Top Albums of 2016 by Spyros Stasis
I usually write about experimental stuff for Invisible Oranges; it may be 70 minute long drones and field recordings, or experimental hip-hop with Afrofuturistic tendencies or big walls of noise. However, I wanted to illustrate that all the aforementioned is not the only music I listen to, and what better way to do this than with an end of year list?
Now, I am not going to beat around the bush, so I will just say it: 2016 was a shitty year. To write down a list of all the terrible events that took place is an exercise in patience that requires a stoic perspective, which I do not possess (trust me I am working on it.) But, the one thing that did not suck was the quality of records released this year, which required another exercise of patience, this time a pleasant one, in picking out my personal favorites.
It was a year of bittersweet returns, some of which have proven to be the last we will hear from some great artists/bands, but there are also a number of artists that are coming up, either making their first steps in the music scene or releasing their second/third albums, as well as seasoned musicians expanding their sound, reaching their highest peak yet. So even if the world is going to implode in a blaze of fire of brimstone, at least we have one hell of a soundtrack to accompany it with.
20. Helen Money – Become Zero (Thrill Jockey, USA)
19. Virus – Memento Collider (Karisma Records, Norway)
18. Okkyung Lee/Christian Marclay – Amalgam (Northern Spy, South Korea/USA)
17. Marissa Nadler – Strangers (Sacred Bones, USA)
16. Street Sects – End Position (The Flenser, USA)
15. Dalek – Asphalt for Eden (Profound Lore, USA)
14. Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones, Norway)
13. Matmos – Ultimate Care II (Thrill Jockey, USA)
12. clipping. – Splendor & Misery (Sub Pop, USA)
11. Lycus – Chasms (Relapse, USA)
Comebacks are tricky business, especially when you lose half of your line-up in the process. Seven years of silence is a long time, and a change of vocalist is difficult, but Cobalt’s latest full-length, Slow Forever, was well deserved all the patience and chaos that came along. It might rub some people the wrong way, but Slow Forever is what I consider a great heavy metal album, not just a great black metal record. The guitar riffs are sharp, the band is not afraid to introduce new elements to its sound, and the music is filled with memorable hooks. Cobalt has adapted with this release, but without compromising.
Taking the aesthetics of pop music and turning them on their head is quite a challenge, but The Body never seemed like guys that would back down from one. The structures of hip tracks, love songs is brought to its knees, as the masters go through a relentless sludge rampage, acquiring elements of industrial, responding with harsh noise alongside these sick, infernal voices. They sardonically state that tracks from the album were inspired by Beyoncé and Katy Perry, combining a misanthropic perspective with a twisted sense of humor.
Sumac is the first instance where we get a full-time band from ex-Isis guitarist/vocalist Aaron Turner [Mamiffer, as we learned pointedly, is Faith Coloccia’s brainchild first and foremost -Ed.]. Alongside him are Nick Yacyshyn of Baptists, one of the sickest drummers you will hear today, and Brian Cook of Russian Circles. Their debut album was forged from the heaviest elements of sludge and post-metal, with a leaning towards improv also making a strong appearance. What One Becomes moves further into the area of improvisation, wonderfully occurring in the final minutes of “Blackout,” while retaining the weight of sludge and the lucid melodies of post-metal. A record that fulfills the promises of The Deal and raises expectations for what will follow.
A Tribe Called Quest
Another long awaited return, eighteen years to be exact. A Tribe Called Quest were ahead of their time, encompassing jazz elements and an alternative mindset towards hip-hop, without stepping ever too far away from the tradition of the genre. It was just in 2015, and after the Paris attacks, when the band decided to get back together, feeling “charged” by the event. Despite the long break, there is not one moment in the album that feels like the band members are fatigued, or just going through the motions. Inspired, deeply political, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is a record of our times, and unfortunately the last material we will hear from A Tribe Called Quest, following the untimely passing of Phife Dawg.
Love Streams revealed a shift of Hecker’s perspective. The great electronic musician encompasses for the first time the human voice as the central piece of his music, mutilating choral melodies and creating a stunning collage of processed vocal lines. In contrast with his previous works, where a bleaker vision was in the centre, there seems to be an almost romantic quality about the compositions found in Love Streams. An excellent adaptation of style that points towards a seemingly never-ending well of inspiration.
Essays and dissertations can be written about the career of David Bowie, and the impact that his presence has had on rock as a whole. The last two records of this great artist promoted a very interesting perspective, which began after the ten year long wait leading up to The Next Day. The record was a stunning comeback, but Blackstar really drives it home. Surrounding himself with excellent jazz musicians, Bowie explores a reinterpretation of his style. Bowie’s final offering, a testament of creativity and bravery in music, rounds up a legacy that will live on forever.
Fires Within Fires is a return to form for Neurosis. Throughout their career the band was always compelled to further their sound, from the primal days, the monumental grandeur of Through Silver In Blood and Times of Grace, to the emotional awakening starting with A Sun That Never Sets. Their latest album feels like a combination between the aforementioned records. Some might be quick to dismiss this as a return to earlier days, but Neurosis appear rejuvenated from the process. The shorter duration of the record has filled the album with the raw energy so vital in their music, while the experimental leanings, ambient passages and emotional quality are equally strong.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
I always was a big Nick Cave fan, loved everything from the time of The Birthday Party to Push The Sky Away. The last couple of albums from Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds contained the lyrical capacity within the alternative rock setting, and even the garage rock scene in Dig, Lazarus, Dig!! However, Skeleton Tree is different. Recorded from 2014 to 2016, the record was produced through one of the darkest times of Nick Cave’s life, the passing of his son. This element has drenched The Skeleton Tree in its most central aspect, shaking the core of the band. The emotional depth is simply stunning, and the wandering from alternative rock to ambient, drone, avantgarde and film score, the band produces a record that while staring right into the abyss, does not fucking blink for a second.
The use of psychedelia in black metal is definitely not a new trick, but to take it to such an extent that people need a new subgenre (surrealistic) to describe your sound is quite something. The Finnish orange demons implement psychedelia to a heavy extent, that is true, but it never was their sole take on black metal. The traditional spirit of the genre was fused with no wave aesthetics, neighboring metal sub-divisions, building record after record a monstrous sound. Värähtelijä arrives to hit the nail on the head, introducing one of the darkest journeys you will ever experience. Ranging from the typical Oranssi Pazuzu sound, firmly established through Kosmonument and Valonielu, to progressive experimentation, a high aptitude for improvisation and even electronic music structures, this is the band at its best moment yet.
How many bands reach their peak thirty years after their inception? Swans always pushed forward with their sound, from the release of Filth to this year’s The Glowing Man. The last three albums revealed an intriguing restructuring of the essence of Swans, a deep meditative state that produced what can be, arguably, described as their finest moments. The Glowing Man closes the trilogy that The Seer kicked off, rounding up six hours of stellar music. Granted, there might be some fatigue by the audience towards a third double record in a span of six years, but that should not take away any of the greatness that lies within the core of The Glowing Man. Michael Gira has stated that this will be the final release of the current incarnation of Swans, understanding that some cycles need to close in order for new chapters to unfold.