Fester’s Lucky 13: 2016 Year-End Summary

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Top 100 Albums of 2016 |  Spotify Mix | 2016 Breakdown: Genre Lists | Shows, Videos | Movies, Television, Books & Comics

Damn, what a year. We lost a slew of top tier baby boomer talent, and we’ve all but guaranteed our accelerated demise in really fucked up elections on both sides of the pond. But the show goes on, at least until it doesn’t, and there is, as always, a massive amount of music enjoy for those who bother to look for it. As expected, a lot of the year-end lists and polls look like shrines to the dead and dying. David Bowie’s death looms over everything like massive supernova collapsed into a black hole, sucking everything up in its path. It’s a challenging, fascinating listen that’s more chamber jazz than art rock. Impressive, but not remotely the best album of the year. But considering it is the best thing Bowie had done in 36 years, it’s an impressive achievement. Bowie knew the end was coming due to his illness, and he made it to the finish line, releasing the album a few days before his death, and even made some cool, poignant videos. Leonard Cohen knew the end was coming at some point, and his creative juices were flowing more than ever in recent years, as he was working on yet another album meant to follow up You Want It Darker (which wasn’t especially better than his previous two, but of course it’s getting more attention. A Tribe Called Quest reunited after an eighteen year absence, and Phife Dawg got to lay down his final tracks before his demise.  Nick Cave’s latest is simply pure, raw grieving, and a pretty brutal ride. Impressive, but not my favorite of his recent work. Iggy Pop has been saying that his collaboration with Josh Homme, Post Pop Depression, will be his last. I sure hope not. Please don’t croak yet, Iggy. Considering how close the edge he’s probably been (I wouldn’t be surprised if he hadn’t already died a couple times), it’s remarkable that he’s the last man standing among his peers.  

Most of the consensus favorites are not bad — Beyoncé (my #367), her sister Solange (173), Frank Ocean (286), Radiohead (32), Chance The Rapper (293), and A Tribe Called Quest (75). Not that those numbers mean much, I’m no authority on pop/R&B and hip hop. I still listen to a fairly diverse range of music, and my moods call for different types, but in general what you find at the top of my lists are albums that provide an immersive experience, a gateway to another world, be it magical, horrible, or a little of both, like the album of the year by Wolf People. While I get that apocalyptic British psych prog is not exactly trending right now, it’s still a major disappointment not to see it on any other year-end list so far. I guess that’s why I’m compelled to keep doing what I do.

Comebacks of the Year

I’m a little stumped for this one. When active touring bands regularly take 8 years or so between albums (like Metallica), it’s hard to know what to consider a comeback.  The Rolling Stones certainly haven’t been hiding from the limelight, but Blue & Lonesome is their first album in 11 years, and it is their best since maybe Undercover (1983). I’m probably in a minority that I like that album more than Steel Wheels (1989). Earnest covers of blues songs, just like when they started out in 1964, full circle. Blue Orchids had a fan driven fundraising campaign to put out their first album in 12 years, The Once And Future Thing. Moscow Circus had been together since 1988 and finally released Resouding with some songs nearly 30 years old.

Debuts of the year

This year the debut of the year award goes to Sir Robin & The Longbowmen.  Most people won’t know who they are, but in my world, this German garage psych band is an exciting addition to the genre, and I hope they continue and tour. Newcomers Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever, Spirit Adrift, Wytch Hazel, The Winstons, Drakkar Nowhere and Tau all made the top 25.

Overrated of the Year

While I have enjoyed some of Kanye West’s albums, The Life Of Pablo is fucking terrible. As I write this, it’s currently #9 in the aggregated year-end lists. There is seriously no defense for that. Those who put it there should be embarrassed.

Disappointment of the Year

I’m not feeling very passionate about this category. Melvins’ Basses Loaded is kind of throwaway, but they put out so many albums, that’s just how it goes. I did not have high hopes for the Pixies’ reunion album, Head Carrier, which isn’t terrible, but it also a far, far, far cry from their previous greatness. They would do well to take notes from Kim Deal, who has done much better in putting out quality albums with The Breeders. More people seem to like the latest Wire album, Nocturnal Koreans, but I can’t get into it.

Underrated

As usual nearly all of my top 13, with the sole exception of Khemmis, could qualify. Syd Arthur, Wovenhand, Truckfighters, The Drones, Blood Ceremony and Purson have gotten a smattering of nods, so I’ll go with a tie between Wolf People and Lola Colt. In a better world, they’d be huge. 

Fester’s Lucky 13 – The Best Albums of 2016

01. Wolf People – Ruins (Jagjaguwar)

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Jack Sharp and Tom Watt of Bedfordshire, England were focusing on hip hop production, but while crate-digging for sample-worthy material, they discovered a wealth of European and British psych, prog and folk from the late 60s and 70s that prompted them to play music inspired by their finds. In the decade since they’ve formed, their third release finds them at the top of their game with dark, literate (and literary, inspired by novelist Ben Myers) psych prog, their sound now as heavy as their vibe. | Full Review  | Bandcamp

02. Syd Arthur – Apricity (Harvest/Communion)

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Like Wolf People, Canterbury’s Syd Arthur defies assumptions as to their backgrounds. Rather than hippies tripping out to Pink Floyd, this band is a younger generation who came from a background of forest raves and electronic dance music. Well, they were probably also hippies. So some of the electronic sounds on their third album is less a departure than a return to their roots. Not to worry, it still brims over with sparkling musicianship. But their brand of psych prog is definitely forward facing.  | Full Review | Bandcamp

03. Lola Colt – Twist Through The Fire (Black Tigress)

Lola Colt - Twist Through The Fire (Black Tigress)

If I were to dream up an ideal band that references elements of both post-punk and menacing psych noir, it would be very much like Lola Colt. In their era, The Teardrop Explodes, The Scientists, Gun Club and Siouxsie & The Banshees may not have been household names in the mainstream, but I feel like they had pretty sizable cult following. To be fair, the band has yet to tour North America, sticking exclusively to Europe, like a lot of bands do these days. It’s too bad, because people are truly missing out on something great. | Full Review | Bandcamp

04. Khemmis – Hunted (20 Buck Spin)

Khemmis - Hunted (20 Buck Spin)

While 20 Buck Spin labelmates Magic Circle were nearly completely ignored, despite their second album being one of the best of last year, people are noticing Khemmis.  As they should, this is one of the most enjoyable metal albums, balancing just the right amount of classic doom, metal and rock influences with a contemporary feel. I look forward to seeing them live next month. | Full Review | Bandcamp

05. Wovenhand – Star Treatment (Sargent House)

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In my review, I suggested Wovenhand’s latest as a far more interesting, listenable alternative to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree. To be fair, it’s a very different album, and if you’re looking for crushing despair, Nick’s got the goods. But in every other way, I think Star Treatment is still by far the better option.  | Full Review | Bandcamp

06. Truckfighters – V (Century Media)

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I suspect that Truckfighters’ name is preventing a particular audience to take them seriously. Their loss. Their body of heavy desert fuzz rock should earn them a spot on a mythical stoner Mount Olympus alongside Kyuss, QOTSA and Colour Haze. Album number five is a must-have, as is any opportunity to see them live. | Full Review | Buy

07. The Drones – Feelin Kinda Free (Tropical Fuck Storm)

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Australia’s The Drones have always been a great band, but their seventh sees them reach a whole new level. While some may prefer the sprawling punk blues garage noir of their older work, this fiery experiment of avant rock and prickly post-punk may take more time to come to grips with, but it’s worth it. | Full Review | Buy

08. Blood Ceremony – Lord Of Misrule (Rise Above)

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Not as evil sounding as their name, Blood Ceremony nevertheless have matured on their fourth album into one worthy of the suggestive, threatening imagery. They have explored occult-ish proto-metal, folk, prog and here they evoke that sweet spot in 1968-70 when psychedelic rock was evolving into prog.  Though few bands of that era were so richly melodic. They were the highlight for me at this year’s Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, Netherlands. | Full Review | Buy

09. Purson – Desire’s Magic Theatre (Spinefarm)

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Since I heard the goth-prog-psych-folk-proto-doom of their 2012 single “Rocking Horse,” the massive potential of these paranormal psych Beatles freaks was apparent. Their debut album The Circle And The Blue Door (2013) fulfilled that promise, and their latest is another step in fleshing out a much more ambitious vision than being merely 60’s rock revivalists. It’s an art rock fever dream filtered through their own scintillating flavor of psych noir. | Buy

10. Asteroid – III (Fuzzorama)

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Together for 13 years, Asteroid takes their time between albums. They’ve taken a significant step up in songwriting and dynamics since their previous album in 2010. While they’re on Truckfighters’ label, they occupy a space between All Them Witches’ bluesy improvisations and Graveyard’s stellar songwriting. And since the latter recently broke up, it’s good to have Asteroid to help fill the void.  | Full Review | Bandcamp

11. Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – The Rarity of Experience (No Quarter)

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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.” | Bandcamp

12. Thiago Nassif – Três (CD Baby)

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I don’t even know how I found this. I was in a fugue state, exploring Brazilian albums. I think  I was looking for Thiago França, and found Thiago Nassif instead. On Nassif’s previous two albums, he approached music like a visual artist, sculpting sound as if it were geometric shapes. On his third album, producer Arto Lindsay helped him focus on songwriting, while still retaining the three dimensional qualities. It’s exciting to hear Lindsay’s signature angular but lush sound, as I haven’t heard much from him in 12 years.   | Buy or Free

13. Blues Pills – Lady In Gold (Nuclear Blast)

Blues Pills - Lady In Gold (Nuclear Blast)
Once again it was a close contest for the lucky 13 spot, between Sir Robin & The Longbowmen, Causa Sui, Savages and Blues Pills. It basically came down to what I enjoyed listening to most frequently this year. Blues Pills has the songs that have stuck with me. It’s most likely to have the longevity.  | Full Review | Buy

Beyond the top 100 below, there’s so much more great music, some of which is covered in the genre lists. A few late additions pushed these bands just off the top 100: Blaak Heat, Dreamtime, The Hazytones, Gojira, Jenny Besetzt, Sunwatchers, Resina, The Dwarfs Of East Agouza and Horse Lords. Or go here to view the entire 700+ album list for the year. | Spotify Mix Playlist

2016-cds

  1. Sir Robin & The Longbowmen – Sir Robin & The Longbowmen (Sir Robin) | Bandcamp
  2. Causa Sui – Return To Sky (El Paraiso) | Buy
  3. Savages – Adore Life (Matador) | Buy
  4. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Talk Tight (Ivy League) | Bandcamp
  5. Suns Of Thyme – Cascades (Napalm) | Bandcamp
  6. The Urges – Time Will Pass (Mersol) | Buy
  7. Astronoid – Air (Blood Music) | Bandcamp
  8. The Early Years – II (Sonic Cathedral) | Bandcamp
  9. Spirit Adrift – Chained To Oblivion (Spirit Adrift) | Bandcamp
  10. Male Gaze – King Leer (Castle Face) | Buy
  11. Deap Vally – Femejism (Nevado) | Buy
  12. Wytch Hazel – Prelude (Bad Omen) | Bandcamp
  13. The Winstons – The Winstons (Ams) | Bandcamp
  14. Drakkar Nowhere – Drakkar Nowhere (Beyond Beyond Is Beyond) | Bandcamp
  15. Madder Mortem – Red In Tooth And Claw (Dark Essence/Karisma) | Bandcamp
  16. The Lucid Dream – Compulsion Songs (Holy How Are You) | Buy
  17. Tau – TAU TAU TAU (Fuzz Club) | Bandcamp
  18. Hexvessel – When We Are Death (Century Media) | Bandcamp
  19. Hammers Of Misfortune – Dead Revolution (Metal Blade) | Bandcamp
  20. Brimstone Coven – Black Magic (Metal Blade) | Bandcamp
  21. Messenger – Threnodies (Inside Out) | Bandcamp
  22. And Also The Trees – Born Into The Waves (AATT) | Bandcamp
  23. Chook Race – Around The House (Trouble In Mind) | Bandcamp
  24. As Ondas – Marés (Jigsaw) | Bandcamp
  25. Glintshake – ОЭЩ МАГЗИУ (Kometa) | Bandcamp
  26. Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden (InsideOut) | Buy
  27. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (XL) | Bandcamp
  28. The Frightnrs – Nothing More To Say (Daptone) | Bandcamp
  29. The Eternals – Espiritu Zombi (New Atlantis) | Bandcamp
  30. PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project (Island) | Buy
  31. Swans – The Glowing Man (Young God) | Bandcamp
  32. Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation – Mirage (Rocket) | Bandcamp
  33. Sumerlands – Sumerlands (Relapse) | Bandcamp
  34. Preoccupations – Preoccupations (Jagjaguwar) | Bandcamp
  35. Ed Harcourt – Furnaces (Polydor) | Buy
  36. Os Noctàmbulos – Stranger (Stolen Body) | Bandcamp
  37. Anciients – Voice Of The Void (Season Of Mist) | Bandcamp
  38. White Denim – Stiff (Downtown) | Buy
  39. 40 Watt Sun – Wider Than The Sky (Radiance) | Buy
  40. Witchcraft – Nucleus (Nuclear Blast) | Buy
  41. The Well – Pagan Science (RidingEasy) | Bandcamp
  42. Electric Citizen – Higher Time (RidingEasy) | Bandcamp
  43. Thee Oh Sees – A Weird Exits (Castle Face) | Buy
  44. Levitation Room – Ethos (Burger) | Bandcamp
  45. Morgan Delt – Phase Zero (Sub Pop) | Bandcamp
  46. Motorpsycho – Here Be Monsters (Rune Grammofon) | Buy
  47. Baby Woodrose – Freedom (Bad Afro) | Bandcamp
  48. Spidergawd – III (Crispin Glover) | Buy
  49. Greenleaf – Rise Above The Meadow (Napalm) | Bandcamp
  50. Kremlin – I (Svart) | Bandcamp
  51. Black Mountain – IV (Jagjaguwar) | Bandcamp
  52. Kikagaku Moyo – House In The Tall Grass (Guruguru Brain) | Bandcamp
  53. JuJu – JuJu (Cobraside) | Bandcamp
  54. Steve Lehman – Sélébéyone (Pi) | Bandcamp
  55. Melt Yourself Down – Last Evenings On Earth (Leaf) | Bandcamp
  56. Dele Sosimi Meets Prince Fatty & Nostalgia 77 – You No Fit Touch Am in Dub (Wah Wah) | Bandcamp
  57. Night Beats – Who Sold My Generation (Heavenly) | Buy
  58. The Murlocs – Young Blindness (Murlocs) | Bandcamp
  59. Hidden Trails – Instant Momentary Bliss (Elekrohasch) | Bandcamp
  60. SubRosa – For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages (Profound Lore) | Bandcamp
  61. Crippled Black Phoenix – Bronze (Season Of Mist) | Bandcamp
  62. Wo Fat – Midnight Cometh (Ripple) | Bandcamp
  63. Dinosaur Jr. – Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not (Jagjaguwar) | Bandcamp
  64. Dark Suns – Everchild (Prophecy) | Bandcamp
  65. Opeth – Sorceress (Moderbolaget/Nuclear Blast) | Buy
  66. The Mystery Lights – The Mystery Lights (Daptone) | Bandcamp
  67. Troll – Troll (Troll) | Bandcamp
  68. Camera – Phantom Of Liberty (Bureau B) | Bandcamp
  69. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic) | Buy
  70. Greg Ward & 10 Tongues – Touch My Beloved’s Thought (Greenleaf) | Bandcamp
  71. Marching Church – Telling It Like It Is (Sacred Bones) | Bandcamp
  72. Goatess – Purgatory Under New Management (Svart) | Bandcamp
  73. Lord Vicar – Gates Of Flesh (The Church Within) | Buy
  74. Cardinals Folly – Holocaust Of Ecstasy & Freedom (Shadow Kingdom) | Bandcamp
  75. Elkhorn – Elkhorn (Beyond Beyond Is Beyond) | Bandcamp
  76. Dunbarrow – Dunbarrow (Heksekunst) | Bandcamp
  77. Noura Mint Seymali – Arbina (Glitterbeat) | Bandcamp
  78. Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake (Nuclear Blast) | Buy
  79. Metallica – Hardwired?To Self Destruct (Elektra) | Buy
  80. Wardruna – Runaljod: Ragnarok (Norse Music) | Buy
  81. Castle – Welcome To The Graveyard (Van/Prophecy) | Bandcamp
  82. VUM – Cryptocrystalline (Secret Lodge) | Bandcamp
  83. Hypnos – Cold Winds (Crusher) | Buy
  84. Mars Red Sky – Apex III (Praise For The Burning Soul) (Listenable) | Bandcamp
  85. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity (Flightless) | Bandcamp
  86. Abayomy Afrobeat Orquestra – Abra Sua Cabeça (Abayomy) | YouTube
  87. Emma Ruth Rundle – Marked For Death (Sargent House) | Bandcamp

2016 Breakdown

This year is a little different in that I broke up some of the previously combined genres, and mainly kept them to lists of 13. You can look them up with the lists feature here to see all of them.

Psych

Sir Robin & The Longbowmen - Sir Robin & The Longbowmen (2016)Last year Tame Impala dominated psych in terms of sales (both album and concert), while Wand put out two great albums. This year Thee Oh Sees fulfills both those roles, with A Weird Exits getting the most year-end votes, and releasing two albums and a live album. My favorite, however, was German newcomers Sir Robin & The Longbowmen. Like old favorites, the much-missed Hidden Masters, they focus on 60s style garage psych that you’d think is plentiful, but very difficult to pull off well. Danish improvisational instrumental wizards Causa Sui came out with their best album yet. Just missing the top 13 were Hidden Trails and Dreamtime, which are both in my top 100. | Spotify

  1. Sir Robin & The Longbowmen – Sir Robin & The Longbowmen (Sir Robin) | Bandcamp
  2. Causa Sui – Return To Sky (El Paraiso) | Buy
  3. Male Gaze – King Leer (Castle Face) | Buy
  4. Suns Of Thyme – Cascades (Napalm) | Bandcamp
  5. The Urges – Time Will Pass (Mersol) | Buy
  6. Os Noctàmbulos – Stranger (Stolen Body) | Bandcamp
  7. Thee Oh Sees – A Weird Exits (Castle Face) | Buy
  8. Levitation Room – Ethos (Burger) | Bandcamp
  9. Morgan Delt – Phase Zero (Sub Pop) | Bandcamp
  10. Baby Woodrose – Freedom (Bad Afro) | Bandcamp
  11. Spidergawd – III (Crispin Glover) | Buy
  12. Kikagaku Moyo – House In The Tall Grass (Guruguru Brain) | Bandcamp
  13. JuJu – JuJu (Cobraside) | Bandcamp

Psych Noir

hexvessel-whenSince I wrote Kaleidoscopes & Grimoires: Psych Noir last year, my sub-genre name has not yet taken off, but I hold out hope. Especially because so many great bands are clearly operating within that space. Three bands, Lola Colt, Blood Ceremony and Purson are in the lucky top 13! It’s only a matter of time! One album that took a while to grow on me was the latest by Finnish band Hexvessel. It’s a bit of a departure from the dark folk prog of their previous album and EP, going into more glistening production, possibly a reflection of Mat McNerney’s other band, the post-punk Grave Pleasures, and a bit more Doors worship than I’m usually comfortable with. But McNerney holds everything together with great vocal performances that are featured more prominently in the mix, inspired at times by Elvis, Peter Murphy and Danzig. | Spotify

  1. Lola Colt – Twist Through The Fire (Black Tigress) | Bandcamp
  2. Blood Ceremony – Lord Of Misrule (Rise Above) | Buy
  3. Purson – Desire’s Magic Theatre (Spinefarm) | Buy
  4. Hexvessel – When We Are Death (Century Media) | Bandcamp
  5. Electric Citizen – Higher Time (RidingEasy) | Bandcamp
  6. Night Beats – Who Sold My Generation (Heavenly) | Buy
  7. Goat – Requiem (Sub Pop) | Bandcamp
  8. Salem’s Pot – Pronounce This! (RidingEasy) | Bandcamp
  9. The Wytches – All Your Happy Life (Pias) | Buy
  10. Darkher – Realms (Prophecy) | Bandcamp
  11. Bonfire Nights – Entopica Phenomica (Holy Beatnik) | Bandcamp
  12. Dead Skeletons – Live In Berlin (Fuzz Club) | YouTube
  13. Seremonia – Pahuuden äänet (Svart)

Psych Prog

The Winstons - The Winstons (Ams, 2016)This is sort of a forgotten genre, or perhaps one that never officially existed. It started in the fertile era of 1968 to 1972, a particularly fascinating time when psychedelic rock was morphing into progressive rock. The more famous examples that could fit in that transitional category is The Who’s Tommy, The Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow, and almost but not quite, The Beatles’ Abbey Road.  I’m sure plenty of bands have striven to approximate that what-if situation. Many others created great music during that time, including Stray, Guru Guru, Wishbone Ash, High Tide, Gun, T2, Night Sun, The Groundhogs and more. Fortunately, a handful of current bands have realized this is a fertile area that had been left unexplored for decades, until Motorpsycho, Amplifier, Hypnos 69, Dungen, Fuzz Manta and Spirits Of The Dead (due for a new album early next year) started opening up the possibilities a decade ago.  In addition to Wolf People and Syd Arthur sitting on top of the overall list like imperious yaks, Blood Ceremony and Purson from the psych noir list above also have psych prog elements. More so than even Syd Arthur, Italian newcomers The Winstons pay direct homage to Canterbury prog in the first notes of their first track, sounding just like Soft Machine’s Robert Wyatt. With a background in indie rock, the band knows how to write a catchy song, particularly with “Play With The Rebels,” which I think will belatedly become huge somehow years after the fact in some movie soundtrack. | Spotify

  1. Wolf People – Ruins (Jagjaguwar) | Bandcamp
  2. Syd Arthur – Apricity (Harvest/Communion) | Bandcamp
  3. The Winstons – The Winstons (Ams) | Bandcamp
  4. Drakkar Nowhere – Drakkar Nowhere (Beyond Beyond Is Beyond) | Bandcamp
  5. Madder Mortem – Red In Tooth And Claw (Dark Essence/Karisma) | Bandcamp
  6. Messenger – Threnodies (Inside Out) | Bandcamp
  7. Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden (InsideOut) | Buy
  8. Witchcraft – Nucleus (Nuclear Blast) | Buy
  9. Motorpsycho – Here Be Monsters (Rune Grammofon) | Buy
  10. Black Mountain – IV (Jagjaguwar) | Bandcamp
  11. Dark Suns – Everchild (Prophecy) | Bandcamp
  12. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity (Flightless) | Bandcamp
  13. Blaak Heat – Shifting Mirrors (Tee Pee/Svart) | Bandcamp

Garage Rock/Punk/Noir

deap-valley-femejismSince Deap Vally’s second album, Femejism came out in September, it skulked about my playlist, throwing attitude whenever a track played from it, until I was completely drawn in and rocking out with the full album. I knew I would like it, as their debut Sistronix (2013) was a nice raw, heavy Cream influenced blues rock album, influenced by the raw, stripped down guitar/drums feel of early Black Keys. The awesome poor taste in album title is perfect to sort out the idiots who might be offended (“Are feminists, let alone women, allowed to jizz?”). Meanwhile they get down to more kickass garage blues punk, but this time with the production assisance of Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which inevitably brings to mind comparisons with early work by his band. And I love it. I also hear some nods to Sleater-Kinney, Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine among others. Most of all, these fairly simple songs are damn fun and stand up to repeated plays. I should mention that I’ve been a big supporter of White Denim from their first EP and I’ve seen them live every chance I get. However while I was upbeat about their latest album of chooglin’ backyard BBQ party rock, now in the early winter I’m also missing their weird, proggy garage psych edge. The band will be much more popular for it, and they deserve the success. It’s hard to find a band with such virtuosic chops as theirs that doesn’t evolve. But there’s always new young blood around the corner, like Os Noctàmbulos (France), Night Beats (US), The Murlocs (Australia) and The Mystery Lights (US). Also interesting is Kill West, Australia’s Harry Howard and The NDE and Kim Salmon’s solo album. | Spotify

  1. Wovenhand – Star Treatment (Sargent House) | Bandcamp
  2. The Drones – Feelin Kinda Free (Tropical Fuck Storm) | Buy
  3. Deap Vally – Femejism (Nevado) | Buy
  4. Os Noctàmbulos – Stranger (Stolen Body) | Bandcamp
  5. White Denim – Stiff (Downtown) | Buy
  6. Night Beats – Who Sold My Generation (Heavenly) | Buy
  7. The Murlocs – Young Blindness (Murlocs) | Bandcamp
  8. The Mystery Lights – The Mystery Lights (Daptone) | Bandcamp
  9. Marching Church – Telling It Like It Is (Sacred Bones) | Bandcamp
  10. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed Ltd) | Bandcamp
  11. Bonfire Nights – Entopica Phenomica (Holy Beatnik) | Bandcamp
  12. Mean Jeans –  Tight New Dimension (Fat Wreck Chords) | Bandcamp
  13. Kid Congo & The Pink Monkeybirds – La Arana Es La Vida (In The Red)

Prog

Opeth - Sorceress (Moderbolaget/Nuclear Blast, 2016)While Marillion, Big Big Train and The Pineapple Thief are hugely popular with prog fans, I prefer mostly quirky bands that mix it up with psych (Eye), avant metal and post-punk (Norway’s Virus), a new prog metal band from NY (Moon Tooth) and proto-metal (Austrialia’s Tarot). Opeth, however, have managed to maintain a pretty large following, despite completely abandoning the death metal that they made their name with for two decades. While some fans grumble and complain, live they have seamlessly integrated their new full-on prog material (now on their third album in that genre) with the older metal cuts, which often had some progressive elements to begin with. Missing the list were Glass Hammer, Fates Warning, Cholo Visceral, Anima Mundi, Airbag, Cosmograf, Wolverine, Kayo Dot, Katatonia, Van Der Graaf Generator, The Pineapple Thief, Dream The Electric Sheep, iamthemorning, Frost*, Big Big Train, Marillion, Poem.

  1. Opeth – Sorceress (Moderbolaget/Nuclear Blast) | Buy
  2. Eye – Vision & Ageless Light (Lasers Edge) | Bandcamp
  3. Virus – Memento Collider (Karisma) | Bandcamp
  4. Moon Tooth – Chromaparagon (Moon Tooth) | Bandcamp
  5. Tarot – Reflections (Heavy Chains) | Bandcamp
  6. The Dear Hunter – Act V: Hymns With The Devil In Confessional (Equal Vision) | Buy
  7. Seven Impale – Contrapasso (Karisma) | Bandcamp
  8. Steven Wilson – 4-1/2 (Kscope) | Buy
  9. The Spacelords – Liquid Sun (Tonzonen) | Bandcamp
  10. Agusa – Katarsis (Kommun 2) | Bandcamp
  11. Nosound – Scintilla (Kscope)
  12. Brain Tentacles – Brain Tentacles (Relapse) | Bandcamp
  13. Circuline – Counterpoint (Innver Nova) | Buy

Post-Punk

savages-adoreThis year was a little slow for post-punk. Aside from Savages and Preoccupations (formerly Viet Cong), there weren’t many high profile releases. 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 the second Savages album. It’s a progression, sacrificing some of the early energy for more subtle, atmospheric numbers with more personal relationship themes. I’m surprised Male Gaze doesn’t have a higher profile, being on the Castle Face stable with Thee Oh Sees. I wish more bands mixed post-punk and psych like they do. And Also The Trees are a bona fide first generation post-punk band who formed in 1979, were tourmates with The Cure, and have been active ever since. They still make powerful music, lately more influenced by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Read more about them here. A late discovery is ГШ, aka Glintshake, with their second album that ambitiously expands their scope into avant prog and art rock. Just missing the list are Eagulls, Motorama, RA, Mall Walk, Soft Kill, Flasher, Young Docteurs, E, Suuns, Merchandise, Cold Pumas, Drangsal, Moscow Circus, White Lies and Omni.  | Spotify

  1. Savages – Adore Life (Matador) | Buy
  2. Male Gaze – King Leer (Castle Face) | Buy
  3. And Also The Trees – Born Into The Waves (AATT) | Bandcamp
  4. As Ondas – Marés (Jigsaw) | Bandcamp
  5. Glintshake – ОЭЩ МАГЗИУ (Sez Store) (Kometa) | Bandcamp
  6. Preoccupations – Preoccupations (Jagjaguwar) | Bandcamp
  7. Marching Church – Telling It Like It Is (Sacred Bones) | Bandcamp
  8. Jenny Besetzt – Tender Madness (Friends) | Bandcamp
  9. Birthing Hips – No Sorry (Birthing Hips) | Bandcamp
  10. Vnutrennee Sgoranie – Sebyaboyazn (Vnutrennee Sgoranie) | Bandcamp
  11. VHS – Gift Of Life (Suicide Squeeze) | Bandcamp
  12. Las Kellies – Friends And Lovers (Fire) | Bandcamp
  13. Traitrs – Rites & Ritual (Pleasance) | Bandcamp

Desert/Fuzz/Stoner Rock

greenleaf-riseSomeone pointed out that five of the top six in this category contain roman numerals in their albums titles. I guess it is a pretty common practice started by Led Zeppelin. Or was it Chicago… Between 2003 and 2012, I considered Greenleaf a sort of supergroup side project involving members of Swedish stoner rock titans Dozer and Truckfighters. Now on their sixth album, signed to Napalm and touring hard (at least in Europe – hello, over here in North America!), it’s clear that Greenleaf is a serious main concern for its members. And why not, they are a heavy rock powerhouse oozing with talent and great songs. It’s time that the world benefits from this gift. Just missing the top 13 are Wight, Geezer, Nightstalker, Child, Wasted Theory, Youngblood Supercult, Comacozer, Pyrior, 1000mods and Witchthroat Serpent. | Spotify

  1. Truckfighters – V (Century Media) | Buy
  2. Asteroid – III (Fuzzorama) | Bandcamp
  3. Greenleaf – Rise Above The Meadow (Napalm) | Bandcamp
  4. Kremlin – I (Svart) | Bandcamp
  5. Black Mountain – IV (Jagjaguwar) | Bandcamp
  6. Mars Red Sky – Apex III (Praise For The Burning Soul) (Listenable) | Bandcamp
  7. Blaak Heat – Shifting Mirrors (Tee Pee/Svart) | Bandcamp
  8. The Hazytones – The Hazytones (Hazytones) | Bandcamp
  9. Shadow Witch – Sun Killer (Snake Charmer Coalition) | Bandcamp
  10. Beastmaker – Lusus Naturae (Rise Above) | Bandcamp
  11. Moon Coven – Moon Coven (Transubstans) | Bandcamp
  12. Salem’s Pot – Pronounce This! (RidingEasy) | Bandcamp
  13. Elephant Tree – Elephant Tree (Magnetic Eye) | Bandcamp

Hard Rock

The Well - Pagan Science (RidingEasy, 2016)The Austin, Texas band’s brand of metal was dropped in a well and left to rust since about 1972. The result is some strangely beautiful patterns in the decay, but also a little gross. Maybe it’s the attached appendage that looks like some sort of alien growth, or perhaps a baby demon. That’s essentially the trajectory of The Well. While they have retained the gritty textures of their psychedelic garage doom and proto-metal from their debut Samsara (2014), they have also expanded their sound palette.  Just off the top 13 list are Wasted Theory, Power, Årabrot, Admiral Sir Cloudsley Shovell, Kvelertak, Brutus and Sgt. Sunshine.  | Spotify

  1. Blues Pills – Lady In Gold (Nuclear Blast) | Buy
  2. The Well – Pagan Science (RidingEasy) | Bandcamp
  3. Spidergawd – III (Crispin Glover) | Buy
  4. Dunbarrow – Dunbarrow (Heksekunst) | Bandcamp
  5. Hypnos – Cold Winds (Crusher) | Buy
  6. The Rare Breed – Looking For Today (Rare Breed) | Bandcamp
  7. Bright Curse – Before The Shore (HeviSike) | Bandcamp
  8. House Of Lightning – House Of Lightning (Fair Warning) | Bandcamp
  9. Big Jesus – Oneiric (Mascot) | Buy
  10. Svartanatt – Svartanatt (The Sign) | Bandcamp
  11. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression (Loma Vista) | Buy
  12. Tarot – Reflections (Heavy Chains) | Bandcamp
  13. Blues Funeral – The Search (Blues Funeral) | Bandcamp

Heavy Metal

Wytch Hazel - Prelude (Bad Omen, 2016)One could go either way with Wytch Hazel, as they could equally qualify for the hard rock list above. But their music is so triumphant and epic, underneath their medieval battle garb beat warrior metal hearts. Hammers Of Misfortune make a welcome return after five years with their unique, eccentric proggy mix of traditional metal. Sumerlands made a big debut album, scoring veteran vocalist Phil Swanson (Atlantean Kodex, Vestal Claret, Hour Of 13, Seamount, Briton Rites).  I hope they can talk the curmudgeon into doing a little tour. Ravensire from Portugal is a late addition, carrying on the tradition of Celtic influenced metal like Slough Feg.  Testament and Metallica headlined a pretty large group of original 80s era thrash bands who are doing their best work in years. The Dawnbringer EP is worth noting in that it’s supposedly it’s last. Never fear, Chris Black is going strong with the even more popular and upbeat High Spirits, and will be doing more as Professor Black in the coming year. See my full Heavy Metal Rundown feature here. | Spotify

  1. Wytch Hazel – Prelude (Bad Omen) | Bandcamp
  2. Hammers Of Misfortune – Dead Revolution (Metal Blade) | Bandcamp
  3. Sumerlands – Sumerlands (Relapse) | Bandcamp
  4. Ravensire  – The Cycle Never Ends (Cruz Del Sur) | Bandcamp
  5. Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake (Nuclear Blast) | Buy
  6. Metallica – Hardwired…To Self Destruct (Elektra) | Buy
  7. Castle – Welcome To The Graveyard (Van/Prophecy) | Bandcamp
  8. Eternal Champion – The Armor Of Ire (No Remorse) | Bandcamp
  9. High Spirits – Motivator (HR) | Bandcamp
  10. Dawnbringer – XX EP (Dawnbringer) | Bandcamp
  11. Gygax – Critical Hits (Creator-Destructor) | Bandcamp
  12. Helstar – Vampiro (EMP) | Buy
  13. Spiritus Mortis – The Year Is One (Svart) | Bandcamp

Doom

Spirit Adrift - Chained To OblivionWhat I love about Khemmis is while there are two academics in the band, they’re not pretentious, trying to transcend metal into something pretentious and difficult. They proudly namecheck Maiden and Lizzy and are quite happy to delve in epic fantasy lyrics, or expressing how stoked they are about being metal. While they are doing well with getting much-deserved attention this year, Spirit Adrift is just as great, but criminally ignored.  This must be corrected. Also recommended for fans of Pallbearer (who released a minor EP this year with one original and two covers). Read more in my recent metal rundown. | Spotify

  1. Khemmis – Hunted (20 Buck Spin) | Bandcamp
  2. Spirit Adrift – Chained To Oblivion (Spirit Adrift) | Bandcamp
  3. Brimstone Coven – Black Magic (Metal Blade) | Bandcamp
  4. SubRosa – For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages (Profound Lore) | Bandcamp
  5. Troll – Troll (Troll) | Bandcamp
  6. Goatess – Purgatory Under New Management (Svart) | Bandcamp
  7. Lord Vicar – Gates Of Flesh (The Church Within) | Buy
  8. Cardinals Folly – Holocaust Of Ecstasy & Freedom (Shadow Kingdom) | Bandcamp
  9. Vokonis – Olde One Ascending (Ozium) | Bandcamp
  10. Black Sabbath – The End EP (Black Sabbath) | Buy
  11. Cough – Still They Pray (Relapse) | Bandcamp
  12. 11Paranoias – Reliquary For A Dreamed Of World (Ritual) | Bandcamp
  13. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard – Y Proffwyd Dwyll (New Heavy Sounds) | Bandcamp

Black/Death/Sludge/Technical/Speed/Prog/Avant Metal

Anciients - Voice Of The Void (Season Of Mist, 2016)Those who miss the sounds of early Mastodon and Opeth will be happy to know Anciients have picked up the anvil. While they’re forging it in their own direction, currently that does not include sleek prog or alternative rock. 40 Watt Sun have pretty much abandoned metal. While they were always melodic, the latest album does away with any of the heavy instrumentation. Yet still, like Opeth’s original departure, Damnation (2003), there is still a heavy feel to the mood and lyrics that still appeal to metalheads more than anyone else. I have to admit I’m a little disappointed by Gojira’s direction into post-industrial Killing Joke inspired music. That’s not playing to their strengths. But they’re such a great band, that they still made an extremely effective, powerful album. I have a certain threshhold for sludge, but the UK’s Slabdragger, back with their sophomore release after a five year absence, has just enough cool proggy changes and riffs to hold my attention. Boss Keloid has also incorporated some prog into the sludge. Hail Spirit Noir, Vektor, Oranssi Pazuzu and Furia have all made incredibly adventurous albums in different ways, all worth hearing no matter what subgenres you subscribe to. Just missing the list were Zeal And Ardor, Droids Attack, Ghoul, Whores., Thy Catafalque, Inter Arma, Death Angel, Inverloch. 

I might have to start a new category for bands like The Body, Trap Them, Nails, Zao and Malevich. Known variously as crust punk, grindcore, metalcore, post-hardcore, they all sound like RAGEcore to me, and can be quite cathartic in limited doses during such royally fucked up times.

  1. Anciients – Voice Of The Void (Season Of Mist) | Bandcamp
  2. 40 Watt Sun – Wider Than The Sky (Radiance) | Buy
  3. Gojira – Magma (Roadrunner) | Buy
  4. Slabdragger – Rise Of The Dawncrusher (Holy Roar) | Bandcamp
  5. Boss Keloid – Herb Your Enthusiam (Black Bow) | Bandcamp
  6. Hail Spirit Noir – Mayhem In Blue (Dark Essence) | Bandcamp
  7. Vektor – Terminal Redux (Earache) | Bandcamp
  8. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä (20 Buck Spin) | Bandcamp
  9. Furia – Księ źyc milczy luty (Pagan) | Bandcamp
  10. Horseburner – Dead Seeds, Barren Soil (Horseburner) | Bandcamp
  11. Neurosis – Fires Within Fires (Neurot) | Bandcamp
  12. Eight Bells – Landless Battleground | Bandcamp
  13. Mizmor – Yodh (Gilead) | Bandcamp

Non-Metal for Metalheads

Just a fun list that isn’t a genre, it’s interesting to see what shows up in metal lists and polls that are not at all metal. I’m staying away from most heavy psych and hard rock that pretty much goes without saying a lot of metalheads would like. Technically Wolf People could be associated with heavy psych, though they come from a more progressive folk direction, though the latest is their heaviest. And like a Bowie’s Blackstar, Ruins is so great, I believe it’s appeal would cross over to a lot of different audiences, if only they would get around to hearing it. Wovenhand has definitely drawn a sizable metal audience with their intense fire and brimstone lyrics and folk noir, and can see it by just looking at the audiences at shows. I would have put Astronoid and Virus on here, but many argue they are metal. They definitely work on the edge of the metal sphere. Honorable mentions are Marching Church, Melt Yourself Down, Narcosatanicos, Noura Mint Seymali, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Leonard Cohen, Black Bombain & Peter Brötzmann, Horseback, Moor Mother, Show Me The Body and Death Grips

  1. Wolf People – Ruins (Jagjaguwar) | Bandcamp
  2. Lola Colt – Twist Through The Fire (Black Tigress) | Bandcamp
  3. Wovenhand – Star Treatment (Sargent House) | Bandcamp
  4. And Also The Trees – Born Into The Waves (AATT) | Bandcamp
  5. 40 Watt Sun – Wider Than The Sky (Radiance) | Buy
  6. Swans – The Glowing Man (Young God) | Bandcamp
  7. Wardruna – Runaljod: Ragnarok (Norse Music) | Buy
  8. Sunwatchers – Sunwatchers (Castle Face)
  9. Horse Lords – Interventions (Northern Spy) | Bandcamp
  10. Crippled Black Phoenix – Bronze (Season Of Mist) | Bandcamp
  11. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity (Flightless) | Bandcamp
  12. Dälek – Asphalt For Eden (Profound Lore) | Bandcamp
  13. Brain Tentacles – Brain Tentacles (Relapse) | Bandcamp

Avant Rock & Pop

Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool (XL)What more to say about Radiohead? After all these years, and after the pretty disappointing album The King Of Limbs, Radiohead are still huge with an audience who will follow them anywhere. That’s a rare, beautiful thing, and shall not poo poo it. I was especially excited when I detected a wee bit of psych prog in their latest, but not enough to put in that category. But remember when they couldn’t stop praising electronica artists like Autechre and everything on the Warp label? Now it would feel really appropriate if they took Wolf People and Syd Arthur on tour and talked them up.

The Eternals - Espiritu Zombi (New Atlantis, 2016)So what’s this band with the super cool name nestled among the titans? The Eternals grew out of the ashes of post-punk band Trenchmouth, where comedian superstar Fred Armisen got his start. I first met them when a college friend put out their first 7″ single on his label. Since 2000 the Eternals have released five adventurous avant rock albums, experimenting with a number of styles on top of their core post-punk dub sound. The material on Espiritu Zombi was debuted in a glorious performance at Pritzker Pavilion last year with a number of musicians from Chicago’s rich improv jazz scene. Highly recommended.

  1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (XL) | Bandcamp
  2. The Eternals – Espiritu Zombi (New Atlantis) | Bandcamp
  3. PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project (Island) | Buy
  4. Swans – The Glowing Man (Young God) | Bandcamp
  5. Melt Yourself Down – Last Evenings On Earth (Leaf) | Bandcamp
  6. Crippled Black Phoenix – Bronze (Season Of Mist) | Bandcamp
  7. Emma Ruth Rundle – Marked For Death (Sargent House) | Bandcamp
  8. Grumbling Fur – Furfour (Thrill Jockey) | Bandcamp
  9. Helen Money – Become Zero (Thrill Jockey) | Bandcamp
  10. Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones) | Bandcamp
  11. Narcosatanicos – Body Cults (Bad Afro) | Bandcamp
  12. Aluk Todolo – Voix (Norma Evangelium Diaboli) | Bandcamp
  13. Jute Gyte – Perdurance (Jeshimoth) | Bandcamp

Kosmische

early-years-iiTen years after their debut, The Early Years evolves from shoegaze into gleaming Kosmische and post-punk/post-rock minimalism. If Joy Division had gotten deep into Neu/Cluster/Harmonia worship and retained the imperious vocal services of Ian Curtis, it might have been some sparkling, amazing cosmic music. It might have sounded a little like this. Hypnotic but accessible, this is better than peak Goat.

Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation - Mirage (Rocket, 2016)Last year’s debut from Swedish kosmische psych group Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation, Horse Dance, was a pleasant surprise, despite the fact that there’s already more than a handful of artists exploring this sound, including labelmates Les Big Byrd, Moon Duo, Minami Deutsch, Föllakzoid, Sundays & Cybele, Flavor Crystals, Eat Lights Become Lights, Camera, Papir, Electric Orange, Sungod, Fujiya & Miyagi, Peaking Lights and Cave among others.  Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation are something special, their motorik grooves leaving liquidy vapor trails are endlessly listenable and addictive.  | Spotify

  1. The Early Years – II (Sonic Cathedral) | Bandcamp
  2. Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation – Mirage (Rocket) | Bandcamp
  3. Camera – Phantom Of Liberty (Bureau B) | Bandcamp
  4. Ulrika Spacek – The Album Paranoia (Tough Love/Lefse) | Bandcamp
  5. Cavern Of Anti-Matter – Void Beats/Invocation Trex (Duophonic) | Buy
  6. Psychic Lemon – Psychic Lemon (Psychic Lemon) | Bandcamp
  7. Katla – Embryo (Svart) | Bandcamp
  8. Mugstar – Magnetic Seasons (Rock Action)
  9. Kungens Män – Stockholm Maraton (Adansonia) | Bandcamp
  10. Horseback – Dead Ringers (Relapse) | Bandcamp
  11. Cavalier Song – Blezard (God Unknown) | Bandcamp
  12. Cloudland Canyon – An Arabesque (Medical) | Bandcamp
  13. Exploded View – Exploded View (Sacred Bones) | Bandcamp

Space Rock

eye-visionMy psych lists focus on more song oriented stuff, but if you want drones, oh we’ve got those too. Drones, drones and more drones. Long, jammy, distorted drones. But first, Ohio’s Eye is influenced by the 70s space rock of Nektar, along with a touch of proto-metal and prog, right up my cosmic alley. | Spotify

  1. Eye – Vision & Ageless Light (Lasers Edge) | Bandcamp
  2. Moths & Locusts – Helios Rising (Noiseagonymayhem ) | Bandcamp
  3. Saturnia – The Real High (Elekrohasch) | Buy
  4. Black Rainbows – Stellar Prophecy (Heavy Psych) | Bandcamp
  5. Nudity – Nudity Is God’s Creation (Cardinal Fuzz) | Bandcamp
  6. Mugstar – Magnetic Sessions (Rock Action)
  7. The Myrrors – Entranced Earth (Beyond Beyond Is Beyond) | Bandcamp
  8. The Spacelords – Liquid Sun (Tonzonen) | Bandcamp
  9. The Cosmic Dead – Rainbowhead (Paradigm) | Bandcamp
  10. Mythic Sunship – Ouroboros (El Paraiso)
  11. Hotel Wrecking City Traders – Phantamonium (Evil Hoodoo) | Bandcamp
  12. Tranquonauts – Tranquonauts (La Bare)
  13. Electric Eye – Different Sun (Jansen Plateproduksjon) | Bandcamp

Dream Pop

day-wave-headcaseDay Wave is Oakland musician Jackson Phillips.  Like Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever , this isn’t exactly a full-length, but rather a compilation of EPs from last year and this year. While Day Wave is partially jangle pop along the lines of Real Estate, I discovered it on the Sounds Better With Reverb year-end list, which focuses on shoegaze and dream pop. I found the debut from L.A. band Crescendo the same way. They cover jangle pop, dream pop, shoegaze and post-punk. Jeff Runnings has put out post-punk and dream pop with For Against for the past 30 years. Primitives And Smalls is his solo debut. Michigan’s Dear Tracks also had a promising debut EP of jangle and dream pop. More like these, please.

diiv-isI can’t believe it had already been four years since DIIV’s debut Oshin was released. Their somewhat lightweight sounding dream pop with a tinge of post-punk is deceptive, as underneath the shimmering veneer apparently is a deeply troubled band, if any of the tabloid-ish reporting of addiction, arrests and drama is to be believed. Whatever is going on, their second album has some substance, and is worthy of some deep listening. Just missing the list, School Of Seven Bells, Mystery Jets, Postiljonen, Hope Sandoval And The Warm Inventions, Still Corners. | Spotify

  1. Day Wave – Headcase/Hard To Read (Grand Jury) | Buy
  2. DIIV – Is The Is Are (Captured Tracks) | Bandcamp
  3. Crescendo – Unless (We Were Never Being Boring) | Bandcamp
  4. Jeff Runnings – Primitives And Smalls (Sainte Marie) | Bandcamp
  5. Dear Tracks – Soft Dreams (Track And Field) | Bandcamp
  6. Beverly – The Blue Swell (Kanine) | Bandcamp
  7. FEWS – Means (PIAS) | Bandcamp
  8. Luisa Maita – Fio de memória (Cumbancha) | Bandcamp
  9. The Radio Dept. – Running Out Of Love (Labrador) | Buy
  10. Magic Potion – Pink Gum (PNKSLM) | Bandcamp
  11. Wild Nothing – Life Of Pause (Captured Tracks) | Bandcamp
  12. Warpaint – Heads Up (Rough Trade)
  13. Sennen – First Light (Indelabel)

Shoegaze

lucid-dream-compulsionFor the second year in a row The Lucid Dream tops this list. At a time when many bands take several years between releases, it’s refreshing to be pleasantly surprised by a new album just a year after their second album. Most of the original elements are there — motorik kosmische and Suicide (“Nadir/Epitaph”), bluesy Western-tinged garage noir (“The Emptiest Place”), and noisy overdriven psychedelia with the sneering, bad energy of Loop and Clinic turned to eleven (“21st Century”). I honestly don’t know why they’re not more popular at this point. Suns Of Thyme are also in the psych list, but they’re so good, and so many things – psych pop, post-punk, dream pop, shoegaze and fizzing kosmische. There’s even some prog in there. Their PR identifies the German band as “krautgaze,” but it’s hard to predict which category their next album will land in. Ever think Deafheaven or Alcest would be great if they just dropped the black metal shrieking? Astronoid finally did it! Just missing the list, Pinkshinyultrablast, Jaguwar, Kindling, Warpaint, The KVB, Leave The Planet, LSD and the Search for God, Deftones, Plastic Animals. | Spotify

  1. The Lucid Dream – Compulsion Songs (Holy How Are You) | Buy
  2. Suns Of Thyme – Cascades (Napalm) | Bandcamp
  3. Astronoid – Air (Blood Music) | Bandcamp
  4. Nothing – Tired Of Tomorrow (Relapse) | Bandcamp
  5. Flyying Colours – Mindfullness (Flyying Colours)
  6. Emma Ruth Rundle – Marked For Death (Sargent House) | Bandcamp
  7. Alcest – Kodama (Prophecy) | Bandcamp
  8. Newmoon – Space (PIAS) | Buy
  9. Teksti-TV 666 – 1,2,3 (Svart) | Bandcamp
  10. Turnip King – Laika (Fire Talk) | Bandcamp
  11. Lazy Legs – VISIONDEATH (Lazy Legs) | Bandcamp
  12. Minor Victories – Minor Victories (Fat Possum) | Bandcamp
  13. Matt Bartram – Moments Before (Drifting Falling) | Bandcamp

Indie Rock & Pop

rolling-blackouts-coastal-fever-talkIndie has earned the unfortunate nickname, “landfill indie,” and much of it is deserved. The massive amount of garbage produced by this subgenre in the past 15 years is mind boggling. Why is that? Perhaps partly because it had become a sort of default “starter” genre for kids first dabbling with music. The people’s folk music. And just like when a lot of families gathered around for pickin’ and grinin’ sessions a century and more ago, not all of them were fit to perform in public or record. Nevertheless, there’s always gems to be found. And wow, a late discovery was Australia’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. The band has ambitious plans for their official debut album, so they want you to consider Talk Tight a mini-LP. However if you also download the four free, nearly perfect songs from 2013 on their Bandcamp page, that’s over 42 minutes of deliriously catchy jangle pop with literate Go-Betweens, Orange Juice and propulsive post-punk Radio Birdman and Feelies (see “Clean Slate”) influences. It’s enough to leave you with an intense craving for more. Another EP, The French Press, is due in March, and hopefully their Sub Pop debut album will also come out in 2017.

vanishing-twin-chooseSince I’m partial to psych, some of these are what were cut off from the bottom of my psych list, like Ty Segall, Sunflower Bean and Vanishing Twin, which didn’t even make my top 100, which shows how far indie has fallen off my radar. But it’s a pretty great album, a really pleasing mix of art pop and psych. Those who dig it should also check out Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation, which is at top of the Kosmische list. Those craving more jangle pop can try veterans Teenage Fanclub, who’s latest has grown on me quite a bit, Glasgow’s Sea Pinks, Swedish Polarbears, Aussies Chook Race, The Goon Sax and Ultimate Painting, but better to start with their self-titled debut from 2014. Ultimate Painting’s James Hoare provided most of the instrumentation for the latest solo album of jangle pop legend Pete Astor (The Loft, The Weather Prophets). There will be new The Blue Aeroplanes and Feelies albums and new Real Estate to look forward to in 2017. Just missing the top 13 were FEWS, The Growlers, EZTV, Crying, Warehouse, Whyte Horses, The Coathangers, La Sera, Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, The Coral. I also think critical favorites Cate Le Bon, Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam, Jeff Rosenstock, Angel Olsen and Car Seat Headrest made good albums.

  1. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Talk Tight (Ivy League) | Bandcamp
  2. Chook Race – Around The House (Trouble In Mind) | Bandcamp
  3. Vanishing Twin – Choose Your Own Adventure (Soundway) | Bandcamp
  4. Teenage Fanclub – Here (Merge) | Buy
  5. Sea Pinks – Soft Days (CF) | Bandcamp
  6. TTNG – Disappointment Island (Sargent House) | Bandcamp
  7. Swedish Polarbears – The Great Northern  (CD Baby) | Buy
  8. Pete Astor – Spilt Milk (Fortuna Pop!) | Bandcamp
  9. Sunflower Bean – Human Ceremony (Fat Possum) | Bandcamp
  10. Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger (Drag City)
  11. The Goon Sax – Up To Anything (Chapter) | Bandcamp
  12. Ultimate Painting – Dusk (Trouble In Mind) | Bandcamp
  13. Parquet Courts – Human Performance (Rough Trade)

Experimental, Modern Classical, Ambient & Drone

resina-resinaWhen it comes to experimental, modern classical and avant garde jazz, Poland seems to have a lot going on. The person behind the Cousin It hair on the Resina album cover is Karolina Rec, a cellist who studied at the Music Academy in Gdansk and the University of Gdansk. She’s been active in several bands, wrote music for theatre, and was clearly ready to release her own album. Her experiments with cello and electronic sounds are otherworldly. Baltimore’s Horse Lords combine Afrobeat and motorik rhythms with saxophones and experimental electronics and musique concrete. The relentless intensity can bring to mind Melt Yourself Down, but this is way more out there. Exhausting but brilliant. The Dwarfs Of East Agouza is a supergroup congregated in Egypt, with former Sun City Girl Alan Bishop, Sam Shalabi and  Maurice Louca. Really cool hypnotic guitar work with Arabic rhythms, and a hint of Toureg desert blues. Also interesting things  by Kurushimi, Fox/Soper Duo, James Ferraro, Susanna, Guerco S., Nicholas Jaar, Ian William Craig, Geir Sundstøl, and Gnod.

  1. Resina – Resina (Fat Cat) | Bandcamp
  2. Horse Lords – Interventions (Northern Spy) | Bandcamp
  3. The Dwarfs Of East Agouza – Bes (Nawa) | Bandcamp
  4. Laraaji & Sun Araw – Professional Sunflows – Professional Sunflow (W.25th) | Buy
  5. Tanya Tagaq – Retribution (Six Shooter) | Buy
  6. Botany – Deepak Verbera (Western Vinyl) | Bandcamp
  7. Gate – Saturday Night Fever (MIE) | Buy
  8. Oren Ambarchi – Hubris (Mego) | Bandcamp
  9. Anna Meredith – Varmints (Moshi Moshi) | Bandcamp
  10. Negro Léo – Água Batizada (RockIt!)
  11. Ólafur Arnalds – Island Songs (Mercury Classics)
  12. Jóhann Jóhannsson – Orphée (Deutsche Grammophon)
  13. Carla dal Forno –  You Know What It’s Like (Blackest Ever Black) | Bandcamp

Jazz, Fusion, Improv, Spiritual Jazz, Experimental Big Band, Vocal Jazz

ward-touchIt’s funny what can inspire one to get back into a genre. Last year, critics went nuts for the expansive double album of 70s influenced spiritual jazz by Kamasi Washington, The Epic. And that’s it, not other jazz was touted at that level, because no one else had the hip clout of having worked with Kendrick Lamar. Man, that is such bs. Yes, it was a good album, but I found at least five that were even better last year, and jazz is not my main thing. I’ve dug pretty deep into the history of jazz since I was a kid, but there are definitely large blanks in my jazz knowledge since the 90s. Ironically, thanks to the hype over Washington, I defiantly (ha ha) started digging more into jazz last year, which continued through this year. I’m still no expert, but I do believe I have found a great selection. Another historic performance that I missed at the magical Pritzker Pavilion (the gorgeous looking and sounding Gehry-designed free outdoor concert venue in Chicago’s Millennium Park) was Greg Ward & 10 Tongues’ tribute to one of my all-time favorite albums, The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (1963). Rather than performing Mingus’ music, they wrote original music that can serve as a sort of companion to the album. I’m so glad the performance was recorded. Other great experimental big band projects are Michael Formanek’s Ensemble Kolossus, Nels Cline and Taylor Ho BynumSteve Lehman’s Sélébéyone, Anthony Joseph and Colonel Petrov’s Good Judgement also could have qualified, but were in other lists. Just missing the top 13 were Nels Cline, Taylor Ho Bynum, Jeff Parker, Battle Trance, Niecheć, Mary Halvorson Octet, Innercity Ensemble and Brain Tentacles.

  1. Greg Ward & 10 Tongues – Touch My Beloved’s Thought (Greenleaf) | Bandcamp
  2. Shabaka and the Ancestors – Wisdom Of Elders (Brownswood) | Bandcamp
  3. Michael Formanek’s Ensemble Kolossus – The Distance (ECM) | Bandcamp
  4. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids – We Be All Africans (Strut) | Bandcamp
  5. Henry Threadgill’s Ensemble Double Up – Old Locks And Irregular Verbs (Pi) | Bandcamp
  6. Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense – Moving Still (Pi) | Bandcamp
  7. Jon Deitemyer – Tall Tales (ears&eyes) | Bandcamp
  8. Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane & Matthew Garrison – In Movement (ECM) | YouTube
  9. Black Bombain & Peter Brötzmann – Black Bombain & Peter Brötzmann (Shhpuma/Lovers & Lollypops) | Bandcamp
  10. GoGo Penguin – Man Made Object (Blue Note) | Buy
  11. Hedvig Mollestad Trio – Black Stabat Mater (Rune Grammofon) | Buy
  12. LAM – LAM (Instant Classic) | Bandcamp
  13. Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution (Concord) | Buy

Global

frightnrs-nothingThe Frightnrs, based in Jamaica, Queens, NY, released a gorgeous full-length debut of rocksteady with the help of Victor “Ticklah” Axelrod (Antibalas) recording it as if it were 1967 in the heyday of pioneers like Alton Ellis. Sadly lead singer Dan Klein passed away from ALS before the album was released, just hours after seeing a performance by labelmates Sharon Jones & the Daptones. Jones would then pass away on November 18.  You’d think we’d be numb to the many losses this year but each one stings just as badly.

sosimi-you-dubThere are certain things I will never grow tired of, like the motorik beats of kosmische, the boom shots of Jamaican dub, and Afrobeat rhythms. Sure, some do it better than others, but I’m always excited when an artist does it well. Dele Sosimi should indeed be a master, he learned from the source as the musical director for Fela Kuti & Egypt 80 in 1979-86, and Femi Kuti’s Positive Force until 1994. He even taught Afrobeat at London Metropolitan University. Having lived in England much of his life, it makes sense that he also get involved in the rich dub culture there, collaborating with Prince Fatty & Nostalgia 77 for a dub treatment of last year’s You No Fit Touch Am. Yes, my two favorite things, Afrobeat and dub, in one package. What could be better? Not much! The Wire magazine, among others, ignored the dub album and rated the Laolu Remix of the “Too Much Information” single released in 2015. That would be a mistake. It’s worth hearing, the there’s no way that 7 minute electronica remix surpasses the album. For more dub, see Flowering Inferno and parts of the Alma Afrobeat Ensemble album. Afrobeat has become a global phenomenon, in Spain with alma, Brazil (Abayomy Afrobeat Orquestra), the UK (Melt Yourself Down), France (Afrobeat Makers) and Trinidad (Anthony Joseph).

Politically 2016 was a giant step back for women particularly in the U.S. and Europe. However, it seems more women than ever are being represented musically across the globe, including Noura Mint Seymali, Sahra Halgan Trio, Fatou Seidi Ghali & Alamnou Akrouni, Aziza Brahim, Céu, Elza Soares, Rokia Traoré. I realize it’s ridiculous to try to cram all the year’s best non-western music (mostly from Africa and Brazil) into one list, so this one is slightly expanded. | Spotify

  1. Thiago Nassif – Três (CD Baby) | Brazil | Buy
  2. The Frightnrs – Nothing More To Say (Daptone) | US | Bandcamp
  3. Steve Lehman – Sélébéyone (Pi) | Senegal | Bandcamp
  4. Melt Yourself Down – Last Evenings On Earth (Leaf) | UK | Bandcamp
  5. Dele Sosimi Meets Prince Fatty & Nostalgia 77 – You No Fit Touch Am in Dub (Wah Wah) | UK | Bandcamp
  6. Noura Mint Seymali – Arbina (Glitterbeat) | Mali | Bandcamp
  7. Wardruna – Runaljod: Ragnarok (Norse Music) | Norway | Buy
  8. Abayomy Afrobeat Orquestra – Abra Sua Cabeça (Abayomy) | Brazil | YouTube
  9. Anthony Joseph – Caribbean Roots (Heavenly Sweetness) | Trinidad | Bandcamp
  10. The Dwarfs Of East Agouza – Bes (Nawa) | Egypt | Bandcamp
  11. Fumaça Preta – Impuros fanáticos (Soundway) | Netherlands | Bandcamp
  12. Bombino – Azel (Partisan) | Niger | Bandcamp
  13. Flowering Inferno – 1000 Watts (Tru Thoughts) | Colombia | Bandcamp
  14. Alma Afrobeat Ensemble – It’s Time (Slow Walk/Benelux) | Spain | Bandcamp
  15. Mark Ernestus’ Ndagga Rhythm Force – Yermande (Ndagga) | Germany | Buy
  16. Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra – Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra (Glitterbeat) | Nigeria | Bandcamp
  17. Saulo Duarte e a Unidade – Cine Ruptura (ybmusic) | Brazil | Buy
  18. Mulatu Astatke + Black Jesus Experience – Cradle Of Humanity (BJX) | Ethiopia & Australia | Bandcamp
  19. Sahra Halgan Trio – Faransiskiyo Somaliland (Buda) | Somalia | Bandcamp
  20. Luka Productions – Mali Kady (Sahel} | Mali | Bandcamp
  21. Fatou Seidi Ghali & Alamnou Akrouni – Les filles de Illighadad (Sahel) | Niger | Bandcamp
  22. Aziza Brahim – Abbar el Hamada (Glitterbeat) | Algeria | Bandcamp
  23. Ukandanz – Awo (Buda) | Ethiopia | Bandcamp
  24. Céu – Tropix (Slap/Urban Jungle) | Brazil
  25. Elza Soares – The Woman At The End Of the World (Mais Um) | Brazil
  26. Rokia Traoré – Né So (Nonesuch) | Mali | Bandcamp
  27. Imarhan – Imarhan (City Slang) | Algeria | Bandcamp
  28. Negro Léo – Água Batizada (RockIt!) | Brazil
  29. A-Wa – Habib Galbi (S-Curve) | Israel | Bandcamp
  30. Susso – Keira (Soundway) | UK | Bandcamp
  31. Afrobeat Makers – Nu Guinea: The Tony Allen Experiments  (Comet/Early Sounds) | France | Bandcamp
  32. Konono No. 1 & Batida – Konono No. 1 & Batida (Crammed) | Congo
  33. Africaine 808 – Basar (Golf Channel) | Germany | Bandcamp
  34. Debo Band – Ere Gobez (FPE) | US/Ethiopia
  35. Tom Zé – Canções eróticas para ninar (Circus) | Brazil
  36. Naftule’s Dream – Blood (Tzadik) | US | Buy
  37. Metá Metá – MM3 (Jazz Village) | Brazil
  38. Luisa Maita – Fio de memória (Cumbancha) | Brazil | Bandcamp
  39. Mohammed Lamouri – MOMOstLAMOURI tape (Lamouri) | Algeria
  40. Baaba Maal – The Traveller (180 Proof) | Senegal
  41. Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil – Dois Amigos, Um Século de Música: Multishow Live (Nonesuch) | Brazil
  42. Douglas Germano – Golpe de vista (Digitalize) | Brazil
  43. Zomba Prison Project – I Will Not Stop Singing (Six Degrees) | Bandcamp
  44. Hailu Mergia & Dahlak Band – Wede Harer Guzo (ATFA) | Ethiopia
  45. Malawi Mouse Boys – Forever Is 4 You (Omnivore) | Malawi | Buy
  46. Meridian Brothers – El Advenimiento del Castillo Mujer (Soundway) | Colombia
  47. Samrai & Okzharp – Gated EP (Keysound) | South Africa |  Buy
  48. Kristi Stassinopoulo & Stathis Kalyviotis – NYN (Riverboat) | Greece | Buy
  49. Sarathy Korwar – Day To Day (Ninja Tune) | UK
  50. Nawksh – Mythic Tales Of Tomorrow II (Guruguru Brain) | Pakistan

Electro Pop

vum-cryptocrystallineVUM have been kicking around for over six years, and their fourth album, Cryptocrystalline, finds their darkwave electronica in full bloom. A sort of electro post-punk flipside of Lola Colt’s psych noir. It’s hard to keep up with genre names sometimes, and for some reason the French artist who has gone by the name as Perturbator since 2012 is dubbed “synthwave” and “horror synth.” In other words, electro pop with a dark vibe, and a much more interesting and involving listening experience than the Stranger Things soundtracks. White Lies is the post-punk entry here.  Kedr Livanskiy, Russian for Lebanese Cedar, cites  Autechre, Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Mazzy Star and synth pop videos on MTV as influences. It took me months to realize Anohni is Antony Hegarty. Anohni is quite different from the torch songs I saw Antony perform 9 years ago, and as always offers some great lyrics. I’m not usually one to rate soundtrack music, but Stranger Things was a pretty special show, and the two volumes is worth checking out. I go back and forth with The 1975. I don’t mind their stealing from 80s era INXS, but after a few songs I need a break. They seem to be doing really well though. Just missing the list, Primal Scream, Doomsquad and Let’s Eat Grandma.

  1. VUM – Cryptocrystalline (Secret Lodge) | Bandcamp
  2. Perturbator –The Uncanny Valley (Blood) | Bandcamp
  3. White Lies – Friends (BMG/PIAS) | Buy
  4. Kedr Livanskiy – January Sun (Omnian) | Bandcamp
  5. Anohni – Hopelessness (Secretly Canadian/Rough Trade)
  6. Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Stranger Things Vol. 1 & 2 (Lakeshore)
  7. Kero Kero Bonito –  Bonito Generation (Double Denim)
  8. The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It (Dirty Hit/Interscope)
  9. Big Black Delta – Trágame Tierra (BBD) | Buy
  10. La Femme – Mystère (Born Bad)
  11. Still Corners – Dead Blue (Dead Blue) | Bandcamp
  12. Yello – Toy (Polydor)
  13. Christine And The Queens – Chaleur Humaine (Because)

Electronica, Techno & Dance

skott-allJakob Skøtt is also the drummer for Danish psych rockers Causa Sui so yes, much of the percussion is acoustic, but the progressive electronica he incorporates into the music is pretty amazing, like an electro jazz fusion combo, with extra psych. Kaytranada’s synth funk and hip hop house is also fun, as is The Avalanches’ long awaited comback. Autechre were one of my favorites in the late 90s, but to be honest I haven’t had the urge to listen to them in over 15 years. Nevertheless, the sprawling five volume set is impressive, if a bit of a slog. See also Sula Bassana, Pangaea, Kornél Kovács, Max Graef & Glenn Astro and Powell.

  1. Jakob Skøtt – All The Colours Of The Dust (El Paraiso)
  2. Kaytranada – 99.9% (XL)
  3. The Avalanches – Wildflower (Modular/XL)
  4. Autechre – elseq 1-5 (Warp)
  5. Susso – Keira (Soundway) | Bandcamp
  6. Afrobeat Makers – Nu Guinea: The Tony Allen Experiments (Comet/Early Sounds) | Bandcamp
  7. Africaine 808 – Basar (Golf Channel) | Bandcamp
  8. Various Artists – Turntables On The Caribbean (Wonderwheel) | Bandcamp
  9. James Ferraro – Human Story 3 (Ferraro)
  10. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – Ears (Western Vinyl)
  11. Black Merlin – Hipnotik Tradisi (Island Of The Gods)
  12. Seekersinternational – LoversDedicationStation (Diskotopia)
  13. Cloudland Canyon – An Arabesque (Medical) | Bandcamp

R&B, Soul & Funk

fantastic-negritoFantastic Negrito’s (aka Xavier Dphrepaulezz) story is pretty amazing. Born in an orthodox Muslim family in Oakland, running with various gangs, getting Prince’s attention with his music and signed to Interscope in the 90s, but suffering a serious accident that cause a coma. After years of being not involved in music, Fantastic Negrito came out with an EP in 2014, and now finally, his debut album, a brilliant mix of blues, soul, gospel, funk and rock. Michael Kiwanuka, Ural Thomas & The Pain, Solange, Noname, Jamila Woods and KING all put out great work, which is why everyone should hear Fantastic Negrito. Just off the top 13 were Anderson .Paak, Blood Orange, William Bell, Dawn Richard and How To Dress Well.

  1. Fantastic Negrito – The Last Days Of Oakland (Believe Global) | Buy
  2. Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate (Polydor) | Buy
  3. Ural Thomas – Ural Thomas & The Pain (Mississippi) | Buy
  4. Solange – A Seat At The Table (Saint)
  5. Noname – Telefone (Noname) | Bandcamp
  6. Jamila Woods – HEAVN (Closed Sessions)
  7. KING – We Are KING (King) | Bandcamp
  8. Black Peaches – Get Down You Dirty Rascals (Olive)
  9. Frank Ocean – blonde (Def Jam)
  10. Charles Bradley – Changes (Dunham)
  11. Lettuce – Mt. Crushmore (Lettuce)
  12. Beyonce – Lemonade (Columbia)
  13. Ravyn Lenae – Moon Shoes EP (Ravyn Lenae) | Buy

Country, Folk & Americana

elkhornCosmic psychedelic folk duo Elkhorn. They combine 12-string acoustic (Jesse Sheppard) and electric guitar (Drew Gardner) in a John Fahey meets Earthless scenario of apocalyptic Americana. It’s a brilliantly simple idea may have been attempted previously, but not to the formidable brain expanding depth of this project. Immersive listening is like free-falling through a sonic dreamworld involving the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Cul de Sac and Guru Guru. I almost forgot Wardruna, as their Nordic folk noir based on hand made instruments replicating ancient designs is so unique. This Steve Gunn is a prolific guitarist who collaborates with a lot of people. I first noticed him on the folky Time Off (2013). Way Out Weather (2014) fleshed his sound out with a full band, and the newest album is his most ambitious yet, with a nine piece band. The showcase, however, is Gunn’s guitar playing, which encompasses everything from Bert Jansch, John Fahey and Sonic Youth. Great Americana for summertime back porch listening. Pelander is the full-length solo debut from Witchcraft’s Magnus Pelander. It’s some really great dark psychedelic folk. It would be interesting to see if some of that bleeds into his band. Glenn Jones was in Cul de Sac and is a genius.  Fleeting is his seventh solo album, I believe. James Johnston is the frontman for Gallon Drunk and guitarist for PJ Harvey.  Drive-By Truckers grew on me and pushed The Handsome Family and William Tyler off the list. Sorry, I still don’t like Sturgill Simpson. Not even a little bit. Well okay a little, but his Nirvana cover sucks.

  1. Elkhorn – Elkhorn (Beyond Beyond Is Beyond) | Bandcamp
  2. Wardruna – Runaljod: Ragnarok (Norse Music) | Buy
  3. Steve Gunn – Eyes On The Lines (Matador) | Buy
  4. Pelander – Time (Nuclear Blast) | Bandcamp
  5. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker (Columbia) | Buy
  6. Glenn Jones – Fleeting (Thrill Jockey) | Bandcamp
  7. Ryley Walker – Golden Sings That Have Been Sung (Dead Oceans) | Bandcamp
  8. Cate Le Bon – Crab Day (Turnstile)
  9. King Dude – Sex (Not Just Religious Music) | Bandcamp
  10. LP III & The Tragedy – Southland Hum (Maplewood)
  11. Lydia Loveless – Real (Bloodshot) | Bandcamp
  12. James Johnston – The Starless Room (Clouds Hill)
  13. Drive-By Truckers – American Band (ATO) | Bandcamp

Hip Hop & Rap

lehman-selebeyoneTechnically Sélébéyone could be in the jazz category. But people were so impressed by Kendrick Lamar’s dabblings in jazz, they might be interested to hear what the next step would be, which is a truly masterful fusion of jazz and hip hop. Steve Lehman is not dabbling, he has years of experience experimenting with hip hop, such as on  Wu-Tang Clan’s “Living In the World Today” and Camp Lo’s “Luchini.”  He’s collaborated with HPrizm (AKA High Priest) of Antipop Consortium for over a decade, and Senegalese rapper Gaston Bandimic for six years. In Gaston’s Wolof language, “sélébéyone” refers to an intersection; a liminal terrain where two fixed entities meet and transform themselves into something heretofore unknown. This is some truly mind blowing, next level shit. A Tribe Called Quest, welcome back, and RIP Phife Dawg. You got it from here, no doubt. Dangling below the lucky 13 are Show Me The Body, Kano, Ka, Kendrick Lamar (sorry, those are just leftovers), Death Grips, Danny Brown, BadBadNotGood, Joey Purp, Kamaiyah and Future.

  1. Steve Lehman – Sélébéyone (Pi) | Bandcamp
  2. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic) | Buy
  3. Dälek – Asphalt For Eden (Profound Lore) | Bandcamp
  4. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Rhymesayers) | Bandcamp
  5. De La Soul – And The Anonymous Nobody (Rough Trade) | Buy
  6. Mulatu Astatke + Black Jesus Experience – Cradle Of Humanity (BJX) | Bandcamp
  7. Noname – Telefone (Noname) | Bandcamp
  8. Skepta – Konnichiwa (Boy Better Know)
  9. Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book (Chance)
  10. Babyfather – BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow (Hyperdub) | Bandcamp
  11. Common – Black America Again (Def Jam)
  12. Moor Mother – Fetish Bones (Stones Throw) | Bandcamp
  13. Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos (Fiction)

Late Additions

It is pretty much impossible to capture all the albums that would make my top 100 for my mid-December self-imposed deadline. Here’s a few that you may not have seen the first time around. Just outside the list, Jenny Besetzt, Birthing Hips, Sunwatchers, Russian post-punkers Vnutrennee Sgoranie, The Dwarfs Of East Agouza, Flyying Colours and Striker.

  1. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Talk Tight (Ivy League) | Bandcamp
  2. The Urges – Time Will Pass (Mersol) | Buy
  3. Astronoid – Air (Blood Music) | Bandcamp
  4. The Early Years – II (Sonic Cathedral) | Bandcamp
  5. Chook Race – Around The House (Trouble In Mind) | Bandcamp
  6. As Ondas – Marés (Jigsaw) | Bandcamp
  7. Glintshake – ОЭЩ МАГЗИУ (Sez Store) (Kometa) | Bandcamp
  8. The Frightnrs – Nothing More To Say (Daptone) | Bandcamp
  9. JuJu – JuJu (Cobraside) | Bandcamp
  10. Ravensire  – The Cycle Never Ends (Cruz Del Sur) | Bandcamp
  11. Abayomy Afrobeat Orquestra – Abra Sua Cabeça (Abayomy) | YouTube
  12. Day Wave – Headcase/Hard To Read (Grand Jury) | Buy
  13. Moon Tooth – Chromaparagon (Moon Tooth) | Bandcamp

Reissues

There’s no shortage of expansive deluxe reissues, but perhaps not so many that really perk my interest. So it’s always a treat when a not extremely well known post-punk band gets such a treatment, like the magnificent box set lovingly assembled by Numero Group of nearly the complete recorded output of Australia’s The Scientists, A Place Called Bad (4 CDs, $38). Australia’s pre-punk, punk and post-punk scene has always been somewhat underrated due to being geographically removed from the rest of the action in the UK and the U.S. The Saints mostly got the credit that was due them, but Radio Birdman, not so much. The Birthday Party kind of did thanks largely to the strength of Nick Cave’s later career. Perhaps most overlooked of all were The Scientists, despite the fact that they an important part of the scene. Kim Salmon (Cheap Nasties, 1976-77) joined the Exterminators, who then became the Invaders, and by 1978, were known as The Scientists. They self-released their first single, “Frantic Romantic”/”Shake (Together Tonight)” in June 1979, and their debut self-titled album (otherwise known as The Pink Album) came out in 1981. At that point they were still a mix of rough-hewn garage punk, and plenty of melodic power pop. Then they broke up. Salmon reformed the second of many iterations of the Scientists the next year, with a much more sinister concoction of swamp blues and garage noir that shared a lot of kinship with what The Birthday Party, The Cramps and Gun Club were doing at the time, with additional influences from The Stooges, Suicide and Captain Beefheart.  There were also reissues of The Sound, The Heptones, Vivien Goldman, The Passions, Soundgarden, Temple Of The Dog.

The Scientists - A Place Called Bad (Numero Group, 1979-87)

  1. The Scientists – A Place Called Bad (Numero Group, 1978-87)
  2. Grace Jones – Warm Leatherette (Island, 1980)
  3. Public Image Ltd. – Metal Box (1979)
  4. Screaming Blue Messiahs, Vision In Blues (Easy Action, 1984-89)
  5. Game Theory – Lolita Nation (Omnivore, 1987)
  6. Metallica – Ride The Lightning Deluxe (Rhino/Blackened, 1984)
  7. Otis Redding – Live At The Whisky A Go Go: The Complete Recordings (Stax, 1967)
  8. Big Star – Complete Third (Omnivore, 1975)
  9. Lou Reed – The RCA & Arista Albums Collection (Sony Legacy)
  10. Metallica – Kill ‘Em All Deluxe (Rhino/Blackened, 1983)
  11. Game Theory – Big Shot Chronicles (Omnivore, 1986)
  12. I’m A Freak Baby: A Journey Through The British Heavy Psych And Hard Rock Underground Scene 1968-72 (Cherry Red/Grapefruit)
  13. The Bevis Frond – New River Head (Fire, 1991)

New Old Discoveries

In addition to the hundreds of new albums, I’m also constantly discovering old music. Many of them are names I was familiar with, but never got around to hearing until now. Some I’m embarrassed to admit, I don’t know how the heck I missed them, like Holly And The Italians and Sunnyboys. I’m not as thorough at keeping track of these, I basically dug through the new additions of CD rips and flac files in my MediaMonkey playlist until I got exhausted. Others that could have made it are albums by Polyvinyl, William Onyeabor, Camberwell Now, Veni Domine, Solstice, Roadelius, The Passions, 35007, Hypnos 69, Deux Filles, Godley & Creme, Jackie Leven, Dark Suns, The Bevis Frond, The Gathering, The Undisputed Truth, Adrian Belew, Wally Badarou, The Fuzztones, Manfred Mann, Really Red, Celestogramme, The Screaming Tribesmen, The Steppes, Silver Sun, Moving Targets, Saccharine Trust and many more.

  1. Junior Delahaye – Showcase (Wackie’s, 1982)
  2. Holly And The Italians – The Right To Be Italian (Virgin/Wounded Bird, 1981)
  3. The Flys – Waikiki Beach Refugees (EMI/Captain Oi!, 1978)
  4. Doll By Doll – Gypsy Blood (Automatic, 1979)
  5. Truly – Fast Stories…From Kid Coma (Capitol, 1995)
  6. The Distractions – Nobody’s Perfect (Island, 1980)
  7. Sunnyboys – Sunnyboys (Mushroom/Festival, 1981)
  8. My Dad Is Dead – The Taller You Are, The Shorter You Get (Homestead, 1989)
  9. The Black Watch – The End Of When (Pop Culture Press, 2013)
  10. Tom Robinson Band – Power In The Darkness (EMI, 1978)
  11. Toiling Midgets – Sea Of Unrest (Rough Trade, 1982)
  12. Kebnekaise – Kebnekaise II (Silence, 1973)
  13. Roky Erickson And The Aliens – The Evil One (415/Light In The Attic, 1981)

Shows

Somehow I made it to about 40 shows this year, the most I’ve been to in years and years. It’s nothing of course compared to when I’d go to up to 5 shows a week in my 20s, but still pretty good. There’s nothing like seeing Iron Maiden live, and this year’s show was special because of Bruce Dickinson’s triumphant recovery from tongue cancer, and the fact that they released their best album in decades last year. Roadburn Festival’s lineup was quite different than I would have expected for being curated by Lee Dorian, but it was an amazing experience. This year was Black Sabbath’s farewell tour, and they closed their career with awesome performances. Also great were Dungen, Boogarins, Castle, Satan, Alan Cummings (!), God Is An Astronaut, Chicago Symphony Orchestra doing Holst’s The Planets, L7, Mars Red Sky, Melvins, White Denim, Femi Kuti, Heart, Joan Jett, Cheap Trick, Black Mountain, Doug Tuttle, Kikagaku Moyo, Steve Gunn, Dead Meadow, Night Demon, King Sunny Ade, Holy Grail and Babes In Toyland.

iron-maiden-live-2016

  1. IRON MAIDEN, United Center, 4/6
  2. ROADBURN FESTIVAL – Blood Ceremony, Green Carnation, Ecstatic Vision, With The Dead, Carousel, Diamanda Galas, Tilberg, Netherlands, 4/14-17
  3. BLACK SABBATH, United Center, 1/22
  4. RIOT FEST: SYD ARTHUR, MISFITS, SPECIALS Douglas Park, 9/16-9/18
  5. HORISONT, Reggie’s, 11/5
  6. SAINT VITUS, THE SKULL, WITCH MOUNTAIN, Reggie’s, 10/10
  7. THE OBSESSED, Beat Kitchen, 5/22
  8. PURSON, Subterranean, 5/23
  9. ALEHORN OF POWER IX: PROFESSOR BLACK, ARGUS, Reggie’s, 11/12
  10. DOOMED & STONED: BRIMSTONE COVEN, DEMON EYE, PALE DIVINE, 5TH Quarter Lounge, Indianapolis, 11/19
  11. GOLDEN VOID, Empty Bottle, 1/25
  12. BARONESS, PALLBEARER, Metro, 8/21
  13. TOOTS & THE MAYTALS, LEE PERRY, Addams/Medil Park, 8/13

Videos

Nearly 300 videos, I don’t watch them enough to really rank them. Dig in at your own risk, ‘tubers!

Actually this is by far the best video of the year, and the one I watched multiple times, heh.

Movies

ghostbusters-2016Those who have paid attention to my movie lists know by now that I hate most Oscar bait movies, dramas, serious art films, thrillers and horror. I have not seen most of the Oscar bait movies that are released toward the end of the year as I don’t make it to the theaters very often. What does that leave? Mostly cartoons and comedy, some sci fi, and music documentaries! And Ghostbusters! I can’t believe the backlash I read about the movie. Well here’s a shocker, in many ways it’s better than the original. Yeah I said it. It’s funnier. Kate McKinnon blows everyone away, not only stealing scenes, but blowing away the original. It’s true that the story of the original was better, and having re-watched it just before seeing the new one, it does hold up fairly well. But for example, look at Annie Potts’ secretary character. She’s fawning over Harold Ramis’ character Dr. Egon because he seems the most stable of the ‘busters who could provide financial security. It’s as if it were 1954, not 1984. Yuck. The new movie did a brilliant job in subverting and satirizing the original’s misogynist shortcomings.

Have not yet seen: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Midnight Special, Moonlight, Love & Friendship, Arrival, Moana, Don’t Think Twice, Manchester By The Sea, Little Men, Doctor Strange, Eye In The Sky, Only Yesterday, The Witch, La La Land, The Lobster.

  1. Ghostbusters
  2. Zootopia
  3. Sing Street
  4. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
  5. Kung Fu Panda 3
  6. Ice Age: Collision Course
  7. Deadpool
  8. Kudo And The Two Strings
  9. Star Trek Beyond
  10. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
  11. The Jungle Book
  12. The Boss
  13. X-Men: Apocalypse

Also decent: Mr. Right, Race, The Nice Guys, Pete’s Dragon, The Secret Life Of Pets, The Family Fang, I Saw The Light, Jason Bourne, Nina, Gimme Danger, Captain America: Civil War, Norm Of The North, Everybody Wants Some, Cafe Society, The Angry Birds Movie, Hail Caesar!, Ratchet & Clank, Miles Ahead, One More Time, Sausage Party, Finding Dory, Suicide Squad, The Conjuring 2.

Television

stranger-things-2016Some During one of TV’s seasonal lulls in the summer, I watched the entire Downton Abbey series. It’s not something I’d have imagined being into, but wow, it was great. We really are at a high point in quality television. Will it be economically sustainable, or will reality TV take over? Only time and money will tell. But if Netflix comes out with more stuff at the level of the amazing Stranger Things and the Gilmore Girls revival and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I won’t mind so much paying my monthly fees for both streaming and blu-rays. Preacher was a brilliant comic by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. The show takes plenty of liberties with the story, which I don’t mind, as it makes for some surprises, and it serves the show better than the original comic would have. Most importantly it retains the demented blacker than black humor. The third season of Nordic noir series The Bridge was only available on European region discs, but luckily I have a player that will work with them. Totally worth buying.

  1. Stranger Things
  2. Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life
  3. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  4. Preacher
  5. The Bridge
  6. Broad City
  7. Chewing Gum
  8. Search Party
  9. The Get Down
  10. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
  11. Crashing
  12. Love
  13. Endeavor

Also good (well, at least entertaining): Grantchester, Inspector Lewis, Inside Amy Schumer, Maron, American Housewife, Good Behavior, Elementary, Better Things, Marcella, Marvel’s Davedevil & Luke Cage, The Good Place, Vikings, Game Of Thrones, Grace And Frankie, Mindy Project, Married, Louie, Indian Summers, SNL, The Good Wife, You’re The Worst, Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Big Bang Theory, Gotham, Portlandia, Marry Me, Another Period,  Younger, Vinyl, Roadies.

Books

reynolds-shockAfter Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past (2011), I was concerned that Simon Reynolds’ days of writing about music were over, and that might be his kiss-off to music culture that he deemed no longer relevant or interesting. I’m relieved that’s not the case, as Reynolds is one of the all-time best at what he does, which is to examine historical musical moments in both great detail and scope, taking in account the politics, literature, philosophy and general cultural environment that helped shape it. Shock And Awe is even better than Rip It Up And Start Again, the definitive account of post-punk he seemed born to write. Perhaps because of childhood nostalgia, the stories he reveals, even the dark ones, are told with an air of warm affection. David Bowie of course looms the largest throughout, and Reynolds does not pull punches, as he interrogates Bowie’s politically suspect Thin White Duke era of the mid seventies when he was regularly expressing his admiration for fascism. While Bowie tried to brush off those quotes, claiming he was on so many drugs he didn’t know what he was saying, Reynolds supplied plenty of evidence that Bowie was quite lucid and consistent in what he said. Nevertheless, that phase did pass and Reynolds did share the intense sadness he felt when Bowie died just as he was finishing the book. While the other big stars (T. Rex, Roxy Music, Slade, Gary Glitter, Sweet) are all accounted for, Reynolds also reliably examines pretty much all of the lesser-knowns and ancillary players such as Sparks (they were an influence on Queen, who knew? Simon did!), Be Bop Deluxe, Cockney Rebel, Jobriath and many more. Did you know that Shaun Cassidy started out fronting an Iggy-worshipping band called Longfellow? At 704 pages, it’s by far the best, definitive history of glam you’ll ever find.

ellis-normalSee the asterisk next to Alan Moore’s Jerusalem? That means I haven’t finished it. I’m just under halfway. Reviews and friends have reassured me that it’ll be worth the slog through the early parts, but yeah, I can easily see this 1,280 page monster of a novel being like Joyce’s Ulysses, Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow or Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, books that more people have pretended to read than actually read.  It’s definitely less accessible than Moore’s comic work, such as the classic Watchmen. Some say From Hell is the best thing he ever did, but I think it’s The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Like Moore, Warren Ellis is one of the all-time greatest comic writers (Transmetropolitan, Planetary, The Authority and many more). His three novels are quite different. They’re short, dark, funny and succinct. His latest, Normal, is a techno thriller, and at 160 pages, can be read in just a day or two. A group of foresight strategists and strategic forecasters suffering from “abyss gaze” find themselves at a mental health retreat deep in the woods of Oregon. While there is plenty of fascinating stuff about the ways these people are paid to either evade an apocalypse or to prepare via geopolitical upheavel and drone warfare for Our Coming Doom, my favorite bits are the humor, dark as the abyss. One genius gone bonkers piles abuse on the hero such as “pale frost creature asshole…snow-colored mutant fuck” and “you fucking northern cave gimp.” Never change, Warren Ellis.

  1. Simon Reynolds – Shock And Awe: Glam Rock And Its Legacy from the Seventies to the Twenty-first Century
  2. Warren Ellis – Normal: A Novel
  3. Alan Moore – Jerusalem*
  4. Matthew Norman – We’re All Damaged
  5. Ben Myers – Turning Blue
  6. Nathan Carson – Starr Creek
  7. D.C. Farmer – The Bewilderment (The Hipposync Archives of Supernatural Thrillers and Urban Fantasy Crime, #4)
  8. David Wong – Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits: A Novel (2015)
  9. Ben Greenman – Emotional Rescue: Essays on Love, Loss and Life with a Soundtrack
  10. Michael Veal – Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae (2013)
  11. Sean Murphy – Not To Mention A Nice Life
  12. Jon Fine – Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear)
  13. Frank Portman – King Dork Approximately

Haven’t read yet:

Michael Chabon – Moonglow
Bruce Sterling – Pirate Utopia
Jonathan Lethem – A Gambler’s Anatomy
Jonathan Saffron Foer – Here I Am
Nathan Hill – The Nix

Comics

saga-40Last year I moved a dozen miles away from my favorite comic shop and sadly had to cancel my pull list. I switched to reading them on the Kindle Fire, which kind of sucks. But at least I don’t have piles of read comics I don’t know what to do with. Not browsing the shelves every Wednesday to see all the new releases leaves me feeling a little out of touch with the comic world. You’d think there’d be an easy way to subscribe to digital comics, but no. So months go by and I forget to look for a title (it doesn’t help that some like Sex Criminals and Injection seem to be on hiatus, and forget what’s going on in the storyline.  Saga has been the one title to keep me the most consistently engaged. Sadly, I just recently read the final issue of Chew, one of my all-time favorites. I wonder if I can still get a Chog for X-mas? The Fade Out concluded back in January, and I don’t think I even realized it. Talk about anti-climactic.

  1. Saga – Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
  2. Chew – John Layman, Rob Guillory
  3. Injection – Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire
  4. Archangel – William Gibson, Michael St. John Smith, Butch Guice
  5. Cry Havoc – Simon Spurrier
  6. Karnak – Warren Ellis, Gerardo Zaffino, David Aja
  7. Black Panther – Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze
  8. Sex Criminals – Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky
  9. Huck – Mark Millar, Rafael Albuquerque
  10. Monstress – Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda
  11. Paper Girls – Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang

Audio Gear

ifi-pro-stackSometimes I toss in an extra list of whatever else I’ve been into. In the past I’ve listed some beers and bourbons. A year after settling into a new home, I did some shopping for some audio gear. The four items at top are ones I bought, at least one (one of the ZMFs) I plan to buy, and others I would buy if I could! One of the best bangs for the buck was the beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro headphones, which in many ways surpasses their T1 flagship (reviewed here). I finally decided to pull the trigger for an upgrade to my trusty Meier Audio Corda Classic and Daccord stack, and got the iFiAudio Pro iCAN headphone amplifier, pictured above in a stack with the upcoming iDSD DAC and iCAN ESL, a module that can drive any electrostatic headphone. In my new south side home with the open floor plan, it’s impossible to treat the room to sound very good to do justice to my Wharfedale Opus setup, so I sold the center and surround speakers, moved the big floorstanders to the Psychedelic DOOM Lair, and got a top of the line soundbar and subwoofer from Saturday Audio Exchange by GoldenEar at a good sale price well under the $1,600 list. Last but not least, I will soon hopefully be able to borrow a pair of the new ZMF Atticus & Eikon headphones to review with my new Pro iCAN amp. The last four entries are what I felt are other good headphone bargains. I need to give Oppo a shout-out too. I did not get the new UDP-203 because there is little available 4K content, but I got a BD-103 universal disc player, modified to play all regions so I could watch some European Nordic Noir blu-ray discs not available in the U.S. After years of finicky, cheap players with slow load times and problems playing discs, this thing was well worth the investment. The new player looks like a good deal too, though it does not have certain features like Netflix streaming that the 103 has.

  1. beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro dynamic open headphones ($600)
  2. iFiAudio Pro iCAN headphone amplifier, both solid state and tube ($1,699)
  3. GoldenEar Supercinema 3D Array XL soundbar ($1,600) & Forcefield 4 subwoofer ($699)
  4. Oppo UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-Ray player ($550)
  5. ZMF Atticus & Eikon headphones ($999 & $1,299)
  6. Focal Utopia headphones ($4,000)
  7. Mrspeakers Ether Flow headphones ($1,800)
  8. Grace Design x Massdrop m9XX DAC/Amp ($499)
  9. Sony MDR-Z1R headphones ($2,300)
  10. AudioQuest NightOwl Carbon closed headphones ($699)
  11. Meze 99 Classics headphones ($309)
  12. Sennheiser x Massdrop HD 6XX ($200)
  13. HiFiMAN x Massdrop HE-350 headphones ($100)

Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2015
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2014
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2013
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2012
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2011
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2010
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2009
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2008
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2007
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2006
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2005
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2004
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2003
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2002
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2001
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2000
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 1999
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 1998
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 1997

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