ALBUMS I LOVED
AMERICAN DOLLAR BILL - KEEP FACING SIDEWAYS, YOU’RE TOO HIDEOUS TO LOOK AT HEAD ON by KEIJI HAINO and SUMAC
Haino is a super renowned Japanese avant-shrieking icon, but his stuff can be a little tiresome for me. This collaboration with drone metal supergroup SUMAC is experimental and aggressive but consistently satisfying.
COCOA SUGAR by YOUNG FATHERS
Somebody (not sure who) dropped the ball on informing me about Young Fathers, so I had to find out about them myself like some kind of jerk.
I don’t even really listen to British hip hop [EDITOR’S NOTE: Young Fathers are Scottish lol], but how can you not like these guys? This album is so confident and cinematic. It’s also willing to be weird in a way that makes certain parts really satisfying: the bitcrushed stuff in Turn and the ‘80s-drenched synth goodness in Wow turn songs I’d enjoy to songs I’d share with friends. In, like, an album of the year list.
listen to: In My View, Wow, Border Girl
ABYSSKISS by ADRIANNE LENKER
Adrianne is a songwriter, guitarist, and singer known best for her work in Big Thief, a band with two albums and no bad songs. With each new release, she proves her perfect ear for haunting, surprising melodies and her deft ability to poetically tell complex and difficult stories. I can’t speak of her (and Big Thief) highly enough.
abysskiss is, as expected, another perfect album, but what continually surprises me about it is how much beauty, thought, and variety Adrianne has crammed into its half hour runtime. The music is mostly minimal, but each song can be newly returned to again and again. I love this album. If you ever get the chance to see Adrianne or Big Thief live, do so and you will not regret it.
listen to: terminal paradise, cradle, symbol, from
KONOYO by TIM HECKER
This is the only Tim Hecker album I like, and I like it so much that I feel kind of weird about it. I think it’s so, so good that I can’t imagine why his other stuff doesn’t strike me the same way.
listen to: This Life
LITTLE DARK AGE by MGMT
The guys in MGMT seem so normal now in interviews that it’s hard to imagine how wacky and psychedelic their personalities were (or at least, seemed to me) ten or so years ago. Some of the songs on here are about everyday millenial life, and they range from good (She Works Out Too Much) to very bad (TSLAMP). My favorite songs on here are the spooky ones: the title track (an 80’s gothic slapper) and When You Die, a polarizing and circular song (co-written by the talented and odious Ariel Pink) that feels a little like being shot in the head with a nail gun at the apex of a DMT trip (my experience may not be universal).
I find this album to be the most true and palatable representation of my impression of MGMT’s ethos: inventive and demanding pop music, something that approaches Brian Eno’s ambient music directive that it be both ignorable and worthy of deep examination.
listen to: When You Die, Little Dark Age, Me and Michael
7 by BEACH HOUSE
I can’t believe this album came out this year. Jesus christ
Beach House is such an interesting band. I feel like they get away with very little sonic exploration because of their deft and varied lyricism, song structure, tone, mood, and image.
The differences between 7 and their previous work are difficult for me to describe, and I feel like examining the issue would kill some of the magic for me. Kelsey J. Waite described 7 as an “alternate-reality Beach House,” and that sounds exactly right. If you like them already, you’ll like this. If you don’t like them, you probably won’t.
listen to: Black Car, Drunk in LA, Lemon Glow
SAFE IN THE HANDS OF LOVE by YVES TUMOR
Sean Bowie’s previous work demonstrated massive talent and a willingness to follow experimental impulses. Safe In The Hands Of Love also proves his natural songwriting ability and skill at crafting dark, idiosyncratic earworms.
listen to: Noid, Honesty, Let The Lioness In You Flow Freely
GOD’S FAVORITE CUSTOMER by FATHER JOHN MISTY
I really like Josh Tillman. Not just his music, which is great, but also his dry humor, the dejected attitude he has with over-the-top radio hosts, even the weird and off-putting political rants with which he laces (and sometimes replaces) his live shows. His behavior in the past has occasionally been boorish and difficult to defend—the plainly misogynist lyrics of The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt. come to mind—but overall, I think Tillman is misunderstood (to some degree, intentionally) as someone who thinks he is so intelligent that he is constantly annoyed by those around him. I think Josh is actually far more bothered by people painting him this way than he is by the constant stream of annoying and repetitive questions about his “identity” and “persona” from interviewers.
He’s also someone who struggles with self-hate and depression, and even though the songs on God’s Favorite Customer are sonically pretty tame, these are maybe the rawest depictions of his psyche we’ve heard so far. A couple of the songs are raucous, but most (to me) give the impression of someone who’s really tired. Of what? Maybe of still feeling the things he’s singing about.
I wouldn’t presume to say what the greater message of these songs is, in part because I just haven’t examined them that closely, but I do think this record is a great introduction to Tillman as an individual. It’s not ambitious or verbose like past FJM releases. It’s not meant to provoke mass outrage at The State Of Things. It’s just some dude getting through what seems to be a rough time.
listen to: Hangout at the Gallows, God’s Favorite Customer, Please Don’t Die, Date Night
GRID OF POINTS by GROUPER
listen to: Birthday Song
POST- by JEFF ROSENSTOCK
I think Bomb The Music Industry is the shit, but if there’s one thing Jeff has perfected since ending that project, it’s building an album with a clear, cohesive message. POST- is about Trump’s election and America and what comes next. The lyrics are straightforward and angry and hopeful. Always his strongest tool, Jeff’s voice is beautifully utilized. He howls, screams, and croons, often all in the same song. His voice breaks and then he recovers and shouts defiantly.
It’s remarkable how raw this album sounds despite its skillful production by Jack Shirley.
The music is some of the best of Rosenstock’s career. There are no misses here, and the longest two tracks, Let Them Win and USA, have emotional buildups (and synthesizers!) that I truly did not expect. These are songs clearly written with live performance in mind, and if you get the chance to see Jeff perform (as I did with my buddies Luke and Liz), you’ll really be experiencing them as intended.
listen to: Let Them Win, USA, 9/10, Yr Throat
ON by ALTIN GÜN
I have no idea how I found this psychedelic folk-rock record made by a band of Dutch and Turkish dudes, but holy shit is it fire. I don’t even know what makes the record so good. It's sort of remniscient of '70s sitar stoner rock but like, actually good. I can't even say whether the lyrics are good or relatable or what because they're all in Turkish. Jesus christ listen to this
listen to: Tatlı Dile Güler Yüze, Goca Dünya
NOW ONLY by MOUNT EERIE
It’s so hard to write about the recent Mount Eerie albums. I wrote a furious and dismayed essay a year or two ago about the way journalists dumb down the rich, emotional, abundant way people naturally experience music and recode it as a contest. People artlessly toiling and trying to claw over one another. It was supposed to be a review of A Crow Looked At Me, but I mostly talked about my own sadness and anger instead, and I find myself doing that again now when I should be telling you all the reasons you should listen to Now Only.
I feel this issue most strongly when I listen to Phil’s music, and that’s because his most recent two records are about his wife’s declining sickness and death and the aftermath for him and his daughter. I guess it’s a testament to Phil’s talent and hard work on these records that when I listen to them, human metrics like album sales and Pitchfork scores seem totally absurd and unreasonable, and when I write about this I feel like an animal trying to explain something that I know is true but can’t articulate. These things don’t matter.
What matters, I guess, is that Now Only is something Phil has imbued with the power to pull you out of whatever comfort or discomfort and deposit you into his pain, and instead of just being left there, you can fade back into your own experience and feel a sort of fellowship and empathy, no matter how wretched everything has left you.
listen to: Tintin In Tibet, Distortion, Now Only, then the rest of the album
VIRTUE by THE VOIDZ
The Voidz are /that band/ for me. They're the band that I always play in the car with other people, the band I'm constantly explaining and complaining and proselytizing about.
So take this with a grain of salt: I think The Voidz are fucking great, and I don't think they get a fair shake. I think too many of their potential fans see them as The Thing Julian Casablancas Is Doing Instead Of Making More Strokes Music. I think their music is more interesting and inventive and ambitous than just about anything I've heard by The Strokes.
Are they as easy to enjoy, though? Are they as "good"? I don't care. Their albums are way too long and they look like they smell like gym socks. They're another vehicle for Julian's tiresome Exploding Brain statements on like, cultural brainwashing and stuff. So what? They fucking kick ass.
I think Leave It in My Dreams/QYURRYUS is the best album opening this year. But I also think Father Electricity (a non-single that only got a music video three years after the fact) was dope. I'm pretty much content with the idea that my love for The Voidz is just a weird personal quirk and not the natural comingling of their brilliant music and my intellectualism, or whatever. I don't even know if they're that good! I just love the shit out of this album, and I hope you like it too.
listen to: Leave It in My Dreams, QYURRYUS, Wink, Pointlessness
ULTRAVIOLET by KELLY MORAN
holy FUCK this is such a good album. Moran is a composer and pianist with (i'm guessing) a particular interest in electronics and altered acoustics. on this album, she mutes the strings of her piano (or fucks with the hammers? what do i know) to produce these really gorgeous harp- and kalimba-like textures, and then she layers over and over them with buzzing synths and stabby little chimes and all sorts of beautiful things. It sounds like someone hitting a bunch of objects in an antique store with a little steel hammer. i really love this album so much please listen to it.
listen to: Autowave
DNA FEELINGS by AISHA DEVI
This is is such a tense and powerful record. I'm seeing it (and Devi herself) described mostly in the context of club music, which makes sense: the pulsing and pounding bass on this album is very clubby. It's the juxtaposition with the truly out-of-this-world vocals and creepy Arca-esque synths that I think give this album a place elsewhere. Inner State of Alchemy is a great example of this tension between sounds reminiscent of a club or rave and sounds reminiscent of... maybe aliens? Bjork? Sophie? idk
DNA Feelings is an album that you can sink into mindlessly or mindfully and have a meaningful experience either way.
listen to: Dislocation of the Alpha, Inner State of Alchemy
ALBUMS I LIKED A WHOLE LOT
LILLYANNA by TEDDY<3
A cool little pop record. The best songs sound like something from the back of my brain. “Wishing (and Hoping)” is like a lost Phoenix track, “Loser” feels like a Perfume Genius “No Shape” B-side. It’s fun, evocative, and easy on the ears.
listen to: WISHING (AND HOPING), LOSER, I WAS IN A CULT
INTENÇÃO by RAKTA
Really fun lil 7". A BUSCA DO CÍRCULO sounds like if The Doors were some kinda post-punk band. And also didnt suck
MOTHER OF MY CHILDREN by BLACK BELT EAGLE SCOUT
Soft Stud fucking slaps. KP describes it as her "queer anthem" which yeah it really is anthemic.. Musically, this album is special. KP plays like seven instruments. Every sound on the album is her.
Just do yourself a favor and spin this fucking album because it's really hard not to fall in love with it.
ORDINARY CORRUPT HUMAN LOVE by DEAFHEAVEN
will these guys win a fucking grammy? how wild would that be lmao????
listen to: honeycomb
NEXT OF KIN by LUCY DACUS
listen to: next of kin, night shift
BE THE COWBOY by MITSKI
I think enough has probably been written about Mitski by both her fans and detractors this year, so I’ll just say that Be the Cowboy is a really great record from one of the strongest and most idiosyncratic voices in (good) contemporary music. If you like it, check out her older stuff; it’s very good as well.
listen to: Washing Machine Heart, A Horse Named Cold Air, Why Didn’t You Stop Me, A Pearl, Nobody
WIDE AWAKE! by PARQUET COURTS
I really regret not seeing these guys live this year, because this record is so boisterous and loud and fun that it must be an absolute blast to hop around listening to the guys play it in front of you. Although this is maybe the furthest Parquet Courts have strayed from their punk roots (I think fucking Danger Mouse produced the record), the moments of aggression are the strongest parts of the record: the shrieked “No apology/ and fuck Tom Brady!” at the end of Total Football, “Funky music playing in MY head” in Almost Had To Start A Fight…
But then again, the less intense songs are approached with surprising sincerity and appreciation from some dudes who ones bemoaned “Music matters more than ever / Free your brain and conform never / The Japanese do it way better / Soon it will be gone forever.” Free Bird 2 is a cool Velvet Underground-flavored singalong, and Tenderness is, well… kind of Springsteen-y? It’s a fucking bop, is what it is. Just not what I expected from these guys. It’s the first time I’ve been really optimistic about whatever non-purely-punk direction their sound takes. I guess that means I should relax and let people do and make what they want!
BOTTLE IT IN by KURT VILE
I fell hard in love with Vile this year. His singing and guitar playing are so easy and calming. Bottle It In isn’t my favorite of his albums, but despite its length it’s the one I’ve been listening to most. There’s just this vibe it has that’s soft and comfortable and you don’t mind sitting with it for a while.
listen to: Bassackwards, Mutinies, One Trick Ponies
JOY AS AN ACT OF RESISTANCE by IDLES
ferociously big-hearted; unapologetically political and critical of toxic masculinity, homophobia, apathy; all around a fucking sick album and a whole bunch of fun. i bet these guys would be wild good live.
listen to: Samaritans (this is THE song), the chorus of Danny Nedelko, the following line from Colossus:
"I'm like Stone Cold Steve Austin/I put homophobes in coffins."
MENTAL WOUNDS NOT HEALING by UNIFORM & THE BODY
can frenzied shrieking be sort of calming? idk but this album is both a frenetic expression of darkness and terror and a soothing balm for the ears. the chord progressions and moods of the songs are akin to some sort of fun pop song or folky ballad but there's this interesting addition of pounding industrial beats and dudes yelling.
I particularly like We Have Always Lived in the Castle and Empty Comforts.
it's just nice fun background music for hanging out with your buds or doing the dishes.
TREASURES AND TROLLS by TERA MELOS
fun combination of prog, heavy metal, and poppy surf-rock. i bet these guys would be great live (am I saying that a lot? it feels like I'm saying that a lot).
ONE YEAR by CRUEL REFLECTIONS
This is a post-punk kinda gothy record by a band with basically no following. The tunes are good. If over-the-top lines like the following don't make you cringe out of your chair, give them a listen.
"My will is fading faster/I lost my way
I think about the future/There's nowhere to go
I sit inside my bedroom/I'm wasting away
I step outside the front door/And I want to die "
HONORABLE MENTION/ALBUMS I LIKED A LOT BUT DIDN'T SPEND ENOUGH TIME WITH
thought of a dot as it travels a surface
year of the snitch
COCOON CRUSH by OBJEKT
the whole entire SUSPIRIA SOUNDTRACK by THOM YORKE
sex & food
a different age by current joys
bought to rot
DESCRIPTIONS OF TWO SONGS I LIKED
NEVER IN MY ARMS, ALWAYS IN MY HEART by THE LEMON TWIGS
I can't decide whether I like the music of the Lemon Twigs. They're undeniably very talented young men (19 and 21 I think) with shockingly proficient musicianship for their age, especially given that they're both multi-instrumentalists who trade off duties between songs. Most of the criticism they receive is based around their sort of derivative retro sound. On their album "Go To School," the backup vocals killed me a little bit; they're really well-executed and sound good, but they literally could have been lifted from a Beach Boys song. It's an album that I don't love, but maybe it'll grow on me. I guess it's a concept album about a monkey, which is appealing.
I don't know if I'm being totally fair to them, though. These dudes can't even rent a car and they're putting out really interesting, inventive, and smart songs with a totally daring image (watch one of their music videos if you want to see what I mean).
I heard Never In My Arms, Always In My Heart by accident, and it probably wouldn't have made such an impact if I hadn't also seen the video, which is a very literal retelling of the lyrics: a middle-aged couple try to have a child, the baby dies in utero. It's really challenging subject matter, but the song is a delicate balance of tragic and funny, real and over the top. It makes me wonder if people have been giving these guys a fair shake. They're much more than just a couple classic rock-obsessed kids; they're capable of mature and sensitive (but not overly serious) work. Maybe give it a listen, it's unlike anything else you'll hear this year.
VOLK by THOM YORKE
The lifeblood of Suspiria, the best movie I saw all year. As beautiful, unnerving, and emetic as the film. I became obsessed with this song and listened to it over a hundred times before seeing the film, in which the song is pivotal and terrible.
Also like the movie, I can’t really recommend this song (or album) to anyone because my reasons for going back to it again and again are personal and inexplicable.
FIVE ADDITIONAL NOTABLE SONGS
Leave It in My Dreams - The Voidz
Song 31 - Noname
Hanoi 6 - UMO
Charlotte's Thong by Connan Mockasin
Sicko Mode by Travis Scott
TWO VERY GOOD AND FUNKY MUSIC VIDEOS
Locket by Crumb
When You Die by MGMT