Ed note: The Blind Archer welcomes new contributor Alan “not your mother’s oatmeal” Gaines to the fold in 2017! Here is his better-late-than-never reflection on 2016 which gives us a pretty good sense of where he is coming from taste-wise. It’s chicken. He tastes exactly like chicken. I’ll see myself out now.
2016 was a shit year, but not for music. For the most part, I only ever found relief when records were spinning or when I was browsing Bandcamp. Much the same as any year, I found new bands that became quick favorites, some old favorites put out stuff I liked, and some that didn’t quite hit the mark. There were dozens of albums that I just never got around to listening to. I still haven’t listened to David Bowie’s Black Star. It’s been a weird year. I don’t have enough time to listen to everything, even the types of music I really enjoy. So this list is going to be very, very specific to only certain types of people, namely- me. But maybe you’ll see something that might pique your interest and you’ll find a moment in your own busy life to give it a listen.
Disclaimer: I like all types of music, but I have a strong preference for stuff that could be labeled punk, post-punk, lo-fi, garage, psychedelic, indie, noise, alternative, stoner, surf, no wave, shoegaze, psychobilly, hardcore, grunge, proto-punk, art rock, goth, rockabilly, rock and roll. I say this to forewarn you that Beyonce, Kanye, Kendrick Lamar or Chance the Rapper aren’t on my list, although I’ve got nothing against any of them, I just don’t have time to listen to it. Stuff that is up my alley but I have not listened to yet: Bon Iver, Iggy Pop, Bob Mould, Leonard Cohen, Radiohead, A Tribe Called Quest, and the aforementioned David Bowie. I’m sure all of these are worth listening to, and maybe I will someday. All of these bands and musicians one would expect to appear on a “Best of …” list, but not this one.
If you’ve seen as many “Best of 2016” lists as I have, then you’ve seen these names: Mitski, Angel Olsen, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. Puberty 2 and My Woman, by Mitski and Angel Olsen respectively, are strong, well composed and masterfully produced albums. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree is haunting. Written shortly after the death of Nick’s teenage son, it reverberates with mourning and loss. Another album that made many “Best of …” lists Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest made mine as well. It’s the right mix of story-telling, song-writing and young dreamer, dystopian wonder that doesn’t fade with multiple listens. Plus, this is probably my 9 year-old’s favorite on my “Best of …” list, she’s got “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” sloshing through her brain.
What else have you probably seen already? Parquet Courts? Big Thief? Jeff Rosenstock? White Lung? I’ve seen all of these come up on a handful of lists around the Internets and all of them are worthy of praise. Parquet Courts’ Human Performance is electric, especially after last year’s hairball of an EP Monastic Living. The songs are all enjoyable, with delightful, surprising variations throughout the LP. Big Thief is guided by singer/songwriter Adrienne Lenker, their debut album Masterpiece is just that… a masterpiece. Don’t skip this album! It is raw and emotional songwriting, with bare bones production, the kind that can only ever work spontaneously on a debut album. The flip side of that coin is prolific singer/songwriter Jeff Rosenstock’s Worry. Its simple songs get precisely to the point- a jolly middle finger bouncing up and down in your smiling face. It’s what I’d call power-punk-pogo-party-pop. Lastly, every White Lung album that comes out makes my “Best of …” list. Paradise continues this trend. They have a recipe that works: driving drums, bass backbone, guitars on fire, and angry, caterwauling vocals.
Many people thought 2016 was going to be the year of the woman, but unfortunately that didn’t extend beyond music. Many lists place Beyonce near the top, alongside sister Solange. I’ve already mentioned Mitski and Angel Olsen, but a handful of female-fronted bands also made my list. Savages long awaited album Adore Life didn’t quite live up to critical expectations, but it made my list. The Coathangers’ Nosebleed Weekend provided the necessary quirky, grunge-tinged melodies I desire, along with Feels debut self-titled album which was a bit more raw, a bit more lo-fi. Hinds is nestled comfortably somewhere in between The Coathangers and Savages. I’ve been waiting for an album from them since their debut single Demo was released in 2014 under the name Deers. Their album Leave Me Alone is perfect for a summer drive in a convertible on your way to the beach, or an evening BBQ with friends (bonus: it includes the song “Bamboo” from that phenomenal Demo). Just recently, I came across Mannequin Pussy’s Romantic album. It is old-school riot grrl goodness.
While I am a huge fan of Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall, their offerings for 2016 weren’t my favorite but they’re still on my “Best of …” list. Emotional Mugger is a fantastic album highlighted by a cover of The Equals song “Diversion.” Ty Segall, as usual, had his hands on tons of music this year including a production credit on Feels self titled album. Ty put out an album with Chris Shaw from Ex-Cult under the band name GOGGS, helped Ex-Cult record their album Negative Approach, and worked on a number of other recordings including albums by CCR Headcleaner, The Traditional Fools, Audacity and I’m sure a shit ton more- all worth a listen. John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees also contributed his talent to a bunch of stuff this year as well. His label Castle Face Records has a Live in San Francisco series that is definitely worth checking out. A Weird Exits and An Odd Entrances are a nice combination of sprawling psychedelic musings.
I have a soft spot for the psychedelic/garage rock genre. The stuff pioneered by The Sonics, The Monks, The Kinks, The Kingsmen, The Stooges, The Troggs, The 13th Floor Elevators, etc. etc. etc. 2016 was a slow year for one of my favorite bands, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. They’ve been releasing two a year for a while now and only put out one album this time around. But they have stated they will be releasing five albums in 2017. That means that 2017 will be at least 5 times better than 2016, which shouldn’t be too difficult to accomplish. Nonagon Infinity is a sonic barrage of jams with a running theme. I was hoping that they might create a short film to parallel the album; I’ll keep hope alive. Black Mountain and Suuns made my “Best of 2016” list with their albums IV and Hold/Still. Black Mountain taps into a classic rock feel while Suuns offering is a bit more experimental. Night Beats put out one of my favorite albums this year, Who Sold My Generation. A groovy, laid back rock and roll album with whirling, swirling reverberating riffs and rhythmic dreamlike dalliances.
Groovy, psychedelic melodies are good sometimes, while sometimes you just need a shot of punk rock right in your fucking face. The self-titled debut album by the Ramones came out 40 years ago which heralded the birth and death of punk simultaneously. However, the corpse of punk rock continues to pump out album after album of incredible music. Mean Jeans carries the Ramones banner and their album Tight New Dimension delivers rocket-fueled punk rock into the future. Five of my favorite albums this year are loud and fast, distorted and aggressive: The Dirty Nil Higher Power, The Sueves Change Your Life, The Nopes Never Heard Of It, Yak Alas Salvation, and Tyvek Origin of What. A little less aggressive were Low Culture Places to Hide, Mrs. Magician Bermuda, Mind Spiders Prosthesis, Wax Witches Memory Painting, and James Arthurs’ Manhunt Digital Clubbing. Punk’s corpse keeps coming at you!
To finish off the list, I’ve got a handful of albums in which I’ve only had a chance to listen to a few songs on, but feel obliged to mention. Jenny Hval followed up 2015’s Apocalypse Girl with Blood Bitch, an atmospheric bit of soft dick rock. Guerilla Toss creates a bit of noise on their album Eraser Stargazer. Woods’ City Sun Eater in the River of Light is surrealistic, like surfing in the desert. White Denim rocks out some high energy grooves on their latest Stiff. In addition, some well written alt/indie rock from Martha and Marching Church on their albums blisters in the pit of my heart and Telling It Like It Is, respectively. Lastly, PUP pumped out some pop punk on their album The Dream Is Over.
All in all a very good year for music. I’ve listed all the albums below alphabetically but if I had to choose my top 5 it’d look like this:
(1) Parquet Courts, (2) King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, (3) Night Beats, (4) Car Seat Headrest, and (5) Low Culture, with an honorable mention for Suuns and Black Mountain.
Best Albums of 2016
Big Thief – Masterpiece
Black Mountain – IV
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
CCR Headcleaner – Tear Down the Wall
The Coathangers – Nosebleed Weekend
The Dirty Nil – Higher Power
Feels – Feels
Guerilla Toss – Eraser Stargazer
Hinds – Leave Me Alone
James Arthur’s Manhunt – Digital Clubbing
Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch
Jeff Rosenstock – Worry.
King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard – Nonagon Infinity
Low Culture – Places to Hide
Mannequin Pussy – Romantic
Marching Church – Telling It Like It Is
Martha – blisters in the pit of my heart
Mean Jeans – Tight New Dimension
Mind Spiders – Prosthesis
Mitski – Puberty 2
Mrs. Magician – Bermuda
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Night Beats – Who Sold My Generation
The Nopes – Never Heard of It
Parquet Courts – Human Behavior
PUP – The Dream Is Over
Savages – Adore Life
The Sueves – Change Your Life
Suuns – Hold/Still
Tacocat – Lost Time
Thee Oh Sees – A Weird Exits
Thee Oh Sees – An Odd Entrances
Ty Garrett Segall – Emotional Mugger
Tyvek – Origin of What
Wax Witches – Memory Painting
Weaves – Weaves
White Denim – Stiff
White Lung- Paradise
Woods – City Sun Eater in the River of Light
Yak – Alas, Salvation
Eagulls – Skipping
Fat White Family – Songs For Our Mothers
Gazebos – Die Alone
The Men – Devil Music
Microwave – Much Love
Psychic Ills – Inner Journey Out
Seratones – Get Gone
Swans – The Glowing Man