I sat down and compiled my annual best-of list for the past year, but in doing so I realized that pretty much everything I could put down was going to be covered by so many other music writers that there wasn’t much point. Great as the new Neurosis is, do we really need another list explaining why it’s the best album of the year (though it definitely is)? There’s not going to be a shortage.
I sat down and compiled my annual best-of list for the past year, but in doing so I realized that pretty much everything I could put down was going to be covered by so many other music writers that there wasn’t much point. Great as the new Neurosis is, do we really need another list explaining why it’s the best album of the year (though it definitely is)? There’s not going to be a shortage. Much as I loved the Pallbearer album, once NPR puts it in their annual top 50, it doesn’t really need my voice adding to the ever-increasing choir singing its praises. So instead, here’s a dozen albums that really should’ve gotten more attention than they did. Not saying they all flew completely under the radar (even obscurity’s a subjective judgment), but I feel like all of these deserved more of a response than they seem to have garnered.
Black metal from New Jersey with a violinist and songs dealing with Iberian history and culture? It might sound improbable on paper, but it’s one of the better albums the genre concocted this year.
Remember when, instead of passing away, Poly Styrene slipped into an alternate dimension where it’s 1978 again and she joined Motorhead (in this alternate dimension, all of them from Japan) and convinced them to turn into a thrashy hardcore band? Me either, but this album really wishes that that had happened.
A thoroughly strange album, one in which something akin to black metal is performed using drums, hammered dulcimer, and vocals. This one’s the third in a series and, where previous volumes relied on unrelenting speed and gnarled tangles of sound (a combination that rendered them fascinating, if not always the easiest listening experience), the newest is characterized by a more moderate pacing which allows the stately melodic passages to shine through. Still harsh and disorienting, but considerably more enjoyable than its predecessors and completely unlike anything else out there.
A one-man grindcore marching band trading in explosive, strident calls to arms against the world’s injustices and degradations. One could throw around all sorts of “Nasum meets Sousa” descriptions, except that those fail to capture how genuinely stirring this seemingly incongruous melange of textures and sounds ends up being.
Heady modern psychedelia that doesn’t rely on any sort of genre cliché or retro posturing. Despite the trippy veneer, the album builds from a core of solid, memorable songwriting that separates it from the legions of bands who think that downloading Hawkwind’s back catalogue and buying a few effects pedals is all it takes to embark upon a journey to the center of the mind.
Monolithic, desperate music that’s post-a lot of things and pre-a few others that haven’t been figured out yet. The sound of besieged humanity in a world of unmanned drone strikes, ossifying borders, and skyrocketing economic stratification.
Hip hop scaled back to a dense, surgically precise core. Paranoia, claustrophobia, and the will to survive manifest themselves in dense verbal clusters, bound together with tense, minimalist production. No cheap tricks, no shock value, no big choruses, no autotune, no radio aspirations. The genre as a whole could take some notes.
A rare collaboration that’s larger than the sum of its parts, not just Sun Araw and Gengras’ noisy psychedelia nor the Congos’ deep roots reggae, but something more edifying and coherent – a hypnotic, immersive electro-gospel meditation that dispenses with categories, limitations, and borders.
Sinister instrumental electronics that deftly blend re-configured found sound, sweeping analog synths, and noir jazz touches. Tranquility and dread overlaid perfectly – a good soundtrack for the drive home after the disposing of the body.
Unfortunately, this album garnered something of a higher profile than it might otherwise have due to the passing of guitarist/vocalist Sarah Kirsch following a long battle with Fanconi anemia. But keeping with her multi-decade output (to say nothing of the other members’ musical pedigrees), the Baader Brains album was the sort of challenging, inventive, combative, but ultimately life-affirming work that’s become extremely rare within punk. Characterized by thrashy, off-kilter hardcore interspersed with strange sample-based interludes and laced through with a (possibly partially tongue-in-cheek) futurist revolutionary agenda, it’s about as far from formulaic as could be.
I hate to be reductive and sum up something in the well-worn “Band A = Band B + Band C” mode, but this totally sounds like some halfway point between Joy Division and Samhain. And, whether that sounds like a compelling description or not, it totally rules. Grim, apocalyptic death-punk that’s surprisingly catchy for a batch of songs about nuclear war and Stalinist purges.
It thoroughly blows my mind that more people haven’t heard this album. Constructed of field recordings made during aid trips to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country, the Slow Machete album is a hazy, ethereal meditation on humanity that implicitly highlights the manner in which beauty can arise from devastation. Laying bare the artifice at the root of many of our cultural distinctions, it’s not an album about Haiti or about America, but about the common threads underscoring human existence. These are sounds out of time and place, eerie and disconcerting yet inviting and strangely familiar and utterly unlike anything else out there.