I think we can all agree that 2016 was not a great year. From terrorist attacks to deaths of beloved celebrities to the tumultuous presidential election, it’s easy to compile a list of 2016’s lowlights. What has been lost in this sea of let-downs and despair is the amount of great music that was released this past year. Once again, I’ve compiled a list of some incredible albums that hail from a wide range of genres. Give the final 20 a read through and a listen. I’m sure you’ll find something you also enjoy, and maybe you’ll discover something that strayed beyond your listening peripheral in 2016.
The Glowing Man
[Young God; 2016]
Swan’s front-man Michael Gira understands what many other artists realize too late – in order to continue, you must constantly evolve. Over the past three decades, Gira has reinvented his vision multiple times. Once a pioneering band of the abrasive, no-wave movement, Swans would go on to soften their blows with a more melodic approach in the mid-80s, and then move to a somber, almost conventional stint on MCA Records. Between 1983 and 1996, Swans went through four different line-up changes, and currently, the band’s alumni features a list of 18 musicians. After a 14 year hiatus between 1996 and 2010, Gira emerged with his fifth line-up, returning with a sound more ambitious and potent than anything explored by the band before.
A few days ago I posted the first 20 in my “Top 40 Albums of 2014” list (check it out here). Below you will find this year’s edition of what I consider the top 20 albums of the year. You’ll find albums from varying genres and possibly a few albums that are new to you. I think it’s important to note what I define as a top caliber album. Great songs are always a plus, but more important to me is the ability of an artist to create a series of songs that tell a story, that convey an overall theme, that complement each other, and that make the listener think differently about the human experience. We are moving into an age where most consumers are more concerned with hit songs, which is why I feel compelled to highlight those musicians that have stayed honest to the age-old art of The Album and created something that’s about the whole and not a couple catchy songs.
We are almost to the mid-point of 2014, and there have already been some outstanding releases. With a promising second half of the year ahead of us, I’d like to take a moment to spotlight some of my favorite albums from the year so far. To try to keep some semblance of control, I’ve limited my list to albums released prior to June 1st.
Technological innovations over the past 10 years have changed the entire concert experience. There was a time where filming or tape recording a concert were frowned upon. In fact, there was an entire episode of What’s Happening? in the mid-70s that focused on the perils of bootlegging concerts (featuring The Doobie Brothers!). But in today’s concert setting, people pull out their phones to live tweet, take pictures, and film with nary a glance from security or venue staff. I myself get annoyed by the iPhone Army present at most shows, many patrons spending more time checking their Facebook status update about seeing the band than actually watching them. I don’t mind patrons taking a moment to snap a picture, but when it turns into a photo shoot, I have a problem.
Several years ago I saw Broken Social Scene at SXSW and before even playing a song, front man Kevin Drew gave a speech along the lines of “Instead of trying to capture this concert through videos and photos, let’s just enjoy the moment and let our memories encapsulate it.” This was a big moment for me since I’d spent the past year filming a lot of shows for this blog (one look at my YouTube page and you’ll see there’s been a major falloff in video posts since that show). Up-and-coming British post-punk band Savages have taken it a step further, requiring all patrons to turn off their phones or the band won’t play.
[Young God; 2012]
This is what I originally intended to be the entire album review for the Swan’s latest opus The Seer. And really, this is all that needs to be said. These two words capture the overwhelming swells of sound, the enormity of the two-hour double album, and the response that anyone is apt to have to the songs on the album, whether it be “Holy fuck! This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard!” or “Holy fuck! What is this noise!?” With tracks that range from one minute to 32-minutes, The Seer is certainly a polarizing affair, showing the band unabashedly pursuing their ultimate vision, 30 years in the making.
It is an album of big noise, colossal environments, and heavy themes. It is violent while still being delicate. It is demoralizing while still being uplifting. It is unforgiving while still being compassionate. It is barbaric while constantly evolving. It is John Lennon’s scream therapy spread out over two straight hours of complete and utter euphoric confusion. It will make your head and heart tremble with sensory overload just as much as the wall of sound will make your window panes commence to vibrating uncontrollably. It is an auditory Smaug, filled with mirth, greed, and a vengeful spirit. It is a BEAST.