Usually there’s a track-a-day write up on the 20 for… playlist but you’ll forgive me if I wish to put 2016 behind me and pretend it never happened. It’s a shame that so much good music will be indelibly marked with the events of 2016, both the political cataclysms and personal nadirs. But if you can stomach it there’s plenty of gems to be found among the wreckage of the year we’d all rather forget. Stuff that’s worth clinging to when trying to tell ourselves it’s all going to be ok.
I don’t think I’m going out on too weak a limb to suggest there haven’t been many bona fide classic records released in 2016. There’ll probably be a few that will grown in stature and be considered classic in time, and possibly for all my flailing around trying to hear everything (reader: I have a problem) that I’ve missed entirely. But right here and now nothing obviously stands up as Timeless.
And yet it feels like it’s been a great year for music already – the sheer breadth of wonderful sounds created boggles my tiny mind on a near daily basis. Much of it may be forgotten fairly quickly – but it was beautiful while it lasted. It’s nice not to think of posterity all the time and let stuff drift through your life like a cool breeze and enjoy it while it’s there. Right?
Indie Rock, they say, is pretty much a dead art – yet there go the likes of Dinosaur Jr, the Julie Ruin, Parquet Courts indie rockin’ away like the 90s never ended. Which for a guitar junkie like myself is always welcome. In contrast the realm of ambient/drone/modern composition continues to go through a veritible golden age with the likes of Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Jherek Bicshoff, Juliana Barwick et al weaving voice, electronics, organic instrumentation, field recordings and untamed static into wistful, melancholic, nostalgic slices of beautiful noise.
I keep thinking it’s been a poor year for heavy music but there are a few reliable stalwarts keeping the flame lit. Wrekmeister Harmonies continue to surprise with the scope of their dark epics, Neurosis continue to defy time and the laws of diminishing returns, Russian Circles just about keep an old formula fresh, Big Business continue to expand their sonic palette despite contracting in numbers and Ulver continue to keep everyone guessing. Newcomers MAKE bring a much needed sense of righteous indignation to post-metal and Helen Money showcases the under-explored heavy potential of the cello.
Yeah. It’s been a pretty good year. And it’s still not done, with a few big names left on the release calender and still more as yet unknown suprises afoot. It might have been a pretty shit year in most other respects for us as a species but there’s plenty of joy to be had hidden between a pair of headphones. We can always be thankful for that.
There’s no point trying to pretend this review could go either way – I love Big Business and went into Command Your Weather entirely expecting to love it. It didn’t disappoint. They never do.
Wanna know how much I loved it? Witness me singing it’s praises over at Echoes & Dust.
It’s been a bit quiet here on Wanton Dilettantery over the past 2 months. It turns out buying and moving into a new house is really quite time consuming/insanely stressful. Who knew? But while I haven’t had much time to vainly fling words at music I have still found the time to fulfill my sworn duty to produce a 25 track playlist every 3 months. Some things are too important to let trifling things such as decorating or buying furniture get in the the way.
This year seems to already be a vintage one in terms of quieter sounds – sad pieces that take their cues from post- rock, modern classical and ambient/ drone. Kristoffer Lo’s The Black Meat might just be my pick of the bunch so far, not least for it’s great backstory – it was recorded in a disused lighthouse at the southernmost point of Norway. It has the desolate sounds to match – at 10 quiet minutes it might not seem like an obvious choice to start a playlist but good lord does it earn it. Elsewhere Dag Rosenquist’s exquisite static, Western Skies Motel’s sparse, fragmented take on American Primitivism, Christina Ott’s spacefaring neo-classical and Ben Lukas Boysen’s piano led ambience flying the flag for the quiet and the delicate. And with records from the likes of Ian William Craig and Eluvium still to come it’s really a special time for Team Quiet.
Which is not to say there isn’t anything interesting going on in Team Loud. It might not quite be as spectacular a time for the riff hungry but Bossk’s leftfield shift from post-metal to post-everything on Audio Noir has probably been the years highest point for me. It’s a record that demands to be heard as a whole but I’ve slipped Kobe in here as it’s just too good to leave out. Big Business have made a welcome return with Command Your Weather (which I just reviewed for Echoes & Dust) and sound as fantastic as ever, whilst Welsh 2 piece VAILS dropped a second ep of meaty, gravel voiced riffy brilliance. Cobalt have made an unlikely return after losing their vocalist and whilst for my money Slow Forever could do with some serious editing it’s still an undeniably powerful listen. Kvelertak’s third album has proved divisive, as has Gojira’s latest, but both are bright and celebratory in their way and have both seen a lot of action on my stereo, even if neither are likely to rank as their very best work.
In weirder heavy sounds Japan’s Otoboke Beaver have been getting a lot of love round Chez Dilettantery (note to self: never call it that again) with their effervescant blend of punk, harcore, noise and bubblegum pop. WRONG are basically and Unsane/Helmet tribute act but that’s a sound that will never get old to me, whereas Head Wound City feature guys from Blood Brothers and sound a lot like Blood Brothers. This is A Good Thing. Then there’s Menimals. I’ve no idea what the deal is with Menimals, but I think I like it.
To file under consistently great people doing consistently great things; Marrisa Nadler, Spencer Krug’s Moonface and Aesop Rock, all of whom are releasing effortlessly wonderful music that could easily be taken for granted. Moonface’s latest isn’t their best but I’m a sucker for Krug’s weird theater school preciousness and pretentiousness (who couldn’t fall in love with a line like,”I know that my behaviour is partly why you turned into a blade of grass“?). Whereas Aesop Rock followed up a career best record with an arguably even better one. The man can do no wrong in my eyes. Less expected was Dälek returning sans producer Oktopus yet sounding as potent as ever with Asphalt for Eden, a record every bit as vital as their best work in their first incarnation. Ok, maybe not quite as vital as Absence. But then almost nothing is.
It’s a good time for music fans, if not for human beings in general, what with the world at large seems to basically be on fire and careening towards a cliff face. At least we’ll go down with a decent sountrack.
I neglected to review Battlefields Forever upon it’s release in 2013, which I consider a shameful oversight. It’s really very good y’see. Now it’s been given a belated official European release and I have been gifted a chance to right that wrong for Echoes and Dust.