Not unlike 2015, 2016 was a pretty fantastic year for music. A lot of people seem to agree with me so I don't think that it's specific to my small musical sphere. As I like to do every year, here's a quick rundown on my favorite music from the last year:
Savages - Adore Life
On the surface, Adore Life isn't the assault that Savages' self-titled début was. After spending some time with it, the reality is that intensity is boiling slightly under the surface. This album is at times raw and brutal, yet shows a measure of restraint where the previous release was stuck at 11. For that reason this album was a bit of an initially slower burn, but I've really come to embrace it.
Ty Segall - Emotional Mugger
The weirdness of this album came out of nowhere. As a fan of Segall's previous releases and other projects, I've really enjoyed his fuzzed-out garage style. For Emotional Mugger however, Segall takes that formula and adds on layers on complexity and weirdness, from the child-like lyrics to vocal affectations. The result is like a garage version of a DEVO cover band, including a Booji Boy-like mask worn durn live performances. Given my affinity for both DEVO and garage rock, this one's a shoo-in.
Santigold - 99 Cents
There are a lot of things to like about this album, starting with the cover art. It's not big on subtlety but does set an interesting tone and is a fantastic representation of music behind it. And while I've listened to Santigold's other albums, this is the first one that really grabbed me. The lyrics are a great mix of poetry with just enough to get a hold of so that you can figure out some meaning. In the end, it's a collection of catchy pop music that is used as tactic to deliver subversive jabs at our selfie obsessed, overly commercialized culture.
Tiger Army - V
There are so many ways in which this album is a throw-back and I don't expect it to show up on many other people's lists for that reason. It's probably a nostalgia pick for me, but it references ’50s and ’60s rock and roll, the late ’70s and ’80s birth of psychobilly and rockabilly revival, as well as the ’00s psychobilly revival. It may just be that it plays to my weakness for music from those periods, but it was an enjoyable spin for me nonetheless.
The Coathangers - Nosebleed Weekend
I'm such a fan of this band. They play on the stereotype of a girl band in a way that is really intelligent, but at the same time raw and honest. In contrast to some of their previous releases, this album weaves in some more nuanced lyrics and subtle song structure that breaks up the full-on garage rock assault that has previously defined their sound. For that reason I think this record will have more staying power than some of their others.
PUP - The Dream is Over
PUP follows up their fantastic début with another really solid release. Honesty and unvarnished emotion wrapped in staccato guitar riffs with shout-along choruses remain the hallmark of the band. While none of the tracks are as sticky as Reservoir this time around, there is a lot to like here.
M.I.A. - AIM
It took me a while to come around to M.I.A. The covers of her albums always embodied a "trying too hard to be ugly" aesthetic and it took a while warm to her aural approach as well. Thankfully I smartened up a couple of years ago, as I've come to recognize both how talented she is as a musician but also how unique it is to have a female, non-White viewpoint in popular music. AIM might not be her best record, primarily because it doesn't sound like she's pushing things much sonically or lyrically as on other albums. There are some really great tracks, however, and even a consistent release from M.I.A. gets on my list.
Against Me! - Shapeshift With Me
I was never the biggest Against Me! fan. I started listening to them in the As the Eternal Cowboy era, and things went off track starting with New Wave. This is the first album since that one that felt like a return to form, but also a progression. While politics were the glue that held early albums together, issues of gender and more personal relationships have moved to the forefront with this release. Dynamics within the band have been widely discussed in the music press, but this is the first album of theirs in a while that feels like things are starting to settle and they're returning to creating the winning formula of heart-felt songs at the intersection of punk, garage, and folk.
Goat - Requiem
Goat came on super strong for me late this year. I stumbled across their previous release (World Music) and really loved it. It's unlike anything else out there, but at the same time so familiar. I've described their music as demo set for a modern Jodorowsky fever dream. Mixing sounds from international folk music with elements of psych and progressive rock with obtuse lyrics and the occasional punk lick, this band really ticks the boxes for me. It's a product of the modern world, but also quite out of its time. As far as Requiem itself; I'm not sure if it measures up to World Music but it's excellent in its own right. Side note: I was really thrilled when the podcast Crimetown—quite unexpectedly—started using Run to Your Mama as their theme track. What better soundtrack for a story of corruption in Providence than a band of Swedish weirdos?
Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation - Mirage
If you haven't noticed yet, I have a certain weakness for nostalgia. The past is ripe for strip mining, and Josefin Öhrn is well aware. Also a Swede, her music mixes garage and psych, with a repetitive and spacey sound. Fortunately these tracks avoid a lot of the pitfalls of psych music with relatively short runtimes and a brisk pace. Öhrn's sugary vocal style enhances the effect, making it nearly impossible to not get caught up in this album.
Looking back at the releases that I most enjoyed this year, there are definitely a few trends that I'm seeing. There was only one release that I would describe as really heavy in the sonic sense, through distortion and garage rock sounds are the backbone of most of these musicians' sounds. The overwhelming majority of these acts are centered around female performers or made up entirely of women. That's a historic shift for me, though not as a conscious decision but I am happy to support female musicians. I'm also drawn to musicians to like to challenge expectations; whether of their genre or societal norms.
As great as these albums are, I'm really looking forward to many of the albums coming out in 2017. There are lists floating around of what's just over the horizon, and it's enough to make me giddy. Here's to more great sounds in 2017.