Well another year almost down the gurgler and it’s time to drag out kicking and screaming the Cyclic Defrost best music of 2016 as chosen by us. The consensus is of course that there is no consensus, though Babyfather, David Bowie and Jenny Hval got mentioned a couple of times so they must be pretty decent albums. But anyway what the hell do we know? We’re chasing music down rabbit holes just like you. The only proviso we’ve placed on this list is that our writers had to have heard the music for the first time this year. So prepare to be appalled and delighted in equal measure by the madness, incoherence and bizarre selections contained below. And if you’ve come this far, thanks for reading, we hope you’ve found something along the way that has floated your boat-y-mcboatface…
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani – Sunergy (Rvng Intl)
This year felt like a real bubbling over of the 80s new age ambient revival that has been brewing for several years now. Releases on the Leaving label, reissues of Laraaji and Sunpath – its definitely been a thing – and on good speakers or headphones, some of these have been a welcome respite from the chaos around us. One of the best, though is this new modular synth freakout from this amazing inter-generational pairing – Ciani is a true legend and Smith, the bright upcomer. Sean Hellfritsch’s video version captures the sonic mood well.
Various – The Sound of Belgium Vol 3 (La Musique Fait La Force)
The third and, apparently final, annual compilation of Belgian dance music that brings together many rare and obscure EBM, new beat, rave and disco cuts from Belgium. Compiled by the team behind the fantastic documentary of the same name, the trilogy of compilations clocks in at over 180 individual tracks and Volume 3’s selections explores more industrial and balearic late 80s as well as 90s rave classics. The influence of this music is undeniable and even the most cheesy numbers have their charm. If you haven’t seen the documentary, do yourself a favour and watch it.
Ian William Craig – Centres (130701/Fat Cat)
Craig’s record accompanied a lot of my mid year travels. His processed vocals and sound sculptures have a delicateness that is quite magical. I also really enjoyed catching up – after more than a decade – with his label boss, Dave Howell, for a long (and perhaps long winded) interview for Cyclic.
Alvvays – self-titled (Royal Mountain)
I came across this when my friend Mark Temple wrote about them on his Facebook page. Mark’s the drummer of Sydney indie legends The Hummingbirds who were doing catchy indie pop when I was in high scoool many years ago. Anyway The Hummingbirds joined Alvvays on stage when they toured earlier this year as Alvvays were huge fans to play a cover of the Hummingbirds’ hit Alimony. This sent me down a Bandcamp rabbithole and, even though this sounds just like 1990 indie jangle, its actually from 2014 Canada.
Various releases on I Love Acid (Balkan Vinyl)
Posthuman’s ILA sub label reliably commissions some of the best acid house revival tunes around each year. This year was no exception with 6 great vinyl EPs dropping in 2016. As someone who never tires of the sound of the 303, and in the year that Roland released a low cost mini retro 303 (the TB-03), these are sure fire party tunes for the oldies. I fully expect a rave nursing home in my 80s – don’t disappoint me, please! If I live to 88, there’ll be a fucking massive acid house party . . . (either that or I’ll take Black Mirror Season 3’s San Junipero but set in London or Ibiza 1988)
Boots – Aquaria (Columbia)
Jordy Asher is a US-based producer and rapper who’s apparently spent the last few years being groomed for success by Jay-Z’s label and whose main claim to fame recently has been contributing beats and production to Beyonce’s world conquering ‘Lemonade’ album. This debut album ‘Aquaria’ sees him weaving together a densely textured web of processed guitars, distressed synths, live drums, programmed rhythms and his own vocals to create a dark and dusty hybrid sound that occasionally calls to mind Trent Reznor if he’d gone down to Memphis. With EL-P contributing co-production on a fair chunk of the tracks here, the alternately punishing and feathery mix is best experienced on a deserted stretch of highway at night.
Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit / The Spoils EP (Virgin)
Well, we didn’t quite get a new Massive Attack album this year, but we got something pretty close if you add up all of the tracks featured across both of these 12” EPs. It was hard not to wonder at first if there was some Outkast-style thing going on where 3D and Daddy G couldn’t stand being in the studio together, given that each of these respective EPs see them effectively going solo. Thankfully the recent live shows seem to have expunged those swirling rumours. Hearing Tricky finally reunited with his old band on ‘I’ll Take You There’ proved to be a more emotional experience than I expected, and the meeting between Massive Attack and Roots Manuva on the flexing ‘Dead Editors’ was always meant to happen. In this case though Daddy G just edges out 3D’s hand with the majestic Hope Sandoval-fronted ‘The Spoils’, which easily sits among Massive’s most impressive works.
Meeting By Chance – Inside Out (PlugAudio)
The solo project of Skalpel’s Marcin Cichy, this gorgeous debut album ‘Inside Out’ saw him paring back the more overt jazz overtones of his parent group in favour of a collection that ventured far more into lush downbeat leftfield electronics. When I was staying on the edge of a rainforest in far north Queensland earlier this year I took this album with me and it was perfect, deep intoxicating smoky electronics that harks back to the classic G-Stone days, but still with enough sense of space and intriging gaps in the mix, for the zapping bat calls outside the cabin to still echo through. In this case, the slight undercurrent of darkness brings out the moments of sheer beauty in even sharper detail, and if you’re into the likes of The Cinematic Orchestra, you definitely need to hear this album. The fact that it’s blessed with one of the most exquisite mix and mastering jobs I’ve heard this year is the cherry on the top.
Murcof X Wagner – Statea (Infine)
In terms of the widescreen cinematic stakes, during 2016 this pretty much pipped every single other electronic music album to the post. I’m a longtime fan of Murcof’s work who’d drifted away for his last couple of releases, and this spectacular collaboration between the Mexican electronic producer and French classical pianist Vanessa Wagner has definitely pulled me straight back into his intriguing soundworld. On ‘Statea’ Murcof’s often content to lurk subtly in the background as he and Wagner reinterpret the works of a range of twentieth century composers including Morton Feldman and Arvo Part, treating the echoes and aftertones of Wagner’s playing until they’re instruments of their own. There’s a conceptual cycle to this work that’s best taken in one complete sitting, the expertly built tension and release revealing this album’s refinement through several live performances by the duo over the past two years. For my money, their take on ‘Avril 14th’ is easily one of the best Aphex Twin covers I’ve heard, as well as the one contemporary artist whose work they tackle here.
David Bowie – Blackstar (EMI)
I’ve already ruffled feathers this year by saying how bullshit I think it is when indie nights now stick ‘Bowie’ amongst their genre lists to partake of the nostalgia dollar, and it seems now that the cash-in has begun in earnest, with the greatest hits and massed box sets already hitting the floor. Thankfully the Thin White Duke left us with ‘Blackstar’, and if its not his best work, then it’s certainly one of his most intriguing and challenging albums. Much has been made of the supposed Boards Of Canada influence, but I personally couldn’t see it here. Many of the tracks here such as the title track and ‘Lazarus’ sound like transmissions from the other side, and one of the spookiest things I’ve experienced as a listener was when I bought the CD on its release day and hurriedly rushed it to my player, only to have the songs take on a far more sombre resonance in the days that followed. Bowie was a bit of a cultural Rosetta Stone for me as a teenager growing up, in that he offered up an entry point into a lot of more avante garde and experimental stuff that he in turn was also drawing upon for influence. He probably deserves a mention alone for getting me into a lot of this weird music that I write about in the first place.
Babyfather – BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow (Hyperdub)
“Don’t panic, don’t panic,” intones Dean Blunt on Shook, yet his karaoke hip hop and brutal noise set at Unsound in Adelaide earlier this year had me doing just that. A friend took a photo of my grimace of pained euphoria, printed it out and took it to former Tour de France winner Cadel Evans who posed with it. True story. The album is even better than true stories.
Fatou Seidi Ghali – Les Filles De Illighadad (Sahel Sounds)
Impossibly intimate acoustic Tuareg music from the best label in operation. Just getting to hear this music is a privilege.
Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones/ Rocket)
Cheesy 70’s horror films, vampires and menstruation. It seems obvious particulary when delivered through skewered abstract experimental pop. It’s metaphorical genius. “Don’t be afraid, it’s only blood.”
Rizan Said – King of Keyboard (Annihaya/ Discrepant)
Hysterically overblown frenetic Syrian techno from Omar Souleyman’s keyboardist, it’s a relentless Arabic sugar hit that refuses to let up. His appearance on three tracks off Acid Arab’s recent debut long player further cements his reputation as one of the most awe inspiring instrumentalists you could ever hope to encounter.
Western Skies Motel – Settlers (Lost Tribe Sound)
A place to retreat from the bluster of the world. Everything is perfect, from the artwork to the wide open spaces of the acoustic guitar. That’s all. Words only ruin it.
Peter Hollo (website Editor)
Top 5 releases from 2016 by women whose first name starts with “K”.
Despite the strange specificity, this is not a frivolous list. These 5 releases are very much among my favourites for 2016, and I found it striking that these brilliant women all appeared under the letter “K”.
Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos (Fiction)
The new album from English rapper / poet Kate Tempest follows on from 2014’s Everybody Down with another set of vignettes about a set of characters somewhere in London, all finding themselves awake at 4:18am. Supported again by the fantastic production of Dan Carey, she writes and raps with the voice of an accomplished poet but also with great musical sensitivity, and her stories are gritty and true – and deeply humanist. For all that her characters are disappointed and dissatisfied (at best), her work is surprisingly uplifting because she cares so much for her every one. That said, what track could be more “2016” than the despairing, angry “Europe Is Lost”?
Katie Dey – Flood Network (Joy Void)
With her staggering debut EP asdfasdf last year, Melbourne artist Katie Dey found almost instant worldwide acclaim. Coming seemingly out of nowhere, her work is completely confident in its mix of jangling, raw guitars, helium vocals, and unidentifiable electronics. The songs are incredibly catchy, but nothing is as expected. This album carries on from the EP, unlike anything much else you’ll hear this year. The colours in this video and on the album cover are indicative – it’s washed-out high-tech lo-fi.
Katie Gately – Color (Tri Angle)
Here’s another sui generis artist just smashing it – again Katie Gately’s work bears similarity mostly to her own earlier work, only more fully formed. Layers of her own pristine vocals are chopped and tweaked, merging perfectly with other electronics and found sounds (Gately is trained in sound design), moving between ambient weirdness and idm-ish beats. Somewhere in the middle of the album, additional sounds begin to emerge, including the gorgeous Middle Eastern-sounding warped string instrument on “Rive”.
Kiki Hitomi – Karma No Kusari (Jahtari)
Japanese singer Kiki Hitomi is best known for her collaborations with Kevin Martin aka The Bug, as part of King Midas Sound and before that with Black Chow. Twisted dub is very much her thing – her earlier duo Dokkebi Q with producer Gorgonn combined dubstep with breakcore, connecting Osaka with Dalston. Hitomi’s now based in Germany, and for her first true solo album she teams up with Leipzig digidub label & production house Jahtari to showcase what she calls “enka reggae”. It’s authentically odd, combining electronic reggae with hyper-traditionalist Japanese pop. On “Yellow Story” she could be back with Dokkebi Q, incisively universalising her experience as an Asian in a Western country.
Klara Lewis – Too (eMego)
The second album (see the pun?) on Editions Mego from young Swedish producer Lewis was eagerly awaited after her perfectly-Mego debut and a fascinating 12″ of bent techno on Peder Mannerfelt’s label. Lewis manages to create music that’s exquisitely of a piece with the early (pre-Editions) Mego productions while simultaneously sitting comfortably in the post-vaporwave present. There are gaseous ambient waftings, spooky sampled voices and occasional muffled techno beats. It’s notable that it wasn’t until after I bought this album that I twigged to the fact that she’s the daughter of Wire’s Edvard Graham Lewis.
At first I felt the need to apologise upfront for my top 5 of albums 2016. This is because it gives an insight into how I was feeling for much of the year. Sad. Confused. Lost. Music has always helped get me through trying times though and fortunately I have had the benefit of these album discoveries to help me through. Beyond the overarching theme of angst and misery which my 2016 seems to have been characterised by, there are other themes evident within this decidedly eclectic mix of genres and artists. Having visited LA this year, and falling in love with it’s quirky and ostentatious outlandishness it’s no wonder that two of the five albums are from Los Angeles based artists. There is also a tipping of my hat to the bands and artists who have stood the test of time, and who can continue in 2016 to evolve and reinvent their sound fitting for contemporary audiences.
DMAs – Hills End (Mom + Pop Music)
Wow! This band! DMAs struck a chord with me this year. Maybe as I never saw Oasis live I’m reliving my youf by listening to their highly reminiscent songs and style, regardless there is something more than a little comforting in hearing frontman Tommy O’Dell belt (or whisper) these melancholy-dipped, distinctive lyrical journeys. The homage to the 90s, drug culture and Brit Pop scene aside, the lyrics for every single one of Hills End tracks are delicate and err to the side of relationship turmoil or uncertainty. When combined with either the fast paced, angsty guitar riffs for songs like: ‘Lay Down’ or the somber storytelling moments that take place usually within the slower tracks including ‘Step up the Morphine’ and ‘Blown Away’, this Sydney trio make music with heart, which inadvertently has become the soundtrack for navigating
my own this year.
The Strokes – Room on Fire (RCA Rough Trade, 2003)
For a band who have been making garage rock n roll for 18 solid years, it might come as a surprise that I had never actually listened to much from The Strokes catalogue – until this year. I recognised singles released and jived to intermittently throughout the years (eg: 2001 ‘Someday’; ‘Last Nite’; ‘New York City Cops’) my decision to list this album (originally released in 2003) is informed by catching Julian and his friends live at Splendour in the Grass mid this year – also for the first time. It might be that the break-up I was in the midst of provided the perfect context for me to relate to this album’s strong narrative of failed relationships. For every chapter of the break-up there is a song that spoke to me: ‘What ever happened’; ‘The end has no end’; ‘Reptilia’ – these are the anthems of a songwriter who grasps modern love and is willing to expose the nastiness, the sadness, the disappointment and despair that heartbreak can bring.
Growlers – City Club (Cult Records)
I discovered this ‘beach goth’ outfit and album when I saw a trusted music journalist listening to City Club frequently on Spotify. From her base in Brooklyn, I figured she was onto something we must not be aware of here in Australia and that I should give it a listen. Upon further research into the band, I learned that Julian Casablancas (who I have newfound respect for thanks to his help offered in navigating the mentioned break-up) was lending his producing acumen to this California trio.
“Nor gypsy, nor skater, nor goth, nor hobo, nor surfer, nor punk, yet somehow all of these things. The Growlers just might be the most interesting band in the world, certainly one of the coolest.” -Julian Casablancas
And, after five albums and three EPs The Growlers chose with City Club to enlist also the help of Weezer and Alabama Shakes’ sound engineer Shawn Everett who helped add panache to their precision sound. The ‘beach goth’ genre (as described by Casablancas) does make them hard to pigeon hole which I think is what I love about The Growlers. While there is something a little bit country which was the initial hook to captivate me, they really remind me of MGMT – whom I love. I encourage you to have a listen especially because they’re master storytellers in their own right recounting tales of big nights and temptation; of broken marriages and the single of the moment ‘I’ll be around’ is a tune to escape with them to – a lil bit whimsical and a lil bit mystery-led.
Bon Iver – 22, a million (Jagjaguwar)
Justin Vernon, is a man who loves to surprise and delight through his music. I caught his reimagining of a voluminous back-catalogue at the Sydney Opera House this year and the stripped-back beauty of his most loved works, including ‘Skinny Love’ was brought to bear in the Cercle (round) an intimate performance space created on stage. His respect for other musicians who joined him resonated and for his crew and the audience too, which is probably why I was excited to see what he’d come out with next.
Gosh, 22, a Million, it’s, amazing! It’s an album that sits at the intersection of electronic, folk and gospel – if that’s possible? Another album in my list to sit in the ‘hard to categorise’ genre although folktronica seems fitting, suffice to say Vernon’s beautiful falsetto makes a frequent appearance lifted by layered samples, choirs and an all-encompassing electronic influence which is highlighted through distorted vocals and synths. I love this album for all its ebbs and flows – every one is executed so completely flawlessly and, because it represents such a strong and successful departure from what Vernon’s done before, proving he’s still one of the most inventive musos globally today.
Warpaint – Heads Up (Rough Trade)
This all girl group who hail from Los Angeles, have released two albums prior to Heads Up and were, apparently in no rush to put out the third. Focusing instead on release of singles for a time. ‘Ashes to Ashes’ (2015) and ‘Whiteout’ (featured on Heads Up) more recently this year, I had them on my radar. So when the long-awaited third album was released in September it provided exactly the right measure of female songstress to girl-empowered lyricism needed to lift my mood. New Song, the single released at the same time as album release here in Australia is the spring awakening, enlivened and buzz-filled that goes with meeting a new person to replace an old lover, well at least that’s how I hear it. And, while pretty much the entire album seems to track the ups and downs of dating and growing bonds into a full-fledged relationship Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman, Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa combine their supreme instrumentation with breathy vocal delivery (Kokal and Wayman) all with some Lana Del Rey-esque dramatic pausing to then build the emotional highs and lows associated with the stages of love from break-up to rebirth. The stand out track for me is ‘The Stall’ which starts almost the way a Breeders’ song might with deep bellowing bass guitar lines leading into those rich vocals… but overall this album has the pace and fervour that any good romance warrants.
New Order – Music Complete (Traffic Inc)
Radiohead – A moon shaped pool (XL)
Matthew Halsall – On the Go (Gondwana Records)
The Necks – Vertigo (Fish of Milk)
(Best cerebral, adult-targeted science fiction of 2016)
A kaleidoscopic shift take place in the third act of Arrival which turns this thinky, intriguing exploration of sci-fi pysch into a deeply felt and heart-swelling masterpiece. It’s hard to overstate just how wonderful the trick is that Denis Villeneuve plays on us (indebted though he may be to Ted Chiang’s ‘Story of Your Life’, (itself indebted in turn to King Kurt Vonnegut himself, and the Tralfamadorians of ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’,) credit where it’s due, this is some incredible sleight of hand.) The late in the game reveal is a perfect coupling of form and content that breathes new life into everything that came before, turning even those stretches of the film which felt dour, even plodding at first, into something new and subtly vibrant in the remembering. It’s such an impressive move on the conceptual level that you almost forget how emotionally affecting and true these revelations are in the moment. On top of being a film about alien arrivals, patience, collaboration, the importance of communication, and more than a reductive melodrama about a parent and child, Arrival is a gentle, stirring parable on life and how to live it. “I am human.”
(The best film barely released in Australia of 2016)
This is also the downright best film released in Australia this year or probably any recent year. S. Craig Zahler should be one of the biggest names in movies right now and if there’s any justice in the world (HA!) soon will be. This predominantly low-key, rambling western, manages to be incredibly violent, ugly and visceral in its brutality on the one hand, while being laugh-out-loud funny and stiff-upper-lip-sweet-hearted on the other. All without resorting to cheap jokes, melodrama, or gratuitous gore*, but by paying careful attention to those dusty old tropes of character and story. (*You can debate me on this, but I’ll win). There’s a lot of showing, very little telling and a pure acrobatic joy to the way the film swings wildly between its competing tones, while never seeming anything other than a fully imagined whole – that it both has the guts to do so, and the grit to stick the landing is thrilling to watch. It would be easy to mistake Bone Tomahawk’s macho swagger as endorsement, but pay close attention and it will dawn on you before too long that Zahler is none too pleased with, although not without sympathy for, these well-intentioned, idiotic white men, stumbling catastrophically ‘round the land of the free, spurred on by self-importance, gunpowder, and the promise of some new horizon shimmering with manifest destiny. Prescience, anyone? “Can you read a book in the bath?”
(The best Coen brothers movie of 2016) The Coen bros only make good movies. They seem incapable of making movies that are not good. And the closest they’ve come to the lower end of the scale is still better than most movies by the majority of other people. If you’re ranking all of their movies together, Hail Caesar! would fit comfortably in the middle of the pack (it’s that good!), but as for movies they released in 2016 it is easily the best. It’s funny, slap-stick, silly and strange, but to see only these surface delights would be to miss the point, as this here is a film with a lot on its mind. The search for meaning in a meaningless world for one thing (The search for meaning? In a Coen bros picture? I do declare). A period movie it may be, but with all its hammering on about the working man, communists, the Russians and McCarthy-era blacklists it could yet turn out to be extremely of its time. Just what Hail Caesar! is getting at is ambiguous at best, but I’m fast getting the impression the brothers, for all of their bratty, school-kid-snickering-in-the-back-row affectations, could still be willing to buy in to something. They may live in a world that has no meaning but, hey, at least there’s movies, and you can always pretend that they do. It might be enough. “You’re gonna do it because the picture has worth. And you have worth if you serve the picture. And you’re never gonna forget that again.”
Manchester by the Sea
(Best film that is, I guess, not totally, officially released in Australia yet of 2016)
I caught Manchester by the Sea in a close-to-full theatre at the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival (yeah, yeah, it’s a North American film set by the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, tell your flunky’s to go dangle) and I am so glad that I did. Both because it was warming to experience the joys and the depths of Kenneth Lonergan’s kitchen sink tragedy with a crowd of fellow travellers, and kind of nice not to have to experience it alone. The less you know of the specifics going in to this one the better, but it will pay to be prepared – Manchester by the Sea is devastating. It’s full of life, love and, in Lonergan, is steered by a uniquely compassionate hand, but it will rattle the coldest hearts, in the darkest, graveyard-dirt-freezing, winter. Casey Affleck is unflinching in this story of the monumental difficulties a person can encounter in the face of accidents, blind chance and overwhelming, unspeakable tragedy –the unsettling thesis hovering over all that maybe some things that are broken cannot be fixed. Lonergan’s ability to put the right words in the mouths of these poor people, for whom there is nothing that can rightly be said is miraculous. This film is a gift and a pleasure. See it. “So that’s the Lee Chandler.”
Wolf Shield’s debut album Residuum kind of came out this year. Also it kinda didn’t. Due for release on French label XBTN, it was released as a digital download and a limited edition CD. You most likely didn’t hear it, despite it being a fantastic album. Wolf Shield is the solo minimal electronic project of Randolf Reimann (Tralala Blib/Massappeal) and it’s great. Lucky for you it will be seeing the light of day very soon as a cassette release on 10th Court, so be sure to snap that up when you see it.
I first experienced Makeda performing at Liquid Architecture’s Endless Bummer in February this year. “My god,” I thought, “this is amazing.” Makeda combines deep dark minimal dub techno wildness in the best way possible. Every time I hear her music I still think the same thing. This year Makeda has also released a haunting mixtape in the lead up to the federal election reflecting on the Australian government’s inhumane mandatory detention practices. Then there was an amazing live to air that we premiered here. With any luck her debut 12” will come out very soon, and more people can hear this amazing music from one of Australia’s most exciting musicians.
I managed to catch a couple of shows from these reclusive freaks last month. They rarely play shows and it had been something like eight years since their last Melbourne one. Maybe that was at the East Brunswick Club? Anyway, they were here to play at the Mike Kelley exhibition at Neon Parc Gallery, and my expectations were high, as always with MS. And as always they delivered. Bizarre skronk noise wobbles and grunts, Nick Rizzili’s immaculate babblings, Oren Ambarchi’s meticulously out of time drumming, Brendan Walls’, um, wall of noise. If you didn’t see one of their shows you missed out on something special. Hopefully it isn’t another eight years tip they play here again.
Without a doubt one of the highlights of my year was Dean Blunt’s Babyfather. Seeing them play at Unsound in Adelaide at the start of the year really confounded me and got me obsessed. You can read more about this HERE. The BBF has been a standout record since I first heard it at the beginning of 2016, and I am certain nothing that was released this year has eclipsed it. Basically just read the review. It is all in there and it is just as good as it was back then. I even went and bought a copy on vinyl.
I haven’t had much interest in guitar music for quite some time, but this year I have shifted somewhat. A great new band that sprung up this year (to me at least) is No Sister. Live they have a whirlwind power, somewhat reminiscent of earlier Sonic Youth, and their guitar abuse techniques add to the comparison I suppose too. They recently self-released their debut album and it is a great document of this band. The first show I saw of theirs was the first with their new bassist, and they’ve developed much since that first gig. You have probably heard of them by now, having played countless shows in Melbourne and around the country this year. They are incredibly hard working and full of youthful exuberance, and they are all so bloody young! It’s kinda interesting to me that the reference points of their music all existed at least a decade before they were born. OK, so their age has noting to do with their music. Seriously you need to check them out.
The Drones – Feelin Kinda Free (Tropical Fuck Storm Records)
Best left-turn. The Australian rockers blow it all up on their apocalyptic seventh LP, the most electronic, menacing, paranoid and groovy they’ve ever sounded. Singer Gareth Liddiard demonstrates plenty of contempt for contemporary Australia with his signature snarl and wit. It ended up being an essential record for 2016, sounding more true every day. Incredible that they can sound this subversive this far in to their career.
White Lung – Paradise (Domino)
Best album to drive to. The Canadian punks smooth over their sound for the most pop record they’ve ever made, without skimping on attitude. A huge-sounding 10 track set of aggressive anthems ready to be screamed along to. Easily my most played of the year; a blast to listen to, well, all the time.
Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones)
Best album about menstruation and vampires. The second solo LP in as many years from the Norwegian experimental pop auteur is an intoxicating realisation of her lofty ambitions. With a philosophical and exploratory heart, Hval’s sixth album is intimate, generous and strangely poignant. Her singing is soft, conversational and wildly entertaining, backed by the most engaging, twisted synth pop of her career.
Julianna Barwick – Will (Dead Oceans)
Best album to fall asleep to. On her third record, the New York ambient master reveals that she still has a few surprises up her sleeve – adding synths, drums and field recordings, whilst still highlighting her incredibly emotive vocals. She again looks skyward, but she’s never sounded so carefree and positive with this richer palette of sounds. Her show back in October at The Toff was unforgettable.
Katie Dey – Flood Network (Joy Void)
Best headphone album. The debut LP from the Melbourne bedroom-pop artist is dense and charmingly messy with electronic textures and heavily processed guitars and vocals. Dey’s voice is magnetic throughout, twisting around the restless and winding 32 minute set. With a supremely homemade and introspective feel, its jittery production routinely reveals warm, memorable and affecting pop moments that stick with you for days on end.
Xiu Xiu – Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks (Polyvinyl Record Co.)
And here was I thinking you couldn’t improve on Badalamenti’s creepiness. WRONG. Xiu Xiu’s take on the small town’s soundscape has more of Leyland Palmer’s mania than the original, but manages to avoid laughable lunacy. Think of it as musical fanfic that’ll cut you if you handle it wrong.
The Caretaker – Everywhere at the End of Time (History Always Favours The Winners)
Part one of a six part release strategy, this sees James Leyland Kirby’s investigations into memory, loss and ennui continue. It’s the beginning of the end, an aural examination of early-onset dementia, all crackle and Overlook jazz echoes. The soundtrack to falling in a hole you’ll never be able to exit.
Aram Bajakian – Music Inspired By The Color of Pomegranates (Sanasar Records)
He’s released two more albums this year, but Bajakian’s late-last-year disk of solo guitar meditations on Parajanov’s masterpiece is hypnotic and beautiful, and my pick of the quartet you can buy at his bandcamp ridiculously cheaply. It’s spacious and considered, sometimes hectic yet somehow also languid. Easily filed up there with Ribot, Frisell or Blackshaw works for an afternoon of staring at the wall, lost in thought.
Andrew Liles – The Dying Submariner: Complete Download Version (Self-released through Bandcamp)
An old favourite makes a reappearance. Liles, a sometime part of the Nurse With Wound/Current 93 universe, has made available even more of his instrument-and-reverb explorations than were heard in the 2006 physical release. This inhabits the same sort of area that Max Richter’s sleepytime tunes do, but has more Gavin Bryars backbone. Heartily recommended for a low-oxygen descent into the abyss.
ƧU⅃Գ HƧOTИIƆAM – Mirror Shoppe (Beer on the Rug)
(Imagine this bit’s written in MS Paint.)
Vaporwave divides by zero. This is just Macintosh Plus’s genre-defining album’s tunes played backwards. Surprisingly more shoegaze than shopping mall, this proves that there’s some humour in the aisles of consumerist ennui, if you can get past the faux-marble busts on sale. For what amounts to a joke release, it’s oddly compelling. SLOW JAMZ FOR EVZ and such.
This isn’t official, but you get the idea:
Odd Nosdam – Sisters remix EP (Leaving Records)
2016 saw Boards Of Canada emerge just a tiny bit with 2 remixes, coming back in fine form. And Odd Nosdam keeps a prolific activity that doesn’t cease to amaze including the highly-dense Sisters EP for Leaving Records in 2015, but it was this year that the remixes showed up. And this vynil includes their recurrent merge in hollyness taking place again, on a beautiful blending of sounds. There are other oneiric tracks on the release by the hands of Teebs, Bracken and OG.
Autechre – JNSN CODE GL16 (Touched)
Autechre had a blast in 2016 with the release of their 12th album on Warp, elseq 1-5, and more than 25 shows at the end of the year, but they keep being enormously effective on their loose releases on diverse compilations, like in this case on the third edition of Touched, Music For Macmillan Cancer Support. The release is inmense and it also includes Alec Empire, Amon Tobin, Anders Ilar, Plaid, B12 and a million more.
Oren Ambarchi – Hubris (Editions Mego)
One of the artists that’s been blowing my mind constantly for the last 3 years is Oren Ambarchi, he’s just releasing a lot of awesome colaborations all the time, but his return to Editions Mego with Hubris resulted in just another otherwordly jam-session. Joined on the ride by Crys Cole, Mark Fell, Will Guthrie, Arto Lindsay, Jim O’Rourke, Konrad Sprenger, Joe Talia, Keith Fullerton Whitman and Ricardo Villalobos, who is also in charge of a half an hour reversion of the whole jam, which is remarkable, released on Black Truffle.
patten – RE-EDITS 2 (Self Released)
Besides the remarkable album ‘Ψ’ on Warp this year, the project patten returned to their series of edits, a must have for every pastiche-sampling lover, truly hypnotic, featuring edits of Cocteau Twins, Rihanna, Boards of Canada, Death Grips and more. And it’s all for free on their Soundcloud.
Christian Fennesz & Jim O’Rourke – It’s Hard For Me To Say I’m Sorry (Editions Mego)
First ever duo recording of this two amazing artists turns into a very emotional ride in 2 sides, ‘I Just Want You To Stay’ being my favorite.
Various Artists – Selected Ambient Covers Vol. II (Bandcamp)
Fog – For Good (Totally Gross National Product)
2016 saw the return of Fog, the long running musical project of Minneapolis-based artist Andrew Broder. And what a return it was. Moving away from the band approach of the previous album, 2007’s Ditherer, For Good is a return of sorts to the solo experiments of Broder’s early work. The album is a mix of gorgeous piano melodies, sweeping synth pads, popping bass guitar, and Broder’s unique turntablism which provides rhythms and more abstract sonic elements. But first and foremost, it’s all about the song writing. Moving from the kitchen sink funk of ‘King Kuma’, to the jittery anxiety of ‘Trying’, and the delicate piano balladry of ‘Father Popcorn’, this is an album that will no doubt stand the test of time.
Tangents – Stateless (Temporary Residence)
Australian outfit Tangents’ second album Stateless effortlessly melds live instrumentation with electronic processing and programming, striking a balance between the group’s improvisational roots and meticulous studio construction. Taking cues from jazz, post-rock, early ’00s folktronica, and drum ‘n’ bass, Stateless is certainly the sum of its parts with each member bringing their own individual influences and style to the group’s sound. An exceptional album from a group of very talented musicians.
Show Me The Body – Body War (Corpus)
Body War is a cathartic explosion, a distinct mash of hardcore, post-punk, and hip hop amongst other things. The distorted twang of frontman Julian Cashwan’s banjo sears atop the sludgy bass and lo-fi drum sound, while the vocals jump from aggressive rap spew and grating screams, to moments of laid back melody.
Kane Ikin – Modern Pressure (Type Records)
Over the past few releases Kane Ikin’s brand of brooding, slow burn electronica has emerged from the delightfully swampy murk of his earlier work, juxtaposing crisp sonic details with his hazy signature style.
From the techno pulse of opener ‘Partial’ and ‘Tap Tap Collapse’ to the lumbering stumble of ‘Pulp’, the rhythmic elements play a much more prominent role, propelling the buried melodies along as if caught in their slipstream.
Modern Pressure caps off a very active and fruitful year for this great producer.
David Bowie – Blackstar (Columbia Records)
Regardless of the events surrounding the album’s release Blackstar is up there with some of Bowie’s most innovative and daring work, which is no mean feat considering the breadth and quality of his catalogue. While The Next Day heralded an exciting return to form, Blackstar once again proved Bowie could make an album that was truly unexpected and original.
Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition (Warp Records)
Was pretty rife with ambivalence for Danny Brown after his overly manicured, festival-ready previous effort, Old, so I came into this with a fair bit of trepidation. Brown is still the party-loving fiend he’s always been, but where his themes tended towards tackiness with Old, on Atrocity Exhibition he’s gone full dark side, no holds barred. Spitting over a range of bat-shit beats, Brown reaffirms himself as a true rap weirdo.
Kyoka – SH (Raster-Noton)
Got flowed this EP for an interview earlier this year, knew of Raster-Noton but not Kyoka. This brief offering is an intriguing collection of skittering, tactile beats and moody tones. Highly recommended.
Tim Hecker – Love Streams (4AD)
Tim Hecker rarely disappoints. Recorded in Iceland, this is an extremely lush album which I’d say is a sonic representation of fjords and glaciers if I was feeling like a lazy writer. Hecker’s instrumentation is proficient as ever and his dark sense of humour, seemingly at odds with the ‘serious’ nature of his work, shines through. Even if he is just making jokes to himself.
Clams Casino – 32 Levels Instrumentals (Columbia Records)
Don’t love all the vocal guests on Clams proper debut album, but if you can get your hand on the instrumentals what you have is another slightly maudlin yet solid collection of beats and textures from Clammy Clams.
M.O.B – Australiens 1, 2 and 3 (Paradise Daily Records)
Those cheeky Sydney M.O.Bsters released a three track tape which is guaranteed to send you into a downward spiral of glorious apathetic nirvana.