Thursday, 16 March 2017

Live Review - Grails: The Deaf Institute, Manchester, 10/03/2017



Artist: Grails
Date: March 10, 2017-03-16
Venue: The Deaf Institute

Now entrenched on foreign soil, there is no better way to mark the occasion by witnessing a band that has eluded me for some time (or more specifically, me eluding them – refer below). Portland stalwarts, Grails. Having previously missed their 2013 Brisbane show due to a major fuck up on my part (criminally, I thought it was the day after they played), from a personal point of view, this show has some historical implication.

Manchester’s Deaf Institute is a nice venue, with loud acoustics evenly spreading out the sound across the well-worn floorboards. Opening act, Majeure, is a worthy choice, producing a frenetic  kraut/space rock pastiche but expanding the boundaries further to something likened to Lightning Bolt.

After Majeure’s warm reception, the stage is set for one of Portland’s finest acts. With little fanfare, after their sound check Grails enter the stage and shred ‘I Led Three Lives' - an excellent opening track and performed with a raw vigour that is not replicated on record. Later in the set, ‘Deep Snow’ receives similar treatment, washing over the Manchester faithful very nicely indeed.

Throughout the night material from the band's Black Tar Prophecies series provides a nice psychedelic back drop and gives the crowd enough time to catch their breath. Cuts from new long-player, Chalice Hymnal, are scarce and given the performance of drummer, Emil Amos, it's hardly surprising. 

Where Hymnal possesses more cinematic leanings, Amos' craft behind the skins remains fully harnessed by the band’s back catalogue of work. The mastermind of the excellent Holy Sons (I know, I’ve talked about that project at length throughout these parts), Amos could be mistaken as the mongrel offspring of either Keith Moon or John Bonham. As drummer for the spiritual doom purveyors, Om, Amos’ drumming is more of a shimmering undercurrent of percussion as opposed to the thunderous and behemoth-like snare toil that is the centrepiece to the Grails cannon. Guitarist, Alex Hall's heavy-ended riff-a-rolla cuts through perfectly while the underrated Zak Riles adds the intricate harmonics and noodlings with clever finger picks that round out the band's sonic manifesto.

‘Origin-ing’ is a full on post-rock assault and is the perfect way to end the night, or so I thought... The encore sees 'Reincarnation Blues' ripped through at a snarling pace while arguably Grails' finest cut committed to disk, ‘Silk Rd’, is a blood and thunder bastardisation of anything Ravi Shankar ever did. It is quite simply flooring.

It's a stellar performance and one that dispels the notion of these hipster dickheads suggesting that the post-rock genre is on the wane. Band's like Grails continue to be a beacon for instrumental music, providing sonic interpretations that enhance the post-rock pantheon. In the live arena, Grails can match it with any other. They are simply that good.

Words and photo by Simon K.   




Saturday, 10 December 2016

2016 Albums of the Year: Top 30


So, here it is. Another year and with it more wrinkles, less hair and an expanding waistline. Living the dream! Suffice to say, it’s been an odd year for all the well documented reasons to which I won’t go into. We’re lucky that we have music to get us through, though, right?

In any case, my waffle from previous top 30s has been somewhat reduced this year, for I am swapping the sunny climes of Queensland, Australia for the cooler metropolis of Liverpool, Merseyside over in ol’ blighty, therefore my time has been largely taken up with packing boxes (including vinyl), applying for visas and so forth. Again, it’s been a great year for music and below are my favourite thirty long players. Hope you enjoy:


30.
Artist: Kid Canaveral
Album: Faulty Inner Dialogue
Label: Lost Map Records

Scottish power-poppers, Kid Canaveral, strike me as being one of those dependable bands who are immune to making a bad album. Although their third album, Faulty Inner Dialogue, is my first encounter with the Scots, I imagine their first two albums are equally just as impressive (upon further investigation since the time of writing this, it has proven so). Scotland has always manufactured great indie-pop acts, but Kid Canaveral aren’t your run-of-the-mill pop collective off the conveyor belt. Unlike their contemporaries, they replace the feminine skin-and-bone leanings of twee with more muscle, adding shoegaze and power chords to an evolving framework. Kid Canaveral are a band that possesses all the hallmarks for your dyed-in-the-wool cult following; the ultimate band to treasure for the music nerd.

Favourite Tracks: First We Take Dumbarton, Pale White Flower, Listen to Me.


29.
Artist: The Skiffle Players
Album: Skifflin’
Label: Spiritual Pajamas

Without truly being able to floor me, Cass McCombs has always intrigued me. His involvement with Neal Cassel and The Skiffle Players is as close to anything that has, though *. Skifflin’, although rather low-key, operates close to the bone of psychedelia while staying true to the roots of folk. It’s something that would resonate with fans of The Grateful Dead and is a gorgeous collection of songs which provides the perfect backdrop for a road trip across America. In fact, Skifflin’ feels like one of those great American folk albums that form the fabric of the country’s landscape, which, in conclusion, is a shame considering the little press it has 
received this year. Even some fans of McCombs’ solo work are yet to stumble across it.

* Then came Cass’s new solo album – more on that later.

Favourite Tracks: A Star for You, Skiffle Strut, When the Title Was Wrote.


28.
Artist: Conrad Keely
Album: Original Machines
Label: Superball Music

After years of sonic toil, …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead frontman, Conrad Keely, has splintered off from the mighty Deads to carve out an impressive debut solo opus in Original Machines. It’s Keely’s Robert Pollard moment, knocking out twenty-four songs in under an hour. Unlike Pollard’s lo-fi ditties that sometimes fail on the quality control front, Keely has trimmed the fat off the ToD sound template and presented a melange of anthemic chords and raw pop melodies. There’s a lot to like on Original Machines which seldom wavers in quality. Although it probably won’t garner many new listeners, ToD devotees will find a lot to like here. Admittedly when ToD are concerned us diehards aren’t that hard to please, but partiality aside, Conrad has added another feather to his cap here. 

Favourite Tracks: Inside the Cave, All That’s Left is Land, Out on the Road, Before the Swim.


27.
Artist: Kevin Morby
Album: Singing Saw
Label: Dead Oceans

With two albums already in the bag, former Woods bassist, Kevin Morby, really arrives with his third LP, Singing Saw. Although the Dylan comparisons will be rampant, it’s worth pointing out that Morby manages to form his own identity throughout Singing Saw. While a worthy stereo listen, it’s with headphones that Singing Saw really reveals itself. The subtle horn sections and soul singers provide a lovely orchestral-like backdrop for Morby’s stories. It’s an album which contains a slew of tender moments and it’s these passages that transcend this release from a good one to a great one. While Singing Saw sees Morby arrive at his creative arc, I would urge those who are yet to indulge in his back catalogue to do so. It’s just as striking. 

Favourite Tracks: Drunk and on a Star, Destroyer, Ferris Wheel, Water.


26.
Artist: Lone
Album: Levitate
Label: R&S Records

Like Zomby, Matt Cutler, under the guise of Lone, brings us nostalgia through the snapshot of ’90s rave with his latest album, Levitate. However, his ability to weave an impression ensconced in the modern leanings of tech-house, not to mention the misty crate digging soundscapes, is a striking exploit. While a lot of electronic albums embark in self-indulgence and incessant knob-twiddling that almost feels like a journey from dusk till dawn, Levitate is very much an in and out approach, clocking in at under thirty-five minutes. In a landscape where electronic music has been in somewhat of a lull during the past eighteen months, Levitate does a good job in presenting us a nexus between the past, present, and future.

Favourite Tracks: Alpha Wheel, Vapour Trailer, Breeze Out.


25.
Artist: Ed Kuepper
Album: Lost Cities
Label: Prince Melon

The former Saints man continues to churn our modestly fine albums and his latest oeuvre, Lost Cities, is no exception. With over forty-five albums in the bag, Lost Cities occupies the upper echelon within Ed Kuepper’s temple of sounds. Kuepper’s involvement with the Last Cab to Darwin OST is evident here, for those sonic remnants throughout the soundtrack remain here on Lost Cities and the album is better for it. Kuepper has created a proper Australian album here. I find that most artists from Australia these days appear to have lost the identity of localism, instead embracing American ideas culture, or the like. Kuepper is an old school purveyor and Lost Cities is a fine representation of good music that has been produced from these shores. It’s a charming sparse tour-de-force and a fine addition to his already impressive arsenal of long players.

Favourite Tracks: Pavane, What Can I Leave You?, Some Said, Queen of the Vale (That’s V.A.L.E.).


24.
Artist: The Besnard Lakes
Album: A Coliseum Complex Museum
Label: Jagjaguwar

Where end of year lists are concerned, releasing albums so early in the year can be hazardous in the realm of forgotten quantities. Unfortunately, The Besnard Lakes’  A Coliseum Complex  Museum probably falls into this trap and while many will suggest that the band’s fifth album doesn’t stray too far from their sonic template, when that template is so monolithic, then sometimes it’s not such a bad thing. ACCM  is a slow burner, but when it cottons on the results are fascinating. The Besnard Lakes’ neo-psychedelic shoegaze assault is raucous as much as it is ethereal. The band has conjured up a gale-force of melodic psychedelia, tailor-made for small rock clubs and these songs will add further mass to their already awe-inspiring live show. Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas have pulled off yet another coup here.

Favourite Tracks: The Bray Road Beast, Golden Lion, Nightingale, Tungsten 4: The Refugee.


23.
Artist: Julia Jacklin
Album: Don’t Let the Kids Win
Label: Polyvinyl Record Co.

There’s always an album in my end of year list that creeps up and lands a flooring one-two combination. Julia Jacklin’s Don’t Let the Kids Win is that album. The Blue Mountains native has delivered a folk gem here. The album is top heavy with backing-band ditties not too dissimilar to Angel Olsen and while these tracks are impressive, it’s when Jacklin strips it back to just her and an acoustic guitar when things go to another level. Along with Olsen, there are also leanings of early Devendra Banhart, as Jacklin takes us through her stories about airports and growing up in Australia. It’s a majestic piece of work and highlights her precocious gift. Quite bluntly, over the years I’ve found most singer-songwriters from our shores to possess an inherent lack of soul and panache. Jacklin stands alone, though. This lady is the real deal.

Favourite Tracks: Elizabeth, Same Airport, Hay Plain.


22.
Artist: Bloodiest
Album: Bloodiest
Label: Relapse Records

A collaboration between Chicago pinball artists (including the great 90 Day Men and Russian Circles), Bloodiest’s self-titled sophomore album is less like a pigeonhole and more like an ocean. They aren’t metal per se, nor are they neo-classical. They are, well, just Bloodiest, and I have to say they have released one of the nice surprises of 2016. The closest thing to compare the Chicago natives to would be the end time ballads Crippled Black Phoenix perfected during their first two albums. With little fanfare, Bloodiest have released something for the thought-provoking men and women of the sonic chapel. There’s a primal ferocity with Bloodiest. There are moments where the slender fragments of Shipping News are ensnared with the fierce bludgeoning of Neurosis. Post-rock nerds will dig the swirling quality of Bloodiest, while certain quarters of the metal community will cherish its edgier moments. Even the interests of those in the trad-rock pantheon may be piqued. Sonically, Bloodiest  is a subversive declaration and although it won’t garner the plaudits it deserves, there’s little doubt of its eminence.

Favourite Tracks: Mesmerize, Crooked Teeth, Separation.


21.
Artist: Ital Tek
Album: Hollowed
Label: Planet Mu

Once ingrained in the dubstep genre, Alan Myson (Ital Tek) has followed his contemporaries out the door, stepping away from the dance floor and into something of a menacing whirlpool with Hollowed – his largest sonic leap yet. Drenched in drone not to mention the bowel twitching sub bass, Hollowed is a dark record ensconced in ambiance with slight techno leanings, resulting in moments where the peaks hit you square in the solar plexus. Whilst dubstep is deemed a dirty word in 2016, its purveyors seemed to have moved on, plying various alternative sonic incursions. Post-dubstep or whatever you wish to call it, Ital Tek’s Hollowed is a notable journey and with electronic music currently experiencing a lull in superiority, there aren’t many electronic albums released this year that are greater than Hollowed.

Favourite Tracks: Terminus, Cobra, Murmur, Jenova.


20.
Artist: Jim James
Album: Eternally Even
Label:  Capitol/ATO Records

Jim James garners his inspiration from the ’60s and ’70s and his work as frontman of the great My Morning Jacket has demonstrated as much. His solo output – notwithstanding his the Monsters of Folk collaboration or the EP of George Harrison covers – is an avenue where he gathers more inspiration from the golden eras of music. And he does so with aplomb during his second solo album, Eternally Even. While its predecessor, Regions of Light and Sound of God, had its moments (‘I.O.U.’), Eternally Even sees James in full on soul boy mode with the back drop of old school psychedelia. It’s a political record and perhaps a facet which James has not been afforded with MMJ so overtly. James has always been a soul boy at heart and here he harnesses those influences so incisively. It’s a lovely piece of work and one of his greatest releases yet.   

Favourite Tracks: Same Old Lie, Here In Spirit, We Ain’t Getting Any Younger Pt. 2, Eternally Even.


19.
Artist: Deftones
Album: Gore
Label: Reprise Records

Some will suggest that Gore is a return to form for the Deftones. However, other than the underwhelming Saturday Night Wrist, the Sacramento natives have rarely dipped from their creative arc and Gore further illustrates this notion. Still somewhat tarnished by their association with the late ’90s nu-metal incursion, Deftones have always had so much more about them. Spiritual leader, Chino Moreno, is a dynamic artist, spreading his wings throughout various projects over the years, but Deftones has always been the focal point of his creative apex. Gore displays all of the Deftones’ genre-defining traits; the atmospheric beauty of the acclaimed White Pony to the downright belligerence of Around the Fur. Although drawing from their past at times, they still manage to penetrate their sound template to provide a fresh hybrid of street-rock. Gore is certainly a triumph and a striking addition to their already impressive body of work.

Favourite Tracks: Prayers/Triangles, (L)MIRL, Phantom Bride, Rubicon.


18.
Artist: Moonface and Siinai
Album: My Best Human Face
Label: Jagjaguar

Although better known for his work in Wolf Parade, Spencer Krug has used his Moonface moniker to expand his sonic boundaries and dabble in other genres. Over the years, Moonface have been consistently good without causing seismic ripples throughout the independent music landscape, and in context My Best Human Face probably won’t change that. That’s not to say it isn’t Moonface’s finest work yet, because for me it is. For the second time, Krug teams up Finland prog-rockers, Siinai, and presents seven tracks that are entrenched in a hypnotic glam pastiche whilst holding onto an ’00s indie-rock ambiance; the latter, a genre Krug has always been at the pointy end of. If Roxy Music were still on the go, they would probably be making something like this.

Favourite Tracks: The Nightclub Artiste, Risto’s Riff, City Wrecker.


17.
Artist: Swans
Album: The Glowing Man
Label: Young God Records

Although I enjoyed Swans’ last two albums in parts, The Glowing Man is a captivating end to this current incarnation of Swans. It’s a cathartic journey of sonic purveyance. A transcendent out-of-body experience. The quiet/loud build ups are something that Steve Albini would be proud of. John Congleton deserves all the credit for creating such a work of art, continuing to enhance his worth as one of the modern day’s great rock producers. He best manages to harness the sonic hailstorms of post-rock and sludge belligerence, entwining these blocks of sound with quasi-Tibetan howls. Out of the last three albums, I feel that this one has truly captured the behemoth that is Swans’ live show and for that all involved must take great applause. The title track is one of the best things I’ve heard Michael Gira actually create. A flint-hearted maelstrom of sound. The song itself is an absolute masterpiece.

Favourite Tracks: Frankie M, The Glowing Man, Finally, Peace.


16.
Artist: Wrekmeister Harmonies
Album: Light Falls
Label: Thrill Jockey

JR Robinson’s Wrekmeister Harmonies project is starting to reach its peak, to the point where the band is making the chamber-doom hybrid their own. Robinson has been on a consistent run of form these past few years with Light Falls following up from last year’s Night of Your Ascension. Enlisting Godspeed You! Black Emperor members, Tim Herzog (drums), and Sophie Trudeau (violin, piano), Robinson has cultivated an array of ominous soundscapes to form a perfect milieu for his art. Notwithstanding the immeasurable dark themes which are centred on the Holocaust, at times it feels as though this could be post-rock designed for the campfire, with the slow orchestral build-ups forging a shadowy juxtaposition with Robinson’s acoustic noodlings. Light Falls is Wrekmeister Harmonies finest effort yet and sets up an intriguing future for the project.

Favourite Tracks: Light Falls II – The Light Burns Us All, Where Have You Been My Lovely Son, Some Were Saved Some Were Drowned.


15.
Artist: Black Mountain
Album: IV
Label: Jagjaguwar

Black Mountain’s IV operates in a vein of cosmic psychebilly where monstrous Sabbath-like chords transform into ’Floyd-esque bliss, clashing with the melting vocal harmonies of one Amber Webber; one of my favourite modern day singers to boot. If Marissa Nadler’s voice makes you melt then Webber’s almost freezes you to the marrow. Thawing out never felt so good, though, and once again Webber adds to her impressive array of vocal performances throughout IV, alongside brains trust and partner-in-crime Stephen McBean. The celestial psych-rock hybrid that Black Mountain deliver on IV is best consumed out from the barnyard and under the stars. It’s easily Black Mountain’s best album since their eponymous debut and just when many thought the fire had all but smouldered, it’s safe to say that the behemoth that is Black Mountain is certainly ablaze. Suffice to say, McBean and Co. have sprung one of the pleasant surprises of 2016 with IV.

Favourite Tracks: Mother of the Sun, Florian Saucer Attack, Constellations, Space to Bakersfield.


14.
Artist: A Dead Forest Index
Album: In All That Drifts from Summit Down
Label: Sargent House

London based duo, A Dead Forest Index, are an intriguing bunch. In All That Drifts from Summit Down, the band’s debut LP, is a conception from the stables of the excellent Sargent House. It’s an  androgynous sprawl, rendered through a warped, brooding prism. The songs consisting of In All That Drifts from Summit Down aren’t exactly end time ballads, per se, but by the same token you can almost imagine this as your soundtrack whilst emerging from the high seas. It has that empowering quality, injecting equal parts of masculine drone and feminine slow-core dirges. Those who have fallen in love with Chelsea Wolfe’s Abyss will find this album equally gratifying, for its aesthetic moves in a similar realm.

Favourite Tracks: No Paths, Summit Down, Myth Retraced.


13.
Artist: Cass McCombs
Album: Mangy Love
Label: –Anti

It’s been quite the year for troubadour, Cass McCombs. Firstly, he put together some of his best work yet the Skiffle Players. Then, he released what is arguably his greatest feat thus far with Mangy Love. McCombs has always possessed a sharp wit and that is once again at play here on Mangy Love. As stated in my aforementioned Skiffle Players love-in, I’ve always found McCombs somewhat of a hard sell. His music needs undivided attention. His messages are buried deep within a swathe of dark humour and with Mangy Love,  McCombs joins the pantheon of great modern day storytellers. Where McCombs differs slightly is that he possesses a severe intolerance for fools, further enhancing his legend. It’s hard to say whether Mangy Love is McCombs’ artistic crest, for his ceiling is undoubtedly lofty. If his best is yet to come, then it will be worth the wait.

Favourite Tracks: Rancid Girl, Medusa’s Outhouse, In A Chinese Alley, It, I’m A Shoe.


12.
Artist: Drive-By Truckers
Album: American Band
Label: ATO Records

Immigration, race, guns and politics. These are the themes which underpin the Drive-By Truckers’ latest album, American Band – perhaps their best album since their fine run of form in the early ’00s. It feels like a Drive-By Truckers album. The foot-stomping licks, southern fried and served up red hot. It’s the tone of the album which stands alone in the Truckers’ canon, though. Before listening, you knew judging by the album’s artwork that this was going in the direction of a protest album and band leaders, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, have delivered a plethora of home truths throughout this empowering release.  Although very much a protest album, it doesn’t have that feel of division. As a listener, whichever side of politics the individual occupies, you can’t help but just nod your head in agreement. Along with Sturgill Simpson, Driver-By Truckers continue to set the benchmark for this genre.

Favourite Tracks: Ramon Casiano, Surrender Under Protest, Ever South, What it Means.


11.
Artist: Touché Amoré
Album: Stage Four
Label: Epitaph

As the album title suggests, Stage Four is a concept album based on Touché Amoré frontman Jeremy Bolm’s mother, who passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. With the assistance of his band mates, who have provided Bolm with a tempest of melodic riffs and heavy chords, the frontman has poured his heart out in one of the most moving accomplishments recorded to tape this year. It’s a perfect storm that Touché Amoré has created and certainly Stage Four is a defining moment for the post-hardcore genre. From a literal standpoint, it’s been a confronting year for artists to use music as a muse to wrestle with their personal struggles. Nick Cave broke hearts with Skeleton Tree and although Stage Four is just as emotionally taxing, you can’t help but feel a sense of hope throughout its journey. It's almost like you feel better off for having this album in your life.

Favourite Tracks: Flowers and You, Displacement, Benediction, Water Damage, Skyscraper. 


10.
Artist: Lambchop
Album: FLOTUS
Label: Merge Records

Let me start off by saying that it takes a lot for me to hate. Auto tune is an exception, though. My view relating to auto tune is that it’s a complete abomination and in thirty years it will be frowned upon as the worst thing ever to be introduced in music, even surpassing every rotten aspect of the ’80s. However, reverting back to those exceptions and even fucking auto tune has one. That very exception is Kurt Wagner, or more specifically, Lambchop’s FLOTUS. This shouldn’t really work, but for some uncanny reason it ticks all the boxes. Wagner has carved out a career of bending genres and blurring the lines of sonic styles in his quest to create something original. Hands down, FLOTUS is yet another string to his bow. He doesn’t overdo this auto tune business. It’s subtle and while truly noticeable, the gorgeous backdrops of sound  not limited to spatial hip-hop beats and palatable lounge riffs  are what makes FLOTUS the accomplishment it truly is.

Favourite Tracks: FLOTUS, Writer, Relatives #2, NIV, The Hustle.


9.
Artist: Neurosis
Album: Fires Within Fires
Label: Neurot Recordings

After my first listen to Fires Within Fires, I felt as though Oakland’s finest, Neurosis, had tanked. For a start, Neurosis making an album closing under forty-five minutes is about as rare as rocking horse shit. Upon further listening, Fires Within Fires – the band’s eleventh long player had begun to reveal itself, to the point where it now feels as though Neurosis have taken us back to the days of Times of Grace. Fires Within Fires is a revealing piece that hits in all the right places during its forty-two minutes of speaker bleeding fury. The band has always operated inside a unique dark vortex and this album is yet another demonstration of their aural bludgeoning. This time that aural bludgeoning is more compressed, delivered at break-neck ferocity. The breath-catching ambient interludes are replaced with balls-to-wall low-end riff-a-rolla that will undoubtedly give the ’90s faction of Neurosis adherents much pleasure. In fact, it’s a moment where those older fans may well come together with the new breed, enjoying this in unison. Neurosis’ fire still rages in the belly, while their soul remains ever-present.

Favourite Tracks: Bending Light, Fire is the End Lesson, Broken Ground, Reach.


8.
Artist: Weyes Blood
Album: Front Row Seat to Earth
Label: Kemado Records

Weyes Blood is the solo project of Jackie-O Motherfucker's Natalie Mering. Weyes Blood’s second album, Front Row Seat to Earth, captures Mering nestled within the pastiche of ’70s west coast with some hippified Laurel Canyon vibes thrown in. All told, this is tailor-made for churches. Mering’s glacial arrangements are sparse along with her melodies that are presented so flawlessly. Lyrically, things are just as impressive. Mering may just be the only person on earth who can gracefully get away with singing “YOLO” during a chorus (‘Generation Why’). Although Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree might be the ultimate alone record released this year, the compositions which comprise of Weyes Blood’s Front Row Seat to Earth are certainly its closest rival. It’s an album that has infinite layers, which reveals itself more and more after each listen. There aren’t too many records of this ilk being released these days. It really is a thing of beauty.

Favourite Tracks: Diary, Generation Why, Can’t Go Home, Away Above.


7.
Artist: David Bowie
Album: Blackstar
Label: Columbia Records

Sentimentality aside, with Blackstar David Bowie delivered an album that many would place in his top ten. Given the tragic circumstances surrounding Blackstar, in context it may be one of his greatest accomplishments; the perfect parting gift. The saxophone reappears. Not since Let’s Dance has it been so prominent throughout Bowie’s music, but during Blackstar the skronk isn’t ’80s pastiche but more like a gale-forced wind of Sun-Ra. The production is exquisite, its architect at the top of his game.  While the video for ‘Lazarus’ provided a shocking prescience, it’s ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ that hits the hardest. In the history of art, not many have written their own eulogy, but with Blackstar’s closing track, David Bowie has accomplished that very feat. For the man once described as “the closest thing to God”, it’s fitting that it was the Thin White Duke who achieved it. Rest In Peace, David Bowie.

Favourite Tracks: ’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore, Lazarus, Dollar Days, I Can’t Give Everything Away.


6.
Artist: MJ Guider
Album: Precious Systems
Label: Kranky

To describe MJ Guider (Melissa Guion), many will draw upon the classical noodlings of Nils Frahm, the out-there eccentricity of Julia Holter and enchanting mood-scapes of Julianna Barwick and Grouper. Although perhaps lazy to lean on the aforementioned touchstones, I would imagine that these intentions are not to suggest Guider’s debut album, Precious Systems, is derivative. Guider reaches similar moments to her ambient colleagues by experimenting in vastly different backdrops, not limited to post-punk and dream-pop. The result is Precious Systems and it’s as good and if not better than any releases of those very artists. Kranky’s stable of aural transmitters are generally aloof figures, receiving very few plaudits apart from the devoted few soundscape connoisseurs. MJ Guider probably won’t differ, for the shadowy guise of most ambient artists goes hand-in-hand with the art in which they create. Precious Systems is an uplifting series of swelling drone and glacial soundscapes. It’s as good as anything Kranky have released since Labradford dominated their roster.

Favourite Tracks: Lit Negative, White Alsatian, Their Voices Clear Now, Evencycle.


5.
Artist: Eric Bachmann
Album: Eric Bachmann
Label: Merge Records

Chapel Hill native, Eric Bachmann, is best known for his sonic incursions as frontman of the venerable indie-rockers, Archers of Loaf. During the ’00s, though, Bachmann carved out quite the modest vocation, releasing two solo albums and various other long players with his band, Crooked Fingers. Not to beat around the bush, but his new self-titled LP is arguably his finest work since his days of perforating listeners’ ear drums with the Archers. Almost against all odds, Bachmann has gone from being one of the key purveyors of ’90s American indie-rock to becoming one of the finest modern day troubadours. Although many are talking about other singer-songwriters in 2016, the wily veteran has just about blown the rest of the competition out of the water with this set of achingly beautiful tracks. It’s emotionally raw, brutally candid and cuts ocean deep. Aesthetically, Eric Bachmann is a snapshot into the future of Americana. What makes it so great is that its source is an unlikely one.

Favourite Tracks: Belong to You, Mercy, Carolina, The Old Temptation.


4.
Artist: Emma Ruth Rundle
Album: Marked for Death
Label: Sargent House

Having worked within the post-rock pantheon (Red Sparowes, Marriages), Emma Ruth Rundle is back in a solo capacity, delivering her finest piece of work with her third LP, Marked for Death. Marriages’ 2015 release, Salome, was a truly breathtaking affair (it finished in my top five last year) and Marked for Death is every bit as good. While Rundle’s sophomore solo album, Some Heavy Ocean, was impressively virtuous, it’s Marked for Death that lifts her into a whole new stratosphere. Rundle has a mysterious penchant for dragging us into her dark vortex where she forges a truly spellbinding matrimony between heart-aching diatribes and bruising sonic aggression. Eight tracks and not a dead spot to boot here. Marked for Death is good. Marked for Death is cry-into-your-beer-glass good. In fact, Marked for Death is even better than that. Marked for Death is an astonishing work of art and to be honest, I can’t quite believe just how astonishing it is.

Favourite Tracks: Protection, Hand of God, Heaven, Furious Angel.


3.
Artist: Holy Sons
Album: In the Garden
Label: Partisan Records

One of the most gratifying facets in my life is based on the knowledge that Emil Amos, or more specifically his Holy Sons project, is still releasing new music. Another year passes and Amos, (Grails, Om, Lilacs & Champagne fame) never fails to deceive. This time he brings us In the Garden – an album that represents a wider berth of sounds. It’s hardly surprising, though. He has been working up to this moment since 2014’s The Fact Facer. Then there was last year’s excellent Fall of Man, which contained vibes attributed to Dennis Wilson. Amos has rounded off his Berlin trilogy moment by going into full Dennis mode here, backed by something akin to Pink Floyd circa The Dark Side of the Moon. Holy Sons has always garnered from the ’70s, revelling deep within the realms of lo-fi. This time Amos breaks the lo-fi shackles and appears comfortable in doing so. If you ever wanted to disappear into a dark corner of the world, then In the Garden would be your perfect companion. While Grails and Om are truly fantastic projects in their own respective rights, Holy Sons is where Amos showcases his talent best. Hands down, he is the greatest hidden artist in the world today. A true outsider.

Favourite Tracks: Robbed and Gifted, Denmark, Original Sin, Eyes Can See Clearly, In the Garden.


2.
Artist: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Album: Skeleton Tree
Label: Bad Seed Ltd

What can you say? When death arrives, that’s all you really can say. Feature film, One More Time With Feeling, is gentle, vexing and just plain sad. Nick Cave looks like he’s at the ends of the earth, to the point where you just want to reach through the screen and give him an infinite hug. To be frank, Skeleton Tree is one of the most moving listening experiences I’ve ever encountered. Despite a proportion of Skeleton Tree having been written prior to the death of Cave’s son, Arthur, the crushing aftermath naturally weighs heavy throughout this heartbreaking journey, to the point where it’s almost best to avoid listening. Like all great albums, though, it has a haunting ability to keep drawing you in. Cave shares his despair, and in turn his audience are duty bound to lighten the load by vicariously experiencing this harrowing moment. It may just be one of the saddest records ever made. It’s also Cave’s greatest moment as an artist.

Favourite Tracks: Rings of Saturn, Girl in Amber, Magneto, I Need You, Skeleton Tree.


1.
Artist: Radiohead
Album: A Moon Shaped Pool
Label: XL Recordings

After the hysteria which always surrounds the announcement and release of a Radiohead album, it’s always important to step back and apply rational thought. Even then, a notable bias can always make its presence felt within one’s subconscious. Announcement, released, listened to a dozen times and after the dust settled, it’s fair to that A Moon Shaped Pool is indeed, one of the best albums Radiohead has delivered. While Hail to the Thief was dubbed as the album that “had all the good bits of their previous albums,” as explained by guitarist, Ed O’Brien, twelve years later, A Moon Shaped Pool is an enhancement of Hail to the Thief and if anything, feels like a companion cut to OK Computer. The strings are beautiful with Jonny Greenwood’s solo oeuvres finding their way within the walls of Radiohead manor. Thom Yorke’s melodies haven’t sounded better (‘Daydreaming’ better than ‘Pyramid Song’?). While the only thing that got more media attention this year was the tedious US Election (I loathe to say that name, or – in all honesty – those names!), A Moon Shaped Pool received just as much coverage from all corners. While my intention is based around unearthing albums people may have missed during the year, sometimes you can’t discard certain releases that have the pull to reach more ears. Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool really is a triumph and their best album since Kid A. As far as masterpieces go, it has a seat at the table.

Favourite Tracks: Daydreaming, Decks Dark, Ful Stop, Indentikit, The Numbers.

Top 30 Recap:

30. Kid Canaveral – Faulty Inner Dialogue
29. The Skiffle Players - Skifflin'
28. Conrad Keely – Original Machines
27. Kevin Morby – Singing Saw
26. Lone - Levitate
25. Ed Kuepper - Lost Cities
24. The Besnard Lakes - A Coliseum Complex  Museum
23. Julia Jacklin – Don’t Let the Kids Win
22. Bloodiest - Bloodiest
21. Ital Tek - Hollowed
20. Jim James – Eternally Even
19. Deftones - Gore
18. Moonface and Siinai - My Best Human Face
17. Swans - Glowing Man
16. Wrekmeister Harmonies – Light Falls
15. Black Mountain – IV
14. A Dead Forest Index - A Dead Forest Index
13. Cass McCombs – Mangy Love
12. Drive-By Truckers – American Flag
11. Touché Amore – Stage Four
10. Lambchop - Flotus
9. Neurosis – Fires Within Fires
8. Weyes Blood – Front Row Seat to Earth
7. David Bowie – Blackstar
6. MJ Guider - Precious Systems
5. Eric Bachmann -Eric Bachmann
4. Emma Ruth Rundle – Marked for Death
3. Holy Sons - In The Garden
2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
1. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

Previous Top 30 Albums:


By Simon K.