2016 Albums

My Favorite Records of 2016

I’m sitting and listening to the thudding bass and wailing vocals which kick off the new Childish Gambino record, “Awaken, My Love!”, as I consider the yearly slog through the exercise of ranking albums. This album certainly makes a strong case and, being freshly released in December, it has a decided edge over a few great releases that might’ve slipped off the immediate radar. But that’s what we’re attempting to assess, isn’t it? The question isn’t, “What albums did you like?” The question is, “What albums are truly noteworthy?” This album, with its unabashed references to Funkadelic and Prince might well belong on that sort of list. I’ll let it spin and see if it comes back around as we talk.

I’ve harped on giving up this year-end thing so many times that I’m bored with the standard excuses about feeling compelled by the quality of the material or wanting to offer a rebuttal to other lists. I’m not going to lie, I like to look back and see what has landed in my collection and heart. I do not like ranking items. How can I compare a cultural cornerstone artist to an up-and-coming musician with only a couple albums in her catalog? It’s patently ridiculous. So don’t look for rankings here. No bullet points or whatever, either. Consider that method off limits and don’t try to interpret the sequence of my narrative as an order of preference.

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Phish – Big Boat

“I don’t listen to Phish albums.”
The number of times that I have heard this declaration, or some variant, over the years is striking. Doubly so when one considers the fervent fan base commanded by the band. Yes, live performance is where Phish rises to its highest heights. No, the studio albums do not contain the same energies found on stage. Fans often seem to have difficulty reconciling this disparity even as the band, ever aware of it, has embraced the separateness of the two more and more on each album. Their latest release, Big Boat (out Oct. 7 on JEMP Records), continues this trend and manages to present the listener with some fresh sounds. The challenge may be that the audience doesn’t really want fresh sounds. By and large, fan criticism runs from unrestrained delight in a new Phish album to indifference to disgust. Scanning Twitter on release day, one sees the entire gamut from assertions that the band is “…out of ideas…” (which is nonsense) to “hitting a creative peak”. As usual, the truth falls in between.

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Mid-Year Music Roundup

It’s June and high time I let you know what awesome albums I’ve been listening to so far this year. There’s a soundcloud thingy featuring some of these artists streaming after jump.

Akron/Family – Sub Verses (Dead Oceans – DOC078)

These guys continue to grow and put out compelling records. If you caught them on tour this spring you heard much looser versions of this tightly arranged record that still manages to sound like it could fly apart at the seams on some of the wilder cuts. This is a dynamic trio that is constantly pulling in three directions. That tension and diversity makes for a fascinating tug-of-war that makes for a compelling listen.

Alex Bleeker and the Freaks (Woodsist – 068)
Jangly pop hooks blended with folk, psych, long gone indie sounds, and earnest lyrics make this one of my favorites for the year (so far.) Bleeker has stepped away from Real Estate to deliver an album that sounds nothing like his day job.

White Fence – Cyclops Reap (Castle Face – CF-019)
More White Fence! Tim Presley seems to be on a mission to release as many albums as is humanly possible (Pretty sure Ty Segall is going to take that title.) Here we have another collection of self-recorded garage psych-pop songs that fit neatly in the Barrett/Kinks/Nuggets crossroads. If you like bent guitars, tape warble, unpredictable but undeniable hooks, you need this record. Continue reading

2012 Album Roundup

2012 LPs

Many of my 2012 LPs

I give up.

I’ve been thinking about the inevitable year-end top whatever list of albums for more than a month now. Countless records have found their way across the turntable or into my phone for listening on the train and some have risen to the top and others aren’t even a blip. But so many of them are just too good to rank, dismiss, or inadvertently diminish by stacking it above (or below) some other great album. The real message that bears conveying is that I’ve listened to a lot of great music this year and, while some of it was new in 2012, some of it dates well back to the past.

In keeping with the spirit of things I’ll limit this post to great things that came out in 2012 but stay tuned for more on those other things that have been occupying my ears in an upcoming post. Continue reading

Jason Lytle – Dept. Of Disappearance

Dept. Of Disappearance

When Jason Lytle broke up his band, Grandaddy, in 2006 he wanted to get away from music, California, and more. But he couldn’t stay away for long and, in 2009, he gave us the beautiful album, Yours Truly, The Commuter which actually landed on the top spot of my 2009 year-end list. Since then, he’s collaborated with members of Earlimart on Admiral Radley, briefly reunited with Grandaddy earlier this year, and now has delivered another beautiful solo album, Dept. Of Disappearance.

Opening with cassette tape test tones from the 80’s the title cut sounds right at home with Lytle’s earlier work. The synths wash, guitars crunch in with the rhythm section, and the soft-sung vocals flow atop the mix with lyrics that blend paranoia, aggression, and mystery. His grasp of melody and densely layered harmonies is instantly on show here and throughout the record. Continue reading