Another year has come and gone for rock and roll. Although the conversation at large remains centered on egotists who rely on synthetics, under the city’s surface thousands of rockers toil in the sewers and abandoned warehouses of the not quite hip part of town. In a way it is sort of a relief; those who toil now must be stripped of the monster success delusions now that the big record machine that destroyed Pink and created hair metal has finally succumbed to its wounds. There’s a lot of good stuff out there now, growing in the shadows and out the way spots. From 15-1, here are the best albums of 2016.
A mellow groove with strains of Kurt Vile, Calico Review is a chill afternoon.
Local Natives – Sunlit Youth
Pleasant pop-ers picked a patch of palpable pumpers. Local Natives are career indie rockers who’ve always been on the more pleasant side of the sound exploration equation, and Youth Springs is another solid outing. Come for the harmonies and good vibes.
Savages- Adore Life
The art punk rockers from across the ocean lay down a densely matted sometimes urgent group of songs. Principally Savages has a unique sound, a furious howl powered by an offbeat rhythm. That combo continues unabated on Adore Life.
Yak – Alas Salvation
Yak is a bunch of British rockers with that power Peter had in Heroes where they touch someone and steal their abilities. They have songs that sound like Wilco, Nick Cave, the Vines, and some Muse thrown in for good measure, which is a startling variety off of one record.
Goggs – Goggs
A punk band made up of members from two other bands in the top 10, Goggs can be safely filed under “more of a good thing.” Goggs is definitely in the vein of 80s hardcore so if that’s your thing, here’s a pitch perfect love letter.
Honeyblood – Babes Never Die
Every since Bikini Kill perfectly nailed punk chick rock ever girl group has been struggling under that shadow if they want to sound bratty. Honeyblood has a found a good solution, rather than sounding too cool to hang with Daria they just sound like they’re having fun,while still retaining enough of an edge to separate them from more mainstream attempts like Haim. Shades of Speedy Ortiz.
Car Seat Headrest- Teens of Denial
Car Seat Headrest is the official indie rock band of the year, with wall of sound guitars and oddly phrased lyrics. Although the tempo is measured, these Headresters are hook experts guaranteed to sink a catchy riff into your grey matter.
Iggy Pop- Post Pop Depression
A groovy update for the wild man finds collab king Qotsa’s own Josh Homme backing him after an impromptu desert session. Iggy is knowly irreverent, a dirty old man who’s still having fun and still hasn’t found a shirt. The record itself is a little particular at first listen but quickly becomes comfortable, like a red vinyl sofa.
Mitski – Puberty 2
The closest I will get to R&B on this list (and it’s not very close), Mitski’s album is an interesting take on identity and place. Not every song lands, but several are legitimately haunting and stick with you. Her voice is velvety but unique, the songs mostly strung up around a quiet sadness or exasperation. A refreshing break from feel good clubbers and obvious breakup cliches.
David Bowie – Blackstar
Only the great musical magician himself could pull off a trick like releasing Blackstar at his sunset, a deeply weird concept album put together almost 50 years since his heyday began. We now know this is a deeply personal apprehension of death, as he prepares to pass on the mantle and slip away. It’s also an inventive sonic landscape, pervaded by a peculiar dissonance in both sound and thematic material. Farewell to the Titan.
Ex Cult – Negative Growth
Acid fried harcore from Memphis, Ex Cult is a pulsing heartbeat. They never slow down, but also aren’t thrashing out of control. This is measured intentional punk, a modern update more akin to Minor Threat than the chaos of Black Flag. Out of an era or not, they are irresistibly anthemic, just listening is practically like being in the mosh.
Westerner- Unreal City
Striking my ear as sort of a progressive rock version of the Eagles of Death Metal, Westerner is a local Los Angeles band that can really play. They have a number of crazy good songs off of this freshman album with Dawn of the New World serving as home to the year’s best guitar solo. Dear reader, this is your chance to be ahead of the curve, they’re way under the radar but they’re playing on top of it.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity
This undeniably space prog epic takes all of its ritalin and blasts rapid fire through robots, wasps, and gamma rays. Weirdness is often hard to take when stretched out and wallowing, but it turns into a rich flavor when combined with King Gizzard’s precise instrumentation. This is probably the most technically precise album on the list, but it moves at such a clip it’s also one of the most fun.
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Although the manic energy of Sunbathing Animal and Light Up Gold has calmed, Parquet Courts has surprisingly emerged as this incredible solid band with the sonically broad and controlled Human Performance. This feel like a produced album but in a good way, it’s incredible clean and allows Savage’s voice to wind its way into your brain and enchant. Just look at Berlin Got Blurry, the most unique and clean rock hit of the year. It’s all charm. “Nothing lasts but nearly everything lingers in life.”
Album of The Year
Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger
Ty is a prolific madman, but the last few albums including Sleeper and Manipulator have seen him broadening his soundscape, increasing control and precision. In some ways this works against the frantic swing that made “Oh Mary” a world beater, but it also was nice to see continued growth. Emotional Mugger is a recommitment to experimentation, a weird punky album that suggests Mr. Segall will never release the same album twice in a row (after all, no man is good three times and you wouldn’t want to push it). Emotional Mugger is dense, choosing drive over melody for the most part, but the resulting flow is incredible, a cacophony of rock energy crashing over you. Layered and mysterious, Emotional Mugger is a distinct landmark for rock in the new era.
That’s it for the best music of the year! Keep rockin.
Originally published on Synthetic Error March 6, 2017
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