50 Records of 2016.

Sister Grotto - You Don't Have a House to Be Haunted (Self-Released)

As I am writing this, the Denver Police and Fire Department are rooting through the personal detritus of a collective living and art space known as Rhinoceropolis and GLOB in Denver's RINO district. 11 years of artists manifesting their lives into their existing space being blithely ransacked and mocked by the overreach of the State attempting to control culture. The outcasts being cast out again. Being slammed against lockers and having your front door padlocked, the song remains the same.

Madeline Johnston, a resident of Rhinoceroplis for the past year and a half, was displaced as part of this wave of raids. But it seems fitting that, in the wake of violence writ large upon our communities, this album reminds me of how much music is embodied by the people and the spaces it is created in. But even when they take those spaces away it still reverberates through a collective dust and cigarette smoke that clings to our clothes for years to come. A structureless haunting. In 2015 I was made aware how significant music could be in navigating personal tragedy, in 2016... I just want to hug all my friends. Music is all we got.

 
 
Nevada Greene/Scott Tuma - Ragged Hollow (Dismal Niche)
 
A record invariably wrapped up in people and spaces that made 2016 a year in which the people making music seemed just as vital as the art being produced. A split between Columbia, MO collective and the famed post-folk innovator Scott Tuma explores complimentary meditative sidelong pieces that wrap even the most beautiful passages with a sadness wrung out of most exquisite joy. Weeping through a Scott Tuma set...

 
 
Drose - Boy Man Machine (Orange Milk)
 
It’s hard to think of an album that even sounds close to Boy Man Machine. Mic’d floor toms, guitars that seethe and writhe like live wires touching water and Dustin Rose’s voice - an ancient, raspy, pleading thing rising out of some Midwestern sub-basement. In case you had any hope, Boy Man Machine reminded you of how fucked 2016 was. This is saying a lot, but Boy Man Machine is the weirdest thing Orange Milk has ever put out.

 
 
Anthene - Permanence (Cathedral Transmissions)
 
Worried, pensive drones that drift like bracing winds across open tundra. The Toronto based composer has produced something of a high watermark here, an ambient album that creates a definable structure and shell and then imbues it with equal parts wonder, dread and fatigue leading the pack of albums that paired straight-forward ambient records with linear sense of rhythm.

 
 
Endurance - City of Signals (Illuminated Paths)
 
The conceit behind Endurance’s “City of Signals” is a compelling one. Imagining a post-human world, fully automated and running smoothly without its human subjects. Post-vaporwave dystopian dreamscape of self-driving cars navigating empty streets, obeying traffic lights and stopping to let herds of antelope gallop across newly claimed turf. Endurance’s collection of pensive, but placid, soundscapes capture the wonder, dread and eventual ennui of the first 20 minutes of every post-apocalyptic film.

 
 

MJ Guider - Precious Systems (Kranky)

On her debut for Kranky, Melissa Guion sets her controls for the heart of a dying sun and creates an incredibly compelling pop record on outmoded bass guitars and drum machines that never quite settle. Forever pulling up to the intersections of unease and blissful release of a reckless drive through a sleeping city.  
 
 

HEXA - Factory Photographs (Room40)

A dream collaboration between Australian drone heavyweight (and straight up wonderful human being) Lawrence English and Xiu Xiu frontman Jamie Stewart reimagine and  intepret the dying gasps of the industrial age documented in David Lynch’s series of black and white photographs of post-industrial wastescapes with the clang and suffocating denseness of those monolithic structures that swallowed humanity from 9-5. It’s a driving, abrasive and towering noise record that tells truths about who we are with what we leave behind.

Horse Lords - Interventions (Northern Spy)

A pummeling, marathon-length excursion into sax-led arrangements that blur the line between improvised chaos and tightly composed kraut genius. Self-generating landscapes of propulsive minimalism that warps into a droning raga, entire super-structure movements made out of a billion moving parts. The best of a pack of especially great releases for Northern Spy.

Marielle V Jakobsons - Star Core (Thrill Jockey)

Part of the incredibly exciting cohort of artists surrounding Mills College in Oakland, Star Core is a high-concept electro-acoustic album that bends and folds Jakobson’s synth lines around a variety of arrangements: Japanese fretless electric bass, cinematic violin strings and her airy, holy-space making voice. “Star Core” the eponymous song explodes in highly evocative bowed strings and arpeggiated synths that score the long-awaited return of a spaceship caught in blackhole.

Eluvium - False Readings On (Temporary Residence)

Striking a balance between Eluvium’s inherently emotional ambient works and his highly sentimental composed works, where False Readings On seems like it should dial it back a bit on the colossal heft of, let’s say, an disembodied operatic voice spiriting through crackle of a dead radio or the heavy major chord reverie of sanded-output synthesizer, Eluvium doubles down, charging through any accusations of manipulation and imprinting straight on the emotional map of your brain that leads to the purest sepia-toned memories of Malick-level cinematography.

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11. John Bellows - L O N G (Planted Tapes)

12. Public Speaking - Caress, Redact (Floordoor)

13. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma - IN SUMMER (Geographic North)

14. North Atlantic Drift - Visitor (Polar Seas Recordings)

15. Claire Cronin - Came Down a Storm (Ba Da Bing!)

16. Black Spirituals - Black Tape (Astral Spirits)

17. Oxherding - The Past is Gone and The Future is Not Yet Here (Self-Released)

18. Insect Factory - Work (Insect Fields)

19. Medina/Walsh - Vault of Angels (Debacle Records)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Honorable Mentions -
 
 
 
 
 
December 11th, 2016