Music I Liked in 2016

While there was a lot that went wrong in the world in 2016, it was, like 2015 before it, an amazing year for new music. Here’s a rundown of the 25 albums that had the most impact for me this year. Unlike last year I’m not going to go into each one individually, but I will add some notes and links.

This year there were three albums for me that were my clear favorites, and I’ll talk about those a bit first and then list the rest.

  1. Weakened Friends, Crushed / Gloomy Tunes [Bandcamp]

    Ok sure technically this isn’t an album, but rather two EPs, but nothing impacted my life more than this record. The second I heard my homie Adam 12 play “95” on RadioBDC this summer I immediately needed to know who was responsible. I could go into more detail but I already talked a little bit about what this band meant to me this year in a previous post. Suffice to say, this band was everything. (Get a copy on vinyl or CD if you can, because it includes the bonus track “Waste” which is a staple of their live show and a kickass track that you don’t get by just buying the digital version.)

  2. Field Mouse, Episodic [Bandcamp / Topshelf]

    Field Mouse’s first album, Hold Still Life, was one of my favorites of 2014, a delightful collection of fuzzed-out dream pop. (Technically it’s their second, not first, but good luck finding 2010’s You Are Here anywhere.) Episodic comes more focused and vicious than its predecessor. Between the face-melting, frustrated lead-off track “The Mirror” and the cathartic final barrage of closer “Out of Context” (possibly the best musical moment of the year, if you ask me), the album shows that Field Mouse successfully fine-tuned their already great sound and, having also become a proper five-piece rather than a duo with help on the other instruments, solidified into a band worth keeping your eye on.

  3. The Naked and Famous, Simple Forms

    I didn’t know what to expect with The Naked and Famous’s third LP. Their first was a grand initial release, but their second seemed a bit of a departure and the consensus seemed to be that it was a bit of a misstep (though listening to it again in the wake of Simple Forms, it looks a lot better to me than it did at the time). What I got was a synthpop album I simply couldn’t stop listening to. Written and recorded in the wake of the dissolution of band principals Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers’ relationship, the songs show a newfound and coincidentally mature sophistication in the arrangements that really gives this release a wonderful edge.

  4. Here’s the rest of my favorite albums this year:

  5. Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion Side B
  6. American Football, LP2 [Bandcamp / Polyvinyl]
  7. Wye Oak, Tween [Merge]
  8. Sia, This is Acting
  9. Tancred, Out of the Garden [Bandcamp / Polyvinyl]
  10. HOLOVR, Anterior Space [Bandcamp]
  11. Ian Sweet, Shapeshifter [Bandcamp / Hardly Art]
  12. Flock of Dimes, If You See Me, Say Yes [Bandcamp / Partisan]
  13. 2814, Rain Temple [Bandcamp]
  14. Vapor Lanes, Hieratic Teen [Bandcamp]
  15. PUP, The Dream is Over [Bandcamp / SideOneDummy]
  16. Secret School, Heal [Bandcamp]
  17. Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book
  18. Underworld, Barbara, Barbara, we face a shining future
  19. A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
  20. Secret Pyramid, Distant Works II [Bandcamp]
  21. M. Geddes Gengras, Two Variations [Bandcamp]
  22. Bob Mould, Patch the Sky [Bandcamp / Merge]
  23. The Avalanches, Wildflower
  24. Beyoncé, Lemonade
  25. Plaid, The Digging Remedy
  26. Jimmy Eat World, Integrity Blues

This is, of course, just a small amount of the music I heard and enjoyed this year. It was a great year for music, and I can only hope it continues into 2017.

Little Things

Weakened Friends @ UnchARTed 11/8/2016

Last night I saw a band called Weakened Friends, and they played a song called “Blankets” for li’l ol’ me.

They’ll probably say it was because I gave them my password for a certain streaming video service a few days ago, but they didn’t really have to do it. All it would have taken was “we haven’t practiced that in months, I don’t think we’ll be able to do it,” or “I don’t like playing that song anymore,” and I would have totally understood. I think they just wanted to do something nice for someone who really likes their band.

“Blankets” is one of several of their songs that really helped me when I was in a pretty dark place this summer, dealing with some things in my life and also learning new things about how bad anxiety can get. I’ve gone to see them 5 times before and they hadn’t played it, so it was really excellent of them to play a song that’s not in their rotation just because I basically asked for it. It meant a lot to me, anyway.

It so happens that they were playing their set while election results were beginning to take shape, and as the night continued, the reality of what’s happening began to set in. I got home and found it hard to sleep, and woke up still in disbelief. I’ve been halfway to tears all morning. But whenever I think back to last night, and a very small, nice thing that a few people did for me because I had done a very small, nice thing for them, I smile, at least for a moment. Thanks to Sonia and Annie and Cam for giving me something nice to reflect on today in a sea of burning garbage.

It’s going to be tough sailing in America for the foreseeable, and there’s a lot of people out there that are going to be targets of the angry, disillusioned mob who wrongly think that black people, brown people, women, Muslims, Jews, LGBT, immigrants, or any number of other false scapegoats are the cause of their ills. If you are in a position to volunteer your time to help some of these people or to do some kind of work on their behalf, please do. If you can afford to donate to an organization that will do work on behalf of these groups, please do. But if you can’t, just try to do something nice for someone, no matter how small it may seem. The little things matter. One little thing that seems really insignificant to you might be the thing that completely changes someone’s day in a way you can’t imagine. Let’s be there for each other, OK?

Music I Liked in 2015

2015 was a strong year for music, at least going by what I listened to this year. Here’s a bunch of albums I really liked – let’s start with some honorable mentions and then get to my top ten.

Honorable Mentions

Kasami Washington – The Epic

Certainly a bold move to just come right and title your album The Epic, but this sprawling 3-hour jazz extravaganza certainly qualifies.

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

Speaking of Kasami Washington. I admittedly didn’t listen to this nearly enough, but it’s a wonderful genre-bending hip hop album.

Colleen Green – I Want to Grow Up

Without question, my favorite album this year from someone I saw play in some high school kid’s garage about 13 years ago.

Aphex Twin – Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt 2

Pretty much what it says on the tin. This EP somehow sounds completely inhuman while dripping with groove. A pretty fancy trick indeed.

Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool

Just some kickass rock and roll. Why spoil it by over-describing?

Grimes – Art Angels

Grimes took a pop-sounding turn and it’s very compelling. She’s still so weird and unique that even with the pop production values, it’s really anything but.

Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

Alabama Shakes took their Southern R&B and filtered some garage, even more soul, and even some shoegaze through it, and all to great effect.

Ok, on to the ranked releases.

Tape’s Top Ten of 2015

10. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle

Julien Baker is only 20 years old and somehow writes and sings like she’s been carrying the weight of the world for 40. I had the same reaction the first time I heard Sprained Ankle as when I first heard Sharon Van Etten: completely devastated.

9. Torres – Sprinter

Mackenzie Scott builds upon the emotional weight of her first album with a new ferocity, almost threatening to swallow the listener at times.

8. Failure – The Heart Is A Monster

Failure returned after 19 years away and didn’t appear to skip a beat. The Heart Is a Monster is the spiritual successor and counterpart to their 1996 magnum opus Fantastic Planet, and while band reunions rarely bear edible, much less appealing, fruit, Failure’s return did not disappoint.

7. Purity Ring – Another Eternity

Purity Ring’s debut Shrines was a revelation when released in 2012, but few bands were more copied in the intervening three years. As such, their followup isn’t nearly the aural innovation as its predecessor, but Corin Roddick and Megan James make up for it with even tighter songcraft and James’ voice which soothes while her lyrics stealthily unnerve.

6. Screaming Females – Rose Mountain

While Screaming Females were always one of the strongest forces in rock this decade and a truly talented power trio, for once they get a recording that really shows off how damn good they are. Melissa Paternoster leads the way with her great voice and is one of the most talented guitarists going, but King Mike’s slick bass grooves really come out into the open on this ripping rock record.

5. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

I almost can’t believe I have this as low as #5. Sleater-Kinney surprised everyone with perhaps the best-kept secret of the new millennium their new, already-recorded album. Like Failure, Sleater-Kinney picked up almost exactly where they left off and came back with an album perhaps a little older and wiser, but just as vital.

4. Krill – A Distant Fist Unclenching

I have difficulty properly describing Krill, and I think it it’s because of the existential uncertainty I get when I listen to them, somehow imbued with both joie de vivre and ennui. Krill ended their run as one of Boston’s best bands this fall, its members scattering to New York and Austin, and we’re all worse off for it.

Krill forever. Krill, Krill, forever and ever.

3. CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye

This was probably my most anticipated release of the year. Somehow Every Open Eye sounds even more resounding and explosive than their 2013 debut, The Bones of What You Believe. Like Purity Ring’s sophomore effort, CHVRCHES took a sound that had excited listeners, tightened up the writing and arrangements, and in this case gave us an album that will stand out as one of the decade’s best.

2. Carly Rae Jepsen – E•MO•TION

Carly Rae Jepsen announced a small tour of 4 cities in the Northeast, and I was shocked that the Boston venue was the Paradise – a small club with a capacity of barely 900. Didn’t she have a massive hit in “Call Me Maybe”? How could a Pop Star play such a place? No matter. Carly Rae owned that room like few musicians I’ve seen before in my life. In a year full of excellent concerts, Carly Rae Jepsen’s was a pleasant surprise as by far the best of all of them.

Obviously I’m not reviewing concerts here, but that assessment carries over here: in a year filled with great releases, E•MO•TION was one that I anticipated being a pretty nice album but ended up being one of my absolute favorites.

1. Braids – Deep In The Iris

I was first exposed to Braids early in 2014, opening for Wye Oak at that same Paradise. I was so blown away by their performance that I bought all three of the albums they had at the merch table and ate them up for weeks. Interesting and challenging electronic music melded with traditional rock instrumentation and Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s commanding, unique vocals. Deep in the Iris is still an electronic pop record, but instead of sounding futuristic, the sound is somehow warmer and antique even as vocals and synths glitch past. The songs are more clearly written while somehow being more experimental. It definitely feels like the product of years of refinement have resulted in Braids’ essence becoming fully formed, and with it came the most artistically satisfying release of the year.

At least in this one dude’s opinion.