My traditional 3-4 week break after the year-end summary turned into 3-4 months, due to a mix of day job deadlines, life events and a bit of an overdose on some of the music I had been listening to. A lot of doom and metal releases so far this year simply did not inspire me to write. At this point, however, I feel recharged after my Roadburn trip, and there are at least 15 albums I can wholeheartedly recommend.
1. The Drones – Feelin Kinda Free (Tropical Fuck Storm Records)
I’ve been waiting for this album a long time. Not that I knew it was coming, but I’ve been craving a blend of garage noir and avant post-punk blues that’s challenging but also inviting and listenable. This Perth, Australia band has been around a while, since 1997, and their previous six albums are all consistently really good. But their latest just clicks with the missing piece and elevates them to a whole new level, one inhabited by revered artists like, say, Swans. However, while I have trouble making it through an entire Swans album, I’ve already listened to Feelin Kinda Free this year more times than I can count. The first single, “Taman Shud,” is full of surprising stop-start rhythms, and seethes with lefty political rage that hearkens back to the Angry Penguins, a 1940s movement that repudiated an early Australian nationalism. Those who were drawn to the five star reviews of Bowie’s final album Blackstar, but couldn’t quite connect with it’s admirable experiments with avant rock and jazz, really need to give The Drones a shot. “To Think I Once Loved You” measures up to the most tortured missives of peak Dirty Three and kicks the living shit out of anything Nick Cave has done this past decade. Overall it fizzes over with passion, invention and invective. This is without a doubt a serious contender for album of the year.
2. Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – The Rarity Of Experience (No Quarter)
Expansive would be an understatement for this double album. Philadelphia native Chris Forsyth is extremely prolific, collaborating with other artists on over a dozen records. His meandering guitar explorations are rooted in a tone inspired by Television and The Dream Syndicate, with additional psychedelic, jammy elements like the Quicksilver Messenger Service and Crazy Horse and even some post-rock elements. Solar Motel (2013) and Intensity Ghost (2014) seem to be build-ups leading to this album, which seems to summarize all his strengths, particularly “High Castle Rock,” a sort of successor to the masterclass in ascension, “Marquee Moon.” Unlike his other albums, Forsyth actually does some singing this time, including a satisfying cover of Richard Thompson’s “Calvary Cross.”
3. Blood Ceremony – Lord Of Misrule (Rise Above)
A key band in my Kaleidoscopes & Grimoires: Psych Noir piece, Blood Ceremony have really grown into their skins on their fourth album. They shift their focus from proto-metal and doom to more expansive psych with of course a touch of prog courtesy of Alia O’Brien and her black magic flute. O’Brien, who is working on an Ethnomusicology Ph.D., has enriched their sound with subtle influences of folk and other elements, creating a more colorful, melodic, gorgeous sound than on previous albums. The album cover, shot in an ancient British pub, evokes that 1969-72 era of psych prog inhabited by the likes of Dark, Affinity and Trees, while still being a recognizably modern recording.
4. PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project (Island)
I know White Chalk (2007) and Let England Shake (2011) were met with a lot of critical acclaim, but to me they documented her shrinking voice. PJ Harvey at her peak was bold and wild, and somehow as she drifted into chamber folk and art pop, academic explorations of history, politics and war, her passion was tucked away and her voice became higher and smaller. It’s like it’s coming from her forehead instead of her gut. That trend isn’t completely reversed on the new album, but there is more balance with some heavier, theatrical moments here, some gutteral hollering there. The dark avant-folk reminds me of one of my all-time favorites, Is This Desire? (1998). I know some people are butthurt about her lyrics inspired by her travels, but to hell with ’em, PJ Harvey is a fine lyricist who remains a cut above anyone those doofuses can come up with.
5. White Denim – Stiff (Downtown)
White Denim has been one of my favorite live indie bands since I first saw them eight years ago. Starting as a spazzed out psychedelic garage rock band, they have gradually added on additional elements of prog, desert rock, Beefheartian blues, soul and post-ZZ Top chooglin’ barbecue boogie. Stiff maintains some of the polish that Corsicana Lemonade (2013) achieved, but with an extra dose of joyous energy. It also revives some of the chaos of Fits (2009), which some now regard as a kind of a classic, even though it was pretty much ignored at the time. Interestingly, the band may agree, as this title is close to Fits spelled backward, and “Mirrored In Reverse” directly reference that album’s “Mirrored And Reverse.” One fairly significant change is that a couple members left to tour with soul singer Leon Bridges, and were replaced by younger players with some serious jazz chops. More virtuostic than ever, some moments even remind me of mid-90s Ween. Fun and playful, this is a backyard party album with some real substance.
6. Parquet Courts – Human Performance (Rough Trade)
Parquet Courts’ mix of garagey post-punk and art rock has earned them the status of the new Pavement. I enjoyed their first two albums with reservations, as there were plenty of moments that didn’t click, and some that just flat-out annoyed (I’m looking at you, “Instant Disassembly”). Their third full-length (not counting a demo and a couple more experimental EPs) finally sees them achieve their potential, with more consistent songwriting, while maintaining their scruffy eclecticism. Standout “Berlin Got Blurry” manages to evoke a Western cowpoke vibe, but also the late night reveries of UK post-punkers like later Arctic Monkeys and The Rakes.
7. Black Mountain – IV (Jagjaguwar)
A lot has changed since Black Mountain released their debut album in 2005. At the time, their variation of indie psych/space rock was kind of a rarity. Since then there’s been an explosion of that kind of music. Six years after their slightly disappointing third album, Wilderness Heart (2010), there’s still space set aside for a solid album from this band. With cover art that evokes Hipgnosis’ work with UFO, the album has the expansive feel of a mid-70s album with touches of prog and space rock. “Mothers Of The Sun” delivers just that, multiple parts of heavy guitar, spacey synths and flutes in 8:34. “Florian Saucer Attack” seems to reference both Florian Fricke of 70s Kosmische legends Popol Vuh, and 90s acolytes Flying Saucer Attack. Almost subversively, it’s far hookier than anything either artist ever put out. My favorite track is “Cemetery Breeding,” which manages to evoke the sweeping romanticism of Echo & the Bunnymen and early proto-goth The Cult.
8. Savages – Adore Life (Matador)
After earning a lot of positive press for both their debut album Silence Yourself (2013) and their fiery live performances, there was a bit of anticipation built up for their second album. It’s a progression, sacrificing some of the early energy for more subtle, atmospheric numbers with more personal relationship themes. They still rip it up on “The Answer” and “T.I.W.Y.G.,” but “Slowing Down The World” is more in tune with the rhythm of this album. While those with something specifically different in mind might be disappointed, the songs hold up over time with their own unique merits. Let it breathe, it’s a slow burner.
9. Witchcraft – Nucleus (Nuclear Blast)
If Witchcraft were criticized for making a relatively more polished hard rock album with Legend (2012), I was unaware. It was a brilliant album, and by far their best. Fans nostalgic for their earlier sound seemed to perk up when Nucleus seemed to go back to a more progressive heavy doom sound. While I love all their albums, it does seem like somewhat of a retreat, especially on the ultra long cuts, “Nucleus” (14:08) and “Breakdown” (15:55). While previous “The Alchemist” and “Dead End” were highlights, the new ones kind of drag. There’s still much to enjoy, like “The Outcast” and “The Obsessed” a bit of a tribute the psychedelic doom of The Obsessed and Trouble. The sound overall is a combination of clean and crunchy that recalls Rick Rubin’s production work with Trouble and even Danzig. So perhaps the least great Witchcraft album, but still excellent, and still one of my favorite bands on the heaviest of rotations.
10. Doug Tuttle – It Calls On Me (Trouble In Mind)
Former Mmoss man Doug Tuttle’s debut solo album in 2014 was my first exposure to his music, which prompted me to dig back into his previous band. It Calls On Me is far more satisfying than his early band work, with better songwriting. The somewhat delicate, jangly psych pop on record has a serrated edge in the form of the tones in Tuttle’s guitar solos, which really come to life in his live shows. Like Chris Forsyth, it sounds like he at least partially modeled his sound on Television’s Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. It’ll be a perfect album to kick off psychedelic psummer 2016.
11. Psychic Lemon – Psychic Lemon (Psychic Lemon)
UK psych prog space rockers rehearse down the street from Syd Barrett’s old house in Cambridge and cite Goat, The Heads and Amon Düül II as influences. It grabbed me so immediately that I ordered the CD from their bandcamp page before I even finished the first track.
12. Electric Eye – Different Sun (Jansen Plateproduksjon)
Norwegian Kosmische and psych prog influenced by The Black Angels, Wooden Shjips, Pink Floyd in Pompeii and Indian music. First single “Mercury Rise” is Can meets T. Rex.
13. Goatess – Purgatory Under New Management (Svart)
This is the second album fronted by Swedish doom legend Chritus Linderson (Count Raven, Saint Vitus, Terra Firma), taking doom deeper into psychedelic territory than most of their contemporaries. The album was supposed to be released last week, but doesn’t seem actually available until next month.
Also recommended, albums by Night Beats, Spidergawd, And Also The Trees, Mondo Drag and Holy Wave.
See full list of 2016 so far at RYM.