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February 21, 2019 - Comments Off on Monthly Fascination: February ’19

Monthly Fascination: February ’19

It's been a long winter. I've had some personal stuff going on, and life has been pretty full with things that aren't necessarily writing. As a result, I've let the posts slip on this site. This is fine in the grand scheme of things, but I do think that doing this thing is a helpful muscle for me to keep flexing. They're a reminder to think about design and creativity outside the constraints of my day-to-day life. With that in mind, I'm back at it.

A couple of other updates: I published the post that I had started but didn't finish back in October of 2018. Here it is if you're interested. I also finally let go of a few things, worked through some logistics, and got my newsletter going. It'll probably be a month endeavor, similar to this, but focused on a wide lens than design. If that's your thing, there's a sign-up form here.

CENTRE FOR VISIBILITY DESIGN

With the dramatic disruption happening in the device space, the topic of type legibility seems to come up every few years. Up to this point, practitioners have relied on anecdotal evidence or best practices when designing for legibility. The Centre Visibility Design has taken on the task of researching what actually makes type more readable. At least, we have some real evidence.

okalpha

A motion design studio based in Cape Town, okalpha has both a stunning body of work and an amazing site. I suggest that you spend a good amount of time with both.

Break Maiden

Purveyors of that current style of branding rooted in the vernacular of pseudo-naive Americana, the folks at Break Maiden are masters of the form. Even though I’ve moved away from brand design in my daily practice, I still have a lot of appreciation for the people that do it well. Check out all the work for some stellar examples.

February 18, 2019 - Comments Off on Monthly Fascination: October ’18

Monthly Fascination: October ’18

(I had this saved to my drafts folder, but never actually published it. Here it is, better way late than never. I've got another post queued up for February links that I'll post later this week. I'm not going to edit it, but I didn't end up getting the newsletter together for this post, which is why I delayed it. I've got it going now, and will be sending out the first issue this week as well.)

A couple quick items of house-keeping before we jump straight into it: the first thing is that this is the first month that a post in the Monthly Fascination series will be accompanied by an issue of my all new newsletter. Christened "Frequent Fascination" to tie it into this series, as well as lean into my love of alliteration, it will consist of a list mix of content from this post as well as a few other things that other may find interesting. It's the first time that I've tried to do something like this and I'm interested to see how it goes. If you're interested, you can sign up here. Secondly, I'd love to hear some feedback on these posts. Are they worth while? Does the format work? Should they be more…or less? Whatever you think, drop me a line.

The three links that really caught my attention this week all coincidentally had to do with the idea of created space. Two relate to created space that we build around ourselves, and the last with the identity that we build around that space.

Brand Design for Pedro Salmerón, Architect by Buenaventura

I was really drawn the simplicity and flexibility of this system for the architect Pedro Salmerón. Speaking from experience, it's such a challenge to create identities for creative practitioners of any sort. Consisting of basic rectangles and 45 degree slashes to structure space, with subdued textures and a very neutral palette to round everything out. The designers at Buenaventura did an excellent job creating something interesting that also lets the architect's work take center stage.

A Map of Every Building in America by the NY Times

A fascinating project. Maps that don't answer questions, but instead suggest them. The thing that really sticks out to me is the interplay between humans trying to structure the environment and also being structured by it at the same time.

An Algorithmically-Derived Personal National Flag

With our global culture increasingly dominated by nationalistic fascists, the discussion of what ties out together as country(wo)men has never been more important. What if we didn't pledge unwavering allegiance to symbols that come laden with centuries of burden? A project by the Puerto Rican design firm Muuaaa suggests that maybe we should find strength in our own beliefs and symbolism. Leaning on a system that generates flags from a subset of an individual's choosing, the studio created a way for people to walk away with their own national identity.


That's it for this month. I hope that you found some of these tidbits stimulating, or at least interesting. Let me know either way, and thanks for your time.

January 26, 2019 - Comments Off on Top 10 Albums: 2018 Edition

Top 10 Albums: 2018 Edition

Life definitely caught up with me this year. I spent very little time with headphones on, but I was super busy with work and raising a child. As a result I missed a lot of the music that came out. Looking at this list, I don't even feel completely thrilled some of these releases (heck, I was only feeling good about 9 albums total). They just happen to be the top of a very short stack. Not to say that they aren't worth listening to if you missed them, but I was hoping for a few more albums that really grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go.

Bass Drum of Death - Just Business

Real fun album. They're not reinventing the wheel here, but if you like BDOD's brand of straight-ahead garage rock, you'll be pleased with this one.

Beastmaker - (EP series)

How much material can these dudes put out? The volume and quality are just staggering. They put out 4, 10 song EPs this year alone, following last year's fantastic release of Inside the Skull. I can't say that I've scrutinized all of these EPs enough to recommend certain ones over others, but definitely give them a listen and pick them up if you're into heavy-ish stoner metal.

Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning

This release snuck in under the radar, and to me it's really an album of contrasts. While not a huge departure for Cloud Nothings, the whole effort seems tighter but with a bit more looseness in song structure. It's fast and loud, but with some quiet and space creeping in. It's really an evolution of the sound that Dylan Baldi has been cranking out over the years.

Gorillaz - The Now Now

Neither Gorillaz nor this album need much of an introduction. At first this album felt like the off-album slump that Gorillaz typically put out (e.g., G-Sides, The Fall), but after a few listens the track Tranz hooked me. The rest of the album started to grow on me after and it's definitely solid—even if it starts to taper off towards the end.

Guerilla Toss - Twisted Crystal

Another consistently weird offering from Guerilla Toss, but still quite good. GT Ultra was definitely a bit weirder (in a good way), but I still recommend this one for fans. It's also probably a good intro point for the band as well, being less dissonant than some of their other offerings.

Hot Snakes - Jericho Sirens

I haven't been a huge Hot Snakes fan historically, but this one is a ripper. Unrelenting from start to finish and solid quality throughout.

Santigold - I Don't Want: The Goldfire Sessions

Quite uncharacteristic for Santigold, I Don't Want follows right on the heels of last year's 99 Cents. It's not as lyrically haunting as the previous record, but I still quite enjoy it.

Ursa - Abyss Between the Stars

Ursa was a recommendation from a co-worker, and it's a good one at that. The tracks can be a bit long (topping out at 10 minutes 16 seconds), but what a stellar release Abyss… is. Heavy, but in a way that's laden with texture. There's just such a sense of gravity and restrained energy throughout that is unleashed at the perfect moment.

Viagra Boys - Street Worms

If you can't tell from the name and album title, these guys just ooze punk attitude and delight in a contrarian position. I first heard their track Sports, which borders on novelty track, but remains fun nonetheless. Raspy vocals aside, it's not overly punky in presentation, the record leans more heavily on post-punk and dance rhythms. I'm interested to see where this band goes.

Recent misses on heavy rotation

I might not have founds much new music this year, but I did listen to a bunch of albums that I had just missed by a year or two. A few flew under the radar, so I figure maybe others could benefit from their attention as well.

Cowtown - Paranormal Romance

Unrelenting, up-beat punk jams.

Hüsker Dü - Savage Young Dü

Not the most fun listen start-to-finish, but such an interesting artifact of the evolution of a band.

Meridian Brothers - ¿Dónde Estás Maria?

This one is a bit of an outlier, but really great if you're interested in contemporary Latin indy music.

Shopping - The Official Body

Barely missed this release from last year, but I listened to it a ton. Great indy electro release.

Sneaks - It's A Myth

Another awesome indy electro jam, but far more low-fi. I'm really interesting to see where Sneaks goes with her 2019 release.

Uranium Club - Human Exploration

First track is called Black Semen. You get the idea.

The wrap-up

I'm tempted to say that 2018 wasn't the best year for music, but I think that's just me personally. It was definitely a year of broadened horizons for me, which is true of most years but I would say that the net was cast far wider than previous years. I spent a good bit of the year listening to African music, Afrobeat, and hip hop. I scoured some of the depths of post-punk, indy rock, and other releases that came out when my attentions were originally focused elsewhere. And to be honest, I spent a lot of time just spinning tracks from bands that I've loved for twenty years or more. If I had to guess, I think this coming year will be pretty similar. With any luck, I'll be able to spend more time listening though, and look forward to discovering more gems.

October 5, 2018 - Comments Off on Monthly Fascination: September ’18

Monthly Fascination: September ’18

Quite the collection of design-related goodness this week. Everything from a site that just looks great to a talk that undermines some of the things that we hold so dear. Let's kick it off with a site that I found to be particularly enlightening, as well as a pleasure to read.

The psychology that explains how people interact with digital interfaces

I'll be the first to admit that I don't have much of a scientific background to my design practice. I do, however, understand that designers aren't the first group to study and be interested in what drives people. I really like how the content on this site breaks down psychology principles and directly related them to design patterns. I'm willing to be that there's something here for most designers.

Kleinschmidt site

Sometimes you just have to appreciate a nice site design. To be completely honest, I have no idea what this company really does, but I like what they have going on. They also made the excellent choice of working with the talented folks at One Design to bring it all to life. The site is a fantastic embodiment of good type, a dialed layout, and a brilliant mix of textures and imagery.

The End of Navel Gazing: a talk by Paul Adams

This talk may be called, "The End of Navel Gazing" but honestly it feels more like a punch in the gut. Mr. Adams really cuts to the quick, and calls out user experience designers on their bullshit. He questions how much designers really represent the voice of the user, and talks about the value of a less-than-viable product. Essential watching.

Wrap-up

Last month I mentioned a sign-up for a newsletter version of this post. Well here it is. I'm not going to send anything out this month, but if you sign up you'll get next month's links delivered right to your inbox.

Monthly Fascination Newsletter Sign-up

September 10, 2018 - Comments Off on Monthly Fascination: August ’18

Monthly Fascination: August ’18

July flew right by so I decided to skip over it and pick things back up in August. Most people have been on vacation, so I figure it'll go unnoticed anyway.

An Open Redesign of Firefox's Identity

Comp of the new Firefox logo on signage and apparel

While I wasn't particularly a fan of the outcome, I appreciated the process that went into the open redesign of the Mozilla organization. Mozilla wasn't asking for spec. work, and the process overall was much more akin to the process of product development that happens iteratively in plain view of stakeholders. While the work was done by an external agency for Mozilla, this time for Mozilla's child brand of Firefox has kicked off a rebrand process done by internal designers. Overall, I think both systems that have been revealed have interesting aspects. I'm looking forward to see how things develop.

The Future of Design: When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It

"[Design] has evolved into a way of thinking, of problem discovery, and of enhancing the lives of individuals, the experience of the workforce, and even the health of the planet."

It's not exactly news, but I had missed this article when it was originally published in 2016. Written by noted human centered design luminary Don Norman, what I really love about it is that it embraces design in all forms. Dividing design into two disciplines (traditional design as craft, human centered design as a process of learning), Norman nonetheless issues a rallying cry that calls for the joint partnership of both types of designers.

Work by Patrik Hübner

Branding for Brute wine

The design, art, and algorithms by Patrik Hübner feels like a glimpse of the future. I really like that the work has a strong touch of the designer that is amplified by code. It's a fantastic example of the how the concept can be further extended if the designer is savvy enough.


That's what I've been struck by in the past month. I'm planning to start looking into a newsletter integration for next month. If anybody has tips or thoughts, let me know.

 

July 10, 2018 - Comments Off on Monthly Fascination: June ’18

Monthly Fascination: June ’18

My monthly round-up of interesting design that I've come across in the past month. If you missed the May post, it's right here.

Prospectus Typeface

Last month, the Lost Type Co-op released a really interesting serif face titled Prospectus. If you just look at the heavy weight, it looks like another take on the high-contrast serif faces that have become quite fashionable of late. I'd encourage you to look at the full set of weights and styles, especially the lighter weights an italic styles. It's a really unique face, with a very nice microsite art directed by Riley Cran.

The Guardian: Consumerism vs. Materialism

"If we want to cure affluenza, we have to get more satisfaction from the things we already own, more satisfaction from services, more satisfaction from leisure time, and less satisfaction from the process of buying new things."

While not explicitly about design, it's hard not to think about the implications of our consumer lifestyles without considering the part that design has to play. I'm just as guilty of purchasing things for that immediate rush, but I've really become frustrated lately how expensive or just difficult impossible it is to repair so many of the electronics that I've acquired over the years. At the very least, it's a reminder to appreciate the things that we have.

A Shift in the Design for Politics

As much as our current political climate feels like a dumpster fire, it's nice to see that some progressives are embracing modern branding as a tactic to engage with a younger voting populace. The recent success of NY Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been really inspiring to watch, and I hope it signals a change in our national political discourse. In addition to the work for Ocasio-Cortez, the campaign of Suraj Patel also caught my eye.

I hope you found some of this inspiring, and check back new month for more.

June 10, 2018 - Comments Off on Monthly Fascination: May ’18

Monthly Fascination: May ’18

I thought I'd try a series collecting some things that I found interesting in the previous month. They might be design, art, articles, words…whatever causes me to pause and dig deeper.

Robert Dawson's Library series

image © Robert Dawson

I've always loved libraries, and have since childhood had access to really great libraries and librarians. Dawson's Public Library photo series really captures the huge variety of libraries across America. Each one a reflect of the place where it resides and its history.

Phil Patton Lecture with Natasha Jen and Khoi Vinh

An excellent discourse by masters of the design field. I tend to side more with Vinh on the topic, but excellent points are made by each side. In all, a very relevant topic for the field of design as a whole.

The Art of Akira

When I stumbled onto Akira sometime in the early '90s, it blew my world completely open. It was such a transformative piece of art and an absolute marvel of the medium. The Art of Akira reveals of of the process work that went into creating it. Hat tip to Ricky Bloxsom for the link.

January 29, 2018 - Comments Off on About Ursula

About Ursula

I've been thinking about the death of Ursula K. Le Guin and her affect on me. I discovered her books—specifically The Wizard of Earthsea—at a relatively young age. What age exactly I don’t quite recall, but certainly in that formative period of between 10 and 12 years old. While at the time I didn't really have any knowledge of Le Guin's work, the book resonated with me a way that few did from that period of life. After I had finished the book, I strongly call a feeling of, this is good, this is different.

What I loved about The Wizard of Earthsea was its humanity. Ged, the protagonist of the first book in the series, is of very humble origins. Throughout the book he struggles with purpose and ambition, greed, selfishness, and ultimately a path to personal redemption. Far removed from typical mythological or fantastic tropes, he follows a winding path that returns as often to internal conflict as it does external forces. In fact, all of the Earthsea books that I've read don't have a typical MacGuffin like so many fantasy and science fiction books. Instead Le Guin uses the tool of fantasy to focus in on the human condition, as all of the best genre writers have done before and since.

After finishing The Wizard of Earthsea, I moved on to other authors. I don't recall why, whether it was ignorance of other books in the series or even if I had not thought to see what else Le Guin might have written. Three or four years ago, however, I picked the book up again and read it absolutely enthralled. It seemed like an entirely different book; one with so much more depth and subtlety than I recalled. After finishing it, I move on to the second and third books in the series. Each was different but fascinating in its own way.

In reading some other's impressions of Le Guin's writing over the past week, I'm realizing the tremendous impact that she had by being an incredibly outspoken champion of female voices in genre fiction. She also wrote nuanced stories that centered around non-white characters and stories that explored gender. I wish that I could say that her writings had impacted me in that way. In truth, I haven't read the books where those issues are central themes but I'm looking forward to doing so. Regardless, it speaks to the myriad ways in which Le Guin challenged assumptions and spoke out for under-represented groups.

The world is certainly a less magical place, having lost the voice of Ursula K. Le Guin. Now is one of the times when we could most use her. With any luck, the people that have been influenced by her will rise to the challenge of shaping this world into a greater place in ways that we can't imagine.

Note

I created the image at the top of this post for my New Years card last year. It's one of my favorite lines from Le Guin, and remains extremely relevant and poignant. If I learned nothing else from Ursula K. Le Guin, it's how to imagine ways in which things might be different from how they are now. If you've made it this far, I hope you'll also do the same.

January 17, 2018 - Comments Off on Top 10 Albums: 2017 Edition

Top 10 Albums: 2017 Edition

Look, I know what you're saying. No, you don't need another top 10 list. And yes, I am pretty late in getting this thing out the door. Here's the thing though: I do this mostly for me. It's really fun to look back at the music that I really enjoyed from the past year. If there are others out there that enjoy the list and discover new music, that's great.

White Reaper - The World's Best American Band

Let's be clear about this one: despite the braggadocios title, this album isn't going into the annuls of rock history any time soon. The lyrics aren't clever sonnets laid over virtuoso finger picking. Despite this, it's such a fun record to listen to. Over it's roughly 30 minute run time, it stacks one toe-tapping track right after the other. Before long you're nodding to the rhythm and pumping your fist during the chorus. Good times start to finish.


Hanni El Khatib - Savage Times

You might look at this album as a bit of a cheat. It is—after all—a collection of 5 EPs that Hanni El Khatib put out over 2016. If you look at it with the perspective of 2015's Moonlight however, it holds together as complete album. And like Moonlight, it's somewhat all over the place. From straight ahead, bluesy garage-fi tracks to others driven by synths and disco beats. That pattern has become El Khatib's modus operandi, so it is less of a distraction and more like the variety bag of jelly beans. Even though you get a few black licorices, the variety is the point. And some of those combinations? Quite tasty.


Gorillaz - Humanz

The first of two albums on this list that I never thought would exist. I've been a fan of Gorillaz since I saw the video for Clint Eastwood back in the day. I'd read that the Albarn/Hewlett relationship had soured a bit, so the possibility of a follow-up to the solid Plastic Beach seemed rather doubtful. I'm so glad that it happened, though, and Humanz delivers on so many levels. It's both a continuation and an evolution of the Gorillaz sound, bringing some great new collaborators into the fold. In all, the album seems a bit more weighty when compared to the allegorical high watermark that was Demon Days, but Albarn and crew manage to weave danceable beats through lyrics that confront our troubled times.


Here Lies Man - s/t

I don't quite remember how Here Lies Man came onto my radar. What I am sure of, however, is that their sound grabbed my attention immediately from the first listen. Their sound has been described as Black Sabbath playing afrobeat, which isn't the worst characterization but does gloss over the intricate repetitive rhythms that underpin each track and support distorted vocals that have little relation to Ozzy's theatrical delivery. Their sound is certainly heavy though, and it's wrapped around a rich tapestry of noisy fuzz that much more closely brings to mind psych rock than metal.


B Boys - Dada

Everything that B Boys put out sound like a love letter to punk. Not punk now, but punk the way it was in England in the late '70s and early '80s. Dissonant music played by kids who went to art school and still believed that a song could change the world. That's the sounds that led me to fall in love with punk, and I do again every time I listen to this record.


Wavves - You're Welcome

If B Boys are playing nostalgic punk chords, Wavves typifies the modern archetype of a punk auteur. Despite being the solo project of Nathan Williams, at no point does this release become monotonous or one-note. It's both fun and personal, with a lo-fi garage aesthetic that belies a layered structure. In short: really good stuff.


Guerilla Toss - GT ULTRA

Guerilla Toss are kind of a weird one. They popped up on my radar originally when they were still based out of Boston, but I can't say that I spent too much time listening to them until this album. And the more that I listen to them, the more I draw connections to late-era Devo with the use of quirky synths and dancier rhythms. Depending which track you listen to, there's also an undercurrent of post-punk's disco-fueled disillusionment.


Algiers - The Underside of Power

Every year I have that one album that I keep hearing about, but that takes a while for me to "get." That award this year definitely goes to Aliers' The Underside of Power. If you heard about this one and slept on it, I really recommend giving it some more spins. From the start, every track is a sonic assault. It's fast, heavy, distorted and angry, but it's also passionate, visceral, and extremely compelling. Politics are driving force behind so much of the music and the band isn't shy about voicing their opinions. While some won't appreciate the mix, I say bring it on and know that I'll be listening.


Death From Above 1979 - Outrage! Is Now

I'm glad that the guys in DFA patched things up, because I'm really enjoying these post-reunion releases. I was absolutely obsessed with The Physical World when it came out a few years ago so Outrage! Is Now had a pretty high mark to measure against. It falls a bit short though, without a ballad like "White is Red" or an aural assault on the level of "Turn it Out," but there are still plenty of great hooks and fantastic overall heaviness. [ASIDE: Is that really the best they could do for cover art?! Yeesh.]


LCD Soundsystem - american dream

As with the Gorillaz release, I was pretty sure that album would never come into existence. Then when I heard about it, I was also pretty sure that I wouldn't be into it. Mr. Murphy has been up to some unusual side projects since LCD Soundsystem called it a day, so whether this album would bear any resemblance to previous albums was an open question. It turned out that answer is, "Yes…sort of." Long gone is the pure energy and raucous fun of the early albums. Instead the tracks have been cut down to their barest elements, leaving the dance beat with trademark James Murphy vocals and only the most necessary accompaniment. It's as if the LCD Soundsystem formula has been distilled to its most essential and intentional elements. I'm certainly hoping that there are more releases to come.


Closing Thoughts

On a personal level, 2017 was marked by a lot of uncertainty. I became a father a little more than 7 months ago, and I knew that my priorities would shift but I didn't know how. Music has been important to me for quite a while, and I was afraid that I wouldn't have time for it. It's not easy to find new music by new artists and dedicate enough time to give that music enough thoughtful attention that you can decide if you like it or not. One thing is for certain: time has become a precious commodity. Thankfully I've still be able to carve out some time to find and listen to new music. There were some really fantastic releases this year, and I'm glad that they didn't pass me by.

I'm also thinking about how to share my passion for music with my daughter. I don't want her to like the same things that I do, I just want her to like her own things in the same way. She hasn't really started to pay much attention to music yet, but I'm really looking forward to when she does. Maybe we'll talk about the our favorite music.

Postscript: Other Albums That I Liked But That Didn't Quite Make The Cut

  • Ty Segall - s/t
  • Beastmaker - Insider the Skull
  • Songhoy Blues - Résistance
  • Antibalas - Where the Gods are in Pease
  • The Beaches - Late Show
  • Hüsker Dü - Savage Young Dü

Post-Postscript: Spotify Playlist with The Top 10

January 15, 2017 - Comments Off on Top 10 Albums: 2016 Edition

Top 10 Albums: 2016 Edition

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.


Closing Thoughts

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.