Dec 15, 2016


Merry end of 2016!

2016 was the year of realising stuff and making stuff visible and making stuff known. There is no narrative but crisis and unstable 'stabilities' and the trembling end of times met with normalised insanity. Fear and boredom and hyper-visible collapse. It was so bad that we broadly accepted utopias: Denis Villeneuve offered a make-pretend salve in the form of Arrival which proposed universalism with-strings-attached (universal insofar as 'the right people' are at the centre of it), satirising the neo-colonial agenda of globalisation and shattering our dreams of the year that wasn't (while also confusing Terrence Malick with Zack Snyder, and so aping the latter by accident). Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special used a resoundingly contemporary film language (dealing to verbal exposition the same way that comedies in the early 2000s dealt to the laugh track) to evoke Spielbergian wonder, but in trimming fat threatened to cut into its arteries. On the other hand Stranger Things was soulless to begin with, and offered escapism through a stylised nostalgia akin to the vacuous The Force Awakens which viewers largely preferred to Lucas' polarising efforts at newness. It is depressing to think that there is hope for many in a facsimile of the past. Ben Wheatley's anarchic slapstick horror film High Rise reminded us that there's no point doing sci-fi when we're already living in a dystopia. Its sweat and mega-obvious recordings of Thatcher felt like we were watching an old punk album and this was aided by its 'period' setting. I suppose that there is no point returning to the past when we're still living it- Wheatley made its horrors ham-fistedly visible to brilliant effect. In another year of forgetting and then selectively fetishising the past, The Caretaker diagnosed us all with Alzheimer's.

Some wore affection like armour and others just cracked and spilled. The Life of Pablo side-lined 'product' and made 'process' visible to the point of fatigue- a happy move for fans of The White Album and Alex Chilton's post-pop experimentation. 30 Hours is Pablo as a microcosm, but minus the degenerate gospel and complex vocal flourishes which appear on its first half- the record's appeal can't be put down to its concept entirely but its weird visible moments (which are superabundant) as well. Crucially it was distracted and sadly it was cracked up- the rapper's hospitalisation months later more or less confirmed to listeners that those are indeed cries for help littered through even his most boastful songs. As already mentioned, we can see the record being made as we listen to it, but the artist went steps further in broadcasting its construction and its roll-out as well, and then threatening to re-do songs (Ima fix wolves). Imagine if Chilton and The Beatles had access to these technologies around the time of The White Album, Third, and Like Flies on Sherbert! West alerted us to every tweak via social media which made things kind of mundane until we clicked that for every bit that changed, an older bit slipped away into the ether. An archivist's nightmare, and a middle finger to the idea of the concrete, physical, finished product. It was a lot of responsibility for the listener to take on, and eventually we stopped paying attention. The result is that everyone's Pablo plays differently- the vision was that we would stream it and that would be the 'latest', but we all took copies from the stream and grew used to these snapshots/relics. We opted for hard drive space over full faith in the cloud- a fixed album over a project in flux.

There's something to take from the new materialism of electronic music, with Andy Stott, Tim Hecker, Klara Lewis, and The Body all opting for presets and breathy synth pads over their previous soundscapes where sources went invisible and all that mattered was 'pure sound'. True, Stott's last one felt rough and physical, but evidence of the artist's hand disappeared into the brutalist nightmare. With Too Many Voices we can hear the audio files being dragged around and arranged, this image obscuring immersion. Hecker's Love Streams went back on the promise made by the organic romanticism of Virgins and weirdly embraced vaporwave. Lewis set up a dichotomy between the ephemeral and the physical- unlike these others she kept one eye on atmospheres. Heavy metal and ambient music have been coalescing since forever- the link between the physical and the metaphysical embodied by the devil's tritone in Black Sabbath opening Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath, and the bits between the chords on Vol. 4 encouraging Earth 2 and then Sunn O))), so why did The Body move past The Haxan Cloak's dark ambience and play with presets? No One Deserves Happiness is an ugly, sweaty record, but like those other ones it either sounds like cheap keyboards or like software. Eleanor wrote on haunted fibre and the spectre of the internet as a vaporous cloud.

I posted the majority of this as individual posts so that there are links. This list is a project for the next two weeks and is subject to changes and makeovers. Unlike Pablo it'll improve with each iteration. Enjoy! xxxx

70. Toshiya Tsunoda - Somashikiba


69. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma - In Summer

In spite of or maybe because Cantu-Ledesma's output sounds like it should be precisely 150000% everything I want from music ever, I have always been really suspicious of it and have never managed to find anything which lives up to the promise of grouper plus yellow swans xD or whatever shit I read, but this year he made two things which I 150000% vibe with in spite or maybe because they are nothing like grouper plus yellow swans xD. The collaborative Comme un seul narcisse isolated sounds and pulled them apart and composed alien songs from them (some grating, some moving), and here In Summer plays with noise and memory in a way that avoids the devastating cynicism of Fennesz's Endless Summer (the benchmark for noise + memory music), while still emphasising that the good times evoked are gone forever.


68. Michael Morley - Moonrise

Morley using bandcamp to low-key put out digital albums when he feels like it is one of those wonderful things optimists can point to when looking at the future of music distribution- for Morley the stakes are so low that he can produce things on a whim, and for his audience the musician seems unable to put out anything that is less than very good, even under these relaxed conditions. The best of his bandcamp releases might be The Burning House and Moonrise- the former is a fleeting and emotional summation of his singular guitar style pared back so that the picking takes precedence over the chords being picked (where the Dead C is so often about sonic devastation), and Moonrise builds something from these ever collapsing pick patterns. Compared to the sweaty physicality of Bill Orcutt's playing and the somehow crystalline improvisations of Derek Bailey, Morley seems outright melodic while sharing in an anxiety similar to the former and a deliberation owing to the latter


67. Babyfather - 419

66. Anna von Hausswolff - Källan (Prototype)

pomperipossarecords / touchshop

65. Naðra - Allir vegir til glötunar


64. Girls Pissing on Girls Pissing & Log Horn Breed - split


63. Palehorse - Looking Wet in Public

Palehorse believe(d) firmly in the power of yucky sludgey music to engage and surprise the listener through yuckiness and sludginess, and not the mega-obvious loud quiet dynamics which had celebrated sludge metal bands sounding like Explosions in the Sky or derivative Neurosis plus straight from the box 'atmospherics'. Looking Wet in Public is a reminder that as with Converge and their field, stern commitment to genre can make for something approachable and diverse when the riffs are good, the music is kinetic, and the playing is enthusiastic enough to convince the listener that in the moment this is all she needs. Farewell Palehorse :-(

bandcamp / spotify

62. Ulaan Passerine - The Great Unwinding

Pulls inspiration from Good soundtracks and has the songs unfold in the way that a soundtrack might- with images in mind, but mostly with climaxes and detours and even filler. Its slowness makes pretend spontaneity but its variety of instruments and recurring themes cannot help but mark it as precisely composed. A kneejerk criticism might be that soundtracks always worked in collaboration with the image- without this function The Great Unwinding is invariably only half as good as its referents, but I would argue that a) it's evocative enough that it would compete with any image and in fact would possibly make for a terribly overbearing soundtrack, and b) divorced from their function film soundtracks maintain a film-world presence and so become sound-worlds divorced from the logic of the album, favouring incidents over the necessity for highlights. Steven R. Smith was right not to dictate which images The Great Unwinding would accompany, because now it can stand as a narrative work whose narrative is contained within the songs themselves.


61. Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith - A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke

ecm / itunes

60. Matthew Revert / Vanessa Rossetto – Earnest Rubbish

penultimate press

59. Église - Église


58. Parents - Great Reward


57. Roly Porter - Third Law

You worry for a second (or 8 minutes actually) that 4101 will lead to a series of high-flying industrial epics (in the 'post-rock' sense) but it actually either descends into some great body of water (Icarus), or realises that it is floating in space, alone. Either way when the beats come in later they're oppressive rather than redemptive (as they would be with Ben Frost), and when the floor drops out from beneath the listener then she is both floating and falling, alone again. The sounds it steals and processes do not sound alien entirely, but beamed from habitable earth (whether that's above or below, remember we are floating and falling simultaneously), degraded along the way and on account of this new context, uncanny in their familiarity. Like a sci-fi from the perspective of space itself

boomkat / norman / spotify

56. Lost Salt Blood Purges - Only the Youngest Grave

Seems driven by the desire to uncover a human past in the landscape but rather than rekindling a relationship with the elemental (as in the Scandinavian tradition), finds a kind of abandoned occult sadness (as in the British tradition), which is to say that it's all bones and no spirit. A few things strike me every time (one good, one subjectively not good_)- I have no idea what makes good music much less good mixing but the sparseness of Only the Youngest Grave allows me to hear around the noise in a way that I'm not accustomed to (good!), and also I am all attention whenever the music wanders, but it every now and then builds instead (repeated motif, click distortion pedal) which is a thing I am most allergic to thanks to post-rock but which is quite moving if you are into that, and which I consciously overlook as the noise actually overrides the loud-quiet dynamic and maybe inadvertently distracts from it. So there's something for everyone there


55. Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker

Public mourning is powerful at best, and only half as bad as those who think they're above it at worst. That said I am too sheepish to maybe ever try and properly articulate how much Cohen's music means to me (I am also weary of I, me, my outside of fictional I, me, mys for fear of indulgence). In the service of this list, hearing The Songs of Leonard Cohen for the first time made the world heavier and more colourful all at once- the record initially seemed like a window to another world with Suzanne (you can smell and hear the river as well as of course see it, and that's because of the familiarity of her place near the river, just as Jesus had to know for certain that only dying men could see him- there is this precision and control to the images which are also impressionistic and immediate- the listener understands the history and the future of the song's characters- the things binding them and stopping them and driving them- this is film, music, literature all at once), but soon after it became clear that it is our world seen slower, more forgivingly, sadder, and more full of life than before the listener hit play.

It is a world so full of ghosts and untold stories and regrets that seeing it this way can be suffocating, but that's because we take on the responsibility of caring about every single one of these ghosts, just as in life we take on the burden of care with everyone we meet. It is fiction but like good fiction it sharpens our focus on the real. My partner recently had to take a break from reading a book series because she said "I feel like I've lived a thousand lives... I'm exhausted," and Cohen's songs have precisely this effect as well. Now he's gone but he's always lived in the ghosts of his fiction, and his fiction's always been our reality. His music has always asked us to care and to take responsibility for those who we have met and who have moved us, so in that sense he has equipped the world well to deal with his passing (hopeful but with a shithead grin and sick stomach).

With that in mind I am still struggling to understand why this sits like a boulder on my chest.

I opted out of Cohen's post-trilogy releases but my love for (the excellent, and sad victim of unimaginative mass consensus) season 2 of True Detective rubbed Nevermind in my face every week and forced me to adjust to the fact that Cohen's Songs trilogy exists on the threshold of a poet becoming a musician and that since then he has written songs. You Want It Darker is simply an album of songs- where previously he might subvert the expectation of a couplet or conceal a rhyming word mid-sentence, these new songs leave no room for playfulness and instead you can feel the sentence ending before it's even delivered. It is direct and potent, funny to counter its darkness, and predominantly free of sleaze

54. J Stalin - I Shoulda Stayed in School

J Stalin keeps one eye on hyphy but basically goes pop and this suits his flow which is always melodic but never strictly rapping- like e.g. Shane MacGowan and also 2Pac on one level the words are bent to suit the song, but on the level of annunciation the vocalist processes and tastes each word for what it's worth, never settling on turning them into just sounds. Jacka was looser, Husalah is as conversational as Mac Dre, E-40's whole craft is sound manipulation, and compared to these bay area legends J Stalin is outright pedantic an orator, a welcome quality when he stacks syllables like a Bone Thug

spotify / itunes

53. Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch

Describes and explains itself

bandcamp / norman / spotify

52. Fuath - I


51. Immune - Breathless

Warm blanket music- the samples are just out of reach but always familiar


50. Fat White Family - Songs for Our Mothers

Whether or not the listener believes in Fat White Family as Stooge-ian fools / harbingers of the end of times plus gross-out humour as much as the listener wants to whenever she reads about Fat White Family as Stooge-ian fools " ", Songs For Our Mothers is one of the year's best pop-rock records so there

norman / spotify

49. Thistle Group - Thistle Group


48. Dreamboat - Dreamboat


47. Christian Mirande- Thracian Summer


46. Death Kneel - Under the Roman Clamour

Post-Frozen Niagara Falls industrial music in a year of a relatively quiet Dominick Fernow (only two releases!!!). While that one was sprawling and ever-changing, Death Kneel focusses on one key idea which is (1980s) dystopian soundscapes, and microphones put through distortion pedals such that breathing becomes a low-key version of screaming. Under the Roman Clamour benefits from this limitation and by the second half the artist has expanded the familiar into new terrain. Fernow has said that Prurient is all concept, no entertainment (which fans know has not been the truth since 2006's Pleasure Ground), and one of the joys of Under the Roman Clamour is that Max Klebanoff doesn't pretend that there is a conflict there- even his harshest textures are all processed into something soothing


45. Mozzy - Mandatory Check

itunes / spotify

44. Sarah Hennies - Gather & Release


43. מזמור (Mizmor) - Yodh

Yodh's atmosphere comes along with its songs, rather than being written into them, which means that it is refreshingly devoid of cued ambient bits and post-rock influences (yay!!!!!!). It is ugly and beautiful all at once and this is achieved through the spontaneous act of making, not some compositional contrivance. In an interview with Stara Rzeka the musician opines that black metal and doom metal are devoid of testosterone and more "like a ghost" than anything, which is something I clicked with right away and recalled when listening to Yodh- it is unapologetically a genre piece, but the band finds a ghostly sadness within this, leaving no need for counterpoint


42. Body/Head - No Waves: Live at The Big Ears Festival

matador / spotify

41. Tim Hecker - Love Streams

4AD / bandcamp / spotify

40. Laniakea - A Pot Of Powdered Nettles

Don't be scared that it's an ode to person and place (even Neil Young made "I'm sorry. You don't know these people. This means nothing to you." a voyeuristic nightmare that the listener couldn't help but share in)- A Pot of Powdered Nettles is an open-invitation welcome to the farewell ritual which is, in spite of its players' links to unsettling and abrasive musical projects, peaceful and affectionate.

bandcamp / house of mythology / spotify

39. Jenny Hval & Kim Myhr & Trondheim Jazz Orchestra - In the End His Voice Will Be the Sound of Paper

hubro / spotify

38. The Caretaker - Everywhere at the End of Time

Kirby announces that his Caretaker has dementia, an awkward statement which had some thinking that Kirby himself was diagnosed with alzheimers (sending best wishes until he clarified), and others taking issue with the macabre romanticisation of the disease as-concept. Fwiw I was never a Caretaker believer, but Everywhere at the End of Time is warmer, cuddlier, and less terrifying than its pre-alzheimers antecedents, which makes it all the more affecting (and indeed terrifying). The next six albums will show a degeneration of form and memory, which likely means more dust and hiss, more repetition, and more insidious nostalgia

bandcamp / boomkat

37. Senyawa - Brønshøj (Puncak)

norman / bandcamp

36. Frank Ocean - Blonde

Everything I didn't realise I wanted Channel Orange to be- that one made-pretend sunny soul music so that its hollow heart hit harder when the listener got to Super Rich Kids and ennui numbed everything before and after- this one is distracted and firing in all directions but without the defence of obfuscation. One of the year's best process albums in a year of process albums. "Eat some shrooms, maybe have a good cry about you"

spotify / itunes

35. Graham Lambkin - Community

penultimate / kye / aguirre

34. Koran Streets - You.Know.I.Got.It

The drums bang and rattle and the samples weave around all lush, while Koran Streets' voice is real high in the mix surrounded by compressed call-backs of his last line. His delivery is relentless high energy, high-register monotone regardless of the line, always precisely on the beat for maximum impact. Musical stylings similar to those in You.Know.I.Got.It have been used in the past for more melodic and nonchalant rappers, so hearing someone who sits between Big Krit and Waka on the mic allows the listener less time and space to navigate the music- it's familiar but with a destabilising sense of urgency

spotify / itunes

33. Babyfather - BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow


32. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - Ears

Digital rainforests, not just as a well composed static image (which would be compelling enough), but with flux & movement: birdcalls, lapping water, rain, and bursts of sunshine. At once a 21st c. terrarium and a fantasy world more expansive than ours

spotify / bandcamp / norman

31. And Also the Trees - Born into the Waves

And Also The Trees do landscape music through songs (rather than strictly abstract evocations), so sonically it's all damp English countyside and lyrically it's characters trying to find meaning in said landscape. It's prose then. Born Into the Waves moves beyond this physical locale and its instrumentation constantly travels, but the landscape is psychological, and this revelation doesn't so much return us to England or even suggest that it's framing these journeys, but sits cold at the heart of everything instead


30. Laura Cannell - Simultaneous Flight Movement

bandcamp / boomkat

29. Kate Carr - I Had Myself a Nuclear Spring

Broad day apocalypse music, no dark tropes, all forgotten life

kate carrrough trade / caughtbytheriver / spotify

28. Young Thug - JEFFERY

The ink spilled or pixels rendered over Young Thug's purported 'post-linguistic' genius for years now have been both boring and dangerous in that they've allowed critics to separate Thugger from rap when writing about him, treating him as a sort of exception which has resulted in a picture in which artists graduate from rap, thus belittling it as a phase in a musician's artistic development. Furthermore such critical trends threaten to make him seem like more of a meme than an innovator, and his uniqueness a kind of in-house joke- his critics who somehow cannot hear that he is basically pushing up against the boundaries of genre become alienated when all they have to look to is this kind of writing. Thankfully now with Jeffery, all they have to do is hit play. It is open and welcoming in its eccentricity meaning it stands on its own as a fully realised alien work that wants to give you a hug. It reminds of Angels Exodus in the way it doubles down on lushness and concision while referencing and expanding on the artist's signature styles, concerns, and contradictions. As with that one, this means less highs for the hardcore who've collected everything he's ever put out, but serves as a convenient statement of intent for newcomers, or like an Occam's razor for the fatigued and bewildered. This is not to make it sound like a business card, because it's far too powerful an affirmation of life and identity for anything that cynical. "Boolin, rockin' all the Frank Muller" 30 seconds in takes Wyclef's hook from narcotic to perfectly felt, and not that it's my job to convince anybody, but Harambe is where I will send people who doubt him as a vocalist (he's as versatile and in-tune with the music as Captain Beefheart). As Kanye realised with the first quarter of The Life of Pablo it no longer suffices in 2016 to have a rapper simply going over a beat- the relationship between singing, rapping, ad-libbing, sampling, programming, and rhythmic interchange has become complex and co-dependent- the hierarchy no longer exists now that everything matters- Thugger is the beat and vice-versa, whether he's on the drum or shrieking a polyrhythm between the spaces. Now that the rap-sing distinction has collapsed (also ty Ghostface, Andre, ODB, Jacka, Future) let's never let it appear like Thugger's music needs to be 'justified' ever again.


27. Catherine Christer Hennix - Live at Issue Project Room

important records / boomkat / bandcamp / norman

26. 青葉市子 (Ichiko Aoba) - マホロボシヤ (Mahoroboshiya)

amazon / cdjapan

25. Félicia Atkinson & Jefre Cantu-Ledesma - Comme un seul narcisse

Hysterical though kind of upbeat domestic scenes painted with disarming precision- the moments of simple beauty almost overrule the full stretches of alienation from the familiar

boomkat / norman

24. Áine O'Dwyer - Gegenschein


23. Suzanne Ciani - Buchla Concerts 1975

spotify / finderskeepers / boomkat

22. Mike da Baller - Transportin

From a region/mindset where The Jack Artist was and is still the blueprint, Transportin is a tapestry of melodramatic lush pitch-shifted r&b songs and themes compressed and ripped from tv, with weary vocals reverbed into the fabric of the song. An early 3-song run displays the scope of TransportinCross Yo Mind pulls a familiar regional trick (see also Jacka & Ampichino's Hustle in the Rain) of recontextualising a soul song which speaks of romantic love gone awry, within gangsta storytelling (Mike and his friends asking why they've been forgotten- the inference goes from loved ones or past acquaintances who sit separate from his lifestyle to a system which blames and ignores, both met with a humbling do I ever cross your mind?), Tomorrow Ain't Promised is broken up with its southern chorus of mournful voices, and the muddy abstracted sub sounds sitting separate from the drum track of I Kno Its Still Some Real Niggas.


21. Beyoncé - Lemonade

For every bullshit piece of Jack White or Weeknd sleaze is a dizzying, devastating Sorry where Bey kills it by not having to try to kill it, continuing down the rabbit hole of formal experimentation she started on Beyoncé but which back then she felt the need to balance with ballads e.g. Pretty Hurts. Bey's albums were never as 'consistent' as her peers' (nor did they have to be), so hearing her embrace musical inconsistency while focusing thematically is a win-win for pop lovers and nerds alike

beyonce / tidal

20. Bonnie Prince Billy & Bitchin Bajas - Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties

Bitchin Bajas cutting up, arranging, sometimes disembowling Bonnie Prince Billy's donkey cries = best donkey cries of the year and at a time where we want our voices processed and ghostly, a stand-out processed ghost voice record too. Bitchin Bajas aren't focused like they might have been on swirling arpeggio symphonies because that'd be competition and not collaboration- instead they use the donkey cries like an instrument and the result is low-key bizarro melancholy. Which on the surface sounds like them, but put this way sounds like a new way of Bonnie Prince Billy doing Bonnie Prince Billy

drag city

19. Andy Stott - Too Many Voices

Stott's obsessive belief in album art synaesthesia helps telegraph the kind of experience the listener will have with his music- Faith in Strangers opened huge interior spaces of concrete angles and sculpted forms, intermittently graced with the processed human voice always on the brink of disappearing, but Too Many Voices has dancers- rather than navigable space, its focus is on movement. Unlike that one which was always built up from industrial foundations (obvious when Stott pulled layers from the top and exposed the work beneath), Too Many Voices allows the listener to hear around its sounds which flitter and interact and disappear. There is no safety net, no point to return to, Too Many Voices is only the sound acting in the moment. This makes for something that is fleetingly intangible rather than bluntly abrasive, and a sound that is, strangely for Stott, plainly contemporary.

boomkat / norman

18. Future - Purple Reign

Hard to tell if Future is for the first time in his career looking back and taking stock of things rather than charging/lurching forward dead-eyed and indifferent as rap's grimmest Futurist/workaholic 'cause every minute awake can be life accounted for if you leave a sort of paper trail, but Purple Reign uses Future's 2015 mixtape run (56 Nights and Beast Mode) to isolate a sound/mood/'genre' worth exploring again, and which through repetition reinforces this sound/mood/'genre' as 'Future'. The alternative view is that his pace just dropped, and I can't buy that. Bye Bye and Run Up stand out as Future not doing 'Future' (sad Future going over less-sad beats), and not in a next direction kind of way. What his beatmakers achieve through adding or subtracting to the formula is something less startling, more foundational- Perkys Calling does more with (much) less, Never Forget is nocturnal (56 Nights) Future meets a controlled/simulated chaos. Future's given the chance to explore his voice again (his flow hasn't been an issue since Look Ahead) 'cause Future's at home with his sound/mood/'genre'. In patches he even sounds upset rather than despondent, which as any depressive knows is an improvement

hnhh / datpiff

17. Valerio Tricoli - Clonic Earth

boomkat / spotify / pan

16. Body Sculptures - A Body Turns to Eden

It may be the outcome of a potentially one-off Danish noise 'supergroup' (Erik Enocksson, Frederikke Hoffmeier (Puce Mary), Vit Fana, Loke Rahbek, Varg), but A Body Turns to Eden is no less pressing a release than any from its players' prolific output. Personalities become at once identifiable and for the sake of the songs, seamless- Frederikke Hoffmeier sails above a sea of static clouds and rains wisened angst, while abstracted military percussion tracks the ground beneath it. It might be the most delicate thing that any of the group have released, though there is something fundamentally 'off' about this, and it brings pastoral sounds to the listener freakishly devoid of pastoral texture

posh isolation / boomkat / spotify

15. Various Artists - Sacred Flute Music From New Guinea: Madang / Windim Mabu

As pure sound (which is unfortunately all I can account for) without ritual context the sacred flute playing on display here is complex and very emotional, with the human voice made to pass through the flute rather than attempting to stay invisible through blowing just air, and the player adding percussions which draw attention to the physicality of the flute again. The voice brings the instrument into being, the instrument processes the voice, and the hands alter both.

mego / spotify / boomkat

14. Joanna Brouk - Hearing Music

Although new age music found an audience willing to overlook or even embrace its dorkiness via obscure tape rips in the music blog era, it was only recently that it became properly accepted and even declared fashionable. Far from cashing in on this via unearthed archival material Hearing Music offers nothing in the way of antique synths and dolphin noises for new age fetishists. It sits on the threshold of 'tasteful' minimalism and forays into the kind of sounds one would expect with that recently de-stigmatised genre tag, which is to say soulful repetition and rainy elegance

numero / boomkat / spotify

13. Gate - Saturday Night Fever

Michael Morley doing disco tapes didn't surprise me, but it did worry me- with Fear of Music he aped rock riffs so as to belittle and destroy their 'power' and I hoped to god he was not going to try and give disco the same treatment. As it transpires I should stop being defensive and second-guessing people because there is nothing but affection for disco here and any way Morley at this stage in his career samples rather than mimics- it's soaring strings and repetitive grooves (the latter will not surprise, the former might) processed into 4 x ~10 minute songs where as is customary with Gate the sounds become a single oppressive texture, the songs deteriorate, the voice and guitars are exhausted from the start and either dissolve into the fabric of the song, or collapse along with it. What the uplifting/catchy structures do is reconfigure the guitars as an assault when that is necessary, which is exciting on its own, but I am more driven to the moments where the samples win out- the final stretch of Licker for example sends the heart soaring as the body disintegrates. as weary as it is hopeful

mie / juno

12. The Gerogerigegege - 燃えない灰 (Moenai Hai)

Is it their quietest 'cause it's also their most musical when it has to be, the one with guitars has the most beautifully felt musical angles this side of Pathetique and it's all the more felt and for the uneasy silences surrounding it

11. Klara Lewis - Too

The general move in electronic music towards visible sound sources has influenced everyone from The Body to Andy Stott and Tim Hecker this year, and Lewis' response is less vapory (as e.g. Hecker's can be) or OPNy (as e.g. Stott) and more continued tonal abstraction plus beats to effectively guide us through its suites of dark textures. Lewis keeps this relationship in conflict by allowing the atmospheres to float away. The album's final third heralded by Beaming changes things and sees the 'physical' win out, where beats are replaced by decayed tapes on that one, Try almost finds Burial, and the finale uses echoing drums in a way that is less discordant, more deserved, more hopeful.

mego / spotify / boomkat / norman

10. The Body - Nobody Deserves Happiness

The Body announced that this would be their pop album and they absolutely were not kidding! Like a productive rapper, each of the band's output is to a large extent determined by whoever they've collaborated with in bringing it about, and whereas their (very good) collaboration with Full of Hell this year had The Body playing 'weird' as a foil, No One Deserves Happiness shifts the focus of their electronics from doomy atmospherics (e.g. handled by The Haxan Cloak) to dorky weird preset keys and sound effects, handled by I'm not sure who, maybe the band themselves. It's full of beats and jarring keyboards, and even reminds of The Ark Work in places for its glaring lack of interest in subsuming bedroom midi bits into a serious metal sound-world, but goes the extra step (forward or backward? I still can't tell) of still containing those serious metal sounds, and in The Body's case, arty excursions and weird collages to go with their very very (very) real fear of being human.

bandcamp / thrilljockey / norman

9. Fis - From Patterns to Details

On From Patterns to Details the pieces left from Fis' process of making and then destroying dance music are put under such close observation that some listeners have complained that the album is clinical, but there is something emotional about sounds that have been separated trying to create new structures (evinced by 2015's The Blue Quicksand Is Going Now), and something haunting about those which remember and contain traces of the old ones. To me at least works about memory and decay are sort of the antithesis of 'clinical', and From Patterns to Details is one of the year's unforgettable albums because it's so full of ghosts.

subtext / spotify / bleep / boomkat

8. Ande Somby - Yoiking with the Winged Ones

Yoiking is an ancient Sami form of chanting which collapses human/'nature' dichotomies through mimesis- of animals, of fairies, of the landscape. The throat-shedding beauty of Somby's yoiking might catch the unfamiliar ear off-guard espec. in the underworld of Neahkkameahttun, and the epic Wolf where Somby repeats himself into the form of the animal, each cycle taking its toll on his vocal chords (which emerge stronger for it). Chris Watson records Somby's performance on-site and mixes it with field recordings made minus-Somby, such that the necessary echos and reverberations are there in the voice, but the sounds of birds and lakes are never drowned out by it.

boomkat / spotify / touchshop / norman

7. Kanye West - The Life of Pablo

Torn and frayed as the alchemical Yeezus, but exhilarating in the way it holds electronic textures, dusty (sampled) ones, and immediate/organic ones together for its (anti)synthesis (where the former was (until Bound 2) a dark street lit by neon and sometimes fire). As expected from post-Graduation Kanye, the treatment of the human voice matters as much as the treatment of 'musical' sounds, and follows the same principles (see StreetlightsRunawayGuilt Trip, even Gorgeous). TLOP excels where on many occasions the two are not seen as distinct in their role in the song (the degenerate gospel first half)

Although Ye has twice now paid good money to effectively catch up with new developments in music (GraduationYeezus), TLOP casts one eye backwards- this is not for anyone critical of Ye's solipsism, because now the aesthetic is Kanye- his collages of yesteryear, weird experiments (since 08), shitty sense of humour, and anxious efforts to keep up (which read more like influences subsumed any way e.g. Future introducing Metro, Young thug). It's said MBDTF inadvertently heralded alt music's push into big shiny maximalism- curious that his next move was to strip things down, but TLOP manages to sound as rushed as Yeezus while performing an information-age chaos not through distortion but distraction- TLOP as an album feels like the sermon in On Sight or the too high bit on New Slaves or the structure of Bound 2 entirely, but with full songs instead of just diversive moments. As infuriatingly cobbled together as it is infuriatingly overcooked, overanalysed, sweated over. Smothered by a cracked up ego not bursting (MBDTF) but collapsing instead

spotify / tidal

6. Mohammad - Pèkisyon Funebri

Segondè Saleco saw Mohammad's landscape trilogy to a close with abstracted elemental power- sounds were processed so that they did not have a human cause- they emerged vibrating with the inevitability of seismic activity rather than some musical composition. Pèkisyon Funebri is free from this conceit but of course the discoveries made through it have become Mohammad's sound, meaning that we are still hearing tones and textures and processing them through space and duration (which is what gives them this imagined physical quality), while Mohammad also allow themselves parts and passages where we can hear the instrument being played (!). The piano in Az álmok itt érnek véget (rész 3) feels earned, while the opening of Qoxra and voices of Ankourajman remind us that rather than being used simply to pigeonhole, Mohammad's music has been described as both metal and folk to better understand their sounds and concepts ('the elemental')- these moments are heavy metal both quieter and louder than expected, and the cello screech in the latter humanises the group which again tends to (obsessively) sound anything but. On that last one the music was neither dark nor light but indifferent as the landscape it was evoking, but Pèkisyon Funebri veers into both doom and sentiment- its grandiose abstractions become metaphysical (rather than superphysical) and its human moments jolt us into the present- this is our funerary passage

norman / bandcamp / boomkat

5. Vanessa Amara - You're Welcome Here

A song-cycle which doesn't dictate a narrative, but which takes form around what the listener brings to it. You're Welcome Here has been the most devastatingly sad thing heard all year as well as the most life-affirming, the best background noise as well as the most 'present'. The fact that it comes full circle (as in a dream) jolts us in its absence when it is over, asking to be heard again and giving structure to the life of the listener whether she is achieving things or not (I never am!)

posh isolation / norman / boomkat / spotify

4. Puce Mary - The Spiral

Resists (masculine?) noise tropes of screaming out sweet catharsis, Puce Mary builds atmospheres which are always on the brink of collapsing but never really do. The human voice is relatively soft and spoken, concerned with the way it appears to the listener while it reflects on the burden of the female body, but it's subsumed into the machine which feeds it back out in processed agony. There is no release, only tension and unease. Live she stands in front of the machine as it breaks free from control and overwhelms her- her role is to bring it back. Over the course of an hour she comes to understand it and then redirects its anger in a direction where she can become one with it, leaving the audience cowering and fearful. The Spiral tells a similar story but in song fragments and mini-atmospheres which bleed into each other. Its secret lies in the fact that it approaches the chaos/harmony machine/human dichotomies from the side of understanding and reconciliation rather than transcendence or rejection- its appeal is the terror and beauty that comes through restraint rather than domination.

posh isolation / norman / boomkat / spotify

3. The Garbage & The Flowers - The Deep Niche

The relationship between the off-pop of The Deep Niche and primitivism of Stoned Rehearsal is an intriguing one- whether it took the ritualistic extended degeneration of Stoned Rehearsal to summon songs such as those on The Deep Niche, or whether they started with songs before deciding they didn't need them any more, and then broke up

midheaven / spotify / norman

2. Vanessa Rossetto - Adult Contemporary

Somewhat sadistic, but approachable for the way that Rossetto arranges sound such that it feels both navigable, and like a sort of ride with a clear trajectory- Side A is all cavernous spaces collapsing around the listener, while has her kind of lost at sea where the forces behind any potential movement are large and invisible


1. 鈴木昭夫 - あいしゃ (a i sha)

Moving a radio through public spaces in 2009 = 2016's most alive album. The 'found' environments add levels of natural reverberation making for a gently pleasant non-musical instrument in the radio which when described sounds like it would grate, and the indeterminacy of people interacting and moving around and talking grounds it in reality while elevating the reality captured as well. Beautifully musical, alive and breathing