Best of 2016 (In no order)
1: Noisem: Blossoming Decay (A389 Recordings, 2015) There’s a moment on the seventh song, Another Night Sleeping in the Cold, where the rhythm of the drums and the power chord sauce from the guitarist rhythmically lock and it sounds like you’re taking a pleasurable and savage beating. Listen
2: Dos Santos Anti-Beat Orquesta: Dos Santos (Self-released, 2015) A rocking cumbia explosión out of Chicago. Strong rhythm section, great guitar tones at work and you get the space organ for free. Listen.
3: Living Hell: Oblivion (Eulogy, 2009) This 2009 metal record is being reissued and I understand why. This band is a very tasty blend of metal with touches of classic metal and hardcore punk. Listen.
4: Los Hacheros: Bambulaye (Jacob Plasse, 2016). I have their 2012 effort on my best of list for its beautiful ambient salsa sound and this record makes the list for it’s powerful combination of melody and rhythm. Listen
5: Ghostlimb: Confluence (Vitriol, 2012). An emo punk brain scraper that lurches and confesses from the opening measures. The singer is fully at the end of his rope, the drummer is on it and loose and alive, and the songs are spin and jerk around, just like in real life. Every member of the band is on full tilt. Listen.
6: Alvin Youngblood Hart: Down in the Alley (Memphis Int’l, 2002) Hart is a superlative guitar player specializing in finger picking. He also sports a soulful, classic blues voice with a combination of gruffness and black church gospel melodies. Listen.
7: Eliades Ochoa: Leyendas (Plus One Music, 2016). Smoking old school Cuban music from a Buena Vista Social club alumnus. The singing is beautiful, the stringed instrument playing is righteous with plenty of space for solos, and the percussionist/conga player is hot. Listen.
8. Konono No. 1 Meets Batida (Crammed Disc, 2016) Are you a four on the floor drum machine kinda person/cubicle dweller or do you get the strange and driving power of an electrified thumb piano? Distorted and driving with a guitar player, some electronics, awesome singing and chanting. Listen.
9: Al Scorch: Circle Round the Signs (Bloodshot, 2016). An Americana roots record with very good lyrics, great energy, a really good singer and a variety of tunes. Listen.
10: Jim the Boss: Hudson Soul (Boom One, 2016) Super true roots reggae. TIght rhythms, classic sounds, great sax in this second track. Of course booming bass as what would one expect from a label called Boom One? Listen.
11. Jessie Mae Hemphill: Get Right Blues (High Water Recording, 2003) This is straight ahead, no bullshit/no marketing music. And in terms of emotional impact great blues can really pack a wallop and such is the case with Jessie Mae Hemphill. Listen.
12: Vieux Kante: Young Man’s Harp (Sterns, 2016). Virtuosic koura playing out of Mali accompanied by a deft bass player and great tunes. Listen.
14. Changui Majadero: El Changui Majadero (Changui Majadero, 2016) Full on blasting Cuban music out of Cali. Great female singer, great playing. Listen.
15. The Lickshots: The Lickshots (Rockers Int’l, 2016) This is about as sweet a dub record as you’re gonna find. Classic delays, thick bass and well done drumming but with some really tasty flute and horn work (see clip below). Listen.
16. Vaudou Game: Kidayu (Hot Casa, 2016) African James Brown+ and no fucking around! Unbelievably funky drummer with great players and singers all around. Listen.
17. Neurosis: Fires Within Fires (Neurot, 2016) They’re 30 years tight, the arrangements are tight, and the playing is lean, seasoned with heavy doses of old school punk, noise, and of course, metal. The mood is dark but three dimensional. Listen.
18. Mystic Braves: Days of Yesteryear (Mystic Braves, 2015) An indie record reminiscent of The Byrds, The Coral and even a pube or two of R.E.M. Great guitar playing and rhythm section action. Listen.
19. Solange: A Seat at the Table (Columbia, 2016). Everything her sister Beyonce is not and thank God for that. Listen.
HONORABLE MENTIONS 2016!!!!
1. Mohammed Abozekry: Chaos (Neonovo, 2013) Abozekry is a French-Egyptian oud player and he shreds. He’s accompanied by an upright bass player, a hand drummer, and another string player Listen.
2. Xibalba: Tierra Y Libertad (Southern Lord, 2015) Straight up, no bullshit metal beat down. Big drummer/guitar rhythmic lockdown. Listen.
3. Debruit and Alsarah: Aljawal (Soundways, 2013) Some of my favorite electronic music involves African people. This collaboration between a French producer and a Sudanese singer does a really great job combining electronic music elements with African music. Listen.
4. The Reverend Peyton and his Damned Big Band: So Delicious (Shanachie, 2015) This roots rock record is both dirty and nerdy. The band is high energy and pretty rocking (for the style) and the singer sports a unique lower register voice. Listen.
5. Michael Daves: Orchids and Violence (Nonesuch, 2016). A concept record in that he plays 12 songs in a bluegrass style and then plays the same 12 songs electric. And man the bluegrass record is pretty kicking. Listen.
6. Carrie Rodriguez: Lola (Luz Records, 2016) A fantastically produced record of mostly torch songs with Tex Mex twang, Mexican music, and some rock and roll. Listen.
7. Matt Parker: Twos and Fours (Concierge, 2015) A raucous and swinging jazz record I found a few months ago. I love the energy of the playing as well as the sound of the record. Listen.
8. James McMurtry: Complicated Game (Complicated Game, 2016) This roots record has a lot going for. It sounds great, the band plays very tastefully, and McMurtry rocks some pretty high end lyrics. Listen.
9. Cha Wa: Funk ‘n Feathers (Cha Wa, 2016) Righteous uplifting vocals, a lot of catchy and standard New Orleans party tunes but done with some rock/funk muscle, especially the guitar player, the organ player and the drummer. Listen.
10. Eli Paperboy Reed: My Way Home (Yep Roc, 2016) Mr. Paperboy brings it on this record. The band is hot with special shout outs to the bass player and the background vocalists. Listen.
11. Xenia Rubinos: Black Terry Cat (Anti-, 2016) This is what I thought indie rock was supposed to be. Quirky music that draws from various genres and melts it all together to make something a bit like rock but not obsessively so. Listen.
12. Bone Dance: Bone Dance (Self-released, 2013) These guys work the neighborhood where post-rock, emo, hardcore punk, and metal meet. Listen.
13. Gorguts: Pleiades’ Dust (Gorguts, 2016) If you want to hear a band stretch out and aspire and you dig the sonic palette of really rough heavy metal bands this record will work for you. Listen.
14. Brent Cobb: Shine on Rainy Day (Elektra, 2016) A John Prine tinged country rock record. The lyrics are above average but not quite great and this record has a lot of things going for it including an excellent bass player with a great tone, tasteful arrangements, and a singer with a voice that sits solidly in the country tradition. Listen.
15. Kadhja Bonet: The Visitor (Fat Possum, 2016). An avant soul record. I like the drummer, the sounds and the arrangements but the singer Bonet is the star here. She has a commanding and beautiful voice — she smokes anything I’ve heard out of Beyonce. Listen.
16. Michael Wollny & Vincent Peirani: Tandem (ACT, 2016) The contrast between the highbrow piano and the folk-y sound of the accordion is delicious — it works for me big time. The mood of these pieces is slower rather than faster, not sad but certainly not bouncy. Listen.
17. Xylouris White: Black Peak (Bella Union, 2016). Xylouris White is going for what I would call an ecstatic energy. He pushes both his playing and his singing and he whips the drummer into quite a shitty as well. Listen.
18. Destruction Unit: Negative Feedback Resistor (Sacred Bones, 2015). Definitely one of the most blasted out heavy psych records you will ever encounter. Beyond distorted guitars, distorted vocals, a filthy sewer bass, it’s really about a full blast of energy here. Listen.
19. 6Lack: Free 6Lack (Interscope, 2016) 6Lack (pronounced black) has some of the best hip hop/r&b sounds going this year. Really abstract and beautiful shit that floats and pulsates and hovers over the skittery beats you get from musicians down South. Listen.
20. Dori Freeman: Dori Freeman (Dori Freeman/Free Dirt, 2016). A country/roots/folk record by a female artist with a voice that fits right into the country tradition — the sad song part of it any way. The first three songs are the best on the record. Listen.
21. Noura Mint Seymali: Arbina (Glitterbeat, 2016) Seymali is a singing giant with a huge voice and her husband is totally boss on the guitar. Funky West African business. Listen.
Best of 2015 (In no particular order).
1: Paul Giallorenzo’s Git Go: Force Majeure (Delmark, 2014) When people say they don’t understand jazz I really don’t understand what the fuck they’re on about. I don’t really understand the point of Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift, and this is some melodic and swinging music made for humans. Listen.
2: Faianatur: Rastafari Straight (Faianatur, 2014) The band is tight with plenty of floor sweeping bass, but it’s the vocalist who ties the tunes together and takes the music above other reggae records. Listen.
3: Living Hell: Oblivion (Eulogy, 2009) Mid tempo stompers and occasional forays into thrash with excellent guitar sounds and a nice rhythmic lock betwixt the guitar player and the drummer. Listen
4: Dengue Fever: The Deepest Lake (MRI, 2015) This record of an L.A. band with a female Cambodian singer who sings in both Cambodian and English could work for a pretty wide audience. The Deepest Lake is as much a rock record as it is a world music record. Listen.
5: Sons of Huns: Banishment Ritual (Ridingeasy Records, 2015) More than a bit of classic hard rock, riffy hard rock, a plain workingman’s punk aesthetic sprinkled in there with a bit of grunge, and even a bit of the ol’ stoner rock. Listen.
6: BKO Quintet: Bamako Today (Buda Musique, 2014) These guys feature three drummers, an electrified ngoni that sounds like Bassekou Kouyate rocked last year, and a kora. They are great singers and the album is strong all the way through due to the incredibly high level of musicianship. Listen.
7: Coffinworm: IV.I.VIII (Profound Lore, 2014) Big sludgy power chords, caveman drummer, fully unintelligible singer. The drummer is extremely musical and the guitar tone is absolutely huge — big oozing waves of distortion with a pleasing sharpness that keeps it from the stoner rock realm. Listen.
8: Khaira Arby: Timbuktu Tarab (Popcornlab, 2011) This woman Khaira Arby and her West African band tear shit up on this 2010 release. She will sing you into submission.
9: Tal National: Zoy Zoy (Fat Cat, 2015) A tour de force of African polyrhythmic guitar playing and drumming. Listen.
10: Ultramantis Black: Ultramantis Black (Relapse, 2014) Total fucking metal mayhem, lurching around, violently unpredictable and pissed to no end.
11: Hope Drone: Cloak of Ash (Relapse, 2015). The guitar player really steals the show. A lot of really engaging and interesting chord progressions — not your standard power chord ka-chunk up side the head but almost melodic post hardcore waves of noise. Heavy to be sure, but infused with melancholy. Listen.
12: Quarter Street: Quarter Street (Hope Street Recordings, 2015) A burning salsa record that fires on all cylinders. Great rhythm section, super bumpin’ horn section and great vocal arrangements. Listen
13: Qwanqa: Volume 2 (FPE, 2015) I really like this Ethiopian four piece consisting of drums, electric bass, electric guitar, and violin. Big ups for the drummer. Listen.
14: Ellen Jewell: Sundown over Ghost Town (Signature Sounds, 2015) In an age of sonic excess and wanker-ness this understated and tasteful alt-country record is a breath of fresh air. Listen.
15: Tinariwen: Live in Paris (Anti-, 2015) It’s virtuoso playing and the live setting really highlights that. It’s also funky and rocking as fuck. Listen.
16: Fuck the Facts: Desire Will Rot (Noise Salvation, 2015) This is molten monster shot of metal, thrash, hardcore punk, grind, post-rock a tad of doom. Listen.
17: Kowloon Walled City: Grievances (Neurot, 2015) Another one of my favorite heavy music records of the year. This record tilts more to the sad, shoe gaze, post-hardcore side of town than the methed-out, pissed beyond pissed metal part of town. Listen.
18: Daniel Bachman: River (Three Lobed Recordings, 2015) Acoustic guitar instrumental folk/roots record. All the tunes are lovely, he plays at a very high level and the record sounds great. Listen.
19: Omar Souleyman: Bahdeni Nami (Monkeytown, 2015) — Smoking and funky music out of Syria. Seven pieces, six of which are over 5 minutes long and Souleyman will spin you around the dance floor until you drop. Listen
1. Simo Lagnawi: The Gnawa Berber (Riverboat, 2014) Some sick ensemble world music drumming out of Morocco. Listen.
2. Kendl Winter and the Summer Gold: It Can Be Done (K Records, 2013) This is much more of an indie record with a banjo player than it is an alt-country record with some indie/punk leanings. Listen.
3. Hush Points: Blues & Reds (Sunnyside, 2015) Straight jazz with a poppin’ drummer. Listen.
8. The Skints: FM (Easy Star, 2015) A very sweet reggae dancehall record out of London sporting multiple MCs/toasters/singers, a thick rhythm section and a strong combination of toughness and tenderness. Listen.
9. Cheryl Pyle: Inside Dialogue (11th Street Music, 2011) A bass and flute duo jazz record. Pyle has a super sweet tone. Listen.
11. Lightning Bolt: Fantasy Empire (Thrill Jockey, 2015) The heirs apparent to the full tilt sonic assault of The Jesus Lizard with manic drumming, blasted post-apocalyptic bass, and fucked in the head vocals. Listen.
12. Chui Wan: Self-titled (Maybe Mars, 2015) If you took the the rhythm section of the Minutemen and blenderized it with a half cup of the Talking Heads art school rock and a few pubic hairs of prog rock you’d be pretty close to the sound of this record. Listen.
13. Napalm Death: Easy Meat (Century Media, 2015) If you amputated the first first tune you would be left with a hot nugget of thrash metal, hardcore punk and generally a foul and beautiful depiction of negative feelings. Listen.
14. Harmonicrat: Restart (Relapse, 2015) I don’t like this record as much as I loved the 2012 record Harmonicraft. I found that record to be a perfect blend of hook and wallop to the dome. This record is more noisy and less hooky but it’s a solid ass effort. Listen.
15. Richard Thompson: Still (Fantasty, 2015). Check out the unrivalled guitar playing and the above average tunes and then go check out I Wanna See the Bright Lights Tonight. Listen.
16. Evan Caminiti: Meridian (Thrill Jockey, 2015) An ambient electronic record from a guitar player that sports a solid blend of murky low end and oscillating high end sounds. Listen.
17. Chico Trujillo: Reina De Todas Las Fiestas (Barbes, 2015) A hot and sweet mash of various Latin musical influences by the new cumbia band out of Chile. A little salsa, a little Brazilian music, even ska and reggae. Listen.
18. Knautic: Debut (East Van Digital, 2015) Mr. Knautic does a really good job of preserving the spirit of dub while working a palette of mostly electronic sounds on this EP. Tasty deployment of delayed sounds over drum machine beats and keyboard bass. Listen.
19. Owiny Sigoma Band: Nyanza (Brownswood, 2015). If you hate techno check out the second tune on this record, Luo Land, to see how funky a drum machine can be. Take a classic kick-hat boom-titch, throw a conga like hand drum underneath, some stick percussion up top and then put a funky African dude in front of the mic. This record is about equally split between African sounds and electronic elements. Listen.
20. Bill Horist: Guitar Weirdo (Tangenisis Artifactory, 2013) A recording of solo prepared guitar. Tastefully textured with a variety of sounds folks should check this record out. Listen.
21.Ruby Amanfu: Standing Still (Rival & Co, 2015) Extremely well crafted sounds and lush old school production highlight this record of covers from Nashville based singer Ruby Amanfu. Listen.
22. Israel Nash: Silver Season (Loose Music, 2015). Mr. Nash does a pretty spot on Crosby, Stills and Nash and Young country hippie thing on this record. That includes the fragile voice, the slow but firm tempo and the slide guitar. Listen.
23. Dief-Dieul De Thies: Aw Sa Yone Vol. 1 (Teranga Beat, 2015). 8 tunes, 80 minutes. You know you’re in for some extended African jams with this record. Listen.
24. Shannon and The Clams: Gone By the Dawn (Hardly Art, 2015) They play an early to mid ’60s style of r&b and they swing all right for white folks. They’re really into singing and by putting some love and energy into the vocals they bring the listener more deeply into the record. Listen.
25. Jeremy Pinnell: Oh/KY (Sofaburn, 2015) 10 shots of old school country misery — getting high, loving the wrong women, just generally fucking up one’s life. All told by an ex-addict with some lovely slide guitar playing and minimalist drum work. Listen.
26. Madd Again!: Madd Ting, Vol. 1 (Swing Ting, 2015) All you indie electronic hipsters should check out the production on the modern dancehall record out of the UK. These guys will show you how to rock a synth bass line and make it sound funky as fuck. Listen.
27. Lionel Loueke: Gaia (Blue Note, 2015) Opening up with two pretty monster shreds that combine African music with straight jazz, it sounds like the A&R guy stepped in and made sure there’s a ballad and then a rock tune to follow those up. Listen.
2014 Honorable Mentions (Picked as the year unfolded):
1 – Temples: Sun Structures (Fat Possum, 2014) Quirky Brit indie rock
2 – Nat Baldwin: In the Hollows (Western Vinyl, 2014). Upright, drums and voice.
3 – Curtis Harding: Soul Power (Burger, 2014) Crunchy, indie soul.
4 – Owiny Sigoma Band: Power Punch (Brownswood, 2013) Electronic/African
5 – Bry Webb: Free Will (Idee Fixe, 2014) Melancholy alt-country/folk
6 – Melingo: Linyera (World Village, 2014) Argentine cabaret
7 – Douglas Detrick’s Anywhen Ensemble: The Bright and Rushing World (Novatone, 2014)
8 – Shigeto: No Better Time Than Now (Ghostly International, 2014)
9 – Lindi Ortega: Tin Star (Last Gang, 2013).
10 – Fat Freddy’s Drop: Blackbird (The Drop, 2014)
11 – The Earls of Leicester: The Earls of Leicester (New Rounder, 2014)
12 – Vessel: Punish Honey (Tri Angle, 2014)
14 – Shakey Graves: And the War Came (Dual Tone, 2014)
Best of 2014:
1 – Nick Waterhouse: Holly (Innovative Leisure, 2014). He’s in a car commercial, he’s getting a big media push and that usually annoys the shit out of me, but it’s a very good album. Whereas I thought his debut record had a ton of energy it sounded a bit tight to my ears and on this record there’s a lot more band playing/solos and looseness that I dig in a record, especially one from a genre like old school r&b.
2 – All Pigs Must Die: God is War (Southern Lord, 2011).
These guys are in an interesting genre neighborhood sporting some aspects of a metal band while showing a completely fuck off hardcore punk mentality with some tinges of heavy rock.
3 – Boulpik: Konpa Lakay (Lusafrica, 2014)
A beautiful record of Haitian music for your listening pleasure. These guys sing as if they’ve been singing together since they were five, which is possible.
4 – Trap Them: Blissfucker (Prosthetic, 2014)
A sonic beatdown. Part post-rock, plenty of hardcore punk, some metal, a bit o’ thrash and a delicate balance of precision and squall.
5 – Noura Mint Seymali: Tzenni (Glitterbeat, 2014)
Leave it to an African woman to make the rock record of the year. This is a straight up power trio plus vocals record. Drum kit, electric bass, and Ms. Seymalis’ husband on guitar. She is badass both on the microphone and on the ardine.
6 – Black Monolith: Passenger (Black Recording Company, 2014)
In an era of splashiness and chops and spraying drum fills the guy just latches on to a his kick snare quasi-thrash portfolio of beats and just holds it and the band grinds and grinds and grinds in a very melancholic, beautiful way.
7 – Karol Conka: Batuk Freak (Mr. Bongo, 2014)
This album of Brazilian hip hop instrumentals might be my favorite record of the summer. It’s smart, partyistic, and it’s hip.
8 – Tiger Hatchery: Sun Worship (ESP-DISK, 2013).
A great musical bridge for heavy music fans to get into the raucous world of free jazz. With a classic punk stringy, shitty bass sound and a wailing sax/drums to go with it, you are definitely set to feel cheap and greasy after you spin this record with its full on blast of wailing sax and bass smegma.
9 – Traams: Cissa (FatCat Records, 2014)
18 minutes of sharp, melodic, brisk Brit rock. Classic drums, bass, guitar, vocal lineup — I was particularly impressed by the melodic bass playing and the driving drums although there is strong musicianship at all points.
10 – Open Mike Eagle: Dark Comedy (Mello Music Group, 2014)
I don’t see how anybody could make a better, more intelligent hip hop record than Open Mike Eagle’s Dark Comedy. Mike Eagle’s lyrics are creative, smart, funny (without coming across as a clown) and his flow on the microphone is varied and skillful.
11 – Charming Axe: Gathering Days (Self-released, 2014).
A stripped down string band record (plus a bit or organ) by three Chicago musicians consisting of bluegrass/roots covers of 11 songs and 4 originals.
12 – Los Hacheros: Pilon (Chulo, 2012)
This record has an ambient room sound of some of the sparse, lonesome Cuban records in my collection. I also dig the instrumentation — the violin adds a really elegant touch, especially when paired with the flute playing. There’s an amplified tres, upright bass, percussion, hand drums.
13 – Jello Biafra & the Guantanamo Bay School of Medicine (Alternative Tentacles, 2013)
There’s nobody who does what Jello Biafra does and nobody could do it even if they want. The music business in its current corporate cocksucking form gives total shrift to troublemakers. Unlike another punk legend, Henry Rollins, Biafra is musical — he can sing, he can sell his tunes, and his lyrics are focused and powerful. He’s got skills.
14 – Vaudou Game: Apiafo (Hot Casa, 2014)
A superlative rhythm section featuring a drummer with that super light and funky touch that Tony Allen sports, a wide variety of flavorful vocal arrangements, an unusual set of influences within the arrangements – moments of surf-a-billy, psychedelic rock, African music, vintage American James Brown style funk, Fela Kuti, this is an album that is both focused and not concerned with being just one set of sounds.
15 – Jungle Fire: Tropicoso (Nacional, 2014)
Excellent drumming with super flavorful percussionist sauce over the top on this Latin funk record with strong players at all positions.
16 – Tony Allen: Film of Life (Jazz Village, 2014)
Many claim Tony Allen to be the greatest drummer alive and while I don’t condone rankings he’s up there. His funkiness is unrivalled, his touch is soft, and his sense of timing is just, man he’s just such a natural drummer it’s crazy. In addition to Allen’s drumming, the melodies on this record are great.
17 – Sleaford Mods: Chubbed Up+ (Ipecac, 2014).
If you’re looking for an updated punk blast of anti-social bile and denunciation this record will hook you up. Musically simple, but lyrically spot on these guys do a great job denouncing the pile of shit we call society.
18 – Raspberry Bulbs: Privacy (Blackest Ever Black, 2014)
A great punk formula (for me) will have a healthy dose of pissed off, some raggedness, some alienation, and some undercover sadness. These guys do a great job of delivering it on this record.
19 – La Misa Negra: Mesia De Medianoche (NAM Entertainment, 2013)
A blistering cumbia/Latin outfit out of Oaktown. When their website says they mix a punk energy into the music they are not kidding — this is a relentless, hardcore band. Great female singer, great melodies and strong rhythms.