Saturday, December 24, 2016

What I Listened to in 2016

Each year, I like to gather together the albums, movies, and stories that meant something to me. I wouldn't call this a "Best of" list, exactly, although I do think that all of these works are worth your time to track down. My intention is simply to record those things that felt important or helped me understand the world in someway. In a confusing, disappointing, and increasingly terrifying year like this one, maybe art doesn't really matter all that much. If that's your response, I say more power to you. For better or worse art keeps me alive and these lists are meant to record what kept me writing, creating, and working.

Skeleton Scene by Morgan Crooks (2016)
Alright, so THIS list is about music and as far as the year goes, while I liked a number albums very much I wasn't blown away by any particular album. While I think this list contains very strong albums, it may not match up with many BOY posts you see elsewhere. These are simply the albums I listened to the most though this year.

  1. Swans, "The Glowing Man." I started listening to this band in a concerted way last year and absolutely couldn’t get them out of my head. A Swans 'song,' isn't really something that can be summed up easily. They alternate between slow atmospheric, wordless chimes and crushing one chord rave-ups lasting several minutes at a time. Interspersed are the growled ravings of Michael Gira, a true nihilist poet. The title track is my favorite off this album. Stretching for nearly half an hour, it reaches a pounding crescendo of loathing and cataclysm perfectly encapsulating the horror of this year. Easy listening it is not but if you are looking for some quality 'feels bad, man' music, this may scratch the itch. Also great: The Cloud of Unknowing and Frankie M. 
  2. Marissa Nadler: "Strangers." I'm not someone with a great affection for live music so when I tell you I went out to see this band, please understand - for me - that's high praise. Marissa Nadler is a exquisite gothic folk singer, painting pictures of miserable specters adrift in a world far too beautiful to endure. I'm not sure this is my favorite Nadler album but it's probably her most consistent evocation of a mood and theme. Recommendations: All the Colors of the Dark, Janie in Love, and Nothing Feels the Same. 
  3. Pinegrove "Cardinal." Six young musicians and their instruments, the singer sounding way more plaintive and sincere than is medically recommended; this is the song of my people. Things that distinguish it from the rest of the post-post-post-indie rock crowd: the raw stop and start of the band's sound and how every lyrical jab of singer Evan Stephans Hall's lands with this sense of his own deep desperation. Although the band has been around for a while, in one configuration or another, this album sounds very new, the unadulterated product of a single evening of confessions and recriminations. Recommended: Old Friends, Size of the Moon, and New Friends. 
  4. 65daysofstatic "No Man's Sky: Music for an Infinite Universe." I knew this album would be on my end of the year list back in September. I listened to it constantly and more often than not, found myself pulled back into the game for which this is the soundtrack, just by the universe of wonder it evokes. Okay, I admit, the game was sort of a mess, but with the most recent update (which I may describe in an upcoming year-end post), the game is no longer quite the target of abuse (according to Steam, its reviews have risen from appallingly bad to merely mixed). However, this album really fulfills the promise of the game in more complete fashion than the game itself. There's something epic and optimistic in these tracks; post-rock instrumentals veering (often during the course of a single 5 minute piece) from ambient synth beeps to towering hard-rock arias. Recommendations: Monolith, Asimov, and End of the World Sun. 
  5. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds "Skeleton Key" Written in the wake of his son's death, "Skeleton Key" is understated and mournful. The artistry here is not that the mood is so clearly grim and despondent, that's pretty much been the tone of Nick Cave's work since his Birthday Party days; it's in painting a picture of a world stripped to its most intimate and haunted essentials. This album embraces despair, pares away everything false with the patient ear of a man long accustomed to BS, to set forth a cleared garden, a place where something else may grow. It's optimistic music for people with very little patience for optimism. Recommendations: Jesus Alone, Girl in Amber, and Anthrocene. 
Beyond these five albums I'd also recommend the following: Angel Olson's "MY WOMAN," Bombino's "Azel," Drive-by Truckers' "American Band," Leonard Cohen's "You Want It Darker," and Margo Price's "Midwest Farmer's Daughter."
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