Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top Albums 2016 Part III 30 – 21

30. ANOHNI – Hopelessness

A drone attack leaving behind a girl wishing for death. The world burning as a cause of climate change, leaving the animals suffering and dead. The state of surveillance, being a happy reality of watching the watchers. Claiming to be a progressive western state, while still killing in the name of justice. Losing your love for it was something that only brought you pain. The leader everybody placed his hopes in, who couldn´t, for the life of him, change the unchangeable. The undercurrent of a world dominated by men being in turn dominated by bloodshed and Darwinist ideals. Losing your connection to the world you live in, mourning the death of your life-world. The effects of fighting alleged terrorism by acts of terrorism yourself, violence leading to acts against the violators. You yourself are the problem, the virus. Hello Americanism, disease without cure. If you´re dealing with music most of the time, you might run low on reading the news and getting a perspective on the workings of the world from a critical standpoint. Hopelessness is ANOHNI taking the position of your favorite VICE reporters, taking you through an asphyxiating world full of shit, you don´t know about (don´t want to know about) and of which, you, through being a sheer observer alone, are a part of. This is the best pop record of his year. Mainly for sounding incredibly catchy and not trying to be pop. There is no happiness in the music and the sounds created by Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke deplete any fantastical “it´s gonna be ok” for an artificial coldness, that sounds incredibly contemporary – present while showing your own emotional distance at the daily horrors of this world. I feel terrible, I understand. 

29. Mono – Requiem For Hell

The Divine Comedy and Mono are a perfect fit. When they announced Requiem For Hell and I saw the album cover, I thought that this connection and album could have been made even earlier in their discography. Being one of my favorite bands, it´s always exciting to see how they will take their form of music and apply it to a new concept and how the band will work as a unit or invite their long-standing set of friends and collaborators to add something to their unique style of instrumental rock. Employing their emotive guitar melodies, their crushing dynamics, ranging from oceanic drifting in the womb of the universe to collecting the ashes of a burning world, Mono are mastering their sound little my little. Every album has been a new journey of sorts, sometimes going with the theme of memories, paying homage to nature and their parents in the same breath, or taking the idea of light and running with this ephemeral concept. Requiem For Hell has the band stressing their most recurring themes, life, and death. These facts work like the two pillars in the sounds this band creates, construction the overall range of existence, while never going for the banal or the every day and reconnecting even the most minute of sounds to something life altering. Here the band returns with producer Steve Albini and with an array of classical musicians at hand to add their vision of heaven and hell, set forth by the ideas of Dante Alighieri. The starter “Death In Reverse”, hereby give the hint of Mono´s understanding of this epic through them tightening the connection between existence of the end thereof, taking the cue of dying to gain perspective on life, going through hell as a metaphor to manifest a new will in keeping on and visiting the horrors of the world to gain reassurance of one’s own path. “Death” is a triumphant intro, taming the cyclical notion of death and rebirth with a military style of drumming dissipating into howls of noise. “Stellar” shows Mono at their most beautiful, actually recalling starry skies by making the most of layered xylophone melodies, a few keys, and strings. As the sheer length might give off the feeling of being an interlude, I always felt the band delivering some kind of synopsis and outlook with their shorter tracks, allowing for a moment of awe. Middle part and longest Mono track yet, “Requiem For Hell” is a two-part tragedy: Being at loss in life, setting forth in search of something akin to meaning, with the second part noise-fest driving a nail through your hands of grief and retaining the earth-shattering intensity for a long time; hell in every sense of the word. However, Mono wouldn´t be Mono if they didn´t lighten the situation again and superb “Ely´s Heartbeat”, with the usage of an actual child´s heartbeat and “The Last Scene” slow down and allow for more intrinsic listening again. Overall a fitting addition to Mono´s widening scope and proof that there is something like consistency and mastery of a sound without the need for complete reinvention and experimentation. 

28. Frank Ocean – Blond

Blond is Ocean´s magnum opus and every bit the album I expected from this much-hyped artists. People are actually right when praising Ocean for his vocal capabilities and his skill as a songwriter. As Channel Orange was a great album, it still felt like he played it safe and took up more constraints, aiming for a debut that would sell and put him on the map. With Blond, Ocean took his sweet time and didn´t care about delivering something close to a single with any track. After magnificent auto-tuned “Nikes”, the album really starts with “Ivy” and Ocean over nothing more than a beatless instrumental, dominated by a jangly, delayed guitar. You get some organs sounds on "Solo", trippy synths on “Skyline To” but no drums. Just Ocean singing his lines, in a way stream-of-consciousness, without refrains or something to break an almost linear build of the songs. Content-wise Ocean recounts relationships, being on different pages and mindsets, facing solitude and the mental strain of it, or small encounters and moments of realization of not being loved or not loving the other. Every song brings great lines and musical ideas, without ever giving you much repetition. It is in moments when you get lines like “I´ll do anything for you / In The Dark” on “Seigfried” or “I, I, I know you gotta leave” on “Self Control”, when there is something that will stick to you and gives a general feeling of what Ocean wants to deliver you and your listening. Otherwise, the songs are introspective and only give minute insights and poetic episodes of what Ocean encountered, sounding great and resounding without having to be understood. You´ll have to return to Blond multiple times, read the lyrics and almost “learn” the tracks to achieve a fuller enjoyment of them, but after some time you´ll get the way Ocean painted this album and how he put everything out without thinking about appeal even once. 

27. City Of The Sun – To The Sun and All The Cities In Between

Just three people, two guitars and mostly a cajon box with other percussive elements thrown into the mix. If you´re under the impression, that this setup and City Of The Sun cannot make music as grand as bands like Explosions In The Sky or Mono, just listen to any song on this album. The usage of effects or other alterations is minimal, they don´t even loop and layer their playing, sometimes there is delay and reverb over the instruments, but that´s about it. And yet, this stuff will arrest your attention if you let it, become an intricate companion to learn and spend time with. To The Sun is a calming listen throughout. There are many yearning Spanish-guitar laden moments when the sound of the strings being struck resonate a great yearning incomparable to any other musical instrument, but the sonic setup of the band will never overpower you, drain you of your own experience and outlook on life. This is music to have ideas to, to be struck by a new epiphany and to take a step towards the world and an energetic life. 

26. Anna Homler and Steve Moshier – Breadwoman & Other Tales

Anna Homler stepped into the persona of the Breadwoman in early 1980 performing her spiritual folk songs for unsuspecting art show audiences. The idea behind the Breadwoman was a form of recalling the lost connection to the earth and native rooting in past existences. Therefore the Breadwoman uses her vocal chants in an undeterminable language and chillingly brings you closer to unheard forms of prayer and tribal rituals. The greatest appeal of this project found on the LP, which is a release of tapes from these times, comes with the electronic soundscapes of Steve Moshier. As the Breadwoman does her chanting and tries to infuse a recollection of people living in simpler times and closer to nature and the spirits of the earth, Moshier contrast or maybe deepens these intentions with various experimental elements. Strictly electronic and ranging from driving drum beats on “Ee Che” to Silent Hill-esque dark drones and alien wailing, these eerie sonic components give off the uncanny vibe the Breadwoman in her mask portrays more vividly than any form of actual folky instrumentation could. It is like a remembering something that never truly occurred or is so deeply distraught through your life in modernity and industrial wealth, that in can only sound so distant and metallically warm. 

25. Novo Line – Movements

For everyone still raving about 8- and 16-bit sounds, losing their minds when they hear the themes of Mortal Kombat or Metroid, this is that artificial shit you´ve been longing for your whole adult life. Novo Line, a Berlin artist taking his name from the company of gaming machines that is the equivalent of the fucking devil, robbing people of their hard earned cash, causing addiction and draining their life force, makes the most of this concept and chooses to create his pumping, drum heavy sound with the help of two Atari computers and a syth-software running on them. Check out Live Aus der Spielothek for some drawn out composition and then return to Movements to get to a more experimental and immediate form of Novo Line´s music. On these tracks the ear for mathematical compositions as well as leaving the openness for chance and happy accidents lets you feel like messing with the Mario music maker while being on LSD. The brokenness of these sounds is what draws out the greatest appeal. No sound is allowed to breathe and take full form, everything sounds somewhat off and broken, like still sounding through the Gameboy mono speaker on full volume, but damn, it just sounds good. Complementing all this, Movements would definitely work on a dancefloor. The rag-timed beats, the hard and bassy drum hits trash your body on a high enough volume and work like highly artificial dub music of sorts. This is the perfect aural experience to get close to the broken tedium of playing one of the Novo Line machines and losing your money and mind while being in complete rapture of all the colors and blinking lights. 

24. Marie Davidson – Adieux Au Dancefloor

“I Dedicate My Life” opens Adieux Au Dancefloor and is Marie Davidson´s mission statement for the next 45 minutes. Her hollow drums, the dull bass, the overriding claps lead into Davidson´s spoken word delivery, urging you to listen to her sounds, for whatever purpose and take the energy and movement created for your own dedication. The speeding pace of the track, the inescapable drive of the sounds transport you in an undertow of bodily resonance. And whether you get a low and bassy drum 'n' bass tune like “Interfaces” a mind-boggling glitch attack on “Denial” or have Davidson delivering some snappy words on tracks like “Naïve To The Bone” or hard hitting “La Femme Écarlate”, the undertow can be felt. The words, even once sung in a chanson style on the closer of the same name, show the utter coolness and determination of Davidson, letting vulnerability and thoughtfulness shine through and always fitting the dark tones of her work. This is stuff for movement and straining your speaker but also welcoming the various forces of the electronic into dance music. If you are able to feel the drums in your chest and go with the simplistic tribal pummeling of Davidson´s patterns, at the same time you´ll be able to resonate with her words and the vibes she creates. It´s more than just talking or singing over some dance tunes.

23. Case_Lang_Veirs – Case_Lang_Veirs

This is the best folk album of this year. I haven´t heard anything from any of these artists yet and remained oblivious to this release months after, but through sheer curiosity, I got it and was blown away. The harmony of these three voices, from the first peaks on “Atomic Number”, to the country ending of “Georgia Stars” recall nostalgia for the perfect folk outfit that never actually existed. I´m drawn between thinking about many of these songs in the vein of “All the leaves are brown” extravaganza of The Mama´s And Papa´s and finding an appeal beyond the dusty chic of such oldies. Even the more uplifting songs reveal a depth after a few listens and all songs are memorable after two listens. It´s hard to tell, as I feel this music resonates with parts of my musical knowledge and understanding that are more subconscious than when listening to some experimental music like Tim Hecker. Maybe it is my failing knowledge of the bands of yesteryear of maybe it is the ingrained appeal of the stuff you´ve been hearing on the radio for your whole life. Either way, Case/Lang/Veirs make for the newest entry of timeless music. 

22. Minor Victories – Minor Victories

Take Slowdive´s Rachel Goswell, Mogwai´s Stuart Braithwaite, and Justin Lockley of Editors fame and his brother James Lockley to get to Minor Victories. One of the best shoegaze voices, and two known musicians that are proficient in delivering inescapable atmospheres of sound and great rock tunes in the same way. In combination ever element shines bright and Minor Victories graces us with some of the best alt-rock tunes of this year, all in one package. You´ll get the synth-heavy “A Hundred Ropes”, recalling Editors in their darkest era with Goswell honeyed voice melting through the thickness of the electronics and wave drum beat. There is the dream of “Folk Arp”, a ballad of sort, with a grand finale every fan of Mogwai will love as well as the quick narrative of “For You Always”, with Goswell appropriating Mark Kozeleks rambling vocal style and both of them recalling their encounters or a tale of never occurring love. The whole album experience might feel like the work of a supergroup, with some tracks coming off as leaning toward the respective sides, but with time the unique sides of Minor Victories reveal themselves. Not just does Goswell keep those tracks together, but Braithwaite and Lockley seem to be like-minded in their approach of creating dreamscapes of sounds, with peaks of synth or a howling guitar, simultaneously encouraging their respective sounds and keeping track of the cohesive experience at hand. Next year we´ll get the whole album played orchestrally, I´m excited how their sound will translate through this channel.

21. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

I could tell you about the complexity and mind-bending skills of Aesop Rock, how he entered a new phase with The Impossible Kid, stepping into truly introspective narratives about himself and his life, past and present. But, I´ll will you leave you with "Kirby", a song about his cat morphing through the undercurrent of his years of psychologicatreatmentnt and taking prescription and a cat being the last solution.