planets will follow.  After this there’s no reason to believe they won’t.

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3. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – I Had A Dream That You Were Mine

I told my wife this should have been called “The Three Quarters” album.  That’s because save for “1,000 Times” none of the songs kick in until ¾ of the way through.  That and the fact that the show stopper of the album for me, “The Bride’s Dad”, roughly hits around ¾ of the way through the album.  Fractions aside, this is a barn burner of an album from the talents of The Walkmen and Vampire Weekend.  It could have been recorded in 1955 or 2055 and it would still be as remarkable.  Not an album that takes hold without some commitment but when you put in the time, it returns in spades.

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2. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

When I saw this album start to appear on blogs and music sites on the internet, I didn’t think much of it.  I didn’t know who Josh Homme was, nor had I paid attention to Iggy since “Brick by Brick” when my mom asked me if he had just said he had to “scrape the concrete off of his dick”. Yep, Mom.  But when I finally got around to listening to this album, something inside me lit up.  It was a hell of a submission to a hell of a catalog.  Start to finish, it’s an album by a punk who never stopped being punk and who just, well, never stopped.  Iggy’s 69 now and no less ferocious that he was when he recorded the song, “1969”.  This album forced me to reexamine his whole career, album by album.  This was also the year I got to take my girls to see him.  Had it not been for Iggy, this year would not have been nearly as rock and roll as it was.  Had it not been for David Bowie, this album would have been number one on this list.  Of course, had it not been for David Bowie, this album would have probably never happened.  Fitting to have the one and two slots on this year as they are.

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1. David Bowie – Blackstar

There’s not much that can be written about this album that hasn’t already been written 1000 times.  There’s just no way to top it this year.  It was the whole performance piece.  From the release, to the music, to the packaging and the disappearance of the Starman and/or Black Star, himself; this will never be matched in my lifetime.  The album is a haunting, bittersweet, perfectly executed meditation on mortality.  David Bowie was a genius until the end.

Part One Here

Part Two Here

 

 

 

Albums of the Year – 2016 – Part 2

Let’s get right into 12-7, shall we?

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12. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

This band had me at “I’m so sick of, fill in the blank”.  This sounds like just the type of thing to cleanse the lacquer sheen off of pop music.  It’s the Ramones if they had written songs over 3 minutes long and The Hold Steady of they were 20 years younger.  It’s Pavement if they would have ever considered sampling The Cars.  Will Toledo’s Napoleon Dynamite vibe is grating at times but it’s also what makes the band stick out.  The album is hugely familiar but completely unique on its own terms.  They’ve pulled off a huge feat here.  The test will be to see if they can do it again.

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11. Steve Mason – Meet the Humans

This is the weakest of the once-Beta Band front man’s solo albums.  It’s very conventional in song structure and is almost void of the dread of his previous two works.  In doing so, he’s traded some of the raw emotion and weirdness of his earlier works for melody.  Some days this works in your headphones and others, not so much.  Even still, it’s got some great melodies.  Try to listen to “Water Bored” and not get that “Cause you can break it, ooh” refrain stuck in your head.

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10. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

When this first came out I called it “A Moon Shaped Poo”.  I couldn’t find a way into the record.  It was like “Burn the Witch” happened and then the whole thing just disappeared.  Which it still does to some extent unless you are listening to it with a large tumbler of bourbon in one hand and the lyrics in the other.  It’s an album to focus on.  If you don’t you might not hear it at all.

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9. John Cale – M:Fans

A reworking of his 1982 album “Music for a New Society”, “M:Fans” is harrowing in a whole other way.  Where his 80’s album was the sound of someone in the throes of addiction and in a downward spiral, the “M:Fans” album is one of the artist retelling a story that happened ages ago.  Some events are out of order, others are mis-remembered but the story is still a gripping one.  For Cale to be putting out work of this quality, with this kind of edge at 75 is heroic.  One of the most under-rated artists of our time.

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8. Miike Snow – III

I don’t know why this album did not get more notice this year.  Maybe Miike Snow have jumped the shark and having them on this list blows my cred worse than including Sting.  If so, it’s a shame because they’ve delivered an absolutely delightful autobahn record here.  It’s synthy, dancy and has a real melodic punch. Not a stinker on this one. May even be better than their first two – of which I both loved.

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7. Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger

Another music legend delivers another excellent album.  “Stranger to Stranger” is the lighthearted cousin to “So Beautiful or So What” from a couple years back.  It is an album focused on sound with Simon using all sorts of weird instruments to great effect.  From the opener “Werewolf” to the closer “Horace and Pete” the album teases you in with sound and keeps you there with the lyrics and the stories Simon tells.  Simon, also 75, is exploring like a man a quarter of his age and executing like a pro.

Part One Here

Part Three Here

Albums of the Year – 2016 – Part 1

This has been an incredible and eventful year for music.  We’ve lost several superstars including one of the greatest musical personalities of all time in David Bowie.  In positive news, my childhood hero, Sting, has come back to the pop music scene after a decade in the lute filled wilderness.  Out of nowhere, Iggy Pop’s late-career masterpiece has led me to gobble up the rest of his discography and left me wondering how the hell I missed it the first go ’round.

Some consider 2016 to have been one of the worst years ever.  Of course, I think that’s impossible to say without some distance.  The losses in the music world were sad but we gained some promising new blood in a little band called Car Seat Headrest.  But for me, this was largely a year of the old pro’s being on top of their game.

This is also the year that my girls declared their favorite bands.  For my oldest, it’s the Beatles.  For my youngest, it’s Iggy Pop.  Unless you know my kids, you don’t know just how fitting that is, nor how happy it makes me.

OK, onto the list.  Like last year, this will be in several installments.  Let me know what you think in the comments.

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18. Drive-By Truckers – American Band

The DBTs get political here.  About the last thing I needed in my life was more politics.  Don’t get me wrong, the writing is pretty sharp but what’s missing are the fun character sketches of the Truckers’ previous albums.  I don’t mind politics in music but a lot of this just comes off as preachy.  But the red vinyl is cool.

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17. Bob Mould – Patch the Sky

The third in a trilogy of sorts for Mould, “Patch the Sky” is a solid latter day Bob Mould record.  That said, it’s not much more than that.  Nothing really sticks out on it.  Or, maybe after 3 records of superb Mould craftsmanship, I’ve started taking him for granted.  Either way, a solid Mould album trumps one like “Modulate” so I’m not complaining.

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16. Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day

I should really be forced to play this record every time I miss church.  The whole thing sort of reminds me of the one time I went to a Southern Baptist church service in rural Texas.  Something about all of the hellfire and brimstone really appealed to me.  The same thing happens with this record.  Something about recognizing and coming to terms with our flawed nature as humans has always had an appeal.  Parker Millsap nails that mood on this record.  If sinning and redemption had a soundtrack, it might well be this record.

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15. Andrew Bird – Are You Serious

Am I taking Andrew Bird for granted?  That could be.  This is a good album and the duet with Fiona Apple is a real standout.  Otherwise, it’s just a good, solid Andrew Bird record.  Is there really any other kind?

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14. Wilco – Schmilco

This album grows on me a little bit more with every play.  But it’s far from one of their best (a tall order) and the cover is just awful.  I think I may not have found the right mood to listen to it.  It’s notable that the only song that rocks is “Locator” and “Common Sense” is absolute garbage.  A close cousin of Tweedy’s solo debut, I can tell there’s something in this but can’t yet decide what it is.  Confused?  So am I.

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13. Sting – 57th and 9th

First off, when I was a kid I had Sting and Police posters all over my room.  When I listen to a Police record, I get the same type of feeling that I got when I first heard “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”.  So, I’m a fan.  That’s why I was so happy to see Sting come back into popular music.  His first effort in over 10 years in that vein is no disappointment.  It’s a solid Sting solo album.  It’s hard to say where it ranges in his solo canon but it faces some stiff competition.  That said, he pulls off some very difficult political commentary without sounding preachy.  He tackles global warming and the refugee crisis and I don’t get the urge to skip the songs.  The writing is solid though not stellar and somehow it all seems a little aloof.  What does it compare to?  I think it’s a close relative of “Brand New Day” in feel.  Not a bad thing.  Welcome back, Sting.

Part Two Here

Part Three Here

The XX– Forum Karlin, Prague, November 29, 2016

The XX show last night a Prague’s Forum Karlin blew the pants off the one a few years back at the big room at the Lucerna downtown.  The Lucerna show was fine performance and setlist wise but the sound was horrible.  At that show, there were none of the gut-rattling low frequency elements of the band’s work and so the music lost a lot of its punch.

Last night’s show was a different story.  The performances were inspired and Prague’s Forum Karlin proved to be a perfect venue for the band.  The place was literally filled to the rafters and the sound was impeccable.  They covered all stages of their career with a couple of new songs, songs from the first two XX albums and some highlights off of DJ/percussionist Jamie XX’s recent solo album.  In fact, Jamie stole the show toward the end of the set.  His contributions mixed in and even mashed-up with XX classics and really gave a kick to the proceedings.  I’m not usually one for DJ’s but this guy’s got some serious talent.

I’m looking forward to seeing what this young and able band releases on their next album. If last night was any indication, it should be worth the wait.