Posts Tagged ‘Best Albums of 2016’

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By their very nature, King Gizzard have always appeared to value loose spontaneity over the close approach of the craftsman. Since emerging from Melbourne in 2010, this seven-headed psych-rock monster have released seven diverse albums, each capturing quick-fire bursts of inspiration, and thrilling in their imperfections and impulsiveness.

On I’m In Your Mind Fuzz, their garage-punk breakthrough from late 2014, they managed to create half a concept album about mind control, before losing concentration and filling Side Two with slower, disjointed songs recorded at a different studio. As their notoriety grew, their restless, relentless muse last year spawned two albums exploring different tangents of their scattershot sound – Quarters was a laidback, semi-improvised effort with four tracks each lasting exactly 10 minutes and 10 seconds (it bizarrely bagged a Best Jazz Album nomination at the ARIAs), while autumn’s Papier Mâché Dream Balloon consisted of uncustomary pastoral, acoustic rambles.

Yet we now learn that these two albums were merely stopgaps, recorded while singer and guitarist Stu Mackenzie and his six cohorts secretly toiled on a project that would finish what they attempted with I’m In Your Mind Fuzz – a bona fide concept album, unified in sound and vision. While the last decade has undoubtedly been a fertile time for the kind of underground rock that takes inspiration from garage, punk, prog and psychedelia, Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees and their ilk have so far attempted little on this scale.

Although it was tracked in four days at the all-analogue Daptone House Of Soul in Brooklyn, New York, Nonagon Infinity was meticulously planned beforehand, then the subsequent recordings were subjected to endless tinkering back in Australia. The need for this work becomes clear when the album is heard – each song on Nonagon segues into the next, while the end of the final track, “Road Train”, can even be looped straight back to careen headlong, Möbius strip-style, into the opening song, “Robot Stop”, their beats matched and primed. What’s more, various melodies, riffs and refrains pop up repeatedly throughout the album, making it more akin to a 41-minute suite than nine separate songs.

On first listen, Nonagon is a hard-driving, exhausting beast; powered by two drummers, “Road Train” edges into Motörhead hard-rock, while “Big Fig Wasp” continues King Gizzard’s adoration for Thee Oh Sees, mixing a motorik beat with Mackenzie’s echoed whoops and demonic guitars (chief Oh See John Dwyer fittingly released I’m In Your Mind Fuzz on his Castle Face label in the US). The seven-minute “Evil Death Roll” harks back to the manic momentum of Hawkwind’s Space Ritual version of “Master Of The Universe”, with distorted organ and super-wah’d guitars adding to the onslaught. There are few simple thrills here, as beats are dropped and riffs gallop along in unwieldy time signatures – “Gamma Knife” might be the most driving song ever conceived in 6/8, while “Nonagon infinity opens the door” is an earworm in 7/8 time. Though Mackenzie barks out vague orders on “Robot Stop” – “Loosen up/Time to jump/Fuck shit up/Don’t forget about it” – his lyrics are often unintelligible through the fuzz, with Hammer horror images of “corpses”, “pitchforks” and a “final hearing” breaking through the haze.

With repeated listens, however, what first seems like an oppressively flat landscape – giant steppes, perhaps – gradually reveals relief, and a lot more nuance that rewards repeated immersion. Subtler elements begin to peek out from the hard-driving tempos: the electric saz solo on “Robot Stop”; the synth storm swelling up in “Big Fig Wasp” that seems to mimic said insect’s mighty buzzing; the middle of “Invisible Face” that echoes the cool-jazz labyrinths of Quarters opener “The River”; the sections on “Wah Wah” that nod to the acoustic reveries of Papier Mâché…. The entirety of the punning “Mr Beat” is five minutes of relative respite, its clowning keyboards and falsetto reminiscent of Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Elsewhere, fidelities shift between (and even within) songs, with Mackenzie deliberately moving microphones around between takes to get more sonic variation.

As King Gizzard’s frontman tells Uncut, making Nonagon Infinity was a gruelling experience compared to the relatively breezy gestation of their previous work, and yet this prolonged concentration has resulted in by far King Gizzard’s most cohesive record to date – a hyper-detailed punk opera that few of their peers have matched for intensity, ambition or sheer derangement. It’s no accident that the end of the album links up to the start: those who listen may find it difficult to get off this particular Möbius strip.

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Chaosmosis

What we love about Primal Scream is their unflinching determination not to stay in one place or to rest on their laurels. 2013’s More Light received fabulous reviews from the media, being lauded as their best outing in some thirteen years, yet three years down the line Scream have moved on again, abandoning the lengthy psychedelic grooves of that sixty-eight-minute monster to produce the stripped down Chasmosis, which runs to just thirty-eight minutes and ten tracks. And this latest offering is possibly the purest pop album the band have ever produced, the dominant synthesisers giving the music a Casio-danceability but with most songs showing a preference for melody over rhythm. As such, it is probably fair to say you will not fall in love with this record at first listen, but treat it with respect and give it a few spins and you will find yourself appreciative of its gentle charms. There are moments when Chaosmosis comes across as Primal Scream’s Young Americans, with brash, soulful female backing voices dominating ‘100% Or Nothing’ and Bobby Gillespie’s vocals crushed and earnest on ‘I Can Change’, but the record is eclectic. ‘Private Wars’ is pretty much a folk song, ‘When The Blackout Meets The Fallout’ darker T. Rex-techno, and ‘Golden Rope’ a rockier groove.

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The remainder of the collection is pretty much fizzing synth-pop and it is difficult not to feel uplifted by the lightness of its touch. ‘Trippin’ On Your Love’, probably the closest the band get to a Screamadelica moment, is an inexorable grower, ‘Where The Light Gets In’ is full of Abba influences, and closer ‘Autumn In Paradise’ hints at a gentler, more positive New Order. As ever Primal Scream draw in a myriad of influences and turn them into something surprising and challenging.

ANOHNI-2016-HOPELESSNESS

This new album from the artist formerly known as Antony Hegarty tore my head off and kicked it around the driveway for like six hours. In a good way. Feeling that the chamber pop of Antony and the Johnsons couldn’t accurately depict the hopelessness of a world ruled by violent men, drone attacks and climate change, Anohni shifted to the jabs and blurts of electronic music. It’s a bracing change, and one that dovetails with the singer’s ugly reflection of 2016, where restless beats underscore constant surveillance, Anohni’s swarthy croon sings ironically of the “American dream” of the death penalty and rattlesnake distortion threatens Obama for his shortcomings.

Naomi Campbell has been in great videos before, bringing her allure to George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90” and Michael Jackson’s “In the Closet. In “Drone Bomb Me” she turns away from the supreme confidence she’s known for in order to display intense vulnerability. Sitting in for Anohni, Campbell lip-syncs the song, tear-streaked and overwhelmed. A devastating performance.

Antony Hegarty rechristened herself ANOHNI and eschewed the piano-based art songs of her former band Antony And The Johnsons, instead embracing somber electronics created in collaboration with Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke. These are intensely gorgeous songs even when the subject matter is ugly: On “Drone Bomb Me,” ANOHNI sings from the perspective of an orphan hoping to die in an attack, as his parents did; “Obama” condemns the president for unfulfilled promises and unprovoked aggression; “Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth?” questions the future of the planet. She often sings from the point of view of the villain she condemns: “I want to hear the dogs crying for water/I want to see the fish go belly up in the sea,” she claims on “4 Degrees.” The lyrics are unrelenting in their anger and pointedly accusatory—of specific countries, of terrorism and warfare, of environmental abuse, of self. But ANOHNI’s voice, a dramatic, sometimes operatic, often soulful croon, conveys warmth, tenderness and, contradictory to the title, hope

The 5 piece noise pop band from Dublin followed their much loved 2014 album with ‘Age of Indignation’ which adds more grit and energy to their debut record. Sounds ranging from religion, feminism and self-image, this album comes across as more self-possessed and self-confident. Dublin-based quintet: Caoimhe, Jessie, Lauren, Paula and Sarah; combining razorwire guitar lines, thudding Moe Tucker beats and girl group melodicism.

September Girls – Love No One.
The first single of September Girls album, Age of Indignation,

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For those unfamiliar with his work, Keaton Henson is an English folk-rock musician and poet, whose work incorporates a range of influences from contemporary to classical.

His work is also intensely performative, despite Keaton’s famously intense anxiety that has, for much of his career, precluded him from live performance. From an early age, Keaton learned to “gild the domestic cage” of his introspective world with “images and songs and poems of his imagined worlds” – not to mention music.

Keaton’s eagerly-awaited new album Kindly Now was released in September and to gain an insight into the music that’s shaped his own as he’s battled with isolation, Its such a rewarding listen,

‘Kindly Now’, his fourth album, is actually much the same of the same Keaton formula, an analysis of his own depression and anxiety, mixed with a healthy dose of self-loathing. However, it does feature a new side to him, with songs sounding much fuller and more arranged than previously, and a vocal delivery that’s a lot stronger than previous albums. In the track ‘Alright’, Keaton almost sounds angry at his inadequacies, a surge of weight behind his words, unlike his usual self-deprecating whine. I think on the whole this is a braver album, with Keaton owning up to his shortcomings without asking for a dashing of pity. The track ‘Old Lover’s In Dressing Rooms’ is particularly beautiful, detailing a conversation adrift with tension and woe between Keaton and an ex (presumably so anyway). It’s a great songwriting technique and catches the mood of a certain type of closeness between two people, a feeling most if not all of us have experienced and can understand.

Keaton Henson has crafted a career from writing immersive and deeply sad indie folk songs. “Kindly Now”, is no exception to the rule, giving us a glimpse into his inner struggles. From failing to connect with others to coping with anxiety, Henson is both candid in his storytelling and, in parts, determined that he will overcome his troubles. Across the record, Henson’s quivering voice is the main attraction. With his disarmingly timid falsetto, Henson trudges through twelve bittersweet orchestral heartbreakers.

Opening track “March”, a mash-up of diced samples and textures, showcases Henson’s more experimental side before the record plummets into the more familiar-sounding and frail “Alright”. Tipping a hat to fellow folk connoisseurs Perfume Genius and Destroyer, the song is stirringly beautiful, Once again experimental in colour, the anthemic ‘Comfortable Love’ opens with swaying, lazily-picked guitars;

In “The Pugilist”, with its dramatic strings and torn melody, Henson fights his corner as a serious artist, (“Don’t forget me, I still have art in me yet”), and implies that suffering for his art is a small price to pay to feel alive (“To remind me I’m living, And that I still need it”). Filled with cascading guitars and shivering cellos, “The Pugilist” is the record’s standout and most heartbreaking moment.

In contrast, Kindly Now’s most upbeat moment is the soulful Afro gospel, indie rock “Holy Lover”. With this ode to Paul Simon’s Graceland, Henson nervously confesses “I think I love you, baby please don’t be afraid of me.” The song feels like a turning point for Henson, not only on the album, but in his personal life too.

 The therapy continues on “How Could I Have Known” and “Good Lust”, as Henson continues to pick at the scabs of past relationships. Unable to let his insecurities dissipate, Henson sings about love like an awkward, heavy-hearted teenager, whispering lyrics “know that our love was real but I broke the deal all out I the cold, baby come hold me close, please don’t let me drown”, before the record comes to rest with the retreating sound of piano.

 Shaking off labels such as the ‘British Jeff Buckley‘, Henson has grown into his sound over time. If Birthdays was his attempt at self-loathing, then Kindly Now is his attempt at therapy; as with the album’s artwork, Henson has painted a self-portrait of himself and plastered over his faults. Stitched together with lulling orchestras, romantic sentiments and quivering vocals, the anxiety-ridden Kindly Now is an obscured window into the mind of one of music’s most reclusive characters.

Play It Again Sam Records

Ullages

Eagulls have been one of the more interesting bands to emerge from the recent post-punk renaissance. Originally purveyors of quite spiky punk, their sound has mellowed a little over the past few years and their second album Ullages also an anagram of Eagulls marks a definite move forward from the band’s impressive self-titled debut of 2014. George Mitchell’s vocals are a little more defined, but retain their early Bob Smith quality, slightly stretched and pleading, reaching out for answers that never come, leaving only bewilderment and frustration. “Each night’s like the needle slipped, does existence have much more than this?”, “Is our future grey as the slabs on our drives?”, “Why don’t I ever stop and start to think?” – there are more questions than answers for Eagulls in the bleak world they inhabit, the desolate city scapes mirroring their inner desolation and helplessness.

If anything, there is less hope on Ullages than on their first album Eagulls, the tone is more resigned, the music less of an attack and more of a blurred soundscape. Emptiness, Eagulls

Eagulls delivered a daring follow-up that transformed George Mitchell’s vocals from echo-drenched hollers to sharp, wry observations. ‘Heads or Tails’ is an almost folky opener, while ‘Velvet’ and ‘Psalms’ sound like wandering alone into a dark alleyway, not sure whether you’ll make it out the other side.

Tony Wilson once said post-punk is about moving on from saying ‘fuck you’, to saying ‘I’m fucked’. Eagulls have encapsulated this perfectly in two albums.

Though the band describe the record as positive with a glass half-full mentality, it is a curious mind that would find positivity only in the fact that things couldn’t really get any worse. Sonically, there is a marked change, with more thoughtful backdrops framing the vocals, often slighty warped in an MBV style, though with plenty of picked notes and a clattering drum attacks straight from the Birthday Party. It’s a beautiful amalgam of all that has been good in music over the past thirty-five years, with jumping Cure basslines, plangent guitars, the occasional power chord and even some ambient flickers. There’s a very limited indies-only green vinyl edition, so get in quick, and all housed in a sleeve by cult photographer Peter Mitchell. Near enough the perfect package.

Episodic it might well be, but there’s a crushing sense of wholesomeness that makes this brilliant new record from Field Mouse such an emphatic and rewarding listen. Recorded in Philadelphia with Hop Along’s Joe Reinhart, and featuring guest turns from a host of heart-rock heroes, including Sadie Dupuis, Allison Crutchfield, and Joseph D’Agostino of Cymbals Eat Guitars, the ten track collection is perhaps one of the year’s strongest sets; in that it every second feels integral to the one that follows and the one that precedes, like removing one single brick could make the whole thing crumble to pieces.

Rachel Browne’s voice has always been a tool of formidable prowess, and it simply lets loose here, powering headlong through a series of songs that flip between heavyweight indie rock and ferocious pop-punk chant-alongs. Borrowing inspiration from all of those aforementioned guest stars, ‘Episodic’ is a melodic marvel and, while it’s been somewhat (unfairly) overlooked by the bigger names, it marks Field Mouse out as a chief operator in that big, bold world of left-field American indie rock that offers such a rewarding hand-to-hold in a year, and an age, when such things feel so fleeting. In short, a vital record from an ever-vital band.

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Don't Let the Kids Win - Ltd Blue vinyl LP

The Australian singer-songwriter’s rich vocals lead every track on her debut album “Don’t Let The Kids Win” to uncontested victory, without leaving a shred of evidence that this is her first time on the job. Instead, the album plays like it’s her 70th year on the rodeo circuit. It seems that in Jacklin, we’ve stumbled upon an artist who just gets it. Gets how to write and record a collection of songs that sway together in a perfect union of vintage and contemporary sound, how to creatively direct clever and visually stunning music videos, and today, how to sit down and pen a revealing track-by-track explanation of her brand new album. Anyway, the whole album is fucking incredible, and the fact that it’s the 24-year-old Australian’s debut record blows my mind.

Pool Party

I was still finishing the lyrics the night before we recorded it. I’d never really played it live so I wasn’t sure what I wanted it to sound like. We recorded it once completely differently, with a very different feel. I really liked it for the first couple of days but then was like ah this is a bit nuts. It was super-fast and drum heavy so it felt a little stressful. It’s about wanting someone in your life to get help if not for themselves then for you. Kind of inspired by the Girl Guide pool parties my family hosted when I was a kid.

Leadlight

This is one of my favourite songs and one of the first ones I wrote. Couldn’t really get it in the studio. Ben really helped out. I just remember mentioning something about how I heard a choir at the end and before I could say another word he was in there yelling his heart out into a microphone. It documents the tail end of a great relationship.

Coming of Age

It’s about hearing an artist you really like and then freaking out that you’ll never make anything anywhere near as good and no one will care about you or care about your music, you know the feeling. Then being like ah fuck it, just do it and see what happens. The heaviest the record gets I’d say.

Elizabeth

This song I wrote about a good friend of mine. Just about encouraging your friends to keep pushing with music, letting them know you’re there with them. One of my favourite recordings.

Motherland

This song nearly didn’t make the record. I don’t know why, l love it now and I love performing it. There was something missing in NZ and I didn’t really connect with it. But here it is! It’s about wondering if people I don’t know will ever come to my gigs and not my long suffering and completely amazing supportive family and friends.

LA Dream

I really love this song so of course it was super hard to record. I think I recorded this on the last day. I just had to get it down. Because it’s a live take it’s hard to ever feel super confident with the whole piece. I made Ben leave the studio, so it was just the dogs and me in there.

Small Talk

My dad resembles the actor Zach Braff and that was the springboard for this song. Real deep. I also just wanted to write a song with only 2 chords. Ben had some great visions for this track I think it was the first one we recorded over there. I was a bit nervous because Tom my drummer didn’t realise his passport was out of date so I had to get a session guy in to record it. He was so great though and brought something different to the recording.

Sweet Step

Hey what do you know, another song about not being heard and wondering if I ever will be! Come on Julia.

Same Airport, different man

This is where I get the bluesiest I probably ever will. Just a repetitive song about the issues that arise with mixing a love for travel and a love for loving people. Also how as I get older the less drama I need in relationships. That drama doesn’t mean it’s better.

Hay Plain

It was my first time driving back from Adelaide on my own. I had just gotten on to the Hay Plain and my petrol light went on. It was a scary but really beautiful drive. The sun was setting and I just think the Hay Plain is so spectacular. I wrote this song whilst driving, just singing away trying to distract myself from the looming empty tank situation.

Don’t Let The Kids Win

This was the last song I wrote for the album and it ended up being the title track. I think it sums up the theme of the record nicely and where I was in my life at the time. Doubting everything but a bit too tired to let it get to me too much. Just kind of going well…yeah I’m freaking out about getting older and running out of time but so is everyone! So just sing about it, move on and keep working.

Don’t Let The Kids Win is out now!

We’ve had to wait a long time for anything new Foreign Fields, with the album ‘Take Cover’ arriving a full four years after the duo’s mesmerising debut album ‘Anywhere But Where I Am’. Shackled, somewhat, by varying personal problems, which included starting the whole process over again after initially completing the project, the resulting album is a decadent, emotive, and often stunning piece of pop music. The soft vocals that so pertinently shaped their back-catalogue remain a key component and, coupled with their new-found exploration of subtle electronica,combining Brian Holl’s gentle vocals and dappled guitar with Eric Hillman’s cinematic compositional instincts, they created the perfect score for the hours of dusk and dawn helped to craft a record that didn’t just feel like a natural growth, but one that raised the bar completely. From the restrained delicacy of “Dry”  to the expansive, astonishing sprawl of “Weeping Red Devil”, the album is a striking document of fighting the fears that consume so many of us and shaping it in to something lasting, inspiring, and completely meaningful.

Upon first listen the magic of Foreign Fields is still immediately present, but you will find your mind drifting back to the perfectly orchestrated musical moments that are carefully hidden for you throughout the course of the record.

If ever a lyric summed up an entire album then these  words, taken from the title-track from John K Samson’s new solo album, is it. First there’s the brooding, philosophising of time and place and our role within it:

“And no one knows we’re anywhere we’re not supposed to be, so stay awhile and watch the wind throw patterns on a field. ”

such a staple of Samson’s work with The Weakerthans – then there’s the nod to his surrounding environment, and the wheat crop that so inspired this new album; one that hides throughout the winter only to thrive again when the warmer weather arrives.

Also diverting from these two somewhat vague arms to take in tales of drug treatment centres, technologies advancement on our daily lives, psychotic episodes at local quiz nights, and even the return of his feline character, Virtute, who dropped in and out of The Weakerthans back-catalogue, ‘Winter Wheat’ is a poignant, beautiful, and wonderfully compelling album, resonant and warm magnification of what’s often overlooked, so rich in detail it feels like entering the world of some great novel; vivid, detailed, and one that stays with you for far longer than the running time.

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All lyrics and songs C 2016 by John K. Samson,
except 17th Street Treatment Centre and VPW 13 Blues,
C 2016 by Christine Fellows and John K. Samson