Fester’s Lucky 13: 2017 Year-End Summary

2017-lucky-13

Top 100 Albums of 2017 |  Spotify Mix | 2017 Breakdown: Genre Lists | Shows, Videos | Movies, Television, Books & Comics

There’s a distinct possibility that demons and devils in their various guises are misunderstood. Folkore and popular culture often imagine them as corrupting influencers, whispering in our ears to do evil. But does this make sense in regards to their day jobs, to punish the wicked? During the holidays, Krampus, also known as Knecht Ruprecht, Certa, Perchten, Black Peter, Schmutzli, Pelznickel and Klaubauf, is saddled with this task. Perhaps he’s an industrious devil who has a quota to fill and enjoys being busy. Or perhaps he’d rather be watching Golden Girls re-runs in his slippers with a glass of Scotch, or listening to music. There’s no shortage of truly vile villains today who very, very badly need to be punished. Or how about just stopped, before we reach an extinction event? However I hope our long-suffering devils can catch a break and enjoy some tunes too.

What better way to celebrate the Holidaze than with the Devil’s music? Once upon a time that meant everything but devotional music, not just rock ‘n’ roll. When gospel star Sam Cooke made his first foray into secular pop music (later considered soul), it was a pretty scandalous in his community. Later, heavy metal drew most of the focus of fear and loathing from the Moral Majority/PMRC, and some hip hop/rap. Metal has lost much of it’s threatening aura over the years when most musicians in the genre were revealed as simply hairy, tattooed cuddlebears who like cats and tea as much as your favorite auntie. However it remains an excellent vehicle to express rage, apocalyptic dread and cosmic horror. Okay, I like some traditional metal, which includes topics such as winning (triumphing over your enemies in battle or music trivia nights), beer, dragons, history, war, literature, the occult, space, being metal, but also cosmic horror.

Some of the most devastating, anguished music this year were in the folk, art pop and industrial genres. Some of the most beautiful was guitar music. About that, I see the backlash against guitars is still fairly strong. I know that wrongs had to be righted, disco validated, rockism put in its place, but in 2017, all the instruments have been around before we were born. We don’t simply give up on instruments and styles because they’re old, otherwise there would be absolutely no drums and percussion, no singing, no string based instruments at all. Anyway, guitars or not, there’s still a fair amount of joy, beauty and humor to be found throughout the 900 plus albums in my list. While I do touch on nearly every genre except I suppose modern opera, full disclosure, I do have my favorite styles. For those who haven’t followed my year-end lists for the past 20 years, or even the past couple, my areas of strength are traditional heavy metal, doom, hard rock, stoner, psych, psych prog, garage psych/punk/noir, post-punk, jangle pop, and Afrobeat! Most other areas I just dabble in, so take that into consideration.

I’ve had all kinds of political rants run through my head this year, but man, I don’t have the energy. If you want to do this site’s patrons Dr. Fester, Mr. Bulbous and Professor Beefheart a solid, do something kind for both a person and a critter. Help bring some balance to the overload of toxicity we’re experiencing right now. That is all.

Comeback

There was a few to choose from, including Peter Perrett,  Slowdive, The Dream Syndicate, Ride and Game Theory (a crowdfunded project of various musicians joining the original band to sing Miller’s songs). The Obsessed, however, takes the prize of the best comeback, with Sacred, their first new album in 23 years, and holds up very well next to their earlier work. When I did my Wino piece four years ago, I got one of my two wishes. I wanted a new Obsessed album, and I wanted a Wino doll. I’ll gladly take the album!

Debut

Australian post-punk/jangle pop group RVG, originally known as Romy Vager Group. It’s a short, scrappy album that slayed me. Also in the top 25, Teen Judge, Telekinetic Yeti, Taiga Woods.

Overrated

Some say the concept of “overrated” is unhelpful in criticism. Not true. It’s supposed to be one of the key roles of cultural criticism, to explain why a play, movie, book, concert or album may not have been successful. However therapeutic negative criticism can be at times, it seems to create a bundle of negative energy that can explode in our faces. It’s why I don’t bother with negative reviews, when there’s far more good music out there than I have time to write about. A recent reminder was when I was critical of an album that addressed the death of a loved one. Good grief are people touchy. I’m not even going to go there, just stick with the low-hanging fruit. LCD Soundsystem, American Dream. It’s currently #2 after Kendrick Lamar in the AOTY aggregate. I liked the previous albums, and even kind of like some parts of the new one. But their portrayal in  Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me in the Bathroom, was unintentionally unflattering, from the cringe comedy of Murphy’s ecstasy-fueled epiphany about dance music to the ridiculously pompous LCD farewell show at Madison Square Garden. Now just three years after that was packaged and sold as a three DVD set called The Long Goodbye, I couldn’t help but think, back already? Give me a longer absence so I can start to think about missing them! Anyway, the album is okay but not remotely great.

Other artists whose albums I’ve refrained from listening all the way through cuz I don’t fucking have to: Father John Misty, Jay-Z, Tyler the Creator, Drake, Ryan Adams.

Underrated

Once again, every single album in my top 13. However I’m particularly shocked about Algiers. It’s not like post-punk hasn’t gotten critical love. This year Protomartyr (37 in the aggregate), Idles, Sleaford Mods and Priests have gotten many more mentions on year-end lists than Algiers, which I had assumed was a lock for top 10. I don’t get it! Blah, whatever. If you like those bands, stay tuned for a post-punk list that will blow your mind.

Disappointment

There must be a reason that I placed U2’s Songs Of Experience at the ass-end of my list. It’s not the worst album I heard all year — plenty of others didn’t make my list because they weren’t worth the bother. But for a brief time about 34 years ago, sandwiched between ELO, Rush and Iron Maiden, U2 were my favorite band. And it pains me to see how utterly bland and boring they’ve become. Sure, everyone ages, and they still sell albums and fill stadiums, but a small part of me, perhaps my former 13 year-old self, still has hope that they could summon up some of that passion and edge (sic) they used to have.

Countries

I have this in my database, but have not yet made it accessible in my lists, so here’s a breakdown of the albums per country. For a relatively small population, Norway killed it with half their albums making the top 100.

global-2017
US – 361
UK – 158
Sweden – 47
Australia – 44
Canada – 39
Germany – 24
Norway – 20
Italy – 18
Finland – 12
France – 9
Japan – 9
Denmark – 8
New Zealand – 8
Poland – 8
Mali – 7
Brazil – 6
Netherlands – 6
Spain – 7
Belgium – 3
Chile – 3
Greece – 3
Portugal – 3
China – 2
Iceland – 2
Mexico – 2
Ukraine – 2
Argentina – 2

Fester’s Lucky 13 – The Best Albums of 2017

01. Motorpsycho – The Tower (Rune Grammofon/Stickman)

motorpsycho-tower

Ah double albums, who doesn’t love them? Even now that most people stream, a double album still seems to command attention. When Kamasi Washington came out with The Epic (2015), suddenly everyone was listening to jazz. At least that album. It wasn’t close to the best jazz album, but dude, The Epic! I kind of hoped something similar would happen to The Tower by Norway’s Motorpsycho. It has a similarly suggestive album title, towering over all other lesser albums who should bow down in deference to their Nordic masters. But so far, among the 50+ year-end lists I’ve seen so far, not a single mention of it. Crickets. Perhaps it’s because this is the band’s sixth double album? Yes, they have an overwhelming large catalog of 18 albums not including EPs and collaborations since they formed in the late 80s. So it’s no small accomplishment that the band created arguably their best work this far into their career. I know they are a big deal in Europe. The BBC’s Stuart Maconie recognized it as one of his favorites this year. While the band has covered a pretty wide scope of sounds ranging from indie/noise/avant rock, symphonic jazz and even country, this one is relatively focused on the psych prog hard rock hybrid they’ve done so well in fine-tuning off and on the last 20 years. For me it hits that sweet spot of complexity, melody and simply engrossing music that takes me to another place. No other album came close for me. | Full Review

02. Elder – Reflections Of A Floating World (Armageddon)

elder-reflections

Since 2008, Boston based Elder has come a long way, evolving from a fairly standard stoner doom band with some nice guitar tones, to their current incarnation which has some people at a loss as to how to pigenhole them. No longer doom, and not sharing much in common with current metal bands, they are nevertheless heavy as ever, just with more elements of prog, psych, space rock and other various obscure 70s influences that Nick DiSalvo is into (check out his eclectic Spotify playlist). The hard-touring band has criss-crossed North American and Europe several times the past few years, winning converts at every show and slowly building a sizable following. They’ve even been getting thrown some year-end list bones, including Rolling Stone’s metal list. I don’t see them ever jumping to a QOTSA level of popularity, but perhaps Baroness? Either way, this band rules, word is spreading, and those who need to hear them probably will. | Full Review

03. Algiers – The Underside Of Power (Matador)

algiers-underside

Two years ago Algiers jolted nodding heads with a potent hybrid of post-punk, gospel, blues and post-industrial noise. With members split between the U.S. and UK, it was recorded just as the horrific political events were unfolding in both countries. While there are some pop elements such as the Motown influenced title track, it’s no surprise that their second album sounds overall more harsh, savage and angry. Zeal & Ardor briefly got more attention for mixing gospel and black metal, which was no doubt interesting. But Algiers to me sounds like the best protest music I’ve heard all year. Why it’s not being recognized for it is a complete mystery. | Full Review

04. Spirit Adrift – Curse Of Conception (20 Buck Spin)

spirit-adrift-curse-lg

20 Buck Spin, the heavy metal record label named after a classic Pentagram song, has been on quite a hot streak these past few years with Magic Circle’s triumphant second album Journey Blind (2015), Khemmis’ Hunted (2016) and now Spirit Adrift’s second album. This trio are arguably the best traditional heavy metal albums of the 2010s. On the surface, heavy metal bands like Spirit Adrift may seem like a dime a dozen. And while Nate Garrett can’t belt out vocals with the best, he is a great songwriter, who infuses his love of classic metal with also bits of southern rock, country, space prog and even a bit of gothic post-punk. This outstanding album deserves to transcend a limit genre audience. | Full Review

05. Troubled Horse – Revolution On Repeat (Rise Above)

troubled-horse-revolution-lg

Speaking of great labels, Lee Dorrian’s Rise Above label has put out dozens of my favorite albums over the years. But they remain a small operation, which means some bands outgrow them (Electric Wizard, Purson), or they lack the resources to help out their bands with skilled management, leading to premature breakups (The Oath, The Hidden Masters). I was worried Troubled Horse was going to meet a similar fate, as their 2012 masterpiece Step Inside was ignored pretty much on all fronts. Thankfully after a long, long five year wait, they’re back and nearly as great. I say nearly as I was slightly disappointed at first that they mostly shed some of their swing and twang, pretty unique qualities in a Swedish hard rock band that shares a history and members with the likes of Witchcraft, Graveyard and Spiders. Nevertheless, the album remained a highlight of my playlist all year, and I’m still not tired of it. They just wrapped up a European tour with Graveyard. They really, really should accompany Graveyard on the North American leg. Fingers crossed! | Full Review

06. Ufomammut – 8 (Neurot)

ufomammut-8

And now ladies and gentleman, we begin the cosmic horror portion of our program. Yas! While there’s an abundance of brutal sludge metal, Italian cosmonauts Ufomammut’s brand of Cosmic Doom Psych Sludge is something I never tire of. I’ve worked eight hour stretches to nothing but Ufomammut. I could watch their extensive videos on loop. I think the key is that while Cthulhu style apocalyptic dread is one component of their themes, their colorful, psychedelic vision also offers some hope, if far fetched, that we’ll stumble upon a portal into a dimension where extinction in our lifetimes is not guaranteed. But mostly it’s all about horror and dread, because we likely deserve our doom. This will most likely be playing when the power goes out. | Full Review

07. Jess And The Ancient Ones – The Horse And Other Weird Tales (Svart)

jess-horse

My genre label “psych noir” hasn’t caught on yet, but there’s still great bands that makes it a useful concept. Finland’s Jess And The Ancient Ones have matured into a force to be reckoned with on their third album, particularly with Jess’s increasingly accomplished vocals. She can let loose a Grace Slick klaxon call on the rockers, and deliver nuanced, soulful performances. With Purson calling it a day, I was stoked to hear this album late in the year.

08. The Feelies – In Between (Bar/None)

The Feelies - In Between (Bar/None, 2017)

It’s been an excellent couple years for jangle pop, but no one can touch one of the originators from the post-punk era, The Feelies. Originally conceived as an arty mix of Brian Eno and kosmische influences, The Feelies worked out a sound in the late 70s at CBGBs gigs that was more driving than jangly with the post-punk masterpiece Crazy Rhythms (1980). But their long-awaited followup The Good Earth (1986), produced by R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, was a highlight of bucolic jangle. On their sixth album they revisit that era, but with a fresh, modern take in one of the most endlessly listenable albums of the year. | Full Review

09. RVG – A Quality Of Mercy (Our Golden Friend/Island)

rvg-a-quality

Australia is spilling over with so much great new post-punk and jangle pop bands these days, it’s nearly impossible to keep up. If it weren’t for blogs like Raven Sings The Blues and The Finest Kiss, I might have completely missed this one. It’s appropriate that the standout album is a mix of those genres with Romy Vager incorporating The Go-Betweens with early U2, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Cure and Patti Smith. Vager has a unique voice, inflected with more life experience than you would expect from one so young. Vager shares some of her story in being independent at a young age and dealing with coming out as a transgender in this interview. I really look forward to hearing more from RVG.

10. Male Gaze – Miss Taken (Castle Face)

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}

Funny how bands on the Castle Face label are absolutely dominating the garage psych scene this year, yet my favorite of the batch has been pretty much completely overlooked. Is it the bad pun of the name that put people off? The rejection of streaming services? The fusion of dark, brooding post-punk and psych? Cuz that’s just like crack to me. It’s probably a combination of those factors, and they aren’t touring. Either way, fans of the label’s other bands are missing out big time by ignoring them. Maybe time to hit the road, guys! | Full Review

11. The Dials – That Was The Future (Gear Discs)

dials-that

This Brighton group has been kicking around since 2002. I was vaguely aware of them, and while their first two albums are solid country psych, they got a lot more interesting on their third album, The End Of The Pier (2013), when they started to mix in some colorful swathes of psych prog and mostly moved on from the Americana fetish. Their fourth album is the payoff of this transition, a gorgeous piece of psych and prog pop. While there’s other bands that draw from similar influences in the 60s through 80s, there’s no one like The Dials. | Full Review

12. Amplifier – Trippin’ With Dr. Faustus (Rockosmos)

amplifier-trippin

This Manchester psych prog band formed in 1999 and have explored a wide range of territory from 1969-72 era Who/Floyd/Sabbath to 90s grunge and prog. Kind of like Motorpsycho, but with a much less sprawling body of work (just six albums), and a different outcome using similar tools. As I said in my review, whacky concepts, space freakouts, big fat riffs and thunderous low-end bass tones, what more can one want? On second thought, shouldn’t Amplifier be ruling the earth, occasionally plopping down on stadiums and festivals to snack on the adoration of millions? | Full Review

13. Colour Haze – In Her Garden (Elektrohasch)

colourhaze-in

I’ve gone back and forth all month as to who gets the coveted lucky 13 spot. Colour Haze or Causa Sui? Did the students, Causa Sui, surpass the master? Possibly. In fact, Colour Haze incorporates more jazz influences in this album, which has long been one of Causa Sui’s distinguishing features. It’s very nearly a tie, but today I’ll go with Colour Haze, who’s body of work really is something beautiful to behold. | Full Review

Beyond the top 100 below, there’s so much more great music, some of which is covered in the genre lists. Go here to view the entire 900+ album list for the year. There is so much good music. I mean, there are albums down deep in the 300s that I liked enough to buy. I may sell the CDs for space reasons, but I will be returning to the files. For example, albums by Wolf Alice, Flowers Must Die, Robyn Hitchcock, Ride, Total Leatherette, Dead Rider, Laurel Halo, Arca, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Björk, White Reaper, Endless Boogie, Peter Hammill, Wolves In The Throne Room, Songhoy Blues, The Heliocentrics, Sinkane, St. Vincent, Little Barrie, Lorde,  Grizzly Bear, Myrkur, The Horrors and The Clientele. People are really digging Hooray For The Riff Raff. I like ’em too. They’re #560, just to give you perspective. The idea of only top 10 or 20 being relevant is absurd. Limited ballots like that is what leads to the inevitable stale groupthink you see as documented on the AOTY aggregate chart. There are outlier lists that still take joy in a wider variety music, but the majority of these publications are just depressing. The world may have turned to shit politically, but the one thing that is NOT depressing is the state of music. Here’s the proof in the pudding. | Spotify Mix Playlist

  1. Causa Sui – Vibraciones Doradas (El Paraiso)
  2. Circuit des Yeux – Reaching For Indigo (Drag City) | Bandcamp
  3. Teen Judge – Teen Judge (Berthed Futurist) | Buy
  4. Pallbearer – Heartless (Profound Lore) | Bandcamp
  5. Royal Thunder – Wick (Spinefarm) | Buy
  6. Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos (Nuclear Blast) | Buy
  7. Telekinetic Yeti – Abominable (Sump Pump) | Bandcamp
  8. Taiga Woods – Taiga Woods (Taiga Woods) | Bandcamp
  9. The Black Watch – The Gospel According To John (Pop Culture Press) | Bandcamp
  10. Purple Hill Witch – Celestial Cemetry (Church Within) | Bandcamp
  11. Dead Quiet – Grand Rites (Artoffact) | Bandcamp
  12. Hard Action – Hot Wired Beat (Svart) | Bandcamp
  13. Queens Of The Stone Age – Villains (Matador) | Bandcamp
  14. Horisont – About Time (Century Media) | Buy
  15. Spectral Haze – Turning Electric (Totem Cat) | Bandcamp
  16. Mythic Sunship – Land Between Rivers (El Paraiso) | Bandcamp
  17. Chris Forsyth & the Solar Motel Band – Dreaming In The Non-Dream (No Quarter) | Bandcamp
  18. The Obsessed – Sacred (Relapse) | Bandcamp
  19. Wand – Plum (Drag City) | Bandcamp
  20. Spidergawd – IV (Crispin Glover/Stickman) | Buy
  21. Red Mountains – Slow Wander (All Good Clean) | Bandcamp
  22. The Devil And The Almighty Blues – II (Blues For The Red Sun) | Bandcamp
  23. Dreadnought – A Wake In Sacred Waves (Sailor) | Bandcamp
  24. Sekel – Sekel (Fuzz Club) 15-Dec | Bandcamp
  25. Circle – Terminal (Southern Lord) | Bandcamp
  26. The Doomsday Kingdom – The Doomsday Kingdom (Nuclear Blast)
  27. Flat Worms – Flat Worms (Castle Face) | Buy
  28. Wet Lips – Wet Lips (Hysterical) | Bandcamp
  29. H.Grimace – Self Architect (Opposite Number) | Buy
  30. L.A. Witch – L.A. Witch (Suicide Squeeze) | Bandcamp
  31. Kadavar – Rough Times (Nuclear Blast) | Buy
  32. Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent (Domino) | Bandcamp
  33. Orion – Orion (Cool Death/Paradise Daily) | Bandcamp
  34. Demon Eye – Prophecies And Lies (Soulseller) | Bandcamp
  35. Argus – From Fields Of Fire (Cruz Del Sur) | Bandcamp
  36. Ty Segall – Ty Segall (Drag City) | Bandcamp
  37. All Them Witches – Sleeping Through The War (New West) | Bandcamp
  38. Cable Ties – Cable Ties (Poison City) | Bandcamp
  39. With The Dead – Love From With The Dead (Rise Above) | Buy
  40. Papir – V (Stickman) | Bandcamp
  41. Ruby The Hatchet – Planetary Space Child (Tee Pee) | Bandcamp
  42. Caligula’s Horse – In Contact (InsideOut) | Buy
  43. Bottle Tree – Bottle Tree (International Anthem) | Bandcamp
  44. Plastic Crimewave Syndicate – Thunderbolt Of Flaming Wisdom (Cardinal Fuzz) | Bandcamp
  45. B Boys – Dada (Captured Tracks) | Bandcamp
  46. Chicago Afrobeat Project Featuring Tony Allen – What Goes Up (Chicago Afrobeat Project) | Buy
  47. Agusa – Agusa (Laser’s Edge) | Bandcamp
  48. Wobbler – From Silence To Somewhere (Karisma) | Bandcamp
  49. Grave Pleasures – Motherblood (Century Media) | Buy
  50. Dope Smoker – Legalize It (Dope Smoker) | Bandcamp
  51. Dead Lord – In Ignorance We Trust (Century Media)
  52. Blues Funeral – Awakening (Blues Funeral) | Bandcamp
  53. Lör – In Forgotten Sleep (Lör) | Bandcamp
  54. Zong – Zong (Praying Mantis/Cardinal Fuzz) | Bandcamp
  55. Moths & Locusts – Intro/Outro (Cardinal Fuzz) | Bandcamp
  56. Moon Duo – Occult Architecture Vol. 1 (Sacred Bones) | Bandcamp
  57. The Murlocs – Old Locomotive (Flightless) | Bandcamp
  58. The Janitors – Horn Ur Marken (Sky Lantern/Cardinal Fuzz) | Bandcamp
  59. Drab Majesty – The Demonstration (Dais) | Bandcamp
  60. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper (Profound Lore) | Bandcamp
  61. Monolord – Rust (RidingEasy) | Bandcamp
  62. Godflesh – Post Self (Avalanche) | Bandcamp
  63. Electric Wizard – Wizard Bloody Wizard (Spinefarm)
  64. Zebra Hunt – In Phrases (Tenorio Cotobade) | Bandcamp
  65. Galley Beggar – Heathen Hymns (Rise Above) | Buy
  66. INVSN – The Beautiful Stories (Dine Alone) | Buy
  67. Oh Sees – Orc (Castle Face) | Buy
  68. Gungfly – On Her Journey To The Sun (InsideOut) | Buy
  69. Beastmaker – Inside The Skull (Rise Above) | Bandcamp
  70. Elkhorn – The Black River (Debacle) | Bandcamp
  71. A Certain Smile – Fits & Starts (ACS) | Bandcamp
  72. Rips – Rips (Faux Discx) | Bandcamp
  73. Boris – Dear (Sargent House) | Bandcamp
  74. Sea Pinks – Watercourse (CF) | Bandcamp
  75. The World – First World Record (Upset the Rhythm) | Bandcamp
  76. Electric Eye – From The Poisonous Tree (Jansen) | Bandcamp
  77. Pagan Altar – Room Of Shadows (Temple of Mystery) | Bandcamp
  78. Desperate Journalist – Grow Up (Fierce Panda) | Bandcamp
  79. Märvel – At The Sunshine Factory (The Sign) | Bandcamp
  80. Night Viper – Exterminator (Listenable) | Bandcamp
  81. Agent Blå – Agent Blue (Luxury) | Bandcamp
  82. Priests – Nothing Feels Natural (Sister Polygon) | Bandcamp
  83. French Vanilla – French Vanilla (Danger Collective) | Bandcamp 
  84. Black Springs – When We Were Great (57761) | Bandcamp
  85. Cavalier Song – A Deep Well (God Unknown) | Bandcamp
  86. Mind Meld – Mind Meld (Permanent) | Bandcamp
  87. Sundays & Cybele – Chaos & Systems (Beyond Beyond Beyond) | Bandcamp

2016-cds

2017 Breakdown

If you want to deep dive some of these genres, there’s often a lot more than the 13 listed. You can look them up with the lists feature here to see all of them, just choose 2017 and genre from the drop-down.

Psych

forsyth-dreamingBreaking down the psych between subgenres is tricky, because since about 1966, psychedelic rock has been part of the DNA of nearly everything. Life is psychedelic. Most of the bands I list in hard rock also are psych. What I have in this list is quite a mish-mash. Chris Forsyth & the Solar Motel Band could be considered jammy cosmic Americana among other things. They’ve been on quite a hot streak since Solar Motel (2013) and Intensity Ghost (2014). Forsyth has actually released 21 albums and collaborations since 1998, and it’s no small feat to call the latest one of his very best. Wand has slowed down slightly from their initial run of three albums in a year, though Cory Hanson was also busy with Meatbodies, touring with Ty Segall, and put a solo album out last year. Why probably not as accomplished a songwriter as Segall yet, I enjoyed Plum just a bit more often than his garage psych colleagues, including Oh Sees. Circle are just as amazing and confounding as ever, and really need to visit North America. I’ve been fortunate to see hairy freakster Steve Krakow’s (zinewriter, author of the amazing The Secret History of Chicago Music comics) various projects and incarnations of Plastic Crimewave Syndicate over the past couple decades, and this latest album, released with very little fanfare, is possibly their best. So much going on here, including early proto-rock, space rock, kosmische, prog,  Les Rallizes Denudes, spiritual jazz. I’d expect nothing less from these walking, rocking freak rock encyclopedias. Some may note that none of the five King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard albums made my top 13. Flying Microtonal Banana was 15th after Papernut Cambridge. I like the band a lot and am impressed by their ambition. Not only did they put out five good albums, they also toured the world. I just look forward to them just focusing on making a single kick-ass album at some point. Also just missing the list were Serpent Power, The Fallen Leaves, New Candys, Uffe Lorenzen, Kikagaku Moyo, The Paperhead, Lewis & The Strange Magics, The Cairo Gang and Ulrika Spacek. | Spotify

  1. Chris Forsyth & the Solar Motel Band – Dreaming In The Non-Dream (No Quarter) | Bandcamp
  2. Wand – Plum (Drag City) | Bandcamp
  3. Circle – Terminal (Southern Lord) | Bandcamp
  4. Ty Segall – Ty Segall (Drag City) | Bandcamp
  5. Plastic Crimewave Syndicate – Thunderbolt Of Flaming Wisdom (Cardinal Fuzz) | Bandcamp
  6. Oh Sees – Orc (Castle Face) | Buy
  7. Boris – Dear (Sargent House) | Bandcamp
  8. Märvel – At The Sunshine Factory (The Sign) | Bandcamp
  9. The Citradels – Where’s One? (Citradels) | Bandcamp
  10. Swedish Death Candy – Swedish Death Candy (Hassle) | Buy
  11. The Sand Pebbles – Pleasure Maps (Kasumen) | Buy
  12. Helicon – Helicon (Fuzz Club) | Bandcamp
  13. Fogbound – Fogbound (John Colby Sect) | Bandcamp

Space Rock

spectral-haze-turningAh space. How peaceful and appealing it seems right now with all the shit we’re dealing with (or rather, not dealing with at all) on our planet. However in both reality and sci-fi, it’s a pretty inhospitable place, so while most of this jammy, instrumental music can be entrancing, there can also be action, violence, and just a smidge of cosmic horror. Norway’s Spectral Haze covers all that and more with their latest, which turned up the intensity since I.E.V.: Transmutated Nebula Remains (2014) and developed some supremely nasty guitar tones, as if they found the secret formula to combine Hawkwind with Raw Power era Stooges. And what colorful personas to match the striking album art. Here’s the names of the members: Spacewulff, Sonik Sloth, Doomdogg, Celestial Cobra, Electric Starling, Power Panther and Freedom Fox. It’s not even worth trying for anyone to match that. Denmark’s Mythic Sunship is on their sixth album, and it’s a doozy. Over the years they’ve developed some impressive improvsational chops suggestive of free jazz, while still maintaining a healthy level of caveman fuzz. Their latest was recorded in a log cabin, but just as well could have been on Saturn. Also from Denmark, Papir are more elusive in that they are not obviously space rock, as their sound includes some prog and even post-rock. But it’s gorgeous, and transports me beyond the stratosphere, so space it is! Cardinal Fuzz has two great releases that have quickly grown on me and have creeped up my lists like mutant kudzu vines. Zong are from Australia but take a global approach to their space madness, incorporating Eastern melodies, perhaps some ancient folk from the dank bogs, and some proto-doom. Canada’s Moths & Locusts cite Yoko Ono as their artistic muse, resulting in some far-reaching explorations to the point of astral projection on their third album.  Wordless vocalizations and gorgeous atmospheres give it a spiritual feel, but can at times turn terrifying. Just like life at the brink of death. Yay! Just missing from the top 13 is the excellent The Cosmic Dead, Blown Out, Electric Moon, Ecstatic Vision, Ancient RiverYagow and Vespero. | Spotify

  1. Spectral Haze – Turning Electric (Totem Cat) | Bandcamp
  2. Mythic Sunship – Land Between Rivers (El Paraiso) | Bandcamp
  3. Papir – V (Stickman) | Bandcamp
  4. Zong – Zong (Praying Mantis/Cardinal Fuzz) | Bandcamp
  5. Moths & Locusts – Intro/Outro (Cardinal Fuzz) | Bandcamp
  6. Lamagaia – Lamagaia (Cardinal Fuzz) | Bandcamp
  7. The Band Whose Name Is A Symbol – Cosmic Curios (Weird Beard) | Bandcamp
  8. Spaceslug – Time Travel Dilemma (BSFD) | Bandcamp
  9. Lento – Fourth (ConSouling) | Bandcamp
  10. Earthling Society – Zen Bastard (Drone Rock) | Bandcamp
  11. Earthling Society – Ascent To Godhead (Riot Season) | Bandcamp
  12. The Spacelords – Water Planet (Tonzonen) | Bandcamp
  13. The Sonic Shamen – Tribute To Lemmy (Space Rock Productions) | Bandcamp

Psych Noir

avatarium-hurricanesThe mighty Jess And The Ancient Ones came in at #7 on the overall list, so moving on to Avatarium, already on their third album. Often slotted in doom metal, since Candlemass’ Leif Edling chips in on bass, talented Swedish vocalist Jenni-Ann Smith and her husband, guitarist Marcus Jidell have taken things in more of a dark, psychedelic direction.  In a saner world, these Swedes would be rocking stadiums, as this is really quite accessible, catchy rock music. Instead, they’re more of a secret treasure, one that so far has not been shared with North America. Fuzz Club has been quite a prolific label, to the point where it’s hard to keep up with their stream of releases. I have 15 in my list, and there’s probably several more. Arguably the best is Sekel, which was officially released just today. I haven’t had a lot of time to spend with it, so it’s possible that I’m just a little too excited over the new and shiny, but after four solid run-throughs, I’m addicted. They could just as easily be slotted in the post-punk and kosmische lists, similar to labelmates 10 000 Russos, The Gluts and Sonic Jesus. Am I a just a sucker for that hybrid, or are they simply awesome? Head on over to their Bandcamp page and judge for yourself. I can’t believe it’s been over five years since Ruby The Hatchet first impressed me with their debut Ouroboros. On their third album, they have progressed as expected into a supernatural force, a must-hear for fans of heavy, witchy psych, and just fun rock and roll. Sweden’s Janitors have been churning out grubby garage psych since 2010, and Drone Head (2013) and Evil Doings Of An Evil Kind EP (2014) were so great I nearly lost my mind in anticipation of new music. The new album is their most prickly, dark and at times difficult work yet, but definitely worth the effort to dig into. I realize psych noir is not widely used, since I made it up. Here’s my justification for it: Kaleidoscopes & Grimoires: Psych Noir. Listed elsewhere are Serpent Power, Gold, Singapore Sling and Book Of Wyrms.

  1. Jess And The Ancient Ones – The Horse And Other Weird Tales (Svart) | Bandcamp
  2. Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos (Nuclear Blast) | Buy
  3. Sekel – Sekel (Fuzz Club) | Bandcamp
  4. Ruby The Hatchet – Planetary Space Child (Tee Pee) | Bandcamp
  5. The Janitors – Horn Ur Marken (Sky Lantern/Cardinal Fuzz) | Bandcamp
  6. 10 000 Russos – Distress Distress (Fuzz Club) | Bandcamp
  7. Kill West – Gush (Stolen Body) | Bandcamp
  8. The Gluts – Estasi (Fuzz Club) | Bandcamp
  9. Sonic Jesus – Grace (Fuzz Club) | Bandcamp
  10. Dool – Here Now, Here Then (Prophecy) | Bandcamp
  11. Kabbalah – Spectral Ascent (Twin Earth) | Bandcamp
  12. Shadow Band – Wilderness Of Love (Mexican Summer) | Bandcamp
  13. The Diaphanoids – Blessed Poisons (People In The Sky)

Psych Prog

agusa-agusaConsidering that three of these albums made Fester’s Lucky 13, this is clearly one of my favorite hybrid subgenres. The sounds and styles vary quite a bit, just as it had from the beginning, in 1968, when bands (starting with The Pretty Things, Gun, Procol Harum, Traffic, Family, Spooky Tooth, Arthur Brown, C.A. Quintet, Caravan) started to evolve from psychedelic to progressive rock, a fascinating transition that more and more bands are realizing deserves to be explored more fully. Sweden’s Agusa lean toward the folkier side of prog, complete with flute and on their previous couple albums, had songs stretching out to 17 to 20 minutes. This time they present more accessible chunks of 5 to 10 minutes, a great entry point to this wonderful, eccentric band. Gungfly, also known as Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, who served in prog band Beardfish, who broke up in 2016, is mostly a solo project, and one I find more appealing than the entire Beardfish catalog. Norway’s Electric Eye lean more toward hypnotic psych and kosmische, but with elements of ethno jazz fusion and prog to keep us on our toes. | Spotify

  1. Motorpsycho – The Tower (Rune Grammafon) | Buy
  2. The Dials – That Was The Future (Gear Discs) | Buy
  3. Amplifier – Trippin’ With Dr. Faustus (Rockosmos) | Bandcamp
  4. Agusa – Agusa (Laser’s Edge) | Bandcamp
  5. Gungfly – On Her Journey To The Sun (InsideOut) | Buy
  6. Electric Eye – From The Poisonous Tree (Jansen) | Bandcamp
  7. Cavalier Song – A Deep Well (God Unknown) | Bandcamp
  8. Sundays & Cybele – Chaos & Systems (Beyond Beyond Beyond) | Bandcamp
  9. The Physics House Band – Mercury Fountain (Small Pond) | Bandcamp
  10. Kairon; IRSE! – Ruination (Svart) | Bandcamp
  11. Wucan – Reap The Storm (Hansel & Gretel) | Bandcamp
  12. KOYO – KOYO (88 Watts) | Buy
  13. Mother Engine – Hangar (Heavy Psych) | Bandcamp
  14. Ghost Against Ghost – Still Love (Out Silent Canvas) | Bandcamp
  15. Himmellegeme – Myth Of Earth (Karisma) | Bandcamp
  16. L’Ira Del Baccano – Paradox Hourglass (Subsound) | Bandcamp
  17. Samsara Blues Experiment – One With The Universe (Electric Magic/World In Sound) | Bandcamp
  18. The Quartet Of Woah! – The Quartet Of Woah! (Raging Planet) | Bandcamp
  19. Tusmørke – Hinsides (Svart)
  20. Atavismo – Inerte (Temple Of Torturous) | Bandcamp

Prog

caligulas-horse-inI don’t like most current prog metal because it’s generally too cold, precise and polished. I can admire the technical aspects, but feel nothing. Unless a band also ventures into space and returns charred and scarred, or takes the red pill to explore psychedelia, I’m not usually interested. A rare exception is Australia’s Caligula’s Horse. I’d already started getting into their third album Bloom (2015), and their latest has just the right amount of rough textures and chunky riffs to balance out the pretty pristine vocals. Along similar lines are Norway’s Leprous, who have made six album since 2006 and started out working with Ihsahn. Also from Norway, Wobbler have specialized in a more symphonic style rooted in the 70s. Their fourth album starts with a flute and keyboard driven 21+ minute title track, and it’s glorious. Krokofant, yet another Norwegian band, specializes in jazz fusion. Swedish old-timers Kaipa have been around since 1973. Their 13th album invokes a bucolic summer in Uppsala. Steven Wilson, perhaps the biggest prog star in the past two decades with Porcupine Tree, went full on art pop with his latest, inspired by the likes of mid-to late 80s albums by Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Tears For Fears and Talk Talk. Just missing the top 13 were Anathema, Sky Architect, Isildurs Bane & Steve Hogarth, Soen, Mastodon, Ethereal Riffian and Lunatic Soul. | Spotify

  1. Caligula’s Horse – In Contact (InsideOut) | Buy
  2. Wobbler – From Silence To Somewhere (Karisma) | Bandcamp
  3. Leprous – Malina (InsideOut)
  4. Krokofant – Krokofant II (Rune Grammofon) | Bandcamp
  5. Kaipa – Children Of The Sounds (InsideOut) | Buy
  6. Steven Wilson – To The Bone (Caroline)
  7. Bent Knee – Land Animal (InsideOut) | Buy
  8. Arabs In Aspic – Syndenes Magi (Apollon) | Buy
  9. Dutch Uncles – Big Balloon (Memphis Industries) | Bandcamp
  10. Premiata Forneria Marconi – Emotional Tattoos (InsideOut) | Buy
  11. Gold Key – Hello, Phantom (Venn) | Bandcamp
  12. Peter Hammill – From The Trees (Fie!) | Buy
  13. Major Parkinson – Blackbox (Karisma) | Bandcamp

Kosmische

moon-duo-occult-1Recently I saw some blowhard talking about how kosmische only applies to the electronic-based, beatless music put out by German artists like Tangerine Dream, Cluster, Popol Vuh and Klaus Schulze. I disagree. It literally translates to cosmic, and is simply a more palatable alternative to “Krautrock,” a fairly loaded, offensive term. I think it can apply to a wide range of styles, all inspired by German artists from the 70s. I obviously like to use a wide range of sub-genre names, but they’re pretty fluid, and it’s pointless to get too precious about how they’re used.

I think it was a mistake for Moon Duo to issue the two volumes of Occult Architecture separately. A double album would have garnered them more attention, and it seems that not everyone who got the first one bothered with the second. On it’s own or with Vol. 2, Vol. 1 stands out as one of Moon Duo’s best efforts, reflecting Ripley Johnson’s readings of gnostic and hermetic literature about music and the occult in relationship to seasons, darkness and light. Vol. 1 is the dark winter album, and Vol. 2 is the lighter one, mixed during the peak of summer.  I group them together because both are essential. While the last official album from Bitchin Bajas was from 2014, the Chicago group has been busy collaborating with a number of artists, including Bonnie Prince Billy, Olivia Wyatt and jazz group Natural Information Society. The collaborations seem to have enriched their approach to their own music, resulting in their best album yet. Re-TROS is from Beijing, who tackle an eclectic variety of post-punk, avant rock and kosmische. A bit jagged and prickly at times, but fascinating. Just outside the list is Julie’s Haircut and Richard Pinhas, the French progressive electronic composer behind Heldon.

  1. Moon Duo – Occult Architecture Vol. 1 & 2 (Sacred Bones) | Bandcamp
  2. Bitchin Bajas – Bajas Fresh (Drag City) | Bandcamp
  3. Re-TROS – Before The Applause (Modern Sky) | Bandcamp
  4. Perhaps – V (Riot Season) | Bandcamp
  5. Kungens Män – Dag & Natt (Kungens Ljud & Bild ) | Bandcamp
  6. Warm Digits – Wireless World (Memphis Industries) | Bandcamp
  7. Hannah Peel –  Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia (My Own Pleasure) | Buy
  8. Eat Lights Become Lights – Nature Reserve (Deep Distance) | Bandcamp
  9. James Holden & The Animal Spirits – The Animal Spirits (Border Community) | Buy
  10. Froth – Outside (Briefly) (Wichita) | Bandcamp
  11. Flowers Must Die – Kompost (Rocket) | Bandcamp
  12. Damaged Bug – Bunker Funk (Castle Face) | Buy
  13. Avec Le Soleil Sortant De Sa Bouche – Pas pire pop, I Love You So Much (Constellation) | Bandcamp

Garage Rock/Punk/Noir

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007].epsGarage rock is a pretty broad category for sure. Basically think of bands that might qualify as entries for a modern Nuggets compilation. There’s at least another couple dozen albums I could have included that are instead found in the psych, punk and hard rock sections. Flat Worms is another brilliant entry in the increasingly impressive Castle Face catalog (if that label has a holiday party/label showcase, I wanna go). The mostly sub-3 minute blasts of serrated guitar tones and choppy riffs have plenty of hooks and melodies to make the dozen tracks fly by, much like Wire’s Pink Flag. They also cite Wipers as an influence, how cool is that?  More please. L.A. Witch are nearly as great, but with a much different sound, like The Cramps weighed down with a crippling dose of quaaludes and Sade Sanchez’ deadpan vocals. Their secret weapon, however are Sanchez’ wicked guitar lines, honed over a period of several years. The Murlocs include Ambrose Kenny-Smith and Cook Craig of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. It’s impressive that they find the time to put out three excellent garage psych albums with a touch of cosmic country. I like this way better than any of the albums this year from their other band. | Spotify

  1. Flat Worms – Flat Worms (Castle Face) | Buy
  2. L.A. Witch – L.A. Witch (Suicide Squeeze) | Bandcamp
  3. The Murlocs – Old Locomotive (Flightless) | Bandcamp
  4. Mind Meld – Mind Meld (Permanent) | Bandcamp
  5. Feral Ohms – Feral Ohms (Silver Current) | Bandcamp
  6. The Living Eyes – Modern Living (Anti Fade) | Bandcamp
  7. Oh! Gunquit – Lightning Likes Me (Dirty Water) | Bandcamp
  8. Color Horror – Más Alto que el Sol (Color Horror) | Bandcamp
  9. The Regrettes – Feel Your Feelings, Fool! (WB)
  10. Suspirians – Ti Bon Ange (Suspirians) | Bandcamp
  11. Pretty Lightning – The Rhythm Of Ooze (Fuzz Club) | Bandcamp
  12. Uranium Club – All Of Them Naturals (Static Shock) | Bandcamp
  13. The Molochs – America’s Velvet Glory (Innovative Leisure) | Bandcamp
  14. Pearl Earl – Pearl Earl (Dreamy Life) | Bandcamp
  15. Sheer Mag – Need To Feel Your Love (Wilsuns RC) | Bandcamp
  16. Lars Finberg – Moonlight Over Bakersfield (In The Red) | Bandcamp
  17. Meatbodies – Alice (In The Red)
  18. The Woolen Men – Lucky Box (See My Friends/Dog’s Table) | Bandcamp
  19. RAYS – RAYS (Trouble In Mind)
  20. Nuvem Leopardo – Quintesséncia (Nuvem Leopardo) | Bandcamp
  21. CFM – Dichotomy Desaturated (In The Red) | Bandcamp
  22. Benjamin Booker – Witness (Rough Trade) | Bandcamp
  23. White Reaper – The World’s Best American Band (Polyvinyl)
  24. Meat Wave – The Incessant (SideOneDummy) | Bandcamp
  25. Together Pangea – Bulls And Roosters (Nettwerk) | Buy
  26. Frankie & The Witchfingers – Brain Telephone (Permanent) | Buy

Sewer Rock & AOR

ball-ballEvery year I throw in a goofy category for fun. Sewer rock was listed as a genre in one of the bands’s Bandcamp pages. It’s basically nasty garage and hard rock with depraved lyrics. Ball are the kings of that this year, a mysterious Swedish band with some alleged links to occult groups. The music is pure B-movie exploitation trash. R.I.P. and Gaytheist, Timmy’s Organism, Dead Heavens, Lecherous Gaze and The Mad Doctors are gross, fun, and rockin’. What more does one need?

brother-firetribe-sunboundCompletely unrelated, but because I didn’t have enough sewer rock to fill 13 slots, is AOR. The days of these polished rock bands ruling the airwaves are long past, but now that we’re not force-fed the stuff (I enjoyed me some Night Ranger, Asia and Saga back in the day), it’s actually quite fun in small doses. My favorite by is Finnish band Brother Firetribe, who a childhood friend that I reunited with earlier in the year recommended. Sunbound is their fourth album, with all the others worth checking out if you like this. Sweden’s Night Flight Orchestra is just as good. Digging into this, I learned there’s plenty more where this came from. I was surprised to find the Styx album is probably the best thing they’ve done since Pieces Of Eight (1978)! Just off the list are Smash Into Pieces, One Desire and Eclipse. If you somehow need more sewer rock, there’s Worm Suicide. You’ve been warned.

  1. Ball – Ball (Horny) | Bandcamp
  2. R.I.P. – Street Reaper (RidingEasy) | Bandcamp
  3. Gaytheist – Let’s Jam Again Soon (Good To Die) | Bandcamp
  4. Timmy’s Organism – Heartless Heathen (Lo & Behold!) | Bandcamp
  5. Dead Heavens – Whatever Witch You Are (Dine Alone) | Buy
  6. Lecherous Gaze – One Fifteen (Tee Pee)
  7. The Mad Doctors – No Waves, Just Sharks (King Pizza) | Bandcamp
  8. Brother Firetribe – Sunbound (Spinefarm) | Buy
  9. The Night Flight Orchestra – Amber Galactic (Nuclear Blast) | Buy
  10. Cats In Space – Scarecrow (Harmony Factory)
  11. H.E.A.T. – Into The Great Unknown (Gain)
  12. Once & Future Band – Once & Future Band (Castle Face) | Bandcamp
  13. Styx – The Mission (UMe) | Bandcamp

Punk, Post-Punk & Hardcore

wet-lipsPunk and its sub-genres feel like a natural reaction to the current horrific political environment. Does music make a difference? Not always directly, but it’s a therapeutic escape valve, an important vehicle to express righteous leftist rage. Sure, there’s been a couple instances of right wing punk bands, but fuck them. Wet Lips are fresh out of the Melbourne queer punk scene. While they have every reason to be angry, their music expresses more proud defiance, such as the opening track about refusing to feel shame for their sexuality or looks. This can be even more powerful, especially in the context of a supportive, close-knit scene (they founded Wetfest for female and LGBTQIA+ performers, which completed its third year) to help people feel safe being themselves in an otherwise toxic, hateful world. It helps that their raw, scruffy songs rock in a way that reminds me of Sleater-Kinney at their most ecstatic 20 years ago. Bassist Jenny McKechnie also fronts Cable Ties, which features a more rhythmic post-punk style. London’s H.Grimace is unpolished but talented. Another Australian newcomer is RVG. While I included them in the jangle pop list below, I made an exception to put them in two lists because I’m so damn excited about ’em. These women give me hope.

Protomartyr have been winning over fans and critics seemingly exponentially the past couple years. Their existential angst is balanced by pretty sophisticated, adult lyrics framed with dark, gnarly arrangements that sound like no one else. While Joe Casey’s vocals are not terribly melodic, his delivery is infinitely more interesting and involving than Sleaford Mods. Sydney’s Orion taps into my favorite post-punk psych territory of early Cure, Sad Lovers & Giants and Comsat Angels. Interestingly, only a few other bands are getting much attention, mainly Priests and Idles, with Algiers slowly getting a bit more due in year-end lists this past week. Clearly there’s many others deserving of a listen.

Also while they did not release an album, a shout-out to Mode Moderne, who have been releasing a single every month since May. They’ll have one more this month for a total of eight, and they’re all killer. One of the most impressive runs I’ve seen since The Wedding Present did something similar. | Spotify

  1. Algiers – The Underside Of Power (Matador)
  2. RVG – A Quality Of Mercy (Our Golden Friend/Island) | Bandcamp
  3. Male Gaze – Miss Taken (Castle Face) | Buy
  4. Wet Lips – Wet Lips (Hysterical) | Bandcamp
  5. H.Grimace – Self Architect (Opposite Number) | Buy
  6. Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent (Domino) | Bandcamp
  7. Orion – Orion (Cool Death/Paradise Daily) | Bandcamp
  8. Cable Ties – Cable Ties (Poison City) | Bandcamp
  9. B Boys – Dada (Captured Tracks) | Bandcamp
  10. Grave Pleasures – Motherblood (Century Media) | Buy
  11. Drab Majesty – The Demonstration (Dais) | Bandcamp
  12. INVSN – The Beautiful Stories (Dine Alone) | Buy
  13. Rips – Rips (Faux Discx) | Bandcamp
  14. The World – First World Record (Upset the Rhythm) | Bandcamp
  15. Desperate Journalist – Grow Up (Fierce Panda) | Bandcamp
  16. Agent Blå – Agent Blue (Luxury) | Bandcamp
  17. Priests – Nothing Feels Natural (Sister Polygon) | Bandcamp
  18. French Vanilla – French Vanilla (Danger Collective) | Bandcamp 
  19. Spiritual Cramp – Mass Hysteria EP (React!) | Bandcamp
  20. Bonnie Doon – Dooner Nooner (Bonnie Doon) | Bandcamp
  21. Nicole Sabouné – Miman (Century Media)
  22. Mary Bell – Mary Bell (Le Turc Mécanique) | Bandcamp
  23. WALL – Untitled (Wharf Cat) | Bandcamp
  24. Dazey And The Scouts – Maggot EP (Dazey) | Bandcamp
  25. Peter Perrett – How The West Was Won (Domino)
  26. Guerilla Toss – GT ULTRA (DFA) | Bandcamp
  27. Duds – Of A Nature Or Degree (Castle Face) | Buy
  28. Century Palm – Meet You (Deranged) | Bandcamp
  29. Death Of Lovers – The Acrobat (Pias) | Bandcamp
  30. Gold – Optimist (Ván) | Bandcamp
  31. Snapped Ankles – Come Play The Trees (Leaf) | Bandcamp
  32. Peninsula – LaLaLaLaLaLa EP (Peninsula) | Bandcamp
  33. Savak – Cut-Ups (Ernest Jenning) | Bandcamp
  34. Crooked Bangs – II (Nervous Intent) | Bandcamp
  35. Omni – Multi-Task (Trouble In Mind) | Bandcamp
  36. Sneaks – It’s A Myth (Merge) | Bandcamp
  37. Taiwan Housing Project – Veblen Death Mask (Kill Rock Stars) | Bandcamp
  38. Feature – Banishing Ritual (Upset the Rhythm) | Bandcamp
  39. Downtown Boys – Cost Of Living (Sub Pop)
  40. Maraudeur – Maraudeur (Bruit Direct Disques) | Bandcamp
  41. gSp (girlSperm) – gSp EP (Thrilling Living) | Bandcamp
  42. Total Control – Laughing At The System (Alter) | Bandcamp
  43. Pregnancy – Urgency (Lost And Lonesome/Emotional Response) | Bandcamp
  44. Document – The Void Repeats (Document) | Bandcamp
  45. The Cowboy – The Cowboy Album (Fashionable Idiots) | Bandcamp
  46. Makthaverskan – Ill (Run For Cover) | Bandcamp
  47. ISS – (Endless Pussyfooting) (State Laughter) | Bandcamp
  48. Flesh World – Into The Shroud (Dark Entries) | Bandcamp
  49. Daniele Luppi & Parquet Courts – MILANO (30th Century) | Buy
  50. Spirit Valley – Negatives (Fuzz Club) | Bandcamp
  51. Patsy – LA Women MLP (La Vida Es Un Mus) | Bandcamp
  52. Night People – Night People EP (Deranged) | Bandcamp
  53. PINS – Bad Thing EP (Haus Of Pins) | Buy
  54. Palberta – Bye Bye Berta (Wharf Cat) | Bandcamp
  55. Joss Cope – Unrequited Lullabies (Gare Du Nord) | Bandcamp
  56. The Horrors – V (Caroline) | Buy
  57. Wire – Silver/Lead (Pinkflag)
  58. Terminal Gods – Meridian (Heavy Leather) | Bandcamp
  59. Rat Columns – Candle Power (Upset the Rhythm)
  60. Sextile – Albeit Living (felte) | Bandcamp
  61. Antisect – The Rising Of The Lights (Rise Above) | Buy
  62. Idles – Brutalism (Balley) | Buy
  63. Code Orange – Forever (Roadrunner)
  64. Great Ytene – Locus (Faux Discx) | Bandcamp
  65. Milk Music – Mystic 100’s (Dom America) | Bandcamp
  66. Nagrobki – Granit (BDTA) | Bandcamp
  67. Converge – The Dusk In Us (Epitaph) | Bandcamp
  68. Chastity Belt – I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone (Hardly Art)
  69. Limp Wrist –  Facades (La Vida Es Un Mus) | Bandcamp
  70. Modern English – Take Me To The Trees (Inkind) | Buy
  71. The Distractions – Kindly Leave The Stage (Occultation)
  72. Trevor Something – Die With You (In Your Brain) | Bandcamp
  73. DiCaprio – I Went to the Mall Yesterday and I Got Sick (DiCaprio) | Bandcamp

Desert/Fuzz/Stoner Rock

causa-sui-vibracionesComing after a the punk list with some pretty inspiring bands, does it make the desert/fuzz/stoner bands seem frivolous? I don’t think so. Despite the stereotype, whether these bands do or do not indulge in recreational chemicals, they for the most part really hard working, producing recordings and touring at a more demanding, ambitious level than artists from many other genres. Not to mention this is truly underground music, with pretty much zero promise for wealth and fame, so they’re driven by pure passion. I love this music, and I prefer to experience their often ecstatic live shows over pretty much everything else. Causa Sui, who just missed Fester’s Lucky 13, have been incredibly prolific since 2005, releasing 11 albums, including six volumes of improvisational sessions documented in Summer Sessions (2008-09) and Pewt’r Sessions (2011-14). They have stretched out their fuzzy instrumental desert rock with gorgeous tones into space rock and even jazz fusion, and every release is gold. I was surprised to learn Telekinetic Yeti are from my birthplace, Dubuque, IA. Growing up it was an economically depressed post-industrial hellhole with nothing going on for music. But Drifting in the dank, dark cracks between fuzz and sludge, the riffs are really unpredictable, bringing to mind late 80s era Melvins. Much of the album’s 41+ minutes are instrumental, but Alex Bauman does pitch in some shouty vocals now and then, like the slightly more tradionally structured “Stoned And Feathered.” The longest, trippiest track, “Colossus,” has a touch of prog along the lines of Elder at first, before slowing down into a lumbering doom break, then dissipating into ethereal space rock. Norway’s Taiga Woods are catchy along the lines of last year’s Asteroid album, with endless hooks to keep me coming back. Vancouver’s Dead Quiet quickly grew on me, with vocalist Kevin Keegan coming in hot, like Graveyard or Terra Firma on overdrive plus extra anguish. This category could go on to over 60 entries, so if you want more, just use the search feature. Just missing the list, Red Stone Souls, Devil Electric, The Wicked Ones, Mindkult, Dopelord, Motherslug, The Atomic Bitchwax, The Flying Eyes, The W Likes and Snowy Dunes.  | Spotify

  1. Elder – Reflections Of A Floating World (Armagedden) | Bandcamp
  2. Colour Haze – In Her Garden (Elektrohasch)
  3. Causa Sui – Vibraciones Doradas (El Paraiso)
  4. Telekinetic Yeti – Abominable (Sump Pump) | Bandcamp
  5. Taiga Woods – Taiga Woods (Taiga Woods) | Bandcamp
  6. Dead Quiet – Grand Rites (Artoffact) | Bandcamp
  7. Red Mountains – Slow Wander (All Good Clean) | Bandcamp
  8. The Devil And The Almighty Blues – II (Blues For The Red Sun) | Bandcamp
  9. All Them Witches – Sleeping Through The War (New West) | Bandcamp
  10. Dope Smoker – Legalize It (Dope Smoker) | Bandcamp
  11. Youngblood Supercult – The Great American Death Rattle (Youngblood Supercult) | Bandcamp
  12. Doublestone – Devil’s Own/Djaevlens Egn (Doublestone) | Bandcamp
  13. Medusa1975 – Rising From The Ashes (Medusa1975) | Bandcamp

Hard Rock

royalthunder-wickIt’s pretty strange to see Queens of the Stone Age as the lone representative of hard rock on most year-end lists. There seems to be a disconnect between the charts (Incubus, Linkin Park, Nickelback) and critical respect, ignoring basically a diverse contingent of bands throughout the world (well, at least Scandinavia, Germany and North America) who are making great albums. Mastodon has gotten attention, but there’s simply so much great hard rock out there, they didn’t make the list, though I should mention that their Cold Dark Place EP is quite good. Beyond my #5 choice overall, Sweden’s Troubled Horse, Royal Thunder is slowly gaining traction through relentless touring, appearing on some year-end lists. Their third album Wick sees them progressing nicely, with Mlny Parsonz honing her vocal skills. Finland’s Hard Action were a nice late-year surprise of fiery, catchy rock that has a touch of Australian style garage punk in their sound (Radio Birdman, The New Christs, Hell City Glamours). QOTSA’s Villains is excellent, and deserving of its success, but just as great were Swedes Horisont, Norway’s Spidergawd and Germany’s hard-touring KadavarMärvel and Heat from psych, Taiga Woods and The Devil And The Almighty Blues from stoner could also have been included here. Also missing the list were Outsideinside (dudes from Carousel), Radio Moscow, Heat, Siena Root, Saturn and Mangoo. | Spotify

  1. Troubled Horse – Revolution On Repeat (Rise Above)
  2. Royal Thunder – Wick (Spinefarm) | Buy
  3. Hard Action – Hot Wired Beat (Svart) | Bandcamp
  4. Queens Of The Stone Age – Villains (Matador) | Bandcamp
  5. Horisont – About Time (Century Media) | Buy
  6. Spidergawd – IV (Crispin Glover/Stickman) | Buy
  7. Kadavar – Rough Times (Nuclear Blast) | Buy
  8. Demon Eye – Prophecies And Lies (Soulseller) | Bandcamp
  9. Dead Lord – In Ignorance We Trust (Century Media)
  10. Blues Funeral – Awakening (Blues Funeral) | Bandcamp
  11. The Necromancers – Servants Of The Salem Girl (Ripple) | Bandcamp
  12. Mirror Queen – Verdigris (Tee Pee) | Buy
  13. Orango – The Mules Of Nana (Division/Stickman) | Bandcamp

Heavy Metal

argus-fromEarlier last summer, Slough Feg announced they were recording an album, which already had the title, The New Organon. I thought for sure it was coming out before the end of the year, but alas. My disappointment has been eased by a great new release from Argus, who started a bit doomier in 2009, but has integrated other influences like prog (via Iron Maiden) to the point where they are just quintessential heavy metal. Also from Pennsylvania, Lör play a really inspiring blend of prog, folk and power metal. Sweden’s Night Viper, lead by Sofie Lee, has elements of thrash, and it’s refreshing, as some of the technical thrash I’ve listened to lately can be fatiguing. Just over a year ago, I remember chatting with Andrew d’Cagna at the Doomed & Stoned fest where his last band, Brimstone Coven played. At the time, it sounded like his one-man side project was just a fun little lark for him. Heck no, Ironflame’s Lightning Strikes The Crown is a full-blown great album full of well written songs and riffs, just as good as anything that the busy metal genius Chris Black has done lately. Extremely recommended. Not making the list but worth checking out were Lady Beast, Midnight, Tau Cross, Portrait, Kal-El, Devil, Greenbeard, Manilla Road, Walpyrgus, Droid, Dread Sovereign, Night Demon, Night, Mausoleum Gate and many more. | Spotify

  1. Argus – From Fields Of Fire (Cruz Del Sur) | Bandcamp
  2. Lör – In Forgotten Sleep (Lör) | Bandcamp
  3. Night Viper – Exterminator (Listenable) | Bandcamp
  4. Ironflame – Lightning Strikes The Crown (Divebomb) | Bandcamp
  5. Venomous Maximus – No Warning (Shadow Kingdom) | Bandcamp
  6. Unleash The Archers – Apex (Napalm) | Bandcamp
  7. Satan’s Hallow – Satan’s Hallow (Hoove Child) | Bandcamp
  8. Lunar Shadow – Far From Light (Cruz Del Sur) | Bandcamp
  9. Legionairre – Dawn Of Genesis (Cruz Del Sur) | Bandcamp
  10. Astral Mass – Astral Mass (Astral Mass) | Bandcamp
  11. Power Trip – Nightmare Logic (Southern Lord) | Bandcamp
  12. Legendry – Dungeon Crawler (Non Nobis) | Bandcamp
  13. Vokonis – The Sunken Djinn (Ozium) | Bandcamp

Doom

pallbearer-heartlessSpirit Adrift, my #4 overall album, could easily fit in the heavy metal chart too, as musical DNA is quite diverse. Pallbearer have been doing quite nicely, growing their audience and getting a ton of positive critical attention. They’re one of the few bands on my metal and rock lists that I feel are not underrated and ignored, despite the fact that their third album is fairly challenging, with proggy bits that require a some focused repeat listens to absorb. Whatever they’re doing right, other bands are likely keenly watching them like a hawk. Norway’s Purple Hill Witch are more typical for a doom band, unknown outside of Europe with the exception of my astute colleagues at Doom Charts. Their rockin’ stoner doom is just so dang fun. As I mentioned earlier, The Obsessed’s comeback after a long 23 year hiatus is really impressive, a must-hear from one of the originators of doom. Dreadnought are more arty, with some avant garde bits mixed with their doom sludge, kind of similar to SubRosa. The next two bands feature doom legends at the level of Wino. The Doomsday Kingdom has doomfather Leif Edling (Candlemass) and With The Dead has Lee Dorrian (Cathedral). When Electric Wizard left the Rise Above roster with no small amount of drama and bad feelings, it seemed like Dorrian decided to just do what they do himself, using two former Electric Wizzers (Tim Bagshaw, and Mark Greening, who has since left). He pretty much showed them, as the album is just a touch better than Wizard Bloody Wizard. You definitely need to be in the mood for Bell Witch’s latest, a single 83 minute long funereal doom track. See also, Black Road, Angus Black, Clouds Taste Satanic, Cardinals Folly, Paradise Lost. Check Doom Charts later this month for much more doom! | Spotify

  1. Spirit Adrift – Curse Of Conception (20 Buck Spin) | Bandcamp
  2. Pallbearer – Heartless (Profound Lore) | Bandcamp
  3. Purple Hill Witch – Celestial Cemetry (Church Within) | Bandcamp
  4. The Obsessed – Sacred (Relapse) | Bandcamp
  5. Dreadnought – A Wake In Sacred Waves (Sailor) | Bandcamp
  6. The Doomsday Kingdom – The Doomsday Kingdom (Nuclear Blast)
  7. With The Dead – Love From With The Dead (Rise Above) | Buy
  8. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper (Profound Lore) | Bandcamp
  9. Monolord – Rust (RidingEasy) | Bandcamp
  10. Electric Wizard – Wizard Bloody Wizard (Spinefarm)
  11. Beastmaker – Inside The Skull (Rise Above) | Bandcamp
  12. Pagan Altar – Room Of Shadows (Temple of Mystery) | Bandcamp
  13. Sorcerer – The Crowning Of The Fire King (Metal Blade) | Bandcamp

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

godflesh-postSomewhere I still have the tapes I recorded in 1988-89 of bands like Terrorizer, Napalm Death, Carcass, Bolt Thrower, Godflesh and Death, inspired by friends who had a metal radio show after my post-punk slot. I’ve more or less kept up with the dozens of extreme sub-genres metal has splintered into since the late 80s, but probably only spend about 1% of my total listening time on the stuff. Well, this year, maybe 5%, as it is good music to channel rage with. Speaking of Godflesh, look who it is in the #2 slot! While their 2014 comeback album The World Lit Only By Fire found them a tad sluggish and rusty, Post Self, just their eighth full length, is gloriously ablaze in a sea of toxic post-industrial sludge dub. Not a prolific band, they make their statements count. It seems like post-hardcore noise/sludge rockers Unsane are in a similar position (also on their eighth album with a similar 30 year career span), but they’ve never really went away. They just take their time between albums.  I feel like Rock A Rolla magazine would have been all over these. Miss that mag. Electic prog metal band Locust Leaves actually broke up in 2012, which makes the huge potential of this belated debut bittersweet. Norwegian black metallers turned prog Enslaved have been messing with some clean vocals and occasional pristine, complex guitar figures for nearly a decade, so no real surprises here, but I’m digging it more than previous albums. Just missing the list is the highly regarded Akercocke, Wolves In The Throne Room and Spectral Voice, Jupiterian, Pyrrhon, The Lurking Fear and Myrkur. I also really enjoyed the latest from technical death metal sci-fi bands Artificial Brain and Gigan. | Spotify

  1. Ufomammut – 8 (Neurot) | Bandcamp
  2. Godflesh – Post Self (Avalanche) | Bandcamp
  3. Unsane – Sterilize (Southern Lord) | Bandcamp
  4. Locust Leaves – A Subtler Kind Of Light I, Voidhanger | Bandcamp
  5. Enslaved – E (Nuclear Blast)
  6. Ex Eye – Ex Eye (Relapse) | Bandcamp
  7. Endon – Through The Mirror (Hydra Head) | Bandcamp
  8. Disperse – Forward (Season Of Mist) | Bandcamp
  9. Vin de Mia Trix – Palimpsests (Hypnotic Dirge) | Bandcamp
  10. Squalus – The Great Fish (Translation Loss) | Bandcamp
  11. Flight Of Sleipnir – Skadi (Eisenwald) | Bandcamp
  12. King Woman – Created In The Image Of Suffering (Relapse) | Bandcamp
  13. Usnea – Portals Into Futility (Relapse)

Dream Pop

black-watch-gospelIt’s amazing that a great, prolific band like The Black Watch, with 14 albums and 5 EPs under their belts since 1988, can still remain very under the radar. At one point, bandleader John Andrew Fredrick had planned to retire the band and focus on writing books (he’s published several, including two thirds of a fictionalized trilogy about his band), but seemed to get the bug again, with the latest involving less jangle pop and more noise and dream pop along the lines of the noisier work of Yo La Tengo. Fredrick’s clever, literate lyrics are better than ever ever.. The End Of When album is a good introduction because it includes an extra best of disc, which is also available on Bandcamp. A recent discovery, A Certain Smile pulled their name from a 1996 album by jangle/dream pop band Rocketship. They cite the sweet twee of Sarah records, punky noise pop of Slumberland, and fuzzy gaze of Creation records as influences. It would be a surprisingly accomplished debut, but the band actually had put an EP out way back in 2004 before they migrated from Philadelphia to Portland. The Church should need no introduction. They started out playing psychedelic post-punk in 1981 and evolved toward jangly dream pop, which hit gold in the late 80s. This is their 25th album, and sounds as iridescent as they did at their commercial peak. NYC’s Beach Fossils formed in 2009, and they are just hitting their songwriting stride on their third album. L.A.’s Business Of Dreams is Corey Cunningham of garage punkers Terry Malts and Magic Bullets. Here he explores his love of 80s synth pop and 90s dream pop. Melbourne’s Beaches tacked a sprawling double album for their third release, with gorgeous results. Missing the list were The Clientele, Lunar Vacation, Reptaliens, Gingerlys, My Sad Captains, You’ll Never Get To Heaven and Alvvays. The xx might fit in this category, but at the very bottom.  Why have they made so many (20 so far) year-end lists, while so many more deserving artists are ignored? | Spotify

  1. The Black Watch – The Gospel According To John (Pop Culture Press) | Bandcamp
  2. A Certain Smile – Fits & Starts (ACS) | Bandcamp
  3. The Church – Man Woman Life Death Infinity (Unorthodox) | Buy
  4. Beach Fossils – Somersault (Bayonet) | Bandcamp
  5. Business Of Dreams – Business Of Dreams (Body Double) | Bandcamp
  6. Beaches – Second Of Spring (Chapter) | Bandcamp
  7. Fazerdaze  – Morningside (Flying Nun) | Bandcamp
  8. Lowly – Heba (Bella Union)
  9. Crepes – Channel Four (Spunk) | Bandcamp
  10. Jay Som – Everybody Works (Polyvinyl) | Bandcamp
  11. Wolf Alice – Visions Of A Life (Dirty Hit) | Bandcamp
  12. Piano Magic – Closure (Second Language)
  13. Hater – You Tried (Pink Slime) | Bandcamp

Jangle Pop

zebra-hunt-inI already wrote about The Feelies but I have to reiterate that people are crazy to ignore them. I became an instant fan of Seattle’s Zebra Hunt when I heard their debut, City Sighs (2015). Having just released their second album, I hoped for a tour, but instead they broke up in June! Yet another great jangly band destined for obscurity. Belfast’s Sea Pinks quickly followed up last year’s excellent Soft Days with Watercourse. Sydney’s Black Springs and Melbourne’s Last Leaves jangle so masterfully like it’s in their DNA. Instant favorites. I was a little disappointed because Rolling Blackouts C.F. were originally planning to have a full length out this year. I think the quality drops off on the second half of the EP, and hope they have a full length that can measure up to last year’s Talk Tight, which, if you download the free singles that precede it on Bandcamp, makes for a great full length itself. | Spotify

  1. The Feelies – In Between (Bar/None) | Buy
  2. RVG – A Quality Of Mercy (Our Golden Friend/Island) | Bandcamp
  3. Zebra Hunt – In Phrases (Tenorio Cotobade) | Bandcamp
  4. Sea Pinks – Watercourse (CF) | Bandcamp
  5. Black Springs – When We Were Great (57761) | Bandcamp
  6. Last Leaves – Other Towns Than Ours (Matinée) | Bandcamp
  7. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – The French Press EP (Sub Pop) | Bandcamp
  8. Odd Hope – Odd Hope (Fruits & Flowers) | Bandcamp
  9. Melenas – Melenas (El Nébula) | Bandcamp
  10. Glaciers – Living Right (Meritorio) | Bandcamp
  11. Daniel Wylie’s Cosmic Rough Riders – Scenery For Dreamers (You Are The Cosmos)
  12. Real Estate – In Mind (Domino) | Buy
  13. The Proper Ornaments – Foxhole (Slumberland) | Bandcamp

Art Pop

circut-des-yeux-reachingWhile Haley Fohr has released seven albums as Circuit des Yeux since 2008, including a collaboration with Bill Orcutt and plus another under the rootsier persona, Jackie Lynn, her latest sees her hitting a career highlight by exploring her darkest emotional depths. While the album seems to sit well next to avant folk/experimental/darkwave artists like Chelsea Wolfe and Zola Jesus, with some Diamanda Galas influence (or maybe it’s just her four-octave vocal range), this is just absolutely gorgeous, standing out from the pack, and nearly making the overall Lucky 13. Oakland’s Tia Cabral, aka Spellling, wrote and recorded a compelling debut that mixes art pop, soul and darkwave into something mysterious and alluring. UK’s Nabihah Iqbal mixes Can and with various global and electronic music.  Jane Weaver, Rose Elinor Dougall, EMA, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Fever Ray all explore somewhat less intense territory, but all with alluring results with different approaches.  Much more popular were St. Vincent, Lorde and Susanne Sundfør, who all did great work this year, but to me just didn’t have the impact as these artists. I realize this list is 100% women. Further down the list I do have Sinkane among others. Just missing the list is Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Björk, who I have cooled off of since 2004, but I do like the chill soundscapes on her latest. | Spotify

  1. Circuit des Yeux – Reaching For Indigo (Drag City) | Bandcamp
  2. Spellling – Pantheon Of Me (Cherry Horse) | Bandcamp
  3. Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun (Sargent House) | Bandcamp
  4. Zola Jesus – Okovi (Sacred Bones) | Bandcamp
  5. Nabihah Iqbal – Weighing Of The Heart (Ninja Tune) | Bandcamp
  6. Jane Weaver – Modern Kosmology (Fire) | Bandcamp
  7. Rose Elinor Dougall – Stellular (Vermillion)
  8. EMA – Exile In The Outer Ring (City Slang) | Bandcamp
  9. Charlotte Gainsbourg – Rest (Because)
  10. Fever Ray – Plunge (Rabid) | Buy
  11. Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens (Smalltown Supersound) | Bandcamp
  12. Laurel Halo – Dust (Hyperdub) | Bandcamp
  13. Arca – Arca (XL) | Bandcamp

Shoegaze

slowdive-slowdiveFor their first album in 22 years, Slowdive, who initially operated under the shadow of My Bloody Valentine, officially eclipse them with a much more successful reunion album than m b v (2013). The rest of the bands are mostly acolytes, but do an admirable job coming up with a variety of approaches. UV-TV use the first half of their album to explore garage punk, while the second goes into full-on bass wobbling shoegaze. Dead Leaf Echo have a lighter touch, which crosses over into dream pop territory at times, as many shoegaze bands do. Infinity Girl takes a scrappier indie pop approach to the genre, while Ride, who were never full-on shoegaze, also do an admirable job after a 21 year hiatus in nearly measuring up to their peak work of their first two albums. Just missing the list, Dead Horse One, Singapore Sling, The Stargazer Lilies, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Gnoomes. | Spotify

  1. Slowdive – Slowdive (Dead Oceans)
  2. UV-TV – Glass (Deranged) | Bandcamp
  3. Dead Leaf Echo – Beyond.Desire (Moon Sounds) | Bandcamp
  4. Infinity Girl – Somewhere Nice, Someday (Topshelf) | Bandcamp
  5. Ride – Weather Diaries (Wolf Tone) | Bandcamp
  6. The Horrors – V (Caroline) | Buy
  7. Spectres – Condition (Sonic Cathedral) | Bandcamp
  8. The Underground Youth – What Kind Of Dystopian Hellhole Is This? (Fuzz Club) | Bandcamp
  9. Deafcult – Auras (Hobbledehoy) | Bandcamp
  10. Blankenberge – Radiogaze (652630 Records) | Bandcamp
  11. Airiel – Molten Yong Lovers (Shelflife) | Bandcamp
  12. Trevor Something – Die With You (In Your Brain) | Bandcamp
  13. Novella – Change Of State (Sinderlyn) | Bandcamp

Indie Rock & Pop

Teen Judge - Teen Judge (Berthed Futurist, 2017)Teen Judge is John Kimbrough’s first crack at a full length rock album since Walt Mink’s Colossus in 1997, and it’s everything I could have hoped for and more. In between, he’s had a career making music for TV and film (winning two Emmies), wrote some songs with power pop band Valley Lodge, produced a Tenacious D album, build a garage studio and put together a crack new band including an alumnus of David Bowie’s Blackstar (bassist Tim Lefebvre). This was close to making my overall top 13, but with no digital release yet (Kimbrough wanted people to have the vinyl experience first and foremost, but learned it’s really expensive to make a small run), I didn’t want to taunt readers with what they can’t yet hear. But get ready, the streaming/Bandcamp release is coming soon! Filthy Friends is a supergroup that includes members of Sleater-Kinney (Corin Tucker), R.E.M. (Peter Buck) and Swans (Bill Reiflin), plus Scott McCaughey and Kurt Bloch of The Young Fresh Fellows. This is a fabulous album, at least as good as Wild Flag which got far more acclaim, and I’m stunned to see that it’s been utterly ignored in year-end lists. I’m bored with the vast majority of indie rock, but I’ve always got time for Spoon. On their ninth album in 21 years, they repeat themselves somewhat, but never enough that there aren’t a good portion of killer songs that measure up to the best of their vast catalog of minimalist guitar pop. Brits Maxïmo Park are on album number six, and while they are far less fashionable than a band like Spoon, they’re nearly as consistent, cranking out underrated, literate songs. Just missing from the list, David West With Teardrops, No Middle Name and Robyn Hitchcock.

  1. Teen Judge – Teen Judge (Berthed Futurist) | Buy
  2. Filthy Friends – Invitation (Kill Rock Stars) | Bandcamp
  3. Spoon – Hot Thoughts (Loma Vista)
  4. Maxïmo Park – Risk To Exist (Daylighting) | Bandcamp
  5. The Courtneys – II (Flying Nun) | Bandcamp
  6. The Dream Syndicate – How Did I Find Myself Here? (Anti/Epitaph) | PledgeMusic
  7. Speed The Plough – …And Then (Dromedery) | Buy
  8. Milk Teddy – Time Catches Up With Milk Teddy (Lost And Lonesome) | Bandcamp
  9. Game Theory – Supercalifragile (Kickstarter)
  10. Smokescreens – Smokescreens (Meritorio) | Bandcamp
  11. The Ocean Party – Beauty Point (Spunk) | Bandcamp
  12. Spinning Coin – Permo (Domino) | Bandcamp
  13. Menace Beach – Lemon Memory (Memphis Industries) | Bandcamp

Avant, Experimental, Modern Classical, Ambient & Drone

oxbow-thinSan Francisco’s Oxbow has been making brutal art noise since 1989. Like a lot of middle-aged bands, they have hopped off the yearly tour-record-tour hamster wheel and put out new music when they’re good and ready. Their seventh album is the first since The Narcotic Story (2007), and sounds as powerful and prickly as ever. Penguin Cafe is lead by Arthur Jeffes, son of Simon Jeffes of modern classical/chamber pioneers Penguin Cafe Orchestra. As the name suggests, it’s a worthy continuation of what his father started in 1976. Man Forever is art drone from John Colpitts, aka Kid Millions of Oneida.  Also Dungen with Prins Thomas, Danish String Quartet, Golden Retriever, Pharmakon, Noveller and Azonic.

  1. Oxbow – The Thin Black Duke (Hydra Head) | Bandcamp
  2. Penguin Cafe – The Imperfect Sea (Erased Tapes) | Bandcamp
  3. Man Forever – Play What They Want (Thrill Jockey) | Bandcamp
  4. Dead Sea Apes – Sixth Side Of The Pentagon (Sky Lantern/Cardinal Fuzz) | Bandcamp
  5. Pontiak – Dialectic Of Ignorance (Thrill Jockey)
  6. Thor & Friends – The Subversive Nature of Kindness (L.M. Dupli-cation) | Bandcamp
  7. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Async (Commmons/Milan) | Bandcamp
  8. Mt. Mountain – Dust (Sky Lantern/Cardinal Fuzz) | Bandcamp
  9. Lingua Ignota – All Bitches Die (Lingua Ignota) | Bandcamp
  10. Díamanda Galás – All The Way (Intravenal Sound) | Bandcamp
  11. Total Leatherette – For The Climax Of The Night (MÏLK) | Bandcamp
  12. Dead Rider – Crew Licks (Drag City) | Bandcamp
  13. Pyrrhon – What Passes For Survival (Willowtip) | Bandcamp

Jazz

bottle-treeA couple years ago, Kamasi Washington’s double album The Epic converted a lot of new, younger jazz fans, thanks to his participation on Kendrick Lamar’s albums. His EP this year didn’t make my top 13, as there’s just so damn much great new full length albums that should not be ignored. Washington’s video for “Truth,” however, is a must-see. I’ve been interested in all the innovative ways jazz artists are collaborating and fusing with other genres. Bottle Tree was formed in a Southside Chicago storefront chapel by A.M. Frison and cornetist Ben Lamar Gay with drummer Tommaso Moretti. On their Bandcamp page they refer to West African mutated funk, avant-garde jazz and Motown, “like a futuristic fantasy of Stevie Wonder backed by Don Cherry and Novos Baianos in the early 1970s”. Sold! Labelmates Irreversible Entanglements has actually made lots of year-end lists thanks partly to Camae Ayewa’s fiery liberation lyrics. Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society’s latest is kind of a continuation of their kosmische fusion collaboration with Chicago’s Bitchin Bajas, Automaginary (2015). There’s probably a lot more vocal jazz that I would like, but the UK’s Zara McFarlane stood out to me, to be honest, because of her killer cover of The Congos’ “Fisherman.” More dub fusion please! UK based Yazz Ahmed specializes in arabic jazz with a touch of psychedelic fusion, yass! Also from the UK, Collucutor invokes spiritual jazz born out of John Coltrane’s experiments, and Miles Davis’ fusion. Also just missing the list, Jason Moran, Hear In Now, Vein, Linda May Han Oh, Miles Okazaki, Matt Mitchell, Rez Abbasi, Colin Stetson, Makaya McCraven, Craig Taborn, The Juju and Aaron Parks, Ben Street, Billy Hart.

  1. Bottle Tree – Bottle Tree (International Anthem) | Bandcamp
  2. Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society – Simultonality (Ermite/Glitterbeat) | Bandcamp
  3. Irreversible Entanglements – Irreversible Entanglements (International Anthem) | Bandcamp
  4. Zara McFarlane – Arise (Brownswood) | Bandcamp
  5. Yazz Ahmed – La Saboteuse (Naim) | Bandcamp
  6. Collocuter – The Search (On The Corner) | Bandcamp
  7. Vijay Iyer – Far From Over (ECM) | Buy
  8. Steve Coleman’s Natal Eclipse – Morphogenesis (Pi) | Bandcamp
  9. Angles 9 – Disappeared Behind The Sun (Clean Feed) | Buy
  10. Tyshawn Sorey – Verisimilitude (Pi) | Bandcamp
  11. Jaimie Branch – Fly Or Die (International Anthem) | Bandcamp
  12. Binker And Moses – Journey To The Mountain Of Forever (Gearbox) | Buy
  13. The Comet Is Coming – Death To The Planet EP (Leaf) | Bandcamp

Global

tamikrest-kida16 years after I first heard Tinariwen’s Tishoumaren/Tuareg desert music, relative youngsters and fellow Malian desert dwellers Tamikrest have surpassed the masters. “Global” music is such a generic catch-all tag for music around the world, I can’t pretend to have a clue as to what’s best. Truthfully the reason these bands speak to me is that they have absorbed just enough Western blues guitar, rock ‘n’ roll and psychedelia to tickle the pleasure centers I’ve been raised on and cultivated.  Les Amazones d’Afrique is a cool supergroup of several familiar names, including Angélique Kidjo (Benin), Nneka (Nigeria) and seven badass women from Mali. Brooklyn Raga Massive gives Terry Riley’s minimalist classic the Hindustani Classical treatment. They also did one for John Coltrane. Just missing the list, Lord Echo,

  1. Tamikrest – Kidal (Glitterbeat) | Mali | Bandcamp
  2. Les Amazones d’Afrique – République Amazone  (Real World) | Mali, Benin, Nigeria
  3. Brooklyn Raga Massive – Terry Riley In C (Northern Spy) | US | Bandcamp
  4. Trio•Da Kali and Kronos Quartet – Ladilikan (World Circuit) | Mali | Bandcamp
  5. Tinariwen – Elwan (Anti-) | Mali
  6. Amadou & Mariam – La Confusion (Because) | Mali | Buy
  7. Fabiano do Nascimento – Tempo Dos Mestres (Now-Again) | Brazil | Buy
  8. Kiko Dinucci – Cortes Curtos (Tratore) | Brazil | Free
  9. Rosalía – Los Ángeles (Universal Spain) | Spain | Buy
  10. Msafiri Zawose – Uhamiaji (Soundway) | Tanzania | Bandcamp
  11. Justin Adams Featuring Anneli Drecker – Ribbons (Wayward) | UK | Bandcamp
  12. Clap! Clap! – A Thousand Skies (Black Acre) | Italy | Bandcamp
  13. Omar Souleyman – To Syria, With Love (Mad Decent) | Syria
  14. Songhoy Blues – Re´sistance (Transgressive) | Mali | Bandcamp
  15. Group Doueh & Cheveu – Dakhla Sahara Session (Born Bad) | Sahara | Bandcamp
  16. Nadah el Shazly – Ahwar (Nawa) | Egypt | Bandcamp
  17. Arto Lindsay – Cuidado Madame (Northern Spy) | US | Bandcamp
  18. Lord Echo – Harmonies (Soundway) | New Zealand | Bandcamp
  19. Pierre Kwenders – MAKANDA at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time (Bonsound) | Canada | Bandcamp
  20. Orchestra Baobob – Tribute To Ndiouga Dieng (World Circuit) | Senegal | Bandcamp
  21. Brooklyn Raga Massive – Coltrane Raga Tribute (Brooklyn Raga Society) | US | Bandcamp
  22. Bokanté – Strange Circles (GroundUP) | Caribbean | Buy
  23. Awa Poulo – Poulo Warali (Awesome Tapes from Africa) | Mali | Bandcamp
  24. Black Flower – Artifacts (Sdban Ultra) | Belgium | Bandcamp
  25. Ibibio Sound Machine – Uyai (Merge) | UK | Bandcamp
  26. Metá Metá – Gira (Trilha Sonora Original do Espetáculo do Grupo Corpo) | Brazil
  27. Japan Blues – Sells His Record Collection (JBLP) | UK | Bandcamp
  28. Kapela Maliszów – Wiejski Dzez (Unzipped Fly) | Poland | Buy
  29. Debashish Bhattacharya – Hawaii to Calcutta: A Tribute to Tau Moe (Riverboat) | India | Buy
  30. Here Lies Man – Here Lies Man (RidingEasy) | US | Bandcamp
  31. Ennanga Vision – Ennanga Vision (Soundway) | Uganda | Bandcamp

Afrobeat

chicago-afrobeat-project-whatAlong with King Sunny Ade and probably Ravi Shankar, Fela Kuti was the first non-Western music I heard as a young kid when I first discovered college station KUNI while surfing the radio waves. Kuti’s Afrobeat was an alluring mix of the familiar (jazz, James Brown funk), and the exotic, incessant trance-inducing grooves that extended for ten or more minutes. The fact that Afrobeat has been taken up by many other artists is thanks in part to Tony Allen serving as ambassador long after Fela’s death in 1997. Allen was not only the drummer who helped formulate the literal heartbeat of Afrobeat, but the band’s musical director. So it must have been incredibly exciting for Chicago Afrobeat Project to get the opportunity to work with him on their fourth album. Allen seems to enjoy collaborating, as he has with other artists like The Good, The Bad & The Queen. In the decade since his ninth album Lagos No Shaking (2006), he’s experimented with a variety of genres like pop. electronica, hip hop, film soundtracks, and with his current solo album, classic bebop jazz that first inspired him to play. Brooklyn’s Antibalas have also incorporated plenty of jazz into their music, and on their latest, collaborate with Belgium vocal group Zap Mama on the last three tracks. Also from Brooklyn are Ikebe Shakedown with their third album, and Canadians The Souljazz Orchestra are on their eighth album. With bands active also in Europe and South America, Afrobeat seems to continue to spread.

  1. Chicago Afrobeat Project Featuring Tony Allen – What Goes Up (Chicago Afrobeat Project) | Buy
  2. Antibalas – Where The Gods Are In Peace (Daptone) | Bandcamp
  3. Ikebe Shakedown – The Way Home (Colemine) | Buy
  4. The Souljazz Orchestra – Under Burning Skies (Strut) | Bandcamp
  5. Tony Allen – The Source (Blue Note)
  6. Zé Bigode – Fluxo (Mondé) | Bandcamp
  7. Golden Teacher – No Luscious Life (Golden Teacher) | Bandcamp
  8. The Heliocentrics – A World Of Masks (Soundway) | Bandcamp
  9. Sinkane – Life & Livin’ It (City Slang) | Bandcamp
  10. Ibibio Sound Machine – Uyai (Merge) | Bandcamp
  11. Here Lies Man – Here Lies Man (RidingEasy) | Bandcamp

Electronic, Techno & Dance

metro-riders-europeI had to do some deep diving way down into the 500s (Metro Riders is currently at 541) for these. It’s been a decade since an electronic artist has haunted Fester’s Lucky 13 (Burial’s Untrue). It’s not that I hate electronic music. In the 90s, I keenly followed the work of Aphex Twin, Oval, Autechre, Orbital, u-Ziq, Lali Puna, Boards Of Canada, etc. In the early 00s, Amon Tobin and Four Tet were legit favorite artists of mine. There’s such a huge creative potential still. However, that stuff is boring as hell to watch live (yes, there are now massive EDM festivals, but look how utterly douchey the audiences are, and how they require massive amounts of drugs to power through it), and I don’t think it can ever surpass music made from instruments that you have to spend years practicing, creating muscle memory and callouses. This is not a luddite reactionary nonsense, it’s a human thing. It’s easier to feel a visceral emotional response to music that you can physically connect to. I’m not at all against this music existing, and think there are still lots of possibilities to explore in integrating with instruments and voices. However, the anti-rockist attitude that electronic music renders many other genres obsolete, is fucking absurd. Operating in a sort of vacuum can be alluring in a certain floating in frozen space way, but there’s a danger of a critical vacuum. I’m sure many disagree, but many of the artists below do to some extent interact with some acoustic and analog instruments. Just off the list, Anneli Drecker, Lee Gamble, Blanck Mass, Gas, Indian Wells, Aris Kindt, Andrea Belfi.

  1. Metro Riders – Europe By Night (Kudos) | Bandcamp
  2. Colleen – A Flame My Love, A Frequency (Thrill Jockey) | Bandcamp
  3. Floating Points – Reflections – Mojave Desert (Luaka Bop) | Bandcamp
  4. Four Tet – New Energy (Text) | Bandcamp
  5. Andrew Weatherall – Qualia (Huga Nord) | Bandcamp
  6. Heroin In Tahiti – Remoria (Soave) | Bandcamp
  7. The Bug vs. Earth – Concrete Desert (Ninja Tune)
  8. Sudan Archives – Sudan Archives EP (Stones Throw) | Bandcamp
  9. Ben Frost – The Centre Cannot Hold (Mute) | Bandcamp
  10. Jlin – Black Origami (Planet Mu) | Bandcamp
  11. Forest Swords – Compassion (Ninja Tune)
  12. Bing & Ruth – No Home Of The Mind (4AD) | Buy
  13. Com Truise – Iteration (Ghostly)| Bandcamp

R&B, Soul & Funk

jones-soulOne thing that has bothered me about Chicago is the massive tourist industry around blues and jazz, while soul was completely ignored. Yet Chicago had a huge role in soul music, from Sam Cooke to Curtis Mayfield, The Staples Singers, Otis Clay and many, many more. In the 90s it seemed like a lost genre, with hardly anyone making new music aside from “neo-soul.” That started to change at the turn of the century when Sharon Jones, after collaborating with Lee Fields, hooked up with Daptone Records, fine-tuned a tight set with the Dap-Kings during a summer residency in Barcelona, and recorded Dap-Dippin’ With… Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings (2002). Serving as inspiration to UK stars like Amy Winehouse and Adele, Jones played a huge part in reviving soul music, and will be greatly missed. We were gifted with one last posthumous album that’s nearly as great as her peak work. Curtis Harding is one of the new, young voices with the talent to add nuances to psychedelic soul, something I’d love to hear more of (Chicano Batman, Thundercat and Nick Hakim also play around with the genre). Hyper modern R&B is of course commercially one of the biggest forces in music, with a fairly deep, talented pool. Leading that group is the debut of Kelela. She didn’t come from nowhere, she’d been working hard on her craft, putting out a number of singles and EPs for the past five years. Chicago soul veteran Mavis Staples is enjoying an extended late career resurgence, sounding better than ever on her fifth album with the Anti- label, this one produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Sound Opinion’s Greg Kot documented her amazing story in the book I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the March up Freedom’s Highway (2014). Missing the list were N.E.R.D., Smino, Jordan Rakei, Flo Morrissey & Matthew E. White, Kehlani, Syd and Klein.

  1. Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings – Soul Of A Woman (Daptone) | Bandcamp
  2. Curtis Harding – Face Your Fear (Anti-) | Bandcamp
  3. Kelela – Take Me Apart (Warp) | Buy
  4. Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black (Anti-) | Bandcamp
  5. Chicano Batman – Freedom Is Free (ATO) | Bandcamp
  6. Somi – Petite Afrique (Sony)
  7. Moses Sumney – Aromanticism (Jagjaguwar) | Bandcamp
  8. Miguel – War & Leisure (ByStorm) | Bandcamp
  9. Mhysa – Fantasii (Halcyon Veil) | Bandcamp
  10. Sampha – Process (Young Turks) | Bandcamp
  11. SZA – CTRL (RCA) | Buy
  12. Thundercat – Drunk (Brainfeeder)
  13. Nick Hakim – Green Twins (ATO) | Bandcamp

Hip Hop & Rap

milo-whoLike metal in the late 80s, hip hop and rap have expanded into many different sub-genres. Just on the RYM entry on Milwaukee-based Milo’s third album, they list “abstract hip hop, conscious hip hop, experimental hip hop, jazz rap, glitch hop” and “cloud rap.” I don’t listen to this stuff enough for it to be worth my time to sort that shit out. I just know that Milo is super creative, talented, and relatively underrated. Chicago’s Vic Mensa has shown himself to be a great storyteller.  Newark, NJ’s Dälek probably peaked with the brutal industrial hip hop of Absence (2005), but lately they’ve been invigorated by the dark horror show of U.S. politics. Kendrick Lamar, what can I say. Not much that won’t piss off millions of people, probably. Not that they’d be reading my site. He’s fascinating, talented, passionate, but I can’t always get through an entire track let alone an album because he tries to pile in so. Damn. Much. The consensus is he’s the GOAT, and I think he could get there, but  still got some work to do on his craft. Open Mike Eagle is based in CA but grew up in the Robert Taylor housing development in Chicago, just a few blocks from where I live. This album is about that, and touches on the tricky, complex topic of gentrification. Just missing the list, additional albums from Shabazz Palaces, Brockhampton, and Chino Amobi.

  1. Milo – Who Told You to Think?????!?!???!???!???! (Ruby Yacht) | Bandcamp
  2. Vic Mensa – The Autobiography (ROC Nation)
  3. Dälek – Endangered Philosophies (Ipecac) | Bandcamp
  4. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. (Top Dawg/Aftermath)
  5. Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (Mello) | Bandcamp
  6. Rapsody – Laila’s Wisdom (Rapsody) | Buy
  7. Wiley – Godfather (CTA)
  8. Princess Nokia – 1992 Deluxe (Rough Trade) | Buy
  9. Nnamdi Ogbonnaya – DROOL (Father/Daughter) | Bandcamp
  10. CunninLynguists – Rose Azura Njano (A Piece Of Strange Music) | Bandcamp
  11. J Hus – Common Sense (Black Butter)
  12. Shabazz Palaces – Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines (Sub Pop) | Bandcamp
  13. Uncommon Nasa – Written At Night (Man Bites Dog) | Bandcamp

Folk, Americana & Country

galley-beggar-heathenSome are under the mistaken impression that folk is exclusively American music. Newsflash, it existed in Europe for hundreds of years before North America was even a glint in the eye of the genocidal criminals who started up the colonies. Galley Beggar does not look back to medieval folk so much as the late 60s psychedelic heyday of Fairport Convention, Trees and Pentangle. Rate Your Music categorizes Elkhorn as “American Primitivism.” What a stupid-ass genre tag. I can’t believe the community uses that, but rejects my proposed psych noir tag. There’s nothing primitive about Elkhorn’s music. It might be unadorned and minimalist, with just a 12-string acoustic (Jesse Sheppard) and electric guitar (Drew Gardner), but the technique and craft is advanced, like John Fahey and Glenn Jones (Cul de Sac) mixed with post-apocalyptic cosmic explorations of Earthless and Mahavishnu Orchestra. I’d prefer to call it psychedelic folk. On their ninth album Arbouretum’s psychedelic folk rock stands out from the majority of the American I’ve heard lately, and I need to go back and revisit their catalog.  Nearly as impressive are Gunn-Truscinski Duo, including the prolific Steve Gunn who’s put out several great solo albums in recent years. As they and Elkhorn demonstrate, when two great guitarists who complement each other work together, magic happens. John Garcia did acoustic versions of his songs from Kyuss along with newer material, and they work really well. Doug Tuttle is on a roll, cranking out his third album of indie psych/folk pop gems just a year after his last. Julie Byrne’s second album is pretty traditional singer-songwriter folk, but is so delicate and gorgeous, I can see why it’s done well in year-end lists. OCS is one of John Dwyer’s many projects, a variation on the Oh Sees name, this one is more folk centric. A. Savage, interestingly, is Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts, who moved to Austin and made this surprising folky album. Just missing the list, Headland, Michael Chapman, Hooray For The Riff Raff, Alvarius B., Joan Shelley, Laura Marling, Cobalt Chapel and Pefkins.

  1. Galley Beggar – Heathen Hymns (Rise Above) | Buy
  2. Elkhorn – The Black River (Debacle) | Bandcamp
  3. Arbouretum – Song Of The Rose (Thrill Jockey) | Bandcamp
  4. Gunn-Truscinski Duo – Bay Head (Three Lobed) | Bandcamp
  5. John Garcia – The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues (Napalm) | Buy
  6. Doug Tuttle – Peace Potato (Trouble In Mind) | Bandcamp
  7. Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness (Ba Da Bing!) | Bandcamp
  8. Bedouine – Bedouine (Spacebomb) | Bandcamp
  9. OCS – Memory Of A Cut Off Head (Castle Face)
  10. Bill Orcutt – Bill Orcutt (Palilalia) | Bandcamp
  11. A. Savage – Thawing Down (Dull Tools) | Bandcamp
  12. Nadia Reid – Preservation (Spunk) | Bandcamp
  13. Kacy & Clayton – The Siren’s Song (New West) | Bandcamp

Reissues

husker-du-savageJust when you think box sets are irrelevant, Numero Group nails it with another unexpected, winning set. Last year it was a definitive collection of Australia’s post-punk noir The Scientists. This time it’s remastered early recordings and demos of Hüsker Dü. The key initial attraction for me was superior live recordings of the Land Speed Record (1981) set, as their first full-length studio album, Everything Falls Apart (1982) had already been reissued in the 90s with great sound. It goes without saying that it’s a better master than most of the later SST recordings. But listening to it all at once is a revelation, rough recordings of a band that was already transcending their local post-hardcore punk scene, shining like jewel. Plus some songs that were left off of their SST debut, the Metal Circus EP (1983). Sadly, Grant Hart passed away before he could see the results of this beautiful set. With luck, Numero Group will get permission to treat the rest of that catalog with the respect that these early recordings got.

jazz-butcher-wastedI first heard The Jazz Butcher’s quirky jangle pop on college radio as a young teen. This nice hardcover book style set might convert a few more acolytes. However, all the numerous and great (“The Devil Is My Friend”) non-album singles of the era were left out. In the liner notes, Pat Fish admits that Distressed Gentlefolk (1986) is short on good songs because the best ones were being put out at singles. To mention that, yet give no indication if those will ever be reissued, is perverse. I guess that’s one expects from the world’s most semi-competent band.

I heard U-Men at the time but kind of forgot about them. Sub Pop reminds us that they were truly a unique artistic force of garage noir blues punk, a missing link between Australia’s scene (Birthday Party/Scientists) and the U.S. (Gun Club/Scratch Acid). Snuck in there is the first album from Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, which was only issued initially on cassette. Don’t miss this if you’re a fan, it’s possibly their second best album. Elder just remastered their first two albums, and added some demos to the debut. I also had a bunch of reggae and early 70s album reissues, but nothing fancy (The Scientist reissues with all references to his name wiped, Freddie McKay, Marcia Griffiths, Delroy Wilson and Cornell Campbell). Plus the first two Montrose albums, first albums by X-Ray Spex, The Damned and RamonesDoing Our Thing: More Soul From Jamdown 1970-82, The Necessaries’ Event Horizon (1982), Monster Magnet’s Spine Of God (1991).

  1. Hüsker Dü – Savage Young Dü [3CD] (Numero, 1979-82)
  2. The Jazz Butcher – The Wasted Years [4CD] (Fire, 1984-86)
  3. U-Men – U-Men [2CD] (Sub Pop, 1984-88)
  4. Alice Coltrane – World Spirituality Classics (Luaka Bop, 1987-90)
  5. The Obsessed – The Obsessed [2CD] (Relapse, 1984-85)
  6. Richard Hell & The Voidoids – Blank Generation 40th Anniversary Deluxe [2CD] (Sire/Rhino, 1977)
  7. The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead [3CD] (WB, 1986)
  8. Metallica – Master Of Puppets [3CD] (Blackened, 1986)
  9. Rush – A Farewell To Kings [3CD] (Mercury/UMe, 1977)
  10. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats – Vol 1 (Rise Above, 2010)
  11. The Creation – Action Painting (Numero)
  12. Elder – Elder + Demos (Stickman, 2007)
  13. Bob & Gene – If This World Were Mine (Daptone) | Bandcamp
  14. Voivod – Dimension Hatröss [3CD] (BMG, 1988)

New Old Discoveries

mckay-lonelyIn addition to listening to over new albums in their entirety, throughout the year I also discover older stuff. This year according to what I added to my lists, it was over 400 albums. Here’s some of my new favorites. Inspired by the deluxe reissue of Freddie McKay’s debut album, Picture On The Wall (1971, Studio One), I tracked down files of his other albums. The Best Of Freddy McKay was reissued on vinyl only by French label Only Roots, who didn’t bother with CD or digital because they think those formats are dead. It’s actually a regular album release, not a singles compilation. But it’s peak McKay, hence the audacious title. Top choons are the hypnotic “Blow Wind” and the stretched out, dubby “Sweet And Sour.” A Lonely Man (1974) has some of his most soulful singing that reminds me a bit of Toots on “If I Should Dream My Life Is Over” and “Lonely Man.” It was reissued by Rhino in 2002 inexplicably as When You’re Smiling with shoddy cover art, but with some extra tracks. I’m still looking for a FLAC rip of that. I’ll trade! There seem to be many hidden treasures left dying for proper reissues (and for fuck’s sake, not just vinyl).

I spent a lot of time also catching up on the entire extensive catalogs of The Black Watch, Motorpsycho, P-Model, The Resonars, The Renderers, Baby Woodrose and most recently Bent Knee, The Sand Pebbles and The Citradels.

  1. Freddie McKay – A Lonely Man (Dynamic, 1974)
  2. Freddie McKay – The Best Of Freddy McKay (Hit, 1977)
  3. The Dentists – Some People Are on the Pitch (They Think It’s All Over It Is Now) (Spruck/Trouble In Mind, 1985)
  4. Sunnyboys – Sunnyboys (Mushroom/Festival, 1981)
  5. The Black Watch – The End Of When (Pop Culture Press, 2013)
  6. Doc Corbin Dart – Patricia (Alternative Tentacles, 1990)
  7. Bird Nest Roys – Bird Nest Roys (Flying Nun, 1987)
  8. Kebnekaise – Kebnekaise II (Silence, 1973)
  9. The Brilliant Corners – Somebody Up There Likes Me (McQueen, 1988)
  10. Roky Erickson And The Aliens – The Evil One (415/Light In The Attic, 1981)
  11. Jouis – Dodo (Beetroot, 2014)
  12. The Dials – The End Of The Pier (Gear Discs, 2013)
  13. Tradition – Captain Ganja And The Space Patrol (Venture, 1980)

Shows

This year I missed way more shows than I saw, including King Crimson (though they kindly issued that show on disc), The Black Heart Procession, The Dream Syndicate, etc. When many European bands almost never come to North America (ahem, Motorpsycho, Colour Haze, Troubled Horse, Jess and the Ancient Ones, Amplifier, Causa Sui, Avatarium, Purple Hill Witch, Spectral Haze, Mythic Sunship, Spidergawd, Circle, Spiders), it’s incredibly impressive when a Swedish band tours North America twice in a year. Those road warriors are Truckfighters. I’ve seen them so many times, now my biggest pleasure is seeing the reactions of friends who had never seen them before, just like when you stare at a friend’s face while they watch your all-time favorite movie. I’ve noticed they are getting a little jammier on some of their longer songs, trying out new things. I look forward to more. Hopefully another band from home can piggyback next time.

Photos by Dex.

Just missing the top 13, QOTSA/At The Drive-In, Danzig and Bad Brains at Riot Fest, Last In LineGuided By Voices at Wicker Park Fest, and Castle at Reggie’s. Ratt at the Concord was kind of fun too.

  1. Truckfighters – Reggie’s, Jan, Bottom Lounge, Oct, San Francisco
  2. Elder, Black Road – Reggie’s, Oct 17
  3. Khemmis – Reggie’s, Jan 13
  4. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Auditorium Theatre, Jun 16
  5. PJ Harvey, The Feelies – Pitchfork Fest, Union Park, Jul 15
  6. Wo Fat, The Well & Black Road – Reggie’s, Jun 19
  7. Weedeater, Telekinetic Yeti – Bottom Lounge, Sep 7 v
  8. The Drones – Downstairs/Subterranean, Mar 25
  9. Horisont – Reggie’s, Apr 7
  10. Male Gaze – Empty Bottle, Aug 27
  11. Castle – Reggie’s, Aug 11
  12. Sheavy, Beelzefuzz, Apostle Of Solitude – Reggie’s, Aug 13
  13. Royal Headache – West Fest, Jul 8

Videos

300+ videos, these are sorted by most popular.


Movies

big-sickthor-ragnarokThis year it seems I don’t differ that much from what’s popular. It seems most people need a bit of escapism this year. My favorite, The Big Sick, was a fairly low-key comedy that deals pretty subtly with racism and cultural and generational conflicts with witty humor. On the flip side, Get Out was a subtle as a steamroller, but it was some weird, scary fun. If anything, the Thor movie is underrated. Taika Waititi was a bold choice to direct the movie, and his quirky New Zealand humor that did well in the indie comedy horror mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows (2014) translates shockingly well for a big budget superhero movie.

Have not yet seen: Coco, Lady Bird, The Shape Of Water, Murder On The Orient Express, Blade Runner 2049, City Of Ghosts, Truman, Kedi, The Disaster Artist, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, It (I), A Bad Moms Christmas, Alien: Covenant, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, Brigsby Bear, Columbus, Good Time, Hounds Of Love, It Comes At Night, Logan Lucky, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Wheelman, My Cousin Rachel.

  1. The Big Sick
  2. Thor: Ragnarok
  3. Hidden Figures
  4. Wonder Woman
  5. A Cure For Wellness
  6. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
  7. The Red Turtle
  8. Landline
  9. Get Out
  10. The Boss Baby
  11. I Am Not Your Negro
  12. Gimme Danger: The Story Of The Stooges
  13. Beauty and the Beast

Also decent: T2: Trainspotting, Ghost In The Shell, Spiderman: Homecoming, Rough Night, Guardings of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, Snatched, Baby Driver, Colossal, John Wick: Chapter 2, Logan, A Ghost Story.

Television

marvelous-mrs-maiselIt seemed destiny that the eagerly anticipated second season of Stranger Things would clean up. But oh my god, that changed on November 29. Amy Sherman-Palladino, the genius behind Gilmore Girls and the sadly unfilled Bunheads, came back to Amazon with a vengeance with the new show, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Set in 1958 New York, Midge Maisel is a smart, educated Jewish housewife with two kids. It’s still early days in her marriage, but the first episode subtly shows her pushing against the limitated intellectual stimulation her role in life requires. Her yutz of a husband has delusions of grandeur that he’ll be a great comedian, even though he plagiarizes his bits. Then suddenly he leaves her for his dumb-as-rocks secretary, and she finds herself drunk, in her nightgown at the comedy club, killing it with an edgy, improvised act. Lenny Bruce makes appearances as a kind of male muse, and while this could have been cheesy, it’s handled masterfully. The show deals with political, class, cultural, religious, economic, feminist and freedom of speech issues with a rapid-fire razorsharp wit that, truthfully, transcends Gilmore Girls. Rachel Brosnahan is more than up for the daunting task, and oh, do I wish the season had more then eight episodes. More seasons could definitely put this in the running for best. Show. Ever.

  1. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
  2. Stranger Things
  3. Master Of None
  4. Grace And Frankie
  5. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  6. Broad City
  7. Preacher
  8. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
  9. Endeavor
  10. GLOW
  11. Marvel’s The Defenders
  12. HAPPY!
  13. Better Things

Also entertaining: American Gods, Ghost Wars, Patton Oswalt: Annihilation, Lady Dynamite, American Vandal, Love, Search Party, Crashing, Marvel’s Iron Fist, Dave Chappelle: Collection 1, Dear White People, One Mississippi, Father Brown, The Crown, Flaked, Marry Me, Lovesick, The Exorcist, Grantchester, Inspector Lewis, Inside Amy Schumer, Maron, American Housewife, The Good Place, Elementary, Mindy Project, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, Indian Summers, SNL, You’re The Worst, Big Bang Theory, Gotham, Portlandia,  Younger. Haven’t seen cuz Premium channels: The Leftovers, Twin Peaks: The Return, The Deuce, Girls, She’s Gotta Have It.

Books

stepenson-dodoI probably should read more contemporary literary fiction, but I mostly read music books and genre fiction I get for $1 to $3 daily deals. Eh, my brain probably won’t rot as long as I’m reading something. Plus, listening to music and writing are known to help prevent dementia too. One somewhat literary book that I liked was the latest from Neal Stephenson, in collaboration with Nicole Galland. The past decade, I fell Stephenson has been given a bit too much free reign by his editors, indulging in the most tedious mansplaining of every little obsession he has with history, philosophy and technology. His previous book Seveneves (2015) could have easily been cut down by about 300 pages. Nevertheless, he’s written some of my all-time favorites, and The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., while fairly epic length, moves along pretty well for a time travel story that literally goes all over the place and time. There’s even some humor that reminds me of Connie Willis’ time travel classic, To Say Nothing of the Dog (1997). Perhaps it’s thanks to Galland for keeping him in line.

David Weigel’s prog book is one of the most well written of all the music books, probably because he brings the discipline of a political reporter to this geekfest. Not that it would appeal to anyone but diehard prog fans. I’m one of ’em!

Allan Jones’ book, a collection that reminisces various assignments that he had throughout the 70s interviewing artists for Melody Maker. The sole purpose of the book is apparently to deflate the reverent images people hold for most of these rockstars and reveal their true baffoonish nature. This process was aided, typically, by a truckload of drugs and alcohol. The thing is, pretty much everyone is a complete asshole when they’re drunk or drugged up, including Jones, who gets beaten up a lot, and seemed to deserve it. But the casual violence is disturbing. It’s amazing how people regularly got away with beating someone so badly they need to be hospitalized, and were seemingly never arrested or paid any consequences. Overall it left an impression than Jones never really cared about music, and had had nothing but contempt for most artists. Or perhaps he’s just pandering to what the jackals want. Either way, it’s profoundly depressing, yet I felt compelled to finish it because, well, I’m compulsive about any music related book. And occasionally there’s a rare candid moment where someone shows a glimmer of humanity. So, proceed with caution.

Goodman’s book shows that at least the violence subsided, but not the drugs in 00s NYC. I spent some time in Williamsburg in 2002, and I had no idea there was so much cocaine still going around. I thought that died off in the 80s, and how the hell did those motherfuckers afford that shit with what they were paying in rent? I guess there’s a lot of trust fund babies in Brooklyn. I loved most of the bands in the book, but while Goodman did not intend for it to be a negative portrait, I was left pretty grossed out overall. There were exceptions, TV On The Radio and Yeah Yeah Yeahs were just big geeks, which is awesome. And surprisingly, most of the guys in The Strokes seemed very sincere and did a lot to nurture the careers of other up and coming artists.

  1. Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland – The Rise And Fall Of D.O.D.O.
  2. David Weigel – The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock
  3. Tony Fletcher – A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths
  4. Ben Ratliff – Coltrane: The Story of a Sound
  5. Julian Fellows – Past Imperfect
  6. Brian Slagel – For The Sake of Heaviness: The History of Metal Blade Records
  7. Simon Goddard – Simply Thrilled: The Preposterous Story of Postcard Records
  8. Roger Shepherd – In Love With these Times: My Life With Flying Nun Records
  9. Lizzy Goodman: Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011
  10. Bryan Waterman – Television’s Marquee Moon
  11. Roger Steffens – So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley
  12. Chrissie Hynde – Reckless: My Life as a Pretender
  13. Allan Jones – Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down: Rock ‘n’ Roll War Stories

Hardcover & Coffee Table Books

popoff-rush-albumSince I’ve been reading nearly all books digitally on Kindle devices, it’s a refreshing novelty to hold this coffee table style book in my lap. Rush: Album By Album may not be essential for everyone, but hardcore Rush fans should appreciate the beautifully assembled artifact that can either be read straight through within a day, or browsed piecemeal over a long time period. Like Popoff’s previous Rush book, Rush: The Unofficial Illustrated History from 2013, which was updated in 2016, it’s fleshed out with photos of the band, concert t-shirts, backstage passes and other memorabilia. Perhaps a bit too geeky for the casual fan, it’s highly recommended for anyone who spends a few hours getting their Rush on now and then. He’s cranking them out, with just as lavish books on Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. Those familiar with Ufomammut know that the members are also visual artists, part of the Malleus Collective who create pretty amazing album art and posters. All the Ufomammut art has been collected in one handy volume. Shipping from Italy costs more than the actual book, but keep an eye on All That Is Heavy, which will have another 20 copies available soon.

  1. Martin Popoff – Rush: Album By Album
  2. Malleus Collective – The Art Of Ufomammut
  3. Albert Mudrian – Choosing Death: The Improbable History Of Death Metal & Grindcore (Revised and Expanded)
  4. Matt Brennan – When Genres Collide: Down Beat, Rolling Stone, and the Struggle between Jazz and Rock 
  5. Daniel Miller & Terry Burrows – Mute: A Visual Document From 1978 To Tomorrow
  6. Mike Heron – You Know What You Could Be: Tuning into the 1960s
  7. Chuck D Presents This Day In Rap And Hip Hop History
  8. Martin Popoff – Led Zeppelin: All the Albums, All The Songs
  9. Robert Forster – Grant & I: Inside and Outside the Go-Betweens
  10. R. Crumb – Bible Of Filth
  11. Chris Ware – Monograph
  12. Martin Popoff – AC/DC: Album By Album

Comics

This year I kind of slacked. In my transition from printed books to reading on a Kindle via Comixology, I fell behind. Switching from an 8″ to 10″ device has helped make them easier read, so I started catching up. I’ll probably find new titles to follow in the coming year.

  1. Injection – Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire
  2. The Wildstorm – Warren Ellis, Jon Davis-Hunt
  3. Saga – Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
  4. Heartthrob – Christopher Sebela, Robert Wilson IV, Nick Filardi
  5. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods: The Shadows – Gaiman, P. Craig Russell, Scott Hampton
  6. Karnak – Warren Ellis, Gerardo Zaffino, David Aja
  7. Sex Criminals – Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky
  8. Monstress – Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda

Audio Gear

mrspeakers-voce-1This is a helluva dangerous hobby for those on limited budgets. It can be a slippery slope if you start justifying four figure purchases because plenty of other working and middle class folks spend comparable amounts of money on hobbies such as cars, ski trips, and uh, whatever normal people do. I do my best to keep a healthy balance of getting the best sound for a reasonable amount of money. This year my key acquisitions were the MrSpeakers Aeon, which I plan to use at work with my Grace m9xx DAC/amp, and a used HifiMAN HE-6, which has been my go-to for all heavy music since July, driven by my iFi Audio Pro iCAN amp. I also have the iESL, which can be used to drive the HE-6, but is mainly patiently awaiting the MrSpeakers VOCE electrostatic, originally scheduled to come out last summer, but delayed half a year. During development it was referred to as the Ether ES, but they just announced the name and final pricing, for $2,999, despite promises to keep the price well below $3K. Apparently they got excited about a fancy display case that comes with it. Nevertheless, paired with the iESL, it’s an opportunity to hear an Electrostatic system that possibly can measure up to the far more expensive options from Sennheiser and HifiMAN. I did get to try out some expensive toys at Axpona in April, which I wrote about here. I also got to visit AudioVision while I was in San Francisco last month. They have the largest collection of headphones in any store in the U.S., and I got to hear some new things like the Sonoma Model One and Focal Clear.

sennheiser-hd58xKiller stocking stuffer (okay, not a stocking stuffer, as it doesn’t ship until June 29. But a great summer solstice present): Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee Headphones, $149.99. Massdrop has had some great collaborations with audio companies the past few years. I’ve personally enjoyed the Fostex and the Grace m9XX DAC/amp. The current drop, active until 12/30, is probably the best headphone I’ve ever seen for $150. In 1991, Axel Grell joined Sennheiser and designed the HD 580 Precision: the headphone that would launch a much-loved series—and the peak of the company’s audiophile headphones for more than 25 years. Four years later, to mark its 50th anniversary, Sennheiser released the HD 580 Jubilee, which would later become the HD 600 and lead to the HD 650. In the spirit of the HD 580, with current technology and optimizations learned throughout the series’ rich history, we’re excited to release the newest evolution: the Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee. Tuned by Axel Grell and Massdrop based on feedback from the audiophile community, it features new 150-ohm drivers and a colorway inspired by the HD 580 Precision that started it all. Also available is the Massdrop x Focal Elex for $799, which improves upon features of the $999 Elear and even includes features from the new Clear!

  1. MrSpeakers VOCE (Jan 1, 2018, $2,999)
  2. HiFiMAN Susvara ($6,000)
  3. Sonoma Model One electrostatic system ($4,995)
  4. JPS Labs Abyss AB-1266 Phi ($4,495/$5,495)
  5. Chord DAVE DAC/amp/preamp ($10,000+)
  6. Focal Utopia ($4,000)
  7. MrSpeakers Ether Flow ($1,800)
  8. Focal Clear ($1,499)
  9. ZMF Eikon ($1,299)
  10. Sennheiser HD-800 S ($1,700)
  11. MrSpeakers Aeon ($799)
  12. Meze 99 Neo ($199)
  13. Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 58X Jubilee ($150)

Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2016
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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