Last year was packed with some great new music. Too much to handle, but I’ve collected a short list of five amazing albums. Although you might have moved on already from last year, there were a few good things still worth celebrating.
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A special thank you goes to visual artist and designer Eduardo Lindes Burnao, otherwise known as Murnau Den Linden for the illustrations below. Be sure to tell him you heard about him here!
1. Michael Gordon – Timber Remixed
I definitely stand by what I’ve said before, Timber Remixed is absolutely brilliant. With sounds that take you into otherworldly places, Michael Gordon has not only composed a wonderful piece but also carefully selected musicians that can do it justice. I have listened to this start to finish a many times, and it remains a wonderful journey.
2. Nicolas Jaar – Sirens
Nicolas Jaar creates imagery like no other through layered sounds that at times seem disparate and jarring, only later coming together as a dream would. The distortions are a study in contrasts filled with surprises. This is another one of those albums that requires listening from beginning to end. The sounds are coming from another time, perhaps another dimension. There are elements that would not traditionally be in a song, as seemingly opposed sounds come together, and through Jaar’s ear and hand, become something beautiful. I recently had an opportunity to see him perform live. It was a chaotic process that made for a wonderful atmosphere, with several synths and computer screens surrounding him, a pause for saxophone playing, singing and hushed voices through his mic and an amazing light show.
3. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
It’s hard to believe that it has been five years since Justin Vernon released Bon Iver, Bon Iver; but he is finally back with an album that features that high-pitched voice in songs that make you wistful. The album treads more experimental terrain than his previous albums, but it almost feels like an evolution of sorts. The music features more synthesizers and even manipulated voices. But the sounds still feel folky and the tone makes for a solemn, melancholic, almost aching album. My favorite track, “33 God” is almost a statement of breaking through another state, as he sings “I didn’t need you that night/Not gonna need you anytime/Was gonna take it as it goes/I could go forward in the light.” Give it a listen here:
4. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
This album catches you right away, with the driving opener of “Burn the Witch,” which takes you in and reminds you of that pure Radiohead angst. Yet, there is more. The band has also grown spiritually. Lyrically there seems to be a general sense of letting go of the cynical and entering the purely earnest to give way to loose sounds that are not structured. Worried about humanity, the band have produced several tracks that remind us of the perils of modern life and simply being alive. With “The Numbers,” there is a call to consider climate change or “Glass Eyes,” which wonders about artificial intelligence. It is a wonderful album.
5. STRFKR – Being No One, Going Nowhere
From the really great cover art, STRFKR (aka Starfucker) takes us on a cosmic trip of imagery. The music is no different, packed with lush vocals and electronics that make you want to get up and dance, the album ruminates on existence and its different narratives, from being free of all ties to the opposite, like the burdens of addiction. In “Tape Machine,” the band states “I know your dark side is stronger than you think/You always were underneath.” Sung to a happy beat, the troubled band asks whether this darkness is part of our nature. At least on a superficial level, it is the perfect soundtrack for reading a sci-fi novel or comic. I had the chance to see them live during their last tour and the imagery included fans clad in spacemen outfits, lead singer Joshua Hodges dressed in a sequined dress and other band members acutely aware of identity and self-expression through their performance.
Tegan and Sara – Love You to Death
This was perhaps my most-played album of 2016, so I had to include it. Though not at the caliber of artistic quality as the other albums on the list, Love You to Death is infused with pop and folky rhythms that make for a catchy album. While some of the songs are, in Tegan and Sara style, about heartache, there are also plenty of songs about the effervescence of falling in love. It is a 360 exploration of relationships, the good, the bad and the plain sad. These are complex songs enveloped in this clean-sounding synthy-pop melodies that perhaps dilute some of the intricacies of the twin’s queer lyrics, making them general in their appeal. Listen for yourself by start here:
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