The End of Year List is a threatening one for any audiophile. Over the course of a year a lot of great bands come out to win over listeners. Really good bands are the ones whose releases maintain some sort of ‘staying power’. Any band that releases their album too late in the year avoids the list, too early and it can be forgotten. For my own sanity I have opted to try and figure out exactly what it was that came out this year that appealed to me.
A few long-dormant acts became active once more, most notably the laborious process of the Avalanches’ “Wildflower”. Fifteen years after the event that was their perfect debut and there it is in all of its old-timey sample-heavy nostalgia. In a way the album brought up images of early Boards of Canada work, of how they used to (but no longer) tap into that childlike sense of wonder. Skewing that idea of nostalgia is Jerry Paper’s “Toon Time Raw” where he takes that idea of lounging jazz and warps it into a surreal sarcastic jokey universe akin to the Residents’ weirdest philosophical musings. Helping him on that is BADBADNOTGOOD with their “IV” serving as another oddly compelling piece of work though mostly wordless. Euglossine’s “Canopy Stories” takes the idea of jazz and truly messes around with the idea, resulting in a light on its feet sort of sound.
Instrumentals seem to define a lot of what I really enjoyed over the past few months, with the totally immersive work of Autechre’s “elseq 1-5” representing their further path down the rabbit hole. Rhythms are disrupted, the repetition ruined by periodic bursts of noise. Following down this noisy unhinged path is the Dead C’s “Trouble” itself yet another testament to duration and endurance. Seas of distortion swallowed me whole as I tried to make sense of all of it. To step back from the chaos while still maintaining an edge is the hard-rock, Talking Heads inflected whirl of Car Seat Headrest’s “Teens of Denial”. With it they create something that feels pulled from Siltbreeze’s early 90s releases. Continuing with a classic orientation is the equally nerve-wrecking jerky energy of Parquet Court’s “Human Performance” presenting anxiety-ridden lyrics delivered just right. Even more anxious in tone was Death Grips’ “Bottomless Pit”.
On a smoother side yet with a similar emotional impact is the devastatingly beautiful Frank Ocean “Blonde”. Lush even as it presents a stripped down sound, Frank Ocean expresses what it means to be young, alive, and a little hopeless. There is something so comforting with this album, an unforgettable quality, and one that feels nearly haunting in style. Slowing this tragic emotion down to absolute molasses is the otherworldliness of Ian William Craig’s “Centre”. Quite sprawling in scope these songs sound akin to lonely orbiting planets whose paths will never cross. Equally spacious and rather lonesome is James Blake’s sprawling “Overgrown” which seems to offer a larger view of his perpetually gray skies. Presenting a lighter variation on this dense outlook is the mini-album of Jefre-Cantu Ledesma’s “Summer” whose gentle melodies drift slowly to the ground.
Abstraction appears to have gotten the message too as Derek Piotr’s “Drono” is one of the most soothing things I experienced. Even the most paired down approach, specifically of Tristan Perich’s “Noise Patterns” where literally things could not have a simpler premise or a more satisfying payoff from a series of well-thought out constraints. Or, while keeping with constraints, is the experimental deconstructed rave-up of Evol’s “Do This”.
For 2016, there has been a lot to choose from and I have been fortunate enough to have been paying attention. I hope in my final “End of Year” list to add a few others onto this list for good measure. If there is anything I might have missed or ought to have paid attention to, please feel free to let me know.
- The Avalanches – Wildflower
- Jerry Paper – Toon Time Raw
- Euglossine – Canopy Stories
- Tristan Perich – Noise Patterns
- Derek Piotr – Drono
- Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
- Autechre – elseq 1-5
- BADBADNOTGOOD – IV
- The Dead C – Trouble
- Frank Ocean – Blonde
- Parquet Court – Human Performance
- Jefre-Cantu Ledesma – Summer
- Ian William Craig – Centres
- Evol – Do This
- Death Grips – Bottomless Pit
- James Blake – Overgrown