Friday, March 9, 2018

Clawing – Spectral Estate

Clawing – Spectral Estate
As listeners, we turn to music for a vast range of reasons. For one, we try to integrate and emulate our experiences and surroundings in sound, try to find an emotional connection with sounds in search of a different or enhanced reality. Clawing offer something unique here: Insight into very real horrors of this world. 

Clawing is a band consisting of Austin Gaines (Calques), multi-instrumentalist Jeff McLeod and poet Matt Finney, a trio able to evoke the darkest and most disturbing feelings and sceneries imaginable. Finney´s words gently lull you into the scene, a faux awakening and encounter with a surreal father figure that gives way to murky soundscapes. A scorched mess gauging your sense of direction. Cyclical. in an almost prayer like atmosphere, Gaines, and McLeod lead you deeper into a percussive attack of noise and guitar drones copulating. Everything crashes, Finney re-emerges buried and the dream-state becomes a hollow vessel of black. Only the opener, “Mythology”!

As a concept album, Spectral Estate is the trios take on nightly terrors, experienced as a survivor of child abuse and after the irredeemable transformation of home into a haunted house. In this, perception and fictional images blur together, what might be actual experience interlocks with scary tableaus of childhood. After “Mythology” creates external fear of the imaginary, “Gourds” relays inner visions, the shellshock of the terrors twisting images of life and survival into blood-splattered birds in pumpkins. This short attacks seamlessly flows into “A Clearing”, an airy combustion of the recurring cyclical guitar drones and shredded synth noises, resting and rising after Finney´s bleak vision of nature and nurture turn upside down. What Clawing expertly perform for the listener is the very real mental alienation ensuing after experiences of abuse. Paranoia, a bleakness that lets the perpetrator become an ever-present shade in the experiences of the victim, regardless if actually occurring or a dream itself. Detachment is not an option. Think Hansel and Gretel, but without the fairy tale aspect of it, no return after pushing the bad witch into the oven and strolling off into a better future, only the certainty of being broken, the inability to unsee and un-experience what was done to you trickling down to starve even the possibility of a hopeful outlook on life.

“Coma” and “Plastic Glowing Stars” follow the previous tracks, deepening the drones and immersive noise reminiscent of Tim Hecker or most recent work by Dominick Fernow´s Prurient. Yet, spaces become more apparent and even hints of melody shine through. Or much rather, after sitting in this hole for the first two tracks, the scapes become eerily familiar and create a sense of false comfort. The point of apathy and atrophy in which the need for a home and own space normalize the fight for sanity within a “learning to live with it”. The album finds its conclusion with "Home" and Finney´s looped lines of “go to sleep” and “let me go” tumbling over one another. Yet again a cyclical occurrence hardening the concept of nightly terrors and insomnia induced hallucinations clinging to the real as tight as the imagined. It is as much laying awake, wishing to find sleep, as well as the frustrated twilight-state between being asleep and awake. The fatigued desire of being freed from these nightmares and disturbing experiences that rob you of your sleep or darken the hours that might be left. 

While Fernow described his recent epic Rainbow Mirror as deathscapes, the only title to give Clawing´s slow explosion of Spectral Estate is that of hauntscapes. The uncanniest thing as a listener might be the suggestion of the pure virtuosity of three artists able to tap into the darkest veins of gloomy music contesting the expression of actual experiences. Spectral Estate acts as the recitation of the realism of abuse, especially following Finney´s vocal work here, and on his other projects. A listening experience that might as well serve as the representation of surviving sexual abuse and being forever homeless, haunted by the alleged place of safety turning into a space of pain and dread, threatening to be forever present. 

Check out the work by Jeff McCleod here.

Listen to another new album by Matt Finney in collaboration with Siavash Amini, titled Gospel.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Top Albums 2017 Part V 10 – 01

10. Charly Bliss – Guppy

This is the best pop-punk record this year, no doubt about it. I lend this appeal mostly to Eva Hendricks voice, a non-singing voice at times, disappearing when shrieking but ultimately beautifully emotive and relatable. Surely she follows in the lane of previously known female rock singers and the grunge of the 90´s, yet there is a huge amount of comedy, irony, and quirkiness in her delivery and lyrics that are supported by forward-thinking instrumentals that sound as polished as they appear raw and spur of the moment. Her outings range from “I pied the trampoline” to questioning her relation with “Am I the best / Or just the first person to say yes” and these forms of youthful energy and anxiety resonate even when the teenage years are pretty much over and done. Indie rock has to deliver on these fronts, the idiosyncrasies of being young while touching on the first questions and introspections of adulthood and generally being in touch with a world outside of what was known while growing up.

09. Junius – Eternal Rituals for the Accretion of Light

This album is the goliath fans have been waiting for a while now and shows the band – in a new set-up, with a refreshed edge in their songwriting and an airy knack for heaviness. With Joseph writing almost the whole album on his own, you´ll get the feeling of this record being very much a studio-brainchild. The guitars still sound bombastic, but now come off as more intricate and centered on a technical aspects. Especially considering that the sounds have mingled into a very specific wall of sound that is distinctly Junius but has grown to really encompass the ecclesial spirit of their morbid musing in sounds. You´ll get it immediately with “March of the Samsara” – the immediate tribal soundscape is broken by the heavily distorted and guitar, that after a first peak pretty much recedes back further into the mix, with a second line emerging on top of this wall that has merged with angelic voices. There isn´t just this one explosive riff or melody anymore, or at least not directly. But now, you´ll get a greater variety of sounds. The choir voices and something that sounds like a harpsichord become more striking at times. Surely there are some great riffs evoking amped up shoegaze played in a metal mindset you´d expect from Junius, but the more intricate moments occur through synths, effects and this harpsichord. Take “A Mass for Metaphysicians” for instance: The tortured group vocals in the explosive chorus carrying so much turmoil within them. But in the middle of the song you get this synth arpeggio, this aquatic melody that slides into a string section with some drumming that is so somber with Joseph´s vocals, taking away all tension from before and sounding like an incantation of sorts. Then there is this huge payoff in which this section crashes back into the chorus. The latter half of the album immediately marks a shift with “The Queen´s Constellation”. Right up front you get this synth melody that weaves into a much airy doomscape. Joseph harmonizes with himself here and his vocals are on point in this theatrical yearning. Yet again, the high point of this song lies in its musical interlude, when this synth melodies resurfaces again and the instrumental takes a turn towards a subtle build that never actually reaches its crescendo. It really feels like an endless flight and not giving us the usual satisfaction coupled with these angelic voices is a great way to end the song and change the mood from the previous tracks. Closer “Black Sarcophagus” is the best track here and a perfect ending to the album. This track is the perfect marriage of the two sides of this record. Staying in mid-tempo almost entirely, the lead out of this track beginning after four minutes has the doom and transcendence of the album colliding. The guitars being at their most electric and fizzy and the choir voices swelling with them. Like most of the album, it is a kind of negative explosion, not actually leading you anywhere but so dense and full of energy while retaining this uncanny airiness through the synths and voices. Eternal Rituals closes the album cycle that began with Martyrdom. A journey that can best be described as one from life to death, progressing into transcendence in Reports. Here the concepts centers on Elisabeth Haich and her biography. Haich introduced Yoga to the west and wrote on spirituality. While the focus on Velikovsky was more prevalent in Martyrdom, the connection here aren´t as apparent, at least not for me as I haven´t read her book. But either way, you´ll get the idea of spirituality and cleansing that is prevalent in this album. It is centered on the growth and metamorphosis of the spirit, into other lives or different life cycles. What I enjoy here especially is the marriage of Junius going full metal and their affinity for the more beautiful and sacral sounds. I always admired this different angle, what at the end sounded heavy and yet completely open and breathable and clear. Here they take this to perfection, even if the production isn´t always on par with it. Lastly, I highly recommend this album to you, especially if you´re tired of standard metal bands or bands that sound heavy. I hope they will push their sound into more experimental sounds in their next album, never losing their heaviness but maybe moving further away from what most would define as metal in general. As we have labels as doomgaze now, I think Junius fit this description as stargazers and will continue to do this melancholic image justice.

08. Heinali and Matt Finney – How We Lived

The collaboration of Heinali and Matt Finney always held a special place in my heart. With their first few releases in the early 2010´s one of the most intriguing instrumental artists hooked up with a singular poet of recent times to create dark epics of sound and word. After disappearing for a few years How We Lived marks the even darker return of the duo. These four tracks especially from Finney´s side, who always tinged his persona on these outing by his words alone contrasts years of silence with the unending experiences of personal drama and trauma. He might have stopped writing for a while, went down dark paths of drugs and alcohol and still might not be able to end this chapter, but this work is the retelling and breathing demon of these times. You can make heavy music by shrieking and shouting or by using everything the metal music repertoire has to offer, or you can bring the despair with Finney´s feeble voice and Heinali´s drone. How We Lived plays a little like exhibiting all the shit that has happened to you and being unapologetic about these experiences while still feeling shame. The shame of clearly understanding your own wish to die, trying to kill yourself or becoming entangled in negative emotions and letting them show in a parking lot for the world to see. One of my first thoughts when hearing the story behind the album and listening to “Wilderness” was about American Transcendentalism, guys like Whitman and Thoreau. I had a class on them a few years back and we went along the lines of them trying to build a life close to nature and building a new kind of humanity from these experiences. And most people like this idea about them very much. But what fascinated me the most, and what is an integral part in my opinion, is their motivation behind building all this in spite of a world they didn´t like and felt was off in its own way. It´s along the lines of them not going into nature to find something, but going there to actually get away from people and their foolish ways. And while I understand both ways and feel like there is this cynicism about humanity in one way or another, I also think a lot about the connection of humans and nature. And while it is something beautiful to be in nature, it can be a very scary place. And this leads me to think about you being in nature and sitting in a self-imposed isolation, as well as the question who you wanted to get away from. And I guess with people like Thoreau and this whole movement of being one with nature, the thing is, that you cannot get away from yourself and nature will reflect this wishful thinking right back at you, just like the abyss that is staring back at you. Maybe this makes Finney a kind of negative transcendentalist or gives the whole Man-Nature dynamic a much needed reality check. I can only imagine the state of mind one must be in after not having talked to anybody for very long time, carrying a shitload of heavy memories and experiences with them and knowing that there is nobody around to really talk to. And I guess at that point physical distance to people doesn´t matter that much anymore, whether you´re in a hut or in a major city, it all boils down to being distant from yourself while equally being caught up in everything that you feel is holding you down and haunting you. This all leads me to be startled by the second side, unsure if this isn´t the bleaker and more upsetting side. One the first two tracks Finney is alone, reminiscing, the dark thoughts creeping up and transporting you into a mind-numbing attack of negative emotions of uncertainty and shame. The second side is the morning after this, or even a reflection of the times these things happen. One is going through shit and the other is understanding, reflecting and coping with the sheer fact that you are going through some shit. And with this I had to think about one of my favorite lines from the new Aesop Rock album and the track “Get Out the Car”. At one point Aes says “Knowing ain´t half the battle / That´s a bullshit quip written by some asshole” and after I understood what he was talking about in the track and the section of the album, I could relate on many levels. Naturally admittance and reflection are part of the process of getting out and getting better, but I feel that this is only something that is true for some people. There are those who know what is going on with them, are self-aware for the worst parts of their life and from that perspective, the hole others fall in turns out to be a grave. If this is the morning after being pulled apart by your own thoughts and feeling, this is the morning of understanding your own defeat and inability to actually move on like many might suggest in a psychologically sound way. The second side turns out to be a sort of paralysis. The immediate heaviness and bleakness is gone, switched out for something that is more subtle and airy, but this might as well be the sensation of drowning in its essence – being surrounded by water, by transparency and life while still lacking air to actually survive. Heinali did a great job on this and I feel like "October´s Light" really carries a moment of respite before dropping everything into a different kind of darkness again. This frantic drum solo had me thinking of a complete freak-out while still being in control, something so jazzy and off the wall, that people don´t actually understand the insanity that is happening before their eyes. "Perfect Blue" has the cycle closing without recalling the same moves of the first side, we get this screeching and the heavy guitars, but now this shit isn´t pointing downwards but upwards, becoming a menace rather than the villain of the first side. In all its doom, How We Lived feels like a triumph of sort and fills me with the sensation of the collaboration of Finney and Heinali being their way of coping with negativity in life. Nothing is resolved and the issues at hand are very much in the presence of their own recounting, but by laying them bare, putting these words into these soundscapes, they become more than just figments of a darkened mind and something to devalue under the premise of just going through a rough time. This shit is real and maybe it is this reality that gives strength in the end, the sheer face of having to cope with the moloch that has created you and made you create in return.

07. Migos – C U L T U R E

The best rap record had to go to Migos and Culture since this was clearly their year on all fronts. "Bad and Boujee" was the trailer for what Culture was to become; a banger filled exploration on how the Migos flow can evolve beyond its early phases and those who rode the wave since “Versace”. Migos have grown as a group and now fully appear as an entity of three voices that support each other’s verses and create this harmonic machine filled with swag and ad-libs that are as catchy as they are meme-worthy. With a title as Culture, each track delivers on being a statement in being produced and written to perfection. Never in the sense of deep lyrics, but as catchy rap tracks that carry as much gangsta steez as well as providing the sense of their titles of fashion and luxury icons stemming from an existence in poverty and daily struggles. I dig these come up story to this day, even if they end in the stupidity of materialism and will most likely never lose their chauvinistic edge altogether. Apart from these systemic flaws, Culture stands as the impeccable voice of state of mind, the eternal grind of three young artists that, as the record shows, are ready to transgress into pop realms and collaborate with everyone who is willing to capitalize from each other. Maybe the title will come into full effect in years to come, with the record being the point of going from internet sensation to full-blown way of life. People already profess Hip Hop as the dominant culture, a statement which lets me think, when, since its inception and the death of grunge wasn´t it dominant in everything from fashion to the very way the internet works in all its post-modern intricacies. With Culture 2 about to drop in 2018, I´m sure that Migos will stand their ground for years to come and will continue to build their brand despite all those who still cry over the lack of lyricism or political consciousness. I do want a world in which Kendrick and Migos coexist and share the fame, one for keeping us educated and the other for pushing out style and delivering something to vibe to. Not to say, that Migos won´t be able to ever get deeper than their own come up story, just as Kendrick never was solely a conscious cat. 

06. Jessie Ware – Glasshouse

After Glasshouse, 2014´s Tough Love feels like a small step and rehash of Ware´s debut Devotion. Glasshouse is maturity in every lyric and nuance laid done for Ware´s to sing over. Maybe Tough Love will become the album in-between with a lot of uncertainty that becomes clarity in Glasshouse. Here Ware feels like a new artist altogether, someone who switches styles from song to song, has a lot of sensibility for the sounds and methods that made her career in the first place (“Domino”) and yet pushing for more epic ballads and denser lyrical expressions like on “Alone” or “Stay Awake For Me”. Ware gave the explanation herself and maybe these leaps come with marriage and motherhood, a better understanding of relationship in all its wonder and especially all the hardships that come with it. It has made her a better performer and the lyrical side more appealing. Instrumentally there is a lot more variety that steps away from recent rnb sounds to Latin sounds on “Selfish Love” – a track that I found awful at first listen, but has since then grown on me for Ware´s hushed hypnotic vocals – or simple acoustic guitar and her most directly personal writing on “Sam”. Surely, there is some pop baggage on the record, especially “The Last of The True Believers” feel flat in all its pomp, lacking a personal touch as such and not connecting well with the rest of the album. But still, Glasshouse is deeply engaging at its best moments and something that all fans of her music will cherish. Hands down the best pop record and the promise of an even more expansive repertoire of Ware as a singer. 

05. Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent

With their fourth LP, Protomartyr´s music finally or sadly seems to be reflective of the time it is written in. In contrast to the explicit political feel of Idles and their Brutalism, Joe Casey is a shaman, a man with a scatterbrain, at once filling in gaps with lines of pop culture references or personal stories while trying to address the disdain for his time, himself and his surroundings. Since hearing Under Color of Official Right, I had the feeling of a band that was creatively angry and yet, and Casey rambling style of lyricism plays a huge part here, apathetic enough to be truly angry. Their music never shout at you to change anything, there was never a finger pointed anywhere specifically, it largely feels like the observant gaze of caring in the most uncaring way, knowing that your being riled up will not lead anywhere and you won´t change anything anymore. While Brutalism felt like this year’s call to action, Relatives of Descent is the call for people to go home and take the L. Instrumentally the band sounds more energetic than on The Agent Intellect. Every guitar line sparkles and ever drum hit pops and Caseys lyrics, regardless if in their sluggish drool or at his most energetic like on “Don´t Go To Anacita” baffling. This album serves as a great reminder of 2015´s Under Color and why this was the best album of that year for me. In these times of political uncertainty and detachment from what was known to function as a living a life full of morals and good prospects, Relatives In Descent is this year’s mourning without death, the feeling of a world shifting in all the wrong directions. 

04. Pallbearer – Heartless

Somehow the track list of Heartless, the cover art, and the whole feeling after seeing the band live for the first time made the huge promise of this album being their best work yet. All this while Heartless is a departure, at least for those who wanted Pallbearer to stay the same doom-troopers from their first outing and well into the most parts of their second record. While they painted their gloomiest moments in the know colors of grey and black on these records, Heartless take the palette of drawing these atmospheres in pastel colors and allowing the doom that was thought to be set in abysmal holes of down-tuned guitars and a lot of space come to the front by pairing them with a lot of pop/heavy metal and prog sensibilities. The singular guitar on “Lie of Survival” for instance, has the vibe of heavy metal´s greatest acts and grows from being something Metallica or Gun´n´Roses would have pulled off into the certainty of sadness and disillusionment that can only truly be Pallbearer by the change of a few chords and the full band taking over. For many, these changes, especially the eschewing of repetitive patterns or long gloomy patterns might appear too soft to be doom and too in love with glitz at glam at points, but Heartless as a whole album is a long journey that is an ever-changing encounter with humanity from the perspective of negativity. All this ends in the grand closer “A Plea For Understanding”, a track that is the first true prayer in the discography of Pallbearer, not a eulogy or a yearning statement. Here the band completely shaves off their doom-ridden wand for extreme tenderness, more then I´d come to expect from Campell heavenly voice, a tearful “plea” and reflection that has the glare of a tortured soul arriving at the peak of a mountain range to understand its own puny longings and shortcomings. With all their themes and references to cosmos and prog-rock always giving of the spacey feel, this is neither space nor doom and still the deepest feeling of connection to something transcendental there is. 

03. PRURIENT – Rainbow Mirror

Conceived as the celebration of the 20th anniversary of Prurient and his label Hospital Productions, Rainbow Mirror stands as the most ambient/dark ambient work in the Prurient name. At first, the lack of voice, no screaming, no shouting, shrieking or even spoken word had me worried over how Fernow would let this 3 and a half hour epic play out, but the results are the most Silent Hill his music has ever been. As the celebration of a label that puts out dark electronic music in any shape or form, Rainbow Mirror comes closes to a manifesto of not only Prurient but Hospital Productions as a whole. After the release of this thing, I only listened to this for about a week, going to work with this playing, returning home with this playing and going about under these scapes. One thing that became striking apart from truly feeling drained was the way Rainbow Mirror made me transgress into moments of non-music or environmental sounds after having dwelled in these deathscapes. These tracks convey the experience of a sensory deprivation chamber while still pushing and pulling your senses in different directions. While the protagonists of Silent Hill experience a world of falling ashes as an reflection of their own rotten selves, Rainbow Mirror projects a world in which sound, noise and musicality collapse in your listening experience to form states of complete overlap with your surroundings on one hand and moments of thorough detachment and artificiality on the other – it all depends on the level of immersion and focus you put into listening. The banalest things like riding the bus on a sunny winter morning, the unbearable heat after the numbing cold mixed with the fresh air being discarded for the sinister smellscapes of food, tasteless heaps of perfume and cigarettes become textures inside these tracks. The bodily information becomes affected in these atmospheres that metaphorically go from ancient tombs to glacial rifts illuminated only by northern lights. This is the biggest trait of Rainbow Mirror and maybe why Prurient´s music will never just be dark music: These “deathscapes” in their lack of association and in their overboard length become devoid of pinning pictures to them and create space for your own encounters, your own environment to blend and metissage with them. Not to create a darkened outlook on these experience, but to make them visceral, textural, almost graspable and realistic. Over these clacks, silent synth rises and washes of sound, fiction never appears to take hold and the immersion creates a feeling of being in touch with your surroundings more than in their immediate aural presence altogether. 

02. VA – Sounds of Sisso

This is 2017´s most impressive musical find and the best experimental work. Simply because this is a true stylistic hybrid in that it becomes a natural expression. A musical expression of a small group and music culture of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. Called Singeli, this clash of techno, punk, gabba, rap and everything electronic is sure to melt your face at first listen. The speed of the beats and the rapping is impeccable and speech patterns and melodies match the stutter and uncompromising fluidity. Discovering Sounds of Sisso through Nyege Nyege Tapes and the shout out by Boomkat, the movement of cultural production leads me to once again realize how limited my own scope on music and the overall scope of musical writing is in the west. We praise those who take up a few elements of “foreign” music and equally those that let the roots of their expression show, but too often still push those of explicitly non-western context into the world-music category and by this exclude them from competing with mainstreamed and known music. All this while in Africa alone there exist so many new music genres and sound system culture that develop their styles taking everything in and fare way beyond binarities of own and foreign. This is true transculturalism and experimental electronic for it does not understand it as such anymore, it becomes the culture of a people and was developed with no market in mind. Over these 14 tracks, a handful of artists of the Sisso Record Label/collective use everything at their hands, Casio keyboard lines, samples or recordings of recordings of African and Indian drums, pitch-shifted comic voices (and Lil Wayne) and even go full aggro synth noise on you. All the while keeping up with stories that I and many won´t understand but by description speak on the hardship and idiosyncrasies of life in Dar Es Salaam that sounds pretty much like the Tanzanian equivalents of rap music. The energy these compositions deliver are meant to make you dance but in the same transport the feeling of their lives in a non-nightclub and cut off manner. This is best expressed through a statement by one of the Nyege founders Arlen Dilsizian:

"One of the first things international artists notice in East Africa, [Dilsizian said], is the natural integration of music and performance into everyday life. There is more fluidity between the performer and the audience, and between music and dancing," [he said.]. "In Africa dancing is much less determined by the nature of the space, while in Europe the nightclub became to dancing what White Cube became to art." (

This all-encompassing nature of music is hard to grasp when understanding music as art meant for the cut-off appreciation or special places that usually carry an air of being distant from daily experience. It just boils down what people do, to express themselves and to put out their understanding of the world – the most hip-hop and postmodern thing to be found where only some care to pay attention. I´m listening now!

01. Drab Majesty – The Demonstration

Released in January of this year, I still can´t get away from this album. I´ve always been a sucker for synth-heavy music and something of the synth-pop and wave direction, but I also grew bored of many bands that are caught up in the past of this style and don´t really care about innovating much on their sound or songwriting with something fresh. That being said, I´m a huge fan of Depeche Mode and love their work, but still can´t shake the feeling of them being stuck in a certain idea of their sound. A thing you can hear in their new album Spirit especially, which is like a rendition of their previous work. Yet, I can´t really sell you Drab Majesty as taking this lane of music and flipping the script entirely. They wear their influence and stick to known formulas and sounds, but they never come off as dated. Every track here is variant in mood and feeling and even though you get a lot of this hollow drumming and piercing synth arpeggios that will always bear some semblance of the past, you never get the feeling of listing to a carbon copy of anything. And yet, this relationship to past-sounds and a retro feeling is what is remarkable in the music of Drab Majesty. It seems like Deb Demure is obsessed with time, feelings of longing, memories and the warping of these concepts in his lyrics and sounds. You´ll get their obsession with reverb and delay in their guitar work from the first track and the associations with old synth-pop and wave music aren´t the only thing that these sounds of guitars folding back on each other will evoke. There is always this unreachable notion these sounds create, with Demure´s singing his anthems over these scapes, most of the time distant and reverb-soaked himself. While this all carries this retro feeling, especially the lyrics and feelings of the songs have a kind of immediacy that will pull you in. There are no weird studio-tricks or a wide range of sounds on the record, but always a tune that is catchy and immediately recognizable. Going with the narrative Demure builds around this outfit, I can´t help but feel the pull of nostalgia, sci-fi, fantasy, and emotions of longing and yearning for the other. You get tracks like "39 by Design" that carries this heavy load of pathos with it. Something that might come off as cheesy for most, but I believe every word of it in their delivery and these driving drum beats and explosive chorus work well with these heavy emotions. On this song there is this strange questioning of time, wanting to freeze it by taking a Polaroid – which is a great expression even though it is a very used expression. “Cold Souls”, for instance, bears some warmth in its haze, with this obsession with memories and always being removed from them colliding with something that sounds like a farewell. All these tracks have a very formulaic verse-chorus pattern, but the dynamic between them, the restrained explosive quality is smoothed out here and everything fits in perfectly. It´s lush and inviting in a way. Overall, the whole album is sequenced in a very good flow, with small spacy interludes transitioning between some songs, even though that is mostly something for the vinyl edition. 

I guess my liking this album goes deep into my own listening experiences. This isn´t harsh or deeply experimental, doesn´t push boundaries, but just a well-written album. There is a heaping amount of pathos in here for sure, but not everything here is standard hazy dream pop or synth-pop. A thing you´ll definitely understand listening to something like “Kissing The Ground”, a direction I´d like the band to develop further into. If you´re someone who can think himself into paralysis and yet bears the urge to be immediate and take action, this is for you. The past, memories and the breaking of relationships play a huge part here, as a theme, burden on the music and the narratives themselves. The Demonstration carried me over this year and it is a very personal choice that can´t be explained beyond my own biography by ways of a music critic. These are sounds that resonate with my bodiliness, my perception of self and world and thus carry with them my experience over these times. The epitome of long years of work, even further back the environments and influences that made me and with it, the disappointments and emotional hardship that come with coping and breaking away from the things that still hold me back. In these synth-scapes, Demure´s own definition of being merely a vessel for spiritual impressions, his guitar sounds, I find again these dynamics that seem to be very universal in the long-winded coming of age of many.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Top Albums 2017 Part III 30 – 21

30. Voices from Deep Below – I Want to Stand Where the Sun Himself Shakes with Fear

Voices From Deep Below are one of my top finds of 2016 and this year they delivered yet another epic shoegaze album. While they even sing “I´m hazy” in one of their songs, this album is more than just one of the best shoegaze offerings I heard in a long while. The compositions are long, hazy and reverb-soaked until the brim. But without becoming too dreamy or ethereal, Voices From Deep Below keep it on the hard-hitting side of the genre and offer up respite only to drown out the negativity and longing their songs carry. It feels good to experience this kind of aggression in such an outfit and a hunger to deliver something that feels instantly recognizable in a sea of carbon copies. If one track, check out opener “This Is The Way” to be instantly immersed and turn that shit up!

<a href="">I Want to Stand Where the Sun Himself Shakes with Fear by Voices from Deep Below</a>

29. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper

Mirror Reaper is the most cohesive single track album I´ve heard that does not fall into the category of ambient or electronic compositions. This 90min journey carries the visceral encounter of death in life. Mourning a lost one as the absence of their being, while facing the fact of death, one´s own death. Slowly developing, rising and falling and yet remaining doom-soaked and heavy as can be, the album revels in the moments of clarity, when the attack is turned down for a few moments of light strumming when the voices, also of ex-member Adrian Guerra peak for a few moments that feel as cold as they are soothing, the sobering feeling of ache, feeling blood flow after a shocking realization. The ending, ca. the last half hour hits all the soft spots, the organ sounds that come through after the clean prayer like vocals and it all disappearing again in heavy guitars and finally dissipating into clean nothingness.

<a href="">Mirror Reaper by Bell Witch</a>

28. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps

The mention of Julien Baker in connection to Bridgers seems like a must-have. Another young singer-songwriter with introspective heartbreak and observations on human relationship and the strange intricacies of life. However, Bridgers is strongly observant while Baker experiences. Bridgers seems to come from a place of deeply engaging with her surrounding and drawing out the essence to write a song, Baker sings her heart out. Both approaches lead to great songwriting, and the comparisons remain half-baked. Stranger in the Alps shows execution and even more promise of a future reference for up and coming singer-songwriters. You´ll encounter observations and thoughts that have you saying “yes, I feel exactly the same!” and through what feels like a handful of guest musicians and sonic ideas, this feeling of familiarity is brought to the front as organic as possible, never feeling caught in abstraction or even worse, in the first-person view of someone who tries to find meaning in the everyday. Stranger is exactly that, distancing yourself from experience to get a closer look, the best diary for the masses remaining a unique expression of Bridgers.

<a href="">Stranger in the Alps by Phoebe Bridgers</a>

27. Kelela – Take Me Apart

If Cut 4 Me was the experimental musing of a singer and a production group stepping out and trying to mold rnb with experimental beats in a way that interlocks and pushes both sounds to extremes, Take Me Apart is the sophisticated performance of this experiment, the rightful mission-statement of what rnb can and will be. Apart from some of the best instrumental work by the likes of Arca, Jam City or Bok Bok, changing from electronic soundscape worthy of ambient music to a beat-driven, garage-inspired club outing to smooth sensuality, it is Kelela effortless vocal work that ties this album together and stays in front of the whole experience. Not many vocalists could pull something like this off; have me not wanting the instrumentals of an album because their vocals only deviate from their greatness. There is not a single miss on the whole album, not a repetition of texture or atmosphere, and this alone is an accomplishment many recent rnb singers will continue to fail at. 

26. House and Land – House and Land

If you´re like me, you´re a little fed up with the use of the label folk music and never quite understand, what it exactly means. Sometime the sheer usage of an acoustic guitar will have people calling it folk. And I myself do it at times too, I´m not gonna lie. But with House and Land, you really get a deeper idea of what folk means or meant over the last few years. Nostalgia and history play a huge part in it. And yet, also an understanding of these histories and the drive to channel them into the actual present, not just playing at histories and heralding the past as only truth. Apart from using instruments like the banjo, Shruti box, and bouzouki, their vocals and styles of singing are as central to this album. The most intriguing moments happen when both singers harmonize with each other or stretch out the notes and sustain them in their performances. At certain times there is this sweet spot that occurs when two or more great vocalists collide and feed off each other, a kind of discernable unity. The whole album doesn´t consist of original songs but takes up old folk songs, especially from the Appalachian region and has House and Land taking their shot at these songs. As they profess in their liner notes, they took most songs from acapella versions, letting in only the words and feel without instrumental ideas. Overall this album will be something for you if you´re searching for music that has a very organic feeling to it, something that also shines through in the mixing and recorded feel. I guess what draws me in the most is this intricate power of two women taking up traditional songs that must be very much embedded in their lives and offering someone like me, who is as distant from this, their very fresh takes on their inherent music. Again, working out their own aesthetic, tapping into an oral and now recorded tradition and pushing this further and infusing it with a new and different life.

<a href="">House and Land by House and Land</a>

25. Lil Uzi Vert – Luv Is Rage 2

Sitting as high as position 25, this is the only album on this list that has a lot of throw away songs. With 16 tracks Vert went all in, going from usually short and sweet statements to almost an hour of music and this did not always take fruit. But Luv Is Rage 2 is a important project and the most successful project of the newest school of rappers. The first five tracks alone are impeccable, energetic and draw you in to everything Vert is. The grandstand of “Two” in all its boastful melancholy, reprising the accordion in a beat. “444+222” as the hypnotizing mantra, more hook then actual song with verses, the playful exhibition of a young dude that is completely present in his fame while still feeling the repercussions. “Sauce It Up” in all its energetic glory of not slowing down and the breakdown of “No Sleep Leak” in is drawn out pacing with Vert´s manic expressions between riches and poverty. Lastly this is topped off by “The Way Life Goes”, dream-pop Uzi in his special kind of vulnerability that made “XO Tour Llif3” such a showstopper. Maybe Luv is Rage 2 is truly the expression of the internet, the sequel of an energetic deluge of information, material showcasing and emotion garbled together with a lot of stuff that is just there. 

24. Oneohtrix Point Never – Good Time Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

You can find the quote by the Safdie Brothers, who directed the movie Good Time, in which Oneo took everything he learned on his last three projects and then he made a sequel to Rifts, or his earlier works again. And I do think, this captures the feel on most elements of this album quite well, especially in the regard of Good Time bearing the feel of being a direct progression from his last works and definitely taking elements from all of them and employing them here. But I think, utility is the much better term here. If you think about giving Oneo the job of soundtracking something, you might always run the danger of receiving the most idiosyncratic piece of work that is also able to break your work itself, or at least go off on its own. Yet, through his work with different artists and also his commission, in which he worked for art installations, Oneo proves to have mastered the understanding of his own musical abilities in regards to using them to narrate and create atmospheres. You get the feeling that this is explicitly meant for something, and something more than just his music. The album works fine on his own, but you understand the narrative moments of suspense and relieve in these pieces. One thing you can especially point out are the moments in which Oneo resorts to use clear drum patterns that could stem from organic recordings also. These driving beats over his production, for instance on “Flashback” provide you with the plotline that the track would otherwise be lacking in a way. This simple element helps his composition to take one step down from being meta and dysfunctional in a representational sense and working for images themselves.

23. Queens of the Stone Age – Villains

Villains is the return of the sexy playfulness of Queens of The Stone Age, the actual rehash of Era Vulgaris after the down-beat and storied approach of Like Clockwork. In concept Like Clockwork should have been my favorite Qotsa album, the dark epic that revels in abstraction and slow burning ballads, but Villains is what my listening experience expected of Homme´s brainchild. While the first single “The Way You Used To Do” was too simplistic and pointed at the unreflected good time Homme himself referred to, when speaking about the new album and his obsession with dancing, Villains as a whole has enough variety and great songwriting to compensate the focus on catchy tunes. “Domesticaed Animals” alone serves as the showcase of a slimmed-down and streamlined take on the alternative grittiness and spooky action of previous Qotsa, very much like something from Era or Lullabies but punchier and overall more in touch with its own wanting to be a pop tune – Nick Oliveris shouts at the end included. “Fortress” works as the most honest and introspective moment on the album, Homme´s personal confession and consoling moment for his loved one, still in the fashion of a man who knows that everything will die and you must go through shit to get somewhere. And lastly closer “Villains of Circumstance” touches back upon the feeling of Like Clockwork but pushes away the dreariness for a visceral return of force in the vain of truly creating the sensation of dancing with the devil. 

22. Kehlani – SweetSexySavage

Kehlani´s debut album went by me with a few listens not catching my attention. SweetSexySavage went from being a catchy rnb record to one of my favorites unconsciously. Kehlani shows as much as swagger as vulnerability on these songs. From the sophistication of “Piece of Mind” to transforming from the celestial to the nocturnal in “Everything Is Yours”, SweetSexySavage burns with the urge to speak out and lay open every possible side of a personality. This is the major point of making this album an enjoyable and varied listen. Very much Kehlani´s grappling with relationships and losing parts of her own sense of self as well as blooming again and finding a new sense through the creation of these tracks.

21. Drake – More Life

First off, fuck all that talk about this being a playlist before being an album, apart from a few joints, More Life is Drake at his best with grandiose features and the tracks that only have other artists on them are a nice touch that helps expand the whole experience of Drake´s megalomania in being a cultural figure like Kanye West. This album strikes out VIEWS in its density and variety by a long shot. Last year’s Drake seemed to aim for the same grand collage of his influences and affinities but ended up falling short due to his own being caught up in pushing out musical ideas before executing them. Here, with a stronger drive towards grime and dancehall, while doing something exciting in the vein of “Portland” in all its whistling happiness or the nostalgia of “Glow”, Drake succeeds in giving us more of himself and his narrative and being at the front of commercial hip hop. Listening to these 22 tracks and a year apart from VIEWS this is Drake going international and truly embracing the power of his home Toronto and his crisscrossing between there and Houston. Above that, this might be the point where he is finally moving away from being the singing-rapper under whom grew his label/ army of like-minded soldiers into becoming a figurehead that lets his craft inspire other people´s sounds, very much like the old-Drake in a new mindset.

Top Albums 2017 Part II 40 – 31

40. Remo Drive – Remo Drive 

For your dose of indie energy and teenage angst, Remo Drive provide the good stuff. Their debuts album Greatest Hits does feel like a band that has been around for a long time, honing their skills and unleashing an album of their best work to date. Not many bands of this genre sound as fresh as Remo Drive. What captured my attention were their stunning instrumentals and disdain for standard song structures. Some songs will break down in the middle part with a purely instrumental stint only to pick up where they left. "Strawberita" for instance has this huge instrumental bridge that feels like an impromptu jam in disregard of how the track started. And this linear writing style pays off track after track, not letting their songs become simple pop or pop-punk and emanating an overflow of energy and creativity. After this first outing and up until now staying completely indie, Remo Drive might become one of the leading bands of the genre and even better, prove to be a band that will never settle on one style or an idea of their music and keep us entertained.

<a href="">Greatest Hits by Remo Drive</a>

39. Iona Fortune – Tao Of I

Tapping into the more ambient side of this list, Tao of I really struck a chord with me and stands to be one the most interesting albums using the Gamelan I know. If you like Laarji and Eno´s Ambient Three as much as I do, this album is something for you. Armed with the the Chinese Guzheng, Gamelan and an AKS Synth, Fortune made a set of songs that play on the 64 symbols of the I Ching, the Book of Changes and their meanings. I can´t really talk too much on that, but you can look up the meanings and try to find some semblances in the soundscape Fortune creates. The usage of the Gamelan and Guzheng, two instruments that have a visceral and very organic feel on their own, with the bassy drones of the synthesizer matches uniquely. "Kun" with its repetitive hitting of the Gamelan, has the instrument and the bass going in two different speeds but blending together to pretty much dissolve any New Age or meditation vibes one might get from hearing this instrument. With all the Asian and oriental clichés being associated with these instruments, Tao of I is a fresh take that is as much experimental as it is insightful to the power of non-western instruments and methods of playing. Above that, I´m excited to see how Fortune will provide 56 other tracks for the planned series of eight albums.

<a href="">Tao of I by Iona Fortune</a>

38. The xx – I See You

This is the first XX album that I thoroughly liked and I didn´t expect that to happen after the endless hype regarding the band and my listening experience of the first two albums always resulting in boredom. I got the appeal as they are an indie band that is bordering on shoegaze and dream pop without ever lacking the accessibility or eccentricity of such acts. But in this, I never actually felt that their hushed tones were doing anything out of the ordinary and, apart from a few great songs, a whole album turned into a grey and shiny slush. And going with the color palette theme and Jamie XX album In Color being an influence on this one, it was the best decision to allow some lighter tones into their mix. Going with blue and amber tones, there is this uplift in these songs, the dynamic of Romy and Oliver not reflecting in a broken sense but serving up self-doubts and intricacy of love in greater nuances. Tracks like “A Violent Noise” or “Say Something Loving” go full garage, while others like “Performance” bear a known intimacy of this xx-esque guitar and bass combo that made the band great in the beginning. And tracks like “I Dare You” in its country vibe or “On Hold” in all its pop sensibility show the promise of a band that deserves the number one spot on the charts as well as critical praise. This is the shit I want to hear on the radio and younger audience to find before going deep into other bands.

37. THEY. – Nu Religion: HYENA

Think Rae Srmmurd but with a highly psychedelic edge, bordering on rnb as much as on rock and you´ll get to where They. stand. Many rnb acts ape formulas that have worked for their contemporaries, in my opinion, Ocean or the Weeknd and this can lead to success, no doubt. Hyena is a power play on what you can achieve with a set of fresh eyes and as much a pop sensibility as an ear for indie rock sounds. Every song on here is memorable and catchy, from the tripped out aggression of "Motley Crue", the trap funk of "Bad Habits" or the swaged experimentation of "U-Rite". There is a sense of pure enjoyment in this album that I usually shy away from in music, something that just sounds good and catchy and this a great achievement on its own. I hope to see They. dabbling in other artist’s music too and become a staple in today´s rnb world.

36. Hammock – Mysterium

Albums centering on death and mourning made waves this year, be it with Bell Witch or Mount Eerie. Mysterium by the ambient outfit Hammock worked as a tribute to a young friend of Marc Byrd, Clark Kern who died of a tumor at 20 years old. Hammock toyed with choral work in their previous albums but on here they made it to a method with angelic voices rising in almost every song. While being a tribute, you get the feeling that this album is like asking the questions on the meaning of life and death in a very non-clichéd way – profound pieces of soundscapes, string arrangements mingling with an affectionate choir to grapple with the fact of death, especially death striking the young. For a long time, I felt Hammock suffered from a certain kind of over-production, too much output without a focus on the complete body of work, but Mysterium is a holistic experience born from one reasoning bearing many shapes and tendencies. The wish to die instead of the other on “I Would Give My Breath Away”, the haunting realization of “Things of Beauty Burn” or the celestial send-off “Elegy”. On things modern classical this year, there were only a few other records of such gravity.

<a href="">Mysterium by Hammock</a>

35. Dmitry Evgrafov – Comprehension Of Light

After working mostly digital for his debut on 130701 in 2015, Evgrafov´s newest albums sees him working with real instruments and arrangements again. On Comprehension the string arrangements take center stage before the piano pieces, which made Collage a delicate experience. There are still great piano pieces like “First Crop” but as this track goes on, the strings become integral and bloom away from being singular elements into truly orchestral works of a mind setting in motion a number of musicians. While the label describes the album as a narrative in its form and you can trace some kind of concept in its progression, I find its sheer maximalism to be the most intriguing element. Especially when Evgrafov taps into brass on “Kinsukuroi” featuring Benoit Pioulard and these organic instruments morph with electronic elements or when he does the same motion of swelling in reverse on the Abul Mogard featured "Znanie" that has the instruments emerging from the electronic depths. The tracks on Comprehension of Light aren´t as playful and in touch with nature as Collage seemed to be, even though they have more of an organic vibe to them, but even if the color palette is stripped down, the nuances shine and when Evgrafov collapses his styles on "Rootedness" you´ll be certain that this album is not about doom and gloom but a grand gesture of endurance facing bleakness.

<a href="">Comprehension of Light by Dmitry Evgrafov</a>

35. Balmorhea – Clear Language

Clear Language has Balmorhea returning with an album after five years and in a way, returning to their original style of music. I loved 2012´s Stranger in all its variations and different ideas. For one thing, the album was uplifting and saw the band work within many compositional styles. Clear Language as the name implies had the band going back to being just a duo of two musicians jamming and writing instrumental music centered on guitar, piano and sometimes voice. It is a great reminder of how great the self-titled album and River Arms were and works as a statement of clarity in a way. The center of Balmorhea is what remains the strong suit of the outfit and not the idea of a steady progression of bigger instrumentation and intricate compositions. With Clear Language, the band went minimalist again and crafted something that holds the same emotional sway as their albums from almost ten years ago. Naturally, I wish they´ll still dabble in electronics and blend banjo with howling group vocals in an eight-minute piece, but now I´ll know that these elements function through the striking dynamic of a duo or a small group of people playing in a room and letting their instruments speak.

<a href="">Clear Language by Balmorhea</a>

34. Waxahatchee – Out In The Storm

There is nothing greater than to see Waxahatchee grow as a songwriter and Out In The Storm, while not bringing much innovation on the instrumental side, did just that – show continuous growth of a story centered on human and romantic relationships. This chapter seems to be very much about finding yourself after a bad breakup and becoming more in touch with your own sense of self that was diminished in a relationship for the sake of admiring someone else. After years and four albums in, I can surely say that Crutchfield is my favorite songwriter when it comes to indie rock and especially in terms of relationship. And one other thing to point out is that Out In The Storm might be the first album where I find the inclusion of the demo versions to be a great addition to the actual mix of the album. As much as I enjoy the originals, the demos in their raw and unfinished nature capture the essence of the album better than the finished versions. The demos somehow come closer to the messy and torn vibe of many of the lyrics and the growing pains of being alone again so to speak. Overall a great entry that delivers and is a solid expansion of Crutchfield´s impeccable discography.

<a href="">Out in the Storm (Deluxe Version) by Waxahatchee</a>

33. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

Apart from Kendrick Lamar, Vince Staples is one of the best lyricists in the mainstream scopes of rap right now. With Big Fish Theory, however, he furthered his style by going off into different territories in his selection of beats and styles of delivery. He even sings in a very indie-tronica way on this album! The beats on Big Fish Theory are influenced by footwork and Detroit techno and employ many elements that are still uncommon in trap beats. There is as much ambiance as there is bass heavy stutter in these beats and Staples changes his delivery accordingly to these choices. This alone makes the album one of the most exciting listens of 2017. Which is only furthered by Staples deeper songwriting on this one. Summertime 06 had many great moments that went from being deeply personal and heartfelt to being mindbenders. Here Staples grapples with fame and the situation of black people right now, furthering his observations of the hood and musing on the loss of love and his feeling of being down. The connection of energetic dance beats with his usually laid-back voice and his content are impeccable, easily transcending Summertime 06. This shit is bleak and poignant. The lyrics of "Bagbak" will remain stuck in my mind, “Until they love my black skin,  I´m going in” and “We need Tamikas and Shaniquas in that Oval Office”. In his own way, Staples has created one of the blackest albums of the year. 

32. Patricia – Several Shades Of The Same Color

The approach of conceptually shying away from emotions or cognitive listening is one I can very much relate to and one that makes Several Shades of The Same Color an intriguing entry in this year’s electronic music. Not talking about anything narrative, emotional or certain concrete ideas is almost impossible when talking about music, and yet the immediate reaction to sound is very much of this order before becoming entangled in language and thought. The individual tracks on this album should be listened to for their physical reaction alone, at least that is the intention. I can grasp this, putting on the varied sonic ideas and not transgressing the borders of trying to guide them through genre or other common denominators at all. This makes Several Shades morph from a club setting to headphone music while it might be best experienced in a room filled with people and at high volume. Apart from all that, and in a more analytical sense, these 15 tracks offer much in ways of danceability and experimental sound collage. This is far from normal house music or techno and yet still touches upon the best of its tropes, especially in favoring melody over anything that might be perceived as abrasive or completely abstract. And this is why this places in the top albums of this year, for it does not try to change the methods of making electronic music but rather the frame of listening.

<a href="">Several Shades of the Same Color by Patricia</a>

31. Adult Mom – Soft Spots

I love the dynamics of this album. How the slow songs “Patience” or “Ephemeralness” portray the solitude of pouring your heart out while being carried by a band, small synth effects or sparse drumming. And how the faster-paced tracks like “Full Screen” and “Steal The Lake From The Water” grapple with a creative kind of anger and build on expressing frustration in an energetic way. With this album bearing a writing style that grapples with queerness and gender in a refreshing and not scolding way makes it something unique. “Drive Me Home” immediately caught my attention and the way the lyrics go between losing yourself for validation and grapple masculinity has me thinking still. 

<a href="">Soft Spots by adult mom</a>

Top Albums 2017 Part I 50 – 41

51. Youth Code – Commitment To Complications 

This is the best album I missed in 2016. I read something about Youth Code, but never checked them out and that was a mistake. Industrial works best when it knows how to interlock tension with release, the hard-hitting with silence and glimpses of space between the pressure.
Don´t get me wrong, in contrast to their previous work Youth Code haven´t gone soft here, but you immediately get the refinement of their sound. The programming is richer and tends to include elements that could be straight up synth pop. In many instrumentals, I´m reminded of something you´d hear in a Prurient release, only in a stronger song structure and shaped up to fit the gruff vocals by Sara Taylor. The peak of this style and my favorite track on this is the closer “Lost At Sea”. This one shifts from synth ritual to broken musing only to arrive at the tortured screamed ending. After hard-hitting tracks like "Avengement" and more straightforward songwriting, the cryptic “going backwards” over the wavering backdrop and whispers is the perfect release of anger and despair and shows the creativity of a band I´ll be stoked to see grow even further.

<a href="">Commitment to Complications by Youth Code</a>

50. Angela Martyr – The November Harvest

This was a late release of 2016 and if you´re looking for some metal-tinged grunge, you won´t go wrong here. As the new band by Morgan Bellini, who made some waves with Vanessa Van Basten, The November Harvest delivers a collection of droning guitars, soaked in reverb and fuzz over some desolate vocal work reminiscent of Failure at its best. Angela Martyr sure know their past, but they never go full retro and the whole album flows seamlessly with many highs like "Georgina" or "Negative Youth" and ends in the 14-minute epic self-titled track. Never heard someone do Jesu and his blend of drum machine doom so much justice!

<a href="">The November Harvest by Angela Martyr</a>

49. Broken English Club – The English Beach

I enjoy the idea of The English Beach, an industrial and techno album that is set very much in nature and human interaction with it through architectural structures and machinery. That might sound like the cliché approach to industrial music per se, but Oliver Ho under his Broken English Club moniker went experimental and abstract enough to set this album more in the connection of nature and artifice rather than play on the over-forming of one over the other. The industrial tracks bang in all their metallic glory, there is a great usage of spoken word on tracks like “Pylon” and Ho´s knack for sound collage and visceral elements bring this to a holistic experience.

<a href="">The English Beach by Broken English Club</a>

48. The World Is a Beautiful Place I am No Longer Afraid to Die – Always Foreign

This is a direct hit. I´ve enjoyed The World Is A Beautiful Place´s since Restlessness and this is one of the best examples of political songwriting working wonders for the setup of an indie and post-rock influenced band. I never expect that much from the genre of guitar-wielding indie rockers in regards to making strong statements of current topics and this is somehow a fault of my own. I´d search for something like that in Hip Hop or Hardcore, to be honest. With Always Foreign the band taps into the feelings of xenophobia from an intriguing angle and describe how feelings of a former safe-space, what you´d understand as your home, become hostile and change for the worse. It´s worth it to read through the lyrics on this one, but above that, the music will create a mix of discomfort and energy towards betterment. A sobering look at what is eating away on what you love packed in delicate guitar work and grand crescendos that see the band expanding their musical horizon even further.

<a href="">Always Foreign by The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die</a>

47. Ibeyi – Ash

Ibeyi made a grand entrance with their self-titled album in 2015. Their approach on modern RnB tinged with native Cuban influences felt fresh and the dynamic the sisters share as haunting as it is catchy. Still, I didn´t return to the album as much as I thought I would, in parts because I wasn´t that happy with the mix and flow of the album and tended to pick half of the songs over the other. With Ash, however, these flaws are pretty much nonexistent and the blend of styles flows seamlessly over the course of the twelve tracks. On this album, the drums pop and the bass feels right with the call and response schemes of tracks like “Deathless”. The ecstasy of their arrangements and of the singular elements shine on every track and features of someone of Kamasi Washington or the usage of Michelle Obama´s voice are striking. With that, their haunting world filled with spirits and ghosts gets a realistic vibe when the duo goes political on “No Man Is Big Enough For My Arms”, making for one of the best outings in their whole discography. And I feel this opens up one of the biggest achievement of Ash, it takes the spiritual vibe of the duo and strips it of the self-reference and highly personal air of their debut and lets it become something realistic and universal.

46. Slowdive – Slowdive

The reemergence of a band that went on indefinite hiatus and was thought to be done is always something scary. Most of the time the bands that decide to make music again end up building on their legacy and creating something that is nostalgia and fan service at its best. With their aptly self-titled album Slowdive, after 22 years, created something that is more than just a linking up to previous affairs. If there hadn´t been a band named Slowdive before, it wouldn´t make a difference of this being a grand shoegaze outing of heartfelt songwriting paired with lushes arrangements and atmospheres. While I personally enjoy the more melancholic tracks like “Sugar For The Pill”, “No Longer Making Time” and “Falling Ashes” over the faster performances on this album, every track on the album shines and offers something new. The band were sure not to deliver any hazy slush and fillers on this album and the one word I´d use for this album is yearning. The yearning that is not focused on wanting to recover what is lost, but the one that is for growing up and becoming someone else from what held you back and people have come to expect of you.

<a href="">Slowdive by Slowdive</a>

45. Songhoy Blues – Résistance

Titled "Resistance", Songhoy Blues delivered a funky desert rock album full of catchy and delightful tunes. There is a strong amount of “feel good” in their music, something you would not expect from a project born out of oppression in the first sense, but it is truly the most punk thing to do. As many parts of the world drift toward conservative and dogmatic schemes of upholding one culture or one religion in a nation, Songhoy Blues are exiles and musical transgressors in the best sense. They fuse their styles dominant in Mali with country, rock, and funk into a smooth whole and do this in way of second nature and not as a high-minded experiment. Many albums I loved this year carry this idea of transgression and have an international edge to them. And this is still something I find missing in most genres and the general scape of music from a western perspective. We need bands like Songhoy Blues for their transcultural approach as much as there is the need for high spirited rock songs that give of the air of positivity. Even if more than half of the shit I listen to is dark. Best tracks: "Voter" and "Hometown".

<a href="">Résistance by Songhoy Blues</a>

44. Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness

I get many gripes with singer-songwriters that dive deep into ethereal sounds. Most of them never build up to having tension in the first place and for that will never grasp your attention. Almost like they are designed to be listened to in the background of a cafe, ambient music for those who need lyrics and voices in their ambient and especially those, who don´t like abrasive sounds or anything in the semblance of metal, rock or electronic music. And that shit is boring, no arguing about that. That being said, I didn´t expect Julie Byrne to take a turn towards a stripped down set up following her 2014 album Rooms With Walls and Windows. On that album, she worked with some eerie sounds and build soundscapes rather than just play her guitar on most songs. With Not Even Happiness, at least for me, she toed the line of building engaging songs without many new ideas or elements. It has an intimate vibe, with the lyrics remaining quite cryptic, never becoming to concrete or explicitly personal (except for closer "I Now Live As A Singer"). And this is somewhat of an achievement, undeniably ambient, while still remaining lyrical. I´ve sat with this album since January and still find enjoyment and respite in listening to it. Not because I´ve learned concrete things about the artists Byrne or for blowing my mind, but for her way of building an emotional canvas of reflection and letting me partake in her atmosphere that might very much reflect more then direct songwriting could. 

<a href="">Not Even Happiness by Julie Byrne</a>

43. Auburn Lull – Hypha

After nine years and a short instrumental resurfacing in 2014 Auburn Lull are back. It is striking to have them reappear in the same year as Slowdive and, just like them expand their already superb discography with a new outing. Hypa is as somber and reflective as their previous work but features more little twinkles and attention to detail in the instrumentation and overall production. Can´t tell if this is simply because of the technological advances or simply the power of time and aging, but when “Silo” starts wavering over the clear vocals of Heenan and the whole track starts moving gracefully, it truly feels like I never left the dreamscapes of my teenage years.

<a href="">Hypha by Auburn Lull</a>

42. Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens

I was in love with this voice before I even who Kelly Lee Owens was. The best thing about Daniel Avery´s stunning Drone Logic was how he incorporated Owen´s voice into his production and made for something that expanded the horizons of female vocals in techno and house. Owen´s herself takes flight where Drone Logic ended and with her self-titled creates a set of songs that are as much meant for club settings as they are intricate electronica. Her beats on tracks like "CBM" or "Evolution" blend with her cyclical vocal delivery, going from creating psychedelic mantras like “the colors, the beauty the motion” to open skies in contrast to Jenny Hval´s great spoken word on "Anxi". Apart from the vocals side, the instrumentals bang and float in the right ways. Lacking any voice, “Birds” is one of my favorites in its ambiance and loungy attire transforming into a driving dance track and its acoustic xylophone root. With this first full outing, I´m sure Owen´s will push this sound even further and build bridges between being an electronic songstress and a DJ working on an immersive beat driven experience for large audiences.

<a href="">Kelly Lee Owens (Extended Version) by Kelly Lee Owens</a>

41. Throwing Snow – Embers

As Eluvium released his Shuffle Drones late this year, Throwing Snow made the continuous and multiply listenable album at the start of 2017. You can easily listen to the album from start to finish and experience an electronic album of the highest order. The entire album flows seamlessly from track to track, offering various sonic ideas and morphing into different atmospheres within tracks also. There is a good amount of field recordings on the album, too, from thunder and birdsong to fire crackling that gets incorporated into the electronic soundscapes and danceable beats. But the biggest achievement lies in the discontinuity or cyclical notion of the album. The whole album is built on various aural patterns that intertwine within each other and make it possible to create new mixes with the same set of songs. You can start the album in reverse on a second player to get an idea of how these patterns work with each other or you can just jumble the tracks and do the same. Regardless of the way you play it, Embers bears so many minute details and driving plotlines, you´ll discover something new every listen and the whole thing feels fresh every single replay.

<a href="">Embers by Throwing Snow</a>