Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top Albums 2016 Part V 10 – 01

10. Tim Hecker – Love Streams

Tim Hecker is the master of affective forces in music. Since his 2011 album Ravedeath 1972, my listening to music and my experience of sound haven´t been the same. I have yet to experience this power in a life setting, but Hecker talking about the importance of fog, about the sheer intensity of loudness, actually feeling the sounds in your body stand as the reassurance, that this experience will be something to remember. His work with sounds is something entirely different from making music for enjoyment and is hard to grasp if you´re searching for easy listening. The understanding of drones, of elongated sounds, chopped organs and the semblances of air or fog have driven me to pursue studies of ephemerality and the sense and pushed me in a direction a book or teaching would have never accomplished. That being said, Love Streams is a departure or a side-step from his previous work and is already visible through his choice of colors for the artwork. Hues of neon, scattered blue and red/ pink digress from the previous scales or white, black and gray, allowing for a vast sound and Hecker stepping away from what is mostly perceived to be haunting or leaning on a darker vibe. This notion mingles with his experimentations with choirs and the voice in general. This bodily-human component was absent in his previous work and him allowing for vocals in his compositions, uplifts the idea of being affected by sounds into a completely new direction. When these voices come up, are scrambled like he messed with organs sounds in the past, when they chirp, yearn and howl through his digital procession, you´ll be at once intrigued by the strange warmth that is almost a first after experiencing Ravedeath and Virgins, although his music has never been depleted of uplifting and reconciliation. Get closer to Love Streams, listen to it in various setting, in daylight, in the depths of night, being outside, surrounded by external noise or in the silence of nature. Every time these pieces will transform themselves and the voices will provide a new material component to your understanding of Hecker ongoing creation of putting his sensory framework into sounds, trying to express intensity and sonic forces in new ways album after album. 

09. Joyce Manor – Cody

This is the one album that is outright uplifting, energetic and happy of this top ten list. Cody saw Joyce Manor expanding their short and sweet pop-punk songwriting with fleshed out songs that didn´t end within under two minutes and even if this quick attack was totally infectious on their previous LP, adding a little more makes Cody´s songs instantly recognizable and lets them stay in your memory even longer. This is the LP I put on the occasion of wanting to hear something catchy and fun without too much strain in its content. Almost every song drives itself with an exploding chorus, lovely riffs, and shoutable lyrics. Every element will stick to you and you´ll know the words after three listens and over the year I longed for this album at least once every few days. Sometimes you´ll still want to feel young and carefree and that is when Cody hits home. 

08. C. Diab – No Perfect Wave

C. Diab was one of the best random encounters of this year, thanks to Yndi Halda. C. Diab is a singular artist, mostly playing his bowed guitar, adding tape loops and sometimes even trumpet into the mixture. These are the droned-out soundscapes that reassure me in my belief of these kinds of music being at the ultimate core of experiencing sounds before actually starting with melodies, keys or scales. When C. Diab stretches out his guitar sounds into long waves, sometimes rattling in serenity like on “Memory As Mist” and sometimes going into the deep vibes of a cello being playing a reverby skeleton of a shell-shocked building, you´ll feel the same vibrations as the strings, resonate with the materiality of what makes these sounds as well as completely forget the sources at some point and just be intrigued by the possibilities of getting such sounds out of known instrumentals. C. Diab works at a mid-point between Tim Hecker, Brian Eno and artists like Colin Stetson. His music is very much about the ability to play an instrument, to put your everything into the connection as someone like Stetson does into his saxophone. At the same time, it is about your listening experience, the modality you yourself determine and the force of these sounds in your own understanding of your environment and the relation between these two. No Perfect Wave can be as haunting as it can serve as a base for contemplation, as much a sign of virtuosity as the ability to resonate with the schemes of your consciousness. Whatever you´ll find in it, it is an undeniably strong force. 

07. 40 Watt Sun – Wider Than The Sky

This is long-form spilling your gut, coming to terms with everything that is putting your down in your life. It is sad to see 40 Watt Sun being categorized as metal because of label associations as their music has a much wider appeal and sound. If it weren’t for the length, it could easily work on rock radio stations and will surely resonate with everyone who enjoys singer-songwriter outfits. However, you´ll have to address the bleaker and more tortured nature of their songs, when thinking singer-songwriter or even folk music. This is where the band is closer to metal music than anything else, if it weren´t for the beautiful singing of Patrick Walker and the clear instrumentations, these songs and lyrics would easily work if screamed or growled. I could image some songs being covered by bands like Deafheaven and transforming their impact by loading the reflective openness with the pressures of distortions and the pain of black metal shrieking. But, this is not what 40 Watt Sun and Wider Than The Sky are. Over repeated listening, I´m still astonished by the emotional impact Walker´s voice carries over these songs, his clear sound stretching over what feels like years of observations and solitary thinking about life. You´ll get carried away by the mixture of guitars and Walker, get the title and will live inside the gaps of these words like Walker does in the wounds of his reflections. 

06. world's end girlfriend – LAST WALTZ

I know it seems like a wild assessment, but I can´t help but wonder why so many artists, visually and musically, are able to create such vivid, imaginative work. From the wide world of Anime and Manga alone, stem things like the whole Studio Ghibili catalog, but artists like Films, Anoice, Mono or world´s end girlfriend are able to put into sounds what can be equally bleak and tear-jearkingly beautiful. Maybe western rationality and thinking can only yield things like Walt Disney and good, but not great imaginations, with realism being more of their mindset. But all weird theories aside, LAST WALTZ saw WEG returning for another lucid dream of sounds and the sheer scale of it cannot be grasped after only a month of being out. WEG is able to take you to wonderland with the sun-beaming and happiness oozing out everywhere and push you into ashen dystopia over the course of one musical break, one sound disrupting a song and the change of one movement. Music as an aural journal is a picture I like to evoke quite often and LAST WALTZ is pretty much the definition of encountering a whole other world through listening alone. The best moments come from WEG´s ability to go into full distortion without warning, coming back for a playful tune and keep you on toes of what to expect next, if you´re to fear or to look forward to a great reconciliation. Just pure virtuosity. 

05. Eluvium – False Readings On

Eluvium is an ambient genius, solely for never sticking to a singular form or idea and elevating his whole process in False Readings On. This is the first time after stepping up and singing himself and having a feature on his previous LP, Eluvium has used the voice in his composition. The operatic voices peeking through his soundscapes recall warped versions of Riceboy Sleeps, coming off as if aged on old vinyl, spinning somewhere in the darkest corners of your mind and mingling with what is at hand. Over the course of the album you get the feeling of an arc, of losing yourself, picking up the pieces and finally finding some kind of individuality and being under the constant threat of falling apart again. This might be the aural representation of what Kafka once said about stepping outside. While other people were able to keep up appearances through their clothes, he himself was loosely stitched, constantly fearing to break apart at the seams and be exposed. When this album was released, I found myself in a state of fighting with artificiality and external influences picking away at my perception of self and confidence I took in my being. Being shaken up, these compositions helped me reflect and gain inner stability again. Listening to “Posturing Through Metaphysical Collapse”, while walking on a sunny day, it felt like an out of body experience, with the rays of the sun and the vibrant outside world becoming a distant echo of the usual grandeur it carries. Not because of the noises distancing me from myself, but because of the clarity they created the wrecked state of mind I was in, urging me to reflect, wait and take action. 

04. RAIME – Tooth

It is amazing to see how much atmosphere can be created by the combination of drums and guitar. Not that Raime aren´t using other elements to create their daunting space, but most of it boils down to a few phrases of guitar, bass and drum playing. These singular descriptions cannot hold the utilization by the production duo, as they deconstruct each one of these elements to reconstruct chilling vistas of dread. If you´re somewhat keen on singular phrases and sparse sound that soundtrack experiences like the Silent Hill video game series or psychological thrillers, you´ll be more than happy with Tooth. For some, it might barely qualify as music and act more like sound collages for a haunted house or an art installation for a post-apocalyptic environment, but taking the album as is and applying it to your various spaces of listening, you´ll encounter the tension and mortuary vibes submerging any given surrounding. The menacing bass alone recalls the perception of someone who has lost his ability to hear higher frequency sounds and is only left to perceive shattering low tones that resonate with the non-cochlear. But again, this is only one layer and when the picked and pulled guitar phrases come in, your sensory field will be laden by anguish and friction without actually recalling why. The best albums of a year have to have something like this, a form of innovation or mind-bending quality that pushes my perception and experience of what you can do with sounds. And Tooth is just that, ultimate dread and bass. 

03. ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face

Blank Face is the perfect addition after Kendrick Lamar´s To Pimp A Butterfly. Naturally, it is a huge assessment and almost diminishing Q´s work, holding him up to the gold standard of Kendrick Lamar, but this is not a comparison of the very different sounds and album, but the expansion of perspective set forth by Q after Kendrick threw the first stone. There is ton of content in To Pimp A Butterfly but if we turn it as a entry in the overall experience of being black in America, touching on the problems of being heard, achieving actual success, fighting against discrimination and turning to the chance of loving yourself and finding some sort of answer in the transformative power of music, Blank Face is Q´s dismissal of positivity and finding a way out, while it is also a reaffirmation of the energetic nihilism that is inevitable in the living experience of blacks. This is gangster rap at a new stage, one knowing about the struggles and intricacies of the gangster life. This is not to say, that it hasn´t heard or understood Lamar´s message and the strive for a more conscious existence, but as other rappers move to this kind of positivity and “We Gon´ Be Alright” mentality, Q helps us not forget the motivations of a hustler, the bleakness of poverty and the sheer impossible nature of moving away from these things. Surely, only you can help yourself, but you have to acknowledge, that it isn´t easy to preach self-love if the system is rigged and all odds are against you. It will lead you to do and sound as Q does, being pumped and high, delving deeper into a nihilistic lifestyle only to resurface in moments of distant observation and reflection where you understand the stupidity and uselessness of this lifestyle. Until your homies hit you up again and you´re outside doing the same shit like yesterday, “I might die for shit…”. 

02. Kane Ikin – Sensory Memory // Modern Pressure

I study the senses. Not just in music and sounds, but the visual, tactile, olfactive and gustatory, too. It is not about switching to one field of perception to another, it is a new way of gaining an understanding of all the senses and encountering their interconnected nature. At one point you won´t be able to skip the fact of bodiless anymore. That you, as a person, are not just an understanding mind, a thinking rational that perceives, but that your proprioception, your place on the earth and your senses constitute your body as the first and foremost channel of encountering the world. Dealing with music, especially when learning about it in school, there still is this huge misconception (thanks, classical music with all your scales and nerdy shit) that hearing music is an endower of intellect. That you hearing music is something that you´ll have to think about, analyses and dissect to gain appreciation. When getting hit by music, your first reaction will not be of emotion, but of facing the different layers and creating a response according to your civilized mannerism ingrained through studying stuff. So, good music is that which is deep and complex in an intellectual sense, lord don´t get close to feeling something. As we all know, this conception is old and outdated beyond believe. But there is still this fear, fear of understanding as a first and foremost bodily assessment you yourself and your surroundings. A listening that is material and affected by the sounds, before it is even able to label the experience as “good”, “bad” or “meh”. When encountering the sonic, the bodily reaction to it can be something greatly astonishing even though it happens all the time. You´ll find it in goose-bumps, being moved to tears without feeling sad or happy or wanting to dance while your mind tells you “noooo asshole, that´s Taylor Swift!”. As with Tim Hecker, the affective scales of sound go beyond emotional responses and point to your sensory perception and with that to your understanding of self and surroundings in all its material nature. You´ll be quick to derive emotional responses to these sounds, as these go with such experiences, beginning to paint with your imagination the reasons why you like something or why such and such meaning resonates with you. And that is totally fine, that is what I´ve been doing in writing about music most of the time. But what I´m drawn to even more, are things like Modern Pressure and Sensory Memory by Kane Ikin (and Basalt Crush which also saw release this year). Ikin´s way of construction his sounds, the bass heavy visceral environments, recalling jungle and still seeming far off from this genre, on Modern Pressure and the more in-depth, synth-heavy sound structures of Sensory Memory, let me think about affect in a way. These two projects, like many other on this list, let me think about their effect in a certain space, how these electronic sounds, without an actual source (meaning an instrument), can create such great alterations of perceiving a space. How everything can become tinted in sound and completely change how you experience and consequently feel yourself and the mood / vibe / atmosphere of a room. This is powerful and goes beyond pop music or furniture music, Ikin let loose three lessons in sound and space this year and I´ll return to those religiously in my thinking about the affective values of the sonic realm. 

01. Sumac – What One Becomes

I had a feeling when The Deal hit last year. Aaron Turner was on to something. He was headed straight to reinstating my love for heavy music and update what it means to make heavy music. The Deal hinted at it and I loved it, but I still felt something to be missing, Turner and his mates holding back on us, maybe not fully confident on the whiff they had gotten or maybe just not knowing each other well enough yet. The trailer for What One Becomes (here) released in March, gave me the premonition of sound I was waiting to hear. This short sweet spot from “Image Of Control”, starting around 06:55 and lasting about thirty seconds, that was represented in that trailer had my hopes up, feeling my personal album of the year being given to the people on the 10th of June. My first listen of What One Becomes made every expectation come to live through my headphones, it was unbelieve and at first undeniably hard to digest. The excitement of listening was mixed with the strain of listening to this thing for at least five listens. The harsh sounds, the M.O. of abrupt changes, endings and transformations messed with any understanding of song structure there was. It took time to get a sense of the recording, to construct a mental picture of the sounds at present and know what to expect next. I had to dissect this album first, learn it, in a way to finally get what is happening. And after that, I let it go again. My understanding of this album, the musical pivots, the changes in pace, the pure crashes of riffs and the aggression, it all had to be stomached before taken as a whole and get back to the immediate reaction of being in awe. What One Becomes is by far the most virtuous album this year, utilizing a metal set up to break with every notion of recorded music or cohesive song, and even with what it means to play and listen to heavy music. The band feels like on a long jamming session. Them playing off each other, Turner taking the lead, teasing and pushing his companions to come along, drum their heart out and not just provide a ground for his playing, but to create with him, to set forth on what is ultimately Sumac and was captured for an hour as What One Becomes. The sheer intensity is incredible and will send your head spinning if you haven´t had any experience with sounds so disruptive and dense. I can only imagine how these jams work on a stage, have you by the neck when they hit you with full volume and the performative immediacy of being a singular experience. It must be like one free-flowing experience of sound, akin to your first encounter with music and the foreboding of the last sounds you´ll hear in your life. And while all this, the mention of heavy and genre titles like metal, might allude to a dark and tortured experience, it doesn´t feel that way. Sumac don´t really play on any dark, metal clichés or tendencies of coming off as sad or in pain. This shit if life-affirming at its core. Not just the free-flowing of sound, but a showcase of creativity and human ability. Sure, they growl and the sounds are mostly low and hard, but listening beyond this to experience incredible life-force and musicianship. My number one stop of a year must exactly do this for me. Be an example and beacon of forward-thinking sonic virtuosity, blow my mind as a listener and resonate with me and my perception, alter it and my understanding out sound and music, make me new.

Top Albums 2016 Part IV 20 – 11

20. Jóhann Jóhannsson – Orphée

Jóhannsson himself writes about the gaze of Orpheus towards his Eurydice in the vain of an interpretation given by Maurice Blanchot: The gaze, which turns Eurydice to dust, for that was Orpheus only condition in getting her back from the Underworld, is also the gaze of inspiration. This theme of creativity stemming from something that causes pain, something that is forbidden or transgresses a boundary is something we find in Orphée and Jóhansson´s work time and time again. These, mostly short, tracks follow a similar structure of sweeping, cascading upwards, while also crumbling, employing small sparkling sounds or musical ideas that seem to pick on the basis set for by strings and keys. This gives the undeniable feeling of unattainability, of never being able to grasp the beauty that lies in these small compositions. Much like a gaze, a peak of something breathtaking that will destroy it in retrospect. While the theme of the Orphic hymn reoccurs through the song titles alone and serves as the sung closer for the album, Jóhannsson reflected this notion of ethereality in his compositions, with the actual story serving as an attached layer of understanding his work. This is the beautiful failure of holding on to things, the failure of not letting go at the right moments and living with the shambles of one’s own quest for something greater. Art. 

19. The Field – The Follower

The Follower shows The Field at his most psychedelic yet. While the last two, Looping State of Mind and Cupid´s Head were pulling the same strings sonically, with the former being the more techno kind and the latter delving into darker territories, this album is the still darkened marriage of these sounds. Opening with the title track, you actually hear the transition of sounds, The Field setting things off in medias res and pummeling you with a steady beat for the first four minutes until lighting up with a spacious bass heavy glade, slowly growing groovier and disco-like without ever letting up on the shifts of short vocal phrases. The cut is deep and bodily affecting, building itself up again layer after layer, sharpening its grasp between some uncanny sounds just until the breaking point let everything dissipate with clean drums alone. It only get better from here, with slow burner “Pink Sun” functioning as an homage for Andy Stott´s repetitive vocals bits and pieces, conflicting it with psyched-out guitars and The Fields own vision of bass beats, “Monte Veritá” being the jittering centerpiece and “Soft Streams” letting some rays of light through the barrage of muddled noise. Closer “Reflecting Lights” brings the psychedelia out big time, shooting Eno´s like drones of happiness up with an eerie synth sound and drums that transform into actual percussive sounds and the last half of the track bringing that sun-soaked guitar layer that could have been ripped from Ambient Three. The Follower is for nights of focus and working on your biggest ideas, it´ll help you transcend your own thoughts and restriction through its vast openness.

18. Touche Amore – Stage Four

Loss and grief are the center of Stage Four. Jeremy Bolm, wordsmith of Touché Amoré losing his mother to cancer, her dying while he is on stage, living the dream. Him not being able to listen to the last voice message for almost a year, packing up her stuff, wondering about religion, imagining the life choices of the deceased. You´ll encounter these bits and pieces over the course of the album, I encourage you to read the lyrics while listening for the full impact. Musically the band has softened their sound, Bolm sometimes even trying to sing, moving away from his scream or spoken word delivery. The post-rock elements, the clear churning guitars, the wide open chords speed up for the hardcore crashed one would expect, they shape shift the emotions between keen understanding and calm recollection to saddened anger, hard-earned truths of ending lives. For all this weight, Stage Four is an incredibly smooth listen, paced with the band´s known sense of acceleration, just clocking in over 30 minutes. At the end, you´ll get some relief, Bolm understanding of never quite grasping the whole existence of his mother, facing the inevitable causes of her death and finding a way to move on and let her rest. Consequently this album will stand as the greatest way of paying homage and letting go, the mature hardcore kind of processing a trauma – and for us as listeners this is not only Bolm telling his story, but going through these thoughts and emotions with him, empathetically encountering the same and taking away some active knowledge ourselves, for we´ll all have to face what he is facing one way or another. 

17. Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement – Green Graves

Representation of the jungle range in every direction. This year we had the orientalist notions of The Jungle Book and Tarzan in the cinemas again. Funny shit, for the most part, a life lived in harmony and the human spirit winning over nature's force. Now enter Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement. The name alone will break any kind of positive image you can build, spiritual enslavement alludes to a force that will break you, counteract the willingness of harmony and symbiosis and will push you into an unforgiving entity. The rainforest doesn´t need the human influence, the only thing they have brought is dischord. Not without nature trying to strike back, bring disease, and kill us with humidity and whatever animals it can throw at us. Green Graves is your fever trauma, sweating and shitting after being infected, fearing for you stupid life and reminding you of nature´s law. Setting things off with “Return Of The Yellow Herb Ambient”, you´ll be introduced to the steady rainfall accompanying most of the album. The creeping drones, the far off sounds of percussion emerging and adding some kind of drab beat to your misery. While the eerie sounds on this project, sometimes being a menacing drone and sometimes just being the dripping of water, make most of the album, the times Dominick Fernow utilizes drums and bass to the mix are alienating as much as they draw you in. Surely, these beats recall some kind of notion of tribal drumming, or unfamiliar rituals of bad trips, but the layers remain strictly artificial as do these drones. You don´t encounter a bunch of field recordings or archive material, but the imaginative innovation of Fernow in his evocation of the rainforest, and it´s most artificial moments will be those that´ll transport you the deepest to horrors of Green Graves. However, don´t be scared, there is appreciation to be had, we´re just listening to these sound and will take away amazement about this contrived representation of invented landscape. 

16. Young Thug – No, My Name is JEFFERY

JEFFERY is the most adventurous album borrowing on rap and hip hop sounds this year. I take some gripe with the movement of artists re-using jazz and funk sounds or going full gospel and people calling this kind of stuff innovation. It does sound good and played like Kendrick Lamar or Childish Gambino, can bring something that sounds pretty fresh and expands the horizon of hip hop, too. But that is not innovation or experimentation, at the most, it is a creative utilization and nostalgic handling of certain elements. Thugger brought something fresh with JEFFERY, by his usage of voice alone but equally with his overall presentation. The album cover with Thug posing in a Raiden-like dress expands on played out masculine ideals and what rapper should portray overall. Even singing rapper like Drake still adhere to a strange masculine relation and will not give up on that last beacon of being authentic in the eyes of those, who think singing isn´t hard enough. Young Thug clearly doesn´t give a fuck. The way he flows, stretching his voice, howling, gasping, almost screaming, straining and almost losing his voice is the magnificent innovation of just not giving a fuck and being about sound over any kind of image and clichéd existence. JEFFREY uses song titles to give reference points to the inspiration of greater influences of the sound, ranging from “RiRI”, “Harmabe”, Future, to Wyclef and “Kanye West”. These names rarely tie back to the music of the respective artists, sometimes mimic their sound or songs but more or less serving as Thugs point of departure for his own blend of sounds. There is positivity on JEFFERY, even when Thugger talks about fucking your bitch or shooting someone. Many songs are centered on love and yearning for his girl. When he goes off the rails on “Swizz Beatz” for the refrain of “Love, Love, Love” you´ll hear an artist that is hungry and creative beyond belief. He doesn´t need an impeccable flow or great content, he can innovate just be singing like a mad man. 

15. Sioum – Yet Further

Not by chance is this the best instrumental rock record of this year. I´ve been waiting for Sioum to drop their newest album since they dropped their debut in 2010 and just had a feeling it would be great. Yet Further was funded through a Kickstarter campaign, by fans showing support and believing in a band that broke with an incredibly atmospheric mix of math-rock, chiptune / synth-work and metal riffs. There might be some other bands that work in that lane, but none of them reach such heights as Sioum did and do on this LP. Opener “Tribulation” waits for its thunderous beginning with a patient, foggy drone, breathing for almost five minutes until the band build the tension with crushing guitars, processed keys and an otherworldly ragged start and stop dynamic. The dynamic of each track, the band building and deconstruction their walls of sound with horrific phrases or clear moments of keys, show immense growth from their first LP. The crushing moments have become more nuanced and heavier, while the ambient reaching gaze of drones and outright harmony have become even more sobering. You´ll see this understanding of building tension especially in “I Died Once”, for the track never really burst open, carrying its own weight in the form of forlorn keys transgressing for guitar without great notice. The visuals of Yet Further are something to be commended, too. Choosing a variety of abstract expressionist paintings, recalling more ordered variations of something Pollock or Riopelle would have painted, you´ll be able to grasp synaesthetic semblance between the way Sioum construct their epics and the ways chance, mastery and an understanding of material make for such artwork. The perfect concurrence between order, tension and chaos, Yet Further will impress its motion on your mental framework. 


The anime Akira is one of the best sci-fi movies ever made, better than any narrative something like Star Wars could ever tell. Deemed cyber-punk and dwelling on the dark tones of the genre, Akira paints a vision of the future that is still pretty much grounded in realism and actual human behavior. The behaviors being greed, violence and hubris for the most part. Taking this material, quotes from the movie and sounds from the equally great soundtrack, Bwana recreated many of the best moments and feeling of the movie without sticking to the scripts too much. You´ll get the great chase scene from the beginning, the psychedelic visions and face-melting dreams, the destructive force of technology and other remarkable scenes and atmospheres. You know when an homage album using these visions to make dance-influenced tracks has succeeded in its ambition when you feel the music becoming part of your visual memory of the movie and even creeps into your aural thinking about the movie. Someone could easily do a recut of these scenes and sell the tracks as part of the actual soundtrack; I would say that people wouldn´t notice. What Bwana accomplishes, is to take the spirit of cyber-punk, the scary visions of a not too far-off future, the dread and the aspects of human warmth and ambition and mold them into electronic tracks. This is the power of sampling and the sonic grip of electronically produced sounds. And big up for spreading the album over the TOR network for the first few days of the release, nothing would have been more fitting. 

13. Drake – Views

Views is by far not a perfect album, especially in the line of Drakes otherwise cohesive albums. Conceptualized as an homage to his hometown Toronto and the progression from winter to summer and back to winter, the various influences and styles weigh down on the overall flow of the record. Still, what is rough around the edges when Drake does it, is still a great album full of remarkable tracks. “Keep The Family Close” alone is an opener that wasn´t talked about much this year, falling behind the dancehall singles like “Controlla” or “One Dance”. The one reference point here might be Sam Smith´s James Bond theme song “Writing On The Wall”, with Drake for the first time in his career going almost full orchestral, singing his heartbreak over a set of strings and a slow acoustic bass. The operatic vibe of the intro never reoccurs over the course of the whole album but shows Drake at his most risky and creative – and moreover most unique. The thing that makes Views and makes it scattered of sorts, is the growing size of the OVO brain trust and Drake´s own longing to incorporate it all into one record. You´ll get him rapping hard(er) on “9” or “Weston Road Flows”, reprising his role from If You´re Reading This, doing one in the vain of Majid Jordan, casio-preset keyboard and all in “Feel No Ways”, doing some smooth rnb with PARTYNEXTDOOR and Jeremih on “I´m With You” and even his hit “Hotline Bling” as the last track of the bonus version. All songs sound incredibly good, manifesting Drake as being able to change his style, be ignorant with Future and heartbroken and introspective as he was before, the only gripe is that many faces of him start to show and not fit into one project for the first time. It is on tracks like "Fire and Desire”, “Keep The Family Close” or “U With Me?” that you get the most cohesive version of Drake, him channeling the 6 and not letting it talk for him completely. All criticism aside, I still enjoy this album and this might be one of the most played sets of songs of this year. 

12. The Hotelier – Goodness

“You can´t live in anguish your whole life” is one of the lines Christian Holden said in a massive interview with Stereogum ( for the release of Goodness and it stuck with me throughout my listening. Goodness is an album on forgiveness and moving on, healing in a sense, understanding the workings of the world and your own pain and not answering with anger but with calmness. As most emo / rock experiences build on friction and a fighting mentality, against what is keeping you down, something you´ll encounter with the Hoteliers last album, too, Goodness channels these discrepancy, of death, failing relationships and ageing in general, and sets out to see the bigger picture and workings behind your own negative emotions. It is a change in perspective, seeing the “spot of brown on white” as beholding the underlying beauty of this world. The tracks are bombast and generously spacious at times, but still come at you with strange drum patterns, seemingly missing song structures and elevating instrumental, camp-fire singing interludes. Everything leads to grasping the same understanding of life, Holden and the band members might have in writing and playing this album. Nothing might be “ok” in your life, but you´ll understand that sometimes you´ll have to change your perception and attitude to change the discrepancy’s haunting your inner peace. 

11. Emma Ruth Rundle – Marked for Death

Last year Chelsea Wolfe brought us the terrifying acoustic-doom of Abyss and this year Emma Ruth Rundle furthered this gut spilling combination of sounds with her album Marked For Death. Not that these two albums and artists are completely similar, ERR has a pained delivery that doesn´t seem to play with darkness or imagery like Wolfe, her expressions, the religious or mythical references, her perception of nature and death seem to be the results of long contemplations and not just the workings of songwriting alone. On Marked For Death you´ll get a great discussion of death, love and mental health, set to reverb-soaked guitar, menacing drum sections and Rundle´s at time blood freezing vocal performance. The moments of wishing for death, being over and done with life and its struggles don´t actually need to be read in the lyrics to be understood in the doom evoking instrumentals or her disintegrated howling. The darkness she constructs is thick and tactile, something you´ll understand if you´ve ever faced draining self-doubt, lacked the will to live or feared living from the sole prospect of having to die (or not being loved). Every single track plays on these emotions in one way or another and ERR exposure to us as listeners will have you feeling vicarious at times, questioning the boundaries of such music as art, self-expression and plain-spoken exorcism of demons.

Top Albums 2016 Part III 30 – 21

30. ANOHNI – Hopelessness

A drone attack leaving behind a girl wishing for death. The world burning as a cause of climate change, leaving the animals suffering and dead. The state of surveillance, being a happy reality of watching the watchers. Claiming to be a progressive western state, while still killing in the name of justice. Losing your love for it was something that only brought you pain. The leader everybody placed his hopes in, who couldn´t, for the life of him, change the unchangeable. The undercurrent of a world dominated by men being in turn dominated by bloodshed and Darwinist ideals. Losing your connection to the world you live in, mourning the death of your life-world. The effects of fighting alleged terrorism by acts of terrorism yourself, violence leading to acts against the violators. You yourself are the problem, the virus. Hello Americanism, disease without cure. If you´re dealing with music most of the time, you might run low on reading the news and getting a perspective on the workings of the world from a critical standpoint. Hopelessness is ANOHNI taking the position of your favorite VICE reporters, taking you through an asphyxiating world full of shit, you don´t know about (don´t want to know about) and of which, you, through being a sheer observer alone, are a part of. This is the best pop record of his year. Mainly for sounding incredibly catchy and not trying to be pop. There is no happiness in the music and the sounds created by Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke deplete any fantastical “it´s gonna be ok” for an artificial coldness, that sounds incredibly contemporary – present while showing your own emotional distance at the daily horrors of this world. I feel terrible, I understand. 

29. Mono – Requiem For Hell

The Divine Comedy and Mono are a perfect fit. When they announced Requiem For Hell and I saw the album cover, I thought that this connection and album could have been made even earlier in their discography. Being one of my favorite bands, it´s always exciting to see how they will take their form of music and apply it to a new concept and how the band will work as a unit or invite their long-standing set of friends and collaborators to add something to their unique style of instrumental rock. Employing their emotive guitar melodies, their crushing dynamics, ranging from oceanic drifting in the womb of the universe to collecting the ashes of a burning world, Mono are mastering their sound little my little. Every album has been a new journey of sorts, sometimes going with the theme of memories, paying homage to nature and their parents in the same breath, or taking the idea of light and running with this ephemeral concept. Requiem For Hell has the band stressing their most recurring themes, life, and death. These facts work like the two pillars in the sounds this band creates, construction the overall range of existence, while never going for the banal or the every day and reconnecting even the most minute of sounds to something life altering. Here the band returns with producer Steve Albini and with an array of classical musicians at hand to add their vision of heaven and hell, set forth by the ideas of Dante Alighieri. The starter “Death In Reverse”, hereby give the hint of Mono´s understanding of this epic through them tightening the connection between existence of the end thereof, taking the cue of dying to gain perspective on life, going through hell as a metaphor to manifest a new will in keeping on and visiting the horrors of the world to gain reassurance of one’s own path. “Death” is a triumphant intro, taming the cyclical notion of death and rebirth with a military style of drumming dissipating into howls of noise. “Stellar” shows Mono at their most beautiful, actually recalling starry skies by making the most of layered xylophone melodies, a few keys, and strings. As the sheer length might give off the feeling of being an interlude, I always felt the band delivering some kind of synopsis and outlook with their shorter tracks, allowing for a moment of awe. Middle part and longest Mono track yet, “Requiem For Hell” is a two-part tragedy: Being at loss in life, setting forth in search of something akin to meaning, with the second part noise-fest driving a nail through your hands of grief and retaining the earth-shattering intensity for a long time; hell in every sense of the word. However, Mono wouldn´t be Mono if they didn´t lighten the situation again and superb “Ely´s Heartbeat”, with the usage of an actual child´s heartbeat and “The Last Scene” slow down and allow for more intrinsic listening again. Overall a fitting addition to Mono´s widening scope and proof that there is something like consistency and mastery of a sound without the need for complete reinvention and experimentation. 

28. Frank Ocean – Blond

Blond is Ocean´s magnum opus and every bit the album I expected from this much-hyped artists. People are actually right when praising Ocean for his vocal capabilities and his skill as a songwriter. As Channel Orange was a great album, it still felt like he played it safe and took up more constraints, aiming for a debut that would sell and put him on the map. With Blond, Ocean took his sweet time and didn´t care about delivering something close to a single with any track. After magnificent auto-tuned “Nikes”, the album really starts with “Ivy” and Ocean over nothing more than a beatless instrumental, dominated by a jangly, delayed guitar. You get some organs sounds on "Solo", trippy synths on “Skyline To” but no drums. Just Ocean singing his lines, in a way stream-of-consciousness, without refrains or something to break an almost linear build of the songs. Content-wise Ocean recounts relationships, being on different pages and mindsets, facing solitude and the mental strain of it, or small encounters and moments of realization of not being loved or not loving the other. Every song brings great lines and musical ideas, without ever giving you much repetition. It is in moments when you get lines like “I´ll do anything for you / In The Dark” on “Seigfried” or “I, I, I know you gotta leave” on “Self Control”, when there is something that will stick to you and gives a general feeling of what Ocean wants to deliver you and your listening. Otherwise, the songs are introspective and only give minute insights and poetic episodes of what Ocean encountered, sounding great and resounding without having to be understood. You´ll have to return to Blond multiple times, read the lyrics and almost “learn” the tracks to achieve a fuller enjoyment of them, but after some time you´ll get the way Ocean painted this album and how he put everything out without thinking about appeal even once. 

27. City Of The Sun – To The Sun and All The Cities In Between

Just three people, two guitars and mostly a cajon box with other percussive elements thrown into the mix. If you´re under the impression, that this setup and City Of The Sun cannot make music as grand as bands like Explosions In The Sky or Mono, just listen to any song on this album. The usage of effects or other alterations is minimal, they don´t even loop and layer their playing, sometimes there is delay and reverb over the instruments, but that´s about it. And yet, this stuff will arrest your attention if you let it, become an intricate companion to learn and spend time with. To The Sun is a calming listen throughout. There are many yearning Spanish-guitar laden moments when the sound of the strings being struck resonate a great yearning incomparable to any other musical instrument, but the sonic setup of the band will never overpower you, drain you of your own experience and outlook on life. This is music to have ideas to, to be struck by a new epiphany and to take a step towards the world and an energetic life. 

26. Anna Homler and Steve Moshier – Breadwoman & Other Tales

Anna Homler stepped into the persona of the Breadwoman in early 1980 performing her spiritual folk songs for unsuspecting art show audiences. The idea behind the Breadwoman was a form of recalling the lost connection to the earth and native rooting in past existences. Therefore the Breadwoman uses her vocal chants in an undeterminable language and chillingly brings you closer to unheard forms of prayer and tribal rituals. The greatest appeal of this project found on the LP, which is a release of tapes from these times, comes with the electronic soundscapes of Steve Moshier. As the Breadwoman does her chanting and tries to infuse a recollection of people living in simpler times and closer to nature and the spirits of the earth, Moshier contrast or maybe deepens these intentions with various experimental elements. Strictly electronic and ranging from driving drum beats on “Ee Che” to Silent Hill-esque dark drones and alien wailing, these eerie sonic components give off the uncanny vibe the Breadwoman in her mask portrays more vividly than any form of actual folky instrumentation could. It is like a remembering something that never truly occurred or is so deeply distraught through your life in modernity and industrial wealth, that in can only sound so distant and metallically warm. 

25. Novo Line – Movements

For everyone still raving about 8- and 16-bit sounds, losing their minds when they hear the themes of Mortal Kombat or Metroid, this is that artificial shit you´ve been longing for your whole adult life. Novo Line, a Berlin artist taking his name from the company of gaming machines that is the equivalent of the fucking devil, robbing people of their hard earned cash, causing addiction and draining their life force, makes the most of this concept and chooses to create his pumping, drum heavy sound with the help of two Atari computers and a syth-software running on them. Check out Live Aus der Spielothek for some drawn out composition and then return to Movements to get to a more experimental and immediate form of Novo Line´s music. On these tracks the ear for mathematical compositions as well as leaving the openness for chance and happy accidents lets you feel like messing with the Mario music maker while being on LSD. The brokenness of these sounds is what draws out the greatest appeal. No sound is allowed to breathe and take full form, everything sounds somewhat off and broken, like still sounding through the Gameboy mono speaker on full volume, but damn, it just sounds good. Complementing all this, Movements would definitely work on a dancefloor. The rag-timed beats, the hard and bassy drum hits trash your body on a high enough volume and work like highly artificial dub music of sorts. This is the perfect aural experience to get close to the broken tedium of playing one of the Novo Line machines and losing your money and mind while being in complete rapture of all the colors and blinking lights. 

24. Marie Davidson – Adieux Au Dancefloor

“I Dedicate My Life” opens Adieux Au Dancefloor and is Marie Davidson´s mission statement for the next 45 minutes. Her hollow drums, the dull bass, the overriding claps lead into Davidson´s spoken word delivery, urging you to listen to her sounds, for whatever purpose and take the energy and movement created for your own dedication. The speeding pace of the track, the inescapable drive of the sounds transport you in an undertow of bodily resonance. And whether you get a low and bassy drum 'n' bass tune like “Interfaces” a mind-boggling glitch attack on “Denial” or have Davidson delivering some snappy words on tracks like “Naïve To The Bone” or hard hitting “La Femme Écarlate”, the undertow can be felt. The words, even once sung in a chanson style on the closer of the same name, show the utter coolness and determination of Davidson, letting vulnerability and thoughtfulness shine through and always fitting the dark tones of her work. This is stuff for movement and straining your speaker but also welcoming the various forces of the electronic into dance music. If you are able to feel the drums in your chest and go with the simplistic tribal pummeling of Davidson´s patterns, at the same time you´ll be able to resonate with her words and the vibes she creates. It´s more than just talking or singing over some dance tunes.

23. Case_Lang_Veirs – Case_Lang_Veirs

This is the best folk album of this year. I haven´t heard anything from any of these artists yet and remained oblivious to this release months after, but through sheer curiosity, I got it and was blown away. The harmony of these three voices, from the first peaks on “Atomic Number”, to the country ending of “Georgia Stars” recall nostalgia for the perfect folk outfit that never actually existed. I´m drawn between thinking about many of these songs in the vein of “All the leaves are brown” extravaganza of The Mama´s And Papa´s and finding an appeal beyond the dusty chic of such oldies. Even the more uplifting songs reveal a depth after a few listens and all songs are memorable after two listens. It´s hard to tell, as I feel this music resonates with parts of my musical knowledge and understanding that are more subconscious than when listening to some experimental music like Tim Hecker. Maybe it is my failing knowledge of the bands of yesteryear of maybe it is the ingrained appeal of the stuff you´ve been hearing on the radio for your whole life. Either way, Case/Lang/Veirs make for the newest entry of timeless music. 

22. Minor Victories – Minor Victories

Take Slowdive´s Rachel Goswell, Mogwai´s Stuart Braithwaite, and Justin Lockley of Editors fame and his brother James Lockley to get to Minor Victories. One of the best shoegaze voices, and two known musicians that are proficient in delivering inescapable atmospheres of sound and great rock tunes in the same way. In combination ever element shines bright and Minor Victories graces us with some of the best alt-rock tunes of this year, all in one package. You´ll get the synth-heavy “A Hundred Ropes”, recalling Editors in their darkest era with Goswell honeyed voice melting through the thickness of the electronics and wave drum beat. There is the dream of “Folk Arp”, a ballad of sort, with a grand finale every fan of Mogwai will love as well as the quick narrative of “For You Always”, with Goswell appropriating Mark Kozeleks rambling vocal style and both of them recalling their encounters or a tale of never occurring love. The whole album experience might feel like the work of a supergroup, with some tracks coming off as leaning toward the respective sides, but with time the unique sides of Minor Victories reveal themselves. Not just does Goswell keep those tracks together, but Braithwaite and Lockley seem to be like-minded in their approach of creating dreamscapes of sounds, with peaks of synth or a howling guitar, simultaneously encouraging their respective sounds and keeping track of the cohesive experience at hand. Next year we´ll get the whole album played orchestrally, I´m excited how their sound will translate through this channel.

21. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

I could tell you about the complexity and mind-bending skills of Aesop Rock, how he entered a new phase with The Impossible Kid, stepping into truly introspective narratives about himself and his life, past and present. But, I´ll will you leave you with "Kirby", a song about his cat morphing through the undercurrent of his years of psychologicatreatmentnt and taking prescription and a cat being the last solution.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Top Albums 2016 Part II 40 – 31

40. Yohuna – Patientness

Having a washed-out aesthetic is something that works quite well with female vocals, and Yohuna hits the sweet spot right away. Patientness is shoe-gaze with a very singer-songwriter mindset. The washed out sound, the effect-laden guitar, and the reverb-soaked vocals never overpower you, never fall into purely ecstatic moments, but leave nuance and especially enough of the vocals intact. Not that you necessarily get everything that is being said, but on tracks like “Steel Skins”, when the vocals are layered and harmonize with each other, the words are comprehensible enough to give meaning to them, which is equally true for high pitched “Golden Foil” and the sunrise attitude the song carries. The whole album has enough ideas and variations, to digress from any pinpointing and the band´s performance is set on stressing the mood of the vocals rather than creating it on their own. The best moments even recall something like Cocteau Twins or Imogen Heap, making this as visceral as it is heartwarming. I can only remain excited how Yohuna will push their sound and if they might lean towards any of the sides more in their future. 

39. Roy Wood$ – Waking At Dawn

Step away from thinking about Wood$ as one of the many iterations of Drake featuring Drake. This young Toronto rapper made his way, until he was picked up be the man himself and provided us with his debut album after one of the best EP´s of my recent memory. Waking At Dawn develops Wood$ sound, singing and rapping, while expanding the palette by a few new elements. Biggest addition and logical choice as a single, “Gwan Big Up Urself”, might not have been as catchy as “Controlla”, but was by far the better dancehall tinted track, expressing great longing and vibe throughout the song. Wood$ is more melodic in his singing and rapping than some of his contemporaries and while the channeling of Michael Jackson might be a far reach now, the allure is a given. In a far more relatable, 2016 version that is. Be it on “Down Girl” or “Got Me”, these longing songs about a love interest show Wood$ vocal range and expressive voice at its best. I´d still prefer the rap centered songs a little more, but his singing is impeccable nonetheless, coming off as hungry and driven, never falling into the “cool” performance style of someone drugged out or trap infused. One thing that would have helped the project and that Wood$ seems to further right now, is collaborating with other artists. Great cuts like “Skrrt” with Kodak Black, “Only You” with 24Hrs and Ty Dolla $ign help Wood$ move away from his peer and would have served as a welcome addition to this debut.  

38. Camp Cope – Camp Cope

As the band´s name, the album title and the cover suggest, this album is about healing, working in a hospital and sickness in a very societal sense of the word. While not always exactly going into a narrative mode to deliver stories about patients or something in the manner, Camp Cope are able to channel insecurities and nagging self-doubt created by external forces into powerful indie rock songs. This becomes especially true for “Jet Fuel Can´t Melt Steel Beams”, a song that marries a weird conspiracy theory of 9/11 with being cat-called by police and construction workers alike, leading to “carrying key between knuckles”, when walking home at night. This song alone is a powerful statement of the ills Camp Cope address in a very unique manner, and whether it’s talking about Tinder and the strangeness of human relationships through the internet, the honest perspective of the lyrics express personal and universal issues of the generation. These songs will carry you away, put you through the same motion and maybe push your own perspective on love, love and relationship in a new un-thought of perspective. We might not all have guitars and the ability to howl in Georgia McDonald´s way, but might be able to use this music for coping with our daily lives. 

37. CARLA DAL FORNO – You Know What It's Like

The premonition of “Italian Cinema” is the perfect introduction to You Know What It´s Like: The ghostly synth, part sci-fi, part art-house, gives way to the atmosphere of wind and thunder, only for a moment until “Fast Moving Cars” begins with sparse drums and a static tone. Dal Forno´s haunting, half-spoken, half-sung delivery is a top of the instrumental but captures the vibe of the sounds, sways with them through detailed variations and slowly rising tension. Going into “DB Rip”, there is the feeling of a film reel running, sounds carrying with the proposed themes of cinema, and the twinkling instrumental emanates a filmic arc, gloomy and disruptive, without really telling you why. All this to reprise the drum centered vocal performance by Dal Forno on “What You Gonna Do Know?”. She actually asks this question, trapping you in a scene and her vocals that have moved from haunting to becoming scary and distanced. There is a folky vibe in these songs, but not in any way the kind of folk that wants to connect with you as a listener, functioning more like the inquisition and the all-knowing voice of a narrator. This pattern continues until the very end of You Know What It´s Like, weaving a dark electronic experience spiked with the stirring voice of Dal Forno. The whole experience is almost like a confusing theater performance, with altered tribal influences and the artists capturing the whole room in her soundscapes and spooky plot.

36. Explosions In The Sky – The Wilderness

Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, the band´s previous album was the true beginning of experimentation, the allowance of different sounds and structures – however, this effort showed its seams and the strain a little too much. This year The Wilderness has the band reaching this completely new realm with their music, dividing themselves from all post-rock clichés and building on a powerful concept with equally powerful songwriting. With the first moments of “Wilderness” alone, the creeping sounds, the steadily rising pace, you´ll get to see a band that has learned much from their various soundtrack efforts and is able to build a storyline without uttering a single word. Exploration and nature were a part of Explosions In The Sky from the very first beginning, not just as a source of inspiration, but as their modes of expression. In The Wilderness, you´ll truly feel like being taken on a trip through aural material alone. The high-reaching peaks of “Logic Of A Dream” feel like encountering a beautiful mountaintop before the tribal drums kick in and push your understanding to an approaching catastrophe, your supplies running dry or the temperatures reaching below zero, just until you realize, you´re actually floating, are unhurt by your thoughts. Every track flows seamlessly and while I never dug the concept of “close your eyes, and listen”, this album begs for your imagination to run free. Plus, if you haven´t done it yet, see this band live. Every track they played, old or new, was a magnificent experience, full of energy and drive, equally sending shivers down your spine as leaving you in awe and utterly speechlessness of how music can speak to your core being. 

35. Khary – Intern Aquarium

Khary came through with a superb rap project this year, not playing on the current styles and sticking to his highly lyrical and still sometimes funny and quirky qualities. Intern Aquarium begins with Khary telling us he´ll never intern again and the whole project is filled with skits by comedian Jermaine Fowler, mimicking Khary´s obnoxious boss, complaining about forgotten receipts, thirsting for that female intern and generally portraying the evil sides of corporate life. These skits never become annoying, with the crackling voice of Fowler being funny through his sheer sound, and they tie into the overall struggle of Khary´s ambitious as a rapper. Regardless, if he´s on funny tracks like “Guitar Hero” or “2AM Thrist Ballad”, or collecting his thought while letting you in on his life on cuts like “60” or “A Year In Space”, he spits great lines, equally hilarious, as they are often introspective and relatable. His skill as a rapper is most apparent in tracks like “Ambidextrous” showing off his impeccable flow and mindful songwriting skills. The most intriguing thing these elements carry, are the overall perspective of being a twenty-something trying to make it in the world, being between a juvenile lifestyle full of energy and the world´s troubles – from family to the shit on the news – weighing down on your mind. Surely, everyone in the West and from the Generation Y has some form of privilege and we´re being reminded of “how easy life is for us”, but that doesn´t relieve one of the pressures of trying to make something lasting in a world that doesn´t seem like one more of the same. Khary is in this middle, of being highly skillful and not having broken through to stardom yet, and it is the middle of many of his contemporaries, even those who can´t rap a single line.

34. I Like Trains – A Divorce Before Marriage

Mostly sticking to a vocal approach on their music, prominently featuring references to obscure historical figures or occurrences throughout history, I Like Trains newest album is a purely instrumental soundtrack to a documentary about their own lives as musicians. Struggling musicians that is. A band that has a following, but was dropped by their label without proper communication and had to stick to a very grassroots approach, to release the music they wanted. I´m proud that they stuck to it and most importantly, didn´t change their sound into pop-sensible rock music. This album alone wouldn´t have been possible for a label like the Beggars Group! I haven´t seen the doc A Divorce Before Marriage yet, but as with their usual mindset of “soundtracking an occurrence”, the album works without any visual input. It will take you from saddening reflection, a kind of broken outlook on life, to great triumph and finding a balanced outlook on life. The band always had this sensibility for writing their instrumental lines, never being about the big bang or that one riff, but creating sweeping arcs of sound and divine moments of introspection in facing reality. Maybe, with the visuals and the story told about themselves, this album is the coming to terms with the past, the disruptions of life and the pain caused, that formed you through pressure. I couldn´t be more content with this album and even more excited what the future will bring for them. And yet, I still hope enough pay as one component, to experience as much creative freedom as needed. 

33. Bloc Party – Hymns

“The Love Within” was a somewhat misleading introduction to one of the best albums by Bloc Party yet. Hymns is a much calmer album then their previous album Four, showing a band that might have had its differences when it came to songwriting approaches of finding a fitting sound. Here the band, with exceptions such as “The Love Within”, with its bouncy electronic edge or “The Good News”, as an excursion into country music, use their electronic to create subtle drones for their characteristic guitar playing. A kind of spirituality that Kele Okereke reflects with his songs, while never going fully religious. The best songs in this lane are the ones, that could be about a lover as much as they could be about God, and most songs deal with love and understanding in a way, that could equally be for a lover or some spiritual entity. Hymns might come off as very streamlined after the first songs, but the album bloomed with me over the past twelve months and revealed a band that shied away from making pop music and getting in touch with their previous indie – just me, you and our instruments – mindset. 

32. Somos – First Day Back

First Day Back barely scratches the half an hour mark. But this immediacy is what makes these songs so remarkable. The band doesn´t draw out any musical idea or riff, without giving off the expression of lacking musicianship or giving you sketches. Every song is a full blown exegesis of some sort, many songs dealing with an unease over the workings of society and somehow addressing the own feeling of not fitting in. When the band intonates choruses like “It should feel good, it does not / How does it feel to be a thorn in the side”, they create a sense of empathy with their listeners, from their own feelings, or by being capable observers of their environment. It might be a given, that this kind of indie rock and weltschmerz can leave the impression of being very young and not very sophisticated, but even now, after gaining perspective on many things through age alone, one will find an appeal in the keen outlook and clear sounds, delivering many quotable lyrics and recognizable moments over this short half-hour of contemplation.

31. James Blake – The Colour In Anything

This album seems to come from a crushing phase of solitude, at least in the personal experiences of Blake. Most tracks deal with breaking and broken relationships, the impossible quest to understand the other – “I don´t know how you feel” on “Radio Silence” – or getting over being neglect by the other, “Put That Away And Talk To Me”. The great expansion here is not only in Blake´s deeper story writing and shedding his tears lyrically but in his riskier production choices. He doesn´t rely on a few given sounds anymore and uses more bombast instrumentation, even though the elements remain pretty much the same. His heartbreak sounds more colorful and fleshed-out the bleaker the words and experiences become. The Colour In Anything feels like the product of solitude and deciding to put it all out, with Blake becoming more confident in his music and overall composition of his albums. The sheer length of the project can lead to exhaustion, mirroring the singer´s own emotional draining, but the tracks deliver enough highlights and musical maximalism, that peaks will appear again and again and wake you up from fearing the same disarray that you may be listening to. Especially the middle part with “Choose Me”, “I Need A Forest Fire” and “Noise Above Our Heads” have Blake revisiting his louder and more beat-driven sound of his previous LP, while still being able to employ the loudness and peaks in a very subtle way and never abandoning his vocal duties for just meeting you with a robotic dub beat or broken soul-tronica. Unexpected growth here and far better “soul” than any throwback, "let´s use what people used 30 years ago", albums of this year.