The 50 Best Albums of 2016

In this post: an introduction, reviews of the top 10 albums of the year, a complete top 50 list, and a streaming playlist with a track from every top 50 album save for those not on Spotify. See you in 2017!

There were no seismic shifts in the pop landscape in 2016, nor in 2015, nor in 2014, nor in recent memory. The last time I remember feeling a legit sense of the earth moving under my feet (um, ears?) was when in 2006-2007 the Neptunes and Timbaland ceded ground to Kanye West’s now-dated chipmunked vocal samples, The White Stripes (and before them, The Strokes) firmly rewrote the pop-rock template and the Dixie Chicks told the world they weren’t ready to make nice. All the change since then has felt incremental, which may be a function of my age, but aside from maybe Drake and 40, who has rewritten the playbook — anyone’s playbook? Maybe it doesn’t work like that anymore. Technological change can generally be seen only in the rear-view mirror, but I can’t help thinking it’s changing the way the music evolves. Weep for the future historians who have to find a through-line in the evolution of music in the teens.

If that’s the way things are, or will be, then 2016 was the year I stopped worrying and learned to love the absence of a bomb. None of the albums on my top 10 list feel like any kind of quantum leap forward, but they are all masterful and constantly stimulating, even surprising, on the tenth or even fiftieth listen. It’s pretty shocking to me that a straight-up gangsta rap record like Still Brazy or an instrumental-rock spazzout like Return To Sky would end up atop my list, to the point that I often wonder whether I’ve started privileging the familiar over the unexpected as a kind of defensive mechanism, against the shell-shock of the new. But the flipside of that is my disdain for the records proclaimed as epochal (Arcade Fire *durrr*, Taylor Swift *yawn*) has made me more enthusiastic about records that feature maturing talents, like Blonde, and that showcase mature artists operating at their peak, like Anguis Oleum and A Moon Shaped Pool. It’s exciting to be around when the music world is being turned upside down, but it’s no consolation prize to bear witness to a crop of artists who be doin it and doin it and doin it well.

1. Frank Ocean - Blonde (Boys Don't Cry)

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Team Frank Ocean was already a heaving bandwagon when Blonde dropped, though to these ears the hype was premature when Channel Orange was the only evidence on offer. Whatever, I probably wouldn't have thought Prince was a genius on the basis of his first album, and yet, and yet. Blonde is plenty full of genius-signaling greatness, in flashes of wry lyrical humor ("did you call me from a seance? You from my past life") and epic ballads like "White Ferrari" that just scream This Is Everything You Never Dared Hope He Could Become. There's something in Ocean's ability to leave a line hanging in the synth-soaked, sometimes guitar-wrist-flick-punctuated air. He owns the space between words, shapes it invisibly with the last line and the next one. Even the funkier moments like "Pink + White" are expertly paced hops from one melodic cloud to the next, with his signature move of brightening the harmony in mid-lyric. More than any other impulse he seems to have, Frank Ocean just loves to yank the listener from nostalgic, sometimes idyllic images drenched in romance to mundane, pungent detail about drugs or, often, driving. "We're alone, making sweet love, taking time / but god strikes us!" To me, the centerpiece of the album is "Solo" for the simple reason that it works on a granular detail level -- capturing a moment of pure bliss from an acid trip on a dance floor -- but it also works its way gradually through a heartbreak that left him alone, exposed without a lover and without the rhythm section whose absence leaves a joy-shaped hole in the track. Absence and space are the most expressive parts of the album, and knowing how to play them is irrefutable proof that Frank Ocean has ascended to a higher plane. Though if he really were some kind of god, he'd be the kind that likes to day-trip back to earth, maybe as a swan, just to mess with some poor human for a few hours before returning skyward.

 Selections from a-void’s Best Albums of 2016

 The List: 1-10

1. Frank Ocean – Blonde (Boys Don’t Cry)
2. YG – Still Brazy (400/CTE/Def Jam)
3. Lorenzo Senni – Persona (Warp)
*4. Tim Berne’s Snakeoil – Anguis Oleum (Screwgun)
5. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani – FRKWAYS Vol 13: Sunergy (RVNG Intl)
6. Causa Sui – Return To Sky (El Paraiso)
7. Pangaea – In Drum Play (Hessle Audio)
8. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (XL)
9. DVA [HI:EMOTIONS] – Notu_Ironlu (Hyperdub)
10. Kaytranada – 99.9 (XL)

 11-50

11. Pet Shop Boys – Super (X2)
12. Vince Staples – Prima Donna EP (Def Jam)
13. Weaves – Weaves (Buzz)
14. Parquet Courts – Human Performance (Matador)
15. Dinosaur Jr – Give A Glimpse Of What Yr Not (Jagjaguwar)
16. Matmos – Ultimate Care II (Thrill Jockey)
17. Gucci Mane – Everybody Looking (Atlantic)
18. *Purling Hiss – High Bias (Drag City)
19. A Tribe Called Red – We Are The Halluci Nation (Pirates Blend)
20. *Useless Eaters – Relaxing Death (Castle Face)
21. The Gaslamp Killer – Instrumentalepathy (Gaslamp Killer Music)
22. The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It (Dirty Hit/Interscope/Polydor/Vagrant)
23. Skepta – Konnichiwa (Boy Better Know)
24. Bardo Pond feat Guru Guru and Acid Mothers Temple – Acid Guru Pond (Fire)
25. Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial (Matador)
26. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You For Your Service (Epic/Sony)
27. Kenny Barron – Book Of Intuition (Impulse/Universal)
28. Poirier – Migration (Nice Up!)
29. Hieroglyphic Being And The Configurative Or Modular Me Trio – Cosmic Bebop (Mathematics)
30. Camera – Phantom of Liberty (Bureau B)
31. Rihanna – Anti (Def Jam)
32. The Field – The Follower (Kompakt)
33. Trevino – Front (C Birdie)
34. Marquis Hawkes – Social Housing (Houndstooth)
35. Warpaint – Heads Up (XL)
36. *Fp-oner – 6 (Mule Musiq)
37. Lone – Levitate (R&S)
38. *Lawrence – Yoyogi Park (Mule Musiq)
39. Black Milk and Nat Turner – The Rebellion Sessions (Computer Ugly)
40. Pye Corner Audio – Stasis (Ghost Box)
41. Africaine 808 – Basar (Golf Channel)
42. *Andrew Cyrille – The Declaration of Musical Independence (ECM)
43. Dr. Lonnie Smith – Evolution (Blue Note)
44. Jakob Skott – All The Colours of the Dust (El Paraiso)
45. Dynamis – Distance (Tectonic)
46. Gerry Read – Chubby Cheeks (Timetable)
47. Solange – A Seat At The Table (Columbia/Sony)
48. Steve Haushcildt – Strands (Kranky)
49. Future – EVOL (Epic/Sony)
50. Prins Thomas – Principe Del Norte (Smalltown Supersound)

* = not on Spotify

a-void.ca’s best albums of 2014

Click here to listen to the Soundcloud playlist, featuring tracks from each album

WHERE IS T-SWIFT?

Ok, I admit it, I didn’t listen to it. Nor did I get through albums by Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran, Jessie J, Keyshia Cole, Calvin Harris, et al and sundry. I also didn’t hear all of Ariel Pink, Foxygen, Swans, TV on the Radio, Leonard Cohen, Julian Casablancas and too many others to count. Don’t even talk to me about jazz or country. (I wouldn’t have much of interest to say.) So WTF *did* I listen to? I’m not even sure how to describe it. Dave-core? Morris-dance? …maybe it’s better if I don’t.

This is the odd post-poptimist desert I feel like I’ve been sent to, via my escape pod hurtling from the full time music-crit grind. The barriers have all fallen – like a lot of right-thinking people, I’m perfectly happy to flip flop from Nicki Minaj to Neil Young to Young Thug in the space of an hour, but what happens when you don’t have time to devote to what might properly be called truly Catholic tastes? Does my embracing of a specialty – electronic music, not even really including the hip-hop that used to be part of my professional bag – mean I’ve re-embraced some of the biases I spent the early 2000s working to shed, like an earnest young Chinese party bureaucrat devouring Marx and Mao, and then giving it up in favour of Day Trading For Dummies?

It’s not a question of openness, I’ve realized, but a question of how you apportion your listening time. For better or for worse, I shoved the stuff that seemed like a long shot into a hard drive folder marked ‘Later’ and threw on another platter of grime, and this is the list that came out.. There was certainly no kind of shortage of amazing electronics to digest; the volume of almost-worthy discs attests to that. (Sorry Tre Mission, SBTRKT, DMX Krew, Shi Wisdom, Mark McGuire, Run The Jewels, Pop Ambient 2015, I could go on.) The LPs that did make the cut seemed not quite dancefloor friendly, except in an abstract sense. Bits and pieces of LV and Joshua Idehen, Caribou, Distal et al slipped into my mixes with scant friction. But the inventiveness I loved often didn’t fit in the space between floor-filling singles, not that I mind. Still, this is a list borne of someone who experienced dance music in 2014 mostly in a bedroom or between headphones. Simon Reynolds’ inveighing against IDM-like anti-dancefloorism aside, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

The startling truth is that being kind of lazy, in terms of challenging your sense of what you like, can still be an astonishingly rich listening experience. There was enough originality and delight in my year in albums to make the absence of all that pop and hip-hop I missed feel about as painful as the knowledge that I didn’t eat nearly enough artisanal cheese in the last twelve months – not quite the sting of regret as much as the vague acknowledgement that I may have missed something good, possibly, but it’s not keeping me up at night.

If I had one thing I would ask of dance music in 2015, it would be for the most hypnotic, challenging, arresting, electrifying albums to be a little more melodic. I love the discs I chose, but as a whole I felt like my diet was a smidge on the grey side. Producers like Mumdance and Logos, Peverelist, Objekt and others put out single after single of holy-shit-guys-listen-to-this-ism, but when I put them all in a mix, I ended up taking a bunch out and replacing them with some chooons to break up the monotony. And the grab-bag of albums felt roughly the same, though I didn’t curate this list in a similar way. You can’t turn down a slamming, mesmerizing beat like the ones all over the Next Life comp or the Clap! Clap! record, melody or no. Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.

What I listened to on my summer vacation

martyn

Martyn
The Air Between Words
Ninja Tune

A quick scan over my mixes will confirm what you already suspected, that if I thought I could get away with it I would only ever mix Martyn tunes always. (Ok, maybe with a bit of Night Slugs and R&S’ roster in there as well.) He’s one of maybe three left-field/bass music producers whose embrace of four-four kick drums didnt feel like a concession, and The Air Between Words just cements his mastery. There’s a dusty, from-the-catacombs air to choons like “Like That,” whose erotic moans and swishy house piano mixed with a gloomy baseline sounds like Lil Louis’ “French Kiss” remade for a rainy day in Wales. And the languid Fender Rhodes-isms of “Drones” are perfectly offset by the insistent groove, which never lets the track sink into melancholia or pander to baser instincts. That’s really the genius of Martyn in a nutshell: capturing a feeling of unease or tension while keeping the music itself animated and alive.  Or maybe its just my overpowering urge to drop something dark and stormy like “Forgiveness Step 2” at peak time, turn the lights down – except for maybe a strobe – and see what happens.

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Prins Thomas
III
Full Pupp

Apparently Prins Thomas loathes the phrase “cosmic disco,” which makes me think it means something different from what he thinks it means. I read it as Kosmiche disco, a descendant of Can and other outfits bent on bringing experimental sensibilities to whatever cool shit was happening, including but not only dance music. If the definition of the subgenre doesn’t include a cut like the echo-laden, circular synth riff-driven, rolling drum hypnosis that is “Trans,” I don’t know what the hell you’d call it. In some ways this is the most stripped down of the three solo discs; it’s the most cerebral, but “cerebral” in the sense that, while the language it speaks isn’t really of the dance floor, it is viscerally intense. Not to mention sexy – I was struggling for a metaphor for bass lines that didn’t involve asses in skin-tight leather, and then I gave up, and here we are. Still. People forget that the brain is biggest erogenous zone, you know.

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Maria Minerva
Histrionic
Not Not Fun

Dubby bass, hazy layers of sample smog, a singer who sounds like  she’s talking in her sleep, how can you go wrong? Even now I’m not sure. Maria Minerva seized my attention with the DIY tape underground diva vibe of Cabaret Cixous – Toronto, there are three vinyl copies in Rotate This’ deep discount bin, which tells you how many people shared my affection – and a little more polish shouldn’t have gone astray. But Histrionic always seems to be beguilingly on the verge of getting good, and after a few listens, the fact that it never does gets damnably annoying. Not even a cheeky flip of a Pet Shop Boys lyric could dispel the air half-assed art schoolism. Go away and take your sub-Lana Del Rey schtick with you.

LPs: Hercules & Love Affair get bitchy, The Horrors take speed + Future, Jakob Skott

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Hercules and Love Affair
The Feast of the Broken Heart
Moshi Moshi

I’m trying to think of a more spine-tingling sound than the bit in Hercules and Love Affair’s “That’s Not Me” when a vocal stab from Gustaph launches off into the ionosphere on a rocket made of echo. Nope, can’t do it. The new Hercules album is less an album than a collection of singles; to complain about that is like complaining that a box of doughnuts isn’t a cake. The amazing thing is that they’ve managed to make a set of tunes that are sufficiently weird and different from each other that it doesn’t suffer from the track-y-ness that some dance albums – especially house albums – suffer. “The Light” is thick and intense, with Krystle Warren giving a smouldering performance, while the single “Do You Feel The Same?” rides a perfect bit of moody 303 bass to a pulse-quickening chorus. And if you don’t totally love the throwbackness of the old-movie-dialog-snippets on “5.43 to Freedom” (“shit-kicker! Or a clever girl!… no, she’s a hippie! A communist! Probably a speed freak!”) then you need to explore your inner bitch.

jakobskott

Jakob Skott
Amor Fati
El Paraiso

The number one complaint lobbed at Krautrock/kosmiche-style music is that, with the lack of harmonic and rhythmic invention and the focus on subtle change, it’s boring. The number two complaint about Krautrock/kosmiche-style music is that it’s repetitive, which is another way of saying that it’s boring. This, I’m afraid, is inevitable; arguably, it’s actually the whole point of a certain influential school of minimalism that strives to reach beyond linear structure; in other words, it’s supposed to be boring. Part of why I find Causa Sui drummer Jakob Skott’s Amor Fati so fascinating is that, for an instrumental record that fits firmly in the Kraut school in terms of repetition and harmonic simplicity, it’s still really active, ie. not boring. “Araucaria Fire” has three notes in it and it’s 8 minutes long. And yet, the swirl of distended synth squeals and Skott’s fairly virtuosic drumming are easy to nod along with. Neither is it jam-band-ish, which was my fear; the bits that are active are in the foggy middle-distance, while the most in-your-face bits are the repetitive ones. It’s an amazing formula that feels like a worthy successor to another drummer’s masterpiece, Harald Grosskopf’s Synthesist, if Synthesist had a title track that veered into Sabbath-y doom rock for a few thrilling minutes.

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The Horrors
Luminous
XL/Beggars Group Canada

I have a soft spot for painfully slow music, eg. screwed & chopped music, certain trip-hop (Tricky, Massive Attack, Portished and basically nothing else in that fetid dumpster of a subgenre), this mix, etc. After the hypnotically languid Skying, The Horrors have jacked up the BPMs slightly on Luminous and I have to admit, as arbitrary as it sounds, I’m not as into it. I have been known to complain about such things – the most hate-mail I ever got was for a live review of LCD Soundsystem where I lamented their playing all of Sound of Silver like it was being run through a tape-deck set to high-speed dubbing – but seriously, the absolute brilliance of their syrupy proto-shoegaze textures are somewhat less effective when you can’t linger on them. Though props for the MBV-jacking “Jealous Sun” and the gently loping “So Now You Know.” More to come after I see them live this summer…

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Future
Honest
Epic/Sony

Rappers, stop putting Andre 3000 on your albums. I was thoroughly enjoying Future’s frothy new disc – he even holds his own with Pusha T on “Move That Dope” – until I got to “Benz Friendz (Whatchutola)” and had to listen to it four times to absorb every syllable. Just go listen, I’ll wait. Dre did it to Unk on the “Walk It Out” remix – “see, to me, your white tee, looks more like a nightgown / make your momma proud, take that thing two sizes down.” Now how you gonna be Unk after that? How you gonna wave a chain around and mumble just like every other rapper? Even Future, who admittedly has a pretty good thing going with his plaintive Auto-Tune croak, and who fits into Mike Will Made It’s production snugly like a rim into a tire, sounds like a dumb-ass talking about his money after Dre’s anti-car-fetish screed, ending with “I will ride my fuckin’ bike, or walk.” BURRRRRRN.

Of course, the balance is righted by Kanye’s verse on “I Won,” though when I say “verse” I really mean “horrifying Mad Libs word-association that had to have been written by a not-very-enthused intern.” “You the number one trophy wife / so it’s only right you live the trophy life”  AAAAAAARGHGHGGHHU02u450tf3djqwofhewfefw.!@@$!@#! *kicks monitor over, skulks off*

St. Vincent is a lifestyle accessory

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St. Vincent
St. Vincent
Loma Vista/Republic

My parents are experts in a crowded field: pointing out when they think something is needlessly overpriced, a sign of vanity or status-seeking or what have you. Based on what they say and do in fancy restaurants, I can reasonably theorize that f they saw someone paying extra for a chair because it was designed by Charles and Ray Eames, and not because it was demonstrably more comfortable or infinitely more stylish than the alternatives, they wouldn’t waste a second in lamenting that person’s decision, sometimes when still in earshot of said person. I find it embarrassing when others judge people that way, at least out loud. But I do it too, because I can’t imagine why anyone would get really excited about St. Vincent’s new record unless they were doing it for extra-musical reasons. It’s basically an Eames chair.

Calling music the equivalent of furniture sounds like the worst kind of insult. But furniture can be beautiful and inspiring, even when it’s mass-produced and highly commoditized. St. Vincent the album is frequently inspiring and sometimes beautiful, but it’s also furniture. Its fans display it as a way of broadcasting their good taste to fellow connoisseurs, whereas most people would just see it as something that serves its purpose as well as anything else – to fill an empty room.

Annie Clark’s trajectory has seen her music moving ever closer to the pop side of the spectrum, and on this disc, her first for a major label, she appears to have almost completely made the switch. Her guitar tone has become so processed that it basically sounds like a synth; although the record features real drummers, you’d never know it from the mechanical, loop-sounding and often sample- or software-based drum tracks; and Clark’s theatrical bearing as a vocalist bears more than a passing resemblance to Lady Gaga. I’m sure that’s not deliberate, but still, the distance between a St. Vincent record and a contemporary hip-hop or R&B record is demonstrably shrinking. When Kanye puts a song on his record called “Black Skinhead” with a Gary Glitter-style beat and St. Vincent has a breakbeat-led track called “Huey Newton,” and they both have loping, distorted bass riffs, where’s the line drawn?

None of this is bad per se. Or at least, it wouldn’t be, if I was really enjoying the music. I didn’t feel this way about St. Vincent’s last three albums, but although this new disc does a lot of things well, it doesn’t especially succeed as pop. It does, however, signify as something other than just straight-up commercial pop music, and that’s what bothers me.

Saying you like St. Vincent and other indie-rock-associated acts (the ones that might appear on the cover of Exclaim, for example – the editors aren’t putting Beyonce on there, even though they and their readers are almost certainly as interested in her music as they are in Haim or The Darcys or St. Vincent) is a certain sign of sophistication. It seems as though the way to present yourself today, if you’re a hip and clued-in young person, is to have a diversified portfolio of music in your iTunes. Listening to St. Vincent shows you’re sophisticated enough to spend time thinking about what she means by the line in “Prince Johnny” about snorting part of the Berlin Wall, but the Justin Timberlake tracks up next on your playlist prove that you’re not too pretentious to resist an old-fashioned love song or a funky groove. So what if it has a huge marketing budget and lyrics that a four-year-old could explain? I’m as comfortable in heels at a fancy do as I am in sweatpants curled up watching True Blood on the couch. (Right.)

Problem is, I can’t actually picture dancing to any of the album, or even humming its ragged melodies after hearing them, but neither do I find its arty aspects especially riveting. The lush orchestrations of Actor and Strange Mercy are gone, making the oblique and slightly clunky poetry of the lyrics harder to ignore. “Oh what an ordinary day / take out the garbage, masturbate” is not going to land its author in the hall of fame for wit. Also, I don’t find the horn riffs in “Digital Witness” as compelling as the TNGHT horn riff in “Blood On The Leaves.” They’re sort of playing the same role in both songs. They just work better in the Kanye one.

And there’s what annoys me: everything about the way St. Vincent is presented – by the media, by her marketing team, by her fans – suggests that there’s something more substantial, more artistic in a song whose meaning is couched, rather than a Britney Spears song that’s obviously and straightforwardly about sex, or a break-up, or whatever. If someone lists an act like St. Vincent on their Facebook profile as one of their favourites, we’re meant to realize they’re sophisticated enough to appreciate art from beyond the narrow confines of what’s wildly popular. But this album has very little merit as a showcase for poetic lyrics, or for unconventional sonics; ultimately, it would fit more than comfortably in chart pop’s narrow confines if it weren’t for those pseudopoetic lyrics and unconventional yet mostly uninspired sonic departures. It wouldn’t be a raging success by pop’s criteria either, but at least it wouldn’t be a prop for pretentious people to flaunt their indie cred. The fact that only a tiny fraction of people listening to Reflektor have any interest in, say, Italo disco compilations, is annoying because it’s not really a matter of the Arcade Fire (actually, James Murphy) taking the influence of Italo and doing a better job of being populist with those elements. It’s purely about marketing, and indie cred. Win Butler must be saying something more profound than some disco guy moaning about the love he lost or something, Cmon, Butler plays guitar!

In the case of St. Vincent, I don’t think it’s fair to attribute any of this to Clark herself – it’s not at all clear that she’s deliberately trying to massage the reception of her music and image in order to be more popular, at least not in the way I’ve described. In fact I think she should be applauded for seizing the opportunity to sign to a major label and go for a full-on pop career, if that’s what she wants. But that doesn’t change my feeling that if someone decides to trumpet their love for this album on social media, I’m not crazy for being a bit suspicious about what their true motivation is, and what they’re really trying to tell you – about themselves.

Albums: Lee Bannon remembers when drum ‘n’ bass was good

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Lee Bannon
Alternate/Endings
(Ninja Tune)
Jan 13, 2014

Bumbaclot! I just felt like typing that after listening to Lee Bannon’s Ninja Tune debut, mostly because all the skittering breaks and moody samples make me think of ragga jungle. Really Alternate/Endings is more like A Guy Called Gerald’s Juicebox singles in their Gothic atmosphere and convoluted but not comically overblown breakbeat science. Harder than latter-day Amen-tweakers like LTJ Bukem, more serious than cut-ups like Squarepusher — but still not so dour that he would resist the urge to call a track “Phoebe Cates,” Bannon is a throwback in the best way.

 

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Ras G
Raw Fruit Vol. 2
(Leaving)
Jan 13, 2014

You don’t need me to remind you how much I love Ras G, and Raw Fruit Vol. 2 is such a breath of fresh, er, herb that I don’t even mind that it was released on cassette. Because, you know, formats that needed to come back. Who the fuck was sitting around reminiscing about having to rewind things? Anyways, RF2 features lots of heavy smokers-delight breaks and movie samples (Denis Leary in Judgment Night is a major highlight — You’re in MY world now, Emilio Estevez!) along with some dynamite jazzy bits. My favourite aspect remains how samples from other songs he’s released show up again here, part of Ras’ personal cosmology of sampledelia that conjures up feelings of continuity, or at least, the sense that he may be too blunted on a regular basis to remember which samples he’s already used. It makes me smile either way. Don’t sleep.

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Warpaint
Warpaint
(Rough Trade)
Jan 18, 2014

It’s sad when a group succumbs to an obvious and entirely preventable illness, like heroin addiction, ska-punk or the affliction I’ve dubbed “We don’t need your fascist 4/4 time.” Warpaint’s self-titled album has a handful of songs that are as strong as the bulk of their debut, and it’s no coincidence that they’re the ones that are tightly focused (the unspeakably hypnotic “Biggy,” the PiL-meets-ESG throb of “Disco Very”) as opposed to the ones where melodies spill lazily over barlines (“Keep It Healthy”) and shifts into weird, unrelated keys come out of nowhere (“Love Is To Die”). It seems to be the byproduct of listening to too much weedy British folk music, or more likely, Amnesiac-era Radiohead. But where they can get away with bizarro time signatures and high drama, Warpaint’s songs mostly don’t have the extremely compelling melodic/lyrical guts of a “Paranoid Android” or a “Pyramid Song”, so their wanky arrangements and tortured crooning come off as, well, just that. I certainly wouldn’t write off a group with an instant-classic dirge like “Go In” in them, but I hope they can shake whatever bug afflicts a few too many of this album’s tracks. Always practice safe influence-intercourse, kids.

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Actress
Ghettoville
(Werkdiscs/Ninja Tune)
Jan 27, 2014

The trends in urban music production over the last year summed up in one phrase: ‘Anita Baker Screwed & Chopped’. Everything sounds like it’s a tenth generation dub of a tape that had been retrieved from inside a club urinal. As a listening experience, Actress’ follow-up to R.I.P., and last under the name, is about as washed-out and grey as the album cover, but consuming Ghettoville in chunks makes it a lot more digestible. I don’t know why anyone would dirty up a track like “Rims” when the source material isn’t that sonically engaging in the first place – a bright lead voice ramps up and down in pitch with industrial-grade soul-crushing repetition while a cymbal clangs incessantly in the background.

I thought the dreary one-two punch of “Rims” and “Contagious” might drive me off in search of a civil defense bunker to hide in. But “Gaze” has a bit more texture and colour, with a wispy synth smeared across the track and a Chicago house-style beat that summons the atmosphere of a warehouse party where the speakers are half blown but everyone’s too out of their gourd to notice. “Skyline” and “Frontline” are similarly driving, and even the pummeling hi-hats of “Birdcage” are offset by some chilly electro synth vibes that balance things out nicely. Recommended for when you’re stuck somewhere with a boom box whose speakers will not reproduce treble frequencies of any kind. Could potentially sound great on a supermarket PA. Anyone want to test that theory?

September late pass: Machinedrum, Jessy Lanza, Traxman

If your September was anywhere as batshit crazy as mine, the flurry of new albums saw a few winners slip through the cracks. Time for another update of Ye Old Late Pass series: September albums edition.

Continue reading “September late pass: Machinedrum, Jessy Lanza, Traxman”